Thursday, September 30, 2010

To Hide or Not to Hide

September has come and gone in a flash. I’ve always thought of September as the month for getting back into some sort of routine after all the holidays and extra activities of summer. It’s a time for fresh starts and usually feels more like the beginning of a new year than January ever did. This year I haven’t been able to get my feet under me for some reason. The long list of projects waiting for my attention remains just that…a long list that seems to get longer by the day. There was no clear end to summer, no clear beginning of a new season, and the calendar is more crowded with commitments than ever. Of course we no longer have children in school so the difference between August and September is more about the weather than a change in our routines. In any case, I must confess to feeling overwhelmed by the number of things on my plate at the moment.

My normal response to feeling overwhelmed is to shut down and hide. I bury myself in a book or in movies and only emerge to look after basic necessities. I tell myself that if I can simply take a day to escape and do nothing at all I will come away from it refreshed and ready to tackle anything. The problem with that reasoning is that one day often stretches into many and I end up feeling guilty, mildly depressed, and just as overwhelmed as ever when I get back to real life. After all, no one can hide forever.

The truth is, escape doesn’t offer true refreshment. It doesn’t actually produce anything of lasting value. I only have to look at the end result to recognize that hiding from life is more of a desolation than a consolation. Twice in the first chapter of Haggai, God tells us to give careful thought to our ways. In Deuteronomy, Chapter 30, He tells us that He sets before us life and death and He admonishes us to choose life. The power to choose is a precious gift and a tremendous responsibility. I choose how I will respond to whatever life throws at me. I may not be able to choose how I feel at any given moment but I can choose how I will deal with those feelings.

What I really need is to take some time apart with God. I need to receive His love, His strength, His forgiveness, His peace. That’s what true refreshment looks like. Why should I settle for a cheap counterfeit that can’t really satisfy? There are other choices to make as well. I may have to brush up on saying no to a few things. As to the rest…well…how does an ant eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time. Today I choose not to look at the elephant but to concentrate on the one bite in front of me. Tomorrow’s bite can wait.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Heavens Declare His Glory

When we were camping at Killarney Provincial Park we only had one day of perfectly clear skies. Late that night when campfires had begun to die and I imagined most people were thinking fond thoughts of warm sleeping bags, Bev and I were stumbling through the chilly darkness with only the aid of a small penlight. I was tired and less than enthusiastic. He assured me that the long walk to the lake would be well worth the effort so I swallowed the complaints that were bubbling up in the back of my throat every time I stubbed a toe or lurched into a pothole and instead, kept going. Eventually, we emerged on the narrow beach and came to a halt. The only sound was the soft gurgle and splash of tiny wavelets rolling gently over the smooth pebbles at our feet. Bev turned off the penlight and the night enfolded us.

“Now….look up,” he whispered.

The night sky stretched above us like a lofty cathedral adorned with millions upon millions of shimmering stars. The Milky Way was splashed across the heavens and every constellation stood out in sharp relief. My breath caught in my throat as I stood there humbled in the presence of such majesty. It was so beautiful it made me want to weep….one of those Holy Moments that can draw worship out of a tired and less than enthusiastic heart the way God drew water out of a stone in the desert. The heavens truly do declare His glory.

We never see stars like that in Southern Ontario even on clear nights. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. We may not be aware of them but their presence, like God’s, is a constant in our lives. It’s just that we live in a very populated area and the lights of the city draw a curtain across our vision, effectively masking the display above us. It is in the absence of all other lights that His glory truly becomes visible. That’s something to remember the next time I’m stumbling around in the middle of what feels like a dark time in my life. It could very well be my best opportunity to see Him shine.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Sky's The Limit

We did some hiking on our most recent camping trip at Killarney Provincial Park and I noticed that the park office posted a list of tips for hikers. The one that stood out to me was the caution that every hiker should be aware of his or her own limits. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a very good grasp of what my limits actually are.

Although I have been known to occasionally bite off more than I could chew, I am much more likely to underestimate what I am capable of. My Daughter-in-law spent some years in the military and she told me about a Drill Sergeant she had in basic training. On long marches when she was absolutely convinced that she couldn’t go another step he would come alongside and point out a landmark in the near distance, telling her that all she had to do was make it that far. Once she got there he would choose another landmark for her to focus on reaching. She would end up going the distance in spite of what she thought were her limits. That Drill Sergeant helped her discover what she was capable of.

I’ve never forgotten that story. It applies to so much more than hiking. I don’t have a Drill Sergeant but I have a Heavenly Father who is constantly helping me to discover just what I am capable of. When I am feeling overwhelmed by what I am being asked to do, He helps me break it down into ‘bite-sized pieces’. If those pieces still seem impossible I break it down even more. There have been times when I’ve broken it down so far that my goal is simply to take one more step in the direction I know I should be going. Each step becomes a tiny victory and, in my mind, I hear His whisper of “Well done”. Even when I am convinced my strength is gone and I am at the end, I find myself lifting my eyes to the next landmark and taking another step. I’ve discovered that I am capable of much, much more than I might have imagined.

A year ago I was having a lot of trouble with my hips. I couldn’t walk without pain and I wondered if my hiking days were over. Since then I’ve lost just over 45 pounds and with a lot of careful exercise and daily doses of glucosamine I am fitter than I have been in years. I am walking pain free and so my husband and I took on a six kilometer hike up a mountain in Killarney Park yesterday. Slow and steady, one step at a time, we climbed till we could stand on the summit and take in the spectacular views. I felt I could almost touch the sky.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Experience With Death

Many years ago I was a nurse on a medical ward where death was often the end result of a long illness. Of course not every patient was elderly. There were instances where leukemia, some other cancer or cystic fibrosis caused death in those who hadn’t yet begun to live. At those times death seemed an enemy to be resisted and fought with every available means. It made me angry.

In the case of my own father who passed away in 2003, it seemed more like a reprieve. He had suffered congestive heart failure, a heart attack, and a fall that broke his hip. He would have ended up in a Nursing Home on leaving the hospital, with advancing dementia stealing away his ability to relate to the people who loved him. We couldn’t help but be thankful that he was spared that. I was more relieved than angry.

My mother couldn’t attend his funeral because she was in the hospital herself at the time. Her illness was terminal and when she was discharged she came to live with us for her final weeks. She was losing her battle with a very aggressive cancer and didn’t have a lot of time left. In her case, death was expected and so she was able to prepare. She put her trust in Jesus and dealt with the things she thought of as unfinished. She did her best to say the things she’d left unsaid for years. She always loved Christmas so each child and grandchild received a $500 cheque to buy a Christmas gift from her. Then we all had to parade them into her room to show her what she’d bought for us. She also loved to laugh so when one of my brothers brought her a tape of an incredibly silly song about a ‘Colo-rectal Surgeon’ she insisted on playing it for every personal support worker and nurse who came to the house. She even played it for the doctor who fortunately had a wonderful sense of humor himself.

I hated the disease that killed her and I still do. It was pretty terrible in the end and I was back to being angry as I watched what was happening to her. I took a lot of comfort in the verse that God gave me then. It was the one that says “these light and momentary troubles will seem like nothing in comparison to the glory that is in store for those who believe”. Hard to fathom that what she was going through would seem insignificant to her when she reached her destination but it was true nevertheless. I knew Jesus was waiting for her. I was with her when she took her last breath and I remember imagining her running to Him. In His arms she would finally be experiencing perfect, complete, unconditional love, and the sort of freedom she never knew in this life. Death was only a door. A part of me felt just a little envious.

My experience with death, particularly my mother’s death, has washed away any fear I might have felt back when I thought of it as an enemy. I have an idea of what is waiting for me. I don’t know if I will have the chance to deal with unfinished business when it is my turn so instead I will live my life so that I don’t have regrets. I will say the things that are important to say. I will cherish each moment, even the hard ones. I will do the best I can with all that God has given me. I will endeavor to love well because I am well loved. That’s all any of us can do.