When you're waiting (and when the waiting's over)

I checked my email too many times on Saturday, waiting for the results of the contest. I’d been shortlisted. Would my manuscript make the final cut? Was it going to be published?
Maple keys, fallen, waited on the stony ground where I stopped my morning run to stretch. Paused, there, in that middle place, the keys are no longer attached to their former life, but not yet given ground to sprout into their new life. They don’t even know, for sure, if they will be given that ground, or if this middle place of waiting and being held in existence by the One in whom all things hold together will be their long-term life.

They looked more than a seed lying there, tiny, fragile animals, almost, with mouth and eye and a single translucent wing laced with a mesh of finely-woven veins. I wanted to pick them up, to touch them gently, to reassure them it would be okay, they would have their turn to finish the process of falling, of dying into the darkness of the earth and being born into new life, in their time bearing thousands, hundreds of thousands, of keys, each carrying the potential for new life within it, each aching for that bit of earth that would let them be blessed and broken and given.
In God’s economy, waiting, like pain, is not a waste, but an opportunity—the place where new life is nourished, love learned, and surrender can take root a little more deeply.
“How are you doing in the waiting?” a friend asked at the end of the day when I let her know I still hadn’t heard the results of the contest. I loved it that I could respond, in all honesty, “Actually, I’m fine. Even delighting in God’s timing in it all.” It had been a lovely day, a day of coming close and reading and listening and of being a bit or a lot awestruck by something new God was opening up for me about his love—another piece for the new book I’m working on. At the time, it helped me realize that if he loves me like that I really can trust him to look after me no matter how these coming months unfold, including in the results of the contest and all that that does or doesn’t open up. Later, I realized that being given the next piece for my new book held echoes for me of Is 41:

“But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farther corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and have not rejected you.’

Whether or not I won the contest, whether or not other people chose me, I had already been loved and chosen, and I wasn’t being un-chosen. God was, at one and the same time, loving me by sharing a breath-taking glimpse of his love for me, and loving me by giving me the next bit for the next book, assuring me that I hadn’t lost my job. I was still wanted and chosen and given important work to do with him, even if the process didn’t unfold quite the way I would have planned.
It felt, that day, like the results of the contest hardly mattered. I was still curious and still hoping, but also trusting. I knew God had it and I knew he had me, and no matter what came I was loved and cherished and safe.
The day after I heard that I hadn’t been chosen, though, I felt sad, and wrestled with what felt like tension between disappointment and trust. If I feel disappointed, does it mean I don’t trust? No, I realized all over again, it just means I’m human. Trust doesn’t mean that I won’t have the whole range of human emotions. Trust means bringing all those feelings to God, confident that he can handle—and even delight in—being with me in the ups and the downs of the journey.
“But I had hoped. . .” As I prayed the words, my own words, I realized that I’d heard them before. On the road to Emmaus. When Jesus invited the grieving travellers to tell him their disappointment. “But we had hoped.” The words come right in the middle of their story—right after they’ve told how the loved and respected prophet Jesus had been crucified, and right before they mention how confused they were by the women’s story of the angels and the empty tomb. “But we had hoped”—their perspective was the hinge that kept them in their sadness even while all the pieces of the incomprehensible story—which turned out to be a story of breath-taking love and hope-giving victory—were coming out of their own mouths. And speaking that perspective to Jesus, and walking with him, and listening to him, and inviting him into their home, was the hinge that finally let their sadness turn to amazement and their confusion to lightness and joy.
There’s an invitation in disappointment, and it’s not to push it aside. It’s to bring it to Jesus, to accept his welcome to tell him my sadness, and, whether or not he explains all the details, to receive the comfort of his loving presence and perspective.
The maple keys still lie on their rocky bed, waiting their time. Beside them, the St. John’s Wort, at home in its sandy soil, is starting to open. Dozens of upturned faces reflect back the sun’s glory, red-tipped stamens splayed wide like a spray of fireworks or a celebratory pom-pom. The God who loves like this, who meets us in the waiting and the sadness and makes it a place of encounter and transformation—He is worth celebrating.

“And all of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 New Jerusalem Bible)

The One who leads us into the new year

As we climb into the car I’m awed by the delicate ferns hand-drawn on the windshield. New every morning. God strews new beauty across the world each night. Does he do it for the sheer joy of creating? Or for the joy of surprising his beloved with never-fading, never-stale love? Does he smile when I sit in awe, letting the marvel of his unfailing kindness sink deep?
We run at the park and as the sun finally peeps her face above the horizon I pause. I have to. The tiniest lights are sprinkled across the grassy field, strung up and down each blackberry vine, draped on each twig of each bush. Winter’s barrenness has been transformed into a delicate, magical fairyland, only better because it’s real. It’s as though God’s joy could no longer be contained and he poured it all out like a child with a bottle of silver sparkles, making everything shimmer with glory. It’s as though his love could no longer be contained and he sprinkled it all over everything, willing me to notice and enter into his delight.

Above photo by Dapo Oni on Unsplash. Used with permission.

Today a new year begins. At the start of a year I often sense myself drawn to a word to focus on during the year. Until now, that word has been some way I wanted to grow: courage, for example, or faithfulnessLast year, my word was trust. I’m not ready to leave that word behind. I need another year with it, or, more probably, the rest of my lifetime.
But over the past few weeks, I’ve sensed myself invited to carry a different sort of phrase with me into the new year. This phrase is not about who I am or what I need to do. It’s about who God is and what He does. Isn’t that how trust develops, after all, not by looking at myself, but by looking at God? Not by trying to create trust, but by letting it grow naturally as I keep paying attention to His actions and discover that He is trustworthy?
The phrase comes in a psalm I’ve lived in and mostly memorized, but somehow these couple of words have never caught my attention before like they have now. They come in the last verse, a sort of summary of God’s character that has been lived and noticed throughout the psalm.

“He shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.” (Psalm 18: 50 NIV 1989)

This unfailing kindness is not just for David, nor even just for David’s biological descendants. We who are in Christ are all now David’s descendants, grafted into David’s line as we’re grafted into Christ. And the unfailing love is not a matter of who we are anyway, but of who God is. At the heart of God’s character is hesed, that wonderful Hebrew word that is sometimes translated love, and sometimes lovingkindness, and here in Psalm 18 is translated with that phrase that has caught my attention: unfailing kindness.
Kindness: God’s love is a practical love, at work on my behalf in ways that extend beyond the essentials, overflowing into extras that will make my moments a little more special.
Unfailing kindness: I don’t need to fear that this is a honeymoon, that God’s kindness will disappear once he has me hooked. His kindness will not fail. It’s a kindness that paints even ordinary moments (if there are such things) with extraordinary glimpses of beauty, wakening me to newly painted ferns frosted on the windows and sparkles strewn across the grass. It’s mercy new every morning, touching even the coldest and most barren of places with the tender truth of his love.
It’s a kindness that arranged (even in this busy travel season with mostly full flights) for two empty seats beside mine on the five-hour Toronto-Vancouver segment of my return flight, offering space for me to stretch out and nap between a lovely but busy time with family and a return to house-hunting and packing. It’s a kindness that is going before me into the future, an unfailing kindness that I can trust even when I don’t yet see exactly how that unfailing kindness is shaping the future.
The certainty of that unfailing kindness  is freeing me to enter this new year with deep joy, trusting the truth of the words written on the front of the journal my sister gave me for Christmas, words that showed up again in a hand-written card from a friend: The best is yet to come. That statement doesn’t imply the absence of challenge or suffering. It does declare that no matter what this year holds, there is someone stronger entering it with me, inviting me deeper into his heart that beats with unfailing kindness, bringing beauty wherever he goes.

Reason to celebrate

“Pause here. Listen. Look.”
Last week I wrote of the unexpected benches in our lives inviting us to pause and really look before hurrying on. This week transition has been one of those benches, and as I’ve accepted its invitation, the view has been well worth the look.
A few weeks ago, after a mere eight years, I finally finished a degree at Regent College. One might have thought I’d be dancing all the way across the stage at graduation. In truth, I didn’t feel much—maybe because I’ve graduated more than once before. Or because I’m more aware than ever that I’m not really a master of anything. Or because, increasingly, I find my comfort and joy in simply being loved in my smallness. Maybe the uncertainty that always comes with endings and beginnings was stealing my attention. But as I accepted the invitation of the bench this week, I realized that if I look more deeply than the signed and sealed paper in my hand, there are gifts from my time at Regent that awaken celebration in me. This reminder tops the list:
The journey may not look the way I expect, but I can trust God to get me where I need to go, and to fulfill my deepest longings in the process.
I came to Regent hoping to learn to read the Bible in the original languages. I took a year of Hebrew and a year of Greek. I loved both. But I discovered that I had to be writing, and studying Biblical languages turned out to be all-consuming. So I changed tracks. And as I sat on the bench and looked back, I realized: my hope to read the Bible fluently in the original languages wasn’t fulfilled, but my deeper longing, the one that was driving that desire, was met. I wanted to learn Biblical languages because I wanted to hear God’s heartbeat more clearly. Turned out God knew that, for me, a different path would bring me closer to that goal, and he led me by that route.
I came to Regent hoping to study under Darrell Johnson. Shortly before I arrived, I learned that he was leaving. Turned out he was leaving in order to pastor a church, so instead of taking a course or two from him, I was able to sit under his preaching most weeks for five years, the truth of Jesus slowly working on the stony places in my heart, deepening the path for His life to flow in me.
I came to Regent looking forward to enjoying the rich multi-ethnic community. I never had the energy to make it to a Regent Retreat or a Taste of the World. But God knew whose friendship would be a rich gift for me (and, I hope, mine for them) and seated one new friend next to me in Greek class, put another in my Vocation of the Artist seminar, and several more with me in a Tuesday noon community group where we connected over soup. Those friendships are now some of my closest, and a means through which God is continuing the deepening process.
Often we’re asked to live in the uncomfortable middle where we don’t yet see how the details of our stories reach resolution. As we live in that middle, the times we are given the grace to look back and see God’s faithfulness are gifts, fuel for further faith as we rise from the bench and continue our journey. Gifts, and invitations: Will I trust that even if the route God takes me on looks different than the one I might have planned or chosen, God is taking me by that route because He loves me and wants to meet the deepest desires of my heart with the best He has to offer—Himself?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways,

and my thoughts than your thoughts.” —Isaiah 55:8-9

How to learn to trust (OR Good news about the God leading us into this year)

Several weeks ago, I heard someone use four words to describe God. They’re not a complete description, of course—all the words in the world couldn’t accomplish that—but they’re true and beautiful and I’m heading into the New Year wanting this view of the Master to shape my year.
I heard the words in a sermon by Darrell Johnson. He was speaking about three servants to whom the Master had entrusted a significant treasure. (Did you know that a talent was worth twenty years of a day laborer’s wages, something over half a million dollars today?)
You know the story. The servant entrusted with two and a half million dollars invests it and doubles that amount. The servant handed a million dollars ends with two million. But the servant who receives a half-million dollars buries it and, when the master returns, digs it up and returns to him the exact same amount, excusing himself by saying that he knew the master was a hard man and he was afraid.
There’s a lot more in the sermon, but it’s this line about the two faithful servants and their view of the Master that I keep hearing: “They risk, they invest, because they know the Master is gracious and generous and creative and very adventuresome.” Gracious. Generous. Creative. And very adventuresome. That is the truth about the Master that I want to shape my year.
If I’m honest, looking ahead at a new year can raise all sorts of emotions. The excitement of newness. Anxiety about the unknown. The weight of expectations.
What does my mix of emotions about the new year tell me about how, deep in the place I live from, I really see the Master?
I may think I believe something about God, but how I feel and act shows what I really, deep down, believe.
My prayer for this year is that God will teach me to trust. It seems that God, knowing this is a big prayer and I’m a bit of a slow learner, has given me a head start in bringing these four adjectives across my path a few weeks before the new year begins. Because, you see, the first step (or, some say, the only step) in trusting God is knowing him truly:

“To know God is to trust God.  It’s as simple as that.  And the opposite is just as true.  To not trust God is an indicator that we do not really know God.  In other words, the “god” we do not trust is not really God, but rather a false imagining of our own making.” Rob Des Cotes
“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10

Oh, God, let me know you, and so free me to trust you!

Fifty days of surprise: an invitation to see

There is a tree out the back of my place, a gnarled, moss-covered tree, looking, when I first saw it, half-dead. It had its own beauty, I suppose, but I didn’t pay it much attention except to wonder, once, what kind of tree it was.
Then one morning I walked out the back, and overwhelming, full-to-bursting, can’t-be-contained bright white life had pushed its way out through those seeming-dead twigs, right out through the trunk itself, and there’s no wondering now what kind of tree this is.
It’s not for nothing that He’s called a shoot from the stump of Jesse, this One who had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him but startled even His closest friends when He burst forth with surprisingly uncontainable life.

 * * * * *

It’s several years now since I first heard that in the church calendar Easter’s not just a day, but fifty days; not a single Sunday of joy, but a whole seven weeks of wonder, of watching, of learning to live.
I’d missed them, somehow, those words that span the time from the first few days of new life to the moment that Jesus ascended to heaven:

“He appeared to them over a period of forty days. . .” (Acts 1:3)

The words whisper three things:
1) The power and the promise of the resurrection is for now, not merely for the future hope that we will be raised.
2) The full-of-life Jesus wants to be known by His followers in His life-flowing-over state. (Of course! He’s still the same God who has wanted to be known since before time’s beginning. . .)
3) And Jesus knows that the transformation of His followers isn’t automatic. Jesus was alive and Mary was still weeping sad tears, the disciples had locked themselves out of public sight because of fear, Thomas was in a prison of hopeless doubt, and the travelers were putting their heads together trying to figure out where it had all gone so badly wrong.
Jesus knows better than we: It is not the fact of the resurrection that changes us; it is encounter with the living Jesus. And so He invites us to stick around, day after day, week after week.
Only encounter, repeated and real, can overcome our inability to recognize Him. And this, for most of us, is the real struggle:

 “She did not realize that it was Jesus” (Jn 20:14).
“They were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16).
“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost” (Luke 24:37).

It’s almost always why I fear: I fail to see that in every new situation stands Jesus offering Himself to me in a new form.

“[After He appeared to Mary who thought He was the gardener], Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking. . .” (Mark 16:12)

In a different form.

I wonder about this.
Maybe the life in Him is so vibrant, uncontainable, alive, that a single form can’t contain it all. Perhaps, then, He shows Himself to us in different forms to let us glimpse a little more of the fullness of who He is.
Maybe, sometimes, He conceals himself for a time so He can heal us in ways otherwise impossible.
Other times He comes in the way He knows we will most easily be able to receive Him.
It was so for me a few days after the tree had burst into bloom. I sat aching for Him as I had ached all week, sad that even this day of rest was now over and I still hadn’t soaked long in the Presence I longed for. I wondered how it’s possible to ache so for Him and still run from Him. But as I sat, He quieted me with the whisper that I hadn’t run. He had been with me all day, giving Himself to me in the scent of the Balm of Gilead trees, in the soft breath of the baby asleep in my arms, in the giving and receiving in loving conversation with others. He had offered Himself to me in the tangible, edible bread and wine, offered Himself freely, His fullness into my emptiness. And as I had savored and rocked, eaten and listened, I had welcomed Him in the ways He chose to offer Himself to me in that day. And I received Him again as I welcomed His gracious Presence in the quietness of the evening.
His Life is so large, so vibrant, so surprisingly tender that it encompasses all that we, in our limitedness, think opposites, meeting us in fear and faith, thirst and fullness, guiding sorrow toward fullest joy. Everywhere, in everything, He offers Himself to us.
This, I think, is the invitation of these fifty days of Easter: to see and welcome the full-of-life Jesus in whatever form He chooses to come to us. We’re two weeks in. Keep watching with me, will you?

Jesus, we can’t see you unless you open our eyes. Please do it.  Show us in what form, today, You are offering Yourself to us, and free us to receive You without hesitation or fear.


An edited repost from the archives. Revisiting this as I long to keep learning to see Jesus in every moment.