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Posts tagged ‘Josh Garrels’

Unseen Presence

One of the blessings of my life is a small music group I’m part of. Marilyn, Eldon and I  have a number of humble  “gigs” – singing at a senior’s home nearby every few weeks, and singing for and with our house church. Despite the hectic pace of the fall, getting together to practice invariably ends up being the best part of my day. Singing the words of scripture or other prayerful lyrics has a way of slowing me down, touching the heart and restoring balance.

guitar-hands2In recent weeks we’ve been preparing a few songs for our annual fall retreat this past weekend out at Falcon Lake. Like trying on new clothes, new songs are fun to check out though perhaps a bit ill fitting at first. We’d practiced a few times and the songs still didn’t feel finished, so last week we met on Wednesday evening to practice one more time.

As always, we tuned up our guitars, got lyrics and music stands ready and began to go over the songs. It was business as usual, but something happened that evening which caught our attention. It was as though the songs truly came together and the lyrics came alive. We had all come together from busy schedules and promised to “only” practice for an hour, but time seemed to melt away as we got caught in the beauty of the songs. “Should we go over them one more time?” one of us asked and we all quickly agreed.

Reflecting on it during the practice, it struck me that there was a third, unseen presence in the room. Besides the music and the three of us, there was definitely a sense that God was with us in my humble living room. The music was deeply relaxing, but more than that, it felt like we were in a sacred place. I noticed that our comments to each other became kinder and laughter came quickly.

Make my mind free from fears, You know I can’t do it on my own.

Ancient Celts and later Christians had a term to describe times and places like this: thin places. Thin places happen when the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we are able to catch glimpses of the divine. They help us become our essential selves. Heaven and earth, a Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.

The music stayed with me through the rest of the week, both during the day as I worked with my students, and at night if I woke up and couldn’t sleep. Song

Our house church out at Falcon Lake this past weekend

Our house church out at Falcon Lake this past weekend

lyrics came back to steady my spirit and quell the fears that can take over so quickly. One that stayed with me the most was a line from a song a friend had written years earlier, of God saying to us, “Hush now, peace now, in this moment know now, you belong to Me.” And another lyric by singer Josh Garrels has become my prayer for the new school year, “Make my mind free from fears, You know I can’t do it on my own.”

I wish I had some audio to share with you on the blog. Maybe that’ll happen someday, but for now, I’m glad the songs gave me an experience of God last week, a thin place to remember that I’m not alone in the universe, and that something Greater than me is holding us all steady.

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Finding God in Music

I’ve been on a one-week holiday from work.  No matter what your job is, everyone needs some breathing space once in a while. Life for all of us can get to feeling crowded, like being in a crawl space, crouched down, head butting against a ceiling that is way too low and heart racing, unable to even turn around. Sometimes the busy pace and to-do’s even becomes what “normal” looks like, and we forget that life can be different.

I’m so blessed to have a faith community that reminds one another every day that God’s world is full of space and expansion. As opposed to the tiny, crowded space, Scripture describes God’s world as a “house with many rooms.” (John 14:2) This is exactly what this week has felt like. Meals with friends, a bit of skiing, a good book to read, watching the birds at my feeders, naps. And music.

I took a chance on a recommendation from a music source called Noise Trade a few weeks ago and bought an album by a group with the quirky name of “The Oh Hellos”. Listening and re-listening to their wonderful album called “Through the 4063483765-1Deep, Dark Valley”, I’ve felt like I’ve entered the many rooms of God’s house. They are a Christian faith based group, but I’m convinced anyone would love the music as they sing about the whole scope of human experience, struggles and joys both.

Way back when I was a teenager, “Christian music” was my genre of choice. At the time I loved it (though I’m a bit embarrassed now to admit that classic groups such as The Beatles almost entirely passed me by for a decade or more). As my friends and I listened and sang these Christian songs, we declared to the world that we had the “answer”. “Jesus is the answer for the world today…”. I don’t exactly disagree with this assertion now, but it doesn’t leave room for doubt and struggle. There’s a certain heady inflation that comes with knowing all the answers. The lyrics weren’t exactly subtle, but that’s how I saw faith back then. Life was still pretty straight forward and I hadn’t yet bumped into life’s difficulties.

As I entered adulthood, this music didn’t satisfy me anymore. I didn’t need praise songs – it was more like I needed to learn the blues! I didn’t know what to do with my doubts and struggles except enter them. I turned faith over in my heart like a relic from the past that I didn’t know what to do with.

At this juncture, many young people leave the faith they were handed as a child, but Lyle and I have been oh so blessed to have found a faith community with a minister who wasn’t, and still isn’t, afraid to let God embrace the whole scope of human experience. I have experienced that faith can be relevant in this modern world. Jesus does have the answers, but only because he himself entered the darkest struggles in faith and came out the other side. Faith isn’t about being religious.

As I listened to this band over my week off, I felt my heart melt and open once again to the love and open expanses of God’s world. They sing about doubt, struggle, making mistakes and admitting we’ll make mistakes again, but also about the love that comes through it all. Even when we’re in the midst of struggle and God seems hidden, God is there with us, bringing meaning and faith in a world that so desperately needs it.

Over the years, I’ve discovered loads of other music like this. Some bands are overtly Christian, others not, but it all evokes faith and hope. Some of my favorites over the years are Bruce Cockburn, Stephen Fearing, Chic Gamine, definitely the Beatles, Paul Simon and Josh Garrels.

Today is Easter morning, a celebration that is about God bringing healing out of something as terrible as a crucifixion. I’m so grateful we can bring our full selves to God, “warts and all” as they say, and find God to be the best singer/songwriter there is, making a beautiful song out of the dark places of our lives.

Here’s a taste of the group’s music:

Out With the Old

This week our house got upheaved as we had our kitchen painted. We carried countless items to another room, marveling with dismay at how much “stuff” we’ve collected in our 22 years here. Our friends Cal and Sean scraped, filled in holes, washed, sanded, caulked and finally painted.  The kitchen is sparkling new now, transformed from lifeless beige to “Lazy Sunday” blue with white trim. Thanks to their

The new kitchen

The new kitchen

hard work, we’ve entered the new year in style.

My work began once the last of the drop sheets and paint paraphernalia had been carted out –  the sorting and tidying of the post-renovation task. It became an opportunity to decide what we wanted to keep and what could be given to thrift stores. De-cluttering is a time-consuming job, but also energizing as we made our lives a bit more simple and organized.

As I spent time emptying cupboards, I realized that much of the de-cluttering would be hidden. Few people besides us cooks would really be looking into the far reaches of the cupboards. Yet it was still an important task, as we emptied our lives of things that were no longer useful to us.

I’ve also been doing a fair bit of sifting through the events of 2012, and the parallels began to emerge as I cleaned the kitchen. I realized that God had done some cleaning up of the hidden corners of my soul this past year. Like the items in my thrift store pile, some old attitudes just don’t feel important anymore.

One of these hidden corners is my outlook on my job. For some reason this fall, a shift took place in me. My friends and family can attest to all the years of agonizing I’ve done over my role as a teacher – all the planning and stresses that come with the territory which I’ve taken way too seriously. I have not done this perfectly, but it has felt like this time is over. Like living in a new room, I have been reading or writing more in the evenings, and have come to value and draw strength from this place of inner quiet. To me, this is one way that  prayer feels real.

I think the weekend trip to Vancouver that Lyle and I took just before school began had a lot to do with it. Instead of stressing about

Josh Garrels live in Vancouver

Josh Garrels live in Vancouver

school, we took walks, “wasted time” in Vancouver’s beauty, and of course took in a great concert. It was like I was marking the destination of my year as tending to my soul rather than to the many manufactured crises that I think I was previously addicted to.

Perhaps I state it better if I say God gave me an invitation to walk a different way: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Ironically, within the stillness, I have felt more myself with my students and co-workers.

Another old attitude that God cleaned up in 2012 was that God helped me let go of a situation that I could not resolve on my own. In place of anger, God gave me forgiveness and freedom. It was a true testament to the power of prayer.

2012 was a year of many visible blessings:

  • Running
  • The many times of study and worship with our community which kept us steeped in God’s hope and meaning
  • Singing at Lion’s Manor with my buddies Marilyn and Eldon
  • Volunteering with Habitat and Monarch Teachers Network
  • Increasingly enjoying my job
  • Seeing Josh Garrels live in Vancouver with Lyle
  • Seeing many great movies, plays and concerts with Lyle

These were some of the visible things that happened this year, but as I cleaned out the kitchen cupboards, I realized it was the hidden healings that I felt the most grateful for. I know it is something I still need to nurture and tend, and I certainly don’t do this perfectly, but I look forward to 2013 with hope and gratitude. God’s got a pretty good track record, so I know that when (not if) I flounder, God will set my feet back on the path.

Hanging out in Vancouver

Hanging out in Vancouver

Now it’s off to the thrift store!

Thanksgiving List

It was Thursday morning this week when the snow began. I always joke with students that they’re not allowed to say the “s-word” in October, but the weather didn’t listen to my corny rules. It wasn’t a lot and we all knew it’d melt after a day, but there it was, blowing

Picture thanks to CBC Information Radio

horizontally outside my living-room window. Putting away my shorts and sandals from the warm weekend only a few days earlier, I bundled up and braced myself from the nippy wind as I headed out the door for work. On the radio in the car, the weather was the talk of the day.

I wondered briefly if I needed to put my after school plans on hold. The school gardens desperately needed pruning and new perennials were needing to get into the ground before it froze. I had set aside this time to do the job and had one co-worker and 2 student’s parents committed to helping. “I don’t think this is the right day,” said Irene as soon as I saw her that morning.

I was undeterred, however, and said she was free but that I would brave the mud and wind. She looked at me like I was crazy and I said we’d talk again at lunch. The blustery weather began to wear my resolve away and by noon I realized Irene was right. My plans would have to wait a week.

All of this set the stage for one of the nicest things that happened this week.

I hadn’t had time to tell one of the parents that the plans were off for now and at 3:30 she showed up at my class door.  As usual, it had been a busy day. Crazy weather always affects the students, and lessons had felt a bit like an uphill battle, especially a math lesson in which I was learning a new method of assessment. Teaching is a challenging task at the best of times, like those circus acts you see with someone balancing ten teacups with two hands and spinning a plate on a stick on their teeth! Add something into the mix like picture day, or blustery weather, or a full moon (honestly the list is endless) and it’s a task for a saint or a fool! And I’m no saint.

So when this parent showed up, I was exhausted. The thanksgiving list I’d meant to write for my weekend blog was far from my mind. But I almost teared up on the spot when Crystal showed up. Spade in one hand and pitchfork in the other, she was dressed in her long winter coat, mitts and rubber boots. Actually, I found myself surprised that she still assumed the plans were on.

“Ready to go?” she asked enthusiastically. I apologized for forgetting to tell her at lunch that we were going to postpone the digging. “No problem at all!” she answered with complete kindness. “Just let me know what time next week.”

The next morning before work, I was reflecting on this moment with my cup of coffee. Feelings of exhaustion can make a person feel like throwing in the towel, but this simple act was like a ray of sunshine, injecting hope into my day. Her gift of encouragement and support came just when I needed it, nudging me to stay with the program and remember all the kindness in the world which helps us soldier on in difficult circumstances. As I write about it even now, it draws tears.

Suddenly, what I’d be writing about for my Thanksgiving post became clear: all those millions of small things that encourage me and provide hope where I might not have any. I see these as gifts from God. As I combed through the week, a list started to form:

  • A co-worker giving an understanding word in passing in the hallway. Thank you Shauna.
  • Another co-worker who kindly gave me her prep last Friday so I could leave early for my retreat. Thank you Monica.
  • Amid all the ebb and flow of classroom events, I am constantly grateful for those moments that are “easy” – where genuine learning happens, or kind words are spoken, or energy is there and magic happens in the lesson. These moments remind me of why I’m sticking with teaching.
  • Having an honest talk with Lyle one evening and our relationship being able to sustain sometimes tricky conversations. I’ve been very grateful for the laughter that still flowed later, and for the same path we are on together. Thank you Lyle.
  • Seeing gorgeous fall colors and swirling leaves that rain down like snow. Thank you Creator.
  • On a freezing day, the farmer’s market is still open and we’re still able to pick up our luscious farm produce from our CSA share. When it feels like the ceiling is coming down and life feels crowded, bounty reminds me of the truth. Thank you Jonathan of Jonathan’s Farm.
  • Friends who stir up faith and kindness at our Wednesday night Watershed meeting, reminding me of the bigger picture. Thank you Watershed.
  • Prayers with these same friends at the end of the meeting, and words of faith that spill out, reminding us of our desire to follow God. Thank you everyone.
  • An article on a Christian understanding of suffering which appears in my Internet travels, which is clear and inspiring. Thank you Christian writers in New Zealand and the creators of the Internet 🙂
  • An email from Paul P., who generously answered my query with characteristic wisdom and love. Thank you Paul.
  • A beautiful bowl of tomatoes finally harvested from my humble garden. The lovely colors glow in a silent reminder of the beauty in life. Thank you Creator.
  • I had originally intended to write my blog post on the Josh Garrels concert that Lyle and I went to in Vancouver. This post will still be written one day no doubt, but in the meantime, I had been feeling so grateful this week for this fun holiday and wonderful concert with Lyle. Thank you Lyle and Josh Garrels.
  • Seeing my students enjoy Friday’s field trip to Oak Hammock Marsh thanks to some great staff people there, despite the crazy weather. Thank you students.
  • Former students who come to see me after school. Thank you.
  • A book about C.S. Lewis that I don’t want to end because it is so good. Thank you writers everywhere.
  • Another inspiring article on the love of books by the late Ray Bradbury. It was the last thing he ever wrote. Thank you Ray Bradbury.

All these gifts are exactly like Crystal showing up at my door, tools, kindness and enthusiasm ready to match the oft daunting challenges life gives us. I am grateful for these gifts which are like air and food, helping me stay on the path of faith and hope.

As you enter the Thanksgiving weekend, may you be inspired to reflect on your own list of “small things” and be encouraged on your own path. Whether you call yourself a “Christian” or not, I am convinced that God gives us all a never ending list.

Be Still

A day reading on the beach

We saw a lot of water when we were in Vancouver last week. I haven’t seen the ocean for many years and it’s a huge expanse out there – channels, harbors, bays, creeks and rivers. So much water makes for a green and lush landscape, and we basked in it for 4 days. We were blessed with perfect weather, and each time we ventured near water, things were calm and tranquil, even when waves were lapping on the shore.

Transitioning to the pace of a new school year was what lay ahead of me as our plane touched down on Monday night. I began with the usual prayers whispered on my own and the prayers and love of my faith community. Underneath my happiness at seeing students once again were the usual fears, nervousness and worries that I won’t measure up. These unsettling emotions are so predictable to me now that I’m not surprised to see them. They seem like the current under all that water we saw.

The first day with students began well enough and hope bubbled up within me but during the second day, I felt like I was treading water hard. It’s amazing to me how convincing an illusion can seem – that I wouldn’t make it this year, and that all things negative would swallow me. “I’m not cut out for this. How will I do 198 more of these days?”

I consider it a huge blessing and sign of God’s providence that all week God was faithful and gave one reminder after another, nudging me away from the illusion and back on more solid ground. With God the loving parent and I the distracted child, I kept being redirected.

The first healing nudge came from our Wednesday night discussion. In a discussion about C.S. Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain, a woman in the video talked about her son’s battle with cancer and her own deep struggle. Some people allow their battles to make them cynical, but she only became more convinced of God’s abiding friendship. When difficulties come, we may think God is cruel, but she said, “Whoever we think God is, God is always more than what we think. God is Mystery.”

This is what Lewis believed as well. At the end of his book The Great Divorce, the immortal souls of all the world’s people are watching over the tiny chess pieces of their  lives on earth. I remembered this image as I was temporarily adrift in my ocean of swampy feelings. It was a shift in perspective, helping me remember that God is the immortal part of me, and is much larger than what I usually imagine. “Whatever I’m feeling,” I mused, “it is not so huge that God is not much much bigger and able to sustain me.”

A verse on a bookmark I’d bought in B.C. came to mind – “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)  As I prayed, I remembered this verse. There are no swirling waters of doubt when we are still enough to become aware of the God who is always there. It is my hope for this year and always.

Calm returned the next day and with it the awareness that I was more in the center of this stillness, and in the heart of God all along. It is amazing to me what a difference a change in perspective can make. When God readjusts my brain yet again and reminds me that Love is greater than all, a love for my students bubbles up once more. No challenge is too difficult and no waters seem too deep or swift. A bounce in my step returned.

I thought that my doubts were the current under the water, but I was wrong. It’s God, deeper than anything my over-active imagination can throw at me. Or maybe God is like an anchor amid all the human swirling. Like Josh Garrels sings in the song Bread and Wine,

“I was wrong. Everybody needs someone to hold on.”

My prayer for the year will be to hold on to the anchor of Psalm 46:10, and I wish that for everyone reading today.

 

 

The One That Got Away

In my community, we have a tradition that goes way back. We give generous gifts. I think it is because we are all so grateful for our humble group and the way it keeps us tethered to the meaning and hope we have found in this faith journey together.

Usually if someone goes away on a trip, someone else takes on the duties of house-sitting or at least checking in on the cats, watering flower pots outside, taking in the mail, and so on. Upon returning home, the vacationing friend comes bearing thank you gifts, which are most often way out of proportion to what actually happened. For instance, just for one cat visit over a weekend this summer, my friend Linda bought me soap and various chocolate treats. “You didn’t need to do that!” we always exclaim. Practicing gratitude in this way has been good for me, since it slowly heals me of my Mennonite tendency to be a tad penny-pinching!

A few weeks ago, my friend Marilyn went to Watertown Lake in Alberta for a family reunion. I usually drive her to the airport and was surprised when she got home to find myself the recipient of a gift, thanking me for the ride. I got a Waterton t-shirt, but it was the slogan on the back of it that had caught her eye. There is a picture of someone fishing, with the caption, “Be the one that got away.” The meaning of course is that we need to take a break from our lives and get away to renew our spirits.

There is a personality typing system that I learned over 25 years ago called the Enneagram. It is an insightful system into our tendencies and I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to understand themselves more. Anyone who studies it usually find themselves described in one of the 9 basic personality types.

I am a “2” in that system, otherwise known as “The Helper”. 2’s try hard to please others by being helpful and understanding because they are motivated by a need to be accepted. The shadow side is that they find it difficult to say no to others and can feel drained from overdoing for others. Doing things for ourselves is tricky because we think it’s selfish. I often think, “Am I doing things right? Am I giving enough?” and this outward focus can make me very cranky after a while!

Marilyn thought of me when she saw the t-shirt at Waterton because she knows that “getting away” is exactly what I need to do. Anyone who knows me, knows that I like to keep busy and often see my life as a long “To-Do” list. I often marvel at Lyle who knows how to kick back and “waste” an afternoon on golf or napping or reading.

“Getting away” has been a helpful thought to contemplate lately as I’ve been gearing up for another year of teaching. I’ve now had over 20 years of this September routine, and you’d think I’d be over it but it has never failed to stir up anxiety and a feeling that I just won’t measure up. I think the only difference as I get older is that I now recognize it. It’s like once again seeing the monster that routinely frightens you – after a while you can start to make choices. “Oh yea, it’s you again.”  I’ve been praying to stay focused on my inner life of faith this year. It’s the only thing that has ever truly sustained me.

And so I’ve been gratefully noticing the things that have kept me calmer over the last few weeks. God has quieted me through these gifts, reminding me that I don’t need to get burned out by blindly living for others.

One such gift has been listening to music. A careful reading of my blog over the last year will reveal that musician Josh Garrels has been an enduring source of not only wonderful music but profound lyrics reflecting the Christian journey. Normally, I don’t listen to the “Christian music” genre, but Josh is a huge exception. He is human and no stranger to struggle, but has found hope in a relationship with God. The faith he sings about is evocative and opens my heart.

As I’ve readied “Room P6” at school, dusting and organizing and putting up bulletin boards, his albums have been a huge gift. My anxieties may have spoken, but his music spoke louder. One song in particular has stuck with me called “Fire By Night”. There is a story in scripture about God leading the ancient people. They were lost and leaving a place of bondage in Egypt, but God didn’t abandon them. They were guided by a pillar of fire by night, and a cloud by day. Josh sings their story and I found myself in this meditative song. He melted my anxieties, reminding me  that even though “tomorrow a mountain we will climb”, God always guides us and finds our deepest souls by calling our names.

“Cloud by day, and the fire by night

We will never look back.

Young and old with a sojourner soul

Illuminate the path.”

Trying to describe the effect of this song is like trying to describe a mystery – I just can’t do it and you might just have to discover his music for yourself (check out this song at the end of this blogpost). I just know that I kept being reminded of what Lyle and all my friends tell me constantly, that everything will be ok, and that I can find myself primarily in God, not in this anxious and ancient business of trying to earn acceptance.

An incredible gift has actually come my way this weekend. My love of Garrels’ music got Lyle and I signed up for a Vancouver concert this Sunday. Our friends Eldon and Verda are already in Vancouver to drop their son Sean off at U.B.C. They lucked in on his first Canadian concert and we crazily decided to

“Getting Away” in Vancouver!

blow some cash by coming out here too. We’re enjoying the beauty and sights of Vancouver for a few days, drinking too much coffee and biding our time till tomorrow night when we get to meet him in person. I can still hardly believe my luck. I really took Marilyn’s t-shirt to heart by “being the one that got away”, especially on a weekend that would normally see myself cramming in lots of school prep.

The Song of Songs is a book in the Bible that compares God as a lover who is always inviting us into relationship. Our community will be meeting for worship tomorrow morning and even though we won’t be there, we got to read over the passages for tomorrow. One line struck me and seems to be the voice I’ve heard lately.

My beloved speaks and says to me: 

“Arise, my love, my fair one, 

and come away.

Songs 2:10

No doubt as I enter another year donning the hat “Mrs. Penner”, there will be twists and turns and times when I get lost. But I have hope that I will always be found again. It has never not happened. I hope always to “be the one that got away”, balancing my incredible penchant for doing by simply being God’s daughter, accepted not by what I do but simply because of whose I am.

Already/Not Yet..and a song

Maybe it was a combination of the cold snap this week (indoor recess all week for the kids) and the regular grind of body aches, but I woke up on Thursday morning this week feeling down. Nothing dramatically wrong, but my life felt lack luster and my thoughts banal. “Is this all I am?” I wondered. Am I making any positive difference in the world at all?  On top of that, it was already Thursday, and a blog topic had not yet come to me. It was one of those weeks where I asked God, “So, God, where are you anyways?” The eyes of my heart felt dulled.

Bad news had been happening in our neighborhoods as well: a $1 million apartment fire a few blocks away, started because of gang warfare. A woman died tragically in a car crash on a local bridge. Students of mine trying to grow up normal in the midst of huge family dysfunction. When does the bad news stop?

These were my thoughts as I sat with my coffee on the couch in the early morning quiet before heading off to work. I love having this quiet time, but some mornings it’s difficult to face my thoughts. It’s like cracking open the newspaper and wondering where God is in the midst of bad news. What’s wrong with the world (and us) seems so much more overwhelming than thoughts of the presence of God and God’s love, peace, patience, and kindness.

It was in the midst of this general malaise that I experienced how scripture can revive a person’s soul. I remembered a verse from 2 Corinthians that helped me remember who I am in God’s eyes. 

But we have this treasure in clay jars to show that its extraordinary power comes from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7  

I used this verse as a starter prayer in the early morning. Nothing fancy, but my prayer went something like this: “God, I certainly identify with the clay jar part. I feel so ordinary and my thoughts often feel weighed down by clay-like thoughts. Somehow You are telling me that despite all appearances, there’s a treasure within, which is no less than You. Help me live today as if that were true.

There’s this great phrase in thinking about whether God’s reality is here with us now, as we live our lives and witness the too often overwhelming presence of bad news. God’s kingdom is indeed with us now, but it’s like this: “Already/not yet”.  It’s here already, but it’s also not yet here. They say that we live in the tension in the middle of this.

When I was a kid, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer every morning in school. Like my friends, I prayed this without much thought, but it is now etched in my life. I pray it often and it becomes what I often fall back onto when words fail me. One part of it echoes this already/not yet tension: “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Already – Scripture tells us that God’s kingdom has already been established here on earth. We can see God actively working, sometimes even miraculously, in the present day. I see God all the time – in the strong, resilient spirit of my students who demonstrate kindness despite all the odds they’re up against. I see God in my co-workers who might not even say they are people of faith. I see God in people who give their lives to making the world a better place in some form of service where “me” is not the top agenda. I see God in my faith community at Watershed.

Not yet – But we also know that this knowledge of God at times seems so limited. The effects of war (far away or here in our own neighborhoods), poverty, sickness, inter-personal grief, violence – all of this continues and we realize that God’s kingdom is also not yet fully here. We are caught between two ages.

I saw the “already” part of the phrase this week when I remembered that the treasure within can never die, despite all appearances to the contrary. My life can seem lack luster. A cold snap can make the kids at school squirrely and completely unfocused on the “brilliant” lessons I want to give them. Body ills can dull my heart to seeing God’s presence.

But this verse fixed my perspective this week, and stirred up a joy for living again. A bounce returned to my step and I saw God again in my students, whatever state they were in. I saw God in my life, even in mundanity. The bounce in my step also returned as I realized I had the blog topic for the week!

My cousin Evy, who is battling cancer, responds to the question “How are you?” with the sentence, “I’m well.” Being well doesn’t necessarily mean that all problems are solved, but that God is with us in whatever we’re going through. Evy’s life is certainly a witness to this. I know that she has experienced the “clay jar” of her life – limitation and even the prospect of death. Yet she knows that the treasure of God’s love is stronger than all this.

When my perspective is restored, it is always like the curtains part and I can see God clearly again. I am thankful that even when the curtains seem closed, God is still at work in the world and in our hearts, restoring all things to the Kingdom. May we all have faith during “not yet”, holding fast to faith until “already” shows its face to us.

I wanted to share a song that carries this theme. It is by Josh Garrels, a folk musician from Portland, Oregon. I have listened to this song, called “Beyond the Blue” many times in recent weeks. His lyrics are deeply spiritual. It’s a song all about already/not yet: “Everything ain’t quite what it seems/There’s more beneath the appearance of things.” Listen to his song here.

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