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Good Medicine

It was an early Monday morning in July when I drove to my friend Moira’s house. Three of us were carpooling to Winkler to set up for the teacher’s monarch butterfly workshop. My half awake eyes were greeted by the sight of Moira emerging from her garden, clippers in hand and a look of wonder on her face.

“I have to tell you something,” she told me with a smile. “It’s the strangest thing.”

Moira works as a resource teacher at several inner city schools. Aboriginal elders sometimes give teachings and a certain bit of wisdom had stuck in her mind lately. She prefaced her revelation with something they had taught her.

images“The elders teach that when you are looking for medicine, you need to pray. The medicine is everywhere, all the time, but we need to pray for it to be revealed. When you pray, the medicine will reveal itself to you until you don’t need it anymore.” The medicine she was talking about were the many plants Aboriginal people use to heal various ailments. I pictured someone looking for sage in a meadow, not seeing any, but suddenly seeing it everywhere after praying for help.

This teaching had come to mind not while Moira was looking for plants, but for monarch caterpillars for our workshop. In a summer with such a dearth of monarchs, it has been no easy search for any of us. The act of looking, she decided, was like praying for medicine. What she was astounded by was how these caterpillars kept revealing themselves to her, just like the elders taught. She scoured her milkweed patch, thinking she couldn’t have missed any, and then she’d come upon a huge caterpillar. When I showed up for the carpool, she had just discovered a few more.

Moira probably didn’t notice, but when she shared this teaching, I began to tear up. It was almost a visceral feeling and it struck me strongly that this was a message for me.

Lately, I’d been praying to find hope and a way through the despondency I’d been feeling about teaching. Just the day before, I had asked my community for prayers in this regard at our Sunday morning service. Before heading out to my carpool the next morning, I sat down to pray for a few minutes and I kind of heaped my prayer onto Jesus’ lap. “I don’t know what to do God. I need a way through.” Before even thinking about it, I heard a reply from Jesus. “I’m already on it girl.”

It’s been two weeks since that service, Jesus’ assurance that I wasn’t alone and the teaching about medicine I received the next day. It’s hard to describe, but in these two weeks, I feel I have been receiving the medicine I had prayed for. The medicine, in fact, that those who know me best were also praying for. It has come in small doses, but noticeable enough that I have kept remembering my prayer.

My first dose of medicine was that I met two students from the first classes I ever taught, way back in the late ’80’s. They are both now teachers, and they greeted me with smiles. One woman even told me it had been the best year of her elementary schooling. Were these meetings pure chance, or did they line up with the prayer request for help? I can’t say for sure, but what I do know is that they got me thinking back to my beginnings as a teacher in the late ’80’s.

I was working in daycare at the time, wanting a job in teaching but not receiving one. One evening, I found myself praying for direction, and literally 20 minutes later, I received a phone call asking if I’d be willing to fill in for someone’s maternity leave at the school I’d been volunteering for. At the time, I took that incredible piece of timing as divine guidance. I felt God wanted me there.

Despite a lot of inner angst which seems to be characteristic of me, I have always received encouragement from parents, students and friends, confirming the calling I’d heard. When I was a kid, I used to play “school” with my best friend Doris, and the “teacher name” I gave myself was “Mrs. Penny”. With my married name being Mrs. Penner, it God was giving me another big hint that I was working where God wanted me.

Another bit of medicine God opened my eyes to was meeting a little girl across the back lane from us. Rheanna and her mom live in an apartment close by. One day when I was cleaning the car, Rheanna came to help me and we quickly became friends.  Her mom insisted she show me respect by calling me “Auntie Lydia”. Now I often see her and we have brief conversations about her cat or life in general. In a summer where I’ve been wondering how I’d go forward, her open-hearted and joyful approach to life has been a gift to me. She has given me a simple reminder that I love kids.

A scripture verse for our Sunday service yesterday talks about medicine in another way.  “Set your set_your_minds_on_things_above_poster-r0a8bd4f6e1db4904b70cf332e6c1153e_iqw_8byvr_324minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  (Colossians 3:2)  The Message translation puts this in more contemporary language: “Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” 

As another school year approaches, I’ve been reminded to see things from God’s perspective. Like the medicine Moira talked about, ever since I prayed about it, I seem to be seeing a way through. Maybe I’m imagining it, but like I heard that first morning, I think God has already been on it, figuring things out. Seen from my perspective, the ground is shaky and my wonky thoughts threaten to topple my best intentions. But seen from God’s perspective, I’ve been called and I’ll be given what I need to keep walking the path of faith.

I may be a fool for thinking this way, but I’d rather pray and look for medicine than walk around with my eyes shut.

Revised Reality

It was Wednesday morning when the idea first came to me. As usual, I had been scouting the week’s events for blog topics. It love having this muse as it focuses my thoughts on what gives me hope. I’ve noticed after months of doing this that more and more topics come to me, and that alone seems hopeful.

It was Tuesday and I was at the first Monarch Teacher’s Network meeting of the year,  starting to plan next summer’s workshop. The teachers on the committee received the good news that we were recipients of a grant for more flowers for our school gardens. After the meeting, I happily loaded two trays of prairie plants into the back seat of my car – Joe Pye, brown-eyed susans, milkweed, pearly everlasting.  Coming back to the car after stopping off for an errand, I discovered this lovely, subtle aroma of plants pervading my car. I wouldn’t have time until the next day to unload them, so the next morning, with the plants still in the car, I headed off to work. They still smelled beautiful.

Ah ha! I thought. A blog topic. Isn’t faith a lot like this? The effects of faith are not loud and splashy, but more of a subtle thing in one’s life. Noticing the life of the Spirit takes an awareness and openness, like noticing a beautiful tree or a smile from a friend that shifts a day towards hope. Many times my mind is scrambling around with a crazy to-do list or other such worries and I miss a lot of what God is saying.

All day I had fun playing with this idea of the subtle aroma, and I looked forward to heading back to the car after work, ready to inhale the lovely smell in the car again before I took the plants out.

When I opened the door, however, I was a bit startled to find that a smell that was no longer lovely. Maybe it had been too hot in the car all day, but my face turned a bit sour as I noticed a pungent aroma. Not only that, but now there were several flies buzzing around my head, not to mention a wasp that perched on my cheek. Not exactly the sweet aroma of the Spirit that I’d been musing on all day!

It was like that sour smell became enacted in my evening. First there was a frantic feel to getting supper ready, and then a feeling of depression set in as the music group practiced. Normally I enjoy practicing, but an oppressive feeling of all I had to do pressed on me. The last straw came at 3 am when I woke up with a headache and my mind was just spinning. Like a fast moving video stream from a movie, anxious thoughts rushed through me non-stop. I tried to breathe deeply to steady the swirl, but it didn’t seem to be working!

It occurred to me that “ideas” just don’t really cut it at 3 am when racing thoughts dominate the spirit, threatening to take over. Nighttime is like that. Mark Twain once said that we are never quite sane in the night. There are no distractions and the anxieties that we often block out during the day come to the forefront. The blog topic I’d mused on during the day seemed like an idea, not a real experience of God. Where was God now? I prayed but my prayers felt like the “hitting the ceiling” variety. Eventually I fell asleep.

God heard my prayers despite the feeling I’d failed at conveying them, for in the morning, a chapter in a book by Walter Bruggemann was infinitely helpful. Our community had been asked to read it in

At Falcon Lake this weekend

preparation for our annual retreat at Falcon Lake (which we just got back from). (You can read it online here.)

Bruggemann writes about our temptation to become “secular autonomous people”, paying lip service in which God is an ornament but not a real factor in life. I thought about my “blog idea”, wondering how many times I think poetic thoughts about God but then get caught up in the cares of this world in the blink of an eye. The temptation seemed to apply to me – in getting ensnared by the cares of the week, I became secular, forgetting my absolute dependence on God. Like the plants in the back seat of my car, something was smelling a bit sour. Or to quote Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”!

Bruggemann writes about Psalm 73. The Psalmist is also tempted by worldly thinking, being taken over by cynicism, envy and self-indulgence…until he goes into the sanctuary of God (vs. 17). “In that holy mystery, saturated with Torah memory, the psalmist receives a second, revised version of reality.” As I read the passage and the chapter by Bruggemann, I felt that I was receiving a revised version of reality as well. I felt forgiveness and peace return to my tired heart as I prayed with the Psalmist,

 Whom have I in heaven but You?

There is nothing I desire other than you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:25-26

I guess we all get our desires confused. Often I think my top desire is to get that to-do list in check. But the psalmist reminded me that morning that it is good to be near God. The aroma in the car was actually a wonderful metaphor, it was just that I forgot to do what the metaphor was all about – take whiffs of the more subtle things. Amid the food prep, I forgot to be grateful for Lyle and Joel. Amid my to-do list which made the music practice feel burdensome, I forgot to take a breath and remember that everything always gets done in good time as we entrust them to God. And as I tossed in bed at 3 am, I forgot there is a deeper current beneath the swirling emotions.

I may have forgotten, but thankfully God did not forget me. I remembered that I am God’s child. I am not protected from the struggles of life, but I can always enter God’s sanctuary, which is not a where but a when – whenever I remember whose kid I am.

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