why the ferris wheel might not be such a bad idea after all

IMG_5580Pastel coloured gazebos decorated the spokes of the giant wheel, as if it was a prize for making it through the sensory overload of games at the fair. “Let’s go on the Ferris Wheel,” I suggested to my adventure companions. “But Liesel,” they started, “you’re afraid of heights.” Mmmm, but I won’t remember I’m afraid of heights until I am on my way up. When we finally stepped onto it, the first symptoms came: increased heart rate, dizziness, short breaths. It wasn’t until we stopped a quarter of the way up that I clutched the post with my eyes shut, “this … was a very … bad … idea.”

Ten years ago today I was boarding a plane with a life’s worth of belongings and a plan to live in Ireland for a minimum of a four year term. As the plane took off from Vancouver airport I had the same gut reaction as I did two weeks ago on the Ferris Wheel. This … was a very … bad … idea. A commitment of four years to anything at that time seemed like a life sentence, never mind to be living it by faith. By faith, that God would work miracles in impossible situations. By faith, that he would provide for all my needs. By faith, that I wouldn’t turn into a permanent prune because of the cold and damp. With every hour that brought me closer to Dublin I fluctuated between feeling the thrill of freewheeling through the air in an indescribable leap towards whispered promises, and opening my eyes to see just how far from the ground I really was as the adventure appeared more of a teetering excuse for a safe pod up in the sky, nothing but a flimsy chain separating me from a gigantic fall to earth.

That feeling has never seemed to be terribly far away on any given day. I often find myself closing my eyes and grabbing onto the only thing that seems to be truly stable and explaining all the reasons why living life by faith is a very bad idea. In some magical and mysterious way, God just stays there while I rant at him, sometimes morning, noon and night, about how I just don’t have it in me to live hope where the only thing visible is hopelessness. When I am done reminding him (fairly loudly and firmly) about who he is and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness …. that he has on offer to not just me but to everyone around me, he calms my soul and gives me courage to see the world from a different perspective. Up there, from a bird’s eye view, I peel open my eyes and breathe in measured breaths. The world looks different when we see it from above. He is safe. His view is more than I could have imagined. Hope stirs every time, without fail – 100% track record. It fills my words and directs my actions.

With feet back on the ground again there is an overwhelming feeling of “I did it! I survived it!” Every single year when I look back I can’t believe that “I did it! I survived it!” … by faith.

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fruit of the spirit – not just child’s play

“I guess you could say that I’m like a tree, growing up from the ground. I pray that the Lord would water me so everyone around could look and see the fruit I bear and then enjoy the fruit I share. All my life I want to be like Galatians 5:22 and 23!” ~ The Fruit of the Spirit, Upward

Dancing bananas, apples, oranges, grapes and pineapple labeled with name tags use their jazz hands – a colourful mix-up of fruit that never go off and will always stay happy forever. It is hard to read Galatians 5 without imagining cartoon fruit skipping around the pages in their own little musical performance. When analyzed a little closer, their story is much more happily-ever-after than Noah’s Ark or Jonah and the Whale. We hang laminated fruit by pieces of yarn around children’s necks as they display the spiritual fruit named on it that day. “Well done for being so patient,” we might say. “If I want to win the prize, I need to try harder,” they might conclude.

A game of Upset the Fruit Basket begins as different fruit of the Spirit compete for space in our lives. Only one ever seems to end up “it” while the others remain seated. The only thing supernatural about this fruit is relegated to animations that came to life with songs that make a young child request them over, and over, and over … and over again. They become child’s play – nothing but an unrealistic expectation we enjoyed as entertainment when we were young.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. ~ Galatians 5:22-23

Not our efforts or hard work. Not our self-discipline or yearly goals. Not our natural ability. By God’s Spirit living in us. A mystery that is a little too complicated for me. So, I remember the song we taught children (while I was dressed up as a singing, dancing tree) … “I guess you could say that I’m like a tree, growing up from the ground. I pray that the Lord would water me so everyone around could look and see the fruit I bear and then enjoy the fruit I share. All my life I want to be like Galatians 5:22-23.”

I am growing. I am praying. The Lord is watering. I am bearing. People are enjoying. Simple truths. So simple we can teach a child and so simple we think it is dumbing down something that is actually quite complicated. But that is how God works. We pray. He changes things. There is fruit. It’s his fruit – all of it, none are sitting down. And against these, things there is no law! Imagine …

fruit of the spirit

Before Christmas many people generously sponsored sewing machines for the courses I am teaching. Each one is now named after a fruit of the Spirit,  in Irish … I had to ask a friend to help with that! I am praying that as the Lord “waters me” each person will experience the fruit their machine is named after and know that there is a God. (There are only 8 machines so I used the first 8 included in the fruit of the Spirit)

prayer words

Forehead pinched together with eyes shut tightly. Word after word escapes in hopes of covering the request completely – not forgetting anything – bargaining for everything.

Time consuming.
Stressful.
Repetitive.
Boring.
Ineffective.
What’s the point.
Guilt.
Do it all again tomorrow.

All-thing that our Lord hath ordained to do, it is His will that we pray therefor, either in special or in general. This is our Lord’s will, that our prayer and our trust be both alike large. For if we trust not as much as we pray, we do not full worship to our Lord in our prayer. ~ Julian of Norwich

Liberating.
Ongoing.
Spur of the moment.
Genuine.
Full of trust.
Powerful.
Miracles.
Do it all again tomorrow.

Heart poured out and burdens lifted. Eyes wide open in a word, in a look, in a conversation. Filled with impossible expectation in a collection of moments. This is trust and prayer. This is worship.

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sorry, I can’t carry your burden for you

It had been a roller coaster of a week – some of the most gripping emotions that I have ever witnessed and encountered in my life. I collapsed in the kitchen of a friend’s house having left the pub earlier than most after the funeral. A knock came on the kitchen door. Mournful eyes gripped with alcohol and cocaine looked back at me. I opened the door for a friend of the family and she joined me in the silence of the kitchen. I had nothing left to give, nothing to offer. She poured out her heart.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 8:38-39

There was no way that I could carry her burdens so I leaned on the only one who could carry both of ours in that moment. I asked her if I could pray. Agreeing, she let me place my hand on her arm and I spoke to the Father. The weight lifted and an indescribable peace seemed to fill me completely. It spread warmth that radiated throughout the whole room. I haven’t a clue what I all prayed in that moment but I remember there was no doubt that there was more going on than a few words to a made up God. Every sorrow was replaced in that moment with a glimpse of heaven and pure beauty. We opened our eyes and looked at each other. “What was that?!” she asked, her eyes wide, “I have never felt anything like that in my life!”

For I am convinced that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord – no substance, no circumstance, no mental illness, no trauma. He reaches the deeper places of our soul that are reserved for him alone. His love cuts through every possible barrier. They don’t stand a chance against it. My love looks nothing like it at the best of times, never mind when I have nothing left to give. I put all my weight on the Father’s love and it stands under the pressure of the heaviest burdens.

Although that evening in the kitchen was several years ago, it challenges me still. 

the most basic conversation

One word, one thought, one feeling in front of the other. That is all it takes. Prayer is the most basic conversation. There is no need to rehearse or get the words just right. Just think, feel, acknowledge the presence of God. Speak to him from the deepest parts of you and if words come out then that is ok too. He won’t ask  you to clarify and he won’t misunderstand. He won’t get the wrong impression of you.

Teresa of Avila wrote powerfully about the faith journey. For her there was only one way to grow in faith – prayer, that conversation between us and God. You don’t have to be educated to pray. You don’t have to speak a certain language or know the fancy words that come with hours of studying. All you need is to turn your heart to God and speak with him.

Prayers don’t just look one way. Sometimes they are asking for things. Sometimes they are telling God why we love him. Sometimes they are telling him why we are angry with him. Sometimes they are just ramblings about what is happening in our day – as if sitting over a cup of coffee with a friend. Sometimes prayer is just opening our hands with the thoughts and feelings that seem chaotic and raising them to God saying, “please, make some sense of these because I can’t.” Sometimes it is sitting in silence with the realisation that God is sitting right beside.

Stop. Listen. Prayer is more than what we have to say. It has to do with the things that God wants to say to us as well. It is an interaction. It is a conversation.

If there is one thing I never want to lose, it is the vulnerability to acknowledge God in this way.

In those times I have found strength for the next breath and hope for the next step. In this most basic conversation I change and God works miracles in the world around me.

As far as I can understand, the door of entry into this castle is prayer and meditation: I do not say mental prayer rather than vocal, for, if it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation. If a person does not think Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips. ~ Teresa of Avila (born in 1515), Interior Castle

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a need that is greater than

When we reach out to a God we cannot look in the eyes but so desperately need, courage drops like a lightning bolt quick and fierce. One moment and a quick escape is preferable but not likely.

We cry a prayer in desperation then brush it off as no big deal later when we feel a little more in control of ourselves and less certain of a God who might actually care. But what happens when the only opportunity seems to come when we are out in public, when other people might see?

The street is crowded with people. Noise covers our footsteps. We can hide in the shadows and try to make our way to the person we want to be near without too much notice. Head down, don’t make eye contact, reach out your hand and let your calloused fingertips catch slightly against the fabric of his clothing. It would be easier this way, with no one noticing, without him noticing. It would be easier if we could risk our miracle quietly and silently. The need for a miracle was greater than our desire to hide at home. It was greater than our pride. It was greater than our risk of humiliation.

Turning quickly we realise that we have been caught out. His voice calls out our anonymity, “who touched me?”

When we really reach out to God as the creator and covenant maker – for who he is in all his authority as the eternal King of kings, the terrifying supreme being with all power to shift heaven and earth because he does not belong to this earth – we cannot make a quick escape. He will turn to look at us. He will turn to speak to us. And that is even more frightening than approaching him in the first place. Throw in all the people who make up your community as bystanders now and you might just look crazy if you were caught out.

What is our need for a miracle that is greater than? Some of us are great at bringing other people to Jesus and helping them to get introduced. We are proficient now at summoning courage to be their advocate. We will go to him for them. We might catch up with him throughout the day for a bit of advice or guidance for ourselves – a heart to heart even. But desperation? Our desperation?

Read more about one of the women we joined along the road this Lent.

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