1. “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer

4 01 2017

img_9655Preface — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978

(Part 1 of 13 posts)

A Preface to the Preface

A friend of mine recommended this old book, written in 1978. I found it used, online, and it arrived with an appropriately musty smell; I am pretty sure it was sitting in someone’s basement for the past 30 years. I knew in the prologue, this was going to be an important book for me and I knew in the last chapter, I was going to have to blog on it. I have underlined many pages, written notes all over it, spilled coffee and tears on its pages and even though I have finished the book, the book isn’t finished with me.

A book can be a mentor, and this is certainly one of those. I have listened to Edith for a few months now and by spending a little more time with her I think I will be able to remember more of what she said, and maybe it will serve someone else too.

Half way through reading the book I stopped and took out my journal and wrote a letter to her. She is no longer walking the earth, but I felt like I had been sitting with her for days and days and I was so grateful for the time she took to write these words for me and all the others. I was also thankful to pick up where she left off in praying for some things that matter, and people who matter, with a new picture of what those prayers mean historically. I pictured her as one of those witnesses the Bible refers to in Hebrews 1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” in my own quest for perseverance in the race.

Of the people I look forward to seeing one day, she is one.

If anyone happens to read this blog and the ones to follow, I hope some new strength is passed on to you for your journey. I know I won’t be able to translate all the book said, but hopefully the bit I do write on will serve a good purpose and maybe you will find the book somewhere and read it too. At the end of the book I wished I could have given it to my 20-year-old-self  so I would have better understood affliction, suffering and hardship as it came, but mentors arrive as they arrive and I can only assume that I wouldn’t have taken it to heart in the same way I do now. I probably needed a few dings and bruises to appreciate these lessons.

As it was written in 1978, the language is from another time and the Scriptures quoted are often written in King James Version. There was something about this that worked for me; it slowed me down as I turned the phrases around so I was viewing them and thinking about them differently. I relaxed about the Thee’s and Thou’s and saw a lot of beauty in the differences between that version and the NIV or ESV I normally find myself in. So, if you do pick up the book, be patient and don’t get hung up on 1978. As Edith said, there is “true Truth” that transcends the generations and the peculiarities of our eras. In our time, the phrases we used in 2016 rotted much more quickly.

So, beginning with the Preface we dive in…

In the opening paragraphs of the Preface Edith says, “When people try to live on the basis of erroneous ideas they have picked up about what happens (or is supposed to happen) concerning affliction when one becomes a Christian, it is apt to be like riding with a flat tire, trying to carry all the weight in one bag, reading by the light of a candle, or ‘seeing through dirty glasses.'” (10) The question of suffering or affliction is one of the big stumbling blocks of our generation that keeps us an arms length from God. Because we are so prone to believe we can figure everything out so that it makes sense to us (“Science” and “Reasoning” we call it), affliction and suffering does not compute when we also say that God is loving. We form beliefs around what we believe and Edith refers to these as flat tires. If we believe what we believe without gathering enough information from the Bigger, Wider, Perspective…are our truths true? When we insist on changing places with our Creator and decide for ourselves what is what, we buy into the oldest lie: “you can be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

The thing about affliction and our view of it is that as we are often in pain ourselves when we consider it. When we are in pain all our doubts and questions bubble up from the depths. When we have a plan for our lives and things unravel, where is God in that? When we hear of some atrocity, we are uncertain where to go with our indignation. When we pray, believing we can “ask anything” in the Name of Jesus, but the very thing we ask for does not come about, what then? Troubles large and small can throw us, turning our whole world upside down, anger and bitterness can take root or we can simply live in denial and settle for a weak, ineffective Faith and hold loosely onto a God we don’t entirely trust (I speak from experience).

There is an alternative and, I am learning, a victory in this if we are willing to stare at Affliction/Suffering for a while and step back to view the bigger picture of our existence to hopefully come to a place of joy — that place we cannot fathom which the Apostle Paul refers to when he says “but we rejoice in our sufferings” in Romans 5:3.

As to my role in this, don’t think for a second I have reached some “zen” place on the matter. To even pretend that I or anyone can, is to deny or displace the humanity God has given me and you. We feel. We wrestle. We live in the middle of. We cry. We question. We journey. We are not to be mystics, emptied of normal emotions in the middle of brokenness and sorrow. We are not robots who, if given the right programming, can walk stiffly through a battle. We can not look at the death of anything or anyone as if it is not our enemy.

What we can do is see better, think better, understand better and in gaining wisdom we can live with fewer “erroneous ideas.”

— Teresa Klassen

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Sanctuary

9 12 2012

ps37_7From time to time Michael gives me a gift certificate for a massage; oh I do love a massage! The room is temperate, the lights are low, soft music is playing, the oils are all warmed and ready for the knots in my shoulders; heaven! For an hour I don’t lift, I don’t carry, I don’t care as all the tension is worked out of me. But, and this is strange, when the therapy first begins a STORM goes off in my head! While the rest of me is quiet, it’s like every thought gets up and chases around the room. So, while the therapist kneads my muscles, I have to tell my every thought to sit down a while.

How often is my mind not at rest?

I am not even sure that I am aware of what is all buzzing around up there most of the time. My mind is used to

  • thinking,
  • planning,
  • dreaming,
  • fixing,
  • speculating,
  • analyzing,
  • worrying,
  • praying,
  • warning,
  • musing,
  • fuming,
  • imagining,
  • deciding,
  • strategizing,
  • steering,
  • sifting,
  • sorting…

Oh, it knows when to shut up so I can sleep at night; it has to pause or it couldn’t do what it does every day. It can handle eight hours biding its time, but it is ready with its list of reminders, questions, thoughts and ideas, people, places and things as soon as the lights are on.

Now, here is the trouble with that: sometimes things happen in our lives and all of our

  • thinking,
  • planning,
  • dreaming,
  • fixing,
  • speculating,
  • analyzing,
  • worrying,
  • praying,
  • warning,
  • musing,
  • fuming,
  • imagining,
  • deciding,
  • strategizing,
  • steering,
  • sifting,
  • sorting…

will not bring a fix to it. Sometimes our present circumstances are beyond our abilities to remedy and all we are able to do is one very difficult thing: wait.

This is where I am right now – waiting — and sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself.

Waiting feels interminable. I have counted the days so far: 43.  For forty-three days I have cooked and I have eaten; I have worked and carried on; I have met with people and have had conversations. I have had the flu; still have the flu. I have found random things to do in the spaces between; like cleaning my closet…twice. I have slept at night and woken up when it was over; and still the waiting is not over. All these things have happened while I have waited; standing up on the outside but sitting down in my soul as the minutes of every day tick by: sixty-one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-twenty minutes.

I am waiting and sometimes I don’t know what to do with my unruly thoughts.

My thoughts wage war. I trust in God; then I fear. I fill my mind with good and true things; then one stray word pulls a plug on them and I have to do it all over again. I tell myself, “Wait, just wait, let God do His work,” but then The Enemy comes and whispers doom to me; that’s when I feel the weight of sixty-one-thousand-nine-hundred-twenty-minutes the most. I wonder if others have to work as hard to quiet the inner saboteur?

I am waiting and sometimes I don’t know what to anticipate.

I have always enjoyed thinking about the future, but it has lost some dimension; the earth feels flat. How do I think about tomorrow? Things are not right. They haven’t been right for 43 days; how much longer? (Please don’t answer that question, Lord, because I know my wait time has, perhaps, only begun.)

Psalm 37:7 speaks to me:

“Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for Him to act.”

I have been staring at “in the presence of the Lord” this last while and wondering whose presence I have been in lately as I have been waiting. Have I truly been in the company of my Lord, or somewhere nearby? I don’t think I intentionally wander away, out on my own; it is more unintentional, like sleep-walking.

No wonder one can find the phrase “return to me” repeated over and over in the Bible. I am meant to walk in the presence of the Lord.

When I am still and wait in the company of Christ, peace fills the room; soul replenishing words are sung into my ear; faith, hope, courage and love are re-worked into my aching bones. Fear is vanquished in the presence of the Lord; just the confident assurance God will act remains. There is nourishment to fill my emptiness, and comfort for my grief. As I “abide” in the presence of the Lord I am given new strength so that I will not grow weary or faint along the journey; His mercies are new every morning; He is completely faithful to His promises.

In the company of Christ, every resource is available to me whether I need a physician, a counselor, a shepherd, a warrior, an advocate, or simply a friend.

And because of all this, I do stand amazed in the presence of the Lord and how different it is here than on my own; I am reminded again that even though I walk through a valley of shadows, He is with me and in His presence I find sanctuary.

— Teresa Klassen





Acting On My Behalf

1 12 2012

ps37_5Part 1 (Psalm 37:5)

You never know where you will be when God taps you on the shoulder. Today I was out for a walk with my mom and the dog. We have always loved walking and talking; conversations always tilt towards the deeper end of things. Today she mentioned something she had read in Psalm 37 and I knew that as soon as we got home I would be sitting down with my Bible and my laptop.  God is speaking to me, in my circumstances, through this Psalm. So if you happen to come back to onebrownleaf in the next while, you will be reading what I am reading and hearing in these verses.

Context: very tough parenting season; excruciating. Not an hour goes by that I do not whisper to God about it; a cocktail prayer: 1 part lament…1 part hope…1 part faith. Anyway, now you know where my head is at.

Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit your future to the Lord. Trust in Him and He will act on your behalf” (NET).

The first part of this verse, dealing with the word “commit” is interesting when you look at it in Hebrew (the original language of this Psalm): “roll away each care of your load on Him.” This verse is saying that I need to take whatever care is weighing on me and roll it towards God, entrust it to Him to deal with.

It is interesting, in this verse, it is says to “commit your future.” When I think about what is burdening me right now, it is the future. It is all the “what ifs” that are specifically about how this all will turn out that is concerning. I project: if this happens, then this will happen. If that happens, then that will happen. Psalm 37 is saying that I need to take all my scenarios and roll them across the table to God; He will take all of these and even the ones I have not thought of, and He will deal with the outcomes.

God isn’t just “with” us, a sympathetic friend; He is more then that. We can actually trust in Him to act on our behalf before, during and after. God is our advocate, our “muscle.” In the original language it carries a tone of vindication; that God is going to deal with the future, attend to it, bring it to pass His way. God is our hero.

So if we have this option to commit , and if we have this option to trust…I wonder what happens if we don’t? If I don’t commit the future to the Lord; if I don’t trust that He will act on my behalf, am I on my own with all this? If I live like there is no God (which is essentially what I am doing when I bathe in worry) am I shutting the door on His help?

I do know that God has answered prayers I never prayed. He has answered prayers others prayed for me; I reaped the benefits. I do know that God has gifted me with things that I never sought after; grace gifts, completely undeserved. God can do what God wants to do, that’s for sure. But I know that He also will wait for us to relinquish the hold we have on our own lives. He has often said in the Bible, “If only you would have turned to me,” “If only you had prayed,” “Just ask and you will receive” those sorts of things.  So my answer is, yes, I think God will often wait us out because we aren’t simply the one making the request; we are the first half of the project.

God wants us to surrender something in the whole process: Worry, anxiety, self-reliance, pride, stubbornness and rebellion. God is not our hired hand; we are part of His family and He is our Father. In order to do the work of a Father, He needs us to have the posture of the child. He waits for the sound of His children knocking at His door and our small voices asking for help. He wants to come and lay it all out before Him and in return He will give us peace that we are not alone; He has taken up our cause.

As I am thinking of my circumstances today, this Psalm reminds me that I have to take my stack of questions and concerns and give them to Jesus. I need to say,

“Jesus, here I am. Here is what is on my mind, all these cares and concerns. What can be done with these? I don’t know how to set this right; the steps, the order of things as they should happen and I trust that You do. None of this comes as a surprise to You, none of it has escaped You.

So here; please take all of this. I trust You to take the lead. You will act in a way that is perfectly right and there is nothing that can stand in your way.

You will go where I can’t go.

You see what I can’t see.

You hear every conversation,

and you can work with all the pieces on the board, all at once.

You are not bound by the hour of the day.

There are no shut doors,

no period on the page.

You pursue without getting weary.

I am giving you this whole load of things, entrusting this whole thing to You.”

Even as I write that prayer a song begins to play in my head:

“What joy, what joy for those whose hope is in the name of the Lord

What peace, what peace for those whose confidence is Him alone…”

Have a listen…

— Teresa Klassen





Hanging From A Single Thread

23 07 2012

 My Reflections on Chapter 5 – “The Rearview Mirror” – in Love Does by Bob Goff

As I am writing this I am sitting on a lounge chair looking at the lake, under an awning. There is a single thread hanging from it and one grey little aerialist spider. It is about three feet from my head and every little puff of wind sends it sailing my way; which I am none too excited about (previous posts will explain my aversion to all things “spider”). The sun is shining; the breeze is blowing; perfect except for the spider that is fine at a distance, but is concerning me a foot or two from my face.

The spider has had a bit of a rough time of it, missing some legs; but there he is surfing nature’s breath and looking pretty chill.

Now, that’s ironic: a flying insect just came along and clipped his cord. Seriously; just flew straight for it and snipped it which is helpful to me, but not the spider. He’s not dead, just more vulnerable as he limps along, trying to find safety and avoid ridicule by the bug that won the day.

If the spider could have a do-over, would it more carefully calculate its steps? I have no idea where the extra legs went but it obviously didn’t stop the spider from further creeping. Perhaps, if it had taken to heart the lessons from the first incident, it might have stayed closer to home, built an impenetrable web, and remained content with a dark corner of the world; but it didn’t.

So now, I am thinking about how unpleasant circumstances very directly have and will shape my own future. When something outside of my control or choice, something “unfair” happens and after the initial shock of it all, I actually do have options about my next move.

I know I am not the only one who weighs in on how to move forward, because people tell me how adverse situations have either made them safe and serious or free and forward thinking; loving or loathing God. The pain of life makes people stay close to home or sends them on a journey. When one is terribly disappointed, or hurt seemingly beyond repair, we will live like it is the end of things, or realize it is a continuation of our story where God can “unfold something magnificent.”

Still, I will speak for myself: in my grief or impatience, I often get in the way of “magnificent” because I want to feel “better” and have all my limbs intact and often, I just want what was. I want the thing I thought would be perfect. I don’t even think the thing I want is wrong in itself; in fact, whatever I lost or whatever I had hoped for, may have been right in the classical sense; but in a fallen world where the enemy “steals, kills and destroys” he does just that and there I am, miles from where I wanted to be.

Goff writes, “I’ve learned that God sometimes allows us to find ourselves in a place where we want something so bad that we can’t see past it. Sometimes we can’t even see God because of it…” I can completely relate to this. I have so often found myself stuck, and even today, there are things I think about that really don’t have anything to do with today and are all about yesterday. Goff continues, “When we want something that bad, it’s easy to mistake what we truly need for the thing we really want. When this sort of thing happens, and it seems to happen to everyone, I’ve found it’s because what God has for us is obscured from view, just around another bend in the road” (36).

This actually makes no sense to me. Does it to you? I mean how can seasons of agonizing be in any way good? It does not add up in my head, yet God’s mathematics makes allowance for the imbalanced equations that are a part of our lives, to suit a higher purpose. That purpose is usually “obscured from my view” until suddenly something about it makes sense. There are enough times when I find God in the mess of things and He lets me in on what He is doing, that when I don’t know what He is up to, I can assume He is up to something because I have seen it before.

I don’t believe sinful situations are “part of the plan” and something we “had” to go through; but I do believe that God takes those rotten things and doesn’t let the enemy get the win. This is what God’s “love does” for us. While we may still be reeling, ever so faintly we can hear

  • That we can pray for and even forgive our enemies
  • We can forget what is behind us and look ahead
  • We can build a life upon a rock
  • We can be lost and found once more
  • Redemption is a real thing
  • We can have a tiny spark of faith and it will move mountains

Last September my husband and I found ourselves, without warning, in the middle of a painful journey with one of our kids. I can tell you, this caused me pain in every joint of my body as I watched him isolate himself from us and make dangerous decisions. I didn’t want this and I can’t believe God “wanted” this. Yet, over the course of this year, I have experienced the most rich communion with Jesus and He has revealed His love to me over and over again, personally and privately, and publicly through my “brothers and sisters” in Christ and other friends and strangers who were also His voice to me. I watched Jesus make His way into all the dark places, and into my fears where He comforted me. I saw how His hand was always on our precious, beloved son and is still as He does the careful, fine work, of drawing lost sons to Himself.

I haven’t wanted anything I have walked through, yet Goff is right, around the bend of the road there is God again, preparing a table in the presence of enemies. I think He waits there, as our host, hoping we will join him and not sell out; not try to engineer our own solution or “swap the real thing for the image of the real thing” (26). I think, like my companion the spider, God calls us to live in His glorious light and not just find a dark, out-of-the-way corner where we might be safer or suffer in silence.

In the story we are writing, adversity is not the ending, or our lives would be a collection of unfinished lines, a series of wasted stories. Goff writes, “when each of us looks back at all the turns and folds God has allowed us in our lives, I don’t think it looks like a series of folded-over mistakes and do-overs that have shaped our lives. Instead, I think we’ll conclude in the end that maybe we’re all a little like human origami and the more creases we have the better” (37).

In the good and in the crud of things, the only thing that counts is how we finish this sentence: “As for me…”. Joshua in the Old Testament chose to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” As for me and how I lead my life and lead those who will choose to walk with me, we will serve the Lord. No compromise. With every “crease” with every snipped thread…that is the one thing we, personally, always have.

So the spider’s plan didn’t work out; an unforeseen disaster. He does not sit on the ground for even a moment, I see. He skitters past, though it takes a while and is not simple and still fraught with danger, finds its vertical and spins a new future. I know it is not that simple, but the principle is there.

— Teresa Klassen





Why Molly Shakes

20 02 2012

It’s so strange, this thing about our dog Molly.

She is a beautiful yellow Lab; small for her breed and very smart.  She will lie at our feet for hours on end and make no demands of us; but mention the word “walk” and she will jump like a jack-rabbit as high as your head. And it is surprising how brave this little docile dog can be. She will chase a bear up the hill if it gets too close. She will endure the agony of a rattlesnake bite just to get out in the woods again.  She will square off against a snarling Doberman if it gets close to her people.

And given the go-ahead, her energy knows no end! She will chase a ball until she is exhausted yet never know when to stop. She will retrieve whatever you throw into the water time and time again, farther and farther into the waves. If you even think about going outdoors with her along, she will read your mind and begin wagging her tail ferociously.

If anyone comes to our door and knocks or rings the bell she will bark like a maniac one minute and be their best friend the next.

She looks so well adjusted, but it only takes one little, almost imperceptible thing and Molly will shake from nose to tail, uncontrollably; every time it happens I think she is just going to drop dead from a heart-attack.

What scares the fur off her? A little noise.

Whenever I see her shaking, I have to think, “Was there a noise?” because it is usually so subtle.  I try to figure out the source and I realize, “Oh, it was on TV” or “Oh, somewhere downstairs” or “Oh, across the street.” It is a certain noise pitch that could last for a millisecond yet she practically has a seizure over it.

Today she had an episode and I just put my hand on her head, consoled her, and realized, looking into her fear-filled brown eyes, that she and I have more in common than I like to admit.

There is a “noise” that works on me too and it might be almost imperceptible to others, but it just drains all the courage out of me, all the passion, all the creativity, all the joy for a little while. It ‘s never something I see coming because it happens in random situations, but just like Molly it makes me all shaky and wimpy and ridiculous. Where moments before I felt like I could race up a mountain, in those shaky moments I just want to take a nap; a long nap.

I was reading Mark 8 today and the Pharisees are at it again, making noise. In this case, they come at Jesus with their noisy misguided, cynicism.

Jesus’ first reaction? Verse 12: “He sighed deeply in his spirit.” Isn’t that a picture? What meaning in those six words! To actually affect Jesus so, enough for Mark to write it down! It was a drain on Jesus to hear those words that day, in that way. Jesus was on mission, with the short time He had, to be Good News to the world and then He has a run-in with these self-serving, arrogant, posturing leaders trying to trip Him up at every corner. What did they want? Were they there for the honest-before-God good of the people? Were they just looking for clarity before signing up to carry the cross He later mentions? No. They were first class connivers wearing the cloak of religion. There was nothing righteous about it; it was a front. It made Jesus sigh.

(As an aside, I really don’t want to be one who makes Jesus sigh like that).

Here is where the noise would have gotten to me. I know this, because time and time again it does. I can be eye-ball to eye-ball with something noisy and a good response catches in my throat.  Noise can be so disorienting, it makes me wordy and apologetic and unnerved. Noise makes me “wish I had” instead of bitten my nails over why I didn’t.

But Jesus? He responds; right then and there. It isn’t a “Captain America” response (chest out, deep voice, “ta-da” kind of statement); at least that isn’t how it sounds to me. When I read it I think it is said in a pretty normal tone of voice, with everything left-over being said in His eyes.

You don’t have to be loud when you’re right.

Jesus says it, simply; straight-forward; and then He moves on. He leaves those Pharisees where they were and crosses over the lake to where His friends are and warns them about the noise; warns them about the ones who are just in it for themselves. Be wary: if it sounds like a Pharisee, and acts like a Pharisee, and looks like a Pharisee…it’s a Pharisee.

Ah, teach me your ways Jesus.

I am looking at Molly as I write this. She is napping. I am wondering why that certain noise trips her up every time. She must think she is no match for the noise:

  • even though she has legs to run, and has run for miles and miles without anything catching her (including me);
  • even though she has fantastically sharp canine’s and can strip the bark off trees (or vinyl off hot-tub covers);
  • even though she is an excellent judge of character and can whiff out trouble (and chipmunks).

Even though; she thinks a little noise can get her.

Is that what I think? That I am no match for it?

Sometimes I do.

Thanks for listening, Molly. Thanks for the nuzzle, and the lick on the hand. What do you think…walk?

— Teresa Klassen