Faith And The Pursuit of God

Recently I read The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Some devotional type books seem to have nothing new to say, but this one is different. It explores the ancient truths about God and our relationship to Him, but it presents them personally and with such clarity that I could recognize echoes of my own life and experience on every page. I could hardly stop copying out favorite sections.

I love how A.W. Tozer reminds me of the implications of God’s presence in His world and the truth of God as the source of all life. It is God that pursues us before we can pursue Him. We can not go anywhere that God does not exist, yet we need to allow Him to strip away our selfishness and sin before His presence can truly dwell in us and us in Him. And there we find the life that is beyond our deepest anticipations.

If you can get a hold of this book, read it. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from it:

A Farm Girl’s Bad Dream With a Happy Ending

For a number of years I’ve been a farm girl, in station if not always in heart. Most of the time I love the life. I used to milk the cow out in the dewy pasture in the morning. I love new chicks and blooming flowers and abundant harvests. The opportunities for family time and working together are precious.

But sometimes I have resented the way it ties us down (if you have animals that need to be looked after, you can’t just run off on them all the time!) and I haven’t always enjoyed the work. Usually I would rather cook a meal with all the fresh farm products than hoe weeds in the garden. And I’ve had some injuries over the past five years that made it harder to pitch in with all my heart—who feels like working when their knee or foot hurts?

This spring I determined, as I have at times before, that this season I would put everything I had into family and farm life. I would learn to love it. How could I expect to be content anywhere else if I wasn’t willing to delight in my current place?

The adjustment of going from teaching to farm life was hard at first—more so emotionally than physically. It was hard enough that I realized I couldn’t do anything in my own strength. I would need God. I couldn’t just decide to do this and make it happen. I needed to be willing to let God dictate my days and sustain me with His strength.

Because what do I have that I have not been given?

Nothing.

Only through God’s love and grace am I able to walk in the light and serve where He has called me. And I don’t need to worry about what others think or try to prove anything to anyone, not even to my family. I only need to seek His glory in every little choice I make.

As the Lord has been working on my heart, I’ve found myself loving my life as I rarely have before, taking joy in doing what was needed, even if it was something I used to dislike. Sometimes I even wanted to go and hoe in the garden first thing in the morning instead of washing dishes.

Do I now want to be a farmer all my life? Well, I’ll let God decide that. I know that this is where He has me; thus this is the highest calling for me now. I can also trust Him to orchestrate my future. So I will follow God, step by step, and delight in His will.

Of course that decision gets tested from time to time, like Friday two weeks ago. The morning had been beautiful. It was only the second time this season that we picked vegetables for market. I picked snow peas in the dew, and later had fun working in the packing shed with my brothers to bunch radishes.

There was a youth event planned for supper and the evening, so we wanted to be sure to get all the market preparation done before leaving for that, and the boys would need to do chores before supper instead of after supper. Would we make it?

I had committed the evening to God, and the day seemed to be going well. But by late afternoon, I was starting to get a little concerned. The boys were still working in the woods instead of getting at the chores, Selema was still planting something in the garden, and Judith had driven to Berwick to run an errand for Dad. I had gathered and cleaned the eggs so they would be ready for market, but there were still some other little details to take care of. And I really wanted to make supper for my family before we left for the evening.

Judith came home around 5:15. Soon after that, I was rushing to the bathroom to take a shower. My sisters were in the kitchen when I passed through.

“The boys aren’t even doing the chores yet,” one of them said.

“Really?” I stopped in my tracks. “Do they know what time it is?”

“Yes,” Judith said.

I started saying something, feeling that somebody needed to do something to make things happen a little faster. Those chores. They were always holding us back. But Selema said, “You just go take a shower.”

Oh. Yes. Of course. All I can do is my part. Hadn’t I decided to leave it all in God’s hands? I would give my brothers the honor of getting things done without being hounded by a concerned sister.

After my shower, things didn’t look much brighter, though someone did say around 5:30 that the boys had begun their chores. It felt like a bad dream, when you desperately need to get ready to go somewhere and more and more things come up and you run around trying to get everything done and the clock ticks faster and faster and eventually you realize you’ll never make it so you wake yourself up in despair….

Yet, it’s not up to me to make things happen, I reminded myself. And so what if we were a little late? I resolutely kept on with making supper.

And each time I looked at the clock, I was amazed at how little time had actually gone by. Maybe we would get there after all.

Mom eventually took over Selema’s planting so she could shower. Judith and I got supper on the table. Caleb came inside a little before 6:00. I was amazed. Already? Who knew they could do the chores so fast? And he said Jesse would be coming soon too! I never cease to be amazed at my efficient and enterprising brothers.

I loaded camp chairs into the back of the car. And there went Jesse, heading for the house to take a shower. I looked at the time on my phone: 6:00.

Before long the five of us youth were on the road. We were hardly even late to the event.

And even if we had been, it would not have mattered like it always does in my bad dreams.

That evening, our youth group was all together again for the first time in months. Raynold and Lena served us a delicious supper outdoors. We played volleyball for a while. Then as dusk fell, we gathered around the fire again to sing praise and prayer to the God whose beauty is a reality beyond description.

There is a difference between dreams and reality. In a dream, I can wake up when it seems like too much to handle. In real life, I need to stick it out. The latter might be harder, but it’s far more fulfilling. God has grace enough to get me all the way through a bad dream—whether large or small—and right out on the other side into the sweet light of His joy.

Instead of waking up and finding all the difficulties gone, I can wake up to the presence of God in my circumstances, and He leads me through to a happy ending.

Photo Credit: Raynold Penner

P.S. This week I would have had the opportunity to go to Ontario for a month or so to help a dear family who really needs a maid. I was very excited about the idea—I haven’t been to Ontario for almost two years, and I’ve sometimes wished for the chance to help a family with young children.

But we discussed it as a family, and concluded that at this time, it would be wiser for me to stay here.

Considering leaving and then deciding to stay was somehow grounding. I had evaluated both ideas—staying here or leaving—and realized that each option would be brimful of amazing experiences. The question was which one was God’s will.

God provided direction through my parents, and the joy in my heart confirmed the decision. In His will, my life is established, and it has a definite purpose. There is no place I would rather be. I look around at my family, think of my church brethren, watch the mist on the North Mountain, and know that I am in the place where I belong.

1 Peter 5:10: “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”

The Lord’s Controversy With His People

A few years ago, I read through all the prophets on the order they appear in the Bible, over the course of some months. I had thought the prophets were mostly pronouncements of judgement and doom with a few prophecies of Jesus’ coming mixed in.

But my perspective changed as I saw the heart of God for His people in the prophetic books. Everywhere, He is seeking His lost ones. The judgements were intended to draw them back to His heart, not to drive them away. And there were always the promises of restoration, when Israeal would be returned to their homeland from the land of their captivity.

I was so blessed by these threads of mercy that I eventually compiled some of the verses into a collection, tweaked some phrasing, and added some of my own words to connect them.

I just told a friend last night that I don’t usually write long poems. But is this a poem? I can’t decide. I can only pray that the words will bless you.

I. Cry of the Creator

O mountains, hear my controversy,

and you mighty foundations of the earth,

listen as I plead with the one I love:

Though I have bound together and built the sinews of

strength in your arms,

Yet you imagine mischief against me,

strengthening resolve for sin.

Though I have redeemed you out of the land of servants

you have made your hearts as an adamant stone,

hardened against my words.

You are an empty vine,

bringing forth shrivelled fruit for yourself alone,

and your good deeds are as morning clouds

that melt in the heat of day.

Therefore I have given you cleanness of teeth,

the gift of famine to show you your sin;

I have withheld the rain from your fields,

and given you pestilence.

I said, “Surely you will fear Me,

surely you will receive my instruction,

that you may live and be spared from destruction”—

but you do not listen.

Now turn to Me, my beloved,

turn to me with all your heart and with weeping;

rend your heart, and not your garments.

For I am slow to anger,

gracious and merciful, of great kindness,

and willing to repent of the evil I have done to you.

Sow to yourself in righteousness,

and you will reap in mercy;

break up your fallow ground,

the long-neglected soil of your soul—

for it is time for you to seek Me,

to seek me until I come and rain righteousness upon you.

O, my beloved, what shall I do with you?

What have I done to you?

How have I wearied you?

How have I driven you out of my arms?

Return to me, and I will return to you.

Return, my beloved,

return.

II. Faint Answer

Come, and let us return to the Lord:

For He has torn, and He will heal us;

He has struck us, and He alone will bind us up;

He will turn again and have compassion on us.

Though we have fallen, we shall arise;

Though we have sat long in darkness,

The Lord shall be a Light unto us.

III. Assurance of Mercy

The Lord your God has come into your midst,

And He is mighty. He will save,

He will rejoice over you with heaven’s joy,

He will nestle you down in His love,

And joy over you with singing.

And the Lord your God will save you

In that day of repentance and mercy;

He will lead you forth as the flock of His people,

For you shall be as gems in His crown,

Lifted up and honored in the fruitful land.

For how great is His goodness,

And how great is His beauty!

IV. His Promise

“And you shall be mine,” says the Lord of hosts,

In that day when I make up my jewels.

I will spare you,

And to you that fear My name

Shall the Sun of Righteousness arise

With healing in His wings.”

V. Coda

Then they that feared the Lord

and hoped in His Word

Spoke often to one another.

And the Lord turned His ear toward them;

A book of remembrance was written before Him

For them that feared the Lord

And that thought on His name.

And we will walk in the name of the Lord

forever and ever.

Celebrating My Family

“Do you never write about your family on your blog anymore?” Judith asked recently. I forget what the context was, but I realized I haven’t written much about them here.

Which is a pity, because they are such a wonderful family—the best one around, I say, though when I said that to one of my friends recently, she said, “I feel like disagreeing with you about your best family! You don’t know ours!!”

Ah well, it’s a happy debate to have. My family is the best for me, and what a gift they are.

Several Sundays during the lockdown, we did some hiking together. And now that school is over, I’ve been at home far more again. It’s been such a blessing to spend more time with my family–to see the sparkle in my little brother’s eye when he tells a funny story, to linger at the table with them discussing some triviality like the flavor of almond milk, and to work in the garden with my sisters while sharing deep conversations.

So here I will celebrate my family with some photos from the past month or two.

Explorations

We’re all in there except Dad, who took the picture–look waaay up top to see the adventurers! (Okay, we were all adventurers–we all went up there after this photo=))

This is the Morse Brook Waterfall, which we explored the first Sunday of the lockdown.

Dad teased me that this was the only kind of photo he could get of me that day. =)

The trail was narrow–but what is that when you have a strong hand to hold? I feel that way too about my parents–they’re there for me, cheering me on, always looking out for the best for their children, and pointing us to Christ.

Another Sunday afternoon, we walked the old railway trail just across the fields from our place. It led through farmland and woods. Here Dad was pointing out something in this small orchard we passed.

One Sunday afternoon while Mom had a nap, the rest of us hiked to the Woodville Waterfall. I loved the rocky trails leading up the North Mountain through the woods.
The climax of the hike was this idyllic woodland waterfall. Dad, who had been there before with the boys, had said, “It’s one of the most scenic waterfalls I’ve ever seen.” When we arrived, I saw why. It was unspoiled natural beauty, water running down ragged rocks in a steady music, with no other sounds but the songs of birds (and happy shouts of children.) We sat there a while, relaxing and talking, while my younger brothers rambled about in the vicinity. I leaned against a tree and soaked in the peace. And snapped photos, while my battery lasted. Next time I need to take a tripod–I didn’t have enough stability to take excellent photos of the blur of the water. But looking at it was the best after all; I want to go back just to revel in that woodland scene again, and for the delightful hike in getting there.

And it was all the better with such amazing hiking companions as my family.

At Home and Around the Farm

It’s flower time again! It’s been fun to see what flowers break out here at our new farm, and Selema and Judith are enjoying picking them for the market.
The menfolk planning out the garden.
And working in it…

We’ve planted a lot of fruit trees, berry bushes, and asparagus here on our new farm, along with many of the garden crops like tomatoes and onions. I’m amazed at the hard work my siblings have put into it already. (And now I’m trying to do my part to help too=))

Sitting on the job, are you? But mulching fruit trees is hard work–you deserve a break now and then!
My inventive brothers built this rig from two bicycles. They call it a cargocycle, and I think the original idea was that it would help with the chores. But so far it’s mostly been used to haul human cargo, especially since we recently got a four-wheeler to help with things like hauling feed buckets out to the poultry in distant pastures.
This morning, we all turned out of bed in good time to watch a partial solar eclipse. The moon covered at least one-third of the sun at the climax. We watched the sun with tinted glass meant for welding helmets, and it looked like a crescent moon, or a cookie with a great big bite taken out of it. Our shadows went funny, sort of frizzly and separated at the edges. The light on the landscape looked flat and weird. Then slowly the moon passed by and the sun was back to its normal rising glory.

After that, Caleb took me for my first ride on the new four-wheeler. He had to use it to move a mineral feeder from one cow pasture to another, but also took a few detours to show me the latest developments on the farm, like the new pig fences in the woods. As I sat behind my competent big brother, flying across the field of yellow buttercups and purple ragged robin and green grass in the invigorating morning air, I felt like a queen being swept away by a knight. Maybe I don’t want to learn how to drive the quad anyway, if my brother can be such a fine escort.

And what would I do without my sisters, my best friends? Their listening ears and gentle wisdom help me out so often. I treasure the times we work together in the kitchen or in the garden and philosophize on life matters or talk over the little important details.

I tried to think of some quote abut family to tie this all together, but no words quite seem to fit. We work together, live together, laugh together, and no one else could quite take the place of my own dear flesh and blood. We have our idiosyncrasies and our rocks to climb over, but we love each other. We belong together. This is family.

Thank God, It Is Completed

Two weeks ago, I typed some final words in a LibreOffice document. I scrolled through the 70+ pages, checking for gaps and obvious mistakes. Then I went back down to the bottom. The last words made me smile: “Thank God, it is completed.”

Those words were quoted from a song chosen by my great-grandmother Annie Frey Weber for her funeral. She lived a long life with humor and grace. It was not without its trials–which included the death of her husband after five years of marriage, separation from her children, and health problems. But she found her joy in the Author and Finisher of her faith.

During the last two years or so, I have spent countless hours researching Annie’s life, hunting up old letters she wrote, and writing her life story. I’ve talked with relatives: my grandfather, great-aunt, cousins-once-removed, and others. My friends and family helped keep me accountable to work at it when my motivation lagged. And now, two weeks ago, I finished the first draft.

I looked at the word count. 27,600+ words.

Really?

After all that time I put into it, that’s all?

And that was the sum of a life. I had chronicled almost every incident about great-grandma Annie that I could get my hands on. But still, only 27,600 words.

That night as I prepared for bed, I couldn’t help but ponder. Annie Weber lived only a few generations ago, and already this small account is all that remains on earth to testify to her life. Does a life have no more import than that?

But. I was only counting words.

That’s not the only measure of a life. What about the three children and many grandchildren and greatgrandchildren that her life paved the way for? What about the many people she inspired while she was on earth? What about the testimony that still lives on in the stories about her, the faith that moved me to tears as I looked over the extent of her life?

She lived her life in submission to God, and it was not in vain. I pray that the hours I have spent in writing Amen to Thy Will won’t be in vain either–that someday, a wider audience can also be inspired by the story of her life.

P.S. I’m currently working on book revisions and getting feedback. Stay tuned for updates, and to hear when the book becomes available to buy.

Conquered

Long have I fought to own my desperate dreams—
Rebellious serf in search of something more,
And sharpening my tongue, declaring war
And holy zeal against whatever seems
To block me. Sense and circumstance may roar,
But I have dreamed and I have fought before—
See, in the sunshine, how my armor gleams!

But who’s the enemy? My passions fade
As now at last I glimpse the Castle high
On misty hill. Why would I be afraid,
Or fight, when He has conquered all, and I
Need only yield to Him? Halt, dark crusade!
See one shy rainbow race across the sky.

Discombobulated: Portraits of a Lockdown

On Tuesday afternoon we teachers said good bye to our students as usual, and later we said, “See you tomorrow!” to each other. But we didn’t see each other the next day. Nova Scotia has entered a lockdown—two weeks, they say. So school as we knew it has ended for a time. I’m so thankful for how far we’ve been able to come this school term. Hopefully we can even come back to school again for a few days at the end of the term.

On Thursday the teachers all went to school to prepare their students’ books to be picked up and the work continued at home. Here are a few snapshots of that unusual morning.

Scenes:

  • rows of book stacks marked with yellow sticky notes
  • empty desks
  • crayons put back in boxes from the baskets they were in when they were being used
  • open file drawers
  • a bewildered teacher wearing a look of deep thought
  • rows of orange chairs awaiting the morning devotions that never came
  • books and papers strewn across my desk
  • parents arriving to pick up their children’s books for homeschooling
  • yellow, blue, and white paint collected for finishing an art project at home
  • scribbled questions for a Bible story I couldn’t read
  • left-behind socks arranged for parents to look through

Echoes:

  • teachers humming as they bustle about
  • binders clicking open and shut
  • clock ticking
  • footsteps on the stairs
  • jokes and questions thrown back and forth
  • copier clanking busily
  • drawers slamming
  • desk chair creaking
  • teacher discussion on yearbook and class photos
  • papers rustling
  • pens clicking
  • cellphone ringing

Feelings:

  • a dear co-teacher’s hug
  • a comfy desk chair I won’t use for a while
  • conversations with the moms of my students
  • heart-tugs while handing over books
  • lost looks at the irrelevant schedule in my planner
  • excitement that I still get to teach in private because it’s considered essential care for my student
  • afloat in a sea of papers: how to organize thoughts and methods and needs among them all?

The days since have settled into a new routine, and life goes on with its challenges and riches, loaded with the goodness of the Father.

According to my loose schedule, this should have been an inspirational post. So I’ll leave you with a thought that a close friend shared with me recently: “Praise God for the things He is doing in your life.” What inspired me about this was the reminder that God is at work right now, not just in some hazy future. I can praise Him for what He has done so far—as Samuel said in the Bible, “Hitherto has the Lord helped us.” Joy comes as we acknowledge and embrace the work God is doing for us, in us, and through us—today.

Of Beginnings and Endings

The final days of the school term are quickly approaching. For some reason this rather surprises me. When the term began, all was new, and I never really thought about how it would end or that it even would. Exciting beginnings never seem to leave much room for thoughts of endings.

But the end of this term is coming. Once in a while, I think about the little that I have accomplished in it and wonder: am I doing anything? These small beginnings: are they worth it? Not that I question whether it’s worth it for me—I have learned so much in the last six months and I know God wants me here—but, are my stumbles and fumbles worth it for those who are paying me?

A few weeks ago, the chairman of the school board and his wife came to school after classes to ask the teachers how we feel about next year. They found us lady teachers randomly lounging around my classroom, chatting about people’s varying learning styles and how important it is to not shove students into boxes. We invited them into the conversation and we all talked together for a few minutes.

Then the other teachers went their ways, leaving Daniel and Gladys and I to have the first interview. I pulled up chairs. We sat down to business.

Only, I don’t like to call it business. They care too much about the school and the people involved. We talked about how the year has gone so far. They listened and gave insights.

Then came the questions. I was expecting The Question: Do you want to stay and teach next term?

But before that one was another. “We’re looking for someone to teach the kindergarten class in April. Is that something you would be interested in?”

Interested? Yes! I had secretly wished that I could, but had assumed the first-grade classroom would be chosen to host the kindergarten students. But I was being asked? Why yes. Yes. I would love to.

After we had discussed that a little while, the other question came. I told them I would be happy to teach again next year, though I would have to discuss it with my parents yet to be sure I had their blessing. “I can’t see myself doing anything else next year,” I said.

And it was true. For a while I had had the sense that if they wanted me, I would teach again next term, whether I wanted to or not—that it was God’s plan for me. But along the way I realized I also very much wanted to say yes. A few days later I gave the confirmation. I felt like I was running along a beach with the wind at my back—childlike joy.

Now the last few weeks I’ve had the joy of four kindergarten students in my classroom part of the time. These three boys and one girl have already found special places in my heart. I thought life was rich with one student to love, but it just gets deeper with more. I have only two more weeks with them; let me make the most of it before it ends.

Kindergarten is an adventure. One day, one of the students in the front row toppled over, desk and all, while reaching for a dropped eraser. I set the desk upright and the tears soon faded. About twenty minutes later, another one fell out the other side, again taking the desk with him. There were no lasting ill effects, and no one else has tried it since.

We’ve had stories and played dodgeball and learned that at school you raise your hand before you talk. We’ve rolled a big colorful die and stepped along numbers laid out on the floor. We’ve practiced colors and numbers and letters. Little beginnings. The foundations for future learning.

The upper grade students come in sometimes to help out. I love watching them gain confidence and seeing their methods—as different as their individual personalities. I can learn from them too.

Last week on Friday afternoon I showed my little class how to make lilies by tracing their hand-prints on colored paper. They cut the hand-prints out while I went around to help where needed. Watch out, you don’t want to cut the thumb off. See, if you hold your scissors like this, you can cut better. Uh-oh, the thumb came off your hand-print anyway. Shall we tape it back on or have a flower with four petals instead of five?

I helped them curl the fingers around a pencil to make the petals, then we taped the edges together and attached them to sticks for stems. A few students made leaves for their flowers. One of them came up with the idea of making a heart shaped leaf.

The finished flowers are now arranged in a jar adorning my desk. Some of the petals have jagged edges, and one did end up with only four petals, while another one has its fifth petal taped back on. But that doesn’t bother me. The children did their best, and I’m delighted with the results of their efforts. They’re my students. I love to see their creativity blossom, watch them discover what they can do, and encourage every little achievement.

Kindergarten will end, but they will go on learning. First grade is around the corner.

My relationship with God is similar. Even though I sometimes feel I have only made small beginnings, He is there for me at every step. He delights in my efforts at seeking Him. He gives me courage for the work I do in His name. He rejoices to see His children learning to walk in the truth. The foundations are always worth the effort.

And often I discover that what I thought was the end is only the beginning.