Take a meal – make someone’s day.

Tonight, as I munched my way through a really delicious dinner made for my family by a dear friend of mine, I started thinking some big thoughts.

Always a dangerous thing.

To some, the idea of having someone else cook you a meal (when you’re not ordering through a speaker or seated at a table somewhere other than home) is a completely foreign idea.

What’s wrong with ya?  Pull yer socks up.  Can’t you do that simple task for your family?

Well, to answer your questions that I’m sure are floating around your head, if they weren’t already they will be by the power of suggestion….nothing is wrong with me.  I’m as good as gold thanks.  I have just finished my five days/nights of working the job I do to pay our bills, and one of my kids is not well and has spent the last three days curled up, asleep in a blanket on the floor/ sofa/carseat, and my much better half is kinda missing in action at the moment with a lot of work stuff on the go at the moment. (And by the way, if your sick kid who has not eaten more than a bite or two in two and a half days, asks you for a cream donut, by golly you go to three lunchbars in the hope of finding him that aforementioned cream donut and you thank Jesus for the plethora of lunchbar options close to where you are.) But I am perfectly capable of cooking my family a meal.  And, here’s the thing;  today I didn’t have to.  Today I was given the gift of time and was able to take care of some other jobs as well as have a little bit of down time and catch my breath a little.

Today, because of someone else’s thoughtfulness I was able to just have a little breather.

And wouldn’t we all like to be able to give others a chance to do the same, when the rubber hits the road for them?

Not every person reading this shares the same faith as me, but I love that you still read this.  I love that no matter what spiritual journey you’re on,  I know that you truly care about others.  You all desperately hate it when loved ones are facing real struggles, when the diagnosis comes out of the blue, the diagnosis that shakes you to the core. You all hurt when others hurt.  You want to take the physical pain away, but there’s not much you can do.  You feel helpless.  You feel inadequate.

Just remember that there is one thing you can do when life is tricksy for others – take them a meal.  Just like I had my dinner made for me tonight.

Here’s a wee something I know to be true from both being on the receiving end of a blessing and of giving such blessings away:

Don’t ever under-estimate the depth and breadth of meaning that the gift of a ready-prepared meal can bring to someone.  

You see its not really about the actual food.

And its not really about the presentation of the meal.

And its certainly not about the amount of money spent on the meal.  (Most times, simple cheaper food is just as yummy as more expensive meals).

Its about the fact that someone took time out of their (most likely) very full day to think about you.  To think about what could possibly make your life just a little bit easier, just a little bit happier.

 Gosh darn it, someone cared about you.

And that my friends is one of the things that really matters in life.  Caring for others.  Being Jesus with skin on.  Again, I turn to Pete Greig’s powerful words ‘Sometimes it’s not enough to tell a suffering friend you’re praying for them. sometimes you have to become the answer to your own prayer’.  

Take a meal – and I guarantee that you will make someone’s day. And in doing so – you just may make your day.

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Incredible.

I’m been thinking just lately about how super proud of my boys I am. The larakins are now aged 6, 10 and 14, and before you utter a wee groan and think this is going to become a bragging post, hold on a ‘mo. It ain’t. While I’m seeing more and more signs of who my boys really are,  I know I have a whole heap still to learn and experience as the years go by,  and I know there are many ups and downs to come.But at the moment,  I’m  very grateful for these glimpses of them that bring me much joy.

I think that when children are small, it’s the things they do that make us proud. The first time they crawl. The first attempt at walking. The first word. The first book they read aloud. We ooh and we aah over their milestones reached and achievements made, but as they get older, it’s the things that reveal their character that really make us clap and cheer.

I’ve been thinking lately that as an adult it is really easy to go through life and loose sight of the things in us that actually bring joy to others. I wonder if we fail to recognize glimpses of our character that are revealed by our actions, because our focus is often on what we’re not doing right?  What we could do better at.  What we’re not achieving.

I thought I was a fairly confident person until just recently when I sat back in a certain situation and realized just how intimated I felt and was actually counting up the number of things I was sucking at.

Something in me makes me think that maybe I’m not the only one in the world who does this, and I needed this little reminder; in the same way that it makes my heart burst when I see evidence of good hearts in my boys, I think our creator, my Lord, is just watching and happily bursting with pride as He takes in all that we do, and more importantly all that we are.

These lyrics from a song by Matthew West are so powerful, and they really sum things up for me:
When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
When you see too far gone
I see one step away from home
When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I’m not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

I look at things I do/say/ am, and I’m tempted to think ‘stuffed up there’.  But God doesn’t.  You see he’s not finished with us yet, and He does see healing beyond belief.  He does see something good in the making. We are works in progress – His works in progress.

Our children bring us great joy, and I think we could all do well to live with the reminder that we actually do bring great joy to God.

I made a cake for a friend this week, and because I can see many ways in which this person adds value to others and is amazingly multi-talented, I decided to go with a ‘Mr Incredible’ theme for the cake.  ‘Happy Birthday Mr Incredible’.  I just googled the root word for ‘incredible’, and it is the latin word ‘credere’ – to believe.  So to be incredible, is to be unbelievable, and to be incredible is also to be out of the ordinary.

 When we live in a such a way that our lives display the work of Christ in and through us, we are being incredible.  We are being out of the ordinary.  And this out of the ordinary business – it actually shines a massive spotlight on God’s goodness. It shows what He is capable of. It highlights His creativity. His power to transform.

Sometimes we forget that some out of those seemingly ordinary things we do, actually can speak very loud and wide to others around us.

My friends that repeatedly open up their hearts and their homes to foster children.
Another friend whose faith remains strong and steadfast, in the face of a lot of uncertainty surrounding her.

The customer who takes the time to actually look at the person serving them, and to inquire about their day with genuine interest.

The quick text someone sends to a friend, to show they are thinking of them, they care about whatever it is that is going on in their world.

When our inner world, dictates whatever it is that we do in our outer world, that could possibly  build others up, that shows a speckle of love or hope or compassion, that’s simply out of the ordinary. Because, let’s face it, by nature we’re all pretty selfish beasts.  And by nature our worlds can become pretty small and pretty insular.

So, at the risk of sounding really corny, heck I’ll go there anywhere, I know I’m so proud of my people, all over the world, who are just doing the stuff.  All the stuff.  Whatever it is they think they are called to do,  going out and loving more and  loving deeper and loving fiercer.  And I reckon that our God is even more proud.  Maybe we could do well to remember this thought when we are tempted to focus on all we’re not doing well.

Our God is so proud of us. I really do believe that He’s the most proud parent of all.

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Shenanigans and other tools.

Someone that I spend regular and decent amounts of time with is suffering from a pretty severe case of workplace dissatisfaction. It’s rough. She works long hours in a  physically demanding job, and she’s not of an age where she could easily walk into a different position. I think she feels quite trapped.

And I think we all experience times in our lives when we can feel a bit trapped.

Trapped by self-imposed expectations, trapped by others’ imposed expectations, the demands of young children or elderly parents. Trapped by physical limitations or financial constraints.

Trapped. Confined. Cut off. Cornered. Pinned down. Driven into a corner. Hemmed in. Shut in. Held captive.

It’s hard to feel that way, and it’s hard to stand by and see others feeling that way.

So what can possibly help, when we can’t actually change circumstances?

I reckon we have three powerful tools at our disposal, at all times, that can make a difference. As a Christ follower I believe in the power of prayer. I believe I can pray for my friend who is dealing with her workplace dissatisfaction. I can pray that things become easier for her, that she can find snippets of joy in the mundane, and that maybe she can take a break soon. A wee holiday, a change of routine might help. Prayer changes situations, it changes atmospheres and it changes us.

The second thing I believe we can all do, for everyone, but especially for those who feel trapped, is to encourage them. Call out the gold in them. Remind them of who they are. Sometimes circumstances that trap us have a funny way of chipping away at our already crumbling self-esteem. There’s a saying that’s constantly doing the facebook/ Pinterest/ Instagram rounds and it goes ‘A person who feels appreciated will always do more that what is expected’. You could probably read a million stories on the interwebs on the power of encouragement, because it is so powerful. For everyone. But somehow, in the busyness of life, caught up in the demands of our must do today’s, we forget to implement this powerful tool in a sincere and immediate way (because I believe that’s when encouragement becomes most meaningful). So this is my wee reminder to myself and to you, that encouragement is a handy dandy tool for all of us, to help all of us.

And lastly, the third tool we all have at our disposal to help ourselves and to help others: shenanigans. Secret activity or maneuvering, silly or high-spirited behaviour. I’m all for all of  that.

When my boys were small in stature but huge in demands, I quickly adopted the art of the distraction. You know that whole hell hath no fury like a three year old whose sandwich was cut into squares when he wanted triangles? Well ‘hey what shall we do after lunch? Will we play ‘Candyland’ or ‘Memory’?’ sometimes (well on occasion) (on a really good day)(ok you get the idea) worked a treat. And shenanigans provide a great distraction from all the things that can consume you – both for the shananigator and the recipients/ those forced into actioning the shenanigans.

For a lovely while my family was able to have a weekly family night. We all took turns deciding what to do on those nights – it could be a movie at home, or a board game together or we could bake something yummy and do a stealthy ding-dong-ditch, leaving the goodies at someone’s door. Those deliveries were my favourite because doing something for someone else always, always, always has the wonderful side effect of lifting your own eyes from up and above your own circumstances. I truly believe that properly executed shenanigans can bring JOY. Real joy. Joy that happens when you put Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between.

Nowadays I try to do a little shenanigan here and there, when I feel someone could do with a wee morale boost, or rather, when my circumstances dictate that I can’t socialise as much as I’d like to, or have a wee time out myself etc, but I do have the time and ways and means to do something a little out of the ordinary for the sake of fun. Cos then I’m having fun. I’m always wishing I could do more though, always.

I know that like encouragement, shenanigans isn’t going to change someone’s situation. But think of both those things as a rope thrown down a well, a way to help others up. You’re offering a form of help, you’re adding some value to a tricky situation, you’re offering what could be a lifeline, and you’re showing you care. And we’ll never know what a difference prayer can and will make to someone’s situation.The potential is limitless.

Nobody likes to be trapped, nobody likes to see those we love feeling and being trapped, but we can offer some help. Praying, encouraging and shenanigan help.

My book.

Sorry, not sorry to draw you in with that there blog post title.  Just to be clear – I don’t have a book in the pipelines. Nope.  Not even close.  But I’ve been asked by some people over recent years if I would ever attempt that.  Maybe one day. Not today.  Not tomorrow.  Probably not next week or even next year. Maybe one day though. I’ve learnt to never say never about certain things, but for the longest time I’ve thought I really don’t have much to write about.

But you know what?

I do.

I gots me some stuff.

You see I’ve been reminded just lately that I don’t have any one remarkable story up my sleeve, but a whole series of remarkable stories.  Remarkable because they all center on one main character, one main theme, one all encompassing story which is remarkable despite all of my orneriness, despite all of ME,  and that’s Jesus.

Jesus. Who He is. What He’s done for me.  What He continues to do.  The hope I find in Him. The companionship in Him. The acceptance found by Him.

Do you ever find yourself stuck in your story?  Do you ever seek to upskill yourself with all the whys people do things and how best you need to react and what your next step is and what you’re going to do about all of this?

Yeah.  I know the drill.

And I know that knowledge is good, and learning is gooder and seeking help is the goodest.  But I’ve also been reminded lately that the best thing of all to do, in any and every situation is to turn to Jesus.  To blurt out your worries and your joys, your ups and your downs, your thoughts and your perspectives, to cast your cares upon Him.

Time and time again I can look back at my life and see evidence of God’s fingerprints of grace; of provision and of help.

Of Jesus.

That time I was completely surprised and crushed by sheer animosity towards me?  Jesus stood by, waiting for me to place my broken heart at His feet.

Every time I have faced agonizing grief and heartache?  Jesus has been there, with His reassuring presence and invading love.

When I was told that having another child was a medical impossibility until X happened, but then those two parallel lines on that plastic stick proved otherwise. Jesus saw my tears of joy and my grateful heart.

Those bills that stack up when you least expect them?  We’ve been met with miraculous provision, time and time again.  Situations that came as a surprise to us, were no surprise to God.

Those occasions when I begin to doubt the decisions my husband and I have made regarding career choices and what we give our time and attention to, they are always met with a gentle reminder from God himself carried out in various ways, that He has everything in control and He is no man’s debtor.

Jesus.  He’s right there.  Whisper His name and the atmosphere around you changes.

Jesus.  He’s there for my heartache as well as the times when my heart is full.

Jesus.  The hero of my story. The author of each and every chapter.  And He’s longing to be my very first port of call in each and every situation I face.  And He can do the same for you. No matter what you’re going through.  This I know.

This I surely know.

Jesus.

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Turned to Gold. 

Not all blog posts just ooze out, in a free flow manner like a magnificent waterfall. Some start and stop like semi-gridlocked traffic. Others are squished out of one’s soul much like a garlic crusher, where the hard work is getting past the outer layers, then it just squeezes out…

This particular one of mine ain’t the waterfall variety.

You’ve been warned.

I’ve just devoured an outstanding book; ‘God on Mute’ by Pete Greig. Pete wrote this book to help those who are hurting and wondering ‘Where is God?’, those who are suffering in silence. He looks at the huge topic of why prayer sometimes doesnt ‘work’.

I borrowed the book from a friend, with the very best of intentions. I wanted to know how to help others who are struggling with unanswered prayer. Chuckle. Ha. For others.

Little did I know.

You see the more I read the book the more I could see insights in it for me. ‘God’ reminders for me. Encouragement for my own journey, and encouragement from my own journey. And the more I read the book the more I could resonate with Pete’s sharing of his wife’s journey with sickness, because of my own wee  big adventure with sickness.

‘God on Mute’ is the book I would have loved to have read anytime in my four years of living with a yet to be diagnosed condition. A time made up of countless doctors visits, endless tests, cocktails of painkillers and sleeping tablets, and totally unexplained pain. Sheer, utter, agonizing pain.

You see I don’t tend to talk much about that time in my life, because it seems so distant now.  And while I’m pain free now, I’m not really ‘healed’. My health is ‘managed’ and for the most part I’m winning on that front, but healing is not something that I can say I have. Not physically, and there are probably a few lingering emotional scars from that chapter in my life too, if I really stop to think about it, but I reckon they are healing with time.

It’s a weird thing to be able to say that I’m not healed of something, but actually, that’s ok. It is well with my battle-worn, battle-torn soul anyway. And the fact that I’m ok, isn’t anything to do with me as a person. No, I’m pretty much a wretched soul. But I’m ok because of who my God is, and the fact I can acknowledge that His presence has carried me all that time then, and on and on and on now.

It is a good thing to look back and to be able to say while there were many times that I wished that ‘adventure’ was not a part of my life’s journey, yet I am changed for the better and yet I will praise Him. And this book has reminded me of that.

Greig quotes a friend of his who had a profound experience when visiting a friend who was dying. This friend made the comment that ‘God is present in the midst of suffering because we are present in it. We are God’s presence’. I find this to be amazingly accurate. Pain and grief have a way of causing great isolation. But the people who push through the barriers that people put up, and the imagined or real state of loneliness that those suffering are in are invaded by the loving people who carry God’s presence, there God is present. God is present when He feels far away. God is present when circumstances are grim and answers seem distant. God is present.

The importance of people supporting you through tough times comes out numerous times in Greig’s writing. ‘We expect God’s voice to be unmistakable, a rumbling revelation or an insistent inner whisper. Yet for those with the ears to hear, He often speaks most eloquently through the commonplace actions of ordinary, unwitting people’.

In my deepest, darkest days of dealing with my ongoing battle with pain, I chose to stay silent for many reasons. Not a lot of people knew what was going on, but between my husband who was and is my rock, and a very good friend that I chose to be completely honest and real with, and my gp who became quite an advocate for me, I was supported and the actions of those three people spoke volumes to me. They often acted on God nudgings and made me feel loved and accepted.

Another very noteworthy point for me in Greig’s book is the comment ‘Sometimes it’s not enough to tell a suffering friend you’re praying for them. sometimes you have to become the answer to your own prayer’. This doesn’t mean you have to play God, no, to me it means that sometimes there are things you can actually action upon, that will bring practical help to someone and in turn this helps to answer prayer. Say you’ll pray for someone AND visit them. Say you’ll pray for a certain situation AND make them a meal. Pray and do…….be the hands and feet of Jesus. My friend prayed for me when I was with her, and when I wasn’t with her, AND she picked me up and took me and my child on little adventures to give my brain a change of scenery AND she let me cry on her shoulder AND she took me to prayer meetings.  She lent me her strength and her faith when mine wavered.

One of Greig’s paragraphs near the end of the book is this: ‘When we suffer, Jesus comes with questions to refine and enhance our humanity. He of all people understands that this process of dealing with the mess created by our disappointments in prayer can hurt terribly. He knows that without His help, we will become bitter not better, and that we will lick our wounds like a dog or curl up in a ball of self-protection like a hedgehog. But if, like Mary, we will continue to worship, even at the grave of everything we ever believed in, our grief will turn to gold’. Ugh. That speaks to me. Never did I feel so pathetically human, as when I was suffering as I did and experiencing bitter disappointments to prayer. And I tried that whole curling up in a ball of self-protection too, and that didn’t work for me either. What did help was worship. What did help was coming before God time and time again, in all my brokenness, asking for peace, asking for His presence, and all the while looking at the promises that I knew could remain constant, despite my present circumstances.

And you know what? Miracle of miracles I do believe my grief has turned to gold. I’m so much more compassionate as a result of all the dark times in my life. I’m so much more aware of really bad and much better things to say to someone facing trials. I think I’m more patient and understanding of the need to not cast my own skewed perspective on things because I’m certainly not in another’s shoes. I’m acutely aware of my need to constantly offer myself to God’s will and not my own. This is all gold. Learnt the very hard way. Learnt the very long way. But gold nevertheless.

I’ve only highlighted a few of the many points I loved in this book and I do believe this book is a gift to every day, common people. If you’re a Christ follower it will help you wrap your head around some big issues, and it will give you the tools to feel better equipped when those gnarly discussions come your way. If you’re not a Christ follower  it will help you understand just what Easter is all about and why Christians chose to follow this Jesus guy. It is also super helpful that Greig uses language that is easy to understand, you don’t need a theology degree under your belt or a Strong’s concordance by your side.

It’s good to remember journeys, all the journeys. Read this book. And then remember what has already turned to gold for you, and what gold is still to come.

Up.

One of the absolute highlights of my family’s time living in America, is the 56 hours my husband and I spent on our trip to New York City. Those 56 hours included the travel time across the country, but considering it was the first time we’d flown anywhere without our kids in our kids’ lifetimes, then even the travel time was a highlight (and all the parents said ‘Amen’).

This trip to NYC was meaningful in every way: the flights had been a generous gift to us, it was one of our last adventures before leaving America, we were childless for 56 hours (oh, had I already mentioned that?), we were able to meet up with my brother and his wife who were there at the same time as us, and we were there over the fun Fourth of July holiday weekend.

I’m a Christian. I don’t believe in magic, right? Without a doubt I believe in miracles and God’s power. But if people ever ask me about New York City and what I thought of it, I feel compelled to say it is ‘magical’, simply because I can’t think of a better describing word.

I’m not a big city girl. I’m not a fan of crowds in any way, shape or form. I’m no country girl either, but I’d tend to favour smaller populated places than bigger populated places if I had to make a choice…..so my love for NYC surprised me.

You see New York City, the city that never sleeps, truly is a hive of activity. It is a diverse and bustling place for sure. The neighbourhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown are fascinating, you feel like you’ve walked across international borders as you explore these areas.  The cheapskate way to see the Statue of Liberty is to catch the free ferry across to Staten Island, and from there you get to see Manhattan from a completely new angle. I could go on but this ain’t no travel blog. But the thing for me that makes New York City so stunning are the skylines. And all the things you see when you choose to look up.

You know it isn’t always convenient to look up. When you’re in unfamiliar surroundings and the sea of humanity is pressing in on you, you feel like you need to be focusing on your path, but if you don’t look up, you miss seeing the fireflies as they dance their evening waltz around the parks. If you don’t look up you miss the complex architecture and the striking contrasts every which way. If you don’t look up you don’t see how everyday people make their lives happen in apartment blocks looming high above the footpaths.

When you are in New York City you must look up, because if you don’t you’ll miss a good amount of the beauty surrounding you.

I’ve come to find that life in general can often cause you to focus on the looking around you and on the looking downwards, but we can miss out on the most precious, if we don’t look up.

Sometimes you may find yourself surrounded by voices that are too loud. Too demanding. Like the voices that form the humming on the streets of New York. Conversely, sometimes the voices you most want to hear, that you’re actually pining for, are silent. When that happens, peace can come when we choose to look up.

God, speak to me.

Guide me.

Encourage me.

Sometimes when bodies jostle us and the surge of the mass of a crowd push us in a direction we don’t want to go in, like the crowd at a subway station, all desperate to get on or off in a race against time, we need to look up.

God, help me.

Give me wisdom.

Be my guide.

Sometimes what can be ordinary and mundane, is transformed when we look up. In NYC some very ordinary street fronts are taken to a completely new level when your line of sight moves up the building fronts, as you look up.

But sometimes when we’re so intent on getting our next steps right, we forget to look up. We do. But thankfully we have before us a very real promise in the bible, that when we seek God, we will find Him. In The Message version of the bible we read ‘When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else,I’ll make sure you’re not disappointed’ (Jeremiah 29: 13).

The title track on Grace Vineyard’s album ‘Seek Me’ includes the lyrics ‘you reveal your glory, to hungry hearts’.  I love that and I’ve seen and experienced this countless times, and need to remind myself to come closer to God with a hungry heart, because I know it will be filled. I know it is worth it, to look up.

When we fill our lives with Holy pauses, when we fix our attention on looking up, on focusing on God, then what was hazy becomes clear.

What was confusing and complex becomes understandable and simplified.

What was clouding our perspectives is able to fade away and we are able to gain fresh insight.

When in New York City, it really pays to look up. Always look up.

When doing life, the best way to live this life, is to look up. Seeking Him, and looking up.

 

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You can’t buy half a happy meal.

I’ve only ever dyed my hair once. And gee whizz, that once was enough, enough for three decades at least. I was a University student and was asked to be a model, aka guinea pig for a friend who was already a qualified hairdresser, but she was attending a special hair colouring seminar to learn some newfangled technique, and she needed a guinea pig to accompany her.

I’m not sure why I said yes.

It was not my best yes.

But I did say yes,  and since that fateful day my hair has been au natural.

All I’ll say about what I ended up with that day is this: bright highlights, and two other colours. Add to that the fact I wasn’t going to be colouring again out of my own pocket and you can imagine the horror regrowth.

Yep.

‘Horrific’ is a good word.

Anyway. When you sign up to help someone out like that, you can’t really sign up with a whole bunch of restrictions if someone is supposed to be learning set things along the way. For my friend to learn and practice these new skills, I had to be a willing participant. An ‘all in’ participant.

You can’t buy half a happy meal.

I reckon that any time you have the opportunity to be ‘all in’ on something, you’re going to be met with things that have gone well, things that could have gone better, and full on train wrecks.

That’s part of life.

That’s part of risk.

But that’s not always something that’s talked about.

Nobody likes to admit failure and we all encounter hard things. But when we can pinpoint something that can be changed and improved, that’s where real progress begins.

You see you can’t buy half a happy meal.

Please don’t shoot me Food Police people, I’m really not a huge fan of the Golden Arches, I’m not. But I’m yet to meet any four year old on God’s green earth that is going to turn down a happy meal.  As much as I’m in favour of healthy eating for all, I’m also in favour of a wee treat now and then….and heck, a touch of bribery and corruption goes a very long way……enough justifications? Ok. A happy meal can in fact bring a little bit of joy into a little person’s life.

But you have to buy the meal as a whole.

No matter what country you’re in.

Sure you can buy some of the components separately, but the things that make a happy meal, so happy, are the boxes they come in and the toys, and the wee choices that your young’un can make about what they want to eat.

Happy.

However ‘bad’ or lacking in good nutrition these components may be, together they combine to make something ‘happy’.

And sometimes I see life when you’re totally committed to something as being like that……..while not all the components, not all the areas in your life may be pleasant or fun or fulfilling, the end goal is pretty darn amazing. There’s joy unspeakable when you’re committed to and in your ‘all in’ mission, whatever that may be.

Slight tangent – I love the fact that these here ramblings of mine are often read by friends of mine who don’t always share the same faith as me.  And I also love that so many of you have stood by me when life has dipped and turned and swayed this way and that way, because of the ways in which we’ve chosen to do life. You may not always have understood – but your support has meant a whole bunch. So thank you. 

Now back to you, and whatever the stink components of your ‘all in’ may be…..I guess I’m writing this to encourage you……the stink is all part of the glory……there’s just no escaping it. It helps to find kindred spirits that you can spill your guts too. No matter how alone in your situation you may feel, there is always someone who thinks and acts in a similar way to you. Find that person and cling on to them. They are gold. Also know that whatever it is you’re facing, you’re not alone. God is with you. The one who called you will and does equip you. And you’re going to be ok. Your commitment to your ‘all in’ will take you places. Around, above and beyond your hardships. Because you can’t buy half a happy meal. It’s all or nothing. 

And ‘all’ is a much more exciting way to live. 

  

Knitted hearts.

As I drove home tonight I was compelled to keep a watchful eye on the moon, shining bright and full, veiled by passing clouds every few minutes.

I was drawn to its magnificent beauty, and my thoughts wandered to my friend Cas, who is half way across the world, with the very same moon shining bright over her, in the very small hours at the start of this very same day.

I’ve been thinking and praying for Cas a lot in the past few weeks, and especially in the last 48 hours. I shared a little of Cas and her husband Todd here. I’m very sad to say that Todd passed away yesterday, due to complications from chemotherapy. In due time I’m sure Cas will share what only she can share, for this is her story to tell, I can’t and I won’t focus on that, but I feel I can share on what a glorious thing it is to have kinship with someone.

I can see why some people steel themselves to have impenetrable hearts and choose not to let people in to their inner circle. People are so……stinkin’ human. We let people down. We say and do wrong things. We stuff up situations regularly. We easily place our own filters and perspectives on things. And then life interrupts us and curveballs come our way. And bad things happen to good people. And desperate situations become dark and seemingly hopeless.

Yes, it is easy to hide away and wrap our hearts behind thick walls. To focus on whatever needs must. To control and manage whatever parts of us we can possibly control and manage.

It’s understandable, yes.

But it isn’t the most joyful way to live life. And it isn’t the most rewarding way to live life. And it isn’t the most comforting way either.

You see as much as my heart mourns for Cas, and as much as my body has wept over the loss of Todd to his family and to this world, I know what a privilege it is to have kinship with this precious lady. We shared experiences, in another time and another place, but her friendship will forever hold a place in my heart. And though I can’t do anything practically for her, at this great distance, I know that as I gaze unto the same moon that hangs over her, I can pray for her. Jesus be her strength. Jesus be her comfort. Jesus be near. And I think that’s one of the reasons why friendship is so important and so necessary, for all of us. So we can lend each other strength when we need it, so we can lend each other courage when we need it. So we can lift up others in prayer when they just haven’t got the words to utter a plea themselves. 

Kinship. Or as a wise friend reminded me, this ‘knitted hearts’ business, it is truly a bittersweet thing. But one that helps to give meaning to our lives and comfort to our experiences.

Jesus seemed to have really ‘got’ the knitted hearts business.  He had a group of friends within his wider circle of friends, that he chose to spend more of his time with.  He also sent off the disciples two by two – knowing that companionship was important for them.

You see as much as people can be hard work and as much as sometimes it hurts to see others hurt so much, and to have a front row seat to injustices and tragedies, people can bring light into dark situations.  They can bring laughter where there is despondency.  They can bring energy to the worn-out.  They can see things that others are missing and hear things that are deaf to our ears.

The fact of the matter is; we need each other.

One of the great joys in my life is doing little tasks in our church office.  Although I treat it like a job because then the tasks I do receive the attention they deserve and the commitment that comes with that, I never call it work, because I love it so.  One of the things I get to do is write in little cards that we send out with welcome packs to newcomers.  In these cards I always try to write something along the lines of ‘we are looking forward to journeying with you’, but I try to change it up and individualize it for different people, the gist of it is the same and I think it is very true.  Doing life with others is such a joy.  Hard, yes, but such a joy.

After being new in different countries and different cities, my family and I have always been received by different people in various ways.  Some people already have ‘full circles’ and don’t see how or why to make space in their lives for more.  But others – others have opened their arms far and wide to embrace us, and that’s how I always want to live: always enlarging my circle and always deepening my circle.

It isn’t possible to have deep friendships with everyone, but it is important to have some, and I think it is possible to have very wide circles of friends….ever increasing…..

We’re all under that same bright moon.  We all have something to offer others.  And something to receive from others.

Knitted hearts require work and vulnerability – but by golly, what a worthwhile endeavor they are.  Snot, tears, laughter and all.

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Peace like a river.

I’ve got a friend who is a lawyer. Cue the lawyer jokes……nah…..let’s not. My friend’s area of specialty is the law of war. I didn’t know there was such a thing, before I met my friend. But there is, and it is fascinating. I wish I had bigger and better brains to understand the complexities of the issues surrounding the law of war….but what I do know is that for peace to happen, for peace to be a reality, it takes work. 

My middle boy’s area of ‘leadership’ at school is peacemaking. He’s part of a group of kids who are rostered on in shifts over lunch breaks (in NZ all the school has their lunchtime at the same time), these kids wear oversized brightly coloured tshirts over their uniforms to identify themselves as peacemakers, and they ‘patrol’ the school grounds, ready to help out with playground disputes and issues. They have had some training in the area and are kids who in general exhibit some gentle and kind qualities themselves. It’s a cool idea I reckon.

I also reckon there are some situations where us adults could do with some peacemakers patrolling the hallways and corridors of our lives. Now I’m not about to rock some high vis wear myself, but I figured I could write down some things I know about establishing and keeping the peace in my own life. Peace to do with relationships. Normally I’m a little reluctant to say that I know anything about anything, because nobody wants be appear to be a know it all, and I’m always acutely aware of my need to learn more, to progress more and to develop more. But you know what? Today I’m actually gonna say I actually know some stuff about this. Most of it has been learnt the hard way, and I may not always practice it myself all the time, but maaaate, this is what I do know: 

* peace is like a river. Life flows so much better when you are at peace with the relationships in your life. And peace is worth protecting, just like an unpolluted, sparkling clear river, bringing refreshing water to many.

* peace is worth striving for, but peace is not always attainable with everyone in your life, all of the time. We’re all so different, there are always going to be some personalities that are harder to understand than others. And as awful and as hard as living with that tension can be, as long as you know you’ve made every effort on your part, then you just have to let it go.  ‘Harmony’ is one of my top five strengths, so it can be the end of the world for me if things aren’t all fine and dandy with relationships in my life, so I’ve had to learn how best to deal with this and live with the reality that harmony is not always possible. It just isn’t.

* pick your time and place for conversations that could become ‘interesting’ very carefully. Are there onlookers and eavesdroppers that shouldn’t be privy to this conversation? Similarly, would it be best to have a third party in on the conversation, someone who can see the middle ground? This week someone talked to me about something, but before I could see the heart behind the words spoken, I first had to get over the fact these words were spoken to me in front of someone who shouldn’t have been privy to the conversation. Time and place. It’s so important. 

* is it necessary? I think a lot of heartache can be avoided when we choose to keep our opinions on a matter to ourselves . I know the times I’ve most been in hot water with myself and others, have been the times when I’ve shared my opinion on something, when it wasn’t necessary. I’m learning to shut up more, but to have an answer when called upon. When someone actually  wants to hear what my opinion on something may be. It’s a more peaceful way to walk through life for sure. 

* work out what you need to do to process your feelings, when you feel robbed of your peace. Some people need to pray, listen to music, or walk. Some people need to hide themselves away a bit, others need the company of others. I get to the point of needing a little vent (usually to my husband and a friend) (like a double shot latte), just to make sure I’m not unjustified in my thoughts and feelings, and sometimes I find I need to action these feelings in some ways. It helps to restore peace. Praise God for my husband and friends. 

* pray pray pray. This should be my first point, my middle point and my last point. I don’t always understand why people say or do hurtful things to myself and to those I love, but I realise I don’t have to have all the answers or any answers for that matter. But I do know we have the best advocate we could ever have in God. When there are no earthly reasons why conflict happens and peace is robbed from us, we have God on our side. And He is the peace that passes all understanding. Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is peace. We can learn to live and rest in this. 

Sometimes we get out of the river of peace because we choose to, it happens as a by product of our attitudes and heart positions, and at other times it feels like we’re snatched out of that river, because of circumstances completely out of our control. The good news is that river never dries up, that river of peace is always flowing, always offering refreshment and cleansing, and we can choose to get back in. Back into the flow. 

  

The little girl.

You might think that the following blog post is extremely similar to blog posts I’ve posted in the past.  You would be right.  100% correct.

I wasn’t going to do this one.

I wasn’t.

And then I read three different things by three different people all along the same vein; your greatest ministry comes out of your greatest hurt. Whatever God brings you through.  He makes you a minister to.

And so.

I guess while I still have words of hope, maybe even words to help, words words words, I won’t stop.

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I have three amazing boys.  Son A looks very much like my better half.  So much so we still laugh about the time when my husband took a very young son A to the supermarket, the check-out chick remarked ‘how kind it was for him to take his little brother out with him’.

Somehow the years have passed (we really gotta stop blinking)  and Son A is now a teenager…… my husband is no longer as baby-faced looking as he was when Son A was a baby.  But they still look alike.

Sons B and C don’t look very similar to Son A, but they do look very alike to each other.  We can see both myself and my Spunky Hunk in them.  Its funny how that works.  You can definitely tell they are brothers.

A couple of days ago a little girl came in to where I work.  I looked at her and in an instant I saw features in her face that were very similar to all three of my sons.  It blew me away.  It is the weirdest thing to explain, but I saw this amazing mix of Sons A, B and C in her, and at that same instant the thought flew through my head, ‘she looks like what might have been’.

My ‘what might have been’ hasn’t been for a very long time now.  And I can say quite honestly that that’s ok. ‘What might have been’ is a part of my story and perhaps you have a similar story.  And that’s ok.  And while I’m not dwelling on the past, I’m taking this as a reminder and I’m grateful for it, that by golly we need to be so careful when we’re talking to people who are walking through the deepest of valleys.

While I know I don’t have any formal education on theological issues (I’ve got some friends who are and I’m sure they will correct me if I’m way off track),  I’m clued up enough to know there are some warped ideas out there regarding where God is when people hurt and how best to treat people in crisis.  And I’m sick and tired of seeing and hearing platitudes regarding the end result of or the reason why people have to endure hard things.

Quite honestly it hurts my heart that someone told my friend who was sitting in an ER with a very sick husband, that his chemo and his cancer was going to make them better people.

It hurts my heart that a fellow Mum at school will be having a mastectomy tomorrow which will then be followed by radiation treatment.  I would hope that no-one in her circle would say to her that God will make her even more beautiful. Yes I fully agree that beauty can come in and from ashes, but she was beautiful to start with.

It hurts my heart that some of my own extended family members lost a precious little boy after only six weeks of life outside of the womb.  I don’t think its a helpful thing to tell someone who is grieving that they need to focus on all the blessings they do have in their life.

I’m on a journey to be more of a support to people, whatever they are facing, but my own experiences of grief and loss and those I’ve had the privilege of being close to, those experiences tell me…….gently gently gently.  Softly softly softly.

You’re not necessarily a better person for having gone through something huge and horrible, because of the experience.   You may further develop some characteristics that you already had, but you were already a person who was worthy of being loved.  Unconditionally. You were already ‘better’.

I’d say to someone going through a hard time that ‘you’re already beautiful’. And you will get through this.  And you can take all the time in the world.  I’m sorry that this is a part of your story.  You didn’t need this.  But what I do know is this – that no matter what happens, no matter how hard things get, we are promised the assurance of God’s presence with us.  And this presence gives us Hope.  And this presence gives us Peace.  And this presence gives us reassurance when all around us is sinking.

Those are the things I would say.

I don’t have answers for when times are tough, but I do have hope.  And we need to be passing on the torch of hope.

 

Softly, softly.

 

Gently, gently.

 

I know I need these reminders from time to time.

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