The Naughty Little Sister (and leaning into hard)

I was a good kid.  I never got into trouble at school, I was always wanting to please all the teachers, all of the time.  I was also a good girl at home.  I was helpful, responsible, reliable and all of that.  ‘Naughty’ was just not done, in any way/ shape or form, apart from in the ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ books by Dorothy Hughes.  Gee I loved those books. I delighted in those stories. Maybe I secretly envied what the naughty little sister did.  I dunno.  But I do know I was a very good kid.

Apart from that one time.

That one time when I did do a very naughty thing.

A very naughty thing indeed.

I must have been seven, and my older sister was away at boarding school.  No this isn’t a common thing for us New Zealanders, this was when we were ‘Missionary Kids’ in Asia.  My sister was a couple of days’ train ride away from me and what was our home, but she’d left her precious little bottles of perfume behind.  Wise move on her part, so she thought. Keeping those items away from dormitory life.  But they weren’t away from her naughty little sister, were they? My not so wise move was to take those tiny little bottles  – that held massive meaning for her – and I added some water to them.  I thought I was doing her a favour.  I thought I was extending the life of those perfumes.  I thought I was making them go further.

Nope.  No I wasn’t. And yep. Was she mad.

Rightly so.

I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch her belongings.  But I did.  Naughty, naughty me.

You see seven year old me didn’t know that the act of diluting the perfume was in fact going to take away its strength. Its power.  To dilute is to make weaker in force, content or value by modification or the addition of other elements.

When something is diluted it is diminished. Reduced.  Decreased.  Lessened.  Quietened and Moderated.

Those aren’t very inspiring words.  Not things I’d like to aspire to in life in general.  Not life goals worth having.  And don’t you think that sometimes when the mundane in life tries to take over, and you find yourself in the hamster wheel of  doing same old, same old ‘life’, and actually you want to make the absolute most of whatever blessed life you’ve been given and whatever you have left ahead of you.  Sometimes you just get this fire in your belly, and you realize that you don’t want to live a life that is diminished. Reduced.  Decreased.  Lessened.  Quietened and Moderated. In any way.

Nope.

So what can you do?

From being around some good people, and from reading good books and from hearing people’s stories, the thing I keep hearing time and time again, about all of this ‘living your best life’ stuff is:  (buckle up friends, you may actually want to tap me on the head, with a hammer, over this one) you can’t shy away from hard things.  You must do hard things.

You must.  In whatever shape or form these hard things come into your life – whether you open the door to them, or they just barge right on in, uninvited, and then stay on and on and on, you can and must do these hard things.

Hard things……..are…………..hard.  Pain, grief and suffering.  Nothing can prepare for those things.  Nothing.  They push people to limits they didn’t even know existed, and then some.  People things are hard.  People are so…….peopleish.  Sickness is hard.  It is simply awful seeing someone you love in pain.  Relationships can be hard. The family unit can be hard. Financial problems can be hard.  Infertility.  Miscarriage. Job loss.  Addictions.  Hard hard hard hard.

Everyone on God’s green earth, at some point or another is going to, or has, or is currently facing something that is HARD.  And you’ve got two options with what to do with that situation, whatever that situation is.  One – you can run like the wind and you choose not to have that conversation.  Or make those changes.  Or seek that advice.  Or heal that wound.  Or two – you lean in to that hard.  Sometimes with teeth gritted, and chin thrust up, sometimes with tears and moaning and groaning.  And you deal with that hard, in the trenches, fighting the battle, sometimes fiercely, and sometimes with no energy to spare at all, but you face that hard.

Elisabeth Elliot said ‘Sometimes fear does not subside and one must choose to do it afraid’.  I think of my friend Treva when I read that quote.  She lost her husband nearly a year ago.  This first anniversary of Jeff’s passing will be extremely hard for Treva and her three children. But this is what she wrote just last week: ‘It’s a battle to trust the Lord, to keep my eyes focused, and to heal the hard stuff. But I am excited for our future. God has big plans and never leaves us alone’.  Treva has been real and raw and authentic as she’s allowed people to see her grieve. Follow her on instagram (trevalavonne) if you want to see what a brave and honest faith really looks like, in the face of adversity.  It’s been a huge privilege to see how she can be truly ok, in the midst of such heartache.  Paul in the bible says this: ‘God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us’ (2 Corinthians 1:4).  My friend Treva knows what it is like to have God as her rock, as her ever present comfort, because all else has been stripped away from her.  And as she’s been carried, in the hard times, she’s also been able to reach out and help others who are walking their own grief story.  That’s right, not even a year into her widowhood and she’s reaching out to others and speaking life and hope into them, because she’s not afraid to lean into the hard.

This leaning into the hard, this dealing with whatever curveballs come your way, why does it even matter?  (Especially when avoiding the hard is actually easier/ more convenient/sometimes cheaper/ less stressful). I think it matters because people in general have pretty astute crap-o-meters.  Most of us can tell the real deal from the fake, and the most respect I have and the most admiration possible, goes to those who can speak into my life from a place of ‘knowing’.  From a place of authenticity.  From a place of having walked the hard yards, they can hold genuine empathy for you and their encouragement is real. Those people – what they say really matters.  And it matters because, as a by-product of having gone through the hard, these people aren’t reducing themselves, or their God.  They aren’t diluting Him or His power.  They aren’t lessening or decreasing or moderating or quietening.  Quite the contrary. They are shining a spotlight on Him. On His power.  On His grace.  On the Hope we have in Him.

So, be encouraged.  Do the hard things.  Even if you’re doing them while kicking and screaming and stamping your feet like a petulant five year old. You’re still doing them.  Walk through those valleys, knowing you are not alone.  Make those connections.  Be that good friend.  Make that appointment.  Be that advocate.  Make that decision that gives you goosebumps.  Lean into God, and know that what you carry is strong, and powerful, a fragrance that is not diluted.

And one day, because you can speak from a place of authenticity and your story carries with it power, be encouraged that ‘the scars you share become lighthouses for the people who are headed for the same rocks you hit‘.

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Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.

Have you ever had a rather profound thought in the middle of what was actually quite a ridiculous situation?

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A couple of weeks ago my family and I stuffed our car full of all the bare necessities you need for a camping holiday, and we took off in search of sunshine, warmth and adventure. Much to our delight we did find lots of sunshine and warmth. The weather for the weeks on either side of our holiday week was awful – but not for our holiday. And much to our delight we found a few adventures.

Well.  Actually.

Not all of the adventures were all that delightful.

Leading up to our holiday I’d been unwell. I’d also been doing some extra hours at one of my jobs and I left it for a few too many days before I took myself off to the doctor to get some antibiotics for a double infection.

So I was already pooped before the first day of our holiday; I worked the night before and then we were up early to head out of town.  All of those factors added together, combined with the fact that my antibiotics were slow to kick in meant that my pain factor went up and up.  We set up our campsite, explored the beautiful area, and I made dinner, all with my ‘fine face’ on.  Then as soon as the kids had gone to bed, my pain levels increased even more and I started to throw up.  Mmmmmm mmmm. For the first reappearance of my dinner, I managed to make it to the campground facilities. Hi de hi campers!  That’s a rather humiliating thing…..have you noticed that no matter what time of the day or night when you’re using communal facilities, there’s always an emphasis on the ‘communal’?  No chance of spewing solo thank you very much.

Anyway.  I made it back to our tent just fine, but the next five episodes of being ‘chunderstruck’,  had to happen in the tent.  Fortunately I had some plastic bags with us.  Unfortunately some of those bags had holes in them.  Unfortunately I managed to find and use exactly those ones.

By the time the seventh vomit came along I was sitting in the car, while my dear husband (in sickness and in health) was packing up what belongings we thought we might need for a trip to find Fiona some help. (We knew I needed stronger painkillers than what I had, some anti-nausea meds and some decent hydration). Just before he woke up our three sleeping children to bundle them into car, to drive to who knows where (we honestly didn’t know where I could get the medical help I needed because we didn’t know what small towns near us had middle of the night urgent care), I remember looking up at the sky and marveling, just for a moment, just before I reached for the spew bag again.

You see those stars were dazzling.  They were scattered across the night sky, blazing boldly. It was a stunning sight.  Apparently on a clear night you can see about two thousand stars from one vantage point. I think I glanced up and saw my two thousand and it took my breath away.

I saw them and I couldn’t help but think, ‘hello my old friends’.

Now I was pretty sick, and pretty out of it for a while there, and it took me the whole week to recover, but I promise you that me thinking of the stars as my friends was a perfectly sound and rational thought.

When we lived in the Northern Hemisphere the night sky there was something I was unfamiliar with.  If I had taken the time to study it and to get to know it, I’m sure I would have loved it too.  A few years ago I remember talking to someone who was about to become a parent for the first time. I told them I reckoned that looking at your newborn baby and getting to know that baby, studying his/ her features and expressions and mannerisms was way more entertaining that television ever was.  That person may have looked at me weird at the time, but now as his baby three is on the way, I reckon he may be in agreement with me there.  You see the night sky that we see here in New Zealand is something I’m more familiar with, because I’ve gotten to know it a little. I’ve studied it a little. I’m not a constellation expert, but when I see some of the main formations that are visible to the naked eye, I see them and I know them.  They are comforting to me.  Old friends.  And they remain constant.

Life is so very full of movement and change.  Family dynamics change.  Kids change year levels at school and sometimes begin different schools. Jobs change.  Expectations change. All sorts of situations change and even our physical selves are constantly changing – we gain weight/ lose weight/ grow hair/ lose hair/ lose skin cells every single day.

Sometimes change can be overwhelming, especially when it is thrust upon us.

When I was in the midst of being so very sick, on what was supposed to be a glorious summer family holiday, and I looked up at the magnificent tapestry above my head, those stars reminded me of God’s steadfastness.  Those stars that I’d admired as a teenager camping with friends, leading camps for small children in the summer holidays where I got to tell them about a great big God who loves them so, those stars were the very same stars twenty five years later. Old friends. We didn’t know where we were going, we had three pretty worried and tired children with us, but as I gazed up with wonder, I knew that God was also with us.  He is steadfast.  Resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.

When I think of steadfastness, I can’t not think of God’s love.  Sometimes we don’t always feel it, or see it, just like we can’t and don’t always see the stars.  Sometimes we choose not to look up.  Sometimes there are things that move into the space between our line of sight and those stars – but that doesn’t ever change the fact that the stars are there. Shining brightly.  Shining gloriously.  Sometimes we just need to drive out out out, far far far from the hustle and bustle of the city’s own lights.  There’s a verse in the bible that says God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness!’ (Lamentations 3: 22 – 23, The Message. And for me, living in the world with some much change, so many unknowns and variables, it is remarkable how comforting and calming it is to know that God’s loyal love is never going to run out.  Another version of the same verse says this: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness’.

This world will continue to swirl and the pace of life doesn’t seem to calm as much as we would like, but we are not consumed.

The next time you feel a little overwhelmed by change or you’re holding onto your sanity by your fingertips, because life can be incredibly hard, take some deep breaths until it is dark outside, then take a little walk and look up.  Look up and know you are carried.  Look up and know He cares.  Look up and know that creator of those stars is creating new mercies for you every day.  You are not alone.  You are not forgotten.  There is a love that never changes. Look up.

‘If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how men would believe and adore’. – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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(And if you’re wondering, we ended up driving 40 mins to the closest town and talking to the ambulance service, before I spent about three hours at the small hospital there, and the kids recovered just fine, but I’m never going on holiday without anti-nausea meds again…..)

Bridges

Today marks the one year anniversary of a dear friend’s passing.  It’s also the start of a period of about three months where a few other friends will be remembering and honouring their loved ones who have died in the last two years.  I’ve been thinking about their grief and their journeys, and I’ve been thinking also of others who may not be entering this new year with a good bounce in their step.  We’re supposed to you know – we’re supposed to make plans and goals and for those of us especially in the Southern Hemisphere who have our major summer holidays at this time of the year, we’re supposed to spend this time getting refreshed and re-energized and re-focused for the coming year.  But for some, this is easier said than done.  And that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

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We like bridges.  My family, we like bridges.  We like driving on bridges that are new to us.  We like different structures and noticing different materials that have been used in their construction. Spend any amount of time in the Portland, Oregon and you’ll love the bridges there.  There’s a bridge that takes you from Oregon into Washington State – the border line is drawn through the Columbia River.  That bridge is also a drawbridge so that gains triple points for interest sake.

Bridges are an engineering field all in themselves.  I married into a brainy family.  We’ve got doctors and engineers in our fold and one of our engineers is a bridge engineer.  She’d love all the bridges we got to see in our time in the States.

The longest bridge in New Zealand is in Canterbury. It leads State Highway One over the Rakaia River and it goes for 1,756 metres.  We used to drive that stretch of road all the time when we lived in Christchurch and always, always, we’d try to hold our breaths for the duration of the bridge. It’s just one of those things that a lot of people do.  Similar to honking your horn when you’re driving in the Lyttleton Tunnel.  No-one knows why you do these things or who first started it, but you join in, because it’s a ‘thing’.

So when I think of bridges, sometimes I think of holding my breath.  And sometimes this is a conscious thing and sometimes an involuntary thing.

I know of plenty of people at the moment who are travelling on their own bridges at the moment.  Bridges of grief.  Bridges of ‘interesting’ journeys.  Bridges that are nagivating them along paths of uncertainty.  And for some of these people breathing does not come easy.

You see some people think of grief as a tunnel, something dark with light at the end of it.  The promise of hope, beckoning.  And yes, it may well be a tunnel for some.  But for some, this grief journey, this dealing with the things that life chucks at us, is more of a bridge.  Bridges make terrain than is uncross-able, cross-able.  Bridges lead us on.  They open up the path before us.  Bridges don’t hide us from the outside world – from everything else that is going on, like tunnels do.  My friend who is a new widower, knows all too well, that just because he’s adjusting to a new normal, and that’s tough in itself, but that also doesn’t make him immune to all of life’s other struggles – he still has to manage the normal yuck and ick of life.  But.  He’s on a bridge.  There’s forward momentum. He’s progressing.

Bridges are designed to withstand incredible weights, incredible loads.  You haven’t seen road freight until you’ve seen trucks in action in the States.  Websites like Amazon can promise things like next day delivery when you’ve got the billions of trucks working like they do, moving more than 10.4 billion tons of freight a year.  So we know that bridges on major roads can carry amazing weights.  And I wonder if we sometimes underestimate what we can carry ourselves?  The human soul is amazingly resilient and most of the time we just don’t know how much we are capable of carrying, until we are under that weight, until we are having to bear those burdens. You may be on a bridge in your own life right now, and you’re most likely feeling incredibly weak and inadequate and overwhelmed – but-  I know this – you are stronger than you feel.  Your ‘bridge’ is stronger than you think.

How do I know how strong your bridge is? Bridges have designers, they have engineers, we also have a designer in charge of the construction of the bridges in our lives.  God didn’t put the pain in our lives. God didn’t make a chain of events happen so that the end result is you’re absolutely petrified about the start of a new year because you’re not sure what it is going to bring or how things are possibly going to be different, no, things are not as they possibly are in your life because of what God has done, this I know. He is there with you now, providing you with a bridge.  A way through.  A way on.  The promise of HopeWhen we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us.  He promises to be with us.  His rod and his staff protecting us.  That’s the promise of a bridge.  We can place great reliance on the strength of what we’re walking on – on how we’re walking through whatever we’ve walking through, because in Him we are made strong.  

You’ll notice that there are some bridges that are single lane bridges – or one way.  I kinda think that’s what life is like with some of the things we have to walk through.  We can have companions alongside us, for a stage or two, up to a point, and then there’s a time when actually, the paths have to be driven solo, or walked single-file.  Sometimes this happens involuntarily – sometimes people can’t offer the help you may need – or they don’t know the need is there.   Sometimes there’s only so much that others can do to lend their support.  Your bridge must simply be walked solo.  But your bridge is still a bridge – a structure to get from point A to point B, and your walk is surely supported best by the one who knows you best, your loving Father.  He’s there.  He’s by your side, he’s calling you forward.

Some bridges can be very long.  Very long.  And when you begin them, you can’t always see the end point.  But you know what? The end point is there….it is just as secure and safe as the starting point. Just remember to breathe.  You can’t hold your breath for every bridge you go on.  You’ve got this.

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Brave Wears Many Faces

I used to think that ‘brave’ was a term to be reserved and used only for those ‘stand out from the crowds, living on the very edge, facing life and death situations’ type of adventurers.  Those who aren’t afraid to put themselves in scary situations.  Along with those people, I’d add in ‘brave’ when describing all of those who find themselves thrust into situations where they or their families are in, (or have been in) harm’s way.  Maybe they’re facing a cancer diagnosis, maybe they have to spend hours walking the halls of the closest children’s hospital, maybe huge loss has ripped their family apart and they have to get used to a new normal.  Brave brave brave.  Courage courage courage.  That’s what ‘brave’ used to mean to me.

But lately I’ve been thinking that brave IS indeed all of that, plus much, much more.

Brave can be found in the every day, in the highs and lows of this blessed but messy life.

Brave can be applying for a job you don’t think you’re good enough for, you’re not qualified for, but you think that maybe you could learn.

Brave can be standing up for yourself when mean comments have been flying and all sensitivities have flown out the window.  (Courage originally meant to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart).

Brave can be looking your kids in the eye and saying ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that’.

Brave is sometimes just someone showing up, when everything in their world is crying out to them to hide, and to stay hidden.

Brave can be forcing yourself to be step up and out of your shyness to say hello to the new parent at school pick up.

Brave can be looking your cashier in the eye and asking how their day is going.

Brave can be giving a real answer, when someone asks you how you really are.

Brave can be asking for support.

Brave can be taking two minutes to fire off a text or an email, to call out the gold in someone, it is sometimes pushing past boundaries and potential stumbling blocks when you don’t know how it will be received.

I think that ‘brave’ isn’t really recognized as much as it could be, and I’m on a new quest to call out the brave in my children, in my spouse, in my friends and colleagues.  Because brave, when it is recognized, it tends to breed more ‘brave’.

Once you’ve done one thing and you can step back and see it for being gutsy, see it for being something that led you past your comfort zone, then the next time you need to do something just a little bit courageous, it is just that little bit easier.  It’s like you know you’ve done a little bit of brave, you can do a little bit more.  I think ‘brave’ builds stepping stones, upon which….heck…the impossible can be done.  Because it is made possible.  But it helps to have someone walk alongside you, someone to urge you on.  Someone who’s not afraid to whisper in your ear ‘what you did just then, it was brave’.  Because I don’t know anyone on God’s green earth who doesn’t want to be brave.  And we don’t always see it and recognize it for what it is, in ourselves.

I saw this in action last week when one of my kids needed to have a general anesthetic.  The anesthetist gave him the choice of having an IV line put in his hand, and then having the medication to make him go to sleep injected directly into the IV line, or he could have had the face mask put on him and he could have breathed in the gas to make him go to sleep. A short but painful prick in the hand, with a rather long needle, or a smelly mask forced over your face?  Hmmm. Tough choice.  My kid chose the needle and IV line, he chose the more painful option, because he didn’t want to feel any kind of struggle with the mask.   So his Dad and I told him, ‘you are brave, you can do this’.  ‘You are going to be ok’.  And he was ok.  He handled that big ole needle like a champ.  And then when I walked him to the operating theatre and he saw six gowned and masked people there all looking at him and waiting for him and his steps faltered, again I whispered into his ear, ‘you are brave, you can do this’.  And he did it.  He carried on walking to the bed, laid himself down and stuck his arm out for the medication to go to sleep.  He was so brave.  And if there’s ever a next time, he’s going to know he can do hard things like that.  He’s also got a new empathy for people who are seriously sick and even for people who have to deal with big needles all the time.  Brave grows us.  Brave enlarges our hearts.  Brave wears many different faces.

We need to recognize ‘brave’ and celebrate it.  Brave brings about change in us. Brave stretches us – and the most awful but the very best learning happens in the stretch. Brave is also contagious – how many times have you seen others do something that they didn’t think they could do, then you think, by golly, I can do that too.  And so you do.

 

“Courage is a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.” – Brene Brown.

 

I really do think that brave wears many faces – let’s help each other to be braver by braving.  By braving together.

 

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To bend towards.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a car’s tyre disintegrate before my very eyes.  Thankfully the car was being towed by a tow truck and thankfully the tyre debris didn’t cause any damage to anyone or anything else on the busy Auckland motorway that I was on. But it isn’t every day you see a tyre just blow itself to smithereens.  Nope. Not in NZ anyway.

Now flashback to living in America and you couldn’t drive anywhere, on any road – be it small country road or giant interstate that would go on for miles and miles, without seeing tire graveyards here and there.  Here and there and everywhere.

In New Zealand we have this thing called a ‘Warrant of Fitness’ for all our vehicles.  This is like a check up for a car’s general health.  All sorts of things are checked and ticked off a big list, and it is an ongoing, regular thing.  If the vehicle doesn’t pass, then it isn’t considered ‘roadworthy’ – safe to be on the roads, and if you’re caught driving a car or motorbike or whatever, that doesn’t have a current Warrant of Fitness, then the police will fine you.  One of the many things checked…….tyres…..and if yours aren’t up to par….then you have to replace them with ones that are roadworthy.  So you don’t see a lot of blown tyre bits littering our motorways and roads, because usually the tyres are caught before they get that close to blowing.

This whole tyre/tire and warrant of fitness thing got me thinking about how sometimes we need to do a wee tune up, a wee ‘warrant of fitness’ on ourselves before things blow themselves up. Sometimes we choose to do this……and at other times because of ‘life’ and all that ‘life’ chucks at us, we sometimes are forced to look at all of the areas in our life and look at how healthy they are and what could be better/improved/ different.

For me – one of the things on my checklist just lately has been looking at what my core truths are – what are my very foundational beliefs and how do I walk those out in my real, everyday life?  You see one of the things at my core, is the thinking that You Can’t Buy Half a Happy Meal  When you sign up to be ‘all in’ with something, you can’t always pick and choose what parts you’d like to participate in, what only feels good to put your ‘yes’ to.  As a follower of Christ, then I am essentially choosing to believe that God says he is who he says he is, and also, that I am who he says I am. All of it.  The whole package deal.

Sometimes that’s a tough concept to get your head around.

You see if you dig around in the bible for any length of time, you read that God thinks about us a whole bunch.

A whole bunch.

God says we are his children.

We are chosen, holy and blameless.

We are His workmanship.

We have been made complete in Him.

And these are just a tiny snippet of the things that God says we are.

After having a conversation with a friend about a few of these ‘what God thinks of us, of me’ things and realizing that I don’t always fully embrace all of these things, I was driving (again – this time no flying tyre bits) and the verse Zephaniah 3:17 came into my mind.

 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

I kinda like the idea of someone rejoicing over me with singing.  Singing equates with happy.  Happy is good. ‘That’s cool’ I thought.  Then I got the nudging to pull over, stop my car and look a bit closer at the words ‘He will take great delight in you’.

And I kinda like the idea of someone taking great delight in me even more.

You see I looked at what the original idea of delight means in the bible.  Word geek, I know.  And I discovered that one of the two most common Hebrew terms for ‘delight’ is ‘hepes’, and ‘hepes’ means ‘to bend towards, to be inclined towards’.

Boom.

The God of the Universe, the Creator of the universe, the one who set the stars in place and created man and woman and who knows the very number of hairs on your head, He also cares enough about you to bend towards you, to incline himself towards you.

And He does this to me too.

And why is this such a BOOM thing for me? And maybe for you?

It’s as simple as this:  who do we bend towards in our everyday lives?

We bend towards those we want to communicate with.  We bend towards those we want to be physically closer to.  Working with children 101 states that to chat to children you need to get down on their level, you need to physically lower yourself, to incline yourself towards them.  We bend towards those who are the more seasoned citizens among us – this helps them to hear us, to be close to us, and sometimes this physical proximity makes it easier, when  its appropriate, to hold their hands, to let them know they are not alone.  We bend towards our significant others – there’s nothing like knowing you can just melt into someones arms.  We physically change our posture and move our bodies towards those who we want to be closer to; those we love.  It is a natural instinct.  And, our Father in heaven, He does that for us.

HE DOES THAT FOR US!!!

He delights in us , truly delights in us, by being close to us, by moving towards us.  Let that sink into your heads and your hearts my friends.  That’s pretty comforting. That’s a beautiful picture of the intensely personal God that I serve.

That’s a great byproduct of an ongoing Warrant of Fitness for sure.

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The Right Undercoat.

One of my bosses is building himself an arcade machine from scratch.  He’s built the box for the game, found a monitor for it, has speakers at the ready, and has sourced all the different computer parts for it.  There’s even going to be a slot for putting in coins to play the games (and a way to retrieve them!).  It’s a fun project and he likes telling me how his progress is going.  I can follow the project, but only to a point.  Once he starts talking about different computer components and the way it all communicates and the various cards that hold the hundreds of games he’ll be able to play on this machine, I get a little lost.  I nod and ahh and smile as best I can.  But.  I am pretty clueless.

What’s the last thing you googled?  The last thing I googled was ‘what is the multi-universe theory?’.  One of my kids has done a research project on it and me, being clueless, wanted to learn a little something something, so I could ask my kid a few semi-intelligent questions on the subject.

I (mostly) have a pretty good handle on the things that I know that I know.  And I (mostly) have a pretty good handle on the things that I know I don’t know, although sometimes I get both these things wrong.  But I was thinking the other day that one thing I do know, with all my heart and mind and soul, is that I’m so very grateful that I know the love of God to be true, and I feel that it surrounds me and sets me up for whatever life may chuck at me, as it is the ‘undercoat of paint’ in my very being.

I’m no picasso, and I’ve never painted a wall in my life – you kinda need to own a home to do that – BUT – I got this interesting picture in my head the other day so run with me?

Undercoats of paint serve as a foundation upon which to layer more paint, on your canvas.  Imagine for a moment that you can cover yourself in a layer of love, of dependable, constant love, of agape love (God’s faithful love for us) and on that foundation, other things are attached. On that foundation, the way you think, the way you act is attached.

Undercoats of paint also put a pop of base colour into your work, that allow your final work to be impacted in some way.  Now here’s the thing about painting and layers:  sometimes the top coats of paint don’t end up the way we’re completely happy with. Sometimes the paint is tinted slightly wrong or different to what we may have ordered.  Or the shades are slightly different to how we envisioned they would be when we looked at the paint chip cards.  Or we do big oopsies with our brush strokes and make a mess of things.  And sometimes little finger prints leave marks or bugs fly in and get stuck.  All kinds of things happen to make our end result with the top layers, just not all we want them to be. Life is full of those curveballs that make our lives not what we want or plan for or desire.  But if we’ve got that base layer down as best we can – at least we’ve got a chance of success. At least we’ve got a good foundation for further layers to go on.  At least our base is steadfast and smooth.

If you get your undercoat of paint right, if you can fully accept God’s unending love for you, and kinda ‘cover’ yourself in that, then your final layers of how you see the world, how you respond to situations, how you deal with life, those things are more likely to be positive and helpful.  And it doesn’t actually matter if your top layers of paint are sometimes not quite right, because the good thing about paint is it can be painted over with another layer. Got a sticking point that you’re struggling with?  Try another layer, with a different perspective.

So how am I so assured of God’s love for me?  How can this be one of the things that I know that I know that I know? I choose to believe what I read of God’s love for me in the bible.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic.  Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost:  Not a man, not mouse.

I choose to believe these words and countless others, that talk of God’s love for me.  But these are not just for little ‘ole me – they are for you too.

And I’ve seen His goodness – the signs of His love and care for me.  Time and time again. The gifts that are my children – after I went through seasons of infertility and was told I wouldn’t be able to conceive again.  The gift of a diagnosis, after three years of horrendous pain and ongoing tests.  The provision of material goods after we gave away/ sold nearly everything we owned and moved to another country to follow God’s nudgings for us.  The fact our children don’t hate us and are socially and academically just fine after being moved to two different countries in the space of thirteen months.  These are just a few of the ways I can look at my life and remember just how much my Father God loves me and cares for me.

I look back and I see His goodness and I know His love, and I look forward, and I know there are so many things I still don’t know, and I still may have trouble making the top coat of paint in my thinking all smooth and uniform and just ‘right’, but the undercoat of God’s love is the perfect place to build a good foundation on. God’s love, care and kindness, form brushstroke after brushstroke after brushstroke, on this masterpiece in the making.  And in yours too.

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What do you bring?

Before you read any of my words, please, first, go to this website and watch this ad here

Go on.

Off you go.

See you in exactly three minutes.

Now.

Welcome back.

I just watched that ad for the first time, thanks to Facebook.  And I couldn’t help BUT smile.  It’s nice, aye?  It’s a true piece of Kiwiana, and it’s celebrating our diversity and highlighting our uniqueness, and it’s also very honouring of people.  It is saying that every Kiwi, no matter who they are, brings something special to the table.

I’d like to make that claim even bigger and broader though, and say that EVERYONE, everywhere brings something special to the table.  And I’m no feel-good, paid by every latte-driven minute marketer, working for an advertising company.   Pretty hoity-toity of me, right?

But I believe it.

I believe we all have something to offer others, we all have something to better this world we live in by our very existence, and we are a beautiful mix of all sorts.

One little problem is that not all of us are able to completely believe that, right here and right now.

On Friday I was just on my way home, leaving an event, when a passing comment turned into a longer conversation, and a friend of mine shared a little of where she’s at with life right now.  And my heart hurt for her.  That conversation was a reminder that life really isn’t always easy.  Some living situations are just plain bad.  Some people’s bodies don’t work as they should.  And sometimes life’s worries can just be a long and dark tunnel, of which the end is nowhere in sight.

This very morning another friend of mine shared with me of how she had cleaned the blocked drain of her shower that morning. As she removed handful after handful of strands of her own hair from the drain, she was blinking back the tears.  The hair loss isn’t some reaction to a terrible cancer treatment, but one of a series of physiological responses to trauma she’s facing.

These friends of mine – they’re in the middle of some perfect storms.  With not a lot of relief yet in sight.  And yes, as a Christian I believe that God is with my friends, and His presence can and does bring them peace, and comfort and hope. And I can tell them that these valley experiences are what brings character and shapes personality, and that would be true and good and right – and there’s a time and a place for comments like that.  But a by-product of facing storms like these, like the ones my friends are in at the moment, is that people are robbed of feeling worthwhile in the now.  They don’t feel they have anything special to bring to the table, because survival kinda happens to be their priority. One day at a time is what is manageable.

So what would I say to them, then?  And what would I say to you, if that was you?

I would say:

Look at what is being revealed in you now, in spite of your circumstances.  Look at what amazing character traits are there – that you previously didn’t know existed. Look at the patience you show.  Look at your capacity to endure.

We haven’t lived in the house we’re in at the moment, for very long.  So it is interesting to look around the garden every few weeks and see what is blooming.  Even in winter.  My most dreaded season.  The season we associate with hard times and troubles, with darkness and waiting for spring, even now there are things blooming, that were never in flower in summer.  So just as the garden is ever changing and ever surprising: so are you.

What can you see in you, at this time, that you haven’t seen before, because you haven’t been this way before?

And that  – that thing that is in you – that’s just one of the many things that you bring to the table my friend.  

In the storm and out of the storm.

You bring much to the table.

Each and every one of you.

 

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Through the Fog.

My oldest son is a self-proclaimed aviation geek.  He lives and breathes anything to do with aviation and has done since he was quite young.  The highlight of his fifteen years of life so far has to be his visit to the Boeing Factory just out of Seattle (you can read about that here – it was truly remarkable) when he was ten.

Nat has now reached the age and stage of his ‘hobby’ where he is starting to actually learn how to fly. Not just use a simulator programme, but actually fly a little two seater plane, up high in the sky.  Gulp.  He’s not old enough to legally be behind the wheel of a car, but he can be learning how to fly a plane. Part of me longs to have him as a toddler with a mop of blonde hair, sitting on my lap as I read ‘The Little Yellow Digger’ to him for the millionth time, and another part of me knows that he is starting to live out his dream.  And it is a wonderful thing.

Our future pilot was supposed to have his second trial flight (with the special club he belongs to where pilots sponsor young kids to get them air time) this past weekend, but we woke to fog blanketing our city.  So there were no small planes taking off or landing at the club headquarters that day, much to everyone’s temporary disappointment.

The old fog and planes thing – it is an interesting thing.  Bigger planes are actually totally ok to fly in thick fog and to land in thick fog.  All of the electronic equipment on board makes it a simple process for big planes to do this.  The problematic part to fog being present comes in to play when the planes are on the ground, when pilots of any size plane are relying heavily on the view from their plane’s windscreen to avoid collisions with other aircraft and airport vehicles as they taxi.  Procedures for low visibility situations call for planes landing at an airport to be separated by six miles rather than the usual three miles.  So this is what causes major delays and disruptions when there is fog at airports, much to everyone’s dismay.

Fog – it can make you misjudge distances.  You can’t see what is behind you, beside you or in front of you very well at all.  Sometimes our own judgement can be clouded by fog of some sort.

Fog – it can be unreliable feelings, disconnected feelings.  Sometimes it can be as a result of going through life listening to the soundtrack of negativity and criticism.

Fog – it blocks our view of the sun, even though we know that the sun is there and we know it is going to break through sooner or later.

Fog – in my simple way of thinking is anything that stands in the way of you believing that you are who God says you are, anything that stops you from embracing and taking full flight.

Fog doesn’t actually change what is good and true and right and all around us – the beauty and truth is still there, its just a little harder to see.

I think all of us struggle at some point or another with some element of fog in our lives.  But just as planes have got all sorts of fancy equipment to keep them on track, we too have great tools at our disposal to help us deal with the fog that invades our lives. And it is good to remember these things.  The word of truth – the bible.  The gift of Godly friendship.  The ability to worship, to focus on the goodness of God.  These all help the fog to dissipate.  These gifts help the sun to break through.

Fog tends to isolate us and cause us to feel stranded, not to mention cause major disruptions to normal life – but this is only temporary.  The sun does break through and fog does lift.  Flights do get postponed and then they do happen.  New travel arrangements are made.  New travel dates do happen.  Life does continue.  Hope remains ever steadfast.  Fog whether its in our thinking and believing or in the physical, isn’t a permanent state.  And that’s worth holding on to. That’s worth remembering.

My aviation son will have another chance to get up high in the sky, in that tiny little plane, another weekend, very soon.  And the time not spent up in the air last weekend, was still time spent with friends, like-minded people all as passionate as he is, and he learnt some new lessons to do with flight.  It was not wasted.

The fog comes and goes, in the physical and in the flow of our feelings and our beliefs about ourselves and our situations are sometimes hazier than they should be, but it helps to remember that the sun is always shining and sooner or later it will break though. My friend, the fog will lift.

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Perfect love that never lets go.

When clouds veil sun
And disaster comes 

We very rarely see it coming, do we?  Disaster. Tragedy. Life changing happenings. Those gut wrenching, heart stealing events or moments or conversations just sneak up on us.  Sometimes overnight, sometimes over a longer amount of time, but they never come to an expectant open door.


Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul

When waters rise

And hope takes flight 

The waters, they do rise.  The attempted drownings, they do happen.

And hope?  Sometimes it isn’t the dependable always can be relied on as your True North thing that we’d like it to be.  Sometimes hope does try to run, run like the wind.


Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul 

Oh, my sad soul.  Oh, your ‘tested to the limits you never knew existed’ soul.

You see recently I’ve had the privilege to have had a front row seat while dear friends have experienced the most awful of situations.  I’ve seen grief’s fingers claw and snatch and poke and prod.  And my own life has not always been sunshine and roses.  The waters have risen.  I’ve seen and I’ve known what it is to only be able to focus on breathing.  In and out. In and out.

But, even as the waters have risen.  Even as the clouds have veiled the sun.  Even as hope has taken flight. Even then, I’ve seen and I’ve known what it is for love to swoop down, to tenderly kneel beside me and for grace to kiss my cheeks.

Ever faithful
Ever true
You I know
You never let go
You never let go
You never let go
You never let go

I believe without a doubt that God is ever faithful, He is ever true.  He never lets go. Even when uncertainty limits and diagnosis brings lives to a halt, when relationships shatter and tear apart, when people fail and let others down.  He never lets us go.

He gives us grace for the journey, and companions too.

When clouds brought rain
And disaster came
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
When waters rose
And hope had flown
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul
Overflows
Oh, what love, oh, what love
Oh, my soul
Fills with hope
Perfect love that never lets go

Oh, what love, oh, what love
Oh, what love, oh, what love
In joy and pain
In sun and rain
You’re the same
Oh, You never let go

I don’t know what you’re facing right here and right now.  Or maybe it is something your friend is facing, and you’re merely trying to be by their side, and support them as best as you can, but you feel horribly out of your depth.  This is new territory to you. This I say to you anyway: God is with you. God is with your loved one.  The same God who created the universe and everything in it, He is with you.  He is with your troubled one.  He is unchanging and steadfast.  He is constant and true.  And when you’re going through high waters, nothing is truer than this: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).  He’s there, and He is able.  He will lend you some strength.  He will lend you some courage.  He will equip and inspire.

Yes, life can be awfully cruel at times, and in the waiting, and in the processing and in the figuring out, if all one can do is to concentrate on breathing in and breathing out, then that’s just fine.  Because you’re not breathing alone.  He’s not letting go, dear one. He’s not letting go.

(words in italics not mine, but David Crowder band lyrics to ‘Never Let Go’)

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Like Royalty.

My family recently had an extended family holiday in Japan.  Three generations, coming from all different parts of Australasia, met up at Haneda Airport and spent eight days exploring and experiencing all that we could.

It was the first time in my six year old’s life that all twelve of us had ever been all together, and the last time that I’d been with both my siblings was eight years ago.  So all in all it was a very special time.

Japan is a very interesting country – how the people manage to hold onto their heritage and things integral to their culture, while still making all the technological advances they do – I don’t know – but they do it so well.  There was always something fascinating to look at/ touch/ feel/ eat (for the more adventurous!).

One of the things we did while we were in the city of Kyoto was stay in a traditional Ryokan, a guesthouse/ inn.  My brother had arranged for my husband and I, my sister and her husband, to have a night away, and he and my parents looked after our kids for us.

The whole Ryokan experience was pretty fancy.  And unique.

This wasn’t just some Motel 6 where you rock on up at whatever time of the days suits you and your travel itinerary, then you’re handed a key and off you to go to find your room, lugging your luggage behind you.

No – we were greeted by the staff the moment we stepped out of our taxi.  The staff were waiting for us.  They unloaded the taxi for us.  They carried out luggage inside for us and stood by our sides while we checked in.  Then before we were escorted to our rooms, we were sat down and given cloths to wipe our hands clean with, a cup of hot green tea to drink, and a little snack to eat.  Then we were taken up to our rooms and were told about all the how tos and what not to dos with staying in the inn.  Our dinner, all nine courses of it, was waiting for us in the evening, at the set time we’d requested.  Our breakfast was also set and waiting for us in the morning.  When we left the inn the morning, we had the same help with our luggage – after the inn staff had summoned  a taxi for us. Then as we drove off – the staff stood waving us goodbye.

Now I’ve stayed in a fancy pants hotel before.  A very long time ago.  But still.  While three star accommodation is my norm, its not like the whole fancy pants scenario is totally foreign to me.  But I’ve never had people eagerly anticipate my arrival to anything/ anywhere in such a way before.  My husband tracking my leaving work to have a hot cuppa ready for me when I get home is lovely – and appreciated – and maybe that’s the closest I’ve had to this treatment.

And you know, the whole thing about our night at the Ryokan.  Yes it was lovely to be able to experience this side of Japanese culture, and it had been a very long time since my husband and I had been away from our kids overnight (the last time was when my brother took us to New York and we had a glorious 56 hour adventure, four years ago now), what was amazing about the whole thing was; it was a part of the whole trip.  The whole trip that didn’t have a price tag on it for us.  Someone else paid for it.  Someone else arranged it.  Someone else sacrificed a bit of themselves, purely for our benefit.

All we had to do was show up, and accept the gift of the trip offered to us.

Sometimes there are a lot of words thrown around in Christian circles that sound a lot like gobbledegook and are a bit hard to explain, and its an even harder thing to really walk through your life with an understanding of them. ‘Grace’ is one of these things.

I’ve been thinking that our Ryokan night away is like the whole concept of grace.  And maybe this will help you understand that, if ‘grace’ is something you struggle with.

My husband and I, my sister and her husband, all got to have a wonderful experience. Our presence was expected.  The people staffing the inn, welcomed us with open arms.  They treated us like royalty.  And the bill had already been paid – not by us.

My God in heaven is waiting for us to turn to Him.  We have free choice.  We can make the decision to trust Him with our lives, and when we do, He is there, present.  Willing and able to comfort us, to surround us with His love. We are royalty in His presence.

And the price to have this amazing relationship with Him, the bill for this gift, well it has already been paid. When Jesus died that painful death on the cross, and then rose again, that was the ultimate in bill paying.  Jesus was the sacrifice, purely for our benefit.

We get to enjoy abundant life, because of nothing we’ve done.  We don’t have to strive.  We don’t have work for this.  We just have to accept it.  Like we did for our once in a life time Ryokan experience.  Only this gift of grace – its not just a once off thing. Its not for one day, one night redemption only. It is a forever thing.  We may not all have generous benefactors who wish to bring their earthly family together and create some amazing memories – but we all do have an amazing God who is longing for us to accept this gift of grace.

That’s something worth thinking about, that’s one gift we can all receive.

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