El Roi. Roy, Who?

I don’t usually think deep and meaningfuls while driving. Usually I’m very much concentrating on the road, navigating traffic, anticipating whatever’s coming up next. You know. Driving. One day this week while I was just driving along, focused on the journey, these words plopped into my head; ‘You know I am El Roi, I see it all’.

‘You know I am El Roi, I see it all’.

All right….that certainly didn’t come from me. Like I said, when I’m driving I’m concentrating on the task at hand. Sometimes I’m praying but I am not, as a habit, thinking about names of God in Hebrew. Nope. I may have my mind wandering along the lines of ‘what on earth am I going to cook for dinner tonight’, along with the thought ‘move into the next lane soon’, and ‘easy mate, not quite so close’…..simple thoughts. Mostly decent thoughts. Sometimes a little tiny bit road ragey, but not often. Nothing usually of the Greek or Hebraic or theological vein, that’s for sure.

Which leads me to know that declaration, that whisper into the depths of my being had to come from God.

And you know what? Of course it did. It had to. Duh me.

You see I’d just had a conversation with someone and while there was absolutely nothing ill-intentioned in the words I’d heard in that chat, I’d still come away from that meeting feeling inadequate. Deficient. Very much misunderstood and alone, in a world of my own.

And, I know enough about the word of God, and the heart and nature of God to know, that’s actually not what He thinks of anyone. And just like He does – He reminded me. He sees me. He knows me. So I felt prompted to write for the first time in aaaaages, just because I wonder if there’s anyone out there that needs reminding of these same truths.

The world feels tired.

The world is still in a position of so much uncertainty, so much pain, so much unease.

We have been working hard, so very hard.

We’ve been juggling the demands of stress and unanswerable questions, wearing different hats, learning new skills, adapting and ‘pivoting’.

It’s very easy to look for outward results as proof of the hard work we’ve been doing, as evidence of whatever input has been allocated to something isn’t it? No matter what sphere of work you are in, we look at the numbers – we look at net worth, we look at asset values, at page views, at viewing minutes and hours, at the balance reconciled, at pass marks and achievement outcomes met and checkboxes ticked. We look for evidence of effort for worth and validation.

But sometimes there is no evidence.

Sometimes there are hours spent, seen and unseen, where the works are simply hidden from people.

Sometimes there are relationships invested in, that don’t come with a receipt or a checkbox ticked.

Sometimes there are no bank accounts blossoming as a result of some very hard work having happened.

But God sees.

He sees every tear shed over big and little frustrations. He sees and hears every heartfelt prayer for wisdom and direction. He sees the sacrifices made for His namesake. He sees the many parts that come together in the name of seeking Him and bringing others closer to Him.

He is not distant, He is very present.

When we feel invisible or forgotten. El Roi. He sees us.

And not only does He see us, He values us. And urges us on.

because God is not unjust or unfair. He won’t overlook the work you have done or the love you have carried to each other in His name while doing His work, as you are still doing. (Hebrews 6:10 The Voice Translation).

I hope for your sake, that with whatever you’re putting your time, your effort, your attention to and what you place priority on, is valued and acknowledged and recognized by the people who matter to you, but take heart dear one if that’s not the case. Because Roy sees it all. Remind yourself that Roy sees it. The most important Roy of all – El Roi.

A note to my church family,

Dear church family,

It’s Monday right now.  Monday.  As the person who gets to be your administrator, normally on a Monday and Tuesday I have a list of jobs to do – post Sunday service.  Now – well – I have still have a list of jobs to do, but that list looks drastically different to what it was before lockdown.

Monday.  It’s Monday.  And I have to say I miss you all.  Hear that? Read that?  I miss you all.

I really do.

I miss the babies at the back of church, squealing in delight.  I miss the people connecting over coffee and hugs.  I miss the chance to worship collectively.  I miss seeing the camaraderie, the shenanigans and the seriousness.

And I’m wondering if maybe you are missing that too?

Today we have 613 people ranging in age from 2 months to 92 years of age, who would call Coast Vineyard Church their home.  Somehow God has granted me with the gift of knowing each of those 613 names and I can match those names to faces. There must be a limit to what my brain and memory can handle, but I thankfully haven’t reached it yet.  You are really not just a name on a list.  We may never have met, or I may have only said ‘hi’ in passing, but, really I’m just itching to become your new second best friend.  You are not just a face in crowd.  You have gifts and qualities that only you have, you bring to this world certain traits, that we would miss if you weren’t around.  I have things to learn from you – from your life experience, from your faith journey, from who you are.

I realise that at this incredibly tough time, it would be really easy to shut down a little, and to stop reaching outwards and upwards.  There are lots of voices calling for your attention, lots of videos to watch, articles to read, so many possible demands of you and on you. So many things that its actually overwhelming. One of the dangers that could go hand in hand with that, could be in starting to feel like you’re part of the unseen.  The invisible.  The forgotten.  You’re home, you’re maybe alone, and you’re wondering who really cares?  This feeling may grow the longer we go with not being able to meet in person.

Well.

On this very Mondayish Monday, I know without a doubt, that ‘we’ – as in we – Coast Vineyard Church – cares. We miss you and we love you.  And if you’re yet to call Coast Vineyard Church as your home, I can’t wait to meet you and get to know you.  You’re framily.  Friends who become family.

You know while it’s a pretty easy thing to shut down, to feel like you’re ‘surplus to requirement’, to feel insignificant, even at the very best of times – trust me, I know those feelings all too well, at some point, it makes the world of difference when you choose to listen to God’s voice on the matter.  What does He say about you?  Who does He say you are?

What helps me is when I read what the Psalmist, David, says of God – when we feel lost, ignored, forgotten about…..God is there.  God is present.  We are so very intimately known and loved.

Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind.

 You are so intimately aware of me, Lord.
You read my heart like an open book
and you know all the words I’m about to speak
before I even start a sentence!

You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.
 You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
and in kindness you follow behind me
to spare me from the harm of my past.

With your hand of love upon my life,
you impart a blessing to me.
This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible!
Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.

Where could I go from your Spirit?
Where could I run and hide from your face?
 If I go up to heaven, you’re there!
If I go down to the realm of the dead, you’re there too!

  If I fly with wings into the shining dawn, you’re there!
If I fly into the radiant sunset, you’re there waiting!

 Wherever I go, your hand will guide me;
your strength will empower me.
It’s impossible to disappear from you
or to ask the darkness to hide me,
for your presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night.

There is no such thing as darkness with you.
The night, to you, is as bright as the day;
there’s no difference between the two.

You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside
and my intricate outside,
and wove them all together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex!

(Psalm 139: 1 – 14).

You are missed and you are loved.  You are known by the One who matters most, and you matter to a certain bunch of ragtag misfits, a bunch of ragamuffins who call Coast Vineyard Church, home.  Be well dear friends. x

 

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When the ‘little’ is actually the everything

My lightbox today spells out ‘What a time to be alive’.  And ain’t it?  Ain’t it just?

I’ve had words swirling in the my head for the last couple of weeks – an agitated swirling though with it’s rhythm unsettled and not helped by the bombardment of other people’s words and voices and thoughts.  So, please, don’t read this if it’s just going to be another voice.  You don’t need that.  I don’t need that.  Turn off your device and watch an episode of ‘Call the Midwife’ instead, that’ll be better for your soul.

But, stick with me, if you do want to hear what this ‘ole heart and soul and mind is making out of what is now our new reality.

We were living in America in 2011 when the Christchurch Earthquake struck.  The big one.   The one that killed 185 people and changed the face of that city forever in an instant.  I’d just come out of the supermarket from an early morning shop (the boys started school before eight when we lived there – helloooooo productive mornings) when I got a call.  For the following hours and days we were glued to our computer, to the news coming out of NZ,  Waiting to hear if family and friends were ok.  Family members were ok – homes were damaged but hearts were not.  Friends, not so much.  Michael used to work at CTV, a television station, and that building suffered horrific damage and massive loss of life.  Loss of friends and colleagues.  We felt so incredibly helpless.  Here we were  – on the other side of the world and completely unable to do anything practical to help.  All we could do was pray and reach out via the internet.  Reach out to friends who were also hurting and family members who had lost their beloveds.

We know what it feels to feel helpless.

Which is what it feels like right now.  In the middle of a pandemic, when we’re actually ordered to stay home, to self-isolate, to only have one person of the family go out for essential supplies, and to have a high risk person at home, making you extra aware of the dangers out there.

Helpless.

Inadequate.

There’s so much we can’t do.  People are suffering out there, experiencing physical pain, financial loss, huge stress and massive amounts of anxiety. The thing I know most about pain and suffering is that it is lessened a little or a lot, by the presence of others.  By people stepping into that pain to be with you.  But we can’t do that right now, not physically, can we?

But.  As I keep reminding myself, we can focus on loving the ones right in front of us.  This isn’t the time for big heroics at all – it’s actually the time for those quiet, brave and bold moves, that no-one draws attention to, or throws a spotlight on, because the reality of those things, is that they are things we can all do. We can all do, each and every day.

We can love our families.

We can love our neighbours.

We can check in online or via the phone to our friends, near and far.

We can keep in touch with our work colleagues.

We can have Friday drinkies together  – thanks to the technology.

We can respond to that random Whats App message from a family member about a topic that normally does not interest us one iota.

We can call those who are self-isolating by themselves to say hi, and even plan our walks to go past their houses on purpose if we can, to say a big fat hello over the fence.  From a distance. Thank goodness that here in NZ we can still go for walks.

Maybe we need to start placing a bigger value on what can be perceived as smaller gestures of love, because something tells me that they are really the bigger gestures, the ones that really count.  The ones that mean so much to people.

Mother Teresa is attributed for saying ‘What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.’.  She also said I want you to be concerned about your next-door neighbor. Do you know your next-door neighbor?‘.  Boom.  I don’t yet know all my neighbours.  Hopefully I will before this lockdown ceases.  

So often so many of us spend so much time worrying and fretting over what we see as our ‘mission’,  How can we make a difference in this here world?  How to be our best version of us?

I think the answer to that has never been clearer.

One of my favourite instagrammers posted this during the week:

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If watering the plants right in front of us seem like not enough, then maybe we need to change our views on what’s really important right now.  We need to flip our ideas of heroics.  Just like what’s happening in the case of essential workers – we are now so very reliant and appreciative of those whose jobs weren’t necessarily deemed as important as others before this pandemic struck.  And.  May these perspectives stay our new normal.

We may feel helpless – but we’re not.  We can offer help to those around us.  It just looks a little different to normal.

We may feel inadequate – but we’re not.  Those kids of yours may well be climbing the walls – but you are the very best parents for them now.  And you always have been.  That friend of yours may be really struggling – but you may be the only person who asks her how she really really really is.  That boss of yours may be feeling like they are carrying the weight on everyone’s expectations on their shoulders – you could well be the only person to thank them for the effort they are putting into keeping your job going.

The little may seem little, but it’s actually everything.

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The Constancy

We recently spent some time with an adorable little muchkin, Micah.  At nearly two years of age, Micah charmed his three big boy cousins and had his Uncle Mike and Aunty Fee completely besotted.  We may or may not still be speaking Micahisms to this day.  We may or may not have bought him his favourite food just so we could hear him say the words ‘ro ro rolls’ (sausage rolls) more than a couple of times.  He provided expert quality control in the food department of our camping group by sampling each and everyone’s breakfast.  You just couldn’t say no to those big earnest eyes and charming smile.

Gosh the kid is cuuuuute.  And clever.  So very clever.  And did I mention how cute he is?  My youngest is now nine, so it was super fun to just be around such a great little one, to see him climb onto my giant man child’s lap and to see the world with his eyes for a few moments – with such awe and wonder.

Normally one associates toddlers with certain behaviours.

Frustrations when they can’t say what they long to say can lead to little or big meltdowns.  Paddies.  Agitations.  Not our Micah though.  Not that I’m biased or anything.  😉  Actually though, to be as truthful and as honest as Brene Brown would encourage us all to be…….just lately I reckon I’ve been behaving more like a troubled toddler than our darling Micah ever is.  Or was with us, anyways……

You see I’ve been impatient.  And demanding.  And frustrated.  And worried.

If I could have stamped my feet and slammed a few doors, then just maybe I would have.

I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve been desperate.  ‘Desperate’ is a strong word.  I try to avoid Drama Queen status.  But, heck, maybe I have been.  Desperate that is.  Desperate to see God move in a certain way.  Longing for Him to act in a certain situation.  Craving to feel, to hear, to know something specific.

Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation before.  Maybe not.  Maybe I’m the only adult around who wants to stick out her bottom lip and sulk when I don’t see and hear God move in the big and mighty ways that I crave.  But maybe, I’m also pretty real and not too proud to share just how roller coaster ride-ish, this journey of faith can be.

In the midst of my very humanness and arms crossing and fed up-ness earlier this week I was mid-conversation with someone, when I was struck with this thought – obviously not from my own thoughts as I was too busy ‘woe is me-ing’,

He’s in the shout, and in the whisper.

He’s in the chaos and in the calm. 

He’s in the big and bold, the loud and the vibrant, and He’s also in the small and the meek, the quiet and the subdued.  

You see we’re often so busy looking for answers, for provision, for the WOW factor, for answers to our prayers and our hearts desires in the immediate and the instant.  And while this can and does happen, I’ve found that that’s not the norm.  No.  Nope.  Nah uh.  More often than not, while we’re looking for writing in the sky, God’s actually whispering in the quiet.  He’s sending encouragement through the smile of a knowing friend, the natural beauty all around us, the brilliance of a purple/pink and red painted night sky.  He’s sending us messages of reassurance, of His great love for us, of His great care for us in the pages of the bible.  He’s in the conversations we have with others who love Him, those that remind us of His presence with us.

We have this gift – this constancy of hope, always.  Our hope doesn’t change no matter how we feel, or how loud our stamps are, or how low our lips may droop, because our hope is in Him.  God.  Our Father.  He’s there. He’s near.  He’s constant.

We change.

But He doesn’t.

We move nearer and further from.

But He doesn’t.

This constancy of hope can give us the greatest of comforts, the biggest of encouragements and the resilience to carry on, through whatever we’re facing.

We waiver.

But He doesn’t.

He’s there.  He’s in the song of the birds, the glory of the stars, the giggle of a child and the care and concern of a friend. He’s always speaking to us – He just rarely shouts. Even when, especially when, we’re being particularly juvenile and demanding – He isn’t.

Just as well we can all have hope. And just as well I have an awesome role model in Micah.

 

40 things to share………..or not.

I turned the big 4 0 two years ago.  Yep.  I’m getting up there, I tell ya.  At the time of my 40th I had this great idea of writing a blog post covering 40 random things I’d learnt about life.  I was going to make it a little bit quirky, a little bit serious and a little bit….whatever……..I’d figured that by the time you’re forty there are a few things you know.  Most of them learnt the hard way, of course.  But learnt none the less.

I got as far as planning out a few of my forty points……..

  •  Always wear socks on a long haul flight.  No-one wants to wear shoes on an overnight flight, but bare feet………in a bathroom on a plane…..after hour four…….that’s a big no no.  Trust me.  I learnt that one the hard way.
  • Baby wipes aren’t just for babies.  Stash some in your glovebox, in your bathroom for wiping down the basin when you have unexpected visitors arrive on your doorstep and you just know that boys 2 and 3 tend to treat toothpaste as finger paint from time to time…….and just basically don’t leave home without them.
  • Do the ‘change the time on the clock trick’ while your kids are too young to notice and but old enough to know what the clock should look like when it’s bedtime.  Fast forward your day by an hour. Trust me.  That’s a sneaky hour that’s well worth it on the days you need to do it.
  • Gee.  Such a shame.  The ice-cream van is playing music to let us all know he’s out of ice-cream.  Soz everyone.

So I worked away on some of these points.  Did the start of a draft blog…then life kinda just got in the way.  And those old thoughts of ‘who am I to give any half-decent advice?’.  ‘Why should what I think and say matter to anyone else’, made me stop in my tracks.

So I let the draft lie there…..and well…….as it tends to do……life carried on.

But just recently I’ve been thinking about this again.  And I’m glad I didn’t persevere with my original blog post.  Not because those types of blog posts aren’t interesting – they are.  I’ve read some really clever, fun and informative ones along the same lines.  I’m also always keen to learn from others.

But the main reason I’m glad I didn’t continue with that post is – I’ve recently had it hammered into me that it can be a dangerous and possibly at times, arrogant thing, to think we know what’s best for others.

People who are helpers by nature – Hello Enneagram 2 – y’all reading? – I’m especially talking to you because, I KNOW………we CAN’T HELP OURSELVES……WE LIVE TO HELP!!  We hear of problems/ issues and we yearn to be able to help.  Not just ‘put a band-aid on it’ help, but also fix the root problem help……we want to find solutions, and we want to find causes.

And sometimes we’re absolutely right.  Spot on.  Nailed it.

Sometimes it just makes complete sense that this problem or issue is happening because of x, y ,z.

But.

Even more than that.  More useful, more compassionate, more practical than me talking about whatever it is that I think you may need to hear…….(ummmm, hello, arrogant, much?)

More than that……

Better than that……..

I realized just recently that the most helpful thing I could ever say to anyone, in any situation is – ‘help me to understand’.

Help me to see things as the way you see them.

In the middle of any situation that is good or bad or sad or makes you mad, or worry or scared or doubt yourself, or frustrates you or anything……..in the midst of the swirl of anything that is going on, I have this crazy thought that most people just want to know two very important things;

1.  That they can be understood.  That their feelings are not too unbearable for anyone to sit with, to hear, to hold. That they are not unique in their reactions.

2.  And they are not alone.  Whatever they are facing….they are not facing it by themselves, because challenges in life tend to isolate us.  Whatever advice I may or may not have for someone is useless unless they know that I’m there for them.  That I care.  That I will  enter into their hard and desperate space, so that they know how much I care, before they know how much (or as little!!) that I know.

I promise to not ever presume to know how you’re feeling.  Or to know the challenges you face.  Or to bombard your inbox with 40 things that might make you smile a little, or learn a little new thing or give you the answer to a very random question in some random pub quiz, way off in the distant future, but I’m determined to do something more useful for you.  To ask you – ‘what’s going on with you?’  ‘Help me to understand.’

When we can sit down with others, and open our hearts and ears to whatever is on their minds – that’s a priceless gift.  Way more valuable that forty random things that I think may or may not be of any use to you.

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The Mountains You Climbed

I love my church.  I love the mix of people there, I love the speakers, I love the kids’ programmes and I love being a part of whatever God is up to, with this ragamuffin rag tag bunch of people that I get to do a lot of life with.

I especially love our worship team.  I love the fact that this bunch of beautiful people get up while it’s still stupid o’clock on a Sunday morning, and they practice and pray and then work together to bring us a way to reach out to God, to connect with God, through worship.  Through song.

A number of weeks ago we had a worship session that was a real doozy.  Even if you’re not a regular church go-er and you don’t quite understand the whole gathering and singing about and to a God that you may not even believe in, had you been a fly on the wall that Sunday, I reckon you’d have a few questions and a little stirring in your belly.  It was that powerful.

Now people who know way more about these things than I, would be able to give you a few reasons why that particular Sunday was extra special.  More switched on people would say things along the lines of:  it was the song choice, it was the prep that the worship team put into the morning, it was the prayers that various people prayed prior to the service, it was how open the congregation was, it was all sorts of things.  And.  Yep.  I reckon it could quite possibly have been a whole mix of things.

But I’ve been pondering this for a while now.

And while I can’t and don’t and won’t ever claim to have any ‘spiritual recipes’:  where, if you have x amount of y and add in a touch of z, with a splash of w, then – whammo – you’re gonna get an amazing church experience.  Guaranteed.

Nope.  I’d never say that. You see I believe that God is sovereign and will have His way, in spite of whatever we do or don’t do…….

But I’ve been wondering about something and that ‘something’ was evident in two of the songs we sang that day, and I really don’t think it was a coincidence that it was a ‘wow’ morning for so many people that day.

The first song of the two that were most powerful for me, was ‘Goodness of God’ by Bethel Music and Jenn Johnson.  You can watch it/ listen to it here. This song is powerful – the words are declaratory, they point to the steadfastness of God; His faithfulness and His closeness.

What’s key for me, in this song, is that it doesn’t just talk about how amazing God is when life is going well – but it talks of when we’re in our darkest days, then He is close like no other –

I love Your voice
You have led me through the fire
And in darkest night You are close like no other
I’ve known You as a Father
I’ve known You as a Friend
And I have lived in the goodness of God

And that’s what stood out for me as people all around me lifted up their voice in song, and declared those words, because I have the amazing privilege of knowing so many stories of the people around me.

That Sunday, singing these words:

I love You, Lord
For Your mercy never failed me
All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God, 

were people who are facing all sorts of battles and heartache and struggles.  Friends who have major illnesses – visible and invisible, families in the middle of major upheavals, those with financial struggles, and some who are in relentless physical and emotional pain.  Yet they were all singing these words, and truly meaning these words.  In and through all their yuck, God has been faithful.  And I think there’s enormous power when we can say, even when dot dot dot, God has been faithful.

The next song we sang was the old hymn ‘It is Well with my Soul’ by Horatio Spafford.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

This song is rather well known for being written by a this guy, Mr Spafford after he had learnt that his four daughters had perished at sea, and he was on his way to join his wife after this awful, life-altering tragedy.

That part of his life seems to be well known, but I wanted to know more….what made this man tick? How could his faith be so rock solid?

I’ve done a little research and will share my thoughts thus far – but I reckon there is much, much more to learn from ‘ol Horatio.

Horatio was an American.  He was a lawyer and also an investor, and lost a lot of what he had in assets in the Great Chicago Fire (1871).  Two years later Horatio decided his family needed a holiday – can’t blame him really, and they chose England as their destination because…get this….he was good friends with the preacher D L Moody and he wanted to hear Moody preach in England.  A ha!!!  Horatio had a deep faith – helped no doubt by the company he kept.  If he could call Moody a friend, and decide that out of anywhere in the world he could go, he chose to visit Moody and be a part of Moody’s ‘inner circle’ I guess.   Which speaks to me that Horatio kept some pretty cool company…..wise move Mr Spafford.

Anyway Horatio had some last minute business to attend to, so sent the family on ahead.  His four daughters died as a result of the ship they were on being struck by another ship – but his wife survived.  ‘Saved alone’ were the words on that now famous telegraph she sent to her husband once she arrived in England.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could say ‘It is well with my soul’, after having four kids die.  I really don’t think I could say it directly after their deaths, and I wonder if I could even say it in the following months or years…..but maybe, just maybe it was something Horatio had to say.  Just had to proclaim, to speak aloud what he knew to be true.  To speak it into being – thus becoming easier to believe.  I don’t know, but maybe, just maybe, in the process of telling himself it is well, it is well….then slowly, but surely, his nightmare turned into a situation where God was still acknowledged and still in control…..just maybe it was part of his healing process.

The story of Horatio doesn’t just end there with a great song, that is still blessing others today.  O no.  Horatio and his wife went on to have more children (two girls and a boy – sadly the boy died of pneumonia) and the Spaffords moved to Jerusalem, as part of the American Colony.  They led a group of thirteen adults and three children to set up a Christian colony to engage in work with the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities in Jerusalem.  During and immediately after World War One the American Colony played a vital part in helping these communities by running soup kitchens, hospitals, and orphanages.

Horatio and his family didn’t just limit themselves by what they had experienced and let their heartache eat them up.  No they persevered – they worked for the Lord, through the thick and thin. I doubt it was ever easy.  But, by golly, I bet there was rejoicing in heaven when Horatio entered (he died of malaria and was buried in Jerusalem).  Well done my good and faithful servant.  And when I meet ‘ol Horatio in heaven, I’m going to thank him for his song and the fact that it really sums up the Christian walk so well.

Bet you didn’t think you’d be getting such a history lesson when you clicked on this link.  Well, sorry, not sorry……all this is to say there’s power when we share from what we know.  When our faith is lived out and declared.  I think these two songs carried with them a whole lotta raw truth – and I think they are examples of this; the scars you share become lighthouses for people who are headed for the same rocks you hit.

You story matters.  Your faith journey matters. Those songs we sang were and are powerful, because they are showing great vulnerability and honesty. There’s nothing like the encouragement that people get, from you sharing how the goodness of God has pulled you through the messiest of storms;

‘Tell the story of the mountain you climbed.  Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide’ – Morgan Harper Nicholls.

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Vulnerability is a crock.

I saw an Instagram post this past week where someone who knows these things was showing that socks and sandals, worn together, are back in vogue.  For reals.  I kid you not.  You heard it from me……..Now while I’m no major fashion follower, and I for one, will not be following this new (old) trend, it always amazes me how many trends for so many different things come and go.  All. The. Time.

I have two jobs and in both those jobs I have a husband and wife team who are my bosses.  If I’m ever feeling a tiny bit bratty, then sometimes I’ll throw a couple of trendy words into conversation that one of these teams really don’t like……one of those words is ‘journey’.  And I’m not talking about a physical trip with a start point and a destination, an end point. ‘Journey’ has become a trendy word though.  So has ‘vulnerability’.

‘Vulnerability’ can be defined as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.

Spend any amount of time reading or listening to any kind of self-help/ leadership/ emotional growth type of articles/ blog posts/ podcasts or books and you will hear the word ‘vulnerability’.  You will.  It’s now a trendy word.  And it’s a word that carries a lot of punch.

Now I happen to love Brené Brown whose work on vulnerability has been hugely significant and her TED talk on vulnerability is one of the five most watched, with over 30 million views.  I love her books, I love her instagram posts, I love what she stands for and who she fights for and the fact that she is so well educated and is leading in her field, and she’s prepared to put the spotlight on the tricky and complicated topics of courage, shame, empathy and vulnerability.  If you haven’t already, read her stuff.  She makes so much sense.

But here’s the thing.

In reality, when the rubber hits the road, when you actually start to live out these things that you’re told are good for you and are going to be worth it, and when vulnerability is one of these things, sooner or later you’ll find that it’s actually a crock.

Vulnerability is a crock.  It’s hard.  It’s laying your heart and soul open to inspection.  It’s dumb.  It’s painful.  It’s allowing others a glimpse of what you’re rather keep dark and hidden and private.  It’s not sheltering your loved ones from that which you know may hurt them.  Which goes against the grain of what comes naturally and easily to most.

Vulnerability is a crock.  It means that others may say inappropriate things back to you.  Or say nothing in response to you.  So you’re left in limbo wondering if whatever that thing that made you feel so vulnerable in the first place was too much for them, was too big for them or too messy for them.

Vulnerability is a crock.  I know of people who have had very physical responses to the emotional work involved in opening up to others – breathing problems, insomnia, wakefulness, panic attacks, weight loss, weight gain – all these are very normal somatic responses to adversity, and for many, becoming vulnerable is also becoming open to adversity.

Vulnerability is a crock.  It makes you feel like an idiot.  It reminds you of all the things you haven’t worked out yet, that you haven’t mastered yet, and that we’re all works in progress.  It highlights all the things you’d really rather have control over and be in charge of and manage very carefully and well.

But here’s the thing.  As much as I think vulnerability is a crock, here’s what I know even more, it’s actually totally worth it.

Becoming vulnerable is worth it.

Being vulnerable is worth it.

Yes it’s hard.  But nothing worthwhile was ever easy. Ever.

Yes it’s laying your heart and soul open to inspection – but only to those who you trust. Those you respect.

Yes it’s dumb.  But so is pride.

Yes it’s painful.  But wounds left to fester cause more harm than good.

Yes it’s exposing.  But only negatives grow in the dark.

Yes it’s showing your muck to those who love you most.  But as my favourite artist Charlie Mackesy says and illustrates:

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When you’re vulnerable with someone, when you’re sharing the good, the bad, the beautiful, the joyful, and the downright ugly, then you’re allowing them to step into that situation with you.  You’re allowing them to be Jesus with skin on.  They may not necessarily be able to change anything, but sometimes outside eyes can see things you can’t.  Sometimes outside ears can hear other sides of the story, that you can’t.  Sometimes more hands than just yours can help shift burdens and barriers.  And that’s worth it.  That’s worth the pain and the reminders of what you’re still working on.

It’s been proven time and time again that simply sharing a painful experience with someone will help to ease the pain.  Brené says ‘an experience of collective pain does not deliver us from grief or sadness; it is a ministry of presence.  These moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time’. 

We build walls around our hearts and our souls for very valid reasons, but there’s so much to be gained from overcoming the pain, the pride and the powerlessness to truly share your life with someone.To truly be vulnerable.

Becoming vulnerable is worth it. Being vulnerable is so very worth it. I get the feeling that all the noise and rumble that has come along when dealing with ‘vulnerability’ means that this isn’t some passing fad, and not just a trendy word.  It’s here to stay because we now recognize that it’s worth it.  It’s really worth it.

I’m hoping that the socks and sandals thing doesn’t stick around though.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”  – Brené Brown

 

 

 

 

My Million Dollar Idea

Don’t tell the cat, but we are secretly dog people.  I long for the day that my three boys can have a dog as their faithful companion.  Not a little, yappy thing, but a hugable, loveable, ‘don’t let him stand on your toes’ kinda four legged friend.  A border collie or a retriever or a lab.  There’s something good and right about a boy and his dog.  The problem is we’re renters and it’s really hard to have a dog and be in a rental property.  So for now, we’re cat people.  We pretend that she’s enough.  But.  Really.

Sometimes when I’m with a certain friend we brainstorm together about business ideas…things that haven’t been done before, things that we could do while maintaining order at home and other commitments and jobs, but a thing that would earn us both a million smackeroonies.  Preferably a residual income.  That’s the dream, aye?  Money that makes itself for us.  That way my husband and I could actually get a foot in the property ladder.

It’s just as well dreams are free.  We can limit the smashed avo on toast and the lattes drunk out and about – but the dreams – there’s no limit to them.

One of my latest ideas was a right proper nightmare actually.  You see I’ve got this secret to better living, everyone.  I’ve got this simple idea that absolutely anyone could begin to action, and I absolutely guarantee it will change the atmosphere of your workplace, your social club, your small group or your larger group.  It will grow relationships overnight and it will make you a better wife/husband/ Mum/ Dad/ sister/ brother/ employee/employer immediately.  Guaranteed.  In fact I believe in this so much I could sell tickets to seminars, or produce workshops that could be shared on memory sticks and sent all over the world (for a small fee of course – hence the million dollar idea), but I’m not that kinda person.  Not now and not never.  For one – my knees have fellowship any and every time I have a microphone in my hand and well, at the end of the day……MONEY SCHMONEY.  Whatevs.  I’ve actually got this open hand open heart thing going on and could never be the next Anthony Robbins.  No-one will ever make money off any of my ideas – myself included.  But, because I believe in this hair-brained idea enough to really think it could make a difference in my world and in yours, I’m a gonna share it here anyways.

The secret to better working relationships, personal relationships and any kind of interactions in any kind of way?

You ready for it?

It’s what I call, ‘the follow up’.

Yep.

The Follow Up.

This is when you check in with someone and follow up on what you’ve previously talked about.  It may be the same day, the same week, the same month…..all dependent on the situation, but it is you following up on whatever has been good/ hard/ joyful/ anxiety bringing/ fraught with frustration/ filled with blessing – whatever – you’ve last discussed with someone.

The Follow Up.  Why do I think it is so important and changes the way relationships grow?  Because it shows you care.  It shows you were listening.  It shows that even though time may have passed in between seeing this person, you’ve still thought about them and their world.  It shows that you have capacity to think beyond your own world.  It shows that they matter to you.  They matter, fullstop.

And who doesn’t need to be reminded of this, just every so often?

It’s really not rocket science, nor is it manipulative in any way, it is showing sincerity and genuine care.  It’s saying to someone, that you appreciate the fact that they opened up to you and showed a slice of their heart to you, and that it wasn’t too much for you.  They aren’t too messy or broken or full on for you.  And from there – even more trust and openness can be built. And good relationships can improve any workplace, any friendship, and setting that I can think of.

What does this look like in an everyday setting?  It can be light and simple, or bigger and deeper, depending on the feelings involved.  One of my bosses is a bestman at a wedding today.  He’s been talking about his duties for this for a while now.  You can bet your bottom dollar one of the first things I ask him when I show up for my next shift on Monday will be – how did the wedding go?  How was your speech?  And we’ll spend the whole evening dissecting all that went into the event.  Why on earth is this important?  I believe it is important because it’s showing him that I genuinely care about what was a big event in his life.  Its about being interested in more than my world.  People don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care.  In any setting.  But surely everyone would take the time to ask about this?  Surely anyone with any little amount of people skills?  You may be thinking that because you’re a friend of mine and you already have a great amount of people skills and perhaps you already action this little skill naturally, intuitively. Actually.  Not everyone does this.  You’d be surprised.  Life is so busy.  Life can be so consuming.  Some people prefer to talk about their favourite topic – themselves – all the time.  But that doesn’t grow trust.  That doesn’t put relationships on an equal footing.  That doesn’t make people feel safe with you.

Now it may be coming across that I’m trying to appear as an expert in this people business. Let me assure you.  I am not.  I stuff up with people all the time.  I often don’t know what to say or I say the wrong thing, or I clam up when I could talk.  But this one thing I do know:  if I open up to share a piece of my heart with someone, however deep or shallow that piece may be, if that person asks me at a later stage about that piece of my heart, then that builds my level of trust with them.  That helps me feel not so alone.  That reassures me that I’m not too crazy/ messy/ screwed up for them.  I think most people are aware that sharing with people, especially things that are painful. helps to divide the pain.   There’s some kind of magical maths that goes on when this happens.  And that, my friends is worth pursuing.  That’s the real gold.  That’s worth more than a million bucks.

The Follow Up.  It’s priceless.  It will make you a better person, whatever you do, whoever you are.

Now, onto other ideas………buying the next kids’ trend in games before someone else brings it into the country?  Personal shopping?  Hmmmmmmm.

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Kissing on the inside

I must have been a really weird teenager.  While other teens around me were rocking their ra-ra skirts, coloured jeans and scrunchies, digging into their ‘Dolly’ magazines and listening to Boys II Men, Guns’n’Roses and Metalicca, in 1991 I started collecting quotes that I liked.

Weird for a fourteen year old girl.

I was looking through a book that I kept these quotes in, and this one jumped out at me:

‘People can only love outside and can only kiss outside, but Mister God can kiss you right inside, so it’s different.  Mister God ain’t like us; we are a little bit like Mister God, but not much yet’ – Mister God This Is Anna, by Fynn.  (one of the cutest and most poignant books ever!)

I loved that as a fourteen year old, and I still love it, as a ah hem year old.  I’m not exactly sure how or why it meant much to me as a teen – I certainly hadn’t been kissed then, but I guess I had a growing sense of the importance of my relationship with God.  But now.  It seems even more meaningful and profound, now that I have been and I am regularly ‘kissed on the outside’.

This past week my Spunky Hunk and I celebrated nineteen of marriage.  Nineteen years, all in a row.  There aren’t a lot of things in my life that I claim to be proud of – but my marriage (and my kids!) would feature in any brag book of mine…..We’re solid.  We’re a team.  We’re real and we laugh and we adventure and we grow, together.

And.

We kiss.

Yep.

We do.

But even in the closeness we share and the ability Michael has to be my rock and my anchor and all of that, things we certainly don’t take for granted, but we’ve cultivated and nurtured over these nineteen years, even in and through all of that, as much as I admire him and truly love him, there’s also a limit to how he can comfort me.  Somehow, I knew before I took Michael’s hand in marriage, that only Mister God can kiss me right inside.

We’re now in the advent season.  A season of great anticipation.  Of waiting.  Of watching.  Of preparation.  Some people I know have had great years, and are excited for what this Christmas season holds for them.  Others around me are struggling.  It’s been a tough year.  They are dealing with massive hurts, incredible heartache, the need for physical and emotional healing, for great uncertainty surrounds them.  So – how to encourage those in such a time as this?  When the season feels like it calls for all things to be merry and bright, joyful and sparkly?

There’s so much I don’t know about life – of faith, of grief, of all of life’s big questions, but time and time again, I’ve been reminded of this great truth – this I do know – that God is in the waiting.  And it’s in that waiting, that Mister God can kiss you right inside.

This song by Kristene DiMarco, Jeremy Riddle and Joel Taylor (‘Take Courage’ – Bethel Music) says it way better than I ever could:

Slow down, take time
Breath in He said
He’d reveal what’s to come
The thoughts in His mind
Always higher than mine
He’ll reveal all to come

Take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

Sing praise my soul
Find strength in joy
Let His Words lead you on
Do not forget His great faithfulness
He’ll finish all He’s begun

It’s really easy to lose heart, when you’re in the middle of a battle.  The longer you have to wait for a diagnosis, or to see treatment begin to make a difference.  It’s really easy to lose hope, when you feel isolated and distances between you and others keeps increasing.  It’s really easy to lose faith when time doesn’t seem to make a difference.  But.

But God.  But God promises us that when we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.  I’ve seen God do this when friends of mine have lost their spouses, or when they’ve faced the ultimate of betrayals.  The easier thing to do would be for them to have lost heart, lost hope and lost faith.  But they haven’t.  They have chosen to set their faces like flint, to turn their bruised and broken hearts towards God and to pour out their concerns, reveal their aches and rip off the bandages from their oozing wounds.  And here’s the wonderful thing – God does come.  As gently and as wonderfully and as thoroughly as only He can – He comes, and He kisses those wounds.  It takes time and perseverance……..but He’s there.  He’s in the waiting.  I’ve seen this in some of the strongest and bravest people I know.  They’ve come to Him in their waiting.

Whatever this Christmas season holds for you – take courage. He’s in the waiting.  Only Mister God can kiss you on the inside.

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Grown up learning is hard learning.

My earliest years were spent in a land-locked country.  There were some rivers, but my memories of rivers feature funeral pyres and hindu shrines, built up on the riverbanks, speckled with bright red and orange flowers and random cheeky, pesky monkeys, stealing the fruit offerings. Never swimming in a river. I do remember boating on a lake – a row row row your boat kinda boat, but I don’t ever remember actually being in the water of the lake.  The only place where we ever went swimming, was at a hotel when we lived in the city, and how we wrangled that, I’m not sure.  But it wasn’t a common event and certainly not common enough to build any proper swimming skills in me.  So when I went to school in New Zealand and when the whole school would jump on a bus to head into the pools in the city centre, and when we were divided up into ability groups, I was very quickly plonked in the very lowest of the groups.

Bam. Teach that kid to tread water.  Teach her to float.  The very basics.

Now I was eight at the time and surprise surprise I was plonked in a group with mostly newly turned five year olds in it.  Pretty much every kid in my school level could do the basics already and were grouped in the big kids pool.  Me, I was stuck in the very shallows of the learners pool.

I wasn’t too impressed by this, so I worked on my swimming. I listened to whatever the teacher tried to teach me, then in the weekends and school holidays I got myself to the pools to practice.  And practice I did. And by hook and by crook, I pretty much taught myself how to swim, through trial and error. So that the next year, when those school buses pulled up at the school and we began our noisy ride to the steamy concrete pools, full of chlorine that stung and reddened our eyes, I knew that I wasn’t going to have another humiliating experience of being in the shallowest end of the learners pool.  I could swim, maybe not like a fish, but enough to be at least with stragglers my own age.  And that felt good enough for me.

I had a similar experience when I started ballet.  I absolutely loved to dance…….I began with jazz dancing at the age of ten and I begged and begged my parents to add in ballet as well.  They relented when I was eleven and I joined the ranks of the R.A.D students.  Now jazz dancing is easy to pick up at any age and to be in a class with any similar-age kids, but ballet, not so much.  You really need to learn the basics and master the basics and work your way up the grade levels, to be able to handle the harder stuff.  So here I was at age 11, in a class of five year olds again.  Of course at the time I didn’t see that and recognize that negative feeling I got from that was one of ‘shame’, but I knew I didn’t like it.  So once again, I just worked hard.  I practiced and I practiced. I listened and I copied and I practiced some more, and I used all the shame and embarrassment to drive that desire in me to improve and do better.  And I did.  I was never an amazing dancer, but I worked hard and I progressed up the levels and my very wise teacher allowed me to skip a grade or two and by the age of 18 when I finished high school I was dancing five days a week, including teaching lower grades for my teacher and absolutely loving everything about the world of dance.

When you’re a little bit motivated and a little bit inspired, it is amazing what you can teach yourself to do.  And.  It’s a heck of a lot easier to teach yourself things the younger you are.

How is that??  You’d think that the older you are, the more skills you’ve got in your toolbox, right?  But, no.  Somehow it doesn’t work like that.  It’s a scientifically proven fact that the older you are, the harder it is to learn new things.  There are studies galore about this…..with reasons ranging from: your brain looses its plasticity (the ability to form new pathways) with age, your experiences of learning new things aren’t consolidated as well with age, as they are as a child, and there’s even a thing where your sleep changes during puberty and the type of sleep you end up having post-puberty is not conducive to helping learning new skills.  That’s not super encouraging though, is it?  Not when you’re someone who actually likes to learn and likes to develop new skills for a job requirement or out of interest, or even as a necessary step to help manage your health (like my husband had to when diagnosed with type one diabetes out of the blue at age 35).

So what can you do to help with new learning?  I’ve been thinking about this and reading a little and have a few little thoughts on this……

Allow for more rest. Your brain is working hard.  Your body is not a battery that just keeps going and going.  You need to recharge.  You need sleep and you need rest.  Without sleep you cannot actually commit new experiences to memory.

Allow for more self-love.  I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person in the universe that blames herself for x, y and z, when that’s totally not called for, and that revs up about five thousand notches the minute I can’t do something new.  We never ever expect children to be able to read Chaucer after their first week of school, do we?  We teach reading in steps.  We progress from short sentences to longer sentences.  We advance from shorter words to longer, harder words.  We encourage and we’re patient.  We need to be the same for ourselves, whenever we’re learning something new.  Whatever that new thing is.

Allow for more courage to try new things.  I think courage breeds courage.  All you need is a little to start with, and it somehow, magically, it multiplies.  Do the next hard thing, and then the next, and then the next.  I didn’t learn to drive in New Zealand.  I had a whole heap of reasons and excuses not to, but after we moved to America, after I’d left all my friends and family and moved with my husband and two small children to a place that I’d never been to, all of a sudden I had this new found courage in me to tackle other new things.  So I learnt to drive.  On the wrong side of the road.  And I made my husband sit the test before me, so I could learn the route and feel more confident. But I did it.  What had previously been something that was too hard for me, became something I had the courage for.  And I haven’t ever regretted that.

Allow more letting go.  This is something I don’t do well, but see the need to really work on.  It’s all too easy to hold onto all the ‘I can’t dos’ and ‘I wish I could do betters’….that’s easy…a better narrative would be ‘I’m working on that’, ‘That’s something that is in process for me’.  Just recently I was working on a problem in one of my jobs, and I openly made the comment to my boss that I wished I was an accountant as then I’d be able to solve that problem easily.  And then I felt dumb for saying that.  I know I don’t have that training, but more importantly, my boss knows very well I don’t have that training  – all I need to do in any situation is do my very best and seek out help when I need to.  And let go of all the things I’m not yet……emphasis on the yet….

Looking back, I can see that teaching myself to swim and learning how to dance when I was the ancient of days in the classes, were actually easy things.  I  had oodles of time, passion and determination all in my arsenal.  It may be harder to learn things as a adult, but it’s definitely not impossible, and it helps to know you’ve got a cheering squad by your side, which is what I have in my amazing friends and bosses.  When it comes to learning anything new, I’ve got people telling me they believe in me, that I can do it.  And that makes the world of difference.  I hope you have that too.  If I can do hard things, you can too.  Let’s do hard things together.

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