That was then, this is now.

Joshua erected a monument at The Gilgal, using the twelve stones that they had taken from the Jordan. And then he told the People of Israel, “In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What are these stones doing here?’ tell your children this: ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

23-24 “Yes, God, your God, dried up the Jordan’s waters for you until you had crossed, just as God, your God, did at the Red Sea, which had dried up before us until we had crossed. This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always. – The Message Translation, Joshua 4: 20 – 24.

The church we were a part of when we lived in America has a feature of a  bunch of rocks by its front entrance, with the above accompanying description (they use a different translation though).  The rocks are a visual reminder of God’s rescuing hand.  The rocks are a reminder of God’s stories in our lives.  The rocks are there to urge others; to urge us all, to tell our God stories, to share our God stories.

I don’t have a big ole pile of rocks by my front entrance at my home now.  Nope.  Don’t think the landlords would entirely approve of that.  But I do see this here blogeroo of mine as a ‘rock formation’ of sorts;  these are things my God has done for me, this is how I know I am loved beyond measure, and I have hope for every situation.

When I was in my teens and twenties I was able to attend a lot of leadership training and conferences and the like, and a common theme or idea that often came through in these sessions, was the fact that your stories needed to be ‘new’ and ‘relevant’.  Up to date and from your current life.  So yeah.  Current and up to date was what I looked for,  and somehow along the way it became a little too easy to begrudge or to belittle the stories of my yesterdays.

But lately I’ve been realizing that our stories of our last weeks and our last months, and of our last years and our last decades, are just as valuable as those stories of our today’s. Don’t you think that the temptation is there to often think that those stories from our yesterdays are done and dusted with? Finito.  The end. Book closed.  But actually……no……I think that God has a sneaky way of bringing our stories from then into our lives of today. And along with that is the fact and the blessing, that thankfully He can bring healing to very hurt places, over a time-frame known only to Him.  He’s that omnipotent.  And He’s that omnipresent.

In a blog post a while ago I mentioned the fact that there’s a building here in Auckland that I didn’t like to drive past. Or even think about.  It brought back sad memories of a time in our lives where we faced great loss and experienced a lot of heartache.  But. And this is a big God but.  Just yesterday I was with some people and they were describing a part of Auckland and I realised it was exactly the area in which my aforementioned dreaded building is.  And you know what?  My heartbeat didn’t change tempo at all.  My mind didn’t race to flashbacks.  And I can honestly say that it was well with my soul.  Only now, twelve years on from my experience in that building, with much more of life experienced, I now can know that God’s gentle gluing of my heart back together is complete – with regards to that experience of grief.  That particular story of mine didn’t end when we threw out the dead flowers all those years ago, and it didn’t end when I put words to feelings and began to write of that journey, and it won’t end now that I know I don’t have to deal with fearful memories any more.  But it is a continually evolving and living story of God’s presence throughout pain and of His faithfulness.

You see that particular story of mine matters.

And the many other stories of mine, matter.  Just like your story matters.

Who you are matters.  Where you’ve come from.  What has shaped you.  The choices you’ve made.  The things that make you smile from ear to ear and belly laugh deep down.  The things that make you tear up and whether you put on a brave face, or allow those tears to escape, those things matter. Because the God I know and serve is a God who is faithful.  He’s powerful. He’s not finished with you yet, and He is certainly not finished with me yet. Your stories matter.  Our stories matter.

I’ve suspect I’ve got more stories to tell from my yesterdays and my today’s.  And I’ll continue to do my best to shine a spotlight on Jesus.

Joshua built a monument of rocks from the Jordan River to remind the Israelites of God’s faithfulness, of  God’s rescuing hand being strong.  You see there’s nothing about me that makes me any more special than you – you’ve got stories to share too. What story can you share and to whom, as a living monument of God’s faithfulness? We get to do that. We really do.

A photo by Austin Neill. unsplash.com/photos/ZahNAl_Ic3o

 

 

 

 

 

Stubborn is as stubborn does.

I’m pretty sure that this isn’t such a great thing to be particularly proud of, but as far as being stubborn goes, I’m up there in the leading rankings of high levels of stubbornness present. Anyone else with me on the leader board?

I am a Queen of Stubborn.

Strongly, fiercely independent, combined with a splash of stroppy, mixed together to make a good, strong batch of stubborn.That’s me.

I’m the type of stubborn that refused to get my drivers licence until I was thirty, when I had moved to a different country, with two little children (and preggers with number three) I discovered that walking everywhere was no longer an option.  Then I had to learn to drive on the other side of the road.  Some may have said ‘that’ll learn me’. And maybe it did.  But maybe it didn’t.

How and why I came to be so stubborn is really a story for another day. I don’t have enough chocolate in my house right now, to deal with that. But I am who I am.

Stubbornness ain’t all that bad though. My stubbornness worked in my favour when I was sent from medical specialist to specialist, and came away from all CT scans and MRI scans with nothing abnormal jumping out at us, but finally, after a three year journey I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder.  There’s a lot to be said for persistence and not settling for less than what you think is right. That’s stubbornness put to good use.

I have to be careful though, not to let this stubborn streak of mine make me miss opportunities that I shouldn’t miss, or not to let this stubborn streak of mine make my heart less malleable than it should be.  A soft and tender heart is what I always hope to hold onto.

I’m learning that there are a few things that I can do to help reign in this ‘stubborn’. Because if I’m not careful, sometimes this ‘stubborn’ can stop me from embracing a whole bunch of opportunities and experiences.

I’m learning that just because I may see myself as being x, y or z, I have to also remember that I don’t know what I don’t know.  While my filter on who I think I am may be reasonably accurate, its probably not quite as accurate as how close friends would see me, and of how God sees me.

As much as I talked in my last blog post about ‘who do we say God is’, and how that shapes how we outwork our faith, I think we also need to ask the question ‘who do you (God) say I am?’.  When we pause to ask that question, and really take on board the answers that come our way, I think we can all be pleasantly surprised.  We don’t know what we don’t know, so sometimes we need to ask a lot of questions.

In addition to asking God to reveal more of who He says we are, I’m learning to ask the right questions to the right people around me. Is what I think about x,y,z ok?  Does it line up with other things in my life? Allowing others to speak into my life means I have to take the time to take things on board, and to process things if they aren’t what I’d naturally think myself.  And for a stubborn chick, this is hard work, but oh so worthwhile.  You see, like I said before, we don’t know what we don’t know.

So how do you know you’re listening to the right people?  When you’re a person who is pretty strong minded to start with, how do you open your heart and mind to receive good and worthwhile advice and help?  I say look at the fruit in other people’s lives.  That’s my benchmark. Is the way this person lives, something I’d like to be emulating?  Do others respect them and speak highly of them?  Do I long to be closer to God because of their influence in my life?  If yes – then I know I need to put aside my own stubborn thoughts and opinions, breath deeply and listen intently to whatever it is they have to say on a situation that I may need swaying on.

Proverbs 1:5  talks about the importance of getting advice from others: let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.  Guidance is a good and necessary thing.  We are so much better together.  

So this is my prayer as one who knows she’s as stubborn as they come: may my heart and mind be steadfast and sure because I know without a doubt who I am in Christ and whose I am, but may that ever be growing. And may I always be looking for Godly wisdom from God himself and from others who love Him.  May my heart always be pliable, able to be stretched and ever increasing in capacity.  And may I always stop to consider that there’s much I don’t know, and we just don’t know what we don’t know.

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Dot to dot.

I used to like those dot to dot pictures. You know the ones – when little ones are practicing those early numeracy skills and they draw those wobbly pencil lines from number to number and those lines eventually reveal a picture. Dot to dots are cool.

I like dot to dots in real life too. Those times when you can take a step back from a situation for a minute, and see that you think a certain way, because of what you thought about another thing. One thing led to another.

This week the ministry my husband works for is holding their annual appeal. A massive chunk (between 80 and 90%) of their income is based purely on people’s donations, and once a year they have to make that ask, that appeal, for continued and new financial support. Here’s a random fact for you: typically less than 5% of all viewers (of a Christian tv station) or listeners (of a Christian radio station) will give financially to that ministry. This week is not my favourite week in the world. It’s humbling and hard in lots of ways, but unavoidable. But here we are, in that week. Last night the on air presenters were talking about how research shows that a major barrier to people giving to any charity or ministry is fear. Fear that if they were to give, then they wouldn’t have money for x,y, or z. And that can be a very real fear in a lot of ways. But if you have that fear, then you can’t truly believe that God can and will provide for your every need. You can’t believe that God says we’re not to worry about what to wear, or what we have to put in our stomachs.

Dot to dot. Your responses to situations and your actions are a direct result of what you believe.

I popped by a friend’s class today just when she happened to be student free. Written in big, bold words at the front of her classroom are the words ‘Who do you say I am?’.

Dot to dot.

The gospels (the first four books of the New Testament part of the bible) records Jesus as saying these words to Peter; ‘Who do you say I am?’.

You see I reckon that how we see Jesus, who we say He is, pretty much decides what our faith looks like when it is lived out.
And this ‘who we say God is’ also determines what our fears look like.

It’s hard to be fearful of sickness when we say that God is our healer.
It’s hard to be ashamed of past mistakes when we say that God has forgiven us and remembers not.
It’s hard to be downcast when we say that God can give us fullness of joy.
It’s hard to feel unlovely, when we say that God loves us with an everlasting love.

Dot to dot. One thing leads to another.

I don’t know about you, but my negative internal voices sometimes run off and have themselves a wee tea-party in the corner of my heart. But I’m discovering that when I come back to this one point,’Who do you say I am?’, when I re-frame how I see God, when I re position my true north on who God is and all He sees in me, then I find that fear and worry dissipate. Certainty replaces uncertainty. Peace replaces distress.

The next time you’re facing something that’s making you question your abilities or where you fit in this big wide world, or you’re fretting about something that the future holds, then do this simple thing. Move from that ‘dot’, back another ‘dot’, and answer that question once again for yourself. ‘Who do you say I am’ – Jesus.

And I think you’ll just find those dots to dots can indeed form a beautiful picture – your life, crafted by the Master Potter, Jesus.

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Take a meal – make someone’s day.

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

Always a dangerous thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You see its not really about the actual food.

And its not really about the presentation of the meal.

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

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

 Gosh darn it, someone cared about you.

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

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

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Incredible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shenanigans and other tools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My book.

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

But you know what?

I do.

I gots me some stuff.

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

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

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

Yeah.  I know the drill.

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

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

Of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This I surely know.

Jesus.

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Turned to Gold. 

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

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

You’ve been warned.

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

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

Little did I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God, speak to me.

Guide me.

Encourage me.

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

God, help me.

Give me wisdom.

Be my guide.

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

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

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

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

What was confusing and complex becomes understandable and simplified.

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

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

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

 

city-road-street-buildings-medium

You can’t buy half a happy meal.

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

I’m not sure why I said yes.

It was not my best yes.

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

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

Yep.

‘Horrific’ is a good word.

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

You can’t buy half a happy meal.

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

That’s part of life.

That’s part of risk.

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

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

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

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

But you have to buy the meal as a whole.

No matter what country you’re in.

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

Happy.

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

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

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

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

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