Knitted hearts.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s understandable, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peace like a river.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

The little girl.

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

I wasn’t going to do this one.

I wasn’t.

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

And so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are the things I would say.

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

 

Softly, softly.

 

Gently, gently.

 

I know I need these reminders from time to time.

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Swimming Lessons.

I don’t always think deep and meaningful thoughts. I do spend a lot of time thinking about shallow and trivial matters……what to put on the meal plan for this week…..I like that ladies shirt, wonder where that’s from…..why did my child place all eight rolls of toilet paper on the ground, around the toilet……

See. Shallow.

But lately, when I have been thinking about more meaningful things, it’s been things along the lines of living better, vulnerability, honesty and doing well in all the seasons of life.

You know.

Actually, it’s very important schtufff, important to get right. Because I want my life to point towards Jesus, and that isn’t going to happen if I’m sinking because of life’s demands, and not swimming.

Most of us, if not all of us, live lives that are comprised of things we have to or need to do; demands we must fill, as well as things we choose to do. I know I’m in a season of life at the moment that sees me committing time and energy to things I simply must do as well as things I willingly and lovingly say yes to. My days and nights are full, but I very much steer clear from the glorification of ‘busy’, instead I know and see the need for that trendy wee word at the moment…..’busy’ meet ‘self-care’, ‘self-care’ meet ‘busy’.

How we each need to look after ourselves is different for every person; we all have different capacities with what we can handle as far as schedules and commitments go. It is also entirely possible to feel major guilt and shame over the fact you may not be looking after yourself as well as you could, and you know that’s not right too. Glory.

So what can we do to swim better while in the fast moving currents in our lives? And how can we best support and love those around us who are in a ‘full’ season?  Here is my ten cents worth on this……

For the cheering squads:

It’s hard seeing someone you care about getting really tired and worn out, but there are things you can do as a friend that can make a load of difference…….

* Don’t tell someone that they are too busy. They know their life is full already. They probably already feel some frustration and concern about it themselves. Some better questions to ask might be; ‘out of the things you’re giving your time to, is there something you feel you could let go?’ And, ‘out of the things you’re choosing to do, is there anything in that mix that isn’t life-giving to you’. Those two questions aren’t accusatory, but could well provide some food for thought, that then produces better ‘results’.

* Be there for them. Just be there. Provide plenty of smiles, hugs, pats on the shoulder and thumbs up, if anyone ever does that anymore. That physical support speaks volumes and helps to build trust, so that if and when things in the life of your ‘struggling to swim’ friend do turn to custard, they know that yours is a shoulder they feel safe to fully dissolve on.

* Keep a watchful eye on the basics……is your friend getting enough sleep? Eating enough good food? And doing something, sometime in their weeks that does something to re-charge their soul?

* Keep inviting them to be a part of your life happenings, even if and when you know the answer will be ‘no they can’t because of x, y, or z’. Full schedules can be terribly isolating, and the benefits of knowing that others still value your company far outweigh the negatives of knowing that this is just another thing you have to politely decline.

For those of you in the throes of a full schedule:

* Be real and honest with people about how you are doing and where you are at with things. This probably means making yourself vulnerable a tad. Gulp. This means opening your gob and trying to put words to feelings. Even bigger gulp. But as yours truly has been learning to do this……… it isn’t as scary as it could be, and the end result actually brings great comfort.

* Be real and honest with yourself, remind yourself that boundaries and limits are necessary. There are some great books around on these things if you need help in those areas.

* It really does help, with whatever you’re facing, if your attitude is positive and your chin is up, as much as it can be. There’s a whole ‘nother ten cents worth written about that here.

* If you can go about your days and especially face the obligations and commitments that you HAVE to do with a sense of genuine joy then you’re going to be able to sustain this lifestyle that you’re in much longer, than if you’re facing things without that same sense of joy. The things you choose to do, because you can and because you want to do them, I bet they naturally give you a sense of accomplishment, achievement and joy…….but the things you HAVE to do….that’s a tougher gig…..look for joy. Ask God for joy. Ask your trusted friends to pray for you to have joy. The joy of our Lord is our strength. (Nehemiah 8: 10).

* Tell your (bad) friend, Guilt, to take a jump. And to go far, far away. You are doing the very best that you can do. Life is all about seasons. This current season will not last forever, and you need to be ok with you, to be joyful in all you do.

There are a few verses in Matthew 11 (28 – 30)   I’ve been thinking about a lot lately in relation to all of this doing life well in the throes of a full life….(from The Message translation) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

These verses speak volumes to me, about how to do life well, even a busy life. To me it’s about companionship with God – not doing things for God, but with God.  The whole unforced rhythms of grace….I’m thinking that’s like learning to swim strongly in whatever currents you may find yourself in…being able to tread water when the going is easy and when the waves come relentlessly crashing in, while not being taken too far off course. Circumstances may be hard, demands on us may be awful, but because of WHO we know, and WHO we’re trusting, WHO our eyes are on, we’re not taken off course.  And the thing with lessons?  With learning a new hobby or skill, the teacher is there as your guide, your encourager, your instructor.  A good teacher is setting you up for success.  And because I believe my God is a good, good God, then He’s most definitely a good teacher, and with His help and instruction, we’re able to swim, we’re able to navigate through whatever waters we find ourselves in.  The unforced rhythms of grace also speak to me of freedom to be yourself, because you are loved with absolutely no strings attached.  I’m keen to walk freely and lightly, and though my load may not feel that light at times, I know I can have a beautiful exchange with God.  And swim through many, deep waters with Him.

Cannonball, anyone?