Turned to Gold. 

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

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

You’ve been warned.

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

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

Little did I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God, speak to me.

Guide me.

Encourage me.

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

God, help me.

Give me wisdom.

Be my guide.

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

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

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

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

What was confusing and complex becomes understandable and simplified.

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

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

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

 

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