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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Lessons from gecko poop.

Gecko poop, piles of dog hair, a drug den and hard, hard, hardwood floors. These are some of the ingredients that mixed together formed a breaking point of sorts in my soul and taught me something good and well.

We were brand new to Australia and had moved into a rental house we’d applied for without having seen in person. Within a short time of being there we were told that the previous tenants had been arrested for drug dealing and people still drove by, hoping for a deal or two to go down.  Mmmm. That’s a comforting thought with three children underfoot. The house was filthy. Years of grime filthy. So I spent a good amount of time trying to de-grime it. We were in the middle of a five month stint of homeschooling, as we had just come out of an American Summer, then had weeks of visiting family and had weeks to go before the new school year started in Queensland. So we had this beautiful homeschooling routine, which brought structure to our lonely days, but we had no furniture, so would sit on these hard wooden floorboards. I could go on, but I won’t. All in all it was a full blown recipe for some ‘character building’ moments.

Character building seasons are all very well and good, for a time.

For a time.

But I quickly discovered that if you’re in one of these character building seasons, but happen to leave the back door of your heart open to some stinkin’ thinkin’, well then.

Well then indeed.

I’ve never really been one to think ‘woe is me’. That wasn’t my dealio. Nah. My problem was more to do with entitlement and thinking I/ my family deserved better.

That thinking in me, didn’t last, thanks be to God. But I see a lot of it all around me. And have decided that nothing good comes from it.

There’s a lot of people out there thinking they are ‘deserving’ of stuff.  And from my experience, that just opens up a whole can of worms.

If you’re not a Christ follower then entitlement completely makes sense: you work hard, you do your best in whatever it is you’re doing, you work your way up the ladder and good stuff follows. You deserve the salary, the houses, the cars, the holidays. You get stuff, because of what you do.

If you are a Christ follower, then things in your world are a little or a lot more topsy turvey. The last shall be first. A goal to have is to ‘act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with my God’.  The bible encourages us to look out for others, especially the widows, the orphans and the poor. There’s not a whole heap of self establishing going on in the bible, but there is a lot of outward looking, community building, watching out for others shenanigans.

And so, this is where I found a big disconnect with those, including myself, who have thought that so and so ‘deserves’ such and such.

I now believe that there’s actually nothing in the world that I really deserve.

Everything I am and have, is through Gods grace. Through God’s goodness. You see if I were to believe, as a christian, that I deserved such as such because I’ve done such and such to earn that, then isn’t that putting our own economy of scale on something we have absolutely no right to do? Because the minute we do, it all blows up in our faces. I can’t ever say ‘I deserve’ this…..when it discredits others I know, who are doing incredible God stuff.

Friends of ours who selflessly and tirelessly foster children. Time and time again they open up their home and their hearts, creating space for just one more.

My christian doctor friend who over and over, didn’t charge me what she could have, when I was on a cocktail of painkillers and never ending appointments.

All the christian teachers I know who plan and pray and do their best to protect the children in their care.  The job where enough is never done, there’s always more to do.

You see all these people, and countless more, are just getting on and doing stuff,  coz that’s what they believe in. So how can we say that one is more deserving of ‘stuff’ than others? This is the body of Christ getting on and doing stuff. If you’re to single people out and say that what one is doing is more worthy than others, that they deserve stuff, then aren’t you in a way discrediting all the stuff others are doing?

And I don’t think that’s the best way for this world to operate. We need each other. We need to know our callings and we need to be operating to fulfil them and encouraging each other, all the way. And the best way I know of how to keep this entitlement business far from entering the back door of my heart, is to see each and every thing in my life as a gift. Beautiful gifts.

My children.

Spunky hunk of a husband.

Our health.

Food in my fridge.

Friends who love and support me .

A church family who care.

Enough money to pay for electricity, water and gas.

All precious gifts. Anything more would still be a great gift. But nothing I’ve done or will do, ensures the gifting of these things to me. That’s the glory of grace.

Don’t we normally try to look after our gifts, just that extra bit harder? And don’t we think fondly and lovingly towards the giver of our gifts?

I know when I close the back door of my heart to any feelings of entitlement, and just concentrate on the glorious gifts in my  life, then all my attitudes and perspectives are that much healthier, happier and satisfied. Funny how it took a large amount of gecko poop to teach me this.

Space on my sofa.

I couldn’t tell you what was served in the buffet at our wedding reception. I know it was fun choosing the menu, but I can’t for the life of me remember what was placed on my plate that night. (I do have other wonderful memories of that joyous day though). However, I can describe in great detail the meal we had at the top of the sky tower, celebrating an anniversary with dear friends of ours. As the restaurant moved in a steady 360 degree pirouette, we repeated the same conversation every time we came to the same point again. And again. And again.

There’s a building in this city, that I try to avoid driving past. It isn’t a bad building, it isn’t filled with bad people. It’s to do with what happened in that building, many many years ago. When medical professionals begin a sentence with ‘I’m sorry’, you tend not to have warm fuzzy feelings associated with that place.

The day that glorified dragonfly of a plane delivered us to a new city that was to become our new home, in a new land, my family took up half of all the seats on the plane. As I lugged a sleeping preschooler up to my shoulders, and held on for dear life to the handrail on the stairs,for more than one reason, the heat from the hundred degree day embraced me in moments.

Memories sure are a strange cast of characters in the story of our lives.

I’ve just read a beautiful, soul stirring book, prescribed for me by a Doctor friend. A collection of memories written in a most exquisite manner. Normally when reading such gold, I’d want to share the nuggets of truth and wisdom with all my friends in all the lands. But I’ve held off doing so this time, and instead relished the very personal nature of these memoirs. From one broken soul to another.

But there’s one delicate thread that the author has delicately woven throughout her essays. And it stood out to me, as if this thread was coloured highlighter yellow, against a background of white and grey. Anne’s writings are full of companionship; of facing life’s trials, joys, highs and lows, but facing them with others by her side. And it’s this presence thing that keeps blasting me from every direction.

Some of my memories make me breathe deep and even. Pulse steady and eyes bright. Other memories cause my breath to be short and shallow, with my pulse quickening, my heart racing. We’re reactive beings. Being a bible believing, Holy Spirit filled person, doesn’t stop your body from reacting as it naturally does. But the memories I have that cause my spirit to lift, that bring out all the wrinkles around my eyes, are nine times out of ten the memories I have that featured people by my side. Circumstances may have been hard,  but I was not alone.

This reminder I’ve been given about the importance of companionship, makes me want to have space on my sofa for more. I want my living room door to be one that opens freely and frequently. I also know that there may be times when I need to curl up on my sofa, and have someone else place my snuggly, soft blanket evenly over me. There may be days when someone else potters around in my kitchen, boils my kettle and brings me something warm and nourishing, to be placed on my sofa arm. But what I really long for, is to create a space for others. I want to rearrange the cushions around you. I’ll even hide the one that’s dirty. I know it’s there. I’ll whip up something tasty for you, and I’m working on growing my tea collection, to find something that will just tickle your tastebuds. If you need my snuggly, soft blanket, I’d be delighted to place it over you.

If I ever write a book of memoirs, then I’d like a photo of my sofas on its cover. I know the importance of companionship, I know the blessing of ‘presence’, I just hope and pray I can live it. That I can reach out beyond my four walls, that I can see and respond to others who need my hand of friendship. Come, come friend, come and sit over here. Along with that I hope and pray that I will know when to swallow my pride and step into the unknown with all its vulnerable fragileness during those times when I’m the one who needs to have someone put the kettle on for me.

Memories and companionship. That’s a good mix, right? There’s room on my sofa for you, my friend.

With grace kissed cheeks.

Rose-tinted glasses aren’t for everyone.  I’d prefer to try to have a fairly balanced, feet firmly planted on the ground, perspective on things.  Especially on things concerning the world of me, myself and I.  I thought I had a pretty good, a very realistic handle on my talents and abilities, limitations, giftings and failings.  I thought I did.

Then Love swooped down.

Why is it so much easier to look at the character traits in our children and people close to us, and although we may not always appreciate these traits at face value, we can see how they can be flipped and used for good, than to possibly say the same for us?

The bossy kid.  That’s leadership ability.

The stubborn child.  Well they won’t be easily swayed.

But in myself?  Well the negative, the lack, the gap between who I am and who I’d like to be, that’s always a bad thing. Always a sticking point.  Always a thing to block, ignore or explain away.

Until Love swoops down, kneels gently beside us, and grace kisses us on the cheeks.

I’ve been swept upon.  I’ve been blown away.  Regarding two separate specifics, who I thought I was, who I declared I wasn’t, they have been completely turned around.  I’ve been corrected and re-aligned, as only a Father with the very gentlest of touches can do.  This is the way, walk ye in it.  No longer shall you limit yourself in these ways.

You may be in a similar place to where I was.  Loudly proclaiming that there’s no way you could do x, y or z.  That’s not your gifting.  You’re not able to do that.  Or this part of you that others see as a negative thing, a hindering thing, is a stumbling block for you.

But maybe, God’s just waiting, lingering, hovering close, until you need to know that actually yes, your limitations are sometimes of your own doing.  And then, if you make room for him, then He’ll swoop down, and give you grace for the journey, grace for the task, grace for your own lack of ability, and He’ll make what you thought was impossible simply possible…..

And with that re-alignment comes a new confidence.  Because you know you’re not operating out of self and all that you know you can or cannot do – but what He is equipping you to do.  The path of obedience can be walked in confidence because God is leading the way, lighting the path in the dark places, and you can walk this new path with head held high because you are no longer a slave to fear and your own very cheeks, they have been kissed with grace.

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On the Cusp…..

This is to you, dear lady who is standing on the precipice of a new direction in your life.

This is to you, dear man, who struggles under the weight of responsibility and concern for your family, yet you know, that you know, that you know, that you are being called into something new. Something different.

This is for the couple that are just feeling more and more unsettled with your status quo. Your life is ticking along just fine now, things are good, things are great, but there’s just something inside of you that hopes you’re not settling for less. Something inside of you wishes to expose your kids to a new dependence on God, a new level of trust having to be established.

You’re not alone with your fears, misgivings, second-guessing and concerns.

But this is what I know, without a doubt, as sure as night follows day, as sure as a baby poops as you’re about to walk out the door, as sure as a seven year old’s eyes leak as he’s learning the discipline of graciously loosing…….WHEN you step out in faith, WHEN you follow God’s leading, WHEN you choose to obey what has been asked of you, He will be faithful.

So very faithful.

One of the beauties of this world is we’re all called to different things. As a body of Christ we all have different ministries to serve in, different capacities to fill. What God has called my family and I to, will look completely different to you and your family has been called to. There is no ‘better’, there is definitely different. There is no ‘holier’ or ‘more worthy’, obedience is obedience. Serving is serving.

At the moment we are starting to pack up our lives here in Southern Oregon, and we’re researching and planning for a move to fulfill our new calling (in Australia of all places! You can read about that here) So, while your family may not be called to move geographically, or you may not be looking at fulltime Christian ministry, what you are being called to is of equal importance in the Kingdom.

And if you’re peeing your pants at the thought of something new, if you’re feeling that sense of doom over details that are way out of your control…..please know…..God has this.

God holds you in the palm of his hand.

His will is perfect.

Sheer and utter dependence on God is a scary thing, but a blessed thing. That walking step by step in His will…..that’s the kinda walking that brings miracle answers. That’s the kinda walking that shows God as the hero – because of ONLY God.

How do I know this? Because of God’s track record in my life. Because it is in the stretch and in the pull, where I think I’ve lost it all, where I think this time I’ve really done it, really gone crazy, really lost the plot….His track record shows the Lord provides. The Lord opens doors. The Lord makes crooked paths straight.

As a parent and as a trained teacher, one of the biggest concerns I have for my children is for their schooling. We were hugely blessed with a great experience of school here, and with moving that has been a concern of mine – where to put my boys in school, with not knowing the system, not knowing the options and not knowing areas etc.

A very legitimate concern in the natural.

But you know what? We *think* we have a school sorted. An amazing school at that. I did some internet research, chatted to a very wise and godly friend who was familiar with this one particular school that stood out from the others immediately, made some inquiries and we prayed and left it in God’s hands. And now…..because God has made a way, where there seemed to be no way….as long as this particular school accepts the boys we have been blessed to be able to make it so this will work for our family. Now we may never be able to save for a deposit for a house (ha!) – but that is not our concern at the moment – this big deal for me of where to place our kids in school – after a big move and after leaving all they have known for the last four and a half years – is in the process of being sorted for us.

God is most certainly in the details.

If it weren’t for looking back at all God has done in our lives – all he has provided – all those details we’ve seen his hand at work in – it would be easy to say no to our next God adventure. it would be more appealing to go back to where we’ve come from. Back to familiarity and all the comforts that brings. Back to what we know and to where we’re known. But God. But God’s track record shows He loves us and cares for us – for our every need and then some. God’s track record shows I fret and I worry and I falter every step of the way – but He doesn’t. He is patient and kind, his love is everlasting.

It doesn’t matter what the crowd thinks of what you’re called to do. it doesn’t matter if your heart skips beats and you can’t sleep and you mutter grumpy words to yourself…..it doesn’t matter….because in and through our weaknesses, He is made strong.

What is God asking of you right now?

Live in the stretch my friends. Allow opportunities for your kids to see you thanking God for his provision. Step out into his glorious unknown – step from the cusp – into the scary. He’s there. It is not unknown to Him.