Vulnerability and band aids.

There’s a reason that first aid kits in commercial kitchens usually stock band aids in gaudy bright, fluorescent colours.  You actually want a chef/ cook/ kitchen hand to notice when their manky old band aid has come off, cos you don’t want that in your meal. No ma’am.  No sir.

Band aids.  Bandages.  They serve a purpose, for a time, but sooner or later those puppies need to come off your body and be disposed of properly.

I’ve been thinking about ‘vulnerability’ lately and have been thinking that vulnerability is a little like a band aid that needs a little bit of help to be ripped off, before it falls off.

When you have a wound, a little or a big ‘owie’, there’s a need for it to be covered up for a little bit. You need to keep the wound clean, and clear from infection.  You also need to to protect it a little from further bashes and bumps.  You don’t want any more blood loss. (And by the way, look after yourself dear ones when you do have a band aid on. One of the stooopidest things I’ve done in one of my jobs was go to work straight after getting a blood test done. You don’t ever want to cut up twenty kgs of carrots after having some blood suckered out of your arm.  Nope.  No you don’t.)  Back to the band aid.  That band aid isn’t designed to stay on forever.  It is only a temporary stopgap.  At some stage your wound will also benefit from a little fresh air – this too has healing powers.  And we all know how gross it is to see band aids that have come off when people haven’t expected that – there’s something really repulsive about seeing them not disposed of properly.

I’m learning that vulnerability is a little like a band aid that needs you to take it off.  We need to open up to each other.  We need the healing power that comes in the salve of one another’s kindness and caring – but that is only possible to apply properly, when we open up to one another. When we expose our wounds to one another. When we peel back our band aids. Then we can bear one another’s burdens.

The band ‘Rend Collective’ recently wrote ‘it is in the rawest, most gaping, and angry scars that authentic faith is often found’.  Scars expose testimonies – testimonies shout of God’s grace.  God’s favour.  God’s loving kindness.  God’s ability to scoop us up and out of whatever messy situations we’re in.  God’s restorative power.  God’s healing strength.

One of my darling boys scratched his face with a long fingernail when he was merely hours old.  That precious, soft and smooth skin on his face was scarred.  He’ll always have that little reminder on his cheek. My own body has scars of battles with hot fudge (I seriously lost), and a stomach stretched to its limits by whopping big babies.  But its not the scars on our bodies that need the most healing – its the ones in our very souls.

It is a hard thing opening up to friends.  There’s trust that must be mustered up.  There’s swallowing of pride. There are doubts and uncertainties that raise their ugly heads.  Sometimes confidences are betrayed, that’s just a reality of life. But you know what?  The pay off that comes with sharing your heart anyway, is worth it. The healing that comes when you do become vulnerable yourself, is worth it.  The reciprocity that happens when you need a friend, and when the friend needs to be needed – creates  levels of shared experience that can’t be faked and can’t be created under any other circumstances, other than this shared vulnerability.

C.S Lewis said ‘We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves’. It has taken me a while to learn this, but I totally agree with him.  We don’t know what we don’t know…..friends can help us with this…..we need others more than we may think.

I don’t want to leave a nasty trail band aids lying around all over the place – peeled off at the very worst of times, in the very worst of places, so I’m learning to make myself vulnerable. And to rip off those band aids when I can.  To open up.  To share my heart.  To let the soothing words of others heal my little nicks and scratches.  I’m pretty sure it is worth it.

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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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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.

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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The Equalizer.

I just love my friends. All of my friends. My in real life friends, my social media friends; the people I know from all walks of life, they are all really important to me. I’m even Facebook friends with my OB/GYN from America. That’s not at all weird, right?

Maybe just a tad weird.

But he’s a great guy.

Somehow though, even in the midst of having fantastic real life friends, some who are geographically close and others who are miles and miles away, and plenty of amazing online friends……..there are times when……truth be told…….because of circumstances and situations that I’m in, I can still feel really alone.

Now that’s REALLY WEIRD.

Because I’m not alone.  I know I’m absolutely loved and dare I say, even cherished and fully supported in all I do, and even more importantly, supported in who I am…..but….sometimes I feel a chasm between myself and others…..

And because I’m relatively stable as far as my emotions go (‘relatively’ can be open to interpretation…), and because I wasn’t born yesterday…….I reckon that if I can acknowledge these feelings…….if I can shine the spotlight on the fact that I feel this way…..then I figure that there’s a high likelihood that there’s even something going down in your life, that causes you to feel alone in a crowd.  Something causing you to feel like you’re not quite ‘enough’ or  making you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb….

Maybe you’re the only divorced one in your circle of friends.

Maybe you’re the only one in your inner circle of friends who has a child currently testing the boundaries.

Maybe you’ve just recently made a major lifestyle change, a radical step of faith, and your life is a about to look a lot different to that of your peers.

Whatever your point of difference is……..while it may seem like your life is majorly different to you, I’m pretty sure that these points of difference aren’t even blips on the friendship paths in front of you.  And even while there may be times when you really feel this isolation, stemming from whatever your point of difference may be….I can say with absolute authority……this isolation is 99.5 % self-imagined and 99.5% self-imposed.

We humans are such weird creatures.

Our over-active brains can do so much damage to us.

Ya wanna know why I know this and why I feel I can lay my wretched heart right open in front of you?  Why I can tell you there’s absolutely no need to feel this way?

It’s because of Easter.  Because of what we celebrate this glorious weekend.  It’s because I believe that a man, who lived a blameless life, was nailed up on a cross and died a horrendous death.  This man; Jesus, had his body taken to a tomb, but rose to life again, all because of us.  So that we might have eternal life.  We who choose to believe in Him, will not perish, but have eternal life.

You see Jesus didn’t just die for the educated people.

And it wasn’t for the prettiest of the people.

And it wasn’t for the most popular of the people.

And it wasn’t for the wealthiest of the people.

Nor the happily married ever after people.

Nor the double income, with two point four kids, and a white picket fence people.

No.  At Easter we remember that Jesus died and rose again, for ALL people.

Jesus was the ultimate equalizer.  

Whoever we are.  Whatever we’ve done. Or not done.  Whatever we have or don’t have. All of that is irrelevant in the face of the cross that Jesus died on.  

Whatever my hang ups with life might be, whenever I feel alone because of them, I need to remember that’s just dumb.

Plain dumb.

Whatever your hang ups with life might be, whenever you feel alone because of them, you need to remember that’s just dumb.

I’m worthy.  You’re worthy.  We’re all children of the most amazing God.  Let’s remember that this Easter.

We are not alone.  

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The Spotlight of Hope. 

Last week we all celebrated having an extra day in the calendar year. The 29th of February. Leap day. It’s a cool but weird thing, right?

Dear friends of mine both celebrate their birthdays on leap day, and one of the many special things about these friends is that they are Mother and Son. Apparently the chances of a Mother and Son both having their birthdays on a leap day are two million to one. Groovy.

Anyway, I was chatting with someone on leap day, about leap day. Let’s call that someone ‘Mr X’.  Mr X was kind of befuddled about the whole leap day thing. He couldn’t work out if having this extra day was in fact a blessing or a curse. Something to be celebrated or something to endure. He came to the conclusion that to him, that extra day we get every four years is really just another day to go through the machinations of life.

And I could see where he was coming from.

Because although Mr X is a great guy; he’s a devoted husband to his wife, and a present and caring Dad to his kids, as well as a good son to his parents and a great buddy to his mates, he is all of this, but, by his own admission he’s living a life with no huge purpose. Just living to get by. Living to provide.

So one extra day, to carry on, carrying on……..that’s a little depressing, right?

Believe it or not our conversation was light hearted, and we both ended up having a bit of a laugh over this extra day weird weird weird business. But I’ve been thinking about the conversation ever since.

I think the biggest difference between my view of an extra day to live, and Mr X’s view, comes down to the very fact that I live with a greater sense of Hope. To me it’s a cool thing to have had that extra day, because it’s another day to be alive. Another day to admire God’s creation. To adore His creativity. To embrace the fact that I get to love my family and to reach out to others I see, to offer encouragement, and speak and write words of life.

Hope. It makes all the difference in the world.

And so, this is my heart’s cry, because I’ve seen Gods fingerprints of grace and I’ve seen the spotlight of hope beam in front of my path, time and time again.

I’ll never forget the time I was driving at night and a man stepped out in front of my car, forcing me to stop, and then he tried to climb in to the car. Being a Christ follower doesn’t mean that the world is never a scary place.  But it does mean that when we walk through the waters, God will be there.

I’ll never forget the anguish and heartache I felt at having to have my unborn, life-less baby taken from my body, and the recovery process that my weakened then forty kg body had to go through. Yes I suffered through thoughtless words from some but I was also offered plenty of hope, through those who were present, and as the Father heart of God became truly alive for me. As I learned first hand that God grieves when we grieve. Christ followers are not immune to hardships in any way, shape or form, but we have do have a blessed assurance in the form of a ‘peace that passes all understanding’. We learn that things don’t always have to make sense.

I’ll never forget the utter loneliness and all the feelings of self-doubt and self-criticism that came with being ‘new’ time and time again. But paired with that, I also know the freedom of finding my tribe, finding my people. Of relaxing into who I am, and knowing that is enough. Of being offered hope in the forms of being loved and accepted, just as I am.

And because I know what real hope is, I know what it is to be loved with an everlasting love. I know that this gal, who still second guesses herself way too much and says all the wrong things at all the wrong times, and feels vastly inadequate for all the things she dreams of doing……this girl has hope. Hope that enables me to smile genuinely even when the going is tough. Hope that comes in the form of energy when there really by all accounts should be no fuel in her engine. Hope to offer love to all.

And so the leap day we had last week was the gift of an extra day. An extra day to spread a little Hope.

Today was another day to speak words of life, words of hope.

And tomorrow will be another day, full of opportunities to breath life into dry bones.

If you don’t truly feel this way, if you feel a little like my friend, Mr X, I get it. Life is a messy and hard thing. But for me, the messy and the hard becomes tidier and easier, when I choose to believe that God grieves when we grieve, that His presence is for accessible for all, and I’m loved and accepted with an everlasting love. People say to give peace a chance, I say ‘give hope a chance’. Read a bible. Talk to a friend who is a Christ follower. Reach out to God. He’ll meet you where you’re at. This I know.

Hope changes things. It gives purpose and adds value. What an incredible gift.

~ In loving memory of a friend who lived a hope-filled life, and embraced each day as the gift that it truly is ~

When the sparkle starts to dull.

Here, in my parts at the ends of the earth, we are in week four of a brand new school year. The kids’ school bags do not yet have the crumbs of fifty uneaten sandwiches congregating in the bottom of them, their books are all smooth and flat, however poorly covered they may be (pretty sure there’s a book covering anointing that I most definitely do not possess), and the teachers, oh the teachers, their smiles are genuine and sincere. Sparkly smiles indeed.

The start of a new school year is rather lovely. Crazy, expensive, demanding in some ways, but lovely. But I know that there comes a time when the whole shiny new thing, that is the new year, begins to dull a tad.

Like most things, really. Things, if left to their own devices do tend to dull a little or a lot over time. New jobs quickly become standard jobs, once new skills and requirements for the job have been mastered. New friendships and relationships can become a little too comfortable if you’re not careful.  People can feel taken for granted or unseen and unappreciated, once the sparkle starts to diminish.

I tend to think that if things are sparkly to start of with, then maybe we should all pay a little more attention to keeping that shine there.….that shine helps to keep life interesting, it gives variety and beauty, sometimes it breaths life into something that is otherwise somewhat lacking.

The only items of silverware I possess are a set of salad servers.  Given to my husband and I for an engagement present, these salad servers have moved with us all over the place.  And they have been used by us, all over the place.  And you know, for their first fifteen years of use they were very shiny and sparkly.  And then all of the sudden they weren’t.  I’m sure their dulling process was indeed a process and they just didn’t all of a sudden become dirty overnight.  But that’s how I noticed them.  One time when I used them they were fine.  And then the next time I went to use them, nah, not so fine.

It took about three weeks of writing ‘silver polish’ on the shopping list before the stuff even made it into my groceries, simply because I kept going past the aisle where the polish was kept….and when you’re shopping with small children, there’s no turning back down an aisle is there?  You’re on a mission and there are no detours.  Anyway.  I finally found the polish, purchased it, took it home, and…..eventually….about another three weeks later….finally got around to polishing my silver.  My whole two items of silver.  If you’ve never polished any silver yourself, you may already have some education on the matter thanks to Downton Abbey, but my method is pretty simple really.  You dip your piece of silverware into a ‘silver dip’ solution and then wash the item in soapy water and polish with a soft cloth.  Easy.  Not hugely time consuming, just something that needs to be done, to get the end result that you want.  Something to be intentional about.

So now I have silver dip for my two pieces of silverware, which will keep those salad servers looking as good as new, forever and ever, amen.

Why am I going on about my stinkin’ silver dip?  Well….. a.  It really does stink.  b.  You know the little boy in the movie ‘The Sixth Sense’ who sees dead people everywhere…..I’m in a similar situation…only it isn’t dead people I see, quite the opposite….. I see God at work in various pictures of everyday life.

We have silver dip to remove the tarnish from silverware.  That, armed with a little polish works wonders to restore things to their original and intended state.

In the same vein, I believe that we have things at our disposal to restore us to our original and intended state when life is starting to loose its sparkle, when life is starting to feel less shimmery.

We all have times when the world seems to close in on us. Sometimes genuine smiles are hard to muster up.  Some days we’re in jobs that become so automatic and robotic, that shift after shift can feel the same.  Just as when the school year goes on: sometimes our school books do get bent all out of shape in our schoolbags, the hats get lost and the permission slips that are forever coming across our counters never seem to get to the right person at the right time.  We all experience all kinds of corrosion on our bodies, our minds and souls at various times in our lives.

And that’s ok I reckon.  Blemishes, on all sorts of things is normal.  But restoration is always possible.  

There’s always hope for a piece of silver to be restored to its original shiny state.  There’s always hope for us, to be fully restored.  Fully restored where it comes to relationships. Restored to wholeness in our self-esteem and self-confidence.  Restored to fullness of joy.

As a Christian I believe we have this helper person by our side, the Holy Spirit is his official title.  You see I’ve found I can do things with his help that I know I could’t do in my own strength.  I see the Holy Spirit as my ‘silver dip’ for my soul.  When my body is physically exhausted, sometimes from illness and sometimes simply from the demands of life.  When my mind is drained of positive and happy thoughts.  When I just don’t feel like anything of much around me, including ME is sparkling and shiny…that’s when I know I need to cry out to the Holy Spirit. Help me.  Guide me.  Flow over me.  Flow through me.  May my words bring hope.  May my life bring joy.

That’s the ‘silver dip’ in life, available to each and every one of us….and part two of restoring silverware to its former glory is the ‘polish’ part.  The rubbing gently with a cloth.  That’s where friends are important to me.  Friends become my polishing agent.  Friends who challenge me, who encourage my thoughts and actions, friends whose wisdom and advice can be readily available to me, friends who can smooth over the parts of me that are not yet smooth, the parts I can’t yet see as being beautiful or worthy.  We’re called ‘the body of Christ’…..reliant on each other…..good friends can do so much good for us.

My silver salad servers are looking all righty at the moment, but I’ve got the tools at my disposal to give them a helping hand, whenever I think they need it.  And I’m pretty fortunate that I’ve got the right tools at hand to give my soul a do-over, when I need it. I recommend it you know…….Shiny and sparkly things are better than dull and tarnished…..

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Hitching up yer big girl pants.

I learnt a lesson  the other day. And, like most lessons, this lesson was learnt the hard way. And I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, someone out there in the interwebs may need this gentle wee reminder that I received as a result of my stoopid  valuable lesson.

My lesson started on a Tuesday. My Monday was great, fine, all good. Then Tuesday rocked along. And my week suddenly turned a corner. My Tuesday became a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. And then my week became a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

You see on the Tuesday someone asked me a question about a certain aspect of my life. And in that moment, with my reply, I chose to be a little vulnerable, and a lot honest, and I gave this friend of mine a candid and genuine answer. Which happened to be mixed with some negative feelings and some blinking back of some tears.

Now that’s not the cause of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day turned week…

Nope.

There’s great value in being raw and real with people, and I didn’t regret sharing that piece of my heart with my friend.

Nope.

That was good. We need to share our burdens with our ‘people’. The less masks we walk around wearing, the better.

My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week simply happened because I allowed my attitude to stink about a few things, following on from that initial conversation and carrying on for the rest of the week. Doesn’t matter what those things were because my life is such a random mix of responsibilities and obligations, joys and sorrows that whatever I had a ‘tude about will never be exactly the same as what your ‘tude may be, but you’ll find the principal is the same. If you dwell on the stink, and allow the stink to rob you of your joy, then, yep, you are gonna experience a spiral downwards. And that slippery slope ain’t pleasant.

So I’ve learnt there is a fine line between giving honest answers to friends, and showing them your real feelings regarding things, and then carrying on with holding onto those feelings and letting them have too big a stronghold in your life.

Life can’t be all sunshine and roses. Not all the time. Sometimes you may be in a situation where you may well feel fully justified to feel sorry for yourself. But I know, that I know, that I know, that often you can change a situation a whole bunch, by how your change your perspective of it. How you change your attitude. That whole attitude controlling your altitude business. You’ve probably heard all this a hundred times already. I know I have. But there’s nothing like getting a migraine from your stinkin’ thinking to remind you of how important this is.

So if you’re in the middle of a hard situation, if you’re feeling the squeeze between how you know you should be feeling and thinking and reacting (ie. positively) and what your situation is actually dictating to you….have a think on this…

……your situation may be stink, but you aren’t.

…..you do have a friend who can stick closer than a brother, right by your side.

…..most things in life are temporary…..all deep and dark tunnels have to end at some point and you have to be reunited with fresh air and real sunlight, at some point.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to be honest with yourself, honest with some trusted friends, but then hitch up yer big girl pants, and face your problems, face your realities, head held high, chin up, teeth gritted if you must…..because you can do whatever it is you are called to do. You are not alone. You are equipped – as a Christ follower I believe I have certain tools at my disposal to help me in my everyday life…’truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation are more than words….God’s word is an indispensable weapon…..’. Grabbing a hold of all these things, when life is good and when life is bad…..gives ease to your journey.

There’s so much to be said for just hitching up yer big girl pants and dropping your ‘tude. The world is just more of a beautiful place. I lost sight of that during my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. I hope I don’t loose sight of that anytime soon.


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Fairy Tales and Real Life

Out there in the real world, the general consensus on ‘love’ is that fairy tale love rarely happens. By rarely I mean hardly ever. By hardly ever, I mean only in your dreams. By in your dreams, I mean only in books and movies which could possibly star Meg Ryan. By in books and movies, I really mean fairy tales.

Fairy tale love belongs only in fairy tales. Right?

Right.

Only. Actually. NOT RIGHT.

Nah.

Fairy tale love has a lot more in common with everyday, real life love stories I see all around me, than we may think. There are a number of similarities between real life love and fairy tale love….plus we have the gift of perspective. How you view your love story changes everything.

Let’s explore some of these similarities, before you think I’ve lost the plot and am living in LaLa land….

Fairy tales are intentional. The authors didn’t just sit down one day and out came words that flowed beautifully and then, voila, ten minutes later there’s a story that has a concrete beginning, middle and ending and by golly, there’s even a solid moral to the story in there too. No. That doesn’t happen. The authors would have taken days just shaping their stories, fine tuning the plots, developing characters, cleverly intertwining subplots into the body of their story.

Real love has to be intentional too. Intentional with facing things together, intentional with decision making together, intentional with outworking life’s aims and goals together. Intentional with seeing the best in each other and calling that out, breathing life into that. As fictional stories are very carefully crafted, so are real life love stories. They don’t just happen.

Fairy tales often feature in them royalty; princes, princesses, Kings and Queens. Nobility stars in a lot of fables. Last time I checked I wasn’t surrounded by real life members of the Royal Family of any country. But I have a little inkling, a little nudging in my heart that to see oneself as a member of the Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2: 9) helps a huge amount when entering into a happily ever after. It makes sense that the more you see yourself as a whole person, a complete person, God’s very special possession, called out of darkness into wonderful light, before you enter into marriage, the healthier and happier you’ll be. Have you seen the t shirts and wall placards reminding you to ‘always wear your invisible crown’, I truly believe that’s not just a neat saying but a very solid truth to build on.

Fairy tales often have very special and unique beginnings. A woodcutter boasting that his daughter can spin gold from straw. A penniless young girl selling matches on the street. The hatching of a very ugly duckling. These are all quite unique, original ways to start a story. And that’s a feature in real life happily ever afters. Have you ever noticed that when you ask a couple who are living out their happily ever after, how they first met, that’s usually immediately met with a smile and maybe even a giggle. And their story is retold with a lot of warmth. You see they know that beginning was special. They cherish that beginning. Happily ever afters look at their beginnings with much fondness. And I think that fondness is more often than not paired with a whole heap of gratefulness. A gratefulness for that beginning, for however unique it may have been, something lasting and very special has come out of it.

Fairy tales often feature in them universal truths. Sometimes they teach a lesson or demonstrate values important to a culture. I think a real life happily ever after does the same. A long term, committed and happy marriage clearly shows onlookers what is important to that couple. Patience. Forgiveness. Joy. Kindness. Self-control. Servant-hood. These are all things evident in someone’s happily ever after. Maybe not all of these things, all of the time, but snippets of these things, for the majority of the time.

Another feature of most fairy tales is that the happy endings are more often than not based on the resolution of conflict or problems. Basically ‘schtufff’ has to be worked through before there is any chance of a happily ever after.  True true true. Same same same in real life. There ain’t no happy marriage on this earth that ain’t never seen hard times. Ooh Lordy trouble so hard. But whatever that trouble may have looked like or have been, somehow by God’s grace and sometimes with the gritting of teeth and sheer willpower, that ‘schtufff’ has been worked through, those raging waters walked through, and while some marriages may bear scars, those scars tell a beautiful story of God’s fingerprints of grace at work.

As one gets older and as one gains a greater understanding of some of the darker and more grim sides to some of the classic fairy tales, sometimes one is reluctant to share these stories with a younger crowd. Some stories just simply don’t turn out the way we want them to. Sometimes we’re hoping for a real life happily ever after, but due to all sorts of things, that sometimes just doesn’t happen. If this is you, and you’re now filled with all sorts of regret, sadness, anger, grief, disappointment and heartache, I get it. Life is messy, hard and complex. But I’d like to give you a glimmer of hope. You’re a Prince or a Princess whether or not you have your Prince or Princess right beside you, right now. You can be healed and whole, right now. You are worthy. Fairy tales sometimes have a happily ever after, and sometimes they don’t, but that doesn’t take away anything from who the characters are and how much their creator has invested in them, how much care He has poured into them.

If you’re just beginning your happily ever after in real life, treasure what you have. Nurture what you have. See the best in each other. Speak highly of each other. Get to know your creator more, as your story is woven together, delicately, purposefully. And know that your happily ever after can be real. And it can be lasting.

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Today marks for me the anniversary of being 16 years into my happily ever after. People say that young couples have no idea what they are getting themselves into. And maybe some don’t, but we did. We signed up for a life of adventure, serving God together. Sure there have been curveballs along the way, life’s like that. But we’ve been blessed with unusual happiness and we’re living out our very own fairy tale, generously splattered with God’s grace. We don’t know what plots and twists our future chapters will feature in them; no doubt there will be times of blessings and hardships, but above all else there will be love.

Happy Anniversary to my Spunky Hunk. You make me a better person. I love you with all that I am.

 

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