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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Take a meal – make someone’s day.

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

Always a dangerous thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You see its not really about the actual food.

And its not really about the presentation of the meal.

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

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

 Gosh darn it, someone cared about you.

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

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

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Shenanigans and other tools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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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?

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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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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Bigger and biggerer.

On Saturdays I peel and cut up carrots. Well, to be fair, it is only one of the things I do on Saturdays, but there are so many of those jolly orange things that it feels like a major part of my day. Usually I work my way through 20 kgs of them. Last Saturday it was 35 kgs. Lucky me.

The good thing about prepping veges is that it doesn’t require a lot of brain power. Your hands just kinda get into a rhythm and it is ok for your mind to wander. So in prepping the aforementioned 35 kgs of carrots, I got to do a lot of thinking.

I was thinking about some things that had happened in my week, specifically in my other ‘work’. One of the privileges I have is to liaise with people and help to collate a weekly letter filled with prayer points, for people in our church. We call these people ‘intercessors’ because they make a point of interceding for others, of praying specifically for others. This past week, within 36 hours of sending out the weekly letter, I had heard back from three of the prayer needs that had been listed, and had been told that the ‘best possible outcome’ was now in place, regarding those three very different situations. Yippee. So good. They were ‘but, God’ situations.

So there I was peeling my carrots,  my stack loads of carrots, and I was also thinking about a comment I’d made to a friend in regards to the whole God answering prayer business. You see I get the feeling we need to pray some bigger prayers, and believe with all of our being that we serve a bigger God. A bigger God than we dare to hope for.

Nice sentiments, right?

But I don’t really care for mere sentiments. For things to make any real difference, for words to really count, I reckon there has to be some kind of action.

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Just before we left America my Spunky Hunk of a husband got really quite sick, really quite fast. He was fit and active, but within weeks he lost oodles of weight and had various symptoms signalling that something was seriously wrong. We didn’t really let on to many people just how concerned we were, but after he had been to see a Doctor and while we were waiting for various test results, the thought of the big C did cross our minds. To our relief the test results didn’t show any cancer, however it did indicate the presence of late onset diabetes (we later found out it was type one, insulin dependent).

You know I’ll never forget some of the feelings we had when we were in the not knowing phase of what was going on with Michael’s health. You don’t want your mind to ‘go there’, but it does. You do wonder about chemo and radiation therapy, about how best to prepare your children with how to handle having a sick Daddy, or worse still, an absent Daddy. That’s just the tip of the iceberg really.

Thankfully my Spunky Hunk is just fine and although the diabetes is a pain in the butt, it means that Michael can still live a full, full, life.

You know how sometimes when you hear about someone’s bad news you feel really bad for them, and you commit to pray for them and you really and truly care, and then other times when you’ve experienced just a teeny tiny smidgen of something just a little slightly similar, and you hear of someone’s bad news and it just cuts you deep, and you REALLY feel bad for them, and you REALLY commit to pray for them and you really and truly deeply care?

A month ago friends of ours received some devastating news. Cas and Todd are a young couple, with two small children. They are Americans who are overseas missionaries to Guyana, but are currently stateside where Todd has been rebuilding a plane for their mission organisation to use back in the jungle. Out of the blue, their plans have been halted by the discovery of a tumour in Todd’s abdomen. A tumour that is inoperable as it is now, a tumour that may or may not respond to chemo, but if it does, and it shrinks, then it may be able to be operated on. Already Cas and Todd have uprooted themselves from Tennessee and are now in Seattle, Washington so that Todd can be in a hospital that specializes in the particular type of cancer he is facing. You can follow their story here as Cas so very beautifully puts words to their experiences, feelings and realities.

And so I feel deeply committed to praying for Cas and Todd. And I feel desperate to do anything I can to help. Because as I peeled my 35 kgs of carrots the other day, and as I wondered how I can really start living as how I believe, living as proof that my God is a big big God, I realized that’s the wonderful thing about the power of the Internet…….this is one way I can call on my big big God. I can pray some bigger prayers and I can enlist your help, wherever you are in the world….

Would you join with me in praying for Todd?

Let’s pray that his tumour would shrink. That the chemo will work. That his side effects will be minute and very bearable. That the tumour can be removed. That any cancer that may have spread would just disappear. That Todd may have full health. For strength for Todd for every part of this journey. For strength and peace for Cas as she walks this journey with her best friend. For dear little Amelia and Sam, as their lives have been turned upside down, may they know calm, peace and certainty in this very uncertain time.

Please add Todd to your church prayer list. Please ask your praying Grandma to pray for this situation. Please mention his needs to your private facebook group for praying friends.

Because our God is a big, big God, and He is biggerer than Todd’s cancer.

And I reckon He’s itching to hear ALL your prayers, for ALL your praises and concerns.

I can’t mention Cas and Todd and their need for a healing, without also letting you know they need help financially too. Yes, the reputation of outrageous hospital bills in America is true. Yes, they have health insurance, but that doesn’t cover everything, and certainly doesn’t include the cost of a cross-country move, ongoing un-budgeted for gas costs, and a thousand and one other things demanding their pennies. If you feel that helping them out financially is something you’re able to do and would like to do, especially our friends in Oregon who will remember Cas and Todd, feel free to flick me an email and I’ll give you the relevant info.

Thank you for your prayers, and thank you for joining me in my belief that my God is a big God. And don’t be surprised when I bring you more updates and prayer requests, from a mind wandering from prepping carrots.  Piles of them. Weekly.

Community Fences.

18 school lunches to go. That’s a total of six school days left to this school year for my kids. Do I hear an amen? 

It has been a great first year at our new school, in our new neck of the woods. I feel like we’re settling in, and putting down good, solid, strong roots. Roots that are comforting, healing and reviving. 

Our school community is full of amazing people.  People who dedicate masses of time, love and resources for ‘the greater good’. People who are self-less and shy away from any kind of spotlight, but they just get on with ‘doing the stuff’. 

We have several Mums in our school community at the moment who are dealing with cancer diagnoses, surgery, treatment and all that entails. One of the Mums doesn’t have any extended family here in NZ, so our community has rallied together and come up with just under $2K for this family. Now we are fortunate to have a public healthcare system, so that side of things is covered, but this money is to go towards things to practically help out the family in this tricky time; extra groceries, a cleaner, petrol money etc. 

I’m someone who has seen and been in ‘community’ before, and I’ve also been on the outside of ‘community’ looking in, and I know which side of the fence I prefer. So this whole wonderful side of life rallying together to help build up life, is really the awesome sauce. 

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Sometimes people get a little ticked off with me when I don’t say much.   I’m pretty sure I have less words to say than the average chick. But maybe writing makes up for that. 

But when I don’t say much, I’m usually thinking a lot. And observing a lot. And taking in a lot. So that when I do open my mouth to speak, if I don’t manage to put my foot in my mouth, then what I have to say is quite intentional.  Sometimes. Usually. Whatever. 

So, anyway. 

This evening my family and I were at a community event. I was fortunate enough to know a few people there so I sat with them. But as I sat at this event and when I wasn’t talking, but merely observing, I noticed some families on the fringes.

On the other side of the fence. On the other side of community.

Not many.

But some.

And ever since I came home I’ve been kicking myself for not reaching out to those families. For not including them. For not making space for them. 

You see community can be beautiful and warm, and embracing and kind, but it can also be selective and harsh, and unwelcoming to some all at the same time. 

It’s the weirdest thing.

Now before you fill the comments area in this post, or in the facebook share which I may or any not do, with kind and thoughtful words to make me feel better. Please don’t. I’m not writing this to share my faults, to gain sympathy. No. This is something I know I can ALWAYS be working on. As long as I have breath in me, I’d like to be reaching out to others and never settle for the status quo. 

And maybe you need to increase your awareness of others around you too. 

We are wired for connections. Always. In any situation. 

Let’s be people living ‘in community’ that is ever increasing, and ever making people feel valued and appreciated, whether you’re in the final countdown to the end of the school year or you have many school lunches still to pack…..people matter.   Fringe living is no fun. Living behind the fences is no fun.