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. 
  

Noise.

It sure is noisy in these here parts of my interwebs world.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 

Refugees. Terrorists. Veterans. Illegals. Retaliation. Justice.

There are so many blog posts, newspaper articles, videos and opinion pieces doing the rounds. And yes I see the irony in writing this very piece.

I’ve seen posts in favour of absolutely every possible action and thought out there. I guess that should come as no surprise as I know a lot of people all over the world, and these people all have vastly different backgrounds and current situations, and all sorts of ‘flavours’ of political and religious views.

If I speak God’s word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump”, and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 

He said, she said, they said.

It makes my head hurt as I struggle to find truth in among opinions. As I search for facts and not become distracted by fiction.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. 

Maybe you’re not quite as bombarded by such different thoughts as I am, maybe your social media world is not as varied as mine is, but still you’re feeling puzzled as to what to think on these big issues the world is facing at the moment…l can’t give you any answers. I can’t give you any solutions. I certainly can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t believe.

But I can tell you this little ditty; fear thrives where ignorance prevails.

Much of what I see and read online comes from a place of fear. Many people give voice and words to thoughts when they don’t feel in control and they may not always recognize themselves as being fearful, but I think a lot of things originate from that. And much of this comes from ill-formed opinions, not based on real knowledge.

And fears tend to shout. Fears tend to need to be heard. Fears also feed off of each other. But fears are often silenced with knowledge. And with attempting to know the full story.

I could go completely off social media for a while, but I value my relationships too much for that. Instead, the best thing I can do, to try to eliminate some of the superfluous noise infiltrating my world, is to concentrate on giving more of my attention to the whispers of wisdom out there.

Because as much as fear shouts and fear builds upon more fear, I believe wisdom is out there for us to take a hold of too.

Wisdom utters calm and dependable thoughts. Wisdom under-girds solid and hopeful solutions. Let’s look and listen for the gentle whispers in all of this. Let’s look and listen to the wise souls that speak hope into the dark situations. They are out there. They deserve our attention.

So, no matter what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. 

 

(Words in italics from 1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 7, The Message Bible)

Seeing the Forest.

Sometimes circumstances in your life come together, and when compounded one on top of the other, they line up to form a perfect storm.

A number of years ago one of these perfect storms blew into my family’s life.  We were living in America where my husband could only work one job, for the one employer and I didn’t have the visa requirements to allow me to be earning anything.  I was pregnant with our much wanted, long awaited number three child, and our health insurance costs took a hike, a sneaky preemptive move by the insurance company before Obamacare came into being.  Then.  Whammo. The pregnancy took a little turn and all of a sudden I needed to be under the care of a Maternal Fetal Specialist and that meant more out of pocket costs that we just hadn’t planned on and what do you know?  Perfect storm.

We were stuck.

Winnie the Poo stuck.

Stuck.

We had very limited options and resources to face the bills coming our way. We chose to hunker down and keep our lips sealed on how big a storm we were facing, but there was a bit of pleading with God going on, a little bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and some sleepless nights.

And true to form, like every storm, this storm did not hover over our lives forever.  A very kind person who guessed from her own experience what we may have been facing, put two and two together and this kind person arranged for us to receive some help in the form of some amazing food parcels which helped with our grocery bill, which in turn freed up some finances for the extra medical costs.

Talk about humbling. And hard. And miraculous.

But most of all humbling.

I learnt a lot of lessons in that season of my life.  One reality that stands out to me most, and I didn’t realize how much it had impacted me, until just recently, is how hard and limiting life is when you feel like you have little or no options.

And for so many people – their lives ARE drastically limited by situations totally beyond their control. And I think that is easily forgotten when we are in the throes of serving people and helping people. Sometimes one’s options for a happier life, or a healthier life, or an easier life, are so much more limited by legitimate situations:  be it finances, or ill-health, or the very real demands of dependents (children and/ or elderly), than we sometimes acknowledge.

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When we were getting organised to move from Australia back to NZ, we got some people into our home to look at what we had and to give us quotes for moving options. Most people might get three or four quotes at the most. Ha. Not us. We’d never been in this position before, where we were moving a whole house load, so we called in eight different moving companies. Eight. When it came to looking at our dining area, every one of those eight moving agents counted up: one table, one bench seat and five dining chairs. ‘Where’s the sixth chair?’ all eight of them asked. Well you see, there was no sixth chair. But every agent had this preconceived idea that we should have had six chairs. No biggie. But an example of how we all come into different situations with certain ideas of how things should be. With important issues, with everyday not so important issues….whether we realize it or not, we put certain filters on situations by looking at them with the eyes we have.

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So why am I giving you far too much information about a time in my life that has well and truly passed now?  And why this random talk about filters and preconceived ideas that we all can’t seem to shake?

Well it’s to serve as a reminder to me….and who knows…could possibly be helpful to someone, somewhere….

Perfect storms happen in people’s lives at random times. And when they hit, often they take away people’s abilities to see the forest for the trees. When options are limited because of time/ health/ finances, then powerlessness prevails. And with that can come a multitude of self- esteem issues, trust issues and overwhelming worthlessness .

As a Christ- follower, I see that a big part of my ‘job’, my role in life is to love justice, show mercy and to walk humbly with my God. And from some of harder parts in my own life, I now know that one of the most empowering things you can do for people when they are in tough times, is sometimes to highlight for them the real options in front of them. Sometimes situations need to be ‘fixed’. Sometimes the best option is to show up at their front door with a food parcel. But always people need people to help them to see the forest. Not just the trees in front of them. And that’s what my friend did for me.  Yes we got practical help.  But it was more than that.  She helped me to feel hopeful about a stink situation.  She helped me to realize we weren’t failures.  She validated all of my feelings, without ever making a big fuss.  She was a forest finder for me.

And sometimes helping people, truly helping people, means applying some filters to your own thought processes, before you suffer from foot in mouth disease. I’m convinced that people don’t always know what they don’t know.

Sometimes when you’re helping people the best advice is actually no advice.

Sometimes you need to have the hard conversations and facts to be faced, but always with words seasoned with grace. Always with a heart willing to see the situation for what it truly is, and ears to really hear what a person is truly saying.

To me, that’s the best kind of helping. That’s the best kind of ‘fixing’. We all need friends to help us to see the forests, and sometimes we get to be the ones, leading the way on the wilderness trail,  finding the forests for others.

forest

Finding the delightful in the different.

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This is for any parent who has ever had to sit through an ‘assessment’ on their child.

For every parent who has had developmental milestones clearly spelt out for them and been told their child fits outside of the normal parameters.

Gulp.

For every parent who has sat through an ‘indivualised education plan’ meeting, appearing as their child’s advocate as best they know how.

That’s never easy, not even for those who have walked this road for years.

The size of your child’s gap between what’s considered ‘normal’ and where they actually are, doesn’t actually reflect how big or small your feelings towards this situation could or should be.

Feelings are feelings, reality is reality.

What you have to shoulder each and every day, is no light load.

The grief you may face, knowing your child’s future will quite likely be rather different to their siblings realities, and the hopes and dreams you may have had for them, have had to morph into something different, to your early dreams for them.

I don’t know what challenges you face in your daily life. I don’t how how hard you have to fight to keep a smile on your face, to keep one foot walking in front of the other. I suspect that you rarely get a break, that sometimes people don’t know how or what to say to you, that you’re used to living in a constant state of exhaustion.

However there are parts of your story that I do know. I suspect if you were to sit me down and share your heart with me, I have an inkling that there are certain things you’d want to make crystal clear for me.

I think you would freely share that even though the tiredness is never-ending, there are still snippets of joy and of hope in your days.

I suspect you’d say that yes the appointments, assessments, meetings and therapies are ongoing and are costly in more than one way, but you’ve come to realize that these professionals are (mostly) on the same team as you, with your child’s best interests truly at heart.

I reckon you’d state, with eyes blinking away the tears, because you’re real and you’re raw, that you’ve come to find the delightful in the different. You see that what sets your child apart from others in how they see the world, or how the world sees them, and you can find some true delight in that.

And isn’t that the thing that makes every parent’s heart swell, in each and every child ? Your child is delightful. Your child has a purpose, your child has a place to belong, your child has unique giftings and talents and abilities.

Your child may well be different, but often, that’s the true beginning of real delight.

Space on my sofa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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