Brave Wears Many Faces

I used to think that ‘brave’ was a term to be reserved and used only for those ‘stand out from the crowds, living on the very edge, facing life and death situations’ type of adventurers.  Those who aren’t afraid to put themselves in scary situations.  Along with those people, I’d add in ‘brave’ when describing all of those who find themselves thrust into situations where they or their families are in, (or have been in) harm’s way.  Maybe they’re facing a cancer diagnosis, maybe they have to spend hours walking the halls of the closest children’s hospital, maybe huge loss has ripped their family apart and they have to get used to a new normal.  Brave brave brave.  Courage courage courage.  That’s what ‘brave’ used to mean to me.

But lately I’ve been thinking that brave IS indeed all of that, plus much, much more.

Brave can be found in the every day, in the highs and lows of this blessed but messy life.

Brave can be applying for a job you don’t think you’re good enough for, you’re not qualified for, but you think that maybe you could learn.

Brave can be standing up for yourself when mean comments have been flying and all sensitivities have flown out the window.  (Courage originally meant to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart).

Brave can be looking your kids in the eye and saying ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that’.

Brave is sometimes just someone showing up, when everything in their world is crying out to them to hide, and to stay hidden.

Brave can be forcing yourself to be step up and out of your shyness to say hello to the new parent at school pick up.

Brave can be looking your cashier in the eye and asking how their day is going.

Brave can be giving a real answer, when someone asks you how you really are.

Brave can be asking for support.

Brave can be taking two minutes to fire off a text or an email, to call out the gold in someone, it is sometimes pushing past boundaries and potential stumbling blocks when you don’t know how it will be received.

I think that ‘brave’ isn’t really recognized as much as it could be, and I’m on a new quest to call out the brave in my children, in my spouse, in my friends and colleagues.  Because brave, when it is recognized, it tends to breed more ‘brave’.

Once you’ve done one thing and you can step back and see it for being gutsy, see it for being something that led you past your comfort zone, then the next time you need to do something just a little bit courageous, it is just that little bit easier.  It’s like you know you’ve done a little bit of brave, you can do a little bit more.  I think ‘brave’ builds stepping stones, upon which….heck…the impossible can be done.  Because it is made possible.  But it helps to have someone walk alongside you, someone to urge you on.  Someone who’s not afraid to whisper in your ear ‘what you did just then, it was brave’.  Because I don’t know anyone on God’s green earth who doesn’t want to be brave.  And we don’t always see it and recognize it for what it is, in ourselves.

I saw this in action last week when one of my kids needed to have a general anesthetic.  The anesthetist gave him the choice of having an IV line put in his hand, and then having the medication to make him go to sleep injected directly into the IV line, or he could have had the face mask put on him and he could have breathed in the gas to make him go to sleep. A short but painful prick in the hand, with a rather long needle, or a smelly mask forced over your face?  Hmmm. Tough choice.  My kid chose the needle and IV line, he chose the more painful option, because he didn’t want to feel any kind of struggle with the mask.   So his Dad and I told him, ‘you are brave, you can do this’.  ‘You are going to be ok’.  And he was ok.  He handled that big ole needle like a champ.  And then when I walked him to the operating theatre and he saw six gowned and masked people there all looking at him and waiting for him and his steps faltered, again I whispered into his ear, ‘you are brave, you can do this’.  And he did it.  He carried on walking to the bed, laid himself down and stuck his arm out for the medication to go to sleep.  He was so brave.  And if there’s ever a next time, he’s going to know he can do hard things like that.  He’s also got a new empathy for people who are seriously sick and even for people who have to deal with big needles all the time.  Brave grows us.  Brave enlarges our hearts.  Brave wears many different faces.

We need to recognize ‘brave’ and celebrate it.  Brave brings about change in us. Brave stretches us – and the most awful but the very best learning happens in the stretch. Brave is also contagious – how many times have you seen others do something that they didn’t think they could do, then you think, by golly, I can do that too.  And so you do.

 

“Courage is a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.” – Brene Brown.

 

I really do think that brave wears many faces – let’s help each other to be braver by braving.  By braving together.

 

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Perfect love that never lets go.

When clouds veil sun
And disaster comes 

We very rarely see it coming, do we?  Disaster. Tragedy. Life changing happenings. Those gut wrenching, heart stealing events or moments or conversations just sneak up on us.  Sometimes overnight, sometimes over a longer amount of time, but they never come to an expectant open door.


Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul

When waters rise

And hope takes flight 

The waters, they do rise.  The attempted drownings, they do happen.

And hope?  Sometimes it isn’t the dependable always can be relied on as your True North thing that we’d like it to be.  Sometimes hope does try to run, run like the wind.


Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul 

Oh, my sad soul.  Oh, your ‘tested to the limits you never knew existed’ soul.

You see recently I’ve had the privilege to have had a front row seat while dear friends have experienced the most awful of situations.  I’ve seen grief’s fingers claw and snatch and poke and prod.  And my own life has not always been sunshine and roses.  The waters have risen.  I’ve seen and I’ve known what it is to only be able to focus on breathing.  In and out. In and out.

But, even as the waters have risen.  Even as the clouds have veiled the sun.  Even as hope has taken flight. Even then, I’ve seen and I’ve known what it is for love to swoop down, to tenderly kneel beside me and for grace to kiss my cheeks.

Ever faithful
Ever true
You I know
You never let go
You never let go
You never let go
You never let go

I believe without a doubt that God is ever faithful, He is ever true.  He never lets go. Even when uncertainty limits and diagnosis brings lives to a halt, when relationships shatter and tear apart, when people fail and let others down.  He never lets us go.

He gives us grace for the journey, and companions too.

When clouds brought rain
And disaster came
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
When waters rose
And hope had flown
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul
Overflows
Oh, what love, oh, what love
Oh, my soul
Fills with hope
Perfect love that never lets go

Oh, what love, oh, what love
Oh, what love, oh, what love
In joy and pain
In sun and rain
You’re the same
Oh, You never let go

I don’t know what you’re facing right here and right now.  Or maybe it is something your friend is facing, and you’re merely trying to be by their side, and support them as best as you can, but you feel horribly out of your depth.  This is new territory to you. This I say to you anyway: God is with you. God is with your loved one.  The same God who created the universe and everything in it, He is with you.  He is with your troubled one.  He is unchanging and steadfast.  He is constant and true.  And when you’re going through high waters, nothing is truer than this: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).  He’s there, and He is able.  He will lend you some strength.  He will lend you some courage.  He will equip and inspire.

Yes, life can be awfully cruel at times, and in the waiting, and in the processing and in the figuring out, if all one can do is to concentrate on breathing in and breathing out, then that’s just fine.  Because you’re not breathing alone.  He’s not letting go, dear one. He’s not letting go.

(words in italics not mine, but David Crowder band lyrics to ‘Never Let Go’)

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The little girl.

You might think that the following blog post is extremely similar to blog posts I’ve posted in the past.  You would be right.  100% correct.

I wasn’t going to do this one.

I wasn’t.

And then I read three different things by three different people all along the same vein; your greatest ministry comes out of your greatest hurt. Whatever God brings you through.  He makes you a minister to.

And so.

I guess while I still have words of hope, maybe even words to help, words words words, I won’t stop.

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I have three amazing boys.  Son A looks very much like my better half.  So much so we still laugh about the time when my husband took a very young son A to the supermarket, the check-out chick remarked ‘how kind it was for him to take his little brother out with him’.

Somehow the years have passed (we really gotta stop blinking)  and Son A is now a teenager…… my husband is no longer as baby-faced looking as he was when Son A was a baby.  But they still look alike.

Sons B and C don’t look very similar to Son A, but they do look very alike to each other.  We can see both myself and my Spunky Hunk in them.  Its funny how that works.  You can definitely tell they are brothers.

A couple of days ago a little girl came in to where I work.  I looked at her and in an instant I saw features in her face that were very similar to all three of my sons.  It blew me away.  It is the weirdest thing to explain, but I saw this amazing mix of Sons A, B and C in her, and at that same instant the thought flew through my head, ‘she looks like what might have been’.

My ‘what might have been’ hasn’t been for a very long time now.  And I can say quite honestly that that’s ok. ‘What might have been’ is a part of my story and perhaps you have a similar story.  And that’s ok.  And while I’m not dwelling on the past, I’m taking this as a reminder and I’m grateful for it, that by golly we need to be so careful when we’re talking to people who are walking through the deepest of valleys.

While I know I don’t have any formal education on theological issues (I’ve got some friends who are and I’m sure they will correct me if I’m way off track),  I’m clued up enough to know there are some warped ideas out there regarding where God is when people hurt and how best to treat people in crisis.  And I’m sick and tired of seeing and hearing platitudes regarding the end result of or the reason why people have to endure hard things.

Quite honestly it hurts my heart that someone told my friend who was sitting in an ER with a very sick husband, that his chemo and his cancer was going to make them better people.

It hurts my heart that a fellow Mum at school will be having a mastectomy tomorrow which will then be followed by radiation treatment.  I would hope that no-one in her circle would say to her that God will make her even more beautiful. Yes I fully agree that beauty can come in and from ashes, but she was beautiful to start with.

It hurts my heart that some of my own extended family members lost a precious little boy after only six weeks of life outside of the womb.  I don’t think its a helpful thing to tell someone who is grieving that they need to focus on all the blessings they do have in their life.

I’m on a journey to be more of a support to people, whatever they are facing, but my own experiences of grief and loss and those I’ve had the privilege of being close to, those experiences tell me…….gently gently gently.  Softly softly softly.

You’re not necessarily a better person for having gone through something huge and horrible, because of the experience.   You may further develop some characteristics that you already had, but you were already a person who was worthy of being loved.  Unconditionally. You were already ‘better’.

I’d say to someone going through a hard time that ‘you’re already beautiful’. And you will get through this.  And you can take all the time in the world.  I’m sorry that this is a part of your story.  You didn’t need this.  But what I do know is this – that no matter what happens, no matter how hard things get, we are promised the assurance of God’s presence with us.  And this presence gives us Hope.  And this presence gives us Peace.  And this presence gives us reassurance when all around us is sinking.

Those are the things I would say.

I don’t have answers for when times are tough, but I do have hope.  And we need to be passing on the torch of hope.

 

Softly, softly.

 

Gently, gently.

 

I know I need these reminders from time to time.

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The Right Questions.

Have you ever been around someone who can very skilfully pry info out of you, without you even realizing just how much you’re sharing with them?

Some people are just better conversationalists than others. But I think that this ability to have better conversations, is something we can all learn to do, even if it means moving way out of our comfort zones.

Why should we even care about this?  Why should it even be on our radar? And I mean ‘we’ as a very broad, collective we. You, me, and anyone in our circles. Well for me, it comes down to caring. A very long time ago I was told that ‘people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care’. And part of caring for people is being interested in them, and part of being interested in people is asking them the right questions.

I believe that people are like onions. We all have layers. Layers upon layers. And it takes intentionality and skill, to dig through the layers in some people. Now some people will very happily shed their layers for you, some people are very open books. God bless ’em. Other people take little more digging, a little more prying and a little more time, to reveal the ‘gold’. For whatever reason, some people cling to their layers a little more tightly than others. And that’s ok.

Last week Darlene Zschech tweeted something her husband had said, in relation to building community. He said ‘everyone is interesting. You just haven’t asked the right questions’.

I love that, because I do believe that everyone has a story. Everyone is interesting if we just take the time to find out a little bit about them.

Recently I read this blog post here by a Krystal Masciale who was guest blogging on Phil Cooke’s blog. It gives some fantastic pointers on how to have better conversations, it highlights some great questions to ask others.

I think that we all do a better job at loving people, in being there for people, when we ask better questions. We can be better leaders, bosses, family members and friends when we show genuine interest in others. Let’s go beyond the ‘hi, how was your week?’. Ya with me?

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With grace kissed cheeks.

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

Then Love swooped down.

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

The bossy kid.  That’s leadership ability.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Branded

Night falls early in these parts, so I imagine the deed was done early one evening.  The ‘deed’ being the scrawling of an ugly word with an even uglier meaning, onto the front of a car.  By scrawling I really mean scratching.  Leaving a permanent mark.

 I don’t know the victim of the ‘crime’ – the owner of the car at the time.  She obviously had upset someone.  Maybe a jealousy was playing out in a very real way.  Maybe it was a spiteful prank gone wrong.  I don’t know – but I do know this – she didn’t deserve to be branded in such a scarring way.

 We are now in possession of the aforementioned branded car.  A long time loan while its current owner is overseas.  I can’t help but notice the unpleasant word every time I get in or out of that car.  It looks very out-of-place the few times it has been parked at my boys’ school.  Their ‘private Christian College’ school.

 In the bible, in John 4, we read of a woman who was branded with the same word that appears on our car.  The Samaritan woman with a bit of ‘baggage’.  Jesus approached her at the well and asked her for some water.  Now this was not the common practice in that day at all – not common for a Jewish man to speak publicly to a woman, much less a Samaritan woman, and even less common to talk to a Samaritan woman with a past like hers.

 In his book ‘Powerful and free, confronting the glass ceiling for women in the church’, Danny Silk looks at this interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman and notes that ‘Not only does Jesus talk with her, but he also talks with her about theology – a topic expressly forbidden to discuss with women.  In one conversation, Jesus literally sliced through years of rabbinical law and cultural norms with the extreme love of God that sees the treasure in every human heart’.

 The people around the Samaritan woman would have had all manner of labels stuck on her.  All sorts of branding.  Yet Jesus was able to look into her eyes and see her simply as a child of God.  He saw in her purpose.  And hope. A future.

 He saw the treasure that is in every human heart.

 He looked past her past, and saw what she could be in her present.  And she did use that information he shared with her; the fact that he revealed his true identity as the Messiah for the first time, to her, she went back to her people and shared the good news with them.  She brought people to him.  There must have been some point in her thinking when she realized ‘if this man the Christ sees me, then I am worthy’, for her to have gone back to her people with enough confidence to share her story with them, to bring others to Him.  All it took was for her to see herself as the Lord saw her – worthy.  Daughter.  Beloved one.

 We all wear labels of some sort.  Some of these labels are positive, some are negative.  Some stop us from seeing ourselves as God sees us.  My husband and I have to look past the label on our car.  We know that this branding doesn’t affect how the car drives, its effectiveness in doing what it was designed to do.  We have to choose to not focus on the negative connotations of this label.  What if we all carried this on to every area of our lives?  To every dark and hidden corner of our hearts?  What if we all worked on trying to rip off every label that has been imposed upon us, by simply accepting the Father’s love for us.

 Jesus sees the treasure that is in every human heart.  We are his children.  What if we start walking in that?  What if we start living that out?  We are loved with an everlasting love.  We were created in His image.  I think it is time to start ripping those labels off – time to help your friends and relatives see themselves as God sees them.  Cherished.  Beloved.  Designed while we were in our Mother’s wombs for a purpose.

 I’m gonna start tearing off some self-imposed labels and others-imposed labels…..how about you? Are you in?