Through the Fog.

My oldest son is a self-proclaimed aviation geek.  He lives and breathes anything to do with aviation and has done since he was quite young.  The highlight of his fifteen years of life so far has to be his visit to the Boeing Factory just out of Seattle (you can read about that here – it was truly remarkable) when he was ten.

Nat has now reached the age and stage of his ‘hobby’ where he is starting to actually learn how to fly. Not just use a simulator programme, but actually fly a little two seater plane, up high in the sky.  Gulp.  He’s not old enough to legally be behind the wheel of a car, but he can be learning how to fly a plane. Part of me longs to have him as a toddler with a mop of blonde hair, sitting on my lap as I read ‘The Little Yellow Digger’ to him for the millionth time, and another part of me knows that he is starting to live out his dream.  And it is a wonderful thing.

Our future pilot was supposed to have his second trial flight (with the special club he belongs to where pilots sponsor young kids to get them air time) this past weekend, but we woke to fog blanketing our city.  So there were no small planes taking off or landing at the club headquarters that day, much to everyone’s temporary disappointment.

The old fog and planes thing – it is an interesting thing.  Bigger planes are actually totally ok to fly in thick fog and to land in thick fog.  All of the electronic equipment on board makes it a simple process for big planes to do this.  The problematic part to fog being present comes in to play when the planes are on the ground, when pilots of any size plane are relying heavily on the view from their plane’s windscreen to avoid collisions with other aircraft and airport vehicles as they taxi.  Procedures for low visibility situations call for planes landing at an airport to be separated by six miles rather than the usual three miles.  So this is what causes major delays and disruptions when there is fog at airports, much to everyone’s dismay.

Fog – it can make you misjudge distances.  You can’t see what is behind you, beside you or in front of you very well at all.  Sometimes our own judgement can be clouded by fog of some sort.

Fog – it can be unreliable feelings, disconnected feelings.  Sometimes it can be as a result of going through life listening to the soundtrack of negativity and criticism.

Fog – it blocks our view of the sun, even though we know that the sun is there and we know it is going to break through sooner or later.

Fog – in my simple way of thinking is anything that stands in the way of you believing that you are who God says you are, anything that stops you from embracing and taking full flight.

Fog doesn’t actually change what is good and true and right and all around us – the beauty and truth is still there, its just a little harder to see.

I think all of us struggle at some point or another with some element of fog in our lives.  But just as planes have got all sorts of fancy equipment to keep them on track, we too have great tools at our disposal to help us deal with the fog that invades our lives. And it is good to remember these things.  The word of truth – the bible.  The gift of Godly friendship.  The ability to worship, to focus on the goodness of God.  These all help the fog to dissipate.  These gifts help the sun to break through.

Fog tends to isolate us and cause us to feel stranded, not to mention cause major disruptions to normal life – but this is only temporary.  The sun does break through and fog does lift.  Flights do get postponed and then they do happen.  New travel arrangements are made.  New travel dates do happen.  Life does continue.  Hope remains ever steadfast.  Fog whether its in our thinking and believing or in the physical, isn’t a permanent state.  And that’s worth holding on to. That’s worth remembering.

My aviation son will have another chance to get up high in the sky, in that tiny little plane, another weekend, very soon.  And the time not spent up in the air last weekend, was still time spent with friends, like-minded people all as passionate as he is, and he learnt some new lessons to do with flight.  It was not wasted.

The fog comes and goes, in the physical and in the flow of our feelings and our beliefs about ourselves and our situations are sometimes hazier than they should be, but it helps to remember that the sun is always shining and sooner or later it will break though. My friend, the fog will lift.

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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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Vulnerability and band aids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

first aid photo

 

 

 

In the resting.

If you’ve read any of my stuff, at any time, you’ll know I write for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes I write to process feelings and thoughts.  Sometimes what comes from my computer are words specifically for someone(s) – I may not have my brave pants on to say the words in person, so I send the words out there into cyberspace, wishing and praying for that one specific person/ people to read what I write and be encouraged.  At other times I write because I just have to share whatever it is I’ve just discovered, or been taught. And there are times where I write to remind myself to do x,y, or z and to be x, y,z.

The following blog post is a bit of a mixture of all of the above.  As always – I’m the first to say I don’t have ‘it altogether’, I’m a massive work in progress, but I’m privy to enough good wisdom around me to know what I should be/ could be/am trying to be doing, and would be doing it all the more, were it not for some of the realities of my life. And so. Here ’tis.  Another of my crazy analogies.  From the Queen of weird analogies. To you.

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One of my jobs is in the field of hospitality/ customer service.  We have on the menu, ‘Yorkshire Puddings’.  Yorkshires, or ‘yorkies’ as we call them, are very similar to the American ‘Popover’, or ‘Dutch Baby’.  Basically they are a batter that has been cooked in muffin trays for individual servings or a larger dish for one big serving, resulting in a puffed up pancake type thing.  People eat them as a savoury side dish, with gravy and roast meat and vegetables, and some eat them as a sweet dish with jam or custard.

I can’t eat the yorkies we serve at my work, being the glutard (coeliac) that I am. When they are fresh out of the oven, they always smell really amazing and most nights they fly out of the door.  Yorkies have only a few simple ingredients – eggs, flour and milk, and some recipes call for water. These are whisked together, the mixture then rests for a while, before going into a hot oven, in pre-heated oiled muffin trays.  They puff up as they cook and when they come out, each yorkie is an individual.  No two yorkies look the same.

I was thinking about how fun these little things are.  Ridiculously simple too.  And I was thinking about every step in the process of making them, and I got stuck on the whole ‘resting’ the batter business.

Resting.

Rest.

Apparently it is a big deal with cooking some things.  We’re always resting big bits of meat after cooking them.  That’s important.  And with all batters, resting is also recommended.  So I looked into the science behind it.  Turns out that during the resting of batters the starch molecules in the flour are absorbing the liquid in the batter.  This causes them to swell, giving  the batter a more viscous consistency.  Air bubbles are also slowly working their way out.  The resting step also ensures a thin and uniform structure to the finished good.  And, because the gluten in it has had time to relax, the texture is more delicate instead of chewy.

When batter is resting, to the naked eye, nothing is happening.

But important things, good things, are happening to the basic structure, the cell structure of the mix when it is resting.

Because of what happens in the resting phase, the end result after the cooking, is improved.

We all know that rest for US is important. I know it.  You know it.  But why?

I would say it is because of what is going on, when it looks like nothing is going on.

I think people tend to think of rest for themselves as a lack of activity.  Watching tv is resting.  Playing on the computer is resting.  Flicking through your facebook feed is resting. Napping, sleeping and just sitting. Resting, resting and resting.

Yes. Well maybe.

But there’s more to rest than that I reckon.

To me, resting is the opposite of striving. It is not putting in any effort – a batter doesn’t have to do anything to rest, it just is.  The science behind it, does the work.  And I think God can do some of His best work in us when we’re resting.  When we’re not striving.  But we’re simply being. Encouraging soul ties can happen.  Strengthening happens.  Reassurances.  Realignments occur.  Necessary corrections are made.  These things can happen when we’re at our most relaxed – when we’re not striving. When we’re socializing, but it is with people we can just be ourselves with.  When we’re reading and it is simply for enjoyment.  We’re studying His word because that feeds us truth and hope.  We’re worshiping, and we’re engaging grateful hearts.  We’re enjoying His creation.  We’re out and about just appreciating the wonderful world we live in. What is restful for you, may not be restful for me – because we’re all uniquely made and we get depleted in different ways and then refreshed in different ways. The ‘how’ isn’t as important as the actual doing.

We need to fill our emotional tanks and our spiritual tanks, in whatever ways work for us, because we’re leaky people and we’re going to come into situations of extreme heat -at some point – but we can come out of those situations better formed.  Better transformed.  We can have solid cores.  We can be a bit more useful, when we’ve had some rest.

We rest, before the pressure is applied.

We rest, because our DNA structure requires it.

We rest, because it is more than just a good idea.

We rest, because of what is happening when it looks like nothing is happening.

We’re now fully in the holy days of Advent.  As we go about our days and we’re choosing to buy presents, and be present, and we’re wrapping gifts or wrapping people in hugs, as we send gifts and send love, as we shop for and donate food, as we make cookies and memories side by side, let’s remember to rest before the heat is applied.

Let’s prepare our hearts and minds for the pressures that come with this busy season, by resting – however that looks for you.  Whenever, it happens for you.  Let’s rest.

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That was then, this is now.

Joshua erected a monument at The Gilgal, using the twelve stones that they had taken from the Jordan. And then he told the People of Israel, “In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What are these stones doing here?’ tell your children this: ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

23-24 “Yes, God, your God, dried up the Jordan’s waters for you until you had crossed, just as God, your God, did at the Red Sea, which had dried up before us until we had crossed. This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always. – The Message Translation, Joshua 4: 20 – 24.

The church we were a part of when we lived in America has a feature of a  bunch of rocks by its front entrance, with the above accompanying description (they use a different translation though).  The rocks are a visual reminder of God’s rescuing hand.  The rocks are a reminder of God’s stories in our lives.  The rocks are there to urge others; to urge us all, to tell our God stories, to share our God stories.

I don’t have a big ole pile of rocks by my front entrance at my home now.  Nope.  Don’t think the landlords would entirely approve of that.  But I do see this here blogeroo of mine as a ‘rock formation’ of sorts;  these are things my God has done for me, this is how I know I am loved beyond measure, and I have hope for every situation.

When I was in my teens and twenties I was able to attend a lot of leadership training and conferences and the like, and a common theme or idea that often came through in these sessions, was the fact that your stories needed to be ‘new’ and ‘relevant’.  Up to date and from your current life.  So yeah.  Current and up to date was what I looked for,  and somehow along the way it became a little too easy to begrudge or to belittle the stories of my yesterdays.

But lately I’ve been realizing that our stories of our last weeks and our last months, and of our last years and our last decades, are just as valuable as those stories of our today’s. Don’t you think that the temptation is there to often think that those stories from our yesterdays are done and dusted with? Finito.  The end. Book closed.  But actually……no……I think that God has a sneaky way of bringing our stories from then into our lives of today. And along with that is the fact and the blessing, that thankfully He can bring healing to very hurt places, over a time-frame known only to Him.  He’s that omnipotent.  And He’s that omnipresent.

In a blog post a while ago I mentioned the fact that there’s a building here in Auckland that I didn’t like to drive past. Or even think about.  It brought back sad memories of a time in our lives where we faced great loss and experienced a lot of heartache.  But. And this is a big God but.  Just yesterday I was with some people and they were describing a part of Auckland and I realised it was exactly the area in which my aforementioned dreaded building is.  And you know what?  My heartbeat didn’t change tempo at all.  My mind didn’t race to flashbacks.  And I can honestly say that it was well with my soul.  Only now, twelve years on from my experience in that building, with much more of life experienced, I now can know that God’s gentle gluing of my heart back together is complete – with regards to that experience of grief.  That particular story of mine didn’t end when we threw out the dead flowers all those years ago, and it didn’t end when I put words to feelings and began to write of that journey, and it won’t end now that I know I don’t have to deal with fearful memories any more.  But it is a continually evolving and living story of God’s presence throughout pain and of His faithfulness.

You see that particular story of mine matters.

And the many other stories of mine, matter.  Just like your story matters.

Who you are matters.  Where you’ve come from.  What has shaped you.  The choices you’ve made.  The things that make you smile from ear to ear and belly laugh deep down.  The things that make you tear up and whether you put on a brave face, or allow those tears to escape, those things matter. Because the God I know and serve is a God who is faithful.  He’s powerful. He’s not finished with you yet, and He is certainly not finished with me yet. Your stories matter.  Our stories matter.

I’ve suspect I’ve got more stories to tell from my yesterdays and my today’s.  And I’ll continue to do my best to shine a spotlight on Jesus.

Joshua built a monument of rocks from the Jordan River to remind the Israelites of God’s faithfulness, of  God’s rescuing hand being strong.  You see there’s nothing about me that makes me any more special than you – you’ve got stories to share too. What story can you share and to whom, as a living monument of God’s faithfulness? We get to do that. We really do.

A photo by Austin Neill. unsplash.com/photos/ZahNAl_Ic3o

 

 

 

 

 

Dot to dot.

I used to like those dot to dot pictures. You know the ones – when little ones are practicing those early numeracy skills and they draw those wobbly pencil lines from number to number and those lines eventually reveal a picture. Dot to dots are cool.

I like dot to dots in real life too. Those times when you can take a step back from a situation for a minute, and see that you think a certain way, because of what you thought about another thing. One thing led to another.

This week the ministry my husband works for is holding their annual appeal. A massive chunk (between 80 and 90%) of their income is based purely on people’s donations, and once a year they have to make that ask, that appeal, for continued and new financial support. Here’s a random fact for you: typically less than 5% of all viewers (of a Christian tv station) or listeners (of a Christian radio station) will give financially to that ministry. This week is not my favourite week in the world. It’s humbling and hard in lots of ways, but unavoidable. But here we are, in that week. Last night the on air presenters were talking about how research shows that a major barrier to people giving to any charity or ministry is fear. Fear that if they were to give, then they wouldn’t have money for x,y, or z. And that can be a very real fear in a lot of ways. But if you have that fear, then you can’t truly believe that God can and will provide for your every need. You can’t believe that God says we’re not to worry about what to wear, or what we have to put in our stomachs.

Dot to dot. Your responses to situations and your actions are a direct result of what you believe.

I popped by a friend’s class today just when she happened to be student free. Written in big, bold words at the front of her classroom are the words ‘Who do you say I am?’.

Dot to dot.

The gospels (the first four books of the New Testament part of the bible) records Jesus as saying these words to Peter; ‘Who do you say I am?’.

You see I reckon that how we see Jesus, who we say He is, pretty much decides what our faith looks like when it is lived out.
And this ‘who we say God is’ also determines what our fears look like.

It’s hard to be fearful of sickness when we say that God is our healer.
It’s hard to be ashamed of past mistakes when we say that God has forgiven us and remembers not.
It’s hard to be downcast when we say that God can give us fullness of joy.
It’s hard to feel unlovely, when we say that God loves us with an everlasting love.

Dot to dot. One thing leads to another.

I don’t know about you, but my negative internal voices sometimes run off and have themselves a wee tea-party in the corner of my heart. But I’m discovering that when I come back to this one point,’Who do you say I am?’, when I re-frame how I see God, when I re position my true north on who God is and all He sees in me, then I find that fear and worry dissipate. Certainty replaces uncertainty. Peace replaces distress.

The next time you’re facing something that’s making you question your abilities or where you fit in this big wide world, or you’re fretting about something that the future holds, then do this simple thing. Move from that ‘dot’, back another ‘dot’, and answer that question once again for yourself. ‘Who do you say I am’ – Jesus.

And I think you’ll just find those dots to dots can indeed form a beautiful picture – your life, crafted by the Master Potter, Jesus.

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Incredible.

I’m been thinking just lately about how super proud of my boys I am. The larakins are now aged 6, 10 and 14, and before you utter a wee groan and think this is going to become a bragging post, hold on a ‘mo. It ain’t. While I’m seeing more and more signs of who my boys really are,  I know I have a whole heap still to learn and experience as the years go by,  and I know there are many ups and downs to come.But at the moment,  I’m  very grateful for these glimpses of them that bring me much joy.

I think that when children are small, it’s the things they do that make us proud. The first time they crawl. The first attempt at walking. The first word. The first book they read aloud. We ooh and we aah over their milestones reached and achievements made, but as they get older, it’s the things that reveal their character that really make us clap and cheer.

I’ve been thinking lately that as an adult it is really easy to go through life and loose sight of the things in us that actually bring joy to others. I wonder if we fail to recognize glimpses of our character that are revealed by our actions, because our focus is often on what we’re not doing right?  What we could do better at.  What we’re not achieving.

I thought I was a fairly confident person until just recently when I sat back in a certain situation and realized just how intimated I felt and was actually counting up the number of things I was sucking at.

Something in me makes me think that maybe I’m not the only one in the world who does this, and I needed this little reminder; in the same way that it makes my heart burst when I see evidence of good hearts in my boys, I think our creator, my Lord, is just watching and happily bursting with pride as He takes in all that we do, and more importantly all that we are.

These lyrics from a song by Matthew West are so powerful, and they really sum things up for me:
When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
When you see too far gone
I see one step away from home
When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I’m not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

I look at things I do/say/ am, and I’m tempted to think ‘stuffed up there’.  But God doesn’t.  You see he’s not finished with us yet, and He does see healing beyond belief.  He does see something good in the making. We are works in progress – His works in progress.

Our children bring us great joy, and I think we could all do well to live with the reminder that we actually do bring great joy to God.

I made a cake for a friend this week, and because I can see many ways in which this person adds value to others and is amazingly multi-talented, I decided to go with a ‘Mr Incredible’ theme for the cake.  ‘Happy Birthday Mr Incredible’.  I just googled the root word for ‘incredible’, and it is the latin word ‘credere’ – to believe.  So to be incredible, is to be unbelievable, and to be incredible is also to be out of the ordinary.

 When we live in a such a way that our lives display the work of Christ in and through us, we are being incredible.  We are being out of the ordinary.  And this out of the ordinary business – it actually shines a massive spotlight on God’s goodness. It shows what He is capable of. It highlights His creativity. His power to transform.

Sometimes we forget that some out of those seemingly ordinary things we do, actually can speak very loud and wide to others around us.

My friends that repeatedly open up their hearts and their homes to foster children.
Another friend whose faith remains strong and steadfast, in the face of a lot of uncertainty surrounding her.

The customer who takes the time to actually look at the person serving them, and to inquire about their day with genuine interest.

The quick text someone sends to a friend, to show they are thinking of them, they care about whatever it is that is going on in their world.

When our inner world, dictates whatever it is that we do in our outer world, that could possibly  build others up, that shows a speckle of love or hope or compassion, that’s simply out of the ordinary. Because, let’s face it, by nature we’re all pretty selfish beasts.  And by nature our worlds can become pretty small and pretty insular.

So, at the risk of sounding really corny, heck I’ll go there anywhere, I know I’m so proud of my people, all over the world, who are just doing the stuff.  All the stuff.  Whatever it is they think they are called to do,  going out and loving more and  loving deeper and loving fiercer.  And I reckon that our God is even more proud.  Maybe we could do well to remember this thought when we are tempted to focus on all we’re not doing well.

Our God is so proud of us. I really do believe that He’s the most proud parent of all.

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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.

My book.

Sorry, not sorry to draw you in with that there blog post title.  Just to be clear – I don’t have a book in the pipelines. Nope.  Not even close.  But I’ve been asked by some people over recent years if I would ever attempt that.  Maybe one day. Not today.  Not tomorrow.  Probably not next week or even next year. Maybe one day though. I’ve learnt to never say never about certain things, but for the longest time I’ve thought I really don’t have much to write about.

But you know what?

I do.

I gots me some stuff.

You see I’ve been reminded just lately that I don’t have any one remarkable story up my sleeve, but a whole series of remarkable stories.  Remarkable because they all center on one main character, one main theme, one all encompassing story which is remarkable despite all of my orneriness, despite all of ME,  and that’s Jesus.

Jesus. Who He is. What He’s done for me.  What He continues to do.  The hope I find in Him. The companionship in Him. The acceptance found by Him.

Do you ever find yourself stuck in your story?  Do you ever seek to upskill yourself with all the whys people do things and how best you need to react and what your next step is and what you’re going to do about all of this?

Yeah.  I know the drill.

And I know that knowledge is good, and learning is gooder and seeking help is the goodest.  But I’ve also been reminded lately that the best thing of all to do, in any and every situation is to turn to Jesus.  To blurt out your worries and your joys, your ups and your downs, your thoughts and your perspectives, to cast your cares upon Him.

Time and time again I can look back at my life and see evidence of God’s fingerprints of grace; of provision and of help.

Of Jesus.

That time I was completely surprised and crushed by sheer animosity towards me?  Jesus stood by, waiting for me to place my broken heart at His feet.

Every time I have faced agonizing grief and heartache?  Jesus has been there, with His reassuring presence and invading love.

When I was told that having another child was a medical impossibility until X happened, but then those two parallel lines on that plastic stick proved otherwise. Jesus saw my tears of joy and my grateful heart.

Those bills that stack up when you least expect them?  We’ve been met with miraculous provision, time and time again.  Situations that came as a surprise to us, were no surprise to God.

Those occasions when I begin to doubt the decisions my husband and I have made regarding career choices and what we give our time and attention to, they are always met with a gentle reminder from God himself carried out in various ways, that He has everything in control and He is no man’s debtor.

Jesus.  He’s right there.  Whisper His name and the atmosphere around you changes.

Jesus.  He’s there for my heartache as well as the times when my heart is full.

Jesus.  The hero of my story. The author of each and every chapter.  And He’s longing to be my very first port of call in each and every situation I face.  And He can do the same for you. No matter what you’re going through.  This I know.

This I surely know.

Jesus.

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Turned to Gold. 

Not all blog posts just ooze out, in a free flow manner like a magnificent waterfall. Some start and stop like semi-gridlocked traffic. Others are squished out of one’s soul much like a garlic crusher, where the hard work is getting past the outer layers, then it just squeezes out…

This particular one of mine ain’t the waterfall variety.

You’ve been warned.

I’ve just devoured an outstanding book; ‘God on Mute’ by Pete Greig. Pete wrote this book to help those who are hurting and wondering ‘Where is God?’, those who are suffering in silence. He looks at the huge topic of why prayer sometimes doesnt ‘work’.

I borrowed the book from a friend, with the very best of intentions. I wanted to know how to help others who are struggling with unanswered prayer. Chuckle. Ha. For others.

Little did I know.

You see the more I read the book the more I could see insights in it for me. ‘God’ reminders for me. Encouragement for my own journey, and encouragement from my own journey. And the more I read the book the more I could resonate with Pete’s sharing of his wife’s journey with sickness, because of my own wee  big adventure with sickness.

‘God on Mute’ is the book I would have loved to have read anytime in my four years of living with a yet to be diagnosed condition. A time made up of countless doctors visits, endless tests, cocktails of painkillers and sleeping tablets, and totally unexplained pain. Sheer, utter, agonizing pain.

You see I don’t tend to talk much about that time in my life, because it seems so distant now.  And while I’m pain free now, I’m not really ‘healed’. My health is ‘managed’ and for the most part I’m winning on that front, but healing is not something that I can say I have. Not physically, and there are probably a few lingering emotional scars from that chapter in my life too, if I really stop to think about it, but I reckon they are healing with time.

It’s a weird thing to be able to say that I’m not healed of something, but actually, that’s ok. It is well with my battle-worn, battle-torn soul anyway. And the fact that I’m ok, isn’t anything to do with me as a person. No, I’m pretty much a wretched soul. But I’m ok because of who my God is, and the fact I can acknowledge that His presence has carried me all that time then, and on and on and on now.

It is a good thing to look back and to be able to say while there were many times that I wished that ‘adventure’ was not a part of my life’s journey, yet I am changed for the better and yet I will praise Him. And this book has reminded me of that.

Greig quotes a friend of his who had a profound experience when visiting a friend who was dying. This friend made the comment that ‘God is present in the midst of suffering because we are present in it. We are God’s presence’. I find this to be amazingly accurate. Pain and grief have a way of causing great isolation. But the people who push through the barriers that people put up, and the imagined or real state of loneliness that those suffering are in are invaded by the loving people who carry God’s presence, there God is present. God is present when He feels far away. God is present when circumstances are grim and answers seem distant. God is present.

The importance of people supporting you through tough times comes out numerous times in Greig’s writing. ‘We expect God’s voice to be unmistakable, a rumbling revelation or an insistent inner whisper. Yet for those with the ears to hear, He often speaks most eloquently through the commonplace actions of ordinary, unwitting people’.

In my deepest, darkest days of dealing with my ongoing battle with pain, I chose to stay silent for many reasons. Not a lot of people knew what was going on, but between my husband who was and is my rock, and a very good friend that I chose to be completely honest and real with, and my gp who became quite an advocate for me, I was supported and the actions of those three people spoke volumes to me. They often acted on God nudgings and made me feel loved and accepted.

Another very noteworthy point for me in Greig’s book is the comment ‘Sometimes it’s not enough to tell a suffering friend you’re praying for them. sometimes you have to become the answer to your own prayer’. This doesn’t mean you have to play God, no, to me it means that sometimes there are things you can actually action upon, that will bring practical help to someone and in turn this helps to answer prayer. Say you’ll pray for someone AND visit them. Say you’ll pray for a certain situation AND make them a meal. Pray and do…….be the hands and feet of Jesus. My friend prayed for me when I was with her, and when I wasn’t with her, AND she picked me up and took me and my child on little adventures to give my brain a change of scenery AND she let me cry on her shoulder AND she took me to prayer meetings.  She lent me her strength and her faith when mine wavered.

One of Greig’s paragraphs near the end of the book is this: ‘When we suffer, Jesus comes with questions to refine and enhance our humanity. He of all people understands that this process of dealing with the mess created by our disappointments in prayer can hurt terribly. He knows that without His help, we will become bitter not better, and that we will lick our wounds like a dog or curl up in a ball of self-protection like a hedgehog. But if, like Mary, we will continue to worship, even at the grave of everything we ever believed in, our grief will turn to gold’. Ugh. That speaks to me. Never did I feel so pathetically human, as when I was suffering as I did and experiencing bitter disappointments to prayer. And I tried that whole curling up in a ball of self-protection too, and that didn’t work for me either. What did help was worship. What did help was coming before God time and time again, in all my brokenness, asking for peace, asking for His presence, and all the while looking at the promises that I knew could remain constant, despite my present circumstances.

And you know what? Miracle of miracles I do believe my grief has turned to gold. I’m so much more compassionate as a result of all the dark times in my life. I’m so much more aware of really bad and much better things to say to someone facing trials. I think I’m more patient and understanding of the need to not cast my own skewed perspective on things because I’m certainly not in another’s shoes. I’m acutely aware of my need to constantly offer myself to God’s will and not my own. This is all gold. Learnt the very hard way. Learnt the very long way. But gold nevertheless.

I’ve only highlighted a few of the many points I loved in this book and I do believe this book is a gift to every day, common people. If you’re a Christ follower it will help you wrap your head around some big issues, and it will give you the tools to feel better equipped when those gnarly discussions come your way. If you’re not a Christ follower  it will help you understand just what Easter is all about and why Christians chose to follow this Jesus guy. It is also super helpful that Greig uses language that is easy to understand, you don’t need a theology degree under your belt or a Strong’s concordance by your side.

It’s good to remember journeys, all the journeys. Read this book. And then remember what has already turned to gold for you, and what gold is still to come.