The Mountains You Climbed

I love my church.  I love the mix of people there, I love the speakers, I love the kids’ programmes and I love being a part of whatever God is up to, with this ragamuffin rag tag bunch of people that I get to do a lot of life with.

I especially love our worship team.  I love the fact that this bunch of beautiful people get up while it’s still stupid o’clock on a Sunday morning, and they practice and pray and then work together to bring us a way to reach out to God, to connect with God, through worship.  Through song.

A number of weeks ago we had a worship session that was a real doozy.  Even if you’re not a regular church go-er and you don’t quite understand the whole gathering and singing about and to a God that you may not even believe in, had you been a fly on the wall that Sunday, I reckon you’d have a few questions and a little stirring in your belly.  It was that powerful.

Now people who know way more about these things than I, would be able to give you a few reasons why that particular Sunday was extra special.  More switched on people would say things along the lines of:  it was the song choice, it was the prep that the worship team put into the morning, it was the prayers that various people prayed prior to the service, it was how open the congregation was, it was all sorts of things.  And.  Yep.  I reckon it could quite possibly have been a whole mix of things.

But I’ve been pondering this for a while now.

And while I can’t and don’t and won’t ever claim to have any ‘spiritual recipes’:  where, if you have x amount of y and add in a touch of z, with a splash of w, then – whammo – you’re gonna get an amazing church experience.  Guaranteed.

Nope.  I’d never say that. You see I believe that God is sovereign and will have His way, in spite of whatever we do or don’t do…….

But I’ve been wondering about something and that ‘something’ was evident in two of the songs we sang that day, and I really don’t think it was a coincidence that it was a ‘wow’ morning for so many people that day.

The first song of the two that were most powerful for me, was ‘Goodness of God’ by Bethel Music and Jenn Johnson.  You can watch it/ listen to it here. This song is powerful – the words are declaratory, they point to the steadfastness of God; His faithfulness and His closeness.

What’s key for me, in this song, is that it doesn’t just talk about how amazing God is when life is going well – but it talks of when we’re in our darkest days, then He is close like no other –

I love Your voice
You have led me through the fire
And in darkest night You are close like no other
I’ve known You as a Father
I’ve known You as a Friend
And I have lived in the goodness of God

And that’s what stood out for me as people all around me lifted up their voice in song, and declared those words, because I have the amazing privilege of knowing so many stories of the people around me.

That Sunday, singing these words:

I love You, Lord
For Your mercy never failed me
All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God, 

were people who are facing all sorts of battles and heartache and struggles.  Friends who have major illnesses – visible and invisible, families in the middle of major upheavals, those with financial struggles, and some who are in relentless physical and emotional pain.  Yet they were all singing these words, and truly meaning these words.  In and through all their yuck, God has been faithful.  And I think there’s enormous power when we can say, even when dot dot dot, God has been faithful.

The next song we sang was the old hymn ‘It is Well with my Soul’ by Horatio Spafford.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

This song is rather well known for being written by a this guy, Mr Spafford after he had learnt that his four daughters had perished at sea, and he was on his way to join his wife after this awful, life-altering tragedy.

That part of his life seems to be well known, but I wanted to know more….what made this man tick? How could his faith be so rock solid?

I’ve done a little research and will share my thoughts thus far – but I reckon there is much, much more to learn from ‘ol Horatio.

Horatio was an American.  He was a lawyer and also an investor, and lost a lot of what he had in assets in the Great Chicago Fire (1871).  Two years later Horatio decided his family needed a holiday – can’t blame him really, and they chose England as their destination because…get this….he was good friends with the preacher D L Moody and he wanted to hear Moody preach in England.  A ha!!!  Horatio had a deep faith – helped no doubt by the company he kept.  If he could call Moody a friend, and decide that out of anywhere in the world he could go, he chose to visit Moody and be a part of Moody’s ‘inner circle’ I guess.   Which speaks to me that Horatio kept some pretty cool company…..wise move Mr Spafford.

Anyway Horatio had some last minute business to attend to, so sent the family on ahead.  His four daughters died as a result of the ship they were on being struck by another ship – but his wife survived.  ‘Saved alone’ were the words on that now famous telegraph she sent to her husband once she arrived in England.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could say ‘It is well with my soul’, after having four kids die.  I really don’t think I could say it directly after their deaths, and I wonder if I could even say it in the following months or years…..but maybe, just maybe it was something Horatio had to say.  Just had to proclaim, to speak aloud what he knew to be true.  To speak it into being – thus becoming easier to believe.  I don’t know, but maybe, just maybe, in the process of telling himself it is well, it is well….then slowly, but surely, his nightmare turned into a situation where God was still acknowledged and still in control…..just maybe it was part of his healing process.

The story of Horatio doesn’t just end there with a great song, that is still blessing others today.  O no.  Horatio and his wife went on to have more children (two girls and a boy – sadly the boy died of pneumonia) and the Spaffords moved to Jerusalem, as part of the American Colony.  They led a group of thirteen adults and three children to set up a Christian colony to engage in work with the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities in Jerusalem.  During and immediately after World War One the American Colony played a vital part in helping these communities by running soup kitchens, hospitals, and orphanages.

Horatio and his family didn’t just limit themselves by what they had experienced and let their heartache eat them up.  No they persevered – they worked for the Lord, through the thick and thin. I doubt it was ever easy.  But, by golly, I bet there was rejoicing in heaven when Horatio entered (he died of malaria and was buried in Jerusalem).  Well done my good and faithful servant.  And when I meet ‘ol Horatio in heaven, I’m going to thank him for his song and the fact that it really sums up the Christian walk so well.

Bet you didn’t think you’d be getting such a history lesson when you clicked on this link.  Well, sorry, not sorry……all this is to say there’s power when we share from what we know.  When our faith is lived out and declared.  I think these two songs carried with them a whole lotta raw truth – and I think they are examples of this; the scars you share become lighthouses for people who are headed for the same rocks you hit.

You story matters.  Your faith journey matters. Those songs we sang were and are powerful, because they are showing great vulnerability and honesty. There’s nothing like the encouragement that people get, from you sharing how the goodness of God has pulled you through the messiest of storms;

‘Tell the story of the mountain you climbed.  Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide’ – Morgan Harper Nicholls.

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Kissing on the inside

I must have been a really weird teenager.  While other teens around me were rocking their ra-ra skirts, coloured jeans and scrunchies, digging into their ‘Dolly’ magazines and listening to Boys II Men, Guns’n’Roses and Metalicca, in 1991 I started collecting quotes that I liked.

Weird for a fourteen year old girl.

I was looking through a book that I kept these quotes in, and this one jumped out at me:

‘People can only love outside and can only kiss outside, but Mister God can kiss you right inside, so it’s different.  Mister God ain’t like us; we are a little bit like Mister God, but not much yet’ – Mister God This Is Anna, by Fynn.  (one of the cutest and most poignant books ever!)

I loved that as a fourteen year old, and I still love it, as a ah hem year old.  I’m not exactly sure how or why it meant much to me as a teen – I certainly hadn’t been kissed then, but I guess I had a growing sense of the importance of my relationship with God.  But now.  It seems even more meaningful and profound, now that I have been and I am regularly ‘kissed on the outside’.

This past week my Spunky Hunk and I celebrated nineteen of marriage.  Nineteen years, all in a row.  There aren’t a lot of things in my life that I claim to be proud of – but my marriage (and my kids!) would feature in any brag book of mine…..We’re solid.  We’re a team.  We’re real and we laugh and we adventure and we grow, together.

And.

We kiss.

Yep.

We do.

But even in the closeness we share and the ability Michael has to be my rock and my anchor and all of that, things we certainly don’t take for granted, but we’ve cultivated and nurtured over these nineteen years, even in and through all of that, as much as I admire him and truly love him, there’s also a limit to how he can comfort me.  Somehow, I knew before I took Michael’s hand in marriage, that only Mister God can kiss me right inside.

We’re now in the advent season.  A season of great anticipation.  Of waiting.  Of watching.  Of preparation.  Some people I know have had great years, and are excited for what this Christmas season holds for them.  Others around me are struggling.  It’s been a tough year.  They are dealing with massive hurts, incredible heartache, the need for physical and emotional healing, for great uncertainty surrounds them.  So – how to encourage those in such a time as this?  When the season feels like it calls for all things to be merry and bright, joyful and sparkly?

There’s so much I don’t know about life – of faith, of grief, of all of life’s big questions, but time and time again, I’ve been reminded of this great truth – this I do know – that God is in the waiting.  And it’s in that waiting, that Mister God can kiss you right inside.

This song by Kristene DiMarco, Jeremy Riddle and Joel Taylor (‘Take Courage’ – Bethel Music) says it way better than I ever could:

Slow down, take time
Breath in He said
He’d reveal what’s to come
The thoughts in His mind
Always higher than mine
He’ll reveal all to come

Take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

Sing praise my soul
Find strength in joy
Let His Words lead you on
Do not forget His great faithfulness
He’ll finish all He’s begun

It’s really easy to lose heart, when you’re in the middle of a battle.  The longer you have to wait for a diagnosis, or to see treatment begin to make a difference.  It’s really easy to lose hope, when you feel isolated and distances between you and others keeps increasing.  It’s really easy to lose faith when time doesn’t seem to make a difference.  But.

But God.  But God promises us that when we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.  I’ve seen God do this when friends of mine have lost their spouses, or when they’ve faced the ultimate of betrayals.  The easier thing to do would be for them to have lost heart, lost hope and lost faith.  But they haven’t.  They have chosen to set their faces like flint, to turn their bruised and broken hearts towards God and to pour out their concerns, reveal their aches and rip off the bandages from their oozing wounds.  And here’s the wonderful thing – God does come.  As gently and as wonderfully and as thoroughly as only He can – He comes, and He kisses those wounds.  It takes time and perseverance……..but He’s there.  He’s in the waiting.  I’ve seen this in some of the strongest and bravest people I know.  They’ve come to Him in their waiting.

Whatever this Christmas season holds for you – take courage. He’s in the waiting.  Only Mister God can kiss you on the inside.

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The Mallet Finger and Progress.

It wasn’t even the first thing he told me about his day.  It was an ‘oh by the way Mum’ and he lifted his hand to show me his flopsy finger.  ‘Oh by the way’ indeed.

We were doing the drive home after school de-brief, my middle boy and his older and younger brothers.  Talking about their highs and their lows as we navigated traffic.  ‘Oh by the way, yeah’,  I saw that he did indeed have a munted finger.  He laughed it off….and then I got the giggles….this kid…..only six months ago had the first fracture in our family – a finger – a different finger to this munted one.  I giggled because sometimes life is just so ridiculous…here he is…telling me about his finger….as we drive home and then I only had to turn around to drop him off to soccer practice and then I had to be at work for the rest of the afternoon/evening, and this was all happening in the next 30 minutes. That finger was gonna be a job for Dad to sort out. (Single parents, once again I salute you, seriously).

Turns out the munted finger is an injury called a ‘mallet finger’.  In Luka’s instance the tendon has come away from the finger and he can’t straighten it by sheer willpower.  He’s got a splint on it now, to keep it straight as it heals.  That should take about six weeks, ideally.

Ideally.

But here’s the kicker;

If, for any reason that finger joint does not remain straight before that six weeks of healing is up, then it’s back to square one, back to day one of week one of healing again.  And another six weeks begins again. (Go directly to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $100, that kinda deal)  All that hard work of healing can be easily undone, if it is not fully healed.  Talk about pressure when we’re pretending to be nurses and clean the finger without bending it.  No pressure at all. No, that’s not a nervous twitch at all.  Nope.  All this with the twelve year old’s eyes pleading up at you….be careful…be very careful…..

Now – it’s ok, remember I’m a big picture girl.  As far as injuries go this one is small in the big scheme of things.  Luka can still play soccer – so his world is not crumbling down around him.  There are no major (or minor) surgeries needed.  As far as things go, this is do-able.  This is manageable.  I know there are people all around me who are dealing with much more major things.  But aren’t you glad that when it comes to you and your life, whatever you’re working on in your character, whatever obstacles you’re persevering with, whatever you’re pushing through, whatever is in you that needs careful attention and healing, you are actually making progress.  You’re not going to be back at day one, week one of healing again – because of a harder than usual day, or because life can sometimes be like that whackamole game when something new and hard and challenging is always popping up at you again.

Quite simply – Progress is progress is progress.  Change is change is change.

We just can’t always see it in ourselves.

A number of weeks ago, one late afternoon, I was driving to work, minding my own business, driving to the speed limit, and all of a sudden someone didn’t stop at a give way sign, and distracted by the kids in her car, turned right into my lane and right into me. The old smasherooni trick.  I wasn’t hurt, and the other driver and her passengers weren’t hurt, but both cars were….you guessed it….munted….

I did what any normal female does after a wee ding like that and I cried, and I cried some more, and in between some more crying I called my husband to come and help me.  A neighbour friend of ours brought Michael to me, meanwhile, some other friends of ours just happened to be driving by and saw me stuck at the side of the road, saw that the smasherooni had happened and saw my tears.  So they came to help too.  Then a lady who just happened to be driving by, drove by but then felt to turn around and come back and see if she could do anything to help.  She helped massively by administering a loving hug and now that stranger is now a friend.  So all that happened in a short space of time, but what struck me most was that all of my friends took the time not only to check on me, but they also went to the other driver and made sure she was ok.  Every single one of us offered kind words, smiles and reassurance to her.  But.  Not one of the other driver’s friends who came to help her, took the time to come to me and see if I was ok.

Which was interesting to me.

Because not one of my friends – Nicky, Kate, Andrew, Elizabeth or Michael thought twice about their kind gestures.  They didn’t hesitate to offer a helping hand.

You see when the rubber meets the road and when you’re in a ‘not your usual circumstance’, what’s in you, definitely comes out. And when it’s something that is good and kind and positive, it comes out because –  Change is change is change.  Progress is progress is progress.  A life that looks outward and seeks to offer hope and love and affirmation to others, doesn’t always look that different to a life that is stationary and inward looking, but it is.  Hugely different.

Whatever obstacles you’re overcoming – they are being won over.  Bit by bit.  Little by little.

Whatever you’re working to develop in your character, while it may not always be apparent to you that change is happening – it’s more than possible that it is more obvious to others, than it is to you.  There’s always someone listening to you, watching you, imitating you.

Whatever is in you that needs careful attention and healing, is being healed.  Bit by bit.  Little by little.  We can’t always see it, or feel it, but I believe change is happening.

At the time of my smasherooni, my friends were just being their amazing selves, they probably wouldn’t know how different they actually were to others present, if I didn’t tell them. So I’m telling them now.  They were amazing.  They are amazing. You can’t always see change and progress in you – but others sometimes have a better view of that. (And that change and progress – well it’s a natural byproduct of developing Jesus’ eyes, imitating His heart and that happens by getting to know Him and growing in our faith).

I’m so grateful that in my life only mallet fingers have such a ‘one strike and you’re back to square one policy’, pretty much everything else can go by the ‘all is grace’ policy.  I like that one much better.

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The tightrope and the juggling.

It was one of the cooler mornings that we’ve had recently.  We sat there, hands cupping our coffees, tucked into the corner of one of my fav little cafes in the area.  First came coffee, both of us had just rushed around doing the mad school dash.  Then came the standard going through the mental checklist – husbands, kids, jobs….how are they all?

Twenty minutes later after we’d both assured each other of health and general happiness, the wealth was still to come though…Liz sank down deeper into her chair, momentarily closed her eyes and and then I saw her whole chest rise up and down, as she took some deep breaths.  ‘Fee’.  Her voice faltered a little and I could tell things were fast changing gear.  ‘It’s hard’, she whispered.

I leaned forward, and took one of her hands, the one that was mindlessly twisting her rings around and around.  Knowing that Liz is one of those dear friends who listens really well and prefers not to speak unless she’s got something really meaningful to say, I knew this was big for her.  Gutsy.  Brave.

She looked up from her coffee cup and gave a half smile. That reminder she gives from time to time when conversation does get deep, as if she’s declaring her own strength to the world and doesn’t want me to worry; ‘yeah I’m sad and this is hard, but I’m going to be OK’.

I smiled back, and released her hand so it could go back to the endless twisting and twisting.  ‘Tell me about it’.  I whispered back.

Liz is facing some major challenges at the moment, that much I knew.  I know some of the details of the challenges of her life, but there are many details I don’t know.  Her story is only hers to tell, but I do have her permission to share this much today.

A couple of tears managed to sneak out of Liz’s eyes, and just as soon as they appeared, Liz swiftly wiped them away.

‘I feel like I’m on a tightrope, and I have to place my feet so carefully on this tightrope. It’s the only way over, the only way across the danger; the hurt and the hard.  I can’t go backwards, and if I stand still for too long….well I can’t…..I have to go forward. And I don’t even know where this tightrope ends. And that’s a frustrating thing.  Most people can see what the end goal is, where they are headed.  But I don’t.  I just have to keep going.  And not only am I on this dangerous tightrope, but as I’m walking it, I’m juggling all these balls.  These demands on my life.  Walk, walk, walk, juggle juggle, juggle.  That’s what my life feels reduced to’.

And in an instant I understood.  Liz was being very real and open about the weight of expectations on her.  The things said and unsaid, the lists of thou shalts and thou shalt not…..sometimes even from the most and best meaningful of intentions.  Because Liz was facing x y and z in her life, by hook or by crook she needed to react in a b and c ways.  That was how she needed to be, that was what it felt like to her.

I nodded in agreement and understanding.  I’ve had my own share of balls to juggle and fear of dropping them.  Haven’t we all?  I didn’t and couldn’t think of anything more helpful or caring to say, right then and there, other than, ‘I know’, and by then, Liz, realizing that the chinks in her armour, the armour she wears to enable herself to function as best as she can right now, had started to show, was embarrassed at being the focus of our attention, and what was left of our quick coffee catch up quickly moved on to other things.

Well the conversation moved on then.  But my thoughts have kept coming back to Liz’s picture.  Trying to understand. Trying to think of how some glimpses of hope can be offered to her.  Trying to gather some truth for her.

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Tightropes are do-able.  They are not impossible.  Hard, yes.  But not impossible.  Thinking back to when I danced and even when I did gymnastics and did any kind of hard foot work like that – it helped when I looked up.  Looked ahead.  It keeps your centre of gravity in the right place to help most with balance.  So that’s what I’d tell Liz now.  Look up.  Keep looking up.  It doesn’t matter that you don’t know when or where this tightrope will end, just keep looking up.  Even if and when people place expectations on you – even when they are misdirected but well-meaning…keep looking up.  Keep seeing the good in their intentions.  Keep looking up to where your help really comes from.  Seek the Lord and All His goodness.

Another thing about tightropes is that it helps to have a supportive audience. The best circus performers have supportive audiences cheering them on.  They may be holding their breath, as they are nervous for the tightrope walker, but every single one of them is urging the person on.  No-one wants to see that person fall.  And so I’d remind Liz that she has people around her, urging her on.  They can’t walk the road that she’s on for her, they can’t do the hard work that she is needing to do, but they are with her, every step of the way, urging her on.  Feeling her pain.  Feeling her frustration.  But cheering her on.  As hard as it is for Liz to let people in, to share with them her pain, her hurt and all the messy feelings she has, that audience may well be her biggest ally in forward momentum, in helping her stay on that very narrow and flimsy path she’s on.  They can lend her their strength.  They can give her courage. They can remind her of who she really is, when circumstances around her try to steal that away from her.

How about the juggling balls?  We’re all juggling so much, all the time, aren’t we?  But here’s the thing…..circus performers don’t start off with all the items they have to juggle.  They have a few things, then they have more added to their performance, and then sometimes these items are taken away and/ or swapped out for other things…and then eventually, one by one, they catch every item they have and finish their routine.  I’m thinking that sometimes we forget that we can throw back some of the balls that we juggle.  We don’t have to always be juggling so much.  Sometimes we have the capacity to juggle more, and sometimes we don’t – it keeps our routines fresh that’s for sure.  The hard thing is to know what and when to throw away some of the balls/ items, right?  Without the whole routine not going completely out the window.  But its possible.  And  – what’s the worse that can happen?  We do drop some balls?  Even seamless circus performances can go badly wrong…..and what the audience doesn’t see are the hours and hours of practice put in, to make those performances as near perfect as possible.  We’re allowed to drop some balls from time to time if we give ourselves enough grace, and when we have the people around us, to either leave those balls by our side and urge us on anyway, or to helpfully hand them back to us, when the timing is right, and we can once again include those balls into our timetables and routines.

The tightrope, and the juggling…….not easy….not really much fun when so much energy and focus is needed…..but do-able my friend, dear Liz.  It’s do-able. Especially when you keep looking up, and you keep your biggest fans by your side.   It’s do-able my friend. xx

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Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.

Have you ever had a rather profound thought in the middle of what was actually quite a ridiculous situation?

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A couple of weeks ago my family and I stuffed our car full of all the bare necessities you need for a camping holiday, and we took off in search of sunshine, warmth and adventure. Much to our delight we did find lots of sunshine and warmth. The weather for the weeks on either side of our holiday week was awful – but not for our holiday. And much to our delight we found a few adventures.

Well.  Actually.

Not all of the adventures were all that delightful.

Leading up to our holiday I’d been unwell. I’d also been doing some extra hours at one of my jobs and I left it for a few too many days before I took myself off to the doctor to get some antibiotics for a double infection.

So I was already pooped before the first day of our holiday; I worked the night before and then we were up early to head out of town.  All of those factors added together, combined with the fact that my antibiotics were slow to kick in meant that my pain factor went up and up.  We set up our campsite, explored the beautiful area, and I made dinner, all with my ‘fine face’ on.  Then as soon as the kids had gone to bed, my pain levels increased even more and I started to throw up.  Mmmmmm mmmm. For the first reappearance of my dinner, I managed to make it to the campground facilities. Hi de hi campers!  That’s a rather humiliating thing…..have you noticed that no matter what time of the day or night when you’re using communal facilities, there’s always an emphasis on the ‘communal’?  No chance of spewing solo thank you very much.

Anyway.  I made it back to our tent just fine, but the next five episodes of being ‘chunderstruck’,  had to happen in the tent.  Fortunately I had some plastic bags with us.  Unfortunately some of those bags had holes in them.  Unfortunately I managed to find and use exactly those ones.

By the time the seventh vomit came along I was sitting in the car, while my dear husband (in sickness and in health) was packing up what belongings we thought we might need for a trip to find Fiona some help. (We knew I needed stronger painkillers than what I had, some anti-nausea meds and some decent hydration). Just before he woke up our three sleeping children to bundle them into car, to drive to who knows where (we honestly didn’t know where I could get the medical help I needed because we didn’t know what small towns near us had middle of the night urgent care), I remember looking up at the sky and marveling, just for a moment, just before I reached for the spew bag again.

You see those stars were dazzling.  They were scattered across the night sky, blazing boldly. It was a stunning sight.  Apparently on a clear night you can see about two thousand stars from one vantage point. I think I glanced up and saw my two thousand and it took my breath away.

I saw them and I couldn’t help but think, ‘hello my old friends’.

Now I was pretty sick, and pretty out of it for a while there, and it took me the whole week to recover, but I promise you that me thinking of the stars as my friends was a perfectly sound and rational thought.

When we lived in the Northern Hemisphere the night sky there was something I was unfamiliar with.  If I had taken the time to study it and to get to know it, I’m sure I would have loved it too.  A few years ago I remember talking to someone who was about to become a parent for the first time. I told them I reckoned that looking at your newborn baby and getting to know that baby, studying his/ her features and expressions and mannerisms was way more entertaining that television ever was.  That person may have looked at me weird at the time, but now as his baby three is on the way, I reckon he may be in agreement with me there.  You see the night sky that we see here in New Zealand is something I’m more familiar with, because I’ve gotten to know it a little. I’ve studied it a little. I’m not a constellation expert, but when I see some of the main formations that are visible to the naked eye, I see them and I know them.  They are comforting to me.  Old friends.  And they remain constant.

Life is so very full of movement and change.  Family dynamics change.  Kids change year levels at school and sometimes begin different schools. Jobs change.  Expectations change. All sorts of situations change and even our physical selves are constantly changing – we gain weight/ lose weight/ grow hair/ lose hair/ lose skin cells every single day.

Sometimes change can be overwhelming, especially when it is thrust upon us.

When I was in the midst of being so very sick, on what was supposed to be a glorious summer family holiday, and I looked up at the magnificent tapestry above my head, those stars reminded me of God’s steadfastness.  Those stars that I’d admired as a teenager camping with friends, leading camps for small children in the summer holidays where I got to tell them about a great big God who loves them so, those stars were the very same stars twenty five years later. Old friends. We didn’t know where we were going, we had three pretty worried and tired children with us, but as I gazed up with wonder, I knew that God was also with us.  He is steadfast.  Resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.

When I think of steadfastness, I can’t not think of God’s love.  Sometimes we don’t always feel it, or see it, just like we can’t and don’t always see the stars.  Sometimes we choose not to look up.  Sometimes there are things that move into the space between our line of sight and those stars – but that doesn’t ever change the fact that the stars are there. Shining brightly.  Shining gloriously.  Sometimes we just need to drive out out out, far far far from the hustle and bustle of the city’s own lights.  There’s a verse in the bible that says God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness!’ (Lamentations 3: 22 – 23, The Message. And for me, living in the world with some much change, so many unknowns and variables, it is remarkable how comforting and calming it is to know that God’s loyal love is never going to run out.  Another version of the same verse says this: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness’.

This world will continue to swirl and the pace of life doesn’t seem to calm as much as we would like, but we are not consumed.

The next time you feel a little overwhelmed by change or you’re holding onto your sanity by your fingertips, because life can be incredibly hard, take some deep breaths until it is dark outside, then take a little walk and look up.  Look up and know you are carried.  Look up and know He cares.  Look up and know that creator of those stars is creating new mercies for you every day.  You are not alone.  You are not forgotten.  There is a love that never changes. Look up.

‘If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how men would believe and adore’. – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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(And if you’re wondering, we ended up driving 40 mins to the closest town and talking to the ambulance service, before I spent about three hours at the small hospital there, and the kids recovered just fine, but I’m never going on holiday without anti-nausea meds again…..)

Bridges

Today marks the one year anniversary of a dear friend’s passing.  It’s also the start of a period of about three months where a few other friends will be remembering and honouring their loved ones who have died in the last two years.  I’ve been thinking about their grief and their journeys, and I’ve been thinking also of others who may not be entering this new year with a good bounce in their step.  We’re supposed to you know – we’re supposed to make plans and goals and for those of us especially in the Southern Hemisphere who have our major summer holidays at this time of the year, we’re supposed to spend this time getting refreshed and re-energized and re-focused for the coming year.  But for some, this is easier said than done.  And that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

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We like bridges.  My family, we like bridges.  We like driving on bridges that are new to us.  We like different structures and noticing different materials that have been used in their construction. Spend any amount of time in the Portland, Oregon and you’ll love the bridges there.  There’s a bridge that takes you from Oregon into Washington State – the border line is drawn through the Columbia River.  That bridge is also a drawbridge so that gains triple points for interest sake.

Bridges are an engineering field all in themselves.  I married into a brainy family.  We’ve got doctors and engineers in our fold and one of our engineers is a bridge engineer.  She’d love all the bridges we got to see in our time in the States.

The longest bridge in New Zealand is in Canterbury. It leads State Highway One over the Rakaia River and it goes for 1,756 metres.  We used to drive that stretch of road all the time when we lived in Christchurch and always, always, we’d try to hold our breaths for the duration of the bridge. It’s just one of those things that a lot of people do.  Similar to honking your horn when you’re driving in the Lyttleton Tunnel.  No-one knows why you do these things or who first started it, but you join in, because it’s a ‘thing’.

So when I think of bridges, sometimes I think of holding my breath.  And sometimes this is a conscious thing and sometimes an involuntary thing.

I know of plenty of people at the moment who are travelling on their own bridges at the moment.  Bridges of grief.  Bridges of ‘interesting’ journeys.  Bridges that are nagivating them along paths of uncertainty.  And for some of these people breathing does not come easy.

You see some people think of grief as a tunnel, something dark with light at the end of it.  The promise of hope, beckoning.  And yes, it may well be a tunnel for some.  But for some, this grief journey, this dealing with the things that life chucks at us, is more of a bridge.  Bridges make terrain than is uncross-able, cross-able.  Bridges lead us on.  They open up the path before us.  Bridges don’t hide us from the outside world – from everything else that is going on, like tunnels do.  My friend who is a new widower, knows all too well, that just because he’s adjusting to a new normal, and that’s tough in itself, but that also doesn’t make him immune to all of life’s other struggles – he still has to manage the normal yuck and ick of life.  But.  He’s on a bridge.  There’s forward momentum. He’s progressing.

Bridges are designed to withstand incredible weights, incredible loads.  You haven’t seen road freight until you’ve seen trucks in action in the States.  Websites like Amazon can promise things like next day delivery when you’ve got the billions of trucks working like they do, moving more than 10.4 billion tons of freight a year.  So we know that bridges on major roads can carry amazing weights.  And I wonder if we sometimes underestimate what we can carry ourselves?  The human soul is amazingly resilient and most of the time we just don’t know how much we are capable of carrying, until we are under that weight, until we are having to bear those burdens. You may be on a bridge in your own life right now, and you’re most likely feeling incredibly weak and inadequate and overwhelmed – but-  I know this – you are stronger than you feel.  Your ‘bridge’ is stronger than you think.

How do I know how strong your bridge is? Bridges have designers, they have engineers, we also have a designer in charge of the construction of the bridges in our lives.  God didn’t put the pain in our lives. God didn’t make a chain of events happen so that the end result is you’re absolutely petrified about the start of a new year because you’re not sure what it is going to bring or how things are possibly going to be different, no, things are not as they possibly are in your life because of what God has done, this I know. He is there with you now, providing you with a bridge.  A way through.  A way on.  The promise of HopeWhen we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us.  He promises to be with us.  His rod and his staff protecting us.  That’s the promise of a bridge.  We can place great reliance on the strength of what we’re walking on – on how we’re walking through whatever we’ve walking through, because in Him we are made strong.  

You’ll notice that there are some bridges that are single lane bridges – or one way.  I kinda think that’s what life is like with some of the things we have to walk through.  We can have companions alongside us, for a stage or two, up to a point, and then there’s a time when actually, the paths have to be driven solo, or walked single-file.  Sometimes this happens involuntarily – sometimes people can’t offer the help you may need – or they don’t know the need is there.   Sometimes there’s only so much that others can do to lend their support.  Your bridge must simply be walked solo.  But your bridge is still a bridge – a structure to get from point A to point B, and your walk is surely supported best by the one who knows you best, your loving Father.  He’s there.  He’s by your side, he’s calling you forward.

Some bridges can be very long.  Very long.  And when you begin them, you can’t always see the end point.  But you know what? The end point is there….it is just as secure and safe as the starting point. Just remember to breathe.  You can’t hold your breath for every bridge you go on.  You’ve got this.

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To bend towards.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a car’s tyre disintegrate before my very eyes.  Thankfully the car was being towed by a tow truck and thankfully the tyre debris didn’t cause any damage to anyone or anything else on the busy Auckland motorway that I was on. But it isn’t every day you see a tyre just blow itself to smithereens.  Nope. Not in NZ anyway.

Now flashback to living in America and you couldn’t drive anywhere, on any road – be it small country road or giant interstate that would go on for miles and miles, without seeing tire graveyards here and there.  Here and there and everywhere.

In New Zealand we have this thing called a ‘Warrant of Fitness’ for all our vehicles.  This is like a check up for a car’s general health.  All sorts of things are checked and ticked off a big list, and it is an ongoing, regular thing.  If the vehicle doesn’t pass, then it isn’t considered ‘roadworthy’ – safe to be on the roads, and if you’re caught driving a car or motorbike or whatever, that doesn’t have a current Warrant of Fitness, then the police will fine you.  One of the many things checked…….tyres…..and if yours aren’t up to par….then you have to replace them with ones that are roadworthy.  So you don’t see a lot of blown tyre bits littering our motorways and roads, because usually the tyres are caught before they get that close to blowing.

This whole tyre/tire and warrant of fitness thing got me thinking about how sometimes we need to do a wee tune up, a wee ‘warrant of fitness’ on ourselves before things blow themselves up. Sometimes we choose to do this……and at other times because of ‘life’ and all that ‘life’ chucks at us, we sometimes are forced to look at all of the areas in our life and look at how healthy they are and what could be better/improved/ different.

For me – one of the things on my checklist just lately has been looking at what my core truths are – what are my very foundational beliefs and how do I walk those out in my real, everyday life?  You see one of the things at my core, is the thinking that You Can’t Buy Half a Happy Meal  When you sign up to be ‘all in’ with something, you can’t always pick and choose what parts you’d like to participate in, what only feels good to put your ‘yes’ to.  As a follower of Christ, then I am essentially choosing to believe that God says he is who he says he is, and also, that I am who he says I am. All of it.  The whole package deal.

Sometimes that’s a tough concept to get your head around.

You see if you dig around in the bible for any length of time, you read that God thinks about us a whole bunch.

A whole bunch.

God says we are his children.

We are chosen, holy and blameless.

We are His workmanship.

We have been made complete in Him.

And these are just a tiny snippet of the things that God says we are.

After having a conversation with a friend about a few of these ‘what God thinks of us, of me’ things and realizing that I don’t always fully embrace all of these things, I was driving (again – this time no flying tyre bits) and the verse Zephaniah 3:17 came into my mind.

 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

I kinda like the idea of someone rejoicing over me with singing.  Singing equates with happy.  Happy is good. ‘That’s cool’ I thought.  Then I got the nudging to pull over, stop my car and look a bit closer at the words ‘He will take great delight in you’.

And I kinda like the idea of someone taking great delight in me even more.

You see I looked at what the original idea of delight means in the bible.  Word geek, I know.  And I discovered that one of the two most common Hebrew terms for ‘delight’ is ‘hepes’, and ‘hepes’ means ‘to bend towards, to be inclined towards’.

Boom.

The God of the Universe, the Creator of the universe, the one who set the stars in place and created man and woman and who knows the very number of hairs on your head, He also cares enough about you to bend towards you, to incline himself towards you.

And He does this to me too.

And why is this such a BOOM thing for me? And maybe for you?

It’s as simple as this:  who do we bend towards in our everyday lives?

We bend towards those we want to communicate with.  We bend towards those we want to be physically closer to.  Working with children 101 states that to chat to children you need to get down on their level, you need to physically lower yourself, to incline yourself towards them.  We bend towards those who are the more seasoned citizens among us – this helps them to hear us, to be close to us, and sometimes this physical proximity makes it easier, when  its appropriate, to hold their hands, to let them know they are not alone.  We bend towards our significant others – there’s nothing like knowing you can just melt into someones arms.  We physically change our posture and move our bodies towards those who we want to be closer to; those we love.  It is a natural instinct.  And, our Father in heaven, He does that for us.

HE DOES THAT FOR US!!!

He delights in us , truly delights in us, by being close to us, by moving towards us.  Let that sink into your heads and your hearts my friends.  That’s pretty comforting. That’s a beautiful picture of the intensely personal God that I serve.

That’s a great byproduct of an ongoing Warrant of Fitness for sure.

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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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When English doesn’t cut it.

I think we need more of the imperfect in our lives. All sorts of imperfect.

And, specifically, I think we need more of the Latin imperfect tense in our lives.

Random, I know.

But relevant.

Just lately I’ve been forced to think about where my family is at in life with certain things. Don’t worry, this isn’t a ‘woe is me’ post, but rather a very real acknowledgement of the choices we’ve made; the things we’ve said ‘yes’ to.

You see sometimes we think that saying ‘yes’ to something is a once-off event.  And sometimes it really is.  But where I’m at in life tells me that saying ‘yes’ to something is more often than not, a continual action. An ongoing action. And it helps to recognize this.

Years ago, when our oldest boy was a chubby five month old we said ‘yes’ to an ask for my husband to leave his job in mainstream media and move into Christian media.  We said yes then, and then we said ‘yes’ again to another job offer in America, and then Australia, and then another one back in NZ.  Yes, yes and yes. But even before that initial yes when we were in the throes of power chucks and power poos (our firstborn – not us), we’d been saying ‘yes’ to opportunities to serve the youth and young adults in our church, yes to stuffing envelopes and whatever little tasks needed doing.  Yes.  Just yes. Yes that stemmed from a desire to see us just be used by God.  Has it been hard?  Yes.  Has it been amazing?  Yes. Are we a little crazy?  I think it has helped!  Would we change anything if we could?  Not a chance.  But that’s all a very big tangent that I won’t take right now.

This continual action business – I think it could do with a bit more of a spotlight shining on it, because it is important in shaping the trajectory of our lives.

I think we could all do with remembering that many things require this continual action.

Saying ‘yes’ to a loving someone is not a one-time event, is it?  You don’t go to all the trouble of a fancy pants wedding to love and to hold your spouse for just that week.  No, you choose to love to them, again and again and again.  You see beyond the niggly and the hard and you love, and you love and you love.  Again and again.  Continually.

I love words.  I love interesting words.  But sometimes I find that the English language can be somewhat lacking in accurately describing things.  My high school offered Latin as a subject, and I loved it.  Dead language?  I think not.  A language that makes complete sense?  Absolutely.  In Latin (and all the romance languages) there’s a tense for this whole ‘more than once’ in the past business.  The imperfect tense is used to indicate an action that took place in the past but was an ongoing action rather than something that happened just once.  It’s actually a very handy tool to have.

To put it into context:  do you know that old hymn ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’?  “I have decided to follow Jesus. (3 times)No turning back, no turning back.”  There’s a story around this hymn that talks of an Indian convert (thanks to some Welsh Missionaries) coming up with the lines of this hymn when he was facing his imminent death. His martyrdom. The Village chief hadn’t approved of his conversion to Christianity.  Now this wasn’t a ‘brand new, knee-jerk reaction, just made the commitment to be a Christ follower on the spot, right there and then’ statement, no it was a ‘I have decided, I have decided over and over again, to follow Jesus’.  If the song had been written in Roman times it would have surely been in the imperfect tense:  ‘I have decided over and over again, to follow Jesus’.

And I think that its worth focusing on these imperfect tenses a little bit more and a little bit more often, because it reaffirms who we are and what we’re about.  Works in progress that we are. People who have to make the choices again and again and again to say Yes to loving God and to say yes to loving others.

I hope at the end of my life there are certain things that can be said about me, making excellent use of the imperfect tense.

I hope that it can be said of me that I chose to love my husband, my kids, my friends. my extended family, and my co-workers and neighbours, over and over again.

I hope it is mentioned that I continually said yes to God – however that looked (knowing that it always looks different for everyone).

I hope that someone acknowledges that I did decide to follow Jesus, over and over again.

And have you been wondering why this whole imperfect tense business is called ‘imperfect’?  Simply, it’s because something that is imperfect is something that is not yet finished.

I have chosen to say yes to following God, but there will be more opportunities for more of those ‘yes’ agreements to come.

These continuous actions are not yet completed.

I have decided to follow Jesus, and there’s more following to come.

The verbs, these doing words that give us the greatest amount of joy, and teach us the most important things, they are actions that are not yet completed.  And this for me as a Christ-follower gives me such breadth and scope for growth and development and potential.  The actions are not yet completed, not over and done with yet, therefore not perfect.

Perfectly imperfect.  That’s me.  And that’s you. Bring on more of it!

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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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