Altars and The ‘Peak End’ Rule.

Welcome to 2021!!

We are so fortunate here in New Zealand to be able to gather in groups, to have been able to celebrate both Christmas and New Years in big ways and small ways, publicly and privately. We can move around our country, visit different parts and there is no community spread of a certain virus at the moment. We don’t take it for granted, and our heartfelt thoughts and prayers do go out to those of you whose lives are still very much restricted because of the pandemic.

Last year those of us in Auckland had two periods of very strict lockdown conditions. Time to stay at home (with outings only for provisions or exercise), time for online learning and time to work solely from home. During both these times I remember very clearly this great hunger in my heart that grew and grew; I didn’t want to hear about all the things I could do to help myself, the stubborn and pigheaded me didn’t want to even consider one more thing to add to my list of ‘should be doings’ the endless lists of demands on my attention and time, instead, I yearned to be told of stories of God’s faithfulness, of His provision, of His marvelous and miraculous deeds both in the present and in the past. I had this intense need for all the things that feed my mind and soul to be highlighting this – I found over time that I had to go digging for this more than the reminders just presented themselves to me. The fact that I had this keen need or desire has bugged me for a while. Why was that so important to me then, and why is it still so important to me now?

And. By joves. I think I’ve cracked it.

We celebrated the coming of the New Year with a bunch of friends, a delicious lamb on a spit (sorry vegetarians, but it was yum) and some great conversation. One of the conversations that stood out for me was a couple who shared with us of God’s provision and kindness when their business was facing a rough time and big changes in circumstance because of covid. But. God provided. Where there was no way, God made a way. While there had still been worry and stress – there was an underlying peace because this couple trusted God. And God came through. Not just in a way that could look like a fortunate series of coincidences, but in ‘detailed, only He could orchestrate’ ways.

Listening to their story encouraged my faith. Listening to their story reminded me of God’s goodness. Listening to their story reminded me of my own covid-sucks-but-God-is-still-in-control stories.

And reminded me, yes, we need to share our stories.

Over and over and over again, we need to aim the spotlight at God’s provisions. We need to shout from the rooftops of His goodness.

The scriptures; writings about God, have over four hundred references to altars in them. Altars in this sense were physical structures upon which sacrifices were made. Altars were also built to commemorate encounters with the Lord – a way to memorialize the work that God has done in them. Altars helped future generations to remember the Lord.

This aiming the spotlight at examples of God’s provisions, this shouting from the rooftops of His goodness that I’ve got this bee in my bonnet about, that I really want to open my instagram feed to see and be reminded of, from all the sources I respect and allow to feed into my life – this, I think, is the modern day way of making our altars. Life has changed so much since the scriptures were written – the altars of yesterday are our stories of today. Along with the beautiful altars we see in our churches of today, I believe that altars are also the things that we share in public and in private. The news that we broadcast. The songs that we sing. The photos that we share. The narratives that we highlight. These are our altars.

The altars that were important back in biblical times, just like the stories of God being the hero, the one who makes a way where there is no other way, these things are just as important in these times, especially when the things we used to take for granted can no longer be taken for granted. Last year for our church we had just as many services held via an online format, as we were able to hold in person. Coming into 2020 we never ever thought that would be a thing. But a thing it was.

I’ve taken this altar/story sharing business stuff a step further, because I was keen to find out….why do we need reminders? Why can’t we just remember the good for ourselves? Well. It turns out our brains just aren’t wired that way.

The brain gives us two ways to evaluate experiences like suffering – there is how we apprehend such experiences in the moment and how we look at them afterward. And these two ways are deeply contradictory. Nobel Prize-winning researcher Daniel Kahneman has termed something called the ‘Peak-End Rule’.

In short, we have two selves – one that endures every moment equally and a remembering self who gives almost all the weight of judgement to two single points in time – the worst moment and the last moment. Whatever happens in the last moment of an experience, seems to stick in our memories.

This phenomenon applies just the same way to how people rate pleasureable experiences. The ending can ruin the whole experience, even if the experiencing self had hours of pleasure, even if the remembering self sees no pleasure at all.

So if the experiencing self and the remembering self can come to radically different opinions about the same experience, then the question is which one do we listen to? That’s why we need the reminders……we need to share the stories of God at work in our lives. We need to urge each other on to take risks, to paths of obedience, knowing that God is for us and not against us. Yes, God was with us in the worst moment of an experience, and in the last moment, but He was also with us for the all the time in between, all the time we won’t remember in the future. This is where my faith is built and challenged and strengthened.

Last year, because of covid I began to feel very uncomfortable in one of my jobs. I felt redundant, not necessary, surplus to requirement and began to wonder where my skills and passions really lay……it was a hard time, it was an unhappy time, but in that time, because of the very things that caused me to feel all sorts of yuck, those same circumstances were causing someone else to become freed up – to seek employment in the very things that I was feeling someone else could do better. Don’t you think that’s a God thing? While I was unhappy and asking some huge questions about the direction of my life and career for the next little while, someone else was made available to step in where I wanted to step out.

That’s our God.

I’d love to hear your stories of God’s perfect timing, His protection, His goodness in the last little while for you. As we celebrate the beginnings on a new year we know that the global pandemic is not just going to go away overnight, yet, we can celebrate in the knowledge that we are not alone. We have a God who cares for us, who is in the very details of each and every one of our lives. Please feel free to log in and leave a comment to spur others on, or add a comment in my facebook post. Let’s help our brains to remember long term – He cares, He is with us in the ending and the beginnings and all the in betweens.

May Peace Be Yours.

Dear friend,

I know the path you’re walking now is hard.  So very hard.

I’d love to take the pain away from you, I’d love to take the pain away for you.

Those parts of you that are now forever broken…I know time will help, but those scars will remain and eventually they will tell a story……His story, becoming Your story.  As grace dosed over time does the healing.

While my arms long to hold you near, to be a shoulder for your despair….I pray you know Abba Father’s presence is there.

When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near

As days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months…..your confusion will clear.  Your mind will once again focus.  The ability to prioritize and create order, will return.

When I’m caught deep in the valley
With chaos for my company
I’ll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near

Ohhh friend, He is near.  He is always near. Right there.

My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

In our weakness, He is made strong.  Dear friend, it is ok to feel weak.  To be weak.  That’s the beauty of grace – it is the very glue that closes the gap, between us and His supernatural strength.  His power.  Allow Him to carry you through.

You mend what once was shattered
And You turn my tears to laughter
Your forgiveness is my fortress
Oh Your mercy is relentless

One day, your smile will return.  One day, your soul will erupt with giggles.  That’s mercy.  You will never forget, you will hold memories dear, but joy will return.

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it’s true

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it’s true

Experience has seen me walk hard, rough roads, sometimes in the company of others, and at other times, the journey has been bereft of others.  I know which option I’d prefer, I know which option was made easier…..the roads with companionship have seen me become more vulnerable but the presence of others has made what was raw and harsh, just so much more bearable.

Friend, respond to those who reach out, even if you have to do it time and time again. Choose your ‘safe’ people wisely and then speak honestly time and time again with them.  Even if and when you feel stuck, like a broken record, don’t ever hesitate from telling them how you truly feel.  Their shoulders, along with His presence, will get you through.  This I know is true.

Your rest, your rescue, it can come from Him.

My friend, may peace be Yours.

(words in italics – lyrics to the song, ‘Shoulders’ by For King and Country).

Happy, blessed.

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This guy here, he’s my youngest out of three boys and he’s about to turn five. And here in New Zealand, turning five is quite a big deal. Most kids start school on or as close to their fifth birthday as possible. So, as you can imagine I’m feeling all the feels.

I could write a post about how we all gotta stop blinking. These kids just grow like weeds and they will have flown the nest before we even know it.

I could write a post about how amazing this little dude is and how he lives up to his very name, meaning happy and blessed.

But really, all I can think about is his birth story and seeing the touch of God, the fingerprints of grace, every step of the way.  And I see relevance in this for each and every one of us; young, old, married, single, childless, parent, sister, brother. All of us…..I’ll even keep the mention of bodily fluids to the very minimum.

Asher’s coming ‘to be’ was very much a planned and wanted happening in our lives.  We’d always wanted three kids and then some unexplained medical issues and moving countries kinda put some blips on our path.  In fact if ‘he’ hadn’t have happened exactly when he did, we were just gonna prepare our hearts to be a family of four.  We plan and we strive.  We spend a lot of time scheduling life, putting order in our days.  But there’s a deep peace that comes from living in the knowledge that at the very start of the day, and at the end of the day, our steps are ordered by the Lord.  He also knows what our hearts cry out for.  What our deepest longings are.  We read in the book of James in the Bible that ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above’.  

To make a very long story way shorter, from 28 weeks I had to have weekly ultrasounds to check on my baby, because of being exposed to a certain illness that I had no immunity to. You never know when and where you’re gonna get hit with one of life’s curveballs.  Peace can come from ‘building your lifeboat‘, especially in the times when the sailing is smooth.  And that curveball ended up working in our favour, maybe even to the point of saving his life.

I was a day shy of 38 weeks, at my regular weekly scan when the technician left the room in search of my Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist.  You know something’s up when that happens.  Turns out the baby had ripped his amniotic sac to shreds.  Who knew that was a possibility?  So I was sent straight to the hospital…the risk being if the amniotic sac had started leaking fluids, a great gushing, it could have caused a prolapsed cord.  Ain’t nobody got no time for that.  Once again, a surprise for us, but not for God.  And as always – impeccable timing.  My husband had just come home from being away, a six hour flight across the country, away.  He had come along to that appointment with me, on what we thought was a whim, because he had been away and had time off due to him.  But God knew he should have been with me.  How many times do things happen in our lives, at just the right time, with just the right people around us?  God knows.

My labour progressed very slowly, because I went into labour naturally with the shock of everything….then the medical staff intervened to try to speed things along…but still…it was was a long and painkiller free process.  My regular obstetrician was called in, on his day off.  He’d been golfing, of course..  He came and went, only to be called back in right in the last five minutes of labour…Sometime we feel like we’re inconveniencing people.  And sometimes we really are.  But I also think that sometimes we need to realize that we actually do matter.  My doc was on a very infrequent day off, but my delivery really mattered to him.  There were others who could have taken over for him, partners in his practice, but the care of my baby actually meant something to him.  Sometimes people move in and through their inconvenienced lives to prove to people that they actually matter to them.  It boils down to relationship doesn’t it, and the fact that love really does.  And to be on the receiving end of that means a great amount. 

In those last few minutes, my OB stepped aside and gave my husband the spot to actually deliver Asher.  Pity he couldn’t have wiped his delivery fee too…but in that handing over….it was quite a powerful moment I realized, in hindsight of course.  The Doctor talked Michael through what he needed to do, but he gave him the responsibility to actually bring our baby into the world.  Michael’s gentle hands were the first to touch Asher.  I can’t help but see this as a picture of God guiding us in our everyday lives to be Jesus with skin on.  He’s right there, beside us, helping us, guiding us, but we’re His hands.  We’re the ones who need to step up and put hands and feet to this love we know.  

Where we were in America it was the law to fill out all the official birth paperwork before leaving the hospital. Including the birth certificate.  I have my suspicions that the time pressure for naming your baby results in some of the pretty out there names we see….but it did mean that we left the hospital with a bona fide American citizen, who is also a New Zealand Citiizen.  This dual citizenship isn’t something we take for granted.  While not everyone can hold dual citizenship in two earthly countries, all of us can have dual citizenship of sorts.  Heaven and earth.  And while some of us may be stuck with some very interesting names….let’s not forget what names God calls us.  Beloved.  Cherished. Friend.  Accepted.  Chosen.  Blameless. Complete. We can all learn to accept these treasured names.

 My prayer today is that you could catch a glimpse of just how loved you are. I can see God’s love, protection and provision woven clearly throughout all of Asher’s birth story…..and I know this same love is there for you. 

Happy and blessed is our Asher.  Happy and blessed are we.