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 Naughty Little Sister (and leaning into hard)

I was a good kid.  I never got into trouble at school, I was always wanting to please all the teachers, all of the time.  I was also a good girl at home.  I was helpful, responsible, reliable and all of that.  ‘Naughty’ was just not done, in any way/ shape or form, apart from in the ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ books by Dorothy Hughes.  Gee I loved those books. I delighted in those stories. Maybe I secretly envied what the naughty little sister did.  I dunno.  But I do know I was a very good kid.

Apart from that one time.

That one time when I did do a very naughty thing.

A very naughty thing indeed.

I must have been seven, and my older sister was away at boarding school.  No this isn’t a common thing for us New Zealanders, this was when we were ‘Missionary Kids’ in Asia.  My sister was a couple of days’ train ride away from me and what was our home, but she’d left her precious little bottles of perfume behind.  Wise move on her part, so she thought. Keeping those items away from dormitory life.  But they weren’t away from her naughty little sister, were they? My not so wise move was to take those tiny little bottles  – that held massive meaning for her – and I added some water to them.  I thought I was doing her a favour.  I thought I was extending the life of those perfumes.  I thought I was making them go further.

Nope.  No I wasn’t. And yep. Was she mad.

Rightly so.

I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch her belongings.  But I did.  Naughty, naughty me.

You see seven year old me didn’t know that the act of diluting the perfume was in fact going to take away its strength. Its power.  To dilute is to make weaker in force, content or value by modification or the addition of other elements.

When something is diluted it is diminished. Reduced.  Decreased.  Lessened.  Quietened and Moderated.

Those aren’t very inspiring words.  Not things I’d like to aspire to in life in general.  Not life goals worth having.  And don’t you think that sometimes when the mundane in life tries to take over, and you find yourself in the hamster wheel of  doing same old, same old ‘life’, and actually you want to make the absolute most of whatever blessed life you’ve been given and whatever you have left ahead of you.  Sometimes you just get this fire in your belly, and you realize that you don’t want to live a life that is diminished. Reduced.  Decreased.  Lessened.  Quietened and Moderated. In any way.

Nope.

So what can you do?

From being around some good people, and from reading good books and from hearing people’s stories, the thing I keep hearing time and time again, about all of this ‘living your best life’ stuff is:  (buckle up friends, you may actually want to tap me on the head, with a hammer, over this one) you can’t shy away from hard things.  You must do hard things.

You must.  In whatever shape or form these hard things come into your life – whether you open the door to them, or they just barge right on in, uninvited, and then stay on and on and on, you can and must do these hard things.

Hard things……..are…………..hard.  Pain, grief and suffering.  Nothing can prepare for those things.  Nothing.  They push people to limits they didn’t even know existed, and then some.  People things are hard.  People are so…….peopleish.  Sickness is hard.  It is simply awful seeing someone you love in pain.  Relationships can be hard. The family unit can be hard. Financial problems can be hard.  Infertility.  Miscarriage. Job loss.  Addictions.  Hard hard hard hard.

Everyone on God’s green earth, at some point or another is going to, or has, or is currently facing something that is HARD.  And you’ve got two options with what to do with that situation, whatever that situation is.  One – you can run like the wind and you choose not to have that conversation.  Or make those changes.  Or seek that advice.  Or heal that wound.  Or two – you lean in to that hard.  Sometimes with teeth gritted, and chin thrust up, sometimes with tears and moaning and groaning.  And you deal with that hard, in the trenches, fighting the battle, sometimes fiercely, and sometimes with no energy to spare at all, but you face that hard.

Elisabeth Elliot said ‘Sometimes fear does not subside and one must choose to do it afraid’.  I think of my friend Treva when I read that quote.  She lost her husband nearly a year ago.  This first anniversary of Jeff’s passing will be extremely hard for Treva and her three children. But this is what she wrote just last week: ‘It’s a battle to trust the Lord, to keep my eyes focused, and to heal the hard stuff. But I am excited for our future. God has big plans and never leaves us alone’.  Treva has been real and raw and authentic as she’s allowed people to see her grieve. Follow her on instagram (trevalavonne) if you want to see what a brave and honest faith really looks like, in the face of adversity.  It’s been a huge privilege to see how she can be truly ok, in the midst of such heartache.  Paul in the bible says this: ‘God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us’ (2 Corinthians 1:4).  My friend Treva knows what it is like to have God as her rock, as her ever present comfort, because all else has been stripped away from her.  And as she’s been carried, in the hard times, she’s also been able to reach out and help others who are walking their own grief story.  That’s right, not even a year into her widowhood and she’s reaching out to others and speaking life and hope into them, because she’s not afraid to lean into the hard.

This leaning into the hard, this dealing with whatever curveballs come your way, why does it even matter?  (Especially when avoiding the hard is actually easier/ more convenient/sometimes cheaper/ less stressful). I think it matters because people in general have pretty astute crap-o-meters.  Most of us can tell the real deal from the fake, and the most respect I have and the most admiration possible, goes to those who can speak into my life from a place of ‘knowing’.  From a place of authenticity.  From a place of having walked the hard yards, they can hold genuine empathy for you and their encouragement is real. Those people – what they say really matters.  And it matters because, as a by-product of having gone through the hard, these people aren’t reducing themselves, or their God.  They aren’t diluting Him or His power.  They aren’t lessening or decreasing or moderating or quietening.  Quite the contrary. They are shining a spotlight on Him. On His power.  On His grace.  On the Hope we have in Him.

So, be encouraged.  Do the hard things.  Even if you’re doing them while kicking and screaming and stamping your feet like a petulant five year old. You’re still doing them.  Walk through those valleys, knowing you are not alone.  Make those connections.  Be that good friend.  Make that appointment.  Be that advocate.  Make that decision that gives you goosebumps.  Lean into God, and know that what you carry is strong, and powerful, a fragrance that is not diluted.

And one day, because you can speak from a place of authenticity and your story carries with it power, be encouraged that ‘the scars you share become lighthouses for the people who are headed for the same rocks you hit‘.

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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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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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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

 

 

 

 

 

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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Knitted hearts.

As I drove home tonight I was compelled to keep a watchful eye on the moon, shining bright and full, veiled by passing clouds every few minutes.

I was drawn to its magnificent beauty, and my thoughts wandered to my friend Cas, who is half way across the world, with the very same moon shining bright over her, in the very small hours at the start of this very same day.

I’ve been thinking and praying for Cas a lot in the past few weeks, and especially in the last 48 hours. I shared a little of Cas and her husband Todd here. I’m very sad to say that Todd passed away yesterday, due to complications from chemotherapy. In due time I’m sure Cas will share what only she can share, for this is her story to tell, I can’t and I won’t focus on that, but I feel I can share on what a glorious thing it is to have kinship with someone.

I can see why some people steel themselves to have impenetrable hearts and choose not to let people in to their inner circle. People are so……stinkin’ human. We let people down. We say and do wrong things. We stuff up situations regularly. We easily place our own filters and perspectives on things. And then life interrupts us and curveballs come our way. And bad things happen to good people. And desperate situations become dark and seemingly hopeless.

Yes, it is easy to hide away and wrap our hearts behind thick walls. To focus on whatever needs must. To control and manage whatever parts of us we can possibly control and manage.

It’s understandable, yes.

But it isn’t the most joyful way to live life. And it isn’t the most rewarding way to live life. And it isn’t the most comforting way either.

You see as much as my heart mourns for Cas, and as much as my body has wept over the loss of Todd to his family and to this world, I know what a privilege it is to have kinship with this precious lady. We shared experiences, in another time and another place, but her friendship will forever hold a place in my heart. And though I can’t do anything practically for her, at this great distance, I know that as I gaze unto the same moon that hangs over her, I can pray for her. Jesus be her strength. Jesus be her comfort. Jesus be near. And I think that’s one of the reasons why friendship is so important and so necessary, for all of us. So we can lend each other strength when we need it, so we can lend each other courage when we need it. So we can lift up others in prayer when they just haven’t got the words to utter a plea themselves. 

Kinship. Or as a wise friend reminded me, this ‘knitted hearts’ business, it is truly a bittersweet thing. But one that helps to give meaning to our lives and comfort to our experiences.

Jesus seemed to have really ‘got’ the knitted hearts business.  He had a group of friends within his wider circle of friends, that he chose to spend more of his time with.  He also sent off the disciples two by two – knowing that companionship was important for them.

You see as much as people can be hard work and as much as sometimes it hurts to see others hurt so much, and to have a front row seat to injustices and tragedies, people can bring light into dark situations.  They can bring laughter where there is despondency.  They can bring energy to the worn-out.  They can see things that others are missing and hear things that are deaf to our ears.

The fact of the matter is; we need each other.

One of the great joys in my life is doing little tasks in our church office.  Although I treat it like a job because then the tasks I do receive the attention they deserve and the commitment that comes with that, I never call it work, because I love it so.  One of the things I get to do is write in little cards that we send out with welcome packs to newcomers.  In these cards I always try to write something along the lines of ‘we are looking forward to journeying with you’, but I try to change it up and individualize it for different people, the gist of it is the same and I think it is very true.  Doing life with others is such a joy.  Hard, yes, but such a joy.

After being new in different countries and different cities, my family and I have always been received by different people in various ways.  Some people already have ‘full circles’ and don’t see how or why to make space in their lives for more.  But others – others have opened their arms far and wide to embrace us, and that’s how I always want to live: always enlarging my circle and always deepening my circle.

It isn’t possible to have deep friendships with everyone, but it is important to have some, and I think it is possible to have very wide circles of friends….ever increasing…..

We’re all under that same bright moon.  We all have something to offer others.  And something to receive from others.

Knitted hearts require work and vulnerability – but by golly, what a worthwhile endeavor they are.  Snot, tears, laughter and all.

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The little girl.

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

I wasn’t going to do this one.

I wasn’t.

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

And so.

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

_____________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are the things I would say.

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

 

Softly, softly.

 

Gently, gently.

 

I know I need these reminders from time to time.

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