Layers. 

Sometimes winter lasts for a very long time. Winter with its iced mornings and bone-chilling winds. Winter that brings numbing of the extremities and dribbling noses and foggy breath. It is winter that requires us to wear layers upon layers.

The coldness of winter means we need layers for survival. Layers to keep us warm and as healthy as possible. I see layers as a form of self- preservation. Sometimes layers are the best and only option.

However long and arduous a winter may be, it doesn’t last forever. 

No matter how hard and fierce and piercing a winter may be, unless you live in Antarctica, winter is followed by spring, as surely as day follows night.

Sometimes we can be in a winter season in our life, and it may feel like it is lasting forever. It may be arduous, it may be bitter, it may be challenging on many fronts. But for every person, I truly believe that Spring can and does come. Not necessarily when we wish it, or hope for it, or sometimes even pray for it, but spring does come.

Here’s what I know about life in wintertime: sometimes you just need those layers.

Sometimes you need layers of self-protection in your life, sometimes you need to just distance your heart just that little bit further away, to take time and to create some space.  But everyone knows that you shouldn’t wear too many layers in spring and summertime. It’s not a wise thing to allow yourself to overheat. Sooner or later, when circumstances are different, when they are better, warmer, brighter, you need to peel some of those layers away. And sooner or later you need to peel some of the layers around your heart away.  Because here’s the thing…..if you don’t allow those layers to fully peel away, it is hard to truly feel joy, to feel love and acceptance, because those are the things you need to swirl into your heart. 

Sometimes in winter your fingers get so frozen by winter’s touch that it makes undoing buttons or fiddling with a zip quite tricky. That makes getting your big, bulky layers off, just that little bit trickier. What helps is warming up a little first, then beginning the process of getting rid of a few layers. Sometimes you need to be in that happier, brighter, safer place for a bit first, before you start to break away the layers around your heart. And you know what is necessary sometimes?  A friend. A buddy. A pal. Sometimes your own jacket zipper keeps you stuck stuck stuck. But with the help of a friend…..you can get unstuck pretty fast. Friends, good friends can be really good at helping you cut through your unnecessary layers.

Chronic sickness can be like winter. Grief can be like winter. Anxiety, depression and self- harm. All these things can bring about extended times of life just being that much harder, and that much more trying, and that much more inward focussed. Which can in turn make someone either intentionally or unintentionally form layer upon layer over their heart.

The good news is that layers can come off. They aren’t stuck on forever. And like I said, sometimes they need a friend’s assistance.  Sometimes they need professional help. But always, they can come off as new seasons, brighter seasons, warmer seasons are entered into. 

Layers surrounding our hearts can be chiseled off in the act of worship. When we realign our hearts with God.  When we focus on his goodness and loving kindness. Sometimes the best heart surgery does happen when we’re around good friends, kindred spirits, like-minded people. Sometimes the layers peel off when we pray, or have others pray for us. Someone I know, told me that she had a protective layer of her heart just melt away by the simple act of a friend standing next to her, when she was having a ‘moment’, and her friend simply put an arm around her. A simple hug.

There really is a danger than comes from wearing too many layers in the wrong season.

Let’s be people who look out for over dressed people. And let’s be people who offer grace and love, understanding and permission, to those who are still in the depths of a fierce winter, who really do need a few extra layers on at the moment.

When breathing is a struggle.

Sometimes when my littlest guy isn’t feeling the best he’ll creep into my bed at night and snuggle in. With his ninja like ability to sneak under the covers, avoiding Dad’s side of the bed, he ensures that his place beside me is secure. 

My boys are for the most part pretty healthy little dudes, but the youngest, if he’s not going to be well, it does always seem to affect his breathing.

So sometimes he curls into my side, and I wrap my arm around him. I let him know I’m there. He doesn’t need to worry. I can hear the tightness in his chest. The crackling deep down. Sometimes it takes a bit of soothing before there’s a better flow to his breathing, before there’s an ease, and once again he’s breathing deeply and evenly. 

Grief can sneak up on us, just like the struggle to breathe. 

Sometimes we just don’t expect it. We’re moving forward, just getting on with life, when all of a sudden, the simple things, like breathing, just don’t seem so simple any more. 

We grieve for the past. For losses and offenses, for misunderstandings and misconstrued situations.

We grieve for the present. For wrong choices and missed opportunities, for having to live with less than our ideal.

And we grieve for our futures. For that which won’t come to pass.

When we lived in Oregon we were only an hour and a half down the road from Roseburg, where a terrible shooting took place last week. We have friends in that town and many of our immediate circle of friends have close ties to that town. To say this has rocked theirs and our worlds would be an understatement. 

Today the University in the town immediately next to our American home town has been shut because of an unconfirmed threat. Yesterday the community college and library in our town was evacuated because of a bomb threat. Even here in New Zealand, authorities have been investigating threats at three of our Universities. There is madness all around us it feels. 

My social media feeds are full of opinions of all the extremes, in regards to guns and laws and restrictions. I know enough about the bigger picture situation to know that there is so much I don’t know. While I know I’m entitled to  an opinion, my own social media posts will never be about that for I feel we need hope more than we need opinions.

Perspectives are so varied and everyone feels justified and riled up and the need to be heard. 

But in the meantime, people are struggling to breathe. 

People are grieving. 

While opinions surround us, let’s give the gift of presence.

 Let’s be that shoulder, that strength when there is no strength. Yes, for people affected by recent tragedy, but in a broader sense too. For the people around us, wherever we might be. 

When my little guy seeks comfort in the night, when his chest is tight, I find myself holding him close and even though I am perfectly healthy, before I know it my chest is starting to feel a little tight and I feel a little pain, as I sync up with his breathing pattern. 

And so it is with people. Feeling each other’s pain. Being there for each other. And in a greater sense, I know that as we grieve, the Father grieves. The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those whose spirits are crushed.

Whatever grief you’re facing, whatever hurts are held deep down in your chest, making it hard to breathe….you’re not alone. There’s a loving God who is hovering close, who wants to embrace you, to let you know there’s no pain too awful for Him to bear with you. Ask Him, seek Him, invite Him near. He longs to come close. 

Opinions can wait, presence can not. Presence helps the breathing to flow, deeply and evenly. This I know. 

  

Space on my sofa.

I couldn’t tell you what was served in the buffet at our wedding reception. I know it was fun choosing the menu, but I can’t for the life of me remember what was placed on my plate that night. (I do have other wonderful memories of that joyous day though). However, I can describe in great detail the meal we had at the top of the sky tower, celebrating an anniversary with dear friends of ours. As the restaurant moved in a steady 360 degree pirouette, we repeated the same conversation every time we came to the same point again. And again. And again.

There’s a building in this city, that I try to avoid driving past. It isn’t a bad building, it isn’t filled with bad people. It’s to do with what happened in that building, many many years ago. When medical professionals begin a sentence with ‘I’m sorry’, you tend not to have warm fuzzy feelings associated with that place.

The day that glorified dragonfly of a plane delivered us to a new city that was to become our new home, in a new land, my family took up half of all the seats on the plane. As I lugged a sleeping preschooler up to my shoulders, and held on for dear life to the handrail on the stairs,for more than one reason, the heat from the hundred degree day embraced me in moments.

Memories sure are a strange cast of characters in the story of our lives.

I’ve just read a beautiful, soul stirring book, prescribed for me by a Doctor friend. A collection of memories written in a most exquisite manner. Normally when reading such gold, I’d want to share the nuggets of truth and wisdom with all my friends in all the lands. But I’ve held off doing so this time, and instead relished the very personal nature of these memoirs. From one broken soul to another.

But there’s one delicate thread that the author has delicately woven throughout her essays. And it stood out to me, as if this thread was coloured highlighter yellow, against a background of white and grey. Anne’s writings are full of companionship; of facing life’s trials, joys, highs and lows, but facing them with others by her side. And it’s this presence thing that keeps blasting me from every direction.

Some of my memories make me breathe deep and even. Pulse steady and eyes bright. Other memories cause my breath to be short and shallow, with my pulse quickening, my heart racing. We’re reactive beings. Being a bible believing, Holy Spirit filled person, doesn’t stop your body from reacting as it naturally does. But the memories I have that cause my spirit to lift, that bring out all the wrinkles around my eyes, are nine times out of ten the memories I have that featured people by my side. Circumstances may have been hard,  but I was not alone.

This reminder I’ve been given about the importance of companionship, makes me want to have space on my sofa for more. I want my living room door to be one that opens freely and frequently. I also know that there may be times when I need to curl up on my sofa, and have someone else place my snuggly, soft blanket evenly over me. There may be days when someone else potters around in my kitchen, boils my kettle and brings me something warm and nourishing, to be placed on my sofa arm. But what I really long for, is to create a space for others. I want to rearrange the cushions around you. I’ll even hide the one that’s dirty. I know it’s there. I’ll whip up something tasty for you, and I’m working on growing my tea collection, to find something that will just tickle your tastebuds. If you need my snuggly, soft blanket, I’d be delighted to place it over you.

If I ever write a book of memoirs, then I’d like a photo of my sofas on its cover. I know the importance of companionship, I know the blessing of ‘presence’, I just hope and pray I can live it. That I can reach out beyond my four walls, that I can see and respond to others who need my hand of friendship. Come, come friend, come and sit over here. Along with that I hope and pray that I will know when to swallow my pride and step into the unknown with all its vulnerable fragileness during those times when I’m the one who needs to have someone put the kettle on for me.

Memories and companionship. That’s a good mix, right? There’s room on my sofa for you, my friend.

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).

Joy for Mourning

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the
oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that
they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he
might be glorified. – Isaiah 61:3

  It was the worst of times.  Never before had I been so physically ill, and then so emotionally spent.  We wonder if this event triggered the start of my celiac disease, but we’ll never know for sure.

  Thrilled to be pregnant, to be providing a sibling for our firstborn, I didn’t mind the constant nausea and constant throwing up so much.  You do what you have to do, to get the result you want.  Weight fell off me.  The couch became my resting place, day and night.  Counting down the days until I would be in the clear, and have more energy to be more present for my family.  Just when I thought that it would be safe to announce the news to friends and family, just after a new trimester had begun, we were faced with the news of loss.  Of emptiness.  Of deep, deep sorrow.  There was no heartbeat.

  Faced then with an awful decision – should we wait for my body to expel the lifeless form of the child itself and risk needing a D&C anyway because of the chances of infection, or should we go ahead and schedule the D&C.

I wanted neither option.  I wanted the weeks and months to progress – my dreams and hopes to be fulfilled.  I wanted to Mother again.

But we chose the operation.  As much as I was aghast at the thought of having the baby ripped from me, and scared silly at the thought of my first general anaesthetic, we chose that option.

I remember farewelling my firstborn for the day – aching to just hold his little hand in mine, to seek comfort from what I already had. I remember the awful blue gown and the plastic underwear.  The procedural questions and the signing of my rights.  The little white pill to help me relax.  The tears when my husband was not allowed to come past a certain point.  Sitting on a hard bed, my boney butt aching, just wanting to be living another life.  I remember being wheeled into the green and metallic room.  My arm sticking out at my side, being poked and then counting backwards……10 9 8.  It doesn’t just happen on tv programmes.  Then the waking up, all of a sudden, tears flowing right away. Not a woeful ‘poor me’ cry, but that deep sobbing,’ my heart is aching’ cry, that gutteral from the depths of my being cry.  I remember counting down the hours until my husband could pick me up, being wheeled in a wheelchair down to the hospital lobby and then out to the car.  I remember being glad that I wore black trousers that day, so that the leaking was not so obvious.

 I felt so anonymous yet so obvious.

Then it was time for the healing.

That’s part A of my story.  It was awful.  It was hard.  It was painful.  It was sad beyond sad.  BUT.  Don’t you love God’s BUTS?  However grammatically wrong they are – they are significant – BUT God was there.  There was a part B of this story.

When I was waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, a woman came to sit with me.  She said her name was Joy and she was a student, doing a midwifery course.  She asked if I minded her sitting with me, and we exchanged small talk, and then she walked with me as I was wheeled in.  She was allowed in the operating room, and I saw her face, and then I didn’t.  She wasn’t around when I woke up, and I didn’t see her for the rest of the afternoon.

A few weeks later when I was thinking about the whole ordeal, I was remembering how appreciative I was, to have her there, how her presence had brought me some comfort.  I wrote ‘Joy’ a thank you card and then rang the college that her course was through, to get her last name.  They had no record of a ‘Joy’ doing their course.  I thought maybe she had been attending another course, so I sent the card off anyway.  But then the thought came to me.  What if ‘Joy’ was actually an angel?  What if God had sent her to be my comfort when I needed it most?  I’ll never know for sure – but it is my opinion that she was an angel.  I was mourning, yet God had given me Joy for mourning, in the best way he could.  In the presence of someone that could just be by my side.

So often when we are going through ‘stuff’ we feel so alone.  We’re not.  We are never alone. We have everything we need through Him.