Swimming Lessons.

I don’t always think deep and meaningful thoughts. I do spend a lot of time thinking about shallow and trivial matters……what to put on the meal plan for this week…..I like that ladies shirt, wonder where that’s from…..why did my child place all eight rolls of toilet paper on the ground, around the toilet……

See. Shallow.

But lately, when I have been thinking about more meaningful things, it’s been things along the lines of living better, vulnerability, honesty and doing well in all the seasons of life.

You know.

Actually, it’s very important schtufff, important to get right. Because I want my life to point towards Jesus, and that isn’t going to happen if I’m sinking because of life’s demands, and not swimming.

Most of us, if not all of us, live lives that are comprised of things we have to or need to do; demands we must fill, as well as things we choose to do. I know I’m in a season of life at the moment that sees me committing time and energy to things I simply must do as well as things I willingly and lovingly say yes to. My days and nights are full, but I very much steer clear from the glorification of ‘busy’, instead I know and see the need for that trendy wee word at the moment…..’busy’ meet ‘self-care’, ‘self-care’ meet ‘busy’.

How we each need to look after ourselves is different for every person; we all have different capacities with what we can handle as far as schedules and commitments go. It is also entirely possible to feel major guilt and shame over the fact you may not be looking after yourself as well as you could, and you know that’s not right too. Glory.

So what can we do to swim better while in the fast moving currents in our lives? And how can we best support and love those around us who are in a ‘full’ season?  Here is my ten cents worth on this……

For the cheering squads:

It’s hard seeing someone you care about getting really tired and worn out, but there are things you can do as a friend that can make a load of difference…….

* Don’t tell someone that they are too busy. They know their life is full already. They probably already feel some frustration and concern about it themselves. Some better questions to ask might be; ‘out of the things you’re giving your time to, is there something you feel you could let go?’ And, ‘out of the things you’re choosing to do, is there anything in that mix that isn’t life-giving to you’. Those two questions aren’t accusatory, but could well provide some food for thought, that then produces better ‘results’.

* Be there for them. Just be there. Provide plenty of smiles, hugs, pats on the shoulder and thumbs up, if anyone ever does that anymore. That physical support speaks volumes and helps to build trust, so that if and when things in the life of your ‘struggling to swim’ friend do turn to custard, they know that yours is a shoulder they feel safe to fully dissolve on.

* Keep a watchful eye on the basics……is your friend getting enough sleep? Eating enough good food? And doing something, sometime in their weeks that does something to re-charge their soul?

* Keep inviting them to be a part of your life happenings, even if and when you know the answer will be ‘no they can’t because of x, y, or z’. Full schedules can be terribly isolating, and the benefits of knowing that others still value your company far outweigh the negatives of knowing that this is just another thing you have to politely decline.

For those of you in the throes of a full schedule:

* Be real and honest with people about how you are doing and where you are at with things. This probably means making yourself vulnerable a tad. Gulp. This means opening your gob and trying to put words to feelings. Even bigger gulp. But as yours truly has been learning to do this……… it isn’t as scary as it could be, and the end result actually brings great comfort.

* Be real and honest with yourself, remind yourself that boundaries and limits are necessary. There are some great books around on these things if you need help in those areas.

* It really does help, with whatever you’re facing, if your attitude is positive and your chin is up, as much as it can be. There’s a whole ‘nother ten cents worth written about that here.

* If you can go about your days and especially face the obligations and commitments that you HAVE to do with a sense of genuine joy then you’re going to be able to sustain this lifestyle that you’re in much longer, than if you’re facing things without that same sense of joy. The things you choose to do, because you can and because you want to do them, I bet they naturally give you a sense of accomplishment, achievement and joy…….but the things you HAVE to do….that’s a tougher gig…..look for joy. Ask God for joy. Ask your trusted friends to pray for you to have joy. The joy of our Lord is our strength. (Nehemiah 8: 10).

* Tell your (bad) friend, Guilt, to take a jump. And to go far, far away. You are doing the very best that you can do. Life is all about seasons. This current season will not last forever, and you need to be ok with you, to be joyful in all you do.

There are a few verses in Matthew 11 (28 – 30)   I’ve been thinking about a lot lately in relation to all of this doing life well in the throes of a full life….(from The Message translation) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

These verses speak volumes to me, about how to do life well, even a busy life. To me it’s about companionship with God – not doing things for God, but with God.  The whole unforced rhythms of grace….I’m thinking that’s like learning to swim strongly in whatever currents you may find yourself in…being able to tread water when the going is easy and when the waves come relentlessly crashing in, while not being taken too far off course. Circumstances may be hard, demands on us may be awful, but because of WHO we know, and WHO we’re trusting, WHO our eyes are on, we’re not taken off course.  And the thing with lessons?  With learning a new hobby or skill, the teacher is there as your guide, your encourager, your instructor.  A good teacher is setting you up for success.  And because I believe my God is a good, good God, then He’s most definitely a good teacher, and with His help and instruction, we’re able to swim, we’re able to navigate through whatever waters we find ourselves in.  The unforced rhythms of grace also speak to me of freedom to be yourself, because you are loved with absolutely no strings attached.  I’m keen to walk freely and lightly, and though my load may not feel that light at times, I know I can have a beautiful exchange with God.  And swim through many, deep waters with Him.

Cannonball, anyone?

The Spotlight of Hope. 

Last week we all celebrated having an extra day in the calendar year. The 29th of February. Leap day. It’s a cool but weird thing, right?

Dear friends of mine both celebrate their birthdays on leap day, and one of the many special things about these friends is that they are Mother and Son. Apparently the chances of a Mother and Son both having their birthdays on a leap day are two million to one. Groovy.

Anyway, I was chatting with someone on leap day, about leap day. Let’s call that someone ‘Mr X’.  Mr X was kind of befuddled about the whole leap day thing. He couldn’t work out if having this extra day was in fact a blessing or a curse. Something to be celebrated or something to endure. He came to the conclusion that to him, that extra day we get every four years is really just another day to go through the machinations of life.

And I could see where he was coming from.

Because although Mr X is a great guy; he’s a devoted husband to his wife, and a present and caring Dad to his kids, as well as a good son to his parents and a great buddy to his mates, he is all of this, but, by his own admission he’s living a life with no huge purpose. Just living to get by. Living to provide.

So one extra day, to carry on, carrying on……..that’s a little depressing, right?

Believe it or not our conversation was light hearted, and we both ended up having a bit of a laugh over this extra day weird weird weird business. But I’ve been thinking about the conversation ever since.

I think the biggest difference between my view of an extra day to live, and Mr X’s view, comes down to the very fact that I live with a greater sense of Hope. To me it’s a cool thing to have had that extra day, because it’s another day to be alive. Another day to admire God’s creation. To adore His creativity. To embrace the fact that I get to love my family and to reach out to others I see, to offer encouragement, and speak and write words of life.

Hope. It makes all the difference in the world.

And so, this is my heart’s cry, because I’ve seen Gods fingerprints of grace and I’ve seen the spotlight of hope beam in front of my path, time and time again.

I’ll never forget the time I was driving at night and a man stepped out in front of my car, forcing me to stop, and then he tried to climb in to the car. Being a Christ follower doesn’t mean that the world is never a scary place.  But it does mean that when we walk through the waters, God will be there.

I’ll never forget the anguish and heartache I felt at having to have my unborn, life-less baby taken from my body, and the recovery process that my weakened then forty kg body had to go through. Yes I suffered through thoughtless words from some but I was also offered plenty of hope, through those who were present, and as the Father heart of God became truly alive for me. As I learned first hand that God grieves when we grieve. Christ followers are not immune to hardships in any way, shape or form, but we have do have a blessed assurance in the form of a ‘peace that passes all understanding’. We learn that things don’t always have to make sense.

I’ll never forget the utter loneliness and all the feelings of self-doubt and self-criticism that came with being ‘new’ time and time again. But paired with that, I also know the freedom of finding my tribe, finding my people. Of relaxing into who I am, and knowing that is enough. Of being offered hope in the forms of being loved and accepted, just as I am.

And because I know what real hope is, I know what it is to be loved with an everlasting love. I know that this gal, who still second guesses herself way too much and says all the wrong things at all the wrong times, and feels vastly inadequate for all the things she dreams of doing……this girl has hope. Hope that enables me to smile genuinely even when the going is tough. Hope that comes in the form of energy when there really by all accounts should be no fuel in her engine. Hope to offer love to all.

And so the leap day we had last week was the gift of an extra day. An extra day to spread a little Hope.

Today was another day to speak words of life, words of hope.

And tomorrow will be another day, full of opportunities to breath life into dry bones.

If you don’t truly feel this way, if you feel a little like my friend, Mr X, I get it. Life is a messy and hard thing. But for me, the messy and the hard becomes tidier and easier, when I choose to believe that God grieves when we grieve, that His presence is for accessible for all, and I’m loved and accepted with an everlasting love. People say to give peace a chance, I say ‘give hope a chance’. Read a bible. Talk to a friend who is a Christ follower. Reach out to God. He’ll meet you where you’re at. This I know.

Hope changes things. It gives purpose and adds value. What an incredible gift.

~ In loving memory of a friend who lived a hope-filled life, and embraced each day as the gift that it truly is ~

Fairy Tales and Real Life

Out there in the real world, the general consensus on ‘love’ is that fairy tale love rarely happens. By rarely I mean hardly ever. By hardly ever, I mean only in your dreams. By in your dreams, I mean only in books and movies which could possibly star Meg Ryan. By in books and movies, I really mean fairy tales.

Fairy tale love belongs only in fairy tales. Right?

Right.

Only. Actually. NOT RIGHT.

Nah.

Fairy tale love has a lot more in common with everyday, real life love stories I see all around me, than we may think. There are a number of similarities between real life love and fairy tale love….plus we have the gift of perspective. How you view your love story changes everything.

Let’s explore some of these similarities, before you think I’ve lost the plot and am living in LaLa land….

Fairy tales are intentional. The authors didn’t just sit down one day and out came words that flowed beautifully and then, voila, ten minutes later there’s a story that has a concrete beginning, middle and ending and by golly, there’s even a solid moral to the story in there too. No. That doesn’t happen. The authors would have taken days just shaping their stories, fine tuning the plots, developing characters, cleverly intertwining subplots into the body of their story.

Real love has to be intentional too. Intentional with facing things together, intentional with decision making together, intentional with outworking life’s aims and goals together. Intentional with seeing the best in each other and calling that out, breathing life into that. As fictional stories are very carefully crafted, so are real life love stories. They don’t just happen.

Fairy tales often feature in them royalty; princes, princesses, Kings and Queens. Nobility stars in a lot of fables. Last time I checked I wasn’t surrounded by real life members of the Royal Family of any country. But I have a little inkling, a little nudging in my heart that to see oneself as a member of the Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2: 9) helps a huge amount when entering into a happily ever after. It makes sense that the more you see yourself as a whole person, a complete person, God’s very special possession, called out of darkness into wonderful light, before you enter into marriage, the healthier and happier you’ll be. Have you seen the t shirts and wall placards reminding you to ‘always wear your invisible crown’, I truly believe that’s not just a neat saying but a very solid truth to build on.

Fairy tales often have very special and unique beginnings. A woodcutter boasting that his daughter can spin gold from straw. A penniless young girl selling matches on the street. The hatching of a very ugly duckling. These are all quite unique, original ways to start a story. And that’s a feature in real life happily ever afters. Have you ever noticed that when you ask a couple who are living out their happily ever after, how they first met, that’s usually immediately met with a smile and maybe even a giggle. And their story is retold with a lot of warmth. You see they know that beginning was special. They cherish that beginning. Happily ever afters look at their beginnings with much fondness. And I think that fondness is more often than not paired with a whole heap of gratefulness. A gratefulness for that beginning, for however unique it may have been, something lasting and very special has come out of it.

Fairy tales often feature in them universal truths. Sometimes they teach a lesson or demonstrate values important to a culture. I think a real life happily ever after does the same. A long term, committed and happy marriage clearly shows onlookers what is important to that couple. Patience. Forgiveness. Joy. Kindness. Self-control. Servant-hood. These are all things evident in someone’s happily ever after. Maybe not all of these things, all of the time, but snippets of these things, for the majority of the time.

Another feature of most fairy tales is that the happy endings are more often than not based on the resolution of conflict or problems. Basically ‘schtufff’ has to be worked through before there is any chance of a happily ever after.  True true true. Same same same in real life. There ain’t no happy marriage on this earth that ain’t never seen hard times. Ooh Lordy trouble so hard. But whatever that trouble may have looked like or have been, somehow by God’s grace and sometimes with the gritting of teeth and sheer willpower, that ‘schtufff’ has been worked through, those raging waters walked through, and while some marriages may bear scars, those scars tell a beautiful story of God’s fingerprints of grace at work.

As one gets older and as one gains a greater understanding of some of the darker and more grim sides to some of the classic fairy tales, sometimes one is reluctant to share these stories with a younger crowd. Some stories just simply don’t turn out the way we want them to. Sometimes we’re hoping for a real life happily ever after, but due to all sorts of things, that sometimes just doesn’t happen. If this is you, and you’re now filled with all sorts of regret, sadness, anger, grief, disappointment and heartache, I get it. Life is messy, hard and complex. But I’d like to give you a glimmer of hope. You’re a Prince or a Princess whether or not you have your Prince or Princess right beside you, right now. You can be healed and whole, right now. You are worthy. Fairy tales sometimes have a happily ever after, and sometimes they don’t, but that doesn’t take away anything from who the characters are and how much their creator has invested in them, how much care He has poured into them.

If you’re just beginning your happily ever after in real life, treasure what you have. Nurture what you have. See the best in each other. Speak highly of each other. Get to know your creator more, as your story is woven together, delicately, purposefully. And know that your happily ever after can be real. And it can be lasting.

—————————————–

Today marks for me the anniversary of being 16 years into my happily ever after. People say that young couples have no idea what they are getting themselves into. And maybe some don’t, but we did. We signed up for a life of adventure, serving God together. Sure there have been curveballs along the way, life’s like that. But we’ve been blessed with unusual happiness and we’re living out our very own fairy tale, generously splattered with God’s grace. We don’t know what plots and twists our future chapters will feature in them; no doubt there will be times of blessings and hardships, but above all else there will be love.

Happy Anniversary to my Spunky Hunk. You make me a better person. I love you with all that I am.

 

A9

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.

Building Your Lifeboat

storms

I’ve been marinating on this little ditty, this little nugget of truth since I saw it on pinterest a couple of weeks ago.

You see it is all very good and well to read these words and to believe them.  It is another thing to actually live them out.  And gee……there is absolutely no denying the truth of these words when you see someone living it out…..when the truth they have stored up in the silence is the only thing that gives them hope, it helps them carry on, sees them through the hard times, when the storms come.

This past week I’ve had the honour to walk alongside a friend as she has encountered one of life’s curveballs.

You know that mixture of feelings you get when you go for your big anatomical ultrasound scan, when you’re about 20 – 22 weeks pregnant?  You’re thrilled to actually see this little person for the first time, you may or may not be eager to know the baby’s gender, but you also have that slight uneasiness..hoping everything is ok with that baby.  Wanting a good report for everything.  Well Lindsay didn’t get that all clear that we all hope for, not then anyway, and she has another wait of a few more weeks before she gets definitive results from more tests done this week.  You can read this part of her story here, and she writes it beautifully, so much better than I ever could.

I said it is an honour to walk alongside her through this and I truly mean that.  I can see the fruit and the evidence of what Lindsay and her husband build up in the silence, carrying them through the uncertainty.  Giving them hope and that peace that passes understanding.  You see it is not that Lindsay and CJ are perfect – nope – they are human, just like the rest of us – it is because they serve a perfect Lord.  They are conduits of the Holy Spirit – vessels – that’s all.

I like to think of ‘the truth that we build up in the silence’ as being the things we build our lifeboats out of.  Lifeboats to keep us afloat when our ships are capsized by life and life’s curveballs.

*  The word of God = the body of the boat, the hull.  Knowing God’s word means knowing God, knowing his heart, and who wouldn’t want to know the creator of the world’s heart?  In Ephesians 6 Paul talks about the armour of God and of putting on the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.  The bible illuminates, it reveals to us the good and the bad, it gives clarity to the wise and the unwise.  The sword, the bible, is used for offensive and defensive purposes.  Jesus used the bible to counter Satan’s attacks when in the wilderness.  The word of God deep down in our souls is going to keep us afloat when storms come.  We can depend on God’s word and the promises in his word.

*  Prayer = the gps/ radio in your lifeboat.  The prayers that you pray in the silence come back to you in the storm, when you don’t have the words to say, when you can only muster up that Holy moan. An utterance. Prayer is just communication with the Lord and the *best* thing about prayer to me, is it keeps your perspective right, it keeps you looking up and out so that you’re not consumed by your here and now.

No relationship survives without communication, including our relationship with the Lord.  Prayer – communication is necessary for growth and intimacy.

*  The companionship of Godly friends = the outboard engines on our boats.  Sometimes when we walk through the trials of life we can walk that ever bit faster with a friend by our side.  Things can be so much more bearable when you have a shoulder to cry on.  Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.  Sometimes it takes a lot of guts to make good friendships great.  It involves a lot of vulnerability, on both persons part, a lot of trust and a lot of wisdom.  It is never a good thing to just spill your guts to just anyone, but when you know who can be a great friend to you, and when you make room in your life for them and them for you……friendship is one of those things that can get you through anything.  C.S Lewis said “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”
You know this past week the easy thing for Lindsay to do would have been to hide away.  To just hibernate with her husband while working through the emotions and seeking a Godly perspective in all the waiting.  But in doing that she would have been denying her friends the opportunity to reach out to her, to uphold her family in prayer and the opportunity to partake in a miracle.  The harder thing for her was to share with people where she was at – and God was glorified.  She could call on these friendships because they have been established in the silence.  When life was a little easier.  And then, when the storm came, the outboard engine of friendship helped to push her along a little….reassuring her….

Now here’s the scoop, the latest on Lindsay’s baby, Charlie.  Lindsay’s OB (who also happened to be my amazing OB, a great man of God) emailed her today with the news that the fact that the ultrasound that Lindsay had yesterday showed no abnormalities in the baby’s heart, that it was normal, was a gift from God.  The ultrasound yesterday was so different from the bizarre one from the previous week shows that the baby was healed.  This was not a technical glitch, but a healing.  Praise God.  Praise Him.

And here’s the thing – because Lindsay chose to include others in her journey, both in her real life and through her writing, others have been blessed.  My own faith has been boosted.  What my husband and I prayed for, in the quiet of our time with the Lord, has been heard.  Countless others have likewise stood in faith with her about this too and prayed for healing – they have been touched and who is glorified?  Not Lindsay, not CJ, even though they are strong leaders and amazing people in their own right.  No, the Lord is glorified in this healing of baby Charlie, because the Lord is the reason for their peace and their very purpose.

Lindsay and CJ still have a few question marks hovering over their little Charlie’s life – but nothing can take away from the fact that this life is God-ordained, this life has a purpose, this life already has an amazing testimony of God’s healing power and this life is loved.  Loved by the people around him already, but even more so by the one who created him.

Whatever the next weeks or indeed the years to come bring my dear friends, they will be riding out the storms just fine.  They have a lifeboat.  They are building their lifeboat……prayer by prayer, bible verse by bible verse, friend by friend, they are building their boat.

All of us will encounter storms in our lives, it is not a matter of if, but of when……when will you need your lifeboat to hold you afloat until your seas become smoother?  And will that lifeboat be ready for when you need it?