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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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 ~

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.