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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Vulnerability is a crock.

I saw an Instagram post this past week where someone who knows these things was showing that socks and sandals, worn together, are back in vogue.  For reals.  I kid you not.  You heard it from me……..Now while I’m no major fashion follower, and I for one, will not be following this new (old) trend, it always amazes me how many trends for so many different things come and go.  All. The. Time.

I have two jobs and in both those jobs I have a husband and wife team who are my bosses.  If I’m ever feeling a tiny bit bratty, then sometimes I’ll throw a couple of trendy words into conversation that one of these teams really don’t like……one of those words is ‘journey’.  And I’m not talking about a physical trip with a start point and a destination, an end point. ‘Journey’ has become a trendy word though.  So has ‘vulnerability’.

‘Vulnerability’ can be defined as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.

Spend any amount of time reading or listening to any kind of self-help/ leadership/ emotional growth type of articles/ blog posts/ podcasts or books and you will hear the word ‘vulnerability’.  You will.  It’s now a trendy word.  And it’s a word that carries a lot of punch.

Now I happen to love Brené Brown whose work on vulnerability has been hugely significant and her TED talk on vulnerability is one of the five most watched, with over 30 million views.  I love her books, I love her instagram posts, I love what she stands for and who she fights for and the fact that she is so well educated and is leading in her field, and she’s prepared to put the spotlight on the tricky and complicated topics of courage, shame, empathy and vulnerability.  If you haven’t already, read her stuff.  She makes so much sense.

But here’s the thing.

In reality, when the rubber hits the road, when you actually start to live out these things that you’re told are good for you and are going to be worth it, and when vulnerability is one of these things, sooner or later you’ll find that it’s actually a crock.

Vulnerability is a crock.  It’s hard.  It’s laying your heart and soul open to inspection.  It’s dumb.  It’s painful.  It’s allowing others a glimpse of what you’re rather keep dark and hidden and private.  It’s not sheltering your loved ones from that which you know may hurt them.  Which goes against the grain of what comes naturally and easily to most.

Vulnerability is a crock.  It means that others may say inappropriate things back to you.  Or say nothing in response to you.  So you’re left in limbo wondering if whatever that thing that made you feel so vulnerable in the first place was too much for them, was too big for them or too messy for them.

Vulnerability is a crock.  I know of people who have had very physical responses to the emotional work involved in opening up to others – breathing problems, insomnia, wakefulness, panic attacks, weight loss, weight gain – all these are very normal somatic responses to adversity, and for many, becoming vulnerable is also becoming open to adversity.

Vulnerability is a crock.  It makes you feel like an idiot.  It reminds you of all the things you haven’t worked out yet, that you haven’t mastered yet, and that we’re all works in progress.  It highlights all the things you’d really rather have control over and be in charge of and manage very carefully and well.

But here’s the thing.  As much as I think vulnerability is a crock, here’s what I know even more, it’s actually totally worth it.

Becoming vulnerable is worth it.

Being vulnerable is worth it.

Yes it’s hard.  But nothing worthwhile was ever easy. Ever.

Yes it’s laying your heart and soul open to inspection – but only to those who you trust. Those you respect.

Yes it’s dumb.  But so is pride.

Yes it’s painful.  But wounds left to fester cause more harm than good.

Yes it’s exposing.  But only negatives grow in the dark.

Yes it’s showing your muck to those who love you most.  But as my favourite artist Charlie Mackesy says and illustrates:

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When you’re vulnerable with someone, when you’re sharing the good, the bad, the beautiful, the joyful, and the downright ugly, then you’re allowing them to step into that situation with you.  You’re allowing them to be Jesus with skin on.  They may not necessarily be able to change anything, but sometimes outside eyes can see things you can’t.  Sometimes outside ears can hear other sides of the story, that you can’t.  Sometimes more hands than just yours can help shift burdens and barriers.  And that’s worth it.  That’s worth the pain and the reminders of what you’re still working on.

It’s been proven time and time again that simply sharing a painful experience with someone will help to ease the pain.  Brené says ‘an experience of collective pain does not deliver us from grief or sadness; it is a ministry of presence.  These moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time’. 

We build walls around our hearts and our souls for very valid reasons, but there’s so much to be gained from overcoming the pain, the pride and the powerlessness to truly share your life with someone.To truly be vulnerable.

Becoming vulnerable is worth it. Being vulnerable is so very worth it. I get the feeling that all the noise and rumble that has come along when dealing with ‘vulnerability’ means that this isn’t some passing fad, and not just a trendy word.  It’s here to stay because we now recognize that it’s worth it.  It’s really worth it.

I’m hoping that the socks and sandals thing doesn’t stick around though.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”  – Brené Brown

 

 

 

 

My Million Dollar Idea

Don’t tell the cat, but we are secretly dog people.  I long for the day that my three boys can have a dog as their faithful companion.  Not a little, yappy thing, but a hugable, loveable, ‘don’t let him stand on your toes’ kinda four legged friend.  A border collie or a retriever or a lab.  There’s something good and right about a boy and his dog.  The problem is we’re renters and it’s really hard to have a dog and be in a rental property.  So for now, we’re cat people.  We pretend that she’s enough.  But.  Really.

Sometimes when I’m with a certain friend we brainstorm together about business ideas…things that haven’t been done before, things that we could do while maintaining order at home and other commitments and jobs, but a thing that would earn us both a million smackeroonies.  Preferably a residual income.  That’s the dream, aye?  Money that makes itself for us.  That way my husband and I could actually get a foot in the property ladder.

It’s just as well dreams are free.  We can limit the smashed avo on toast and the lattes drunk out and about – but the dreams – there’s no limit to them.

One of my latest ideas was a right proper nightmare actually.  You see I’ve got this secret to better living, everyone.  I’ve got this simple idea that absolutely anyone could begin to action, and I absolutely guarantee it will change the atmosphere of your workplace, your social club, your small group or your larger group.  It will grow relationships overnight and it will make you a better wife/husband/ Mum/ Dad/ sister/ brother/ employee/employer immediately.  Guaranteed.  In fact I believe in this so much I could sell tickets to seminars, or produce workshops that could be shared on memory sticks and sent all over the world (for a small fee of course – hence the million dollar idea), but I’m not that kinda person.  Not now and not never.  For one – my knees have fellowship any and every time I have a microphone in my hand and well, at the end of the day……MONEY SCHMONEY.  Whatevs.  I’ve actually got this open hand open heart thing going on and could never be the next Anthony Robbins.  No-one will ever make money off any of my ideas – myself included.  But, because I believe in this hair-brained idea enough to really think it could make a difference in my world and in yours, I’m a gonna share it here anyways.

The secret to better working relationships, personal relationships and any kind of interactions in any kind of way?

You ready for it?

It’s what I call, ‘the follow up’.

Yep.

The Follow Up.

This is when you check in with someone and follow up on what you’ve previously talked about.  It may be the same day, the same week, the same month…..all dependent on the situation, but it is you following up on whatever has been good/ hard/ joyful/ anxiety bringing/ fraught with frustration/ filled with blessing – whatever – you’ve last discussed with someone.

The Follow Up.  Why do I think it is so important and changes the way relationships grow?  Because it shows you care.  It shows you were listening.  It shows that even though time may have passed in between seeing this person, you’ve still thought about them and their world.  It shows that you have capacity to think beyond your own world.  It shows that they matter to you.  They matter, fullstop.

And who doesn’t need to be reminded of this, just every so often?

It’s really not rocket science, nor is it manipulative in any way, it is showing sincerity and genuine care.  It’s saying to someone, that you appreciate the fact that they opened up to you and showed a slice of their heart to you, and that it wasn’t too much for you.  They aren’t too messy or broken or full on for you.  And from there – even more trust and openness can be built. And good relationships can improve any workplace, any friendship, and setting that I can think of.

What does this look like in an everyday setting?  It can be light and simple, or bigger and deeper, depending on the feelings involved.  One of my bosses is a bestman at a wedding today.  He’s been talking about his duties for this for a while now.  You can bet your bottom dollar one of the first things I ask him when I show up for my next shift on Monday will be – how did the wedding go?  How was your speech?  And we’ll spend the whole evening dissecting all that went into the event.  Why on earth is this important?  I believe it is important because it’s showing him that I genuinely care about what was a big event in his life.  Its about being interested in more than my world.  People don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care.  In any setting.  But surely everyone would take the time to ask about this?  Surely anyone with any little amount of people skills?  You may be thinking that because you’re a friend of mine and you already have a great amount of people skills and perhaps you already action this little skill naturally, intuitively. Actually.  Not everyone does this.  You’d be surprised.  Life is so busy.  Life can be so consuming.  Some people prefer to talk about their favourite topic – themselves – all the time.  But that doesn’t grow trust.  That doesn’t put relationships on an equal footing.  That doesn’t make people feel safe with you.

Now it may be coming across that I’m trying to appear as an expert in this people business. Let me assure you.  I am not.  I stuff up with people all the time.  I often don’t know what to say or I say the wrong thing, or I clam up when I could talk.  But this one thing I do know:  if I open up to share a piece of my heart with someone, however deep or shallow that piece may be, if that person asks me at a later stage about that piece of my heart, then that builds my level of trust with them.  That helps me feel not so alone.  That reassures me that I’m not too crazy/ messy/ screwed up for them.  I think most people are aware that sharing with people, especially things that are painful. helps to divide the pain.   There’s some kind of magical maths that goes on when this happens.  And that, my friends is worth pursuing.  That’s the real gold.  That’s worth more than a million bucks.

The Follow Up.  It’s priceless.  It will make you a better person, whatever you do, whoever you are.

Now, onto other ideas………buying the next kids’ trend in games before someone else brings it into the country?  Personal shopping?  Hmmmmmmm.

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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 tightrope and the juggling.

It was one of the cooler mornings that we’ve had recently.  We sat there, hands cupping our coffees, tucked into the corner of one of my fav little cafes in the area.  First came coffee, both of us had just rushed around doing the mad school dash.  Then came the standard going through the mental checklist – husbands, kids, jobs….how are they all?

Twenty minutes later after we’d both assured each other of health and general happiness, the wealth was still to come though…Liz sank down deeper into her chair, momentarily closed her eyes and and then I saw her whole chest rise up and down, as she took some deep breaths.  ‘Fee’.  Her voice faltered a little and I could tell things were fast changing gear.  ‘It’s hard’, she whispered.

I leaned forward, and took one of her hands, the one that was mindlessly twisting her rings around and around.  Knowing that Liz is one of those dear friends who listens really well and prefers not to speak unless she’s got something really meaningful to say, I knew this was big for her.  Gutsy.  Brave.

She looked up from her coffee cup and gave a half smile. That reminder she gives from time to time when conversation does get deep, as if she’s declaring her own strength to the world and doesn’t want me to worry; ‘yeah I’m sad and this is hard, but I’m going to be OK’.

I smiled back, and released her hand so it could go back to the endless twisting and twisting.  ‘Tell me about it’.  I whispered back.

Liz is facing some major challenges at the moment, that much I knew.  I know some of the details of the challenges of her life, but there are many details I don’t know.  Her story is only hers to tell, but I do have her permission to share this much today.

A couple of tears managed to sneak out of Liz’s eyes, and just as soon as they appeared, Liz swiftly wiped them away.

‘I feel like I’m on a tightrope, and I have to place my feet so carefully on this tightrope. It’s the only way over, the only way across the danger; the hurt and the hard.  I can’t go backwards, and if I stand still for too long….well I can’t…..I have to go forward. And I don’t even know where this tightrope ends. And that’s a frustrating thing.  Most people can see what the end goal is, where they are headed.  But I don’t.  I just have to keep going.  And not only am I on this dangerous tightrope, but as I’m walking it, I’m juggling all these balls.  These demands on my life.  Walk, walk, walk, juggle juggle, juggle.  That’s what my life feels reduced to’.

And in an instant I understood.  Liz was being very real and open about the weight of expectations on her.  The things said and unsaid, the lists of thou shalts and thou shalt not…..sometimes even from the most and best meaningful of intentions.  Because Liz was facing x y and z in her life, by hook or by crook she needed to react in a b and c ways.  That was how she needed to be, that was what it felt like to her.

I nodded in agreement and understanding.  I’ve had my own share of balls to juggle and fear of dropping them.  Haven’t we all?  I didn’t and couldn’t think of anything more helpful or caring to say, right then and there, other than, ‘I know’, and by then, Liz, realizing that the chinks in her armour, the armour she wears to enable herself to function as best as she can right now, had started to show, was embarrassed at being the focus of our attention, and what was left of our quick coffee catch up quickly moved on to other things.

Well the conversation moved on then.  But my thoughts have kept coming back to Liz’s picture.  Trying to understand. Trying to think of how some glimpses of hope can be offered to her.  Trying to gather some truth for her.

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Tightropes are do-able.  They are not impossible.  Hard, yes.  But not impossible.  Thinking back to when I danced and even when I did gymnastics and did any kind of hard foot work like that – it helped when I looked up.  Looked ahead.  It keeps your centre of gravity in the right place to help most with balance.  So that’s what I’d tell Liz now.  Look up.  Keep looking up.  It doesn’t matter that you don’t know when or where this tightrope will end, just keep looking up.  Even if and when people place expectations on you – even when they are misdirected but well-meaning…keep looking up.  Keep seeing the good in their intentions.  Keep looking up to where your help really comes from.  Seek the Lord and All His goodness.

Another thing about tightropes is that it helps to have a supportive audience. The best circus performers have supportive audiences cheering them on.  They may be holding their breath, as they are nervous for the tightrope walker, but every single one of them is urging the person on.  No-one wants to see that person fall.  And so I’d remind Liz that she has people around her, urging her on.  They can’t walk the road that she’s on for her, they can’t do the hard work that she is needing to do, but they are with her, every step of the way, urging her on.  Feeling her pain.  Feeling her frustration.  But cheering her on.  As hard as it is for Liz to let people in, to share with them her pain, her hurt and all the messy feelings she has, that audience may well be her biggest ally in forward momentum, in helping her stay on that very narrow and flimsy path she’s on.  They can lend her their strength.  They can give her courage. They can remind her of who she really is, when circumstances around her try to steal that away from her.

How about the juggling balls?  We’re all juggling so much, all the time, aren’t we?  But here’s the thing…..circus performers don’t start off with all the items they have to juggle.  They have a few things, then they have more added to their performance, and then sometimes these items are taken away and/ or swapped out for other things…and then eventually, one by one, they catch every item they have and finish their routine.  I’m thinking that sometimes we forget that we can throw back some of the balls that we juggle.  We don’t have to always be juggling so much.  Sometimes we have the capacity to juggle more, and sometimes we don’t – it keeps our routines fresh that’s for sure.  The hard thing is to know what and when to throw away some of the balls/ items, right?  Without the whole routine not going completely out the window.  But its possible.  And  – what’s the worse that can happen?  We do drop some balls?  Even seamless circus performances can go badly wrong…..and what the audience doesn’t see are the hours and hours of practice put in, to make those performances as near perfect as possible.  We’re allowed to drop some balls from time to time if we give ourselves enough grace, and when we have the people around us, to either leave those balls by our side and urge us on anyway, or to helpfully hand them back to us, when the timing is right, and we can once again include those balls into our timetables and routines.

The tightrope, and the juggling…….not easy….not really much fun when so much energy and focus is needed…..but do-able my friend, dear Liz.  It’s do-able. Especially when you keep looking up, and you keep your biggest fans by your side.   It’s do-able my friend. xx

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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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Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.

Have you ever had a rather profound thought in the middle of what was actually quite a ridiculous situation?

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A couple of weeks ago my family and I stuffed our car full of all the bare necessities you need for a camping holiday, and we took off in search of sunshine, warmth and adventure. Much to our delight we did find lots of sunshine and warmth. The weather for the weeks on either side of our holiday week was awful – but not for our holiday. And much to our delight we found a few adventures.

Well.  Actually.

Not all of the adventures were all that delightful.

Leading up to our holiday I’d been unwell. I’d also been doing some extra hours at one of my jobs and I left it for a few too many days before I took myself off to the doctor to get some antibiotics for a double infection.

So I was already pooped before the first day of our holiday; I worked the night before and then we were up early to head out of town.  All of those factors added together, combined with the fact that my antibiotics were slow to kick in meant that my pain factor went up and up.  We set up our campsite, explored the beautiful area, and I made dinner, all with my ‘fine face’ on.  Then as soon as the kids had gone to bed, my pain levels increased even more and I started to throw up.  Mmmmmm mmmm. For the first reappearance of my dinner, I managed to make it to the campground facilities. Hi de hi campers!  That’s a rather humiliating thing…..have you noticed that no matter what time of the day or night when you’re using communal facilities, there’s always an emphasis on the ‘communal’?  No chance of spewing solo thank you very much.

Anyway.  I made it back to our tent just fine, but the next five episodes of being ‘chunderstruck’,  had to happen in the tent.  Fortunately I had some plastic bags with us.  Unfortunately some of those bags had holes in them.  Unfortunately I managed to find and use exactly those ones.

By the time the seventh vomit came along I was sitting in the car, while my dear husband (in sickness and in health) was packing up what belongings we thought we might need for a trip to find Fiona some help. (We knew I needed stronger painkillers than what I had, some anti-nausea meds and some decent hydration). Just before he woke up our three sleeping children to bundle them into car, to drive to who knows where (we honestly didn’t know where I could get the medical help I needed because we didn’t know what small towns near us had middle of the night urgent care), I remember looking up at the sky and marveling, just for a moment, just before I reached for the spew bag again.

You see those stars were dazzling.  They were scattered across the night sky, blazing boldly. It was a stunning sight.  Apparently on a clear night you can see about two thousand stars from one vantage point. I think I glanced up and saw my two thousand and it took my breath away.

I saw them and I couldn’t help but think, ‘hello my old friends’.

Now I was pretty sick, and pretty out of it for a while there, and it took me the whole week to recover, but I promise you that me thinking of the stars as my friends was a perfectly sound and rational thought.

When we lived in the Northern Hemisphere the night sky there was something I was unfamiliar with.  If I had taken the time to study it and to get to know it, I’m sure I would have loved it too.  A few years ago I remember talking to someone who was about to become a parent for the first time. I told them I reckoned that looking at your newborn baby and getting to know that baby, studying his/ her features and expressions and mannerisms was way more entertaining that television ever was.  That person may have looked at me weird at the time, but now as his baby three is on the way, I reckon he may be in agreement with me there.  You see the night sky that we see here in New Zealand is something I’m more familiar with, because I’ve gotten to know it a little. I’ve studied it a little. I’m not a constellation expert, but when I see some of the main formations that are visible to the naked eye, I see them and I know them.  They are comforting to me.  Old friends.  And they remain constant.

Life is so very full of movement and change.  Family dynamics change.  Kids change year levels at school and sometimes begin different schools. Jobs change.  Expectations change. All sorts of situations change and even our physical selves are constantly changing – we gain weight/ lose weight/ grow hair/ lose hair/ lose skin cells every single day.

Sometimes change can be overwhelming, especially when it is thrust upon us.

When I was in the midst of being so very sick, on what was supposed to be a glorious summer family holiday, and I looked up at the magnificent tapestry above my head, those stars reminded me of God’s steadfastness.  Those stars that I’d admired as a teenager camping with friends, leading camps for small children in the summer holidays where I got to tell them about a great big God who loves them so, those stars were the very same stars twenty five years later. Old friends. We didn’t know where we were going, we had three pretty worried and tired children with us, but as I gazed up with wonder, I knew that God was also with us.  He is steadfast.  Resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.

When I think of steadfastness, I can’t not think of God’s love.  Sometimes we don’t always feel it, or see it, just like we can’t and don’t always see the stars.  Sometimes we choose not to look up.  Sometimes there are things that move into the space between our line of sight and those stars – but that doesn’t ever change the fact that the stars are there. Shining brightly.  Shining gloriously.  Sometimes we just need to drive out out out, far far far from the hustle and bustle of the city’s own lights.  There’s a verse in the bible that says God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness!’ (Lamentations 3: 22 – 23, The Message. And for me, living in the world with some much change, so many unknowns and variables, it is remarkable how comforting and calming it is to know that God’s loyal love is never going to run out.  Another version of the same verse says this: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness’.

This world will continue to swirl and the pace of life doesn’t seem to calm as much as we would like, but we are not consumed.

The next time you feel a little overwhelmed by change or you’re holding onto your sanity by your fingertips, because life can be incredibly hard, take some deep breaths until it is dark outside, then take a little walk and look up.  Look up and know you are carried.  Look up and know He cares.  Look up and know that creator of those stars is creating new mercies for you every day.  You are not alone.  You are not forgotten.  There is a love that never changes. Look up.

‘If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how men would believe and adore’. – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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(And if you’re wondering, we ended up driving 40 mins to the closest town and talking to the ambulance service, before I spent about three hours at the small hospital there, and the kids recovered just fine, but I’m never going on holiday without anti-nausea meds again…..)

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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Vulnerability and band aids.

There’s a reason that first aid kits in commercial kitchens usually stock band aids in gaudy bright, fluorescent colours.  You actually want a chef/ cook/ kitchen hand to notice when their manky old band aid has come off, cos you don’t want that in your meal. No ma’am.  No sir.

Band aids.  Bandages.  They serve a purpose, for a time, but sooner or later those puppies need to come off your body and be disposed of properly.

I’ve been thinking about ‘vulnerability’ lately and have been thinking that vulnerability is a little like a band aid that needs a little bit of help to be ripped off, before it falls off.

When you have a wound, a little or a big ‘owie’, there’s a need for it to be covered up for a little bit. You need to keep the wound clean, and clear from infection.  You also need to to protect it a little from further bashes and bumps.  You don’t want any more blood loss. (And by the way, look after yourself dear ones when you do have a band aid on. One of the stooopidest things I’ve done in one of my jobs was go to work straight after getting a blood test done. You don’t ever want to cut up twenty kgs of carrots after having some blood suckered out of your arm.  Nope.  No you don’t.)  Back to the band aid.  That band aid isn’t designed to stay on forever.  It is only a temporary stopgap.  At some stage your wound will also benefit from a little fresh air – this too has healing powers.  And we all know how gross it is to see band aids that have come off when people haven’t expected that – there’s something really repulsive about seeing them not disposed of properly.

I’m learning that vulnerability is a little like a band aid that needs you to take it off.  We need to open up to each other.  We need the healing power that comes in the salve of one another’s kindness and caring – but that is only possible to apply properly, when we open up to one another. When we expose our wounds to one another. When we peel back our band aids. Then we can bear one another’s burdens.

The band ‘Rend Collective’ recently wrote ‘it is in the rawest, most gaping, and angry scars that authentic faith is often found’.  Scars expose testimonies – testimonies shout of God’s grace.  God’s favour.  God’s loving kindness.  God’s ability to scoop us up and out of whatever messy situations we’re in.  God’s restorative power.  God’s healing strength.

One of my darling boys scratched his face with a long fingernail when he was merely hours old.  That precious, soft and smooth skin on his face was scarred.  He’ll always have that little reminder on his cheek. My own body has scars of battles with hot fudge (I seriously lost), and a stomach stretched to its limits by whopping big babies.  But its not the scars on our bodies that need the most healing – its the ones in our very souls.

It is a hard thing opening up to friends.  There’s trust that must be mustered up.  There’s swallowing of pride. There are doubts and uncertainties that raise their ugly heads.  Sometimes confidences are betrayed, that’s just a reality of life. But you know what?  The pay off that comes with sharing your heart anyway, is worth it. The healing that comes when you do become vulnerable yourself, is worth it.  The reciprocity that happens when you need a friend, and when the friend needs to be needed – creates  levels of shared experience that can’t be faked and can’t be created under any other circumstances, other than this shared vulnerability.

C.S Lewis said ‘We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves’. It has taken me a while to learn this, but I totally agree with him.  We don’t know what we don’t know…..friends can help us with this…..we need others more than we may think.

I don’t want to leave a nasty trail band aids lying around all over the place – peeled off at the very worst of times, in the very worst of places, so I’m learning to make myself vulnerable. And to rip off those band aids when I can.  To open up.  To share my heart.  To let the soothing words of others heal my little nicks and scratches.  I’m pretty sure it is worth it.

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