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

 

 

 

 

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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Bridges

Today marks the one year anniversary of a dear friend’s passing.  It’s also the start of a period of about three months where a few other friends will be remembering and honouring their loved ones who have died in the last two years.  I’ve been thinking about their grief and their journeys, and I’ve been thinking also of others who may not be entering this new year with a good bounce in their step.  We’re supposed to you know – we’re supposed to make plans and goals and for those of us especially in the Southern Hemisphere who have our major summer holidays at this time of the year, we’re supposed to spend this time getting refreshed and re-energized and re-focused for the coming year.  But for some, this is easier said than done.  And that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

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We like bridges.  My family, we like bridges.  We like driving on bridges that are new to us.  We like different structures and noticing different materials that have been used in their construction. Spend any amount of time in the Portland, Oregon and you’ll love the bridges there.  There’s a bridge that takes you from Oregon into Washington State – the border line is drawn through the Columbia River.  That bridge is also a drawbridge so that gains triple points for interest sake.

Bridges are an engineering field all in themselves.  I married into a brainy family.  We’ve got doctors and engineers in our fold and one of our engineers is a bridge engineer.  She’d love all the bridges we got to see in our time in the States.

The longest bridge in New Zealand is in Canterbury. It leads State Highway One over the Rakaia River and it goes for 1,756 metres.  We used to drive that stretch of road all the time when we lived in Christchurch and always, always, we’d try to hold our breaths for the duration of the bridge. It’s just one of those things that a lot of people do.  Similar to honking your horn when you’re driving in the Lyttleton Tunnel.  No-one knows why you do these things or who first started it, but you join in, because it’s a ‘thing’.

So when I think of bridges, sometimes I think of holding my breath.  And sometimes this is a conscious thing and sometimes an involuntary thing.

I know of plenty of people at the moment who are travelling on their own bridges at the moment.  Bridges of grief.  Bridges of ‘interesting’ journeys.  Bridges that are nagivating them along paths of uncertainty.  And for some of these people breathing does not come easy.

You see some people think of grief as a tunnel, something dark with light at the end of it.  The promise of hope, beckoning.  And yes, it may well be a tunnel for some.  But for some, this grief journey, this dealing with the things that life chucks at us, is more of a bridge.  Bridges make terrain than is uncross-able, cross-able.  Bridges lead us on.  They open up the path before us.  Bridges don’t hide us from the outside world – from everything else that is going on, like tunnels do.  My friend who is a new widower, knows all too well, that just because he’s adjusting to a new normal, and that’s tough in itself, but that also doesn’t make him immune to all of life’s other struggles – he still has to manage the normal yuck and ick of life.  But.  He’s on a bridge.  There’s forward momentum. He’s progressing.

Bridges are designed to withstand incredible weights, incredible loads.  You haven’t seen road freight until you’ve seen trucks in action in the States.  Websites like Amazon can promise things like next day delivery when you’ve got the billions of trucks working like they do, moving more than 10.4 billion tons of freight a year.  So we know that bridges on major roads can carry amazing weights.  And I wonder if we sometimes underestimate what we can carry ourselves?  The human soul is amazingly resilient and most of the time we just don’t know how much we are capable of carrying, until we are under that weight, until we are having to bear those burdens. You may be on a bridge in your own life right now, and you’re most likely feeling incredibly weak and inadequate and overwhelmed – but-  I know this – you are stronger than you feel.  Your ‘bridge’ is stronger than you think.

How do I know how strong your bridge is? Bridges have designers, they have engineers, we also have a designer in charge of the construction of the bridges in our lives.  God didn’t put the pain in our lives. God didn’t make a chain of events happen so that the end result is you’re absolutely petrified about the start of a new year because you’re not sure what it is going to bring or how things are possibly going to be different, no, things are not as they possibly are in your life because of what God has done, this I know. He is there with you now, providing you with a bridge.  A way through.  A way on.  The promise of HopeWhen we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us.  He promises to be with us.  His rod and his staff protecting us.  That’s the promise of a bridge.  We can place great reliance on the strength of what we’re walking on – on how we’re walking through whatever we’ve walking through, because in Him we are made strong.  

You’ll notice that there are some bridges that are single lane bridges – or one way.  I kinda think that’s what life is like with some of the things we have to walk through.  We can have companions alongside us, for a stage or two, up to a point, and then there’s a time when actually, the paths have to be driven solo, or walked single-file.  Sometimes this happens involuntarily – sometimes people can’t offer the help you may need – or they don’t know the need is there.   Sometimes there’s only so much that others can do to lend their support.  Your bridge must simply be walked solo.  But your bridge is still a bridge – a structure to get from point A to point B, and your walk is surely supported best by the one who knows you best, your loving Father.  He’s there.  He’s by your side, he’s calling you forward.

Some bridges can be very long.  Very long.  And when you begin them, you can’t always see the end point.  But you know what? The end point is there….it is just as secure and safe as the starting point. Just remember to breathe.  You can’t hold your breath for every bridge you go on.  You’ve got this.

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Brave Wears Many Faces

I used to think that ‘brave’ was a term to be reserved and used only for those ‘stand out from the crowds, living on the very edge, facing life and death situations’ type of adventurers.  Those who aren’t afraid to put themselves in scary situations.  Along with those people, I’d add in ‘brave’ when describing all of those who find themselves thrust into situations where they or their families are in, (or have been in) harm’s way.  Maybe they’re facing a cancer diagnosis, maybe they have to spend hours walking the halls of the closest children’s hospital, maybe huge loss has ripped their family apart and they have to get used to a new normal.  Brave brave brave.  Courage courage courage.  That’s what ‘brave’ used to mean to me.

But lately I’ve been thinking that brave IS indeed all of that, plus much, much more.

Brave can be found in the every day, in the highs and lows of this blessed but messy life.

Brave can be applying for a job you don’t think you’re good enough for, you’re not qualified for, but you think that maybe you could learn.

Brave can be standing up for yourself when mean comments have been flying and all sensitivities have flown out the window.  (Courage originally meant to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart).

Brave can be looking your kids in the eye and saying ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that’.

Brave is sometimes just someone showing up, when everything in their world is crying out to them to hide, and to stay hidden.

Brave can be forcing yourself to be step up and out of your shyness to say hello to the new parent at school pick up.

Brave can be looking your cashier in the eye and asking how their day is going.

Brave can be giving a real answer, when someone asks you how you really are.

Brave can be asking for support.

Brave can be taking two minutes to fire off a text or an email, to call out the gold in someone, it is sometimes pushing past boundaries and potential stumbling blocks when you don’t know how it will be received.

I think that ‘brave’ isn’t really recognized as much as it could be, and I’m on a new quest to call out the brave in my children, in my spouse, in my friends and colleagues.  Because brave, when it is recognized, it tends to breed more ‘brave’.

Once you’ve done one thing and you can step back and see it for being gutsy, see it for being something that led you past your comfort zone, then the next time you need to do something just a little bit courageous, it is just that little bit easier.  It’s like you know you’ve done a little bit of brave, you can do a little bit more.  I think ‘brave’ builds stepping stones, upon which….heck…the impossible can be done.  Because it is made possible.  But it helps to have someone walk alongside you, someone to urge you on.  Someone who’s not afraid to whisper in your ear ‘what you did just then, it was brave’.  Because I don’t know anyone on God’s green earth who doesn’t want to be brave.  And we don’t always see it and recognize it for what it is, in ourselves.

I saw this in action last week when one of my kids needed to have a general anesthetic.  The anesthetist gave him the choice of having an IV line put in his hand, and then having the medication to make him go to sleep injected directly into the IV line, or he could have had the face mask put on him and he could have breathed in the gas to make him go to sleep. A short but painful prick in the hand, with a rather long needle, or a smelly mask forced over your face?  Hmmm. Tough choice.  My kid chose the needle and IV line, he chose the more painful option, because he didn’t want to feel any kind of struggle with the mask.   So his Dad and I told him, ‘you are brave, you can do this’.  ‘You are going to be ok’.  And he was ok.  He handled that big ole needle like a champ.  And then when I walked him to the operating theatre and he saw six gowned and masked people there all looking at him and waiting for him and his steps faltered, again I whispered into his ear, ‘you are brave, you can do this’.  And he did it.  He carried on walking to the bed, laid himself down and stuck his arm out for the medication to go to sleep.  He was so brave.  And if there’s ever a next time, he’s going to know he can do hard things like that.  He’s also got a new empathy for people who are seriously sick and even for people who have to deal with big needles all the time.  Brave grows us.  Brave enlarges our hearts.  Brave wears many different faces.

We need to recognize ‘brave’ and celebrate it.  Brave brings about change in us. Brave stretches us – and the most awful but the very best learning happens in the stretch. Brave is also contagious – how many times have you seen others do something that they didn’t think they could do, then you think, by golly, I can do that too.  And so you do.

 

“Courage is a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.” – Brene Brown.

 

I really do think that brave wears many faces – let’s help each other to be braver by braving.  By braving together.

 

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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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Permission.

I wanna be like Penny when I grow up.

With her beautiful twinkling eyes, ever present smile accompanied by love crinkles, feisty spirit, and good natured jesting with her husband, Penny is just the kinda lady I want to be.

Penny was a guest speaker at a conference I just attended. She shared from her wealth of knowledge and experience. She encouraged and she blessed. She told wonderful stories from the early days of the Vineyard Church movement, but the biggest and bestest take home nugget of gold I got from her, out of all the other truths she shared, was permission to just be a work in progress. And isn’t that what we’re all crying out for these days?

There’s this thing out there in the big wide world, that says we need to do it all.  And be it all.  We need to have ‘it’ all sorted, and have it sorted yesterday. 

And sometimes we can do it all.

Whatever ‘it’ is.

But none of us can do all the things we may wish to do, all of the time, no matter how hard we try, no matter how constant the pressure is, whether is it really there or simply implied…..

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you’ll know I am a Christ follower. I love God and I love walking my Journey with other Christians. But even in some church circles, there’s sometimes this belief that you should have your life mostly ‘together’. And often this belief is accompanied by the thought that you should only share your struggles from a place of victory, a place of overcoming. 

But the fact is we’re all on a journey. Whether you’re a christian or not, I believe that we are all at different stages. We all have things we can do, we can’t do, things we shouldn’t do, things we should do, to be the healthiest and happiest versions of ourselves we can be. 

And I think we can all do with hearing what Penny had to say at a session yesterday. A panel of women were asked how they deal with anxiety and worry, and I felt like Penny gave us a very real and raw answer. She sat on the stage and very graciously admitted that she didn’t cope with anxiety and worry very well at all. That this is something she struggles with, and she relies on others to help her get through times when worry consumes her. 

This was in a nutshell giving us permission. 

Permission to not have it all together. Permission to have areas in our lives where we need to lean on others. Permission to be works in progress, no matter how far along our christian walk we are. Permission to be real and raw and honest. Permission to be ok with our flaws and troubles. 

Time and time again I’m reminded of community. Of friendship. Of reciprocity. Of people standing in the gap for others. And yesterday Penny reminded me of   the importance of vulnerability, of not ever having to appear as if life is always easy and good. Permission for that is a gift, and a gracious gift at that. 

I wanna be like Penny when I grow up. Just like Penny.