When God Interrupts Your Plans

A woman lays on her side like one in deep sleep, her petite body curved to fit the narrow space in the toilet cubicle, her back pressed against the door.

“Hello . . .” Another woman, clad in black trousers and navy blouse, kneels outside the cubicle, her hand pressed against the door. “Can you hear me?” Her words echo off the walls of the ladies’ room.

There is no movement, no sound.

She turns to me. We exchange concerned glances. “I know First Aid,” she says.

“Oh.” I nod. “Good.” I see her reach under the door to find the woman’s pulse, all the while praying, God, what do you want me to do? Do I stay? Do I go?

His words from that morning sweep over my heart again. Bask and bless. Receive My love and let it overflow to those around you.

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Bask and bless. I’d almost forgotten that directive in the hustle and busyness of the time since. My well-planned morning has been interrupted by one minor glitch after another. I’d arrived at the shopping centre later and a little wearier than I’d hoped.

But now I see there’s a different plan at play. God’s plan. In that plan I am exactly where I need to be, right on schedule. This is not a time to bustle on with my to-do list. It’s time to overflow.

The woman in blue tries once more. “Hello! Can you hear me?” She feels for a pulse, checks for breath. “She’s not breathing.” Her grim words hang in the space between us.

I step closer. “Do you mind if I pray?”

“No. Go ahead.” She moves aside.

I squat to reach under the door and place my hand on the woman’s back. “Lord, I thank you that you know this woman and you love her. I speak life over her now . . .”

“She’s not breathing.” Security guards have arrived and the first aider explains the woman’s condition. “Her pulse is very faint.”  Her words fall like a wet blanket over my prayer, threatening to smother hope.

Quietly I finish then move into the next cubicle where I kneel. Leaning forward, I press my chest against my legs and hang my head till I can see the woman’s face. She’s wearing jeans, a cotton t-shirt and canvas shoes. Her hair is swept back in a simple ponytail. Her face, lined with the passing of years, is pale. Her eyes are closed.

Compassion fills my heart. I touch her hand, continue praying, and notice the muscles in her jaw beginning to work. “Her mouth is moving!”

Slowly she shifts her legs, tilts her head back and groans.

“She’s breathing!”

The team’s response is immediate. “We need to get her out of there.

A man climbs into the cubicle and helps us move the tiny figure out to an open area on the restroom floor.

“Where am I? What am I doing here?”

“You’re in the ladies’ room at the shopping centre.”

The woman is groggy and disoriented. Carefully we roll her onto her side and explain that help is coming. The guards leave and return later with a clean pillow and blanket. They tell us that, due to a misunderstanding, the ambulance has only just been called.

Time passes and the woman asks the same questions over and over. “Where am I? How did I get here? Who are you?” She seems surprised that strangers have chosen to stay with her, there on the floor.  Her mind drifts back and forth from confusion to resistance, gratitude to fear. Unbidden, she pours out reflections on her life – tales of family tensions, illness, guilt and despair.

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I am compelled to speak. Taking her slender hand in mine, I tell her of love – of Jesus who laid down His life so she can be forgiven – released from the heavy burden of guilt. I stroke wisps of hair back from the face of this one who could be my mother, telling her how precious and beautiful she is. My words are few and inadequacy plagues me as I offer them. Yet I wonder – how long is it since someone treated this dear one with tenderness? How long since she heard she was worth dying for?

Has anyone ever told her?

I don’t know if my words are received; she goes back to her questioning as soon as I finish. But I’m thankful to be there, glad my plan was interrupted. The love God has lavished on me is meant to be shared, not hoarded.

The woman grows tired, her eyes close and her breathing slows once more. The first aider persists determinedly, rousing her again and again until – at last – the ambulance arrives. The medics move in and I embrace the first aider and say goodbye.

I plod through the essential tasks on my list then, my mind drifting back over the events of the previous hour. I pray for the woman – that the love she was offered takes root in heart, bringing hope and security.

And I pray for myself, that my plans are never so rigid they can’t be interrupted.

The best moments in life are the ones my Father orchestrates.

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)

“Always let Him lead you and He will clear the road for you to follow.” Proverbs 3:6 (CEV)

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Lessons in Timing from the Garden

I’m pretty certain it was Pa who sparked my interest in gardening. On every visit to the home he shared with Grandma, I’d venture into their backyard, eyes wide on my little face and heart thumping in anticipation of what I might discover. Delicate ferns and fuchsias grew in the shade of trees so lush that I forgot I was in suburbia. In the centre of the yard stood an enormous grapefruit tree with a koala and kookaburra (fashioned from mesh and concrete) perched in its arching branches.  I’d ride brightly-painted tricycles up and down the path, watch budgies swoop and chatter happily in their aviary and help pick strawberries to eat with Grandma’s cheesecakes. From Pa I learned to relish life in the garden.

My youthful wonder led naturally to a grown-up dream of creating my own outdoor haven. Through the years I’ve gathered trees, fragrant roses, climbers, shrubs and herbs then pressed each one into rich, damp soil, dreaming of the beauty yet to unfold. Faithfully I’ve watered, weeded and watched for signs of growth. Oh, how I’ve watched! Many, many times my husband or children have been pulled outside to endure listening to me ooh and ah over each little progression in my plants, each tiny step towards my dream. Beautiful gardens take time to grow, I know, and rather than try to hurry the process, I’ve chosen to enjoy it.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that God chose to use a garden analogy to teach me an important life lesson – one that has lingered with me ever since.

It was one of those mornings where I was taking extra time just to be still with Him, to get past the everyday cycle of pray-read-journal. I sat on my bed, quietly waiting, a sense of weariness weighing heavy on me. There were challenges our family was facing, answers we needed – about purpose, employment and friendships – and the seeming lack of breakthrough was testing my endurance.

In the silence that morning, the word ‘watch’ came to mind. I was reminded of God’s promise to watch over His people. Concordance in hand, I flicked to Psalm 121. When I read verse 3 the words leapt straight from the page to my heart.

“He will not let your foot slip –

He who watches over you will not slumber;

Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep . . .” (Psalm 121:3-4)

With fresh hope I copied the words into my journal. God was not sleeping on the job! He knew our needs.

I moved on to Psalm 145 and read,

“The Lord is near to all who call on Him,

To all who call on Him in truth.

He fulfils the desires of those who fear Him;

He hears their cry and saves them.

The Lord watches over all who love Him. . .” (Psalm 145: 18-20a, emphasis mine)

I sensed my Father speaking to my heart, bringing gracious encouragement and startling clarity.

Daughter, My watching is not from afar – it is close.

Close enough not only to know your struggles and your desires but close enough to intervene. I am well able to fulfil your desires and work out My purposes.

But often it is all about timing.

The fruit of My work in your life, just like the abundance of a harvest, is all dependent on things happening at the right time.

What good is an abundance of rain when it’s time to reap?

Or long, hot days when the plants are tiny, fragile shoots?

I know just what is needed – when – for your life to be fruitful, as I have promised.

Peace settled over my heart and mind. God has abundant provision prepared for us. It just isn’t the right time for it to be poured out – yet. He is watching over us the way I watch over my plants, delighting in every sign of growth, and He knows exactly what is needed – when – for us to flourish.

A few days after this revelation I realised my new herb seedlings had been scorched by the searing summer sun. They died before they had a chance to mature. All that remained in their pots were shriveled brown stalks.

I was disappointed my plants died. They had too much sun, too soon.

But I nodded as I was reminded of God’s promise.

The next week, billowing rain clouds darkened the sun and sent drenching arrows shooting diagonally to earth. A newly potted hydrangea, one of a pair, copped the full force of the downpour. Its pot became so water-logged that its roots began to rot. Within days the leaves shrivelled and dropped. The other plant, which was sheltered from the rain, continues to thrive.

Once again, I saw the object lesson. It’s just like you said, God.

Plants need sun. They need rain. But the time at which they are provided can make the difference between life and death.

Many things are vital for us to live the full lives God has promised. But they’re only able to help us if they’re supplied at the right time. So often we try to hurry the process, thinking we need them now.

But we are not the Master gardener.

Only He sees the whole process clearly. And when the time is right, He’ll open His hand and pour out all He has promised. When that happens – in His timing – we’ll be ready to soak up every drop He provides . . . and flourish.

 

Hemmed In

The wording in the email was very matter-of-fact. “Please be aware that the average time for interstate deliveries is ten to fourteen days.”

“Oh.” We hadn’t expected that. I’d figured our gear would leave Tassie one day and arrive in Sydney within the week. We’d have a few days to unwind at my parents’ home before it was time to start setting up our own. Perfect.

That wasn’t to be. First of all, the house we were going to rent wouldn’t be available for five days after our arrival. Then there was the delivery setback. My husband and I talked through our options and came up with a brilliant solution. “We’ll buy a van, load up our essentials, stay at Mum and Dad’s for a few extra days then ‘camp’ at the house for a couple of weeks. It’ll be fine. We’ll live simply – a bit like being on holidays.”

So that’s what we did. We bought a van, loaded as much as we could squeeze into it and made our merry way up to Sydney, confident all would be well. Five days later we moved into our rental house, ready to make do with our limited supplies.

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Two weeks passed without any word from the movers. On phoning, we discovered our boxes wouldn’t leave Tasmania until the company had another consignment destined for the same location. In other words they needed someone else’s gear to fill the remaining space in the container before sending it across Bass Strait.

At that point they had no such order.

We’d been savouring the chance to relax before the major unpack but doing without was becoming difficult. What about the games we liked to play in the holidays? The books we were planning to read? Our important documents? And what about the everyday items – the cake tins, sewing supplies, the furnishings that make a place feel like home? I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has asked where a particular item is, only to be told, “Sorry, it’s packed.”

That wasn’t all.

There was also the issue of the car – or lack of it. We’d sold our sedans before moving and planned to buy a new one in our first few days in Sydney. It sounded so simple. But nothing we tried seemed to work. My husband trawled the internet for hours, searching for the perfect family sedan. Some sellers responded to his initial questions then failed to follow through. Others never replied. Finally he found a good deal and keen seller. It took a while to settle on a date to meet. Then the day before our planned meeting the car’s windscreen was hit by a stone . . . and cracked. On meeting day the engine started making strange, grinding noises.

“I’ll get it sorted as quickly as I can and let you know how it goes,” the owner said.

“Okay.” We agreed to wait. The car was just right for us and would be fine once those repairs were done. Surely that wouldn’t take long. Surely. We hadn’t considered that it was December 26th, midway through the prime week that Aussie tradesmen lay down their tools and head for the beach.

One week stretched into two and we battled on using our two-seater van and borrowing our son’s car when we could. For a little while we had the use of a kind relative’s dual cab ute. Many days were spent bored and restless at home, longing for the freedom to come and go as we pleased. But we were powerless to change the situation.

Challenging? Yes.

And there was more.

The night before we left Tasmania I developed a cough, an irritation which grew deeper and more aggressive despite my efforts to fight it. Right in the midst of our other battles, that cough had me wafting, dazed, between choking fits through the day, avoiding close contact with people and waking every hour through the night. I struggled through three weeks without relief before we discovered it was a serious illness that could keep me coughing for up to three months. Thankfully, I’m no longer contagious and have managed to reduce the symptoms a little. Still it’s cast a shadow over my days, making me cautious about what I eat, where I go and how much I do – yet another challenge to endure.

Sometimes it’s been almost funny to reflect on all the obstacles we’ve been facing. Almost. It seems absurd that we have to wade through the same kind of waiting process in so many areas. Didn’t we do enough waiting last year as we sought God’s direction for this move? Wasn’t it time for everything to fall into place now? We’d followed His instructions and left our former lives behind. Didn’t He know we needed these things – our boxes, a car, my health – to be able to enter into the new life He has for us here?

Many times as I sat quiet with God, those questions echoed from my heart to His.

Why God? Why does it have to be so hard?

Every time, His response was the same.

Trust Me. I’ve got you. I’m working for your good – in the waiting.

He’s got us firmly in His grip. He’s working for our good – right now. In the waiting. Not in spite of it, but through it.

One particularly difficult day he whispered the words of Job 23:10 to my heart.

“But He knows the way that I take;

when He has tested me,

I will come forth as gold.”

God knows what we’re going through. He knows. He is fully aware there is testing in the waiting. He knows how painful it is, the intensity of the fire, how much we wish this process would just end! But He loves us – too much to let us escape the flame early. Like a master craftsman patiently watching over the precious metal He’s refining, He is purifying our hearts, sifting our motives, shaping us into the people He knows we need to be for what’s ahead.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

His word brought comfort. He would bring us through.

He also gave me a promise:

As you choose to wait and trust and yield and endure, you will know Me bringing you forth – purified, quiet of heart, confident in My sufficiency. So sit tight, continue to fix your hope on My goodness and watch for My release and provision…

Wait. Trust. Yield. Endure.

And you will be pure. Quiet. Confident.

Hmm. It’s not easy to ‘sit tight’ when we’re in the fire. We wriggle and squirm, trying frantically to figure out a way of escape. But if we’ll just stop fighting and fix our eyes on the Master craftsman then at the right time – His time – release will come.

And the end result – the purity and strength He produces in us – will make us thankful for the process, despite the pain.

What Really Matters – Really?

Several weeks ago I perched on a stool in our driveway, watching people come and go from our garage sale. Some glided through in a steady loop, their eyes running quickly over our wares as they looked for that one particular item. Some tried to haggle, at times offering ridiculously low amounts in the hope of getting a bargain. Others lingered, asking us our story, telling us theirs. A few asked for cuttings from some of our shrubs and passed on gardening tips in exchange.

Many visitors left with arms laden with ‘treasures’– items that were useful to them and rich in history for us. There were plants I’d lovingly nurtured, hefty bookshelves that had called us to delve into yet another of the stories they displayed, worn camping gear, garden tools, children’s clothing and baby toys.

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So many possessions walked down our driveway that day – yet I felt no sorrow. Those things had been useful to us but parting with them wasn’t painful. They were only ‘things’, after all. It was the experiences, the people we connected with them that gave them value.

Five years ago, as I lay in a hospital bed, seriously ill, I had a revelation that has changed the way I view life. I have a feeling those chatty people at our garage sale have discovered the same truth.

Material possessions serve a purpose in our lives. But, as far as life on this earth goes, people are all that matters.

I’ll say that once more.

People are all that matters.

Despite our need and often our yearning for ‘stuff’, it will all ultimately wear out. It serves a purpose and perhaps brings us pleasure for a time, but its value is limited to what it helps us accomplish. People, only people, are the ones with whom we connect at the deepest level, often in a way that impacts eternity.

In the final weeks we spent in Tasmania, it was time with people I was savouring. People who’d walked with us through our marriage, the birth of each of our children, times of anxiety, fear and doubt, times of sickness, times of celebration. People who’d prayed with us, spoken words of hope in seasons of despair and stepped in with offers of practical help. I took every opportunity to talk, eat, laugh and yes, cry, with these who were dear to my heart.

Tasmania is an amazing place to call home – an island full of history, natural beauty, delicious food and countless opportunities for adventure. We’d lived an idyllic life nestled amidst rolling hills. Yet it wasn’t the loss of all those things that had tears welling  as our plane departed two weeks ago. It was the people I was leaving behind.

Now we’re creating a home in our new location, we’re gathering new stuff. Over the past ten days we’ve bought or been given more material things than we would have collected in the previous few years. Couches, electrical goods, plants, pots, a pool, barbecue and outdoor setting have all made their way through our front door – with more still to come. We’ve been so thankful for every piece and its part in making our home run well.

But it’s more than function that’s in my heart as I help shift each item into place. I’m dreaming about relationships. What conversations will our family have around the table? Who will we welcome onto our back deck for barbecues? What stories, what journeys will be shared in this home in the days to come?

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There’s a phrase that has often run through my head since that revelation five years ago. Quietly it guides my treatment of others, chiding me when I start to fear or judge, challenging me to step outside my comfort zone. These two simple words have been inscribed on my heart by my Father’s loving hand and now echo through my days.

You matter.

It’s a phrase for me, yes – an assurance that God sees me and will take care of my needs. But more so it’s a phrase about the people around me, all people, no matter who they are or how different their values are to mine. Each one has been created by God and He loves them with an intensity that led Him to give His very best – Jesus – for them. Because they matter to Him, they should matter to me.  Don’t all of us need that assurance – that we matter – in a culture that is so often focused on the needs and desires of the individual?

It’s January 1st today. Maybe, as we reflect and prepare for a new year, it’s time to broaden our focus from our own dreams and ambitions. Maybe we need to ask ourselves this question: If people really are all that matter, how will that be reflected in the goals and priorities I set for this year? And what am I hoping to see when I look back in twelve months’ time?

It’s worth some thought.

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“The wisdom of the wise is to give thought to their ways…” Proverbs 14:8.

Purpose in the Pain

My struggle that morning caught me by surprise. It was the same staff prayer meeting I went to each Tuesday. Normally I relished listening to one of my colleagues speak then joining a small group to pray. But on that particular day, captive in the front row – the only seating left when I arrived – I felt terribly conspicuous. At any moment, I was certain, I would burst into tears.

My eyes welled and I blinked the tears away. My nose began to run and I blew it as quietly as I could. I shuffled in my seat and fiddled with my handkerchief, trying to contain the emotions welling inside me. A friend as close as family was speaking that morning so I avoided his perceptive gaze. But I couldn’t drag my eyes from the image he’d projected on the screen before me.

It was an ECG printout – a series of sharp upward and downward spikes that reveals the rhythm of a human heartbeat. My friend was comparing it to our time on earth. “This is life,” he declared, pointing to the sharp peaks and deep troughs sitting juxtaposed across the screen. “Real life has its highs and lows for all of us. But this . . .” He pointed to the flat line which trailed at the end of the reading – the indicator that the heart had stopped beating. “This is not life – this place where we try to make our world so stable and comfortable that nothing really happens.”

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I swallowed, nodding my agreement. Despite the heartache which at that moment felt overwhelming, I wanted to embrace life, not meaningless predictability. The thought of saying goodbye to all our dear friends and everything familiar in a matter of weeks loomed as one of the lowest points my heart had ever faced. Yet deep inside me burned a quiet certainty – there was purpose in this valley.

I managed to restrain my emotions that morning till after the talk was over then let a few tears leak out in the safety of some friends. They smiled and sympathised and rubbed my back, all the while pouring out sincere prayers for our family. And so I was given the strength to smile and march bravely through another day.

Ever since that morning I’ve been pondering this topsy-turvy world I entered when I first surrendered to God. His principles often don’t seem to make sense yet they offer unexpected blessings. He speaks of laying down our life and being given a new one. Losing then gaining. Humbling ourselves and being lifted up. Giving generously and seeing our own needs met. Being insulted and receiving the affirmation of heaven. Every loss is met with a gain that not only brings renewal but goes far beyond what was sacrificed – so typical of God’s generous heart.

So what is the purpose of the giving up, the letting go? If He’s only going to provide what we lost why does He ask us to lay it down in the first place?

Because it’s in the laying down, the dying that we are transformed.

It’s when we loosen our grip on all we consider ours that we realise afresh how blessed we are, that everything we have is a precious gift from our Father, to be embraced with thanks. We’re reminded that apart from Him we can do nothing and of how utterly we need to rely on Him to live this zigzagging, up-and-down life.

From the very beginning of this moving process, God has been speaking to me about the new things He’s going to do in our lives, the new people and experiences and opportunities ahead. But right now, it’s hard to see beyond the losses confronting us.

I’m reminded of Jesus, who laid down His everything for us, enduring suffering beyond compare as He died, rejected even by His beloved Father. He didn’t want to go to the cross. He asked for release from that ordeal, sweating drops of blood in the intensity of His agony. Yet He yielded. Because He knew there was something beyond the suffering. Hebrews 12:2 tells us it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross. Jesus made it through because He had His eyes on the prize that lay beyond the grave. Beyond. That’s a good place to fix my eyes.

For me right now, the prize is still a little unclear. It’s hard, really hard, to hope when you can’t see much of the detail in the beyond. Daily I ask God for reassurance.  Where will we live? Who will be our friends? How on earth can anything be as rich as the life and relationships we’ve enjoyed here?

His response, every time? Trust Me.

Trust isn’t grown at the high points of life. It’s formed in the valleys – the times when the darkness is intense and we’re not sure we can endure much more. Being reminded of this helps me accept that this time in the trough is necessary. But I also choose to believe God’s promise – it won’t last forever. There is more beyond this. More life. More people. More everything we’re being asked to lay down. Different . . . but still good – because it comes from His hand.

And when He lifts me up from this valley, I’m trusting I’ll be different to who I was when this descent began. More thankful, more dependent and eager for all that He has in store.

 

Finding Freedom

The cage sat alone on the floor of a dimly lit warehouse. Inside it was a prisoner, knees clasped tight against her chest, eyes downcast and face darkened by despair. A short distance from her feet lay an ornate, black key – large enough to fill her palm, perfectly sculpted to fit the lock.

Pick it up, my heart whispered. I sensed she knew it was there . . . yet she remained motionless.

Sorrow flooded through me, startling me from sleep. I dragged my eyes open, the vivid picture still suspended in my mind. That key was within reach of the captive but she didn’t pick it up. Why?

Many times I’ve been trapped in such a cage, imprisoned by my own dark patterns of thinking. Crippling fear, burning anger or deep discouragement have taken hold of my heart and built walls around my life. Sometimes the gloom around me has seemed so thick I’ve questioned whether the cage even had a door to escape through, let alone a key.

Yet it did – every single time.

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(Key image taken from Etsy )

In the early years of my adult life I needed guidance from others to push that key into the lock and turn it. Now the way of escape is so familiar to me, using it has become a daily habit.

In my dream, the key had two projections on its end – two ‘bits’ that would engage with the lock.  Likewise, I’ve learned there are two steps in the escape process. Both are vital to finding freedom. Let me share them with you.

First we need to take an inside look, shifting our gaze from the oppressive strength of the cage walls to the struggle going on in our hearts. We become aware of the destructive mindsets and negative emotions we allow to traipse freely through our soul. Often, as we reflect, a specific memory comes to mind – a key event which first triggered the emotions.

Here’s an example from my life. Many years ago I realised I had an intense fear of being abandoned by my husband. His love for me was obvious so my emotions didn’t make sense. In time, we deduced the anxiety stemmed partly from a forced hospital stay when I was very young. The sorrow and fear I felt when my parents had to leave me and go home (as was done in those days) was a natural reaction for a little girl. However those feelings had remained with me through the years following, causing me to believe that people I loved may not always be there to support me when I needed them.

It was out of kindness that God brought this issue to the surface. His heart is for us to be free. From His lofty vantage point He sees our lives clearly and knows exactly what’s holding us captive. Oh-so-gently, He uncovers the triggers from our past and reveals the choices we made to let them control us. If we’re willing to stand in His light, admit our failings and turn away from those negative thoughts and emotions, He bathes us in grace, washing away the grime of our yesterdays and giving us a new perspective on our future.

That’s how the first bit engages with the lock. Now for the second.

To find complete release, we need to turn our gaze to the people who have caused us pain. Many times – most times – our triggers have come through others. Their words or actions have taken hold of us, distorting the way we see ourselves, the world around us and even God. Sometimes the littlest details can wound us deeply – a tiny phrase, a rejecting tone of voice, a nasty facial expression. The injury may have happened long ago but the emotion connected with it can still feel just as intense as when it first occurred, sometimes even stronger. Those emotions wrap themselves around us like a straitjacket, telling us there is no hope of escape.

But there is.

To engage the second bit on the key we need to confront the pain of the incident and forgive the person. Yes, forgive – no matter what they’ve done. It was easy to forgive my parents for leaving me in the hospital; they had no option. But sometimes the agony of an experience can feel so overwhelming that forgiving seems impossible. That’s when we need to remember the previous step – where we were forgiven our failings.

We choose to forgive others not because they deserve it but because we’ve been forgiven.

It’s confronting to pause and ponder how many times we’ve caused pain for another person, even unintentionally. How many times we’ve excused our own thoughtless words or harsh behaviour because we’re tired or busy or just plain unhappy.

The reality is we all inflict wounds on others – regularly. Think on this – if God, Who is perfect, gave up His precious Son so we could be forgiven, who are we to hold others’ errors against them?

When we hold onto a painful memory, that pain holds onto us, keeping us bound both to the trauma of the experience and to the person. Additionally, if we choose not to forgive, God’s forgiveness is not available to us either. We put ourselves in a position where neither of the bits on our key can engage.

On the other hand, when we choose to let go of the pain by forgiving, we release the person to God and the unhealthy ties are broken.

Forgiving can be very painful. Sometimes we need the support of others to help walk us through the process. Sometimes we need to forgive a person many times over for the same incident as we work through layers of pain. If we lift our eyes to God and remember His mercy to us, He will give us the strength we need to truly let go.

As we do, that key turns in the lock, the cage door flings open and we are set free to fly.

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“He has sent me to . . . proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . .” Isaiah 61:1

 “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

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Forgiveness is also good for our health! For further reading, see:

www.thriveglobal.com/stories/38631-why-you-should-embrace-the-forgiveness-mindset

Careful What you Listen to

Have you ever noticed how subtly negative thoughts weave their way into your thinking? So silently, those sneaky, snaky strings of words take up residence in our minds, challenging our hopes and trying to reverse every positive attitude we hold. Sometimes there’s an element of truth in what they say; sometimes they’re outright lies. Either way, we often allow them to settle into our thought patterns, unwittingly giving permission for them to influence our lives.

Sometimes we’ve lived with those poisonous little phrases for so long we don’t even realise they’re there, dictating so many of our choices – until someone points them out.

That’s what happened to me last Sunday. I was sitting in bed, propped up on soft pillows, musing over Jesus’ words in John 15, “Remain in Me and I will remain in you . . . apart from Me you can do nothing.”(1) How well I know it! The enormous changes our family is going through, with all its uncertainties, has each of us starkly aware of our need to stay connected to Jesus – like a tender branch gaining strength from the sturdy vine.

But that’s not the only transition happening in my world right now.

After more than eight years, I’m making final touches to my book manuscript, ready to submit it to publishers. Within a couple of years, the long-dreamed-of book could be in print, (God willing) bringing perspective and hope to people who struggle with anorexia – and their loved ones. Publishing a book raises your profile and brings new opportunities to speak with people. You’d think this would be a time of great excitement and anticipation. Instead, I’ve found myself becoming reflective, quiet and a little overwhelmed by the thought of all that attention.

Why, you ask. That’s where last weekend’s revelation comes in.

On that cosy Sunday morning, tucked up in bed, my attention was drawn to these words of Jesus: “If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (2)

I’ve read those words lots of times. They make perfect sense. If a branch remains connected to the vine – and it’s a strong, lush, nourishing vine – of course that branch will bear good fruit, much fruit. I’ve always agreed with that principle. But until that morning I’d never stopped to imagine what ‘much fruit’ might look like in a person’s life, particularly my own. I was okay with the thought of bearing some fruit; but much fruit? Wasn’t that a bit, well . . . much?

several bunch of grapes
Photo by Luiz M. Santos on Pexels.com

In the same passage in John I read that when people bear much fruit, they bring glory to the Father. (3) Not to themselves, but to the Father. Suddenly God had my attention. A sense of wonder washed over me as I filled a page of my journal with quickly flowing revelations. Out of His great love, the Master surgeon was uncovering an oppressive pattern of thinking that had bound me up since childhood: “You can shine; just don’t shine too brightly.”

In my earliest years I had boundless confidence. The doted-on ‘baby’ of three girls, I followed my whims and said or did whatever popped into my head. It didn’t take too long to discover it wasn’t such a popular thing to be so sure of oneself. Names like ‘show off’ were fired my way, quickly teaching me it was better to shrink back and be quiet than stand out from the crowd.

More recently God has been calling me out of that self-conscious place into the peace and rest that comes when I put my confidence in Him. Jeremiah 17:7-8 is a favourite passage. Again and again, in my quiet times and through others, God has told me to ‘Arise and shine.’ Fear and intimidation have roared, Don’t be a show off! No one wants to hear what you have to say. Many times I’ve chosen to push through the fear barrier and follow God’s lead any way. But always there’s been a sense of restraint – a feeling I shouldn’t let things go too far, shouldn’t shine too brightly.

Last Sunday I realised just how much those fearful thoughts were holding me back.

I read on. Jesus told His followers He had chosen them and appointed them for a special task – bearing fruit(4). That task has also been given to us who love Him today. It’s Jesus’ desire and purpose for us to bear fruit – and plenty of it. If I want to walk in His plan for my life, I need to be willing to do that.

It really doesn’t matter what others think of me – or even what I think.

In truth, it’s all about Him.

I did a lot of praying that morning – forgiving the people who put me down in the past, rejecting those fearful thought patterns and tuning in to what God had to say. Lately I’ve been sensing He wants to lead me further out of my comfort zone than I’ve ever been before. On that particular day He asked me to throw off any limits I’d put on my life. And I did. I don’t know exactly what that will mean, but I know I can be confident that whatever comes, I won’t face it alone. He will be my strength and sufficiency each step of the way.

These words of Jesus are true for all of us who love Him. He desires us to live abundantly fruitful lives as we fulfil the specific purposes He made us for.

I wonder what that looks like for you?

And what kind of thoughts might be holding you back?

Imagine how bright the light will be if each of us shines the way we were created to.

“. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b

Sunrise on distant hills

(1) John 15:4a,5b

(2) John 15:5b

(3) John 15:8

(4) John 15:16