A Holy Encounter

The lights were low, the room warm and full of people. I closed my eyes while music and voices swirled around me, my heart swelling with emotion. We were back—together at last—singing carols in anticipation of Christmas. We’d just begun one of my favourites. This year, after many months of restrictions and isolation, its words seemed especially poignant.

‘Long lay the world in sin and error pining . . .’

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Didn’t that describe the journey we’d been on? Regardless of our viewpoints, we’d all suffered loss and heartache—so much waiting, disconnection and wondering.

‘ . . . Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.’

This testing had brought for each of us a fresh awareness of our flaws and need of rescue.

‘A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices . . .’

Goose bumps tingled over my skin as I lifted a silent prayer. Oh, yes, Lord! Our world is weary. We desperately need Your hope.

On through the verses we caroled, our voices rising in measure with our passion, till we neared the crescendo. ‘Fall on your knees . . .’

And there it was again – that tug on my spirit. Every time we sang, ‘Fall on your knees,’ I sensed God’s whisper, Don’t just sing the words. Do what they say. Kneel.

I opened my eyes, scanning the room. People in our church didn’t often kneel. Everyone was caught up in the joy of worshipping together—did I really want to distract them? Wouldn’t they think I was weird?

The pull grew stronger. I breathed deep. Okay, God. I will.

As the words came around again, I lowered myself to the carpet. Closing my eyes once more, I rested my hands on the back of the chair in front of me and continued singing, ‘O night divine, O night when Christ was born.’

My surroundings seemed to fade and I saw myself in a starlit stable, kneeling on a bed of straw. The scene reminded me of a Christmas card I’d seen many years earlier, where Santa knelt at the foot of a manger, his hat in his hands, head bowed before the sleeping baby. That card made such an impression on me, the image was still vivid in my mind.

This time, though, it wasn’t Santa lowered in reverence. It was me. If I opened my eyes, I knew everything around me would look the same as before. So, I didn’t. God was showing me something and I didn’t want to miss a moment.

From my position on the stable floor, I leaned forward and peered into the manger. There He was—Jesus—tightly wrapped, his head covered with dark hair, his tan face glowing with the sheen of new birth. This object of our worship, Who came to offer hope to a world in crisis, was the Son of God—co-creator of the universe, more powerful than any earthly or spiritual ruler. Yet here He was—a baby?

I knew the story. We all knew the Christmas story. Jesus came as a baby. But on this day, I felt it. It became real to me. And I wept.

Jesus looked exactly like any other newborn. So tiny. So fragile.

This mighty one had given up all His splendour, all His elevation above earthly concerns, to become the most vulnerable of humans. Easily crushed. Completely dependent on others to sustain Him.

How could that be? What love must have compelled Him to be reduced to such a state?

In that moment, something shifted inside me. All the hardships of my year—all the challenges I’d been wrestling with—suddenly looked very small. If Jesus could humble Himself in this way, and later lay down His life to rescue me, how could I offer Him anything less?

I wiped my eyes as the song came to an end and stood once more, my heart at peace.

Lord, I’m yours. Whatever you want, I’m willing. You are worthy. Help me to follow you.

I don’t know what lies ahead for me. I don’t feel any stronger than I did before. But I am comforted. Because I know that whatever comes, Jesus gets it. He’s already walked the hardest of roads—and He knows the way through.    

‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

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Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!’

  Philippians 2:5-8

Victory in Defeat

My plan was to pray over the long list of verses and thoughts in my diary ready to create an author post. But I found my eyes drawn to the last topic in my short list of blog ideas, ‘Overcoming in Defeat’. I stared at the words, acutely aware of their relevance for the season we’re in. Pulling out my journal from July— where the original ideas were recorded—I read and was stirred once again.

I had been mulling over Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:21 ‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’ The idea sounded inspiring—but how did it work?

As I mused, I had written, ‘Lord, doing good when we’re treated badly doesn’t feel like overcoming. It feels like defeat, like bowing to the evildoer.‘ I was thinking of some painful conflicts I’d faced in the preceding week.

Almost immediately, I sensed God’s response. ‘So it was with the cross. My son’s death had every appearance of defeat and injustice. He was condemned via an unfair trial, placed in the hands of prideful, demon-driven zealots, treated with utmost brutality, betrayed and abandoned by most of His dearest friends. He even felt forsaken by Me—His Father, who sent Him.

It was true. I could see Jesus in my mind—accused, betrayed, dragged away like a criminal, ridiculed and beaten by supposedly God-fearing people, then enduring a slow, agonizing death in front of a jeering crowd. He had the power to crush those who attacked Him, yet He forgave them, yielding to His Father’s will. To any onlooker—even Jesus’ closest friends—it appeared the enemy had soundly defeated Him.

That morning God reminded me of an important truth—what we perceive isn’t always reality.

The gruelling process Jesus endured had a purpose far beyond what anyone could see at that time. What looked like defeat was, in reality, stupendous victory. Through His suffering and death, Jesus disarmed the very powers that were trying to destroy Him, making a public spectacle of them. And He opened up the way for us to be forgiven, set free and welcomed into the family of God. Victory indeed! None of those breakthroughs could have come without Jesus’ humble willingness to walk in obedience.

My notes from God’s revelation continued,

Every time you choose good, there is a victory in your spirit and your character. Each time you submit to Me and lay down your desire to do things your own way, I build muscle into your character and grow you in authority for greater victories.

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Eating the best of the land (as promised in Isaiah 1:19) isn’t just about material, tangible experiences. It’s about the heart, the spirit and the spiritual realm. So be willing and obedient. Follow the way of the cross. It will be worth it.

God’s route to victory is rarely the high road. More often it is a path of servanthood, humiliation and frail dependence. In God’s economy the last are first, servants are declared the greatest, the proud are opposed and the humble are lavished with grace. Those events that have all the appearance of failure are forward steps on the path to triumph.

This concept is foreign to our success-oriented world. Our bibles are laden with living examples. Think of Joseph—a slave and a prisoner—made second in charge under Pharaoh; of Gideon—the least of the least—who led God’s people into conquest; of David—the shepherd boy with a sling and a stone—who defeated a terrifying giant; of Rahab—a prostitute—who had her pagan family rescued from certain destruction and was welcomed into the lineage of Jesus.* Then there was Jesus—the Son of God—who made Himself nothing, taking on the role of servant to His subjects and surrendering His life in the most gruesome of deaths. His humble obedience led to ultimate exaltation, higher than any other—forever .

There’s always more to the story than what we see. Always.

If we’re seeking to walk with God and doing good as He directs, His victory will come. We may not always see the full result of our obedience, but we can be confident of this—God will fulfil His purpose, in our hearts and in our world. So, let’s press on, choosing willing, trusting obedience. Jesus is with us—and He knows the way.

Triumph comes via the low road.

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‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’

Hebrews 12:2-3

*You can read more about these overcomers in the following passages.

Joseph: Gen 37-41

Gideon: Judges 6-8

David: 1 Samuel 16-17

Rahab: Joshua 2 and 6

A Way Through the Valley

I sat on the couch and stared blankly out the window, my eyes blind to tiny green shoots sprouting everywhere in the garden—usually a cause for joy. Depression loomed over me like a black-robed villain, pressing down on my soul, while despair tightened its grasp. I was sinking—I could feel it. I leaned forward and put my face in my hands, keenly aware that the divide between me standing firm or falling was so fragile, there was almost no barrier to stop me plummeting.

For a moment, I teetered on the edge, wondering what would happen if I let depression take hold. I was justified, wasn’t I? Wouldn’t anyone be low in my position?

Three years ago, our family uprooted and left our home state of twenty-five years to move north. While we relished being closer to my family and living near the coast, the process of establishing our career paths and forming new friendships was slow, hampered further by the 2020 lockdown.

Once COVID restrictions eased, we dusted ourselves off and ventured forward again, keen to build on the small foundations we’d already laid. Doors of opportunity began to open and our sense of belonging was growing when, wham! Our second lockdown hit. This one lasted much longer and its impact reverberated all the way to the laws of our nation. This time, along with rules and restrictions a clear message was proclaimed, challenging our ideas about what matters most and dictating the way we should view and treat people. Like the ripples of an earthquake, we felt its effects as key aspects of who we were as Australians began to shake.

Normally, I’m an upbeat girl, ready to believe the best of people and hold hope of better days beyond a trial. It’s rare for me to find myself in a place so deep and dark, I can’t see any way out. Lately, though . . . well, it’s been tough. I won’t go into detail beyond saying there are significant changes happening in my sphere and I’m facing heartbreaking loss in several areas, particularly relationships. When I see the people around me also struggling, my grief is multiplied.

We didn’t see this upheaval coming, nor can we see where it will take us. Almost every day the information seems to change. If ever there was a time to be confronted with our powerlessness, it’s now. We cry out to God and use the strength He gives to make the best of our situation and support others. Sometimes, though, the constancy of the battle wears us down and its length stretches us far beyond what we think we can bear. Hope fades and the gloom becomes so heavy, it immobilizes us. That’s where I found myself on the couch that day—staring into a darkness so thick, it seemed as if it could swallow me whole. Oh, God.

Then, softly, like a light shining through the fog, I sensed an echo of my own words from a couple of months back:

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‘The hardest of times became the high points in my life because of what God did through them.’

Those were words of hindsight, reflections on the darkest seasons in my journey. Through trauma, anorexia, relationship strains, burnout, life-threatening illness and tragic loss I’d felt God’s loving presence so close, known the wisdom of His counsel and seen His goodness poured out, even in the littlest details.

The hardest of times can become the best of times? Could that really be true in this situation?

Surely not this time, God. This is too big, too hard.

His response? You have a choice.

I paused, breathing deep. I did, didn’t I? I could let myself be pulled into the vortex of despair, or I could choose to put my hope in God and believe He would turn all of this—somehow—for good. Sitting up, I rubbed my hands against my legs and released a slow breath. I knew my emotions were shaky, far too weak to leap all the way from hopelessness to instant joy. I had a journey ahead—and from my former times of struggle I knew the steps I needed to take:

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  1. I asked for help

I picked up my phone and sent messages to my connect group leader, my church prayer team and a bunch of close friends, telling them how low I was and asking them to pray.

God puts us in community for our good. When we feel like we’re drowning, He urges us to confide in others, allowing them to lift us with their encouragement and prayers.  

‘Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.’ James 5:16 TLB

2. I switched off the noise

Some words I’d been listening to offered hope. Others gave interesting information but stirred up anxiety and despair. I chose to switch off the second set.

When our emotions are too frail to deal objectively with negativity, we need to be vigilant, setting limits to protect our mind and heart.

‘Fix your thoughts on what is true and honourable and right and pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ Philippians 4:8 NLT

3. I simplified

I took a step back and chose to simplify what I could—clearing out clutter, putting aside big projects, giving myself time and space to rest.

Weary hearts and minds are easily overloaded. Sometimes we need to slow the pace for a while and just do the basics.

‘There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.’ Ecclesiastes 3:1

4. I fixed my eyes

Once some of the mental and physical clutter had been cleared out, it was easier for me to define my focus. Again and again, I felt God urging me, ‘Fix your eyes on Me.’ So, again and again, I did. And every time I looked to Him, He brought new perspective to everything else.

No circumstance, person, disease or government determines the course of our lives. Above all, God is in control—and He is a good, loving Father.

‘Be still and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.’ Psalm 46:10

5. I nourished my spirit

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I spent extra time in God’s presence each morning, journaling and sitting quietly, chewing over portions of scripture and writing down verses He seemed to highlight. Like a starving child desperate for good food, I devoured every word that brought truth and perspective. Through the day I fed on the wisdom of others, listening to sermons and reading articles that built my faith.

God’s word is our food, His Spirit our life-giving water. To gain the strength we need for the path He’s marked out for us, we need to eat and drink daily from His provision.

‘When your words came, I ate them;

They were my joy and my heart’s delight . . .’ Jeremiah 15:16

6. I remembered God’s faithfulness

One day I listed in my journal the many trials of my past, each one so difficult I’d wondered if they would ever end. I remembered what God did, the profound truths He taught me and the way He led me all the way through—making me richer and wiser through the process.

The trials we face don’t last forever. They have a beginning and an endpoint. How we come out of them depends on how we go through them. If we’re willing to yield to God’s refining and receive His guidance on the way, He’ll work it all for good in our lives.

‘Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.’ James 1:3

7. I let go

Finally, after dealing with all the other issues, I realised how entangled I’d become in all my imaginings of what might or might not happen. My attempts to figure and plan had woven a tight web around my soul, pinching me with disappointment and despair whenever circumstances didn’t work out as I’d hoped.

God alone could see the future.

Just as He was with me now, He would be with me in the days to come, supplying all I needed at every point along the way. To try to do His job was a waste of time and energy.

So, I surrendered.

I laid down my need to know how God was going to work everything out.

I chose to trust Him, believing He would bring me through and take care of me on the way.

I chose to take one day at a time, fixing my eyes on His face, following His nudges and giving my best to the people around me.

Scrawling that prayer of surrender in my journal brought great release, lightening the burden I’d been carrying and giving me freedom to focus on each day as a gift. It didn’t fix everything—our world is still in turmoil. But I find I’m more able to manage the fluctuations between anxiety and confidence, sadness and thankfulness by choosing to stay anchored in the truth that is stronger than my feelings:

This season won’t last forever.

God’s promises are true.

He is with us and, if we keep our eyes on Him, He’ll show us the way through—choice by choice—for however long it takes to come out the other side.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

And when we emerge from this battle,

we’ll be closer to God,

stronger in His truth and

more confident in His sufficiency

than we were at the beginning.

‘And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’ Romans 8:28

Overcoming Darkness

Her name was Bec. Small in stature, with shoulder-length, sandy hair, a face free of make-up and an unpretentious manner, there was nothing to give the impression of authority or passion as she took her place at the lectern. But when she opened her mouth, I realised she had the heart of a lion.

Bec had been living for several years in Cambodia, a nation where trafficking of women and children was common—and many nationals viewed it as a way to survive financially. Fathers sold their young daughters into prostitution. Some children were rescued and returned to their families, only to be sold again. The blindness and injustice of it made my stomach churn. Yet Bec’s tone held steady as she shared. How can she be so calm? I wondered.

After reading some sad statistics, Bec lifted her eyes to her listeners. ‘Because of this, many people view Cambodia as a very dark place. When we look at the darkness in our world, we can shake our heads in despair, fearing the darkness will grow so large that it snuffs out the light.’ Her voice grew louder. ‘But that’s because we have the wrong idea. We think darkness and light are equal and opposite forces. They’re not. Darkness isn’t a force at all. It doesn’t have a power of its own to do anything.

Darkness is just the absence of light. To overcome darkness, all we need to do is turn on the light. Even the tiniest flame can cut through it.’

I sat in my seat, stunned, as Bec’s words cut through the shadows in my mind.

She opened her bible and read from John chapter 1 verse 5. ‘”The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”’

Hope stirred inside me. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness—no matter how black it is—cannot overcome light.

Bec continued, ‘This principle is the foundation of our work in Cambodia. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”’ (Matthew 5: 14-15) She smiled. ‘To overcome darkness, we need to find the highest stand—the highest platform—we can and shine as brightly as we can, so our light reaches as many people as possible.’

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For Bec and a team of Cambodian nationals, that meant working together to shine the brightest light they could into arenas which held the greatest sway over young people’s minds—music and media. The team formed a band, wrote music and worked with some media experts to produce albums and advertisements that challenged popular views on issues such as drink spiking, date rape, prostitution and trafficking. As they shone their light, they were changing mindsets, little by little.

It’s been fifteen years since I heard Bec speak, but her words have stayed with me—and they came up again a couple of months ago. In fact, I woke with them echoing through my mind.

It’s so easy for us to be overwhelmed by the darkness we see in our world, especially in this COVID season when there’s upheaval almost everywhere we look. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that we can overcome darkness—if only we’ll turn on the light.

So, how do we do that?  

We fix our eyes

First, we shift our gaze from the darkness—all the doom and gloom around us—to focus on God. The bible says He is light and darkness has no place in Him. It’s only through His light, His enabling, that we can overcome.  When we fix our eyes on the pure brightness of His light, everything else is put into perspective. He gives us hope. He exposes any darkness residing in our hearts, washing us clean and setting us free to move forward and live at peace with others.

‘If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.’ 1 John 1:7

We act in the opposite spirit

Darkness cannot be overcome by more darkness. Instead, we live in God’s light and let it shine through our lives.

Where there is hatred, we show love.

Where there is division, we build unity.

We offer hope in the face of doom, truth where there is deception, comfort where there is pain, peace amid turmoil, acceptance where there is rejection. Enabled by God’s overflowing love, we press forward, relying on the wisdom and power He offers.

‘Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.’ Romans 12:21

We let the Light guide our steps.

As we choose to walk with God, He shines His light on our path, revealing His specific purpose for each of us. As we give ourselves wholeheartedly to that purpose, His light emanates from our lives, dispelling the darkness around us.

He may lead us to do something as small as smiling at a neighbour who’s struggling, or as large as funding a programme to help those who are homeless. For each of us, the path will be different, but we all have a part to play.

‘A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.’ 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)

Our light may seem small to us. Insignificant, even. But think of a flickering candle. The tiniest flame still penetrates the darkness. And if we all shine together, think of how bright the light will be. Together we can overcome.  

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‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:37-39  

Personal Training

Their numbers are growing, this army of people. We see them more often now COVID has pushed them outdoors. Clad in cotton, spandex and microfibre, they leave their homes just as the sun stretches its fingers across the sky and take their place in pairs along the Wollongong waterfront—the eyes of one fixed on the other, their ears hungry for instruction.  

I watch them as I stroll past—the trainer giving guidance and encouragement, the client pushing their body through the motions. They squat and crunch, lift enormous weights and stretch beyond what seems natural, their faces contorting with effort yet radiating hunger for more. The transformation they’re experiencing—it seems—is worth the pain.

I’m impressed by these people. They care enough about their health to commit time and money to glean from another person’s skill and experience. Funnily, we also engage in personal training—almost every day—though we don’t often realise it.

A few months back God whispered to my heart. As I drifted up from slumber, His words echoed through me with clarity and conviction,

You are discipled by whatever you give your time and attention to.

Now that’s confronting. And thought provoking.

‘Discipled’ is a word we rarely use these days. It refers to a form of training where one person is guided by another to become a follower of their way or belief system. Sound familiar? Like personal training, discipling goes beyond merely passing on knowledge. It equips the learner to so fully embody the key aspects of the new way that their life is completely changed. Like a rhythmic dance, this discipling process is an ongoing dynamic—the teacher offers ideas through word and example and the student takes them on, allowing them to infuse and shape their lives.

So how does this happen to us?

Each day, whether we make conscious choices or roll with our fluctuating whims, we take on the role of learners. Through our senses, we absorb ideas, values and priorities from a whole range of sources. People we meet, music and books, world events and the array of internet platforms each have their part to play.

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When something catches our interest, we focus on it, opening not only our mind but our heart. If we dwell on it long enough it begins to seep into our soul, permeating our whole being and colouring the way we think and feel, the language we use and the way we relate to others. It filters the way we perceive the world and the events of our day.

How do we figure out which input has the greatest influence on who we’re becoming?

We look at what receives the largest measure of our time and attention.  

With every turn of the earth, we’re gifted with twenty-four hours of life. Most of that time is poured into the normal rhythms of eating, working and sleeping, but we still have a few hours through the week and more on weekends where we can choose what we do. In those moments, what takes first place in our list of priorities?

I wonder, if we took an honest, detailed inventory of an average week in our lives, what it would reveal about who we are, where we’re headed. If you’re anything like me, you have a clear idea of what’s important to you, but the reality of your day-to-day life often paints a different picture. Sometimes unexpected needs arise and we get waylaid from the priorities we’ve set. Other times we’re lured away by our own curiosity, or hunger for comfort, and find ourselves on a path far removed from where we truly want to be.

Those little everyday choices have more impact than we think.

Choice by choice, they accumulate and set the course of our life.  

It’s good to stop and recognize what is our primary focus. What gets us out of bed in the morning? And what is the most significant subject in our thoughts through the day—the focal point we return to whenever we can?

Who do we follow on social media and other online avenues? And what’s our motivation for following them? Are we after distraction? Entertainment? Do we crave their lifestyle and want what they have? Whatever our reason, the longer we linger over their photos and feed on their words, the more permission we give them to disciple us.

Do we really want their lifestyle and values to be reproduced in our lives? It’s worth thinking about.  

Three years and two children into our marriage, my husband and I hit a bumpy patch and needed some help to find our way through. Eager for guidance, we began a three-month marriage course with several other couples. For a girl like me who relishes deep connection, the weekly homework was the absolute highlight.

With hot drinks in hand, hubby and I would sink onto the couch, open our workbooks and pore over questions from that week’s lesson. Many times, we’d spend a good hour doing our homework. The questions weren’t the simple ‘tick-the-box, regurgitate-the-content’ kind. They were probing, the dig-deep kind that made us stop, reflect and pray over ideas that would shape the future of our relationship.  

Photo by Tymur Khakimov from Pexels

One lesson was a standout. The topic? Sowing and reaping. Two pictures were printed in the workbook—a sack bulging with seed and a sheaf of freshly harvested wheat—vivid reminders that the seeds we plant always produce a crop of the same kind, both in nature and in our lives. We were challenged to recognise the seeds we were sowing into the soil of our marriage and what kind of harvest they were producing, whether good or bad. From that place we could turn the dynamic around. We clarified our real desires—what we felt God wanted for our marriage—and listed what seeds we needed to sow to see those desires fulfilled. That lesson opened our eyes to some negative patterns we’d slipped into. As we prayed, we felt a new excitement and sense of vision for the way ahead. Those principles of sowing and reaping are integral to our lives now. They’ve built us into a strong team and guided our decisions—big and small—through the twenty-two years since that time.

Married or not, it’s helpful for all of us to stop and ask the question,

‘Where’s my life headed?

And how are my day-to-day choices shaping my journey?’

Just like those early risers who hurry to meet their personal trainer, we need to be intentional in where we focus our time and attention. We each have one life—a limited number of days to embrace and use well. Whichever way we choose to spend them, one thing is guaranteed—as we sow, we will surely reap.   

‘Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise . . .’

Ephesians 5:15 CSB

When the Way is Hard

His hand felt so tiny, so trusting in mine as we paused at the entrance to the cobbled path. I stooped beside him, our brown eyes meeting, and whispered, “Let’s go on an adventure.”

“Yeah—adventure!” His eyes lit up and his face broke into a broad grin. I giggled as his three-year-old legs began scurrying up the sweeping slope. Matching his pace, I loped easily beside him on my lanky twelve-year-old legs. Arching branches rustled overhead and magpies filled the air with their lilting melody, urging us on. Come and see, come and see.

Up a winding curve we climbed, away from our parents and picnic blanket—into the land of the unknown. Lush ferns waved their curving fronds, blurring the path edges, and palms stretched tall, reaching for the sky. Our eyes grew wide as we crept through their shadows, intrepid explorers trekking through the jungle. Hand in hand, we scaled smooth stone steps, worn by the tread of countless feet, puffing a little and pausing to rest those tired toddler legs. Spreading trees and orb-like bushes hid our view of the way ahead, adding fire to our curiosity. Sometimes we stopped, leaning close and whispering as I pointed to a delicate flower, a buzzing bee or colourful butterfly. At one point, when my little companion grew so weary he didn’t want to go on, I swung him onto my back and bounced along the path, grinning as he giggled and chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead.’ When he was rested, I lowered him gently to the ground and on we marched, eager to finish our course.

Photo by Marco de Winter on Unsplash

My heart thrummed a happy rhythm as vivid images from my own childhood flashed through my mind. Many times, my family had come to these gardens for holiday picnics and birthday celebrations. Many times, I’d run along these paths behind my older sisters, unsure exactly where we were going, my eyes searching for familiar landmarks along the way – the timber bridge arching over the duck pond, the stately Japanese tea house or the wishing well full of shimmering coins. The first time my parents told me I was old enough to explore on my own, my spirit soared. I stood at the edge of the lawn where several paths branched off in different directions, my mind pulsing with the possibilities. Which route should I choose? Where will they take me? And what will I discover on my way?

Time passed, leading to this day. Now I was the older one with a young sibling in tow. It was my turn to share that wonder with my brother, to open his eyes to the thrill of new adventures.

Those memories have left a permanent imprint on my heart. Because of them, I’ve always felt drawn to gardens with tall hedges, winding paths and hidden corners. The memories themselves have been tucked away in a corner of my mind reserved for precious things, drawn out only when I’ve seen old photos or driven past the gardens, which still reside in their place on a hill—until a few weeks ago, when God brought them back so vividly it was as if I was walking those paths once more.

This year—so far—has been one of challenge.  I’ve been asked to do things I didn’t think I could and ventured well beyond what I thought was my happy place. My ‘legs’ have grown weary and sometimes I’ve been afraid of what might lie around the corner. Sometimes, I’ve been head-spinningly anxious. Yet, as I’ve pressed on, I’ve marvelled at the way God has—every time—brought peace, blessing, joy and growth through those things I would rather have avoided.

Again, I’ve been reminded of how little I really understand of His ways. Like a little child, I’m not ‘tall’ enough to see very far on the path He has for me. Sometimes I question the value in the direction He takes me and, in my tiredness, want to stop, to turn back or take a shorter, faster route.

But He has a plan. He knows the best way. And challenges are vital to the journey.

This is what He spoke to my heart the morning He revived those images:

‘Continue to trust Me, to put your confidence in Me, to follow My lead and press forward in My plans. It is a great adventure. And just as you delighted in exploring all the winding paths of the gardens in your childhood, so you will delight as you see what I have around each bend for you.

I have many surprises in store, much unexpected beauty. There will be passages that seem long, steep and, at times, even dull. In those I am building your muscle and mind for the parts still to come, teaching you to drink deep from my reservoir.

Hold fast to Me and let Me take you to those unexpected places where you will experience the beauty of My presence in ways beyond what you’ve known.’

Things are not always as they seem. Like children, we are limited in our vision. God sees the whole picture and has good reasons for everything He leads us into. At each stage of our journey, we can trust Him to give us what we need to go on. And when we grow weary, He will carry us, chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead’.

Knowing Him, it will be worth the trek.

Photo by Kyler Wilton on Unsplash

“You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”   John 13:7

“In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

“Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.

I have made you and I will carry you;

I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Isaiah 46:4

Made Beautiful

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  

Really.

Where does your wandering gaze land?

What emotions rise in your heart?

What thoughts run through your mind?

And where have they come from?

More than likely, they stem from the world you’re immersed in. The people you mix with—face to face and online. The celebrities you follow. The Instagram feeds you scroll through. The Netflix series you binge-watch. All the forms of media that spark comparison and whisper that you’re not enough. Too many times, you’re barely awake before discouragement kicks in. Sometimes even despair.

Please let me tell you a little story from an autumn morning a few weeks back. It might bring some fresh perspective.

There was a wintry chill in the air that day, so I pulled the covers higher on my waist and draped my dressing gown around my shoulders. My eyes, still blurry from sleep, narrowed to slits as I tried to make out the numbers on the clock in our bedroom. It was five past six—early for me. Still, I knew the next precious moments would be worth the sacrificed sleep.   

I needed to connect with my Maker before launching into the day. 

Yawning, I reached for my bible and journal in the bedside drawer, trying to sift through the fog in my mind and recall what I’d been reading the day before. It was something so intriguing, I’d wanted to study it further. I opened my bible, those strange words from the previous morning drifting through my mind like an echo. Grasping the wafer-thin pages in wads, I flipped towards the back till I reached Romans 8, then skimmed down to the verse I was after—number thirty. There, once again, I found the phrase that had me baffled.“. . . those he justified, he also glorified.”

My eyebrows rose as I read this. What on earth did that mean—God glorified us? Weren’t we supposed to glorify Him? There had to be more to this than I could understand.

I opened the lexicon on biblehub– an online tool I’d just discovered that unveils the meaning of words in their original language. Surely in this case ‘glorified’ meant something different to the way we usually understood it. Carefully, I pored over the detailed information the website provided about this confusing statement, taking note of key points and filling pages of my journal with my hurried scrawl. Before long, I was so engrossed, all sense of time and cold faded.  

Once I’d finished reading, I slumped back on my pillow, awe-struck.

Here’s what I learned. Those words about us being glorified by God? Their meaning in the original language was exactly the same as usual. God, our creator, glorifies us. And He does it willingly. When we put our faith in Jesus and surrender our lives to God, He doesn’t only forgive us and set us free from our past.

He honours us with dignity and worth.
He exalts us to a rank and condition far beyond what we deserve. That was certainly my story.
He imparts His own spectacular glory to us.
He declares us excellent and glorious,
adorns us with lustre (that’s shininess, in case you wondered)
and clothes us with splendour.

Yes, God glorifies us. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?  

I understood this a little. God had lifted me from the depths and given me a whole new life, with dignity and purpose.

But ‘glory’? That was so hard to fathom.

And what about that word, ‘splendour’—so unique and rich in imagery? In the Cambridge dictionary it’s described as ‘great beauty that attracts admiration and attention’. Again, the original language conveys the same meaning. The Hebrew word for splendour relates to ‘beautify’ and ‘glorify’. When God clothes us with splendour, He beautifies us. In that beauty, He glorifies us. That means, even on our frumpiest, very worst hair days, by God’s grace we are clothed with great beauty that attracts admiration and attention.  Imagine that!

When we focus solely on the image in our mirror, we are robbed. The pictures we’re swamped with every day narrow our view, convincing us our outward appearance is the only measure of our value. But God made us so much more. And this beauty He gives isn’t something we can attain through our own striving efforts.

It’s transcendent.

It begins in our spirit—where God comes to dwell by His Spirit. As He fills us with His beautiful presence, His splendour wells up and flows out of us . . . so clearly that others see it and marvel.

“Those who look to Him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalm 34:5

I stilled my pen and closed my eyes that morning, trying to grasp these ideas in their fullness.  A fresh sense of joy welled inside me as my perception of myself grew a little closer to God’s view. Every day, no matter how I look or feel, whether I’m upbeat or melancholy, conquering or struggling, I can walk with dignity, knowing God Himself has clothed me with His splendour. It can be the same for you too—if you put your hope in Him. Regardless of how anyone else may view us, the Creator and ultimate authority says we are His beloved, His treasured possession , wholly accepted.

Who would dare argue with Him?

It’s easy to wonder why we’ve been given such stand-out glory, such splendour. Is it intended to set us strutting, eager for everyone to notice how brightly we’re shining? In reality it’s not only about us.

Look at these words.  

“Then all your people will be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendour.”       (Isaiah 60:21)

“Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendour.”  (Isaiah 55:5)

Even while He lavishes so much love and favour on us, God is also looking beyond us to those who don’t yet know Him. He’s pursuing others just as He pursued us, ready to lift them, too, out of their tangle of sin and shame and failure—and He wants our hearts to beat as strongly for them as His does.

We are like a myriad of precious, sparkling jewels—each unique in colour and cut, all reflecting the goodness of God to those around us. The attention and admiration sparked by our splendour is intended to point people to its source—the light—our gracious God.

Next time you stand in front of the mirror, pause and look beyond the outward. God loves you so much He offered His very best to rescue you. He wants to fill you with His goodness and lead you in His eternal purpose. Let that understanding propel you into your day with joy, your eyes looking right to the hearts of people around you, not merely their appearance. As you walk in step with God’s heartbeat, letting His glory shine through you, others will also be stirred to seek Him—the one who leads us into life in all its beautiful fullness.  

 

“She is clothed in strength and dignity;

She can laugh at the days to come.”

Proverbs 31:25

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When the Straight Path Takes an Unexpected Turn

I gripped the pages with trembling hands, reading and re-reading the words that had made my heart plummet. This was my final evaluation, a summing up of who I was as a twenty-seven year old woman. How could it be that my time at this place was ending on such a bad note?

I’d spent the past two years at a bible college in Tasmania, living in close community with staff, their families and other students—working, studying, eating, sleeping, laughing, singing, crying and praying together. This well-regarded training centre was not merely a place for academic learning. It was a pressure cooker, a refining fire where the jam-packed schedule and melting pot of cultures and personalities drew our well-hidden flaws to the surface.  

Every four months, each student met with a staff member to reflect on our progress and pray over any areas of struggle. As part of that meeting, we reviewed a checklist—already completed by staff—which offered detailed feedback on our character. The form in my hands that December morning was my final checklist, my graduation ‘reference’.

Up till that moment in my life, ticks always meant I’d done something right. On the form I was holding, most of the ticks affirmed positive attributes—as they had on my prior reviews. My eyes drifted over them quickly, then came to a screeching halt when they saw ticks beside comments like, ‘Somewhat over-emotional,’ and ‘Struggles with change’. To me, those ticks might as well have been glaring red crosses. If the staff who had journeyed with me over the past two years chose to highlight these flaws so late in my training, they must have felt they had potential to impact on the years that followed.

How right they were.

The ten months leading up to that day in early December had been one long roller-coaster ride as I began a wonderful relationship with my now husband and quickly became engaged. Swirling inside me was a dizzying mix of blissful dreaming and sheer terror. Along with the joy of beginning life with this man came the need to let go of my carefully formulated plans for the future. Just five weeks after our graduation, Mark and I would marry. Beyond that, our future was unclear.  For me, that was a very scary prospect.

My growing-up years were as firm and steady as a hundred-year-old oak. Almost all my family’s favourite memories were made in the same house at the end of the same quiet street in the same tiny Sydney suburb where my parents still live. We holidayed in a predictable pattern, heading inland for a dose of farm life at Easter and driving a few hours north in September to swim, fish and sunbathe. My parents followed consistent routines in what time we ate dinner, what days the lawns were done and what tv shows we watched each night. Life was stable and predictable and that gave me a great sense of security. It was no wonder uncertainty made me nervous.

The funny thing was, the closer I grew to God, the more change He brought into my life. The idea of living in total abandon was alluring—I wanted to follow God’s call, not shrink back from His purpose for my life. Yet every time He led me into something new, the drastic changes required had me panicking, wondering if I’d cope. He led me to leave my family and friends to look after orphan babies in Taiwan for six months, spend some time with missionaries in Africa, move to Tasmania to study, marry right after graduating, start a family as soon as we married, homeschool our children for more than a decade, move house six times, move interstate again to an unfamiliar region—this time with three of our four children in tow, unveil my secrets in a memoir and publish it for the world to read . . . and the list continues to grow.

Photo credit Esther Brown

There’s a little habit I’ve noticed I slip into whenever I face major change. I grab onto control wherever I can. It’s kind of a battening down of the hatches ready for a storm—probably in an attempt to control the storm roaring inside me. Thirty years ago my desperate clutching became self-destructive when I focused all my energies on extreme dieting. These days, through God’s healing, it manifests in smaller, more constructive ways. I become more determined to keep the house tidy and the day-to-day routines flowing smoothly. It’s my way of fostering a sense of security, despite the upheaval going on in other areas.  

A few weeks ago, I realized I was doing this again and stopped to ponder why. There were staff changes happening at work, my responsibilities were increasing and my husband’s schedule was becoming crazy-hectic. Then came some news from my publisher that meant my book would soon be distributed a little differently. These changes, while challenging, offered potential for good results. But none of them were expected—and I was thrown. I thought, after our crazy COVID year, my life was finally settling down to a manageable rhythm. Yet, everything was still changing and my sudden fussiness about the house showed I wasn’t coping.

I kept telling God I was scared of being overwhelmed and asking Him to give me strength and show me His way through, while on the inside, some part of me was bucking against the whole situation. Why am I always having to change and adapt, Lord? Can’t everything settle down now?

When I finally stopped talking long enough to listen, here’s what I felt God speak to my heart:

“Trust Me. I love you and I am working all this for your good. Every change has a purpose and is set to move you forward. Even closed doors are part of the forward progression, re-directing your course in line with My plans.

None of the journeys of My people have been straightforward. All have had unexpected turns and winding convolutions. It’s all part of the mystery and wonder of adventuring with Me, of learning trust and dependence and security, even when you can’t clearly see the way ahead. Those times when you think you’re settled on a certain course, then everything suddenly changes, confront you with the fact that you’re not in control—you’re not God. They bring you back to that place of child-like dependence, of thankfulness for every provision, every reassurance. And they reveal to you that I am well able to fulfil My plan, even through a different avenue than what you envisioned.”

It’s hard to describe the peace that came with that shift in perspective. Of course, God was working it all for good. Wasn’t that always His way? Every change He’d led me into so far had come with great cost, yet such richness of His presence and goodness that, in hindsight, they became the high points of my journey with Him.

So, again, I made a choice to embrace the adventure, knowing that with it comes growth. It’s all worth it. And really, life would be very dull without God’s unexpected turns. Those ‘surprises’ stretch us and take us to a place of greater intimacy with Him, greater thankfulness and ultimately, greater joy.

‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,

along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them

and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do;

I will not forsake them.’

Isaiah 42:16  

Hope in the Face of Inadequacy

Can you see him? A little boy, six or seven years old—round, dark eyes full of wonder peering out from under a tangled mop of brown hair. He creeps through the darkened city, heart pounding against his ribcage while thoughts ripple through his mind. Can it be true? Is the promised one really here? What will He be like? And will my gift be enough? Clutched tightly to the boy’s chest is a small drum.  

Of all the Christmas carols we sing, “The Little Drummer Boy,” though fictional, is one of my favourites. The inner wrestle it depicts is so familiar to me. When I consider the lavish kindness and grace of God, any gift I seek to offer Him seems so small. Yet God finds joy in my offerings, because He sees my heart—just as, in the song, baby Jesus smiled his approval to the boy who wanted so desperately to bless Him.

Six weeks ago, this song was far from my mind. Christmas was over, we’d begun a new year and my thoughts were consumed with preparation for the release of “Skinny Girl”, my very first book. In December, I’d spent many hours poring over the manuscript—editing and re-editing till I was sure the wording was clear. I’d prayed my way through decisions about cover design and texture, page colour, font style, font size and artwork. Perfectionist that I am, getting all the little details right was crucial.

When everything was done, I sent the final documents to my publisher and my family celebrated the end of a very drawn-out season of writing. Early in January, ten boxes of “Skinny Girl” were printed and delivered—some to our home, some to Tasmania, ready for my southern launch. My heart soared as I opened the first box and stared inside. After almost eleven years, my dream was becoming a reality. Overflowing with gratitude, I began gifting books to family members and other people who’d helped me through the writing process.

I gave our family’s copy of “Skinny Girl” to my teenage daughter, mindful this was her first opportunity to read my full story. “If you want to talk about anything as you read, just come and see me, darling. I’m happy to chat,” I told her. Over the next couple of days, she asked some questions and we talked through parts of the story.

One morning she approached me in the kitchen, the book in her hands, her face sympathetic. “Mum, I found a typo.” She opened to a page in one of the final chapters and pointed to a word I’d failed to adjust during one of my final edits. In that moment, two unnecessary letters shattered my hopes of a flawless book.

I sighed. I’d tried so hard. I lifted my eyes to my daughter’s face, knowing she was sorry to give me the bad news. “Thanks for telling me, sweety. I’ll let the publisher know so they can correct it ready for the next print.”

The next day, I told my sister about the typo while we chatted on the phone. “I don’t know how I missed it. I went over the manuscript so many times.”

She hesitated, then spoke in an apologetic tone. “There are actually three typos, Sue.”

“Three?” My heart plummeted. “Oh, no!”

How could it be? I knew how many hours I’d spent reading and re-reading, arranging and rearranging words to make sure everything was ‘just right’. I wanted the book to be perfect, to look professional and leave readers with a good impression. My publisher had also done a final proofread before ordering the print run, yet somehow, despite our determined efforts, three errors had slipped through and been duplicated—more than three hundred times. Every single book in those ten boxes held the same flaws.

Late that afternoon, I knelt beside our bed, lay my head on the mattress and poured out my disappointment to the Lord. Almost immediately, I felt His calming presence. He reminded me of a boy in the bible, a little guy whose hunger to honour Jesus burned stronger than the emptiness of his stomach. This boy’s meagre offering of two fish and five small loaves opened the way for Jesus to provide a feast for a vast crowd.

The boy didn’t have much to give.

Lyrics from the Little Drummer boy drifted through my mind. That boy was poor—he didn’t have much to give either. But these boys’ hearts were devoted, so they offered what they had to Jesus and left the results with Him.

Two little boys. Two beautiful stories of devotion and blessing.

What is it about children that makes them so different?

Children are accustomed to having others make up for their lack.

If a child can’t reach something, they ask taller people to lift them up or get it down for them. If their little hands don’t yet have the skills to open a container or build something special or untie a knot, they look to someone bigger to help.

Children are not afraid to admit their limitations.

 Adults prize self-reliance, competence and mastery. We measure success by how much we can achieve in a particular timeframe. We struggle with the concept of weakness and, sometimes, take a very long time to acknowledge we need help.

Maybe that’s why the Lord so often puts us in a position where we’re out of our depth. He wants us to recognise our need and look to ‘someone bigger’ to make up for our lack. He wants to show us the fullness and joy we can experience in our inadequacy—if we’re willing to look to Him.

That afternoon, I heard my Father whisper to my heart,

Daughter, remember, it’s not about your perfection. My power is made perfect in your weakness. Just as with the loaves and fish, I can take whatever you surrender to Me—however flawed it seems—and make it into something great that nourishes and brings life to many.

Trust Me and watch what I will do.   

So, I’m trusting. I’m watching. And, over and over, I’m marvelling at the work He’s doing in other people’s lives through my flawed offering.

What are you offering to the Lord today? As you surrender it to Him, you can be confident He will take your gift and do something wonderful through it, despite its seeming limitations.  

Just be sure to keep your eyes open. You don’t want to miss the show.

‘And Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”’

Matthew 18: 3-4.

Image from Pexels – Alexandr Podvalny

Little boy featured image from Pexels – Jonas Mohamadi

A Book is Born

It’s hard to describe the elation I feel. Almost eleven years from the point of conception, I’ve had the joy of seeing my memoir, “Skinny Girl: a journey through anorexia”, enter the world like a newborn babe. After a whirlwind few weeks sharing it with eager readers in two states, I’m still coming down to earth.

Some of you have shared in my writing journey via the stories I’ve shared on this blog and will understand my relief and satisfaction in reaching this point. Despite the many setbacks, God has been faithful to lead me all the way through the process and I’m delighted with the outcome. I’m trusting Him now to use the book to bring hope and healing to many.

I would love to share “Skinny Girl” with you, dear readers. Please take a minute to jump over to my “Book” page and find out how to get your copy. Thanks so much.

Warmly,

Sue.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9