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.’

Photo by Pezibear on Pixabay

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.  

Photo by Irina Anastasiu on Pexels

‘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.

Photo by Tofros.com from Pexels

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

On Christmas Morning

On Christmas morning, my husband and I were up well before our children—not so unusual now they’re all teens and young adults. The weather was cool, so I pulled my robe from the cupboard and wrapped myself in its warmth. While my husband busied himself in the kitchen, I made a hot drink then moved to the lounge, where I sank into the couch closest to our Christmas tree.

Up till that point, my days had been full of activity. Finishing the year at school, sorting final details for the design of my book, making gift lists, shopping lists, lists of things to cook, shopping then chopping and baking and creating in the kitchen—all the while my mind whirring with everything I needed to remember and consider and organise.

Finally, on this special day, there was time to stop all the activity and savour the moment. 

Coloured lights glowed in the semi-darkness, drawing me in and slowing my mind and heart. I wrapped my hands around my mug and sipped, smiling as my eyes drifted between the decorations adorning our tree. There were felt stars and hearts and stockings, odd-shaped and lumpy with stuffing, sewn by eager little hands so many years ago. Nearby were wooden figures, large and small, painted by the same hands a year or two later. Red and white tasselled triangles took my thoughts to a visit from old friends, missionaries to Tibet. There was a swirly purple bauble I’d received from our mothers’ group and a red satin chilli given by friends from New Mexico when we celebrated Christmas together, in Taiwan, thirty years earlier. There were baubles and beads and sparkly stars, each looped over the ends of bristly green branches.

Our tree wouldn’t be chosen to grace the pages of a Home Beautiful magazine. It didn’t stand especially tall or impressive. In my eyes, though, it was a treasure trove, covered with emblems of life and love and the beauty of relationships.

My heart was full as I gazed at the display before me. Truly, we were blessed. Those decorations represented relationships I’d cherished over the years. The time and effort that went into making or choosing these ornaments was an outflow of the love we shared. A prayer lifted from my heart. Lord, thank you! Thank you for all the people you’ve brought into my life and the special times we’ve shared. I’m so grateful. Far beyond any material gift I could be given, I valued the gift of relationship.

My thoughts moved on to Jesus, the reason for Christmas—for the carols we sang, the gifts we shared, the feasting and goodwill to those beyond our home.

How could I put into words my gratitude for Him?

God gave His very best, His own Son, to show the world His love and power. When Jesus lay down his life on the cross, He offered forgiveness and rescue from all our failings and invited us into God’s family, with all its privileges. The most astounding gift I’ve ever been given is to belong to God and have Him walking with me through every day, every season—even the unexpected challenges of the past year. I can’t imagine facing any stage of life without Him.

My relationships with people would wax and wane as time and movement affected our level of connection. But God’s presence with me would be constant, bringing deep peace and security to my heart. He knew me. He loved me. He would never stop loving, even for a second, for His entire essence was love.

Whatever the days ahead would hold, whatever surprises the new year would bring, God would be there. He would lead me through every season, all the way into eternity, and through the process our relationship would grow stronger.

I pulled my eyes from the tree, climbed off the couch and strode to my phone. It was time to put on some carols. There was so much joy bubbling up from my spirit, I couldn’t help but sing.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!”

1 John 3:1

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20

Four Essentials for Parenting Teens

I can still see it so clearly in my mind—the first time my teenager zoned out on me. I was speaking words—important words—and, while my son seemed to be looking at me, it was as though shutters had come down over his mind and heart. In his eyes I saw that glazed, faraway look that told me he may have been physically present, but his thoughts were miles and miles away.

I finished the conversation and left the room, firing a prayer heavenward. God, help! What do I do now? Within a few days, He provided an answer, bringing instant perspective and direction. Over the many years since, I’ve experienced the same dynamic over and over: I hit a difficult patch in my parenting, I turn to God and, graciously, He shows me the way forward. He really is my number one counsellor.

There are countless things I could tell you of all God has shown me through the years. Today, I’ll focus on four principles that have proven crucial with all our children. Before I share them with you, I need to clarify one detail:

God is perfect, I am not.

Mulling over these concepts has confronted me once again with how much I need to grow. My children—mostly adults now—are constantly changing. I need to adapt with them. So, as I write, I’m praying you find encouragement for your situation and we each allow God to keep moulding us into the parents He wants us to be—for every stage and season.     

  1. BE SLOW TO SPEAK

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . .” James 1:19

In response to the scenario I described above, God gave me this advice:

Be slow to speak and quick to listen to Me. I know what your son needs and when he needs to hear it. As you wait on Me, I’ll open up opportunities and give you the words and the ways to encourage and challenge him. Wait, watch and you will see.

As parents, we sometimes notice areas in our teenager’s life or character that concern us. It’s natural to want to address them right away, just as we did when they were young. If we sense resistance, we might even be tempted to talk longer to make sure they understand our point.

The difficulty comes because our teens are moving on from childhood. They’re starting to look more to their peers and less to us for advice—which is why it’s so important for us to wait for God’s timing. When He gives us a clear opening, we can speak the words He’s put in our mouths with confidence. Once those thoughts have been shared, we need to stop speaking and walk away, trusting the Holy Spirit to apply the truth to the listener’s heart.

“(There is) a time to be silent and a time to speak . . .” Ecclesiastes 3: 7b

2. WALK HUMBLY

“He has shown you . . . what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

God wants us to trust in His authority to work on our behalf, rather than trying to assert our own. Instead of coming on strong, attempting to dominate and control our teens, we are to walk humbly with them, showing understanding, compassion and love—even while we set firm boundaries. Likewise, when we fail we need to quickly ask their forgiveness, acknowledging our weaknesses, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.

When we seek to honour God in the way we lead our children, He will affirm us before them and bring down barriers between us. I’ve seen this happen in surprising ways in my own family.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:10

3. BE PATIENT

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

We need to keep a long-term view. This can be difficult when we’re immersed in a seemingly endless struggle with our teenager. It’s important to remember—despite how intense and impossible it feels, this season will pass. What kind of relationship do we want with our young adult at the end of it? Pausing to think about this can renew our sense of purpose.

It’s also enlightening to reflect on how long we take to learn important life lessons—even as adults. Seeing clearly our own frailty can inspire us afresh to provide encouragement and support for our adolescent through their ups and downs. God is so patient and gracious with us; He wants us to show the same kindness and generosity to our children. When they fall, we need to offer forgiveness and lift them up, just as God does with us.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

4. KNOW WHERE YOUR HELP COMES FROM

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,

the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

This principle is the foundation of all the others. Parenting, especially parenting teens, confronts us daily with how much we need God. It brings us right back to the basics, reminding us He is the Creator, we the created. He sees and knows all. We don’t.

God made our teenagers. He knows them—intimately. He sees right through the image they project and their emotional fluctuations to their unique and tender hearts. And He has a clear understanding of His plans for their future.

If we lift these ones before God and choose to rely on Him, He’ll provide all the wisdom, love and courage we need to help them weather their storms and move beyond to His sunshine. At the same time, His Spirit will reach the places in them we can’t, bringing healing and comfort and giving them the strength they need to move forward.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

I hope you found these principles as helpful as I have. When God gives us directions like this, He doesn’t expect us to fulfil them through our own scheming and striving. Instead, He calls us to trust Him and rely on His strength and guidance. He knows the best way forward for each of us, in our unique family situations.

Will you join me in this prayer?  

“God, thank you that you see me and you know my family.

 You understand all that’s going on in each of our hearts and our circumstances.

 Please teach me how to be a loving parent to my children, at every age.  

Guide my thoughts and let the words I speak come from your heart—in your timing.

When I feel like rising up in anger or forcefully taking control, help me to stop, humble myself and put my trust in you to make things right.

Give me the courage to ask forgiveness when I fail.

In those times I feel too hurt or too weary to go on, remind me of your kindness, help me to forgive and fill me with the patience I need to keep loving, keep giving.

Thank you, God, for your Holy Spirit, who walks with me every moment, guiding my steps and working in my children’s hearts for their good.

I’m so grateful for your love and constant presence.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”  

Mother, You are Not Alone

When you first hold your newborn baby, warm and wet against your chest, all seems right with the world. For nine months that little treasure has been snug and safe inside you—cradled by the curve of your pelvis, soothed by the rhythmic beat of your heart and lullabied by the melody in your voice.  The oneness you share with this tiny one is palpable, borne of many months’ continuous prenatal nurture, magnified by the fiery intensity of labour. At the core of this oneness burns a fierce tenderness—a firm resolve to keep your child close and protect them from harm, no matter the cost.  

But oh, the journey ahead!

While it’s exhilarating to meet your baby face to face, now they’re out of their womb fortress they are vulnerable—to hunger, distress, illness and pain. Fear creeps in, bringing a million ‘what ifs’ to your heart.

What if they cry and I don’t know what’s wrong?

What if I haven’t enough milk to feed them?

What if I don’t wake when they need me?

What if they die?

So intense is a new mother’s love, the fear of losing your precious one grips you as fiercely as death itself. You tuck them in just right, watch carefully over their feeding and sleeping, and scour books and websites and blogs for every available tip to ensure you keep them safe and well.

The early weeks drift by in a sleep-deprived blur and, little by little, you grow more familiar with your baby’s needs and signals. You feel your heart begin to settle. Maybe you can do this ‘mum-thing’.  

Then you spend time with other mothers.

You watch their every move, alert to every shining moment they share with their child, every wise-sounding word that rolls off their tongue. You trudge home from that time, bowed under the weight of inadequacy and silently condemning yourself for all the ways you don’t measure up. Determined, you resolve to change, to become more like the other mums, all the while forgetting God chose you to be the mother of your child, not them.

Pictures used with permission

Months, then years, slip through your fingers like raindrops while you watch your children grow. They scurry through adorable, cantankerous toddlerhood, leap and bound through inquisitive, always hungry childhood and step nervously aboard the roller coaster of adolescence. With every new stage come new delights—first words, first steps, first day at school, first dreams of their future—and new challenges that set you clambering to keep up. Your heart soars with every friendship they form, every triumph they enjoy—and plummets with every disappointment, heartbreak and defeat. You calm and reassure, affirming their worth, and marvel in the moments your words seem to lift their spirits. On other days, your offerings drop like stones to the ground and you walk away wondering whether you have anything to offer at all.  

Your confidence slides when the child who used to put their little hand in yours and had absolute trust in your wisdom begins to question your views—and your authority. The one who seemed sweet to their core suddenly turns sour . . . then back again just as unpredictably. There are times of harmony, when you are welcomed into your child’s thoughts and given a shimmering glimpse of the person they’re becoming. Like Mary, you treasure up these moments in your heart. Then there are power struggles, harsh words, mistakes and misunderstandings. You’ve taught your children to treat people with kindness and respect, yet sometimes it seems they’ve cast aside everything you said. Likewise, you see your own weaknesses exposed in times of conflict and find yourself asking, often, for forgiveness.

On your child hurtles with independence firmly in their sights while you trot behind, your heart a tumbling mix of pride, excitement and dismay. They learn to drive, get a job, choose a career path and build friendships with people you’ve never met—and may never meet. Like a shadow that dims your view when clouds drift across the sun, you realise you’re losing touch with your child’s world. Against your will, they’re squirming out of your arms and stretching beyond your realm of familiarity. Your mother-heart flutters, leaking vibrant red blood from the tear of separation and you reach out, trying desperately to stay connected and somehow protect, protect, protect.

But how do you protect when your child is old enough to make their own decisions?

And should you be trying?

In the centre of your being, that drive to shield your child from harm remains strong. Yet, when you quiet your heart before God, you sense His gentle urging.

Daughter, it’s time to take a step back, to watch, support and pray.

Give them room to grow and watch their wings unfurl.

Letting go can be terrifying, particularly when we see our child heading in a direction we sense will do them harm. We may warn them, explaining the possible dangers on the path they’re taking, but ultimately, we must accept we can’t live their lives for them. They need to choose.

Times like this can break a mother’s heart.

But we’re not alone in our pain.

God understands the journey we’re on. He sees, He knows and He’s oh-so-familiar with all the emotions swirling inside us.

How?

He’s been walking the same path for millenia.

The fierce tenderness burning in our hearts is a mere reflection of the heart of God, an overflow of His consuming passion for His children. From the beginning of time, God’s desire to nurture and protect has directed His every move. With great delight, He created a world laden with everything the first man and woman would need, then dwelled with them, teaching them the best way to live in it. They didn’t listen.

Through the centuries since, God has continually reached out, offered perspective and given His very best, even sacrificing His own precious son to restore relationship with His people. Always, His heart has been tender, longing to gather His loved ones close to His heart and shelter them, as a mother hen does her chicks. But day after day, He’s ignored by so many—His love disregarded, His wisdom cast aside and trampled in the dirt. Even those who have run into His embrace sometimes wriggle out and flounce away on a different path, trusting more in their own impulsive ideas than His perfect wisdom.

Oh, yes. He understands.

And His love doesn’t waver.

“His love endures forever.” Psalm 118

If anyone can hold us steady through the tumultuous seasons of mothering, God can. He fashioned us and our children, each with our specific mix of attributes, and put us together in a family. Only He can show us how to love with the same steadfastness He does—through every season. Even better, while our involvement may decrease, He’ll keep pursuing our children through all the years ahead, reminding them of His love and whispering direction to those who will listen.

Just as Eve brought forth the very first child ‘with the help of the Lord’, so we need to rely on God for every moment of our mothering journey. No number of books, websites and blogs can compare with the insights He gives. When we struggle, rather than flouncing away, we need to run to Him. If we come transparent and lay our wounded hearts before Him, He’ll draw us into His shelter, pour in His comfort and healing (hyperlink Psalm 147:3), wrap us in His grace and give us just enough wisdom (hyperlink James 1:5) for the next step . . . then the next one.

As long as we look to Him His supply will continue to flow, rich and nourishing—for God is the ultimate nurturer. 

“For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;

your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” Psalm 57:10

*Photo credit to Anita Morgan for mother and baby goats.