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  

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

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

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.”  

Be Still and Know

There’s something special about buying a new diary. Every time a year draws near its end, I head to the Christian bookstore, eager to get ready for the next one. I ponder all the diary options—their size and themes and layout—and flick dreamily through the hundreds of pages, wondering, What will these be filled with? What will the new year bring? Usually my heart dances in anticipation.

Except last time.

Last time, I already knew what lay ahead. 2020 was going to be punctuated by multiple major events, each of them God-ordained and exciting when considered on their own. Crammed together within a twelve-month span, though, they felt overwhelming.

At heart, I’m a girl who likes stability. Balance. Breathing space. This year loomed as one packed so full, I knew it would drag me out of my comfort zone and hold me there for a long time. There would be new responsibilities at work, an overseas holiday with extended family, several months involvement in a course at church, a three day writer’s conference in Queensland, the release of my first book,  launches of that book in two states and a journey to Thailand to meet our sponsor children. Phew! All of these lined up in my mind as though they were a series of wild waves I was about to ride, exiting each one just in time to turn around and ride the next. It wasn’t only the events that stressed me. It was all the organization required to see them run smoothly.

So, my diary-shopping trip last December was far more serious than usual. If I was going to survive the coming year, I knew I’d need something to remind me of the truth—often. My diary was something I looked at every day, at least once a day. It had to provide something that would help me keep perspective. Around and around the display table I circled, picking up one book then another, reading, flicking, thinking. Finally, I settled on one with a cover inscription that instantly quieted my anxious heart.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

That was it. I needed to fix my eyes on the One who ordained all these plans. He was God. And He was more than enough. If He had directed that our year be full and hectic, He would give me all the grace I needed—not only to survive but maybe even to thrive.

Grey diaryThat was December. Now it’s May. Five months have passed since that moment and I’ve found myself referring to those words many, many times. Just a few days ago, I sat on the edge of our bed, staring again at the curving letters on the cover. Again, I was struck by the first instruction. ‘Be still’.

This year is turning out so differently to what any of us expected. Most of the big events we planned have been cancelled or postponed. With each cancellation, I noticed myself breathing easier. My world was settling down, becoming more manageable.

Then, everything changed again. The ‘Stay Home’ policy brought drastic changes to my work as a teacher’s aide.  Suddenly, I had to acquire a whole new skillset so I could support students while they learned at home. I’ve spent countless hours in front of a screen—learning how to use new technology, creating timetables, scheduling Zoom meetings, sending emails, talking with colleagues and children and recording everything in detail. I’ve scrawled pages and pages of notes to help me remember what I’ve learned and remind me of all I need to do. Every day has had a long list. Sometimes, particularly in the early weeks, my mind was so busy, it was hard to switch off. Stillness came only when I made a very deliberate choice.

When I was still, as often happens, all that was building in my heart came pouring out. I told God how desperately I needed His help, how hard it was that everything at work changed just when I’d adjusted to my new role, how much I missed my life in Tasmania where there was time and space and quiet. As my eyes ran again over my go-to verse, I felt God emphasize the second part. ‘And know that I am God.’

He is God.

You thought you needed this diary because of all the plans you had, He whispered. But I knew you would need it for this. He was God. He was still in control. None of these restrictions or demands were a surprise to Him. His plan—as always—was to grow me through them.

Most of the time, when I’ve pondered those words— ‘know that I am God’—I’ve been comforted by the assurance that my God is powerful, able to protect and provide for me. Psalm 46 describes Him as refuge and strength, a mighty fortress, the one who holds us together, even when everything around us is crumbling. But there’s another aspect to the psalm, where the writer speaks of God as ‘the Most High’, greater than any ruler or kingdom, the one who will be exalted over all the earth.

Wow.

When I see that reality afresh, I am humbled. He is God. It’s only when I acknowledge who He is that I see more clearly who I am. It’s a privilege to belong to Him. A privilege that brings responsibility to also honour Him as ruler of my life.

Who am I to question His wisdom in allowing me to go through times of stretching? He is God. None of the changes in my life, in any of our lives, have taken Him by surprise. He is God. He has a plan and is able to work it out through all the challenges of this time—and the process goes far more smoothly if we choose to yield rather than wrestle. That day, I sensed God’s encouragement to fully embrace this season, to allow it to refine, grow and strengthen me for His purposes. The clincher came when I felt Him speak to my heart, If you shrink back, you’ll miss out.

What a challenge! I don’t want to miss out on the growth and plans God has for me. I’m sure you don’t either. We can’t always see what lies ahead in our lives. This year has made that clear. But God can—and He wants to get us ready. If we’re willing to make time to be still—regularly—we’ll see clearly again both who we are and who He is. This knowledge gives us fresh confidence to walk forward in His plans, whatever they might be, knowing He walks with us every step.

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This Won’t Last Forever

Pacing in my hospital gown, I gazed out the window to the park below. In the distance a woman strolled along a winding path, her young child toddling beside her with his tiny arm upstretched to her hand. I watched them for a moment, musing. She must’ve given birth. Her baby was once growing inside her and now lived on the outside, brightening her days.

Another contraction hit. My strides to the nearby bed were quick. I stooped and pressed my hands into the mattress, flicking my TENS machine to high and breathing deep through the pain’s sharp peak and fall. More than fifteen hours had passed since we arrived at the hospital.  I’d been walking, rocking, breathing all through the night and into the following day, trusting it was for a purpose. Yet my contractions still hadn’t kicked into a steady rhythm. My waters had broken earlier that afternoon, but four hours later the doctor said there was still little progress towards delivery.  My husband and I were exhausted. How much longer would this go on? Would our baby ever be born?

Thankfully, he was. Several hours later, with a little medical help, our beautiful son arrived—and our suffering was overcome by joy. When I reflected on the experience later, I had much to ponder. The labour, with all its sleep deprivation and pain, had been so drawn out and confusing, there were times I questioned whether it would end. But it did. And that experience left a permanent imprint on my heart.

Many months later, my husband and I lay in bed, talking through the details of a different kind of struggle. I don’t recall now what the issue was, but I know it was hard. I can still remember burying my face in his chest and whispering, “Just tell me this won’t last forever.”

He kissed the top of my head and echoed, “This won’t last forever.”

He understood what I meant. The day our son was born we began to understand that trials have a beginning and an end. In our darkest moments the battle can seem endless. Unbearable. If we lose sight of the endpoint, despair can set in and the pain is magnified. In saying, ‘This won’t last forever’, we were reminding ourselves there was more to the story than the moment we were in. We were in a process, not at a destination.

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In God’s word we see trials likened to seasons we pass through. They come for a while, then they go. Grief and tears may endure, but joy has the final say. Some problems plague us for so long, we wonder whether God has forgotten us—and yet His loving presence is constant. God promises, in His lavish love, to bring His people through every hardship they face. There are times, too, when in His mercy He scoops up one of His children to lift them out of their hardship and take them home—to a world free from sorrow and pain.

Amazing Grace bears the line, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come. Twas grace has brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home.” Over the twenty-three years since our son was born, we’ve seen those principles play out more times than I could count. Relationship strains, financial difficulties, parenting struggles and illness have all come to darken our days for a time. But they haven’t lasted forever. Always, there has been movement, a ‘going through’, even when it felt like there wasn’t.

Now we find ourselves dealing with COVID-19. Fear has its gnarled fingers wrapped around many in our nation. Businesses are closing, schools are emptying, weddings and parties and holidays have been cancelled. Precious friends and family members have passed away. People have lost their jobs, their sense of purpose and their income. We’ve been told to keep our distance, to shut ourselves away, to sterilize everything in sight. It feels like a death of sorts, this shrivelling up of life as we’ve known it. We wait and watch and wonder, How long?

This pandemic too is only for a season. Despite its intensity and spread across the breadth of the earth, it will pass. How we come out the other side will depend on how we choose to go through this time. God is not the cause of COVID-19. He understands the battle we’re in, sees it with perfect clarity and wants to lead us through it—and do us good in the process.

Trials like this sift our priorities. We realise what really matters and how far our lives have drifted. With so many of our usual comforts and distractions stripped away, we see more clearly what’s in our hearts. In the supermarket. In our homes. In the times of quiet when we’re alone with our thoughts.

We may try to drown out the gentle whisper of conviction with activity and noise. But Easter reminds us oh-so-vividly how great a price was paid to save us from our mess. If we’re willing to admit our failings and lay them before a gracious God, He’ll wash away all our mistakes and breathe new life, lightness and compassion into our formerly preoccupied hearts. Then, as we continue to walk with Him, what He’s birthed in us can grow like a newborn babe, bringing joy and blessing to others long after the trial has ended.Tree at Winbourne

1 John 1:9 (GOD’S WORD translation)

“God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, He forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong.”

1 Peter 5:10 (New International Version)

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”