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  

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

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.

You Are More Than a Body

Have you ever felt it—that rush of excitement when you receive an invitation? Whether it’s for a wedding, a ball or a lavish birthday celebration, your mind swirls with images of beauty and music and celebration, then leaps to the vital question—“What will I wear?”

Last time I went through this routine, something about it bothered me. I felt honoured to be included in the guest list for a family wedding and I wanted to look my best. But my dreams of how I might dress were marred by sharp prods of anxiety. Will everyone approve of my outfit? More importantly, Will everyone approve of the way I look in that outfit?

My body is changing. Skin doesn’t spring back the way it used to. Weight is shifting to new locations and clothes don’t sit like they did before. After years of having little concern about my fitness, I need to work harder for the same results. And I am. But there’s a new body-consciousness simmering under the surface, a fear of judgement by others—and I’m annoyed. I’ve been in that place before and I know it does me no good.

Many years ago, I learned the compulsion we feel to fit a certain mould is based on this lie—our worth is measured by the size and shape of our body. Every day, through all sorts of means,  we’re bombarded with perfectly crafted images telling us how to look, what to wear and how much we should weigh if we want to measure up—and they suck us ever-downward into a spiral of comparison, discouragement and striving. Even when we know the truth, those messages can still creep in and warp our thinking. If we let those lies take root in our souls we sell ourselves short—way short.

We are more than a body. Much, much more. And, deep down, I think we know it.heart-shaped hands

God gave us our bodies as a powerful instrument to help us express who we really are. The way we treat people, the things we throw our energy into, what makes us happy or angry or sad all reveal to others what’s in our heart. And it’s our heart that truly defines who we are—not our appearance.

The world’s standard of beauty changes all the time and from culture to culture. To spend our days running after an ever-shifting ideal is like a dog chasing its tail—lots of energy expended but very little reward. Real beauty, God says, comes from a heart at peace with Him and with others—and it doesn’t fade with the passing of years or the trials of life. How much better would we be to focus on that kind of pursuit?

So how about we shake off the lies? How about we lift our sights higher than the mirror, to the One Who looks straight to the core of our being and says we’re worth dying for? That kind of love sets us free to flourish. And it gives us the desire to appreciate the beauty in the women around us.woman-girl-freedom-happy-39853

Instead of comparing and competing, let’s cheer each other on as we learn to be the best versions of our unique selves. And let’s get busy pouring all God has put inside us into lives well-lived.

When we focus on what really matters, there’s a joy that goes far beyond skin deep.

“Your beauty should . . . be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

“Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

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Photo credits:
1. Hassan OUAJBIR ( https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-doing-hand-heart-sign-1535244/)
2. Jill Wellington (https://www.pexels.com/photo/dawn-sunset-beach-woman-39853/)
3. Hannah Nelson (https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photography-of-four-women-wearing-clothes-1065081/)

 

 

Just Be Yourself

I watch him often on You Tube—the guy with the big hair, vibrant personality and huge heart. He’s one of those trophies of grace—lifted out of drug addiction into a life of wholeness and purpose in God. Now compelled by a force far greater than drugs, this guy immerses himself in the everyday lives of people all over the world, offering encouragement, hope and healing. Lives are changed—radically. People find peace. Purpose. Direction.

Inspiration and passion flood through me every time I watch. I want to be a vessel like that, ready to sense and speak the heart of God wherever I go. I want to lift up those who are discouraged and see God bring breakthrough in their lives. But right on the tail of bubbling enthusiasm, anxiety rushes into my heart. Lord, I’m not that bold. I’m not as outgoing as him. I haven’t seen people healed like that. How can I do what he does?

Then there’s the book I’ve been reading by a woman who has devoted decades to serving the poor in Africa. She speaks of the joy of reckless abandon and asks, ‘Will you give yourself wholeheartedly in devotion to the one who is love? Will you let the fragrance of the Holy Spirit so fill you that you deposit him everywhere you go?’ *

Again, the stirring comes. Oh, yes! But can I? What will that mean, Lord? I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes.

Have you noticed how small a step it is from admiration to inadequacy?

It’s so easy for us to shift from being inspired to feeling discouraged. God wants us to learn from others, to be encouraged by their example. But we always need to remember He never told us to be them.

Here are the words He spoke to my fretful heart.

Daughter, do not fear. I will never ask you to be someone other than who you are. I’m not going to change you into a different person but develop the personality I’ve already given you. As you wait on Me and dig into My word, you will grow in fullness and freedom to be who I’ve created you to be.

The crucial factor in all this is love. As you centre your life on Me, as you seek to abide in My love, I will motivate, lead and empower you to love others—in whatever form that takes.

Do not allow comparison and fear to steal from you. Listen for My voice and walk in step with Me. That is the place of peace.

Once again, my heart settles. I don’t—we don’t—have to try to be something we’re not. Our job is to keep seeking God, to let Him fill us with His heart for others and watch what He does from there. The paths He leads each of us on will be unique, but together we’ll reveal a picture of His nature to the world. Yes, He’ll take us beyond our comfort zone—that’s vital for our growth. But He will also provide all the grace we need to be and do what He asks of us. That’s a promise we can rely on.

 

 

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

* Quote taken from Reckless Devotion by Heidi Baker, 2014.

 

 

Leave Room for Wonder

That first flutter of movement was unforgettable—the delicate sweep of tiny limbs deep inside me. It only lasted a moment. But that moment transformed what had formerly been dreamy imaginings into tangible reality. There really was a new life, a new person, growing inside me. And that little person was depending on me to provide everything it needed for the many months of growth and development to come.

As weeks passed and my baby grew, so did my sense of connection with them. My husband and I discussed potential names. We bought furniture and blankets and prepared our home for their arrival. My heart swelled in anticipation of the day we would meet. We waited. We prayed. Finally came the breathtaking moment when I first gazed upon the precious son my body had been nurturing all that time. Oh, the relief! The joy. The wonder. And the awed awareness of a new sensation . . .

The tender fierceness that blazes in a mother’s heart.

That flame of mother-love is so strong, it burns on through the weeks (or even months) of broken sleep that follow birth, giving us the heart and will to just keep giving. It compels us to throw ourselves in the path of danger (think snarling dogs) to protect our children from harm. It has us applying band-aids to grazes, managing sports teams, helping with homework, planning birthday parties.

Then comes the season when our children grow older and begin to fend for themselves. That’s when the enduring mother-heart keeps us awake at night, praying—many times wishing we could spare our children the trials that cast shadows on their path.

Such intense love is a powerful force, a mighty strength.

It can also be our greatest weakness.

Sometimes, the sense of connection we have with our children is so strong, we don’t know where their hearts end, and ours begin. Our emotions rise and plummet in sync with their highs and lows. We reach for their burdens and try to add them to our own load. Hours are spent concocting possible solutions to their dilemmas. We might even try to offer grown-up ‘band aids’ in the form of food, gifts and distraction.

Sometimes, I’m guilty of all of these with my adult children. I wake in the middle of the night, fretting over whatever is weighing them down. I carry their burdens through my days, heavy on my heart and mind. I struggle and strive to make everything better, to impart all they need to see breakthrough. In the process, I stifle their growth and leave myself exhausted.

That’s when my Father—the perfect parent—lovingly steps in and sets me straight. His counsel brings a wisdom and perspective that pulls my heart back into a peaceful rhythm. Consider these words He spoke a few weeks back, recorded in my journal:

Daughter, throw off this weight that I never intended you to carry, and walk lighter. Your fretting and dreading and thinking everything will be better once your children’s circumstances are better only show that you’re missing the point.

Life is best for your children when they’re living in connection with Me—regardless of their circumstances. I am working for their good in and through the stressful times. You do nothing to help them when you take on anxiety.

Remember, I’m their parent too—the One Who daily bears their burdens. If you really believe I want to work all things together for their good, then you won’t want to interfere with the process. Rather, you will follow the leading of my Spirit as to when and how I want you to support.

When you take your hands off, when you let go, you make room for wonder. You give yourself opportunity to marvel at what I have done—without your help. And your faith grows. 

God is the Master nurturer, not me. He is the One Who can turn the hardest of times into the richest opportunities for growth. He sees the heart of each of our children, understands His bigger plan for their lives and knows just what each one needs at any point in time. And He knows what part He wants me to play in that process.

When I choose to take a step back and let Him lead the way, I have opportunity to watch Him work, bringing breakthrough and blessing—just as He has in my own life.

When I consider what He’s done for me, why would I expect anything less?

 

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” Romans 11:33a 

 

 

 

 

 

When God Interrupts Your Plans

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

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

There is no movement, no sound.

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

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

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

Sunrise on distant hills

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

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

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

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

“No. Go ahead.” She moves aside.

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s breathing!”

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

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

“Where am I? What am I doing here?”

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

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

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

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

Has anyone ever told her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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