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.”  

Living for God?

Sometimes, early in the morning when I’m drifting from sleep to waking, God shows me something important. Sometimes I see a picture. Sometimes I hear words in my mind. Last week, a sentence came with such weight, I knew it was from Him.

Our focus should be less on living for God and more on living with God.

Such a simple phrase, but oh-so-powerful. I’ve been mulling over it ever since.  

When our primary goal is to live for God, we can take on the mindset of a servant, seeing God as the Master we consult with in the morning to receive instructions before heading out to fulfil His commands. With this perspective, it’s easy for us to be performance-focused, always monitoring how we’re doing and getting discouraged if we fall short. After all, we’re striving for perfect obedience.  

In one sense, this is our purpose—to serve God with all we have. Paul said it so well: We are not our own. We were bought with a price. Therefore, our lives should be set on honouring God. (1 Cor 6:19-20)

But that’s not the whole picture. It’s missing the foundation.

When Jesus walked the earth, He immersed himself in the everyday lives of people, transforming their mundane days with words of truth and tender acts of love. Some were invited to join Him in His travels, to share meals and sleeping quarters and have a close-up view as He taught and healed and performed miracles. Sometimes He sent them to do important jobs, always giving clear instructions on how to proceed. He made time to speak to lonely individuals, to small groups and to pressing crowds of thousands. Every time, He showed profound insight into who they were and exactly what they needed.

Jesus was able to walk steady—all the way to the cross—because of His close relationship with His Father. He spent time with God before dawn and their connection continued all through the day. The oneness of heart they shared was so complete, Jesus said His every word and action flowed directly from His Father (John 5:19-20, John 12:49-50).

Jesus was named ‘Emmanuel’—God with us. Through His life, He revealed God’s deep desire for relationship with us. Through His death, He opened the door for us to enjoy the same oneness with God as He has (Hebrews 4:16). When Jesus returned to the Father, God’s Holy Spirit was poured out to dwell with—and in—each one of us who love Him.  

We are not only servants. We are sons and daughters, fellow-heirs with Jesus . And we’re friends of God. He offers us full and constant access to all His wisdom, provision and power. And when He gives instructions, God doesn’t expect us to head out and fulfil them on our own.  

He goes with us.

If Jesus relied on the Father to lead and enable Him every minute of every day, why would we think we need anything less? Every moment, God is present by His Spirit, ready to show us the way, to give us the heart and words to do good to the people around us. He offers wisdom to deal with difficult situations, power to overcome the enemy’s onslaughts and hope and strength to sustain us when we think we’ve reached our limit. It’s all there, available to us through faith in Jesus. All we need to do is enter in.

When we seek to live for God, our focus is firmly on ourselves—our own efforts, how we’re performing and where we fail to measure up. If we seek to live with God, our attention shifts to pursuing Him. As we become familiar with His heart and His ways, a unique rest brings quiet to our hearts—a confidence that He really is with us and will show us how to walk in His plans, no matter how challenging. Then living for Him comes as a natural outflow of living with Him—just as it did with Jesus.

I don’t know about you but for me, the phrase ‘living with God’ brings a deep sense of relief. Perhaps it’s because that’s what we were made for—just like Adam and Eve in the garden, back at the beginning. I long to live with God, as Jesus did, and there are many times I’ve known Him leading me. But there are far more times my mind is so full of my own thoughts and ideas and ambitions I miss the things He wants to show me.

Thankfully, He looks beyond my performance to my heart. He knows my desire to walk close with Him and beckons me to keep following, keep learning and keep relying on the sacrifice Jesus already made for my failings.

I’m expecting this growing-closer process to be a stretching, wonderful, lifelong one—worth every step for the reward of knowing Him.

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

or the strong boast of their strength

or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they understand and know me . . .”

Jeremiah 9:23-24

Learning to Rest in the Land of Busy

This blog was birthed out of a season when I was a stay-at-home mum in Tasmania savouring slow time after eleven years home-schooling and a bout of serious illness. Rest— body, soul and spirit—was my primary focus. I savoured leisurely days in our spacious, sun-drenched home—reading, praying, writing, pottering in the kitchen and garden, reflecting on life with dear friends and finding joy in simple pleasures. My eyes were opened afresh to the wonders all around me—plump spring buds, alpacas frisking in the back paddock, fairy wrens hopping on the lawn in search of food.

In that season, God taught me how to enjoy ‘just being’, secure in His love irrespective of what I achieved. Like an ailing tree in fertile soil, I plunged my roots deep into Him and marvelled at the quiet strength anchoring me as I transitioned back into normal life.

Today I live almost 1400km north in Wollongong, the third largest city in New South Wales. Wollongong is a city of contrasts. Its golden ribbon of coastline and lush rainforest speak of adventure, discovery and relaxation.

Then there’s Wollongong’s busy face. I see it in the endless plume of steam rising from the steelworks, the creaking of the coal train as it rocks back and forth along its time-worn track, tall cranes reaching skyward as they lift materials for yet another apartment block and the myriad of people coming and going—always coming and going. I, too, am one of the busy ones these days, bustling out the door four mornings a week to play my part in the local workforce.

The hours I spend at home now are carefully apportioned between family, housework, writing, reading and seeking God for fresh strength to juggle it all. Many nights, dissatisfaction grumbles as I climb into bed. I didn’t get through my to-do list. Or I stayed up much too late trying. There’s an unrest I’ve noticed creeping into my heart—a frustration with my lifestyle and desperation to find a better balance. I’ve tried allocating small time periods for demanding tasks, hoping to chip away at them gradually over time. This gave me some sense of progress, but not enough to restore the peace and rest I used to enjoy.

A few weeks ago, in weariness of heart, I turned to Matthew 11:26-28, where Jesus explains that we find rest by coming to Him. Lord, I’m already coming to you—every day—and still I’m not at rest. I’m restless! How can I find that place of calm again when life is so hectic?

With soul open and thirsting, I read through Jesus’ familiar words. He spoke of the yoke, a timber crosspiece laid across the necks of two oxen so they can work together, the lead ox bearing the load’s weight and setting the course while the younger ox—the novice—walked beside.

image by 2211438 on pixabay

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“Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus said, “and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” He said His yoke was easy and His burden light. Clearly, if I felt so heavy-laden and discouraged, I wasn’t wearing His yoke.

This made me wonder, did my circumstances need to change? In some areas, the answer was yes. I had set too many goals, was trying to squeeze too much into each day. I needed to recognise my limits and let God sift my priorities. I knew the busy weekdays would remain as He had clearly led me into my job. But there were other, optional pursuits I could lay down—at least for a time.

I sat quietly, pondering this, until a clear realization cut through my thoughts. Changing my routines might offer some relief. But my circumstances weren’t the problem.

The real issue—the root of all my unrest—was the state of my heart.

Most of the weight I was carrying came from the expectations I put on myself—to perform, to achieve, to keep everything under control. Added to that load was my frustration over my limited time at home. Wistfulness had grown into resentment, a heavy burden that made me drag my feet and overlook the blessings in each day.

My focus shifted again as I felt God draw my attention to the posture required to take on a yoke. The young ox had to bow its head—and thus its will. To bear well the yoke it had been given and fulfil its purpose, it needed to align its body with the lead ox and submit to that ox’s strength and wisdom.

 

I sensed God speak to my heart, Yieldedness is the place of rest. As you choose to trust Me and bow to My will—the yoke of My choice for this season—you’ll feel the burden lift. Then there will be a new lightness and ease in your days.

image by skeeze from pixabay

                                                                                                                                                                    Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Ah, yieldedness. That surrendering of control and laying down of our own efforts. It’s something we might fear and try to shirk, yet it offers a path straight to rest. The author of Hebrews said anyone who enters God’s rest ceases from their labour. That means we throw off the mindset that says it’s all up to us, that we need to wrestle and juggle and figure everything out. Yieldedness means letting go and taking our place as the learner beside the Lord, fully aware of our frailty and trusting in His rock-solid, abiding presence. It means surrendering each situation and each relationship to Him and trusting Him to show us the way through.

Humbled, I yielded. I recognized the yoke Jesus had given me was just what I needed—whether I thought so or not. As I surrendered, I recognized and began to thank Him for the many gifts in my busy life—the beautiful and challenging people who cross my path, daily opportunities to learn and grow, the shelter and peace of our home, the family I gather with over candlelit dinners who devour mountains of food and create piles of dirty dishes. The more I thanked God, the more clearly I could see. I was blessed! And shining brightly above all God’s gifts was His constant, strong presence beside me—a source of stability, nurture and enabling to do far more than I thought I could.

This rest of God is not dependent on our physical condition or our circumstances. It flows from a state of firm confidence in Him—His kindness, His ability, His constancy—and cannot be taken away, unless we allow it. If I shift my focus away from the Lord and onto myself, my rest is quickly stolen. Knowing my own weakness, I now begin most days with this prayer.

Lord, thank you for this new day. Please make it what you want it to be and lead me through it. And make me who you want me to be, Lord. I want to walk with you.

The moment those words lift from my heart, my perspective is renewed and I’m released from the drive to strive. I feel His response. Rest in me, daughter. I am more than enough for you. Trust me and I will show you the way through.

Daily, God calls me into His rest. He’s calling you too. He wants all of us to dwell in that place of intimacy and peace and strength in Him. It’s only by remaining yielded, yoked with Him, that we can walk in His plans and bring Him the honour He’s due. That is our highest purpose.

“Look to the Lord and his strength;

Seek his face always.” 1 Chronicles 16:11  

Don’t Push!

Last Saturday was a day for celebration. Late in the afternoon, as the heavens opened and released a torrent of rain outside, I sat with my computer in the quietness of our study and emailed the final documents for “Skinny Girl” to my publisher. Finally, the work was done! The fact this event took place almost two months later than planned was sure to mean the book’s release date would be delayed. Yet, I smiled as deep peace and satisfaction flooded my heart—more than I would have felt, I’m sure, if I had sent the documents on time.

Often, when we set goals, we have a clear picture in our minds of how we want things to play out—what will happen, how and when the goal will be achieved. Later, looking back, we measure our success by how close the reality was to our imaginings.

But what if there was a better route to achieving our goal than the plan we’ve created? And what if we switched our focus from the outcome to the process? How would that change our understanding of success?

When I was asked to consider changing some crucial points in my book manuscript just five days before the due date for submission, my whole mindset had to shift. Already—numerous times—I’d sought feedback from a range of people, discussed necessary changes and prayerfully gone over the material again. To be told I needed to retrace my steps once more, and at such a late stage, had me feeling like a marathon runner plunging towards the finish line, only to be intercepted and told I must turn around and run the last two kilometres again. The loss of momentum felt awfully like defeat—until I was able to quiet my heart and listen to my Father’s still, small voice.

I was reminded this book was God’s idea, not mine. I needed to yield to His process, even when it didn’t make sense to me. Over the next few days, I was able to lay down my expectations and time frame and release myself from the drive to ‘just get it over the line’. I explained the situation to my publisher, who offered an extension for however long I needed. Her grace released me to yield completely to God’s plan.

Several weeks in, I felt Him remind me, Rest. Don’t rush. If you push ahead for the sake of expediency, you are no different to Saul.(1 Samuel 13-15) An image of  King Saul impatiently taking things into his own hands, disregarding God’s command and consequently losing his crown sent a shudder through me. I didn’t want to be like that! Be like Mary, the Lord continued. Sit at My feet. Worship. And know that the practical things that need to be done will be—if you truly put Me first.”

Those words transformed my perspective on the setback. Suddenly, it was no longer a hindrance but a gift. Rather than being blocked from achieving my goal, I’d been given an opportunity to rest, listen and allow God to add new dimensions to the story, to make it even better. He dropped a picture of two pieces of fruit into my mind. The first was fuzzy and pink with a sweet outer layer, but a firm, sour centre that made it difficult to digest. The second was plump and fragrant and richly-coloured, dripping with flavour and lasting, life-giving nourishment. To give readers an incomplete book simply because I felt it had been ripening long enough was like picking a piece of immature fruit and offering it to someone I cared about. Its benefit would be limited and some of its effects could be unsettling.

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Image by flockine from Pixabay

With renewed desire to let things develop according to God’s plan, I spent long periods studying my bible, poring over verses on trust, submission and rest and scrawling long prayers and notes in my journal. I consulted with key contacts and asked for prayer from people at church, all the while keeping my eyes and ears open to see what God would do. There were moments I felt Him draw my attention to particular words spoken by someone in conversation. Another when a phrase I heard uttered in prayer echoed in my heart for days afterwards. Each little piece I recorded in my journal, and as I did, I noticed a gradual shift taking place in my thinking. Slowly, beautifully, as days and weeks ticked by, God put each piece in its place to create a clear picture showing me what I needed to do to bring the book to ‘maturity’. The changes were not difficult—they took only a couple of hours to write—but they were significant to the message of the story. Even more precious to me, though, were the hours I spent resting in His presence (Psalm 91:1)

King Saul’s grandson, Solomon, showed greater wisdom than his grandfather when he said,

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.”(Psalm 127:1)

Esther Wine Glass Bay lookoutI often hear God whisper a simpler version of this proverb to my heart. Don’t push. We may try to build good things—very good things—through our own efforts, but it’s only when we yield to God and His plan that we can produce something of real value. There is a time to work hard and put energy and effort into our task, but we need to be mindful of the motivation for our effort.

It’s easy, even when God plants a dream in our heart, for us to begin with Him then run ahead because our eyes are so firmly fixed on the finish line. But there’s more to the story than the endpoint. The journey has a richness of its own. If we disregard the value of the process, we’ll miss the beautiful things God wants to do in us and for us along the way. The process is what prepares us for the time of the project’s completion. It makes us ripe and ready for what comes next.

Esther holding flowersSo, if we’re not to push, what’s the alternative? To rest and be led—by the one who sees the whole picture and whose way is always best—in timing and in process.

On Saturday, as I pressed ‘send’ on the email to my publisher, I marvelled at the way God, who began this venture so many years ago had sealed it by directing, in such intimate detail, my final steps. Truly He is the Alpha and Omega—the first and the last—the one who brings the first gleaming rays of dawn and plants the sun’s final kiss on fruit-laden branches at day’s end.

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

“. . . the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace . . .” Romans 8:6b

 

 

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.”

 

 

Five Ways to Fight Body Hate

Body hate. It’s such a sad pairing of words. I remember from my anorexic days that dark sensation of so despising myself, I was willing (even eager) to make the ‘skin’ I was in disappear.

Maybe this feeling is familiar to you. Or maybe ‘hate’ seems too strong a word. How about ‘body dissatisfaction’? In our world, with its endless opportunities to compare, very few people are satisfied with their appearance—always wishing some feature looked, well, like someone else’s.

This kind of thinking steals from us in so many ways. It robs our joy. It lowers our sense of worth. And it keeps us from growing into who we were made to be.

In my last post, I asked you to join me in breaking free from pressure to fit the world’s ‘perfect’ mould. How’s that going for you? It can be hard to swim upstream alone. Here are some strategies I’ve found helpful.

  1. Shift your Gaze

The house we’re renting is full of mirrors. Almost everywhere I turn, I’m faced with my reflection—not ideal for someone who wants to set her sights higher. While we can’t remove the mirrors, I’ve found a way to adjust my focus.

Attached to our large bathroom mirror are several slips of paper, each bearing a short quote. Every morning when I’m dressing, I shift my gaze to those words and remind myself what matters most.

People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Set your mind on things above (Colossians 3:20).

These words remind me my appearance isn’t my primary feature—even though it’s the one people see first. It’s my heart that sets the course for my life. That’s what I need to check as I head into each day. Am I at peace? Am I ready to love the people around me? What needs to change?

Sue taking photos at Minnamurra

  1. Train Your Mind

Every day we’re bombarded with lies. Every day we need to replace them with truth. Romans 12:2 says we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds. This renewal doesn’t happen by chance. It comes when we stop, recognize the destructive thoughts taking root in our mind, rip them out and replace them with truth.

Reading words on the mirror helps. Speaking the words aloud—whether to ourselves, in prayer or in conversation with others—is even more powerful. Many times, my spirit has lifted as I’ve chosen to voice God’s words of promise over a difficult situation. The more we feed on His truth, the brighter our perspective grows.

How about our technology use? What are we looking at, reading, listening to? All of these are seeds we’re sowing into the soil of our minds. Recent studies have shown a clear connection between online media use and body dissatisfaction—even in young children! Maybe it’s time we think about cutting back.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2

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  1. Feed Your Body

That’s right. Feed it, don’t starve it. Your body is an amazing creation and needs nourishment, rest and sensible exercise to function well. Eating a well-rounded diet brings stability to our emotions, helping us have a more positive outlook. And choosing to nurture, rather than deprive, our bodies brings a heart change, sending the pendulum swinging away from body hate closer to love.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

 

  1. Find Your Purpose

We were made to be so much more than a good-looking ornament. Life is a gift to be embraced with all we have. In each of us God has put a deposit of His nature—a handpicked mix of personality, passions and gifts. Even before we were conceived, He had a specific path in mind for our lives.  As we grow in knowing Him, He reveals more of His purpose for us and our sense of value grows.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

Entrance road at Winbourne

  1. Bless Others

The closer we draw to God’s heart, the more His love for others seeps into our veins. We realize life is not all about us—how we look or the image we project. It’s about people–living with them, loving them, seeing their needs, letting them see ours and each playing our part to boost each other on the journey. When we live this way—pursuing God and loving others—we find fulfilment that goes far deeper than any superficial happiness.

It shouldn’t be surprising, really. After all, it’s what we were ma­­de for.

Jesus (said), ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind . . . (and) Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37

Sunset city beach with M, J, S, E

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Nine Tips for Holding Steady Through the Crazy Times

I’ve just reached the end of a pretty crazy term. My husband started studying (two courses simultaneously), I picked up a few extra hours at work and, on top of that, had an important deadline to meet for some writing submissions (I have appointments with a couple of publishers at a writer’s conference in a few weeks). And it was the winter term at school, when fatigue was high and illness common. Despite all that, I’ve reached the end of term healthy, happy and (mostly) at peace. Finally, it seems, I’m learning to be more strategic in the hectic times.

Here are my nine top tips. I hope you find them helpful.

  1. Remember Your Creator

Make time to still your heart in God’s presence—daily. Remind yourself He is the only source of life and hope. Worship, give thanks, feed on His Word and listen to His whisper. He knows all your day will hold and wants to show you His way through.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” Psalm 91:1-2.

Esther and Molly in backyard

  1. Remember Who You Are

You are a child of God, created for a purpose. If you’re putting Him first and seeking His direction, every season you pass through—even the crazy-hectic ones—are being worked together to equip you for what He has ahead. You can be confident He will  work even the hardest of times for your good.

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

  1. Prioritise

Cut back on the extras. Weigh up your options carefully. What are your most important relationships? The crucial activities that can’t be compromised? Consider putting aside surplus involvements for a while, so you don’t run yourself dry. God’s priorities come with firm conviction and peace. ‘Extras’ push us into stress and striving.

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the ones who delight in Him; though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord upholds them with His hand.” Psalm 37:23

  1. Nourish Your Body

Eat food that makes you feel well and gives you lasting energy—physical and mental. Do some form of exercise that you enjoy and get those happy endorphins flowing. And put yourself to bed early when you can. A good sleep makes everything look brighter.

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for while they sleep He provides for those He loves.” Psalm 127:2

Mark at 26km

5. Slow Your Mind

Put your tasks and technology aside, turn off the background noise, look around you and breathe. Spend time outdoors. Drink in the beauty of nature. Quiet your heart and savour stillness. Just slow down—even for a moment.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:2-3a

Jesse birdwatching

 

  1. Embrace the Sabbath

Right from the beginning God planned weekly rest days for our good. Try to set aside a whole day where you put aside the usual busyness, refocus (see point 1) and do something that refreshes you. As we recreate, we are re-created ready for the week that follows.

“For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord.” Exodus 31:15a

  1. Be Creative

If you have the desire, make something beautiful or purposeful—take some photos, pot a plant, compose some music, transform a piece of furniture. As God’s image-bearers, each of us has some inherent form of creativity. Perhaps the joy we feel when we create something special is because we’re reflecting our creator.

“God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27a

Potting a palm

  1. Be Spontaneous

Those busy seasons can become very monotonous, as they are for the mouse in the wheel. Try to be a little bit spontaneous and break out when you have opportunity. For my husband and I, that meant a last-minute dash to the cinema to watch a light-hearted movie on a day that was looking very task-focused. Good fun!

“See! The winter is past . . . Flowers appear on the earth . . . Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.” Song of Songs 2:11-13

Girls leaping on sunset beach, BH

  1. Communicate

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your limits and accept help. Even if there are tasks you see as your responsibility, if you’re under the pump and someone is offering a hand, say yes! This doesn’t make you a failure, rather it grows you in humility and gratitude. There are sure to be times when you can pick up the slack for someone else when they’re under pressure. It’s all part of being a body.

“Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27.

Esther running on beach

Photo credit for sunset trio to Laura Eastley.

 

What Really Matters – Really?

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll say that once more.

People are all that matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You matter.

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

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

It’s worth some thought.

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

Purpose in the Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His response, every time? Trust Me.

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

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