In Desperate Times . . .

The air was fragrant with the scent of peppermint oil and eucalyptus. I lay under a thick, warm towel, face down. Soft music soothed my frazzled nerves. The therapist’s hands moved along my neck and shoulders, kneading tension from my aching muscles.  

Two weeks earlier, my husband and I had trudged through a bout of COVID. While our illness was mostly mild, the fatigue it brought lingered. Six days along, when we were still weak and vague, an email informed us we needed to move—in just five weeks’ time. Though we barely had energy or headspace to keep our household running, house-hunting and packing were added to our lengthy to-do list.  

After one week of searching with little reward, I was so full of fear and anxiety, I thought my head would burst. If only someone could come and fix everything for me, like mum so often had when I was young. I noticed my mind running to desperate places, secretly wishing I could run away or go to sleep for a month—anything to escape the battle that lay ahead. The fear that gripped me wasn’t based so much on the chance we might not find a house, though that simmered under the surface. It was more that I didn’t think I had what it would take to survive the journey.  

I’ve been through upheavals like this before. Bigger ones, even—like our move 1400 kilometres north from Tasmania three years ago. At that time I saw God lead us so clearly—at every stage I sensed His counsel, encouragement and comfort. This time my mind was so foggy I could barely focus to read my bible, let alone hear His whisper. Even when I did sense what God was saying, I couldn’t grasp hold of the hope He offered.

My body was still unwell. So were my emotions—deep in the slump that sometimes comes with illness. Paranoia, powerlessness, depression and middle of the night panic all had their moments of attack. The littlest trigger set my stomach churning and pain running through my body. I felt like a wreck—a shell of the woman I’d been—completely wrung out. I kept reading, kept praying and journaling, but couldn’t seem to shake off the fear.

On the morning of massage day, I realised I needed to push through and fight. There was no way I could carry on as I was. Mustering all the strength I had, I began speaking aloud God’s promises.

Photo by Michael Block on Pexels

‘God, thank you that you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Thank you that you make a way in the wilderness and provide streams in the desert. You open doors no man can shut. You are my shepherd and you go ahead of me to prepare the way. Thank you that when we acknowledge You in all our ways You make our path straight . As we seek first your kingdom, you will add to us everything we need. You know the end from the beginning and you will work all this together for our good.’

With each declaration, a tiny chink was cut in the fear that had imprisoned my mind. This was progress. But it took so much energy I couldn’t sustain it for long.   

‘God,’ I whispered. ‘I can’t do this alone. Please speak. I’m listening.’

Later I lay on the massage table, soaking up every hope-filled lyric in the Christian music I heard. The therapist, a friend from church, started working on my arms, her touch gentle yet firm, her thumbs pressing soothingly on sore spots. 

‘God loves you so much,’ she said, her voice gentle. ‘He has a good plan for you.’

‘Thank you,’ I whispered, her words settling in my heart. ‘I need that reminder.’

She went on massaging, silent for a minute before adding, ‘I believe He’s going to give you a new perspective.’

My heart sighed. Oh, yes, Lord. That’s what I need.

She massaged one of my hands then the other, rubbing in small circles along the muscles between my fingers, relieving tension I hadn’t realised was there. ‘He’s going to help you see your situation from His perspective.’

I felt my spirit lift. Let it be, Lord.

That evening a friend checked in to see how I was via messenger. She wrote, ‘It seems like God is stripping away all the control from you so He has total control—a great thing but a very painful thing.’

Photo by Ran Berkovich on Unsplash

I pondered her words after our conversation ended. She was right. After spending years seeking to rest in God’s goodness, I’d slipped into worrying, imagining all the possible scenarios of how things could play out—mostly what could go wrong. The reality was, no matter how much thought or worry I put in, I couldn’t control the outcome. Only God could give us favour with a home-owner among the sea of applicants. Only He could open up a way for us.

When I went to bed that night, I prayed, Lord, please give me a dream—something so vivid it brings lasting change to the way I think. Early the next morning I woke many times, not with a dream but with a sentence I’d once heard running through my head.

‘Do what you can do and let God do what only He can do.’

Do what I can do. What could I do? I could pray. I could ask others for input, look for suitable houses and get our application documents ready. That was all. Suddenly a burden lifted. All I had to do was fulfil my role.  

The rest was up to God.

That day I started working on a rental application. It was detailed, tedious and took a very long time. When I lowered myself into bed that evening, I opened my current read to see the next chapter’s title. Perseverance.

Ha ha, God. Perfect timing. Okay, I’m listening.

The pages that followed told the story of a man who always quit when things got difficult. He went through a string of failed relationships and lived a restless, miserable life—until he learned to endure the tough patches.   

The next morning as I opened my eyes, another revelation came.

‘This process will be uncomfortable,

but it won’t destroy me.

God will see me through.’

I was struck by a realization as I jotted the words in my journal. My thinking was faulty.

Discomfort would not destroy me, no matter how much it felt like it would.

I had subconsciously agreed with an inner voice that whined, ‘I can’t bear this’. Several times before, that phrase had tripped me up. But I’d never acknowledged its deceptive nature. Only God knew what I could bear, and He would set the limits on how far this journey stretched me. I didn’t need to run or hide or go to sleep for a month. I needed to face and accept this season of discomfort and walk with Him all the way through. He would bring me out the other side. I could endure—if I relied on Him one day at a time.  

A few days later, after a long time studying Proverbs, I sat quietly with my journal and felt God speak these words to my heart.

Enjoy this process (of house-hunting), knowing there will be a good outcome. Choose to enter fully into what I am doing—even when it doesn’t make sense—and know I’ll work good in your heart (and mind) through it.

When you choose to offer your best to a process you’d rather not be in, I do My best work in you.’  

God knew I didn’t want to be in this process. And He was asking me to give my best anyway. He saw the bigger picture and His focus was as much on what He was doing in me as what He was doing for me.

Isn’t that what Romans 8:28-29 tells us? It doesn’t say God works all things together to make our lives comfortable. It says He uses all things—even the really hard things—to mould us into the likeness of Jesus. God’s greatest desire is that we grow into the unique individuals He destined us to be, each walking in His plan—the truly good life. The outcome of the process (though He does provide for our needs, often in amazing ways) isn’t nearly as important as the work He does in us through it.  

There’s only one week now till moving day and our house-hunt isn’t complete. It’s been difficult to stay in that place of quiet trust the last few days. What ifs have started creeping in, whispering fear to my soul. Working through the final edits of this post has been helpful. It’s put the truth before my eyes once more. Though this process feels torturous, God is doing something very good.  

What battle are you facing right now? And how is God working in you through it? Though this patch you’re in may not seem to hold anything you can view as good, if you seek to walk with Him through it, there will be a time where you can.

PS. Two days after completing this, our rental application for a lovely home was approved. Though it’s too long a story to go into now, we know this is the home of God’s choice for us. And we are oh-so-thankful.

‘The righteous cry out and the LORD hears them;

He delivers them from all their troubles.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted

And saves those who are crushed in spirit.’

Psalm 34:17-18

Photo by Stainless Images on Unsplash

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  

Overcoming Anxiety

Of course I was worried. Anyone would be in my situation. There I was, five months pregnant with our fourth child. Our house had been sold. Soon we’d need to hand over our keys. We’d made a good profit in the sale, so I should have been excited. But one fact loomed large in my mind, casting its shadow over everything else. We didn’t have anywhere to go.

For weeks we’d been scouring the internet. Rental houses in our target area were few. Those we found were either too small, too expensive or were snapped up before we could pursue them. Now we only had two weeks left.

I stood by the stove, turning sausages in a frying pan and trying to imagine the weeks ahead—where we’d end up and how we would we get there. Through the kitchen window, I watched our children, bouncing in rhythm on the trampoline—up, down, up, down, so carefree—and terror gripped my heart. God, what’s going to happen to us? What’s going to happen to them? What if moving day comes and we still don’t have a home?

Fear clutched at my throat and my eyes brimmed with tears. I pictured us standing on the footpath, surrounded by all our belongings, our children’s faces covered with confusion. Frantically, I tried to think of words from the bible that offered hope for our situation, but nothing came to mind. All I could hear was, What if? What if? What if? My heart thrummed in my chest and my stomach began to churn.

Then God opened my eyes . . .

If I let this fear control me, I’d be no help to my family through all the upheaval. I needed to find hope. We all did. Later that evening, I sat in bed, my bible on my lap, and searched for every verse I could find about God taking care of His children. It took a while. The next day I printed six of my favourites in large letters and placed them in key locations around the house.

Every morning and afternoon, with our children in tow, I walked from room to room and we read those words together. Every time, between readings, when fear whispered doubts in my ear, I turned to the nearest page and repeated the truth.

God’s children would never be forsaken (Psalm 37:25).

We need not worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34).

He would supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19).

In those final weeks, while we packed linen and crockery, books and toys into boxes, I felt my faith grow steadily and my heart settle to a place of deep assurance. Those words we’d been reciting weren’t merely nice thoughts. They were promises—straight from the mouth of God to His children, unchanging and unbreakable.

bible page re God not forsaking His children

Moving day arrived. We still didn’t have a home to move to, but I was anchored by a peace so strong, it passed understanding (Philippians 4:7). My Father knew what we needed and He had a plan. We decided to accept an earlier offer from friends to stay in their home for a week while they were away. Another couple provided temporary storage for all our gear in the vacant unit of their grandfather. These two homes ‘happened’ to be sited in the same suburb as a house we’d applied to rent two days earlier.

Big-bellied and weary beyond words, I relished the chance for a few days rest in our friends’ very comfortable home. Midway through that week, we were told our rental application had been approved. The homeowner had chosen our family of five (almost six) as her new tenants, rather than the professional couple with no children who also applied. Miraculous! Three days later, we began moving in—an easier feat this time as the unit where all our belongings were stowed sat just around the corner.

Hand feeding lorikeetsLooking back, I was awestruck. God had kept His promises. Things hadn’t happened according to our desires or time frame, but I could see His tender fingerprints everywhere—from the proximity of all the houses to the luxurious rest period between moves. We even discovered our new landlady had lowered the rent significantly from what we were originally quoted.

What a life-changing time that was for me! I discovered God’s word truly is our sword, our key weapon against every negative attack. With the word, we can cut down the lies that try to destroy us and find peace, hope, rest and direction.

Every believer has been provided with the same powerful weapon. The question is, are we using it? Or is it sitting in its sheath, rusting, while we try unsuccessfully to deal with daily assaults on our own?

Sometimes, our emotions are so intense, it can feel too hard to pull our sword out of its sheath. That’s when we need to make a decision to start, even if it’s a tiny step like opening our bible and finding one relevant verse. As we seek to push through those negative feelings to the truth, God will show us the way and strengthen us for the battle.

I’m not immune to struggles. Sometimes anxiety starts shooting its fiery darts before the sun is even up. Intimidation snarls, telling me I’m not strong enough, brave enough, wise enough for the things God has called me into. Those emotions often taunt me—but I don’t have to agree with them. It may take a while for me to recognize what’s happening and pick up my sword. Sometimes the feelings are so entrenched, I need to persist over a period of days or even weeks. But as I choose to fix my eyes on the truth, as I wield my sword again and again, God always brings the breakthrough.sword-790815_1920

“You will keep in perfect peace

Those whose minds are steadfast

Because they trust in you.”

Isaiah 26:3

 

                      Image by azboomer from Pixabay

 

 

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.