Overcoming Darkness

Her name was Bec. Small in stature, with shoulder-length, sandy hair, a face free of make-up and an unpretentious manner, there was nothing to give the impression of authority or passion as she took her place at the lectern. But when she opened her mouth, I realised she had the heart of a lion.

Bec had been living for several years in Cambodia, a nation where trafficking of women and children was common—and many nationals viewed it as a way to survive financially. Fathers sold their young daughters into prostitution. Some children were rescued and returned to their families, only to be sold again. The blindness and injustice of it made my stomach churn. Yet Bec’s tone held steady as she shared. How can she be so calm? I wondered.

After reading some sad statistics, Bec lifted her eyes to her listeners. ‘Because of this, many people view Cambodia as a very dark place. When we look at the darkness in our world, we can shake our heads in despair, fearing the darkness will grow so large that it snuffs out the light.’ Her voice grew louder. ‘But that’s because we have the wrong idea. We think darkness and light are equal and opposite forces. They’re not. Darkness isn’t a force at all. It doesn’t have a power of its own to do anything.

Darkness is just the absence of light. To overcome darkness, all we need to do is turn on the light. Even the tiniest flame can cut through it.’

I sat in my seat, stunned, as Bec’s words cut through the shadows in my mind.

She opened her bible and read from John chapter 1 verse 5. ‘”The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”’

Hope stirred inside me. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness—no matter how black it is—cannot overcome light.

Bec continued, ‘This principle is the foundation of our work in Cambodia. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”’ (Matthew 5: 14-15) She smiled. ‘To overcome darkness, we need to find the highest stand—the highest platform—we can and shine as brightly as we can, so our light reaches as many people as possible.’

Photo by Pezibear on Pixabay

For Bec and a team of Cambodian nationals, that meant working together to shine the brightest light they could into arenas which held the greatest sway over young people’s minds—music and media. The team formed a band, wrote music and worked with some media experts to produce albums and advertisements that challenged popular views on issues such as drink spiking, date rape, prostitution and trafficking. As they shone their light, they were changing mindsets, little by little.

It’s been fifteen years since I heard Bec speak, but her words have stayed with me—and they came up again a couple of months ago. In fact, I woke with them echoing through my mind.

It’s so easy for us to be overwhelmed by the darkness we see in our world, especially in this COVID season when there’s upheaval almost everywhere we look. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that we can overcome darkness—if only we’ll turn on the light.

So, how do we do that?  

We fix our eyes

First, we shift our gaze from the darkness—all the doom and gloom around us—to focus on God. The bible says He is light and darkness has no place in Him. It’s only through His light, His enabling, that we can overcome.  When we fix our eyes on the pure brightness of His light, everything else is put into perspective. He gives us hope. He exposes any darkness residing in our hearts, washing us clean and setting us free to move forward and live at peace with others.

‘If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.’ 1 John 1:7

We act in the opposite spirit

Darkness cannot be overcome by more darkness. Instead, we live in God’s light and let it shine through our lives.

Where there is hatred, we show love.

Where there is division, we build unity.

We offer hope in the face of doom, truth where there is deception, comfort where there is pain, peace amid turmoil, acceptance where there is rejection. Enabled by God’s overflowing love, we press forward, relying on the wisdom and power He offers.

‘Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.’ Romans 12:21

We let the Light guide our steps.

As we choose to walk with God, He shines His light on our path, revealing His specific purpose for each of us. As we give ourselves wholeheartedly to that purpose, His light emanates from our lives, dispelling the darkness around us.

He may lead us to do something as small as smiling at a neighbour who’s struggling, or as large as funding a programme to help those who are homeless. For each of us, the path will be different, but we all have a part to play.

‘A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.’ 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)

Our light may seem small to us. Insignificant, even. But think of a flickering candle. The tiniest flame still penetrates the darkness. And if we all shine together, think of how bright the light will be. Together we can overcome.  

Photo by Irina Anastasiu on Pexels

‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:37-39  

Personal Training

Their numbers are growing, this army of people. We see them more often now COVID has pushed them outdoors. Clad in cotton, spandex and microfibre, they leave their homes just as the sun stretches its fingers across the sky and take their place in pairs along the Wollongong waterfront—the eyes of one fixed on the other, their ears hungry for instruction.  

I watch them as I stroll past—the trainer giving guidance and encouragement, the client pushing their body through the motions. They squat and crunch, lift enormous weights and stretch beyond what seems natural, their faces contorting with effort yet radiating hunger for more. The transformation they’re experiencing—it seems—is worth the pain.

I’m impressed by these people. They care enough about their health to commit time and money to glean from another person’s skill and experience. Funnily, we also engage in personal training—almost every day—though we don’t often realise it.

A few months back God whispered to my heart. As I drifted up from slumber, His words echoed through me with clarity and conviction,

You are discipled by whatever you give your time and attention to.

Now that’s confronting. And thought provoking.

‘Discipled’ is a word we rarely use these days. It refers to a form of training where one person is guided by another to become a follower of their way or belief system. Sound familiar? Like personal training, discipling goes beyond merely passing on knowledge. It equips the learner to so fully embody the key aspects of the new way that their life is completely changed. Like a rhythmic dance, this discipling process is an ongoing dynamic—the teacher offers ideas through word and example and the student takes them on, allowing them to infuse and shape their lives.

So how does this happen to us?

Each day, whether we make conscious choices or roll with our fluctuating whims, we take on the role of learners. Through our senses, we absorb ideas, values and priorities from a whole range of sources. People we meet, music and books, world events and the array of internet platforms each have their part to play.

Photo by Tofros.com from Pexels

When something catches our interest, we focus on it, opening not only our mind but our heart. If we dwell on it long enough it begins to seep into our soul, permeating our whole being and colouring the way we think and feel, the language we use and the way we relate to others. It filters the way we perceive the world and the events of our day.

How do we figure out which input has the greatest influence on who we’re becoming?

We look at what receives the largest measure of our time and attention.  

With every turn of the earth, we’re gifted with twenty-four hours of life. Most of that time is poured into the normal rhythms of eating, working and sleeping, but we still have a few hours through the week and more on weekends where we can choose what we do. In those moments, what takes first place in our list of priorities?

I wonder, if we took an honest, detailed inventory of an average week in our lives, what it would reveal about who we are, where we’re headed. If you’re anything like me, you have a clear idea of what’s important to you, but the reality of your day-to-day life often paints a different picture. Sometimes unexpected needs arise and we get waylaid from the priorities we’ve set. Other times we’re lured away by our own curiosity, or hunger for comfort, and find ourselves on a path far removed from where we truly want to be.

Those little everyday choices have more impact than we think.

Choice by choice, they accumulate and set the course of our life.  

It’s good to stop and recognize what is our primary focus. What gets us out of bed in the morning? And what is the most significant subject in our thoughts through the day—the focal point we return to whenever we can?

Who do we follow on social media and other online avenues? And what’s our motivation for following them? Are we after distraction? Entertainment? Do we crave their lifestyle and want what they have? Whatever our reason, the longer we linger over their photos and feed on their words, the more permission we give them to disciple us.

Do we really want their lifestyle and values to be reproduced in our lives? It’s worth thinking about.  

Three years and two children into our marriage, my husband and I hit a bumpy patch and needed some help to find our way through. Eager for guidance, we began a three-month marriage course with several other couples. For a girl like me who relishes deep connection, the weekly homework was the absolute highlight.

With hot drinks in hand, hubby and I would sink onto the couch, open our workbooks and pore over questions from that week’s lesson. Many times, we’d spend a good hour doing our homework. The questions weren’t the simple ‘tick-the-box, regurgitate-the-content’ kind. They were probing, the dig-deep kind that made us stop, reflect and pray over ideas that would shape the future of our relationship.  

Photo by Tymur Khakimov from Pexels

One lesson was a standout. The topic? Sowing and reaping. Two pictures were printed in the workbook—a sack bulging with seed and a sheaf of freshly harvested wheat—vivid reminders that the seeds we plant always produce a crop of the same kind, both in nature and in our lives. We were challenged to recognise the seeds we were sowing into the soil of our marriage and what kind of harvest they were producing, whether good or bad. From that place we could turn the dynamic around. We clarified our real desires—what we felt God wanted for our marriage—and listed what seeds we needed to sow to see those desires fulfilled. That lesson opened our eyes to some negative patterns we’d slipped into. As we prayed, we felt a new excitement and sense of vision for the way ahead. Those principles of sowing and reaping are integral to our lives now. They’ve built us into a strong team and guided our decisions—big and small—through the twenty-two years since that time.

Married or not, it’s helpful for all of us to stop and ask the question,

‘Where’s my life headed?

And how are my day-to-day choices shaping my journey?’

Just like those early risers who hurry to meet their personal trainer, we need to be intentional in where we focus our time and attention. We each have one life—a limited number of days to embrace and use well. Whichever way we choose to spend them, one thing is guaranteed—as we sow, we will surely reap.   

‘Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise . . .’

Ephesians 5:15 CSB

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

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What If?

Do you ever hear a voice whisper, “What if . . .?”

What if things don’t turn out the way I hoped?

What if they don’t like me?

What if the test result is bad?

What if our money runs out?

What if we lose x? y? z?

I wonder how many ‘what ifs’ we’ve allowed to tromp through our mind, bash and crash their way through our dreams, keep us tossing and turning all night, stealing every trace of peace . . . only to come to nothing, like a rolling storm that evaporates to reveal the sun.

Some days what ifs simmer under the surface, quietly unsettling our soul. Other times, their voice is booming and powerful, drowning out all other sounds. In our mind’s eye we see the what ifs’ predictions playing out, our emotions surging as if they were already a reality. At their worst, what ifs bind and cripple us, making us unable to function at all.

The crazy thing is, as convincing and real as they may seem, what ifs are merely that—what ifs—figments of our imagination, with no real substance. The only hold they have over our mind and heart is because of the time and attention we give them.

A couple of months back God cut through my time of prayer and reflection with these words: You’re forming a habit of listening to what ifs.

He was right. I was.  

What if I fail? What if things don’t go to plan? What if? What if? What if? Unknowingly, I’d been letting my imagination run off on negative tangents, even though I knew they would do me no good. So subtly had the what ifs crept in, I hadn’t noticed them building, bringing heaviness and tension to the way I worked, the tone I used with my family, my mood when I contemplated the days ahead. God had shone His light on these recurring questions, exposing the load of doubts I’d taken on—and I was grateful.

Once the truth was out, His remedy was swift, His instruction clear. Stop it now.

Okay, God. I will. Please show me how to break this pattern.  

He planted a new word pairing in my mind—one so minimally different to ‘what if’, the change seemed almost insignificant. Yet, unlike the fear and anxiety ‘what if’ provoked, the new duo pulsed with truth, security and authority.

‘Even if.’

Even if . . .

Even if things go wrong . . . God will be there. He will be enough. His love will stand firm.

I scribed His words in my journal as He worked this truth into my heart.  

Even if plans don’t turn out quite as you’d imagined, even if something terrible happens, even if circumstances turn upside down or you fail at something, My love for you never fails, My presence still offers you rest and I will show you the way through.

Photo by nicollazzi xiong on Pexels.com

In Isaiah 43 God doesn’t shy away from the reality of tough times in our lives. If anything, He hints they are inevitable, the only question being ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. In the face of this hard truth, His accompanying promise gives a firm foundation for hope—when we pass through the waters and walk through the fire, we will not be overcome, for He is with us. We will not drown. We will not be burned. He will bring us through. (Isaiah 43: 1-5a)

And how about Paul’s declaration in Romans 8?

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,

Neither angels nor demons,

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: 38-39)

Did you notice the first obstacle Paul mentioned? Even death—what we may view as the most devastating ‘what if’—cannot separate us, or those left behind, from God’s powerful presence or His tender love.

We can’t predict what the days ahead will hold. This year full of strange happenings has taught us that. But the one who already sees our future is with us and He will never let us go. When we drag our thoughts away from what ifs and fix our eyes on His loving face, we find a peace and strength that holds us steady—even if the unexpected happens.

 

It’s All in Your Mind

I was surprised how quickly I slipped. For several months I’d been mulling over some wonderful truths, gaining understanding and mentally preparing to share them on this blog. I’d learned to see challenges as an opportunity for growth and felt I could approach any difficulty with a positive attitude. Yet all it took was a few unexpected comments at a crucial moment to send me into a spin.

I was six days away from sending my final documents for my book, “Skinny Girl”, to the publisher when an email came from a trusted contact suggesting further edits. By this time—ten years into the writing and editing process—I hoped I had worked through every change that was needed.  I was wrong.

The point my friend made was important and I was glad she raised it. Still, I felt myself plummeting into a crazy mental tug-of-war, my thoughts flitting back and forth between accusations of failure and quieter assurances that correction would only help improve the book. Tiredness and hormones added their weight to the gloomy side, whispering in my ear, No matter how many changes you make, there will always be another error to fix, another fault to correct. This is never going to end.

Always. Never. I’d heard taunts like that before. I knew how to deal with them. But that day—my daughter’s birthday—I was too busy bustling through my list of essential birthday tasks, so the struggle simmered on. Late that evening I finally stopped, took a deep breath and verbalised what God had already whispered to my heart. “It’s gonna be okay. God will work it for good.” As soon as the words left my mouth, the inner battle waned and I could view the setback through eyes of hope. When I read the email again next morning, the words that tormented me had lost their sting and I began to get a sense of the way forward.

Sometimes our thoughts seem to run out of control.  Like cars on a racetrack, they hurtle through our mind, leaving impressions that guide our decisions—often without us realizing. Some days negative thoughts fire at us like a volley of bullets, making us cower in the corner, unable to function. Sometimes they even make us sick.

But are our thoughts really beyond our control? Are we helpless victims to their fluctuations?

Here’s what I’m learning.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2b). He wouldn’t say this unless change was possible. This process of renewal begins the moment we place our lives in God’s loving hands. He infuses us with His life-changing power, giving us a new heart and a new spirit. (Ezekiel 36:26, Titus 3:5) Then He calls us to partner with Him on the journey of transformation—a makeover that begins in our mind.

Holding hands looking at viewIt’s important to note that the verse in Romans doesn’t say, ‘Sit back and watch while God does all the work.’ It instructs us to, ‘Be transformed’. ‘Be’ is an action word. When we say, ‘Be quick,’ ‘Be thankful,’ or ‘Be quiet,’ we expect the listener to make a choice to do what’s been asked of them. When, through Paul, God says, ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,’ He’s telling us to choose to change the way we think, so we can grow into the people He designed us to be. He doesn’t leave us alone in this. He’s with us—offering strength and wisdom—every step. But the choices we make are vital to the process.

There are many people who’ve already put this principle into practice:

Wise King Solomon advised his listeners to, ‘Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’ (Proverbs 3:5-6)

When David battled depression, he told his soul to, ‘Put your hope in God,’ (Psalm 42: 5) Many, many times he made a decision to shift his focus from the hardships in his life—which were extreme—to the goodness of God. ‘My soul is downcast within me; Therefore, I will remember you . . .’ (42: 6)

Isaiah said, ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in You.’ (Isaiah 26:3)

The writer of Lamentations followed his outpouring of grief over his homeland’s devastation with a determined re-direction of his thoughts. ‘Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail . . . great is your faithfulness.’ (Lamentations 3:19-23)

Paul wrote to new Christians, ‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’ (Colossians 3:2) He told his readers to think about whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely and so on. (Philippians 4: 8)

These verses are the kind we look to for hope and perspective when we’re in a rough patch. We admire the faith of these people and the victories they experienced, often overlooking the fact they made a choice for hope and peace—even while their circumstances screamed pain and hopelessness. They faced their despair and negativity, renewed their mind, rose above the trials and ultimately went on to fulfil God’s purpose for their lives. Their example urges us to do the same. To acknowledge the Lord. Put our hope in Him. Remember His love. Trust in His strength and stability. Call to mind His great compassion. Set our minds on Him and His inherent goodness.closer slow down sign

‘Mindfulness’, the practice of slowing our thoughts and calmly observing them, is popular in our world right now. Many people are adopting it as a lifestyle in the hope of finding peace. To recognize what we’re thinking is an important first step— as we see in the example of David. However, like him, we have opportunity to go beyond merely observing our thoughts to leading them into truth.

Through God’s enabling, we can make a conscious decision to redirect the traffic in our mind. As we recognize destructive thoughts and turn them around, the truth will set us free. Then, further transformed, we can press on to fulfil God’s purpose for our lives.

So how do we renew our mind? Here are a few techniques I find helpful. I’ve mentioned some of these before, but they’re so important they’re worth repeating.

1. Read your Bible. Find verses that address the area where you need renewal.

“For the word of God is living and active . . . it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

  1. Display truth. Put these words in a prominent place and read them often.

“Pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words . . . for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.” Proverbs 4:20 – 22

Studying word on deck

3. Meditate. To meditate, in its most general sense, means ‘to think about something very carefully and deeply for a long time’, much like a cow chewing its cud. Journalling can help with this. Dwelling on specific verses over a period of time can help embed them in our memory. Then they’ll be available for us to draw on any time.

“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” Psalm 119: 148

  1. Speak life daily. In conversation, in prayer, in gratitude. There is power in the spoken word, especially when it’s God’s word.

“From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied. The tongue has the power of life and death.” Proverbs 18:20 – 21

  1. Learn. Listen to teaching related to your struggle on YouTube and podcasts.

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the understanding get guidance . . .” Proverbs 1:5

  1. Sing. Use music that lifts you out of those mental tug-of-wars and into freedom. Lyrics tend to stick with us long after the song is over, so choose carefully.

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” Psalm 59:16

  1. Sift. Disconnect from anything you read, watch or listen to that feeds destructive thought patterns. Replace them with good fuel.

“I will not let anything worthless guide me . . .” Psalm 101:3a

The process of mind renewal is a lifelong one and it will often be challenged. It’s good to remember that each time we make a choice for truth, God will strengthen us and give us clearer vision for the things to come.

Joy's misty morning

Photo credit to Joy Van Namen

“. . .we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10: 5b

“. . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2b-c

 

References

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, Lexico, 10 June, 2020, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/mindfulness

COLLINS COBUILD, Collins, Glasgow, UK, 10 June, 2020, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/meditation

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

what you do today mural

 

  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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

B and W four young women laughing

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/)

 

 

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.

 

Finding Freedom

The cage sat alone on the floor of a dimly lit warehouse. Inside it was a prisoner, knees clasped tight against her chest, eyes downcast and face darkened by despair. A short distance from her feet lay an ornate, black key – large enough to fill her palm, perfectly sculpted to fit the lock.

Pick it up, my heart whispered. I sensed she knew it was there . . . yet she remained motionless.

Sorrow flooded through me, startling me from sleep. I dragged my eyes open, the vivid picture still suspended in my mind. That key was within reach of the captive but she didn’t pick it up. Why?

Many times I’ve been trapped in such a cage, imprisoned by my own dark patterns of thinking. Crippling fear, burning anger or deep discouragement have taken hold of my heart and built walls around my life. Sometimes the gloom around me has seemed so thick I’ve questioned whether the cage even had a door to escape through, let alone a key.

Yet it did – every single time.

ornate black key

(Key image taken from Etsy )

In the early years of my adult life I needed guidance from others to push that key into the lock and turn it. Now the way of escape is so familiar to me, using it has become a daily habit.

In my dream, the key had two projections on its end – two ‘bits’ that would engage with the lock.  Likewise, I’ve learned there are two steps in the escape process. Both are vital to finding freedom. Let me share them with you.

First we need to take an inside look, shifting our gaze from the oppressive strength of the cage walls to the struggle going on in our hearts. We become aware of the destructive mindsets and negative emotions we allow to traipse freely through our soul. Often, as we reflect, a specific memory comes to mind – a key event which first triggered the emotions.

Here’s an example from my life. Many years ago I realised I had an intense fear of being abandoned by my husband. His love for me was obvious so my emotions didn’t make sense. In time, we deduced the anxiety stemmed partly from a forced hospital stay when I was very young. The sorrow and fear I felt when my parents had to leave me and go home (as was done in those days) was a natural reaction for a little girl. However those feelings had remained with me through the years following, causing me to believe that people I loved may not always be there to support me when I needed them.

It was out of kindness that God brought this issue to the surface. His heart is for us to be free. From His lofty vantage point He sees our lives clearly and knows exactly what’s holding us captive. Oh-so-gently, He uncovers the triggers from our past and reveals the choices we made to let them control us. If we’re willing to stand in His light, admit our failings and turn away from those negative thoughts and emotions, He bathes us in grace, washing away the grime of our yesterdays and giving us a new perspective on our future.

That’s how the first bit engages with the lock. Now for the second.

To find complete release, we need to turn our gaze to the people who have caused us pain. Many times – most times – our triggers have come through others. Their words or actions have taken hold of us, distorting the way we see ourselves, the world around us and even God. Sometimes the littlest details can wound us deeply – a tiny phrase, a rejecting tone of voice, a nasty facial expression. The injury may have happened long ago but the emotion connected with it can still feel just as intense as when it first occurred, sometimes even stronger. Those emotions wrap themselves around us like a straitjacket, telling us there is no hope of escape.

But there is.

To engage the second bit on the key we need to confront the pain of the incident and forgive the person. Yes, forgive – no matter what they’ve done. It was easy to forgive my parents for leaving me in the hospital; they had no option. But sometimes the agony of an experience can feel so overwhelming that forgiving seems impossible. That’s when we need to remember the previous step – where we were forgiven our failings.

We choose to forgive others not because they deserve it but because we’ve been forgiven.

It’s confronting to pause and ponder how many times we’ve caused pain for another person, even unintentionally. How many times we’ve excused our own thoughtless words or harsh behaviour because we’re tired or busy or just plain unhappy.

The reality is we all inflict wounds on others – regularly. Think on this – if God, Who is perfect, gave up His precious Son so we could be forgiven, who are we to hold others’ errors against them?

When we hold onto a painful memory, that pain holds onto us, keeping us bound both to the trauma of the experience and to the person. Additionally, if we choose not to forgive, God’s forgiveness is not available to us either. We put ourselves in a position where neither of the bits on our key can engage.

On the other hand, when we choose to let go of the pain by forgiving, we release the person to God and the unhealthy ties are broken.

Forgiving can be very painful. Sometimes we need the support of others to help walk us through the process. Sometimes we need to forgive a person many times over for the same incident as we work through layers of pain. If we lift our eyes to God and remember His mercy to us, He will give us the strength we need to truly let go.

As we do, that key turns in the lock, the cage door flings open and we are set free to fly.

5358E82B-14D8-4A4C-852D-51DFAA2E53F9

“He has sent me to . . . proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . .” Isaiah 61:1

 “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

blue sky, wispy clouds

Forgiveness is also good for our health! For further reading, see:

www.thriveglobal.com/stories/38631-why-you-should-embrace-the-forgiveness-mindset