When the Way is Hard

His hand felt so tiny, so trusting in mine as we paused at the entrance to the cobbled path. I stooped beside him, our brown eyes meeting, and whispered, “Let’s go on an adventure.”

“Yeah—adventure!” His eyes lit up and his face broke into a broad grin. I giggled as his three-year-old legs began scurrying up the sweeping slope. Matching his pace, I loped easily beside him on my lanky twelve-year-old legs. Arching branches rustled overhead and magpies filled the air with their lilting melody, urging us on. Come and see, come and see.

Up a winding curve we climbed, away from our parents and picnic blanket—into the land of the unknown. Lush ferns waved their curving fronds, blurring the path edges, and palms stretched tall, reaching for the sky. Our eyes grew wide as we crept through their shadows, intrepid explorers trekking through the jungle. Hand in hand, we scaled smooth stone steps, worn by the tread of countless feet, puffing a little and pausing to rest those tired toddler legs. Spreading trees and orb-like bushes hid our view of the way ahead, adding fire to our curiosity. Sometimes we stopped, leaning close and whispering as I pointed to a delicate flower, a buzzing bee or colourful butterfly. At one point, when my little companion grew so weary he didn’t want to go on, I swung him onto my back and bounced along the path, grinning as he giggled and chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead.’ When he was rested, I lowered him gently to the ground and on we marched, eager to finish our course.

Photo by Marco de Winter on Unsplash

My heart thrummed a happy rhythm as vivid images from my own childhood flashed through my mind. Many times, my family had come to these gardens for holiday picnics and birthday celebrations. Many times, I’d run along these paths behind my older sisters, unsure exactly where we were going, my eyes searching for familiar landmarks along the way – the timber bridge arching over the duck pond, the stately Japanese tea house or the wishing well full of shimmering coins. The first time my parents told me I was old enough to explore on my own, my spirit soared. I stood at the edge of the lawn where several paths branched off in different directions, my mind pulsing with the possibilities. Which route should I choose? Where will they take me? And what will I discover on my way?

Time passed, leading to this day. Now I was the older one with a young sibling in tow. It was my turn to share that wonder with my brother, to open his eyes to the thrill of new adventures.

Those memories have left a permanent imprint on my heart. Because of them, I’ve always felt drawn to gardens with tall hedges, winding paths and hidden corners. The memories themselves have been tucked away in a corner of my mind reserved for precious things, drawn out only when I’ve seen old photos or driven past the gardens, which still reside in their place on a hill—until a few weeks ago, when God brought them back so vividly it was as if I was walking those paths once more.

This year—so far—has been one of challenge.  I’ve been asked to do things I didn’t think I could and ventured well beyond what I thought was my happy place. My ‘legs’ have grown weary and sometimes I’ve been afraid of what might lie around the corner. Sometimes, I’ve been head-spinningly anxious. Yet, as I’ve pressed on, I’ve marvelled at the way God has—every time—brought peace, blessing, joy and growth through those things I would rather have avoided.

Again, I’ve been reminded of how little I really understand of His ways. Like a little child, I’m not ‘tall’ enough to see very far on the path He has for me. Sometimes I question the value in the direction He takes me and, in my tiredness, want to stop, to turn back or take a shorter, faster route.

But He has a plan. He knows the best way. And challenges are vital to the journey.

This is what He spoke to my heart the morning He revived those images:

‘Continue to trust Me, to put your confidence in Me, to follow My lead and press forward in My plans. It is a great adventure. And just as you delighted in exploring all the winding paths of the gardens in your childhood, so you will delight as you see what I have around each bend for you.

I have many surprises in store, much unexpected beauty. There will be passages that seem long, steep and, at times, even dull. In those I am building your muscle and mind for the parts still to come, teaching you to drink deep from my reservoir.

Hold fast to Me and let Me take you to those unexpected places where you will experience the beauty of My presence in ways beyond what you’ve known.’

Things are not always as they seem. Like children, we are limited in our vision. God sees the whole picture and has good reasons for everything He leads us into. At each stage of our journey, we can trust Him to give us what we need to go on. And when we grow weary, He will carry us, chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead’.

Knowing Him, it will be worth the trek.

Photo by Kyler Wilton on Unsplash

“You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”   John 13:7

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

“Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.

I have made you and I will carry you;

I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Isaiah 46:4

Hope in the Face of Inadequacy

Can you see him? A little boy, six or seven years old—round, dark eyes full of wonder peering out from under a tangled mop of brown hair. He creeps through the darkened city, heart pounding against his ribcage while thoughts ripple through his mind. Can it be true? Is the promised one really here? What will He be like? And will my gift be enough? Clutched tightly to the boy’s chest is a small drum.  

Of all the Christmas carols we sing, “The Little Drummer Boy,” though fictional, is one of my favourites. The inner wrestle it depicts is so familiar to me. When I consider the lavish kindness and grace of God, any gift I seek to offer Him seems so small. Yet God finds joy in my offerings, because He sees my heart—just as, in the song, baby Jesus smiled his approval to the boy who wanted so desperately to bless Him.

Six weeks ago, this song was far from my mind. Christmas was over, we’d begun a new year and my thoughts were consumed with preparation for the release of “Skinny Girl”, my very first book. In December, I’d spent many hours poring over the manuscript—editing and re-editing till I was sure the wording was clear. I’d prayed my way through decisions about cover design and texture, page colour, font style, font size and artwork. Perfectionist that I am, getting all the little details right was crucial.

When everything was done, I sent the final documents to my publisher and my family celebrated the end of a very drawn-out season of writing. Early in January, ten boxes of “Skinny Girl” were printed and delivered—some to our home, some to Tasmania, ready for my southern launch. My heart soared as I opened the first box and stared inside. After almost eleven years, my dream was becoming a reality. Overflowing with gratitude, I began gifting books to family members and other people who’d helped me through the writing process.

I gave our family’s copy of “Skinny Girl” to my teenage daughter, mindful this was her first opportunity to read my full story. “If you want to talk about anything as you read, just come and see me, darling. I’m happy to chat,” I told her. Over the next couple of days, she asked some questions and we talked through parts of the story.

One morning she approached me in the kitchen, the book in her hands, her face sympathetic. “Mum, I found a typo.” She opened to a page in one of the final chapters and pointed to a word I’d failed to adjust during one of my final edits. In that moment, two unnecessary letters shattered my hopes of a flawless book.

I sighed. I’d tried so hard. I lifted my eyes to my daughter’s face, knowing she was sorry to give me the bad news. “Thanks for telling me, sweety. I’ll let the publisher know so they can correct it ready for the next print.”

The next day, I told my sister about the typo while we chatted on the phone. “I don’t know how I missed it. I went over the manuscript so many times.”

She hesitated, then spoke in an apologetic tone. “There are actually three typos, Sue.”

“Three?” My heart plummeted. “Oh, no!”

How could it be? I knew how many hours I’d spent reading and re-reading, arranging and rearranging words to make sure everything was ‘just right’. I wanted the book to be perfect, to look professional and leave readers with a good impression. My publisher had also done a final proofread before ordering the print run, yet somehow, despite our determined efforts, three errors had slipped through and been duplicated—more than three hundred times. Every single book in those ten boxes held the same flaws.

Late that afternoon, I knelt beside our bed, lay my head on the mattress and poured out my disappointment to the Lord. Almost immediately, I felt His calming presence. He reminded me of a boy in the bible, a little guy whose hunger to honour Jesus burned stronger than the emptiness of his stomach. This boy’s meagre offering of two fish and five small loaves opened the way for Jesus to provide a feast for a vast crowd.

The boy didn’t have much to give.

Lyrics from the Little Drummer boy drifted through my mind. That boy was poor—he didn’t have much to give either. But these boys’ hearts were devoted, so they offered what they had to Jesus and left the results with Him.

Two little boys. Two beautiful stories of devotion and blessing.

What is it about children that makes them so different?

Children are accustomed to having others make up for their lack.

If a child can’t reach something, they ask taller people to lift them up or get it down for them. If their little hands don’t yet have the skills to open a container or build something special or untie a knot, they look to someone bigger to help.

Children are not afraid to admit their limitations.

 Adults prize self-reliance, competence and mastery. We measure success by how much we can achieve in a particular timeframe. We struggle with the concept of weakness and, sometimes, take a very long time to acknowledge we need help.

Maybe that’s why the Lord so often puts us in a position where we’re out of our depth. He wants us to recognise our need and look to ‘someone bigger’ to make up for our lack. He wants to show us the fullness and joy we can experience in our inadequacy—if we’re willing to look to Him.

That afternoon, I heard my Father whisper to my heart,

Daughter, remember, it’s not about your perfection. My power is made perfect in your weakness. Just as with the loaves and fish, I can take whatever you surrender to Me—however flawed it seems—and make it into something great that nourishes and brings life to many.

Trust Me and watch what I will do.   

So, I’m trusting. I’m watching. And, over and over, I’m marvelling at the work He’s doing in other people’s lives through my flawed offering.

What are you offering to the Lord today? As you surrender it to Him, you can be confident He will take your gift and do something wonderful through it, despite its seeming limitations.  

Just be sure to keep your eyes open. You don’t want to miss the show.

‘And Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”’

Matthew 18: 3-4.

Image from Pexels – Alexandr Podvalny

Little boy featured image from Pexels – Jonas Mohamadi

A Book is Born

It’s hard to describe the elation I feel. Almost eleven years from the point of conception, I’ve had the joy of seeing my memoir, “Skinny Girl: a journey through anorexia”, enter the world like a newborn babe. After a whirlwind few weeks sharing it with eager readers in two states, I’m still coming down to earth.

Some of you have shared in my writing journey via the stories I’ve shared on this blog and will understand my relief and satisfaction in reaching this point. Despite the many setbacks, God has been faithful to lead me all the way through the process and I’m delighted with the outcome. I’m trusting Him now to use the book to bring hope and healing to many.

I would love to share “Skinny Girl” with you, dear readers. Please take a minute to jump over to my “Book” page and find out how to get your copy. Thanks so much.

Warmly,

Sue.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Four Essentials for Parenting Teens

I can still see it so clearly in my mind—the first time my teenager zoned out on me. I was speaking words—important words—and, while my son seemed to be looking at me, it was as though shutters had come down over his mind and heart. In his eyes I saw that glazed, faraway look that told me he may have been physically present, but his thoughts were miles and miles away.

I finished the conversation and left the room, firing a prayer heavenward. God, help! What do I do now? Within a few days, He provided an answer, bringing instant perspective and direction. Over the many years since, I’ve experienced the same dynamic over and over: I hit a difficult patch in my parenting, I turn to God and, graciously, He shows me the way forward. He really is my number one counsellor.

There are countless things I could tell you of all God has shown me through the years. Today, I’ll focus on four principles that have proven crucial with all our children. Before I share them with you, I need to clarify one detail:

God is perfect, I am not.

Mulling over these concepts has confronted me once again with how much I need to grow. My children—mostly adults now—are constantly changing. I need to adapt with them. So, as I write, I’m praying you find encouragement for your situation and we each allow God to keep moulding us into the parents He wants us to be—for every stage and season.     

  1. BE SLOW TO SPEAK

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . .” James 1:19

In response to the scenario I described above, God gave me this advice:

Be slow to speak and quick to listen to Me. I know what your son needs and when he needs to hear it. As you wait on Me, I’ll open up opportunities and give you the words and the ways to encourage and challenge him. Wait, watch and you will see.

As parents, we sometimes notice areas in our teenager’s life or character that concern us. It’s natural to want to address them right away, just as we did when they were young. If we sense resistance, we might even be tempted to talk longer to make sure they understand our point.

The difficulty comes because our teens are moving on from childhood. They’re starting to look more to their peers and less to us for advice—which is why it’s so important for us to wait for God’s timing. When He gives us a clear opening, we can speak the words He’s put in our mouths with confidence. Once those thoughts have been shared, we need to stop speaking and walk away, trusting the Holy Spirit to apply the truth to the listener’s heart.

“(There is) a time to be silent and a time to speak . . .” Ecclesiastes 3: 7b

2. WALK HUMBLY

“He has shown you . . . what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

God wants us to trust in His authority to work on our behalf, rather than trying to assert our own. Instead of coming on strong, attempting to dominate and control our teens, we are to walk humbly with them, showing understanding, compassion and love—even while we set firm boundaries. Likewise, when we fail we need to quickly ask their forgiveness, acknowledging our weaknesses, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.

When we seek to honour God in the way we lead our children, He will affirm us before them and bring down barriers between us. I’ve seen this happen in surprising ways in my own family.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:10

3. BE PATIENT

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

We need to keep a long-term view. This can be difficult when we’re immersed in a seemingly endless struggle with our teenager. It’s important to remember—despite how intense and impossible it feels, this season will pass. What kind of relationship do we want with our young adult at the end of it? Pausing to think about this can renew our sense of purpose.

It’s also enlightening to reflect on how long we take to learn important life lessons—even as adults. Seeing clearly our own frailty can inspire us afresh to provide encouragement and support for our adolescent through their ups and downs. God is so patient and gracious with us; He wants us to show the same kindness and generosity to our children. When they fall, we need to offer forgiveness and lift them up, just as God does with us.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

4. KNOW WHERE YOUR HELP COMES FROM

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,

the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

This principle is the foundation of all the others. Parenting, especially parenting teens, confronts us daily with how much we need God. It brings us right back to the basics, reminding us He is the Creator, we the created. He sees and knows all. We don’t.

God made our teenagers. He knows them—intimately. He sees right through the image they project and their emotional fluctuations to their unique and tender hearts. And He has a clear understanding of His plans for their future.

If we lift these ones before God and choose to rely on Him, He’ll provide all the wisdom, love and courage we need to help them weather their storms and move beyond to His sunshine. At the same time, His Spirit will reach the places in them we can’t, bringing healing and comfort and giving them the strength they need to move forward.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

I hope you found these principles as helpful as I have. When God gives us directions like this, He doesn’t expect us to fulfil them through our own scheming and striving. Instead, He calls us to trust Him and rely on His strength and guidance. He knows the best way forward for each of us, in our unique family situations.

Will you join me in this prayer?  

“God, thank you that you see me and you know my family.

 You understand all that’s going on in each of our hearts and our circumstances.

 Please teach me how to be a loving parent to my children, at every age.  

Guide my thoughts and let the words I speak come from your heart—in your timing.

When I feel like rising up in anger or forcefully taking control, help me to stop, humble myself and put my trust in you to make things right.

Give me the courage to ask forgiveness when I fail.

In those times I feel too hurt or too weary to go on, remind me of your kindness, help me to forgive and fill me with the patience I need to keep loving, keep giving.

Thank you, God, for your Holy Spirit, who walks with me every moment, guiding my steps and working in my children’s hearts for their good.

I’m so grateful for your love and constant presence.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”  

Mother, You are Not Alone

When you first hold your newborn baby, warm and wet against your chest, all seems right with the world. For nine months that little treasure has been snug and safe inside you—cradled by the curve of your pelvis, soothed by the rhythmic beat of your heart and lullabied by the melody in your voice.  The oneness you share with this tiny one is palpable, borne of many months’ continuous prenatal nurture, magnified by the fiery intensity of labour. At the core of this oneness burns a fierce tenderness—a firm resolve to keep your child close and protect them from harm, no matter the cost.  

But oh, the journey ahead!

While it’s exhilarating to meet your baby face to face, now they’re out of their womb fortress they are vulnerable—to hunger, distress, illness and pain. Fear creeps in, bringing a million ‘what ifs’ to your heart.

What if they cry and I don’t know what’s wrong?

What if I haven’t enough milk to feed them?

What if I don’t wake when they need me?

What if they die?

So intense is a new mother’s love, the fear of losing your precious one grips you as fiercely as death itself. You tuck them in just right, watch carefully over their feeding and sleeping, and scour books and websites and blogs for every available tip to ensure you keep them safe and well.

The early weeks drift by in a sleep-deprived blur and, little by little, you grow more familiar with your baby’s needs and signals. You feel your heart begin to settle. Maybe you can do this ‘mum-thing’.  

Then you spend time with other mothers.

You watch their every move, alert to every shining moment they share with their child, every wise-sounding word that rolls off their tongue. You trudge home from that time, bowed under the weight of inadequacy and silently condemning yourself for all the ways you don’t measure up. Determined, you resolve to change, to become more like the other mums, all the while forgetting God chose you to be the mother of your child, not them.

Pictures used with permission

Months, then years, slip through your fingers like raindrops while you watch your children grow. They scurry through adorable, cantankerous toddlerhood, leap and bound through inquisitive, always hungry childhood and step nervously aboard the roller coaster of adolescence. With every new stage come new delights—first words, first steps, first day at school, first dreams of their future—and new challenges that set you clambering to keep up. Your heart soars with every friendship they form, every triumph they enjoy—and plummets with every disappointment, heartbreak and defeat. You calm and reassure, affirming their worth, and marvel in the moments your words seem to lift their spirits. On other days, your offerings drop like stones to the ground and you walk away wondering whether you have anything to offer at all.  

Your confidence slides when the child who used to put their little hand in yours and had absolute trust in your wisdom begins to question your views—and your authority. The one who seemed sweet to their core suddenly turns sour . . . then back again just as unpredictably. There are times of harmony, when you are welcomed into your child’s thoughts and given a shimmering glimpse of the person they’re becoming. Like Mary, you treasure up these moments in your heart. Then there are power struggles, harsh words, mistakes and misunderstandings. You’ve taught your children to treat people with kindness and respect, yet sometimes it seems they’ve cast aside everything you said. Likewise, you see your own weaknesses exposed in times of conflict and find yourself asking, often, for forgiveness.

On your child hurtles with independence firmly in their sights while you trot behind, your heart a tumbling mix of pride, excitement and dismay. They learn to drive, get a job, choose a career path and build friendships with people you’ve never met—and may never meet. Like a shadow that dims your view when clouds drift across the sun, you realise you’re losing touch with your child’s world. Against your will, they’re squirming out of your arms and stretching beyond your realm of familiarity. Your mother-heart flutters, leaking vibrant red blood from the tear of separation and you reach out, trying desperately to stay connected and somehow protect, protect, protect.

But how do you protect when your child is old enough to make their own decisions?

And should you be trying?

In the centre of your being, that drive to shield your child from harm remains strong. Yet, when you quiet your heart before God, you sense His gentle urging.

Daughter, it’s time to take a step back, to watch, support and pray.

Give them room to grow and watch their wings unfurl.

Letting go can be terrifying, particularly when we see our child heading in a direction we sense will do them harm. We may warn them, explaining the possible dangers on the path they’re taking, but ultimately, we must accept we can’t live their lives for them. They need to choose.

Times like this can break a mother’s heart.

But we’re not alone in our pain.

God understands the journey we’re on. He sees, He knows and He’s oh-so-familiar with all the emotions swirling inside us.

How?

He’s been walking the same path for millenia.

The fierce tenderness burning in our hearts is a mere reflection of the heart of God, an overflow of His consuming passion for His children. From the beginning of time, God’s desire to nurture and protect has directed His every move. With great delight, He created a world laden with everything the first man and woman would need, then dwelled with them, teaching them the best way to live in it. They didn’t listen.

Through the centuries since, God has continually reached out, offered perspective and given His very best, even sacrificing His own precious son to restore relationship with His people. Always, His heart has been tender, longing to gather His loved ones close to His heart and shelter them, as a mother hen does her chicks. But day after day, He’s ignored by so many—His love disregarded, His wisdom cast aside and trampled in the dirt. Even those who have run into His embrace sometimes wriggle out and flounce away on a different path, trusting more in their own impulsive ideas than His perfect wisdom.

Oh, yes. He understands.

And His love doesn’t waver.

“His love endures forever.” Psalm 118

If anyone can hold us steady through the tumultuous seasons of mothering, God can. He fashioned us and our children, each with our specific mix of attributes, and put us together in a family. Only He can show us how to love with the same steadfastness He does—through every season. Even better, while our involvement may decrease, He’ll keep pursuing our children through all the years ahead, reminding them of His love and whispering direction to those who will listen.

Just as Eve brought forth the very first child ‘with the help of the Lord’, so we need to rely on God for every moment of our mothering journey. No number of books, websites and blogs can compare with the insights He gives. When we struggle, rather than flouncing away, we need to run to Him. If we come transparent and lay our wounded hearts before Him, He’ll draw us into His shelter, pour in His comfort and healing (hyperlink Psalm 147:3), wrap us in His grace and give us just enough wisdom (hyperlink James 1:5) for the next step . . . then the next one.

As long as we look to Him His supply will continue to flow, rich and nourishing—for God is the ultimate nurturer. 

“For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;

your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” Psalm 57:10

*Photo credit to Anita Morgan for mother and baby goats.

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.

 

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

                                                                                                                                                                    Image by 2211438 on Pixabay

“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.

peach-2632182_640

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Be Still and Know

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

Except last time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is God.

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

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

Wow.

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

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

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

75241040_2457141721231176_2607380473948667904_n