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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

image by skeeze from pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Look to the Lord and his strength;

Seek his face always.” 1 Chronicles 16:11  

Don’t Push!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image by flockine from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

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This Won’t Last Forever

Pacing in my hospital gown, I gazed out the window to the park below. In the distance a woman strolled along a winding path, her young child toddling beside her with his tiny arm upstretched to her hand. I watched them for a moment, musing. She must’ve given birth. Her baby was once growing inside her and now lived on the outside, brightening her days.

Another contraction hit. My strides to the nearby bed were quick. I stooped and pressed my hands into the mattress, flicking my TENS machine to high and breathing deep through the pain’s sharp peak and fall. More than fifteen hours had passed since we arrived at the hospital.  I’d been walking, rocking, breathing all through the night and into the following day, trusting it was for a purpose. Yet my contractions still hadn’t kicked into a steady rhythm. My waters had broken earlier that afternoon, but four hours later the doctor said there was still little progress towards delivery.  My husband and I were exhausted. How much longer would this go on? Would our baby ever be born?

Thankfully, he was. Several hours later, with a little medical help, our beautiful son arrived—and our suffering was overcome by joy. When I reflected on the experience later, I had much to ponder. The labour, with all its sleep deprivation and pain, had been so drawn out and confusing, there were times I questioned whether it would end. But it did. And that experience left a permanent imprint on my heart.

Many months later, my husband and I lay in bed, talking through the details of a different kind of struggle. I don’t recall now what the issue was, but I know it was hard. I can still remember burying my face in his chest and whispering, “Just tell me this won’t last forever.”

He kissed the top of my head and echoed, “This won’t last forever.”

He understood what I meant. The day our son was born we began to understand that trials have a beginning and an end. In our darkest moments the battle can seem endless. Unbearable. If we lose sight of the endpoint, despair can set in and the pain is magnified. In saying, ‘This won’t last forever’, we were reminding ourselves there was more to the story than the moment we were in. We were in a process, not at a destination.

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In God’s word we see trials likened to seasons we pass through. They come for a while, then they go. Grief and tears may endure, but joy has the final say. Some problems plague us for so long, we wonder whether God has forgotten us—and yet His loving presence is constant. God promises, in His lavish love, to bring His people through every hardship they face. There are times, too, when in His mercy He scoops up one of His children to lift them out of their hardship and take them home—to a world free from sorrow and pain.

Amazing Grace bears the line, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come. Twas grace has brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home.” Over the twenty-three years since our son was born, we’ve seen those principles play out more times than I could count. Relationship strains, financial difficulties, parenting struggles and illness have all come to darken our days for a time. But they haven’t lasted forever. Always, there has been movement, a ‘going through’, even when it felt like there wasn’t.

Now we find ourselves dealing with COVID-19. Fear has its gnarled fingers wrapped around many in our nation. Businesses are closing, schools are emptying, weddings and parties and holidays have been cancelled. Precious friends and family members have passed away. People have lost their jobs, their sense of purpose and their income. We’ve been told to keep our distance, to shut ourselves away, to sterilize everything in sight. It feels like a death of sorts, this shrivelling up of life as we’ve known it. We wait and watch and wonder, How long?

This pandemic too is only for a season. Despite its intensity and spread across the breadth of the earth, it will pass. How we come out the other side will depend on how we choose to go through this time. God is not the cause of COVID-19. He understands the battle we’re in, sees it with perfect clarity and wants to lead us through it—and do us good in the process.

Trials like this sift our priorities. We realise what really matters and how far our lives have drifted. With so many of our usual comforts and distractions stripped away, we see more clearly what’s in our hearts. In the supermarket. In our homes. In the times of quiet when we’re alone with our thoughts.

We may try to drown out the gentle whisper of conviction with activity and noise. But Easter reminds us oh-so-vividly how great a price was paid to save us from our mess. If we’re willing to admit our failings and lay them before a gracious God, He’ll wash away all our mistakes and breathe new life, lightness and compassion into our formerly preoccupied hearts. Then, as we continue to walk with Him, what He’s birthed in us can grow like a newborn babe, bringing joy and blessing to others long after the trial has ended.Tree at Winbourne

1 John 1:9 (GOD’S WORD translation)

“God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, He forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong.”

1 Peter 5:10 (New International Version)

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

 

 

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

 

 

Just Be Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the words He spoke to my fretful heart.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

Dying to Live

Do you ever have times where you feel like life’s circumstances are about to overwhelm you?

Mother’s Day was like that for me. My family came to my bedroom with beautiful gifts and smiling faces, only to find me sitting in bed, weeping. It wasn’t unusual for me to cry on Mother’s Day—I’m often moved by their love. But on this day, the outpouring was one of pain and grief and confusion.

I thought I was doing okay. I had grown accustomed to the long periods of waiting that seem to be part of our new life. I’d learned to lay down my agendas and choose to trust. God was good. He was at work. We would see His answers.

Then came a time when things began to shift. Doors started opening—work for my husband (albeit short-term), an exciting opportunity for one of our children, a potential buyer for our van. Phone calls were made, paperwork completed, arrangements put in place. We felt the momentum of forward movement and our steps became lighter. Finally, we were seeing God’s promises begin to manifest.

Then, just as suddenly, all progress ceased. The company that had offered casual work failed to call —and the job assignment neared its end. The opportunity that shone before our child faded, leaving them confused and questioning God’s purpose. And the anticipated purchase of our van never eventuated.

Something inside me groaned. I knew this was yet another test— another opportunity to die to self. But I found myself wondering, Is there a point a person reaches where they just can’t stretch any further? If there is, God, I think I’ve reached it.  

Within days, I was confronted with another hard reality. A beautiful woman who had fought a brave battle with cancer was falling under its shadow. Vibrant, gracious and full of joy, she was one who brought a smile to all she met. Yet, despite fervent prayer, she had grown so frail that funeral planning was underway. Why, God?  

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Old Solomon described it so well—that hollow, nauseating ache that gnaws at your stomach when the wait is unbearably long or the promise seems void. It’s hard to hold on to hope when you can’t see what lies on the path ahead of you. It’s even harder when you see that hope begin to take shape in reality, only to crumble and fall to the ground.

On Mother’s Day, all the grief that had been building inside me welled up and spilled over. I grieved for a family trying desperately to celebrate their mother, knowing she would be leaving them within days. I grieved over all the disappointments in our own lives—the ‘almosts’ that, for some reason, weren’t coming to pass. Deep down, I knew God was still good. I knew there would be ‘somedays’ where I would see more clearly and, perhaps, understand. But in that moment, I was more aware of questions than hope.

I took my pain to church that morning and poured it out as we sang. God wasn’t surprised by my emotions—He already knew them well. While I wept and sang, He listened, loved, then gently turned my thoughts beyond my despair to a time of far greater devastation.

There was a day when Jesus’ closest friends stood on a hill, watching Him die. Jesus was their hero, the One Who had shown them what real love looked like. He was the One Who had been stronger, wiser, more powerful than anything that challenged Him. Yet there He hung on a cross like a lowly criminal —naked, vulnerable, struggling for every breath.

How was it possible that One so perfect, so full of power and authority, could fall under the schemes of power-hungry men? The whole situation seemed so unfair, so awfully, terribly wrong.

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But Jesus’ death wasn’t the end of the story. God had a plan. Right in the midst of the loss and devastation, He was at work, winning the greatest victory and opening up the way for all people to discover life as it was meant to be.

 

Jesus’ followers couldn’t possibly see His brutal slaughter as a good thing. In their eyes, it was the death of hope—for all of them. How limited was their vision. Rather than the end, it was, in fact, a whole new beginning. That ‘disaster’ was an entry point into life on a new level.

So it is in our hardest, darkest, most confusing seasons. Like a seed pushed deep into the earth, we feel the pressure, are confused by the darkness and fear the splitting of our shell. Yet it is through this yielding, this dying process, that life comes forth—more vibrant, more abundant and richer than what we’ve experienced before. 

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Always, God knows what He’s doing. The question is, are we willing to trust Him and yield? On the other side of death, life awaits.

 

 

 

 

 

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24

“If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25.

Artwork by Esther Brown.

 

 

 

 

Leave Room for Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

It can also be our greatest weakness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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