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.

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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 

 

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When God Interrupts Your Plans

A woman lays on her side like one in deep sleep, her petite body curved to fit the narrow space in the toilet cubicle, her back pressed against the door.

“Hello . . .” Another woman, clad in black trousers and navy blouse, kneels outside the cubicle, her hand pressed against the door. “Can you hear me?” Her words echo off the walls of the ladies’ room.

There is no movement, no sound.

She turns to me. We exchange concerned glances. “I know First Aid,” she says.

“Oh.” I nod. “Good.” I see her reach under the door to find the woman’s pulse, all the while praying, God, what do you want me to do? Do I stay? Do I go?

His words from that morning sweep over my heart again. Bask and bless. Receive My love and let it overflow to those around you.

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Bask and bless. I’d almost forgotten that directive in the hustle and busyness of the time since. My well-planned morning has been interrupted by one minor glitch after another. I’d arrived at the shopping centre later and a little wearier than I’d hoped.

But now I see there’s a different plan at play. God’s plan. In that plan I am exactly where I need to be, right on schedule. This is not a time to bustle on with my to-do list. It’s time to overflow.

The woman in blue tries once more. “Hello! Can you hear me?” She feels for a pulse, checks for breath. “She’s not breathing.” Her grim words hang in the space between us.

I step closer. “Do you mind if I pray?”

“No. Go ahead.” She moves aside.

I squat to reach under the door and place my hand on the woman’s back. “Lord, I thank you that you know this woman and you love her. I speak life over her now . . .”

“She’s not breathing.” Security guards have arrived and the first aider explains the woman’s condition. “Her pulse is very faint.”  Her words fall like a wet blanket over my prayer, threatening to smother hope.

Quietly I finish then move into the next cubicle where I kneel. Leaning forward, I press my chest against my legs and hang my head till I can see the woman’s face. She’s wearing jeans, a cotton t-shirt and canvas shoes. Her hair is swept back in a simple ponytail. Her face, lined with the passing of years, is pale. Her eyes are closed.

Compassion fills my heart. I touch her hand, continue praying, and notice the muscles in her jaw beginning to work. “Her mouth is moving!”

Slowly she shifts her legs, tilts her head back and groans.

“She’s breathing!”

The team’s response is immediate. “We need to get her out of there.

A man climbs into the cubicle and helps us move the tiny figure out to an open area on the restroom floor.

“Where am I? What am I doing here?”

“You’re in the ladies’ room at the shopping centre.”

The woman is groggy and disoriented. Carefully we roll her onto her side and explain that help is coming. The guards leave and return later with a clean pillow and blanket. They tell us that, due to a misunderstanding, the ambulance has only just been called.

Time passes and the woman asks the same questions over and over. “Where am I? How did I get here? Who are you?” She seems surprised that strangers have chosen to stay with her, there on the floor.  Her mind drifts back and forth from confusion to resistance, gratitude to fear. Unbidden, she pours out reflections on her life – tales of family tensions, illness, guilt and despair.

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I am compelled to speak. Taking her slender hand in mine, I tell her of love – of Jesus who laid down His life so she can be forgiven – released from the heavy burden of guilt. I stroke wisps of hair back from the face of this one who could be my mother, telling her how precious and beautiful she is. My words are few and inadequacy plagues me as I offer them. Yet I wonder – how long is it since someone treated this dear one with tenderness? How long since she heard she was worth dying for?

Has anyone ever told her?

I don’t know if my words are received; she goes back to her questioning as soon as I finish. But I’m thankful to be there, glad my plan was interrupted. The love God has lavished on me is meant to be shared, not hoarded.

The woman grows tired, her eyes close and her breathing slows once more. The first aider persists determinedly, rousing her again and again until – at last – the ambulance arrives. The medics move in and I embrace the first aider and say goodbye.

I plod through the essential tasks on my list then, my mind drifting back over the events of the previous hour. I pray for the woman – that the love she was offered takes root in heart, bringing hope and security.

And I pray for myself, that my plans are never so rigid they can’t be interrupted.

The best moments in life are the ones my Father orchestrates.

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

“Always let Him lead you and He will clear the road for you to follow.” Proverbs 3:6 (CEV)

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Lessons in Timing from the Garden

I’m pretty certain it was Pa who sparked my interest in gardening. On every visit to the home he shared with Grandma, I’d venture into their backyard, eyes wide on my little face and heart thumping in anticipation of what I might discover. Delicate ferns and fuchsias grew in the shade of trees so lush that I forgot I was in suburbia. In the centre of the yard stood an enormous grapefruit tree with a koala and kookaburra (fashioned from mesh and concrete) perched in its arching branches.  I’d ride brightly-painted tricycles up and down the path, watch budgies swoop and chatter happily in their aviary and help pick strawberries to eat with Grandma’s cheesecakes. From Pa I learned to relish life in the garden.

My youthful wonder led naturally to a grown-up dream of creating my own outdoor haven. Through the years I’ve gathered trees, fragrant roses, climbers, shrubs and herbs then pressed each one into rich, damp soil, dreaming of the beauty yet to unfold. Faithfully I’ve watered, weeded and watched for signs of growth. Oh, how I’ve watched! Many, many times my husband or children have been pulled outside to endure listening to me ooh and ah over each little progression in my plants, each tiny step towards my dream. Beautiful gardens take time to grow, I know, and rather than try to hurry the process, I’ve chosen to enjoy it.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that God chose to use a garden analogy to teach me an important life lesson – one that has lingered with me ever since.

It was one of those mornings where I was taking extra time just to be still with Him, to get past the everyday cycle of pray-read-journal. I sat on my bed, quietly waiting, a sense of weariness weighing heavy on me. There were challenges our family was facing, answers we needed – about purpose, employment and friendships – and the seeming lack of breakthrough was testing my endurance.

In the silence that morning, the word ‘watch’ came to mind. I was reminded of God’s promise to watch over His people. Concordance in hand, I flicked to Psalm 121. When I read verse 3 the words leapt straight from the page to my heart.

“He will not let your foot slip –

He who watches over you will not slumber;

Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep . . .” (Psalm 121:3-4)

With fresh hope I copied the words into my journal. God was not sleeping on the job! He knew our needs.

I moved on to Psalm 145 and read,

“The Lord is near to all who call on Him,

To all who call on Him in truth.

He fulfils the desires of those who fear Him;

He hears their cry and saves them.

The Lord watches over all who love Him. . .” (Psalm 145: 18-20a, emphasis mine)

I sensed my Father speaking to my heart, bringing gracious encouragement and startling clarity.

Daughter, My watching is not from afar – it is close.

Close enough not only to know your struggles and your desires but close enough to intervene. I am well able to fulfil your desires and work out My purposes.

But often it is all about timing.

The fruit of My work in your life, just like the abundance of a harvest, is all dependent on things happening at the right time.

What good is an abundance of rain when it’s time to reap?

Or long, hot days when the plants are tiny, fragile shoots?

I know just what is needed – when – for your life to be fruitful, as I have promised.

Peace settled over my heart and mind. God has abundant provision prepared for us. It just isn’t the right time for it to be poured out – yet. He is watching over us the way I watch over my plants, delighting in every sign of growth, and He knows exactly what is needed – when – for us to flourish.

A few days after this revelation I realised my new herb seedlings had been scorched by the searing summer sun. They died before they had a chance to mature. All that remained in their pots were shriveled brown stalks.

I was disappointed my plants died. They had too much sun, too soon.

But I nodded as I was reminded of God’s promise.

The next week, billowing rain clouds darkened the sun and sent drenching arrows shooting diagonally to earth. A newly potted hydrangea, one of a pair, copped the full force of the downpour. Its pot became so water-logged that its roots began to rot. Within days the leaves shrivelled and dropped. The other plant, which was sheltered from the rain, continues to thrive.

Once again, I saw the object lesson. It’s just like you said, God.

Plants need sun. They need rain. But the time at which they are provided can make the difference between life and death.

Many things are vital for us to live the full lives God has promised. But they’re only able to help us if they’re supplied at the right time. So often we try to hurry the process, thinking we need them now.

But we are not the Master gardener.

Only He sees the whole process clearly. And when the time is right, He’ll open His hand and pour out all He has promised. When that happens – in His timing – we’ll be ready to soak up every drop He provides . . . and flourish.

 

Purpose in the Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His response, every time? Trust Me.

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

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