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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Walking in Darkness

Over the last week I’ve hit a bit of a slump. All the wonder of our miraculous house sale and move has faded and I’ve been faced with the reality of the season we’re in right now – a time of waiting, limbo, transition.

People often ask me, “Do you know what you’re doing yet?” I smile and say, “No.” The mix of emotions that travel across their faces can be confronting. It would be easier to answer, “Yes, everything is sorted. We know where we’ll live, what we’re going to do, where our girls will go to school, how we’ll manage.” But I can’t say that. We don’t know. We’re aware of some possible options but mostly we’re still in the dark.

If these conversations unsettle me I remind myself of Psalm 119, verse 105.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

I’ve heard these words many times, know them off by heart. To me they always painted a picture of God’s word shining bright and clear, showing us the path He has for us. Then a few years ago, I heard a teaching which brought a radical shift in my thinking.

In Bible times the land was rugged and rocky; paths were often crude and hard to follow. A walk in the dark could lead to injury or even death if you slipped or took a wrong turn, particularly in mountainous areas. Those who dared to venture out at night would be sure to carry a lamp – a small, clay vessel with a flaming wick fuelled by household oil. They often hung the lamp by a rope and swung it back and forth in front of their body, lighting up the path directly before them. Sometimes they tied a second, smaller lamp to their ankle so they could see exactly where to place their foot as they stepped. It was a literal lamp to their feet.Lamp and bible

If you’ve ever experienced a blackout and had to live by candle-light for a while, you’ll understand how limited those little flames would have been. The walker would not have been able to see much beyond the next step. Their journey would have been one of complete dependence on that little flickering light – one step at a time.

Sometimes our lives can be like that. We sense God is leading us in a specific direction but we can’t see all the details. We take one step then He reveals the next. Perhaps the next part doesn’t become clear right away. That’s when we’re required to trust, to wait, to allow Him – in His timing – to show us where to place our foot.

Waiting can be difficult. We can lose focus and become disoriented, like one whose lamp has been completely snuffed out. But it’s so vital that we hold on.

God uses those times of waiting, of darkness to prepare us for the next stage of the journey. We see this principle all through creation. Deep in the earth a dry, brown seed is quietly nurtured till it bursts open and pushes its vibrant, green shoot up through the surface. The lowly caterpillar, seemingly trapped in the confines of its dark cocoon, is transformed and released as a magnificent butterfly. Silent trees stand naked as they secretly draw in nourishment from the soil before being clothed with a veil of leaves and blossoms in spring.

Times of darkness can seem silent, empty, meaningless. But our Father sees the whole path and His timing is perfect. If we have to wait a while to discover the next step in our journey, He has a purpose in that.

So I’m choosing to trust Him. To push ahead without His light would be like clambering over rocks on a cliff edge at midnight.

I wouldn’t dare take the risk.