The Thriving Life

It was lorikeets that woke me that warm summer morning, their rasping chatter carrying from the tree outside my window. Eyes closed, I rolled onto my back and breathed deep. A new day was dawning. My mind sifted upwards through its sleepy fog, trying to work out where I was, what day it was. Memories began to take shape—our family perched on a grassy bank the previous night surrounded by hundreds of people; bright sparks streaking upwards in the night sky before they erupted into colourful waterfalls. My eyes snapped open. Today wasn’t just any day. It was January 1st—the first day of a new year. And oh, how ready we were for a new beginning! Our hearts had soared with those fireworks, relishing the sense of freedom and normality after six months of stifling restriction. I was glad to leave 2021 behind, eager to start fresh. Sitting up, I propped myself against a bank of pillows, grabbed my pen and journal and began to write.

‘Saturday January 1, 2022

Lord, You’ve brought me through. Thank You!’

I felt my whole body relax as relief flowed through me like a gentle stream, carrying away all the tension and weariness of the previous year. My thoughts poured out through my pen, scribing reflections on God’s strong and tender care. Through all the days, weeks and months when my world looked so terribly foreign—all the upheaval and confusion and uncertainty—He had been my Rock. He was the steady one Who had held me close and led me gently through the rubble of my disrupted—and in some ways dismantled—world. Without Him, I too would have been a crumbling mess. There was only one way to express my thanks.

‘God, I offer myself to You afresh. Please keep showing me Your way and enable me to walk in it. It’s only by Your grace that I can do anything of value.’

‘The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels

they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;

planted in the house of the LORD,

they will flourish in the courts of our God.’

They will still bear fruit in old age,

they will stay fresh and green,

proclaiming, “The LORD is upright;

He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him.”’

Psalm 92:12-15

Line after line filled with scrawl as I handed over every concern and looked to God for His way through this new year, whatever it would bring. As I slowed, He brought some familiar words from a psalm to mind, which I hunted out then copied into my journal.

I drank in those words like a thirsty desert-wanderer downing cool water. My God was always a God of hope. He was reminding me I could flourish in this new year if, like a plant, I sank my roots deep into Him—my life source. I could stay fresh and green, no matter the season. Hungry to know more, I started researching the meaning of some of the words. To flourish meant to bud, shoot and blossom profusely. Yes, profusely. That means a lot. I longed to be like that—to live a life so full of God’s goodness that the people around me were blessed by the overflow. Yes, I was already blessed and rich in Him, but I knew there was more—and always would be till the day I stood before Him, face to face. Then I would really flourish.  

My reading taught me that in bible times palm trees, with their long, straight trunks and plentiful fruit, were considered the most beautiful of all trees. And cedars were prized for their exquisite, strong timber and great endurance, often living 600 years or more. Through my faith in Jesus, I was now classed as righteous so this psalm was a promise I could lay claim to. I could be like those trees—precious to God and a blessing to others.

My eyes moved to the word, ‘courts’ and lingered there. What do you think of when you hear mention of the court of God? I’d always imagined a vast room inside a palace with soaring vaulted ceilings, an intricately patterned tile floor and, at one end, an ornate elevated throne. When I looked up the meaning, I couldn’t help chuckling. ‘Court’ was simply another word for ‘courtyard’—a walled outdoor enclosure with bright blue sky as its only ceiling. Of course. Those towering trees could only grow well if they were outdoors. But what did that mean for me? How could I flourish in God’s courts?

I started thinking about the walls that bounded the courtyard. Those walls offered a barrier against the outside world, protection for everything inside them. Likewise, God places boundaries in my life to protect me from harm.

Walls provide a clear marker of limits. Just as we can’t stand astride a wall, so we can’t be half in and half out of God’s plan. We have to be all-in or we’re all-out, fully His or not at all.  Sometimes God’s boundaries feel restrictive or don’t seem to make sense, but it’s inside His loving limits that we flourish. If we try to break out, we put ourselves in unnecessary danger.

Walls protect. They set limits. And sometimes they show us where we need to go, almost like they’re the sides of a corridor—hemming us in, as David described. There are times God seems to direct our steps so strongly, nudging us into territory far beyond our confidence or experience. Even that new year’s morning as I spent time waiting on Him, He said,

Lay down any agendas or preconceived ideas you have about what this year will look like. It will be quite different to what you expect.

Change seems to have been the theme of our lives for the past four years—and, if anything, the stretch is only increasing. Many times, I’ve taken my eyes off God and instantly been overwhelmed—reduced to a blubbering mess. Again and again He reminds me that the only way I can live in the fullness of His plan (which is what I really want) is to keep my eyes on Him, my confidence in His ability alone. When I dwell in that place of trust, sinking my roots into His fertile soil, my vision becomes clear. God quiets my heart, speaks truth then leads me onward, hand in hand with Him.

My heart was light as I closed my journal that morning. ‘Thank You, Lord,’ I whispered, nodding. I’d been given a fresh reminder that His plan for me in 2022 was to flourish, no matter how the year unfolded. He was my Rock, and there was no wickedness in Him. As long as I stayed close to Him, yielded to His plan and rooted in His strength, I could thrive. To resist His leading and try to go my own way would be to shrivel like a tree in drought.

How is your year shaping up? Are you flourishing? Every day is a new opportunity to yield afresh to God’s plan.

In Desperate Times . . .

The air was fragrant with the scent of peppermint oil and eucalyptus. I lay under a thick, warm towel, face down. Soft music soothed my frazzled nerves. The therapist’s hands moved along my neck and shoulders, kneading tension from my aching muscles.  

Two weeks earlier, my husband and I had trudged through a bout of COVID. While our illness was mostly mild, the fatigue it brought lingered. Six days along, when we were still weak and vague, an email informed us we needed to move—in just five weeks’ time. Though we barely had energy or headspace to keep our household running, house-hunting and packing were added to our lengthy to-do list.  

After one week of searching with little reward, I was so full of fear and anxiety, I thought my head would burst. If only someone could come and fix everything for me, like mum so often had when I was young. I noticed my mind running to desperate places, secretly wishing I could run away or go to sleep for a month—anything to escape the battle that lay ahead. The fear that gripped me wasn’t based so much on the chance we might not find a house, though that simmered under the surface. It was more that I didn’t think I had what it would take to survive the journey.  

I’ve been through upheavals like this before. Bigger ones, even—like our move 1400 kilometres north from Tasmania three years ago. At that time I saw God lead us so clearly—at every stage I sensed His counsel, encouragement and comfort. This time my mind was so foggy I could barely focus to read my bible, let alone hear His whisper. Even when I did sense what God was saying, I couldn’t grasp hold of the hope He offered.

My body was still unwell. So were my emotions—deep in the slump that sometimes comes with illness. Paranoia, powerlessness, depression and middle of the night panic all had their moments of attack. The littlest trigger set my stomach churning and pain running through my body. I felt like a wreck—a shell of the woman I’d been—completely wrung out. I kept reading, kept praying and journaling, but couldn’t seem to shake off the fear.

On the morning of massage day, I realised I needed to push through and fight. There was no way I could carry on as I was. Mustering all the strength I had, I began speaking aloud God’s promises.

Photo by Michael Block on Pexels

‘God, thank you that you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Thank you that you make a way in the wilderness and provide streams in the desert. You open doors no man can shut. You are my shepherd and you go ahead of me to prepare the way. Thank you that when we acknowledge You in all our ways You make our path straight . As we seek first your kingdom, you will add to us everything we need. You know the end from the beginning and you will work all this together for our good.’

With each declaration, a tiny chink was cut in the fear that had imprisoned my mind. This was progress. But it took so much energy I couldn’t sustain it for long.   

‘God,’ I whispered. ‘I can’t do this alone. Please speak. I’m listening.’

Later I lay on the massage table, soaking up every hope-filled lyric in the Christian music I heard. The therapist, a friend from church, started working on my arms, her touch gentle yet firm, her thumbs pressing soothingly on sore spots. 

‘God loves you so much,’ she said, her voice gentle. ‘He has a good plan for you.’

‘Thank you,’ I whispered, her words settling in my heart. ‘I need that reminder.’

She went on massaging, silent for a minute before adding, ‘I believe He’s going to give you a new perspective.’

My heart sighed. Oh, yes, Lord. That’s what I need.

She massaged one of my hands then the other, rubbing in small circles along the muscles between my fingers, relieving tension I hadn’t realised was there. ‘He’s going to help you see your situation from His perspective.’

I felt my spirit lift. Let it be, Lord.

That evening a friend checked in to see how I was via messenger. She wrote, ‘It seems like God is stripping away all the control from you so He has total control—a great thing but a very painful thing.’

Photo by Ran Berkovich on Unsplash

I pondered her words after our conversation ended. She was right. After spending years seeking to rest in God’s goodness, I’d slipped into worrying, imagining all the possible scenarios of how things could play out—mostly what could go wrong. The reality was, no matter how much thought or worry I put in, I couldn’t control the outcome. Only God could give us favour with a home-owner among the sea of applicants. Only He could open up a way for us.

When I went to bed that night, I prayed, Lord, please give me a dream—something so vivid it brings lasting change to the way I think. Early the next morning I woke many times, not with a dream but with a sentence I’d once heard running through my head.

‘Do what you can do and let God do what only He can do.’

Do what I can do. What could I do? I could pray. I could ask others for input, look for suitable houses and get our application documents ready. That was all. Suddenly a burden lifted. All I had to do was fulfil my role.  

The rest was up to God.

That day I started working on a rental application. It was detailed, tedious and took a very long time. When I lowered myself into bed that evening, I opened my current read to see the next chapter’s title. Perseverance.

Ha ha, God. Perfect timing. Okay, I’m listening.

The pages that followed told the story of a man who always quit when things got difficult. He went through a string of failed relationships and lived a restless, miserable life—until he learned to endure the tough patches.   

The next morning as I opened my eyes, another revelation came.

‘This process will be uncomfortable,

but it won’t destroy me.

God will see me through.’

I was struck by a realization as I jotted the words in my journal. My thinking was faulty.

Discomfort would not destroy me, no matter how much it felt like it would.

I had subconsciously agreed with an inner voice that whined, ‘I can’t bear this’. Several times before, that phrase had tripped me up. But I’d never acknowledged its deceptive nature. Only God knew what I could bear, and He would set the limits on how far this journey stretched me. I didn’t need to run or hide or go to sleep for a month. I needed to face and accept this season of discomfort and walk with Him all the way through. He would bring me out the other side. I could endure—if I relied on Him one day at a time.  

A few days later, after a long time studying Proverbs, I sat quietly with my journal and felt God speak these words to my heart.

Enjoy this process (of house-hunting), knowing there will be a good outcome. Choose to enter fully into what I am doing—even when it doesn’t make sense—and know I’ll work good in your heart (and mind) through it.

When you choose to offer your best to a process you’d rather not be in, I do My best work in you.’  

God knew I didn’t want to be in this process. And He was asking me to give my best anyway. He saw the bigger picture and His focus was as much on what He was doing in me as what He was doing for me.

Isn’t that what Romans 8:28-29 tells us? It doesn’t say God works all things together to make our lives comfortable. It says He uses all things—even the really hard things—to mould us into the likeness of Jesus. God’s greatest desire is that we grow into the unique individuals He destined us to be, each walking in His plan—the truly good life. The outcome of the process (though He does provide for our needs, often in amazing ways) isn’t nearly as important as the work He does in us through it.  

There’s only one week now till moving day and our house-hunt isn’t complete. It’s been difficult to stay in that place of quiet trust the last few days. What ifs have started creeping in, whispering fear to my soul. Working through the final edits of this post has been helpful. It’s put the truth before my eyes once more. Though this process feels torturous, God is doing something very good.  

What battle are you facing right now? And how is God working in you through it? Though this patch you’re in may not seem to hold anything you can view as good, if you seek to walk with Him through it, there will be a time where you can.

PS. Two days after completing this, our rental application for a lovely home was approved. Though it’s too long a story to go into now, we know this is the home of God’s choice for us. And we are oh-so-thankful.

‘The righteous cry out and the LORD hears them;

He delivers them from all their troubles.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted

And saves those who are crushed in spirit.’

Psalm 34:17-18

Photo by Stainless Images on Unsplash

Peace in the Puzzles

The room was silent when I woke. Jolted out of slumber, I blinked in the darkness. What time was it? Three? Four in the morning? My husband breathed calm beside me, his warm chest rising and falling in steady rhythm. I rolled onto my side and closed my eyes, willing my heart to slow and my body to sink back into dreamy slumber.

It didn’t work. Sleep was elusive.

Hazy images of loved ones travelled across my mind. Each picture stirred emotion, carefully contained during the day but so often unfurled in the mid-night hours. These people were struggling. Deep longing for their relief swelled inside me. My heart lifted each one to God, whispering pleas for healing, for understanding, for hope.

Some of these were facing challenges far beyond my realm of understanding. I yearned to help them, to somehow restore order and peace to their lives. But how?

Show me, Lord.

His voice spoke silently to my heart. Remember the puzzle.

Ah, yes. The puzzle.

Several years earlier I’d been fretting over a friend whose life was often darkened by struggle. Whatever amount of support I offered, it never seemed enough. I often felt helpless, wishing I could do more, be more.

In the midst of my yearning, God planted a clear picture in my mind – a puzzle made of many interlocking pieces. Each piece was blank. Except one. That piece was colourful, patterned – distinct from all the others.

He spoke gently to my troubled heart. This puzzle is your friend’s life. Each of the pieces are people and influences I’ve put in her world. You are one piece in her life – the coloured one.

It’s not your job to fix everything. You can’t. See all those other pieces? They are other people and circumstances I’m also using to help her. You can’t see what they’re doing but I’m working through them too.

It doesn’t all depend on you.

I see the whole picture and have everything in hand. You pray, play your part and leave the rest to Me.

puzzle piece in hand

Relief flooded through me. I was just one piece. Yes, I yearned to make everything better for her, but I wasn’t able. I could play my part, though.

That little picture taught me so much.

Each piece in a puzzle is unique. I don’t have to be like all the others to contribute to someone’s life.

A puzzle piece has clearly defined edges and a specific place in the overall picture. I too had limits in what help I could offer. And that was okay.

Each puzzle piece is put in place by the One Who sees the whole picture. My role is to rest in His hands and let Him place me where I belong.

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I smiled in the darkness as that puzzle image hung suspended in my mind once more. Thanks for the reminder, Lord. I can do that. I can play my part, be that one piece and trust You with the rest.

I breathed deep and wrapped my arms loosely across my chest. God had heard my prayers, I knew. He was working in the lives of each person I’d lifted to Him. I could trust that as I waited for direction He’d show me what He wanted me to do.

My heartbeat settled and my body relaxed. Being one piece in His hands brought peace – deep and calm.

The Master Puzzler knew what He was doing.

“We are (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”    Ephesians 2:10

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”    Psalm 32:8