Snapshots

I’m so excited.
No, not about moving house, if that’s what you guessed, though we are right in the thick of that process. I’m excited about a gift I’ll receive in just a few weeks. At the end of this month I’m having a special birthday so I figured this was my opportunity to make a special request.
I asked for a camera – a good one.
This may not seem like a very big deal to you but it is to me. The thought of being able to capture fleeting moments in crisp detail thrills me. With the departure from our home of ten years almost upon us I’m aware of how much we’ll rely on pictures to remind us of all the special experiences we shared here.
But there’s another aspect to photography I’m just starting to recognise – it’s in the process of taking a picture that we more fully appreciate the moment we’re in.
Sometimes our lives can be nothing more than a frenzied series of activities, all blurred together as we hurry through our days, distracted and oblivious to the detail. But when we stop to take a picture – when we study light and shadow, colour and expression – we notice new dimensions in the world around us. . . and we savour.
On Mother’s Day my husband had to go out for the afternoon on an urgent errand. Our oldest son was needed at work. Our oldest daughter wasn’t feeling well so she retreated to the bedroom. Suddenly, with little warning, our family of six had shrunk to a meagre three, counting me. Mother’s Day was starting to feel a little mellow.
With a deep breath, I invited the two remaining children to join me in playing Finska, an outdoor tossing game. As an afterthought I snatched my phone off the bench on my way out of the kitchen, thinking maybe I could use it to take some pictures. I stepped outside and my mood instantly lifted. Rather than feeling deprived, I noticed the rich, gold tones in the afternoon sky. I gazed in wonder at the brilliant green of the grass beneath my feet.  We were surrounded by beauty – and I’d almost missed it.

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Our laughter and cheering seemed to echo in my heart as we played that afternoon. Each time I stepped back to take a picture I recognised afresh how blessed I was. Everything may not have been as I’d wished it that day, but I had much to be thankful for. By the end of our games – and a scenic walk with my girls – my heart was full to bursting.

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Often it’s the little things that bring us the most pleasure – if we take time to notice them.
Perhaps that’s why our Father tells us to slow down. Wait, He says. Be still. Lift up your eyes. Set your mind on good things. Give thanks. So often we struggle and fight, insistent that there isn’t time.
But look what we’re missing.
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My thoughts were recently drawn to one particular line of Psalm 23 and I noticed something I’d never seen before. It says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Did you see that? He makes me. It’s not an optional extra to lie down, to be still. It’s a command from God. And the purpose of that lying down?

A restored soul.

How can we refuse that?

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.

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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

 

Standing Firm in Turbulent Times

I never imagined we’d end up here.

A storm is brewing in our nation. This tempest grows increasingly fierce as contentious issues – the subjects of public debate – are relentlessly shoved in our faces. For some, peaceful dialogue seems to be on the decline. Words fly impulsively, venting passionate opinions without thought for the real people who’ll receive them.

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I understand that these issues need to be discussed. The decisions which are made will have lasting impact on our beautiful country. All perspectives need to be heard.

It’s the open hostility and relationship breakdown that I struggle with.

By nature, I’m a peace-lover. I’m most happy when everyone is in harmony, whether in our family or on a larger scale. The constant tension and hateful language we’re confronted with makes me shudder. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night.

“How am I supposed to deal with this, Lord?”

This question often springs up from my anxious heart. Today as I waited on God, He revealed some of the answer.

I realised Jesus understands fully what it’s like to live immersed in tension. His people, the Jews, had a level of freedom to practice their faith. They could carry out their weekly rituals and meet in temples without question. Yet overarching these freedoms was the brutal rule of the Romans, who demanded complete submission and feared any kind of uprising.

Right from birth, Jesus was seen as a threat by those in leadership. Soon after his birth, his parents had to flee to another country for a time to keep their precious baby from being murdered by King Herod (Mt.2:13-18). As Jesus matured and His fame grew, so did the hatred of the religious leaders. The common people saw Him as their King, the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression. The chief priests and teachers of the law despised Him (Lk 19:28-20:47).

Today I read Luke 22:1-6, the story of Judas plotting with the religious leaders. These priests and teachers were terrified by the people’s worship of Jesus. They feared losing the power they’d held over the faithful for centuries. When Judas, one of Jesus’ closest friends, offered to betray Him, they were delighted. If they could be rid of Jesus, they thought, life could return to its former state.

I was confronted with the way we humans clutch at control when life gets uncomfortable. We avoid difficult people, effectively seeking to remove them from our lives. We block our ears to contrary voices or try to shout them down. Anything to shut out the ripples which shake up our comfy status quo.

Jesus knew the plotting that was going on. He felt the hostility directed toward Him from several directions. He fully understood the betrayal, false accusation and intense suffering that lay ahead (Lk 19: 28-20:47).

Yet He didn’t flinch.

Not one bit.

He set His sights on the task at hand with complete confidence in His Father’s ability to see Him through. He stayed the course, doing what He’d been sent to do, step by step by step.

All the way to His final breath.

No wonder He’s referred to as the Rock.

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We can’t walk in God’s purposes while fear is ruling in our hearts. Like Jesus, we need to set our eyes on our Father and trust Him to see us through. He doesn’t want us to try to control everything. Nor does He want us to be paralysed by fear.

He has plans for us to fulfil, good works for us to do – right in the midst of the storm. (1 Peter 4:19).

No matter what tensions and upheavals we may face, there is a place of peace and confidence from which we can live full lives and bring hope to those around us.

A place we can plant our feet and stand firm, come what may.

That place is a person. He’s called the Rock.

Psalm 18:2 

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.”

Isaiah 26:3-4

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast

because he trusts in You.

Trust in the Lord forever

for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”

Learning to Rest

It all began at a women’s retreat five years ago.

Twenty of us had gathered at Camp Clayton for a weekend of fun, relaxation and reflection. We’d just finished a beautiful time of singing and were waiting, with quiet hearts, for God to speak. I sat, eyes closed, smiling as I basked in the calm that filled the room. Any moment, I imagined, God would give me something to say. I was the leader. Surely He would reveal some powerful truth that would meet a need or bring new understanding.

Instead I heard, “I want you to put your children in school.”

Whaaaat?

Home schooling was my passion. I loved investing in our children. We’d been at it for almost a decade. Surely that wasn’t God speaking.

I opened my eyes to a half-squint and peered around the group. The women sat motionless, each listening for that still small voice. Oblivious. No one else had felt the earthquake that just ripped across my world.

Now’s not the time to think about that. I shoved the words into my box marked ‘later’ and continued with the retreat.

By September our children were enrolled at a local Christian school. God had spoken. The same day my husband started a new job – a wonderful opportunity which also held many challenges.

Our family was beginning a new season.

Change can be exciting…if you’re ready for it. I wasn’t.

Like a fussy mother hen I fretted almost constantly. How would everyone cope with all the adjustments? How would I cope?

That wasn’t all. Soon after, we laid down all our leadership roles at church. The time and energy required for them just wasn’t there anymore.

In a matter of weeks my whole world morphed into something unrecognisable. Almost every role that I’d held so zealously had been stripped away. Days which had been packed full with vision and activity suddenly seemed empty and aimless.

How did I cope?

I didn’t.

I fell in a heap.

I spent weeks lying on the couch, too tired to read or even pray. Anxiety flowed through my veins over the littlest things. My heart began beating in strange, thumping rhythms. I withdrew, avoiding conversation with anyone beyond family and very close friends.

It felt like my world was imploding. Burnout, some call it.

One afternoon I lowered myself into a warm bath, groaning inwardly. The weariness wasn’t lifting, no matter how much I rested.

“I’m going to bring you back,” God whispered. “Stronger than before.”

Really, God? I sighed. Is that even possible?

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In recent months I’d become the mouse in the wheel, frantically running in circles. My Father God saw what was happening and lifted me out, removing the wheel completely.

He lovingly stripped away all I looked to for identity, reminding me who I was when our relationship began. Way back then, midway through my teens, it was Him and me…just because. Nothing extra was needed. His love was enough.

Much as I thrived on all the busyness and accomplishments of more recent years, God wasn’t especially impressed. The most important thing to Him was the state of my heart.

Gently, He began to woo me again, reminding me how wonderful it was to just ‘be’ with Him. To sit in His presence and drink of His boundless peace. Such peace. He gave me courage to again lay myself at His feet and say, “Have your way, God. Do whatever you want. I’m yours.”

Then, oh-so-tenderly, He began to rebuild my life on a new foundation – one of rest.

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God’s rest isn’t like that stillness we seek at the end of a demanding day. It’s not a long, cool drink or a quick lie down. It’s not something external at all. It’s an inward condition of the heart. An awareness that everything we need is found in Him. Not in ourselves. When we understand that, we’re released from the pressure to struggle and strive (Heb.4:10).

All we need to do is walk with Him.

Jesus invites us to come in all our weariness and drop our heavy burdens at His feet (Matt. 11:28-30). He has a better way. As we look to Him He will lead us, one step at a time, in the way of rest. He will set the pace and He will set the limits. Best of all, He will shoulder the weight of any load we need to carry.

I’m still learning how this works out in practice. I have a feeling this particular lesson will last a lifetime. But the journey is an absolute pleasure. I couldn’t ask for a better travelling companion.