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,

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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.

Victory in Defeat

My plan was to pray over the long list of verses and thoughts in my diary ready to create an author post. But I found my eyes drawn to the last topic in my short list of blog ideas, ‘Overcoming in Defeat’. I stared at the words, acutely aware of their relevance for the season we’re in. Pulling out my journal from July— where the original ideas were recorded—I read and was stirred once again.

I had been mulling over Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:21 ‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’ The idea sounded inspiring—but how did it work?

As I mused, I had written, ‘Lord, doing good when we’re treated badly doesn’t feel like overcoming. It feels like defeat, like bowing to the evildoer.‘ I was thinking of some painful conflicts I’d faced in the preceding week.

Almost immediately, I sensed God’s response. ‘So it was with the cross. My son’s death had every appearance of defeat and injustice. He was condemned via an unfair trial, placed in the hands of prideful, demon-driven zealots, treated with utmost brutality, betrayed and abandoned by most of His dearest friends. He even felt forsaken by Me—His Father, who sent Him.

It was true. I could see Jesus in my mind—accused, betrayed, dragged away like a criminal, ridiculed and beaten by supposedly God-fearing people, then enduring a slow, agonizing death in front of a jeering crowd. He had the power to crush those who attacked Him, yet He forgave them, yielding to His Father’s will. To any onlooker—even Jesus’ closest friends—it appeared the enemy had soundly defeated Him.

That morning God reminded me of an important truth—what we perceive isn’t always reality.

The gruelling process Jesus endured had a purpose far beyond what anyone could see at that time. What looked like defeat was, in reality, stupendous victory. Through His suffering and death, Jesus disarmed the very powers that were trying to destroy Him, making a public spectacle of them. And He opened up the way for us to be forgiven, set free and welcomed into the family of God. Victory indeed! None of those breakthroughs could have come without Jesus’ humble willingness to walk in obedience.

My notes from God’s revelation continued,

Every time you choose good, there is a victory in your spirit and your character. Each time you submit to Me and lay down your desire to do things your own way, I build muscle into your character and grow you in authority for greater victories.

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Eating the best of the land (as promised in Isaiah 1:19) isn’t just about material, tangible experiences. It’s about the heart, the spirit and the spiritual realm. So be willing and obedient. Follow the way of the cross. It will be worth it.

God’s route to victory is rarely the high road. More often it is a path of servanthood, humiliation and frail dependence. In God’s economy the last are first, servants are declared the greatest, the proud are opposed and the humble are lavished with grace. Those events that have all the appearance of failure are forward steps on the path to triumph.

This concept is foreign to our success-oriented world. Our bibles are laden with living examples. Think of Joseph—a slave and a prisoner—made second in charge under Pharaoh; of Gideon—the least of the least—who led God’s people into conquest; of David—the shepherd boy with a sling and a stone—who defeated a terrifying giant; of Rahab—a prostitute—who had her pagan family rescued from certain destruction and was welcomed into the lineage of Jesus.* Then there was Jesus—the Son of God—who made Himself nothing, taking on the role of servant to His subjects and surrendering His life in the most gruesome of deaths. His humble obedience led to ultimate exaltation, higher than any other—forever .

There’s always more to the story than what we see. Always.

If we’re seeking to walk with God and doing good as He directs, His victory will come. We may not always see the full result of our obedience, but we can be confident of this—God will fulfil His purpose, in our hearts and in our world. So, let’s press on, choosing willing, trusting obedience. Jesus is with us—and He knows the way.

Triumph comes via the low road.

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‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’

Hebrews 12:2-3

*You can read more about these overcomers in the following passages.

Joseph: Gen 37-41

Gideon: Judges 6-8

David: 1 Samuel 16-17

Rahab: Joshua 2 and 6

Overcoming Darkness

Her name was Bec. Small in stature, with shoulder-length, sandy hair, a face free of make-up and an unpretentious manner, there was nothing to give the impression of authority or passion as she took her place at the lectern. But when she opened her mouth, I realised she had the heart of a lion.

Bec had been living for several years in Cambodia, a nation where trafficking of women and children was common—and many nationals viewed it as a way to survive financially. Fathers sold their young daughters into prostitution. Some children were rescued and returned to their families, only to be sold again. The blindness and injustice of it made my stomach churn. Yet Bec’s tone held steady as she shared. How can she be so calm? I wondered.

After reading some sad statistics, Bec lifted her eyes to her listeners. ‘Because of this, many people view Cambodia as a very dark place. When we look at the darkness in our world, we can shake our heads in despair, fearing the darkness will grow so large that it snuffs out the light.’ Her voice grew louder. ‘But that’s because we have the wrong idea. We think darkness and light are equal and opposite forces. They’re not. Darkness isn’t a force at all. It doesn’t have a power of its own to do anything.

Darkness is just the absence of light. To overcome darkness, all we need to do is turn on the light. Even the tiniest flame can cut through it.’

I sat in my seat, stunned, as Bec’s words cut through the shadows in my mind.

She opened her bible and read from John chapter 1 verse 5. ‘”The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”’

Hope stirred inside me. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness—no matter how black it is—cannot overcome light.

Bec continued, ‘This principle is the foundation of our work in Cambodia. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”’ (Matthew 5: 14-15) She smiled. ‘To overcome darkness, we need to find the highest stand—the highest platform—we can and shine as brightly as we can, so our light reaches as many people as possible.’

Photo by Pezibear on Pixabay

For Bec and a team of Cambodian nationals, that meant working together to shine the brightest light they could into arenas which held the greatest sway over young people’s minds—music and media. The team formed a band, wrote music and worked with some media experts to produce albums and advertisements that challenged popular views on issues such as drink spiking, date rape, prostitution and trafficking. As they shone their light, they were changing mindsets, little by little.

It’s been fifteen years since I heard Bec speak, but her words have stayed with me—and they came up again a couple of months ago. In fact, I woke with them echoing through my mind.

It’s so easy for us to be overwhelmed by the darkness we see in our world, especially in this COVID season when there’s upheaval almost everywhere we look. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that we can overcome darkness—if only we’ll turn on the light.

So, how do we do that?  

We fix our eyes

First, we shift our gaze from the darkness—all the doom and gloom around us—to focus on God. The bible says He is light and darkness has no place in Him. It’s only through His light, His enabling, that we can overcome.  When we fix our eyes on the pure brightness of His light, everything else is put into perspective. He gives us hope. He exposes any darkness residing in our hearts, washing us clean and setting us free to move forward and live at peace with others.

‘If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.’ 1 John 1:7

We act in the opposite spirit

Darkness cannot be overcome by more darkness. Instead, we live in God’s light and let it shine through our lives.

Where there is hatred, we show love.

Where there is division, we build unity.

We offer hope in the face of doom, truth where there is deception, comfort where there is pain, peace amid turmoil, acceptance where there is rejection. Enabled by God’s overflowing love, we press forward, relying on the wisdom and power He offers.

‘Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.’ Romans 12:21

We let the Light guide our steps.

As we choose to walk with God, He shines His light on our path, revealing His specific purpose for each of us. As we give ourselves wholeheartedly to that purpose, His light emanates from our lives, dispelling the darkness around us.

He may lead us to do something as small as smiling at a neighbour who’s struggling, or as large as funding a programme to help those who are homeless. For each of us, the path will be different, but we all have a part to play.

‘A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.’ 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)

Our light may seem small to us. Insignificant, even. But think of a flickering candle. The tiniest flame still penetrates the darkness. And if we all shine together, think of how bright the light will be. Together we can overcome.  

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‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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 8:37-39  

Personal Training

Their numbers are growing, this army of people. We see them more often now COVID has pushed them outdoors. Clad in cotton, spandex and microfibre, they leave their homes just as the sun stretches its fingers across the sky and take their place in pairs along the Wollongong waterfront—the eyes of one fixed on the other, their ears hungry for instruction.  

I watch them as I stroll past—the trainer giving guidance and encouragement, the client pushing their body through the motions. They squat and crunch, lift enormous weights and stretch beyond what seems natural, their faces contorting with effort yet radiating hunger for more. The transformation they’re experiencing—it seems—is worth the pain.

I’m impressed by these people. They care enough about their health to commit time and money to glean from another person’s skill and experience. Funnily, we also engage in personal training—almost every day—though we don’t often realise it.

A few months back God whispered to my heart. As I drifted up from slumber, His words echoed through me with clarity and conviction,

You are discipled by whatever you give your time and attention to.

Now that’s confronting. And thought provoking.

‘Discipled’ is a word we rarely use these days. It refers to a form of training where one person is guided by another to become a follower of their way or belief system. Sound familiar? Like personal training, discipling goes beyond merely passing on knowledge. It equips the learner to so fully embody the key aspects of the new way that their life is completely changed. Like a rhythmic dance, this discipling process is an ongoing dynamic—the teacher offers ideas through word and example and the student takes them on, allowing them to infuse and shape their lives.

So how does this happen to us?

Each day, whether we make conscious choices or roll with our fluctuating whims, we take on the role of learners. Through our senses, we absorb ideas, values and priorities from a whole range of sources. People we meet, music and books, world events and the array of internet platforms each have their part to play.

Photo by Tofros.com from Pexels

When something catches our interest, we focus on it, opening not only our mind but our heart. If we dwell on it long enough it begins to seep into our soul, permeating our whole being and colouring the way we think and feel, the language we use and the way we relate to others. It filters the way we perceive the world and the events of our day.

How do we figure out which input has the greatest influence on who we’re becoming?

We look at what receives the largest measure of our time and attention.  

With every turn of the earth, we’re gifted with twenty-four hours of life. Most of that time is poured into the normal rhythms of eating, working and sleeping, but we still have a few hours through the week and more on weekends where we can choose what we do. In those moments, what takes first place in our list of priorities?

I wonder, if we took an honest, detailed inventory of an average week in our lives, what it would reveal about who we are, where we’re headed. If you’re anything like me, you have a clear idea of what’s important to you, but the reality of your day-to-day life often paints a different picture. Sometimes unexpected needs arise and we get waylaid from the priorities we’ve set. Other times we’re lured away by our own curiosity, or hunger for comfort, and find ourselves on a path far removed from where we truly want to be.

Those little everyday choices have more impact than we think.

Choice by choice, they accumulate and set the course of our life.  

It’s good to stop and recognize what is our primary focus. What gets us out of bed in the morning? And what is the most significant subject in our thoughts through the day—the focal point we return to whenever we can?

Who do we follow on social media and other online avenues? And what’s our motivation for following them? Are we after distraction? Entertainment? Do we crave their lifestyle and want what they have? Whatever our reason, the longer we linger over their photos and feed on their words, the more permission we give them to disciple us.

Do we really want their lifestyle and values to be reproduced in our lives? It’s worth thinking about.  

Three years and two children into our marriage, my husband and I hit a bumpy patch and needed some help to find our way through. Eager for guidance, we began a three-month marriage course with several other couples. For a girl like me who relishes deep connection, the weekly homework was the absolute highlight.

With hot drinks in hand, hubby and I would sink onto the couch, open our workbooks and pore over questions from that week’s lesson. Many times, we’d spend a good hour doing our homework. The questions weren’t the simple ‘tick-the-box, regurgitate-the-content’ kind. They were probing, the dig-deep kind that made us stop, reflect and pray over ideas that would shape the future of our relationship.  

Photo by Tymur Khakimov from Pexels

One lesson was a standout. The topic? Sowing and reaping. Two pictures were printed in the workbook—a sack bulging with seed and a sheaf of freshly harvested wheat—vivid reminders that the seeds we plant always produce a crop of the same kind, both in nature and in our lives. We were challenged to recognise the seeds we were sowing into the soil of our marriage and what kind of harvest they were producing, whether good or bad. From that place we could turn the dynamic around. We clarified our real desires—what we felt God wanted for our marriage—and listed what seeds we needed to sow to see those desires fulfilled. That lesson opened our eyes to some negative patterns we’d slipped into. As we prayed, we felt a new excitement and sense of vision for the way ahead. Those principles of sowing and reaping are integral to our lives now. They’ve built us into a strong team and guided our decisions—big and small—through the twenty-two years since that time.

Married or not, it’s helpful for all of us to stop and ask the question,

‘Where’s my life headed?

And how are my day-to-day choices shaping my journey?’

Just like those early risers who hurry to meet their personal trainer, we need to be intentional in where we focus our time and attention. We each have one life—a limited number of days to embrace and use well. Whichever way we choose to spend them, one thing is guaranteed—as we sow, we will surely reap.   

‘Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise . . .’

Ephesians 5:15 CSB

When the Way is Hard

His hand felt so tiny, so trusting in mine as we paused at the entrance to the cobbled path. I stooped beside him, our brown eyes meeting, and whispered, “Let’s go on an adventure.”

“Yeah—adventure!” His eyes lit up and his face broke into a broad grin. I giggled as his three-year-old legs began scurrying up the sweeping slope. Matching his pace, I loped easily beside him on my lanky twelve-year-old legs. Arching branches rustled overhead and magpies filled the air with their lilting melody, urging us on. Come and see, come and see.

Up a winding curve we climbed, away from our parents and picnic blanket—into the land of the unknown. Lush ferns waved their curving fronds, blurring the path edges, and palms stretched tall, reaching for the sky. Our eyes grew wide as we crept through their shadows, intrepid explorers trekking through the jungle. Hand in hand, we scaled smooth stone steps, worn by the tread of countless feet, puffing a little and pausing to rest those tired toddler legs. Spreading trees and orb-like bushes hid our view of the way ahead, adding fire to our curiosity. Sometimes we stopped, leaning close and whispering as I pointed to a delicate flower, a buzzing bee or colourful butterfly. At one point, when my little companion grew so weary he didn’t want to go on, I swung him onto my back and bounced along the path, grinning as he giggled and chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead.’ When he was rested, I lowered him gently to the ground and on we marched, eager to finish our course.

Photo by Marco de Winter on Unsplash

My heart thrummed a happy rhythm as vivid images from my own childhood flashed through my mind. Many times, my family had come to these gardens for holiday picnics and birthday celebrations. Many times, I’d run along these paths behind my older sisters, unsure exactly where we were going, my eyes searching for familiar landmarks along the way – the timber bridge arching over the duck pond, the stately Japanese tea house or the wishing well full of shimmering coins. The first time my parents told me I was old enough to explore on my own, my spirit soared. I stood at the edge of the lawn where several paths branched off in different directions, my mind pulsing with the possibilities. Which route should I choose? Where will they take me? And what will I discover on my way?

Time passed, leading to this day. Now I was the older one with a young sibling in tow. It was my turn to share that wonder with my brother, to open his eyes to the thrill of new adventures.

Those memories have left a permanent imprint on my heart. Because of them, I’ve always felt drawn to gardens with tall hedges, winding paths and hidden corners. The memories themselves have been tucked away in a corner of my mind reserved for precious things, drawn out only when I’ve seen old photos or driven past the gardens, which still reside in their place on a hill—until a few weeks ago, when God brought them back so vividly it was as if I was walking those paths once more.

This year—so far—has been one of challenge.  I’ve been asked to do things I didn’t think I could and ventured well beyond what I thought was my happy place. My ‘legs’ have grown weary and sometimes I’ve been afraid of what might lie around the corner. Sometimes, I’ve been head-spinningly anxious. Yet, as I’ve pressed on, I’ve marvelled at the way God has—every time—brought peace, blessing, joy and growth through those things I would rather have avoided.

Again, I’ve been reminded of how little I really understand of His ways. Like a little child, I’m not ‘tall’ enough to see very far on the path He has for me. Sometimes I question the value in the direction He takes me and, in my tiredness, want to stop, to turn back or take a shorter, faster route.

But He has a plan. He knows the best way. And challenges are vital to the journey.

This is what He spoke to my heart the morning He revived those images:

‘Continue to trust Me, to put your confidence in Me, to follow My lead and press forward in My plans. It is a great adventure. And just as you delighted in exploring all the winding paths of the gardens in your childhood, so you will delight as you see what I have around each bend for you.

I have many surprises in store, much unexpected beauty. There will be passages that seem long, steep and, at times, even dull. In those I am building your muscle and mind for the parts still to come, teaching you to drink deep from my reservoir.

Hold fast to Me and let Me take you to those unexpected places where you will experience the beauty of My presence in ways beyond what you’ve known.’

Things are not always as they seem. Like children, we are limited in our vision. God sees the whole picture and has good reasons for everything He leads us into. At each stage of our journey, we can trust Him to give us what we need to go on. And when we grow weary, He will carry us, chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead’.

Knowing Him, it will be worth the trek.

Photo by Kyler Wilton on Unsplash

“You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”   John 13:7

“In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

“Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.

I have made you and I will carry you;

I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Isaiah 46:4

When the Straight Path Takes an Unexpected Turn

I gripped the pages with trembling hands, reading and re-reading the words that had made my heart plummet. This was my final evaluation, a summing up of who I was as a twenty-seven year old woman. How could it be that my time at this place was ending on such a bad note?

I’d spent the past two years at a bible college in Tasmania, living in close community with staff, their families and other students—working, studying, eating, sleeping, laughing, singing, crying and praying together. This well-regarded training centre was not merely a place for academic learning. It was a pressure cooker, a refining fire where the jam-packed schedule and melting pot of cultures and personalities drew our well-hidden flaws to the surface.  

Every four months, each student met with a staff member to reflect on our progress and pray over any areas of struggle. As part of that meeting, we reviewed a checklist—already completed by staff—which offered detailed feedback on our character. The form in my hands that December morning was my final checklist, my graduation ‘reference’.

Up till that moment in my life, ticks always meant I’d done something right. On the form I was holding, most of the ticks affirmed positive attributes—as they had on my prior reviews. My eyes drifted over them quickly, then came to a screeching halt when they saw ticks beside comments like, ‘Somewhat over-emotional,’ and ‘Struggles with change’. To me, those ticks might as well have been glaring red crosses. If the staff who had journeyed with me over the past two years chose to highlight these flaws so late in my training, they must have felt they had potential to impact on the years that followed.

How right they were.

The ten months leading up to that day in early December had been one long roller-coaster ride as I began a wonderful relationship with my now husband and quickly became engaged. Swirling inside me was a dizzying mix of blissful dreaming and sheer terror. Along with the joy of beginning life with this man came the need to let go of my carefully formulated plans for the future. Just five weeks after our graduation, Mark and I would marry. Beyond that, our future was unclear.  For me, that was a very scary prospect.

My growing-up years were as firm and steady as a hundred-year-old oak. Almost all my family’s favourite memories were made in the same house at the end of the same quiet street in the same tiny Sydney suburb where my parents still live. We holidayed in a predictable pattern, heading inland for a dose of farm life at Easter and driving a few hours north in September to swim, fish and sunbathe. My parents followed consistent routines in what time we ate dinner, what days the lawns were done and what tv shows we watched each night. Life was stable and predictable and that gave me a great sense of security. It was no wonder uncertainty made me nervous.

The funny thing was, the closer I grew to God, the more change He brought into my life. The idea of living in total abandon was alluring—I wanted to follow God’s call, not shrink back from His purpose for my life. Yet every time He led me into something new, the drastic changes required had me panicking, wondering if I’d cope. He led me to leave my family and friends to look after orphan babies in Taiwan for six months, spend some time with missionaries in Africa, move to Tasmania to study, marry right after graduating, start a family as soon as we married, homeschool our children for more than a decade, move house six times, move interstate again to an unfamiliar region—this time with three of our four children in tow, unveil my secrets in a memoir and publish it for the world to read . . . and the list continues to grow.

Photo credit Esther Brown

There’s a little habit I’ve noticed I slip into whenever I face major change. I grab onto control wherever I can. It’s kind of a battening down of the hatches ready for a storm—probably in an attempt to control the storm roaring inside me. Thirty years ago my desperate clutching became self-destructive when I focused all my energies on extreme dieting. These days, through God’s healing, it manifests in smaller, more constructive ways. I become more determined to keep the house tidy and the day-to-day routines flowing smoothly. It’s my way of fostering a sense of security, despite the upheaval going on in other areas.  

A few weeks ago, I realized I was doing this again and stopped to ponder why. There were staff changes happening at work, my responsibilities were increasing and my husband’s schedule was becoming crazy-hectic. Then came some news from my publisher that meant my book would soon be distributed a little differently. These changes, while challenging, offered potential for good results. But none of them were expected—and I was thrown. I thought, after our crazy COVID year, my life was finally settling down to a manageable rhythm. Yet, everything was still changing and my sudden fussiness about the house showed I wasn’t coping.

I kept telling God I was scared of being overwhelmed and asking Him to give me strength and show me His way through, while on the inside, some part of me was bucking against the whole situation. Why am I always having to change and adapt, Lord? Can’t everything settle down now?

When I finally stopped talking long enough to listen, here’s what I felt God speak to my heart:

“Trust Me. I love you and I am working all this for your good. Every change has a purpose and is set to move you forward. Even closed doors are part of the forward progression, re-directing your course in line with My plans.

None of the journeys of My people have been straightforward. All have had unexpected turns and winding convolutions. It’s all part of the mystery and wonder of adventuring with Me, of learning trust and dependence and security, even when you can’t clearly see the way ahead. Those times when you think you’re settled on a certain course, then everything suddenly changes, confront you with the fact that you’re not in control—you’re not God. They bring you back to that place of child-like dependence, of thankfulness for every provision, every reassurance. And they reveal to you that I am well able to fulfil My plan, even through a different avenue than what you envisioned.”

It’s hard to describe the peace that came with that shift in perspective. Of course, God was working it all for good. Wasn’t that always His way? Every change He’d led me into so far had come with great cost, yet such richness of His presence and goodness that, in hindsight, they became the high points of my journey with Him.

So, again, I made a choice to embrace the adventure, knowing that with it comes growth. It’s all worth it. And really, life would be very dull without God’s unexpected turns. Those ‘surprises’ stretch us and take us to a place of greater intimacy with Him, greater thankfulness and ultimately, greater joy.

‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,

along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them

and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do;

I will not forsake them.’

Isaiah 42:16  

Rescued

Tuesday 23rd July, 2013 “Do you think we should go to the hospital?” My husband’s gentle words broke through the haze that clouded my mind. I dragged my head up and sighed. For hours I’d been lying on the bedroom floor, mostly face down, trying to find a position where my body didn’t hurt so much. It had taken all my strength to pull myself up and vomit into a bowl. The noise had woken Mark and he’d climbed out of bed to come to my side. I had hoped this sickness – whatever it was – would have settled through the night. Surely after almost two days I should have been improving? Instead the mild nausea of Sunday afternoon had developed into violent retching, diarrhoea, shaking fevers and overwhelming weakness. Tightness under my ribcage on one side made breathing difficult and my head spun. Mark had already suggested I go to hospital – several times. Each time I’d refused. The thought of spending hours in that condition in a waiting room full of people was unthinkable. This time, though, he was determined. “I think we should pray about it.” “What time is it?” I breathed. “Four o’clock.” “Okay. I’ll try.” We spent a few moments waiting quietly. Meanwhile, unknown to us, my mum was suddenly awakened in Sydney with a strong urge to pray for me – she already knew I was very unwell. “So, what did you think?” With eyes closed, I mumbled, “I just keep getting the word ‘appendix’.” Low in my abdomen a sharp pain throbbed on the right. “Maybe we should just go and get it checked.” “Okay.”He stood up, slipped his hands under my arms and helped me to my feet. Every movement was agony. Once I was dressed he informed our oldest son what was happening and we shuffled together out to the car. Our breath formed puffs of steam in the icy night air. When we reached the emergency department, I slumped over the sick bowl, my head resting on my arms. The waiting room was strangely quiet, almost empty. A thought ambled through my mind, Am I just being a drama queen? “Hello Susan.” The calm, professional tone of a nurse’s voice broke me out of my musing. I lifted my head a little. “Your husband explained what’s been happening. Can you sit up so I can take a few vitals?” I pushed myself up off the bowl and tried to bring my rolling eyes to meet those of the nurse. My hair fell back from my face and she gasped.  “Oh, I think we might just take you straight in.” She scurried away and dashed back with a wheelchair. As she returned I breathed, “Sorry. I can’t remember your name.” The woman was a regular at our MOPs group – a support programme our church ran for mums of pre-schoolers. “Oh, don’t you worry about that,” she answered briskly. “Let’s just see if we can get you better.” She wheeled me into a curtained cubicle then returned to her station at the counter. Two other nurses changed me into a thin hospital gown, hooked me up to a heart monitor and supplied medication to stop the vomiting. Soon after, my bed was wheeled to a large room at the far end of the emergency department. Another four nurses gathered around me, making a team of six, while a doctor drifted in and out. IV trolleys were set up and bags of fluid stacked nearby. The nurses took blood, gave me morphine, inserted a catheter and introduced a drip to each forearm. The doctor threaded a picc line – a long, narrow, five-stranded tube – through one of my major neck veins almost all the way to my heart. I was given an oxygen mask. Large, soft blankets – so many blankets – were brought from the warming cupboard and draped one atop another over my shivering body.
The strange sensation of pain and pressure in my abdomen began to spread up into my lung area. I told the nurses. A couple of them exchanged concerned glances. A doctor came to my side. “Now Susan, you seem to have some kind of infection but your pathology results won’t come back for a while. We’re going to start you on five different antibiotics to make sure we hit whatever bacteria is at work. Then once we get the test results back we’ll narrow them down to the right one. We’ll also be giving you IV fluids to try to get your blood pressure up.” “Okay.” I nodded. “Do you have to use so many antibiotics?” my husband asked. I’d just finished taking a course of tablets for another condition and was run-down because of them. A nurse’s voice snapped from the other side of the room, “Your wife is in a state of septic shock. If we don’t give her antibiotics she’ll die.” I heard her words but could barely make sense of them. Die? Really? But I was in hospital – surely that meant I was safe? Lord, I’m in your hands, I prayed. Hours ticked by while antibiotics and fluids flowed steadily into my bloodstream. The staff hovered, watching closely for any improvement in my vital signs. The bag attached to my catheter remained empty, revealing that my kidneys had failed. Many times I was asked, “What’s your full name? When were you born? Where do you live?” Mark’s presence beside me was calm and constant. He sent out a prayer request in the morning which quickly reached hundreds of people across the nation and beyond. Several friends have since said that the moment they got the message, they understood the intensity of the battle I was in and got straight to warring in prayer. Six hours passed with no significant change. Various doctors wandered in and out of the room, along with teams of interns, to discuss my case. One supervising doctor told my husband, “It’s good you came in when you did. If you’d left it even one hour longer, it may have been too late.” Finally, the medical staff resorted to using a very high dose of noradrenalin to bring my blood pressure back to a safe level. A CT scan and laparoscopy followed. My appendix and lower bowel were inflamed but neither had to be removed. A drain was put into my abdomen to remove the large volume of fluid which had built up there and remained in place for the next few days.

Later we were told that I had sepsis, a severe response to an infection which causes inflammation throughout the whole body and attacks the tissues and organs. In about one third of cases, the cause of the infection is unknown. I was one of those cases. Septic shock is the most extreme stage of sepsis and leads to death in fifty percent of cases.

I spent the following week in Intensive Care. Collapsed lungs and pneumonia slowed my recovery.  After two days of forced bed-rest and constant oxygen I was allowed to attempt walking with a frame.  It took a few more days before I could move around without support. My whole lower body swelled so much my skin hurt. I wore long pressure stockings and shuffled slowly around the ward, trying to improve circulation. All the toxins which had flooded my system caused ongoing muscle pain and weakness; even the simplest of tasks caused major fatigue.

Once I returned home, we were flooded with offers of support. My mum flew down from Sydney followed by one of my sisters to help keep our household running. Dozens of friends provided meals for our family. It felt strange to be so frail. Every little milestone was cause for celebration – sleeping on my side, walking to the mailbox, squatting to get something out of the cupboard and managing to pull myself up again. After three months, I could last a whole day without sleeping in the afternoon. It took nine months before I could manage without a lie down. Several doctors had tried to tell me how severely ill I’d been but I found it hard to fathom. It was my surgeon who finally opened my eyes at a follow-up appointment a month after the illness. For a fleeting moment he stopped his medical reflections, dropped his professional tone and told me, “I went home that night and said to my wife, ‘We had a mother of four in today and she nearly died.’” My eyes brimmed with tears. I knew I could have died but didn’t realise I’d come so very close. Today I celebrate five years of ‘bonus life’. There are so many ‘ifs’ in my experience which could have led to a very different result: If we hadn’t opted to go to hospital. . . If I hadn’t known the admissions nurse . . . If emergency had been very busy and there were less people available to help. . . If the staff had taken longer to form a diagnosis (many people have died from such a delay) . . . If people hadn’t bothered to pray when they heard I was sick . . . Yet the God Who reigns over the ‘ifs’ put everything in place to make sure my life was spared. He knew the days on earth He had planned for me and made sure they were not cut short. The words in Psalm 31:14-15, “My times are in Your hands,” are a tangible reality to me now, a source of clarity and focus. Every day is a gift to be received with thanks and lived to the full. God had a specific purpose in mind when He created me. My greatest desire and joy is to fulfil it. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12