Misplaced Joy

MISPLACED JOY

Have you ever had one of those days, weeks, months or even years when you feel like you’ve misplaced joy? No matter how hard you try to find it, to conjure up a smile and ‘fake it ‘till you make it’, happy moments pop up now and again but joy never appears to transpire. Circumstances don’t always dictate this joy dilemma, people can face the worst of seasons and still manage to retain an inner peace and positive outlook. Others whose life bears the appearance of outward success find that contentment remains elusive. Even I, as a Christian who believes with every fibre of my being in the goodness and power of God, have had seasons of scrambling around in the dark wondering where I’ve mislaid it. Such times can leave us dumbfounded, confused and weak as our downward spiralling feelings begin to inform our decisions rather than our beliefs.

Scripture makes it clear that we have an enemy whose sole purpose it is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10 v 10). Nehemiah 8 v 10 informs us that, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” so it makes strategic sense that he would target our joy as part of his battle plan. So how do we counter his attack and take care not to leave ourselves vulnerable? How can we hold onto joy when dark clouds hover over the horizon. “In order to have joy, you have to sow joy” is a statement I heard recently during a preach. Easy right? Of course, we reap what we sow, it’s a foundational law of nature, I can’t plant an apple seed and expect to grow an oak tree. Yet despite this simple anecdote I couldn’t help but wonder why if it’s really that obvious, do so many of us regularly find ourselves lacking in real joy? Why is joy something we experience sporadically rather than consistently? More importantly, how do we actually sow joy? How is it that Paul states in his letter to the Philippians that he’s found the secret to being content in all circumstances? (Philippians 4 v 12) Paul could easily be forgiven for misplacing his joy given the many life-threatening experiences, beatings and imprisonments he encountered during his life. Yet despite all of these he closes his revelation in verse 13 with, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” So God is the source of Paul’s joy and strength, but what does enabling this fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5 v 22 – 23) to manifest in our lives actually look like practically on a day to day basis?

Interestingly I have been reading Dare To Lead, Brené Brown’s latest book which is a compilation of her findings from over 20 years of leadership research. Whilst detailing the differences between what she describes as armoured leadership and daring leadership, joy is listed as a key attribute of the latter. Here’s what she discovered,

“What is the one thing that people who can fully lean into joy have in common? Gratitude. They practice gratitude. It’s not an ‘attitude of gratitude’ – it’s an actual practice. They keep a journal, or make a note of what they’re grateful for on their phones, or share it with family members.” 

Dare To Lead, Brené Brown

According to Brené’s research, joy is manifested by gratefulness. As this truth leapt off the page and induced a ‘light-bulb’ moment, I was eager to look up all the verses I could pertaining to joy. As I circled back to Paul’s words in Philippians 4 and read the verses preceding his statement of contentment, I came face to face with one of the most well-known scriptures that I’ve no doubt read and indeed journaled many times over the years,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4 v 4 – 8 (NIV, emphasis added by me)

Right there in the midst of Paul’s ancient encouragement to the Philippian church, he instructs them to always present all requests in every situation to God with thanksgiving. In other words to practise gratitude in our daily encounter and conversation with God.

Here are three quick practical tools we can take from Philippians 4 to help restore and maintain our joy:

  • Rejoice in the Lord – Or delight in the Lord. Whatever life throws at us we can always find something to be truly grateful for in Christ.
  • Give Thanks In Every Situation – Why? Because when we pray, speak, think, write and act from a place of thanksgiving our requests, thoughts, petitions, prayers and actions become focused on His goodness rather than our lack.
  • Think on Good Things – “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23 v 7 (NKJV) As we train our thoughts to think on good things, they become our beliefs which in turn dictate our actions. 

Joy doesn’t negate difficult circumstances and it doesn’t require us to pretend that everything is ok when it’s not. Rather it forces our eyes heavenwards and makes way for the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ.

Each morning Rich and I have started to text each other at least 3 things that we are thankful for. Taking the time to stop and think about what we are grateful for each morning determines our position and perspective for the rest of the day. What will you do to practise joy today?

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 100 (NIV)

When You Feel Like Your Hands Are Tied

WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR HANDS ARE TIED.png

Sometimes in life, we can find ourselves feeling enslaved by circumstances that seem impossible to control or influence. Whether it’s at work with a boss, peer or colleague that we don’t see eye to eye with or an unexpected health diagnosis that comes out of the blue. Life can present many situations which leave us feeling uncertain about our future. Difficult relationships, financial struggles and dreams lost can all leave us feeling like the future is hopeless with no escape route in sight. 

It’s not just negative circumstances that can present obstacles to us moving forward. Stepping out in faith, whilst exciting, can also be daunting and overwhelming. Although we may wholeheartedly believe in the decisions we make, inevitably we don’t have the full picture of how everything is going to work out. A life lived by faith sounds inspiring and adventurous, but it often requires walking into a future we believe for, but don’t yet possess. What can start as a positive move in the right direction may quickly feel like venturing into a dusky wilderness rather than following a clear and steady road and weariness sets in. 

Since a personal loss in my own life, I have developed somewhat of a holy dissatisfaction; a longing to see God move more. Loss, unfortunately, is an inevitable part of life this side of eternity. Disappointment, failure, pain and weakness are experiences we all face. However, despite the fragility of this life, and even because of it, God still can step into our daily lives in miraculous ways if we can just keep persevering in our faith and fix our eyes heavenwards.

As I grow as a Christian, I am increasingly challenged to exhibit my faith in the good, the bad and the ugly seasons of life. Either God is Who He says He is and can do what He says He can do, or He isn’t and He can’t. In “God is Good, He’s Better Than You Think” Bill Johnson puts it this way…

“If He is as good as many claim, how we respond to this truth will require a massive change in how we do life. Instead of creating doctrines that explain away our weakness and anaemic faith, we’ll actually have to find out why ‘the greater works than these’ have not been happening in and around us (see John 14:12).”

When I read the accounts of some of the great influencers and leaders in the Bible, I see that their success was in spite of difficult and challenging circumstances. Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah for example, all influenced some of the most tyrannous world leaders of their time and yet they were all slaves. Slaves! In the natural, they had little influence and significance according to the hierarchy of the day. They lacked a title, resource and freedom of choice. It’s easy to forget these important details. The conditions of their lives saw them outwardly enslaved and in many ways lacking. Yet, in spite of their slavery, they experienced breakthrough and change, not only personally but also for their nation. Their courage in the face of adversity was not based on the outward condition of their lives but rather their inner conviction about Who their God was and His promises to them. Knowing and believing in God Almighty caused them to pray and believe in their time of need. God miraculously saved their lives and opened doors of opportunity as He responded to their faith. They weren’t passive in their actions but they did seek God first.

Another great account of God responding to faith-filled prayers in a time of need is found in Acts 12. Here we read that Peter has been thrown into prison by Herod. The opening sentences describe how James and his brother John have recently been put to death at the hands of this same Herod which heightens to us the severity of Peter’s present situation. The passage continues to explain how he was bound with not only one, but two sets of chains and guarded on both sides. There was no escape route in sight and his future looked bleak. Yet, despite his seemingly slim chance of survival beyond this imprisonment, verse 5 states that the “church was earnestly praying to God for him.” When it appeared that this could be his end, that there was no way out of his circumstance, the church prayed anyway. They believed anyway. Miraculously Peter was rescued from the prison by an angel of the Lord and “the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.” (Acts 12 v 7). 

God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. If He could come through for Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah and Peter in answer to prayer, He can for us too. Not only did he rescue them and provide for them personally but His greater purpose was fulfilled through them.

Just recently I was reminded again of how God feels about me as I looked on at my daughter Sienna. As her mother I so want her to do well, to be healthy, to succeed, to nurture and grow all that God has placed within her. I am biased towards her because she is mine and I’m invested in her doing well. I will do everything in my power to ensure she grows up knowing my love and belief in her. Rich and I will do our best to practically provide for her in whatever way possible to help her to flourish. In the same way, we are His. He loves us, He provides for us, He is invested in our wellbeing, in our success and our future. He wants you and I to find freedom from the entrapments of life and to flourish into all He designed us to be. 

Whatever circumstances we may be facing right now, even if our hands feel tied like Peter’s, we can remember that our heavenly Father is on our side ready to lose the chains that are holding us captive. Sienna has to take her own steps and build her own life but all she has to do is ask and Rich and I will be there to help. As we remember God’s love for us we are emboldened to pray earnestly and in faith see His breakthrough.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7 v 8 – 11

 

 

One Year On

ONE YEAR ON

This week marks one year since starting Faith Diaries Blog. I set out with no other ambition than to encourage others with my journey to motherhood, the disappointment and hope discovered along the way. It’s crazy to think that birthing the first post, which in retrospect was way too long and took me forever to write, seeded what you now see as this blog. A somewhat devotional style collection of thoughts written in short posts to bring inspiration, challenge and hope with the odd dose of humour. At least I laugh at my own jokes.

I’m an encourager, it’s part of who I am, it’s in my DNA, it’s one of the gifts I’ve been entrusted with and must steward well. I didn’t always know it but it’s something I’ve discovered as who I am in God has become clearer. I love to encourage, most of the time (let’s be honest). Motherhood is a gift that provides a daily opportunity to encourage and nurture a gorgeous tiny human (and mostly myself to keep going!), but there’s more. More within me to give, whether I like it or not. I’ve also grown into a better thinker since marrying Rich who has a brilliant brain. Apart from the trappings of overthinking, I like this in me. I would consider myself an ideas person who is fairly resourceful (apologies for this sounding like a CV – there is a point) and I require some form of creative outlet. Early motherhood presented me with reduced opportunity to be physically present at many things and so part of the reason for continuing to write this blog is so that I don’t spontaneously combust from ideas, thoughts and encouragements swirling around in my head!

I used to apologise for the things that I felt God had placed within me, not verbally, but often by shrinking back with false humility, I’d subconsciously step back, step to the side and push others forward. I don’t believe in self-appointed leadership which is a funny thing to navigate in the online world. Neither do I advocate overzealous self-promotion, but I have discovered the importance of us all bringing our voice and experience to the table in the name of making a positive difference, even if just to one person. In fact, always for the one person.

So to mark turning one, because it’s important to celebrate and evaluate, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learnt over the past year. I’m still a baby blogger and amateur writer so these are reflective points regarding my learning, life and blogging from the past 365 days. This is my journey, but I hope it inspires yours too. Notes to self:

  1. I must write shorter sentences. I’m still learning.
  2. Frustration is often related to passion, I need to run with it, allow it and explore it but ultimately transform it so that it makes me better and not bitter
  3. Love never fails – in all areas of life. This I’m still learning about, growing in and pondering. God is love.
  4. Ministry is life – Romans 12. Everything I do, everything I say, counts. It matters to someone, somewhere whether now or in the future, even if it’s just me and my family. Mundane, small, large and exciting activities all have significance.
  5. Discipline is key – Discipline makes the difference. There’s talent and there’s gift but without discipline and refinement, they lack purpose. Discipline in small things and everyday tasks breeds discipline in all aspects of life. Discipline brings freedom.
  6. It’s always about the one – connection to and love for people must be the start and end point to all meaningful endeavours and interactions.
  7. Curiosity and learning make us all better and are good for the soul. Expand, stretch, grow. Let’s not be ignorant or arrogant, but remain teachable.
  8. A bad day, a bad post, a bad circumstance aren’t the end. Failure and disappointment don’t have to be the final destination. Get up, keep going, move forward, try again.
  9. Stay true to who you are – Learn, follow, glean wisdom, seek counsel, but don’t get distracted by comparison and what you’re not. Do you.
  10. Practice makes you better – the aim isn’t perfect, perfection requires an end, better means continual growth. Practice makes me a better writer, friend, wife, mum, leader, learner, and so the list goes on.

As I sign off this post here are some fun facts and stats from my blogging year:

  • Top 3 Most Read Posts:

Busy Is Not a Badge of Honour

My Journey To Motherhood (also first ever post)

Serious Fomo

  • Favourite posts to write:

The Rose

365 Days Later

  • Posts I felt were most important to write:

Busy Is Not a Badge of Honour

Radio Silence

Why Mums Make Great Leaders

Love Beyond Reason

Love Thy Neighbour

  • My Mother-in-law once replied to the email version of a post with a typo correction and accidentally posted it as a comment 😉
  • I make my husband read/listen to all posts before I publish, thanks Rich! It’s his pleasure of course 😉
  • I use Google to find synonyms, thanks Google!
  • I knew nothing about blogging when I started
  • I owe a lot to CBeebies programme ‘Hey Duggee’, loved by Sienna, it allows me an uninterrupted tea and thought sorting time

So that’s it, I hope it’s been as interesting for you as it has for me! Here’s to another year! 

Radio Silence

RADIO SILENCE

Radio Silence –  “A period during which one hears nothing from a normally communicative person or group” (definition found via Google)

There’s an attack on our senses in modern western society with so many media vying for our attention 24/7. A world of organised chaos ready to sell us the latest products or opinion as they lure us in with well-executed campaigns. We don’t even have to leave our beds to be up to date with the latest trends and information, we just check our smartphones. It can be difficult to find quiet amidst the noise. This noise on the outside can often perpetuate a noise on the inside as we find it increasingly difficult to switch off our over-thinking, over-planning brains. We become quickly frustrated if we wait longer than a minute for anything, a coffee, wifi, phone signal, a text message. We import and export food and goods so that we can enjoy them all year round as it would be unthinkable to only have access to them once a year. Online shopping and next day delivery add to the message of instant gratification.

It’s easy to let our present culture dictate our view of God and our relationship with Him. We can rapidly become frustrated at an apparent lack of haste in His dealings with us. Have you ever been waiting for an answer to prayer or hoping for an open door only to feel like God seems to be transmitting nothing but radio silence? To counter our impatience we keep going, we build anyway, strive anyway. We create events and empires, products and programmes, always looking for the increase as we perpetually tick off our weekly and yearly to-do lists as we navigate our increasingly full calendars. We figure we haven’t heard anything contrary to what we’re doing so we’ll just keep going at an accelerating rate, according to whichever voice, trend or structure we are currently following. We struggle to carve out meaningful time to sit, listen, pray and worship outside of our Sunday experience as we assume that stillness and silence mean wasted time. We want drive-through healing, provision and relationship, “I’m just stopping by, but you know I love you right?” If we have to pray and wait for anything longer than a week, we give up the fight and get back to doing. Desperate to keep up with the fast-moving world around us we become frustrated at having to delay what we believe will satisfy us. If we could just do this, see that, be there or achieve that by yesterday we’d be happier, more fulfilled, full of a sense of purpose. We’re constantly looking for new ideas and innovation, never letting anything take root long enough to have a significant impact and see if it actually works. We think a year is a long time and if we haven’t seen our preferred results by then, everything must change.

I’m not an enemy of progress and I enjoy many of the benefits of the forward-thinking culture we live in. I’m also a big believer in getting on with things. We don’t want to swing too far in the opposite direction that we never do anything because we believe waiting for God to speak is passive. No, Psalm 37 v 23 remind us, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD:” This infers movement on our part. I’m also an advocate for necessary change which enables us to grow individually and corporately. Change for the right reasons is good. Change that benefits our lives, our communities and the world around us is needed. I just wonder if we pause long enough to check that we’re still tuned into the right wavelength so that our steps can be ordered correctly. So that the change we seek is built on well-thought-out, prepared plans that have been carefully considered and founded on the right principles. Change for change’s sake is exhausting.

What if the radio silence we felt was distancing us from God wasn’t actually silence at all? Rather somewhere along the journey, an interference with the signal occurred and He’s waiting for us to take the time to tune back into the correct channel. What if we are moving too fast to notice the white noise ringing all around us? What if God is transmitting but our spiritual antennae aren’t correctly positioned to receive what He’s putting out?

If we ‘do’ more than we pray, there’s an issue. In our jobs, we regularly connect with our boss to ensure that our work is on track. We have weekly meetings with colleagues to give updates and check workflow. We regularly converse with spouses, friends and family to make sure our schedules for the week allow space for meaningful encounters. How much more then do we need to connect with God to ensure that we’re correctly aligned with His vision and will? To check that the right things are important to us, that His desires are our desires. That we are loving Him and others correctly. That we’re not moving on until we’ve healed, not changing direction until He says so.

We need to make sure we’re defining culture and not chasing it, always struggling to catch up. We can utilise the good without succumbing to the bad. Sometimes it requires the courage to be misunderstood to make the right kind of changes. To pioneer, we have to do something never done before, not add on to what’s keeping us on the treadmill of misguided success. We need, and the world needs us to stop, tune in and check the transmission. Often. In fact, this more than anything else needs to be the top priority of our weekly agendas.

Despite the fact that we’ve never been more enlightened, had more tools and opportunities to succeed with plentiful available resources, figures show that anxiety and mental health issues are on the rise with not much difference between those inside and outside the Church. This is sad. Our perpetual want for more stops us from failing to see, feel, talk with, linger a while with an amazing Saviour who can lead us on our daily salvation journey.

I don’t know who needs to hear this today but if it resonates with you, please stop, talk to someone, tune in and drown out all external noise so that you can focus in on the one voice that matters.

Why Mums Make Great Leaders Part IIII

you are lovely

For those new to this theme, let me explain. Last year I started a conversation entitled, ‘Why Mums Make Great Leaders’ Initially, this was mostly due to me becoming a first-time mum and navigating the new territory and title of Mother against the backdrop of leadership. The aim of the conversation is to encourage Mothers that they can make great leaders despite a historical context of being overlooked for leadership, by themselves or others due to their motherhood season. Sadly women and mothers still face discrimination within the arena of leadership today. Despite the fact that in Western culture we have made good progress and are moving forward, there is still work to be done. I am however grateful to live in a country and era in which we are free to address the topic. Women in different cultures and countries to my own still aren’t afforded the basic human right of freedom of speech and so we must help to fight for them.

With that said, this isn’t a political or rallying post, but rather one to inspire and encourage and bring hope to another. Whilst it’s addressed primarily to mothers, the message of positive influence transcends title and is the privilege and responsibility of all.

Good leaders influence well, they inspire greatness in others, they believe in a better future and they pioneer into the unknown. Today as I was scrolling through my Instagram stories, I came across an incredible example of great leadership by a mother posted by a friend who is herself a great leader and mother to five children! She posted a tale about Thomas Edison and his mother that reads as follows:

One day, as a small child, Thomas Edison came home from school and gave a paper to his mother. He said to her, “Mum, my teacher gave this paper to me and told me that only you are to read it. What does it say?” Her eyes welled with tears as she read the letter out loud to her child, “Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.”

His mother did just that until she fell ill and passed away.

Many years after Edison’s mother died, he became one of the greatest inventors of the century.

One day he was going through some of her things and found the folded letter that his old teacher had written to his Mother. He opened it… The message written on the letter read, “Your son is mentally deficient. We cannot let him attend our school anymore. He is expelled.” Edison became emotional reading it and later wrote in his diary, “Thomas A. Edison was a mentally deficient child whose mother turned him into the genius of the century”

Source unknown

Thomas Edison was a famous American inventor, probably best known for creating the first electric light bulb. If you google the above story, there is speculation around whether it is based on fact or more allegorical in style. Some believe that there was actually a conversation between the teacher and mother rather than a note, but whatever the truth of this particular report, the message is still important, words have power and mums have influence.  

Fact or fiction, reading about the courage and tenacity of Thomas’s mother reminded me once again of the power of leadership within mums. What a responsibility we have as parents to lead and influence our children well. Mrs Edison was unwilling to settle for a negative diagnosis of her son’s abilities. Believing in his potential and motivated by a mother’s love, she decided to set about creating an environment in which she could forge a better future for Thomas than that prescribed by his teacher. I doubt she could have foreseen the scale of impact that her decision and effort would have. What a great example for us all, whatever title we hold, mother, father, grandparent, friend, neighbour, work colleague or stranger, we each have the power to encourage or discourage. It’s a sobering thought to think that because of the nurture, influence and leadership of his mother in his early years and the guiding of his potential, his and her legacy continue to this day. If you’re reading this with the help of an electrical light, you are sitting partly under the fruit of Mrs Edison’s labours. A leader in her own right. 

I am blessed with two lovely sisters-in-law, one is my brother’s wife and the other Rich’s sister. Both are people who you could comfortably introduce to anyone because not only are they lovely, both can also hold a conversation with pretty much anyone. Interestingly, however, Rhiannon, Rich’s sister, as a child of about 18 months old wasn’t correctly finishing the end of her words. The Health Visitor wanted to refer her to a speech therapist, believing there to be further issues with her communication. Her mother Amanda, refused. Amanda knew that this developmental phase wasn’t due to a lack of intelligence or understanding on Rhiannon’s part as she was using language appropriately. Amanda believed that Rhiannon would eventually get there in her own time as long as her and Andrew (her Dad) kept regularly speaking to her. Today Rhiannon is a Cambridge medical graduate who went on to become a GP and is now a pastor who teaches and preaches as part of her job. Although Amanda didn’t know what Rhiannon would become, she believed in her future and influenced her present to help ensure her greatest potential could be fulfilled. 

Whatever season we may find ourselves in and whatever influence we may have or however we view that influence, big or small, whether it’s over one person, ten or multitudes, we have the ability to make a difference for good. We have an opportunity to create change and to speak hope and life into desperate situations. Never doubt the importance of who you are to someone and the power that your words hold. This post sits within the category of, ‘Why Mums Make Great Leaders’ but it’s really a message to anyone who is willing to love another and be brave enough to lead, even against the odds and at the risk of being misunderstood.

What legacy will we leave?

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

Proverbs 18 v 21 (NIV)

To read more of this conversation click here 🙂

Faith Is For Life Not Just For Christmas

FAITH IS FOR LIFE

The purpose of starting this blog was, to be honest about my own faith journey and to hopefully encourage; bring courage to another. What better way to do that than with personal testimony. Here are three reminders that have helped to keep faith alive for me.

Start With Faith

We intentionally gave Sienna the second name of Faith because we wanted it to be a defining characteristic of who she is and how she approaches life. Faith is the substance of things not yet seen but hoped for (Hebrews 11 v 1) and she is the tangible gorgeous fleshy substance of renewed faith in God after a tricky start in the pursuit of having children.

You can understand why Jesus commends childlike faith because a child growing up in a healthy environment of love should have an abundance of faith. Faith in their parents and carers to attend to their needs, faith that the chair/tree/settee they’re about to climb will sustain them, faith that the person on the other side of the ledge they’re about to jump off will catch them and faith that they’ll just bounce off the floor just in case they don’t! Granted – sometimes it’s misplaced. Nevertheless, it’s not a chore for children to believe. Children forgive and forget quickly and hope easily given the chance to. They start with faith.

Sienna was born with a small hole in her heart which can be fairly common and unsurprising given our family history. As I drove to the hospital this week for her yearly check to see if it had closed up I prayed for her once again. My prayer went something along the lines of, “Help me God with my unbelief, I know you can heal but I don’t know if you will. Despite my little faith do this for her God because I want to tell her of your faithfulness, the reason behind her name. I want her to have a personal testimony right from the start”

After a slight stress inducing 10 or so minutes of trying to get her to sit still so that a complete stranger could prod her chest with an ultrasound, food won and we managed to keep her stationary just long enough to have the heart scan. Many times I’ve been to that hospital over the past few years with both good and bad outcomes. It was such a relief to hear that all of the snack bribery was worth it as the doctor informed us that the hole had closed up. I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional as I rang Rich to tell him the news. Obviously, because her heart has healed but also because I can’t wait to tell her the story of God’s faithfulness when she’s old enough to understand. She can begin her personal journey with God full of faith in the knowledge that He hears and answers our prayers. Inevitably she will face challenges but if her foundation is faith, how she attacks them and gets through them will be infinitely better.

She can start with faith because we started with faith when we named her and even before that when we hoped for her before her conception.

Step Out In Faith

Currently Rich is the sole earner of our household as I look after Sienna full-time. I recently received a bill asking for tax owed due to calculations made based on our charitable giving donated over the past year. Mr tax man made the fair assumption that because the gift aid for these donations was in my name I am required to pay tax on it. Admittedly this was a mistake on my part and I had simply forgotten/not been aware that we needed to change the gift aid into Rich’s name as the current sole earner of the household. On ringing to discuss our predicament I was told that as it was already in the system absolutely nothing could be done to reallocate the contributions to Rich’s account and even though I haven’t earned any money I was still expected to pay a bill that shouldn’t exist. Not satisfied and requiring some grace for my error I appealed this decision via a letter. I explained the situation and prayed that God would cause us to have favour. This week I received a letter to say that the bill had been cancelled! Something I was told was not even a possibility. (I should point out I have nothing against the tax people, they were just doing their job)

Faith requires us to act in accordance with our beliefs and step out in the direction of our prayers.

Stay In Faith

I have so many testimonies like the above story, what I call kisses from heaven, as I’ve placed my trust over and over again in God. I’ve seen more provision than not and I’m still here and still going as a testament to it. Had we given up on faith Sienna wouldn’t be here today. Staying in faith isn’t always easy and convenient, especially when life throws some punches but it’s so worth it. Faith for tomorrow sustains your today. Faith is the key to unlocking the future. Our beliefs and prayers have the ability to create, to speak forth life, to give purpose and renew hope as we align our hearts with His word and boldly declare His promises. If we don’t make room for faith, life happens to us rather than flows through us.

Remaining in Him and consistently renewing and investing our hope in Him bears eternal consequences beyond ourselves. As we stay in faith we allow others to start in faith as they see His hand at work in our lives.

So I pray we start with faith, step out in faith and stay in faith.

 

Love Beyond Reason

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This past week I attended Hillsong Conference Europe as I have every year for the past seven. In one of the evening sessions Carl Lentz, Hillsong New York lead pastor, preached a powerful message about God’s love. It was so significant that I think many were deeply moved and changed, myself included. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you will have seen I’ve returned to the subject of love in the scriptures often. Clearly, God is stirring something within me. This stirring should be an obvious expectation for a Christian, to linger on and develop in love, and yet sadly it isn’t. Carl’s message was based on John 13 v 34 – 35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples”. Interestingly, this passage is one Rich and I have talked a lot about over this past year as we’ve processed life’s changing scenery. I was reminded once again by his preach that there is no reasonable excuse not to love. Even when it hurts, when it’s messy and when it’s undeserved. When I look at Jesus and how He lived, and all that He has done and continues to do for me, I have no foundation to stand on that allows me not to love. To remain in Him and on this journey with Him, I must remain in love (see previous post, Remain In Love). God is love. If I say yes to Him I say yes to love, there are no grey areas surrounding this subject.

What resonated most was how important the stakes are when considering love. People will see Jesus if only we love one another. We so often focus on our ‘calling’ or purpose, our work or the gifts and talents we have and how to develop them as we pray ‘me-centric’ prayers to satisfy our desires and yet we live in a world desperately crying out for love. God delights in us fulfilling all of our potential but not at the expense of love. Carl reminded us that love is easily defined – just look at Christ, it’s simply developed – follow Christ and it’s dangerous when demonstrated – Christ changed the world forever with His ultimate act of love.

So why do we make Christianity so complicated? At what junctures, in our well-meaning efforts, have we missed the mark and gone off track? I don’t know all the answers to those questions, but I do know the simple solution to realignment and the ultimate purpose of the Church – Love; to receive love, to have love and to give love.

To love is to show grace and mercy, to forgive without receiving acknowledgement or apology, to show kindness where others haven’t and to give second chances where most wouldn’t. Love gives with no hope of return. It goes further than one has asked and extends considerably beyond the limits of worth. There’s no way we can do any of this in our own strength nor should we try. When we misunderstand or misplace love it causes problems. Our own reserves are finite and easily wasted. True Love does not exhaust us until we are dry, empty and weary. It doesn’t cut deep and leave us broken, but it does penetrate the deepest recesses of our souls. I can’t love undeservedly and even deservedly of my own accord consistently and faithfully. I must place my love in Him and look beyond the reality of the circumstance towards Him.

His love is infinite and abundant, it never runs out, it encompasses all things if we allow it. Our hurts, disappointments, misplaced hopes and unfulfilled dreams all wash away in the ever-flowing stream of His love. Not only that but this plentiful and refreshing flow allows new things to be seeded and grow, joy to replace grief, life to replace death, peace to replace anger. His love knows no bounds and it waters even the darkest and most lifeless parts of our soul if we allow it.

There’s no situation I can face that Jesus does not understand. He was grossly misunderstood by his own people, falsely accused, rejected, beaten, abused and tortured. He acutely feels our pain. He asks us to forgive not to exonerate bad behaviour, but to set us free from the bondage of bitterness and hate. Love is the better way. He doesn’t ask us to pretend that things didn’t happen but rather He offers us healing. He doesn’t excuse poor behaviour, but rather teaches us to see the brokenness in others. He’s not asking us to try and love because people deserve it, He’s showing us how to receive His love so that we can move beyond our past.

True Love is unreasonable. Reason informs me that because of this they deserve that. Reason is a good thing and applied well can carry great wisdom. But love trumps reason.

Love melts away anger and offers comfort. It has the ability to bring us to our knees because we choose it not because we are forced and then it gently lifts us up and restores.  

Love doesn’t offer us behaviour modification as prescribed by self-help gurus, although that may be a fruit of its tender embrace. Rather it offers hope, belonging, faith and security. It first pours in and only when we are full to overflowing is it required to spill out into our lives. Really God isn’t asking us to do too much more than allow Him to first love us and see what happens. To quote an old hymn, “love changes everything”. I’ve written it before and no doubt I will again because I personally need reminding of it daily, “Love NEVER fails” (1 Corinthians 13 v 8).

There’s an old Aesop fable I remember hearing as a child about a dispute between the North Wind and the Sun. As they discussed which of the two was stronger, a traveller passed by wearing a cloak. They agreed that whoever would be able to strip the man of his cloak would have the greater strength. The North Wind went first and blew and tore angrily at the cloak but this only made the traveller hold onto it all the tighter. When the sun had its turn, the warmth of its rays offered much relief and as the heat gently grew stronger, of his own free will the traveller removed his coat. This old tale reminds me of the love of God, it’s strong and powerful like the heat offered by the sun but it doesn’t force itself upon us and demand we let down our guard. Rather it warms and shines and gently nudges us to let go of our burdens.

Give Love a chance, your life and others depend on it.

Stop, Look, Listen

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We live in an age of information. Never before have we had such access to knowledge and never before have we had as much freedom to think and express our opinions as we do now in the Western world. This is a wonderful thing, it provides opportunity, education, learning and discussion. It allows us to learn from our past and dream for the future. We have tools and studies, media and guides, facts and figures. There are podcasts, blogs and vlogs, groups and churches, programmes and courses. As soon as we start to type something into a search engine, multiple possible outcomes to the end of our sentences are quickly and freely offered.

Yet, sometimes there is an aching within, a deep longing or questioning, a hunger that can only be fulfilled by stopping and waiting in His Presence. A place where all other voices fade away, a place of peace and stillness, a place to find the truth, a place where we are unable to give but only receive. A place where only His answer and opinion will do, His kindness can heal and His love will restore. It’s a sacred place, a holy space. It can’t be found in the busyness, in the hustle and bustle, in the toing and froing. It’s not in the devotion or the service or the worship or the conversation, although all of those places lead us to Him. It can be difficult to find when life is full, but it’s harder still to live without it.

It’s an undefinable space in one sense, as it’s more a state than a physical destination, for some it’s found in nature, for others a special chair or a long drive, wherever it is and whatever it looks like for each of us it must be sought. It’s a place uninhabited by everyone but Him and you. A place to be real to the core of your being, to weep, to laugh, to declare, to be silent. We can’t sustain our faith by grabbing at snippets of truth like they are snacks that keep us going throughout the day. Sometimes we must be still and feast.

Jesus had the greatest mission on earth, the highest responsibility and the highest call and yet He was still with the Father. It was this stillness and this connection that gave even Him strength, direction and peace.  

There aren’t words of encouragement that I could give that even scratch the surface of what can happen in this place. It can be found only by you if you want it if you seek it and if you desire it. It restores, it levels, it refines and it injects life. The best prayers are uttered here and the greatest honesty is found here.

Were you ever taught as a child to stop, look and listen before crossing the road? Imagine if we applied that to life in general. Roads need to be crossed and paths walked, we are required to move, but imagine if we engaged our spiritual senses before we stepped out, what disaster could we avoid? What worry might subside? What clarity might be bestowed? What healing could be found? I believe there are secrets and mysteries only revealed in the stillness, only available to those that will stop long enough to hear. 

How do we find this rest, this stillness, this peace, His Presence? I’ll be honest, I’m still learning, but here are some things I know must happen before I can even get close to experiencing this wonder.

Stop – Let’s put down our phones, turn off the TV, step out of the room, leave the laundry, stop browsing the internet, at least for a moment, although He deserves and we need more than that. So often we want to relax, to wind down, to escape, I get it – me too! Hello Netflix. There’s nothing wrong with those things but they don’t compare to the miracles found in His Presence. It requires us to stop and there’s just no excuse that’s a good enough reason not to stop and be in the Presence of God. I’m preaching to myself. You’re too busy not to do it.

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope.”

Psalm 130:5

Look – We need to focus our eyes. Really look, really seek and really see. Look and earnestly desire after God, with open or closed eyes for it is the heart and soul that need to observe His goodness.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Matthew 7 v 7 

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…”

Jeremiah 29 v 13 – 14

Listen – Pour out your heart, empty your mind, speak, cry, shout, pray, write and then linger. Be still and linger some more, switch off everything external and listen for Him.  There are things only He can clarify and life only He can give. Be reassured, “It’s the nature of God to speak” (A.W. Tozer). 

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?””

1 Kings 19 v 11 – 13

Finally …

“Be still, and know that I am God;”

Psalm 46 v 10

 

How I Create My Blog Content

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Just a quick little post about how I create content for anyone out there wondering or needing some encouragement in getting started. So here are 5 ways in which I create content:

LIVE – Simply, I just live! I believe that every day I wake and have breath still in my body, I have a purpose. Most days can seem pretty mundane and monotonous if you look at them purely on face value but God can move, whisper and nudge through anything! Most of my thinking time is done when cleaning or doing an everyday task and I’m often inspired by simple things and my day to day comings and goings. 

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” James 4 v 8

KEEP MY EYES AND EARS OPEN – I try and follow, watch, read and notice things and people all around and allow myself to be inspired by most things. Something or someone may trigger a train of thought that leads to a completely different outcome from where it was conceived. My husband might call this one nosey, but I like to think I keep informed about things that are important to me. I also listen to my inner voice for recurring themes or phrases.  

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein

MAKE NOTES – Most of what I post starts as a phrase or thought. As soon as I have one I jot it down, usually on my phone for ease and speed as I’m often in the middle of something or about to change a poopy nappy. I have many notes on the go at any one time and I just leave them on my phone until I’m able to sit down and read through them.

PRAY – Often I pray a simple prayer before I delve into my notes to ask God what if anything to expand on. Often specific scriptures drop into my mind and I write them down, read them and mull over them.

WRITE – I open google docs, import my thought or phrase and start to type and see where it leads. Depending on the time of day and the type of day I’ve had, I could finish it in one sitting, other times I may start one and leave it overnight to settle in my head and heart and approach it with a fresh mind the next day.

It’s easy to feel limited in terms of resource, for me time is of the essence being a full-time mother, there’s no way I can write with Sienna around. Discipline and goal setting have been key to me prioritising space to get things done. Sometimes I start during her nap time and finish in the evening depending on the week and what else needs to be achieved and when. Because I’ve committed to doing it, I always make time. It’s funny how we find an opening to do something that we deem important.

I’m not an expert writer but I try and learn each time I post and I definitely have very limited IT skills. I use WordPress to host the blog which provides super easy template options for beginners like myself as well as more advanced ones for those in the know. For all images used on the blog and social media, I use Canva which again me is amazing for a novice like me in all things graphic design.

I’m a work in progress and so whilst difficult to accept I realise that all content isn’t going to be perfect. For me, it’s a collection of thoughts and encouragements based mostly on my faith and because of that, I expect the blog to grow as I do. Recognising this allows me to do my best now and know that that is excellent for this season. I also play to my strengths. As silly as it sounds, thoughts are my strength, photos, theology, graphic design are not my strength, I just try and stick to being and me and commit to being better. 

So that’s me! How do you create content or capture your thoughts? Do you journal or take photos or simply have conversations with others? How do you find inspiration in your everyday life? 

You can also read why I write a blog here 🙂

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Why Are We Waiting?

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Deciding when to have children was probably a bigger decision for me than it was for Rich, although it affected us both hugely. I was acutely aware of how much my life would have to change in order for us to become parents. It was something we always planned on doing but the timing was up for negotiation. There are many reasons as to why we waited for as long as we did to start trying, but they really all boil down to the fact that we thought we had life to live before we took the plunge. Reasons that felt justified and I’m sure some were. I had trained as a dancer and didn’t feel I could pursue that to the best of my ability physically with a child. We wanted to become more financially stable so that we could support our child. Good reasons and sensible decisions to many.

On having Sienna, I admit that some of the concerns I had about having children most definitely came to pass, lots of sacrifices, limited availability for other pursuits, tiredness, but all of them pale into insignificance in comparison with the pleasure of being her mother. It’s not an easy journey, I’d be lying if I said I’d loved every second of it, there have been really tough moments, but it is by far one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done. Despite the fact that I don’t think it’s my only life calling, it’s already given me more fulfilment than other things I’d chased. 

We were so concerned about losing out on life, or at least I was, that at times we failed to recognise all that we’d gain. There’s definitely a cost to being a parent and for me personally in many ways, it’s cost everything. I’ve had to work hard to regain physical strength after a less than ideal birth, I’ve had my faith and patience stretched to the max, I’ve let go of many things and it has pretty much turned my world upside down. There is good news though! I do love Sienna inexplicably, and challenging as it may be, I can’t imagine a better life without her.

Being able to experience the joy of parenting requires dealing with a lot of unpleasant stuff. Just meeting your child requires labour, aptly named as it’s no walk in the park. Before you become a parent you can only imagine what it’s like. I believe God took us on a journey of excitement and expectation to prepare our hearts for the gorgeous munchkin that we now call ours, yet still, we couldn’t have imagined the joy we would feel, we only hoped for it. We had to make the choice to surrender what we had known and go through the process of discovery to find it.

In an encounter with His disciples, Jesus outlines a tough decision that they and all followers of Christ must face if we are to fully embrace salvation. It’s not a pretty scripture, it’s one of those grin-and-bear-it reads until you turn to another more pleasant and palatable text about all of the inheritance and good things we attain as children of God. Yet on the other side of the decision, although it requires loss, is inexpressible joy and eternal abundant life.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple 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. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Matthew 16 v 26

It sounds like a pretty big deal, and well, it is, following Christ requires letting go of a lot, your whole life in fact, but I want to encourage you, the gain is far more than we could ask or imagine (reference to Ephesians 3 v 30). Since having Sienna, yes I’ve laid down and let go of some things but it’s afforded me so much more than just the overwhelming love of a mother. It’s allowed me to pause and reassess certain aspects of life as well as gain a greater perspective. It’s forced my hand in discipline because I want to be the best mum to her and provide the best as much as I’m able. It’s heightened my senses to His purpose and given me a greater appreciation of others and a deeper level of empathy. Time and how I spend it has become ever more precious and I’ve found the ability to dream again in more ways than one. I’ve been surprised at new passions and ideas that God has given me. I’ve pressed into God further and upped my prayer game. On the other side of the decision to lay down my life for another; all my hopes and unfulfilled dreams, doubts and struggles, the need for control, I’ve found so much more than I lost.

If only we could have a taste of the abundance before we make the leap of faith right? Maybe then we wouldn’t deliberate or procrastinate for so long before taking the plunge. But faith requires us to hope and have confidence in things not yet seen. One thing I would always encourage those under my leadership with is that you can’t trust someone you don’t know, so I the first step to letting go, is getting to know! Get to know God, Psalm 34 v 8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him” This verse is an invitation to experience the Lord’s goodness, but it requires us to first take a bite, to trust, to seek, to act. Jesus moved heaven and earth to display His love for us, He’s laid it all out for all to see, but the issue with merely seeing and not tasting/doing is that we can look away. Tasting is an experience, it leaves a flavour. Give God a go and see what flavour you’re left with.

So I want to ask you what are you waiting for? What’s holding you back from laying down everything, that issue, the pride, the hurt, your past? Like the scripture in Matthew says, what do we gain by holding onto things? Let us not sacrifice our wholeness on the altars of being right, unforgiveness or temporary pleasure. Hope and promise await in a future where we let go and let God. I had to lay down the life I had come to know, and even though it wasn’t perfect there was comfort in its predictability. One can only hope that the investment into Sienna pays off, but investing all that you have and everything you are, past, present, future, dreams and hurts into Christ has the best and most secure payoff, not only in eternity but also in the present. So let’s let go and let God.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”

Psalm 37 v 4

 

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