BUSY!!!

BUSY!
Well it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to write a blogpost… this year has felt like a galloping, out-of-control beast and I’ve rarely felt like I’m in the saddle let alone holding the reigns! A far cry from the blissful “year for myself” I’d somehow imagined might happen when my youngest went to school. (The phrase “for myself” should probably have aroused immediate suspicion, anyway. Life generally saves us from having that kind of approach; and it definitely has in my case, with my husband having a building accident & head injury at the beginning of January which has left him with longer-than-expected term fatigue issues.)

So, for a number of reasons, I’ve found myself running pretty ragged by October, and this has in turn led me to see a few things more clearly than before.

A couple of friends have recently said, in the flow of conversation, that they thought I was too busy to be interested or involved in whatever we were talking about. It got me thinking. How/why do I give off that impression? In actual fact, because of my husband’s health, this year has actually had to be a lot less ‘busy’ in terms of hospitality, activities and going away than we have ever been. It’s been a year for “pulling in”, for knowing our limitations, and for saying “no” to quite a few things. So why have my friends had this impression? And why have I felt like I’ve been trying to ride a “galloping beast” most of the time?

It seems to me like ‘busy’ can be a state of mind, as much as a state of life. For me, I wonder if the feeling of carrying extra burdens this year, of having less headspace and emotional energy, and of never quite getting on top of household jobs, means that I tend to feel busier than I actually am. It’s more about the internal world than the actual things I need to do. Maybe this feeling of only just managing is what my friends are picking up on.

For our culture I wonder if busyness is actually becoming endemic. It seems like that anyway: so many people describe themselves as “busy” when you ask how they are doing, like they are not quite keeping up with everything they need to do. It’s like there is a plague of stress, and a whole country of people running around madly all the time! In some parts of our society, it is almost becoming like something of a virtue – a badge of honour! Those who are not too busy are obviously not pulling their weight; those who refuse to be workaholics are frowned on, and even openly criticised by those who can’t stand to see them taking time to be with their family, or gardening, or pursuing creative expression.

It’s a hard thing: there are jobs that need doing, there are people whose jobs or life circumstances are genuinely demanding and completely pre-occupying. It’s all very well to say, “We shouldn’t be so busy” when they just know they have to do what they do or there will be dire consequences.

However, I do feel like my eyes are being opened to certain habits in my own life that have definitely increased my feelings of stress and busyness. Recently I’ve decided that unless it’s absolutely needed (eg. finishing preparing a class for the next day, etc), that I will keep my laptop computer in my office, rather than dragging it all over the place, particularly to the loungeroom. I realised that my husband and I were actually working and/or problem solving right up to the moment when we went to bed. Even browsing through google-land or facebook often becomes a form of problem solving, just evaluating information, finding relevant answers to things, or judging what to look at or discard. No wonder people are feeling overwhelmed, if every waking moment requires their brain’s active involvement in intellectual and/or emotional quandaries. I feel like I’m saying to my laptop, and to the whole world of activity it represents: “Back in your box! I’m not going to be ruled by you”.

My husband and I used to take turns in giving each other a regular ‘Sabbath’ – it came around for us once a fortnight, when the other would take our 3 young kids out for about 4 hours, giving the other one blessed headspace and quiet! This habit gave me such strength and hope for the other 13 days of the fortnight, it was like I could handle just about anything, because I knew that rest and reflection and QUIET was coming!! Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, we are not doing this any more; and I am beginning to realise how much of a gift the idea of Sabbath has been for humans. Someone said it’s to remind us that we are not machines; and I think it also reminds us that productivity and hard work needs to be balanced by solitude, silence and also fun and celebration.
So, I’m starting to look at how I can regain “Sabbath” in life: if not a whole chunk of time by itself, at least in definite times and spaces through the week.

The word “No” is very difficult for some people to utter, and I am thankful that this year has helped me again to practise using it, because I’ve just had to. A friend once very helpfully taught me, “You have to choose your failures”. In other words I can’t do everything, and if I don’t say no to some of the lesser balls I’m juggling, I will end up dropping balls that should never have been dropped. Life is such a difficult test of our ability to weigh up, to choose, to refine and to confine ourselves too. In our culture, it’s almost excruciating – because we have so many options, so many good things on offer, so rich a world to freely explore on every level. We don’t want to turn our back on things that could be great, enjoyable or helpful; we don’t to miss out on anything.

I have a friend who provides a great place of peace for me, in terms of her friendship. She lives on a farm, she has small children, she is a ceramic artist. She is not a ‘busy’ person; she relishes a good cup of tea, she delights in her children and their interests, she even speaks quite slowly (and very kindly). A couple of years ago, she asked if I would like to come and learn to throw pots in her studio. What a blessing that has been! When you are trying to make a pot on a wheel, you have to “centre” the clay. The wheel spins, fast, and your hands raise and lower the lump of clay until it is just in the right position. When it is centred, it looks still somehow, in spite of the fact that it is spinning: there are no wobbles or parts out of place. Then you can begin to form the pot.

The thing that makes me laugh is that my pots often tend to reflect my state of mind. Once I went to the studio after lunch, and my friend told me mornings must be the better time for me – because by that time of day I was so tired and distracted that I just couldn’t focus to make a single thing work! But even on some mornings, I don’t centre properly, so my poor pot starts wobbling madly, or else it gets warped by uneven pressure, or it just completely crumples under my hand.

It’s such a great analogy for life!! We need to be centred. We need to have peace, clarity and focus inside in order to be able to know what we are meant to do, and then be able to do it. If we never have time or space to even know our own heart, let alone connect with our Maker, how can we form into the beautiful, useful, fully matured person we were intended to be?

I’m preaching to myself, you know :).

Big and Little

I did something highly unusual in the past week:  I started working through my ‘mending’ box!  Anyone who knows me will be quite shocked, as indeed I am (I must admit, I have tended to save up mending for my dear mum’s visits).  It was a very surprising experience.  I found articles of clothing that I’d forgotten we owned (which was exciting) – and couldn’t believe that with literally a few minutes of stitching, they could return to our wardrobes!  Some things took a little longer, a couple had to go to the rag bag.  But by the end of the second episode of Star Wars (I was trying to ‘value-add’ to a family movie-fest by mending on the side), I’d nearly worked my way through everything: much of which had been in the box for up to five years!  Something which I’d put off, thinking it was such a ‘big job’, was actually minimal.  And just a little bit of stitching had managed to bring about a ‘big’ result.

I wonder how many other things I confuse in this way.  Housework seems like such a daunting prospect sometimes; but throw an hour or a few at it, and things are usually improved.  Bringing up kids is an endless series of ‘little’ incidents and interactions – but in reality, it is my life’s work (at least for 25 years or so).  So many of the ‘little’ areas, such as my way of reacting to problems, the way I speak to them, and all the myriad little occurrences that require consistency and wisdom will – for better or worse – add up to major, lifelong repercussions in their characters (terrifying thought).  Conversely, some minor things that I tend to make a big fuss over would probably be better left alone.

I often wonder if our perceptions about big and little might be somewhat warped.  I feel like God has been hammering away at this area for a while now, questioning me about the judgments I automatically make – about what is ‘big’ and what is ‘little’: what is worthwhile, and what is a waste; what is important and what is insignificant.  Funnily enough, this little area has massive implications in the way we approach life and ministry!

Our culture generally tells us that Big is Best: big house, big car, big muscles, big bank account, big impact … think BIG!  (And then, think bigger!!)  The church culture has often caught on to this approach too – ‘mega-churches’, ‘international ministries’, big crowds, measurable success, tangible results, strategic thinking…  There can be an unconscious pressure to pursue ‘big’ dreams and to measure yourself or your ministry’s worth by these standards.

Meanwhile, God seems to have very different priorities.  While he obviously delights in the ‘big’ – mountains, blue whales, dinosaurs, galaxies – He seems to equally exult in the small – blue wrens, cacti, micro-organisms, human brain cells…  Pick a flower for example, and you notice that not only does it have exquisite veins running through each petal, but the centre is composed of rows of tiny little florets that are perfect in their detail.  Just about everything in His creation is like that – you look at it and realise that beyond the apparent simplicity there are staggeringly minute complexities.

In His story too, he seems to enjoy turning our perceptions of big and little on their heads.  Take Gideon’s army, for example.  He ventures out with 32,000 – by the time God has finished there are just 300 warriors left who, in the strength of God, overcome the armies of Midian (Judges 6-8).  He uses a young guy, David, to fell a ferocious and bullying giant.  He feeds a multitude with a small basket of bread and fish.  He confers great honour on a small widow giving the two smallest coins.  He speaks, not through the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the “still, small voice”.

A verse that came to me lately is from Zechariah: “Who dares despise the day of small things?” (4:10).  What a challenge to our habitual preference for big – for large scale success, for measurable results, for high impact! Why do we constantly ignore the fact that God seems to actually prefer to use the small, the hidden, the weak, and the insignificant to achieve his great purposes.

Why do you think this would be His way?

In the same chapter God clarifies that these things He was about to do would come about “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (v6).  Perhaps all our “big thinking” can be a path to spiritual blindness.  We crave might and power, we crave results and affirmation, we crave control and guarantees of success.  But God says these are not the way He will achieve His purposes.  Unlike us, God will not despise a ‘humble and contrite heart’; He lifts up the humble and His strength is made perfect in weakness.

Father please deliver me from the arrogance of my own false judgments – about what is valuable, who is worth investing in, and what is glorifying to you.  Deliver me from the blindness of the kind of ‘big thinking’ that puts the focus on results and achievements and returns.  Tune my ear to your still, small voice that I might follow your leading in my day, and see people and situations with your perspective and with your values.  Let me enjoy noticing every good gift from you, and letting my spirit be expanded by the intricacies and wonders of your creation.  In all of this, grow my understanding, my dependence and my vision – that I will trust not in might or power, but in your Spirit; that you might use my small acts of responsiveness as part of your great purposes in this world.

A little virtue that goes a long way…

When my husband and I were first starting to share life together, he mentioned more than once his desire that we ‘be kind to each other’. I have to admit that at the time, it didn’t seem very earth-shattering to me. I kind of nodded and moved on, without realising the incredible value of those apparently simple words. Kindness seems to be one of those virtues that is almost invisible, often failing to be recognised for the world changer that it is.

Sadly, you probably don’t have to ‘imagine’ a marriage or relationship where kindness is not practiced. I’m sure you’ve seen one, perhaps you have even lived in one, as a child or as a spouse. Sometimes people can even have a genuine love for each other, being committed and faithful and working for the same goals; and yet they are just not that kind to each other. They speak harshly, they criticise, they forget the small courtesies, they don’t look for the best in the other. In this context, simple kindnesses can play a very helpful role in bringing grace and giving room to grow. When I was younger, my sister (kindly) passed on some very important advice from my late father, regarding the choice of a life-partner: “Marry a kind man”.  How deeply grateful I am that I followed his advice!

In my relationship with my kids, I see how in spite of my fierce love for them, my commitment to them and my untiring efforts for their welfare – there can still be at times a lack of kindness in the way I speak to them, or in my attitude towards them. This lack of kindness saddens me; it rankles, it damages, I’m sure it could contribute to long term relational wear and tear. And then I wonder why there is strife and unkindness between the siblings! It’s like kindness is a precious oil, giving off a beautiful scent, lubricating relationships, freeing up the individuals to give freely and to work hopefully. When I actually choose to focus on the good in my kids (and the other kids in my orbit), when I speak graciously and encouragingly, when I deal with problems in a calm and consistent way, the impact of this kindness is easily observable!

Within a circle of friends or a community group, kindness strengthens, supports and gives room for healing. In times of grief, illness and injury, the kindness of those around me has been so influential and uplifting, even though it has often been very practical and humble. Meals cooked, walls painted, building projects finished, difficult tasks shared, even toilets cleaned and washing done! These simple acts of kindness have been like an ointment, or to use an old word, a balm – applied to the raw and hurting place, soothing there, and holding me through the helplessness and hurt. In more ordinary times, when life hums along with its routines and responsibilities, kindness comes like a spark, lifting the spirit, awakening gratitude, inspiring towards giving and sharing.

Within the wider context of a town or city, kindness is a great builder, a magic ingredient that can actually change the taste of life. It’s not for nothing that the idea of “practicing random acts of kindness”, or “paying it forward” has caught people’s imagination. I have actually watched simple kindness – words of encouragement, acts of generosity, even a mere smile – have a kind of mystical impact on a person’s life. This impact, by the way, flows in both directions: to the giver as well as the recipient. I’ve seen young people lifted to achieve wonderful things in life through the consistent kindness of someone who believes in them. I’ve seen kindness provide tangible hope to struggling people, that maybe life could be different, that despair and darkness is not all there is. It’s no overstatement to say that kindness can mean the difference between life and death for certain people on certain days.

There’s a final expression of kindness that can be the least valued of all, though it is possibly the most important, and that is the idea of kindness towards yourself. Many of us, for varied reasons, live under a hail of barking, harping, constant abuse – all within our own heads! We insult ourselves in ways that we would never insult another person, hammering our every mistake and fault with vile punishment and relentless vitriol. If we behaved that way towards other people, there would be drastic consequences, and yet we tolerate that kind of hatred and cruelty towards our own person. I’m not sure who it was that said that we needed to learn to be meek towards ourselves. I believe in this context, ‘kind’ could be a worthy synonym. What if you decided to take a break from cruel, cutting and abusive self-talk? I don’t mean that you never recognise your own mistakes or failings, but I do mean stopping the torrent of self-hating words that follows that recognition. Letting yourself ‘off the hook’, forgiving yourself, looking for the good, speaking graciously and encouragingly, as you would expect yourself to do for others. I know this is just one aspect of a complex situation; but I wonder how much difference it could make, to choose to be kind to yourself.

The Bible, in its famous description of love, puts kindness second in a long list of practical outworkings of love. It recognises the high value that simple kindness has in our lives; the lasting impact of that precious mix of generosity, friendliness, sensitivity, tenderness, warmth, empathy, care and concern. There’s a quote by George Elliot that has meant a lot to me over the years, that I think expresses beautifully one aspect of truly kind friendship:
Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.
I find it interesting that kindness is described here as a ‘breath’. In this post, I’ve described kindness as oil, scent, flavour, ointment, grace… These are all small, subtle things, however they have quite an influence, as well as being conspicuous by their absence. And a world without kindness is harsh, cold and stark. However, in the midst of that world, just a breath of kindness can begin the change.

Why some people get excited about Christmas… every day

(I wanted to write an article for the local papers about why I think Jesus’ coming is worth celebrating.  Only 400 of these words are supposed to be in the paper :). I’m still trying to whittle away at it!)

At this stage of December it can be hard to feel excited about Christmas. You’ve endured advertising, supermarkets, shops… (and accompanying muzak)! You’ve squeezed in a dozen extra events: end of year concerts, school awards, carol nights, Christmas drinks… You’re anticipating the joy and/or stress of a family gathering or two: the logistics, and the relationships. And for many, there’s the strain of trying to make money stretch in too many directions; maybe even buying presents you can’t afford for people you’d rather not give to! A Merry Christmas, indeed!

It takes a determined effort not to lose sight of what we’re meant to be celebrating. Our culture pumps out particular messages about Christmas – most with a price tag attached. This year, a simple idea has helped our family. It happens each night, after we open the advent calendar, and read some of the Christmas story. We’re taking turns at writing something we appreciate about Jesus on a bright paper shape, and attaching it to our Christmas tree. (Of course, the youngest draws a picture and writes her name when it’s her turn.)

I’m guessing you might be steeling yourself for the religious tirade that has to be tolerated at these special holidays! Please rest assured: I’m as allergic to religious tirades as anyone, because I don’t think goodness, truth and hope can be communicated, or discovered, that way. My own spiritual journey needed about a decade of deeply struggling through questions, wounds, and the confusion that can come from our culture. Cynicism was a posture that came easily… as life showed me that I wasn’t in control, pain was inevitable, & the world – and (a much later recognition) I, myself – was never able to be what I had hoped.

But what if there is another response to our disappointed hopes and ideals than cynicism (&/or escapism?) What if those ideals, dreams and hopes actually have a source, a purpose and a fulfillment?

I keep hearing the old carol:
          The hopes and fears of all the years
          are met in thee tonight…
…in Bethlehem: in the coming of Emmanuel (God with us). For me, these aren’t just nice words, they are the answer to my longings; because Jesus does embody my hopes, and speaks to the fears (and cynicism) of the years. Not only that, but if you read the accounts of his life, he is fascinating, passionate, fearless, loving (beyond imagining), complex and creative. He lives what he teaches, and gives his followers what they need to live it too – in deep friendship with Him. This is why Christians celebrate Christmas, because we believe it was God showing us the whole picture of who He is (Heb 1:1-3).

Each year I spend a few months reading slowly through at least one of the four accounts of Jesus’ life (the first four books of the New Testament). I try to read it as if I’ve never read it before, never heard a story in Scripture or Sunday School, never heard anyone’s ideas about it. I’m looking intently to see who Jesus is. What is important to him? What is he passionate about? Who does he love (& who loves him)? What makes him angry? What things raise more questions for me?

I’ve been doing this for about 20 years, and I’m still not bored with it. In fact, I keep finding more evidence that Jesus is worthy of my time and all my energies. When I see how he responds to hurting people, when I see his fury with exploitation and greed, when I hear his radical teaching on love, forgiveness, humility, integrity, sacrifice, peace and joy… all of this stuff stirs up the deepest longings of my life. When I see ordinary, weak people in history, and today, genuinely encountering Jesus, coming clean with him, and surrendering their will to him… I get amazed at how what Jesus taught and achieved can actually be lived.

On Q&A last month, Peter Hitchens said that the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the dead was the most dangerous idea we could ever encounter. Why? Because…
…it turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which
there is justice and there is hope; and therefore we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. (If we reject it, it alters us all as well…)

So, when I celebrate Christmas, this is the sort of reality that I’m trying to keep at the front. And what a reality it is, what an antidote to cynicism, what a reason to celebrate… every day!

I.C.U.

Sometimes the best we can do is consciously rest ourselves in the grace & love of God. Life gets so tightly bound up – complications, communications, responsibilities, losses, uncertainties… The adrenalin rises, there are tingles in the stomach, there are questions too big for answers… and the only choice you have is which way to look.

Today as I was praying for a friend, I sort of spoke my way into the picture of a high-dependency ward, and it made us both laugh at the thought of hooking ourselves up to all the leads and monitors, and placing ourselves in the intensive care of God! But some days that’s exactly what I need (maybe every day!) – to acknowledge very openly that I will not make it through on my own, that I need to be so vitally connected with my Father that to let go or break free will set off alarms and warning lights! I need the ‘drip’ connected, flowing His truth, His life, His peace, His enabling deep into my veins. I need the soul rest that comes from stopping, from turning my attention fully to His nature, His word of truth. Is it too much information to imagine a tube draining out the sin, the self-reliance, the emptiness that comes free, when we’re finally receiving from the Spirit the clarity we’ve needed?

We are all pretty messy, and our lives and interactions do wound and drain us. People we love face pain, disappointment, and distress – and we share their burdens. Worse still, there’s the heartbreak of watching lives slowly fall apart, especially young lives that you’ve loved and cared for, like an agonizingly slow train wreck.

Sometimes we just need to come face to face with the naked truth – that this world is not our home, that we are frail and broken, that our human efforts can also be pretty frail and broken, and that really, the only place to rest our souls is in the recognition that only Jesus does embody all that we love and long for. And thank goodness for that – that there IS an intensive care ward; that we are not just falling down onto some god-forsaken back street beside the open sewer of humanity’s lostness, with nothing but despair & helplessness for company!! Those beautiful ideals we cherish, those hopes that get dashed and disillusioned along the way, those precious notions of justice, compassion, goodness and truth that we strive (and sometimes fail) to live and share – they do all have a source AND a fulfilment, in Jesus. Not only does He give our longings a place to rest, but He picks us up and calls us into His Kingdom life.  He invites us to – in some miraculous way – actually embody what He is doing to bring restoration and healing to His precious ones, to be His instruments of mercy in the broken world.

The God of all comfort

29th of October is always a significant day for me.  This day, 24 yrs ago, my dad died, quite suddenly, of a heart attack; and life changed forever.

Considering my usual vagueness, I have lots of specific, vivid memories of that day…   Reading in bed on a Sunday morning; hearing mum call out to me; jumping up to phone a close doctor friend.  Standing in the room with dad lying on the bed taking huge struggling breaths.  Mum on the phone talking to siblings, calling an ambulance.  Feeling utterly helpless as his noisy breaths grew further apart; thinking I should know what to do.  Watching the colour drain away from his face.

Seeing our friend, then the ambulance guy (also someone we knew) try mouth to mouth, CPR; hearing them plead with him to “Come on, mate!”.  Staring through the window, a stretcher wheeling him into the back of an ambulance.

Friends & family arriving, in ones and twos, shocked by the announcement at the end of the church service we didn’t get to.  My siblings and their spouses arriving; a dear friend of dad’s taking me under his arm & promising to watch out for me (which he has done very faithfully); beautiful people bringing meals, and later even cleaning our toilets, among many other helpful things!

And I remember our family, the next morning, sitting at the table and pulling out our daily bible reading booklet, and almost gasping at the relevance of what we read:               Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God…(2 Cor 1).

I don’t remember much of the bizarre week that followed the clarity of those 24 hours (I was doing HSC exams, along with everything else).  But I so clearly remember that bible reading.  The “God of all Comfort” has eventually woven Himself into the core of my faith – though only through years of struggle.   At the time, I was unable to conceive of the dimensions of the comfort and compassion I would need.  I didn’t know the depths to which the loss and shock had traveled in my psyche.  I had no idea of the strength of the protest which beat its fists against this momentous event, and against the God who was supposed to be in charge and to be good.  I couldn’t predict other griefs that would twist together with this one, and eventually grind me to some sort of a halt… finally unable to block out the hidden pain and fury with my will and power alone. I couldn’t imagine that a time would come when the clean sadness of loss would come free of all the choking power of unbelief, mistrust, anger, control, misunderstanding and self-protection  (I’m sure this list could be added to…).

Nor had I any understanding of the lengths to which God would go to unravel all of those tightly knotted cords that tangled through my soul.  What seemed at the time to be a cruel and chaotic merry-go-round that whipped me back again and again to the same places of frustration and confusion, of wounds and avoidance… now appears as gentle but determined efforts to invite me to participate in my own journey of healing and growth. And there were always the whispers of hope and help: vast red plains and vivid night skies that seemed big enough for all my questions; wise and kind companions who prayed and listened and asked and cared; my own songs that urged me to grasp their meaning; slow-growing clarity in my understandings and expectations about life, God and myself.

Today I sat with some teenage girls I’ve been getting to know, who’ve experienced more pain in their years than I could imagine.  I listened to some of what they’ve been facing lately, and sensed their feelings of helplessness and despair.  I was glad to be able to see them on this special day, to share with them a little of my story, and something of the healing and change that God has eventually brought about.  For one thing, I knew my dad would love to know that I was sharing the kindness and love of Jesus with these precious girls – that sort of thing was the passion of his life.  Further, it was yet another tangible proof of God’s faithfulness to those incredibly helpful words, all those years ago:   that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

When we have travelled our own paths of heartache, we are more able to share the pain of hurting ones. When we’ve discovered our utter brokenness and need for God on every level of life, we will be willing to sit with the broken and the needy.  We no longer need to be able to fix things, have all the answers, or know what to do.  When we’ve received the deep comfort of the Father of Compassion, we know that only He can tenderly sift through all the shattered pieces, and patiently bring to life a new creation: yet another witness to the reality of the God of all Comfort.

 

 

 

The good gifts!

A recent demo recording: So many good gifts

I was reading a passage in The Return of the Prodigal Son (Henri Nouwen) aloud to Chris several years ago, and something in it was so impacting & profound that I was moved to tears as I read it. The section of his reflection on the prodigal son story was: The Father Celebrates. He explained that for some of us, all the pain & injustice we see in the world becomes central in our thinking; but that the Father celebrates every small event of faith, goodness & redemption. He said we need to learn to ‘steal’ (ie. notice, treasure, hold onto) all the joy that is there in life; recognising that it is just as real as the sadness & pain, although the darkness often shouts much louder.

This idea has been quite revolutionary in my whole way of living, and has dragged me out of the depths many times. The song’s lyrics encapsulate these thoughts, though I must say the style of the song was not quite what I was expecting (kooky banjo & Henri Nouwen seem like very unlikely bedfellows!).

(NB: You need to click on the blue song title above to hear the song)

a new song: LIFTED

LIFTED
(Click on the blue word “LIFTED” to hear the song).

I was thinking about a couple of friends in Canowindra who have suffered dehabilitating health problems – which have taken away from them parts of who they were, but have brought new strengths & beauties to the fore.  For me, any area of weakness or inability has become a gift – because I can’t delude myself about my own powers in this area… I go straight to the Father who can do “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine…”.

making space to listen…

It’s been a pretty amazing day. A friend we’ve known for a few years now came around this arvo, a changed man! I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, as he poured out some of the big things he’d been going through, and how he was realising that he needed God in his life (among several other great realisations). His whole demeanour was different – humble, open, freer than we’d ever seen, talking about God in a real way (which was surprising enough!!).

It’s just another clear reminder to Chris and I that God is deeply involved in His world, bringing people towards Himself, rescuing them from the holes they’ve dug for themselves, and healing the deep wounds this world has dished out. This is what He is always doing.

We’ve been thinking a lot about prayer this year – reading Norman Grubb’s book: Rees Howells, Intercessor, has been quite influential in this. I think I’ve asked God to grow my prayer life every New Years for about the last 10 years or more. I think this year I might be beginning to see the answer to this particular prayer…

Maybe it’s because he’s finally got it through my thick head how much I need Him, how utterly incapable I am (in my own strength) of changing another person (or even myself…). Maybe I just needed lots of experiences of relative fruitlessness, so that I would finally think differently about my own adequacy… Not just “I should pray”, but “If i don’t pray, I’m a fool!”.

It’s not that I never prayed, don’t get me wrong… I have prayed over the years for people I’ve been involved with, for people I’m leading, for my kids & my husband. In all of this, God has been faithful. But something is different now. Now, I’m loving trying to learn to pray… I’m seeing how fruitful life can be when we make a priority of wrestling in prayer for people’s lives; and especially making time & space to listen to God about who to pray for & what to pray for them…

We are rank beginners in all this, but very happy to be starting on this adventure. We are getting amazed at how God is answering our prayers for people & situations. Maybe a big factor in this is the fact that we are setting aside time each week to listen to Him, and wait on Him, asking for His leading in our prayers. So He can show us what He is up to – and He’s so gracious that He invites us in on it, by putting it on our hearts to pray for! Is that how it works??? I don’t really know, but I do feel like I’m on the journey to learn.

We Cornerstoners are pretty great at running around doing things. We pour out our hearts & souls & strength to care for others, teach them, lead them, & help them grow. I’ve been doing this for lots of years now.

I just wonder if God is whispering to our movement (and to plenty of others in His kingdom), reminding us that we need to keep learning to live out what we teach about life in the Spirit – about what it really means to let Him be in the driver’s seat. A sheep dog on the loose can have a lot of fun in a paddock, running itself ragged – I just heard today about a friend’s pet sheepdog who busies himself all day, rounding up their pet chooks! But how different is it when the farmer is there, calling out the orders?! Suddenly there’s a very clear ‘method in the madness’, the frantic scurrying turns into direct dashes effecting excellent results in the paddock, as the dog becomes the outworking of the farmer’s intention.

I want to work smarter, not harder. I want to get a whole lot better at listening to my master, so that my action can actually be the outworking of His intention. I want to be sharing my life with the vine, bearing much fruit. I don’t want to be so busy running around doing what I think needs to be doing, that I’m unable to hear the call of the One who can actually bring life & love & healing to those around me.

.