Friday, July 25, 2014

Ok Family, New Rule!

Meet my cousin Bo. She's the (little bit) older but much wiser cousin. Her kids are 10 years on from mine. She's the reason I got breakfast made for me on my birthday (it was her son's idea but she made it happen), she's the reason I have a new breadmaker which I have been using every single day since I got it (so therefore she's also the reason I'm a little bit fatter! ok ok that is my own discipline issue!). She's the reason my kids got to climb down a rockface that gave me the heebiejeebies and the reason why our family (with a four year old) climbed down the extremely steep 1000 steps of the Giant's Staircase down the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains. We would never have attempted it otherwise. She's also the reason we don't have toys at the table and my kids are now doing either the washing up or cooking the dinner every night and the reason I am doing a happy dance.

Sometimes you need someone to come along and push you a little bit harder and faster and to assume that your kids of course do what her kids do.

After her visit with her son the good vfm Bensley, I said:

Ok family, New Rule! The person who cooks does not do the washing up afterwards. If Bensley can do it, so can you.

The hubster raised his eyebrows and said nothing but after a week of them cooking or washing up almost every night we can't believe how blessed we are and we are not going back to the old way of doing things (i.e. me slaving away cooking, washing and cleaning up). What makes me laugh is that the kids have just fallen into line. One night of moaning and now they're just accepting that this is the new way of doing things.

So thank you Bo. You might be horribly embarrassed by the accolade but you really are a blessing to our family!

Do you have an older wiser person who lets you in on how to do family better? Who shows you that really your kids are capable of a bit more than they're letting on and that there is another better way?  What do you get your kids to do around the house to help out?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The difference between Asking and Believing

Prayer and faith, asking and believing has always been a tricky one for me. Growing up in a Christian household I've never had a before and an after faith experience, something that made me believe. God has always been there and when you see him doing things familiarity breeds not contempt, but rather the divine and miraculous can sometimes become mundane and commonplace. The eyes of childhood don't always recognise miracles for what they are but they do feel keenly the disappointment of seemingly unanswered prayer.

For a very long time I've seen prayer as a bit of a lottery. You put in your request and God, well, he might or might not answer depending on whether it's your lucky day or not. God seemed capricious and his will hard to discern. He seemed to want to teach me a few lessons and give me a few good things but not too many or I would get to be a spoiled spiritual brat.  Woe betide me if I thought he would give me gifts that served no purpose other than to delight me. How selfish would that be of me when there are people round the world who don't have their basic needs met!

The more I write these things the more I realize how warped and distorted my view of God's love has been.

On this blog I try to write something about what I'm currently learning and this week I'm learning about the difference between asking God and believing him for something.

In December 2013 our family experienced The Miracle Trip from which we came back and life carried on. We still had needs, we still had things we longed to see happen in our lives but I felt like we had had our Big Miracle and that was it. We'd used up all God's blessing and much like our holiday allowance we had to wait a 'decent time' before we asked for anything big again. I knew it was complete nonsense of course but still it has been a mental battle I've struggled with. How could I be so greedy? Weren't the memories enough to live on for the rest of the year? I must be supremely selfish.

Something in me though instinctively knows that God doesn't operate like that. Over the years I'm coming to believe more in God's delight in me, that his love isn't like human love, a love with limit and boundaries, that he trusts me, that he knows that I'm not greedy or selfish because he is the one changing me and that his blessings never run out. His generosity, his nature is the kind that opens the doors and pours out so much blessing that we cannot contain it and we have to ask him to stop (Malachi 3:10). His love is excessive, expansive, generous, abundant and without limit.

How can we who are so limited fully understand a God who loves without limits, shockingly and outrageously and for whom you can never love too much?

So this week I've been asking for some outrageous things and asking why they are taking some time. I was reminded of the process I went through late last year with The Trip and I remembered that it's not enough to just ask.

Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell youwhatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Growing up as missionary kid and a Brit (because Brits can be cautious, risk averse and a little bit cynical) this verse was always spoken with much caution and lots of qualifications. The unspoken message was:

Yes this is the truth....
....if you ask for something in God's will and his will is mysterious and undiscernable so don't be sure you'll get it because the chances of you guessing God's will are pretty much a million to one.
...if you don't ask for something ridiculously selfish like a Ferrari like all those American preachers who did that and went off the rails.
...if it benefits others and brings them to faith.
...if it helps poor people and feeds the hungry.

And so the list goes on. I'm sure you can add to it. 

The thing is that it doesn't take into account God's love for us personally, that his love is not just for the poor of the nations somewhere in far off countries, it's for you and for me. God is not into using and abusing people. He's not interested in simply what we can do for other people in order to make himself famous. He created you and I and he loves seeing us simply be us, to achieve our potential, to take delight in sunsets he created for our eyes only. He loves seeing our delight in taste, in colour, in shape and form. 

And he lives in us. Yes our old nature wouldn't ask for things in his will but we have Jesus living in us and that changes everything because he changes our heart from selfish thoughts to outward other-loving thoughts. That means that the desires of our heart and desires he's put there. We sometimes have desires that are purely selfish but they're pretty easy to spot. If it lines up with God's word, the Bible, if it brings honour to God or if it blesses other people, you can pretty much assume that it's a desire from God. And even if you're mistaken, he's the Good Shepherd and loves and guides us onto the right path. 

Many of these things I've been learning from a course I went on with this lady who has put words to the thoughts that have been burbling around in my brain for a while. 

Once you've realised that yes it's a desire from God that you have in your heart and that he loves you and takes delight in you, that he is faithful and able, asking moves into believing. I'm realizing that asking is done in hope that you'll receive it while believing is having confidence that what you have asked for will one day become an tangible reality and that's when real joy and excitement kicks in because you know then that it is simply a matter of time and having patience.

God is described as a loving father or parent but really that description sometimes gets in the way of our understanding of who he is, of what his character is. I'm a parent and I desperately want my children to achieve their fullest potential but I am limited by my resources - my time, my money, my skills, my generosity, my patience, my knowledge (or lack of it) and the fact that I have more than one child to look after. God is not like that. He's not limited in time, money, attention, resources, patience or knowledge. He has unlimited access to all of those and he will do absolutely anything at all, he will move heaven and earth for us to reach our full potential as his children. He knows the future whereas I do not. He knows how much to give us and what we will do with it, I do not.

So the question I'm asking today is... have you been asking but not believing? Are there desires in your heart that you don't know if God wants to give them to you? I'd encourage you to ask him if you can ask him for them and see what he says. Check out the Bible to see what he says about your desires, do they line up with it? Do they honour him? If so, why not simply go for it and let go the ropes that are stopping you fully believing that you already have been given what you've asked for but that it's simply still on it's way to you. If you're brave enough to share them, what are the desires of your heart?  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

You leading You

I started reading a book called Courageous Leadership yesterday by Bill Hybels and in the opening chapters there is an interesting concept put forward:

Good leaders, effective leaders spend around 50% of their time on self-leadership.

It's a bit of a strange one and yet, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Often leaders need to be visionaries, taking people where they have never been before and in order to keep going even when the nay-sayers and the negativity tribe sink their teeth into them.

I've been thinking though too how this applies to me and to every single other person on the planet because we all get to the point where we need to pull our own socks up. Life gets crappy, things we thought would take a short amount of time end up taking forever, curve balls keep arriving and our dreams, goals and aims for our lives and our families are often shoved to one side, delayed or abandoned as hopeless.

As Christians we have the enormous privilege of having Jesus be our coach but there comes a time when we need to do our part too.

Several years ago now I went through a bit of a rough patch where it didn't matter how many good things happened to me, I still felt depressed, discouraged, hopeless and full of despair. One evening after a meeting I felt like God said to me "you're not resisting the devil" and in an instant I knew that it was as though I was just lying on the floor allowing an enemy to kick, punch and beat me up but I wasn't getting up and fighting but just allowing it. The rest of that verse that was referred to is "submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee" (James 4:7).

I've found that as I've learned to monitor my own thoughts, I'm learning not to just let my thoughts lead me but to lead my thoughts instead. I'm not always very good at it but I'm learning. God does his part and I do mine. I'm learning that there are somethings on TV that I just can't watch or I start to think about things that are unhealthy. If I don't want to have a fearful nature and a constant feeling of unease, I personally just cannot watch spiritual or psychological movies for example. If I'm around people who are complaining about their spouses, I end up complaining about the hubster, so I try and move away from those conversations. It's not a case of being a holy joe, it's simply about knowing what direction I want to lead my thoughts in and what direction they will naturally go in if I let them gravitate there. Everyone will have their own unique decisions to make.

At the moment my challenge is to lead my thoughts in the direction of hope and joy rather than despair and discouragement. Nothing particularly bad is happening in our lives, it's merely that if left to their own devices (and the news and life's curve balls) all of our thoughts slide slowly down that path.

I love the psalms in the Bible when I'm starting to slip and slide down the wrong track. Slowly I'm starting to recognise the discouragement and know that I just need to spend time reading these songs and poems that remind me how big God is, how strong he is (much stronger than me), how incredible his love for me personally is, how trustworthy he is, how he can change absolutely any situation and all we need to do is ask him.

I wish it hadn't taken me four decades to learn to not let my thoughts run riot but to lead them in the right direction. I wish I knew I got it mostly right instead of only occasionally right. I wish it wasn't such hard work but I'm glad I'm in good company on this journey.

What have you been pondering this last week? Do you find your thoughts run riot or have you already learned techniques for leading them and what to look out for when they're heading down a dangerous or unhealthy direction?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Memory #39: Monsoon Flashbacks

The other morning we woke up to fog in the Valley where we were on holiday and as soon as I saw the trees shrouded in layers of gray it transported me back to Murree and the monsoon days. Ironically even though we are now on another continent, we are coming up to what would be the monsoon month there.

I stepped out onto the porch to meet damp mugginess clinging to my clothes and although it was gone by lunchtime, for one minute all those memories came rushing back.

...walking down to the mall or up to Hill Lodge, Marsden or Happy House, fog surrounding us, not being able to see more than a couple of meters in front of us at a time, on the constant look out for headlights swerving round hairpin bends along roads with sheer drops down into the forest. Equally frightening was taking the school coach when the driver didn't allow not being able to see through the fog as any indicator he should slow down for possible oncoming traffic.

... the constant drip drip drip of damp collecting in rivulets and running down rock, off trees, eaves, hair and noses.

...getting caught by torrential downpours of heavy rain, umbrellas flattened by the sheer weight of water, taking cover in shop entrances, clothes sodden and constantly damp, shoes squelching or flipflops squeaking slippery rubber, shalwars or jeans hoicked up out of the way of a muddy brown river that instantly manifested.

...sitting in bed watching rain pour down, hearing it hammer the tin roof relentlessly, snuggled up under a duvet, ignoring the humidity that surrounded everything, clutching a cup of Nescafe Original and reading a book.

... sitting in a bus shelter waiting out a freak hailstorm when I was about 7 or 8 years old while we waited for it to slow down or stop so we could get to the school bus 100 metres away for our school play. I was Little Miss Mousy Bright Eyes, the one and only time I ever had a lead role in the school play and I missed the evening performance because of that hailstorm that seemed to never end.  Mum and the other parents sheltered us kids from the brunt of the storm and the back of their legs were bruised by all those hailstones. What with the relentless hail and the fact that half the hillside was sodden and sliding down into the valley we gave up waiting in the end, braved the hail and the rain back to the car and spent the afternoon huddled round the red glow of a paraffin heater among clothes racks of damp clothes.

.... looking under the bed for my shoes and seeing the concrete floors shiny from a climate that boasted 97% humidity. Seeing brown scorpions scuttling for shelter from a barrage of shoe trying to murder it. Shaking shoes out carefully and with some paranoia to make sure nothing lurked sinisterly in the tips.

... the distinctive smell of mildew that clung to everything until the sun came out and dried up a month of solid rain. The feeling of clothes never actually being dry. Ever. Until that is we had the secret delight of moving apartments to the Ellises flat which had a dryer! Oh the joy of putting on warm, genuinely dry clothes in monsoon time! And then the disappointment when you put them in your drawers only to find the next day that they felt damp again. It was all pervading and inescapable.

...the reluctance of taking a bath in the small tin bath in monsoon time in the Downstairs Duplex Flat, the drama of having to heat buckets and buckets of water on the stove only to get into the freezing metal and discover that it had taken so long to fill that the first lot of water had become lukewarm at best.

... going on holiday to Thandiani (which means Cold is Coming), spending time in dark wooden house with a makeshift kitchen. I don't remember much of that house except that it was dark and never seemed to be lit. That was the holiday that I, as a very grumpy teenager had to wash my little sister's pooey terry nappies in a freezing cold mountain stream. It begs the question that I never actually asked myself at the time. If there was no running water in the house to wash nappies in, did we also get our drinking water from that stream? And thank goodness it was running downhill! It sounds like it would have been the most awful Dickensian holiday ever but thankfully apart from my memories of fingers that hurt so much from melted snow water and scrubbing poo off, my main memory of Thandiani is of bright sunshine and rolling meadows of bright green grass so we must have spent much of that holiday outside in between the downpours.

...Nathia Gali holidays. But that my friends is another story, a little part of which you can read here at the post entitled Crazy Mr Ed.

Do you get flashbacks from your childhood at sights, sounds or smells? I'd love to hear some of your memories.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A date with God in Ikea and the things I left there

Where do I leave them? the hubster asked half-laughing when we sat down for lunch.
What? I asked.
My burdens he replied.
Oh those! I pointed across the room, Over there on that table in the corner, the one by that huge lightshade on the end, next to the corner windows.

The hubster was referring to a conversation we had had the night before when I told him I'd had a date with God in Ikea last Thursday.

It doesn't happen to me often but occasionally recently I've had an overwhelming desire to go somewhere in particular and a strong feeling that God might have something for me there. I haven't known what it could be until I've got there but as I've gone and waited, suddenly I've known exactly what it was and it has been like opening a special gift.

I had had a busy couple of days last week and on Thursday morning I had an unexpected morning off to myself. As I got the kids ready for school my mind was busy thinking about the things I needed to get done and the visitors that are about to arrive. In my mind I was going over bedding arrangements, who would sleep where, how many blankets would keep each warm in these blustery Aussie winter weeks and I thought that really now was the time to buy some more linen. The more I thought about going up to Ikea, a good 40 minutes drive away, to get some new duvet covers the more I thought about how nice it would be just to take a notepad and pen and sit by the window with a coffee and just wait to see what God wanted to say to me.

I got excited about it, I couldn't wait. The new linen because a side issue and the main reason became the coffee and that time of just sitting, resting and listening. As I arrived and grabbed a coffee and something to eat, I looked for the table I had pictured in my mind.  I picked a table surrounded on two sides with classic Ikea floor to ceiling windows, ate and sat down to wait.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. Prov 3:5&6

I wrote it down.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matt 11:28-30

I started writing more. I wrote about all the things that were burdening me, the things that were worrying me, the things that I had been trying to trust God for but just kept popping up in my brain like so many persistent weeds. I wrote about the things I was fearing, the things I was disappointed about, the things that had hurt me and that I had pushed to the side.

As I wrote I realized this was what I was here for.  It was as though I was putting many papers on the table, doing something of a work handover. I could see that later I would finish my coffee and I would stand up and walk away leaving my figurative papers on the table for God to deal with and someone else to clear away. I pictured myself going to do my shopping downstairs and then driving that 40 minutes back to our home leaving everything there.

All of a sudden I could see why it was important that I come to this particular place. God knows us far far better than we know ourselves and this loving tender Papa God knew that for me who finds it so difficult to let things go, I needed to come away to a physical location out of my local community where I could deal with things and then walk away from.

I love that he is our teacher, that when we follow him, when we listen to his voice his wisdom is so pure and wonderful that it releases us from the things that weigh us down and brings us to a light and easy way of living in relationship with him.  Living in that place of relationship with him, living in his word is the most restful place to be living. He is indeed gentle and humble in heart and I love being around someone like that. They are the best kind of people and he is the very best of those best kind of people.

I sang all the way home full of delight, feeling very loved and cared for and the best bit... several of those things that had been burdening me got sorted out that very afternoon all by themselves!

Have you had a date with God recently? A time when you couldn't wait to get away with him or one where you knew that for some reason unknown to you he wanted you to be in a specific time or place for a specific purpose?

If you need to leave somethings behind, I can recommend a good corner table in an Ikea near you and a God who you can leave some stuff with.

Friday, June 27, 2014

My Weetbix Moment


I found myself on the Monday morning of our Miracle Trip stressed up to my eyeballs cleaning Weetbix up off the floor under the table that my child had deliberately crumbled up just for fun. I wasn't swearing but I might as well have been for the way that my blood was boiling over.

The airport taxi was about to arrive, the hubster had been frantically trying to finish off his work before we got on the plane, the girls were faffing and getting things out of my carefully packed bags, I had pretty much packed up the house and cleaned it by myself so that the hubster was free to finish his work. We hadn't seen the family in six years and we were about to get on the plane to see them. Planes and catching them are the delight of my life but getting to the airport and getting to the point of check-in brings me out in a cold sweaty nervous stress. 

How DARE Little Bun deliberately do this? I raged to myself.

Gritting my teeth, I tried to control my temper by reminding myself...

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace...
I exhaled and suddenly the Weetbix wasn't so important. My shoulders left that angry hunched position

...patience, kindness, goodness...
I thought of Little Bun and her sweet moments and love for her actually start to sprout in me. I knew she hadn't meant to cause more work and that despite my conviction to the contrary I would get everything done in time....

...faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22)
The hubster walked into the room and I deliberately let go of resentment. I knew he hadn't wanted to be busy working all morning leaving everything else to me, it was simply the price we paid for booking three days before we flew. I did my part and he did his.

Still after six months I remember that moment, dustpan in hand, kneeling under the table, sweeping up Weetbix. A teachable moment. A moment of realization that no matter how we feel, God's word changes our feelings and transforms our world. 

If we let it. If we release it over our lives. 
If we don't, it just remains words in a book somewhere on our shelf gathering dust.

Have you had a Weetbix Moment lately? What was yours about?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Who are your Prophets of Doom?

[source: unsplash]

I love how God surprises you by taking a verse you know off by heart and turning it around and upside down, giving you a completely new perspective on it and a fresh revelatory truth that transforms your world.

This happened to me on Sunday when our pastor mentioned Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

It's sad to say that even though this is one of the verses I most quote to myself, I rarely give a thought to the context, what comes before and after and the general story that surrounds it. [Bring on the theological critique if you like but I think we all do this at one point or another.]  On Sunday, Jo reminded me that right before this verse the people are listening to false prophets and this sentence is part of God saying
Nup. Naha. Nope. Don't listen to them. They're lying to you, this is what I said would happen. I have good things planned for you a hope and a future and this is when it is going to happen.

It might sound ridiculous but a massive penny dropped in my head and I had a bit of an Aha moment.

A few days before I had been to the specialist for a check up for a 'chronic' condition that he has been treating me for for two years now.  My doctor is a jolly old soul. He believes in telling me all kinds of awful things in order to get me to take the medication I need. I won't bother repeating the choice little gems he told me this time but suffice it to say it wasn't uplifting material.

So here's the thing.

I'm believing for complete and utter healing and I'm believing that one day I'm going to hear this doctor in particular confess that I no longer need to have any medication or treatment whatsoever. Just because I think God would like the pleasure to hear him eat his bloomin' hat and he knows I'll get a kick out of it too.

The rub comes with this sticky little thing called faith.

What do you do with faith when everything and everybody and all your circumstances are telling you the opposite to what you're believing for?

I came to a moment a long while back way before this health story started where I knew I had to make a choice. Was I going to believe my circumstances or was I going to believe God's word was true over my life? And if I was going to believe that God's word was true was I just in denial? Effectively an ostrich sticking my head in the sand shouting I don't believe it! I don't believe it!

The penny dropping on Sunday was this:

There are false prophets all around us. Prophets of doom. They may say nice things or they may say terrible things. The point is, they're not saying what God is saying about your circumstances, they're not telling you the truth. It's not that they do it on purpose, they genuinely believe that what they say is correct but in reality the only Person with the inside goss on your life is God.  He knows the beginning from the end. This begs two questions.

  1. Why would you not ask God (who has the Master Plan) he says about your situation?
  2. Why would you believe anyone or anything else about your situation if they say something different to the Truth-teller?
As I think about these two questions, it starts to have new import on my faith life.

  1. Faith becomes more genuine and less about convincing myself, less of the desperate ostrich and more stoic, confident and peaceful. 
  2. My circumstances become less important and I start living in the truth of what is to come. 
  3. Fear dissipates. The what if questions, the fear that God might ask me to go through something terrible in order that he get's the glory, this distrust of God disappears because he knows the plans he has for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future.
Often I think we know what God has said to us but his voice gets drowned out by our very own personal Prophets of Doom, well meaning people or even circumstances that we allow to shout into our hearts rather than deliberately quieten them. We give them the megaphone and we keep God on muted, we give our Prophets of Doom credence and we doubt the Truth-teller.

I suppose the key is first to identify what God has said to us and second to identify who is contradicting him, who the Prophets of Doom are in any given situation. After that it's a case of taking the megaphone away from one and giving it back to the other.

Have you got Prophets of Doom (people, circumstances, old belief systems, past history) that you need to deliberately need to quieten? One way of giving God the megaphone is simply by spending more time with him and thinking about his word than you do listening to others. I'd love to hear if this is finding an echo in your heart and resounding with you so please leave a comment below if you can.