Posted in Faith

Becoming steadfast

Some days it feels like I will never attain steadfastness in my Christian walk. I get to the end of the day and realize again that I have tripped again over the very things I had meant to avoid and the good that I had intended has been left undone for yet another day.

What does it even mean to be steadfast?

The online dictionary says “the word steadfast traces back to the Old English word stedefæst, a combination of stede, meaning “place,” and fæst, meaning “firmly fixed.” Picture a steadfast person standing firmly in place, not wavering or budging an inch, and you’ll have a good sense of what this word means. Someone can be steadfast in a belief, an effort, a plan, or even a refusal. Whatever it is, it means that the person will calmly hold firm to the chosen position and follow through with determination.”

A few synonyms explain even better what it means to be steadfast. A steadfast person is…

dedicated, faithful, resolute, single-minded, true, unflinching, unswerving, unwavering, unyielding, changeless, constant, enduring, dependable, established, fast, firm, fixed, immovable, persevering, stable, sure, tried-and-true, unbending, unfaltering, wholehearted.

These and many other words in the English language describe facets of this quality. It is admirable and desirable but oh so hard to attain.

So often I feel like a leaf in the wind, tossed here and there by the winds of circumstance and mood. I long to be and am impatient to become steadfast but it seems such a long and slow process with so much faltering on my part.

But God’s Word tells me that blessing goes hand in hand with steadfastness of godly character and godly actions. It is this Word that whets my appetite to become such a person, and the example of godly men and women who have gone before us inspire me to pursue it.

Psalm 119:1-3 says

“Blessed are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the way of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.”

The blessed man or woman walk blamelessly. They walk according to God’s law. They keep his testimonies and they seek him with their whole heart. Their heart and their focus are not divided. They do not compromise with sin.

“You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!  Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.” (v4-6)

Meanwhile our struggle with our own lack of steadfastness is all part of God’s good plan, intended in the end to make us heartily sick of our tendency to wander from His commandments and sick of the constant pull of our flesh away from the life He offers. He allows us to experience this frustration so that we begin to understand how much we need His discipline and ultimately so that we will embrace and welcome even the painful instruments He uses to produce steadfastness in our lives, a steadfastness of  purpose and of clinging to Him. In the end our struggle with sin is intended to produce in us a longing for a steadfast walk with the Lord more than for our own comfort. For “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:2)

Steadfastly walking in God’s ways comes through enduring trials and suffering. The steadfastness of our character is grown when we persevere through experience that resists us and buffets us. Without these experiences our spirituality remains immature and unstable. Our loving heavenly Father is faithful  to teach us to seek Him with our whole hearts so that we can understand the true meaning of blessing and experience its depth, which goes far beyond gratification of our immediate wants and desires.

God  commands that we keep His precepts diligently (v.4) but with the commandment He also shows the way. In His kindness and mercy God leads, trains, teaches and empowers us to walk in His ways but we must not be surprised that the path often leads through pain and even suffering. We do not change from capricious and unstable individuals into steadfast seekers of God through ease and comfort. The path is always slow, often uncomfortable and sometimes exceedingly painful but the person that God has trained like this will be diligent in keeping His precepts, steadfast in His ways and will have their eyes firmly fixed on God’s commandments – His Word.

“I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!” (v.7-8)

Steadfastness will lead to joy as we grasp more and more how good God’s Word and His commandments are and as we come to know His goodness experientially.

Meanwhile, recognizing my propensity to wander, my lack of steadiness, and my failure to follow through on my resolutions, I cry out with the Psalmist to the Lord, “do not utterly forsake me!” I plead with God to continue to have mercy on my half-hearted following of Him, and to not forsake me in the trials that my weak and unsteady faith require to grow. My plea to Him is that He be patient with me for a little while longer, that He indeed change me and yet guard me in the trials which that changing requires, so that at the end of the day my faith may not fail but will come forth as gold.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kind, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ” James 1:2-3

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Home, motherhood, parenting

Be kind to yourself

Dear friends,

The situation in which we find ourselves at the moment in so much of the world requires quite some major adjustment. In the first place, it is such a truly new situation for the majority of people. We have never known a time when we were not able to move around freely and without fear. We have never known a time when so much of the world was experiencing the same thing at the same time. We have never known a time when the news in every country has been dominated by one subject. And for the worldwide Church I don’t think there has ever been a time in history when congregations all over the world were not able to meet. It is all so new and disturbing in so many ways that it is no surprise that we all feel a bit off-kilter these days. It certainly feels like there is, after all, something new under the sun, and that it is our doubtful privilege to experience it. No wonder that every day we find ourselves struggling to adapt to our new lives.

It is easy to become impatient with ourselves and our slow adaptation to our new “stay-at-home” lives. But it seems likely that we are in this situation for the long haul and therefore it is important that we do take the time to adapt and remember to show ourselves and one another a little more kindness than usual and a lot of patience in the blips that are bound to occur as we get used to the new shape of our days. It will get easier, I think, as the days go by but we all need to find our feet, find systems and structures that work for us. And we need to allow ourselves regular downtime, instead of continuing to push to meet expectations which just might not be very realistic at the moment.

I keep having to remind myself of this, especially regarding the children’s school work. After the first week or ten days of schools being shut, I felt like I had been run over by a truck simply by the volume of emails I was getting from different teachers about assignments and extra activities that our children could take part in online. It was overwhelming to say the least. At the same time we suddenly had to coordinate our eldest daughter’s journey home from the UK, which had become immensely complicated by borders and airports closing. Following her return and for the past 11 days she and my husband  (who had to pick her up in Vienna) have been quarantined and living separate lives from us in the flat next door.  And though technology is a wonderful thing, their virtual presence  with us just isn’t the same thing as having them here in the flesh.  And so, unexpectedly, I find myself at the helm of our little ship, trying to navigate through these new waters and steer our family in the right direction.

By Friday of last week I was feeling pretty stressed by trying to keep up with everything as though life was still normal – until I realized that what we need most right now is in fact some space to recover from what is really quite a traumatic situation for us all. It would be okay and indeed wise to create space for recovery instead of continuing to drive ourselves to keep doing all the things we think we should do.  That definitely felt like a healthy and timely realization. I hadn’t been taking into consideration all the different aspects of what we are all dealing with at the moment and how exhausting it is simply absorbing the amount of information which has been coming our way.  By Friday I was depleted physically, mentally and emotionally just by the sheer effort of trying to keep things going as normal and have my children experience as normal a “school day” as possible.

So this week I will be revamping our school experience a little bit. It will be a bit more laid back and I will be trying to make sure that we are having enough moments to relax and enjoy life without school always hanging over our heads. I will be trying not to worry about getting behind because there is more at stake right now than completing a school schedule. It seems more and more likely that this situation will continue to restrict our lives for the foreseeable future and so it is all the more important that we take care of our general wellbeing and not worry unduly about the things that may fall by the wayside. These are lessons that we will be continuing to learn in the weeks ahead.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3,5-6)

These are some of my favourite words from the Bible and they are more relevant than ever now, when we may be feeling like circumstances have knocked us off our feet and solid ground is not to be found. This is the time to be trusting in God and His timing more than ever before.

So for today I am wishing you again surpassing peace and an assurance of the Father’s love in the middle of uncertain times.

Peace to you.

Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Hope

Riding the storm

Dear friends,

As we sit in our homes we are all adjusting to the massive changes which have overtaken all of our lives. One month ago few could have imagined how our lives would be turned upside down and priorities changed within a few short weeks. And each day we are trying to come to terms with our new “normal”. It has shaken us and continues to shake us daily as we see the devastating numbers of deaths in Italy and fear for the future of our own countries and for the future of our loved ones. For so many of us the situation feels surreal and we would love to wake up from this nightmare into a normal day. Anxiety is growing amidst a sense that we are on the brink of a storm and there is no way back.

When the first reports of a new virus in China began to make their way into Europe, the situation sat easily on the edges of our consciousness. We felt unaffected and at ease so far away. But as the situation worsened in China, the first worrying sense that this might be a bigger deal began to nag our thoughts. We began to prick our ears even more when reports of an outbreak in Italy arrived. But we only really began to take serious notice of the problem when we realized that people who had recently travelled to Italy could be potential carriers of the virus back to our own country and then when it became increasingly obvious that we would soon be facing an inescapable pandemic. At first we comforted ourselves with statistics and the belief that most would only experience a mild illness but a glance at what was happening in Italy put those false hopes to rest.

The fact is that we are facing a situation that the world has not faced in over a century and we must adjust our mindsets in order to cope with this new reality. It feels like we have woken up to a sudden war, and in a sense that is exactly what it is. But it is an unseen enemy and our line of defense is very different. The answer is not to turn a blind eye to what is happening and comfort ourselves with platitudes. We must take the situation seriously in order to find the strength we need to go into this battle. It is not scaremongering to want to know more exactly what we face, in order to be better prepared for what may come. It is timely wisdom.

So, most of us now know that we will be practising better hygiene, social distancing and trying to keep ourselves and others out of harm’s way. Most of us will be having a season of battening down the hatches and living in our homes as much as possible. At the same time we will be looking for ways to stay in touch with one another in new and creative ways. In some ways we may be in better touch with one another than we have been for a very long time. We will now be using our devices and social media and the internet to really connect with each other instead of as a means of distraction. Now, more than ever, we can be thankful that we live in a technological age which has made such contact possible.

But, for some of us, it is a fine balance between living with reasonable caution and becoming overwhelmed with anxiety.  Anxiety and fear simply rob us of the strength to cope well with the new demands placed on us, and it is more important than ever that we deliberately turn our thoughts in the right direction. If not we are in danger of being swept along on a wave of panic. But we can learn to live our new lives well and come out of this situation as stronger and more empathetic people. Instead of focusing on the restrictions and limitations of this time, we can look for new possibilities and be creative in new ways. In hard times human beings have opportunities to shine as never before. Yes, it brings out the worst in some people but it potentially brings out the best in others and we are already beginning to see evidence of this.

The cases are low still in Slovakia but I think this has more to do with the limited testing going on than being a true reflection of reality. We may only be a few weeks away from the situation in Italy. We may be just about to ride into the storm.

But at the end of the day it is not some random virus or event that determines our lives. We are not in the clutches of some impersonal force that may end our lives prematurely. God is still on His throne. He is still the One who has determined how long I will live on this earth. Nothing of ultimate importance has changed. Just as He held my life a year ago, He holds it today and NOBODY and NOTHING can take me from His grasp. I am so thankful that I can know and rely on this even if the storm rages right through our family. God’s plans will stand and nothing will thwart them. He can be the strong confidence of everyone who has put their trust in Him. More than ever this situation is a gracious invitation to do just that.

That is why I am not putting my confidence in circumstances, nor in the health system, nor even in my own attempts to keep my family safe. At the end of the day, when I lie down to sleep, I know that I can sleep in peace because it is God who holds our lives. In the words of the old hymn, it is because He lives that ” I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds my future, life is worth the living just because He lives.”

                  Peace to you. See you soon!

Laura

 

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—  This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.”

In Christ Alone” Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend Copyright © 2002 Thankyou Music(PRS) adm worldwide at CapitolCMGPublishing.com exclusing Europe which is adm by Integritymusic.com

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Posted in motherhood, parenting

Take a moment….

Like the crisp, clean sheets on a freshly made bed,  the freshness of the morning welcomed us as we walked to school, and it felt good to be alive. Above us the gloomy clouds had been replaced by clear, blue skies, the air was cold and crisp and sunshine warm at our backs. The wind had blustered and buffeted us for two days and nights, rattling and roaring at our windows, until at last it had blown itself away, leaving behind a truly glorious winter morning, at least temporarily sweeping away the dark clouds and  lingering damp of the last weeks. We had woken up to a day that felt like the first promise of Spring.

It felt good to be outside, to be breathing in the fresh air, to see wider horizons than the confines of our home, even if they were just the horizons of the town where I live. Rather than the usual rush to school and back, I wanted to linger for a while, to really see and savour the world around me.

It is a short walk to school, ten minutes there and ten minutes back, but I love starting my day that way.  There is something good about being out and about early in the morning that somehow gets the day off to a better start. It is worth wrapping up warmly and facing even the bracing wind, if only for the comforting feeling of coming in again from the cold,  cheeks aglow.

But I treasure those short walks with Mia each morning for another reason. I realize that this is only for a brief season. My nine-year old girl is growing up fast but for now she still enjoys walking hand in hand with me to school. This morning as I held her mittened hand in mine, I treasured the moment with a thankful heart. Yet too often I rush through this walk, forgetting that moments like these invested into my child, are the truly important business of my life. How often I am in such a hurry to get where I’m going that I am blind to the moment I am in, and blind to the people that God, in His grace, has given to me to love. I am so focused on where I want to be next that I forget to enjoy the journey. But when I fail to relish the moments of my days and choose instead to rush through each one, I miss their significance and their opportunities.

So once again today I need to remind myself that this also “is the day that the Lord has made”. It may not seem a day of any special significance, and I may be doing the same old things yet again but still it is a day full of divine potential,  a day to be faithful in the little things, a day to love a little better, to grow a little more, to sow some better seeds. It is a day when I am closer to heaven than yesterday and so a good day, and an opportune day for making good decisions, for saying “yes” again to God’s ways, while trusting in His grace for all my failures, past, present and still to come.

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Faith, motherhood, parenting

Frustration Force

Sometimes I realize what a good thing frustration is, that is, if we allow it to change us in good ways. Just like the force of a mighty waterfall pounding at the rocks below and carving out new paths for the river and deeply impacting the landscape, frustration pounds away at me until I begin to find new paths in the troubled waters of my own life and new beauty is created. Frustration is often intense, stressful, uncomfortable and unwanted. It is, frankly… frustrating. And yet it is a good thing if in the end it alerts us to something that needs to be changed.  However, getting to the place where frustration changes us for the better can take a while. Meanwhile our frustration can feel unbearable and hard to understand.

Of all frustrating things in life (and there are many), for me parenting has perhaps felt like the most frustrating. However, sooner or later the frustration has usually worked for and not against me, even if at times it felt like it might kill me before it helped me. Frustration has led me to examine why and how I do things and more importantly it has driven me to my knees, to seek God, His wisdom and His help. Parenting is sometimes an excruciatingly hard job but parenting is also a very good job, one that can transform us if we let it. There is so much potential for frustration with our children. Once children reach a certain age, any typical day provides ample scope for conflict between parents and child  – what they wear, what they eat, what they do in their spare time, how they do their homework, their friendships and relationships, their discipline or lack of it, their sibling rivalry or the state of their bedroom, to name a few. Of course, one of the most frustrating things about being a parent is simply the conflict between wanting to do them good and having them resist you every step of the way, simply because, like all humankind, they want to do things their way.

 

The definition of insanity (usually attributed to Einstein)  is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Parenting can feel a whole lot like hitting one’s head against a brick wall over and over and over again. It hurts! But it follows from Einstein’s statement that if I am experiencing constant and unwanted frustration in my life,  something needs to change. My frustration is a good indication that something in my behaviour, choices or expectations must change, unless, of course, I am in love with frustration).

How grateful I am that some of my frustration has led to positive change in my life. Here are some of the things that have positively impacted my experience of parenting as a result of frustration.

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  1. A change in my expectations

Until I realized that parenting was never meant to be easy I was frustrated by how difficult it was. Understanding that by definition good parenting is demanding is absolutely key to overcoming discouragement as a parent. Also we need to realize that we are in it for the long haul, that it is going to take time….a long time.  There are no quick fixes in parenting. There is no easy route to good parenting. Anyone can become a parent but becoming a good parent does and will mean work and work at length. Stop expecting it to be easy and you will find that your frustration levels fall dramatically!

2. Commitment

I need to be committed to being a good parent if I want to parent well. I need to be committed to parenting every day and not just on the good days.  Commitment to parenting means a commitment to the good of my child. A commitment to my child’s good will mean leaving my comfort zone and plenty of self-sacrifice. Becoming a good parent means committing myself to doing whatever it takesIMG_4411

3. Time

Parenting needs my time. Parenting is not just something to be fitted in with my other activities. It cannot be left on a back burner. It cannot be done well in a spirit of distraction. I am not going to be parenting well if my priority is my facebook or instagram feed, or my absorbing novel, and my children feel like a distraction. Just as parenting needs and deserves my focus, giving my focused attention means giving my time as well. I cannot parent well if I am stingy and calculating about the time I am willing to invest in my children. We live in a world and an age that has a very negative impact on how much time we have available for our children (there is so much more that could be said about this but I’ll leave that for a different post.) The simple fact is that I am going to experience much frustration if I do not allow enough time for the things I need to do with or for my children. I will be frustrated if I am trying to do too many things in too short a time. I will be frustrated if I am trying to do things without focusing on them properly.  And frustration breeds more frustration as it makes me even less effective in the use of my available time.

 

4. Planning 

This one is a really big one for me because I am not naturally a good planner. Naturally I am a great procrastinator. However, my lack of diligence in planning has often led to huge amounts of frustration for me and much of my frustration might be traced back to poor or no  planning. Equally, much of my frustration tends to evaporate when I plan well. Stress and frustration in my parenting often simply boils down to the fact that I did not do things at the right time and the reason I did not do them at the right time is because I did not have a plan. I am still in the process of being changed in this area  and I love it when I see the good fruit of living more strategically. 

Obviously these four areas are interrelated. In many ways all of them have  to do with our willingness to become more self-disciplined –  not a very popular concept in today’s world, but without which parenting becomes a pretty haphazard affair.

There is so much more that can be said about good parenting. I  realize that I have barely scratched the surface. But another way of saying what I have said is that good parenting has to do with a having a wholehearted and whole-minded approach to parenting. I believe it is the only approach which can turn parenting’s great frustrations into  great satisfaction.

Semi- committed parenting is a recipe for frustration. How do I know?

I tried it.

He who neglects discipline despises himself,
But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.”

Proverbs 15:32 (NASB)

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, New Year

Look up

How does this year end find you? Are you full of anticipation about what the new year will bring or are you holding onto these last hours of the dying year with sad wistfulness about the days that are never to return? Or is it a mix of both? Usually I enjoy anticipating the new year but for some reason this year I feel more reluctant to let go of the old year and step forth into the new. The last twelve months have gone too quickly and I don’t feel so eager to turn my back on them. Perhaps it is because I realize more than ever that the storehouse of years is being depleted and I want  to slow down how quickly its supplies are used up. It is sobering to think of those who began the year  with high hopes but for one reason or another have not made it to the end of the year. It is sobering to realize how suddenly the scenery of our lives can change.  It is good to realize that for each one of us our days are numbered and that now is a good time to learn to live wisely in the days allotted to us.

Most of us look back at the end of the year and experience a mix of emotions – relief that some things are behind us and sadness that other things have come to an end, regret about opportunities missed or satisfaction that we have achieved something.  We feel gladness and sadness, regret and relief all at the same time.  But as we look forward we might be overwhelmed with fears of the future. Looking back we know what has been, the good and the bad, but as we look forward to a new year we can only guess at what it may hold. And our anticipation of what is to come is sometimes only a hair’s breadth away from anxiety about the future.

So this New Year as I look back, processing what has been and look forward to what may or may not be, I know I also need to look up, away from myself, and away from my little life  to something greater than myself. I need to refocus on the One who frees me from my fears and my fretting.

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains” says the Psalmist in Psalm 121. Like the Psalmist I want to lift my gaze away from the valley of my circumstances, beyond myself and the small world I inhabit. This new year I want to turn my gaze again to  larger horizons and greater realities, to turn it from all that immediately surrounds me and remind myself that the world is bigger than what I see and that there is a greater story unfolding than the one I see in front of me.

The words of Psalm 121 are deeply encouraging to me as we step over the threshold of a new year. I do not know what the next twelve months may bring but I know in whose company I will walk through those days. “From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” No less than the Creator of the heavens and the earth has promised to help me, to hold me and keep me as I navigate these next 12 months of life. I am not the one who guards my life. He is. He is my keeper. How tremendously comforting and freeing this is. I do not have to keep my eyes peeled and fearfully watch for danger. I can relax, knowing that there is One so much greater than me who watches my path and keeps my life.  How gracious our God is to care for us as the apple of His eye. How foolish I am to fret when an Almighty God has undertaken to keep me. How lovingly He cares for us when He turns even adversity into good in our lives. How amazing it is to be able to lean on the promises of His Word and know that even what was meant for evil against me will turn out for my good. For God turns even the curse into a blessing for those who belong to Him through Jesus Christ.  All the circumstances and events in my life are filtered through the shade of God’s sovereign will. And ” we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

So, I can look ahead to the new year with confidence, not confidence in myself but confidence in the One whose plans cannot be thwarted and who has committed Himself to me in an everlasting covenant. It is not financial security, good health and harmonious relationships that will guard me through 2020  but God Himself. With Him I have everything I need, without Him all that I have is nothing. Whatever this year may hold for me and my loved ones, I can walk boldly into the future because of the One who holds me in His grip “from this time forth and forevermore”.

Happy New Year to you all. Keep looking up!

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you be day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.” Psalm 121

 

Posted in Advent, Faith, God's Word, Thankfulness, Uncategorized

Bleak Friday

How was your week? Perhaps like me you were relieved to get to the end of your week, glad to shut the door on it and hope for something better next week. Sometimes life feels exhausting and depressing. Sometimes our minds are filled with discouraging thoughts and our hearts are heavy with discouraged feelings.

Discouragement can come from so many sources. Living life on this planet provides ample fuel for discouragement. A single week can provide abundant opportunities for a discouraged outlook on life – worsening health, frustrating relationships, uncooperative people, harsh words spoken, failures, misunderstandings, financial hardship, and crushed hopes to name a few. All of us are dealing daily with little disappointments that are a subtext in our lives. But discouragement takes root through the way I  process the things that I come up against day after day.  Often life is less comfortable, less successful, and simply less perfect than I imagine it should be.  And disappointment leads to discouragement and I become dissatisfied with who I am,  where I am and what I have. And slowly and imperceptibly a resentment towards God begins to build under the surface. 

Where does the discouragement come from?

Whenever and for whatever reason I become painfully aware of the imperfections of my life,  I do not immediately see God’s love.  I perceive Him as hedging me in to a life that does not fulfil my expectations but I do not perceive His touch as loving. I perceive Him as powerful in my life but not good. I see Him in those moments of discouragement as restrictive and ungenerous. I fail to recognize in those moments that I have fallen victim again to the age-old lie that God withholds good things from me. After all, by most people’s standards, the things that I wish for are good things, – financial security, personal fulfilment, loving relationships, health, good children, a comfortable home etc. We all have our own individual lists. And we want the good things we have more, better, deeper, longer…..  When I do not get the things on my list when or how I think I need them, my human tendency is to get angry with God and to doubt His goodness towards me. Subconsciously I begin to relate to God differently. My prayers become more demanding, more manipulative and less spontaneous. My filter on life becomes fretful and complaining. The less I trust God, the more I begin to rely on myself to fulfil my perceived needs and I find myself in a vicious cycle of demands, dissatisfaction, frustration and resentment. 

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Give me more……

But to escape the cycle I need to think about God properly. Proper thinking about God begins with  properly seeing what He has revealed about Himself in the Bible, which is the Word of God and the Word about God. When I find myself dialoguing with negative thoughts about God, it’s time to remind myself what God’s Word says. It tells me that ” every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow,” (James 1: 17) , that He is better than any earthly Father :”If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:11). I need to let Scripture remind me that the overarching story of all of Scripture is one of the excessive generosity of God. God gave us His very best when He gave us His very own Son. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) On the bleakest Blackest Friday of all time God gave His own Son to satisfy His own wrath on my behalf. God’s heart is overwhelmingly generous towards me. He paid the ultimate price to secure my salvation.  In the light of that sacrifice how can I complain that there is some temporary good that He withholds from me? What kind of skewed thinking is that! And yet, even in my moments of utter thanklessness God is being generous towards me, reminding me of how much I need Him and coming to the rescue.

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

The run-up to Christmas is a time of year when we can be especially reminded of the incredible gift of God’s Son to us. It is no coincidence that  the spirit of the age encourages us instead to focus on our wants and to feed our lusts.  By making us focus on the things we don’t have and think we need, Satan hampers our ability to see and appreciate God’s gift in Jesus Christ.  Focusing on the next thing I don’t have and yet “oh so deserve” robs me of true joy and sabotages my happiness. It imprisons me in a cycle of wanting and never being satisfied. 

“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things.” (Romans 8:32)

I need to learn the truth that when God withholds something from me, it is because He wants to give me something better. I need to learn the trust of true faith which is both confidence in the character, wisdom and power of God and willingness to submit to His will in all things. I need to learn to pray trusting in His goodness so that I can also rest in His response, knowing that He sees better and further than I ever can. 

God is always acting towards us in love in whatever He is doing. There is love in the ways He allows us to be disappointed. He wants disappointment to teach us to look for Him. He allows us to be disappointed because He wants us to have THE VERY BEST AND NOTHING LESS. When I see my “lack” from this perspective and choose to trust His love, disappointment becomes opportunity, an opportunity to anticipate better things and to rest in His love and it allows me to enjoy and appreciate what I already have. It is a reminder that God is working all things together for good in my life.

Soon we will step into Advent. May not just its joys but also its disappointments drive us to Jesus during this season.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Matthew 16:26

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Posted in Faith, grace, growth, Hope

Masterpiece

The God who orchestrated my rebirth is still powerfully and graciously at work in my life today. He is present in all of it, the good , the bad and the ugly, faithfully conforming me to the image of His Son.

“By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain” (1st Corinthians 15:10a).

This is true even if I don’t feel it or see it. By grace He is using a myriad of circumstances and even my own failures and weaknesses to bring me into conformity with the character of Jesus Christ. I may make mistakes (and do) but God does not. Sometimes all I can see is my own failures and the weight of it is crushing in those moments, until I remember or am reminded that God has allowed even those failures as part of His shaping process in my life by grace, when I am reminded that God is in control even when it seems like nothing else is under control. The truth is that I only see today’s mess but God sees all my tomorrows and by grace He is carrying out His work in my life in perfect love, with covenantal faithfulness and absolute precision. Knowing and believing this makes all the difference, especially on my no-good, very bad, horrible days. By grace even my sadnesses are part of His refining process. My losses here on earth are temporal but by grace God is gifting me with an eternal perspective through my setbacks and disappointments. By grace He is in the business of turning my value system upside down and rearranging my priorities.

 

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29

My destiny is to become like the Lord Jesus, shaped by God into the mould of His Son. God’s purpose in my life is not primarily health, wealth and happiness. My comfort and my safety are not His goal. God’s good goal is for me to become more and more like Jesus until I am finally conformed to His image, when I see Him face to face. I will be like Him because I will see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).

Remembering this lifts me out of the devastation and disorientation occasioned by life’s difficulties and the weakness of my responses to them. Understanding God’s greater purposes in my life gives me a different handle on disappointments, difficulties and daily failures. It also sets me free from trying to fix others, knowing that the God who is sovereignly working out His purposes in my life is graciously doing the same in the lives of other believers. Who am I to tell Him when and how to do that?

Knowing this allows me to experience joy in my imperfect life, peace in the middle of troubling circumstances and hope to keep moving towards a goal I haven’t yet reached.

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:12-13, 1:6)

 
Posted in Christmas, Uncategorized

All wrapped up

I wonder how you are looking forward to this Christmas and if this season leaves you, as it leaves me, with mixed feelings. There are things I love about the month of December and there are things that I definitely do not relish.

Here are a few of the things I love:

  • I love the way December seems to draw us closer together as a family and focuses our hearts on home more. I love spending more time with my family and enjoying the comfort of home.
  • I love adorning our home with Christmas decorations. I love making it feel cosy and pretty and I enjoy the prospect of cold outside and warmth within.
  • I love listening to Christmas carols and watching Christmas films.
  • I love listening to the Christmas story because I love being reminded about the hope that is ours because of it.
  • I love snow and frost and crisp cold days and cosy evenings at home. And when it doesn’t snow, I even somehow enjoy the barren trees and bleak skies of this time of year.
  • I love hearing from friends and family.
  • I love enjoying some special events at church.
  • I love the delicious Christmas foods and the warm Christmas aromas.

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This is a wonderful time of year and on the whole I really do love it. There is so much to enjoy and so much to be thankful for. And yet….

I do not love the side of Christmas I see every time I take my life in my hands and venture out into the shops. When I walk through the shopping centres and there are signs everywhere wishing us “Happy Holidays” or “Festive Season” or “Holly and Mistletoe”, “Christmas Stockings and candy cane” and really anything but “Merry Christmas”, I feel like Christmas has been hijacked and I long to reclaim it.

Sometimes Christmas seems to be about anything but hope, peace, love and joy. Sometimes it seems to be only about buying and consuming in excess, about making each Christmas more spectacular than the last. It is hard not to get caught up in it all. It is hard not to get stressed by it all.

My mental to-do list is long but really there is only one thing I need to remember: even if I do not do one more thing to create a “Christmas” atmosphere in my home, Christmas is already here. For centuries ago “Christmas” came to stay on a starry night in Bethlehem. I need to remember that the one gift we all need was given on that first “Christmas”. Christmas is here – not because of beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree, not because of decorations festooning the town and our home, not because the table is laden with food or because of  scented candles and sweet Christmas carols. No, Christmas is here because Christ is here. And because Christ is here, the Christmas celebrations make sense and are rooted in a lasting joy that doesn’t depend on the wrappings.

I pray that whether Christmas is wrapped in luxurious gift-wrapping this year or comes in simplicity, we will not miss the gift that it is.

Merry Christmas.

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Posted in Faith, God's Word, Refreshing, Uncategorized

Refreshing!

“And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” Mark 6:31

Life sometimes has the habit of draining us to the point of exhaustion. How often I need to hear Jesus’ invitation to come aside and rest for a while. Recently, by being able to do just that, I have been  reminded how much I need to regularly draw back from my life and see it from a fresh perspective in order to live truly well.  In the last month I have been privileged to spend two different weekends with two very different groups of women. The first weekend was spent in a lovely setting in a small Austrian town with a group of  international women from several churches in Vienna. The second weekend was in our own church where Baptist women from the Czech and Slovak republics gathered for their annual ladies’ conference. The content and style of both weekends differed greatly but the needs of both sets of women are in so many ways the same. Most of us can relate to the feeling of being “frazzled” and worn down, no matter what country and culture we are from and what stage of life we are in. We all need “down time” when we can step back from our lives and come back strengthened and with motivation to carry on. We all need to come up for air when it seems hard to breathe under the weight of our lives.  We all need to be able to look at our lives from a distance from time to time because distance helps us put things in proper perspective and often provides the wisdom that we lack in the middle of our muddles.

Knowing my own tendency to get things out of perspective and to run out of good motivation to live my life well, I realize that I need to come back to the source of strength and wisdom often. With this in mind I turned recently to the familiar words of Psalm 23 to see how God intends me to live my life in a life-giving rhythm of rest and work. I was really struck by this phrase in the second verse:

“He makes me lie down in green pastures;”

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Sheep grazing in the Lake District

I realized how often I tend to treat my “quiet time” as one more thing to do, one more thing to mark off on my “to-do list”, and one more responsibility on my shoulders. And yet I read in this psalm that the Shepherd leads His sheep to rest. He makes them lie down. Jesus’ invitation is for “all who are weary and heavy-laden”  to come to (Him) for rest. (Matthew 9:36). That includes me.  He recognizes us as people who are “distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36) and He has compassion for us. He knows that we need rest and He offers it to us. But instead of His rest we often seek things which will distract us for a little while from our lives but which do not fill us up. And we end up in a cycle of frustration and empty pursuits. All the while, out of a heart of compassion for His tired sheep, God is calling us to  green pastures where we can experience renewal.

I see a process in Psalm 23,  which I need to learn in my daily pursuit of  wholesome and holy rest. It is:

  • Retreat
  • Rest
  • Restoration
  • Return

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“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.”

Just as the women and I recently drew aside for a weekend’s retreat, I need to learn to draw aside daily from my activities  and retreat for a little while. That retreat means that my quiet time should not just be an extension of my normal activities. It is not a place where I simply voice my worries in a more spiritual tone to my Heavenly Father. No, it is the place where I let them go, where I capitulate and surrender it all to Him. It is the place where I recognize again that He is sovereign and I am not and that He has the answers and I do not. It is the place where I stop fussing and fretting and where I stop trying to be in control of everything. Because God is enough for me for today and for every day. I retreat because God is the One who is fighting my battles and I can rest. I lie downin green pastures. Lying down is a picture of complete surrender. This is the daily  rest of surrender, allowing God to be God and refusing to usurp His place. DSC_0269DSC_0484

He restores my soul;It is at this point that I experience restoration. It is when I recognize again that God is still on His throne and in control that I begin to be restored to my right senses and my faith perspective begins to be renewed.  I need this restoration daily because my faith comes under fire daily, making me weary and skewing my thinking.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Finally, after restoration I have to return. There are days when I am tempted to stay in that quiet place and I would rather not have to face the realities of my daily life. But the  rhythm includes returning, even when it means walking through the valleys. And yet, the secret of being able to return well and  get through the valleys lies in the time spent in the green pastures. The time I have spent getting to know the voice of the Shepherd in the green pastures and by the quiet waters will help me recognize His voice when I am in the fearful valley, and when I am experiencing the intimidation of the shadow of death. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. But it is not primarily in the noise of the  storm that we learn to recognize His voice and His touch. It is in the quiet pastures and by the waters of peace. If we have walked with Him in the quiet places it will be that much easier to recognize His quiet calm voice in the middle of the storm. And His voice, His presence and His touch will comfort me.

I am not a sheep without a shepherd but I sometimes act that way. If I am to know how to navigate the valley of the shadow of death or any other valley where  problems loom large , I need to learn to be a sheep who rests well, who refuels and refocuses daily and returns to my daily activities with renewed faith and strength. I need to learn to be a sheep who listens to the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him for all I am worth. And for that I need to trust that He really is the Good Shepherd.

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Dandelion clocks

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Dandelion clocks

Posted in Faith, motherhood

Doldrums city

The last month of this past winter felt hard to get through and so I was glad when the first day of Spring arrived this week, and with it the first rays of  warm sunshine. This has been one of the toughest winters I remember and the snow stuck around for longer than I remember, it’s beauty long gone, hidden under layer upon layer of roadside grime. It is good to see the colour returning to the ground outside and to feel the warmth in the sun and in the breeze. Winter is over for another year and it seems to have left me feeling less young and more tired, though I put the latter down to a case of what Slovaks call “Spring tiredness”.DSC_0217

Seasons can be hard to get through. All of us  probably have a day, or a week sometimes, which can be so blah. This last week was one of them for me. I am blaming it on my “spring tiredness”. I have lacked energy and motivation. The dishes have piled high in the sink and on the rack, and cooking was definitely of the “no frills” variety. With the emerging sun I saw more of the dirt around our home that I had missed lately but lacked the energy or the motivation to deal with it. I caught myself wishing for these days to be over and better days to come. I found myself wishing to be up on a mountain top somewhere, instead of dealing with the never-ending cycle of cleaning, washing, clearing, folding and sorting. I, and a billion other mums, I’m sure.

The trouble is that mountain top experiences are the exception rather than the rule and the majority of our days will be lived down in the real world, which for most of the people, is neither particularly glamorous nor especially exciting all the time. I realise that I need to accept that not every day I live on this good earth will be a mountain-top type day, if I want to live my life rather than wish it away. So, today, I am reminding myself that this “blah” day is still one of those days that the Lord has made, and that I am called to rejoice and be glad in it and not just wish that it were over. God calls me to walk by faith and not by sight. He calls me to trust in Him and not in myself. There are and will still be  so many “mediocre” days in my life, but I don’t have to live them with a “mediocre” attitude. I can choose to do all that I do each day “heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”(Colossians 3:23) I can choose to commit all my works unto Him and trust Him that none of my hard work is wasted.DSC_0305

I would love to live up on the mountain top, to be tangibly experiencing God’s glory all the time, for my heart and mind to be flooded with the reality of His goodness until I am awash in it – but then, where would I learn perseverance? When and how would I learn to trust and to exercise faith? How would I learn to stand firm, to take up my cross daily, to deny myself and follow Him?  How would I ever learn humility, if not down in the trenches, with my feet in the mud, where I am daily confronted with my tendency to walk away when things get tough? There is nothing wrong with desiring more of God’s presence – He has wired us that way after all. There is nothing at all wrong with wanting more of His tangible presence in my daily life… until it becomes a condition for my obedience. God wants to see (and us to see) how we will be faithful in the mundane, when no one is looking and there is no immediate sense of blessing. He wants us to learn to sow seeds of goodness and faithfulness in the black earth of every day life. And to keep at it even when new life doesn’t spring forth immediately, even when growth is slow and weeds are abundant. He wants us to sow and to trust Him with the harvest.

Life isn’t always exciting. Life isn’t always good. Sometimes it is just blah. But we must not dismiss those days as failed days, as days that are not worth living. Each day is a gift from Him and each day needs to be committed to Him. Those are the days when I am most likely to do or say things that I will later regret, because I have written them off in my own mind and my guard is down. A hopelessness pervades my thoughts and actions and it makes me careless of my actions and my words. It makes me insensitive to others, self-protective and self-absorbed. How much would change if I remembered each day, before the day began, to commit each day to God, trusting that He will waste nothing, that He will strengthen me in the middle of the mundane and He will make my small steps of obedience and small obedient decisions significant for eternity. I may not see the sun every day of my life, but as I sow my seeds of faith, hope, and obedience, I can be sure that the day will come when the sun will break out from behind the clouds and reveal a good harvest, one that was worth waiting for and working for.

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” James 5:7-8

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Posted in Faith, growth, love, Uncategorized

Simply divine

“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1st Corinthians 13: 4-8DSC_0080

God’s love is the way I am called to love others.

What is this love?

It is love that is not based on reciprocity. It is love that always wants what is best for the loved object, regardless of how that benefits or disadvantages me. This love does not spin around itself and doesn’t mete out a carefully calculated amount of itself according to what the other person deserves. It is love with “no strings attached”. It is free to love always no matter the outcome. Nothing can stop it. Nothing dictates to it. Nothing is stronger. Nothing in control of it.  It cannot be overpowered. It is power, divine power to love in spite of all the odds. It is God’s character (“God is love” 1 John 4:16) and nothing in all the world can destroy it. This is how God loves me and this is how He invites me to love others. But it goes so very much against the grain. I find it so hard to love like this.

Yet I long to be loved this way, with love “as strong as death”  and love from which nothing will ever separate me (Song of Solomon 8:6; Romans 8:39). There is a capacity in me to receive this kind of love. But what about my capacity to love others like this?

 

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When I let things get in the way of wholeheartedly loving others, when I let relationships become strained and fail, when I love oh so conditionally, it is my admission that I do not love with God’s love, that my love is tightly bound up with what I get out of the relationship. It is a selfish kind of love. I only begin to be more like God when I learn to keep giving love when there is no advantage left in it for me, when I learn to give love freely and with abandon.

This is how God has loved me. DSC_0079

And because God has loved me like this, He has created the capacity in me to begin to love others this way. And He provides opportunities for that capacity to be stretched, opportunities that are uncomfortable, painful, yet full of divine potential.

There is reward in loving like this. It purifies our motives and allows us to feel unalloyed joy in the welfare of someone else. It allows us to have clear consciences and light hearts and to touch the heart of God and experientially know His love for ourselves. It turns us into people of undying hope and unyielding strength. It makes us godly in the truest sense of the word and increases our capacity for greater and greater godliness. For surely, to be godly is to be filled up to the brim with the character of God, and therefore the love of God.

To reject this way of loving is to reject truly knowing God. “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1st John 4:8)

To accept it is simply divine.

 

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Posted in marriage, Thankfulness

For better, for worse

So many good books have been written on marriage, with titles like “10 ways to build a happy marriage”, or “how to improve communication, solve conflicts, improve your love life and spend quality time together”, “how to have a new husband/wife by Friday” or perhaps even “marriage for dummies”  but sometimes I think that not enough is written or said about the role of acceptance in a good marriage. Yet in my mind this is one of the key ingredients that is missing from many more or less unhappy marriages, which could otherwise be reasonably happy and fulfilling to both partners. We live in a world where we are bombarded with preconceived ideas of what a happy marriage should be, ideas which are very prescriptive in nature. The reality is that every single marriage is made up of two individuals, who are entirely unique and who bring into marriage their unique personalities, quirks, weaknesses, strengths, preferences and ambitions. It stands to reason then that no two marriages will ever be completely the same. The trouble with us is that we tend to think that if our marriage is not like the marriage of so and so, whom we particularly admire, then there is something badly wrong with it and we must be headed towards disaster. Personally, I’ve nothing against Christian books on marriage and relationships and though they are not all of equal value, I have read quite a few that have been very helpful. At home we have bookshelves full of good books on marriage, and parenting and they were worth the reading.  It is good to be informed about how to be a better wife and mother among other things.  Books have helped open my eyes and increase my understanding of why, for example,  my husband thinks so differently from me and how to live with him in a growing relationship, how to be a better communicator, and what things to prioritize. I am very thankful to those who have shared their wisdom in this way with people like me. But I am also very aware of the fact that, while we are so busy educating ourselves to know how to do marriage and DSC_0702 parenting better, we are not always so good at rejoicing in the good gifts, which God has already given us,  and, while striving to improve ourselves, our marriages and our families, we are failing to practice a certain amount of acceptance, which would make our lives a happier place to be, both for us and for our spouses and children ( and  at the end of the day perhaps a more convincing argument for God’s ordained pattern for marriage than our many words).  As a result we find ourselves missing out on some of the blessings, which are already ours. Our idea of happiness is wrapped up in some future ideal and we fail to enjoy what we already have for the simple reason that it is not perfect. I think we fall into the mistake of thinking that our goal in marriage is perfection and this in turn robs us of the joy that is within reach right now. I have done this.  I think of the joy I have missed out on in my marriage because I have lived dissatisfied and focused on what I didn’t have or what my husband did or didn’t do, instead of counting my blessings. I think of needless conflicts we have had, because I was comparing myself and our relationship with that of others and feeling like it didn’t measure up and consequently I didn’t allow myself to enjoy the things that made our relationship unique. I think of times that I have fretted over things, which at the end of the day did not matter one little bit, but because they didn’t fit in with my image of what a “good” marriage should be, I let them spoil my peace and steal my contentment.

Sometimes we can “practice” discontentment for so long in a marriage that we completely lose sight of what made us fall for our spouse in the first place, because he  doesn’t “measure up” anymore to the image we hold in our minds. The tragedy is that we lose precious years of our marriage simply because we are too busy wishing for what may never be to appreciate what we already have.  So, while it’s all very praiseworthy to strive to be the best wife or husband that we can be, learning to practise contentment in our marriage is of immense benefit for the here and now of our marriages.  In the marriage relationship too “godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.” (1st Timothy 6:6). Contentment should be one of the hallmarks of the Christian and it sets us apart from a world full of complainers.

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Acceptance within marriage has another benefit too. It takes the focus off ourselves and our happiness and frees us to focus on the road ahead. While a happy marriage is our number one goal, we tend to be self-focused and self-centred. When we learn to give thanks daily for what we have and receive it as a blessing from God’s hand, despite the flaws in our relationship,  it frees us to become more and more the couple He would have us be and allows us to be available for Him to use in other people’s lives instead of being so wrapped up in ourselves. This is one of the many reasons children are such a great blessing to a marriage. Sometimes when we emphasise having good boundaries in relationships, we talk more of the detrimental effect children can have on our marriage relationship because of a lack of “alone” time with our spouses and we communicate the idea that our marriages will be on the edge of disaster if we don’t get away from our children for regular dates  but the truth is that children can be an immensely healthy addition to the marriage relationship.  The great thing about having kids is that it teaches us to take the focus off ourselves long enough to realise that the whole world doesn’t spin around our marital bliss and that marital bliss isn’t even God’s ideal for us. God’s goal in marriage is not primarily our enjoyment, but our growth and sanctification and ultimately His glory, though in His grace He has included enjoyment in there too. But not one of these things can happen while we remain stuck on our idea of what marriage should be. So though it may feel like a disaster,  it is the healthiest thing in the world for our marriage, when our preconceived ideas of marriage begin to crumble as we adjust to the reality of married life between two sinful human beings.  Acceptance is key as we learn to adjust our expectations of our husband or wife to the mundane reality of a less than perfect partner, who may at times be insensitive, impolite, selfish, and slow to catch on, who can’t read our minds, and doesn’t  always prefer our comfort to his own, isn’t always attuned to our moods and desires and sometimes takes more than he gives or disturbs us when we want to be left in peace , in other words, to this human being who is separate from us but close enough to provide a constant source of irritation as well as on-going companionship. For marriage to be happy, we must learn to take the evil with the good and we must learn to enjoy the other person with ALL that he or she is. “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” Romans 15:7.When we learn to practice that kind of marital contentment, we might see the world beginning to sit up and take notice.

I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of some marital problems. I am not addressing those issues here. I am speaking to the ones who, like me,  need to learn to practise acceptance more, a little more thankfulness, a little more of the love which covers a multitude of sins and who need to learn  to let go of some of their striving and simply trust God with the more flawed aspects of their marriages. Not all of us have horrendously dysfunctional marriages but none of us have perfect marriages and all of us need to learn to live with that fact.DSC_0722

At the end of the day our marriages become places which glorify God and refresh others as well as ourselves when we remain committed to God’s goals within them, when we learn to walk in the kind of committed love and acceptance, which He displays towards us, full of grace and truth, mercy and good works. These are good goals in marriage but we can leave the details of how that will be worked out in each particular marriage up to our heavenly Father. Above all our marriages become places which display the grace of God, as we learn to accept one another as we have been accepted, fully and unconditionally and with a forever commitment to our good.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Colossians 3:12-15.DSC_0708

 

 

Posted in parenting, Uncategorized

Internet musings

 

We live in a strange and paradoxical age. The digital world has opened up possibilities of which we couldn’t have even dreamed a couple of generations ago. Suddenly we are able to look at and virtually participate in the lives of people who may live on the other side of the globe. We are invited into an intimacy with acquaintances and even complete strangers that would never have been possible, without Instagram and Facebook, to see into corners of their lives which would only have been seen previously by a privileged few. The internet has allowed us to reconnect with people who, to us, were long lost. On another level it has led to superficiality and the breakdown of relationships. There are so many ways to communicate now, that we are almost paralysed by the number of possibilities and the list is still growing. As the opportunities for staying in touch have increased, our actual communication seems to have decreased. We are stimulated on every side and on every possible level and everywhere we go by internet ideas. We are so overwhelmed by all the possibilities that we are immobilised by them and can only stand and stare and regret wasted hours. There are virtually no boundaries to the internet’s reach and influence now, many of us even sleeping with our mobile devices and staying connected night and day. Like air, the internet surrounds us, wherever we go. The truth is that we are afraid to disconnect from our social networks because we are afraid of missing something vitally important. There’s even a newly coined word for it – FOMO, fear of missing out. We read, hear and see so much on our phones and other devices and our minds become clogged with an amount of information that nobody had to process in a pre-internet world. As we are blasted with information on every side, we learn to focus on …NOTHING, and to live distracted lives. Those of us with Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest find ourselves scanning our notifications and news-feeds, with one glance taking in cute baby pictures, animal antics, easy crafts and quick meal ideas along with heart wrenching stories of human suffering and natural disasters – and what has it taught us? We have learnt to react with emoticons – bestowing a smile or a frown as we see fit and to communicate with tiny static face expressions because words no longer seem adequate or perhaps not worth the trouble. If we are not careful, emoticons become our way of relating to the world, and determine the extent of our emotional involvement. Do we  even discern the wide chasm between the trivial and the grave anymore? I am afraid we are losing our ability to respond appropriately to things which are truly serious or to be truly empathetic. Our phones have become our news stations, shopping lists, recipe books, research partners, televisions, health advisers, weather forecasters, meal planners, alarm clocks, running companions, and even our Bibles. We have become so dependent on our phones that we find ourselves scarcely able to breathe without their bidding. Our phones become the first things we touch in the morning and the last thing we touch at night. God forbid that we should actually leave our homes without them. We feel connected to the whole world by that little gadget in our pocket – and lost without it. The irony is that the more ways we have to connect with people, the less connected we actually feel and while collecting likes on our Facebook pages, we may actually be drowning in loneliness. We don’t see the faces of real friends in front of us because we don’t take the time to look up from our phones. We are indeed living in a strange age.dsc_0367_2

But before we write off social media and dismiss it as damaging and time-wasting, it would be good to ask ourselves why it is so extremely appealing to young and old alike. What is the basic drive in us which causes us en masse to give such wholehearted attention to social media. The common thread running through the social networking sites, with which many of us develop a love-hate relationship, is the basic human desire to connect, to enter into relationship, to love and be loved, a desire which God built into us and which in and of itself is good, reflecting that we are made in His image. Man was made for relationship and social media taps into this deep human need. It also abuses it.

But rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, there are a few things we need to bear in mind, when we consider social media. One of them is that it is here to stay. We would be very foolish to bury our heads in the sand and simply wish for it to go away. This is the world our young people are growing up in and we need to learn how to harness these new technologies for good, rather than trying to reverse the clock. This is the new reality for the vast majority of people in the western world. There are currently 3.2 billion internet users in the world. That is getting on for half of the world’s population. Mind-blowing! What potential – for good as well as for harm! We are not doing our children any favours if we simply try to shield them from it and live as if it doesn’t exist. On the other hand we do need to train them how to use it constructively, to be aware of its pitfalls and know how to handle them, and to become salt and light in in this very visible if virtual medium, just as we would wish to be salt and light in the workplace, the classroom and out on the street. We need to recognise our tendency to engage more easily in virtual relationships and virtual lives rather than in real ones, and to realise that ultimately they will be far less fulfilling.  We also need to be wary of the internet’s tendency to paint pictures of perfect lives, perfect relationships, friendships and marriage, to present us with an image of life, marriage, parenting, or friendships, which is highly desirable and yet unrelated to reality. We need to point this out and realise that it tends to make us dissatisfied with what we have and makes us covet something which isn’t really real. In order to stay balanced in the real relationships we have with our spouses, our children, our fellow believers, and our colleagues, we need to make sure that we are balancing our intake of the internet with a regular, focused look at God’s Word, allowing His Word to shape our picture of life, rather than cute Instagram photos and inspiring man-centred quotes. We need to make sure that we are daily practising the attitude of gratitude for each of God’s blessings. In order to do that we need to make a conscious decision to take time away from our phones, to give ourselves enough space for real time relationships and deliberately put our phone, laptop, and iPad aside for long enough to be able to really focus in on the reality which surrounds us. We need to be intentional about creating spaces where our phones and other screens will not follow and will not invade. In this, as in so many other things, we need to learn wisdom and balance in order to use the internet in ways, which are honouring to God and edifying to other people, and enhancing rather than deforming our all-important relationships. Above all, we need balance – neither turning a blind eye to the dangers of the internet, nor making ourselves obsolete and irrelevant to the younger generations by rejecting it wholesale. We need to be informed. And we need to educate ourselves for that to happen. Let’s ask our kids to teach us what they know. Because they already know far more than we realise.

To end on a lighthearted note here is a poem I wrote about seven years ago in honour of the Worldwide Web.

Enjoy!

Confessions of a Netaholic (or Ode to the Internet –how odious)

I hate the internet

So aptly named

As it draws me into its net

But I am to blame

As I watch each frame.

This is not a game,

Please pull the plug

On this visual drug.

Don’t let it suck

My life from me again.

The clock is ticking

But I’m still sticking

To fruitless browsing

Till my head is pounding.

It’s time for lunch

And we’re a hungry bunch

But I have a hunch

I’ll have no time to cook

Or read a good book

Cause the net has its hook

In me.

Turn it off and walk away.

If it’s a game you want to play:

Life is real and here and now

And far outstrips the virtual tricks

Of the internet show.

What draws you in

To the internet bin?

On-line friends,

Shopping, recipes, loose-ends

Or sterner stuff?

We’ve said enough. 

It’s simply time to make amends.

Stop your googling and your goggling

The time you’ve lost is mind-boggling.

Turn it off and walk away

Choose the game of life today

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It’s Spring – go for a nice long walk!

 

Posted in Faith, words

Deep waters

Years ago, while I was still living in Banská Bystrica, there was a case in the local news about a tragic and yet highly avoidable accident, which took the lives of a father and his sons as they sat in their living room. To this day I don’t know what possessed this particular Dad to bring a hand grenade home to show his children, nor where he got it from but what he most likely  intended to be a bit of bravado turned deadly when the hand grenade’s safety pin somehow got removed and the grenade exploded, killing all those present, except his wife who had stepped into the kitchen for a few moments. I cannot begin to imagine her horror, nor the sight which met her eyes,  nor how she must have  frantically  wished to turn back those last foolish moments of her loved ones’ lives and forever prevent this tragic turn of events. I have never forgotten it. For a long time afterwards I found myself playing it over and over in my mind, willing for it not to have happened. I couldn’t understand how anyone could take such a dangerous explosive device and play with it in the presence of his own children.  I couldn’t grasp their foolishness, their recklessness and utter naivety while handling something so potentially dangerous. So tragic, so pointless and so preventable if that device had been handled with the respect it deserved.

Yet I find that I handle a different kind of highly explosive device with much less respect, less awareness, and perhaps even more naivety than that particular family displayed. I am talking about words. I think of the verse in James 3:5.

“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!”

Words are powerful incendiary devices. They can be used for much good or much harm but there is no denying that they are extremely powerful. We have probably all been on the receiving end of words, which have been powerful for good in our lives and of those that have torn us down, ripped us to shreds and left us devastated. We are so careless with words and yet they can lead to tragedy and disaster quicker than you can say Jack Robinson. We probably all know at least one person who, in the name of frankness, uses words like a meat cleaver and leaves you feeling emotionally butchered. They just have the knack of saying something that gets you right in that sensitive place E.V.E.R.Y. S.I.N.G.L.E. T.I.M.E. The trouble is that I am far more aware of how other people’s words can be damaging than of my own propensity to do damage with my tongue. I tend to condone my own hurtful words and yet find myself outraged when someone else lets rip with their tongue. I have experienced firsthand what it is to be harmed by someone else’s poor choice of words. I have experienced the long-term damage that can be done with a few ill-considered sentences. I have been hurt by other people’s words and I have hurt others through my own careless words. I have failed to handle words with care and naively thought it didn’t matter.  But it does. What we choose to say matters absolutely. That is why James in his letter encourages us to be quick to hear but slow to speak (James 1:19).  Given the right words, a relationship can be healed or barriers can be erected, which no amount of time will take down. “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.” (Proverbs 18:19.) Years ago, a few poorly chosen words from me to my friend resulted in the sudden and permanent demise of a friendship, which had been precious to me. There was nothing I could do to undo the damage and I could only survey the wreckage and live with the regret that I had lost a good friend due to hasty words which had hit harder than I ever intended. And that wasn’t the only time that I have lived to regret the words I have spoken. Sometimes the damage is irreversible and sometimes God graciously gives us another chance to bring healing through a different kind of words.

James says “the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” (3:6-8)

The bad news is that our words have the potential to set our lives on a course for disaster.The good news is that even our tongues and our words can be redeemed for good. I might not be able to tame my tongue but I can surely influence the thoughts which feed it. “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Matthew 12:34. So if I find that I am speaking words that are more negative than positive, more hurtful than helpful, it is a good time to spend some time examining the heart which is feeding those words.

I love this:

“The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4).DSC_0034

Not only do our words have the potential to blow up in our faces, they also represent deep waters in which we or someone else might drown if we are not careful. Therefore, we need great wisdom and discernment as we choose words to speak. The fountain of wisdom makes our words like a bubbling brook with clear, refreshing water, with no hidden dangers lurking in the depths, and no potential to drown us. I love this picture and I love the way the Bible paints a picture of  good words, powerful for good, with the potential to heal and empower, to give life and to restore hope and courage.I love the hope it gives me to become someone who uses my tongue to build up and not tear down and to speak words that give grace to those who hear, and to give new strength to the weary one with my choice of words (see Ephesians 4:29 and Isaiah 50:4).DSC_0061

Next time we are tempted to give free rein to words that feel good at the time but have more potential to tear down than build someone up, let’s remember to look at the packaging on our word bombs ….

caution,

handle with care,

exercise extreme caution !

And let’s remember that sometimes silence is the better option.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21a

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“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Proverbs 25:11

Posted in fulfilment, heritage, motherhood

Hemmed in.

When I compare myself with others, I become depressed and disoriented. I lose my focus and start spinning in circles trying to find my direction. I start coveting what other people have and lose effectivity in my own life. If I want to achieve or maintain joy in my life, I need to develop soul satisfaction with my portion in life. I need to trust God to be enough for me, to care for me as He has promised and I need to stop hankering after the illusory life presented, many times unwittingly, by friends and acquaintances on social media. I need to learn to be satisfied with the life which God has apportioned to me. It’s healthy to recognise not only the unique opportunities God has given me, but also the unique restrictions God has placed in my life and to receive both as His good gift with thankfulness and trust.

Some people claim that we can do or be whatever we want, that if we want it hard enough, we can have it all.  I beg to differ.It is a popular and positive sounding phrase but frankly I think it is untrue.  We are all wired differently and we simply can’t have it all, nor would we be happy if we had it. Restrictions, limitations and boundaries are helpful if we want to develop a healthy focus and find our direction in life. There are limitations which are just for a season and there are those which are simply a part of our make-up, of who we are and we are wise if we make peace with them.

I see wisdom in the Psalmist’s perspective.

“The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; you support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed my heritage is beautiful to me.” Psalm 16:5-6

When I look for fulfilment outside of the lines God has drawn for me, I find myself on the path to frustration and dissatisfaction, and multiplied sorrows (Psalm 16:4). When I take my cues from the world around me, instead of waiting on God’s perfect plan for my life, confusion ensues. I know what I am talking about because I’ve been there and I’ve done that, and have needed to be rescued repeatedly by my Good Shepherd.  On the other hand, as I learn to  be content with what God gives me and to trust Him that it will be good, even if it is different from my expectations or deep-felt desires, I begin to discover the beauty of His plan and to experience deep soul satisfaction.dsc_0430

“The Lord is the portion of my inheritance”. I get one portion and not the whole cake. This is such a different concept from what the world offers us nowadays. There is a modesty and a contentment in it which we don’t often see in today’s world with its unbridled desire for more of everything. Even for those of us who call ourselves Christians, our eyes are too often more on the goods and the opportunities of this world than on the far better treasures of heaven and we have swallowed hook, line and sinker the concept that we deserve to have a bigger bit of the pie of life, or at the very least just as much as our unbelieving neighbours.  The truth is that when I have the Lord as my portion, I already have everything I will ever need. Without Him, I have nothing. David says in verse 2 “You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.” This is the one portion we all need in life. Without it, even gaining the whole world won’t help fill the emptiness.

God has determined the lines in my life, as He has determined the boundaries of the sea. He says “thus far and no further” and I find that He has hemmed me in both to protect me and direct me. He has enclosed me behind and before, and laid His hand upon me (Psalm 139). God has written the specifications and the parameters for my life and I can either strive with Him and struggle against them or I can work with Him to fully and wholeheartedly become the person He wants me to be, wherever and however that might be. If I am wise I will seek my fulfilment within His parameters  – and I will discover that His plan for me is indeed beautiful.dsc_0419

This is such good news for me as I continue on in this season of motherhood. Because there are days when I question the value of what I do. And there are days when I see greener grass on the other side of the fence, when my job is hard and frankly I am not very good at it. There are voices and pressures which cast doubt on the wisdom of being so focused on my job as wife and mother.As I get older I live with the reality of unfulfilled dreams and a long list of un-accomplishments. And I am tempted to covet those things when I see them in other people’s lives  – until I come back to an acceptance of the portion God has appointed for me and I trust again that obedience in a life hidden in the home is of more eternal significance than all the accolades the world could give me, that it is better for me to faithfully serve where God has planted me, than to shine  in a place of my own appointment.

For this season of my life God has called me to focus my energies on serving in my home and with my home. It is more than okay to do that. It is a high calling.It is a far higher calling than most of us realise.  It precludes many other things but equally opens the door to opportunities of which I would never have dreamed, if I had been in too much of a hurry to get back to something “more significant” and better paid.

But this is my path and mine alone. There is no “one size fits all” life plan. The picture-perfect life that oozes through Facebook and Instagram pictures is indeed a perfect illusion. God’s plan for each one of us is as unique as we are. I am set free by this truth to be content with the path He has chosen for me, even if it looks different from yours.  After all, His plans for me are for good and not harm, to give me hope and a future.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

 

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Posted in conflict, marriage

escaping marriage madness

Sometimes I am guilty of behaviour in my marriage that can only be described as a form of madness. There are things that I do, behaviours that I repeat that I know will not do any good, but I do it anyway. I know better but I go with the flow of my emotion rather than the cool reasoning of my head. And I know that I will live to regret it but I make that choice anyway.

What is folly? The dictionary defines folly as a lack of good sense, understanding or foresight, or an act or instance of foolishness, or a costly undertaking having an absurd or ruinous outcome. I like that last description best of all because I think it describes well what can  happen when we indulge in certain types of foolish behaviour in marriage. At the time it feels so good to release spleen in our marriage relationships but the fact is that a consistent practice of foolish behaviour may result in ruin for our relationship, or for some area in it, and the net result can be very costly.

What do those ruinous behaviours look like for me? I might say my field of expertise lies in the area of verbal acrobatics. I just have a way with words, a way of using them that is singularly effective at turning our marriage into a battle ground. Your skills might lie elsewhere. But I am talking about the things we do or the methods we use when we get into marital conflicts which might even feel constructive but are actually only good as demolition tools. It might be nagging and manipulation, it might be withdrawal and the silent treatment, it might be shouting and yelling.dsc_0706_1 If it feels like it is achieving something at the time but at the end of the day is damaging and distracting and it drains our marriage of strength, it probably belongs in this category.

But conflict comes into any and every marriage with frightening regularity, so how do we deal with it in a way which helps move our relationship forward rather than let it be slowly eroded by less than loving words and behaviours?

The following passage provided a helpful perspective for me on this issue.

“I will hear what God the Lord will say; for He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land… Righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way.” Psalm 85:8-9,13

The first step for me when I am dealing with marital conflict is recognising the folly of some of my behaviour, some of my responses and coping mechanisms. I need to recognise the things that I do over and over,  which  get pretty much the same responses from my husband, over and over. And I need to stop the cycle. So how do I stop it? Verse 8 of Psalm 85 tells me that God’s way is the way of peace. But it is a peace which I receive when I walk God’s path and don’t go down the path of my own foolishness. It is as if in each conflict I am standing at a crossroads,  a signpost pointing one way to the road of strife and the other way to the path of peace. I will not enjoy the peace I long for at heart if I choose my own path and my own methods for resolving the conflict. That is the way of folly. God promises peace to those who walk His way, to those who walk in godliness. There is no other way to that peace. We can’t arrive at it by any other means. God promises to save those who fear Him (v.9). He will be my salvation in my marital conflicts, in those moments when it is hard to do good, and hard to love in marriage but only  if I choose to fear or revere God, rather than fearing and reacting to  the circumstances. He will save me in the middle of the conflict, if I choose to stop trusting in my “methods” which are folly and start trusting Him. To trust Him means to obey Him and obeying Him, my trust will grow as He navigates me safely through my conflicts.

It sounds easy enough. But to obey Him, I must hear what He says. “I will hear what God the Lord will say;” and to hear I must listen and I must listen purposefully. That kind of purposeful listening comes when I finally get to the end of my own worn-out methods of solving conflicts and realise that they are woefully inadequate. And when God has got my attention and I begin to listen, He can begin to change me. And then something amazing happens. I begin to get a glimpse of God’s glory in my very own marriage.  Because God’s glory dwells where God brings change – because the change He brings is so different from anything I could produce myself. It is supernatural. It isn’t anything that I could naturally have produced. It is Spirit-willed and Spirit-filled and by it God is glorified. dsc_1000

When I don’t see the way forward in an area of conflict in my marriage, I need to know that the way forward is one step at a time, but on the path of God’s choosing. Psalm 85 says “righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way.” I need to learn to put my feet into  His footsteps. His footsteps will always lead me forward in right behaviour. The issue at stake is not changing my husband so that I can love him more fully, because he is now more worthy of my love. It is about me obeying God’s righteousness in my own life and letting Him transform me and stopping focusing on the ways my husband needs to change. I need and want to more like Sarah in this, who did” what is right without being frightened by any fear” 1 Peter 3:6. My husband’s right or wrong behaviour cannot be my measuring stick. God doesn’t even hold it up for me as a carrot or reward for doing what’s right. My reward is in the peace that comes from knowing that I am doing what God loves. There is no guarantee that our husbands will become better people or will necessarily start seeing things from my point of view when we change for the better, but it may make it easier for them to be wooed and won by God’s Spirit if I stop erecting walls through my bad choices.

God’s righteousness is the better way through the minefield of marital conflict. I want to forsake the folly of foolish behaviour, the folly of words spoken hastily and later regretted, and the folly of behaviours which cause destruction and grief. I want to pursue God’s way, which is the way of wisdom and the way of peace.

So far I am taking baby steps along that path. But God has my attention. How about you?

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Posted in Faith, God's Word, motherhood, parenting, Passing on faith

Growing faith.

One of my biggest struggles/frustrations/issues as a parent is learning how to pass on a living Christian faith to my four children. It’s an area where I have often wished there was one thing I could do,   or even  “Three Things To Do That Will Turn Your Kids From Sinners to Saints in Seven Days”,  a principle to apply,  10 easy steps to follow that would turn them all into strong Christians, so I could stop worrying about them, stop having to deal with their sinful choices and move into the blessed realm of enjoying sweet fellowship with them day after day.Unfortunately, I haven’t found the secret remedy for such a sudden and dramatic change yet.

Thankfully, God didn’t leave us clueless and helpless in this parenting business and He has provided a framework which, though not a hundred percent successful because we live in a fallen world, allows us parents to give our children the best possible chance for developing a healthy spirituality.  But it doesn’t involve a few easy steps. It involves our complete commitment -all of us.

“For He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments, and not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Psalm 78:5-8

I know I am not the only Christian parent who is sometimes troubled with the problem of how to pass on a living and dynamic Christian faith to their children. It is an issue that is often if not always on my mind, especially when I read verses like the ones above seen in the context of Psalm 78 and when I see the consequences of disobedience to God’s Word and His ways being played out every day in a myriad of ways in the world around me. I have experienced the devastating consequences of sin in my own life and have observed it enough times in the lives of others to know that I don’t want my children to wander away from God’s way. Yet I know I am not responsible to convert them. Only God’s Spirit can do that. It is His grace and it is His prerogative. I can only ask and accept God’s final word on that. But I do have a responsibility to my children, a very important job which He has given each parent, one which is vital for the development of a healthy and informed faith in our children and I need to understand how to do this. Even if at the end of the day my children decide to reject my faith, they need to so in an informed way. They need to know what they are rejecting and what God’s Word says about those who do. Ignorance is not bliss. If our children are ignorant about these important issues  we bear a heavy responsibility as Christian parents. So how do I pass on a reasonable knowledge of God’s Word and a hunger and a reverence for it, and a desire to walk in its ways? How do I teach it to them in such a way that my children “put their confidence in God and (do) not forget His works”?

This is what Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and img_8229when you rise up.”

The first thing I need to realise as a Christian parent is that I cannot be passive about passing on God’s Word to my children. How do I pass on God’s Word actively to my children?

  1. For starters, much as these things are really good things to do, having children who are passionate about God and his Word isn’t going to happen through a weekly attendance at Sunday School and a short devotional time each evening, even if I am completely consistent about it all the time. It’s not even enough to read devotional books with our children, even if we do it morning, noon and night. The passage in Deuteronomy gives us the right emphasis: “you shall teach..and talk of them when you sit…when you walk… and when you lie down.. and when you rise up.” The point is not that we keep quoting little bits of Scripture wherever we are and wherever we go,  and whatever we are doing. The point is that Scripture has so soaked into us that it spills out in our attitudes, actions, priorities and choices all the time. You might have heard the phrase “You can’t lead others to places you haven’t been”. You can only take others as far as you have gone yourself. That totally applies to our love for the Word. Are my children a bit lukewarm about God’s Word? We can’t hope to pass on a passion for God’s Word if we haven’t developed one in ourselves. We can’t talk about faith and leaning on God’s promises if our pragmatic Christianity preaches a different story. So at the very outset, if I want to pass on a passion for God’s word and His ways, I need to develop that in myself. That is my starting point. I need to make God’s Word, His commands top priority in my own life. I need to let it start shaping my own mind, my heart and my will. I need to learn to love it, hunger for it and live it.
  2. ALL of my conversation,  –  that’s where Deuteronomy comes in with its teaching and talking wherever and whenever – needs to be reflective of my deep faith in God’s Word. It can’t be faked. Children are experts at spotting hypocrisy and they will learn far more from our example than our words. Even if I read and quote God’s Word to them constantly, if the rest of my conversation betrays a different emphasis, different priorities, double standards and a basic lack of trust and obedience to God’s ways, they will know it and they will follow suit. I pass on God’s Word best of all when my children see it backed up by my life and my words the rest of the time. They need to see my faith in God’s Word take on flesh and bones in real life situations, in the nitty-gritty of daily living and in the arena of parenting them. They need to see our honest appraisal of our own failure to live up to godly standards and our acceptance of grace and forgiveness – to know that IT WORKS.  The key word in all of this is CONSISTENCY.
  3. I need to start an ongoing conversation with my children about EVERYTHING in relation to God’s Word. I need to teach myself and then them to examine what God’s Word says about everything in life MORE than what I say. I need to learn to teach them to say  not “what would Mum say?” but “What does God say?”. At the end of the day I want to raise my children to be God’s children MORE than my children. After all, at heart and apart from the grace of God in my life, I am as stubborn and rebellious as the generation portrayed in Psalm 78. I don’t want them to “like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation…that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” I have discovered that there is little more painful than seeing my children repeat my mistakes and develop in themselves my character flaws, setting up a mirror for me to see my own faults. That is not what I want for them.  I want my children to grow up more and more in the image of the Lord Jesus Christ and not in my image. I want them to have the wisdom from above and not just my wisdom.
  4. Children have a zillion questions. Instead of being so ready to air my opinions so quickly and so constantly I need to learn to lead them to God’s Word for the answers. It is true  (and flattering) that my children might hold my opinions for a while but only God’s Word can change them for good. It is “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness: so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I don’t have all the answers to all their questions but I can lead them to the One who does. This after all is the whole and  holy purpose of Christian parenting.

Could it be that we are not passing on our love for God and His Word because it is on a back burner in our own lives? Could it be that the reality of our lives betrays an innate lack of trust in what God says and a blindness to the wonders of God’s word, to its intrinsic worth. If we believed it, we would read it with more urgency THAN ANYTHING ELSE.

The best thing we can do for the next generation is to fall in love with Jesus and His Word all over again.  It is the very best thing I can do for my children. Therefore, I am praying daily that God would “open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from (His) law.” (Psalm 119:18). Why don’t you pray it too?

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Joy, parenting

The Battle for Joy

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand… For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”” Isaiah 41:10,13

These were the words I chose to read this morning. I chose them because I knew I needed them. Because I needed to hear God’s command to “fear not”. Why? Because my heart becomes too easily fearful. I am finely tuned to things which I can add to my “worry list” – an unidentified ache or pain, a puzzling statement someone makes, an unfinished project, a mistake made. There’s plenty of scope out there if worrying is what you want to do.  The worst of it is that the worrying things seem to find their way into my head largely subconsciously. Little things creep in at the corner of my attention and nag and worry away at my peace of mind until I find myself greatly anxious without really knowing why. Small thoughts , which I haven’t checked before letting them into the recesses of my mind, once accumulated, steal my strength and my joy, until I bring my weary burden back to my loving Father and lay it down at His feet again. But  sometimes not before there has been some collateral damage. Not before I have damaged someone or something else because of my own struggle with the fearfulness of life.

Last night I couldn’t fall asleep. Actually that happens pretty rarely. I am usually out like a light once my head hits the pillow. Not last night. It was like I was high on caffeine, except for the fact that I have only had two cups of coffee in the last two weeks. I racked my brains trying to remember what I had eaten or drunk that could be making me so wakeful but in the end had to admit that it was simply my uneasy mind which was not letting me fall asleep. Things were piling up in my mind, which, though not enormous, were tipping the scale of my emotions towards feeling rather overwhelmed by all that I need to do and all that could potentially go wrong. Starting with not getting enough sleep!  I’d like to say that I realised immediately what the problem was and having brought my anxieties to God, settled down into a peaceful night’s sleep. But that would not be true. It took about an hour and a half of tossing and turning before I quieted my thoughts long enough to remind myself that I didn’t need to be doing this. The trouble is that we sometimes think that we are the only ones who really know how to handle our problems and find the right solutions. We think we know better than everyone, including God! And I, we, are certainly not ready to hand over control to Him because we want things to be done our way. Last night there were a couple of issues on my mind which I simply needed to surrender to Him, where I simply needed and need to let go, to trust and grow in the grace of patience.

Worrying and fretting simply never changes situations for the better.. “Do not fret” says David in Psalm 37, “it leads only to evildoing”. This is one of my favourite verses and I use it to remind myself that my fretting and my worrying are not just unhelpful but are positively harmful. Why do I need to remind myself of this? Because when I  am in the middle of my fretting, it feels so constructive, so necessary, and so purposeful. But Corrie Ten Boom was right when she said ” Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles… it empties today of its strength.”

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Worry doesn’t only steal sleep from us. It steals joy and spontaneity from our lives and it steals never-to-be-repeated opportunities. I have robbed myself of the joy of some days because of inordinate worries or unfounded fears. I have lost the joy of certain periods in my parenting or even in my marriage for the same reason. I have lost the joy that could and should have been part of certain relationships and  I have even lost or almost lost certain relationships because of fretting and worrying that clouded my judgement and twisted my behaviour.  Fretting leads to “evildoing”. No wonder it is so much on God’s heart that we learn to “not fear”.

Why is it so hard for us to let go of our fears when we can see how damaging they can be? I think it has to do with our focus. When I focus on the problem or the “fearful” thing, it becomes the biggest thing for me. It consumes my attention and blinds me to an accurate estimation of reality. Surrendering my fears has to do with learning to move my gaze from that object which is consuming my thoughts to a different object, not by way of distraction, but in order to see the worry in correct proportion to the whole picture. Best of all is when I turn my eyes upon Jesus, to the One who makes everything else shrink down to its proper size when seen in relation to Him.

Remember Goliath? David’s brothers and the whole Israelite army were in fear and trembling because of the huge size of the Philistine’s champion. He was truly a giant in their eyes and compared to their own physical build.  They saw him in proportion to themselves. It took a man after God’s own heart, a man who saw everything in relation to God Almighty, to see Goliath for what he really was, a “puny god”, and easily defeated by anyone when God was on their side.

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There is only one way in which we can have the victory over our fears and worries and that it is by seeing them in proportion to who God is, to what He has promised and by understanding that He is the One who is with us, strengthening us and upholding us (see Isaiah 41:10,13), and by focusing more on Him than on anything else.

Why worry about our worry? Why deal with it? Because it is destructive. Fear blinds us and causes us to stumble.Fear distorts our perception and our ability to make truly wise decisions. On the contrary filling our gaze with God won’t make us blind. It will give us the clearest vision we have ever had. It will enable us to see everything in its true light and it will enable us to walk with confidence and not stumble.

How our marriages and our families would be changed if we refused to fuel fear-driven behaviour and entrusted far more of our worries, our dreams, disappointments, hopes and fears into God’s safekeeping. How many unnecessary conflicts we would avoid. How much more energy we could pour into loving others and living our best with what God gives us, if we didn’t fight so many exhausting battles on the field of “what ifs”. How much more fun we would have. How much more would we comprehend that we serve a delightfully good
God. None of us will truly understand how outrageously good God is until we get to heaven. I don’t want to let fear and worry steal any more opportunities from me to enjoy as much of His goodness as He chooses to reveal to me here on earth. But I know that this battle is the battle for joy and it is not fought and won once but many times, in fact, as many times as I let my gaze linger too long on anything without seeing it from the perspective of who God is.dsc_0337

If I want more joy in my life, I need to spend less time wrestling with my worries.They will defeat me today if I choose to focus on them. But tomorrow or some day soon, I will see
them for the insubstantial creatures that they really were, creatures that will come crashing down with the ease of a stone flicked from a sling shot when I turn my attention to the One who is my Champion, the One who has promised to  uphold my right hand with His righteous right hand, the One who is with me and will help me.  

When I learn to leave all my worries with Him, “casting all (my) anxiety on Him, because He cares for (me) (1 Peter 5:7), then  I will sleep peacefully, caffeine or no caffeine.

 

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8 

 

Posted in Faith, Joy, Refreshing, weariness

When it’s hard to keep walking.

Today I woke up less than enthusiastic at the thought of facing another day, fighting gloomy feelings and a heaviness in my spirit that I didn’t really understand.

Some mornings are like that, more mornings than I like to admit.  I just don’t feel like waking up. There is a heaviness to life which makes sleep preferable. I just feel down. Down in the dumps. Weighed down with more than I feel willing to carry.

Today I asked myself and God why I sometimes get so low, depressed even. What causes it? Where is the problem? Why do I wake up with a groan instead of a sense of delight?

I know when I get empty inside that I have been trying to fill up on the wrong things and they have left me dissatisfied. But there is perhaps something else going on too when I begin to feel depressed, a bit unhappy, and a bit like giving up. Could it have to do with some mistaken goals in my life, goals like my children’s good behaviour, like having a husband who understands me in the deepest part of me,  a loving and appreciative family and close friends?  These are good things to want but I cannot and shouldn’t make them the basis of my happiness. I can want them, I can pray for them and I can even have a measure of influence over whether these things happen. But, ultimately, other people determine how they will behave towards me and towards each other. When other people’s behaviour becomes the source of my happiness, I am on precarious ground indeed. I put other people in control of my emotional state and, naturally, I feel very insecure. Neil Anderson, author of “The Bondage Breaker” writes that depression is the end result of making goals out of good desires, which are not within our power to fulfil. I call it by the good old-fashioned word “idolatry”, that is, making idols out of legitimate desires and seeking our happiness, our security or our significance in their fulfilment. Whether we call them wrong goals or idols, the end result is the same. They leave us depressed when we don’t get what we pinned our hopes on. They leave us frustrated, insecure and finally depressed with the ups and downs of other people’s decisions.

When my joy is based on how much other people, such as my husband and children, love, appreciate, respect/obey me, I set myself up for emotional volatility, for disappointment, discouragement, frustration and ultimately the depression of defeat. I set myself on a course where happiness becomes an uphill struggle, a burden and an endless treadmill of effort. But equally when I seek to feel good by being good, by measuring up to the standard I have set myself, life becomes drudgery and I wake up weary to face another day of the same. Either way the pursuit of happiness becomes a weary burden on my shoulders. But Jesus invites us to come to Him, to lay down our burdens and to take His yoke and His burden upon us, because His yoke is easy and His burden is light. There is a way of living this life which is not a constant struggle with the consequences of sinful choices whether mine or someone else’s,  or with the effort to avoid sin. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” At the end of the day my joy and my security cannot come from other people, my circumstances or even my own “successes”. It has to come from my relationship with Jesus, from trusting Jesus and looking to Him for EVERYTHING I need. My delight must come from walking with Him, trusting Him with today, trusting Him with tomorrow, trusting Him with the people and the circumstances of my life. That is the starting place for true happiness. True happiness comes at the point when I realise that Jesus is ALL I really need and that I already have Him.

I got out of bed weary this morning, despite the feasting of the twelve days of Christmas, or perhaps because of it, weary from the effort of having a good time with my family, weary of seeking rest and relaxation. But my very weariness reminded me that only Jesus can truly refresh me within. Only He can lift the burden from my shoulder. Only He can be what I truly need. Only His love will satisfy the lonely places within that not even my husband and children can reach. Only His presence can give me courage to face the unpredictability of circumstances. Only in Him can I truly rest. Without Him, sooner or later, life becomes an unbearable burden. With Him, and through Him, I can do all things.

Sometimes I feel like Martha, distracted with all her preparations to prepare a wonderful feast and welcoming environment for the Lord Jesus.Like Martha, I get distracted with all the elements that I think should be “just right” in my life. My goals get muddled up and I end up frustrated.

“But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)

What would be left if all the different layers of my life were stripped away? All the things I set such store by?  Would anything be left? Without Jesus, I would have nothing. With Him I have everything. Why strive for more?

My shoulders are weary and my soul needs rest. It’s time even now to choose the good part, to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus and listen to His word. That is the one thing that is necessary. He will take care of the rest.

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Posted in Christmas, Faith

Coming ready or not

Ever since the Fall man has been playing hide and seek with God.

It began with the first bite from that tempting fruit, the one Eve so readily shared with Adam and which was man’s first attempt to find satisfaction in something other than that which God was offering.

And the game began.

Man hides, God seeks.

Just like Adam and Eve we hide because we are ashamed and we think that by staying in the shadows, we will avoid detection and that we can avoid dealing with our messes. But just like in that very first garden, God pursues us, wherever we are hiding, and lovingly draws us towards the light. Because He knows that we cannot put our messes to right while we hide in the dark.dsc_0870-2

Life can feel messy a lot.  I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we feel messy too. I know I do. Much as I like everything to be nicely sorted and tidy, on the inside of me, it isn’t that easy. I get messed up. My inner world has a propensity for returning to disorder each and every day. And when I begin to feel too messy, I begin to hide. I begin to reason with myself that I will first get my act together and then I will come to the light.

But God seeks me and when I flee, God pursues me. And God invites me to come as I am.

Why do I not come?

When I am running on empty, why do I not come to Him to be filled?

In this gift-wrapped season of sparkle and good cheer, if our inner world doesn’t match up with the image we are promoting, we may find it more comfortable to avoid looking at it. We may prefer to leave it in the shadows for a more convenient time. And  we may continue to fill up on the wrong things, filling up the places in our lives which were designed to be filled up with God.

But what is the greatest gift I can give myself this year? More things? More shine and sparkle? More tastes and sensations? More time with loved ones? More relaxation? More fun? More sheer indulgence and extravagance? More and more and more?  Promising me more satisfaction, more fulfilment, more significance, and more happiness? And yet I end up emptier and more dissatisfied, seeking a fullness that eludes me each time.

God is the one Gift we all need. He is the gift which sets us free from our cravings and fills our empty. As we teach our children that the gifts under the tree are not the only or even the main significance of Christmas, I need that reminder too. Not because I seek gifts under my tree, but because I seek the meaning of life in the things of life, in its gifts, rather than in the giver. Because life gives many good gifts but when they become the main thing for me, everything gets off-centre. I try and fill my empty with things which themselves are emptied of power and meaning, because they are emptied of God’s presence.

When Eve reached out and took the forbidden fruit in the garden, she took mankind’s first step away from finding satisfaction in God alone. She wanted something besides God and in the process lost God and all that was left was her fruit-stained mouth,  a lingering bitter-sweet aftertaste and cravings that would never be satisfied. Isn’t that what it is like when we fill up on things other than God? It looks so enticing, so inviting, and so promising but it doesn’t fill us up. We are left with a craving for more.

Remember Edmund in C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

“Each piece (of Turkish Delight) was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. ..At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat…At last the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she (the Queen) would ask him whether he would like some more. Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking; for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.”

All our things have the power of enchantment over us while we are not being filled by God. But while too much of anything else will make us sick, we can never ever have too much of God.

I know my tendency to avoid coming to Him for that filling, my tendency to hide in the dark when my life feels messy, and  my tendency, instead, to pour other things into the bottomless pit of my soul to the point of distraction. I know the pull of other things and I am prone to believe the lie that they will fill me up and keep me satisfied – and comfortable. But God makes me uncomfortable in order to heal me and then He teaches me img_4336to come daily to His table.And when I eat at His table, I find myself becoming whole in ways that I never imagined.

So today  I choose, again,  to come to God’s living fountain, and to drink deeply of His living waters. I choose to be refreshed deep inside because I don’t want the trappings of life to become the main thing. I don’t want to get lost in the wrappings and miss the gift. I want to experience God’s waters bubbling over inside of me. I want to truly slake my thirst and to find true sustenance for my soul. I want deep soul satisfaction at the table He spreads out before me, instead of trying to satisfy my soul needs with anything else. He created me and you to be satisfied in Him alone. Everything else is fluff.

As I walk this walk of life with God,  I am beginning to understand that the feast is only just beginning. And it promises to be the best.  Will you join me? Will you let yourself be given the greatest gift this Christmas? You cannot receive if you do not come.

Come join the feast!

“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying,”If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”               John 7:  37-38

Please write and share if and  how you have found God to be the one Gift you really need. I’d love to hear your story.

Posted in Food

Squidgy apple and ginger cake

What better place to start a collection of my favourite recipes than with dessert? This is a delicious recipe passed on to me by my sister and is an excellent cake for these cold winter months. It is all kinds of comforting with its delicious spicy aroma, its crunchy sweet topping and its squidgy apple goodness. Try it and you will see what I mean. It actually improves with keeping if you can resist eating it for long enough.

You will need:

110 g butter

225 g dark brown sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

30 g grated fresh ginger

215 g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

300 g peeled, cored and diced apple.

For the topping.

2 tbsp runny honey

2 tbsp brown sugar

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 170 ° C.  Grease a 20 cm round baking tin.

Cream the butter and the dark brown sugar and gradually beat in the beaten eggs, followed by the ginger. Sift over the flour and baking powder and fold in gently. Stir the apple into the mixture.  Spoon it into the prepared baking tin and bake for approximately 1 hour or until the cake is well risen and browned. IMG_6338Allow to cool slightly before turning it out onto a wire rack. Mix together the honey and the brown sugar and spread over the cake while it is still warm.

Enjoy it with a lovely cup of tea and serve it warm with cream or icecream.

 

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