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Monday, 28 March 2016

"Who Wants to go to Wellington Point!"

Growing up, my family had a lot of traditions. Easter, Christmas, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, even first day of school, we had traditions for everything. I tried to count them once. I lost count around twenty, which doesn't sound like that many until you realise that for each of those 'major' traditions, there were a bunch of little ones. 

One of my absolute favourites was always watching the sunrise at Wellington Point on Easter Sunday morning.

Dad would wake up the family while it was still dark, we’d get dressed in the clothes we’d laid out on the floor the night before and then all pile into our Tarago to drive to Wellington Point where we’d watch the sunrise – that very physical reminder that Jesus, the Son, rose again. Then we’d have breakfast, climb trees (some siblings more adventurous, and coordinated, that I doing both at once) and usually walk out along the jetty before heading off to church.

Each bit of it became a tradition in itself. The setting out of our clothes the night before, laying them out on the floor like a person just evaporated out of them; Dad waking us up by turning our bedroom lights on and asking “who wants to go to Wellington Point!” in the same tone each year; the same table for breakfast, the same Bible passage we read, the same thrill when the sun – which I was sure some years it would be too overcast to see – finally broke through the clouds and blinded us with its brilliance.

And the same fear, every single year, that dad had slept through his alarm and we’d miss the sunrise.

Yup, every single year.

I’d lie awake in the gradually lightening darkness, listening for his alarm for what felt like hours, telling myself that he’d never missed it before but still anxious he would this year. No doubt he checked the exact time the sun would rise each year beforehand and knew exactly how long it would take to get to Wellington Point – we were never going to miss it – but as a kid, I had no idea about all that. I’d just watch the sky getting lighter and lighter and convince myself he’d forgotten.

He never did. In the twenty-one years I lived at home, he never once missed a sunrise.

I was thinking about that as I watched the sunrise this year, not from Wellington Point but from my backyard. Thinking about how many times I think God has forgotten something, or get upset like he has, because it looks like he has. He promises he’ll do something and I get all prepared, setting out my figurative clothing, then, full of faith, settle down to wait. And I’m fine with that.

Until the sky starts to lighten.

Things start happening around me and I know that God is about to come through with his promise. Only he doesn’t. Nothing happens. So I sit there, certain he hasn’t forgotten me, terrified he has. Knowing that he’s never let me down before, that he always keeps his promises, but wondering why it’s taking so long. And if maybe I should be doing something to speed it up.

Funny the things that go through your mind while you’re waiting. The alarm’s broken. The power’s gone off. He forgot to set the alarm. He’s forgotten what day it is.

Or, in the case of God’s promises… He’s forgotten me. I heard wrong, it wasn’t really a promise. It’s not going to happen. I can’t wait for him any longer, if it’s going to happen, I have to do it myself. It’s too late now, I’m going to miss out…

The wait feels like an eternity.

But then, at the perfect time – the time he planned all along – the lights come on and there God stands, asking if we’re ready to go. “Who wants to go change the world with me!” Not hurried, not rushed, not anxious that we’ll miss the chance because we waited – just ready.

I doubt Dad ever lay in bed, staring at the lightening sky, worried we’d miss the sunrise. He didn’t have to. He knew what time it did. He knew more than I did, just like God does.

God doesn’t sit in heaven, watching what’s going on around us, worried we’ll miss our moment. He doesn’t need to. He knows exactly the right time, and that’s when he’ll act.

Maybe one year, Dad might have forgotten to set his alarm, but God never will. If God has made you a promise, he will keep it.   

Something else I learned from sunrises? It always takes longer than I think it will. But it always rises.

And every new day brings new hope.

Trust God, not the lightening skies. He will always keep his promises.

Monday, 14 March 2016

May the Words of my Mouth and the Testimony of my Knees...

I don’t know if anyone’s knees could be considered particularly beautiful but mine are definitely not so. They’re rough, calloused, knobbly, occasionally swollen and look a bit like I’m recovering from perpetually falling over, mostly due to so much time spent crawling around on them chasing after, playing with and cleaning up after little kids.

I have a healthy respect for knees, believe me. It only takes a few months of them not working for one to realise how valuable those seemingly inconsequential joints truly are! But apart from when they’re not working, I don’t really think of them much. I’ve certainly never considered them beautiful.

And I never would have guessed in my craziest imaginings that God would ever use them to start a conversation with someone about himself.


But that’s just what he did. As he does.

I was spending the day with a group of friends who aren’t Christians when not one but two of them asked (completely separate of each other) whether my knees are so calloused because I spend so much time praying. I don’t know whether they’d been talking about it between themselves or whether they just both thought alike. Either way, I found the question amusing. And boy, did I wish I could have said yes! Instead, I told them the truth – that while I pray lots, and do kneel sometimes, mostly it’s just wherever I am at the time. And left it at that.

The topic changed after that and we chatted about different things but I was buzzing with excitement to be asked such a thing twice. It might not have seemed much to anyone else, but it felt huge to me.

See, I go out of my way not to talk about God to that particular group of friends. Not only are they not Christians, but they’ve told me in no uncertain terms that they have no intention of becoming so. They’ve known people who called themselves Christians in the past, been hurt by them, and made their decision about God.

It seems a strange thing for God to say, but he told me not long after I met these friends not to try to convert them. Don’t invite them to church. Don't try to bring up God in everyday discussion. Don’t go out of my way to tell them what I believe or use any other subtle approaches – which usually aren’t as subtle as we think. Just be their friend. Think long term, not short term. Be a Christian, without talking about it. Show them who God is without words. Don’t start arguments or debates, just be there.

So, weird an instruction as it seemed, that’s what I’ve done. Which is why it’s so cool when they are the ones to bring up God in a conversation and I get the chance to say something, small as it may be, about what I believe.

Occasionally I wonder, while I’m desperately praying they find God, if maybe I heard God wrong and should be trying to find ways to tell them about him. What if they die and I never took the chance to tell them about Jesus? After all, it’s almost counter-biblical to be silent. 

But then moments like these come up, and I realise not only that they’re thinking about God but that they’re noticing the difference he makes in me. And I realise that not saying anything is one of the greatest witnesses I can have to this particular group of friends at this particular time. They don’t need another Christian trying to change them, they need a friend showing them what Jesus’ love really looks like. Who Jesus really is.

I think we’d all be surprised if we really knew how much others are watching us. And how much of our lives God is already using to impact others for him. The things we say. The priorities we have. The decisions we make. The way we react to tough situations – and tough people. They're watching, and, whether we realise or not, often making their decision on God based on what they see of him in us. 

For some people, that might be a horrifying thought but for me, it's an incredible encouragement. Even while I am silent, God is working. Through me. In spite of me. Because he is greater and knows more about those other people and what is going on in their hearts than I ever could.

And one day, I truly believe they will come to know Jesus for themselves, not as they once thought he was, but as he really is. Maybe I'll even have the privilege of praying with them as they accept him into their own lives.

But for now, my job is to keep silent, pray unceasingly and trust that God is working in their lives in ways I could never imagine. Because God is always working and can use anything to speak into a person’s life.

Even something as inconsequential as my knobbly, calloused knees.  

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Love in our Dirtiness

I wasn’t going to use this post. I wrote it over a week ago, all excited about how incredibly prepared I was to have it ready so early, and then decided it wasn’t right. So I put it in my ‘needs more work’ file and started writing on another topic entirely. Part of me wonders if maybe it just seemed too scary. Either way, I cut it. 

And then it came up in a book I’d randomly chosen to read. And in the sermon at church last Sunday. And a Lion King song that got stuck in my head for two days. And in a conversation with a friend. And a heart-level email with another friend. And, just in case I hadn’t quite gotten the message yet, the TV series I just started watching.

Once got my attention. Twice could have been a coincidence. But to have the same thing come up that many times? In such varied ways? I decided God was definitely trying to tell me something, and maybe someone else needed to hear it too. So here it is:

Unconditional love comes through our dirtiness.

Griminess, imperfections, failures, dirt – call it what you will. It’s at that level of sharing and being open with people – and only through that – that we find true love.

I heard the idea put into words for the first time seven years ago at a youth leaders’ conference. I was sitting through a day-long Professional Development session and while I can’t remember what the title of the intensive was, or even who the speaker was, that particular point he made has stuck with me ever since. Probably because it was one of those complete epiphany moments for me.

Affection? Friendship? Admiration? They come through our beauty and perfection but real, gut-level, never-gonna-walk-away love comes through our dirtiness.

You will never know if someone loves you unconditionally until that person has seen every bit of your ‘dirtiness’. The secrets you don’t want to tell. The things you’ve always hidden. The insecurities, the bitterness, the failures, the doubts.

Simba, the Lion King, knew what that was like. Nala had said she loved him, yet he doubted it would last once she knew what really hid in his past. Remember his verse in ‘Can you Feel the Love Tonight?”

So many things to tell her
But how to make her see
The truth about my past?
Impossible! She’d turn away from me.

He wasn’t the only one either. It's the basis of almost every romance novel around, and a vast number of biographies. He/She loves me. But would they still if they knew…?

I think that’s why I find it so easy to believe it when God says he loves me. Because he’s seen it all. He’s seen every bit of my dirtiness – even the things I’m too ashamed to admit to myself – and he still loves me. Completely.

But it terrifies me to let others in. God, I can trust. He won’t walk away. But others? Humans like me? People with preconceptions and judgements and opinions? Revealing my dirtiness to them comes with a risk. They might decide to walk away. So I let them in partway. I show them pieces of me. I put barriers on their love because I put barriers on my life.

And all the time I wonder what it would be like if I truly let them in. And I’m not talking about random strangers or mere acquaintances, but real friends.

What would it be like if I tore down those barriers and let them see the broken me? The frail me? The one who fails and doubts and has days when I just want to go into my room, lock everyone else and all my responsibilities out, throw myself across my bed and sob for hours because I know I’ll never be enough?

What if I let them see me? The closest friends I have in the world are the people who I’ve shared those moments with. Who’ve been courageous enough to let me into their mess and given me the strength to let them see mine.

The funny thing is though, not one of those people I’ve ever shared real life with – my griminess and vulnerabilities – has ever walked away. Instead, they’ve come closer, and shown me that I’m not as alone in this as I thought I was.

We all struggle. We all have things we’re ashamed of and things we’d rather hide. But I wonder how many of those things are the same from person to person. How many times we think we’re alone only to realise the person beside us is struggling with the same thing.

Unconditional love comes not through our perfections but our imperfections and we will never truly know it until we let people in.

Take a risk. Let them see.

Who knows? Like Nala did for Simba, they might just stay.