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Tuesday, 18 December 2018

A Heart Full of Hope

Waiting is no fun. Believe me, I know. This year has been a huge year of waiting for me – these past few months in particular. Waiting for answers, waiting for slow kids, waiting for packages to arrive, waiting on email replies, waiting for the ice cream truck (oh wait, that’s just today ;)) One of those packages I mentioned? I ordered it almost three months ago now from a company in the US. Customs, Christmas season and postal strikes in the US meant I waited three weeks for it to arrive, only to have it be the wrong item. They were very helpful and immediately sent out a replacement (and said I could keep the first one). Six weeks later, the replacement finally arrived, only to be the wrong one again! Again, very helpful and apologetic, refunded the money, told me to keep the wrong one and have, again, sent out a replacement – which I’m still waiting for. 
That’s the kind of year it’s been. Waiting, on top of waiting, on top of waiting. Holding on to hope that, at the end of the waiting, there will be something worth waiting for. 
It’s made this Christmas so poignant. 
That, and the fact that I’ve been ‘big picture reading’ (8-10 chapters at a time) my Bible chronologically for the past few months. I’ve read the Bible from start to finish before (once I’ve always been more of a pick a book and study it for a while person) but this is the first time I’ve read it chronologically. And it’s been mind-blowing.
The story of God’s incredible grace, patience and faithfulness not just through a single chapter or person but through generations. The prophesies, the psalms, the promises. God’s people failing over and over, walking away when all God wanted was to lavish love on them. Them finally being exiled, all these terrible but rightfully-deserved punishments being piled on them but still, throughout each death- and horror-filled prediction, the promise of hope. Of salvation. 
“I’ll send you away, but I’ll bring you back. Yes, you’ll be in exile, but I’ll send a Savior to bring you home. I will not forget you. When you turn back, I’ll be there, already waiting. You’ve strayed so far, but I’ll make a way back. You are my people. You’ve forgotten me but I will never forget you.”
And they were exiled. God turned away. He was silent. For seven hundred years. The people waited. And waited. And waited.
And then, just like God had promised, he made a way. 
Jesus came. 
A promise fulfilled. 
The end of the wait. 
The answer.
The Savior they’d been waiting for. 
Hope, when they’d almost given up.
That day, which probably seemed like every other day, nothing out of the ordinary, everything changed. Whether the people knew it or not, the wait was over. 
This is what Christmas is. The end of the wait. The promise fulfilled. 
I don’t like waiting but wow, to look forward in hope and know that, just like God did with Jesus, he will fulfil his promises in my life. 
This Christmas, hold on to hope. Look forward in hope. And know that God is working in the waiting. You are not forgotten. One ordinary day, you will see those promises fulfilled. And every one of them will be worth the wait. 

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Two Teenaged Girls and the Power of Words

Last weekend I read a book about the power of words. You’d think it was a non-fiction book from that description but no, it was fiction. A Dystopian/Sci-Fi Young Adult book by Patricia Forde called The List, which follows the story of a remnant of people left after global warming wipes out most of the world. Why did this happen? Because people didn’t listen. Warnings went unheeded because words were thrown around rather than used wisely. Words became superfluous, abused. 
To save those who are left and ensure such a catastrophe doesn’t happen again, the leader of the remnants cuts down the people’s words to a list of five hundred. If there aren’t as many words to use, people will get to the point faster and be forced to live in the present. (It was a lot more detailed than that but hopefully you get the gist without me giving away the whole story!)
I’d never considered words being what would make or break the world. The whole concept is mind-boggling and yet, I found myself thinking about it long after I’d finished the book. The power of words. The fact that a group of people could be controlled not by taking away their weapons but by taking away their words. 
As a writer, I’m incredibly thankful for words. It’s kind of hard to write a book without them. A single word can change a whole story. A particular description, a well-turned phrase (or a terrible one), a sentence that sticks in a reader’s mind and brings them to a place they never dared to go themselves. Word choice is the difference between a good book and an amazing one. 
But in real life, words are even more powerful. 
And I don’t just mean quote-worthy speeches by powerful people or Bible verses memorized and brought to mind at just the right time. 
A simple hello has the power to change a life. Imagine being someone who feels invisible, like everyone passes by you, chatting with friends and fitting in and being somebody. And then one of them turns around and says hello. Someone notices you. Someone reminds you that you’re not invisible. You’re someone. 
Sounds crazy but someone did this for me once. Two someones actually. 
It was at church when I was a young teen (tween? Late primary, early high school). I was part of a really great youth group with a bunch of other teens my age. We used to meet up every Friday night for fun and/or Bible studies and Sunday nights, during church, sit together for the service. Well, they would. I’d sit with my mum. Kind of. She was involved in the music team for the worship part of the service so I’d actually sit alone for half the time. 
Could I have sat with the other teens my age? Sure. But I never did. Mainly because I never quite felt like I belonged with them. I wasn’t quite as cool as them, didn’t quite have the right clothes or outgoing personality, spent more time reading than chatting about boys, etc. You get the idea. The usual teen stuff. For whatever reason, I felt on the outer. There, but not there. 
But, despite this, there were a couple of girls (the coolest ones there, in my mind J) who’d walk all the way down the front to where I sat every week by myself and invite me to sit with them. I can’t remember ever saying yes but they still kept inviting me. And it meant so much to me. To know that I meant something. That, despite their coolness and my un-coolness, they noticed me and cared enough to ask if I wanted to join them and be part of their group. Thinking about it now, it seems so shallow and silly and honestly, it probably meant nothing to them to ask but to me, an insecure young teen girl, it meant everything. 
Simple words. “Want to sit with us?” Life-changing moments. 
Words have power. 
Not just big words that change the world but the little ones too, the ones that change individual’s worlds.
“You matter.”
“You are enough.”
“I love you.”
“Come and sit with me?”
They’re so simple. And yet…wow. 
Have you ever considered the impact simple words can have? They’re so easy to throw about and yet have such power. 
I loved reading The List. It was a great story. But I love even more the way it reminded me how thankful I am for words and the power they have. Something I won’t be taking for granted any time soon. 
So, who can you encourage today? You don’t have to have any big words or anything truly profound to say. You’d be amazed how much a simple, ‘I appreciate you,’ can mean to someone. Go for it!

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Treasure these Things

Christmas is coming. It might be only October but already plum puddings and decorations are filling the stores. Which is great. At least, every other year I would have thought so. This year, for some reason, I just about had a panic attack in the middle of Woolworths three weeks ago (in September!!! Don't they usually wait until after Halloween???) when I saw them. Yep, one little plum pudding had me waging a silent all-out war to keep my heart and lungs from fleeing the scene as I stood there clutching my trolley like the lifeline it was. 
I love Christmas, I really do. I love the fun, the traditions, the joy, the food, the decorations in every store, the music, the lights, the wonder of finding a king in a stable, the fun of finding just the right gifts and wrapping them as I sing along to my favourite carols... Basically, everything about it. I'm one of those people who wander up and down the Christmas aisles at the stores purely for the delight of it and put my Christmas tree up in early November because I love how beautiful it looks - and may or may not have a couple of sneaky Christmas decorations up all year round...
It’s not Christmas which has me freaking out. It’s the fact that it’s coming. And I’m not ready. Give it two months and I might be. Maybe. Probably not. I just feel like this year is moving way too fast. Faster than I can keep up with. Like if I close my eyes even for a moment, years will pass. I want to hold on, stop the world spinning for a few hours and just breathe.
Anyone else with me there? 
It’s hard to slow down. Even harder to actually stop. 
Funny that Christmas, the one thing I’m trying so hard not to think about right now, might just hold the answers to my problem. I know, Jesus is the answer to everything (unless it’s Abraham :p) but this time, it’s Mary. 
Specifically, the way she stopped. Took time to treasure the moments. The Christmas story mentions a couple of times that she did it. After angels sent the shepherds to visit her new little family… ‘but Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19), and after she lost Jesus as a child only to find him in the temple… ‘but his mother treasured all these things in her heart’ (Luke 2:51).
I’m no expert on the culture of that time and maybe it means something different but when I read that, I see Mary stopping, closing her eyes and capturing the wonder of it all. Reliving it in those minutes before she falls asleep at night. Thanking God for the privilege. It’s purposeful rather than something that happened by accident. She chose to treasure them. 
It didn’t happen by chance. It was a choice. To stop, to sit in wonder, to treasure those moments. 
Yes, Christmas is coming. Yes, time is passing way faster than I’m happy with. No, there’s nothing I can do about it. 
But I can make the choice to stop. To listen. To treasure these moments. The hard ones, the impatient ones, the times when injury forces me to stop and the times I walk in wonder through parks filled with more beauty than any human could ever create. It’s a choice. 
It’s hard to stop, especially going into the crazy busy season which is coming whether we like it or not, but like Mary, I want to treasure these things. Not rush through them be purposeful about cherishing them. Noticing them. The moments.  
For me, that means making a list now (yep, in October) of what I need to do for Christmas so I can start thinking about it now rather than them all piling up in December (sidenote, did you know you can write Christmas cards in October??? Crazy! :p But, believe it or not, the whole world doesn't blow up if you get them done early. Why have I not thought of this before???) and being really intentional about making space to rest and/or just sit (and refusing to feel guilty about it). Already the stress is feeling less since I've sorted out Christmas cards and end of year teacher gifts. 
I don't know what it'll look like for you - maybe being more prepared, maybe being less, maybe doing less or simply being more intentional about what you do do - but I challenge you to find a way, before it gets totally crazy, to treasure these things. 

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Do you Dare?

Ever played the game ‘Truth or Dare’? I remember playing it a few times at sleepovers as a teenager. For those who don’t know, it’s simple. Each person takes a turn, choosing whether they want to answer a question with the truth – usually something pretty personal – or do a dare. Questions get pretty deep around 3am at a sleepover full of teenaged girls, like which youth group boy you have a crush on :p 
Not having had a crush on any of the boys at youth group and being far more terrified of what kind of dare a slightly hyper group of girls might come up with, the few times I played it, I always chose Truth.
I could say it was the easier option since I had nothing to hide but really, I was just a control freak with a heavy dose of scaredy cat. Not much has changed. Though I haven’t played that game in years, I can guarantee I’d still choose Truth every time. 
And then, God dared me. 
I didn’t even know we were playing. 
I was just reading my Bible before bed, probably thinking more about what I needed to do tomorrow and whether the publisher I’d sent my manuscript to would ever get back to me than I was actually reading and out of nowhere… I. DARE. YOU.
I’m blaming Abraham. If he hadn’t dared to trust God – and Paul seen the need to point it out and use him as an example – I could have gone to bed happily worrying about all my fears. (Ok, not so happily but you know what I mean.)
But no. There it was black and white, printed clear as anything. Romans 4:17 (The Message). 
‘Abraham was first called “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do.’ (Italics mine)

Abraham chose Dare. 
Dared to trust God. 
To do what only God could do.
The second verse of that chapter sums it up pretty well. ‘The story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.’ 
The question was, could the same be said about me and my life, especially in regards to the writing I was stressing about?
Could I one day say, “Hannah was first called ‘author’, then became a published author because she dared to trust God to do what only God could do.” That, “Hannah’s story is a God-story, not a Hannah-story.”
Did I dare to trust God to do what he said he’d do? What only he could do?
I can do my best, make sure I send the cleanest copy of my manuscript to editors and put everything I have into proposals but I can’t actually make someone else’s decisions for them. I can’t make them choose me or my story. There are so many other factors out of my control – timing, whether or not the publishers have contracted another story like it recently, what sort of mood the reader is in, whether they have bad experiences with a person with the same name as the character I named… Only God can pull all that together. 
Do I trust him?
Honestly? I’m struggling to. I know he can, he has before, he knows them, he knows me but the human side of me is seriously fighting for that control I don’t have. In my heart, I trust, but in my head? Oh boy am I failing. 
But I want to be daring. I want to keep believing. I want to trust. And maybe that’s where it starts.  
Faith is hard. Actually, I take that back. Faith is downright brutal sometimes. It’s taking everything I have right now to hold on to that faith and not my impatience. It’s a day by day, minute by minute choice to trust not in what I can do but what God can. 
And, because I’m nice like that and love to share the fun around, I now challenge you – take the dare. 
What is God daring you to do? What in your life can only be done by what God can do? 
And the biggest question, do you dare?

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Take the Step, You're Not Alone

I’m a big picture person when it comes to my dreams and goals for the future. I hold on pretty tight to that moment in my imagination when it happens and I achieve what I’ve been working toward, playing it over and over to inspire me, but block out a lot of the details because honestly, they’re a little scary. I’m a big fan of my comfort zone. I like learning new things and going new places, just not the first time. If we could just skip that first time for everything, I’d be good. 
I remember four times in life in particular when I was rushing toward a new situation and, much as I knew I’d be fine once I got there, was utterly terrified. The impending births of my three kids were three of them (yikes, becoming a parent (even for the third time) is terrifying! I absolutely love being a mum and always knew I would but there were so many unknowns – whether I could handle the lack of sleep, whether the baby would be happy or colicky or just plain grumpy, how their older siblings would handle the change, whether I’d packed everything I needed that wasn’t on the long list of what to bring to the hospital, etc, etc, etc…) and the other was moving house. 
It was the house one that got to me the most. I tried and tried to trust God that wherever we moved, it would be good for our family because he was in control and already there but there were a lot of nights spent panicking rather than resting in faith. I knew wherever we moved would be great, but I liked where I was. I was comfortable. 
There was one night in particular that I remember being caught in a panic, yet again, and trying, yet again, to remind myself that our new house, wherever it would be, wasn’t a secret to God. That he was already there. I imagined in my head that picture I’m sure so many of you have seen of Jesus standing beside a door, lantern in hand, waiting. (I know, it’s usually used to symbolise him waiting for us to accept his knock at the door (Revelations 3:20) but it seemed to fit this situation too.) And I did picture it, kind of. For a moment at least. Thing was, he didn’t stay by the door. 
Nope. In this figurative new house, the one he already knew, he wasn’t waiting by the door. He was inside. And he wasn’t holding a lantern. Every light in the house was on. There was my imagined self, walking up to the door of this dauntingly unknown new house only to find Jesus in the kitchen, pulling a roast out of the oven, table set and the house smelling amazing, welcoming us home. 
It was the most incredible picture and one I’ve been clinging to like crazy lately. No, I’m not moving house but I do feel like my dreams of being a published author are getting closer to being realised (or maybe I’m just hopeful… J). Which, of course, comes with both excitement and a fair share of nerves. All those little steps I’ve been trying not to think about – having to talk face to face with publishing professionals rather than hiding behind emails, getting a professional (or at least better than a selfie) author photo, contracts and paperwork, etc – are getting harder to avoid. And yes, they totally scare me. 
But the thing is, I’m not alone in them. The big steps, the little ones, none of them are taken alone. God is by my side, holding me through every one of them. But the coolest thing? He’s also at the end. In that moment when my dream is realised. Calling me to come. Calling out encouragement. 
Like a friend calling out from the waves, the ones splashing my feet where I stand at the water’s edge. “Come on in, the water’s fine.”
Or the friend who’s gone home early from a long day skiing and gotten the fire burning and the roast cooked. “Come on in, welcome home.”
Yes, there are daunting aspects to walking forward, but you don’t take them alone. So, take the step. Walk out in faith, even if your legs shake. Because your greatest encourager is already there, waiting to welcome you home. 
And who doesn’t love a good roast J

Sunday, 26 August 2018

When God Made You

It’s almost birthday week in my house. Two of my three kids have birthdays two days apart (and Father’s Day is always that weekend too) and, despite us not being big party people, the celebrations always end up stretching a week. Or two. And, of course, birthdays mean cake. Lots of cake. 
If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably have picked up the fact that I love baking. I enjoy decorating cakes too. Mostly. Somewhere along the way, my family got the idea in their heads that I can make anything – superheroes, instruments, their favourite TV characters, etc – and every year their requests for what they want their cake to be get more and more difficult. I like a challenge, and I love my family and making their days special, so I keep saying yes. Which either ends up with me bouncing around the house thrilled at how well the cake has turned out or sobbing my heart out while I wonder what on earth I was thinking. And how on earth I can fix it. 
Needless to say, I’ll never be a professional cake decorator or go on any sort of baking reality show. 
This year’s requests have been a My Little Pony cake and a MarioKart track. Over the past month or so, I’ve googled photos of those kinds of cakes for ideas, planned out my design, figured out what I need, listed off the different parts I need to make and colours of fondant/icing I’ll need, etc. 
I spent an hour this morning making fondant coins, blue and red Koopa shells, banana peels, a rainbow and a whole stack of leaves which, thankfully all turned out great. I can now enjoy how clever I am for a week before I have to decorate the actual cakes and remember why I don’t do this for a living… (See Cakes, Bakes and Expectations for how that usually goes!)
I was thinking as I was rolling and colouring fondant this morning, cutting out shapes, about the way God created us. The fact that he made us from nothing and, like me and the fondant spheres I couldn’t get smooth, left his fingerprints all over us. 
Did you ever think about that? That God made you? Not just in some ‘he spoke and it happened’ way but that he formed you with his hands. 
I spent a month or two thinking about these cakes, planning them. God spent an eternity planning you. The shape of your ears, the colour of your eyes, the way you smile, the length of your fingers. But more than that even, your character. Not just the way you smile but what makes you smile, what tugs at your heart, what you love doing, what you’re good at. Whether you’re analytical or whimsical, quiet or loud, need lots of friends or just one, are musical, sporty, creative or can’t draw to save your life. 
By the time I’m through with making my cakes, I’m ready to take a few photos, sing happy birthday, and dump them. God’s not like that (thankfully!). He can’t get enough of his creation. He absolutely loves you. Not only did he delight in creating you but he adores you. Wants to spend every day, every hour with you. You know those people who can’t stop bragging about how precious and beautiful their kids are? Yeah, that’s God. He writes songs about you. Brags about you. Can’t wait for you to wake up in the morning so you can spend another day together. You are his absolute delight. You were the day you were born, you still are now.
And, unlike me, God didn’t cheat when he made you. Yep, I cheat. Ponies? Seriously? I can’t even draw them, let alone make them 3D. Sure, I could probably try but why spend that much time (and frustration) trying when I can just buy a few little toys? Total cheat. 
God doesn’t cheat. Every part of you, he made just for you. He didn’t buy in bulk or raid the closest cheap store for what makes you you. He didn’t decide the last person he made turned out pretty awesome so he’ll just use that mould again. Nope. You are an original. God took a lump of cells and made them into you. Beautiful, one-of-a-kind you. Dreamed, planned, designed, handmade by God. Covered in his fingerprints. 
You are loved! 
Way more than cake :)

Thursday, 9 August 2018

You've got to Water the Roots (So I learned...)

I’m not a gardener nor have I ever been accused of having a green thumb, or even a slightly teal one. I’m more likely to forget a plant exists than remember to water it, but I do like watching them grow. There are so many incredibly beautiful plants in this world! I love all the different shades of green, the way some flowers are vividly bright and others more subtle, how spiny cacti can have the most stunning flowers and how the tiniest of buds can have such perfect details. 

But no matter what type of plant it is, they all have one thing in common – whether it’s a little or a lot, they all need water. Yup, someone’s gotta water them. 

I don’t think I did it often (sorry Mum!) but I remember watering plants when I was a young child. I used to love the way the leaves looked when they were wet, so shiny and glossy. I’d put a lot of effort into making sure every leaf on the particular plant was wet because that’s how I’d know it was done. Feel like I should apologise to Mum again for all the plants I likely killed telling her I’d watered them when all I’d actually done was clean the leaves. It took me way longer than I should admit to realise that it was the roots I should have been watering. 

Yup, somehow I missed that vital point. It’s from the roots and soil that the plant grows, not its leaves. Sure, there are some plants which capture water in their leaves to send down to the roots but not the trees I was watering. A plant might look really pretty with shiny, glossy leaves but it’s never going to grow if you don’t water the roots. 

Same as us. 

It’s easy to look all glossy and shiny on the outside, going to church, looking the part and saying all the right things. Believe me, I know. I’ve done it. There was one period of my life in particular when I went to church twice every Sunday, was a passionate youth leader, was even doing a full-time course at Bible college – and wasn’t even sure I liked God let alone believed he cared about me. I certainly didn’t trust him. I stopped reading my Bible, convinced it was full of lies and did my best to shut God out entirely*. I didn’t tell anyone this, of course. On the outside, it probably looked like nothing had changed. My leaves were nice and shiny but inside, my roots were dry, if not dead. 

They needed water. They needed better soil. They needed me to start actively pulling out the weeds stopping them from flourishing. 

In a practical sense, I needed to be reading my Bible every day. For myself and not because others were watching. I needed to be filling my mind with and reminding myself of God’s promises rather than listening to the doubts and fears trying to take over. I needed to be honest with God about my frailties and trust that he was big enough to handle them – and wanted to. 

Some days it’s easier to do all that than others. I’ve found since getting married and having kids, I’ve had to change a lot of the ways I do that. It was really easy to make time for God and reading the Bible when I was a teenager with very few responsibilities. I was never all that great at reading in the mornings but used to love spending half an hour or more with God every night before bed. Nights are a bit crazier these days with four other people vying for that time but I’ve recently come to love getting up half an hour earlier and doing Bible study then and just doing a short devotional before bed. It’s taken me a while to figure it out (um, close to a decade...) but right now, that's what works for me. 

Maybe you're like me and mornings before everything gets crazy are the best times, maybe another time works better for you. Whenever it is, I challenge you to find it. Figure out what works for you. Figure out how you can best strengthen and water your roots so that you’re going deep into God. Because you, like me, need it. Especially on those days when doubts and fears swirl like a storm around us. It's God's promises and faithfulness which will keep you strong. 

And the thing is, the more you water those roots, the better everything else will grow too. That’s the wondrous thing about watering the roots of a plant. When the roots are strong and deep, the tree thrives. And the leaves are glossy too ;)

Find that time and place each day where it is just you and God. Fight for it. Treasure it. Whether it’s ten minutes or two hours, it’s worth it. Every plant needs water to grow and every God-follower needs God. 

Come Living Water. 

*For the record, it didn’t work and, six months later, I gave up and grudgingly toddled back  to God, admitting that, while I still wasn’t sure I trusted him, I couldn’t live without him. Easily the best decision I ever made! Finding that closeness I'd lost didn't come the second I turned back, there were still a lot of doubts and things I still had to work through, but we got there. I love that God let me go through that time because I'm so much closer to him now because of it. 

Sunday, 29 July 2018

It’s Already Dry

It’s bright and sunny outside today. Beautiful blue sky, barely a cloud, perfect for playing, going for walks, drying washing. No doubt if you’re reading this, you’re old enough to know that not every day is like that. Some days, it rains. Some days, it storms. Some days it’s freezing and other days you burn just walking outside.  

And then, there are those days that are just overcast. My least favourite. I love the sun. I love the rain. Like most Aussies, I love a good storm. But overcast days? It’s like they can’t quite commit. Not clear, not hot, not rainy, just annoyingly muggy and indecisive. 

And, among other things, terrible for washing. 

They’re the days when I hang washing and then spend the whole day second-guessing myself, checking the radar to make sure the dark clouds above my house aren’t about to bucket down rain and forcing myself to trust it despite how dark the clouds are. (Another story in itself!) Balancing the likelihood of rain with the likelihood of the washing drying if I bring it inside. 

But the other day, as I was once again going back and forth between the clouds and the radar, I suddenly realised how ridiculous I was being. There I was watching the darkening clouds and stressing over whether to get the washing off or leave it and risk the rain – something I seem to do all too often – and it hit me. 

The washing was already dry. 

It didn’t matter whether it rained or not while I was out because the washing was already dry. It didn’t need to be out on the line. I could bring it in then. 

I do that a lot with hearing God too. I stress over whether he wants me to do something or not, or whether I’ve heard his voice clearly or it’s just my own thoughts, only to come back to the fact that I’ve missed the point. He’s already made it clear. For example...

Should I encourage that person? 

Encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV)

How am I going to sleep tonight, knowing my child’s not well/I have that big exam tomorrow/I’m don’t know how I’m going to fit everything in/my friend is heartbroken…?

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? … Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Matthew 6:30-33 TM)

Do I have to forgive that person? They hurt me and I didn’t do anything wrong! I’m in the right here…

Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)

Can I really trust God? Does he realise life is spinning out of control? Does he even care?

But now, God’s Message, the God who made you in the first place, Jacob, the One who got you started, Israel: “Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end— Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you: all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in! That’s how much you mean to me! (Isaiah 43:1-3 TM)

But even if I did go talk to that person, what would I say? Why would they listen to me? Not that I hate myself or anything but I'm just me. It's not like I'm a pastor or someone in authority or anything.

Each person is given something to do that shows who God is... (1 Corinthians 12:5 TM)

But the Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that through me the Message might be proclaimed... (2 Timothy 4:17 NIV)

There are so many more instances. Things I pray for and stress over when God’s already answered – thousands of years before I was even born. He’s always going to choose to love someone over shunning them, to forgive rather than hold on to bitterness. He’ll always ask for faith over knowledge and for us to trust because he knows what he’s doing. 

The Bible is full of answers. Sure, the specifics of our day to day change but God’s character never will and neither will his promises. Don’t make the mistake I make all too often and get so caught up in the questions and worries that you miss the fact that he’s already answered. 

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Not What I Expected (but exactly what I asked for)

Last week, I put a fairly specific prayer point up on Facebook and asked many of you to pray. I was going into a big week of writing and certain that, like every other time I’d tried to do so, every attempt of mine to write would be thwarted. Sickness, kids turning nocturnal, broken bones, swollen fingers, migraines – they were the usual culprits. So usual, in fact, that they’d become predictable. And felt like a direct spiritual attack against my writing. The closer I got to finishing a book, the harder they hit. Though I’d prayed my way through it for months, I knew this week I needed a bigger army of pray-ers on my side. 

I was so, so encouraged when many of you told me when I posted it, and throughout the week, that you were praying for me and my writing. 

And a little confused when - despite the fact that I knew people were praying - my toddler was awake almost all night the night before my first full day’s writing. I managed a whole three hours sleep in my bed and spent the rest of the night sitting napping on the couch with him beside/on/on top of me. Turned out he couldn’t breathe properly because of a blocked/runny nose, which plagued him all week. Wednesday, a family event came up cutting my writing time short. Thursday (a planned half-day), my hands ached too much to type more than an hour or so and by Friday (my last full day), I was panicking that I wouldn’t reach my self-imposed deadline – and then, of course, being bombarded with doubts that I could ever have the strength to do this writing thing full time. 

Sick child, tick. Sleep deprivation, tick. Sore hands, tick. Doubts, tick. Unexpected family commitments, tick. All the things I thought I’d asked God to banish so I could write.

But then, it hit me. I’d been writing all week. Hours and hours of good writing. Despite a lack of sleep and all the other physical factors which would normally slow me down, by Friday afternoon, with an hour or so to spare, I’d gotten to the end of the manuscript and reached every goal I’d set for the week. 

And what’s more, I’d done it freely, without having to fight for each word. For months, every time I pulled out my laptop, it was like I had to fight and pray my way through a heavy, dark cloud to write a single word, and by the time I’d fought my way through it, I was too tired to put sentences together, let alone good ones. But as I sat there, feeling surrounded by prayers and the promises of scripture Mum had put up all around my desk, I could just write. 

I’d asked for prayer that I’d be able to write and God answered that. Amazingly so. He didn’t answer the prayer the way I’d expected – I still lost sleep and had to work through the doubts – but he gave me exactly what I needed. Not taking away the storm but instead holding my hand and giving me the strength, motivation and courage to walk through it. 

I sent that manuscript off again this week. Off into the big scary world of publishers. But the thing was, I wasn’t scared this time. Far from it. I was actually really excited. I have no idea whether this time it will be just what they’re looking for or whether I still have years of work, patience and hope to cling on to before my stories catch the eye of publishers but, these past two weeks, I have seen God champion my dream and encourage my writing time and time again. He’s got this. And he’s got me. And even when he’s not answering prayers the way I expect, he’s answering them exactly as I need. 

There’s a line from a song (Still, by Hilary Scott, one I shared on this blog earlier this year) which has been playing in my head lately, echoed by my heart. 

I rest my heart on all Your promises cos I have seen and known Your faithfulness.

Over and over, God proves that he is still in control. I know this, I’ve seen him do it before. Times when life felt out of control, only look back later and realise how tightly God held me and my situation. Times when I thought I had nothing left only to have God show me how strong he is. Times when it would have taken a miracle for something to happen, and a miracle showed up. I’ve seen this. I know God can do this. I have seen and known firsthand his faithfulness. 

God rarely answers our prayers exactly how we think he will but he always answers them. With just what we need. Even if sometimes (often) it takes a little looking back to see it. He hears your prayers, he knows what you need, and he is always faithful. 

I feel like more people than just me need to hear this message this week. Maybe you feel like you're fighting and fighting and praying and praying and God just isn't listening. Maybe you prayed and got an answer but it's not what you wanted and certainly not what you expected. Maybe you prayed in hope, full of faith, and nothing happened. God's not done. He heard you. Every single time.

Whether he's answered your prayer yet or not, he's with you in the storm.
With you in the heartache.
With you as you cry.
With you as you beg for things to change, knowing that what you ask lines up exactly with God's will.
With you as you pray, day after day, with all the faith you can find.
He's listening, he's faithful. He's peace in the storm and an unmovable rock you can lock on to. He's never broken a promise and he never will. 

Rest your heart. God’s got this, and God’s got you. 

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Mountain Maker

There are a number of verses in the Bible which have always somewhat baffled me. They roll off the tongue, get quoted and made into everything from tapestries to songs, but confuse me more than they inspire. Maybe baffle is a bit too strong a word. It’s probably more that, with all of the other inspiring and inspirational verses in the Bible, I wonder why they picked that particular one. 

Psalm 121:1 is one of them. The first time I heard it – in the King James Version as its so frequently quoted – I really was confused. 

I lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help.

Um, what? My help comes from the hills? How, uh, helpful…

And then, I read a bit more, grew a few more years of maturity, did a few more Bible studies and found it in the New International Version where, it turns out, it’s actually a question rather than a statement. A question which is answered in the next verse.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.     

Makes more sense. But still, with all the other psalms around it, talking about God’s strength and power and incredible might, it still confused me what the mountains had to do with anything. Why are we looking up at the mountains again? [Okay, side note for all those currently shouting at me that I’ve missed the point, I do know this is one of the Psalms of Ascents, hence the mountain reference. It’s more that it didn’t seem relevant to me today.] 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love mountains. They’re awe-inspiring. They tower above the rest of the world, and remind us of strength, power and might. They’re beautiful, terrifying, constant, unforgiving. They give us a world of metaphors. Conquering a mountain, a mountaintop experience, the importance of the valleys between mountains, give me this mountain, climb every mountain (ford every stream, follow every rainbow…) Sorry, getting distracted… now I’ve got that song in your heads, I’ll get back to the point J

I love mountains, but this verse didn’t resonate with me at all. 

Until I read it a couple of weeks ago in The Message (which, by the way, I’ve had and been reading for over a decade. How did I miss this???). 

I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. 

Did you get that? My strength comes from the one who made the mountains. The greatest, most awe-inspiring landmarks in this world? God made them. With the same strength he gives me. When I look at mountains, marvelling at their beauty and strength and the way they never (fine, rarely) change, I remember the one who’s even greater than those mountains. The one who made those mountains. Because the maker of something is always greater than their creation. Greater, stronger, more powerful, more inspiring. The one who never changes. 

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty certain I’ll never look at mountains the same again. 

Where does my help and strength come from? Not the mountains, but the Mountain Maker. And, believe me, if he can make mountains, nothing in our lives is too hard for him. 

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Top 9 Influential Non-Fiction Books

Last fortnight I shared some of my favourite fiction books so I figured it’s only fair that I share some non-fiction ones too. I’ve learnt my lesson though and instead of calling them favourites this time, I’ll just stick with ‘influential’. So, again in no particular order, here are nine non-fiction books which have really influenced my life. 

God Works the Night Shift – Ron Mehl

We often think that only bad things can happen in the dark. Not true. The simple premise of this book is that God is working, even while we’re asleep. He never stops working in our lives and the lives of those around us to see his purposes through. Even when it’s dark, even when no one else is there, God is. 

Spoken For – Robin Jones Gunn & Alyssa Joy Bethke

It’s hard to put into words how much I loved this book and the message it has. And the effect it could have on the lives of teen girls. Bombarded relentlessly with negative images and the need to be in a relationship, it’s easy to be convinced that our worth lies in what others think of us rather than who we are to God. 

With chapters like, 'You are Loved', 'You are Chosen', 'You are Covered' and 'You are Spoken For', related through stories from the authors' lives, it was such a reminder to me of who I really am in Christ alongside the encouragement – and freedom – to be just that. I wasn’t even halfway through it before I was making a list of all the people I wanted to read it. Not surprising that there are three copies (at least?) in my family. 

Knit Together – Debbie Macomber

In essence, this is the biography of Debbie Macomber, New York Times Bestselling author with more than 100 million copies of her books in print. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a chapter by chapter encouragement to not give up on your dreams. It’s based around Psalm 139 and the fact that God created every single one of us with a purpose. One he wants to see us fulfil.

Yes, it’s personal for me as like her, I’ve spent years working on getting my books published with still nothing to show for it, but it’s not just for writers. It’s an encouragement for everyone to hold on tightly to those dreams God places in our hearts, even – especially – the impossible ones. 

66 Ways God Loves You – Jennifer Rothschild

This one’s a devotional. It goes through each book of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, and pulls out a truth of how that book shows God’s love. Even Leviticus It’s so profound in its simplicity. 

Love and Respect – Emmerson Eggerichs

Based around Ephesians 5:33 this marriage book is so practical. I read this when I was newly married and it made such a difference in my thinking and how I thought about relationships. 

And the Angels were Silent/The Great House of God – Max Lucado

I could have made this whole list Max Lucado’s books. I love the way he writes, taking a verse, idea, even a single word and pulling out a whole chapter’s worth of wisdom. Really practical wisdom. These two are my favourites of his. 

And the Angels Were Silent is based around the week leading up to Easter. Probably the hardest week of Jesus’ life. I read it for the first time in my early teens and remember being so profoundly impacted by it. It was the first time I’d ever really comprehended (if one could even call my miniscule understanding that) what Jesus had really done for me. 

The Great House of God is based around the Lord’s Prayer, with Max relating each phrase of it to a different room in the house. Take a tour of God’s house as he takes a tour of your prayer life. 

Crash the Chatterbox – Steven Furtick

Anyone else have this voice in their head that just won’t shut up? You know, the one that keeps telling you you’ll never be good enough or that what you did was just plain stupid or that you’re crazy to believe you could ever be any more than you are today… Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… This book is all about crashing that voice. Learning to listen to God’s voice instead. I’ll admit, I haven’t actually read all of it yet (working on it) but what I have is brilliant. Easy to read and so encouraging. 

The Emotionally Healthy Woman – Geri Scazzero

Honestly, I think every woman in any kind of ministry (including the home) needs to read this book. Written by a pastor’s wife who found herself totally burnt out to the point of quitting her own husband’s church, it’s about admitting that none of us can do it all. And neither does God ask us to. More than a self-help book, it’s an encouragement to women to quit the things that hold them back from truly serving God as he asks us to – quitting lying to ourselves, basing our worth on others’ expectations, living someone else’s life, etc. I found this book so freeing, to have someone say that it’s okay to let go of all those lies society – and yes, sometimes the church – place on us and just be.  

Taking Nothing for Granted – Alastair Lynch

When I was first diagnosed with arthritis, I thought my life was over. I was eighteen, just graduated from high school and on the cusp of my adult life only to have my plans crash around me. I spent a lot of time those first few months doing what most people do when given a diagnosis – researching the disease, what it meant and how other people dealt with it. Most of it was pretty depressing. After a while, whether it was because I’d read everything there was to read or just got sick of reading it, I started searching out stories of hope. People who’d been dealt tough hands and held on to their dreams. 

Alastair Lynch was one of my favourite players of AFL players at the time, someone I really respected. I watched him play for years having no idea he had chronic fatigue. It blew me away when I found out to think that a top sportsman like him could manage such a debilitating disease (with a lot of the same symptoms as mine) and still play at the level he did and as well as he did. It took time, balance and compromise, but it was possible. Reading this, his biography, really encouraged and inspired me. 

There are heaps of other books, of course. Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Judah Smith, Robin Jones Gunn, Katie Davis Majors, Christine Caine (just to list a few!) also have a bunch of books on my shelves. There are so many brilliant authors out there! What have you read that’s been encouraging or influential lately? Please share!

Here's links for all the books too if you're interested in finding out more about them :)