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Saturday, 21 April 2018

Where is my Heart?

For my birthday last year, I thought it would be fun to have a high tea with my kids and mum. I enjoyed planning it and putting it together as much as the actual party - starting with trawling through op shops to find beautiful, mismatched tea cups. 

Miniature cheesecakes, fruit cups, tiny quiches, cucumber sandwiches, chocolate macarons, cupcakes topped with handmade fondant flowers, a table set with lace and glass serving displays. It looked and tasted as beautiful as I’d imagined. We dressed up, sipped (iced) tea in our delicate tea cups and shared a perfect afternoon tea. Bonus being two of my sisters had days off that day and could come too.

My kids loved it so much that they begged to have another one over the Christmas holidays. Remembering how special a time it was, I happily agreed. And then Christmas happened, and New Year and the craziness of getting ready for school and fitting in everything we’d planned on doing on the holidays, and somehow it got to the last few days and we still hadn’t had one. 

I was totally run down from being up what felt like half of every night with a teething toddler and not feeling all that great but couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing my kids. So, I threw a tea party together. In one afternoon. 

A few pastries and lamingtons on sale at Coles, some chocolate custard spooned into little glasses and topped with whipped cream, cucumber sandwiches, a tub of strawberries and a three-tiered cardboard display I found in the cupboard leftover from a party years ago. I didn’t even remember to pull out the teapot and cups until my daughter reminded me. 

No chocolate mousse cups, no special little cheesecakes, quiches or the tiny little ham and lettuce scrolls my older daughter loves which I'd planned on doing. I sat there, eating and laughing with my kids, taking silly photos, and feeling like a failure. I’d promised them a special tea party, and hadn’t even had the energy to make one thing myself. 

But as we were sitting there chatting, I asked (probably trying to make myself feel better by remembering my past success) which tea party they liked better, absolutely shocked when my daughter said – without even a thought – “this one!”

I couldn’t understand it. Sure, it was nice but it was nothing compared to my birthday one. I’d spent days preparing for that one. Put hours of effort into each bite. So, of course, I asked why. Her answer ripped through me. 

“Because we get you to ourselves at this one.”

She didn’t care whether I’d spent hours making fondant flower toppers or two seconds grabbing a box of pastries. It was the time spent with me which made this one special. I felt honoured and ridiculously challenged all at once. 

I love serving God. Really love it. I’ve been involved in lots of various ministries within the church over the years from youth leading to singing on a worship team to serving in a coffeeshop to helping abused women feel like they matter. It’s such a buzz and a privilege to be able to serve God with what he’s given me. 

But I wonder how many times I get so caught up in the buzz of serving that I forget why I’m doing it. I want everything to be perfect before I come to God, forgetting that it’s my presence he wants far more than my list of accomplishments. 

God wants our best, sure. He loves it when we give all we have to him. But he loves our presence the most. He’s not asking us to run ourselves ragged trying to put on a show for him. He simply wants our hearts. Our attention. 

It’s a real challenge for me to stop doing and just be. I feel like I have to prove to myself every minute of every day that what I’m doing is worth something. That I'm worth something. I want the things I care about to be perfect and therefore throw everything I have into what I do. And I don’t think there’s anything exactly wrong with that – until it distracts us from the point. Which is God. And people. 

My daughter didn’t need fancy food to make a tea party special, just my attention. That half hour (before my son decided chocolate custard was far more fun to paint with than eat) when I sat down with them and focused on nothing and no one else but them. No lists, no cleaning, no cooking, no running around trying to get everything done or accidentally ignoring them while I chatted to someone else – just being there. 

God loves your service but he loves your attention even more. In all your running about serving, don’t forget the reason you’re doing it. Because God loved you first. And he can’t wait to sit down – everything else aside – and spend time with you.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

My Something

I watched a movie with my girls on the weekend called Ballerina. It’s about a girl who escapes from an orphanage with her best friend to go to Paris and make her dream of becoming a ballerina come true. Such a beautiful movie! Along the way, she has a mentor/teacher who asks her over and over why she wants to be a ballerina. She gets a little frustrated with both the mentor and the question, answering each time that it’s because she loves it. It isn’t till the end that she realizes the truth – that dancing isn’t just something she loves, it’s who she is. How she connects with the world. That it’s as much a part of her as breathing. 
I’ve been asking myself a lot lately why I write. The main character in the novel I’m currently working on is a lot more complex than I originally thought and is causing me no small amount of frustration. I wrote the first draft of the first book in this series – her friend’s story – in two months. This one has taken over eighteen months already and been a struggle the whole way along. I’ve cut tens of thousands of words from it and restarted the whole thing five times. I’ve wondered more times than I’d care to count why I’m bothering. Why am I putting myself through this stress? Why do I put aside other things I could be doing (sleep being pretty high on the list!) to write?
For a long time, I’ve answered pretty much like that ballerina – because I love it. Because there’s something about creating characters and getting lost in their stories which invigorates me. Of course, that answer doesn’t really cut it when I’m so angry with the story and its characters that I’m ready to throw it in the bin and happily walk away. And yet, I haven’t (yet :p). Because there’s more to it than that. 
I found the answer as I was reading my Bible a few weeks ago.
Acts 4:20. “As for us, there’s no question – we can’t keep quiet about what we’ve seen and heard.”
Peter and John, disciples of Jesus, knew what it was like to face opposition. I fight with characters in my imagination. They stood up to people with the power to kill them. In this chapter, they’d been hauled once again before the law of the time and threatened with prison or worse if they didn’t stop telling everyone about Jesus. And yet, they didn’t stop. Because they couldn’t. Because God had placed a message in them which they couldn’t keep silent about. 
I love writing, sure, but the reason I keep at it on those days when it hurts is because God’s put in me a message I have to tell. Sure, it comes out in different ways through various characters’ lives but the message is always the same – because of God, there is hope, and what we see now is not the end. 
I found another verse this morning which confirmed it again. It’s in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul is talking about spiritual gifts. I love the way The Message puts verse seven: “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is.”
Writing is my something. One of the ways I can show others who God is. His character. His love. His grace. The hope that comes through knowing him.
So, as I head back to battling this headstrong character of mine and trying to finally finish the first draft of her story, I’m asking you, what’s your something? Why do you do what you do? What gifts has God given you which show others who he is? 
Praying God gives you the courage this week to use them. Just like God needs me and my stories, he’s needs you and your gifts.