The posy sits in the center of my table, bathed in warm sunlight. Every time I pass by it, I whisper a prayer of gratitude for what it represents - for the friend who brought it and the healing that came with it.
We had been the most unlikely of friends and even though we’d known each other since childhood, it wasn’t until much later that our connection was formed. But when it was, it was like we were soul sisters. We laughed and cried on one another’s couches; took holidays together; spent hours on the phone and when our babies arrived, swapped our café catch-ups for mornings at the playground. Together we dreamed big Kingdom dreams, soaking each other’s lives in fervent prayer.
But then one day something changed. We both changed. It was subtle at first, but over time our different seasons – our different struggles – drove a wedge between us. I began to feel like a stranger in her presence. Misunderstood. Lacking. Deficient. Then one year, we both experienced overwhelming losses, and while I in my grief wanted to draw closer, she needed to retreat.
And so, in no uncertain terms, she moved away from me.
I drove home from that conversation in a daze of disbelief; tears streaming down my cheeks. They would not be the last tears that I would cry as the finality of no longer doing life together settled in.
But I knew in the midst of my pain, that I faced a choice. I could choose to live offended – to keep replaying the wrong that I felt had been done to me, or I could pursue forgiveness. In Colossians 3, Paul writes:
…Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
As I wrestled through my hurts, giving voice to my anger, the Holy Spirit graciously reminded me of this truth: Christ is all and is in all. I was His chosen and dearly beloved daughter. And so was my friend. The way that I thought towards her; the way that I spoke about her; the way that I prayed for her needed to reflect this truth. Needed to honour who she was in Christ and His presence within her.
This truth released me to trust God to heal my own heart, but also to believe for Him to do the same for my friend. To trust that in His infinite love, He could take the threads of what felt like opposing stories and conflicting needs to create something beautiful for each of us. Respecting her need for space, I sent her a card apologising for how some of my choices had impacted her. I no longer needed to agree with her interpretation of events in order to forgive; the Holy Spirit was awakening compassion within me for her perspective. Secure in the Father’s love for me, I was now free to wear love towards her.
Over the coming years, the distance remained. And although we occasionally exchanged texts and well-wishes, when our paths crossed I still felt held at arm’s length. Milestones passed and I felt the ache of her absence. Some days the grief and sting of rejection rose up afresh driving me back to my knees. Back to the truth that in Christ, I am dearly loved. At such times I had to choose again to entrust my aching heart to the one who loved me completely; to forgive as He has forgiven me. And as I did, my heart became whole again.
Then one day she arrived with flowers and her own apology. We sat on my couch like old times and the walls came down. The path of forgiveness – the path of love - paved the way for reconciliation.
I don’t yet know what will be written in the days to come about our friendship, but I do know this: the call to live in relationship, in authentic community will never be without challenges. We must continually choose to live loved – allowing His love to fill and clothe us so that we can love others well, even when we hurt. As we do, like my posy of flowers bathed in warm sunlight, things of great beauty will grow in and around us.
Live today with purpose,
Life can be messy sometimes, yet right in that messy season God is very present. And when He does a new thing in our lives the mess can appear to become – well, messier.
Says I, a self-confessed perfectionist. Here I am with my arm raised high saying “Hello my name is Karen and I am a perfectionist.” Believe me no one wants to wear an “I’m a perfectionist” badge and parade it around – it can feel like a walk of shame.
I do not like mess; I loathe dis-order – yet I love the new things of God.
Perfectionism is like ivy which grows, twists, climbs and wraps itself around your vital organs, squeezing the life out of you. Have you ever seen a house covered in ivy? At first it looks attractive, until the ivy takes over with roots and branches thick and gnarly, its leaves covering the whole building.
Perfectionism can affect your self-worth as it functions in performance; in achievement and in value through your ‘do’ and not your ‘who’. It is never satisfied, always believing there is something you could do better, could strive for, could reach for. It robs you of today and it’s out to steal your tomorrow.
“Cease striving and know that I am God”
God is enough for you - for me. Perfectionism tells you that you are never enough.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love”
God loves us unconditionally as his sons and daughters. Perfectionism only loves temporarily when it reaches it targets and goals.
As a young girl, I had goals and set out to achieve them. This in itself is a great objective, however, I’d always add to my goal, expecting more of myself. I’d push further, reach higher. The thought of failing could paralyse me, procrastination would stall me along with an equal fear of succeeding. Fear of success leading to self-sabotage.
My first marriage failed when I was 26 years old. A year later I was in France on a course studying Prayer and Intercession. Separated from my husband I was in limbo as to the future. My life felt messy.
Yet somehow I put that to one side and began striving to be a great student on the course.
As exams loomed nearer after 3 months of study, tension was mounting. We were busy making outreach plans, involved in ministry life and navigating all that God was doing in us.
The perfectionist in me was rising up. I was angry, I was stressed. I needed time to study hard for these exams so that I could pass with excellence.
I craved perfection. The fear of anything less made we want to throw up my hands and not even try!
The Course Leader observed that I was upset, and as I opened up to her in floods of frustrated tears, took me in her arms and ministered words of life to me “Are these exams so important? At the end of the day – YOU are important. You are God’s precious daughter. He doesn’t expect all this of you. He loves you.”
I have loved you with an everlasting love
She continued “Take some time off today and do whatever you like”
Acceptance and love coursed through my being. I could cease striving, I was acceptable and I did not need to perform, excel or be amazing. I was good enough.
In the mess of that season - the separation, living in France and moving deeper into prayer ministry - God was challenging my self-beliefs, my perfectionism and the need to earn and be worthy of love.
You would think that 22 years later I would be singing a song of freedom and liberty? And in many respects I am, because Father has walked me through the outer issues to remove the ivy leaves and branches – now He is cleaning the house and pulling at the roots – the perfectionism; which stand between where I am and where He wants me to be.
Love is being poured into this vessel, I’m feeling a new grace which even covers my errors and mistakes.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love Karen Frith – just as you are, no matter what, because you are my daughter. THAT is why my son died for you. Not for your excellence, not for your achievements, but because you are the apple of my eye – because you are you, not because of what you do.”
It can take a mess to become the catalyst for a clean-up and a sort out. A time to cast off the lies, the negative self-beliefs and be saturated in the truth.
The antidote to the venom of perfectionism – is love. Unconditional, unchanging, accepting, grace-filled love.
Low-tide is my favourite time to take a walk along the beach. There is plenty of room for Lucas to run and we are free to explore the full length of the beach without getting cut-off by the incoming waves. But as an analogy for life, I much prefer the idea of high-tide - of my life brimming to overflowing and reaching its full potential.
I recently heard a pastor make this statement: the tide will turn. He was encouraging people from the life of Nehemiah, reminding us that the Israelites had faced much opposition when they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and exhorting us that just as the tide of opposition against them turned and they were able to complete their work, it will turn for us too.
This declaration resonated with me and I've found myself contemplating it over and over in recent weeks. Pondering, what does it look like when the tide turns? What happens in the natural when the tides change? I googled these questions and came up with a bunch of answers that made my sleep-deprived (and somewhat unscientific) brain glaze over. But one thing did stand out and brought back some vague recollections of High School Science classes:
The tides change because of the gravitational pull of both the sun and moon.
There is a pull, a tension that causes the waters. to change their path. This is often our experience in the natural - when it's time to change direction; when God is calling us into something new; when breakthrough is imminent, we can feel a conflicting pull.. It usually gets messy before the new direction emerges.
This is the precise time that we must stand firm. When we must keep our eyes on the prize of what God is calling us to - seeing our lives and circumstances as God does. Not allowing the mess, the tug and war pull of our circumstances, to derail us from pursuing God's purposes for our lives.
The opposition that Nehemiah and the Israelites faced as they set about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was both external and internal. Their enemies mocked and ridiculed them; plotting against them and accusing them of rebellion. And in the face of this opposition and the enormous task that lay in front of them, the Israelites grew tired - their strength gave out - and they were afraid of what might happen to them. They faced lack and it all seemed too hard.
As they faced all this opposition from both within and without, Scripture records Nehemiah's response:
But we prayed…
But I prayed…
Nehemiah continually sought out God’s perspective, inviting God’s power to be at work in their circumstances. He chose to exalt God above His circumstances and to fight for what had been promised.
“Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Fighting faith, faith that stands firm, refuses to lose sight of who God is. Refuses to passively allow the enemy to take territory that is rightfully ours. And as the Israelites stood firm, vigilantly continuing to do what God had asked them to do, the tide turned. Not only was the seemingly impossible task completed, but it was completed in record time.
So the wall was completed... in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God.
After a storm, the full-tide reaches new heights. It exceeds its former boundaries and claims new ground. I believe that this is a prophetic statement for this season - not only will the tide turn, but it is turning. And as it does, as you stand firm in the face of opposition, you will not only take back what has been lost, you will gain ground.
Where do you need to put your mind on the Master - to remember how great and awesome He is? To recall what He has promised? Stand firm in that place and fight, confident that high-tide is coming.
Live today with purpose,
I joined a Gym for the first time this February - I’d always believed I wasn’t good enough to attend one before! But this year God has been speaking to me about my goals and focus; about my thought processes and my ‘mind’. He’s been reminding me of Paul’s words in Philippians:
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Paul uses the analogy of an athlete in the above passage, describing one who is disciplined and focused on reaching the goal. Yet at the same time he is honest enough to add that he himself, has not yet achieved this.
My son was the catalyst for this decision to join the gym, as gym exercise is required for his Duke of Edinburgh Training. The day we registered, I was so nervous. I found myself apologising to the trainer for my age and lack of fitness – but the team were reassuring and during my consultancy session asked me what my focus and fitness goals were. I shared that my goals were to lose weight, to tone up and become disciplined with exercise; making it a lifestyle.
During the first week of working out, the past came back to bite me; whilst exercising on the treadmill I felt a tightness in my calf muscle, reminiscent of the pain I’d had 3 years ago when I tore the same muscle running. My mind was filled with the memory of that past pain and the crutches I’d required; the Physio I had needed for weeks and the disappointment I had felt believing I would never run again. I lost my focus during that season.
This time however, I took myself off to A & E to avoid a repeat of this scenario. A strained calf muscle was diagnosed. The Dr added “You cannot run”, and I took that to mean forever. I returned to Physio, only this time my mind was set that there would be a solution. I had a goal in mind and I was singularly determined to reach it with a positive attitude. (Definitely the grace of God at work in me!)
I kept up with the recommended exercises, winced at the sometimes painful massages my calf needed and listened to the advice the Physiotherapist gave me regarding what gym equipment I could use. I had my eyes set on the prize – fitness and weight loss. This was a temporary roadblock but not an insurmountable obstacle. Keeping my focus in sight and having the right frame of mind were key to my progress.
It was at this time I heard God say to me “It’s time to forget the past, forget what lay behind and press on towards the goal!”
Sometimes we have to face and go through things that took us out in the past before we are able to re-focus and press on towards the goal. I felt that Father wanted me to revisit that season three years prior; that it was now time to deal with the disappointments I had long since buried.
Our God is in the business of restoration and re-focus!
Forgetting what lies behind…..
The Bible Verse in Philippians tells us to focus on one thing – which is to look forward to what lies ahead and to press on to reach it. I’ll say that again – to focus.
This signifies that it takes effort to reach the goal; that discipline of mind and body is required to endure and to keep running the race. Without that we will be subject to every storm and setback that comes our way.
My calf muscle has since improved so much, mainly due to my discipline in doing the exercises I have been assigned. It has been a step by step process and patience has been required, but the aim remains - the goal!
I’ve nursed a 3 year dream to run again, but have held a belief I never will. At my most recent appointment the physiotherapist discussed my desire to run and said that yes with continued discipline, focus and exercise I will in time be running again!
Restoration takes time, it is a process and it can be confronting. It’s about walking through and facing things; it’s forgetting what lies behind! It’s about putting in the work, having your eye on the goal and straining towards what is ahead.
The prize is the high calling of God! Let us seek and pursue God above all things. He truly has wonderful plans for us, plans to give us a hope and a future. He desires to heal and restore us and to free us from the past, so that we can embrace with joy what he has set before us!
Where is God asking you to refocus your focus in this season?
One of my favourite pass-times as a kid was writing. I used to make my own books and write poetry on our old type-writer. Thankfully both my writing and technology have come a long way!
It is my prayer that these posts from both myself and guest contributors encourage you to embrace the season that you are in and to live it with purpose for God's glory.
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