Ever felt the urge to compare your body to someone else’s?
Or ponder why some things come so easy to other people while you have to struggle through the same problems every day?
Or why you weren’t given the talents or gifts of someone who seems to just naturally succeed at life?
Making comparisons is all too easy.
The media is often blamed – and rightly so – for the pressure it places on young women to look a certain way. Even church, which should be a place of acceptance and freedom to be who God has gifted you to be – can become competitive too. Sometimes churches can over-emphasise how much work you’re doing for the kingdom, or how committed you are, or what your attendance record looks like. And some youth groups can be more intimidating than high school, with the pressure to fit a certain mould.
Social media can be a breeding ground for competition and comparisons too.
Had a bad day? Well, log on and witness how many women have had breakfast in bed served by their fabulous husband when you’ve just gone through a separation… or observe photos of gorgeous newborns when you’ve been trying for a baby for years… And it’s really not the fault of the person posting the pics – most of the time they’re just sharing good news. But because it's human nature to compare ourselves to others, it really can be quite depressing…
I like this quote:
“One reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with other people’s highlight reel.”
Facebook is a truckload of highlight reels. Of course if you knew the behind-the-scenes of every smiling image, you would find the girl on your friends list may well have just as many insecurities, low moments, and silent struggles, as you.
We’re all struggling with something, at some time.
As a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I've often found it tempting to compare my family situation to others. Scrolling through photos where kids my son's age are receiving awards at school and thriving can be a real trigger for me – and I slip into despondency. But I need to keep coming back to the fact that God has taken me and our family on this journey for a reason, and remind myself to be thankful for the many blessings and beautiful moments that come along with the trials.
In whatever we’re facing, it’s so reassuring to know we have a God who has mapped out our life from the beginning.
He knew what struggles would be unique to us and has a plan and a purpose for every aspect of our lives.
Because of Christ, we are well-equipped and more than enough.
With God, we have what it takes to face life head on.
And if we don’t already have the skills needed to confront our daily dilemmas, we will learn them soon enough!
We are works in progress, moulded by each new thing that comes our way.
And we have a loving, comforting Heavenly Father who knows exactly what we need at all times.
Not that it isn’t still tempting to play the comparison game...
But when we remember that God’s ways are higher than ours; His intentions towards us are only good; and He is with us all the way – then we find the strength to keep pushing through and meeting each new challenge with confidence, boldness, and wisdom.
He is with us, right now, in our unique struggles, and he will guide us through.
But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness'. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Meet my friend lack. Lack and I have been friends for longer than I care to admit. And while this relationship frustrates me with its constant reminders of my inadequacies and insufficiencies; and its tendency to hem me in and roadblock my plans for progress, recent events have also made me realise that I have put my friend lack on a bit of a pedestal. Perhaps even made an idol of him.
That might seem like a strange statement to make. But our journey of looking for a new home has made me realise that deep down I thought it was more spiritual to be in want; to be in need because then I was truly dependent on God. So, when we ended up with a house that was above and beyond what I had ever anticipated or dreamt would be possible in this season of our lives, I struggled to receive it.
While on one hand the woman of faith in me could see the hand of God upon us; see His hand in every detail and His favour in the process, the woman who had made friends with lack wanted to refuse this gift. I felt unworthy - guilty even - of having such a lovely and spacious home. And this new home, with its somewhat empty rooms waiting to be filled, has been challenging me as to whether I am ready to break it off with my friend lack in order to pursue true dependency on Christ.
Paul's words in Philippians 4 have been echoing in my head. You know the often quoted, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. They are words that I have often leaned on over the years: the knowledge and truth as lack and I have journeyed together that it's ok that I don't have enough because He does; the freedom of knowing that it's ok that I don't feel enough for this calling because He is.
But here's the thing: I've only applied this dependency on Christ's sufficiency to some things. To the living in want things. And His invitation to be dependent upon His riches and grace is for ALL things.
...for I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.
Christ's invitation, is to a life of dependency upon His strength and His power even when I feel like it's something that I've got under control. It's for the places that I think 'I've got this" and for the places where resources and talents abound as much as it is for the places that I wrestle and struggle in.
And when I receive this offer of grace for all instead of just some things, my places of lack are not more holy than my places of abundance. They are each simply an opportunity to lean on Him in a different way.
Because the friend that I need is neither lack nor abundance, it is Jesus.
It is Jesus in every strength and in every weakness
It is Jesus in every triumph and in every failure
It is Jesus in every season and in every chapter
It's His hand that I want to hold and His embrace that I need at the end of a long day. It is His truth, and His wisdom, and His love that feeds the ache in my soul. That's the only truly holy thing in all of this: wholeheartedly pursuing and surrendering myself to Jesus. Allowing myself to be fully reliant upon all that He is and all that He offers me; abiding so deeply in His presence that He becomes as necessary to me as the air that I breathe.
So I'm ending this thing I've had going on with lack and taking him off the pedestal that I've wrongly put him on. Do I expect to never be in want again? No, but I want to shift the focus. Instead of glorifying my circumstances I want to glorify Him. To look for how my season invites me to know Him more and to lean more deeply on His grace.
Which is why as I clean my house this weekend, I will be choosing gratitude for this unexpected blessing of a home instead of guilt. I'll be looking at the empty spaces and instead of feeling frustrated about what I don't have, I'll be choosing to see a space that God has created to be filled by Him. Just like my life.
How is Jesus inviting you to rely on Him for ALL things today?
Before the sun sets, I ask myself, have I been fully present to God, others and myself?
Transitioning into a new year is something some of us do with great joy and goal setting; for some of us it is just another year to get through. Some people give no thought to their future and live day to day, while some, I have observed, are so future focused, waiting for the big breakthrough, that illusive defining moment that will change everything, that they are rarely fully present day by day - to God, themselves or others.
I love the quick wit of that great philosopher, Groucho Marx, who when out one evening said to his host, “I’ve had a wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it!” For some of us there never seems to be ‘a wonderful evening’ because we keep looking for that big breakthrough evening or event. Is such a desire wrong? No, but when we live so future focused, we run the risk of missing present moments that bring great joy, life, community, deepening of relationships, hope, personal transformation and healing.
As my wife, Pip, and I have navigated our personal journey of health these past years and stepped into a new year, I realise I have discovered more from learning to be fully present each day than constantly staring into the future hoping for one big miracle that will make everything all better (not that I do not hope). As I seek to practice the art of being fully present to the moment, to each person and to myself, I am laying stepping stones that create a pathway to the possibility of breakthrough in areas of my life. Sometimes big breakthroughs are the accumulation of small, moment by moment breakthroughs, which become the foundation blocks to the larger ones.
My personal defeats and victories in navigating this season of recovery have become in themselves, defining moments of growth.
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
I see why Jesus encouraged us to live one day at a time, not worrying about the next day (Matthew 6:25-34) because worry only robs us of present moments to grow, change and become the person God desires we be. As we journey through life, God is more concerned about the enlargement of our heart and our mind towards Him, ourselves and others so that we will have the capacity to receive and steward the big breakthroughs He has for us.
Today, He enlarges us to receive tomorrow.
While future hope is a wonderful focus, there is great power and transformation in learning to be fully present today, advancing one day at a time, not worrying but trusting.
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
God has invited us on a journey of trust, of learning to be fully present to Him, living in and from His
presence, so that we grow and become enabled to receive all He has for us. He alone knows the end from the beginning and crafts everything and everyone along the way.
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
If we can learn to be fully present to God, ourselves and others and not miss today’s moments, we will become more greatly equipped to see the breakthroughs we desire - whether small or large. Let us steward today well so that we can be entrusted with His tomorrows.
“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still” (Chinese proverb)
May 2018 be a breakthrough year for you - each and every moment.
It had been one of those mornings. From the moment he opened his eyes I had known it would be. After a night of broken sleep, Mr. 2 was on a rampage. Nothing and no one was safe in his overtired, illogical state.
Toys and tantrums were thrown, food was refused, plates overturned and the cover of our advent book torn in two. While I was busy cleaning up one mess he was off creating another one. Not even a turn on the neighbours' new swing could placate him.
Miss 12 got frustrated as he dismantled her picture perfect Christmas tree for the umpteenth time - the baubles were now his 'footballs' and he was delighted to find that some of them had confetti stars inside! His sisters, on the other hand, were not so delighted to have to pick up the said stars to return them to their rightful place.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when he went back to bed at 10am.
Cuppas were made, Christmas cookies popped on a plate and we grabbed our advent book - its torn cover now repaired by Miss 9. As I looked at this book and thought about our morning, God spoke to my heart. Amongst all the chaos of the morning there had been moments of beauty - and this torn book with words filled with the truth of Christmas was another pause, another moment of respite in our day.
This is the heart of Christmas - that into all our mess, from two-year old tantrums to when life feels torn at the seams - Jesus brings His beauty.
That first Christmas was far from picture perfect.
Israel was occupied
Elizabeth was barren
Mary was unwed
The journey to Bethlehem, long and uncomfortable - on a donkey no less
There was no room at the inn
Nor in men's hearts
Because Jesus did not come in the way they expected. They were looking for a warrior; for a resplendent King, not a baby. They did not anticipate Him coming so softly, so gently - so vulnerably. And so they missed Him - rejected and despised Him even.
I wonder how many times I've missed Him with me because life hasn't looked the way that I've wanted it to or thought it should? How many times I've rejected or even despised His work in my life?
Yet just as He did for Israel, He keeps drawing near. Keeps seeking me out. Keeps offering to exchange the ashes and messes of my life for His beauty.
For my chains, He offers freedom
For my shame, He bestows honour
From my barreness, He brings new life
When the journey is long, He lends me His strength
When I feel alone, He stays with me. Never leaving, never forsaking.
My life - this Christmas - does not need to be picture perfect for Him to be present and neither does yours. Jesus is the One who stands at the doors of our hearts and knocks, waiting for us to hear His voice; to open up our hearts and make room for Him to be with us so that we can feast on all that He is..
This invitation was not given to a people who had it all together; whose life and faith was picture perfect. It was spoken to a Church who had lost their passion and had become self-satisfied and self-sufficient. Jesus saw them as they really were: wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked and He offered them what they could not supply for themselves. In His love for them He spoke correction and reminded them that He was still there; still wanting relationship with them; still wanting them to experience and taste His goodness.
And this is what He desires for us this Christmas. That we would not rely on our own strength and resources; that we would not measure our lives against a store catalogue or social media highlight reel, but that we we would open the doors of our hearts and make room for Him to be with us, mess and all. That we would make Him our source and the object of our affections. That we would dine on His abundance and enjoy His riches.
You don't need a picture perfect Christmas because you have the most perfect gift that there is, Jesus. Hear Him knocking - not just at Christmas - but each and every day and open the door wide for Him to be Emmanuel, God with us, God with you.
October is Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month. This is my story...
I always envisaged a big family for myself. Growing up the eldest of four, anything less seemed, well, too neat and tidy - now that I actually have children of my own, I realise that there is nothing neat and tidy about being a parent full stop. Whether you have one or ten, raising children will challenge you to your very core!
I am grateful to say that a big family has become our reality. But if you had told me just how this would be realised, the young girl dreaming of babies and white picket fences would have laughed at you. God has not built my family how I imagined. I am a step-mother; I was a foster-mother to my nephew for several years; I have given birth to three healthy babies. I have also lost one of my babies. I am the one in four.
One in four. When I went for my three month scan, after two healthy and uneventful pregnancies, I wasn't expecting anything but to see my child for the first time. Instead I heard the words that were meant to bring me comfort; meant to make me feel like I wasn't alone in this journey. That this experience was somewhat normal because it happens in one in four pregnancies.
But those words felt just like they really are. Cold, hard, statistics. Just numbers. And none of our stories are just a number to God. We are intimately seen, known and loved.
From the outset, this pregnancy had been different. Each of our kids have been planned and wanted, but this pregnancy was a desire fulfilled. We began fostering our nephew when Isabelle - daughter number 3 - was 15 months old. We'd been talking about when to try for another baby when we got the call from CYFS to attend the family conference about his care. I'd never met him but we put our hand up to have him come live with us. Within six weeks a just-turned 3 year old was flown up to Auckland to join our family and I was about to experience the chaos that is three pre-schoolers! I say it in jest, but truthfully, I was ill-prepared for just how hard and heart-breaking it can be to parent a child who has been neglected and abused.
I went into the journey thinking that my baby plans were just being delayed but it soon became apparent to me that barring a miracle in my nephews life, there would be no more babies in the Walker household. I began to grieve the child I thought I would now never have.
It's hard to explain the grief that you can carry for someone you have never met - someone who is as yet, just an idea. But every day for a year I had to surrender this child I thought would never be to the Lord. I gave away every item of clothing, every toy, that I had kept for the 'next' baby and when I could bear it no more, I asked a girlfriend to pray with me for God to take the desire for another baby away. I knew that I needed to accept the shape that our family had taken and fully embrace the children that were in my home right now. Graciously God did.
After nearly two and a half years of raising my nephew, the journey came to an end. It was our decision but it is not a decision that I would wish upon anyone. My heart felt torn and battered. The grief began again - this time not for a child I wished for, but for a child I had held in my arms. A child I had fought for. A child who had called me his mum.
When people asked me how many children we had, I never knew how to answer. Who knew such a simple question could cut so deeply? I stopped mentioning him and would only talk about the girls. About eighteen months after our nephew had left, two women who didn't really know me asked me if I was sure that our family was finished. "Yes" I had replied, adding that, "God has shut that door."
But God began to whisper to my heart, did I shut that door Aimee, or did you? You see, I had always said thirty was my cut-off for having children. It was afterall when my Mum had her last, so I had always figured that was when I should be done by too! Isn't it funny some of the things we absorb and decide as children?! So here I was, in my early thirties beginning to wonder if the door had really been fully shut on adding to our family. Rather than excited though, I was terrified by the reawakening of a desire that I thought had died, but had really only ever been dormant.
The preceding years had been hard for a multitude of reasons and re-opening this door brought all my hurts and fears up to the surface. For six months I wrestled with God over the disappointments of the past. In that time, God did some intensive heart surgery and hope - the confident expectation of His goodness for my life - began to rise within me once again. I came to realise that while God was proud of my perseverance and the depth of trust that our trials had forged in me, that it wasn't His ultimate goal for me. Hope was.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
When we found out that I was pregnant, this child felt like the symbol of the new thing that God was doing in my heart and life.
And then those words. The one in four...
I'm not really sure how I made it out of the room and back to the car. How I made the call to my husband and then my midwife. It all felt like a bad dream that I hoped I would awaken from.
But I didn't. The next day my body began to naturally miscarry. It would take five full days. Grief was once again my companion. But this time, so was hope. As I made my way down our hallway in the middle of the night, in agonising pain, I heard the gentle whisper of God, Aimee, I know that this is a HUGE disappointment, but know that I love you.
God's love held me not just in that moment, but in the days, weeks and months that followed.
His love was in the friends who sat with me and cared for me as I miscarried my longed-for child
It was in the meals that turned up on our doorstep
It was in the many people who picked up and dropped off my kids when I was to weak to get up from the couch - who kept life normal for them while I grieved.
It was in the flowers people sent and the words of encouragement that they spoke
It was in His Word and in His sweet presence
The hope that had been forged in my heart in the preceding months had opened my eyes to see that His goodness and His love is always at work. Yes, in this world, we will encounter disappointment (sometimes that word doesn't quite seem adequate), but we do not have to live disappointed because we are ALWAYS loved. ALWAYS seen. ALWAYS valuable.
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.
There were many other losses that year that God's goodness carried us through. He is not the author of our suffering but He is skilled at weaving it in such a way that it will work for good if we will allow Him too. He is the God who gives beauty for ashes.
We named our precious baby Jordan. It was a statement of faith that we would not let our grief take us back to the wilderness, but that we would trust that God was, and would always be, good to our family no matter what the journey looked like.
And He has been. In August 2015, I gave birth to Lucas. His name means bringer of light. I wanted to call him Lewis which means renowned warrior - Lucas was Dave's choice and believe me I fought him on it! But a few weeks before he was due, our daughter Misha came and sat next to me on a park bench and said, "Mum, we don't need a warrior, we need a bringer of light." Fittingly, he timed his entrance into this world with the sunrise.
There is a time to fight and to contend. But there is also a time to allow God to shine His light; to let the hope of who He is bring healing to our lives; to let His comfort penetrate our brokeness.
I have my moments where the tears still flow for the children I no longer hold in my arms. Where my heart aches for what might have been. But hope anchors me. The hope of what God has planned for my nephew's life; the hope that one day I will behold Jordan and see her in all her beauty. The hope that God has and always will be good to me.
You are not a number. Your grief - whatever the cause - is not a statistic. And my prayer for you today is that as you walk the path to healing, that hope, the confident expectation of His goodness, would indeed anchor your soul and awaken your heart to see His love towards you as it has done mine.
P.S. My nephew's story has had its own beautifully messy ending. After leaving our home, he had two further failed placements but he now has a home for life with an incredible couple who married later in life and were unable to have children of their own. He is their desire fulfilled; an answer to their prayers and the fulfilment of words spoken over their lives. God specialises in writing beautiful endings even if they don't come the way we thought they would. Can I encourage you today that your story isn't finished yet either xx
We sat together on the couch, her head buried into my shoulder as she wept for the things, the people that she was missing. And my heart ached for my daughter as she tried to figure out how to navigate her current season.
Change is hard. Being brave and willing to give new things a go and walk down yet unknown paths can be overwhelming.
As winter has given way to spring in our part of the world, something deep within us rejoices and celebrates the signs of new life. We have ached for something to come and replace the barreness. But new beginnings aren't always looked for or even necessarily wanted; they aren't solely the territory of the dead and barren places. Sometimes, God asks us to allow Him to prune the fruitful things - the things that are in full bloom - in our lives so that we can be even more fruitful (John 15:2).
Over the last two years, God has been bringing restoration and life to areas in my heart and story that I have longed for Him to, but He's simultaneously been asking me to let Him bring about new beginnings - to be pruned - in places where I wasn't looking for change.
He has asked me to resign my position and my ministry credentials
He has called us out of the Church we helped plant to start over after some 18 years of community
He has led us to homeschool when I never even wanted to be a stay at home mum (He sure has a sense of humour!)
And each of these changes has asked a question of me - do I really trust Him in the place of exchange? In the place where I don't yet know what my hands will hold and all I can see is what I'm letting go of?
Pruning seasons can be a unique type of change because we don't always know exactly what it is that God is making room for in our lives. We often only see the gaping whole left that was once fruitful and flourishing. Pruning inevitably ushers us into an in-between time - a time of uncertainty and waiting - just like in the natural, it takes time for the new growth to become visible.
In my own life, the place of exchange has tested whether I really believe that He is who He says He is. Whether I trust His heart towards me and the plans that He has for me. The place of exchange has revealed whether the Scriptures I quote are merely platitudes and bumper stickers or the foundation of truth that I've built my life upon because the place of exchange requires us to live with a deep assurance of His goodness and His love for us.
Jesus makes the Father's heart in pruning us abundantly clear - it is not to diminish us in any way but to increase us. To make us more fruitful. Pruning is not about judgment but preparation. And while it can be easy to entertain the voice of condemnation when we feel like we're being cut back, Jesus offers us this assurance:
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus is telling us, You are mine, I have washed you. Don't let the enemy tell you that you don't belong, that you're not valuable because you're being stripped back. Don't isolate yourself from Me; don't try and make things happen in your own strength, Trust that my heart is to cause you to flourish and be fruitful. Come, tarry a moment with Me. Apart from Me you can do nothing, but with Me, you can trust that greater fruitfulness is coming.
The word for 'remain' or 'abide' meant to remain, abide; to sojourn or tarry; to continue to be present; to be held, kept continually. It paints a picture for us of lingering in and savouring the presence of God with us. For me personally, I've found this 'abiding' to be both the challenge and the invitation of the place of exchange. My grief, my disappointment, my frustrations and impatience, the uncertainty can either build a wall between me and God or they can become a bridge to greater dependency, greater trust in His wisdom and goodness and in His time, greater fruitfulness.
If I want them to be a bridge, I must settle the question of trust. Will I trust His heart to lead me and yes, even to prune me?
I've decided yes. What about you?
'But'. It's a word that gets used on a daily basis in my household:
But you said...
But that's not fair...
I don't want to hear any 'buts,' just do it...
And on it goes. This little yet powerful word gets thrown around throughout the day - throughout our lives - and depending on the context, it will remind us of the obstacles, the limitations and perhaps even injustices that we might find ourselves facing, or it can open up another perspective. 'But' has the potential to unlock a new way of thinking; to cause us to focus less on the impossibilities and more on the possibilities.
I've been offering plenty of my own 'buts' up to God of late; dampening the desires and the dreams that I know He has placed within me with a narrative of impossibility.
But I don't have enough [I could write a shopping list for you here!]...
But I just want a break...
But I'm tired of waiting...
But it's just too hard - impossible even...
Scripture shows us a pattern of such impossibilities encountering a 'but God' truth - however if you're anything like me, you've probably been guilty more than once of switching it round. Of derailing what God wants to do with 'but impossibility.' We allow our obstacles and inadequacies to become bigger than who God is.
I love what Paul Manwaring writes:
This is where the real battle of faith is, the battle of trusting an unseen, eternal reality and letting it transform the way we negotiate visible, temporal reality.
'But God' is not a denial or whitewashing of what we face; rather it is allowing the reality of who He is, of eternity, to reshape how we see our lives and our circumstances.
David models this for us throughout the psalms:
When he had to flee from his son Absalom and his foes were many and people were telling him that God would not deliver him, he said, "But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head." (Psalm 3)
When he felt forgotten and he wrestled with his thoughts - his heart heavy with sorrow - he declared, "But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation.. I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me." (Psalm 13)
When he considered God's holiness, that the wicked could not dwell in His presence, he was aware of the grace that enabled him to draw near saying, "But, I, by Your great mercy, will come into Your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple." (Psalm 5)
David allowed himself to express his worries and his fears; he acknowledged the obstacles he faced and the enemies who opposed him; he accepted his own inadequacies and failings but he didn't allow his thoughts to stop there. Time and time again the Psalms show us how David lived not in light of his impossibilities but by the truth of 'but God.'
It is not a sin to see the obstacles we face or to give voice to our fears and our anguish but we mustn't allow them to stop us from encountering God or pursuing His plans for our lives. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul writes:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
I don't know about you, but when I continually interrupt God with a narrative of 'but this' or 'but that,' the truth gets distorted and I become susceptible to believing lies; to elevating my problems above the wonder of who God is. And when I do this, I am robbed of truly knowing God and from experiencing the fullness that He has for me.
We need to recognise that our minds are a battlefield - that the enemy would love us to think in a way that keeps us distracted from seeing God's goodness. We must learn like David to process our reality and to then submit it to the powerful truth of 'but God.'
And when we allow 'but' to become an invitation to a new way of thinking - to God's perspective - then we will be positioned to see and experience His goodness in each and every season of our lives.
Where do you need to say, 'but God' today?
We're entering the final weeks of winter and despite the biting cold, the signs of new life, of new beginnings are bursting forth. The lambs are being born, the barren trees are budding ready for the blossoms to emerge, and dormant bulbs are starting to push their way up and out of the dark heavy earth that has been concealing their existence.
It was a number of years ago now, in the midst of a dark winter season of my own soul, that God revealed this truth to me: the seeds of new life don't begin in the spring but in the winter. In the midst of the cold and sometimes barren landscape, things of great beauty are being realised.
Just last winter God led me to a new beginning of my own, asking me to resign from what I would have previously described as my dream job to be at home with my children and to write. In the midst of laying down the plans that I had built for myself - of allowing dreams to die and be rebirthed - I have been reminded afresh of the truth that God spoke through the seasons to me all those years ago, that the 'new things' often spring forth from the most unlikely of landscapes. That beautiful things can be born out of the hard things.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
The question that God asks us through the prophet Isaiah, is the question that we must each answer when we find ourselves in the midst of the winter - will we have eyes to see the new things God is doing? Will we have faith to believe that He is able to bring beauty out of our barreness?
There is a fragility to new beginnings. Like the lambs born into a harsh climate, seasons of transition, where we are just beginning to embark on a new path, can be times of vulnerability. The elements often oppose the new life that is emerging which is why we must guard our hope and protect the seeds that God has planted within us.
As we grieve what we have had to let go of; what we have had to release in order to embrace the new, we must trust in His redemptive plans and purposes for our lives. We must believe that He can make a way where we might not yet see one.
When we find ourselves in the paralysing throes of fear, questioning whether we have heard God right; wondering if we are adequate for the task before us, we must lean into His strength and trust that His grace is sufficient. Sufficient to equip us for what He is calling us to and sufficient to cover us when we mis-step and get it wrong.
When the path ahead feels lonely and confronting we must remember that He is not only with us, He is for us. He believes in us and He is cheering us on. God knows that we need His care and protection equally in times of despair and of advancement which is why He not only walks through the valleys with us, He is also, as Psalm 23 tells us, going ahead of us, preparing the table - preparing places of rest and provision - as we ascend the mountain. He understands our vulnerability and provides all that we need to go from strength to strength.
Stripped of my titles; stripped of my familiar routines, my own new beginnings have required me to face these same myriad of emotions. The contrasting emotions of grief and hope; of letting go and picking up have been overwhelming at times. Forging new paths and allowing God to do a fresh work in our lives is seldom a comfortable experience - they are however an opportunity to draw near and rely on God in a deeper way. To find our rest in Him instead of striving to make things happen on our own terms.
I have learned that it is only when we embrace the companionship of the Comforter over being comfortable that we are positioned for new things to emerge. But as long as we fight for our own comfort the seeds of new life are constrained.
As far as the seasons go, I actually love winter. I love cosying up to the fire with a glass of red or a warm cuppa and a good book, drawing comfort and warmth from its embers; accepting its offer of respite from the cold. I have not always loved it though as an analogy for my life. Experience has taught me however to appreciate the beauty that God births in us throughout the winter months.
Yes, the winter months can feel relentless, but beneath the surface beauty is waiting to be revealed. Do you see the new thing that God is preparing to spring up in your life?
P.S. Want to understand more about the table that God has prepared? Sign-up to get the devotional series, The Good Shepherd, to your inbox here.
I could see the whispers of fog wrapping themselves around the trees outside my bedroom window and it captured the emotion of how this season feels for me. Of how I'm not quite sure of what comes next but aware that there is beauty in the midst of the fog; in the midst of this somewhat ambiguous time in my life.
You see, as I've been journeying through my season of letting go - a season that has lasted longer and touched more areas of my life than I ever envisaged that it would - I've become aware that the satisfied life isn't always found where you expected it to be. That Scripture is full of people whom God called to step away from what they had planned and built for themselves to step into what was unknown and wouldn't always be fully realised in their own lifetime.
Men like Abraham who left his homeland - left the familiar and comfortable - to say yes to an undisclosed destination.
Women like Jesus' mother Mary whose surrendered yes took her down unexpected and sometimes lonely and painful paths.
People like the disciples who had trained in various professions and left it all behind to follow Jesus.
And so many more for whom the path looked different to what they had anticipated.
We have the benefit of knowing the end of their stories - of knowing that they stayed the course to possess what was promised even if they did take some detours along the way. But they must have had their in-between times and seasons like we all do. The days, weeks, months and even years where they didn't quite know how it was all going to turn out. Where the fog wrapped around their hearts and minds and tried to obscure their vision.
But here's the thing that I've learnt about fog; you don't have to be able to see everything that lies ahead to keep moving forward. You just need enough light to illuminate where you currently are.
Now this truth is not always easy for me to accept. I like to have things all planned out. To know the end-goal and exactly how we're going to get there. But life's not that simple - the journey is not always linear like we think it should be - and I doubt it was for the ancients either.
God offers to be the light that illuminates our path just as He has for those who have gone before us. For His presence to be a light within us and without. I've discovered that when knowing Him and not my own agenda becomes the goal, that the fog around me begins to clear and the beauty of who He is and how He loves me, shines bright. As David wrote:
For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.
All our worrying, all our striving and efforts to clear the path for ourselves will not bring clarity in the fog because clarity comes from intimacy. Only trust, only relationship with the One who sees all; with the One for whom the darkness is as light (Psalm 139:12) can cause the fog around our hearts and minds to clear.
Later that day, the sun shone bright. All trace of the morning fog had lifted and I was reminded that there will come a day when we see clearly; when we know and understand in full because we see Him face to face (1 Cor, 13:12). Our revelation, our knowing continually grows and deepens as we know Him more, but none of us can know fully this side of eternity. For now, we only see in part and the journey of faith is to keep saying yes. To keep trusting in who He is, allowing His goodness, His love to be the light for where we find ourselves; to be the light that leads us forward.
How can you let Him shine His light for you today?
The past 3 years of my journey with God have been peppered with tests, trials, sorrows, joys, achievements, obstacles and hope. Much like your own journeys, I am sure. There were times when the trials seemed to outweigh the joys and I was tempted to give up. I didn’t think I’d come out of the hot roasting refining fires with any hair let alone unharmed and singe-free.
I wept before the Lord, I railed at my own areas of weakness; I wondered why I kept making the same dumb mistakes over and over. But God was with me, fighting for me and I discovered He was doing a far bigger work in my life. He was working on my character teaching me to persevere and grow in faith.
I had a moment of clarity one morning in the shower as I surrendered my all to the Lord, envisaging myself ‘free falling’ and saying “Here I am Lord, my life is yours”. I made an active decision to forget the past and stop beating myself up about it. However, I was fearful that despite all, God would not meet all my needs; that the ‘holes’ in me, previously filled with addictions, shopping, distractions and even – dare I say it- ministry, would overwhelm me again.
That morning, I reflected on the things I had recently let go of, allowing concerns and memories to ruminate in my soul. I knew I needed to surrender afresh as my mind was pre-occupied with the ‘what if’s’. What if I blow it again? what if I have a bad day and I fail. What if? What if?
The Lord spoke to my heart “Karen, don’t worry about the things you need to let go of, or the issues you struggle with – surrender to me first and I will help you with the rest”.
It was that simple, but it was a moment of beautiful clarity. As I surrendered my heart again, I sensed such peace and trust that God would do what He said He would do, because He is who He says He is! Instead of trying to figure out everything myself, I lifted my concerns to Him and asked “Father, will you meet my needs?”
In a flash his reply came “I will supply all of your needs”. In that moment, Philippians 4:19 came alive for me personally. My Spirit received the words as truth.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
Since that day my level of faith has grown. Instead of trying to struggle my way through the myriad of worries or issues I can perceive to be real, I bring this prayer to the Lord “Father, will you meet all my needs?”
I am delighted to be able to tell you that not only has He has met my needs, He has exceeded my expectations and hopes beyond measure. I am getting an inkling of what Jesus was talking about in John 10:10 when he said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Why do we settle for less? Why do we sometimes have a martyr complex and live with doubt? It’s a promise from God. A full life, abundance.
My thought life has been changing as I daily surrender my heart and life to God (OK, sometimes it needs to be multiple times a day). I now declare and decree in faith that my Father will meet my every need; no matter what I’m feeling or what I’m going through.
I believe that good things are going to happen in my day, no longer do I need to be dictated to by my soulish emotions, or dreading a forthcoming ‘off day’. By decreeing and declaring truth my attitude is altered, my faith is activated.
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word about Christ.”
The Word of God not only tells us what to do, but empowers us to do it. Faith is activated by God’s Word. For me the power in “I will supply all your needs” has been life changing, growing my faith and drawing me closer to God and showing me who He really is in my life.
God is supplying my needs in exciting ways and blessing me in ways I did not expect! For you see, when I surrendered my life to him and chose to let go (that was hard – I won’t dress that up), He also spoke to my heart “I will give you so much more than anything you’ve had to let go of or leave behind”
That is who our God is. He wants us to live life to the full. In surrender there is freedom, there is life.
Looking for some Scripture declarations to activate your faith - check out our 21 Scripture Declarations download here.
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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