We had a team day at work recently where actors came in with pretend problems, and we had to practice “active listening” for four minutes. The idea was that we would be asking questions to understand their perspective and situation. I was proud that in about 40 seconds I had figured out the cause of the issue and solved the problem.
When it was time for me to get feedback on the exercise, I was surprised that they told me I had only listened enough to decide what I would say in response. Their impression was that I had asked questions to find out and fix the problem but had not been seeking to understand the person.
I agreed with the feedback but secretly thought I’d done the more efficient and loving thing by getting to the solution faster than anyone else.
Fast forward a few weeks, my husband and I shifted in with a friend to save money while we build our new home. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit, but I was really struggling with the transition to a smaller space, an older kitchen and feeling like one of my biggest passions (cooking and entertaining) had been taken away as I didn’t have the environment to relax and enjoy it.
I was sitting in my room, wrestling with the grief of letting go of having space with my husband, of the time and expense of the house, along with a bunch of other (let’s be honest) first world problems. I hadn’t talked to God about any of it, as I was too embarrassed to ask Him to change my situation - I already knew the problem bigger than the situation was my lack of gratitude. Gratitude for everything I had and would have in the future. I knew that if I showed him my heart, admitted that I was feeling trapped and stuck, that he would tell me to get over myself and be grateful.
So I began to say out loud all the things I was thankful for, and as I did, I saw in my spirit the scene from John 11:32-36 where Jesus approaches Mary on His way to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead. He knows that in about 3 minutes time Lazarus will be alive and all the mourning will be over. But the King of all creation, the solution holding, miracle making God, stops and weeps with her. Because he saw pain in the eyes of His friend. Because He understands.
Then the vision changed and I saw him walking toward me, arms outstretched. No words were spoken but in His eyes, I saw pure compassion. Permission to feel. Released from guilt, and totally understood.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Many of us are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that our life with Jesus is relationship. Religion tells you that you are a project to be completed or a problem to solve.
Religion has a goal of defending ourselves or setting other’s straight. Religion wants messy things cleaned up. But relationship, above all, wants to discover your thoughts and feelings - no matter how messy. God wants to understand you.
Jesus will never move quickly to the solution at the cost of relationship. He doesn’t struggle with four minutes of active listening! His desire to understand the depths of your soul was so strong, that He took on human flesh to experience first-hand what it’s like to walk this earth. Then he took up residence inside your heart to experience first-hand what It’s like to walk in your shoes. There is nothing you could experience that He has not felt. You cannot fathom how deeply He understands.
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Can I encourage you today, whatever you’re walking through, instead of looking at your heart like a problem to solve or a project to be completed, to let Love’s loudest voice be one of understanding. Give Him a chance to actively listen, He never grows tired or weary.
Side note- but definitely worth mentioning- I am writing this from an apartment one block from the beach that my husband and I have been generously gifted for a week. His understanding no one can fathom!
I grew up in Church and I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that I even played 'Church' with the neighbourhood kids and my toys - Mum had to put some rules in place though when I started taking up an offering!
As a pastor's kid, and later becoming a pastor myself, Church has always been an integral part of my life. I've never woken up on a Sunday and thought, "Should we go to Church today?" because we've usually been the first there and the last to go.
That is until recently.
Two years ago, I resigned from my pastoral role. A year later, we felt God calling us out of the Church family that had been home for some 18 years. Both these changes required a lot of letting go and a lot of grieving. They caused me to do a lot of reflection and wrestling over this beautifully messy thing we call 'Church.' And all this wrestling saw me pull back.
At first I pulled back to process. To rest. To heal. This was wisdom for my season.
But then I pulled back because I felt alone. I felt adrift and I didn't know where I fitted anymore
Dave would head off to services with the kids without me. I just need some time alone with Jesus I'd tell him.
And honestly, I welcomed the extra time a Sunday with no rushing around gave me!
Yet the more I pulled back, the more empty I felt. Because we are not just called to relationship with God, we're also called to relationship with His people. No matter how hard it is. No matter how messy and complicated it gets, we are called to belong to a family and you can't belong from a distance.
So I've been taking small yet deliberate steps back towards committed community. I'm rediscovering what it means to belong and all the blessings that go with that.
The writer of Hebrew tells us this:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We hold tight to Him, but we must also hold tight to one another. The Passion Translation renders this passage beautifully saying:
This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.
These verses, are not a denial of the mess that will inevitably come wherever people in all their human frailties gather together, but they are a promise that in the midst of that mess we will find beauty. We will find encouragement and hope. That we will be spurred on to keep doing the good things that God is calling us to do both individually and collectively.
Over the past two years, I have been reminded just how deeply we need one another. Just how much I need the encouragement of others and also how much I am renewed and transformed as I reach out to those around me. How coming together to worship recalibrates my heart and keeps me focused on the truth that it's not all about me, it's about Jesus. It's about establishing His Kingdom here on earth.
Yes, I can listen to podcasts and watch services online. I can open my Bible and create an atmosphere of worship in my home with the music I put on, and I am so grateful these mediums are there for when gathering with others is genuinely not possible. But they were never intended to replace community.
Community is where I am discipled and refined, It continually gives me opportunities to become more Christ-like as I learn to love and serve like He does. Community is also how we show the world what it means to belong and just how powerful the love of God is.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
If you, like me, have taken a step back from meeting with other believers, if a season has turned into a lifestyle, can I encourage you today to reconsider. To be brave and try again. You will not find perfection but in your obedience to God's command to meet together and to love one another, you will encounter blessing.
Please note that in writing this I am aware that Church is not a building but the body of Christ, and as such, has many varied expressions. Acts 2:42-47 gives us some of the practices that should characterise a healthy expression of Church and it is commitment to a group of believers that meets to fulfill these purposes that I strongly encourage you to pursue.
As a girl I loved building sandcastles; armed with my bucket, spade and imagination I would construct a castle replete with turrets and towers, windows and bridges, a surrounding moat of water and carefully placed decorative shells to top it all off. Once complete I would stand back to admire my work of art. However, the inevitable tide would advance up the beach only to remove my precious sandcastle bit by bit; how sad I would be seeing my masterpiece collapse and disappear into nothingness.
The fact is, that no matter how good that sandcastle looked, or how intricate or creative – it could not withstand the incoming tide. Why? because it had no solid foundation to keep it standing there. This is also true in our own lives, anything that is built on a foundation of sand is not secure and will be washed away when storms, rains, tides and tempest come.
Let me be honest with you. I’ve had a very tough 5 years and this year has surpassed itself on the toughness scale. I’ve wondered how many more mistakes I could possibly make; I’ve not understood what’s driven me to do the crazy things I’ve done and I’ve been all at sea seeing my ‘sandcastle’ washed away.
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
There are painful consequences when we dis-obey God’s word, when we justify our own behaviour and do not surrender our hearts and lives fully to Jesus. Yet, my faithful God has removed from my life, that which needed to be removed. He has shown me He truly is who He says He is. I grieve and repent for what I have done yet marvel at his faithfulness and His promise to build me up again, with my foundation built on Him alone.
The Lord appeared to us in the past saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again.”
God in his mercy and grace has been exposing the areas of my life that have been built on the wrong foundations. Through the storms and the rising tides, I have learned first-hand there is only one I can trust. Only one that has my best interests at heart – only one that is my true rock in this life: Jesus. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand.
I am aware of God’s discipline as a true loving Father. The struggle and suffering are hard, but oh, let me tell you, I have seen the goodness of God. He has rescued me and set me upon the solid rock.
Have you felt like your life has slipped so far that God cannot reach you or change your situation? That you have made so many bad decisions and wrong choices that you cannot be re-routed? Let me tell you now - that is a lie. You may have failed. But you are not a failure. God is in the business of restoring and rebuilding. Let Him rebuild your life with your foundations set on Jesus, the Solid Rock.
Building a sandcastle maybe easy and fun. There you are at the beach on a balmy sunny day with no storm in sight, armed with your bucket, spade, shells and not a care in the world. But building spiritual foundations; building on a rock is about faith, obedience, commitment, determination, blood, sweat and tears.
But once you build on the solid Rock, on foundations that will not be shaken - no matter the storms you have to weather, no matter the tides that rise above your neck, this true foundation will not be washed away. There true security is found.
Let me leave you with the first verse and reprise from the old classic hymn by Edward Mote, and pose these questions to you – where is your hope? What foundation are you building on?
My hope is built on nothing less
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
When my kids are fighting over something I sing 'Let It Go'. I get down on one knee and make a fool of myself, changing the mood and making them forget what they were fighting over in the first place.
I can often have an internal argument and end up singing the song to myself… which, if you were watching me, would be quite weird…
I can be quite particular. I like to do things in a certain way; I have my routine, and a method to carry out my tasks. But I struggle to keep going if my routine gets interrupted for some reason. There is a part of me that says, if you can't do it perfectly, you might as well give up now. It might sound odd, but it can be physically exhausting. And this is where the song comes in.
I have to shift my focus from whatever is blocking me to the simple truth: God doesn't ask for perfection, he asks for perseverance. John Bloom from desiringgod.org said:
Perfectionism is a pride- or fear-based compulsion that either fuels our obsessive fixation on doing something perfectly or paralyzes us from acting at all — both of which often result in the harmful neglect of other necessary or good things.
There are things in life that are beyond our control. Schedules, situations, and people are ever changing. And while I like my to do lists and love the feeling that comes when I can cross something off one of those lists, I've had to learn that when things beyond my control hinder me from being able to achieve my tasks, that I need to let go and let God. There is a prayer that I say often:
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
This is where I thought it finished. But I have recently discovered a second verse:
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Taking this world as it is, not as I would have it - we need to be faith-based, not fear-based, followers of Christ, accepting the things we cannot change and trusting God to make things right.
We are reminded of this in Proverbs 3:5:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
I love worship music. It soothes my heart and fixes my eyes on God. It Is Well With My Soul is a popular hymn and has been remade by many musicians, but the second verse of the original lyrics seems to connect with me:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Although Satan will continue to strike repeatedly, attempting to knock me off course, I can stand sure that my God loves me and gave His only son for me. (John 3:16)
Can I encourage you: whatever is holding you back or frustrating you, give it to God. Through praying, singing or writing. Let go of what is holding you to this world’s lies and grasp hold of His truths that you are loved and you are worthy. Let it be well with your soul.
Keep shining, you never know whose dark day you might be lighting up!
It's a vulnerable thing to write about the places you are currently receiving healing, and even more so when it's on a topic that may be sensitive for a lot of people. I wrote this down in the hopes that whispers of truth would find their way into hearts where shadows have begun to form like they did in mine.
A while back I heard news that a married couple I hugely admired, particularly for the strength of their relationship, had separated. I didn't vocalise it, but I was angry. I felt like I was owed an explanation or something. Where normally I would feel compassion for the person or sadness for a situation, this time I was just angry. I was embarrassed to admit it because it seemed judgy, so I just pushed it down and "moved on."
To different degrees, this pattern has gone on over the last few months where I've felt angry at an outcome or expression of another relationship that sometimes doesn't even directly affect me. Now I'm self reflective enough to know that anger is my cover-up emotion for fear. I decide to be angry at something instead of facing whatever anxious thought is swirling around in my heart. I considered that maybe I was insecure in my own marriage, for if all of these other vows were being broken, what are the chances that the Flatts would succeed? But since my marriage is one of the safest places I know, I knew that my fears must be deeper.
Finally, I asked, "Papa, why is my heart fearful when I know I am safe and secure in my own marriage?" He said, "Because your heart is constantly being told covenant is fragile and breakable and you have begun to fear the one I made with you is too."
Maybe for you it is your own marriage that feels shaky. Or maybe a friend that you thought was forever has gone in a different direction. Maybe your parents fight or have separated or divorced. In all of these places the enemy will whisper, "Nothing is for sure. It's only a matter of time before things will break. Covenant is fragile, so don't let your heart feel secure or you'll be blindsided when it finally cracks."
If he can get you to partner with that belief, you will put up the very walls that hinder the intimacy that covenant should birth. It was only when I let Him show me what my heart was believing that I could hear the kind, reassuring voice. The voice that comes with such authority that every cell in my body takes note.
"For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My loving kindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken," Says the LORD who has compassion on you.
God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
His covenant is not fragile. It cannot be shaken or removed. It's not dependent on you and I. Though we are faithless, yet He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
Amanda Cook summarises beautifully in her song Pieces: "Love keeps its promises It keeps its word It honors what’s sacred Cause its vows are good Your love's not broken It's not insecure Your love's not selfish Your love is pure."
It's the only certain thing we have. He's the same for me on my worst day as He is on my best. Even if I tried, I cannot get him to "un-choose" me. It's only through the experiential knowledge of the strength of His covenant with me that I have the grace to fulfill my own.
One of the lyrics to my wedding song with Matty was "You know my paper heart, the one I've filled with pencil marks.. I think I might have gone and inked you in." Exposing my paper heart and fearful little pencil marks to the permanent ink of His love is the way to wholeness. He'll address every fear, comfort every sadness, and restore hope for every disappointment.
Today I declare over you that any misbelief around covenant or vows would collide and give way to the strength and sheer determination of His unchanging desire toward you.
Editor's Note: Please know that our heart in sharing this post is not to make anyone who has or is experiencing the pain of divorce or separation feel under condemnation, but to remind and encourage us all that no matter how much in our humanity we fail one another, His love for us always stands firm.
I was torn between laughing and crying when I went to make myself a much-needed cup of coffee and the jug wouldn't work. It was on a long list of appliances and furniture that had decided to give up on us. As I got out a pot to boil some water on the stove (I told you I really needed that cup of coffee!), I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit speak to my heart, "You're not moving with junk Aimee."
We've spent the past month packing up the house ready for our move and this phrase has kept resounding in my spirit. It's made me ruthless in my packing and sorting but it's also had me evaluating what I carry around on the inside. Determined that I wasn't going to bring any internal junk with me into this new season, I set aside time for a period of prayer and fasting, inviting the Holy Spirit to reveal to me what didn't have a place in this move.
But throughout the fast I felt haunted by the past. Things that I thought I had laid to rest long ago resurfaced and I found myself feeling incredibly frustrated. I mean, haven't we already covered this Lord?!
As I've been unpacking over the last few days, I realised that despite the fact that I thought I had ruthlessly disposed of all our junk, some had still managed to make the move with us. It was only as I unpacked it all in a new environment, seeing it with fresh eyes that I realised these possessions didn't belong anymore.
God has used all our packing and unpacking to show me that there were events in my life that I was not only holding on to, but even holding over myself as a source of condemnation that He needed me to be willing to let go of once and for all. To believe that because of His grace, things could be different - I could be different.
In Joshua 7, we read the account of a man called Achan and his family who were stoned for Achan's disobedience. His sin was that he had taken items from Jericho - items that were meant to be devoted to God; items that God had declared were sacred to Him and belonged to His treasury (6:17-19). God had forewarned the Israelites that taking what belonged to Him would make them liable to destruction and bring trouble. And who knows that God doesn't lie - trouble was exactly what the Israelites found themselves in when they next went to battle!
When Achan's sin was discovered, the penalty was death. He and all his household were stoned in the Valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble. I know, it's hard for us to fathom, hard for us to read and contemplate what would have taken place and I'm not trying to gloss over this part - but the story doesn't finish there. There are five references to the Valley of Achor in Scripture. Two relate to this episode, and one is a boundary description, but the other two promise that a place of trouble and condemnation will be made into a place of hope.
Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me.
I will give her back her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope...
As I was reading this story, this story of sin, of condemnation and of judgment, I was struck afresh by the grace of God. The Valley of Achor - the places where we have sinned and fallen short - don't have to remain places of trouble in our lives. They can become places of rest, doorways of hope if we will be willing to seek Him out and receive His grace.
Because while the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23). As I have stepped into this new year and into a new home, God has been reminding me, teaching me AGAIN that I must see my life through the filter of Christ.
Yes, there are places where I have fallen short, things that I should be condemned for, but instead, God invites me to find rest there. In the very places that the enemy would like me to see as 'trouble' He asks me to see doorways to hope; opportunities for a confident expectation of His goodness in my life.
I've found that when we camp out in our personal 'Valleys of Achor', focused on the trouble we have known there, that we not only lose our expectation, we also close our hands to the gifts that God is wanting to give us and the new things that He is wanting to do. Clinging to my past instead of God's grace was hindering my ability to move into what He has for me. I didn't feel worthy enough to hold what He was wanting to entrust to me at this time. And while the truth is that I am not worthy, the greater truth is that Jesus has made me worthy.
So this year I'm letting go of the past to cling to grace; to open the door to fresh hope so that I can see myself and my life in a new light. His light.
What are you going to cling to in 2018?
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?
I mindlessly scroll through Instagram feeling a growing wave of discontent building within me.
I see the catalogue worthy homes and I wonder if it's just me whose furniture needs replacing; just me whose children seem to litter every room with evidence of their messy existence.
I see their beautiful workspaces and I think of how I write with children climbing over me and nestled against me on the couch. The luxury of defined work hours seems a distant memory and part of me longs to go back to their comfortable routine but instead, I'm stealing time whenever I can to get my words out of my head and onto a screen.
I see their impressive number of followers and platforms and I wonder what it took to get there - what will it take for me to get there? When will I get to get there?
And as this wave of aching discontent washes over me, I hear the Holy Spirit whisper, "What is that to you, Aimee?" What is that to you if I've blessed them with a beautiful home? What is it to you if I've wired them to be like Martha Stewart? What is it to you if I've called them to the marketplace and you to be at home? What is it to you if now is the proper time in their lives for promotion and platforms? What is it to you?
My Dad calls it the W.I.T.T.Y principle. In John 21, following the resurrection, Jesus is ministering to Peter. Mirroring and restoring him from his earlier denial of Christ, Peter has confessed three times his love for Jesus, and Jesus now gives Peter a glimpse of what is in store for him – it’s not a pretty picture!
“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go …. Follow Me!”
Jesus was telling Peter that he too would one day suffer death by crucifixion, He was laying out the cost of loving Him, making Peter pause and determine, did he really want to follow Jesus?
I can’t really blame Peter for what he did next – I think I would have too! Peter turns and looks back and he sees John, also known as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and he asks, “What about him?” He wants to know, does John get the same deal! Jesus replies saying,
If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.”
The W.I.T.T.Y principle - What Is That To You?
How much trouble we get ourselves in; how distracted, resentful and frustrated we become when we concern ourselves with how God is working out another’s life; when we compare or wish for another’s journey. The crumbs of comparison take our eyes off the prize - off of Jesus - and leave us feeling empty. They hinder us from becoming like Him, from fulfilling His call on our lives.
Peter chose Jesus. Peter determined that whatever it cost he would follow where Jesus led.
And I want to too. Because I know that when I take my eyes off of everybody else's calling; off of everybody else's lives and just look at mine, keeping my focus on what God is saying to me, the discontent dissipates. When I keep choosing Jesus, I am freed to run with perseverance the race that He has marked out for me.
When I stay in my lane; when I run my race, not only does the discontent dissipate, but I am also deeply satisfied. In John 4:34, Jesus said this:
"My nourishment comes from doing the will of God who sent me, and from finishing His work."
Jesus had been resting by a well, ministering to a Samaritan woman as He waited for the disciples to return with food and provisions. But when they do, He tells them that He already has food to eat - they're confused, and ask themselves if somebody else could have brought Him food? Jesus responds by telling them that His food, the nourishment for His soul, comes from doing what God has asked Him to do.
We were never designed or intended to live lives that look like clones of one another. You are one of a kind and so am I - each of us fearfully and wonderfully fashioned by God Himself. And in His wisdom, He plants dreams and desires within us; opens doors and leads us in ways that fit with our unique design. We will be satisfied - nourished - not when we are wanting someone else's life, but when we are living out His will for our life.
Where do you need to refocus on Jesus? Follow where He's leading you knowing that only His path can truly satisfy your soul.
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 the blogging team encourage you to embrace the season that you are in and to live it with purpose for God's glory.
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