Category Archives: Dealing with Change

Keeping in step

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to walk or run out of time with music that’s playing loudly in the background?

If there’s music playing in the supermarket, I find myself walking in step with it.  If what’s playing over the speakers at the gym is out of time with the pace I’m trying to run at, I stumble.  It seems to be natural to keep time with whatever is playing around us.

I wonder if this works in our spiritual lives as well? Whether we fall into time with the song that’s playing the loudest?

Paul writes this in a chunk from Galatians 5, a chapter which is all about being set free from walking in time with our old rhythms:

 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed their sinful desires to his cross. They don’t want these things anymore. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Galatians 5: 24-25

The trouble is that there are some times when the tune of our old ways is louder in our ears than the one that the Spirit is playing.

In the gym, or at the supermarket, the solution is easy.  I just plug in my headphones and play the music I want to keep time with.   It’s a choice.  I choose what to listen to.

Of course it can be harder spiritually.  When someone has hurt you, or behaved unfairly towards you, or when something you really want is right in front of you.

The song of my right to justice and vindication can play pretty loud I can tell you.  But somewhere on the edge of my hearing is a sweeter but more difficult melody of forgiveness, grace and friendship.  The song of the value of ‘things’ plays at top volume all through our society, and yet there’s a silvery theme of generosity and value outside of the material that can be heard if you listen heard enough.

And it is possible, if I keep making the choice, to tune into those other tunes instead. To walk out of step with the world, but in step with the Spirit.

As well as that, sometimes the tune that the Spirit would like me to line my life up with changes as circumstances, seasons and people around me change…

While I was thinking about and praying about this postcard I happened to see a Facebook clip of a class of 10 year olds performing on Djembe drums.  They were following a teacher, keeping in time with her using their ears to listen but also their eyes to see the little signals that showed she was about to change to a new rhythm.  It was amazing.  And the focus and determination they had to keep in time really spoke to me.

It made me think about the number of times in my life that the Spirit has started to play a different tune, but that’s it’s taken a while for me to catch on because I was getting on with the last thing, but not watching closely for a new thing.  Maybe because I’m not a fan of change, maybe because I’m easily distracted, maybe because I’m still learning to watch closely!

Keeping our eyes and ears on the spirit isn’t always easy.  But it is a choice, and it’s one that we need to make if we want to keep in time.

 

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Shaken?

My smallest girl was so excited yesterday unwrapping our Christmas snow globes.  She gave each one a little shake before she found a place for them on the bookshelf and watched the swirl of white glitter surround the figures within.

This time of year is a bit like living in a shaken snow globe.  All the busyness of school plays and concerts, shopping, cooking and trying to get everything done is like a huge swirl of glitter celebrating yet surrounding and sometimes obscuring the message at its heart.

At the centre of my advent snowglobe there’s the extraordinary miracle of a newborn king laid in a manger, Almighty God constrained in weakness, a world changed forever.  I desperately want to celebrate it, to marvel with the shepherds at the miracle of the incarnation, to be soaked in the reality of God-with-us.

And yet there are days when all I can see is the snow, and however hard I try I can barely make out the outline of the new parents cradling my lord and my saviour. This postcard is exactly where I’ve been for the last few weeks, struggling to get a glimpse of Jesus through the snowstorm.

When I started to pray about this picture I was certain that God was going to talk to me about finding stillness,  about making space for the glitter to settle so that I can see clearly.  And that would no doubt be a great plan.  But I was wrong, he wanted to say something quite different –

 Know

Just know it.  Even when you can’t see it, know that he is there, at the very centre.

The shaking of our snow globes doesn’t remove the figures inside, just obscures them.

Know

This Christmas, even when you can’t see for glitter, know that he did invade the world that he created.  Know that he brought his Kingdom to Earth and that, in spite of all appearances, the increase of his government and peace will not end.

Know

Know that however much the snow globe of your life is shaken, and by whatever means, he will still be there. Even when it feels as though the world has been turned upside down and the storm is at it’s most suffocating – nothing has changed… he is still there.

And it is possible to reach out through the storm or the glitter and catch hold of him, perhaps as Jacob did -stubbornly refusing to let go until you get a blessing.

He is still there

 

 

 

 

All about change

August seems like the perfect time to send a holiday postcard, so here’s one from the week my family and I spent traveling through Shropshire, Cheshire and the West Midlands on a canal boat.

Water doesn’t like to slope, so when the great engineers who built the canal systems encountered a landscape that needed to be climbed, they built amazing water-filled lifts called locks. Each lock is a chamber with heavy gates at each end which can be filled up or emptied of water so that the boat can rise up or lower down to the level of the next stretch of canal.

To fill the lock you use a turning handle to wind up heavy paddles in the gate which let water into (or out of) the chamber at a tremendous rate creating a huge amount of noise and splash. We quite enjoy working the locks but there’s no denying that it’s really hard going! Pushing the gates open against the weight of the water, closing them again, winding up the paddles, waiting for ages for the lock to fill then pushing the gates at the other end open is slow and heavy work, but it’s amazing to witness the extraordinary power of all that water moving from one place to another.

And it’s necessary: without these powerful level-changers it would be impossible to travel through the ups and downs of the British countryside.

I’ve written before about the seasons we go through in life, being a child, being a parent, being a parent of children who have grown up, living in one place or another, working, retirement…

Often it’s the shifts between seasons that are the hardest to deal with. The parts where you’ve said goodbye to what was, but haven’t really stepped into what is next. Those times, like the minutes that the boat is in the lock, can be turbulent, a bit scary and slow in passing.

The locks reminded me this week that change, even good change, like getting married, having a child or starting a new job, can be really hard work.
Like traveling through a lock, there is a cost to change which is measured in effort and in unsettling turbulence but there is also a sense something incredibly powerful is going on somewhere below the surface. The other hung it’s reminded me is that change is also really necessary if you want to continue on with your journey.

I often describe myself as being change-intolerant, a natural settler. But I also really want to keep pressing onwards towards what’s ahead and like water, life doesn’t slope, so there are bound to be locks ahead.

The challenge to me is to willingly step into times of change, to accept the turbulence and scariness with faith, because I’ve realized that even if the only way forward is through locks, that’s the way I want to go.

Remind me of that when I’m complaining about it 🙂

Gappiness

This is my beautiful nearly-six-year-old’s new smile.  Gorgeous isn’t it?

I’ll admit though, that when she ran to me yesterday, yelling with excitement that the wobbly front tooth was finally out, I did have a little moment of grieving for that pearly toothed little-girl-smile that I will never see again.

And then, before I knew it I was wondering what her big teeth will be like: Will they come through straight and strong? Will they look too big for a while in her little mouth? Will she still look like my Katie?

I was stuck there for a moment in an emotional whirlwind, caught up between grief about what has been lost and worry about what is ahead…

And then… she smiled!

…And I heard God whisper  “Gappiness is just so beautiful, isn’t it?”

And it is…

A long long time ago, when I was an architecture student, we spent a month or two talking about liminal spaces: porches; walkways; vestibules; corridors; thresholds; all ‘in-between’ places. We talked about how important it was to help people realise that they are making a transition, to sense that a change is taking place, and to prepare them for space they were about to experience.

I often remember those lectures as I see people around me passing through liminal life-spaces, passing over the threshold between what was and what will be, moving and adjusting from one season to another and travelling the gappiness in between. It helps to recognise the liminal spaces for what they are: temporary places of rest, or refreshment, or preparation.  Gaps where God can prepare us for the next season.  They will pass.  And although they can seem awkward or uncomfortable, they do have a beauty of their own.

Kate showed me this morning that she can just see the tip of the new tooth poking through… before I know it she will have her big-teeth smile… but it will take a while, and for now, I’m going to lean back and enjoy the gappiness.

gappiness

Emerging : about change

Every now and again something happens in your heart or your life which is so significant, so major, that you know that nothing will ever be quite the same again.

Sometimes, in just a few days or moments, your life can become so different that for a while you find yourself out of step with the rest of the world. “How?” you ask yourself, “Can everyone else’s life still be so much the same when mine has changed so radically?”

Sitting here I can think of six moments in my life when I have felt this really powerfully:  Asking Jesus to be a part of my life; getting married; the births of my three children and then the death of my Dad.  All of these things have so profoundly affected me on the inside that I have struggled to understand why people around me can’t see or sense or be a part of the revolution that has taken place.  I’ve felt a bit detached from the rest of the world for a while, and I haven’t always understood or awarded myself the grace that I needed.

I’m kind of in that place again this week.

Last week, at a crazy-beautiful conference in England, Father God revealed to me a little bit more of who he is, and then a little bit more of who I am, and before I knew it, another revolution had taken place in my heart.  I’ll get to writing and painting about that soon (when the dust has settled) but for this week, I need to take a ‘wing-drying’ moment.

You see, I read this morning about this butterfly, a monarch, which after hatching out of its cocoon, sits for an hour or more in the sun, allowing its wings to dry and become strong.  This moment of rest, of warming, and of taking stock speaks to me really powerfully right now.

So often I experience a revolution in my life or in my heart, and I expect myself to be able to be up and out and flying straightaway.  Today I think Jesus is telling me to wait a while, to let my wings dry out, to get used to my new shape.  This picture is permission to rest in him for a moment or two before I launch out again.

 

And that’s good… There’s going to be a lot of time for flying.

 

Imagine my surprise
when I emerge from the struggle
the beautiful revolution
the inner rewriting
with wings..

Still reeling
but knowing
that one day soon I will stretch out
into what I've become
and fly.

But till then
I'll sit here
in the light and the warmth of your gaze
and let you tell me again
who I am.


butterfly2

reflect greens

 

 

It’s always good to rest for a while in the warmth of the Father’s gaze.  Make sure you take a moment today to ‘sun yourself’.

 

For your Journal:

If you’re not in this place right now,  store up the thought for the future… Decide now that if and when it happens you will give yourself permission to rest and to ask God to shine his light on your wings.

If you are in this place, go easy on yourself.  Write a letter to God in your journal about the change that you’ve just been through.  Take the moment to say goodbye to what you were before and to stretch out into the new thing you’ve become.  Absorb the light of God’s presence in whatever way works best for you right now.  Be blessed x

 

Spacewalking: life in the wilderness.

I watched the movie ‘Gravity’ last night, have you
seen it? I rather enjoyed it in a heart-in-my-mouth sort of
way. There’s a scene in it where a space-suited hero is drifting,
cut loose in the vast emptiness of space, alone and helpless.
And I suddenly thought, “I know what that feels like”.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t have a secret previous life as an astronaut (!) but I have had a ‘spaceman’ time in my life,
a time when all the things I did, all the things I knew, all the
things that made me feel ‘me’ were emptied out and I felt as
adrift and powerless as the untethered spacewalker in my
picture.

I often think and write about the seasons of life. Seasons of light
and darkness, seasons of
celebration and of grieving, seasons of
work and seasons of rest. I love this from Ecclesiastes 3:1-5
(NIV)

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them

It tells me that this change from one season to another is a normal part of life.

My spaceman season was one of the hardest I’ve walked (or floated!)
through. In fact, it was less of a season and more of a space
between seasons – a wilderness.

I live in Nicosia, Cyprus, a city that has been divided for more than 40 years. The South is part of the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus and the Northern half is in the area occupied by Turkey since 1974. The city’s two halves now have very different peoples, cultures
and languages. It is possible to walk through from one
side to another (with your passport), but to do so you have to
leave one ‘side’ and walk through the ‘buffer zone’- a gap of
about a hundred metres of emptiness between the two sides:
abandoned streets and buildings, layered with 40 years of
dust. No one lives there and no one goes there. Nothing happens
there.

My ‘walk’ from being a ‘normal’ person living in the UK
to being an expat person living in Cyprus felt very much like
a walk from one half of this city into the other. Eventually
I ended up in another place, with new friends and a new
understanding of what God is calling me to do. But for a while
there I was trapped in the emptiness of the buffer zone; in a
nowhere-space between places.

If you’ve been there, you’ll know how hard it is. There are lots of things that can happen to cause an emptying, a time where God strips away roles, tasks or relationships that have filled your time and given you a sense of purpose. There is a sense of grieving for the ‘place’ you
have left behind and uncertainty about what the place that lies
ahead will look like, and about how long it might take to get
there!

I’d like to tell you about how marvellously I pressed into God when I was floating in space… but honestly?

I spent most of my first year in the wilderness confused,
frightened and very, very angry. It took me a long time to
turn and lean on Jesus.   When (about 14 months in) I eventually
calmed down enough and was able to ask God about the blank
sheet of emptiness, he showed me something very beautiful.
wildernessRight down in the corner of the blank sheet, I saw a tiny seedling. Something growing, something completely new. And I realised that the clearing, the emptying of my life had made space for new things
that there would never have been room for before.

Eventually I learned to look at the emptiness of
my wilderness and see it differently.

Instead of endless, terrifying nothingness (like my spaceman picture above), I began to see it as a blank sheet of artist’s paper on which God could ‘start again’ and paint something entirely new. The
emptying, painful though it is, makes room for a re-filling.
As my perspective changed I saw that emptiness is full of
potential, of endless possibilities. When you start to see it
that way, it’s just about possible to surrender to it, and maybe
even to embrace it.

 

This is something I wrote which sums up some of the things I learned in my wilderness. I wonder what you’ve learned in yours?

wildernesspoem small
wilderness
reflect greens
For your journal: If you’re in a wilderness of some kind or another, write God a letter… tell him what it feels like to be in your wilderness. When we’re angry we often’punish’ God by not speaking to him. Break the silence!

Song of songs 8:5 asks “Who is this coming up from the
wilderness leaning on her beloved
?”

What can you do in your wilderness to lean more on Jesus, so that when you come up out of it you will still be leaning?

The Hardest Cut: on the experience of pruning

Ouch.

A while ago, not for the first time,  I went through an experience of pruning:  Of God removing from my life something I love, something I’m good at, something that I was (and am) unwilling to let go of.  Familiar story?

john 15

I can deal with God cutting away parts of my life that aren’t fruitful! But here Jesus talks about pruning the healthy branches of a vine, cutting back branches that are bearing fruit.  And that’s much harder to get my head around…

I’ve been involved one way or another with church youthwork for about twenty years, and I love it.  So it was very hard when a few months ago God asked me to lay it down.  I’m ashamed to say that he had to tell me a lot of times and in several different ways.  And I wrestled with it, I was angry with Him about it, but eventually I got the message, waved the white flag and stepped down.

And it really, really hurt… (still does a bit)

In the middle of that time I painted a picture.  I’ve never grown grapes, but I have grown and pruned roses, so I painted a rose bush… and a gardener.   The message God spoke to me through it really helped, and if a pruning-time comes, I hope it will help you too.

You prune rosebushes back for two reasons: so that they will grow into a more balanced shape, not becoming lopsided or straggly; and so that they will bear even more flowers.  So pruning, though it seems harsh, actually makes the rose bush much more beautiful.

After I’d finished the painting I noticed two things:

The first was that the branch is not being pruned away because it is not being useful or beautiful or because it is ‘bad’ at the job it was supposed to be doing.  It is not diseased, or flowerless… but its time has come.  When God takes you out of a ministry or situation, it is not necessarily an indication of His judgement on the job you were doing.  God often calls us to stop doing things that we are good at!

pruningdetailThe second was that the healed wound from a past pruning is clearly visible.  And so is all of the growth and beauty that came about because of that cut.  It stands as a testimony that pruning has brought fruitfulness in my life and is promise of more roses yet to come.


God sometimes takes away or asks us to give up things which we are good at and which we love.  And it’s not always clear why!  It may be that he needs to make space in your life in order to do something else. Perhaps  He wants you to stop putting energy into supporting an old branch and pour that energy into growing a new one.   Or it may be just that He wants you to do something where you’ll need to lean on Him more.  

What is certain is that to be pruned is part of ‘normal’ Christian life. For me the challenge is to surrender to it quickly rather than sink huge reserves of effort into resisting it;  to accept it as part of the ongoing careful work of my Father.

Looking back now, six months on, I can see the fruit of having allowed God to make some space in my life for other things.  If I’m honest I can also see how it would have been so much less painful for me if I had listened and responded the first time I heard God speak on the matter!

So now I’m asking God what else in my life has to go.  If He needs to make more space or wants me to be more focussed, I want to volunteer to make the cut!  Will you join me?   He might ask you to give something up… He might not.  Either way, surrender to the gardener is the road to more growth, more blessing and more fruitfulness.  I recommend it.


pruning