Category Archives: Surviving Tough Times

Shaken?

School play tonight, Soccer party tomorrow, concert on Monday,  and still so much to be done!  I think it must be time to repost this, one of my Christmas favourites. x


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 its 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, not seeing perhaps, but touching the miracle of the God who loved us and came to pitch his tent among us.

He is still there

God with us.

 

 

 

 

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Sleeping Beauty

You know the story – The beautiful princess wandered idly through the castle and then pricked her finger on a poisoned spinning wheel. The poison had been intended to kill her, but the protection of the Good Fairy’s spell saved her – she could not die, but she did fall asleep – for a very very long time…

Sometimes you see something like this happen to the faith of someone dear to you.  They get touched by some kind of poison, perhaps disappointment, or hurt or rejection or grief or pain, and it sends them deep into a kind of spiritual sleep.

Often the spinning wheel they pricked their finger on was the church itself- something that someone did, or said, or didn’t say or didn’t do. And when someone feels let down by God or his people, it can cause them to withdraw, carrying their injured heart to the safety of the highest tower of the castle, to bolt all the doors and to allow the forest to grow around.

Of course the castle that made you feel safe for a while can become your prison, and after a few months or years of letting the dust settle and the forest grow it might seem impossible that anyone could ever reach you again.  Isolation from the people of God isn’t actually all that good for us, much less turning our face away from God himself.

I’m not one for reading the last chapter of a book before you’ve read the rest, but in this case it’s good to know the end of the story:

Even after 100 years of growing thorns and gathering dust, a Prince comes.

Not only does he have the means to cut through the thorns and brambles, but also the will and determination to do it.  Love compels Him. The Prince is able to make it through to the highest room in the tallest tower, or wherever else the princess has gone to hide, and stands on the threshold, waiting to be invited in.

And this is the point where the story in my head strays away from the one in the movie.

For the Prince of Peace waits on the threshold for an invitation.  He is ready to come and breathe new life into the soul of the one who has been sleeping, to heal the old injury that led to their hibernation, but he seems to wait to be asked.

If you hear something of yourself in this story, today is a good day to respond…

If you wonder how God could ever find you again through the doors you’ve locked and forest you’ve allowed to flourish, know that He can.  He already has.  He is just outside the door, waiting to hear you whisper his name.

If you are frightened by the thought of trusting, of trying to belong, of being hurt again, I understand.  But the people of God need you, and you need them. It may take enormous courage, but it’s time, and you will have a Prince by your side.

Perhaps you have watched as someone you love has withdrawn from faith.  Keep praying my friend.  The pilot light is probably still lit, and just one breath from God can make their Spirit roar into life again.  Until then, your friendship is a gift in itself.

 

 

Leaning

 

As my eight- year olds favourite movie tells me – “Life isn’t all cupcakes and rainbows y’know”

But I still sometimes find myself wondering why God leads me into difficult places.  I’m not massively resilient, or patient, or strong; I hate change, I care too much about what people think and I have to fight a tendency to want to run away from confrontation and hide under my bed.  I am weak.

I know that many of you are fighting a battle that is leaving you feeling weak and wounded.  Perhaps you too question whether you’re the right person for the job.  Maybe you’re asking God why he didn’t pick someone stronger? Someone more resilient?  Someone who could forge this raging  river victoriously and energetically and well?

Why did God pick the weakest man, in the weakest family in the weakest tribe in all of Israel to lead his army?

Well here’s the answer, right at the end of the story of the Song of Songs, and the title of this painting.

Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?

God chooses the weak, because they are the ones who learn how to depend on him.

The strong fight in their own strength, but those who limp, lean.

In your fight, or your walk through the wilderness, lean into him, that’s how your weakness can become his strength, and his strength made complete.

And this will be the end of your story too.  You will come up out of this wilderness, and you’ll still be leaning.

 

 

When all is not lost

You may recognise this smile.  It featured in the book, Postcards From Heaven, when the front tooth was missing, and now 3 years on it’s full of big teeth, and the somewhat irresponsible owner of a (very-expensive-to-replace) removable palate-expander-thingy.

We were having a fantastic day at the Zoo and it wasn’t until we were just about to feed a magnificent giraffe that the gorgeous Chaos-Generator turned and grinned at me, revealing the tell-tale lack of wire.

“Where’s your brace?!” I yelled, “and why isn’t it in your mouth?”…

Fellow parents of wonky-toothed children may recognise the scene that followed. After an intensive hunt through bags and pockets and some frustrated remonstrations,  I left the kids with their Grandma and unenthusiastically retraced my steps around the Zoo wondering where on earth she might have taken it out and dropped it.

After unsuccessful hunts around the ice-cream stand and the Gopher viewing area, eventually I returned to the picnic area where we’d had lunch, more than an hour after we had left it.  The picnic table we had sat at was empty, and I hunted on and around it and the bin where I’d thrown the empty crisp bags, but the floor was covered in a thick layer of bark chippings and I imagine several families had used the table since we had.  There really was no chance of finding a 4cm wide piece of see-through plastic and wire.

The tiny bit of hope I had left drained away as I sat down at the table,  convinced that we would never see it again.

And then I looked down, and there it was, just next to my foot.

I’m not sure now whether it had been there all along, or whether God had moved it there.  But as I picked it up, flooded with relief, I heard God whisper “I am a God who restores”.

“I am the God who restores”

It’s funny because I would have said I knew God as Restorer well already, and I do, but in the sense of a restorer of a master painting – someone who comes in and painstakingly cleans something up and carefully repairs damage!  But obviously I only had part of the picture…

When I looked it up, the first definition of restore that I found was ‘to give back or return’.

Part of what God longs to do as our great Restorer is to return to us things that have been taken away,  things that feel forever-lost.

Perhaps there are parts of your heart,  your confidence, your strength, your faith or your hope that feel as though they have been taken away and are gone.  There are times in life when difficult things happen to us and something good that we had is taken away; we make a mistake and some part of us is lost.    If that sounds familiar, hear this:

 

Our God is the God who restores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revolution

I’ve experienced a revolution. It was peaceful, and so quiet you could be forgiven for not noticing it at all,  but it was real…

In the weeks before and after Easter I was really struggling: feeling something deep and painful but not really able to work out what was wrong. And then, as I was fighting/ grumbling/ praying with God, he showed me this picture of a bottle –  knocked over and with bright orange liquid spilling out from it and running out over the ground.

‘Yes!’ I thought, ‘THAT IS EXACTLY how I am feeling right now’.

Let me explain:

I always associate the colour orange with the future. (This is almost certainly due to the mobile phone advertising slogan that played right through my twenties: ‘the future’s bright, the future’s orange’)  So for me this picture represented a lost or wasted future, or more specifically,  the vanishing of the future I thought I was going to have when I was twenty-something.

It started on a day when I’d mislaid my ipod and picked up the very old one that our youngest uses as her ‘storyteller’.  (I can deal with the pain of the treadmill, but not with the musical choices of the young guy who runs the gym!)  On it I found a playlist that dates back almost fifteen years, full of songs which reminded me of the years before that.  Music sometimes has the power to transport us back in time, and that playlist of nineties worship songs (anyone else remember History Maker?) took me right back to my mid-twenties, just married, totally sure of my calling to preach God’s word, and excited about what the future would hold…

There are days when it feels like the decision we made to leave home and move to Cyprus has had the effect of kicking over the bottle of my ‘future’ and seeing most of it be spilled out and lost.  A lot of what I had hoped for and expected, particularly in terms of ministry, has been poured out, and those precious years have been wasted.  Of course in those moments I conveniently forget the part where we heard God tell us to come here, and all the great things that have happened in those years,  but the hard part of this picture is that in some senses it is entirely true. There has been a sacrifice of some things that I loved and that I felt sure God had called me into doing, and that hurts.

So I’ve been (slightly angrily) trying to avoid thinking about this picture for about a month, finding reasons not to have time to paint it.

But it wasn’t going away… so here it is.

And as soon as I saw my overturned bottle on paper, with the golden orange liquid flowing out of it,  I suddenly realised how much it’s like the one I painted of Mary of Bethany as she poured out perfumed oil on Jesus’s feet.   And I could hear my words echoed in those of Judas when he objected to the valuable nard being wasted when it could have been used for something ‘useful’.

‘and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume’

The picture looks different to me know.  It’s still true, but there has been a revolution in my heart, and I can now see the beauty in it, sense the fragrance of it.  It’s still shot through with pain, but I understand something I didn’t understand  before, something that I can’t quite pin down in words, but which changes the way I see the sacrifice.

It helps.

I wonder if  you need a revolution?

Do you need God to come in and change the way you see something?  Maybe today is a good day to ask him to reveal that something to you, and to show you how he sees it differently.  Perhaps his perspective is what you need to restore hope and courage to your heart.

 

 

 

 

 

Brownies

Yesterday I made chocolate brownies. They didn’t turn out as I expected.  This seems to be a recurring theme.

You may be surprised to learn that it’s not the first time brownies have caused consternation.  I read that when the famous cookery writer Delia Smith first tried to launch American Brownies on the unsuspecting British public her mailbag was full of letters from concerned would-be-bakers wondering why the brownies weren’t properly cooked.   Her website now notes ‘they are not cakes’, I guess in the hope that people will adjust their expectations and realise that squidgy and a bit damp can actually be a good thing in a baked item.

It’s not just baking.

Sometimes life: ministry, relationships, jobs, kids, health, security… just doesn’t turn out as we expected and planned.  Sometimes because of our mistakes, or someone else’s; often because we live in a broken world; and perhaps sometimes because, like the brownies, it was never supposed to be the way we imagined it.

It would be easy to live a life coloured by disappointment and recriminations over the things that are not as they might have been, either with God, with yourself or with others.

The truth is that more or less everyone I know is living a life that in some respect is different to how they had imagined it would be. Even those whose facebook profile might suggest otherwise are facing trials behind the scenes. Because life is, on the whole, neither fair nor easy. The rain falls.

However there is an alternative to disappointment, confusion and resentment.   There has to be, because those things will eat you up from the inside.  It’s this…

You eat the brownies.

As it happens, my brownies are actually a bit overcooked (new house, new oven).  I’m not saying they ‘d break your teeth, but they’d give it a good go.   Thing is, they still taste pretty good.. If you adjust your expectations and think ‘cookie’ then they’re sort of OK, the ones in the middle are edible at least.

This is hard to write friends, because I know many of you are facing situations so hard you can barely stand up.  I’m not saying that everything about life is good. Sometimes it really, really stinks.  Sometimes it’s so far away from what you’d hoped it would be that it makes you grieve in the depths of your soul for what might have been.

But God is good and sometimes there’s blessing hidden deep in amongst the difficult. Sometimes God has brought us this way on purpose, sometimes this is the way he is leading us out.  The one thing we know for sure is that he travels with us through it, whispering encouragement and ready to catch us if we stumble.

Mostly, we don’t get a lot of choice over which life we live.

Where we do have a choice though, is in how we face our unexpected lives,  and how we adjust our attitude towards them.  We can perhaps choose to step away from disappointment and blame and look for what is good and enjoy it.

Perhaps today we can acknowledge that our ‘brownies’ are not we expected, not what we asked for, or what we’d hoped for; but perhaps we can pull together the courage, take a breath, reach for God’s hand, and eat them.

I hope you will find, that in some unexpected way, they are good.

 

 

 

Embers

We’ve just moved into a new place.  To our great delight, as well as the necessary number of bedrooms and walls and a roof,  it has an open fireplace.  Believe it or not, winters in the med can be surprisingly chilly, and this one is definitely no exception(!)  so the past few weeks have seen something of a revival of the art of fire building and tending!

In all that, this simple picture has really found a place in my heart – Someone blowing gently on the embers of the fire and seeing them suddenly glow with light and heat.  It’s so easy, and yet almost magical to watch.  Seeing this happen over and over has stirred my heart, and a conviction has taken root that now is a time to pray over embers.

How many of you know people whose hearts have burned with passion for God in the past, but for whatever reason have gone cold?  How many of you have watched the fire of someone’s first love for Jesus settle into something steady but lukewarm?  Perhaps some of you can recognise parts of your own heart where the light and heat has gone out?   Perhaps you’ve even begun to believe that hope, joy and excitement are for new believers, and that the reality of faith is slogging it out in the cold.

Sometimes it’s about circumstances or disappointments that have caused a gradual, not even noticeable coldness, or perhaps we’ve lived life or done ministry in a way that really has ‘burned us out’.   Sometimes we’ve made mistakes (or others around us have), and instead of running to the stream of forgiveness we’ve let our guilt or unforgiveness smother the fire within us like a heavy blanket.

As always, there is so much grace here. We all live in seasons, there are times when we feel more or feel less of God’s presence, or have more or less zeal to serve him.  Sometimes faith really is about putting your head down and forcing yourself forward.  That’s kind of normal –  a pendulum swing in our walk of faith.  But maybe you look down at your own heart right now and all you see are embers.

In all of these cases, I am absolutely convinced that all God wants us to do with our embers is to surrender them to him and ask him to breathe on them again.

Where you can see embers in your own life, or in the people you care about, it’s time to pray.  It’s time to pray that God would come and breathe where the fire has almost gone out, to blow gently on the embers and to see them glow into life again.  It’s time to ask him to restore light, life and warmth to the hearts of men.

And it’s time to sit back and watch what happens.

 

embers-crop