Category Archives: Surviving Tough Times

Full of holes

There have been times this past week when I’ve felt rather like a colander, full of holes.

It’s all very well standing before God and asking him to fill me up again when I feel like a bucket. Even if I’ve run completely dry and empty I can gather together the faith that the Holy Spirit is good at filling me up with his presence, peace and power.

But this week it was harder. We’ve been camping at our church stream’s Bible camp and although the teaching, worship and fellowship were great, the weather was a bit challenging! Putting up an enormous tent in driving rain was not ideal, lying awake and shivering in our sleeping bags at 3 am was a bit wearing, but when rain gave way to gales, and the marquee housing the prayer space that I and others had worked hard to put together literally blew away, it was quite a struggle to keep hold of my sense of humour!

We salvaged stuff and rebuilt the space somewhere else of course, but I was left feeling just like this picture – like tiredness, stress and disappointment had knocked out lots and lots of little holes. And asking God to fill me felt a bit hopeless. I mean, how do you fill a colander?

His answer was simple.

Call on me more.
I can fill you faster than you can leak.
Even on colander-days.

Actually I suspect that I’m a bit colanderish on more days than I realise. I get the impression that God is not as surprised by my state of leakiness as I am.

So if you’re feeling full of holes today, ask God to fill you to overflowing. Don’t fall for the lie that there isn’t really any point because you’re a bit broken and full of holes. He is more than able to fill you faster than you can leak.

*sorry to all those who have noticed I’ve been a bit less regular posting over the past few weeks! Canal boating is a great get-away-from-it-all holiday, but low on opportunities for internet connection! Back on dry land again soon! Ellie x

Living on the Leeward side

“You get to choose which side of me you live on…”

Petra tou Romiou is a huge rock in the sea just off the coast of Cyprus.   We took some friends to visit it at the weekend and as we stood on the cliff looking down I was struck by the difference in shape and nature of the two sides of it –  the one facing the sea and the one protected from it.

The side exposed to the prevailing wind and the waves is almost vertical, bare rock, constantly attacked by waves from the sea.  The protected, ‘leeward’, side slopes gently towards the beach and has patches of moss and even sometimes some wildflowers on it.

As I looked at it I heard God – my rock – say, “you get to choose which side of me you live on”

It’s interesting to think that God is a rock like this one, with a leeward and a windward side.  On a clear, calm day intrepid young people climb up and sit in the sunshine at the top of the rock. They sunbathe there and I imagine, enjoy a wonderful view. But in a storm, as waves crash endlessly against the base of the rock,  you would definitely want to be sheltering on the leeward side.

I love the picture of God as a rock  and one of my very favourite lines in the message translation is from Psalm 62:

“He’s solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul.”

That’s my God: unmoveable, unchanging, strong and solid.  A firm place to stand and a shelter from the storms of life.

There can be no doubt that when storms come (as they always will, even here in sunny Cyprus) it is better to be standing in the shelter of the rock than out on the beach. But I’d never thought before about choosing to stand in the shelter of God’s protection rather than on the ‘stormward side’.

My pride would often rather have me out in the storm fighting my own battles, demanding justice and vindication in the face of the wind and waves.  The whisper in this picture is of God inviting me to step out of those battles and into the protection of his leeward side.

But that’s hard.  Somehow to my fragile heart it seems cowardly and a bit out-of-control to trust God to handle the battle for me, to step in behind him and not to try to fight my own fight.

And yet… when I look at this picture I can see how foolish it is to think that I am the one better able to face up to the onslaught of the storm.  There is only one sensible place to be in this picture, and it’s definitely not out attempting to defend myself (or the rock) against the waves!

I’m suddenly aware that there is a choice to made here… to conciously step into the leeward side of the rock… to know that to admit that I am weaker than God and need his protection is actually a strong choice – and a wise one.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress I shall not be shaken.

You might hear God saying something else through this picture… but if you hear him calling you to step out of the battle for your own reputation, or acceptance, or vindication, then have courage, and step into the leeward side.

Psalm 63:5-6

a moment’s peace

I wonder how many times a day I wish I could have a moment’s peace and quiet?  Not just from the actual noise of my family, but from the things-to-do, worries, good-ideas and other thoughts that constantly spin around inside my head.

My life is inside-and-out noisy.  Good noise mostly just now, but I know from the past that grief, pain, anxiety, disappointment and not being very good at saying no to things can also cause different kinds of overpowering ‘noise’ that I eventually become desperate to escape from and utterly exhausted by.

I said I would write for the next few weeks on some of the ways that having a relationship with Jesus makes a difference to my life.  If I had to answer the question ‘What difference does it make having Jesus in your noisy, cluttered, slightly out of control life?’ – this is the picture that comes into my head:

My life is like an LP being played at full volume on the record player my dad gave me when I was 9 years old.  It’s loud with no pause button and I mostly love it, but every now and then, I come to God desperate for some respite, and for a moment he carefully lifts the needle from the record and holds me there, out of the noise.

recordplayer2

And those moments- of peace, of restoration, of rest – I could no longer live without.

The peace of being lifted out of the noise is not just silence… it’s a stillness, a quietness of heart that somehow enables me to hear the pure, clear song of heavenly places. The voice of God that can so easily be drowned out by the clamour of our everday lives, has the power to lift and restore us, to reset our perspective and slow down our anxious hearts.  Hearing it, allowing it to wash over you, leaning back for a moment into God’s arms and listening to the song he sings over you, is inexpressibly beautiful.

And after a little while, sometimes just five minutes, sometimes a bit longer, he gently lowers the needle again and the music begins to play in more or less the place it was in before. The noise resumes, but now my heart is better able to deal with it.

I know that each of you who reads this are living different, complicated, unique lives.  The noise you might need to be lifted out of might be very different to mine.  Loneliness or boredom can be just as deafening as busyness is.   However, I’m equally sure that there is noise that you need to be lifted out of and away from once in a while.

This picture is a promise to each of you.  Although the record will probably not stop turning, and your own noise may well still continue for a while; at any time you can call out to him,  and God will lift you out into this place of peace.  He will hold you so that you can lean into him, he will whisper to you in the stillness,  he will sing his song of love over you and he will restore your soul.  And then… he will put you back into your noisy world, but with the stillness of heaven in the centre of your heart.

On faith, hope and being sure

Are you sure?

On the one hand there are some things that I am, absolutely, sure about… I’m absolutely sure that I belong to God and that I can call him ‘Abba’.  I’m sure that he is bigger, more powerful, more beautiful, more just, more gracious and more loving than I or anyone else can imagine.  I’m sure that I although I am one of the millions that he loves fiercely, that his love is in no way diluted, and that I am precious to him.  I’m so sure of his forgiveness and grace that I know I can lean back into them and believe that I am accepted in spite of my past, present and future mess-ups.

I’m sure.

And yet.

It doesn’t take much to leave me feeling like this daisy, adrift on the ocean.  A few mistakes, someone angry, a stinking cold, a friend leaving the country.  All that ‘sure-ness’ can melt into weariness, shaken-up-ness and not-sure-I-can -hear-God-ness in a matter of days.

So when I came to God on tuesday morning to ask him for a picture to put in a postcard for today, all I could see was this daisy, floating on the ocean.

Two things are true about it:

One- the daisy is tossed about, but not sinking.  It’s not sinking because its petals are wide open, and its petals are open because it’s facing into the light and the warmth of the sun.

Two – even though it’s affected, pulled up and down and this way and that by the movement around it, this tiny daisy is anchored, deep, deep down below the waves, into something solid.  The rope that ties it is slack so that there is length to cope with the rise and fall of the waves and tides, but it’s strong.

It was only after I’d painted this anchored daisy that I read the verse from Hebrews:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, It enters the inner sanctuary, behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus has entered on our behalf.

Hebrews 6:19-20

It’s not the only place I’ve heard about hope recently.  On yesterday’s news the newly-elected prime minster of Greece claimed that this week’s election outcome was a ‘victory for hope’.  Many, many people there are hoping for an easier future.  
Hope is extraordinarily powerful thing, and when that hope is shown to be false it can be utterly crushing.  Unfortunately, when you’re being tossed about by the waves having your hope-rope anchored to anything that is in this world is just like being anchored to another set of waves, there’s no guarantee of stability coming.

The hope that the Bible holds out to us is in a different league altogether. As Hebrews tells us, it is anchored not in this world, but on the other side of the curtain, in the place where Jesus has gone ahead of us, in the presence of God.

It’s a mystery, but it’s a bit like my anchored daisy.  Deep, deep, down and beyond it is fixed irrevocably to something other than the ocean. Something solid and unmoveable, something which contains the ocean itself.

Here and there, in places, a gift of faith solidifies that hope into sureness.  And as I’ve painted and pondered  I’ve realised that this shaken-ness, the tiredness from the wind and the waves doesn’t make me ‘not sure’.  It just reminds me that sure-ness is not a surface feeling. It goes much, much deeper than that: Sure-ness is hope soaked in faith, over and over until that hope has become somehow more real than the ‘reality’ of the waves, and is anchoring my heart way beyond this particular storm, and into God himself.

However you are currently being shaken, whatever storm you are living through, or watching people close to you live through, try keep your face turned towards Jesus. Then your petals will stay warm and open and you you will be able to rest on the surface of the waves. Remind yourself often of the hope that you have as a child of God, and then ask him for the gift of faith, so that your hope become strong and solid, and then whatever happens, you will still be able to say, ‘I am sure’.

Landrover Choices

Which of these should go first?  Fairly obvious answer?  It will be if you’ve ever tried reversing a car with anything at all hitched to the back of it!  The caravan is a bit like one our family owned when I was a kid (at least, it had a red stripe) and I well remember the slightly stressy summer-holiday moments of trying to reverse it into little plots on French campsites.

The Landrover goes in front.

A very very long time ago I did a Discipleship Training School with YWAM (A kind of year-out programme) and this picture dates back to one of those lectures.  I’m not even sure who was speaking, so I can’t give them the credit…  But the image has remained in a corner of my imagination, and God has been reminding me of it a lot in the past few weeks.

The Landrover is my will and the Caravan is my emotions.

In my case, the caravan is fairly large in proportion to the towing vehicle. (It may actually be more of a smart car/6 berth van kind of a relationship).  In different people comparative sizes will vary enormously, and both are important… but it’s still clear which one of them needs to be out in front and in charge of the steering!

I love this quote from CS Lewis:

“Faith is the art of holding on to those things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods”  C.S. Lewis

Isn’t that great.  One way that this works is hearing what God says, and then choosing to act like it’s true (however you’re feeling) and I wrote about that here…

Another way to think about it is a  determination to do what I know to be right, even if I really really don’t want to, and hoping that my emotions will eventually line up.  Right now I’m calling these Landrover Choices.

I’m sure you can think of a million times when your emotions (hurt, pain, fear, jealousy, anger…) have been shouting loudly at you to run, hide, blank someone, yell *delete as appropriate.  And yet maybe in those moments, your reason, or your knowledge of the choice God would have you make has been telling you that there’s a better way to handle this…

I once nearly missed out on a wonderful friendship because I was jealous of the young woman’s gifting and opportunities.  On that occasion I managed to put my will in front and override the envy and choose to get to know her.  I am so glad that I did.

Today I’m asking you this:  What is the Landrover Choice that you have to make this week.  In what decision do you need to choose to make your feelings run behind and let your will be in front?

landycaravan

When climbing a mountain…

Intrigued?  Well, I’m not surprised.  I didn’t know what one of these was called either (had to google it 🙂 ).  It’s a piton.  Mountain climbers hammer them tightly into crevices in the rock face so that they can attach their safety ropes through the hole.  A vital piece of rock-climbing kit.

When God showed me this picture, I imagined what it would be like if, exhausted from a difficult climb, beaten back by the weather, you were to come across one of these, already firmly in the rock face and ready to clip your harness on to.  What a relief I would feel if it were me, and how grateful to the climber that scaled this wall before me and left me something to take a hold of.

So today’s postcard is an encouragement to start nailing in some of these beauties, both for those who scale the walls you’re climbing after you, and for your own benefit (just in case like me, you have a tendency to revisit the same challenges).

The first time I really noticed how this could work was when I was in a tiny church choir.  One day the choir leader played us a piece he planned for us to sing. It was extraordinarily complex and difficult with solos and harmonies and even a rap(!), so we reacted in some disbelief!  But he believed we could do it, and as a group we somehow just chose to take his faith and believe it.  It was as if we reached out with our Karabiner clips in our hands and clipped our harnesses onto the faith he was holding out.

Our faith in God is like that, we have the ability to hold it out to others and say “here-  hold on to mine, I’ve scaled this wall before you”.

I can’t tell you exactly what the pitons you put in will look like, they might be a word,  an action, scripture glued to a mirror, a testimony, a song, a journal entry, a book, a blog post, a status update, a tweet. But I do know that when we start to hold out the faith we’ve gathered to others it will multiply.  Whatever they say about problems, faith shared is faith (at least) doubled!

While a piton has to be strong, the real strength is in the rock.  The job of the piton is simply to enable someone to anchor their heart to the Rock of Ages, into the ultimate strength and safety of the Living God himself.

piton feat

If you’re climbing in a storm,  look out for what others have left for you.  When you see it – choose to reach out for it and clip yourself on!

If you’ve taken on a difficult face and made it to the top.  Look for the faith that you grew on the journey and then choose to find a way to hold it out for others.

And please, please comment below about the ways God is speaking to you that you could hold out the faith you’ve collected to to others and then comment again about the ways you’ve done it and seen faith multiplied in other people.  In the words of the Lego Movie – that would be awesome!

If you’re interested in more of what I think faith is and isn’t you could read this:  Faith and the Flying Fox or this: Ready to Walk on Water

My Boy’s Dream Car

This push-along-with-your feet-car was the object of desire of every single child at the toddler group I used to take my son to.  He wanted to ride in it almost from when he could crawI, long before his legs were long enough, or coordinated enough to be able to move it himself.  And I still can’t see one of these red and yellow beauties without smiling at the thought of him at 3 years old, chubby cheeked and grinning as he trundled around the yard.

We never had one at home, but every time we went to a place that had one he was desperate to play in it.  So for a while there a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe was his ultimate dream car.

I can’t tell you how funny it is to think of him trying to get into one of these now!  At fifteen he has the same wild blond hair and cheeky grin but they now top a nearly 6 foot tall body. Gorgeous – but all arms and legs and enormous feet. I’m not sure it would even be possible for him to fold his gangly frame into this little car, much less get it to move anywhere.

This week I feel like God is speaking to me about hopes and dreams. When I was 20 I had dreams about what God might do with my life.. I dreamed of having a family;  helping people find Jesus; healing; preaching; leading worship; of seeing revival…   Some of it has happened, some hasn’t, and there’s also been load of amazing and difficult and wonderful stuff that I never expected.

I’m older now, and I tend to think of crazy hopeful dreaming as something young people do.  It’s tempting (maybe sensible) to put those dreams down and just get on with things the way they are…

…But

Yesterday, while I was hanging out the washing, God told me to paint a postcard of a cozy coupe. I often don’t really understand what the ‘message’ of a postcard is going to be until I’ve had a chance to pray about it,  and this time it wasn’t till I sat down (in the cool of an air-conditioned coffee shop) to write that I started to hear God speak about dreaming.

How does the Cozy Coupe fit into that?  Well, it was Jonny’s dream.  And it was a great dream for him to have when he was two, OK still when he was five, but now?… Now it is totally outgrown and limiting, utterly unsuitable.  Jonny needs to get a bigger dream.

Do you still have dreams about what God might do with your life?

Maybe you’ve lost hold of your dreams on the roller coaster of life. Maybe you’ve forgotten what they even were. Never mind. You’ve probably outgrown them by now anyway. What good would it do you to fold yourself up into those old dreams anyway? Today is a really good day to ask God to give you a new dream, a new vision of what he wants to do with you and in you and through you.
Today is the day you need to get a new dream.

 

cozycoupefeat

 

reflect blue

 

For your journal:

When you ask God about what dreams he has for your life today… write down what he says!

 

Changing the ground

This is the plant that ‘would never grow’.

Years ago, when my parents moved house, they brought with them a  large rhododendron in a wooden pot that was a favourite of my Mum’s. The pot was old and failed to  survive the move, so my stepfather stripped what was left of the wood away and planted the Rhododendron straight into the soil of the garden.

And my Mum, who is the only one of us who has any clue at all about gardening said,

“it will never grow”

Because, she knew what the rest of us didn’t: that some plants need a particular type of soil to flourish.  Rhodedendrons need to have their roots in acidic soil, not in the chalky clay of an Essex garden.  So it really didn’t stand a chance…

However, 25 years later, here it is – not just surviving but thriving.  A great big green and purple horticultural-impossibility!

You see, it turns out that even though most of the garden behind our house does indeed have very alkaline soil, the corner where this shrub was planted is in the shadow of a centuries old oak tree.  Year after year that oak has been releasing hundreds of leaves, which fall in a thick layer over this part of the garden.  And year on year many of those leaves have been absorbed into the soil and have changed it.

The oak tree has changed the soil around it from a place where the rhododendron had no hope of surviving into a place where it has been able to become glorious.

When my Mum emailed me a snapshot of it a couple of weeks ago,  I heard God whisper two things into my ear.

Firstly:

“don’t give up on people – you don’t know as much as you think you do”.

I do have a tendency to fall into a trap of thinking I know things.  Accepting that God knows better than I do is a good place to be.  Conventional wisdom says: ‘that plant can’t survive in that place’ but God says – ‘There’s a bigger picture’

and second,  a challenge:

“Be an oak”

Because this plant is under the edge of an oak tree, it’s alive and blooming, even though the soil is naturally hostile to it.   Some people are living their lives, day in, day out, in environments that are hostile to their faith.  Conventional wisdom might say that their walk with Jesus has no hope of surviving, let alone thriving…

But you and I can choose to be oaks.  We can choose to be continually releasing grace, hope, compassion, truth, faith and love.  And even when it feels as though those ‘leaves’ are just falling to the ground, unnoticed by anyone, they are making a difference…  soaking into the soil and changing it…

It lifts my heart to think that I could be an oak tree in someone else’s life,  quietly releasing what it takes to support life, changing the environment, making a difference.  I’m not even entirely sure how, but I’m up for finding out.  you?

all is not always as it seems
sometimes
you and I

can change it

Mum's Rhododendron

 

reflect greens

 

For your journal

What do you think it takes to be an oak tree?  Ask God to speak to you about how you’re already doing this, and how you could do more.   If you have any ideas, please comment them below!

Maybe you feel more like the Rhododendron, struggling to survive in a hostile world.  Perhaps you need to find a place where you can be in community with some oak trees and to choose to receive whatever it’s going to take for you to grow.

 

 

 

 

Walking in the shade

It’s June and, after a few unseasonably cool weeks, summer has finally arrived in Nicosia.  (Weather.com tells me it’s 38 degrees C out there today- I am hiding inside!)

Once again, as the temperatures rise, I notice that we are beginning to live differently. We walk more slowly,  get up earlier, stay up later, nap in the afternoons.  School closes, we wear hats, close the shutters at 9am – ‘to keep the cool in’,  drink a lot of water and count down the days to when we can escape to chilly, wet England for the holidays.

Last week, as I walked lazily through the old city with visiting friends (in search of ice-cold frappé); one of those friends  pointed out another new habit I seem to have gained:  I cross the road a lot.   It took me while to work out what they meant, but it turns out that like many Nicosians at this time of year, I’m forever crossing over to the other side of the street as I subconsciously choose to walk or stand in patches of shade.

This week’s postcard is ‘walking in the shade’ because I’m aware that life can sometimes be ‘superheated’.

A hot season could be fired by pain, grief, fear, anxiety or uncertainty, or any number of other things, but a major culprit that turns the heat up under many of us are IHE’s: Impossibly High Expectations.

IHE’s -Supercareerguy/girl, superpastor, supermodel, superparent, superfriend, superspouse,  superchristian, superblogpostwriter  (pick your poison) fanned and fueled by family expectations, the media, church, facebook, pinterest, etc. put us (or make us put ourselves) under enormous pressure.  There is always another standard for us to measure our ‘success’ against, always another job that needs to be done yesterday.  That can make things pretty hot.

Whatever the cause; if you’re living in a hot place – you need to learn to walk in the shade.

The Bible tells me that the Lord my God is ‘the shade at [my] right hand’ (Psalm 121:5).  In a hot season you have to hunt out the shade.  If that means crossing the road every time you turn a corner or walking a longer way around then so be it …  If you’re in a hot place right now, it might be taking all you’ve got to keep going, and there may not be much time or energy to invest in your relationship with Jesus.    Please find some.    I’ve noticed that when the sun is at its highest and hottest if you want to get shade from something you have to walk very close to it.  And the closer you get, the deeper the shade.

So, if you’re in a hot season, walk close to Jesus.  Don’t let anger or disappointment, or tiredness or bewilderment make you decide to walk out in the heat of the sun.   Choose the shade.  And then keep on choosing it.

Of course, I know that not everyone who reads this will be living in a hot season… Some of you will be in a cold one.  Perhaps God feels a long way away right now; or maybe you feel as though your heart has somehow grown cold.  I was praying about this today and I felt God remind me that in the winter, everyone in my city chooses to walk in the sunshine…

That’s our beautiful God my friends: In the blast of the hot season he is the shade at your right hand, in the chill of the cold season he is the gentle sunlight that brings warmth to your soul.    Wherever you are living right now, draw near to him… he is what you need.

 

shadefeat

 

 

 

reflect greens

 

For your Journal:

Think about what this postcard says to you.  What kind of season are you in right now?  How would you describe it?  What reasons do you have for pressing in close to God, for listening for his voice, for walking the path he asks you to walk?

 

What do you think it means to walk close to God?  What does it take to get there?

I’m going to think some more about those IHE’s… expect more next week 🙂

 

 

More than you can Handle?

“God will never give you more than you can handle”

This well-meant little piece of not-actually-scripture is, I’ll admit, one of my ‘pet peeves’.  It annoys me because it seems to be saying that whatever difficult or awful circumstance you might be walking through you ought to be able to stoically bear it alone.  It also suggests that strength is to be rewarded with pain, more strength with more pain – Rubbish!

Pain and suffering is a part of life.  Jesus never said that it wouldn’t be (rather the opposite).  But I know many people who, even as I’m writing this are in the middle of circumstances: financial, physical, emotional that no-one should be expected to be able to ‘handle’.   I know that some of them desperately need to have permission to ‘not handle it’ alone so that they can be free to cry, shout, rest, lean on others and above all lean on the God who loves them.

 

Here’s what I think is true:

Sometimes it’s OK to say to God your Father “I can’t handle this – I need you to step in with a miracle here”   And this picture of a falling doll being caught is meant to show something of what I think our Father replies to us…

handlewords

I pray that today you will receive permission from God to lean into him.  To fall, and be caught.

reflect white

For your journal:

What things are there in your life that are hard to handle?  What keeps you from letting go of your need to handle them alone?