Monday, 29 April 2019

What do we do with our scars?

Just recently my husband accidentally burnt me with a cigar. He doesn't smoke them often, but when you are in Cuba it is hard not to have a go. In his haste of looking at things in a market we were in, he forgot he was given a cigar and that it was in his hand. He turned toward me and the cigar went straight into my arm.  It really hurt and I walked around the rest of the day with an ice cold water bottle on my arm. But we did laugh. It was such an accident and he felt so bad, I could only see the funny side of it, knowing my husband. I took a photo of it and sent it to the kids straight away.

He felt so bad he kept asking me how I was and it was fun to play on it a bit. After a few hours it was fine, but it was going to leave a scar for sure.  

For the next 7 days afterward, it was still looking really sore, so I started putting pure vitamin E oil on it each night. It is amazing stuff and each morning I would wake up and couldn't believe the difference in the healing simply in one night. 

I joked with Dave, that I considered leaving it and not putting the healing balm on it, so I would be scarred for life and when people asked what it was, I would have a good story of my husband burning me with a cigar. Or worse I could play on it and get his sympathy and guilt for the rest of my life with a scar like that.  At one point it was looking better and then I bumped it and it started to bleed again, that was a good time to let David know what he done to me….. again. 

But, instead after 3 weeks it was completely gone, simple by putting the right healing balm on it each night. 

After 35 years of being together, believe me there are deeper scars we both carry, more painful than a cigar burn. It made me think about the scars we carry on the inside and the outside and how quickly they can become the story we hold onto for all the wrong reasons. 

It is a choice what we do with our burns or the painful experiences. We can carry them like an open, painful scar, in order to guilt or shame the one who caused it. We can choose for it to become our victim story, the battle scars we get to tell anyone who will listen, for sympathy or attention. We can chose to use the battle scars as excuses to not venture out and try new things as they are dangerous. We can choose to look at our scars and hold anger and bitterness, that if someone can do that to me, then I can do it to someone else. 

Or we can choose to seek the healing balm that not only takes the pain away, but in some cases can make all things new as if it never happened. 

For many of our deep inner scars it will take more that "Pure Vitamin E oil", but I do know that with the right healing balm all things are possible. The hardest part is the choice, to walk towards healing and not in the other direction. I want to say that there is even more that is possible. When the healing has become so complete that it is not just healed, but has become something more beautiful. Like the refiners fire, more beauty is found only once something has gone through the fire and come out the other end.  But it doesn't have to stop there either, for when that healed scar is so strong it is able to help others who are wounded, it becomes a gift and privilege. This has been my experience over the last 20 years with many of my scars, although I have many more I am working on.  

The greatest gift is that we don't have to do this alone. Christ has been my healing balm, for the deep inner hurts that simply come with life. But I know that the key on my part is to CHOOSE to lean into Him and be willing to use the correct healing balm and to use it regularly. That is why Dave and I can joke about a cigar burn, because we know the real healing power of Jesus’ grace and love and forgiveness in our own lives and in our marriage and it is truly a gift. 

So what do you do with your scars? 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Are our Churches/Children just “seedless watermelons”?

I have always been fascinated with trees. They are so beautiful and majestic.  Each country has its  own unique trees and Jamaica is no exception.

I was stopped by an impressive tree. It was large and strong, the roots were clearly deep as well as coming out in all directions. There was a smaller plant right beside it, being shadowed by it and growing up healthy and strong beside it. The large tree had beautiful reddish fruit on it, which I soon found out was a “Jamaican apple”. 

There are so many things I learn from trees and nature. God challenges me every time with new things. I was given the apple to eat and it was very different to an apple in Australia. It was soft and almost pear/peach like in texture, but it was white and fluffy. As I was enjoying the fruit, I noticed it had a large hard seed in the middle.

Psalm 1 says “but those whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and who mediates on His Law day and night, that person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.”

Leadership, parenting … these are challenging things. They require much delighting in God’s word and His truth to be able to yield fruit. How I long to yield fruit! As I ate the apple, being such a new experience, I loved the reminder of how nourishing fruit can be and how precious it is to be able to bear fruit for others to enjoy. How important it is that we as leaders and parents actually produce fruit that sustains others, that we focus on how we attract and sustain those we lead, and make sure our fruit is appetising enough that they want to eat it. Which is hard these days, as there are so many other options than a healthy piece of fruit, which are available all the time, not just in season.  You know how horrible it can be when you eat fruit that is out of season, and that just can’t compete with the many other sweet and now artificial options that our children and people would much rather eat than healthy and natural fruit. 

But this big large seed that I was left with, caught my attention. It was hard and strong and significant. Of course you can’t eat it, so we often throw it away after eating the fruit. Well, at least in the western world we do. So, as I was about to throw it away, I realised that this is such an important part of the fruit.  Without the seed, there is not new and sustaining life. The seed needs to be replanted for it to grow. 

It is one thing for me as a leader or parent to delight in the Lord so that I may grow and yield fruit, but if that fruit is not then taken, consumed and replanted, its enjoyment and value only lasts for moments. Very quickly we find we want more and more of the light fluffy flesh without understanding the fruit has a seed of replenishing life that is important to be replanted for life to continue. 

It made me consider in Western Society how much we love
the “Seedless Watermelon”, a recent human creation to make the fruit easy to consume. When we serve fruit platters we cut out all the seeds so it is all easily consumable and looking ascetically pleasing. I know I love mandarins, (which are small oranges), but I specifically look for the ones with no seeds because the number of seeds in a normal mandarin drives me crazy to eat. Our children today are growing up believing that Watermelons and Mandarins have no seeds. Sure, it is much easier to eat, but what does it say to our children? What does that subconsciously teach us all?

I wonder how many of our churches, our programs, our ministries are like “seedless fruit”? Tasty and attractive, but without seeds that get replanted into the souls and hearts that come, so that they might be able to grow and yield their own fruit?  How often are our churches centred around the leader’s spiritual strength, that might come from delighting in the Lord and His word and bearing fruit that is delicious to eat, but by the next week those that came last week are craving for more to sustain them another week? 

Francis Chan tells a story of a Mega Church pastor in Seoul. He asked “How can I get my people to leave and live by faith? He explained how he had become really proficient at gathering people together but his intention was to get them to disperse to share the Gospel and live by faith. But now they had grown comfortable and didn't want to leave” (F. Chan, “Letters to the Church”, p 153)

As parents, we can be so meticulous about cutting up bite sizes of fruit and taking out the seeds or much worse feeding them substitutes to healthy fruit all together and not actually giving them the seeds of what they actually need to grow up and bear their own fruit.  Please, know that I am not just talking about feeding our kids healthy fruit with seeds here. (Although that is important as well). 

Whatever space we are in as leaders or parents, let’s be careful that we are bearing fruit that comes with a seed of truth. 
   “A farmer went out to sow his seed” Mathew 13:3

A seed of truth that can be replanted and grow independent of us being there. We are called to plant the seed, and God will grow it, but if we are only giving out fluffy, sweet fruit with no seeds, we have missed the point of being planted deeply in God and the blessing that comes with it.  This is not about yielding a fruit for ourselves, or unto ourselves, or drawing people towards us. It is so that the seed of truth may not only prosper in us but also spread to the ends of the earth.  

I want to see my children grow and become bigger, stronger trees than I can ever be. I long to see those I am called to lead, go and plant their own trees and reproduce over and over again. But it must start with me and the question, “Am I bearing seedless fruit?”

Monday, 25 February 2019

The things you learn when you choose to follow "Google"

So, the day’s adventure began, just a normal day in Cambodia, riding Moto’s around the streets of Kep. We were going to meet a man who was going to show us a new campsite being built. He suggested we take the coast road to the property. David put the address into google and decided to follow “google” instead. It said 20 minutes till arrival and so we set off.  It is a “free” feeling riding a moto in Cambodia. There are few rules and so much to see as you ride along. I was enjoying my trip on the open road, not taking much notice of the driving part. The open road was pretty straight forward … just stay on the bitumen. Then, we took a right and headed down a dirt road. My eyes needed to quickly divert to the road, to avoid every pot hole, forced to make choices second by second as to where to place the wheel to navigate each piece of the road. I slowed down considerably and I couldn't enjoy the view as much as my eyes were focussed on the task at hand. Such a different way to drive! 

There’s a life lesson right there. It is so much easier to take the open road, the road well-trodden and marked out, the one everyone takes. It was much more challenging to take the road less travelled, no markings, every turn a challenge and yet for me the drive just got more exciting. Through little villages, the houses and people right there, doing life metres away. Sometimes if felt like I was riding through their lounge room. The smells, the sights, the beauty of everyday life in Cambodia all of sudden got more real.  Some were drying out their meal for the evening in the hot sun, others lying under the house to keep away from the heat, some cooking on a gas fire, others eating their morning noodles. Something you could easily pass by and not notice on the open road.

Avoiding the potholes and choosing the smoother path required more mental energy and physical energy, requiring both hands to be firmly on the handlebars, while maneuvering the bike on the dirt track, with the exception of the occasional one handed wave to those we passed as they yelled out “hello” to us foreigners invading their lounge room. 

 After 30 minutes, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, no houses, no signs. The track was getting thinner and less ridden, mud holes getting bigger and before we knew it we were off road, trail riding. YAY!  30 minutes turned to 40 minutes, turned to 60 minutes, turned to 90 minutes.  Each time we took a new road, it ended with either a washed out, unpassable road, a creek, a fence, or a big mud hole. “Google” didn't know where it was going. We could see the campsite (across the river), it was 5 minutes away if we walked and swam across a creek, but we just couldn't get there. My feet were covered in mud, not to mention my bike. At one point I missed the small path and landed in the mud and fell off, ripped my pants and then took 5 minutes get out of the mud hole. It was all part of the fun and challenge. Needless to say we had to turn back, retrace our path back to the road and take the Coast road, as our friend had originally suggested. “Google” was still unhelpful and we had to ring our friend a couple of times to get his directions to eventually find the correct way to the property. 

Now, where do I go from here? So many life lessons! I can see my kids rolling their eyes.  So many things were running through my mind as we drove the coast road to the campsite. I pondered … who are we going to listen to in this world?  “Google”? (the one the world trusts, the one we always refer to whenever we need to know something) OR a friend, the one that takes the drive each day to his place of work, the one who has gone there before and knows that while all those tracks “google” took us down are tracks that can get you there some parts of the year, but it didn't know that they were not passable today?  This was a reminder that there are many roads we can take, and while they lead to adventure, they also could lead to trouble, to being lost, to getting hurt. 

Or do I ponder … that taking the less ridden track brings adventure, which is fine, as long as we know who to call when we run into roadblocks and when we get into trouble. When we are on the open road there are many people who can help when we get stuck. Every corner is a place to get petrol, a place to get our moto fixed, a place to get water if we’re thirsty. Out in the middle of nowhere, as we sat at a creek blocking our way to the campsite, we could ring our friend and he was able to let us know how to get back on track while “google” still continued to tell us to go forward. 

Do I wish we took the coast road to begin with?  Hmmm … and miss the adventure, the story? No, probably not. That’s the challenge isn't it? If we went the coast road I wouldn't have the battle scars on my leg to show people and tell the story. It’s in the experience that we learn. But if it wasn’t for our friend, we wouldn't have made it to a beautiful campsite, and we did we have to go the wrong road to more appreciate the right one? So much to consider, to reflect on? 

Matthew 7:13-14 says to enter through narrow Gate. “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only few find it”.  The metaphor talks of having fewer choices on the narrow road and too many ways to get distracted on the broad road leading to destruction. And yet for me, I felt like I had more choices on the narrow road, or did I?  On the open road, I didn't think, I just rode, all my choices were made for me. I just blindly followed the signs. There were more choices, and more options for sure, but I wasn’t even aware of them. On the narrow road, my choices suddenly became real for me, each choice really made a difference to the ride. I engaged my thoughts, my body, my heart more as I navigated the track, the sights, the smells. I was more aware of my choices. It led to life and adventure and it meant I had to rely on someone else to help us each step of the way to get through.  The focus became clearer and I was so thankful that I was with my life partner (my husband) the whole time. This was not a track you’d want to venture on alone. I knew if we were together we could face any challenge and we would get there eventually. For the narrow track leads to life and, I agree, few find it, as the wider track is safe and clear and easy to follow. 

For me this day, while the destination was lovely, the journey was not to be missed. I suppose it was such a great adventure because the narrow track was where life was best seen and experienced. The narrow dirt tracks of the villages in Kep are always filled with fascinating sights. But also the journey confirmed to me that it is the way I want to live … exploring the narrow tracks in life that few go down rather than the open wide road that everyone travels at a fast pace and so much is missed.  And finally, the journey is always better when you are with people you trust and when you know who to call when the going gets tough. 

Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important thanthe outcome.” 
– Arthur Ashe. 

Monday, 18 February 2019

The Grass is always greener ...or in this case browner!

Why do we always want what we don't have?  Why can’t we be happy with who we are?  

It is a challenge to really learn the art of “contentment”.  As Paul says …"Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6)

When in Cambodia the greatest joy I have is to hang out with some of the most wonderful Khmer people I feel privileged to call friends. In fact this trip we went on a little three day holiday with a Khmer family. We went to the beach each day, ate and laughed and hung out in Kep. It was always interesting in such a hot country to find that every time we went to the beach us Aussies would sit out in the sun as long as we could to get as brown as we could, because the bronzed Aussie dream is clearly still alive in our family. While the Cambodians covered themselves completely with clothes and stayed in the shade all day. When one of little ones was not allowed to play on the sand with us one day, I asked why.  The mother said, “I don't want her to get any browner”, to which I replied, “but her skin is beautiful, she is such a beautiful colour”. She pointed to me and said, “No, it is your skin that is beautiful. I wish I had a white baby.”  Meanwhile, my daughter continually dreams of having a “brown/black baby”. I feel like I’m saying the wrong thing even to say the word “black” baby nowadays, as it’s so politically incorrect, and yet I often look at their brown/black skin and think it is stunning. My children come to me at the end of each day and say “Do I look brown, Mum?” or “Look how brown I am” and I am jealous because my blonde haired, white skin is the way I was born and will never be called “brown”. 

If I am going somewhere special I will even get a spray tan so I feel better about myself. But in Cambodia, in their rooms I am constantly finding “white” foundation, as the Khmer wear this to make them look more like us. At times they look downright pale, and I can’t work out for the life of me how they find that attractive because I wish I was as dark skinned as them.

It just goes to show “the grass is always greener’ or in this case “browner”. The reality is we are all the same, aren't we? Always wishing we had what others had in order to feel better about ourselves. Now I know I will offend many who love to say over and over again “just be yourself”, “you do you, and I’ll do me”. And while I totally agree, I am confessing that if we are honest, we are all guilty at times of looking at others and wishing we were more like them. Now for you it might not be the colour of your skin … but what is it?  Your size? Your income? Your job? Your skills and gifts? Your Abilities? Your House? Other bodily features? Whatever it is, I can guarantee that while we might say and do all the politically correct things in public, in quiet places where no-one sees we all have thoughts of discontent and wishing we were someone or something else!

Sadly, our thoughts are often the most dangerous places, where so much damage is done. The self-talk, self-doubt, self-loathing, the self-denigration. The places we make agreements with our thoughts, that become truth and then become our new reality.  Often they are then confirmed in our culture, and it takes being in another culture to see that what we think is truth, is relative. 

One of the most powerful things about walking with God, surrendering your life to Him, is that it is in the quiet places, the places that no one else sees, my inner most thoughts, that can be easily hidden from those closest to me, God is there. I cannot escape Him. I can try to hide, try to pretend, try to say the right things, but He sees it all, knows it all and He can’t be fooled. It is in those places that He restates His truth to me, recalibrates my thinking, allows me to experience His undeserved grace and love and helps me see that “I captivate Him”. When I want to venture into the comparison game, the wish list of what I want to be like, or what I wish I had, He reminds me that I am His beloved, created child. He longs for everyone one of us to grow into a deep inner contentment, that only ever sees ourselves through His lens. Surely, then the “grass will always be green enough.” 

I haven’t got even close in the first half of my life, but now at 51, I pray that I do the second half better, always with my eyes on Him and how He sees the world and all that is in it.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

The Drivers Seat - A new perspective

I have been privileged to grow up all my life camping on the Shoalhaven River, with my Daddy’s green speed boat, “Shadrack”. Camping, water-skiing, tubing, knee boarding with the family and close friends, has been a formative part of my life and one I hope to never lose.  

“Shadrack” is now a vintage boat. My Daddy built it with some friends when he was in his twenties. It was his pride and joy and he loved to drive the boat and teach people to ski.  There are many people who tell the story of being taught by Dad to ski, which involved much yelling and yet also a lot of patience.

Growing up in the boat, when I was little I would sleep under the front while Dad drove.  The hum of the motor would put me to sleep. As I grew I would be in the boat whenever I could; either in it or behind it. My favourite place in the boat was in the front right bedside my Dad. He would smile and wink as he drove along, sometimes all day towing and teaching people to ski. He taught me at a young age how to observe and how to be his sidekick in the boat while he drove, and I liked that position. I took it very seriously. Being an observer means you have to watch the skiers and let the driver know when they have fallen off. It means you get to watch all the fun that is happening with the skiers and also look at what is happening on the river. 

Dad only let a few others drive. He taught my brother and husband to drive, that was mainly so someone could drive while he skied. I might be biased but he was a fantastic skier and skied right up to the age of 70. I loved watching him.

When he unexpectedly passed away 14 months ago in an accident, the Shoalhaven and “Shadrack” suddenly became a place of solace for many of us to feel close to him. I had never considered learning to drive, as I’d always felt that he would always be there to drive. Being a vintage boat, it has its quirks and ways of being treated. There were certain things only Dad knew how to fix and that’s the way we all probably wanted it to always be.

When dad died, I made the decision that I would get my driver’s licence and this Christmas I would drive the boat. While I knew it would be an emotional experience on many levels, I certainly felt very close to him driving this year. And my greatest regret is that he didn’t teach me, but I was thankful that this was something I could do with my brother and husband, who taught me all that he’d taught them. It is one thing to drive and then it is another thing to tow a skier well. Dad did it well, and this is not something you learn about when you get your license. 

What I didn’t expect to learn is how much the driver can’t do. The driver cannot watch the skiers. The driver cannot really watch much at all. The driver can’t have an idle chat to someone in the back of the boat while we are going along. The driver is always looking forward and watching the river, the other boats and making sure everyone is safe. The driver is in control of a fast boat and at any point if they are not watching everyone can be badly hurt. 

I didn’t expect to find that driving was a completely new experience for me. For someone who had been in that boat all her life, it was like seeing the boat through my father’s eyes for the first time. I had always simply enjoyed the fun of being in the boat and never understood the seriousness of captaining the boat.  I had gone for the “ride” all my life without truly understanding the requirements of taking charge, the responsibility of it all, not to mention if anything were to go wrong, what I was going to do! I had no clue. 

I didn’t expect to learn that while you are driving you are completely reliant on the observer to tell you what is happening, because you have other responsibilities. I didn’t expect to learn that when everyone is laughing at what’s happening with the skiers or knee boarders, the driver largely missed out on that, because he/her eyes need to be facing forward. 

I imagine after driving a boat for more than 40 years, Dad was able to do much more than I could do on my first drives, but it was a perspective I had never experienced before. It gave me a greater sense of respect for my father and the sacrifice and part he played all our lives in order for us to have fun. I learned that because of the deep trust and comfort I always had when Dad was driving, there was so much I never had to think about, while ever he was in the driver’s seat. Now, I was in the driver’s seat and I felt the weight of it.

There is something beautiful about having someone in the driver’s seat who you can trust, someone who gives their everything to lead/drive in such a way that it provides the environment for others to have fun and be free to live life to the full. I have been privileged to have people in my life that have provided that for me all of my life. I have had that in my earthly father and my heavenly father. 

Lord, help me to lead/drive in such a way that allows others to feel free and able to live life to the full and thank you for the examples in my life who did it so well that I never really appreciated how much freedom and life I have been given because of their sacrifice and diligence in driving so well. 

Monday, 28 January 2019

No room in the INN

The last two months of 2018, in our house felt a little like "there was no room in the Inn". “Air BnB Tolman”, were the words that were floating around, with a laugh. The week leading up to Christmas it was a "full house", with 12 people sleeping over Christmas night and 16 for Xmas dinner. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that was all last minute. Maybe we should have been called "last" rather than "Air BnB Tolman".

There is a difference between being invited and people landing unexpectedly. Of course, we had ample sufficiency, and plenty left over. It was not about the food, just the fullness of the house, which usually I love, but this time it was beyond my control and that is always a little challenging.  When you have to start making a roster to use the kitchen just to get things made for Christmas day it gets a bit hectic. Then when you do get a chance to cook, opening the fridge to find the things you’d bought for Christmas dinner had been eaten or taken without you knowing, can bring the worst thoughts out of you and I must say even a few choice words. 

With that many adults living in the house, the kitchen is always full of dirty dishes and I can’t seem to find things as people always put them in different places to me. On the positive side there are more people to clean, cook and there is someone always offering to make me a cup of tea. Netflix is constantly going, but not always what I want to watch.  Quiet time is hard to find, but I have my office to escape to when I get desperate. Oh, that’s right, there was someone staying in there as well over Christmas. Doh.

There was just no more room in the INN.

As I reflect on Christmas just gone, I feel I start the beginning of the New Year apologising and having to eat my own words. On Christmas Eve, I led our community in the reminder that in all the busyness of Christmas day we must remember that Christ is central. Yet the very next day I found myself feeling not only that I was simply surviving Christmas, but more than that, the worldly celebrations of eating, partying, drinking, presents and people crowded out “Jesus” so that He hardly came into my thoughts. 

How did you do it Jesus?  You came into the world, in a crowded, partying town, where the Inn was full. The world around barely stopped to notice that you were there, but still you came. You didn’t demand, you didn’t make a fuss, you simply came to serve. 

Lord, I want to be that kind of light in this world, in my home, in my community. But I find, when the going gets tough I simply want to hide in my room and hope it all goes away. I thank you that your birth was an example of how you planned to live and how you desire us to live. We are called to live in community, to open our lives and houses to those who need it and sometimes it will be uncomfortable and feel crowded.  You gave us a picture of the way the Church is meant to look ... The saviour of the world, the one to bring unconditional love, surrounded by smelly animals, lowly shepherds, two humble parents not sure what is really happening in a town that hardly knows or cares that you exist. 

Not that the people in my house are smelly animals ... well we won’t go there ... ha ... just kidding, but like any community, being uncomfortable, things not going to plan, and not always being able to find what you are looking for, is all a part of the territory. Help me to face the challenges with love and grace and not run and hide. Sometimes my hiding is even behind the serving or the smile and that is not good enough either. But also, thank you for the reminder that even in a lowly manger, in the shed behind the Inn, with the world passing you by, you still shone, and that’s all you ask me to do as well. 

Bring on 2019. Whatever challenges it brings, help me to make sure Jesus is always at the centre, no matter what is going on around me.

PS: This has been published with the permission of those living in my house at the time.