Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A refill of encouragement

Bonnie over at Faith Barista asks in what area (e.g. work, parenting, marriage, friendship, ministry, faith, health, finances, or ___? ) I’d like a ‘refill’ of encouragement. 
Hmmm... what area WOULDN’T I like to be encouraged in??

This week I’ve needed encouragement in my relationships: at work, as a parent, in my friendships. A combination of over-tiredness and difficult circumstances have left me feeling depleted, down to the dregs. I can see the coffee grounds of unkind words, ignored suggestions, excluded conversations, derogatory laughter, inadequacy and lack of understanding.  The fragrance of a fresh, reviving brew has long since gone.

It all came to a head yesterday morning. A hectic time at work made me over-tired and over-busy; church commitments all came together (last week was a breeze) at the same time as my daughter came home for a brief visit, leaving less time with her. She was busy catching up with friends in any case, and a combination of circumstances left me feeling discouraged as a parent. Lies came crowding in as coping strategies fled: I wobbled and tipped over. Any feelings of self-worth I had in me spilt, trickling away, soaked up in deception.

Today, my cup of encouragement has been refilled. In small ways.
I have been reading through Jeremiah of late. Deeply depressing in some ways, but I gained a lot of strength from him as I read his complaint (Jeremiah 20:7 – 18).

&  1. I was encouraged as I realised that, whatever I felt like, things really WEREN’T so bad when I compared my ‘difficulties’ with Jeremiah’s. My friends ARE my friends, my colleagues DO like and appreciate me and, most importantly, my daughter loves me very much.
I hear many whispering,
   “Terror on every side!
   Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends  are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
   then we will prevail over him
   and take our revenge on him.” (v10)

2. I was encouraged as I realised that GOD IS WITH ME. Regardless of how I might FEEL, He is always there and has my best in mind.
 But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior;
   so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
   their dishonor will never be forgotten.
LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous
   and probe the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
   for to you I have committed my cause. (vv11 – 12)

&  3. I was encouraged as I realised that GOD is great, and that all my worries and concerns pale into insignificance into comparison with his

  Sing to the LORD!
   Give praise to the LORD!
He rescues the life of the needy
   from the hands of the wicked. (v13)

It’s easy to write this, NOW.  I am sometimes too easily discouraged. When I am, I just have to remember to go back to God’s word – because that is a source of never-ending liquid nourishment. Life-giving water is the Bible’s analogy, but sometimes it might just be that first-of-the-day steaming cup of coffee.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


One of the significant themes at Sheila's thanksgiving, which has recurred a lot recently, if that of gently loving others into God's kingdom.  I like Ed's comment:
I don’t have to live in fear of his judgment because God is committed to the process of redemption.
I don’t have to worry about rules and regulations because his Spirit is able to guide and convict.
I don’t have to fear the rejection of others because I’m already accepted into God’s family.
There were glimpses and tastes of God’s grace, acceptance, and joy in my early days as a Christian. Even as the rules were piled on, a loving God continued to reach out to me.
I have learned that I don’t have to carry my pain around anymore. Because when you carry around pain, that’s all you have to give others. God’s love can heal our pain and erase our fears.
When we carry God’s love, we have a gift worth sharing.


Hmmm. I am astonished to see that, as yet, I have no posts on forgiveness.  Astonished because it's not as if I haven't had to practise - or receive - forgiveness!  I guess it just hasn't seemed important enough to blog about. Or I haven't wanted to approach that level of honesty here...

Yet Ayla has inspired me to be honest.  And Lysa has at Proverbs 31 Ministries offered some superb advice.

I wish I'd seen it a year or so ago.  Out of the blue, I received a long (several pages) email from a 'friend' - acquaintance would be unkind, as we had been in a Bible study group together.  (You would think that should unite us, wouldn't you?). The email was long, accusatory, furious.

The 'friend' had a history of mental illness - I hadn't seen her for some time: she had, apparently, recovered and was stable.  That made things more difficult since I couldn't, in all honesty, just put the email down to a 'blip' in her recovery.

As with all these things, there was a tiny grain of truth in a beachful of lies. I didn't know how to respond.

In the end, not knowing how ill she was, and not wanting to make things worse, I simply sent a short email, apologising for having (apparently) hurt her. Dropped a card and flowers on her doorstep.  Deleted the email. Tried to put it all behind me.

It was a salutary experience. It opened my eyes to the demands of perfectionism - in this woman, and in myself.

It's quite hard to be reminded that my relationships are not perfect. That I am not universally perceived as being 'nice'. That there are relationships in my life that are not happy, nor satisfying. That I fail. For that, I need to forgive myself, too.

God has shone his light on this area of my life to remind me that the bad news is that I am NOT perfect. And the good news? He's not finished with me yet!  Hallelujah!

And here is some more encouragement from Lysa Terkeust on keeping the peace, too...

This situation is a constant challenge: to practise forgiveness, to extend grace, to BE as nearly like Jesus as I can get. I have to renew my attitude daily, continue to extend love in my heart and practice what I preach: forgiveness. Forgiveness. Forgiveness.

Saturday, 18 June 2011


Having been to Sheila Paine's thanksgiving service this morning, I came home to find this snippet from Max Lucado's book Max on Life. Sheila's death was sudden, tragic. This really stood out to me:
While we are shaking heads in disbelief, they are lifting hands in worship. While we are mourning at a grave, they are marveling at heaven. While we are questioning God, they are praising God.
Devastated by Death: Max on Life #148
The following is a one of 172 questions and answers from the new book, Max on Life.
The seven-year-old son of our neighbors died last week. They are devastated. So are we. What can we tell them?

God is a good God. We must begin here. Though we don’t understand his actions, we can trust his heart.
God does only what is good. But how can death be good? Some mourners don’t ask this question. When the quantity of years has outstripped the quality of years, we don’t ask how death can be good.
But the father of the dead teenager does. The widow of the young soldier does. The parents of a seven-year-old do. How could death be good?

Part of the answer may be found in Isaiah 57:1–2: “Good people are taken away, but no one understands. Those who do right are being taken away from evil and are given peace. Those who live as God wants find rest in death” (NCV).

Death is God’s way of taking people away from evil. From what kind of evil? An extended disease? An addiction? A dark season of rebellion? We don’t know. But we know that no person lives one day more or less than God intends. “All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old” (Ps. 139:16 NCV).

But her days here were so few . . .

His life was so brief . . .

To us it seems that way. We speak of a short life, but compared to eternity, who has a long one? A person’s days on earth may appear as a drop in the ocean. Yours and mine may seem like a thimbleful. But compared to the Pacific of eternity, even the years of Methuselah filled no more than a glass. James was not speaking just to the young when he said, “Your life is like a mist. You can see it for a short time, but then it goes away”
(James 4:14 NCV).

Max on LifeIn God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely. And though you and I might wish for a longer life, God knows better.

And—this is important—though you and I may wish a longer life for our loved ones, they don’t. Ironically, the first to accept God’s decision of death is the one who dies.

My God-sized dreams

Bonnie, over at Faith Barista, talks about ‘God-sized dreams’ being a buzz word at the moment in books, blog posts and talk among friends.  It’s the topic for this week’s Faith Jam on Thursday.

Of course, I immediately started thinking about my dreams of people actually reading my blog; or my dreams of someone liking my writing enough to publish it.  Then there are my dreams for my family: for good health for my husband;  or for fulfilling, God-centred, PAID work for my children. (Well, two out of three isn’t bad: getting paid is a minor issue, really, as long as there is enough income coming in to live on. Especially if you haven’t reached the grand age of 25 yet.)  They are ‘God-sized’: big, not-achievable-by-my-own-efforts dreams.

They might be ‘God-sized’ but they are not necessarily ‘God-centred’.

I’ve just come from a memorial service. Giving thanks for the life of a dear, godly friend. The kind of woman who is rare – someone who just oozed God’s love out of every pore. Sheila’s smile melted hearts.

The key text was Philippians 3:7-14
‘But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’

Just before a tragic accident took Sheila from this world to the next, she wrote these words:
‘That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection,
That I might know Him and the strength of His love for me,
That I might share in the fellowship of His suffering
And understand what it cost to set me free.’

This is my ‘God-sized dream’.  It is big, and not-achievable-by-my-own-efforts. I dream of becoming a woman like Sheila, and Renee, and Lisa, and Tami, and Karyn, and Sarah, and Ruth, and know Jesus as they did, and do. Something I can do only by God’s grace and in the strength – the God-sized strength – He gives me.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

A maker or a keeper?

Are you a maker – or a keeper – of friends?

Some people are just really good at relating to strangers, making that first connection. They interact easily, drawing people to them and gathering friendships as easily as daisies.

Others of us are slower. We get to know someone gradually, over time. We build a friendship carefully and lovingly, tending it like a delicate plant. Phones calls are made, letters and emails sent, meetings arranged, invitations offered… And once our friendship is fully mature, we maintain it carefully. We are keepers.

There will, too, always be the folk we just ‘click’ with straightaway.  Some of those we get to keep –others, it’s just for a season. Ayla, over at Holyghostgirl talked about the saying: “People come in your life either for a reason, season, or a lifetime.” She made me think about that: that some of those relationships I would like for a lifetime are only with me for a season. There have been several occasions when, as a couple, we have ‘clicked’ with others just before they have moved to another town far away. We are still in spasmodic contact, but the relationship can’t develop as it might have done had they stayed.

I suspect  most of us are both makers AND keepers, to different degrees.

As I pondered over these, and other relationships (relationships I never expected to last beyond a season, but which have stayed with me for a lifetime) I started thinking about my relationship with God. Am I a maker or a keeper?

Do I initiate friendship with God? Do I seek new ways to know Him? Do I search Him out in His different persons? My friend Lisa, in her book Approaching God, talks about God as Father, Mother, Healer, Guide… but there are many more. Jehovah-Jireh – the Lord our Provider, to just name one. Do I try to get to know Him in that way? 

Or am I a keeper? Do I keep the friendship going in the ways I am used to, tried and tested? Do I keep communicating, through prayer, reading the Bible, keeping company with other friends of His, studying His words?

I suspect I am, often, neither a maker nor a keeper, to different degrees.

This is a friendship more important than any other. One I need to keep. And to nurture.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Gentle encouragement: Approaching God

I’ve known Lisa Borden for over a quarter of a century.  I know, it sounds old. We’re not really. Well, not that much.  Lisa was a really young bride when I first met her. Now you know how old she and I are, middle-aged in years, young at heart, and spiritually – well, Lisa was always the mature one of the two of us.  This friendship – just one of the many Lisa manages to sustain so thoughtfully – has nourished me beyond words.

I was reflecting recently on how gentle Lisa was, all those years ago when we met with our husbands to study the Bible together. She was so patient with this young Christian who really didn’t know much about the Bible at all and certainly not how to live a like a Christian.

Lisa taught – and continues to teach - me a great deal. Back then she taught me, without many words, just by her kind nature and her lifestyle. And now she teaches many others with her words too. Beautiful words, thoughtful words, insightful words.  In her book,  Approaching God.

Now I know a little more than I did then.  I know the Bible better. I have some idea of how to live like a Christian. Sometimes, I feel I actually achieve it for a moment or two.  And sometimes, I can pass on a little of what I learned from Lisa.

So I’m ordering another copy of her book to give to a friend. A friend who longs to know and serve God better. A friend who, through Lisa’s book, will discover God as father, mother, artist, healer, guide...not just head knowledge of God, but discovering God personally. Because Lisa opens up the way to God through metaphor and imagery, in poetry and prose, in pictures and gentle questioning.

This is a bedside book, a being beside me book, a carefully bagged handbag book, a desktop sojourner book. A dip-in, dive-in, delight-in book.

Approaching God.

And yet more...

Ed Cyzewski, as part of Bonnie's Faith jam on encouragement, suggests that encouragement has to be specific - and that we should encourage before being critical.  I had to be specific, so I had to say what a great idea that was!  However, when I started reading the post, my first thought was that even ‘blanket’ encouragement is DEFINITELY better than none at all. But Ed IS right: encouragement needs to be specific or it doesn’t mean anything.
I think building an atmosphere of encouragement has to be a priority, then varying our responses within that. Sometimes a general ‘thanks’ or even just an ‘I love you’ is enough; sometimes it must be for something particular. We humans just love variety!
Then – and only then – can we offer ‘critique’ or suggestions for perhaps doing things differently. Generally, my ‘better’ is the other ‘different’. I really, REALLY need to remember that.

More encouragement - 8 principles from Celebrate Recovery

I've just read these amazing principles over on Katie's blog:

Eight Recovery Principles of Celebrate Recovery based on the Beatitudes 

  1. Realize I’m not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and my life is unmanageable. "Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor."
    Matthew 5:3
  2. Earnestly believe that God exists,that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover. "Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:4
  3. Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control."Happy are the meek." Matthew 5:5
  4. Openly examine and confess my faults to God, to myself and to another person whom I trust. "Happy are the pure in heart." Matthew 5:8
  5. Voluntarily submit to any and all changes God wants to make in my life."Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires." Matthew 5:6
  6. Evaluate all my relationships; offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others when possible, without expecting any reward. "Happy are the merciful" Matthew 5:7 "Happy are the peacemakers"  Matthew 5:9
  7. Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His work for my life and gain the power to do it.
  8. Yield myself to be used by God to bring this good news to others, both by my example and by my words. "Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires." Matthew 5:10

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Feeling invisible...

Bonnie over at Faith Barista has a jam on 'encouragement'. She says 'No matter how old we get or how strong we’ve grown, we can all use encouragement.
We all find ourselves stuck in hard places –
– we wonder if anyone notices.
– we wonder if anyone cares.' 

So yes, I guess I agree that it is at times when I have felt most 'invisible' that encouragement has mattered most to me.
I'm going through a period of invisibility in my workplace at the moment.
I haven't felt encouraged. (Yet. It will happen sometime. Probably - certainly - when I'm not looking for it.)

So it occurred to me, today, just before reading Bonnie's post and all the wonderful comments that followed, that to be encouraged is a little like 'to have a friend, be a friend.' So to be encouraged, I need to actively look for ways of encouraging others. I like to think I do this normally, but when feeling invisible it is just that little bit harder.

So this faith jam has been an encouragement, a prod to get going and encourage others. Great!