Monday, 27 November 2017

The courage to rise up

I recently celebrated my birthday and, as I often do, I asked Holy Spirit for a word for this new year. As He always does, I got one! Over these last few months, I have been applying to jobs and trying to find a new pathway. It has been a challenging journey of trying, not succeeding, standing up and dusting myself off to try again.

God says "Rise up into your identity". This is the time to be who He has made me to be, not who I believe I should be. Rising up is not standing up, dusting myself off and persevering through trials. In fact, that has been my "identity" for many years. I persevere. I wait patiently. I hope and don't give up. I have faith that doesn't waver (even though it does, at times). But now my identity needs to be in who God has made me to be.

Courage to rise up can take many forms. For you, it may be the need to persevere or to be resilient in the face of challenge. For you, it could be the strength to speak up when it is easier to stay silent (I deal with that one regularly). For me, it is courage to wear a Mantle of Freedom and to be released into the fullness of who I am without apology.

I used to allow others to speak into my identity and form how I felt about myself. That changed when my husband entered my life because he started to show me the golden aspects of who I was. He loved me unconditionally. Now that constant love has gone in one sense, but God's constant love is still here. I know that can be a "Sunday School answer" which sounds right but doesn't translate into real experience. This is the moment to stop and ask God to make His constant love a Real Thing that you can feel in the most essential part of your being. Don't wait and think about it. Do it right now!

Hebrews 12:2 continues to be a life verse for me. Throw off everything that hinders, sin that entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us. But don't forget that Jesus did that for the joy ahead of him. That is what I want to focus on too. Joy is not (often) in duty. Don't read that wrong! Duty and responsibility are still important and must be part of an adult's life. But joy comes from the Lord and brings strength.

So why this photo? A friend tells me that finding feathers is sometimes an indicator of a holy presence. I found this huge white feather outside my door on a day when everything seemed a struggle. Those days are the ones that we most need to know the Lord is here and is watching over us. Psalm 91 says he will cover you with his feathers. Isaiah 40 famously says we will rise up on wings like eagles when we wait upon the Lord.

Let that be your goal, your song and your mantle today.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Reflections on fruitfulness

In the last year, I have been going through a number of interviews trying to find another position. Although it is a good thing that I am at least getting interviews, it has been discouraging to be rejected over and over again. I do not want to return to a place of rejection and discouragement. I want to rise up in faith to receive the New Thing that God is forming in me.

As I was journaling a few days ago, it dawned on me that I have often had the words "things just don't work out for me" in my mind even before the interview. Exploring this a bit further brought me to a specific difficult time my husband and I faced when our plans to be missionaries fell through. We had planned and prepared and prayed. We had the blessing of two churches and were in submission to leaders in the mission organization. In many ways, we had done everything "right". But it still didn't work out. The process of walking that out was extremely hard on us as a couple. It hit our marriage and our relationship faltered. But what I didn't anticipate was the lasting effects of the failure.

Now, looking back, there is a deeper pattern of barrenness that has been in place a long time. In many contexts fruitfulness has evaded me. But today is the day of new beginnings. This is what the mantle of freedom is for. God showed me that barrenness is overcome by declaring fruitfulness. Rather than ignoring a situation and hoping for the best, it is better to address it directly. That is my learning in this season.

Just to be clear, I do NOT believe that barrenness contributed in any way to my husband's death. However, it did have a certain impact on our marriage, our abilities as parents and now my ability to launch out into the next New Thing.

Psalm 34:8-9 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Living to dream

A few weeks ago, I had a prophetic dream. Now this isn't the sort of thing I typically experience, just in case you are wondering. I woke up fully aware of all the details from the dream, and proceeded to understand what it meant. God was speaking to me very clearly and it was so unexpected that it could have only been Him.

I won't go into all the details, but I was taken back to the time after my father's death when I was 9. I saw a room in our house which was full of his stuff. I had never seen this room before; it was completely full of things that I had never seen before or not seen in a long time. There were a few things that were significant:

1. The walls were lined with books, and I started looking at different ones. Some were his and some I hadn't seen in a long time. In fact, I wondered where they had gone. One book I picked up and decided to take with me: it was about crafts. God spoke to me about my creative activity - allowing it to be for an outlet alone and not having to be practical or worthwhile in some way.

2. There was an Oscar the Grouch doll in the room. I remember thinking that it must have been for my (younger) brother and then my dad never got to give it to him because dad died before he could. However, later on, God showed me that Oscar the Grouch represented a label I'd been given as a child when I sulked or emotions boiled over as a child. The doll was new and unused because Oscar the Grouch isn't who I am, and it isn't needed anymore. Even if others think of me that way, it is not me. Not anymore!

3. In the centre of the room was a racetrack for toy cars. It was on a bed of foam to cushion it and straighten it out. God showed me that this was to represent my mind. He wants to get my moving again, to revive my ability to dream and build passion for things. It isn't a race, it isn't about speed. But it IS about movement. A race track doesn't go anywhere, but movement is important.

Out of this dream, God showed me how He wants to revive my ability to dream. Like a toy racetrack, he wants the juices to flow again, the movement to start. He wants me to bring creativity into my life again and dare to leave behind old tags that don't fit me any longer. I had not thought about my ability to dream or experience passion for anything. But it has not been a feature of my life in my adult years. Even having fun has been a challenge for me!

Is this like you? Do you need God to inject juice into your passions that lead to dreams? He will not fail to provide.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Taking and possessing the land

This may be a little off topic, but I've just been through a work wringer this week. I applied for three jobs and was interviewed five times. As a union member, I was interviewed as an internal candidate before the job could be posted externally. My current manager was the hiring manager for two out of three jobs. I was qualified for two out of three jobs, and for the other one, I knew I didn't have enough experience. However, I was not selected for any of the jobs, even those I was qualified for. When I went to the last interview, I honestly thought I did well. I felt like I had answered every question to the best of my ability. It came as a surprise to me that I wasn't selected.

The long and the short of it is that I was advised to consult the union because it doesn't make sense that I wasn't selected for at least one of those jobs. The union looked at my case, and recommend that I file a grievance. Because the grievance would be against my current manager, who I would have to work with regardless of the position I'm in, I am VERY reluctant to rock the boat. However, that then leaves me with the need to let the whole thing pass and receive it passively.

My manager tends to know what she wants and knows how to get it. I also know that she will have a strong case for why she didn't offer me a position. It will seem ironclad. And I know that to cross her will put me even more in the cross hairs than I am now.
But to not be offered it because of my performance and to get it because I've grieved it through the union seems less than satisfactory to me. I want to be acknowledged by the manager as competent for the job.

In the midst of it all, a few important things have come up:

1. Take possession of the land
I read a passage in Deuteronomy and then started reading the book Joshua as well. God intended Israel to have the land of Canaan, but they had to enter in with confidence, fight with God on their side and utterly defeat those who lived in the land. It wasn't a done deal. They had to work and they had to be brave.

2. Ask for your inheritance
Caleb and Joshua were the only two of twelve spies who could see past the intimidating tribes dwelling in the land. God promised them both a special inheritance because of their faith and vision. In Joshua 14:10-12 it says “'Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day.'"
Joshua didn't walk into Canaan and immediately say to Caleb: "Hey! here is your land!". Caleb approached and asked for what was promised to him.

3. Don't be silenced
This has been a lesson for me over years. I am often driven to silence because the enemy wants me that way. My words are powerful! Whether I'm singing in worship and praise or speaking out and proclaiming what is true, I am cutting through the enemy's constant barrage of accusation. I am also lifting up the Lord Jesus and bringing freedom (because the truth sets you free).
Ps 30:10-12 says "Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever."

I am afraid, but I know that God is telling me to follow through the process and trust Him to walk with me. I have walked through so much worse than this! And I have come through. I know it will be hard and it could be very stressful yet, but I also know that I must take a stand and seize hold of my inheritance.

Maybe this job isn't my inheritance. The Gadites and Reubenites asked for the lush hill country outside the Promised Land. It was granted to them under the condition that they would stay and fight with the rest of the nation to take the land across the Jordan. They did this, and then they were released to return to their lands in peace.

So, it may be that I fight this battle and end up in another place entirely. I am open to what God has for me, but I need to be closed to the silencing and restriction of this manager for her own reasons.

Monday, 18 July 2016

The rise of anxiety (again)

Yesterday I heard a message about fear and anxiety. It was great. I made notes. Then today - WHAM! I am having an anxiety attack. :-( Let's put into motion some of the things I learned:

Some days I'm afraid of the future. It isn't going to look like it did with my husband, I know that. But I'm afraid of falling in love with someone who isn't who he says he is (maybe I've been watching too many movies, but I know people who have jumped in haste and then it all unraveled. I don't want that!).

I am afraid of the day my daughter leaves home and I'm alone. I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

I am afraid of failing (I just had a job interview - I've had four interviews in the last few weeks, and so far I haven't gotten one of the jobs). I'm afraid of the unknown, the What If?, the phone call. I am overthinking and feeling ashamed of myself for not being organized. I felt scattered, not confident. I had notes with me, but didn't consult them. Maybe I won't have an opportunity to get any of the jobs I've applied for because I'm not good enough, just not enough.

I am afraid of new people and the energy it takes to make new friends. Am I the only one who feels this way? Even if I am, it's still not something God wants for me.

This could be the hardest question to answer, but the picture explains it. Imagine fear like a hill or small mountain. It does build up, and before you know it, you are surrounded. Like this photo from Hobbiton, I'm living in the hill with anxiety and fear over and around me. This is not where I live, but I have built it up around me so it feels like there is no escape.

I can tell you that I don't have to be afraid of anything. I can quote chapter and verse from the Bible and tell you all manner of reasons why God will take care of me if I just trust Him... that wonderful phrase that so many Christians use to make each other feel guilty for not trusting enough (whatever that means).

I am afraid because I haven't been soaking in God's presence, I tried to go it alone today, because I am not hearing from Him, or just because I am imagining things without God in it.

I have a quotation from Toby Mac on my bulletin board: Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and think of what could go right.
I need that heart and that mindset right now.

This is the part where I realize that I don't know. However, if I do know, then I need to speak it out and dispel the gloom.
This morning, I read a passage from Deuteronomy 1:21 "See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

I also have felt certain when the Lord is convicting me of something because it's clear and certain. Nebulous, vague fear like this is not from God. Fear and trembling before the Lord is not the same as being gripped with fear and trembling (like something from outside is taking you by the shoulders and shaking you).

Fear can be so debilitating. Anxiety is the foreboding, the anticipation of bad things. But love casts out all fear. Anxiety ends when we give it all to God in prayer (do not be anxious about anything, but in everything present your petitions and requests to God). That's what this message said (amongst other things): fear is dispelled by love. At the very root of it, if we do not feel the love of God, there is a lot that is lacking.

I will set my feet on a rock (a firm place to stand, out of the miry clay) and a new song will come forth from my mouth (Ps. 40).
I will rest under the shelter of His wings (Ps. 91).
I will be strong and courageous. Where I set my feet, will be my possession. God will be with me wherever I go(Joshua 1).

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God! (Ps 62).

God's P.S.

You didn't fail today. You are fearful that you aren't enough because that is the way you feel. However, that is not what I say to you. What I always say to you is that you are enough! You are more than enough because I am within you, and you do well. You may feel that you went into the interview without me, but that's not true. You prayed before you went and acknowledged that you were trying in your own strength. Then you asked me to fill you and be with you there, so I was. Despite the fact that you felt scattered, you still provided answers to the questions which were clear and relevant. You should get another interview because you are a strong candidate. You just need to see yourself as a strong candidate. In every single interview that you have had, your self-perception has been a deciding factor. Don't let your self-perception override what I know to be true about you! I am far less critical of you than you are of yourself. It is something I am keen for you to change. Begin to see yourself with conviction and acceptance.

Your future is taking place one day at a time. To fall into a bad relationship or a bad marriage happens over time. It's a gradual and ongoing decision to move forward with something that I would be telling you is wrong. I wouldn't stay silent for long if I wasn't keen. I would always give you and him a chance to make it work, but I wouldn't let it continue if it was wrong for either of you. Know that I am capable of making myself heard.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The collision course with disaster

I had a dream the other night. My husband was driving the car, and we were on the highway, going the speed limit. The only problem was that we were going the wrong way and other cars were coming toward us, also at the speed limit. I remember the feeling of terror because I knew he wasn't drunk or in a medical state. He was "aware", yet he was taking us on this dangerous journey. I was also completely helpless: he was driving.

When I do dream about my husband, it's rarely a happy memory. It's often a new situation like this one. But, unusually for me, I wondered what this meant. God showed me how out of control I felt in the choices that made me a widow. (I acknowledge that suicide is not a rational choice made by a rational mind, but a reaction to deep pain and the result of mental illness). This was my life: going at full speed toward oncoming cars, and having absolutely no ability to stop it from happening.

Recently, my daughter was required to write a piece for a slam poetry competition at school. She chose to write about her own life - the life she had with her birth mother, being put in foster care, being adopted, her sister leaving the adoptive home and her dad dying from suicide. She chose to read her poem aloud to her classmates (all in grade 8 - aged 13 and 14), and some adults. Some people were tearful as they listened to her story.

So far, she has not shared it with me. She says that she doesn't want to make me cry because I lived through some of these things. However, I am so very proud of her for taking this step and working out her own collision course dream in her conscious world. For my daughter, especially, disclosing herself and revealing personal details to her peers has been near impossible. But as she has journeyed to more stability and security in her life, she has been able to open more and fear less.

Ironically, as I become more silent about my feelings and less apparently "grieving", she is now processing her own feelings about the many losses she has experienced.

This photo was taken in my husband's home town. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, and a place he loved deeply. Going there felt like a collision course for me. I anticipated a whole lot of emotion and a whole lot of tears, but when the time came, it was just fine.

In the four years since his death, I have stood in many places that were special to him and to both of us, and this ended up being no more significant than any other place. It just happened to be a lot farther away from my home! Although my daughter appreciated the significance of these places, they were not emotional touchpoints for her either.

And, while we're talking about it, I was really disturbed that none of my husband's family seemed to want to mention his name or tell us stories about him or really anything to do with him at all. I came away feeling like I am the only one who really holds him dear now, who remembers him or misses him. His family appears to be just living their lives.

Admittedly, his mother (who died from suicide about 20 years ago) would have been a different story.

Back to my dream: there is a subconscious need to continue to process the emotions that remain. In a few days it will be our wedding anniversary and once again he is not here to celebrate, nor is her here to participate in the loving relationship I miss so much. I don't ever want to stir up my feelings and make myself feel a certain way (either to increase or suppress emotion). It has to be authentic. But, at the same time, I am so aware that my life has moved on and so has everyone else's. There is nothing new or relevant I can say about my loss that anyone else would want to hear (or so I think).

But the Lord hears my cry. Every single one of them falls upon His ears and He has always kept me safe. That is my lifeline, my saving grace and my emotional satisfaction. The relationship I have with His presence is everything I need. I just need to be more in touch with the needs as they arise.

Monday, 25 April 2016

A moment of pause

(photo: Rob Ward)

I have developed a new skill. I can pause. I can put grief out of my mind and let my life now rise up. Perhaps loss has been accommodated in my mind, or perhaps I've accepted this terrible reality. Perhaps the deep wounds his death made are starting to heal. It may be evident from the fact that I've hardly touched this blog in the last year! I am moving on from the need to express my thoughts over and over and over.

For a long time I resisted the idea of this pause because I did not want to be disloyal to my husband, or move away from the life we shared, the love I felt (and still feel). I still understand that resistance. But, at the same time I want the pause. I am learning to live again.

Very shortly after the death of my husband, I was told about the day in the future when I wouldn't think about him all the time. On that day, I would realize that I hadn't thought about him or missed him. Then it would gradually increase. He would fade to a pleasant memory. This is the way that it goes, or that it SHOULD go. It is natural. At the same time, it is hard to imagine moving someone who has been part of the very fabric of my being (at the risk of sounding melodramatic) to being a piece of furniture or a knick knack I dust occasionally.

Because my husband's death was a suicide, I have struggled (and continue to struggle) with memories. They are clouded by the violence of his death and the end of his life. He chose, it wasn't something he resisted. That is with me a lot.

But now, I can pause.

I went away with a friend in March, and there are a few photos which show me in a position of true joy. My face looks happy, my burden seems to have lifted. For my friend, who has walked through this with me, it was wonderful to see me looking so released and happy. But for me, it was a turning point.

At one stage, God told me I would feel ready to move on before I was ready. He meant that I would want to enter into a new relationship (with a man) or to embrace new things in my life that I'm not quite ready for yet. It is like this with any recovery, I think. The recovery seems to be progressing well and then it reaches a point where it becomes a bit tedious, or even boring. At that stage it can be almost dangerous for the patient to do too much physically.

I have tried a few new things and launched myself out a little bit, but I still sense caution. I am nervous, and not ready to be exposed. At the same time, I am impatient for new things and newness. And, frankly, I may have let the boat out a bit early on actually feeling grief and allowing mourning to take place. At times I am almost doggedly calm and cheerful when, maybe, it would be better to be a bit more needy, a bit more sad.

God says to try new things, but not to venture far from Him. That is the most important thing.