arise, shine

There’s a stillness in the morning that I can’t find anywhere else. 
Daniel is up early for work, and I hear his morning routine played out over our wood floors, and the grind of his coffee. I pull my eye mask down over my eyes and roll over, finding a new cool space in our sheets, while I wait for the sound of the front door to signal that he’s leaving. 
I could go back to sleep now; that restless, dreaming sleep that knows the morning bustle is not far away.
But the early stillness beckons, and my thoughts turn to God. 

My socked feet play out their own morning routine as the kettle is boiled, and a tea bag dropped in a mug, all as quietly as I can muster. The kids will have drifted to a lighter sleep now that daylight has almost come, and I need them to stay sleeping for a while longer yet. 

The birds start early, even before I can see any hint of sunlight – how do they know?

My hot tea sits on my lap as I open the pages of my Bible.

Open up before God, keep nothing back;
he’ll do whatever needs to be done:
He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day
and stamp you with approval at high noon.

Quiet down before God, 
be prayerful before him. 
Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder,
who elbow their way to the top.

Psalm 37:5-7

Sometimes, this is my only slow until the evening tea that bookends my day.  My only quiet. 
And it’s not because I love the hustle, but its because there is always so much to be done. 
I can be mindful of my thoughts throughout the day, and stay in that posture of faith but some days it’s impossible to slow my feet. 
Three kids means I’m the one remembering music lessons, basketball training, birthday parties and home reading folders. That I need to get groceries, plan meals, scrub bathrooms and iron school uniforms. 
In busy seasons of women’s ministry my phone never stops ringing or beeping or tweeting, and I don’t find much space to breathe in between meetings and deadlines. 
In the middle of a uni semester I am literally the girl who runs between classes (why must they put them at opposite ends of campus?!) and juggles family with study, assignments and exams. 
I have all the reasons in the day not to slow down, not to stop, to just keep going and getting everything done. 

But mornings, with their fresh clean air, and the sky that slowly lights up the day – that’s when I can be slow. I can linger over the words of Jesus who tells me His burden is easy, and that rhythms of grace are unforced*. I can ask for strength and peace and know that ‘He’ll do what needs to be done’ as I do what I can in this new day I’ve been given. 

Get out of bed, Jerusalem!
    Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight.
    God’s bright glory has risen for you.
The whole earth is wrapped in darkness,
    all people sunk in deep darkness,
But God rises on you,
    his sunrise glory breaks over you.
Isaiah 60 (MSG)

The momentary discomfort of not giving in to sleep is worth it for the peace that follows, the stillness that’s found, the invited quiet – all found before the daily hustle. 

xx

* Matthew 11 (MSG)

thoughts on new growth and heart-soil

Yesterday afternoon the girls and I spent gardening in the front yard, re-potting succulent babies, and topping concrete containers with rich black soil. I had afternoon sun on my back, and dirt under my fingernails as I scooped the damp soil up with my hands, and patted it down around green and growing things. 

I have a little succulent collection that sits by my front door, reminding me to tend them, water them and sprouting wiry stalks and thick spindly leaves. One of these leaves dropped off, unnoticed, until discovered, probably a couple of months later by my eldest daughter. 
The fallen leaf had begun to sprout and create it’s very own plant, and as it’s roots went deeper, the leaf itself had begun to wither. 
Fascinated when I told her the clever ways of these succulents, Eden watched YouTube videos on propagation and began her own little collection. She gently pulled leaves from a variety of plants, laid them out on top of some soil, and has faithfully watered her babies every day. 
The picked-off fronds are beginning to grow new tiny leaves, and send down thread-thin roots all the while beginning to wither themselves. New life, “touched by a tiny bit of death”*

It reminds me of my own growth; that internal change. If I slow down enough, and get close enough, I can see the tiny tiny shoots of newness. But what must die alongside the growth?
What must be done under the cover of rich, dark soil in the depths of my soul?

So much in our world is focused on the outward appearances. 
Our streamlined Instagram accounts, manicured nails, clickbait titles, and marketing campaigns. Everything designed to wow us into comparison, and the facade of perfection. 
In the upside down kingdom of God, what matters is not the outward appearance. 
Jesus’s focus was, and will always be, the condition of our hearts. 
He wants to know if our roots are strong, if the soil is right for the growing, and if, deep down there in the centre of it, there is a home there for Him.
None of which is visible to the human eye. 

We can chase perfection, to the detriment of our souls, or we can choose to remove ourselves from the harried and breathless pace of the world, and breathe in slow.
We can choose to stop worrying about what we look like, and start to focus on what we are like.
I can look good, or I can choose the fruit of goodness. 
I can have a ‘lovely home’ or I can truly spend my days loving others. 
I can fret about what other people think, or I can rest in the true peace that comes from placing far more weight on the opinion of the God who loves me unconditionally.  

When we stop and slow – thrust our hands into the dirt, our toes into beach sand, or our nose into a book – we can start to tend lovingly the new growth in hidden places, and place more emphasis on what is beneath the surface, rather than what is visible. Matthew 13 speaks to us about the soil of our hearts. 

Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.
The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.
The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

Jesus I pray that those reading Your Word today would have tended the soil of their hearts well. That You would help us to focus more on your invisible kingdom, on goodness and faith – and let those things in us that need to die, to wither away to make more room for Your growth. Help us to embrace slow, to breathe in time with Your heartbeat, instead of rushing along in the pace set by the world around us. Give us eyes to see the invisible. Amen.
 

 

*Henri Nouwen

  

beauty for ashes

On Wednesday I sat in the lounge room of a friend I’ve known for almost 20 years. 
She made me coffee, the same way she used to when we were teenagers and although we’ve not seen much of each other over the last handful of years, we were not strangers. 
Reflecting with her on the last two decades of our lives was the greatest gift, but I’ll be real; hindsight can be my greatest burden. Regret soaks into my skin like humid, stifling air. 
I wanted to grab my 17 year old self by the shoulders and shake her until her teeth rattled. 
I wanted to shout at her to dream bigger, and think further!
Sometimes the ache to go back and do things differently is overwhelming. 

And it’s easy to feel stuck with the choices that we made when we were younger, or be continually affected by the past. 
It reminded me of a line in the midst of the Imposition of Ashes; In the midst of life we are in death. 
Dust we are and to dust we shall return.
Life moves so quickly. It makes me dizzy and nauseous. 
It seems just yesterday this best friend and I were listening to Jewel, writing poetry and going to parties. Now, we’re child wrangling, and walking through the beautiful messes of marriage. 
The things we find the most difficult now, were once our hearts greatest desire. This kind of perspective, and wisdom comes from the relentlessness of time. 

And while I know time marches on, and doesn’t still I can be still in it’s midst. 
And when I’m still I begin to realise that the unquenching thirst for what could have been, is really a thirst to know God. 
That the insatiable hunger for the life I once pictured, is actually pointing to an empty place only He can fill. 
And while I am here, trapped in this thing called time, I can slow my soul enough to cease the hustle, forget what lies behind and keep my eyes fixed on what is ahead.

Over this Lent season I want to create in my life a rhythm of depth and slower pace. 
That my focus would be less on doing, and more on seeing, really seeing.
That I would see my shortfalls, and failures and acknowledge my need for Jesus. 
My heart would desire prayer, not platform. Spiritual disciplines would follow the natural ones. 

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. Isaiah 61:3

I believe the Master Craftsman of our lives creates beauty from our grief, from our regrets, from our failure. 
Then He gives us insight to walk the next steps of our journey well, if we stop still enough to listen. 

Lord I pray for those who have lived with regret, and declare their time of mourning over. Crown them with beauty and with joy. Help us to slow our hurried souls and remove the clutter in our hearts and minds, to see clearly and to hear Your voice in the midst of our every day. Help us to embrace slow in a world that scorns it. Amen.

My friend Amanda and I are writing one piece each per week over the season of Lent, to position our hearts towards an embracing of slower living, and spiritual growth. You can read her first post here.  xx

Around here + 2018 goals

I’m a little bit quiet about my resolutions when I make them.
I do make them, but I don’t share them loudly and proudly because, honestly, it means I’ll be accountable. 
Maybe you, reader of this humble blog, will not check in and ask me how those goals are going (or maybe you will? Who knows?) but I’ll know that you know what they are. 
I’ll know that my husband will know that I want to read more books, but he sees me scrolling, and woe unto him if he reminds me of that goal I shared!
And sometimes I don’t really set them for myself, except for a deep hope of just being better
Better at life, at controlling my thoughts, working hard in ministry and motherhood and study and all things in between. 
At the beginning of a new year I always envision me at the end of it – wiser, fitter and more accomplished. 
But I know that the me that’s waiting for me at the end of the year will be the sum of how I spend my hours now. 
And I know that instead of writing myself unachievable goals, which leak shame when they go unfulfilled, I should hold tightly in my hand my priorities for the year.
And let the things that I say yes to be filtered through these priorities. 

It simplifies everything. 
So, although they’ve been unspoken until now, these are what I’ve been filtering some of my yesses and no’s through:
 
FUN: at the end of last year I made a commitment to myself to have fun. To say yes to spontaneous camping trips, to allow myself to let go of routine and control when I need to – fun for my little family of 5, and fun in my own friendships. To say yes to the memory-making, even if it means going to bed late.  

FAMILY: I want to get to know my grandparents better. I want my kids to build relationships with all their great grandparents. And I want to spend more quality time with my immediate family. I have the cutest nieces on the planet – I want to be the aunty they remember being interested in who they are, and their everyday lives. I want to spend quality time together with the five of us – before Mr Highschooler refuses to join us. 

READING: I want to read more. I love to read. I love to read books that expand my spiritual life, and my health and my emotional life. I want to read books that are intelligent and wise and teach me things I didn’t know. I want to invest in books that do that.
But I also want to make time to read fiction again for the pure and unadulterated pleasure it brings. It’s my favourite thing to do.
I need to do more of what fills my soul, without feeling guilty.

RUNNING: I dislike exercise a lot. (Obviously, because, bookworm). But as hard as it is to put my running shoes on and psyche myself up to pound the pavement, once I’m out there, by the ocean, podcast in my ears (I can’t run to music, I need a podcast to take my mind off the pain of exercise!) it’s doing more for my mental and emotional health than my fitness. I feel better about myself, about life. I hear God more clearly. It stills a very whirring and overthinking kind of brain. 
But the fitness thing is a bonus too – defined calve muscles? Yes please. 

WRITING: I want to be here more. To share my heart, to be vulnerable and real and me. Because, regardless of whatever insecurities I have about sharing, writing is the one thing that makes me feel alive, and gives me purpose. One day: books, but for now journals and blog posts. Promising myself I’ll share more in this space (Starting with a Lent series… stay tuned!)

What about you?
Have you set very defined goals for the year? I am always so impressed with those of you who do, and who manage to stick to things for an entire year! 
6 weeks in, only 46 to go. 

xx

thoughts like little trees

I’m currently reading Dr Caroline Leaf’s Switch on Your Brain. 
Slowly.
It’s science, backing up scripture, backing science – and all about our thought life. 

If I’m honest (which I am, always) and vulnerable (which I try my best to be in this space, despite how difficult it can be!) I thought I had my thought-life under control as much as I could, but there was a part of me that resigned myself to the fact that I was always going to struggle with darkness in my mind.
Over the years I’ve struggled with crippling insecurity, shyness, and the tired (yet very effective) tirade of thoughts about myself that kinda sound a lot like ‘you’re not good enough’ ‘no one likes you’ ‘he only stays with you out of obligation’ ‘he wishes you were more like that other girl’ ‘you’re not exceptional, only average – if you’re lucky’ ‘don’t even bother trying, it won’t be good enough’  – not to mention all the ones that point out physical flaws. Blah.
Then, as well as those mean thoughts, I was using my imagination to hurt myself.
My husband would go to work and I would concoct stories in my mind that felt so real, about where he really was and who he was really with and I sowed all sorts of suspicion and resentment into our marriage. 
I knew I was being silly, but I couldn’t stop. It was ugly.
It’s crazy how much this toxic thinking affected my confidence in who I am, and who I’m called to be, not to mention how it affected my relationships!
I even questioned the authenticity of my relationship with God because surely I couldn’t be living life as a Christian, yet still be in a place where toxic thoughts reigned supreme in my mind so often.

Then, I started fighting. I knew what the Bible said about renewing my mind, and thinking only on things that are pure and lovely, and taking every thought captive and lining them up with God’s thoughts… but I’d never really been intentional in putting them into practice. 
But I knew I couldn’t go on the way I was, my thoughts were making me sick with worry and anxiety and anger and cynicism. 
I started by using car rides on the way to uni and back to pray and speak out the opposite of what I’d actually be thinking.
I started to cut those thoughts off when they came and say (often out loud!) NO I’m not going to think that.
I started doing all the things anyway, even when the thoughts would come and tell me that someone else could do it better. 
I used every ounce of strength I had to pull up my big girl panties and refuse to believe the lies that felt like they’d wormed deep into my brain and would never go away.

Of course, I still have moments where doubt comes. But I’ve learned not to let it stay.
And this book? Reminds me that although I’ve come so far, there’s hope for so much more.
“For now, rest in the assurance that what God has empowered you to do with your mind is more powerful and effective than any medication, any threat, any sickness, or any neurological challenge” – Dr Caroline Leaf
We can consciously, with our own free will, change and direct our own thinking and wire out toxic thoughts. 
With those thoughts, we allow them to permeate into our brains and actual little branches grow and make connections with other little branches. That you can see. IN YOUR BRAIN. What?!! 

I love the idea that there are tiny little trees in our brains, and I can grow them green and healthy, just by refusing to think toxic thoughts, and replacing those thoughts with good ones. 

So, here’s to not believing lies, to thinking good thoughts – I think they will shine out of your face like sunbeams (Roald Dahl, you legend). Lets refuse to live small lives in doubt and disillusionment. Here’s to switching on our brains.

x

life stories | kane & leish

The other day someone introduced me to a friend as a photographer.
“Hey, this is my friend Em, she’s a photographer.”
Firstly my head immediately corrected them inside. “Writer. I’m a writer,” it said silently.
Secondly, when I think of a ‘real’ photographer I think of incredibly technical photos which are then photoshopped and edited to look absolutely incredible.
When I take photos that’s not what I do. 
I want the images that I capture to tell a story. 
In each photo I want personality to jump out. I want the love the subjects have for each other to be evident. I want touch and laughter and silly faces because one day that family will grow up, kids will grow older, and they’ll have these incredible unposed snapshots in time – where they were in the moment loving each other, being annoyed by each other and sharing life together. 
I tell stories. 
And the greatest privilege of wielding my camera is being allowed a glimpse into the lives of others. 

Kane and Leish let me in. I was a fly on the wall for a little while, watching and reminiscing the beautiful mess that is life with tiny people. It wasn’t hard to let those three little personalities shine through into each shot. It wasn’t hard to capture the love between the couple who’ve birthed four babies in a handful of years.
There was so much peace, and grace and sweetness. 
Her children will rise up and call her blessed. 
Watching a story unfold before me and then being able to give back a handful of memories is my favourite. 

xx

 

you do you

Last week I had dinner with longtime besties. 
We’ve been doing dinners together for over a decade.
When I tell Daniel, “I’ve got a girls dinner this Friday night” he knows straight away which girls and asks who’s turn it is to host. 
I wish we had a better name for them than ‘girls dinners’ but they are what they are, and they are wonderful.

We sat in front of a fire with mugs of mulled wine, and ate way too much baked feta and sourdough, and soup and apple crumble and vanilla ice-cream. I was so full it hurt and I lazed back in a big armchair that hugged me with its arms, holding onto my tea. 
Our conversations are easy. We’ve known each other for so long, everything we say is understood in context. 
One conversation though, flowed through my mulled-wine-softened brain without too much thought until the next day. We’d talked about comparison, and I was surprised that it wasn’t just me.
We’re all in different seasons both of motherhood, career and ministry. 
When I look at the lives of my friends I see success, and contentment.
When I look at mine it’s hard not to see so far from where I need to be. 

When I look at them, and what they’re doing with their lives I think You are enough. You are amazing. 
But when I look at mine I so frequently think not quite there yet. Try harder. Do more. Be different than what you are. Not good enough.

And I realised after our full-bellied conversation that it’s the human condition.
Our fallen nature causes us to feel like we are not enough – and always assume the lives that other people are living are better, more fulfilling, more adventurous and much easier than ours. 

This semester it was hard not to feel a little pang of envy when I saw friends work on creative fun exploits, or make amazing career moves, or take their families overseas. I was running women’s events at our church like a crazy person, and writing essays like mad. 
When I dwelled on what someone else was doing for too long, I started to resent what I had to do.
Which was nuts, because I happen to love running women’s events and I am closet-nerd and I really love studying English Literature. So why was I starting to become discontent?!
Because I thought I’d be happier doing someone else, instead of doing me.
A phrase I’ve been pondering on though lately is this:

YOU DO YOU.

How do you do you?

It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, or what their life looks like, theirs is not your lane. 
You run in yours.

Cheer them on, and then shift your eyes to the front, put your head forward and work hard at what’s in front of you.

When I made the effort to shift my thinking, my attitude changed. 
How deeply grateful I feel to lead our women’s ministry!
How accomplished I feel that I’m diligent at uni, getting closer to my degree. 
How blessed we are to have almost paid off the credit card, even if it meant no holidays for a little while. 

And while I love social media, sometimes “doing me” means I need to stop scrolling for a little while so that I have enough headspace to realise that this life I live is actually a wonderful gift and one I don’t want to waste by drowning in comparison. 

You do you sister. 

xx
 

 

the every day in colour

One cold morning this week my kitchen was humming with the everyday. 
The heater was on and the kitchen blinds were pulled up high, letting in the sunshine and revealing dewy green grass and blue skies. 
The kids were dressed for school, one was eating weet-bix with honey, another was finishing the lunch packing, and Daniel was helping the other with some maths homework. 
The kitchen was finally almost clean and I was being called upon to brush hair and create braids. 
As my pink-gloved hands finished the last of the dishes I felt gratitude settle deep in my bones. 
This is it
These moments, this every day activity, these people. 
They were my dream and it’s now realised and I don’t think I acknowledge it enough.

Sometimes the dream comes dressed in hard work. The marriage relationship comes and it requires laying down of lives and the giving of forgiveness. The children come with challenges of sleepless nights as babies and then requests for social media when they get older.

I know how to acknowledge the difficulty, and the waiting, the hoping – the hard stuff that is inevitably a part of anything we do in life. But what about the recognition of the goodness that has been woven together in your life. What about the realisation that what you had hoped for and dreamed of was actually really here? 

Sometimes it doesn’t look the way we expected it to. And it’s definitely harder work than we thought it would be. But it’s here, it’s realised. Okay so maybe not all of it… but there are definitely aspects of your life that you can high five yourself – you made it, it’s brilliant, life is in this vivid colour and it is yours and you should totally celebrate! 

xx

journal | end of year reflections

It’s the time of year where I start looking forward to a new beginning. Reflecting on the old and ready to usher in the new, the fresh, the clear and the promising. Something in me wrestles to not let another year go by without taking steps towards the things I’ve put on hold. 
This year in particular has been very full.
Bustling and busy, I studied full time in the first semester and I spent a lot of time juggling this with ministry, and family.
Chewing over this year though, I realised I have been letting my yesses to some good things prevent me from being able to say yes to the best things.* The things on my heart. The things that will take guts and intention, planning and hard work.
Because this: good planning and hard work lead to prosperity.** I need to do the hard work part.
I can plan, and write lists and draw mind-maps like a boss. But I am not so good at the doing. 
I’m great at dreaming and envisioning.
But my steps are slow and my mind overthinks and my perfectionist self hesitates in case what is produced is not good enough.
I am not great at shitty first drafts. ***
I am not great at putting it out there if it’s flawed.
I am not great at keeping myself accountable. 
I get discouraged quickly.
Apathy is all too familiar… and is the absolute enemy to the life I know I’m called to live.
Full and bustling and bursting, yes. Yet settled and still and resting in grace.

Maybe I have to hustle to fill in the gaps. Hustle to avoid procrastination… and then the rest comes in the real doing, the graced doing. Maybe there’s a hustle to get to the grace?

And this time of year I’m pressing in to work it out. 
Waiting for the answers to the unanswered questions. 
Believing for completion of the untied ends and frayed edges.
Hoping to finish strong, but still feeling weak and needy and unsure.

For now, I’ll write more lists, and scribble more dreams with the hope that He writes on my heart, and breathes in His purpose.
Because the new year is beckoning, just like He is.

xx

* John C. Maxwell
** Proverbs 21:5
*** Anne Lamott
 

[If you are wanting to do some real retreating + reflecting I’d strongly encourage you to download Amanda Viviers’ New Year Vision Book – it’s free!]

journal | settle you down

I can recognise when it’s coming, now.  Almost like I can hear it’s near-silent footsteps or pick up the familiar scent, or I’m aware of the almost imperceptible prickling under my skin. Overwhelm.

When it creeps in unnoticed, so too do the thoughts that don’t belong there. The ones that point at the circumstances and smugly lift an eyebrow, don’t even bother trying, you’re not good enough. You can’t do this.

I started to feel it too, a bit of the overwhelm, and wondered if indeed I could do all the things that seemingly stood, large and intimidating like mountains in front of me. I couldn’t focus, I didn’t even know where to begin, squirmed inwardly and outwardly too. 

But then my heart was stilled, reminded of the verse that says lead me to the rock that is higher than I. * 

I looked at the time, dropped what I was doing and made an appointment with Peace.
The beach was completely empty but for the seagulls and I could see so clearly to the islands over the stretch of incredible blue. And instead of allowing the overwhelm a place in my heart or the thoughts a place in my mind, I pounded the sand as I pounded out my prayers. Refusing to let feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy become bigger than my faith. 

It’s amazing what happens when we lift our eyes. It’s amazing what happens when we cast our cares. “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”**

Christ displaces worry. I know it doesn’t make sense, but it’s truth. And yes, the circumstances I pounded out prayers about were still there when I arrived back to the part of the beach where I started – but the overwhelm wasn’t.
Because there’s a peace the the mind can’t understand that comes when you just lay it all before Him and let your heart settle down.

xx

* Psalm 61:2
** Philippians 4:6-7 The Message Paraphrase