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

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!]

just try again

Its the first of the month today, almost the middle of spring.
And although springtime brings a freshness and newness, and anticipation of the holidays, it can also feel like a hard slog. 
It’s the end of the year, and weariness has set in. 
The high hopes we had at the beginning of the year for this to be the year, or the goals we’d set to lose the weight, make the change, take the holiday, grow the business, have a baby… maybe those things didn’t eventuate the way we thought they would and disappointment is lurking. 

When I wrote last week’s post, I got my brave on. I shared the link on Facebook, I invited people to follow along. And when so many people did I wanted to simultaneously break out in dance, and bury my blushing and embarrassed head under a heavy blanket… and then those anti-writing voices hit even harder.
Once again, Elizabeth Gilbert’s words broke down the walls of fear I was constructing.  
“The image of the tragic artist who lays down his tools rather than fall short of his impeccable ideals holds no romance for me. I don’t see this path as heroic. I think it’s far more honourable to stay in the game – even if you’re objectively failing at the game – than to excuse yourself from participation because of your delicate sensibilities.”

So I knew I needed to get writing. Before I gave that bully in my head another chance to throw down more doubts. And I did what I usually do when I feel like I’m empty of inspiration, or anything of value to say. I quietened myself. I prayed. 
And listening to to that Still Small Voice I heard the words try again
I am, I said on the inside.
And the more I listened, the more I realised those words were not just for me. 
They’re to be shared. Because maybe one of you reading needs to hear them whispered.
Maybe you need some courage… because you quit, or you really really want to quit. 

But I think there is a tribe with a flicker of hope, that needs to hear that they can finish what they started, or start what they dreamed long ago, or allow themselves to re-set goals.
Because maybe we failed or maybe we quit or maybe we’ve never been brave enough to start because it didn’t work the last time – to you fellow hopers and dreamers I want to say this:

try again

Just try again. 
I’m in your corner, and I’m cheering you on, because regardless of how brave we don’t feel, we can take brave steps anyway. We can stay in the game. 

If I can keep trying, you can. And this month I’ll lay it all bare.
Fears, failures, whatever it is that stops us from trying. 
I’ll write here every day. [Something I’ve actually always failed at.] 
And I’m telling you this because whether or not I succeed or fail, I’d hope that it would at least inspire you to try.

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish*

Lets go.

xx

* Philippians 1:6