Easter Sunday

On this most special of weekends, I have been reading one of my favourite poets – George Herbert. And with doom, anxiety and worry permeating much of my news feed this week, I settled on this beautiful reminder of Who is actually in charge.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
And to remind me even more, I took my camera out on our beach walk this morning.
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When the desert blooms

Quick update!

The last time I posted I said I was in a Schrodinger’s cat position – maybe I would end up with a job and maybe not. And now the box is opened and I find myself walking down a path that I did not envision at  the beginning of this process

I don’t think I would have ended in this new stage of productivity and energy if I hadn’t been in a place of being able to listen and take the time to really think about the implications.

I am now three weeks into my role as Office Manager at an amazing organisation called The Parenting Place – Christian-based  non-profit supporting NZ families in the ultimately rewarding but sometimes scary  adventure of raising children into adults.

It’s funny how God overrides your idea of what you would like to do. I was determined that I would work close to home and here I am getting up at 5:30am every day to beat the traffic as I drive across the city.

I was adamant I didn’t want to work full-time and yet I am working Monday to Friday

I vowed I would never work in an open plan office and now I sit overseeing a totally open plan space.

And I am loving it!

The job is wide ranging and challenging and at the moment my head hurts trying to take in all of the areas of my role, but I am so happy. I come home exhausted but feeling that  I have made a difference. My role  supports the work our teams do as they influence families, schools, churches and communities. What a privilege.

Of course this comes at no small sacrifice. I am needing to re-shape the rhythms of my life at the moment. I would like to keep this blog going – and will aim for once a week, maybe twice once I am more organised!

I am having to consciously carve out the precious time with those I love, especially with my grandchildren; time that I have taken for granted for the past couple of years.

Spare time is now again precious and not to be squandered. Time for me has to be actively sought. Space for creativity needs to be scheduled or it won’t happen.

And all of this is OK.  I feel that I have made this decision from a position of strength and most certainly not on a whim. I will also watch and listen carefully  to relationships around me as ultimately they are still my priority, and adjust accordingly.

On a side note, ironically I have decided to re-connect on FB early as I think my desert time has served its purpose and I now need to use all avenues to stay connected. I definitely feel differently about Facebook after my time away and will use it slightly differently accordingly.

So as Lent draws towards Easter, I am not wandering aimlessly out of the desert and the wilderness picking up things exactly where I left them, but walking purposefully and somewhat joyfully into an unexpectedly new phase.

 

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Decisions in the desert

A week in of no Facebook and all is well. I have missed some of it, although  not the sensationalist posts I have been reading since November. (I know they are still there, I just don’t get to read them). I definitely have a sense of being isolated in some way, in some good way.I know there are announcements I have missed, celebrations I don’t know about and even some sadnesses I could have been part of. On the whole though, this has been a good experience so far.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I have been presented with an exciting possibility in this last week and having the extra thinking space has been great. While it had been a blessing to have not worked for this year, I must confess I was starting to struggle with a tiny bit of a ‘what should I be doing with my life’ feeling. I am not old enough to retire, and so I had been half-heartedly keeping an eye on the job notifications in my inbox. I applied for a couple but then one came along that really piqued my interest – an excellent Christian organisation that works to provide parents with resources and tools in raising their children  was looking for a PA, so I applied for it and got an interview.

The interview went well – but I didn’t get the job. However they said they really liked me and that there was another position that they would love me to apply for. So I did. It was a little out of my comfort zone in terms of experience but I decided to lean in (as Sheryl Sandberg would encourage me to do).

The interview was on Monday – went for nearly two hours (which I’m taking as a good sign). They are advertising internally but have asked me if they can follow up my references.

So I’m in a bit of  a Schrodinger’s cat situation. This time next week I might have an offer of a full-time position, or I might be carrying on as I started the year. I veer between feeling excited and terrified. Full-time, back to an office, being accountable for my time, no sleep-ins, or long breakfasts, less hanging out with my gorgeous grandkids. Not having Facebook to conveniently use to avoid really thinking abut how this might work has been fantastic and a little challenging. I have had to really really think about whether I want this or not. No avoidance technique available means I have been forced to confront my fears and aspirations.

I have prayed that I will only be offered the job if it is the very best thing to do, as I am nearly  decided if I am offered it I will take it. I know God gives us choices in our life path, but I really want this one to be a Plan A route as it will mean a lot of changes.

I don’t really think it’s a coincidence that this has come up while I am spending time making room for God over the Lent period. I’m not sure I would have been in the right space to consider this properly if I was running around filling myself with noise. I now know I may be walking out of the desert carrying something I didn’t take in with me, or I may come out empty handed. Either way I will have gone through an important process. I feel surprisingly relaxed about the outcome either way and I think that means I am walking in the right direction.

 

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Back into the desert

Tuesday  marked the beginning of the season of Lent. March 1 – first day of autumn for us here in NZ, which is a nice seasonal change for the start of a period of reflection. Last year I followed the practice of Lent for the first time, even though I have been a Christian for many many years. The ‘modern’ church in NZ has only very recently begun to re-assimilate some of these practices and our current church doesn’t follow the more traditional church calendar, but I found it a very worthwhile discipline.

In doing so, I found a great app called Into the Desert. Focusing on the writings of the ancient desert fathers and mothers, I found it both challenging and enriching. I was delighted to see that they  have a 2017 version, so I am using this as my focus again this year.

I  have also taken things one step further this year and have gone off Facebook for the Lent period.  I though about cutting out all news feeds but to be honest there is too much of import going on in the world at the moment and I didn’t want to emerge in 6 weeks’ time  to find myself in a totally foreign landscape!

I thought about Instagram as well but I have a different relationship with Instagram so have decided (for this year at least)  that I will remain on that feed. Messenger is the way we communicate with our son and his girlfriend in the UK (and ironically how our worship team communicates) so that has to stay as well. Fortunately, I can go straight there without going through Facebook first. I had no idea that this would be a complicated process but I am finding there are many tendrils that spiral out from Facebook (even sharing these posts usually.) These might sound like compromises but I did think very carefully about the parameters of what I wanted to do and why.

I have read lots of blog posts and news article about how the pros and cons of, for want of a better word “fasting” social media for Lent. Turns out it’s something lots of people have  very strong opinions on. For me, it just felt like the right thing to do, and does send me into a social media desert. I definitely feel as though I am disconnected in some way form what it is going on. It has made me very aware (as opposed to saying it but not really thinking about it) of how much of our life, or more so the communication of it now seems to be conducted on social media.

Sad confession – I’m a very regular Facebook user –  it’s how I keep in touch with many people and I love seeing various posts, the news, the gossip, the silly quizzes, and to be honest the outrageously stupid things people post on a regular basis!  So it will be a challenge, but only two days in, I have noticed a difference. Having to consciously stop my  almost mindless habit of jumping onto Facebook while I am working on my computer or sitting somewhere with my phone has made me aware both of how many times I do that, and also reminds me why I am doing it. Instead of scrolling down with my brain on auto-pilot, I am forced to think and pray about various things, from personal to global.

It’s not so much about giving up, but more about making room. Room for myself to hear God speak. Room for my own thoughts without  distractions. Room for silence that would normally fill it with ‘noise’ of Facebook. Room to be much more present.

Has been surprisingly easy so far, but it’s a long way to go to Easter Sunday!

 

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Something has changed

I’m not one for writing about politics on my blog. Indeed until recently I barely made or responded to any political statements on FB. I wasn’t going to write this, especially as I could find someone who says it better and just re-blog,  but it  won’t let me go.

Here in NZ I vote for our centre-right major party, always have and probably always will.  I am a Christian and  am morally conservative on most issues.

Like almost everyone else  I know I have followed the American election; for me initially with fascination, and then with increasing concern. I have found myself agreeing with many of my more left-leaning friends, both Christian and other. I have to my surprise waded in on FB on topics that I wouldn’t normally. I have read many articulate (and some not so articulate) outpourings from all parts of the political spectrum.

I really don’t know how I would have voted when forced to chose between two such flawed candidates (and I think that may be why so many people didn’t vote). I did take an on-line test to see if I was a Democrat or a Republican. I answered as conservatively as I could – turns out I would probably be a Democrat! Which goes to show that the concept of left and right in politics all depends on where the centre is defined.

I do not want this post to be about being anti Donald Trump. While I really (really) did not want to see him in the Oval Office, I do not doubt the legitimacy of his presidency. I’m not happy he is now in charge of the free world, and I am very concerned about the implications of the Executive Orders he is rushing out, but he has been elected and that is the reality both the USA and the rest of the world all need to work with.  I have certainly been praying for him and his advisors –  that they would lead with wisdom and integrity.

What this post is about is that somehow, by being drawn into this process, I have become aware that there are some things I care very deeply about and some things that I should care more deeply about. The act of thinking about American politics, and the implications of campaign promises, has made me look at everything I believe in both as a Christian and a citizen of this world. I have been challenged to look at my own hidden racism and prejudices, to try and work out which tenets I hold are based on a cultural view of Christianity, rather than what Jesus actually envisaged.  I have been forced to articulate to myself some of the things I vaguely stood for. Turns I’m actually far more complex than I thought.

So can I be a conservative yet liberal, Christian? Both deeply pro-life but also understanding that pro-choice is important too? Aware of the dangers of radical Islamic terrorism but sympathetic to Syrian refugees? Is there such a hybrid? How do I work that out in my life, in my dealings with others, in my everyday choices?

Even the fact that I feel that I need to get these disorganised thoughts out is a very big change for me.  I feel challenged and stretched. it’s quite painful and I don’t know where the stretching will take me. I am actually quite excited – I feel like I am finally growing up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning a new language

My whole life creatively I have been involved in music. I’ve sung, played, written, arranged and taught. Music is as much a part of me as my eye colour (can’t say hair colour anymore though). My instrument is guitar and those that know me know I don’t mean strumming a few chords on an acoustic at parties. I own three electrics, two acoustics, two amps and a very nice pedal board. I am privileged to play on an amazing worship team at our church and am currently having fun in a local covers band.

And yet at the start of 2017 and in my early 50s, I am feeling challenged to step outside of the creativity I know and the medium I am fluent in to learn to speak a new language.

I’ve become increasingly interested in photography and our recent trip overseas really encouraged that. I was the person who was always running to catch up with everyone else because I had to get that one perfect shot – even on my iPhone. My wonderful husband, (who often senses things before I do) saw this, and bought me a very good camera as a belated birthday present halfway through the trip to feed this fledgling desire.

Since we have got back I have continued to fall in love with this new medium. I find myself thinking about shots and composition rather than guitar lines and chord progressions; scenes rather than set lists. It’s my camera I am picking up instead of my guitar, and camera, rather than guitar, tutorials I am glued to on YouTube.

I’m not used to being the novice, the person who doesn’t know what technical terms mean, who really doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing. I’ve taken a practical step and enrolled in a beginner course next month to help get to grips with this new world of ISO and f-stops. But it’s a steep and daunting learning curve!

I have no idea if I have any genuine skill or talent, and I have no idea where this might take me. I could spend this year studying something safe and sensible, or continuing to express myself in the safe medium of music; or I could take advantage of the fact that I have time to explore something new. I choose to do the latter (gulp). It’s definitely a step of faith which makes a naturally cautious pessimist like me very very nervous. (I think God likes steps of faith though…)

I don’t want to spend six months or a year procrastinating out of fear of the unknown. By writing this down here, I am at least admitting somewhat publicly that this is something I want to go after. I’m hoping that this time next year I will be looking back on this entry with a happy smile, and some great photos.

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Tintagel to St David’s Cathedral

 

On our way out of Cornwall we visited Tintagel Castle (legendary birthplace of King Arthur). Windswept and grim, I again had to clutch onto a railing for dear life as we climbed up stairs carved out of the very steep rock face. Well worth the terror as we gazed out on the isolated landscape, read about the ancient castle built precariously on the clifftops and marvelled at the mountain goats skipping their way down the scary slopes.

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I rewarded myself with a very delicious cornish pasty and we continued onto Bath. We only had a very short stay here but Wayne here made good on his promise to buy me a decent camera as a belated birthday present, so we left with me clutching my new baby very excitedly.

We spent a couple of days in the Welsh countryside and took the camera for its first outing in St Davids. This little place is officially a city as it contains a beautiful cathedral. We spent the morning exploring that and the ruins of the neighbouring Bishop’s Palace. I really liked this peaceful place. There has been a Christian presence here since the 6th century and St David is the patron saint of Wales. Like so many other cathedrals, this was the heart of a vibrant faith community rather than a museum and monument to the past and I could feel the life and spirit inside as I walked through. I love this sense of being connected to the on-going narrative of my faith in so many different places.

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And then off to attempt a small stretch of the Pembrokeshire Coastal walkway. This of corse meant more cliffs . I managed to get a fair way along until the drops became too steep despite the distraction of the new camera and I decided that it was time to turn back. We did encounter wild ponies, hawks and seals so again worth the terror I think!

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In all a wonderful and refreshing couple of days – very different to Italy, but just as beautiful.

Still learning to let go

I just read an article on the Washington Post -“Trying to raise a teen in a terrorized world.

Heartfelt words from a mum about  saying goodbye to her 18 year old as he goes off on a three week trip to Europe. In other generations mothers have had to say goodbye to their 18 year old for more traumatic reasons, but that doesn’t make her concerns less real. She says “I have spent these past few weeks wrestling with the question of how I am supposed to parent him toward independence at a time fraught with so much violence and fear.”

Having Christian spending three months by himself in San Francisco as a 19 year old I completely emphathise with her. I waste a lot of time worrying about things that might happen to him – and this week something did. Mind you it was something that could have happened to him anywhere.

He came off his bike cycling to his internship and banged his head and broke his finger (I did say to him a while back that maybe learning to ride on the 13898171_1389214644429271_1206160372_o.jpgother side  of the road might not be a good idea…)  Fortunately it was early in the morning so no cars were involved. Might not sound like much but when your youngest is overseas by himself and having to negotiate hospitals and health insurance (and now specialists as it is needs to be looked at further), it’s very hard to sit tight. And it’s not even as if he will come back home to get things sorted out – he will have to then negotiate the NHS once he is back in the UK.

My husband reminds me that our boy turns 20 later this month, and that in the scheme of things it’s not so bad. But this is the first time he has hurt himself without me there to help him. And he is without his girlfriend, who stayed on the phone to him from the UK the whole time he limped to the hospital (too scared to call an ambulance as he wasn’t sure of the cost).

I can’t do my normal mother hen routine. I can’t offer anything more practical than FB Messenger phone calls (thank-you Facebook for making that so easy.)  And I can pray – which I am. Fortunately we will be with him in 8 days – bringing NZ chocolate and TLC and probably some mother hen behaviour. And I finally get to see that famous bridge!

I guess now is one of those times where our attempts to parent him towards independence are put to the test. As he moves from teenager to young adult I am so proud of him and his resourcefulness.

Yet I still worry and wish he was here, not there. I need to remind myself that God is there with him and looking after him. I have to keep learning to let go. There are well-quoted words from Elizabeth Stone that I also came across today, that to parent is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

So true.

Lent Musing #3

In praise of the ordinary.

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning here in Auckland at this pause point of the Easter weekend, and I have been thinking about the last entry in the Lent app I have been working my way through during the lead-up to Easter. The final reflection  summed up what I have been trying to articulate in these Lent thoughts. The writer states that if we spend long enough in the desert we can let go of the illusion that we are somehow more special than others. That is a powerful challenge to my own sense of self-importance and one that I haven’t mastered by a long shot!. And then I read this:

The devil sometimes puts ambitious desires into our hearts, so that, instead of setting our hand to the work which is nearest to us, and thus serving Our Lord in ways within our power, we may rest content with having desired the impossible.
 – Teresa of Avila

I had to read this several times to really start to understand the implications of this.
I mentioned last time about how our online life is cluttered with quotes inspiring and urging us to live a life of greatness, and we hear it in our churches and schools as well. There are so many powerful stories of people doing great exploits in both the Old and New Testament, and definitely people are called to do amazing things, go on epic adventures and lead lives of huge influence.

But I do often wonder about the countless unnamed men and women in the Bible. The many Israelite families who followed Moses into the desert and bought up their families as they trekked for 40 years. Those people Jesus touched,whose lives were transformed, bodies and minds healed, who went back to their villages and families and lived out ordinary lives of service and worship. The thousands of new Christians in those very first New Testament churches who walked a new way – a way that was radically sacrificial and often dangerous. We will never know who they are, and whose lives they impacted (in this life at least).

And what if that is what purpose means or most of us – to serve where we are, to set our hand to the work nearest us, to be faithful in the little things, to worship God for the simplest of blessings and ordinary miracles He bestows on us every day?

Jesus turned down the power and riches the Devil offered Him while He was in the desert. I don’t just think that it was because He had access to riches and power beyond anything Satan could give Him; but to show us(me) that success and the validation of our (my) own importance we (I) so often strive for can be a deception and an illusion that we(I) can also walk away from.

After successfully resisting temptation, Jesus then came out of the desert  and set about building relationships with ordinary people. He told stories of ordinary things that people could relate to, made disciples of ordinary people, and was executed in an ordinary (brutal) manner of the day. Paul later spoke of the fruit of the Spirit – such simple and ordinary virtues that transform the lives of people when they exhibit them.

As we celebrate a risen Christ tomorrow, I will also be thanking Him for my ordinary life and the opportunities I get to set my hand to the work nearest me; and praying that I will become much much better at seeing them and acting on them, rather than dreaming of potential greatness.

Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their great value
– Teilhard de Chardin

Lent musings #2

 

 

Another week of engaging with my Lent app and I am finding it a powerful way to re-focus on what is really important. The message of each daily devotion is not about me at all – no lifting me up, making me feel better about myself, no setting vision or discovering my purpose.

It’s a message that invites me to meet God in the desert places, the wilderness, the prison cell and to  linger there a while  if that is where He is speaking to me. It’s a message that  challenges me to look out, see beyond myself; to stand next to and reach out to the other, the stranger, the not-like-me.

Then as my day goes on, I am again immersed in the flow of social media, colourful, busy, exciting, enticing  me through endless memes and inspirational quotes to follow my dreams, have my best life now, believe for the impossible. I’m not sure about others but this often leaves me with a vague sense of dissatisfaction that my life is very mundane and ordinary, and that others are having much more exciting life adventures than me.

Jesus didn’t seem to say a heck of lot about personal fulfilment and I suspect at least   couple of the disciples might have had to lay their personal dreams down when making the decision to follow Him.

I saw a great tweet- “The Prosperity Gospel marketed to Millennials is not cars and money, it’s the fulfilment of personal aspirations.”(@DanielWhite). This really struck a chord with me (and I am way too old to be a Millennial). We continuously are encouraged to focus on developing ourselves: live that dream, realise our potential, take  that first step to becoming great, do something extraordinary.

Such a delicate balance between leading a life of meaning and purpose, ordinary though that might look; and  honing your life looks until it looks like the one on your Instagram account.

So I re-read the reflections for this day on my app.  And I get a glimpse of the Kingdom and the small but vital part I have to play in it. And I am content.

There may be more to learn by climbing the same mountain a hundred times than by climbing a hundred different mountains.

Richard Nelson
The Island Within

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