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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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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Lent musings #1

A thought-provoking article Death, the Prosperity Doctrine and Me was sent to me by my husband yesterday, and then it popped up on my FB feed. It’s a beautiful and honest piece written by the author just after she was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer at the age of 35. I’ve read it several times  since then and it’s really challenged me.

The temptations of the world are so subtle. We might say we don’t buy into a prosperity doctrine but I am challenged almost daily at the moment as to how this has subtly leeched into my theology. There’s a fine line between  being grateful for the blessings that flow from grace and being confident as a child of God; and expecting that God will provide me with the life and opportunities I secretly think I deserve. Yes God has a plan and a purpose for our lives but it might (in fact probably won’t) be quite what we have lined up for ourselves.

Coincidentally (or not I suspect) I’m working through a 40 Days of Lent app which focuses on matters about as far away from the prosperity gospel as you can go. This is the first time I’ve really focused on Lent (I’m ashamed to say) and it is definitely changing my perspective.

“Into the Desert” is a fantastic free digital resource (available on Google Play and in the AppStore) put out by the Australian Anglican Board of Mission. consists of daily scriptures, reflections and prayers for the 40 days leading up to Easter. It explores the imagery of the desert, the words of the desert fathers and mothers, and  importance of the wilderness and emptiness at times in our journey. It’s not too late to jump into the study if you are looking for something to hone your focus at this time.

“Do not always want everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases; then you will always be undisturbed and grateful in your prayer.”
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