Friday, 28 November 2014

Being a giver

This is the season for giving thanks, gifts and resources ~ and getting too, as some might gleefully say.

This is the time to spend, spend, spend.. then ruefully pay, pay, pay.

As our circumstances have altered over the years, I have learnt to cut my cloth to suit my means. 

And that's been hard at times because I love to give gifts, especially to my loved ones, family and friends.

But it doesn't end or even begin with spending money, does it? Giving encompasses so much more.

The best form of giving is from the heart, willing, open, generous and sincere.

Thankfully, we all have myriad means at our disposal to give to others, no matter how limited our resources, health or energy may be.

We can give:
  • Our time
  • A listening ear
  • Intercessory prayer
  • A word of encouragement
  • Friendship and fellowship
  • Support, a hand to hold
  • Cakes, cards and creative gifts
  • Food parcels or vouchers
We can share:
  • Ourselves, our stories
  • Our time
  • Our creativity and skills
  • Our faith journey
  • Our hope in Christ
  • A cup of coffee or a meal
I'm sure you can think of many more things to give and to share. 

The ways and means are as endless and creative as our imagination will allow.

We can reveal the 'give-without-counting-the-cost' aspects of God's kingdom in the way we live and love, give and care for others.

Just search your heart, pray, and ask God what you have within you to give to others.

There are ways to be a giver all year round; it's not just for Christmas time.

And here's the thing:Some of those blessings you give out? Well, they may return to you with interest, because that's the sort of generous God we have.

He multiplies all things at His hands.

All gifts of grace are generously given in order to be returned unto others, and given back to us too in some mysterious, divine holy alchemy.

Our challenge is to be both generous, cheerful givers and gracious, humble, grateful recipients too. 

And to aim to reveal Jesus in all we say, think and do.

Which is the theme of the video below of 'Do Something' by Matthew West, taken from the album 'Into the Light'.

I'm linking here today with Kate for #FMF where we are writing brave and free with the prompt:'Give'. You are warmly invited and encouraged to take part.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Awakening to Advent

November fog invades my brain, stealing away brightness, coating all in its dreary gloom.

Seasons affect us more than we know. Each one leaves a footprint of their presence.

This season? My soul needs quiet, my body craves sleep and rest, my spirit thirsts after the place where I converse with God, on the doorstep of my heart.

I'm seeking after sacred pauses, making way for holy moments in the everyday.

As my health has declined over the last few months, I've needed to withdraw quite a bit from social media interaction, groups and conversations, and I've also missed the quiet times and places where my soul speaks with God.

Although it's what I've needed more than anything, it's also been a casualty of the storms of life.

'Quiet Time' ceased to be such as my fog-brained, pain-filled body yearned for sleep, became preoccupied and anxious; and praying was reduced to quick-fire cries for help.

These needs cannot be ignored. We pine and die inside without letting the Light in. Because a weary mind and body need His strength to go on, don't they?

There's a shift beneath the surface of my slow, sluggish days. A stirring toward all my soul desires to stay sane, stable and at rest.

An acknowledgement that I am lost and lonely when I fail to spend quality time with God.

I want to awaken to Advent without the world's noise intruding strong, resist its clamouring tongue and clarion call to excess consumption.

And as I try to still my heart, listen to the One whom my soul loves and runs after, I sense Him whispering these words:

"Be aware; be watchful; be prepared. The King is coming. He is with you.

Keep your eyes peeled and your heart receptive. Don't let it grow hard or cold.

 Allow a Holy longing to touch mystery seep slow into your soul and invade mind and spirit.

A new morn dawns in the history of mankind. 

A new day to rejoice and be glad, for your God is with you and He is mighty to save. 

A reason for humble thanksgiving.

Come closer. Come empty. Come freely. Come frequently. I will fill you to overflowing.

My throne room is always open to you and you will find a warm welcome here.

Spend your precious energy in seeking Me. I will refuel you.

Lavish attention on My glorious provision. I will give you all your soul longs for.

Whisper it loud. Joy is here for all to share. There are no beggars in My Kingdom.

This sacred place makes space for all who hunger and thirst for Me.

And in this season, all who seek Me with their whole heart will find Me.

There will be celebration over every soul who makes way for the King to live within.

Share your words; share your heart; share the promises fulfilled in Jesus, My Son.

Your watching, waiting and praying will have their reward.

As your heart makes room for the King of kings, it will be filled and flooded with the love, joy and peace of His presence.

Reflect on these things anew; rest in My goodness and grace, and remain in Me always"

How can we awaken anew to the watching, waiting wonder of Advent?

As well as revisiting the biblical narrative (and maybe listening to a few Christmas songs to get me in the mood!), here are some of the things I have at hand to help me in this season:

1) Re-reading 'Touching Wonder:Recapturing the Awe of Christmas' by John Blase ~ a delightful, warm way of connecting to the humanity of Advent and the Nativity via insightful words, reflection and prayer. 

2) Reading 'The Deep Place - where nobody goes:Connecting with God on the steps of my soul' by Jill Briscoe ~ and rediscovering the wonder and encouragement of being able to have a relationship and conversations with God.

3) Diving into 'Advent with St Francis:Daily Reflections' by Diane M.Houdek in an attempt to recover rest, simplicity and respect for the mystery of it all. 

4) Seeking more spiritual whitespace by returning to the insights in, 'Finding Spiritual Whitespace:Awakening Your Soul to Rest' by Bonnie Gray and making room for resting in God as part of needful self-soul-care. 

5) Savouring 'A Faraway Smell of Lemon - A Christmas Short Story' by Rachel Joyce (author of 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) as a way to rediscover the human pangs and joys of Christmas.  

As you can see, an awful lot of reading and contemplation could be going on as I dip in and out of these books! Maybe my desires will crash under the weight of them. Time will tell..

How about you? Are you entering Advent with anticipation or grim determination?

Feel free to share what helps (or hinders) your faith-walk in this busy season. I love to hear from you. 

I'm linking here today with Janis for Sunday Stillness and with Charlotte for Spiritual Sundays. You are warmly invited to join us. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

When everything gets shaken, hold on to this

There's a whole lot of shaking going on right now.

And it's afflicting the whole family. 

We are trying to roll with the punches as they come at us from all directions.

Everything feels topsy-turvy, upside-down and back-to-front. 

All we held dear, depended on, kept close is now drifting off into the distance and we grasp at straws, clutch at air and come up empty-handed. Ache for familiar. Long for lasting. Mourn 'normal'.

Careers, family, health, jobs, routine, stability, calm are all casualties of this storm.

Like a scared child we seek shelter, a rock to cling to.

Prayer become a desperate plea for help, other words fail us.

Battered, bruised and battle-weary, we sink to our knees. Hope still lifted banner-high. Because the One we hope in is ever-faithful.

When earth shifts like sand beneath your feet and menacing mountains loom over you, where is shelter and safety to be found?

Where it always is and always has been... in our Saviour's arms. Safely sheltered by the Rock of Ages.

Here, we can let down our guard and finally relax. He is ever-vigilant on our behalf. Has already fought every battle for us.

Arms wrap tender and gentle our fretful hearts. He whispers close. I AM here. I AM able. I AM your safe place. Always.

The world mocks us with its promises. They fall like petals to ground. Nothing of substance to be found.

Only Jesus is Truth, is substance, hope, help and promises kept.

Truth be told, all looks scary in the eye of the storm but it's the place where He meets with us most. In the teeth of trouble and trials. In the midst of mayhem and mess.

Things may not calm around us in an instant but we are given grace to slowly become calm, breathe easy, experience the blessed peace that passes human understanding.

We gain courage from seeing tiny chinks of light appearing in the gathering gloom. Grace glimmers from afar.

And we get brave enough to kick sand from our wilderness shoes and press on for one more step.. and the next... and so on.

Because every battering from the enemy brings us one day closer to final victory ~ already secured in Christ ~ becoming a living reality.

We may be choking on sand, drowning with waves over our heads, bent over from burdens that cripple and maim our frames, but we're only downtrodden for a season, not defeated for ever.

Hope will rise strong again. Grace lifts our eyes to the hills from where our help comes from.

When everything that can be shaken feels like it's happening to us, we can be encouraged by remembering:

"Do you see what we've got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship" ~ Hebrews 12:28 (The Message) 

Friend, I don't know your personal circumstances, struggles or pain, but I wouldn't mind betting that you've seen your fair share of storms and may be in the midst of one right now, yes?

My lengthy travels on the road of faith have convinced me about the best Who we should take our troubles to. 

Meanwhile, let us also support and encourage one another on the journey, press on with perseverance, look to His word, take hold of those wonderful, unshakable promises and wait for their final fulfilment to come.

I'm linking here today to share encouragement with Janis for Sunday Stillness and with Charlotte for Spiritual Sundays.

Friday, 7 November 2014

When dark shadows come your way

The day was almost over. Street-lighting shone its artificial bright outside my room but here inside all was warm glow, cosy and snug.

I lay curled up, still reading when common-sense dictated closure was sensible, but I wanted to devour my book for just a little bit longer.

A vague dark shadow, accompanied by a light tapping noise, made me look around, and I didn't like what I saw.

My eyes came face to face with a hairy intruder. I startled and screamed.

Spiders and I have never been the best of friends.

I'd only tried to be brave in dealing with them over the years so as to not give my children/husband any reason to be otherwise. 

I can just about handle the little greyish-brown common-or-garden variety, but encountering a larger black furry one makes me want to run away.

A needs-must situation meant grabbing the nearest thing at hand. Out came a tissue and down swooped my hand.

As I gingerly prised it apart, I was dismayed to discover that the arachnoid had the upper hand instead of me.

He (they're always a he in my mind) had escaped my clutches, curled small and scuttled swift away. What could I do now? 

The only thing for it was to put brighter lights on and do a systematic check of everything around the bed. I began timidly before my OH took over the task.

Stacks of books, pens, notepads, tissues, phone, clock, throat sweets etc were duly removed one by one, bedclothes rolled back and shaken, pillows too.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a sausage, and no spider either.

We soon realised there was nothing for it but to return to bed and try to sleep regardless... gulp! Are you kidding? He's still around somewhere.

What if he makes a return revenge visit during the night and brings some friends with him?

And as I lay there worried (ridiculous, right, considering his size and ours?) and wary, sleep was fitful and I woke more exhausted than usual.

Then, as I thought about things in the morning, I remembered that my husband had only just cleaned the room a couple of days beforehand.

Considering its previously dirty state with dust-bunnies breeding all over the place (please don't judge) maybe he'd disturbed some spiders and they were looking for a new place to hide.

Isn't that similar to what happens when we decide to clean up our act before God, to live a purer life, seek His face more, pray with greater persistence, live All In for Him?

Because the sneaky enemy of our souls finds a weak spot (or more) to crawl into and disturb us, making us feel that we're defeated before we get started.

Guilt and condemnation come. A multiplicity of mundane frustrations fall our way. Problems abound. Discouragement sits heavy in our souls.

A dark shadow pervades our days and we feel far from the Lord. He seems to be silent and far from us too, although His word promises He never leaves nor forsakes us.

Maybe we even consider why we bother to be wholehearted about our faith if it leads to This?

Well let me tell you, my friend, I've discovered it's always worthwhile to follow hard after God. Yes, especially when life gets harder.

The benefits far outweigh the potential for upsets. Those problems and pitfalls, the dark nights of the soul? They're proof that you're only human and you're on the right road.

The enemy has no reason to bother you unless you're a threat to him.

We cannot aim to get closer to God without expecting greater testing and temptation to come our way. It's a given. 

He is refining the dross from us, purifying motives and intent, sifting and saving us even as we struggle. Holding us close in the midnight hours.

Our reactions and responses to trials are what count as we learn how to grow into Christ-likeness.

Are we allowing the enemy to make us act unwisely? Or are we discerning his wiles and acting in accordance with God's will?

Some times will be easier than others in living as an overcomer. We're weak; we fail and falter. But there is grace for it all.

Some troubles are just too huge to work through quickly. We may need extra support from others, possibly professional help, and time to recover our equilibrium.

We need to maintain a daily dependence on God, and keep our heavenly armour on as we walk the way of faith.

Perseverance and persistence will have its way in us as we look to the Lord at all times, because God rewards all who diligently seek after Him, no matter what it looks or feels like right now. 

Things won't always be this bad and we will learn a lot through our problematic and painful circumstances, through surrender, through seeking His face in the midst of it all.

I don't want to let fear get the upper-hand or prevent me from pursuing my potential and destiny in Christ, and I guess you don't either.

So, with hindsight, I'm actually grateful for the spider's visit. He brought about this reflection, and a deepening trust in God to see me through all the troubling events I may yet encounter.

I just need to remember that as I crawl beneath the covers again, with a beady eye kept open... just in case. And to let God's light in on any dark areas that may emerge.

*NOTE* ~  My inspiring writer friend, Heather Mertens, is particularly passionate about living #ALLIN for Jesus. If you also desire to live a wholehearted Christian life and meet others who could encourage and support you on the journey, then you might like to connect with this community of beautiful believers on Facebook.