when it’s time to say goodbye

Wrapping up a present for my son’s friend, I found myself gently sobbing in the quietness.

Sandwiched in between leaving parties and goodbyes, those tears caught me off guard. This particular friend of my son – his best friend – is really more like a brother than a friend. He’s been an incredible gift to my son, and his whole family a precious blessing to us all. It’s a particularly hard relationship to say goodbye to, even though skype, emails, texts and visits will continue to keep us connected.

I’ve been surprised at when my tears have come. And when they haven’t.  They haven’t come in the big ‘goodbye’ events. Not because I’ve been holding them back: they’ve just not been the emotional times for me. They’ve come in the quiet times, the unexpected times; the times when I’ve had space to reflect on the depth of relationship with various individuals.

When we first knew that we were leaving Sheffield I remember feeling like God wanted us to fully invest in our relationships right until the day we left. There’s a temptation in a transition period to start to withdraw in relationships. It feels easier that way – less painful and less vulnerable. But it’s also less meaningful.

It’s right that we feel pain and loss in relationships as we leave. We can only feel loss when something has value. If we lose an item we don’t care about, we shrug our shoulders and move on. But if we lose an item that is precious to us, we feel sadness in its loss. Infinitely more when it comes to relationships.

To fully give means at times we experience loss too.

It’s a heavy price. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay. To hold back emotionally, and merely maintain shallow relationships feels like a greater price. Yes, I would never feel hurt or loss in the same way, but neither would I feel the joy that I have come to know in precious relationships.

So as we say goodbye to those we love in Sheffield we know it’s not the end: just the next leg of the journey. And as we enter our new season we’ll be looking again to give ourselves fully in the relationships placed around us.

It’s the only way we know how.

 

When houses become homes

I love a good cull. Right now, laid in our hallway are five bin bags crammed with stuff to chuck, recycle or send to charity shops.

And I’ve only just begun.

Since Rich and I have been married we’ve lived in so many different houses that culling has just been part of life. We’ve lived in our current house for nearly five years, and it’s by far the longest we’ve lived in any one house. I’ve learnt to never say never… BUT we’ll probably never live in a house this big again. So with years of accumulated stuff and the likelihood of downsizing, this cull is going to be the cull of all culls.

As I’ve been culling I’ve also begun a process of reflecting on houses and homes. One thing I’ve learnt with houses is that’s all they are: houses. A home is a completely different thing. A home is a place where memories are made. Home is a place where you love and you are loved. A home is a place where you are free to be quiet or loud, to laugh or cry. It’s a safe environment to fail, and fail again, and then to keep trying. Home is a safe place to dance, without judgement, to MC Hammer in the kitchen. At least, in our home it is.

This particular home has had visitors from India, Burundi, Holland, America, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, South Africa, Poland, Germany, and all over England. And I’m sure many other places I’ve forgotten! It’s been a family base, not just to our nuclear family but to our extended family. It’s a place where we’ve loved God together, grown together and has been a place where those without family are welcomed in.

As I start to declutter and sort through our things I realise that we don’t get so much attached to the buildings as we do to the memories we associate with those places. And this home has been a beautiful shell to house those memories. I love the wooden floors, and I love the colours on the landing as the early morning sun shines through the stained glass windows. I love the roaring open fires on cold winter days, and the large kitchen with views to the distant hills.

 

 

I feel blessed to have lived in a home of aesthetic beauty. But it’s our memories of home that we take with us; our memories of all that God has done in and through our family in our time here.

Early on in our marriage God taught us a valuable lesson about houses and homes. It was our second year of marriage, and we bought our second house. It had been lived in by one couple for 50 years, and needed some tender loving care. With the help of his dad, Rich spent the best part of a year gutting and restoring it. We loved that house.

Just shortly after we’d finished gutting it we took a trip to India; our first trip together since my year there in ’99. It was a surveying-the- land type trip where we were asking God if he wanted us to serve as missionaries over there.

I was desperately hoping we’d get the green light to “go”; hoping at last that God would have come round to my way of thinking. Strangely enough, He had different plans. We’d only been on our trip for a couple of days when I clearly heard him say “Why wait to be missionaries?” And in that moment I saw the city of Sheffield. It was a defining moment for me. And it turned out to be a defining moment for the culture we would create in our marriage and in our family.

Why wait to be missionaries?

Our response at that point was to move to a deprived area in Sheffield to live as incarnational missionaries. We made a pig’s ear of it in so many ways. And there were also lots of breakthroughs. But that’s a story for another time.  

But the move to the deprived area meant leaving behind that house we’d lovingly restored. Somehow, if we’d been moving to India, it might have felt easier to leave behind. But leaving that house to move across the other side of the city felt like one of the most costly decisions we ever made. I know that as we made that decision, something inside of us was nailed to the cross at that point too. We realised that houses were just houses, and homes could be created in any place we gave our hearts to.

A missionary life means accepting the call to ‘Go’. Sometimes it means we go somewhere more aesthetically beautiful, sometimes not. That’s not our decision to make. Our decision to make is whether or not we hear and obey the call to ‘Go’.

We’ve had the privilege of living in a beautiful house these last five years. But through that journey that God took us on all those years ago, I’ve learnt that there’s something much more important than a beautiful house. I love nice stuff. I love things to be aesthetically pleasing. I love to make a home feel creative and welcoming. And I will always try to do that, whatever type of home we have. I used to somehow feel ashamed of liking nice things but I’ve learnt that’s part of the way I’m made, and I think it’s a good thing.

But what I also know is that a home is so much more than beauty and aesthetics. It’s the memories we create in that home that are important: they are the things we take with us. And a beautiful house should never make us so comfortable that we can no longer hear, or no longer want to hear, the call of God to move us on to something or somewhere else, when the time is right.

When we moved to our current home I can remember thanking God for it, and saying “God, this is your home. We receive it as a blessing for this season. It’s yours to take whenever the time is right.” I knew that I needed to say that prayer out-loud at that point, because I never wanted to get  to the place where the house would trump the calling. I know how easy it is for that to happen, ever so subtly.

And now that time is approaching. The calling has come.

And as the culling increases, so will my memories and my thanksgivings for the time in this home.

It’s been a beautiful shell to house many, many precious memories.

Saying Thank You

We, like all good parents, are training our children to say “thank you”. It has been interesting to see them slowly but surely pick it up. It started with external behaviour and gradually it’s beginning to become an internal reality. It is becoming something they understand; starting to know ‘why’ they should say thank you, not just doing the ‘right thing’. They don’t always get it right but they are becoming thankful kids, not kids who can just say thank you.

It’s always two steps forward, one step back, and I’m thankful for their progress. But as they’ve matured in thanksgiving a strange thing has happened: it has become more challenging for me. Why? Because it reminds me to ‘practice what I preach’. Literally!

As we’ve trained our kids it’s reminded me again that what I’m training them in is something that needs to be real to me – both inside & out; both mind set & behaviour. God has been helping me to have “thank you” as both an internal perspective and an external posture.

It’s been a challenging but life-giving journey for me. I have had many, many opportunities over the past few years. There’s been times when it’s been easy and a joy to be thankful and times when it’s been through gritted teeth or sheer determination. To “know” something is easy; to believe and live it out through every circumstance is hard. Frequently, over the last season, we have reminded each other that ‘God is good’;  reminding ourselves of who He is, His character, His promise and His good purposes. This has helped a “thank you’ rise in our hearts regardless of our circumstances.

“Thank you” as an internal perspective and an external posture.

thank you, sign, wall, neon, light

It’s easy to try and ‘do it’: to do the right thing or to engage in the right behaviour. But the problem is if your posture is right but your perspective is wrong it feels disjointed, heavy, dutiful and falters when you run out of energy and effort.

I am an external person; it is easy for me to try to do something without letting it penetrate beneath. I’ve found that a good jolt helps me! Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful to be jolted – to be reminded that ‘the One who calls us is faithful’ and that He is bigger than today’s circumstance and that He is the same God, yesterday, today and forever. As I remember Him it puts who I am in perspective.

# Look at the big picture – A leader I respect recently shared that when he’s struggling with a circumstance he stops & steps back and thinks “what will this look like in a week, in a month, in a year and in a decade and how will I feel in a week, in a month, a year and a decade?” It has been helpful for me to set today in context & to change my perspective on today.

# Look to others – Sometimes we don’t have the answers. Sometimes we don’t have the faith. Sometimes we don’t have the capacity and ability to put one foot in front of the other. That is where God’s voice comes through community. It’s where community really comes into its own. We look sideways – not to compare or compete –  but to raise faith and to see God at work. It helps to see others, the way they hold themselves through trial, under pressure or in battle, and to see how God is present and at work in that place with that person reminds me of His presence with me in my circumstance. To be encouraged, uplifted, cheered on by others helps me to keep going, slowly but surely in the right direction with the right perspective.

# Look at what you’ve got – the world pushes us to feel we need more, to know more and to understand more. It pushes us to look sideways at what God is doing somewhere else or in someone else. It’s much more life-giving to look at what we’ve got; to look at what God has given you, what He is doing and where He is at work.

# Look at the bible – I am always struck that the Heroes of the faith written about in Hebrews didn’t receive their prize. Yet. What God spoke to them about and set before them they didn’t receive in full. Yet. We have an opportunity and challenge for our names to be written alongside those great heroes. Those heroes mentioned in Hebrews are not the only ones that inspire faith & produce perseverance in us. We see throughout the Bible many of God’s people who struggled, journeyed and  lived with a ‘thank you’ through all the ups & down’s of following God.

Life is tough. We have various questions, challenges, ‘moving parts’ in our life. We know many people who are struggling at the moment. We know many people who are in pain, are ill or who have loved ones who are ill. In the midst of questions, battle and adventure how do you have a ‘Thank you” that’s secure in your heart and expressed through your life?

It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it….

Kind words were spoken. Prayers were prayed.  Gifts were given. It was his last day at work. Over two years of hard work marked, honoured and celebrated; an offering of love and thanks for a loved and respected team member.

And towards the end there was one little comment, it may have been a prayer – I forget now. It came from his father.

I guess it was an observation of all the remarks, comments and prayers lifted up. Simple, fatherly, heart-swollen-proud words. Words that echoed in the room and in my mind ever since.

“Son” he said “the thing that strikes me from all that’s been said is that it’s not so much what you’ve done in your time working here; it’s the way in which you’ve done it.”

This team member had achieved many great kingdom tasks in those two years. Countless. And they are valuable.

But those weren’t the things we were recalling.

“Man of integrity”…. “servant-hearted”…. “humble”…. “no job too small”….”funny”…. so many heart-felt words we spoke over him.

We were thankful for the way he’d gone about things more than the things themselves.

You see, at the end of the day what we do isn’t the most important thing. The way we conduct ourselves; the grace we offer others; the love we show; the way we serve; the relationships we invest in… those are the things we’ll be remembered for. They’re our legacy: the thing we’re remembered for, and our greatest investment.

We can have all the revelation in the world, faith that can move mountains, and live a life sacrificed for the poor. But if it’s done without love we’ve gained nothing. I read that somewhere.

Love is the currency of the kingdom.

These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Oh, that I would preserve this precious truth in my heart and actions.

 

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“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

 

 

photo credit:Mayur Gala

Resistance is Futile?

Resistance: I’ve been pondering it recently.

A river will run down a hill to the lowest point in the easiest way possible – with the least resistance. It’s just a natural process.

river2

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are days where I want my life to run down the easiest route, with the least resistance. When the alarm goes off there are some days when all I want to do is hide under the covers, pick the easy life and let life run down the easiest route possible.

But the path of least resistance isn’t always the best one. Anytime we aspire to something that’s greater than our comfort, we encounter resistance:

Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. So if you’re in Calcutta working with the Mother Teresa Foundation and you’re thinking of bolting to launch a career in telemarketing… relax. Resistance will give you a free pass.”

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

I’m not trying to make a judgement here on telemarketing; that’s not the point.

Resistance comes to me primarily through fear and inadequacy. The little voice in my head tells me “you’re not good enough to aspire to be that, or do that. You might as well just give in now.” Weekly, and sometimes daily, I feel an insidious fear as I face different circumstances or events: I don’t know if that will ever change. But one thing I do know: if I give in to resistance and choose the easiest path I will slowly and surely die.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who faces resistance – it comes to us all in different guises.

So, if resistance is all around us, what can we do about it? Here’s a few things that help me….

  • Acknowledging it

Recognising resistance, and my natural inclination towards the easy route, is an important first step. If I can’t even recognise when I’m facing resistance I’ll never be able to do anything about it.

  • Remembering my “Why”

What’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing? When I feel fearful about something, for example, I come back to my “why”, so that I measure the cost (fear) against the gain:

 “Courage is not the absence of fear but the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.”

Meg Cabot

The judgement that something else is more important is called “vision”: it’s the reason why, despite fear, I will still continue to do something. To rephrase Meg Cabot: “The cautious don’t live because they have no vision to take risks for.”  Henry Ford still threw up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five, and when it comes to public speaking it’s a similar dynamic for me. But I continue to do it because my vision is greater than my fear. My vision to encourage others to walk closer to Jesus, is greater than my fear of public speaking. Most of the time……

  • Hard Work: one foot in front of the other

Overcoming resistance takes hard work. When I was training myself to run I always had the literal picture of putting one foot in front of the other. It was simple. But hard.

trainers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One foot in front of the other: that was how I learnt to run. Simple but hard. Hard work is not the same as striving, by the way. When I look at the lives of the early apostles they worked hard; really hard. And they also operated in the power of the Holy Spirit, in God’s grace. Grace is not opposed to effort. If we want to conquer resistance it will take hard work.

  • Finding my “champions”

Continuing with the running example… I’d leave home for a run with Rich and the kids cheering me on and I’d come home to find the same. We can’t do stuff alone; we’re not meant to. If we’re going to combat resistance we need a faithful few who will be our champions. And I also like to picture the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 11; the saints who’ve gone before us who, by faith, finished the race. As we run the marathon of our lives, they’re cheering us on saying, “You can do it. By faith I finished, and you can too. GO ON!!”

  • Knowing my “Who”

All the stuff above is important. But the “Who” is the missing piece. My “Who” is God. It means that even on the days where vision is gone, I’m tired of putting one foot in front of the other, and I’m not sure who’s championing me I am still certain of one thing. I’m certain of who my “Who” is. I’m certain of who my life is for. I fail each and everyday. But each and every day I start again, in His new mercies, to try to live my life as a love offering to Him.

Colossians 1 says:

continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard

The word steadfast here means “loyal”. To be loyal means to be “Faithful to a person or a cause; firmly in alliance to somebody or something.”   Who are we being faithful to? No matter what the cost, or level of resistance I face I will aim to be stable and steadfast for God, putting one foot in front of the other, knowing He is infinitely more stable and steadfast towards me.

The saints in Hebrews 11 fought resistance by faith in God. Abraham, by faith,  left the comfort of home and “made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country.” It would have bene a lot easier for him to stay put. But he heard the call of God, and obeyed.

Those saints met resistance with faith; not faith in themselves but faith in God. And faith always comes by hearing by the word of God, written and spoken (Romans 10:17). When I know God’s word I can step out in faith in response to that.

And in Jesus, of course, we have the greatest example of one who left His rightful place in Heaven and chose the hard path – humbling himself to become babe, boy and man, and then surrendering His life on the cross, overcoming death and sin. It’s His power that lives in me.

As my husband would say……BOOM.

 

 

So how about you? Where do you encounter resistance? What’s your response to resistance?