life’s not so big moments

Life’s big moments. You’d expect them to be big right? Grand gestures. Huge decisions. Exciting epiphanies. 

But no. Life’s big moments often hinge around small things.

Like quiet conversations over a cuppa that result in a “did we just make that decision?” ending that from the outside would look like a regular catchup.

Or like posting an innocent looking envelope knowing inside its implications are huge. But it doesn’t look big on the outside. You can pause, do the “in-out” action with the envelope before the big red mouth swallows it up for good, but there’s no fanfare or swelling music like you get in the movies.

Or rather than huge bouquets of expensive flowers or huge declarations of love, its a simple bunch of daffodils or a cup of tea made un-requested; that let you know you are loved, cared for, thought of. 

It’s the small things that make a difference. What small things can I do today? Maybe the harassed lady I pass in the street just needs a warm smile, or a friend I’ve not seen for a while needs a text. 

Don’t underestimate the small things. Either when they happen to you, or when they’re all you can manage to do for other people. In fact seek them out. 

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop” – Mother Theresa

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weathering the storm

fallen leavesI’ve been intrigued this week by the trees in the windy weather we’ve had. Some lost all their leaves overnight, some still have some, and some haven’t lost any at all.

All trees are different, and some are designed to lose their leaves when it’s windy, some aren’t.

All pretty simple. That’s just the way it is. So why do we take such a different view of our own species? We’re all different, and we all weather storms differently. Some people seem to be able to put up with things going on all around them, busyness, stress, trauma, etc. without breaking down, when some days it feels like all I need is a little boy with swollen tonsils to tip me over the edge!

Is one tree better than another because it doesn’t lose it’s leaves? In the same way, there’s no use comparing ourselves to others – “why can’t I cope” is a tempting but futile question.

My life has been super busy this week. There’s a lot going on. And I kind of went into panic mode. When my mum is really snowed under, she does more – if disaster strikes, you’ll find my mum baking bread! I tried to do that this week, decided to make a load of soup for lunch I’m having with friends, so had to somehow fit that in too. But Mr Wheeler put a stop to that, because he knows that’s too much for me. I can’t deal with an overloaded schedule the way my mum can.

Why do I try?

We need to be free to be ourselves. If you need to take a breather, take one. Don’t worry if the person next to you doesn’t have to. Let them go ahead. chances are, with a different type of storm they may well struggle and you’ll be the one who keeps things going.

And we need to not put so much pressure on ourselves. Sure we can train to increase capacity, etc. And over the years we’ll probably weather the storms better, with less fallout. But for now, in this storm – just find that shelter and hunker down in there for a while while it passes.

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destiny & marbles

holding hands

Whether or not they believe in God, most people I know believe in fate, in destiny. That there’s a higher power at work in this mad world.

But what does that look like? God in the sky playing with the universe like marbles?

Sometimes it can feel like he’s throwing everything up in the air and watching where it lands, just for fun. Sometimes it can feel like he’s playing with our lives like a kid plays with playmobil figures. Or worse, he started playing then wandered off to do something else, leaving the dog free to come and knock everything sideways.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. About how life often doesn’t turn out the way you’d expected, the way you’d hoped. But then in my life I can always look back and say “oh yeh, that was for the best” regardless of how awful something seemed at the time.

The bible says that God has planned all the days of my life, that he carefully takes care of my steps, that he knows me and knows what’s best for me. And I believe that. It doesn’t always feel like it. But it’s in those times when its hard to imagine his hand in it all that I absolutely have to believe that. To have that hope that at some point in the future I’ll look back and say once again, “oh yeh, that was for the best. That worked out just perfectly”.

It’s always easy too to look at other people’s lives and think that they have it all. But firstly, do you really know what’s going on? How many people know about the storms that sometimes rage in your head, heart & soul? My guess is-not many.

And secondly, my journey is perfectly mine. So is yours. God wrote my life story a long long time ago and he didn’t write it with the leftovers of anybody else’s. It’s all mine. Yours is all yours. Sure there are a lot of curve balls, and you find yourself whizzing left when you were headed right. But ultimately you always end up looking back saying “oh yeh, that was for the best”.

And anyway God isn’t up there in the sky playing marbles, or with a dolls house, he’s down here with us, with me, with you. It’s less like chess, more like stuck in the mud.

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the optimism of new life

newborn bliss

Some special friends of ours have just had a baby. A totally gorgeous baby girl. (This picture isn’t her by the way – this is my boy on one of his not so happy days as a baby!) Anyway, back to the cute recently newborn…As usually happens when a baby is born everybody (including myself) goes crazy. Everyone wants to know the details, to see pictures, to have a cuddle, buy presents,etc.

It’s made me wonder why is it that we all get so gaga at baby news. What makes a newborn baby so special?

It might be because they’re cute, but then so are puppies and they don’t provoke quite the same reaction! Or perhaps because we’re just so relieved we’re not the ones having to do the sleepless nights! But I can’t help thinking it’s something to do with the hope, promise and future they represent. We look at them and see all the potential. With their whole lives ahead of them there is so much to hope for.

Somewhere along the way, over the next few years or decades this optimism seems to fade away. But I don’t think it needs to. I don’t think it should. Here are 3 lessons I think we can learn from newborns:

1. There are no limits on a baby’s life when they’re just born. The world is their oyster (any ideas what that means?!) As parents we dream big for them; not just in what they can achieve, but who they can become, what relationships they’ll form.

As we get older we start to put up some form of ceiling – over ourselves and our children to some extent. There are various reasons for this but none of them worth listening too. Aim high. If you ever find yourself thinking “if only I could do x” or “if only I was a little more y”, GO FOR IT. Yes, there’s always a chance you might not achieve it. But let me whisper to you – there’s just a chance you might.

2. Babies and children have a lot less fear than we do. Or at least they should, and my heart breaks over those for whom this is not the case. Some worries we have are rational, because of what we know to be real about the world. But there’s a lot we fear that just makes life less fulfilled, and we should do away with. Like fearing what others think. Fearing what might happen tomorrow. Fearing stuff we can’t see. The bible has a lot to say about fear and worry and one of my favourite verses says that God hasn’t given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and a sound mind (1 Timothy 1:7). I’m slowly learning to choose everyday to live like this.

3. One of the adjectives we use to describe babies is “innocent”. They’ve not made any mistakes yet, and they don’t know all of the evil that exists in this world. As an adult I am constantly getting stuff wrong, messing up and having to say sorry. Being selfish is such an innate human trait that I can already see evidence of it in my 3 year old son. Most of the time when he’s making mistakes he’s just getting carried away or doesn’t yet know the rules. But there are times when it is pure selfishness, and it makes me sad to see it. He wants something his own way, just because.

But just how to a baby every moment is a new moment, so it can be with us. Although no mistakes “should” go unpunished, God has made it so that they can. There are always consequences to my mistakes but the need for punishment is fulfilled – by Jesus. So I can move on as if I’d never done wrong. And do it as many times as it takes for me to stop getting it wrong in the first place!

That, my friend, is good news! I might just go and get myself a nice present to celebrate!

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autumn – the season of change

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So I totally love this time of year. There is something about the turning leaves and the chill creeping into the air that I find so magical. I’m not a huge fan of winter with its long dark nights, bare trees and barren soil so I appreciate how Autumn eases me in gently,distracting me with its beauty so that I hardly notice.

At the time of writing,in York we just have the first hints of the change, with only one side of the trees turning orange while the other side remains green for now. Before the glorious new life of spring these trees will lose all their leaves and endure the harsh weather of winter.

It’s made me think about those times in life when things are starting to change,nothing drastic just yet but things are definitely different. It could be the beginnings of a job or house search. Maybe its a friendship changing when you thought it would be the same forever. Or that feeling of increased responsibility as you have a child,get a mortgage or a promotion.

How you react depends how you feel about change, but it can (for me it always does) leave you feeling unsettled, as if something’s just not quite right. Then before long, the change occurs, whatever it is you were nervous of happens and life goes on. Even when the change is positive, the process can be hard. Even when it’s something you know needs to happen, it can feel threatening; like a tree about to lose all its armour for the winter.

I’m naturally not a lover of change,I like to know what’s going on,who my people are,etc. But I have learned a few things about how to better manage it.

I’ve written before about how important it is to have your people. Those who you know without a doubt have your back, who will cheer you on and stand by you whatever happens. Having this team as a constant in your life can make change easier; they’re the pivot point in the middle of all your turning.

Change is also easier if you’re holding onto things lightly. If you cling onto things, letting go and moving on is much harder. I’m the person who calls the hotel or campsite “home”, regardless of how short our stay is; because I like to feel settled. This makes me a terrible traveller. Dan & I spent a couple of weeks travelling between D.C, New England (of course, in the fall) and NYC. The idea was to spend one or two nights in each location, but I couldn’t handle moving “home” that often so we changed our plans to move around less!

This is a trivial illustration, but is part of the same thing. If I had been more able to accept something as not-permanent I would have found it a lot easier, and been a much more adventurous and exciting travel partner! And in the same way if we don’t put all our hope in things lasting forever (jobs, houses, etc) we’ll feel less traumatised if and when they change.

When a boat is in wild waters, with changing winds and choppy seas, its anchor is put down. And for us, where we have our anchor determines how well we cope when things change. Regardless of how good my marriage and friends may be, how stable my financial situation is, how good my health is, there is only one thing I can be 100% confident will never change:

My God. If everything on earth was taken away he would still stay the same, as he has done since the beginning of time. This brings me such peace, such relief. He doesn’t always stop the changes I dread or hurry up the changes I’m waiting for. But he is constant through it all.

That’s where I want my anchor to be.

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big decisions

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Don’t you love that feeling when you’ve just made a big decision?

When you know it’s the right one.

The relief. The peace. The “everything’s gonna be ok” satisfaction in your gut.

And the longer you’ve been agonising over a decision the better that feeling is. And you realise how much of the negative thoughts / feelings you’ve had were related to your indecision. And suddenly they’re gone. Bliss.

It feels good.

But then the doubts inevitably come. Down the line, whether it’s days, months or years, you’ll wonder if you made the right decision. It won’t feel so right, and sometimes it will hurt.

What do you do then? Well it’s at that point that you need to remember how you felt, and what you said, at the moment of decision. When the marriage gets hard, you remind yourself that you said “in sickness and in health”. When the kids just won’t listen you remind yourself that you looked at them in those first moments and promised to love them no matter what. When you’ve lost sight of what God is doing in your life, remind yourself that you decided to follow Jesus, wherever that took you.

When we make these big decisions, we often have no idea what we’re letting ourselves in for. By good design I reckon. If we knew we’d some day doubt we have what it takes to finish we’d be less brave, less courageous in our dreams, in what we decide to take on and commit to.

So. Next time you’re about to make a big decision, take note of how you feel, how excited and positive you are – you’ll probably need to come back to it one day.

And next time you’re discouraged by something not going as well as you’d hoped in the beginning, take yourself back to the beginning. Read your notes (literal or metaphorical), and be encouraged by that version of you. You might have moved on a bit, and the dream might need adapting, but it’s still you. You still have it in you.

Whatever you do, don’t shrink your dreams down to your (perceived) capabilities.

“Always aim for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”.     W. Clement Stone

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what you’ve got is perfect

I was doing some work in the garden recently and was finding jobs for my 3 year old to do in the interests of keeping him occupied. I passed him a trowel and showed him which were the weeds that needed digging up, and which were the plants I wanted to keep.

He got going on the weeds and said “why do you not want these mummy?” I replied, “because they’re weeds”. Like a good toddler his questioning didn’t stop there…”Why don’t you want the weeds mummy”…Why did I not want the weeds? I don’t know! When I looked at them closely they were actually quite pretty.

It got me thinking, what is a weed, and why don’t we like them? The definition of a weed is “A plant considered undesirable, unattractive or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted”.

A couple of days later, my boy was out in the garden again and he came in to find me and presented me with this…

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Suddenly these weeds were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen – because they had been chosen and picked for me.

The plants themselves aren’t much, you certainly wouldn’t pay anything for them in a garden centre. But used in this way made them beautiful. They were perfect.

How often do we write things off, write people off, ourselves off, because we regard them as useless? As ugly things. But as with weeds, all things can be used in ways that make them beautiful.

The old adage, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is also relevant here. I’m very aware that not everybody is quite so smitten with my son as I am(!), so part of the reason my heart melted so is because of how I feel about him.

And that is only a fraction of how God feels about me, about you. So no matter how ugly some things about me are, if I bring him an offering with the same intent as I was brought these limp weeds, his smile will be as big as mine was.

What do these offerings look like? It’s my thanks for the good in my life, its my gestures of love to other people, its those times I act selflessly for the sake of someone else. These are all I can offer in response to what God has given me, of what he has done for me.

The danger is when we don’t bring these at all because we think they’re not good enough, because we haven’t got it together. But we don’t have to have it together – the whole point of needing God is the fact that we don’t.

So, bring your weeds and don’t listen to the voices that tell you it’s not enough. Because it is.

It’s perfect.

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New beginnings

My little boy joined the nursery class at his school today. These are big days for a family:

It’s the end of toddler groups.

It’s the end of us staying in pajamas until lunchtime (we’re really going to love school holidays for that!)

It’s the start of the school run

It’s the start of polishing shoes

It’s the start of calling people ‘Miss’

It’s a whole load of new friends to be made – for us both

It’s the beginning of the rest of our lives.

There’s a decision to be made on how you feel about days like today. I can be sad for how quickly the time has gone where I had him all to myself, and nervous about all that will change. Or I can be excited about how he’s going to grow, and what I’m going to do with my new found ‘me-time’.

There are a lot of unknowns about the next few months for us as a family; but because I have a God I can trust, who I know has my life in His hands, I can look forward with nothing but confidence and excitement about the future. In fact, we all can – His hands are big enough!

So. I’m getting out my new metaphorical book bag and polishing my shoes. Ready for whatever is next.

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growing dead seeds into life

Do you ever feel like your life is like a garden in winter? As if everything is dead; no flowers, no fruit, not even any leaves; no matter how hard you work, its as if you’re fighting against the very elements – with no sunshine or warmth nothing can grow.

These periods are hard to go through in your life, it is so easy to lose hope that you’ll ever flower again.

But if you think about it, there are not many gardens that don’t make it through the winter, before long you can see tiny buds appear as the bravest of plants push through the ground. And I have found this to be true in life too. Sometimes the harshest of circumstances can last for so long that it feels almost cruel, but we can always have faith that we’ll move beyond it.

There’s a few verses in the bible that talk about this, it says “When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. What you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed…Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have.” (1 Corinthians 15:36-38)

Sometimes life seems full of disappointments, hurts and failures, and it can feel like God is putting each of these bad things in your life to test you, or worse.

But how about we turn it around and see these simply as dead seeds, something that given time and the right conditions will grow into something beautiful, something bearing fruit.

What conditions does it take for dead seeds to grow?

– Rain: If the difficult time in your life feels like incessant rain and rising floods, remember this is so necessary to allow stuff to grow. It’s all part of the cycle.

– Sunshine: Nobody can live with no sun at all, and although sometimes it feels like its pretty rare, you’ll always find some (see an earlier post for more on this – https://bethanywheeler.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/midnight-sun-and-polar-night/). Seek out the sun; find stuff, people, activities, places that make you smile, where you feel warmer, and stay there a while.

– Food: As a christian I know that I need to feast on good food for the soul if I’m going to get through hard times. Often its the things I read and learn in the good times that I rely on when things get tough. For me, this is the bible – a whole load of truth that God wrote for me in every season of life.

– Time: I think I would find life easier if I was better at waiting, if I didn’t want everything NOW. Waiting is how we learn patience, perseverance & trust, and often the most precious treasures can be found in those waiting times. (I also wrote a post on this a while ago – https://bethanywheeler.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/trust-waiting-and-patience/).

You and I can know that God has good plans for our lives, that He knows what He’s doing and that He cares about how we feel about the way things turn out. So when you’re in the harshest of winters you can have hope that before long spring will come, in fact if you look hard enough I bet you can see some little buds pushing through the ground.

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Whatever you do. Don’t stop

I was out for a run this morning and while I was struggling to keep breathing let alone running I remembered a great quote I read recently.

Commitment doesn’t start at the beginning when you are pumped up. It starts when the fun stops, the going gets tough & you don’t want to do it.

I decided this week I want to get into a habit of having a run / prayer time first thing in the morning. I felt pretty committed to it when I first planned it. Even when I woke up this morning and I really didn’t want to get out of bed, I still felt committed, because (call me crazy) I heard God whisper to me to get my day started by chatting to him. So I got up and got out there. It was a particularly beautiful morning this morning, and I was having a good time – I was actually enjoying it! Then half way round I hit the “hill”. Ok, so I’m using that term fairly liberally. Those of you who know where I live will be struggling to imagine where within 3km of my house there is a hill! So, ok, relatively speaking I hit the hill. It’s enough of an incline anyway to cause a novice like me a bit of pain. I was about half way round, it was tough going and suddenly I wasn’t having so much fun.

And the thought occurred to me, how often is it like that in life? You start out on something with enough enthusiasm to make the decision to commit to it a bit of a no brainer…And then however long in, you realise it’s not that fun anymore. Things happen to discourage you, it all gets a bit tough, and you suddenly don’t feel that committed anymore.

Now, on my run I felt like stopping but I didn’t. Partly because I already had this blog post forming in my mind, and it wouldn’t have worked if I’d stopped! But also I think there are a few keys to remaining committed when the going gets tough.

1. Remember why you set off doing it in the first place. Maybe you started a new fitness regime, or a job search, or a family with certain motives and goals in mind – remind yourself of those. Some days you’ll need to – especially with the kids one!

2. Consider whether you’re carrying the right fuel on board. I went on my run this morning haven’t not eaten anything – not a smart move. What do you fill your mind with? If you’re setting up a new business you’ll be reading up about how to do it. If you’re trying to kick a habit, whether it’s smoking, gossip or jealousy, perhaps don’t hang around with people who still do what you’re trying to move away from, or stop reading the magazines that are full of “people judging”.

3. Who is your support team? Do you have cheerleaders? I left my husband snoozing in bed this morning, but I know he’s backing me to keep going with this run in the morning malarkey. Similarly he, and a few others make up my support team. Whenever I set off on a new adventure, be it literal or not, they are cheering me on, particularly when it gets tough.

The thing is about a support team, you have to let them in. You have to share your dreams with them, and that can make you feel so vulnerable it’s like you’re stripping yourself naked; you have to let them comment, whether it’s what you wanted to hear or not; and you have to let them pick you up when you inevitably trip up now and again. And again. And again.

Now I should note that sometimes when you’ve entered into some adventures with commitment, despite all your efforts you have to get out of it. However I would say this is less often than not. If you feel like giving up, push that little bit harder, and you might just find you could do it after all.

Finishing any race feels great, but that feeling of making it to the end when you’ve been through difficult times in the middle and yet remained committed and kept going, is one of life’s best. By all means feel fed up sometimes when things don’t go to plan; go ahead, slow down to almost stopping point if it gets hard; and shout at your support team if you’re getting frustrated – that’s what they’re there for!

But whatever you do.

Don’t stop.

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