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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all about today

I have had an epiphany recently. It’s not rocket science, and there’s a chance you’ve heard it before…

Life. Is. Short.

This means a whole load of things. It means you should write a bucket list, and actually do some of the things on it! You should tell your special people you love them everyday, in all sorts of different ways. You should take every opportunity to make other people feel great, because you don’t know how many opportunities you’re going to get.

But the thing that has hit me recently is that you should live in the moment, making the most of where you’re at now.

In our culture we’re always striving for the next thing. We’re either working towards the next promotion, financially saving, chasing our dreams, getting over issues, or looking forward to having kids, and then desperately looking forward to the day those same kids sleep through the night, or get over the terrible twos!

In themselves those things aren’t bad. But so often going after these things can stop us enjoying today. You could spend your whole short life looking to the future instead of getting on with living now. Yes it’s true that this is often easier said than done, that sometimes life is hard and looking to the future is the only way to get you through the day. But I would challenge that there’s nearly always something to enjoy about today.

Worrying about the future is another thing that kills the mood. Whether its the interview you have tomorrow, or your kids leaving home, we all have scary unknowns. Not only have we talked before about how unproductive worry is, but all it does is focus your mind on some point in the future, stopping you from living fully in the present. One of the most sensible verses in the bible says “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”. I don’t need to expand on that one!

For me, I am confident in the God who put the whole universe together, that he has a good future planned for me. For a while now I have known this to be the reason why I truly do not need to worry. But it hasn’t stopped me always waiting for the future. There are things in my life that I am waiting to happen. Some are small, some are big, and they’re all things I believe will make my life better. But for the first time in a while, I also know that where I am right now is good for right now. Not only do I have a lot to be thankful for, but the challenges too are good for me, because of all they teach me.

Life is a big, beautiful, messy story. But it’s made up of thousands of little moments. What we do with each individual moment is what makes the difference. With each situation you find yourself in, or person you’re in front of, you have a choice as to what you do with that.

Make it count.

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