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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midnight sun and polar night

We’ve not had a whole load of sun the last few days, and I’ve been daydreaming about it!  I make no secret of being a bit (or a lot) of a sun-worshipper. I love feeling warm, I love being outside for hours on end, I love getting a tan. But something both obvious and significant has really struck me recently…

The inevitability of the sun. The fact that it rises each dawn. No matter how long or dark the night is, the sun will always come in the morning.

In different seasons of the year the days and nights are longer or shorter, but even in the depths of winter we have at least a few hours of daylight to give us hope for Spring.

It’s like this with the winters and dark nights of our lives. We all go through these times of varying degrees and lengths. And when you’re in the middle of one it is really easy to lose hope. It can feel like the morning will never come, that you won’t feel the warmth of the sun on your face again.

But the bible tells us that the troubles we go through are momentary, that one day we will be in the place where there are no more tears and there is no more suffering. The truth is that some struggles in life won’t end until we reach heaven, but in my experience there’s always just enough light to get through.

In some seasons of life it can feel like there’s no light at all, and its like living in the northern most point of Norway. Tromso is famous for having midnight sun in summer and no daylight at all in Winter. During the darkest weeks the sun never rises above the horizon. However, they do have twilight in the middle of the day, as the sun almost reaches above the horizon. So although they can’t actually see it, the sun is still there, their winter will end and the bright days of summer will come again.

And in dark difficult times I have been through, if I have chosen to look, I have been able to see evidence that God is in fact still there. That although I might not feel the full warmth of his love, presence and blessings on me there is this similar twilight, there is enough to be confident that God has good plans for me and that the sun will rise again. Sometimes it’s an encouraging word from a friend, and sometimes a special display of God’s creation. But God’s faithfulness has always meant that I’ve had just enough light at the end of the tunnel to cling onto.

It is often only when the sun comes up again and when you’re looking back that you can see God’s faithfulness. But none the less I can be absolutely sure that it’s there the whole time. Like the sun, even if its just below the horizon, when winter ends it will rise again.

 

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Don’t worry, Be happy

I asked my three year old what he wanted to do for a job when he was a grown up. He said he wanted to drive a racing car. And his face when he said this – overjoyed with excitement and anticipation. In his mind there is no reason whatsoever why this should not come to pass; it’s all very simple – you want to do something, you grow up and you do it. In other news, we were burgled a couple of nights ago and the grownups’ days have been filled with police visits, insurance calls and tears over our lost possessions. At one point after having told the story for the hundreth time to try and make it less surreal I looked down at the boy, who was in his usual position – happy, lying down on the floor making up games with his cars. I thought out loud, “Oh to be 3 again, life is so simple!”. (Or at least it should be, and my heart breaks for those where that isn’t the case). Everything arrives in front of you when its needed, you spend all day playing and pretty much all worries and sadness you have can be fixed by mummy or daddy.

So when does it all get more serious? When do we start to worry?

There’s a lot to worry about in grownup life. Your children (babies or grown ups), your health, your job security, money, the future. We have no idea how life is going to pan out. We hope and we plan, but there are always a whole load of unknowns that will always be out of our control – and that can be a bit scary. Or a lot scary. And before we know it we’re filled with fear about the future instead of the naive excitement we had when we were kids.

Peace, that’s what we need. It says a lot in the bible about peace, and sometimes it feels like we ask God for it, but it doesn’t come. There’s one verse in particular I’ve come to love, which says

“Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Jesus”. Philippians 4:6-7

So we have a part to play in the whole peace thing. It’s not a trance that we go into where by we have nothing to worry about more. But it’s something that comes when we actively stop worrying. That isn’t to say the worry thoughts will suddenly stop coming to our minds, because that is the most natural reaction we have to anything negative, like bad news. But it’s what we do with the thought when it pops up. And it’s not about telling yourself there’s nothing to worry about, or forcing a more positive reaction. It’s about talking to God about it. Turning into a prayer. Acknowledging that we’re small and can’t fix anything on our own, and that God is big, and gives us everything we need. Then the bit of God that lives inside us, his spirit touching ours, makes us still.

I have experienced this peace. I don’t always get it, because I don’t always turn my worry thoughts into prayers. But when I do, you can’t beat it. I still need my friends and family to talk stuff through with, and I still need to cry on the odd (or regular!) occasion, but at the core of me I know, I just know, that God “knows us far better than we know ourselves, and that’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:27-28.

So, if you are tired of the worrying, and trying to change the bad situations you might face just isn’t working, then give it a go. When a worry thought comes into your mind, talk to God about it, tell him exactly how you feel. Then in the same way that a hug from your mum when you were 3 made you feel better, the God of the universe will give you this peace that we all crave – that feeling that we know everything will be alright in the end.

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Where it all begins…

One part of the Good Friday story that has always intrigued me is how when Jesus died, the big curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom. Behind this curtain was the really special place, where God’s presence was. Only the high priest went in here, and only he went once a year, to offer a sacrifice and make things right with God on behalf of all the people.

But when Jesus died, he took down this barrier. Because he made the ultimate sacrifice, we are no longer separated from God.  We have direct access to him now. We can walk right up to him with our heads held high and no shame. We can meet with him and talk with him. With the God who created us and the world we live in. With the God who knows our every thought and need. With the God who gives us real life.

Jesus died so we could find real life. A free life.

So we can be free from having to strive to impress other people or even to impress God, because he knows who we really are and thinks we’re amazing! We can be free from stress about our future because God has it all worked out and knows what he’s doing. We can be free from beating ourselves up for mistakes we’ve made because Jesus paid for it once and for all. We can be free from fear because we can trust in the God who has promised to always be on our side.

But I find that I put up my own barriers that Jesus sacrificed so much to remove. I rely more on what I can and can’t do than letting God do his thing with me. But Jesus once said he was the only way to get to God. To the giver of this free life. I can’t get that on my own.

And Good Friday is where it all happened. This is where real life begins. I have no idea why I ever try it any other way.

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100% me?

So we’re all pretty mad about horsemeat being found in beef products. The general consensus seems to be that the horror is not actually that we might have eaten horse, but because it was advertised and sold as something else.

It has raised a question for me though about how often something is not what it says on the tin. And I don’t mean whether there is in fact chicken in vegetarian sausages. I mean people. Us. Me and you.

Are we on the inside what we “sell” ourselves to be on the outside?

Are you really kind and nice to people, then think bitchy things about them? Do you know a lot of stuff but see it make no difference in your life? Are you an “I’m fine” person, regardless of what’s going on in your heart?

Of course we’re not going to say everything that comes to our mind, and we’re not going to bare our deepest secrets to everyone. But if we spend more time filtering whats inside before it comes out than being ourselves we have to question what’s going on at the core. 

I have been challenged recently to spend more time caring about what God thinks of me than what other people might think, because at the end of my life it’ll be Him I answer to. It says in the bible,

“God doesn’t look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart”.

I have always thought of this in relation to physical appearance. But actually I think it’s more. It really doesn’t matter what so and so thinks of how trustworthy, knowledgeable, kind I am. What matters is what is true, what I’m really like. That’s what matters to God. That’s what should matter to me.

Focusing on what God thinks – or knows – is what makes the biggest difference to the real me on the inside, which changes the outward stuff too. If I really get this, if I truly care more about his opinion than the voices in the world (or in my head!), not only will I be free from the preoccupying  worry about how things appear, but I’ll find it comes easier to be kind, trustworthy, patient, and all these other things. Because this is what my creator always intended me to be. And only He can change me on the inside. And only if I let him. If I let him get to the real me.

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optimism vs pessimism

There are 2 kinds of people (well actually there’s millions but for now, lets talk about 2). They can be identified by the question, “is the glass half full or half empty”. These 2 types of people approach both everyday and big life moments in the opposite way. Take for example the run for the bus.

 What they’re thinking  Optimist Pesimist
As they’re running  If I run, I might just make that bus  I’ll run but sod’s law says it’ll pull away just as I get there
 If they make make the bus  I love today Wasn’t expecting that…won’t happen tomorrow
 If they don’t make the bus Nevermind, there’ll be another one in a minute  Told you so, will have to wait ages now

This is obviously pretty trivial, and isn’t going to make a massive difference in life, but depending on how you approach that scenario probably tells a lot about how you approach life in general.

Now, which is the way you should be? The bible tells us not to worry, Monty Python tells us to always look on the bright side of life, and Churchill once said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.

I’ve written before about how we get on better in life if we don’t moan, and how seeing the best in ourselves, in others and in life’s situations makes us happier and nicer to be around.

But I would put myself in the pessimist bracket. I take an umbrella out with me in my bag everyday, even (especially!) in summer. “Just in case”. I take the view that this means I’m just being realistic, and I end up disappointed less. I’d rather think I was getting nothing for my birthday and get a nice surprise when something turned up, than hope for the the world and be disappointed with socks. (n.b. I love socks).

The real tricky thing is mixing optimists and pessimists. The optimist says “I’ll be there in 10 mins”, arrives in 20 mins and leaves the pessimist disappointed. The pessimist drains the optimist with all the reasons why the journey may well take more than 10 mins.

What’s the answer? I’m not sure! Perhaps pessimists need to take Monty Python’s advice once in a while and optimists need to be a bit more realistic sometimes? I think the main thing to remember is that not everyone is like us, so lets be aware of who we’re talking to when we’re either singing from the roof tops about the half full glass or moaning about it being half empty. And cut each other some slack when we get it “wrong”!

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trust, waiting and patience

I have been thinking a lot recently about trust. About trusting in God for stuff I can’t see yet. Whether its things, circumstances or changes I’m after, I have come to realise that the least stressful way of working and waiting for these things is to trust. 

Waiting. 

And as a general rule I’m not great at waiting. If I want to have or achieve something, I want it yesterday. But my latest lesson is that trust and patience go together. 

In the bible there’s a big old story about when the nation of Israel first went on the journey to find their “promised land”. Moses was up a mountain chatting to God about what He had planned, and what He expected of them. The people knew where he’d gone and had committed to do whatever God had said. But Moses was gone longer than they were comfortable with and they couldn’t wait any longer so made their own god out of gold. A golden cow. They started bowing down to a golden cow.

And Moses was only gone just over a month. How about that for impatience. I read that story and think if that was me I’d have managed to wait a bit longer without giving up on God, without going back on the commitments I’d made to him.

But then I think of the things I’m trusting God for. About how it goes well for a while, then I get impatient, start to worry and stress, and either try to fix things myself or just give up all together. And it has probably taken less than a month to get to this point. So really am I any better than the golden cow worshiping people?

One definition of trust is “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing”.

And what better integrity, strength, ability, surety can be found than in my God? Who called me from the beginning of time, who sees the span of eternity in one glance, who has promised to be with me always. 

So, trusting isn’t about just saying I trust in something or someone, in God. It’s about making the commitment to trust, then waiting, patiently if possible for God to show His faithfulness to me once again. Which he will. That’s a given

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If you want to see the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain

Image

We’ve had a lot of rain recently. As I write this I’m sitting in my living room looking outside at the grey skies. But as I lower my eyes from the clouds I can see the benefit of all this rain. Green. Green and more green. The grass is lush (and long…really must get the lawnmower out!) and the trees are so full of leaves they look ready to burst. Without all the rain we get in England it’d look like a very different place…nowhere near as beautiful.

And in life it’s often like this. Without the hard times we’ve experienced, we wouldn’t be who we are. “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our hope.” Romans 3:3-4. As a christian I have the assurance that God will look after me no matter what, that his plans for me are good, that even though the paths I walk down are not always easy he will not leave me to walk them alone. He is always with me, and he has put good people in my life who walk with me too. So really I may aswell, as the bible verse says actually rejoice in the hard times, because ultimately I know good will come. My character will be strengthened and lessons will be learned that will help me in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this means we should seek out hard times, or that we’re required to try and pretend we’re happy about yet another thing going wrong. But when I find myself in the desert or the rocky places, its about asking God to be with me, (which really is about reminding myself that he is, because he doesn’t need any persuading!) and deciding there and then that instead of worry and and whinging, I choose trust and peace. Trust that God has it all in hand, and peace that He’s with me all the way. Worrying doesn’t change the outcome of a situation anyway, it just makes it harder to go through.

Not as easy as it sounds, I know. And there are countless times in my life when I’ve not made this choice, and have paid the price. But the times when I have decided to trust God and look for the positives in the midst of the storm I have been totally amazed at the difference…There are aspects of my character that have been borne out of difficult times, like the fact that I don’t worry about money as much as I used to because when we had very little after our baby was born I chose to trust God that we would not run out. And how I’m taking the lesson of being more patient when life doesn’t go to my plans. And our feelings do eventually catch up with our thoughts, our decision to not worry eventually changes the emotion. But that’s where it starts – in the mouth / mind, when it “feels” impossible to be ok.

And whether you believe in this God who is in control and with us, or not – I’m pretty sure you’ll find you have a more calm state of mind / soul if you give it a go.

“If you want to see the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain”

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a day of rest a week? yes please!

As I start to write this it’s 9 o clock on Sunday morning, we’re all fed, nearly all dressed, the first load of washing is out to dry, we’ve tweeted and we’re watching last night’s Match of The Day…all pretty standard for a Sunday.

But check this out…

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy”             Exodus 20:8-11

This is one of the commandments in the bible. Right alongside “Do not murder” and “Do not steal”. So one day out of every seven we’re told – not advised, not just given the option – we’re actually commanded to have a day of rest dedicated to God.

We need rest to protect us; to protect our bodies from wearing out as we rush about our work, families, friends & all the other stuff we do; to protect our spirit from tuning out from God’s voice, so we can still hear him through all the white noise of life’s busyness; and to protect our soul from burning out, so that we can find those still waters God promises us to renew our strength when life has made us weary.

I find it surprising that God needed the rest, after all we’re told elsewhere in the bible that God never gets tired. This suggests that the sabbath is about more than simply taking a break from things. At the end of his hard work, God looked back at what he’d done to see what he thought (He loved it!!) And it’s good for us too, to regularly take stock of what we have been given & what we’ve achieved. To enjoy it instead of just rushing onto the next thing.

It also says that no-one in the household is to work, not our servants(!), or any visitors we have, not even the mums! I like this idea that everyone is in this whole resting thing together, so it becomes a family time. Can be shared with friends of course, but we take a break from the norm and get back to what’s important in life.

But in reality how on earth are we supposed to do this. These days we all have too much going on in our lives to take a whole day every week to do nothing. Dan and I can’t just decide one day a week to absolve our responsibilities and just kick back and please ourselves. So that’s clearly not what it means, to do nothing. To not do any jobs, not go to the shops, not cook or change a nappy. So what is it? In family life how can we make it happen? I’ve taken it to mean making an effort for it to be a special day, making it different from the rest. Forcing ourselves if necessary to take a break from the go-go-go way of life we slip into most of the time.

So as a family we’re going to have Sundays as our sabbath. We’ll try to get jobs done so that we can take a break on a Sunday. We’ll not be checking facebook or twitter on our phones every hour. We’ll eat together with friends but not cook anything that’s going to take hours to prepare or clear up. We’ll have trips out instead of using the telly to entertain us at home. We’ll enjoy the good things in our life and thank God for them. We gave it a go today and although physically I’m no less tired, I’ve loved it – I feel refreshed, I’m happy and ready for the week ahead.

Right, best get on with the ironing…someone’s gotta do it!

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choosing to be thankful

Today is the day of Thanksgiving. And I woke up this morning with a sense of happiness, and yes, thankfulness. I love my family, I’m celebrating tonight with friends, and perhaps most significantly I was still all warm and tucked up in bed.

Then the day really began. Coco’s struggling with a cold and growing up to be a very willful little guy (no idea where he gets that from!!!) so we had a tricky few hours & I was wrung out by 10:30, feeling pretty fed up with how this (& a whole load of other stuff that I won’t bore you with) had ruined my happy, thankful, “I love my life” mood!

But it struck me that being thankful isn’t about being happy when we’re having a good day. The bible tells us to, “whatever happens, keep thanking God”. It seems, being thankful is a choice. It’s not a feeling. It’s an action. And its not just for the sake of it, because we’re told to. But because it’s good for us, it actually changes things.

It’s about being positive. Not the fake positive, saying “I’m fine thanks” when what I actually want to do is cry. But about, when I’m feeling miserable taking a minute to think about the good stuff in my life, instead of allowing the negatives to take over my thoughts.

And it’s about acknowledging that all these good things have come from God, reinforcing my dependence on Him, and giving me faith and courage to trust Him for the things I don’t yet have.

Perhaps this is easy for me to write, because the boy has gone for a nap so I have brief respite from today’s immediate difficulties. And its much harder to do this whole positive, thankful thing when it feels like your problems are much bigger and won’t go away. But I think the principal is the same no matter what the circumstance, even if sometimes it takes a little more perseverance.

Give it a go. Be thankful for the good stuff, and have faith that the bad stuff will get better.

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