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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Imagine what life would be like without worry.   I remember that heady freedom I felt as a child  riding in the car with the windows down, long before child restraints became mandatory, my nose stuck out the window smelling the freshly cut grass, the wind rushing through my hair and a big smile on my face, ready for anything.

I thought that by this stage in life I would have worry all figured out.  I recall jumping onto a plane as a young woman full of nothing but excitement, anticipation and wondering whether I’d order a red or white wine once we took off.  I loved listening to Midnight Oil and Angels songs throbbing on my big old Walkman as the plane soured into the air. Taking off was my favourite part of the trip – so thrilling to feel the plane’s  power, energy and oomph as we climbed into the big blue sky.

These days flying is a very different matter.  The loud rock songs and delicious beverage decisions have vanished from my mind, and in their place are whispers of:  that guy in front of us looks a bit shifty – he could be a terrorist;  what was that grinding noise in the plane’s engine;  what if my son vomits all over the smart-looking woman next to him; my ankles are feeling puffy – I hope it’s not deep vein thrombosis;  did I switch off the iron before leaving the house?  And on and on it goes, relentless and immobilising.  Tapping my toes to Peter and Doc has become an exquisite and bittersweet memory.

Worry can act as a giant eraser, rubbing all the colour and beauty out of life.  I noticed this at the end of the school holidays when I visited a local café with my sons for breakfast.  After a long summer holiday I was feeling unusually relaxed and virtually worry-free.   We sat at the same table as last time – the very first day of the holidays – and I was amazed at the striking coloured graffiti on the wall in front of me.  I commented to my sons and one responded with: “It’s been there all along Mum”.  I disagreed as I’d never seen it before…  So when the waitress came along laden with cappuccino and milkshakes I told her how much I loved the new artwork.  “Oh, that was done before we opened the Café, it’s been there for quite a  while…”  Last time I was in the café I was so tired, stressed and full of anxiety that I didn’t even see all of this colour, movement and artistic expression, right in front of me!  It was an eerie moment of self awareness.  My worry was robbing me of all the best bits in life – the beautiful, special and the meaningful bits.

Yet when I reflect on the times I’ve had to face something really challenging, such as a medical diagnosis that could be fatal, I realise that hiding beneath the heavy layers of shock and despair was a tiny glimmer of hope.  Whether it was a line in a song on the radio,  a conversation overheard in the hospital lift, or simply the uplifting presence of a friend by my side – I caught a little glimpse of light that ignited something in my spirit. I knew I would get through this dark valley – there was a way through and a wellspring to sustain me.  Surely, this little glimmer can be ignited now too, when worry springs up uninvited like a weed threatening to strangle all the joy and colour out of life.

Big problems aren’t always solved with big solutions.  Do you know that a mustard seed is only 1-2 mm in diameter?  A wise man once said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move a mountain. It sounds like a crazy concept, I know, but there’s something in it.

So when those worrying whispers start up in my mind I look for the mustard seed of faith, wrapped in whispers of:   all will be well, you will get through this, things will get better – nothing stays the same, God loves you and nothing can separate you from his love, nothing is impossible, you have a purpose, don’t give up, never give up, just put one foot in front of the other and keep on going…

Seeds have an uncanny knack of taking root and growing.  If you dare to have that first little bit of faith and take a look a few years later, you realise that the seed has taken root and it’s growing taller, green shoots becoming stems and branches.  I’ve heard that in ideal conditions a mustard tree can grow to 3-5 metres tall.  Pretty impressive for a 1-2 mm seed.

So never underestimate small beginnings.  The wise man who told this story knew exactly what he was talking about.  He faced insurmountable challenges of his own with remarkable courage and grace.  Moving mountains seems easy compared with what this wise man actually did.  He transformed sickness into health, despair into hope, pain into comfort, oppression into freedom, prejudice and hate into compassion and love, and ultimately, life victorious over death.

I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be truly carefree again – window down and the wind in my face – strands of hair getting stuck in my teeth.  Maybe I’ll even take to the skies with the Oils or the Angels throbbing in my ears – wondering whether to order the white or the red – worry gone at last and freedom firmly in its place.

 

mountain

 

 

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Friday in Sydney was wild and windy.   Walking to my friend’s house for morning tea seemed a sensible idea – good for the environment and my thighs.   As I strode along the footpath, the wind rushed by, carrying leaves, twigs and dust in its icy fingers.   The gusts were unpredictable – howling against my right cheek, and then circling menacingly and lifting the back of my coat with another chilly gust.    At one stage the wind groaned eerily and I expected to see tumbleweed rolling down the street and John Wayne jogging by on his horse.

As I pulled my jacket close and squinted against the antics of the wind, I pondered its intensity.   I couldn’t ignore the wind, even though I couldn’t actually see it.   It was demanding my attention.  So often it is only what I see with my eyes in this material world that gets my attention.

I have a regular discussion with certain friends about the wisdom or stupidity of believing in the spiritual world – in things that cannot be seen with our eyes.   The views of the atheist often sound clever and logical, whilst faith in the unseen seems naive and childish.   It could be said that the Bible encourages this naive and childish belief:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1:

If life were always sensible and logical then I guess I’d agree with my atheist friends. However, life sometimes defies all logic.

Last week, during a particularly bad parenting day, I sat and had a loud and ugly cry.   An old friend’s face crossed my mind and I suddenly longed to talk to her.  She had gone through a very similar journey with her kids and I felt an overwhelming need to reconnect with her.  However, we hadn’t spoken for a couple of years and I felt too weak and tearful to call her, particularly after so long. I prayed silently that somehow we would meet again.

About an hour later the phone rang and my son ran to answer it.  Can you imagine my shock when the very girl I’d been thinking of was on the other end of the line, wondering if we could catch up?   I was able to tell her what was troubling me and her words were both helpful and soothing – exactly what I needed to hear.

Looking back over my life I can see many of these ‘coincidences’.  I’m sure you’ve experienced them too.   How do we explain these times when forces beyond us seem to work for our good and restore our hope?

One evening I went to bed but each time I shut my eyes I saw a vision of an old man’s ashen face.   I knew somebody was in trouble and I spent hours praying for this old man, still clueless about his identity.  In the early hours of the morning the troubling vision finally left and I could shut my eyes and fall asleep in peace.   At 6am the telephone rang and our aunt tearfully shared that our elderly uncle had passed away in the early hours of the morning.

Friday’s wind reminded me that there is so much I truly don’t understand, but having tasted a little of the wonder of the spiritual world, I long to know more.  

The Spirit of God is described as a ‘rushing mighty wind’ in the Bible:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.   Acts 2:2 

It is interesting that even on the day of Pentecost the Spirit of God was heard and felt, rather than seen.   Just because we can’t see something, doesn’t make it less real.   An encounter with God’s spirit is indeed an awe-inspiring and life-changing experience yet it is also a mystery and something most of us can’t fully grasp.

Just like the wind, gusting around me, invisible yet real, I’m so often amazed by the ‘coincidences’ of life that reveal  glimpses of the spiritual world.  They are the enriching moments when I know that no matter how lonely, lost or fearful I may feel, there is a bigger plan, and that around me are invisible arms, gently holding me up, warming me and helping me take the next step forward.

One day I hope to see the beauty of this spiritual world in all its fullness.  Until then I’ll be content to walk in the wind, keeping my heart and mind open to the many mysteries there are to discover.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.   I Corinthians 13:12

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The afternoon is grey and I drive the boys to the shops.    I cave in to their pleas for some Pokemon cards, heavy with ‘working in school holidays guilt‘ after leaving them with a friend for the day.    I never go to the shops on a Tuesday afternoon and am pleased that it is quiet and there are plenty of parking spots.

I notice the sun is shining now, but I still feel grey.   Where has the colour gone?   Each step is an effort and my mind is foggy.    I can’t remember what it is like to have energy and motivation.   The grey is like the mist of  a London evening, chilling my lungs as I breathe it in, cold and damp against my skin.   I recognise this greyness – the exhaustion, the depression and the burn-out.

I’m praying for help to climb out of this invisible pit, as I take my sons’ hands and enter the shops.  I  hunt for some change for the Pokemon cards and head for the bread shop.   I can’t even think what I need to buy for dinner.   I’m longing for a sign, a kind word, or a bolt of lightening from above.

Then I hear a voice, calling my name.  A bright, clear and familiar voice.  It’s my friend and she is holding a bunch of bright orange flowers toward me and saying something incongruous. 

I just bought you flowers.  I left work, as I felt the urge to buy you flowers.  God told me I had to buy you flowers.   And here you are!

I am stunned and feel shaky.  I can hardly find the words to thank her.   I stare at the vibrant orange of the gerberas and roses, so rich and deep – warm colours which rapidly invade the greyness and send the mist scurrying away.    Around me all the colours return – like a black and white movie screen slowly transformed into radiant Technicolor.

I try not to cry as I hug my friend, my face relaxing into a smile.   She has to get back to work and I hold the flowers in my arms.   The boys and I go to a cafe where I have a warm, comforting cappuccino and we laugh together. 

Many years ago, after re-discovering God after a long absence from his presence, I went shopping for a new dress.   I had been invited to a wedding, and I had recently lost a lot of weight, and had no idea what would suit me.   I asked God to come shopping with me and to tell me which dress to buy.   Crazy as that sounds, I set off with complete confidence.  

At the first dress shop I found several dresses and tried on the first.   It was shorter than I usually wore,  shiny black and fitting, with a white spotted collar just off the shoulders, and I wasn’t sure.    I asked God what he thought and stepped outside of the cubicle where the mirror was.     I heard a booming male voice behind me:

That looks wonderful.   You must buy it!

For a moment I thought God had actually spoken out loud, but I turned to see my old Sunday-school teacher, who was waiting for his wife.   He smiled widely and continued to tell me how great I looked and urged me to buy the dress.   So my decision was made and I had many fantastic evenings in that dress!

Sceptics would say my encounters with God are coincidences and may even suggest that I am naive and even a little mad.  Yet I could write pages about similar incidents when I’ve asked for God’s help and he has come through for me, regardless of whether I’m facing terminal illness or the trivialities of  everyday life.

My friend who gave me the flowers, and my old Sunday School teacher, are both sensitive and intuitive people.    I’m so grateful that my friend listened to God on that grey Tuesday afternoon and brought the colour back into my world.    Imagine the impact we could have on one another and on a suffering world if we truly listened to that inner voice, and acted on the promptings in our spirit.   Next time you feel the urge to show some kindness, even if it’s slightly outside your comfort zone, take the plunge.  You may actually be acting as the hands of God and touching somebody who really needs it.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.      Hebrews 11:6

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Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.     – C S Lewis

Each year over four million people flock to Lourdes in France, to bathe in cold pools of healing waters.    There are many documented accounts of miracles at this sacred site.    The origins of the pilgrimage to Lourdes began with Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen year old daughter of devout Christian peasants.   In 1858, Bernadette saw visions of a white-robed lady eighteen times in a small grotto called Massabiele, along the banks of the river Gave de Pau.  In the visions, the lady told Bernadette to “go tell the village priest to build a chapel here” and that many people would soon come in procession to the holy grotto. On the day of the 16th vision,  the lady revealed herself as Mary. During her ecstatic trance in front of the grotto that day, Bernadette suddenly rose from her knees, walked a short distance, and fell to the ground.  She began to dig in the earth until a small puddle of water appeared. Over the next few days the puddle gradually formed into a pool and eventually became the sacred spring for which Lourdes is now so famous.

It is estimated that over 200 million pilgrims have come to Lourdes since 1860.    So many of us are searching for a miracle, and nothing motivates us to embark on this search more fervently than when we are faced with terminal illness.

My memories of the days when Mum was first diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour (glioblastoma multiforme – level four) are dark and cloudy, and still bring tears to my eyes.    On the day of the lengthy surgery, my sisters and I wandered through gloomy hospital corridors and listlessly visited cafes for bitter coffees we didn’t want to drink.   I remember buying a beautiful black shawl at a boutique, in a daze, trying to pretend life was normal, but I knew it would never be quite normal again.   Would she survive, and what damage would be done?    Would she still be my Mum when it was all over?

We were fortunate to be surrounded by supportive friends and I remember some people of strong faith who were believing for a miracle.    They were believing Mum would be totally healed.    I wanted to believe this too, but I was so overcome with shock and grief that I could barely believe the sun would rise the next day.    I took comfort in their strength and determination, and I appreciated their heartfelt prayers.  

We were told the surgery was successful, but even with intense radiotherapy the most time we could hope for was two years.    Mum cried and said she just wanted another five years, and she wanted to live until she was seventy-five.    The heavy weight of defeat descended.    I also felt the defeat in those determined souls around us, who had been believing for a miracle.    Gradually they stopped calling.    It felt that we had failed, we hadn’t had enough faith, and we had succumbed to our despair.

However, this week I noticed something.     If Mum lives until Christmas she will have survived for five years.    Only two percent of people with this type of brain tumour survive for five years.    Mum will be turning seventy-seven this year – two extra years than she pleaded for.    Although confined to a nursing home and unable to walk, Mum has accepted her plight and every day she smiles and today she laughed loudly as my youngest son tickled her feet.    Every time I see her we say ‘I love you’ and hold hands.     There is contentment and joy in Mum that I never saw when she was well.    I don’t understand why this is.  Perhaps the loss of capacity due to the brain damage has lessened her awareness and her anxiety about life.    Yet I no longer question this.   It is a gift.

I’ve also watched relationships healed and restored in our family.    Many times in the past I despaired at the level of misunderstanding and bitterness and felt nothing could ever be done to bridge the gap.    Yet the gap has been bridged by a struggle for life which has allowed our family to discard all the trivialities of past hurts and pain.     It is as if we now hold in our hands the pure essence of our bond of love, and we have been given this precious time to appreciate this blessing.

I think of the prayers uttered nearly five years ago which seemed to fail so dismally.    We all wanted Mum to jump up and be instantly healed and restored, like the blind and crippled who Jesus compassionately touched when he walked the earth.    I still long for this, however, I wonder if God did indeed hear our pleas and he did answer our prayers.   Was I so concerned with the immediate, that I lost sight of the ‘big picture’ and the eternal?    I wonder if I missed the miracle.     When I look at the peace in Mum’s eyes, the healing that has taken place in our family, and the unexpected time we have had to be together, it is miraculous.     I had my own idea of what a miracle should look like.   But was my idea really the best outcome?     I’m beginning to see that what God has done is  even better, and that miracles are not confined to bible stories and wishful thinking.    I’m daring to believe that miracles really do happen.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.      Hebrews 11:1

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Last night I awoke at 2.00am and felt a presence in our room.   It was a warm feeling, like being held in loving arms before a crackling fireplace, basking in the heat from the flames and the body next to me.   I recognised the joyful welcome and the faint scent of lavender.    I knew it was  Grandma.

Grandma died when I was a child, but for a while she lived in the back section of our home, and I loved to skip up the hallway and have breakfast with her.   She wore soft pastel cardigans, wool skirts and comfortable slippers.    She was carefree and smiling and always happy to see me.   She served steaming porridge on cold winter mornings, with brown sugar and creamy milk.  

We would eat together and talk about life.   Mum always told me that Grandma was very ‘religious’ and had gone to many different churches and denominations, searching for one which suited her.   Sometimes Mum was quite critical of Grandma’s church hopping.   Despite being an astute businesswoman in her time, some churches tried to exploit her.   Dad used to tell me stories of certain ‘church people’ knocking on their door when he was a boy, demanding money as tithes and offerings to their church.    But Grandma wasn’t anybody’s fool, and she would soon  move on and continue in her search for a church with integrity.  

One thing I do know about Grandma is she had a deep faith in God which wasn’t rocked by the inability of these churches to value her.   I still have a little book she gave me before she died, about how much God loves me.   It portrays the story of a lost sheep, and the lengths Jesus as shepherd took to find this lost sheep and bring it to safety.   The last picture was of Jesus holding a tired and grubby lamb safely in his arms.   I kept the book  under my pillow at one stage and read it hundreds of time.   She would talk to me about God’s unconditional love and it amazed me, although I didn’t really understand it then.

Last night it dawned on me that all those years ago Grandma had prayed for her son (my father), his wife (my mother) and their three daughters (my sisters and I).   I remember dutifully going along to Sunday School and Church with Mum, but it was dry and dull and seemed more about social tradition than real faith.  My Dad stayed as far away from church as possible for most of his life.   My earliest memories of church life are not positive ones, and are in stark contrast to the loving and kind God which Grandma portrayed.

Each of us have walked different paths through life since then, but here we are forty years later, and my sisters and I, and both my parents, eventually found a true faith in God.   Dad left his conversion until his final years, but I believe he left on his final journey safe in loving arms, just  like the lamb in my book.    I’ve discovered it doesn’t matter where you start, but only where you finish. 

I wonder how much of our spiritual destiny came about because of Grandma’s prayers.    Her prayers were like a torch-light, which she switched on many years ago, to light the way for us so many years later.  Last night I thanked her for the legacy she left us, for loving us and believing in us all those years ago, and especially for praying for us.

These days I love to pray.  I pray for my husband and my children.  I pray for my friends and acquaintances when they go through difficult times.   I pray for babies as they come into the world, and I pray for those leaving this world.   I pray for my many brave friends battling cancer and for people I see suffering on the streets.  I pray for a world which can at times be ugly, dark and brutal.   Sometimes I wonder if my prayers are making any impact, or if I’m just wasting my time.    But after my visit from Grandma last night I feel empowered to keep on praying.   I can see that prayer can work miracles, and exceed all our expectations, even if we don’t live to see the results.

If thou shouldst never see my face again, pray for my soul.  More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

Lord Tennyson

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Have you ever done something stupid that makes you blush and cringe every time you remember it?   Yesterday I had one of those moments.  

It was my last day at work before a fortnight’s holiday, so I ploughed through the day, attempting to tick off my ‘to-do’ tasks and leave a clean slate.   I left work late and then headed to the local shopping centre for one of my least favourite shopping experiences – the quest for new swimmers.   The change room was as traumatic as ever, with the cruel fluorescent light enhancing all the wrong places.  I almost strangled myself with some cross over straps, got stuck in another very snug racing style number, and had to bite my knuckles to avoid laughing outrageously when I tried on a hot pink extravaganza.   Finally, I found a tasteful, comfortable, and unobtrusive navy blue one-piece and decided that it would have to do.

Feeling weak and wilted after this confronting experience, I staggered back to the elevator so I could slip out to my car and head home.   The elevator was empty, so I walked in and pressed the button.    The door closed gently and I felt the floor shudder slightly, wobble a bit, and then a red arrow began flashing,  indicating we were travelling up.   I watched the light.  I watched the light some more and it just kept flashing.   The wobbling had stopped but the flashing light continued.   All I could hear was the eerie howling of the wind.    The minutes ticked by and the realisation struck me that I was stuck in the elevator.

Swallowing back rising panic I read the instructions on the side panel.    In case of emergency, ring the alarm bell.   I pressed the alarm bell for five seconds, as instructed and listened to the shrill siren.  I heard a woman’s voice, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying.   I waited for a few more minutes and then pressed it again, for longer this time.   This time there was no voice.

By this stage, I was perspiring, trembling and could hardly breathe.  I wondered if I suffered from claustrophobia and just hadn’t noticed before.   All I could think about was my husband and sons, and how much I wanted to be home with them.  Would anyone ever find me in here?  How typical it was to be abducted from life just before going on holidays.    I pressed the alarm again, for much longer this time.   There was silence and the lift was perfectly still.

Then an idea struck me.   What if I try to open the door?   I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea.   What would it look like if I was suspended between floors?  Could it cause the lift to slip and crash to the bottom?  All the movies I have seen about elevator disasters seemed to suggest this.  Or did they?  I was panicking too much to remember.

I took a deep breath and pressed the button to open the doors.    The doors immediately opened helpfully and there I was, in exactly the same place  I’d started, outside the swimwear shop.  

Furtively I glanced from side to side, expecting to see emergency crews rushing to my rescue, but nobody had noticed me.    Quietly and avoiding all eye contact, I drifted out of the lift, and bolted up the stairs and back to my car, heart still pounding, and feeling utterly ridiculous.

It struck me that the feeling I had when I realised I wasn’t trapped was similar to a feeling I’ve had before.   Each time I stand at the bottom of a flight of stairs I hesitate, anticipating the pain I used to feel in my hips prior to surgery.  A part of me doesn’t want to take that first step upwards, but then when I do, the climb is so easy.   It feels like a miracle.

I’ve stayed in unhealthy and abusive relationships feeling that there was no way out, complaining, whingeing and letting the anxiety overtake me.    Yet each time I reach the point where I decide to stand up, walk away, and escape from the misery and hopelessness, the door miraculously opens for me.    Escaping the situation has never been as hard as escaping the mindset of being trapped.  It can be a shock to realise that the door has been open all along, waiting for me to walk on through.

My foolish moment yesterday led me to  wonder if I am still creating prison cells in my life.    One thing my faith constantly teaches me is the need to let go of fear and anxiety, and to allow God to mould me into a woman who embraces courage, adventure and freedom.    Only then can I live life to the full, and walk tall and strong.     Next time I’m feeling worried and fearful, I’m going to remember that crazy elevator moment, and reach straight for the button of faith to open the door.

Then you will know the truth, and truth will set you free.    John 8:32

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