Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Such a blessed comparison

Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash
THERE is one comparison with others we should be making, for our gratitude, to grow in compassion, to train ourselves to see more like God, for our own good. And ultimately for others’ good too.
Have you noticed what happens when you compare yourself with those doing better than you? It has likely made you feel empty and envious. It has probably challenged your self-confidence and self-concept. It has made you less grateful for your life and what you have than you ought to feel.
Have you ever tried comparing with others in the opposite direction? — to compare with those down on their luck compared with you; those less fortunate; those who were born in and live in less materially rich regions of the world; those who have suffered disease and loss and addiction in their families.
When we compare with others we see doing better than us, we end up disappointed. When we compare ourselves with more favourable seasons of past, we end up gloomy. But when we compare with others who aren’t doing so well, we begin to feel two things: grateful for what we have, and we feel empathy for what they don’t have. We certainly shouldn’t feel superior, for the fortunes of life are fickle.
Two opportunities present for us as our awareness of our comparative blessedness increases:
1.     Our gratitude blossoms into joy, because the more we engage in this way of seeing, the more we see the little things we have that others don’t. We enjoy these things more, and we even consider how we might spread the enjoyment we experience to others.
2.     With empathy our character grows in compassion. We feel genuine sadness for what others don’t have, and we may begin to pray for them, and even provide for them, which we understand we need to do in dignifying ways.
Compare not with those who seem better off, but with those who are worse off.
Compare with those doing better and we feel envious, but compare with those undergoing hardship and we feel empathy.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The 3-minute test you spend your whole life preparing for

NEVER do we go through our formative years thinking any of it’s a preparation, but there does come a time when it’s all tested.
One of those pivotal tests for me was between 2300hrs and 2303hrs on October 30, 2014 — meeting my stillborn son. I’ve written about it before, and the reason I write again seems obvious to me. I’m still so amazed that it happened. So real it seems surreal. The scariest moment of my life that I’d have again in a heartbeat if only I could just have him in my arms one final time.
As I looked again through the precious images we have of his birth, I note the time it took for me to meet him, to look at him, to kiss, to touch, to marvel, to grimace, to smell him. It took three whole minutes before I took him over for my wife to meet him. Moments frozen in time. Barely believable if not for the photographic evidence.
The build-up to the emergency caesarean section delivery all seemed in slow motion. It took so much time that several times I wondered, fleetingly, if I really had the grit to do what I was about to do. To do what God and others expected me to do.
What would I feel? Would it overwhelm me? Did I have the courage that the moment would require of me? We were exhausted after a long day of induction for delivery that had gone wrong — did I have the stamina?
Even though I felt some confidence about my answer to these questions, there was no prior experience to draw from. Absolutely uncharted territory. And I could not know how I would handle it until the appointed time came. Between meeting the banter of surgical staff, and reconciling my own private fears alone and with my wife, having had a live birth only the previous year, those minutes ticking up to 2300hrs were tantalisingly alarming.
As it look back there have been several of these kinds of moments over my life. Times when I seriously doubted I could do what I needed to do to succeed. It is common to the human experience to ultimately be taken completely out of our comfort zone.
That moment when the years of preparation come down to holding steady the seconds. Don’t worry. Have faith. You’ll be ready.
Those heaviest of moments, as we look back, required no more courage than many more normal moments, but for simply the decision to stay steady and quell the internal tremor.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

How on earth did I arrive here?

Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash
NEARLY fourteen years ago it happened for the first time I recall. Sitting in an AA meeting in Safety Bay, south of Perth, with a bunch of people I barely knew but was trying to get to know.
I was on my own, trying to make a new way, my world turned upside down.
The feeling itself as I recall was fleeting, but it was the lonely realisation that I was on a journey I could have easily resented, and in fact sometimes did.
In that instant, being that the meeting had not quite started, the moment lacked the structure newbies appreciate.
The moment required courage to stand and not run. Yet, because in those situations we cannot run — for social reasons — we stay in the loneliness of the moment, and pray that we will feel better soon.
In that season of life, I experienced the feeling ‘how on earth did I arrive here’ dozens of times — so many times that I got somewhat used to the sort of feeling we never truly get used to. But it’s the kind of alienated loneliness that none of us ever wants to feel. Yet, it truly does us no long-term harm.
And what of those characteristic lowly lonely moments that are typical of the everyday human experience? Not many of us don’t have them. Doesn’t it cause us to have a newfound respect for everyone we encounter? This life calls us to endure so much.
What if we could see the suffering of life in everyone we met. To encounter with compassion and give kindness, all who share this journey of life with us.
Life has the capacity to render our normal a matter of history. Lord, help us be empathetic with those who are asking, right now, or who are about to ask, ‘how on earth did I arrive here?’

Thursday, January 11, 2018

How long does grief last?

THIS quote on grief I’ll never forget: “I believe it takes a full three years to get through loss.” (Pastor Craig Vernall, April 2017)
The quote astounded me because it seemingly broke with traditional grief wisdom that pegs it as a two-to-twelve-month acute phase process, and something we never truly overcome, but learn to accept.
But there was something about this quote, and the pastor’s testimony, along with my own, that caused me to become curious. At that point it had been less than three years since we had lost Nathanael. It had been an extraordinary experience of loss where we coped so well, but something still didn’t sit well. It was in reflecting over this philosophy, that grief takes a full three years to find its way out of us, that I found hope.
You see, the overall passage of grief we experienced didn’t involve disabling sorrow, but a sorrow that we could visit or that would visit us just briefly — painfully, but briefly. Nathanael’s memory never left us, and we could always talk about him, without duress, in ways that also helped others. Our grief didn’t bear many of the features of typical grief, probably because we grieved for four months before we ultimately lost him. Yet, I think grief did affect me by accentuating parts of my character — some good, some not so good. I was open and approachable in the way I would write about our experience, and how I interacted with others. But I was also susceptible. What surfaced for me in certain situations was an attitude of entitlement; pocket entitlement to be exact. My vulnerability was exposed whenever I perceived a lack of compassion, because I sensed that compassion was the appropriate response to a person’s pain.
We all have vulnerabilities. Grief is something that draws it to the surface, because in a time of loss, when defences are down, we’re at our weakest. In the final analysis, it was a cruel lesson, but sometimes God allows what seems cruel so He can be kind, and teach us something gently over time by His grace. I learned what I needed to learn, the pain is in the past. That’s what counts.
These reflections can only come with time — years of time. In the pre-three-year period we really haven’t received the benefit of a fuller perspective yet. The time hasn’t been worked through. And if grief is anything it’s the negotiation of time within a reality of radically forced change. We cannot say we’re there yet, because the journey always takes longer than we would wish it would take.
I would be the last person to say that grief has a definitive time period, but for me, for us, given our experience at the time, and given Vernall’s testimony, I was convinced it takes a full three years to more fully recover from grief. This is not to say all of us will fully recover within that timeframe.
It begs the question, though, how long does it take to adjust to loss? It varies from person to person, and, given that grief changes not only our lives, but us ourselves as persons, we can be assured, life is never the same again.
Grief takes longer than we would like to recover from, and it is best that there is no pressure to recover within a timeframe, either from ourselves or others.
There are many reasons why people can expect us to be ‘over’ the grief of our loss before we are. But none of these reasons suggest compassion as an appropriate response to the reality of the grief journey.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

How Grief improves Belief

Image by Benedicto de Jesus on Unsplash
MAKE disciples. That was Jesus’ final command. Our first task, however, is to allow the Holy Spirit to make a disciple of us. Grief is pivotal along that journey.
Grief often brings people to belief. A crisis causes us to reflect on the important things in life, besides, when we fall vulnerable to that which we simply cannot reconcile, all that’s left is God. Loss shrouds us in that place where nothing else works. See how the worst can elicit the best?
Grief makes belief better. It forces us to test everything. Whatever belief we had will need to endure the flame of deep pain to survive and continue being held as our belief. In this way, for belief to survive it must help us thrive through our darkest day. Belief that survives is full of real hope.
Grief makes responding in faith better. Having done wrong, the only way we please God is by experiencing godly sorrow. Through confession and repentance, we have applied grieving. And only through such processes of going deeply into God do we and others see the fruit of our repentance — a true faith that obeys and honours God through loving people. Grief refines honesty and humility.
Grief is an example to follow. Making disciples is our aim, and we can use words, but far more powerful and sustainable is the salience of example. Iron sharpens iron, as Proverbs 27:17 puts it, and this is not about word as much as it is about the witness of deed, the impression of action. When we prove our faith by grieving well, those who are following behind, even those who are perhaps ahead, stop and take notice. Example is not easy to ignore, but words go in one ear and out the other.
Grief is a teacher and loss is the curriculum. The school is one that educates in what is eternally valuable. It is a hard school with many who fail to run the course. The school of brokenness, however, will improve us more than any other institution or program. Now we can see how becoming a follower of Jesus is all-encompassing of life, where life is the learning ground.
Loss either pulls us close to God or pushes us away, but God uses grief to bring us closer to Him.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The secret to happiness is to give happiness away

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash
SEPTEMBER 25, 2003, a Thursday, was the day, even in the pain of a loss I could not yet contemplate, that God gave me a gift.
I was attending my eldest daughter’s school sports carnival. It was only three days after my first marriage had collapsed. I was in deep pain, yet I still had responsibilities to fulfil as a father.
But something else was also working within me that had been dormant for thirteen years; something that I had not experienced before. It was the power of the risen Christ in me. Suddenly, almost as if it were overnight, I began to live a reality that I hadn’t yet even conceived.
I recall feeling moved to return home briefly to pick up some items to give away. I was being moved by the Holy Spirit. In the act of giving these things away — and not looking one bit for approval or appreciation or thanks — I knew that I knew that I knew I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
Finally I was giving away what I could not keep in order to gain what I could never lose.
I had been Christian for all those thirteen years and had never even conceived that that was the true Christ-life. In no time at all, at the worst time in my life, I was given the precious gift I could not have otherwise received. I had to be plunged into the abyss without hope for rescue to ultimately understand the premise of the Christ-life. If that isn’t good news I don’t know what is.
That precious gift I refer to is the gift of understanding this: the more we give away with a heart that seeks nothing in return, the happier God gives us to be.
We can understand this in another way. Imagine materialism and spiritualism as opposites. The more life we give to one, the more death is in the other. The more we crave to retain the things of this world, the less content we’ll truly be. But the more we give away in this life, the more God gives us in this world of His to come. And that world truly enters our world through peace, hope and joy when we give our lives away for others.
Two things that need to be necessarily stated are that the practice of giving my life away was sustained throughout that early season, but in truth, there have been aspects of my life since where I’ve found it hard and possibly impossible to give away. Thankfully God is gracious to remind us that it’s okay that we have not yet ascended to perfection — and that that standard is not required of us. But we’re still blessed to aspire to it.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

How will I get through even one day of this Grief, let alone endure the eternity in this Loss?

Photo by Blair Fraser on Unsplash

THIS is a realistic self-assessment of early loss: I had no idea pain could be this hard, this deep, or how my life could be taken from me so suddenly. I simply have no way of knowing if I will make it through this pain. God, where are you?
I recall one hour of debilitating derangement that left me unable to do anything but be a wet mess; a paralysis that bad I needed immediate medical attention. All that was left was the soul, bare as if all protection had been eroded away.
That encapsulates early grief for me; eighteen days after the seismic event that started it all. Within one hour my emotional reality faced a sharp U-turn. I had no idea what hit me.
Early grief exposes us to the unpredictability of emotions that cannot reconcile reality. Yet, even after six months a day comes that takes us by complete surprise. It’s as if we were back in that treacherous early time.
The early experience of loss leaves us vulnerable to breakdown, bereft of response, ravaged of energy, shell-shocked by pain.
How do we get through it? We would like to think, one day at a time it gets better. All time proves though is that we can bear the weight of it, one day at a time. And that’s about as important a realisation as anything. We keep thinking there is some magical solution, and, though there isn’t, that belief sustains us.
If you are in the immediacy of early grief and you are reading this, know you are not alone. I know you may feel alone, as if nobody could have ever felt the way you are feeling. It feels impossibly abnormal, surreal in the worst of ways. It is, of course. Be gentle with yourself. Go deep into God.
The main thing is to believe you will get through this. Because if you keep going you will.

Has God got a purpose for me in my grief?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

ACCEPTING that everyone grieves differently, we can still agree that the pain is the same awful reality for everyone. Why does grief hurt so much?
There is a purpose to it, but it is easy to miss it.
This is something that can only be learned the hard way and the long way. Yet, it can be tasted in an instant. It’s only something that comes to us when we find there is no other way.
How I wish more people came to be crushed by their life circumstances and, with repetitiveness, found nothing in or outside themselves that would help — then they might more readily find God. The trouble is, when people are crushed by their life circumstances they do find an inappropriate reaction or response within themselves or they find something external to themselves.
The quote that follows reminds me of the blessing in being confronted by a cruel twist of life:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.”
— Viktor Frankl
There is something far beyond the life we take for granted and complain about. As soon as taking life for granted and complaint become luxury — because the darkness we’re plunged into bears no comparison to the light we enjoyed at ease — we sense we have always missed the depth to life.
There was always this reality, yet we really knew nothing of it, until this reality of lived pain became who we are.
So, we can see how it is a blessing to be forced to adapt. Suffering makes us humbler, more compassionate. It makes us more pliable, more mature.
If you find there is no escape for you from the sorrow and tears and pain, take heart. God is in the process of proving to you your purpose that you could find no other way.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Ditching the old scripts as the new habit sticks

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

DAY 4 of any new regimen, and the initial grit begins to wear off as you begin to settle in on the ‘drudgery’ of what you’re missing out on. Sacrifice bites. It costs. None of us really like the sort of change that involves loss — even those who normally thrive on change.
What is tucked in and underneath the drudgery are the re-emergence of those old scripts that have worn deep neurological grooves in our mind — the ruts of habit.
For me, it’s ‘Go on, you can get away with that,’ and ‘You’ll make up for that later…’
Old scripts of bad habits are the snug language of our comfort zone — the habits that have served us destructively well, in that such habits are effective in sustaining us along the road to reaching wrong destinations in life. New habits grip when we ditch the old script.
We know the old script is winning us over when we begin to act in old ways. And then as we interrogate what precedes the action, we notice an unconscious thought or three that hatches a plan — to do the old action of the habit we wish to break.
Awareness of old scripts is one strategy we need to develop. Another is to replace that old script with a new one, and to do it proactively, which is something we need to practice with repetitiveness and regularity, to put the past behind us.
When we plan to make change that involves sacrifice we need to anticipate the moments when we feel loss bite.
Creating a new habit is a challenge,
to overcome the old habit as it grips,
one thing we must endeavour to do,
is ditch and replace the old scripts.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

5 Situations where Disagreement can be Beautiful

Photo by Hollie Harmsworth on Unsplash

An unfortunate feature of our world today is that people are less tolerant of disagreement. But disagreement can be a good and healthy thing:
1.      Disagreement allows you to quietly challenge and prove others wrong – for example, when someone says, ‘you will never recover from…’ (they said it like this because it is their experience), you can quietly (within your own mind) disagree, believing if your heart is telling you, ‘No, I think I will overcome this pain, in time.’ Disagreement then is empowering; if they hadn’t have said something we disagreed with, we may not have been equipped with this empowering motivation to prove them wrong and create our own destiny.
2.      Disagreement shows us the error of our ways – we all need to be corrected, and, although our pride dislikes it immensely in the moment, when humility kicks in we can begin to agree we were wrong. There, in that moment, is the heart of character challenge and the impetus toward character change and growth.
3.      Disagreement highlights what we aren’t seeing – none of us sees everything. God puts others in our lives so we can see more, but again, we need the humility to understand we don’t see it all, that others see more truly than we do at times. This is a good thing. Others make us better than we would be alone.
4.      Agreeing to disagree shows the maturity possible in a relationship – in all sorts of relationships, from marriages to friendships to employments arrangements, it is a massively empowering thing to be allowed to disagree — to coexist in that way. There’s nothing more toxic in my view than not being accepted because you disagree — like uniformity and conformity equals unity. It is stifling to be in any relationship where a deep condition is we must agree. We can be unified and disagree. The strongest unity exists in partial disagreement, because there is mutual respect shown when we allow the other person to hold a conflicting view, and still agree on keeping the main thing the main thing.
5.       Disagreement proves the truths of perception – yes, this is a marvellous thing. This isn’t just a postmodern phenomenon — it’s always been the case. Two opposing views can be true at the same time. This highlights what the dualistic mind finds tormenting. Accepting that two people who disagree both have a point is the way toward conflict resolution, but both must begin to first appreciate the truth in the other person’s perception. Both have part of the truth. What both think has value.
Whether we are in agreement or disagreement, we are better together:
Better together, though less comfortable.
Better together, though less certainty.
Better together, though less cohesion.
Better together, though more conflict.
Better together, though more complaint.
Better together, though more complicated.
Still, we are better together.

Monday, January 1, 2018

That fresh new start you’re hoping for

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

EVERY New Year brings the opportunity for hopes that are dreamt of in nearly all people, whether they’re purveyors of resolutions or not. Are there any resigned to a life that falls into the pit of despair?
But our hopes for an improved year (if 2017 in this case was a bad one) can be dashed through the experience of a bad New Year’s Day.
Soon enough unconscious expectations make their move into the conscious realm. We can begin to crave release from the annus horribilus of the previous year. Such a craving steers our perception into a desperate sort of seeking. Any other eventuality than what we planned for seems like a continued failure, and the dreams of New Year, and a fresh new start, are quickly given up as unrealistic. Then deep disappointment sinks in.
We may even feel so foolish as to hide deep inside ourselves, withdrawing from the life that would certainly bring release.
New Year is an opportunity for a fresh new start, that is for sure. Yet, just because the first day or early days of New Year seem no different from the past year doesn’t mean we should give our dreams up. If anything, we’re counselled to press even more deeply into the wishes we have for change.
The early days of New Year are blessed most with perspective that persists if we desire change. No change occurs overnight. As we keep that in mind, a ruined New Year’s Day and/or days following are not the defeat they seem to be at all. Change comes from a renewed and resolute mindset.
These doubt-filled days are simply a reminder that if change is to be brought about we need to persevere.
As nothing of worth was ever achieved in a day or two, we’re best to take the pressure for success down a few notches. Success is not brilliance, it comes with diligence.
If you don’t succeed immediately, don’t give up. Real hope is impossible to disappoint.

There is one thing worse than the pain in the sacrifice required to achieve a new goal; it is continuing to believe you are on the right track without changing anything.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Symptom and the Sign of Recovery

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash
INPUTS are symptoms and outputs are signs. Honesty is the input, against dissociation. Serving others is the output, against selfishness. Honesty is a symptom; only we, ourselves, can truly tell if we’re being honest. Serving others is a sign; others can very well see.
What’s my thesis for a heart actively engaged in recovery?
The person in genuine recovery sows honestly, and their heart reaps the desire to serve others.
Those with addiction problems frequently dissociate from themselves, and it leads to selfish and self-destructive behaviours. Indeed, all sin is dissociation; a turning away from ourselves and God. Addiction is sin absurdly out of control. The selfish cannot serve others, because their heart cannot imagine the beauty in trusting God for their needs to be met.
Those who engage in the abundant life know that a rigorous honesty ignites a heart for service.
The wisdom life, the heart after God, the abundant life, the narrow way of the road less travelled… all these are achieved in honesty within ourselves and through service outward of ourselves, both venerated on the sincerest wish to acknowledge our existence in God.
The person deep in their recovery journey has no satisfaction in compromise, complaint or comparison. They realise the urgency of their need of God, and their choice causes them to prosper through honest contemplation and the action of giving themselves away. Yet, they do not burn out, for they accept their limits and they don’t serve to their own detriment; they don’t crave to serve. Their honesty is primary. And their honesty creates in them an ability to see and negotiate, and at times accept, their weakness.
So, honesty, which is something between us and God, together with a heart to take responsibility to ensure others are served first, a service which is visible to others, are the symptom and sign of recovery.
An addict ceases to be an addict when they serve others consistently more often than they are served. They have abandoned their insistence on being served at the expense of others. Theirs is transformation from the prison of self to purpose in service.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Shadow in the way of God’s Light

Photo by Peyman Naderi on Unsplash

PRESENCE of Spirit, projection of light, blessedness of presence, Jesus in sight.
Living in the Presence of the Spirit, projected is light, the fruit of blessedness of presence, where all can see Jesus in sight.
That’s our Christian ideal. But it is an ideal. What gets in the way is a shadow.
A shadow is something that gets in the way of the light:
APPEARANCE of flesh, breach of shadow, cursedness of presence, sign of the foe.
One such shadow is a lack of patience bearing itself as anger, and we’re all prone to it, whether it is overt, passive-aggressiveness, or it’s bottled up. None of these responses is healthy. People are deceived to think it’s only overt anger that is harmful. Passive-aggressiveness gives its user the appearance of control, but at what cost? It deadens relationships. And to bottle-up anger is a caustic that burns slowly inside out.
The shadow gets in the way of the light. Anger gets in the way of patience. And it affects us all.
Anger is the predictive and premature response of the flesh.
The long game of discipleship is for the Spirit to show us how our flesh behaves. Obedience is the curiousness of inquiry in the presence of sin. Only when we understand how our shadow blocks our light can we put steps into place to move out of the way of the shadow, so our light shines unimpeded again.
Where do other shadows turn up covering the light in our lives; greed for generosity, fear and hate and indifference and cynicism for love, disappointment and despair for hope.
Our shadow is present in our life as a sign we need God to overcome so His light can be revealed in us.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

How long does transformation take?

DAY by day. That’s what my wife said when I asked her how long she think it took for her to come to terms with the things she disliked about me: day by day.
In other words, there was no countable timeframe.
There were things that she didn’t like about me, especially the things that came up for her in years two and three of our marriage (we’re in our eleventh year now). These things came up in my style of parenting, as a single parent, and particularly how I related to my daughters at times in ways that left her feeling she wasn’t my wife at all.
So, you can imagine how hard it would be, for a new wife to find ways to both challenge her husband, yet accept what’s left that cannot be changed.
How long does transformation take: day by day. Sometime later, paradoxically as we’ve somehow learned to accept that which once tormented us, we looked back and found that transformation was complete. Not that we’re perfectly satisfied, but we’re content, which is good enough.
The process of transformation was, after all, most certainly beyond us in and of ourselves, which is why we needed to drink in deeply the libation of God’s grace.
God is hard at work on each of us, and we make His work easier (and indeed easy) when we step out of the way. We understand this as the concept of surrender, which is harder (but simpler) than we realise.
We all want our goals achieved overnight, with the minimum of fuss, effortlessly, so we can experience the rewards. But life in the process of transformation cannot work that way. Life in the glory of its reality doesn’t depict the dream we desire it would. Life is a process and it requires us to be patient; steady enough to be satisfied with small, barely discernible, gains made day by day. Life demands faith.
Transformation isn’t about achieving perfection, it’s the process of sustaining change.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Escalate the Expectation of the Endurance Expected

Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

YOU have a big goal, and the challenge will be more difficult than you expect. But this is good news if you escalate your expectation beforehand. What I mean is, if you anticipate this goal before you will be the hardest thing youll ever do, then you will face it with the force required to overcome it.
If, whatever it is, is the most important thing youve ever done, then you will succeed. You will succeed because it has your fullest attention and God blesses everything we give our all to.
There are two vitalising components to this fullest sense of attention required: depth and length. Depth, because you cannot afford to let your attention waver. Length, because unless you sustain the depth of attention required long enough to endure, you will be returned to the start, and that fact alone is the maddest frustration.
Raise the bar of your focus and keep it raised, and then you will succeed.
Falter upon your focus and you will fail. Even as you read these words aloud in your mind, steel yourself; you will succeed if this thing is important enough to you.
If it proves that this goal is only partly necessary, and you really dont need me to tell you, because you know through experience already, you will fail. Are you ready and willing to fail? No, of course not. But you are able to fail, and the knowledge you have of that ability you have, alone, should spur you.
So raise the bar! Higher, then it needs to be, for then it will be as high as it needs to be. Then you will succeed.