Tuesday, 10 January 2017

How To Turn Your Pesky Expectations Right Side Up

It was the morning after New Year’s Eve, and I lay restless in my bed. I kept thinking about my friend. I could hear her voice now. Distraught and choked by tears, she had shared with me how her night had been ruined.

She had made the best plans - down to the smallest detail. With decorations, snacks, and the ideal setting prepared, she had been thoroughly anticipating the celebration to come. Through all the readying her excitement had been mounting, and she could hardly wait. She thought it would be superb; that everyone would love it, and that they would all have such a wonderful time.

And then…

It all came tumbling down.

Her vision of the perfect New Year’s celebration - battered and wave tossed- lay shipwrecked around her.  Nothing was as she envisioned it.  The scenario did not unfold as she had pictured.  Persons did not respond as she had hoped. She was overcome by her emotion.  Instead of sailing into the New Year on high seas, as she had expected, she was left clinging to a dingy raft of despair, overwhelmed by her disappointment - a victim of her own expectations.

Expectations. The word roared through my mind like a crashing wave. As I rolled out of bed at the start of this New Year, I knew I had to pay attention. I had seen too many victims fall, had been a casualty myself far too many times.

Time after time, we dream up the perfect scenarios, and with our great, big expectations on board, we outline our next move.

And time after time, when our plans don’t turn out as we expect, we wind up feeling deluded, cheated, and disappointed, like somehow we’ve missed out on what should have been. We feel angry even, and so oftentimes we lash out, at anyone (ourselves included) or anything that could be blamed for spoiling what could have been.

And yet, while we are busily grasping for a lifeline... struggling against the swells of discouragement and anger - fighting against our loved ones, ourselves, even God - those pesky expectations are gathering together and gaining strength. Un-accused, they lie in wait, planning and scheming, waiting to capsize us once again, into a sea of discontent.  

Expectations. As the word surged through my mind, I knew this year had to be different. I would not be raided yet again. This year I am recapturing joy, and I have to be ready... ready to seize my expectations... and turn them right side up.

You see, nothing is wrong with having expectations, per se. It’s just that we have them turned upside down. We expect too much from man, and not enough from God.
‘Lower your expectations of earth. This isn’t heaven, so don’t expect it to be.’ Max Lucado
I, for one, am guilty of expecting way too much from myself. And when you expect perfection, one of two things can happen, you either drive yourself to the point of exhaustion always striving for the perfect - which always sits right outside of your grasp, by the way - or you just don’t bother to try at all if it seems like perfection is impossible.  What’s worse you put those same unrealistic expectations on others. And as we have seen, ‘today’s expectations are tomorrow’s resentments.’

But what if I did it differently. What if I simply expected man to be man, and God to be God.

I could expect that Man, though created in the image of God, has been marred by the Fall. I could expect that, even for followers of Christ, while God is transforming us to be more like His Son, well... we’re simply not there yet. We mess up.

And when that happens, as it inevitably does, I could expect that God, in His mercy, will have compassion on us.
‘Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.’ Psalm 103: 13-14

And because, my God is perfect in all of His ways, here is what else I can expect from Him:

I can expect that God will supernaturally enable me to show that same mercy and grace to those around me, and to myself, when we continually fall short.  

I can expect that when I feel weak, unequipped, or disillusioned, I can run to my God who defines Strength and who 'can do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within [me]'. (Ephesians 3:20)

In fact, I can expect that God gives me everything I need for life and godly living. 
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world's corruption caused by human desires. 2 Peter 1: 3- 4
No matter what happens or how I feel, no matter how many times I am tossed overboard by my faulty expectations, I can expect for my God to be always right here with me. 
‘...because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 
And, I can expect that as I draw near to Him, I will find Him to be ever faithful, and in His presence I will experience joy to the full. 
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews10: 23  
'You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.' Psalm 16:11

So, this New Year, I’m turning my expectations right side up. I can already feel the hope rising. It's like having a brand new expectation.

I’m seeking Jesus anew, and I'm expecting to unearth a JOY worth treasuring and savoring, a JOY that can withstand the tide of my circumstances... a JOY not based on my expectations of others or myself, but on God’s promise for those who sit at His feet.
‘Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.’ John Piper

It’s an expectation that can’t be disappointed.

What about you?

Have you been a victim of your own expectations?

Are you ready to turn them right side up?

What are you expecting from God this year?

Friday, 30 December 2016

Do You Get the Feeling You've Been Here Before?

“Don’t come down! I can do it by myself!” my excited student calls up to me.

I cringe. Where have I heard those words before?

In the high-shrieked cry of a strong-willed two-year old.

In the defiant stance of a semi-independent teenager.

And in the self-assured proclamation of so many of us who confidently rely on our own strength, wisdom and ability.

It seems we never tire of believing ‘we can do it all on our own’.

As you look back over 2016, and prepare for the New Year ahead, do you get the feeling that you’ve been here before?

I certainly do.

I’ve been there... making the same mistake over and over. Busily setting my goals and launching ahead – strong-willed and hardheaded – confident that I can do it all by myself.

But, inevitably, as I stand on the brink of a New Year and look back, my eyes and heart are drawn to the wreck - the pile up of frustrations, fears and failures – all brought on by my failure to stop, listen and learn.

You know what I’m talking about. Those areas of our lives where we felt sure we knew what we were doing... had it all worked out... but instead ran headlong into a series of problems. Problems we just didn’t know, and still don’t know, how to fix.

But this year, we tell ourselves, it will be different. We’ll plan it better this time. We won’t make the same mistakes again.

I wonder how many more times must we repeat the same cycle before we understand the benefits of admitting our need for help.

I think of Jesus as He approaches Jerusalem that final time. As the crowd rejoiced around Him, Jesus wept bitterly and lamented:
"If only you, even you, had known on this day what would bring you peace!”   Luke 19:42a
What about us? As we plan for the New Year ahead, do we know what would bring us peace? Or are we blinded like the ancient people of Jerusalem?

I think about my relationship with my Father in heaven. I think about how many times He tries to teach me, to show me the way I should go, to give me His peace. And about how many times I am unwilling to learn... to receive what He offers.

I remember the days when I saw God as a hovering schoolmaster waiting to point out where I went wrong - standing over me with stick in hand threatening to dole out the punishment I deserved.  Thankfully, I no longer see Him that way. I now know that He is a loving parent tenderly guiding me through the school of life.

But still, there are times I refuse to humble myself and sit at his feet. I refuse to be guided.

There’s no sugarcoating the truth. It all comes down to pride.

It’s a constant battle - the struggle between my will and His.

But I’m learning. Learning how to quiet my mind, focus my attention on Jesus and humble my heart.  Learning how to learn.

He promises me it would be easier... easier than trying to do it all on my own.
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Matthew 11:29-30
So, as I stand on the brink of 2017, I am refusing to make the same mistake. I'm stepping into the New Year with no elaborate plan, just a simple desire to sit at His feet. 

This year, I am willing to be teachable.

As each new day unfolds, I am willing to lay aside my plans, goals and aspirations and to simply stop at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn. In Robert Morgan’s inspiring book – Mastering Life Before It’s Too Late, I discovered a simple yet profound idea with which to start each day... even the busy, crazy ones. Morgan suggests starting out small - just 15 minutes of each 24-hour day - five minutes to read the Bible, five minutes to pray and five minutes to plan my day. Doesn't sound like much, but as we meet faithfully with God, He causes that tiny seed to grow and flourish.

I also prepared a prayer box – a simple homemade treasury – designed to be filled with the outpourings of my heart – my prayers and praises. I don’t yet know how God intends for me to use it fully, but my heart’s desire is to fill it with prayers I offer along the way – prayers from scripture, promised prayers that I would otherwise forget to pray, photos of loved ones I’m praying for etc. etc.

I’m not na├»ve. I know it will not be perfectly done. I know my foolish pride will raise its ugly head and try to convince me that I can run ahead with my day and do it my way. I know there’ll be times I fall.  Times I forget about my prayer box.

But God has promised, and I am willing.  

I don’t know about you, but when I sit at the feet of the Master Teacher – the very same One who knitted me together in my mother's womb, who records each day of my life before a single one has passed, and whose thoughts are precious towards me – I feel a little bit scared, a whole lot excited and super hopeful.  I can't wait to see what rewards He has in store for me as I humbly submit to His will. 

So, even though I feel like I’ve been here before – I haven’t. But God has.

It's a whole new day - one that I haven’t seen before, but God knows the way. And this New Year my simple desire is to be led by Him day by day, moment by moment.

What about you?

Are you teachable? 
Willing to admit your need for help? 
Willing to stop, listen and learn?
Or can you do it all by yourself? 
God is willing to guide you - Are you willing to learn?

Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come. Jeremiah 33:3

Also linking up with these amazing sites today: Testimony Tuesday and Tuesday Talk

Sunday, 11 December 2016

What Do You REALLY Want for Christmas?

If you could close your eyes and click your heels together three times, what would you wish for this Christmas?

No, I'm not talking about that 'treat' you've been eyeing all year... the one you'll get for yourself if no one else does. I'm talking about that secret longing inside you? The one deep inside that you just can't seem to fill?

What are you really thirsting for?

What about the ones you love? What do you wish you could give them? 

If I had a penny for each time I heard a mom say she just wants her kids to be happy, I would be a wealthy woman. It's our heart cry for those we love most deeply. It's what we would move heaven and earth to achieve... happiness.

'Once the kids are happy, I'm happy.'

'Everyone should do what makes them happy.' 

'Life is short. Be happy!'

Happiness goals. They're everywhere. 

What is it about happiness? Why are we so drawn to it? 

I am convinced that deep down we are all wired to crave happiness. God has placed within each of us an innate desire for pleasure, joy and contentment. 

The problem is 'we are far too easily pleased'. Too easily accepting of this world's offer of happiness... the money, the success, the accolades, the comfort and pleasure of freedom and control, the relationships with loved ones, they have all blinded us to the offer of infinite joy before us. 
'If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.' C.S. Lewis - The Weight Of Glory

God has promised us that 'in [His] presence there is fullness of joy and at [His] right hand there are pleasures forever' Psalm 16:11

But we don't really believe Him, do we?

We have convinced ourselves that we can achieve happiness on our own terms. We alone know what makes us happy. Even when we can't fully verbalize it, we own our right to pursue our happiness. So addicted are we to happiness that sometimes our pursuit of it is marred by unwise choices, and disastrous consequences; but still we persist. After all... happiness is worth it. 

But God's offer still stands. Right there, always before you. Promising you more. More than this world can offer. 

Promising you a happiness that lasts. A contentment that this world can't understand. 'A peaceful kind of happiness in which one rests without desires, even though every wish may not have been gratified.' A happiness that lets you lie down and sleep and have no fear of tomorrow... a state of being in which we know we are wholly accepted and loved for who we... where we are filled with an insatiable desire to spread that joy to others, where we are free to live life to the full and savor a joy that remains no matter the circumstances around us. 

A 'holiday at the sea' or 'mud pies in a slum'? We get to choose!

The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God...to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness...to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. C.S. Lewis - The Weight of Glory 
No, we  may not be in the land of Oz, and we may not have those magical red shoes, but we do have the 'power of believe'. God in his infinite mercy has given us the power to choose... the freedom to believe. 

What do you believe this Christmas?

Do you believe that you can map out your own happiness? Or do you take God at His word?

Can you even imagine the 'inexpressible and glorious joy' He offers? Or are you satisfied with your 'mud pies'? 

This Christmas, I'm wishing you a mindful Christmas. 

I'm praying that you would find the time to press pause and really consider what happened on that very first Christmas. 

To consider the JOY offered to the world... offered to your loved ones... offered to you.
Joy to the World, the LORD is come! Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room. And Heaven and nature sing! (Isaac Watts, 1719)
To consider the thirst-quenching good news that God actually became a man, lived among us, suffered and died for us, and loves us enough to pursue us relentlessly. 

To consider that Love that accepts us as we are, that trades our sins for His righteousness and draws us into a soul-satisfying relationship with Him. 

To ponder our part in the Grand Story and to wholeheartedly consider our response. You see, it's an offer; it's not a sentence. We get to receive it or reject it. The choice is ours. 

Perhaps you've already figured it out. Figured out that all your searching hasn't brought the happiness you crave, or perhaps you're still stuck in the race, mindlessly running towards the next high. This Christmas, I pray that you take the time to think it through.

Yea, I know it's a busy time and who has the time to slow down to even think, right?

But taking the time just might be worth it.

You just might figure out what you really want for Christmas... and that deep 'tongue-sticking-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth' kind of thirst just might be replaced with true JOY.

And even more... just like Dorothy you just might believe your way Home. 

May you have a blessed and mindful Christmas!!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

How Strong Do You Need To Be? (An open letter to all the men we love)

An open letter to all the men we love:

I don't pretend to understand the burden that you carry. A burden you did not choose. Placed on you from birth, inherited by virtue of your gender, it grows heavier with each passing year. 

'You must be strong.'

The urgent cry permeates every facet of your existence... and every choice you make in answer to its call, colors you. Shades the way others see you. The way you see you. 

No, I can't begin to fathom the onerous load you shoulder. 

'You must be strong.'

Born to take the lead in providing and protecting... day by day you answer the call. 

Strength. Courage. Mastery. Honor... defining traits of your masculinity... you lift your chin and set your shoulders, plant your feet and take a brace. Always pressing forward... always fighting... always striving to be strong. 

And yet, I see you. Holding your head high... pretending not to feel it... not to feel your back breaking - straining under the millstone that weighs you down. 

You need to rest, but you are afraid to. Afraid to let them see you fall, for somehow the burden has convinced you. 'You must be strong at all costs.'  And so with eyes front, you press on.

I wish you could hear me. 

'Lay it down, my brother; this weight you carry was not meant to be borne alone.'

When the weight of life's trials crushes in on you, and  you reach for the One who can carry you... I see your strength.

When you trust me enough to let me in... to let me see the pain you feel... I see your strength.

And when you can't stop the tears from falling... I see your strength.

You're still strong in my eyes.

So, my dear brother, husband, brother-in-law, son, friend... how strong do you need to be? 
'Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.' Deuteronomy 31:6

Strong enough to be real... to be you - fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of our Creator.

Strong enough to accept that you don't have to be strong enough. 

Strong enough to embrace the true Source of your strength... to accept that when you are weak your God is strong. 

Strong enough to stand firm in the Lord and in his mighty power
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:13-17
Finally, my dear husband, brother, brother-in-law, son, friend, to all of you - all the men I love - please know that I'll always be here for you, and I will never stop praying for you.
'I pray that out of His glorious riches, [God] will strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.' Ephesians 3:16 
May this beautiful video of Strong Enough by Matthew West be a blessing to you. 
(Posted by Alexandria K)


If you're reading this, and know of a strong man in your life who could use this encouragement please share it with him. And please join me as we pray for our men. Pray that they will be strong and courageous and that they will never be ashamed of where their true strength lies. 


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Is There Hope For The One Who Suffers Alone?

These last few days have been filled with hope. A hope that started out full and expectant, but day by agonizing day, moment by heart-rending moment dwindled away. Down to a sliver... a tiny thread of a spider web... but still we desperately clung on .... hoping against hope ... that our hearts' desire would miraculously materialize. Hoping ... until... all hope was gone. 

Or so it seemed.

At moments like these, I retreat inside. Crawl up and hide. Alone. Alone with my pain, my suffering, my unanswerable questions. 

Have you ever been there?

Racked by an unexpected pain; one that is hot and searing and burns you to the core? A pain that is personal and deep. 

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you've been there. And maybe you were alone in your suffering. 

But in my loneliness, way down deep in the depths of me, I meet Hope. 

Not the hope of this world that disappoints. 

A Hope that picks me up and carries me at the very lowest and saddest times of my life. A Hope that promises never to leave me or forsake me

A promise I can rely upon... even in my darkest moments.
"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." John 16:33
My heart breaks. I think of my loss. 

And then I think of those who have no Hope... who suffer alone. And I pray that they would know that it doesn't have to be that way. 

My heart swells and aches with raw emotion. Pain.. Suffering... but in the midst... Hope... and Gratitude.

Gratitude for God's 'never giving up, always and forever love' for us. A love that is relentless in His pursuit of us. A love that is not earned, but gifted. A love that knows no bounds and can never be defeated. Never.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 38-39
A love that beckons us to come... just as we are... alone and suffering... to accept His gift. The gift of His presence with us.  

A Presence that embraces us, lifts us up, comforts us, empowers us, transforms us. A Presence that, God in his mercy, assured me that my dear brother felt... and embraced. A presence that gets me through the storm. 

A presence that I am eternally grateful for.

For my friends, when it all comes down to it, when everything else is stripped away... the only thing that matters... that has any eternal significance is that we understand and experience the love of Christ for us.

So as I sit in my suffering... not really alone... but lovingly nestled in the arms of my Father... I pray for you... the one who suffers alone... that you
 may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  Ephesians 3:18
And that you may place your trust in Him... the only Hope that endures... so that you may never ever have to suffer alone, again.


This song - 'Oh, My Soul' from Casting Crowns, seems to have been written just for me... and for you... when we feel alone... but we are not alone

May you find comfort in its words.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

How to Keep Moving When You Are Stuck In the Middle

It's hard being in the middle.

Gone are the hope-filled feelings of a new beginning - the thrill of adventure - a tinge of fear mixed with a dollop of excitement, the child-like expectation of grand things to come.

You know those feelings. At the beginning, everything seems POSSIBLE. You are sure you can make it. Life is full of potential and should there be any hurdles you are sure to sail over them.

Whatever your beginning may be - enrolling in college to chase your dream, accepting that new job that promises more, marrying the one you can't live without... designing a bespoke home education plan for your children. Yeah, at the beginning it all seems so POSSIBLE.

But in the middle... it's different here.

It's not like at the end.

The end is a joyous time overflowing with celebration and steeped in relief. The words 'well done' echo all around you... filling you with a deep satisfaction. The POSSIBLE has become reality. No one can steal your happiness as you march up those stairs to accept your college degree, receive that long sought promotion at work, celebrate yet another anniversary, or savor the successes of your children.

Yes, the end is like a double happiness. Brimming with the joy of completion, you gaze excitedly, hope-fully at the new beginning ahead of you. For a new beginning always follows the end.

But in the middle... life can be hard.


Every day is more of the same.  Every step seems tediously slow. Plod. Plod. Plod.

Have you ever wondered what the tortoise was thinking?

No. Not at the beginning. Not when he challenged the hare to a race. At the beginning, he was probably pretty optimistic. Victory seemed POSSIBLE, if even a little improbable.
But, right there in the middle, when the hare had long gone past him, when the end was not even in sight, what was he thinking?

What made him keep taking one more step? Step by laborious step, what kept him going?

Devoid of the positive emotions that accompany the beginning and end of a major goal, the ‘stuck-in-the-middle’ blahs can drain your energy and rob you of the ‘get-up-and-go’ that you need to keep going.  To be honest with you, sometimes it is just plain exhausting to lift that foot up and take yet another step.

But what if it doesn’t have to be that way.

What if we infused the dreary middle with all the anticipation of the beginning and the celebration of the end?  What if we look forward to each next step with joyful expectancy - a period of time pregnant with POSSIBILITY - and sigh with deep satisfaction at the culmination of each tiny feat accomplished.

What if we saw each step taken as a victory – a cause to celebrate? I mean no more waiting for the big moments; life is in the NOW. It takes courage and boldness and most of all determination to keep moving forward, so why not celebrate our plodding.

But, let’s be real, friends.  To change my mindset and celebrate my daily plodding is a greater exploit than I can manage on my own. When it comes to sowing positive thoughts and harvesting fruitful actions, I am still rather weak and inconsistent. But thankfully, I don’t travel alone, and my Travel Partner is all-powerful and unchanging.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ 
says the LORD Almighty. 
Zechariah 4:6

Yes, God has a plan for my NOW and for my next steps, and He is working all around me. While I choose to trust Him to be my Vision when I can't see the end, He expertly chisels and molds my character, working into me steadfastness, perseverance, endurance, and a willingness to be used by Him in all my next steps... a painful but glorious process. One I am grateful to be a part of.

Yes, in the middle is hard, but it is also where trust grows and faith blossoms, where God becomes my power when I come face to face with my weakness. Where I look with eager anticipation for the next thing God is calling me to. The. Very.  Next. Thing.  No matter how small in the world's eyes.

When I choose to follow God in the NOW of my journey, in the daily plodding of life, I get the thrill of seeing God gloriously at work in the small things.

Do not despise these small beginnings... Zechariah 4:10a

And I get to celebrate each victory. I get to live the victorious life he has called me to. And I get to win the race.
Step by step, the POSSIBLE blooms into reality. 

What about you?

Are you feeling stuck in the middle, 
trudging ever so slowly onward towards your goal, 
growing weary of your small steps?

Don’t lose heart. You are not alone.

God has a road planned for you, and He is willing to walk with you. 
So why not move forward in trust and 
celebrate where God is taking you, step by step.