This piece was first published in the SURRENDER issue of The Joyful Life Magazine.
My childhood summers were synonymous with lazy days by the beach, getting lost in the pages of a good book and jigsaw puzzles. Not just any jigsaw puzzles, mind you, but giant jigsaw puzzles with hundreds of pieces that required hours, if not days, to sort and deliberate over which section of the puzzle they belonged to. I constantly referred back to the image on the box for clues. Once complete, I was reluctant to ever return the pieces back to the box, wanting to somehow enshrine the puzzle and my achievement.
The feelings of frustration when I couldn’t get a piece to fit where I was convinced it belonged, remain vividly etched in my mind. I would turn them and then turn them again, trying over and over to make them fit, until eventually, I would walk away or work on a different section before attempting to place the piece again. Positioning just one piece wrongly could skew the whole picture, affecting all the surrounding pieces.
I’ve spent much of the past few years trying to figure out where various pieces of my own life ‘puzzle’ belong, wrestling with the tension of old and new, of past and present. With how to "forget the former things and not dwell on the past" (Isaiah 43:18), no matter how precious or painful that past might be, in order to have the capacity to fully and freely hold the new things God has for me. At times, I’ve found myself getting stuck holding on to pieces I’ve desperately wanted to make fit in my current season, even if they weren’t meant to—pieces God asked me to surrender and trust Him to rightly position.
A NEW BEGINNING
“You’ve been holding your father’s dream in your hands for a really long time and perhaps it’s time for you to hold some dreams of your own.”
The words of my mentor arrested me, inviting me, forcing me even, to evaluate the life I was living.
In my late teens, my now-husband and I helped my parents plant a church. It was a labor of love that we poured our hearts into for nearly eighteen years, nine of which I served on staff, eventually becoming a credentialed minister and associate pastor to my father, a role that truly felt like a desire fulfilled. Those years abounded with rich vibrant community and deep disappointments simultaneously.
Ten years into the church plant, this small faithful congregation had sacrificially sown of their time and finances to enable us to lease and renovate a building we could call home. Our days of setting up and packing down every week appeared to be over and we were going to put down roots in our community. At first, the church flourished and grew. All felt right and promising. But then, abruptly, we started hitting roadblock after roadblock, and entered a season marked by financial challenges, sickness, loss, and death. These challenges culminated in us deciding to return to renting a community facility to help relieve the financial pressures. We made the painful decision to assign our building lease to another local church and move on. But the reality was I could not simply leave my grief behind. Many of the losses in this period had touched me personally—I was amongst the women in our congregation who lost babies that year; it was my father who had suffered a series of strokes, and my dear friend that we had buried too soon.
In the latter years of this journey, lingering health issues made it necessary for my parents to step aside from being the Lead Pastors. They relocated an hour’s drive away to live by the beach and recover. Their absence, as well as the birth of our youngest child, caused me to question the various hats I had been wearing. I couldn’t shake the feeling God was calling me to something new, that He was asking me to let go of how I thought my life and ministry should look in order to allow Him to reshape and redefine my dreams.
At the suggestion of our leadership, I took a few weeks leave to pray and determine what I felt God was saying. I returned from my leave and offered my resignation, fully intending to remain a committed member of our church community. Yet only ten months later, it became apparent that to remain was not what God had planned for us. After a period of prayer and fasting and seeking counsel from trusted advisors, my husband and I sensed that God was inviting us to a new beginning and asking us to release the Church we had poured our lives into to a new beginning of their own.
It was hard to believe that after eighteen years of community, we were starting over. The picture that God was forming looked nothing like the ‘box’ I had been referring to, and I no longer knew where all the pieces belonged.
STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD
The old and the new are often indelibly entwined. I couldn’t amputate my past—it had formed me. But I also couldn’t keep grasping at what had been or even what I had hoped would be for the future. I needed to loosen my grip and shift my focus. In the words of the apostle Paul, it was time for me to "forget what was behind and strain towards what is ahead" (Philippians 3:13).
The motif in this and the surrounding verses is of an athlete running a race and all the time keeping the finish line firmly in sight. Paul knew well that we cannot take hold of all that Christ has for us if we are continually looking in the rearview mirror. Like the athlete he envisioned, we have to choose to press forward—to stop tilling the ground of our past and put our energy and focus into straining towards what is ahead. In the Greek, the word ‘strain’ is an athletic word depicting a runner using every muscle to stretch forwards. And that’s the truth. Sometimes it is a strain and a stretch to look toward the future and believe that something new is possible. It can take every fiber of our being to change our narrative and accept God’s perspective—to believe His truth, His promises, and His Word over and above our circumstances or past experiences.
As I began to press on and look ahead, I found the past to be a hurdle not only because of its disappointments, but also because of its highlights. As my disappointment whispered that it would never get better, my treasured memories spoke the same lie—that my future could never be better than my past, could never live up to what I had previously known.
I couldn’t bypass these hurdles. In order to keep running my race, I needed to clear them. I needed to allow God to show me how He saw these pieces that I could no longer place.
REVISITING THE PAST
In His infinite grace and wisdom, God took me back to a place of past disappointment to remind me that He wasn’t finished with my story yet; that if I could trust Him, there was still more to come.
As we hesitantly stepped away from the old and began to look towards the future, we decided to join the congregation led by my spiritual director and her husband. Her gentle and insightful wisdom had been invaluable in helping me work through all of the change and loss we had experienced, and they and their congregation felt like a safe place to sit while we continued to process our journey and build new community. The great irony of this decision was that they were the same church who had taken over our former church’s lease and premises. I found myself worshiping again in the same building that once embodied my dreams, yet now symbolized loss and failure.
At times, it felt overwhelming to be in this familiar place. I kept expecting to see my father pop out of his old office or to be greeted by someone I knew at the door. I knew every inch of the building—its history, its quirks and smells, the stories the walls could tell—and yet everything about it had changed. The old and new collided in my mind and grief would well up within me as I remembered the faces of people I had once stood shoulder to shoulder with in this very space. I felt the sting of disappointment afresh. Why had our old church not been able to enjoy the fruit of our sacrifices? Why had our story not had the ending we had believed and prayed for, and labored toward? Why did we have to start over? Why could I not have continued doing life and ministry with the people I had come to love so completely? If I was to be in this space again, why couldn’t it be with them?
Ever so gently and slowly, God gave me a different perspective, His perspective.
I had been viewing my life with a somewhat finite lens, so focused on the current part of the puzzle that was forming that I had lost sight of the big picture, the eternal picture.
In the scheme of eternity, our labors had not been futile. God did not see wasted efforts, He saw faithfulness. We had partnered with him to establish something in our community that was still extending His love and truth, even if we no longer inhabited it.
Where I saw a scattered people, He saw a people sent out. He planted these mature seeds of disciples in new ground to keep building and strengthening His wider church.
Where I saw barrenness, He saw pruning—areas of my life and heart that He was preparing and cultivating for greater fruitfulness.
This new perspective didn’t completely undo my disappointment, but it did help me to stop dwelling on it. I realized God wasn’t asking me to forget the past as much as He was asking me to reposition it. To frame it with His Kingdom purposes and then allow it to fade into the background so He could bring a new section of my ‘puzzle’ to the forefront. Ironically, the only way I could regain my focus on His faithfulness was by looking at my past. The very things I needed to no longer dwell on also held the key to my being able to press on.
In the same way, when Isaiah called the Israelites to forget the former and see the new thing God was doing, he first recounted the ways in which God had previously worked on their behalf, reminding them that He had made a way for them out of slavery and through the Red Sea, into a new beginning. If He had done it then, He could do it now. He encouraged the Israelites to allow God’s prior acts of faithful provision to fuel in them an expectation for something new again—no matter how impossible that might have seemed.
THERE IS ALWAYS MORE AHEAD
I have often contemplated the stark contrasts found in the life of Paul. He was a man who miraculously and dramatically encountered God. He planted churches and wrote much of what we now call the New Testament, witnessing healings and countless conversions. And yet, he was also a man who prior to his conversion, persecuted believers and had to live with their blood on his hands. He was shipwrecked, rejected, imprisoned, and beaten. This man, who had much to celebrate and much to wrestle with, tells us not only that he presses on to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him, but that he does not consider himself yet to have taken hold of it (Philippians 3:12-13). Paul understood that no matter how much of God’s grace and favor he had already experienced, there was still more for him to lay hold of and live out. His past had convinced him of it.
So he pressed on. Not out of obligation, nor of drudgery, but fuelled by his passion for Jesus.
“I run with passion into His abundance so that I may reach the destiny that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfil and wants me to discover” (Philippians 3:12, TPT).
We sat in our old building with a new congregation for just over twelve months. In that time, God not only used the precious people there to minister to our weary hearts, but even allowed us the tender grace of witnessing some of the fruit that was growing out of the seed we had planted in that space. He showed us the truth of Isaiah’s words—that He provides water in the desert and streams in the wasteland so that we might be released to proclaim His praise (43:20-21). As we allowed ourselves to process our past, to voice our questions and grieve our losses, entrusting them to Him, He turned a place of disappointment into an oasis of delight demonstrating to us the depth of His redemptive power.
Like Paul, I’ve come to realize I will never exhaust the riches, the abundance that is found in Jesus. Jesus is my finish line. He is the picture on the box that I look upon to determine where the pieces of my life rightly belong. He is the One who brings perspective, beauty, truth, hope, redemption, and the promise of something more, something new. In Jesus, I find the grace to honor my past, to acknowledge both its beauty and its pain without getting stuck. My past is redeemed, and my hope for the future revived. In Jesus, all my ‘pieces’ find their meaning.
Even as I write this, I still hold pieces in my hand that are yet to be placed. Perhaps they will be positioned imminently, perhaps it will be some time before I know where they belong. When frustration begins to rise, I take a step back, I look at how much of the ‘picture’ God has already formed, and I allow His faithfulness to frame my ‘pieces.’
“But our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious one” (Philippians 3:20-21, NIV).
A card arrived in my letterbox today. Filled with words that overflowed from a generous heart, it touched me deeply. I felt seen. I felt known. I felt appreciated and I knew that I held in my hands a precious gift...
These are the words God impressed upon my heart when I asked Him recently what it looked like for me to live in light of His everlasting and indestructible Kingdom. And they've continued to reverberate in my heart on a daily basis ever since.
I am, by both nature and nurture, a generous person. Growing up with parents who despite their own lack, continually had open hands and open hearts, I learned from a young age the beauty of cultivating a generous spirit. Yet, it's an attribute that I have struggled to give full expression to at various points in my journey.
We have never been materially wealthy. A combination of some unwise decisions in our youth, coupled with our obedience to pursue a call to ministry, has meant that the budget has seldom balanced, and we have had to daily trust God for what we need. For whatever reason, God has also chosen to position us in some of the more affluent parts of our city, and consequently, I have found myself continually confronted by what others have the ability to do and to give. In the face of their apparent abundance, I have often allowed lack and my perfectionist tendencies to close my hands and my heart, believing the lie that I have nothing of value to give.
Christmas--the time of giving and receiving--can amplify these lies and the accompanying anxiety that I do not have enough to offer.
But here's the thing that God keeps graciously and repeatedly reminding me of: radical generosity, kingdom generosity, is not based on what we do or don't have, but on what He has. It lives rooted in the truth of His abundance and His goodness.
Every single one of us faces poverty in some area of our lives. Whether external or internal, we all experience the frustration of our own limitations. But radical generosity is not hindered by such lack. It takes what we do have and sees it as a seed to sow--a seed that when we release in partnership with Him, will be multiplied beyond our wildest dreams.
He multiplies the seed as you sow it, so that the harvest of your generosity will grow.
Fear would try to tell us that if we release the little we do have, we will not have enough. It tries to scare us into clutching at our time and possessions, into closing off our hearts. But God's Kingdom doesn't work that way--it knows nothing of lack. When we release what He has given us, he simply expands and multiplies it.
I've discovered that we don't have to wait until we feel like we have accumulated or accomplished enough to be generous. We can start right where we are, trusting in the goodness of the One who always has enough.
Scripture is full of acts of generosity. Some of them carried extravagant price tags like the perfume that Mary poured out upon the feet of Jesus or the thousand burnt offerings that Solomon sacrificed to God, while others could have easily been overlooked and seen as insignificant--like the few coins that the widow popped in the offering box or the young boy's lunch of bread and fish. What they all have in common is that God commended the heart with which they gave to Him.
You can't attach a price tag to true acts of generosity. Their worth has nothing to do with their monetary value. They are defined by the heart of the giver to minister to and bless the recipient.
In writing this, I have found myself reflecting on the generosity that I myself have been a recipient of recently. Generosity that has sprung up in spite of lack and limitation in the giver's own life.
Like the friend who gave me money to buy something to wear to an event I was running when I knew she needed new clothes herself.
Or the friend who often texts me about what she has been praying for for my children when I know that she is currently knee-deep in a crazy mothering season.
Or the friend who faithfully sows $5 out of every paycheck into this ministry when I know she is still waiting for her own financial breakthrough.
Or the woman who became a friend after reaching out to me when she heard I was writing a book and she didn't want me to feel alone in the process like she had.
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.
Each of these gifts have given me an even greater gift--the gift of presence. Their acts of generosity towards me have been a statement that they see me and desire to identify with my need, with my season, with my heart.
Presence is the gift Christ offers you and I each and every day. It's the gift that we remember as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. The gift of Him dwelling among us and within us. The gift of Emmanuel, God with us.
And it's the gift that we also get to give if we will choose to push past the lies and limitations of our circumstances and simply open our hands and hearts to those around us.
Radical generosity is a spirit. It is the fruit of living according to the reality of heaven and not the reality of our circumstances. It is a pouring out of ourselves knowing that He will pour back into us all that we need because He never runs out. He never runs out of resources and He never runs out on us.
This Christmas, let's give the gift of presence. It costs nothing and yet everything.
What does radical generosity look like for you today?
I've always known that my girls are chalk and cheese: one of them gravitates towards a schedule, liking to know not only what is happening, but exactly when it's happening. She thrives on order and clear expectations while the other is more free-spirited. With her creative temperament she doesn't like the how —or even the when—being dictated to her.
Our recent foray into homeschooling has brought these differences to the surface and I've struggled at times to figure out balancing their competing needs for freedom and discipline. But it's not only watching them that has had me contemplating this balance—as I've been adjusting to our new lifestyle and settling into our new community after our move, my own routines have been somewhat upset. Constantly surrounded by children with very little time to myself, I'm having to find a new normal and create new spaces and ways for staying connected to God.
The process of carving out new rhythms and routines has made me realise afresh that we all have this need for both freedom and discipline. And that rather than competing, they are actually complimentary threads that we need to learn to weave together; that we can't truly have freedom in our lives without discipline.
In my own journey, I've tended to swing like a pendulum towards one or the other, failing to allow them to work in sync. When life has felt out of control I've grasped on to discipline in an attempt to regain control; to help me feel like I'm doing and being enough. If life is reduced to lists and tasks that can be ticked off then I feel a sense of achievement and worth.
But such phases are short-lived simply because, well, life happens and I can't sustain the internal pressure that comes with having to constantly achieve my 'list' or the guilt that comes when I miss something on my list. So I throw off the yoke of discipline because, after all, the one whom the Son sets free is free indeed, meaning, I can do what I want, when I want. I don't need systems and structures and disciplines because I'm free; I'm covered by grace.
Again though, it doesn't take long before chaos ensues and the pendulum swings back to discipline and then back to what I think is freedom. This backwards to and fro movement stems from a false understanding of what it means to be free and of the heart and purpose of discipline.
My rebellion against discipline is often tied up in how I see it and in what is driving me towards it. When I associate discipline with punishment alone, then a fear of disappointing those that I love, of disappointing God, paralyses me and all I can hear are voices of condemnation. When I look to discipline because I am driven to perform, driven to prove what a 'good girl' I am, it becomes a relentless master that I cannot appease.
I have a very wise father, and he once said something that has always stayed with me, shifting how I viewed the subject of discipline. He said: We must steward our desires with discipline. Desire without discipline is fantasy.
What if I could see discipline as the vehicle through which I steward the desires that God has planted within me? What if instead of connecting it to fear and punishment, I saw it through the lens of love and grace?
Proverbs 3:12 tells us:
For the Father’s discipline comes only from his passionate love and pleasure for you. Even when it seems like his correction is harsh, it’s still better than any father on earth gives to his child.
God disciplines us, and encourages us to discipline our own lives, because His heart is to facilitate the freedom and the fullness that He created us for.
Because while we might think of freedom as licence, it is actually the power to choose well. And if we want to enter into all that God has for us, we will use our freedom to steward that desire with the appropriate disciplines.
People who accept discipline are on the pathway to life.
My own journey in recent months has reminded me that the absence of discipline was robbing me of freedom and fruitfulness and that I needed to make wiser choices.
Without disciplining myself to spend time in the Word I was being robbed of the power of its truth. My life and my heart couldn't be washed by its wisdom.
Without disciplining myself to be connected; to gather regularly with other believers I was being robbed of the power of what happens when two or more gather. I was robbed of their gifts in my life.
Without disciplining myself to pray and commune with God, I was being robbed of the power of intimacy. I was missing out not only on sharing my heart, but on hearing His.
I have felt the gentle and yet firm whisper of God inviting me to interweave my freedom with discipline, and as I have heeded His correction, I have been reminded why the puritans referred to spiritual disciplines as disciplines of grace. Disciplines, when they flow from our freedom to choose, instead of our efforts to prove ourselves, create times and spaces for us to experience the grace of God in our lives.
So I'm learning (yet again) to slow the pendulum down; to allow freedom and discipline to come together to shape my life.
What desires is God inviting you to steward with discipline in this season?
I could see the whispers of fog wrapping themselves around the trees outside my bedroom window and it captured the emotion of how this season feels for me. Of how I'm not quite sure of what comes next but aware that there is beauty in the midst of the fog; in the midst of this somewhat ambiguous time in my life.
You see, as I've been journeying through my season of letting go--a season that has lasted longer and touched more areas of my life than I ever envisaged that it would--I've become aware that the satisfied life isn't always found where you expected it to be. That Scripture is full of people whom God called to step away from what they had planned and built for themselves to step into what was unknown and wouldn't always be fully realised in their own lifetime.
Men like Abraham who left his homeland--left the familiar and comfortable--to say yes to an undisclosed destination.
Women like Jesus' mother Mary whose surrendered yes took her down unexpected and sometimes lonely and painful paths.
People like the disciples who had trained in various professions and left it all behind to follow Jesus.
And so many more for whom the path looked different to what they had anticipated.
We have the benefit of knowing the end of their stories--of knowing they stayed the course to possess what was promised even if they did take some detours along the way. But they must have had their in-between times and seasons like we all do. The days, weeks, months and even years where they didn't quite know how it was all going to turn out. Where the fog wrapped around their hearts and minds and tried to obscure their vision.
But here's the thing that I've learnt about fog: you don't have to be able to see everything that lies ahead to keep moving forward. You just need enough light to illuminate where you currently are.
Now this truth is not always easy for me to accept. I like to have things all planned out. To know the end-goal and exactly how we're going to get there. But life's not that simple--the journey is not always linear like we think it should be—and I doubt it was for the ancients either.
God offers to be the light that illuminates our path just as He has for those who have gone before us. For His presence to be a light within us and without. I've discovered that when knowing Him and not my own agenda becomes the goal, that the fog around me begins to clear and the beauty of who He is and how He loves me, shines bright. As David wrote:
For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.
All our worrying, all our striving and efforts to clear the path for ourselves will not bring clarity in the fog because clarity comes from intimacy. Only trust, only relationship with the One who sees all; with the One for whom the darkness is as light (Psalm 139:12) can cause the fog around our hearts and minds to clear.
Later that day, the sun shone bright. All trace of the morning fog had lifted and I was reminded that there will come a day when we see clearly; when we know and understand in full because we see Him face to face (1 Cor, 13:12). Our revelation, our knowing continually grows and deepens as we know Him more, but none of us can know fully this side of eternity. For now, we only see in part and the journey of faith is to keep saying yes. To keep trusting in who He is, allowing His goodness, His love to be the light for where we find ourselves; to be the light that leads us forward.
How can you let Him shine His light for you today?
From the moment we wake up, we are faced with decisions - what to eat, what to wear, should we even get up or should we hit snooze for another 5 minutes (this is not really a choice in my household as the alarm clock comes in the form of a VERY busy 2 year old!). Some decisions we make almost automatically, but others, well they weigh heavy. We want to get it right. We're afraid of getting it wrong, perhaps we worry we'll miss out on what God has for us.
For me, this fear of getting it wrong coupled with my deep-seated desire to honour God with my choices, became somewhat paralysing. I had brought into a false interpretation of Romans 12:2 where Paul writes:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.
His good, pleasing and perfect will. I'd understood this verse as progressive 'levels' of living in God's will that we could experience rather than as a description of the nature of God's will. So I thought why would you settle for what was merely 'good' if you had the opportunity to walk in what was 'perfect'? For someone wired as I am, this self-imposed pressure to not just avoid making wrong decisions, but also to then try and discern whether I was choosing what was good or attaining perfection, was incredibly dis-empowering. It threatened to rob me of the freedom to make decisions.
It wasn't until we were faced with an impossible decision for our family that tore at my heart and I heard God's whisper--it's okay Aimee, if you think you can keep going that's great, if you need to stop, that's okay too, either way I love you--that I came to understand that there isn't always 'one' right decision. Sometimes (or oftentimes), there are several 'good' options and God trusts us to choose.
God is a sovereign God, He is still on His throne and He rules and reigns. But He has also chosen to partner with us--He has created us in His image and entrusted His creation to our care until His return. And because we reflect Him, we have the ability to think and to feel; to dream and to create--and He wants to see us use these abilities.
He has invited us to enter into relationship with Him and this relationship does not render us powerless; it does not require us to act like robots or reduce us to clones of one another; it does not reduce our lives to a predetermined script. In fact, He empowers us and makes us able to test and approve what His will is.
It's a bit like those 'Choose your own Adventure' books--the ones where every few pages you're presented with different options and where you choose to go next determines the ending of the story. In some editions there were up to forty possible endings! Rather than having one fixed ending, I've discovered that in life there are a variety of possible outcomes and paths that we might go down and they all have the potential to have God-honouring endings. To be marked out by what is good, pleasing and perfect.
The paradox of this freedom and power to test and approve God's will is that it requires complete surrender. It requires us to hold nothing back, to be what Paul describes as a living sacrifice.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering.
Such a surrender is a safe-guard to the incredible freedom we have in Christ. God can always work with a heart that genuinely desires to serve and honour Him--even if we mis-step or mis-interpret what His Word says, He is big enough to redirect us and get us back on track.
And as we surrender our lives to Him--as we trust in the goodness of His nature and His purposes--our hearts and minds are transformed and renewed. Made whole. We no longer measure our options against the world's standards and wisdom, but against His. When life feels like a multi-choice test, we are able to recognise the paths that hold what is good, pleasing and perfect. And then, we can exercise our freedom to choose.
Over the past year or so, my husband and I have had to process A LOT of decisions - life-altering decisions --and I am so grateful that I am no longer afraid of 'getting it wrong.' That I am no longer (or at least less frequently) plagued by decision-paralysis because I know that I have been empowered to make choices.
And with each decision, we return to our posture of surrender, inviting God to confirm or correct the path we have chosen. Expectant that as we seek to honour Him, this life will hold untold adventures.
What adventures are waiting for you to choose them?
We're entering the final weeks of winter and despite the biting cold, the signs of new life, of new beginnings are bursting forth. The lambs are being born, the barren trees are budding ready for the blossoms to emerge, and dormant bulbs are starting to push their way up and out of the dark heavy earth that has been concealing their existence.
It was a number of years ago now, in the midst of a dark winter season of my own soul, that God revealed this truth to me: the seeds of new life don't begin in the spring but in the winter. In the midst of the cold and sometimes barren landscape, things of great beauty are being realised.
Just last winter God led me to a new beginning of my own, asking me to resign from what I would have previously described as my dream job to be at home with my children and to write. In the midst of laying down the plans that I had built for myself - of allowing dreams to die and be rebirthed - I have been reminded afresh of the truth that God spoke through the seasons to me all those years ago, that the 'new things' often spring forth from the most unlikely of landscapes. That beautiful things can be born out of the hard things.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
The question that God asks us through the prophet Isaiah, is the question that we must each answer when we find ourselves in the midst of the winter--will we have eyes to see the new things God is doing? Will we have faith to believe that He is able to bring beauty out of our barreness?
There is a fragility to new beginnings. Like the lambs born into a harsh climate, seasons of transition, where we are just beginning to embark on a new path, can be times of vulnerability. The elements often oppose the new life that is emerging which is why we must guard our hope and protect the seeds that God has planted within us.
As we grieve what we have had to let go of; what we have had to release in order to embrace the new, we must trust in His redemptive plans and purposes for our lives. We must believe that He can make a way where we might not yet see one.
When we find ourselves in the paralysing throes of fear, questioning whether we have heard God right; wondering if we are adequate for the task before us, we must lean into His strength and trust that His grace is sufficient. Sufficient to equip us for what He is calling us to and sufficient to cover us when we mis-step and get it wrong.
When the path ahead feels lonely and confronting we must remember that He is not only with us, He is for us. He believes in us and He is cheering us on. God knows that we need His care and protection equally in times of despair and of advancement which is why He not only walks through the valleys with us, He is also, as Psalm 23 tells us, going ahead of us, preparing the table - preparing places of rest and provision - as we ascend the mountain. He understands our vulnerability and provides all that we need to go from strength to strength.
Stripped of my titles; stripped of my familiar routines, my own new beginnings have required me to face these same myriad of emotions. The contrasting emotions of grief and hope; of letting go and picking up have been overwhelming at times. Forging new paths and allowing God to do a fresh work in our lives is seldom a comfortable experience--they are however an opportunity to draw near and rely on God in a deeper way. To find our rest in Him instead of striving to make things happen on our own terms.
I have learned that it is only when we embrace the companionship of the Comforter over being comfortable that we are positioned for new things to emerge. But as long as we fight for our own comfort the seeds of new life are constrained.
As far as the seasons go, I actually love winter. I love cosying up to the fire with a glass of red or a warm cuppa and a good book, drawing comfort and warmth from its embers; accepting its offer of respite from the cold. I have not always loved it though as an analogy for my life. Experience has taught me however to appreciate the beauty that God births in us throughout the winter months.
Yes, the winter months can feel relentless, but beneath the surface beauty is waiting to be revealed. Do you see the new thing that God is preparing to spring up in your life?
We sat together on the couch, her head buried into my shoulder as she wept for the things, the people that she was missing. And my heart ached for my daughter as she tried to figure out how to navigate her current season.
Change is hard. Being brave and willing to give new things a go and walk down yet unknown paths can be overwhelming.
As winter has given way to spring in our part of the world, something deep within us rejoices and celebrates the signs of new life. We have ached for something to come and replace the barreness. But new beginnings aren't always looked for or even necessarily wanted; they aren't solely the territory of the dead and barren places. Sometimes, God asks us to allow Him to prune the fruitful things--the things that are in full bloom--in our lives so that we can be even more fruitful (John 15:2).
Over the last two years, God has been bringing restoration and life to areas in my heart and story that I have longed for Him to, but He's simultaneously been asking me to let Him bring about new beginnings--to be pruned--in places where I wasn't looking for change.
He has asked me to resign my position and my ministry credentials
He has called us out of the Church we helped plant to start over after some 18 years of community
He has led us to homeschool when I never even wanted to be a stay at home mum (He sure has a sense of humour!)
And each of these changes has asked a question of me--do I really trust Him in the place of exchange? In the place where I don't yet know what my hands will hold and all I can see is what I'm letting go of?
Pruning seasons can be a unique type of change because we don't always know exactly what it is that God is making room for in our lives. We often only see the gaping whole left that was once fruitful and flourishing. Pruning inevitably ushers us into an in-between time--a time of uncertainty and waiting--just like in the natural, it takes time for the new growth to become visible.
In my own life, the place of exchange has tested whether I really believe that He is who He says He is. Whether I trust His heart towards me and the plans that He has for me. The place of exchange has revealed whether the Scriptures I quote are merely platitudes and bumper stickers or the foundation of truth that I've built my life upon because the place of exchange requires us to live with a deep assurance of His goodness and His love for us.
Jesus makes the Father's heart in pruning us abundantly clear--it is not to diminish us in any way but to increase us. To make us more fruitful. Pruning is not about judgment but preparation. And while it can be easy to entertain the voice of condemnation when we feel like we're being cut back, Jesus offers us this assurance:
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus is telling us, You are mine, I have washed you. Don't let the enemy tell you that you don't belong, that you're not valuable because you're being stripped back. Don't isolate yourself from Me; don't try and make things happen in your own strength, Trust that my heart is to cause you to flourish and be fruitful. Come, tarry a moment with Me. Apart from Me you can do nothing, but with Me, you can trust that greater fruitfulness is coming.
The word for 'remain' or 'abide' meant to remain, abide; to sojourn or tarry; to continue to be present; to be held, kept continually. It paints a picture for us of lingering in and savouring the presence of God with us. For me personally, I've found this 'abiding' to be both the challenge and the invitation of the place of exchange. My grief, my disappointment, my frustrations and impatience, the uncertainty can either build a wall between me and God or they can become a bridge to greater dependency, greater trust in His wisdom and goodness and in His time, greater fruitfulness.
If I want them to be a bridge, I must settle the question of trust. Will I trust His heart to lead me and yes, even to prune me?
I've decided yes. What about you?
I've often thought of myself as someone who colours inside the lines. You know, a good girl who gets on with what's expected of her and keeps the rules. But the more I journey with God, the more I can see that I've learnt to colour outside the lines; to go against the grain and walk with Him by faith.
Isaiah 55 tells us that God's ways are not our ways--they often sit outside of our logic and reasoning and because of this, faith often calls us to a path that feels counter-intuitive.
Sometimes faith says pull back when we would think rush in
Sometimes faith says give when we would like to hold back
Sometimes faith says go when we would prefer to stay
This has been the pattern all throughout Scripture:
God asked Noah to build an ark when he'd never even seen rain
He sent Abraham on a journey to an undisclosed location - asking him to pack up all his belongings and leave everything he had ever known
He asked a destitute widow to share the last of her provisions when she had no means to replenish them
He sent the disciples out in pairs to do ministry and wouldn't allow them to take any provisions with them, asking them to rely on those they ministered to for sustenance
All things that fly in the face of conventional wisdom--that go against the grain of forming a plan, of making provision, of having a safety net. Yes, while faith isn't about being reckless, sometimes it will sure look that way!
In my own journey, I've come to realise that my ability to walk by faith--to be obedient to what God is asking of me--is tied to my priorities and my affections. Hebrews 11 tells us that the men and women we so often refer to as the 'heroes of faith' were able to live as they did because they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth (v. 13). The Passion Translation challenges me with this rendering:
For clearly those who live this way are longing for the appearing of a heavenly city. And if their hearts were still remembering what they left behind, they would have found an opportunity to go back. But they couldn't turn back for their hearts were fixed on what was far greater, that is, the heavenly realm.
These heroes of faith both endured and achieved much for the Kingdom of God because they had determined where their treasure lay. They had fixed their heart to His.
When this world and all of its comforts has more of a hold on my heart than He does, my capacity to embrace His wisdom and to walk in faith is diminished. When He is no longer enough for me, then I hesitate to walk in surrendered obedience and even my frail human logic seems safer than the path that He has set before me.
Yes, this life of faith requires on my part a constant checking of my heart and my pursuits.
Am I distracted by what is temporal instead of engaged with what is eternal?
Am I self-reliant or God-reliant?
Am I craving the approval of the world or anchored by His love?
The current landscape of my own life is both exhilarating and terrifying. And truthfully, I find myself having to continually determine and redetermine to walk by faith. It's not a one off decision but a day by day, sometimes moment by moment, process of choosing to trust and obey. To keep my heart fixed to His.
The last two years have reminded me afresh that not only are God's ways not our ways, they are higher.
My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
And because they are higher than ours, we find rest and strength in them, provision for the journey He has sent us on. The path of faith might be uncomfortable, but because it is marked out by His presence we can expect to experience His comfort along the way.
However much sacrifice walking by faith invites, the rewards are far greater.
How is He inviting you to fix your heart to His today?
Low-tide is my favourite time to take a walk along the beach. There is plenty of room for Lucas to run and we're free to explore the full length of the beach without getting cut-off by the incoming waves. But as an analogy for life, I much prefer the idea of high-tide--of my life brimming to overflowing and reaching its full potential.
I recently heard a pastor make this statement: the tide will turn. He was encouraging people from the life of Nehemiah, reminding us that the Israelites had faced much opposition when they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, and exhorting us that just as the tide of opposition against them turned and they were able to complete their work, it will turn for us too.
This declaration resonated with me, and I've found myself contemplating it over and over in recent weeks. Pondering, what does it look like when the tide turns? What happens in the natural when the tides change? I googled these questions and came up with a bunch of answers that made my sleep-deprived (and somewhat unscientific) brain glaze over. But one thing did stand out and brought back some vague recollections of High School Science classes:
The tides change because of the gravitational pull of both the sun and moon.
There is a pull, a tension that causes the waters. to change their path. This is often our experience in the natural--when it's time to change direction; when God is calling us into something new; when breakthrough is imminent, we can feel a conflicting pull. It usually gets messy before the new direction emerges.
This is the precise time that we must stand firm. When we must keep our eyes on the prize of what God is calling us to--seeing our lives and circumstances as God does. Not allowing the mess, the tug and war pull of our circumstances, to derail us from pursuing God's purposes for our lives.
The opposition that Nehemiah and the Israelites faced as they set about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was both external and internal. Their enemies mocked and ridiculed them, plotting against them and accusing them of rebellion. And in the face of this opposition and the enormous task that lay in front of them, the Israelites grew tired--their strength gave out--and they were afraid of what might happen to them. They faced lack and it all seemed too hard.
As they faced all this opposition from both within and without, Scripture records Nehemiah's response:
But we prayed…
But I prayed…
Nehemiah continually sought out God’s perspective, inviting God’s power to be at work in their circumstances. He chose to exalt God above His circumstances and to fight for what had been promised.
“Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Fighting faith--faith that stands firm--refuses to lose sight of who God is. Refuses to passively allow the enemy to take territory that is rightfully ours. And as the Israelites stood firm, vigilantly continuing to do what God had asked them to do, the tide turned. Not only was the seemingly impossible task completed, but it was completed in record time.
So the wall was completed... in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God.
After a storm, the full-tide reaches new heights. It exceeds its former boundaries and claims new ground. I believe that this is a prophetic statement for this season--not only will the tide turn, but it is turning. And as it does, as you stand firm in the face of opposition, you will not only take back what has been lost, you will gain ground.
Where do you need to put your mind on the Master--to remember how great and awesome He is? To recall what He has promised? Stand firm in that place and fight, confident high-tide is coming.
This is part one of a two-part series. You can read part two, 'Recover Your Fight' here.
Isolated and alone. They're not words that I would have typically used to describe my life--not for an extended period of time anyway. But a few weeks before I was due to give birth to our youngest, Lucas, it felt like everyone moved away. My parents had been a five-minute drive from our home and now they were over an hour away. Both of my sisters then moved to the outskirts of our city and six months later my brother and his family moved back to the inner city. We'd always lived in close proximity, and it wasn't until we all dispersed that I realised how much I'd taken it for granted, but also how much I'd depended on their presence in my everyday routines.
It was to be the beginning of everything moving around me.
In the last few years, God has taken me on a journey of being stripped back; of being asked to leave the familiar and the comfortable behind to forge a new path and say yes to what is yet unknown. It's not only been hard, at times it's been lonely.
We are designed for community, not only with God, but also with one another. Yet the reality is that there are some seasons, some places, that God asks us to go to that others cannot go with us. Yes, we need to allow others to stand with us, to like Aaron and Hur did, lift up our hands when we grow weary. But equally, we need to know how to strengthen ourselves in the Lord if we do not want to be undone in the lonely battlegrounds of life.
There is an episode in David's life that takes place during David's time of exile and persecution under King Saul which challenges me. David and his men have been fighting for over a year as mercenaries under the commander Achish but when all the Philistine rulers come together for battle, the others are uncomfortable with David fighting for them. They think he could turn against them and so David and his men are sent home.
Three days later, David and his men arrive home to find their settlement burned to the ground and their wives and children taken captive by the Amalekites. Understandably, David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. But there's a difference between how they all handle things after that. Scripture tells us that his men began to talk of stoning David because they were bitter in spirit. In contrast, we read this about David:
But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
Some translations say that he found strength in the Lord or that he encouraged himself in the Lord. When he had lost those that mattered most to him, when everyone around him turned against him, David knew to turn to God and find strength in Him. He allowed the presence of God with him and the truth of who God is to encourage him in the midst of despair. He let God be with him when he felt destitute and alone.
Lonely seasons can become places of bitterness and destruction, but they also have the ability to become something beautiful in our lives--to be where God gives us the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places (Isaiah 45:3). Leaning on Him opens us up to His perspective and when we see what He sees, everything changes. For David, it meant being able to rise up and fight with courage and tenacity the battle that lay before him; recovering all that had been lost.
In his book Spiritual Formation, Henri Nouwen writes:
Jesus liberates human history from mere chronology to kairos - God's time, where past, present and future merge in the present moment... Even hard and painful times can be converted to occasions for learning, shaping influences forming us into the persons we are and leading us to the Source of healing and salvation. The spiritual life is not a life that offers a few good moments between the many bad ones, but an abundant life that transforms all moments of time into windows through which the invisible becomes visible.
Opening myself up to God's perspective, learning to see this time as not something just to endure but a kairos moment in which I can experience God, has given way to a strength that is not my own.
Yes, this season of being stripped back has been hard and at times lonely--but can I tell you this: it has also been breathtakingly beautiful. It has caused me to wholeheartedly pursue and rely on the Source of healing and salvation. To see Jesus at work in all the aspects of my life, weaving the past, present and future together for His purposes. No longer able to depend on proximity to those I love; no longer able to place confidence in titles and positions that I have held; no longer able to rely on the comfortable and familiar, I have had to rely on Him. And as I have, the fingerprints of His invisible work in my life have slowly become more visible.
Don't let lonely places and seasons become destructive in your own life—instead, allow them to become a place of communion with the only true source of strength, Jesus.
How can you strengthen yourself in the Lord today?
I've chosen some of my favourite pieces from my blogging years and collated them here. These nuggets of wisdom were gleaned from that beautiful chaos I keep telling you about—I pray they encourage you to see the beauty God has waiting for you to discover in your own life.