thoughts on new growth and heart-soil

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Yesterday afternoon the girls and I spent gardening in the front yard, re-potting succulent babies, and topping concrete containers with rich black soil. I had afternoon sun on my back, and dirt under my fingernails as I scooped the damp soil up with my hands, and patted it down around green and growing things. 

I have a little succulent collection that sits by my front door, reminding me to tend them, water them and sprouting wiry stalks and thick spindly leaves. One of these leaves dropped off, unnoticed, until discovered, probably a couple of months later by my eldest daughter. 
The fallen leaf had begun to sprout and create it's very own plant, and as it's roots went deeper, the leaf itself had begun to wither. 
Fascinated when I told her the clever ways of these succulents, Eden watched YouTube videos on propagation and began her own little collection. She gently pulled leaves from a variety of plants, laid them out on top of some soil, and has faithfully watered her babies every day. 
The picked-off fronds are beginning to grow new tiny leaves, and send down thread-thin roots all the while beginning to wither themselves. New life, "touched by a tiny bit of death"*

It reminds me of my own growth; that internal change. If I slow down enough, and get close enough, I can see the tiny tiny shoots of newness. But what must die alongside the growth?
What must be done under the cover of rich, dark soil in the depths of my soul?

So much in our world is focused on the outward appearances. 
Our streamlined Instagram accounts, manicured nails, clickbait titles, and marketing campaigns. Everything designed to wow us into comparison, and the facade of perfection. 
In the upside down kingdom of God, what matters is not the outward appearance. 
Jesus's focus was, and will always be, the condition of our hearts. 
He wants to know if our roots are strong, if the soil is right for the growing, and if, deep down there in the centre of it, there is a home there for Him.
None of which is visible to the human eye. 

We can chase perfection, to the detriment of our souls, or we can choose to remove ourselves from the harried and breathless pace of the world, and breathe in slow.
We can choose to stop worrying about what we look like, and start to focus on what we are like.
I can look good, or I can choose the fruit of goodness. 
I can have a 'lovely home' or I can truly spend my days loving others. 
I can fret about what other people think, or I can rest in the true peace that comes from placing far more weight on the opinion of the God who loves me unconditionally.  

When we stop and slow - thrust our hands into the dirt, our toes into beach sand, or our nose into a book - we can start to tend lovingly the new growth in hidden places, and place more emphasis on what is beneath the surface, rather than what is visible. Matthew 13 speaks to us about the soil of our hearts. 

Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.
The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.
The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

Jesus I pray that those reading Your Word today would have tended the soil of their hearts well. That You would help us to focus more on your invisible kingdom, on goodness and faith - and let those things in us that need to die, to wither away to make more room for Your growth. Help us to embrace slow, to breathe in time with Your heartbeat, instead of rushing along in the pace set by the world around us. Give us eyes to see the invisible. Amen.
 

 

*Henri Nouwen

  

Around here + 2018 goals

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I'm a little bit quiet about my resolutions when I make them.
I do make them, but I don't share them loudly and proudly because, honestly, it means I'll be accountable. 
Maybe you, reader of this humble blog, will not check in and ask me how those goals are going (or maybe you will? Who knows?) but I'll know that you know what they are. 
I'll know that my husband will know that I want to read more books, but he sees me scrolling, and woe unto him if he reminds me of that goal I shared!
And sometimes I don't really set them for myself, except for a deep hope of just being better
Better at life, at controlling my thoughts, working hard in ministry and motherhood and study and all things in between. 
At the beginning of a new year I always envision me at the end of it - wiser, fitter and more accomplished. 
But I know that the me that's waiting for me at the end of the year will be the sum of how I spend my hours now. 
And I know that instead of writing myself unachievable goals, which leak shame when they go unfulfilled, I should hold tightly in my hand my priorities for the year.
And let the things that I say yes to be filtered through these priorities. 

It simplifies everything. 
So, although they've been unspoken until now, these are what I've been filtering some of my yesses and no's through:
 
FUN: at the end of last year I made a commitment to myself to have fun. To say yes to spontaneous camping trips, to allow myself to let go of routine and control when I need to - fun for my little family of 5, and fun in my own friendships. To say yes to the memory-making, even if it means going to bed late.  

FAMILY: I want to get to know my grandparents better. I want my kids to build relationships with all their great grandparents. And I want to spend more quality time with my immediate family. I have the cutest nieces on the planet - I want to be the aunty they remember being interested in who they are, and their everyday lives. I want to spend quality time together with the five of us - before Mr Highschooler refuses to join us. 

READING: I want to read more. I love to read. I love to read books that expand my spiritual life, and my health and my emotional life. I want to read books that are intelligent and wise and teach me things I didn't know. I want to invest in books that do that.
But I also want to make time to read fiction again for the pure and unadulterated pleasure it brings. It's my favourite thing to do.
I need to do more of what fills my soul, without feeling guilty.

RUNNING: I dislike exercise a lot. (Obviously, because, bookworm). But as hard as it is to put my running shoes on and psyche myself up to pound the pavement, once I'm out there, by the ocean, podcast in my ears (I can't run to music, I need a podcast to take my mind off the pain of exercise!) it's doing more for my mental and emotional health than my fitness. I feel better about myself, about life. I hear God more clearly. It stills a very whirring and overthinking kind of brain. 
But the fitness thing is a bonus too - defined calve muscles? Yes please. 

WRITING: I want to be here more. To share my heart, to be vulnerable and real and me. Because, regardless of whatever insecurities I have about sharing, writing is the one thing that makes me feel alive, and gives me purpose. One day: books, but for now journals and blog posts. Promising myself I'll share more in this space (Starting with a Lent series... stay tuned!)

What about you?
Have you set very defined goals for the year? I am always so impressed with those of you who do, and who manage to stick to things for an entire year! 
6 weeks in, only 46 to go. 

xx

Note to self: put phone down

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Hey you. 
Just because you didn't post it online doesn't mean it didn't happen. 
I know you are watching the sunset, but you can't see it quite as well when it's through the lens of your camera.
Just use your eyes, and your heart. 

Because there are moments when God speaks, and you won't hear Him if you're rushing, trying to capture everything, trying to post it all online, trying to shout through the white noise, trying to be heard. 
Because you're heard already, fully known, fully loved. 
And it's amazing what happens when you stop scrolling for a moment. 
You finish whole chapters of books, without distraction. 
You notice little things, like the wind blowing in the branches of the magnolia tree outside, and see the way the sunlight has illuminated it's leaves so you can see it's veins. Or you notice people. Their facial expressions, their body language - that the person opposite you on the train looks a bit sad. You begin to breathe.

When you're rushing and scrolling, you're so engrossed in the fake-lives of others, that you miss your own real, beautiful, messy, raw life. 

You miss the tiny details of his freckles and almost-12-year-old grin when he beats you at a card game, fully present, fully alive.
You miss the details of her stories, the inflection in her voice, the way she doesn't quite say the words properly yet. 
You miss sitting in comfortable silence, without the intrusion of over-stimulation.
You miss the creative ideas that form when your mind is free from constant bombardment. 

Hey you
Putting your phone down for a little while and saying no to it's endless opportunities to shop, to stalk, to scroll - means you're living.
Not sharing that photo or that moment or that date night can make it all the more sacred. Hold those daily moments tightly to yourself, savour them, and refuse to share them with a fickle audience who only seem to appreciate the extravagant, the unreal, the unattainable. Sometimes an audience of one is all that is required. 

Note to self: if you're starting to waste time scrolling, put it down. Just for an hour, or a day.
Then go and live. Pick up your camera, or put on your running shoes, bake something, invite a friend for a coffee, read a whole chapter of a book without distraction, or work hard at that thing you’ve been putting off. 

Hey you, there is so much living to be done, don't waste it. 

xx

 

 

 

 

thoughts like little trees

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I'm currently reading Dr Caroline Leaf's Switch on Your Brain. 
Slowly.
It's science, backing up scripture, backing science - and all about our thought life. 

If I'm honest (which I am, always) and vulnerable (which I try my best to be in this space, despite how difficult it can be!) I thought I had my thought-life under control as much as I could, but there was a part of me that resigned myself to the fact that I was always going to struggle with darkness in my mind.
Over the years I've struggled with crippling insecurity, shyness, and the tired (yet very effective) tirade of thoughts about myself that kinda sound a lot like 'you're not good enough' 'no one likes you' 'he only stays with you out of obligation' 'he wishes you were more like that other girl' 'you're not exceptional, only average - if you're lucky' 'don't even bother trying, it won't be good enough'  - not to mention all the ones that point out physical flaws. Blah.
Then, as well as those mean thoughts, I was using my imagination to hurt myself.
My husband would go to work and I would concoct stories in my mind that felt so real, about where he really was and who he was really with and I sowed all sorts of suspicion and resentment into our marriage. 
I knew I was being silly, but I couldn't stop. It was ugly.
It's crazy how much this toxic thinking affected my confidence in who I am, and who I'm called to be, not to mention how it affected my relationships!
I even questioned the authenticity of my relationship with God because surely I couldn't be living life as a Christian, yet still be in a place where toxic thoughts reigned supreme in my mind so often.

Then, I started fighting. I knew what the Bible said about renewing my mind, and thinking only on things that are pure and lovely, and taking every thought captive and lining them up with God's thoughts... but I'd never really been intentional in putting them into practice. 
But I knew I couldn't go on the way I was, my thoughts were making me sick with worry and anxiety and anger and cynicism. 
I started by using car rides on the way to uni and back to pray and speak out the opposite of what I'd actually be thinking.
I started to cut those thoughts off when they came and say (often out loud!) NO I'm not going to think that.
I started doing all the things anyway, even when the thoughts would come and tell me that someone else could do it better. 
I used every ounce of strength I had to pull up my big girl panties and refuse to believe the lies that felt like they'd wormed deep into my brain and would never go away.

Of course, I still have moments where doubt comes. But I've learned not to let it stay.
And this book? Reminds me that although I've come so far, there's hope for so much more.
"For now, rest in the assurance that what God has empowered you to do with your mind is more powerful and effective than any medication, any threat, any sickness, or any neurological challenge" - Dr Caroline Leaf
We can consciously, with our own free will, change and direct our own thinking and wire out toxic thoughts. 
With those thoughts, we allow them to permeate into our brains and actual little branches grow and make connections with other little branches. That you can see. IN YOUR BRAIN. What?!! 

I love the idea that there are tiny little trees in our brains, and I can grow them green and healthy, just by refusing to think toxic thoughts, and replacing those thoughts with good ones. 

So, here's to not believing lies, to thinking good thoughts - I think they will shine out of your face like sunbeams (Roald Dahl, you legend). Lets refuse to live small lives in doubt and disillusionment. Here's to switching on our brains.

x

how you can still come out of it

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If you're following me on Instagram, you'll know I was applying for an internship. 
I agonised over my cover letter for days, making sure it was perfect. Trying to sound professional, but also express my personality, my strengths and my hopes. 
I sent it off. 
And then I said, God, I often don't ask You for things like this, because something in me doubts it will make a difference, but this time I'm going to stand on the promise You gave us that says that You're able to do "superabundantly more than all that we dare to ask or think..." and I'm asking. I really want this. I think I've got what it takes. I'm trusting in You. 
And I've been checking my email multiple times a day since. 
They were only taking one Intern. 
Perth is a tiny tiny city, and there are not many publishing houses. 
The Intern program is highly competitive - I was only allowed to even apply because my grades were high enough. 
I really, really want to become a professional editor - but I need experience. This is incredible experience. Not to mention how great it would be to put on my resume.
I let myself be hopeful.

So I was believing. 
But then yesterday I got an email that started like this: "Thanks so much for your application for work placement in semester 1, 2018. Unfortunately, on this occasion your application was not successful. Your application was a strong one, but we decided another student was better suited for the position."

The email actually went on to say great things about supporting me if I'm able to source a placement somewhere else. It was laced with hope. But still, I was gutted.
And I let myself be gutted. 
For a split second I stuffed the rejection down deep and took a deep breath, ready to move on, take action, shake it off. But then something in me said stop! Let yourself be sad. It's okay.
So I sat. And I told myself it was okay to feel. And then I cried.
I cried while I vacuumed the house, and I cried a little bit more while I mopped, and a little bit more still when the husband came home early and took one look at my face and said, "Oh sweetie" and wrapped me up tight in the best cuddle in the world.

But then I shook it off. And I read this amazing quote by Maya Angelou:

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. 

Then I had a little conversation with God, about how I still trust Him, and that I believe He's working on my behalf.
I took deep breaths and smiled as my kids put on carols and wrote out Christmas cards for their classes. I walked slowly to turn on the newly-strung lights outside and watched them dance their rainbows along the gable.

Then I sat and wrote emails and enquired about other intern placements. 

In defeat, I learned how to let myself feel sad.
In defeat, I found out that I'm not a quitter. 
In defeat, I discovered that I'm tougher than I realised.
In defeat, I realised how much I've grown - how I have learned to master my thoughts, so that they're not defeated either.

Defeat makes way for a better me, and today is a new day.

xo

New days

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At the end of last year, I remember panicking at the thought of the new one starting. 
I wasn't ready. Nothing was right. Everything felt too overwhelming, too difficult and I was drowning. 
So I didn't reflect. I didn't set goals. I tried hard not to think about the year ahead. 
All I could really do was spent each moment willing my racing heart to slow down.
Trying to catch my breath.
I put some words up on my Letterfolk board that made some simple declarations; that I would read more books, write every day, run further, log off and choose grace. 
I think those words will serve me well for 2018 as well.

My beautiful friend Amanda dropped her latest book to me this morning.
She's brave, and faces her year head on, even if it's been shitty. Her book is all about how she retreats, sits down, and asks herself the hard questions. Her book is all about being intentional.
About our time and our focus and about our goals. It's got guided questions and lots of space for journaling and brainstorming. 

And part of me didn't want to even open it. Because reflecting is difficult. Especially if you've been doing a tough season, or you aren't where you wanted to be by now, or if you've tried the resolution thing before and failed. But honestly, this book is different. 

I'm determining to be brave because as the book is titled, I am believing and hoping that 2018 will be new days. New days for my family. New seasons of warmth and ease. 
Like tumbling in the whitewash but coming up through crystal clear water and taking that big deep breath on the surface.
I'm praying that 2018 needs will be like a big deep lung-filling, chest-expanding breath of fresh clean air.
And to help it to be so, I know I need to face what needs to be faced.
I know I need to reflect on the year that was so that I can start the next one facing the right direction.
I'll reflect on twenty seventeen with a fierce determination that I will learn from my mistakes, I'll let my failures compel me to try again and that I'll see, actually, that the difficulties I faced this year helped me to be stronger, fight harder and pray more than I ever have before. 

So if you need to reflect on the year, or be intentional about your goals for the year to come, why don't you grab a copy of Amanda's book? You can download the PDF version right from her website and print it off right now if you want to!

Join me in finishing the year brave.

xx

 

you do you

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Last week I had dinner with longtime besties. 
We've been doing dinners together for over a decade.
When I tell Daniel, "I've got a girls dinner this Friday night" he knows straight away which girls and asks who's turn it is to host. 
I wish we had a better name for them than 'girls dinners' but they are what they are, and they are wonderful.

We sat in front of a fire with mugs of mulled wine, and ate way too much baked feta and sourdough, and soup and apple crumble and vanilla ice-cream. I was so full it hurt and I lazed back in a big armchair that hugged me with its arms, holding onto my tea. 
Our conversations are easy. We've known each other for so long, everything we say is understood in context. 
One conversation though, flowed through my mulled-wine-softened brain without too much thought until the next day. We'd talked about comparison, and I was surprised that it wasn't just me.
We're all in different seasons both of motherhood, career and ministry. 
When I look at the lives of my friends I see success, and contentment.
When I look at mine it's hard not to see so far from where I need to be. 

When I look at them, and what they're doing with their lives I think You are enough. You are amazing. 
But when I look at mine I so frequently think not quite there yet. Try harder. Do more. Be different than what you are. Not good enough.

And I realised after our full-bellied conversation that it's the human condition.
Our fallen nature causes us to feel like we are not enough - and always assume the lives that other people are living are better, more fulfilling, more adventurous and much easier than ours. 

This semester it was hard not to feel a little pang of envy when I saw friends work on creative fun exploits, or make amazing career moves, or take their families overseas. I was running women's events at our church like a crazy person, and writing essays like mad. 
When I dwelled on what someone else was doing for too long, I started to resent what I had to do.
Which was nuts, because I happen to love running women's events and I am closet-nerd and I really love studying English Literature. So why was I starting to become discontent?!
Because I thought I'd be happier doing someone else, instead of doing me.
A phrase I've been pondering on though lately is this:

YOU DO YOU.

How do you do you?

It doesn't matter what anyone else is doing, or what their life looks like, theirs is not your lane. 
You run in yours.

Cheer them on, and then shift your eyes to the front, put your head forward and work hard at what's in front of you.

When I made the effort to shift my thinking, my attitude changed. 
How deeply grateful I feel to lead our women's ministry!
How accomplished I feel that I'm diligent at uni, getting closer to my degree. 
How blessed we are to have almost paid off the credit card, even if it meant no holidays for a little while. 

And while I love social media, sometimes "doing me" means I need to stop scrolling for a little while so that I have enough headspace to realise that this life I live is actually a wonderful gift and one I don't want to waste by drowning in comparison. 

You do you sister. 

xx