Love is… forgiveness and grace

steveand-i-christmas2016I am sharing this post today to commemorate National Marriage Week as well as Valentine’s Day. I know that the latter is an over-commercialised event, but my husband and I grab it as an opportunity to take time out to spend with one another. I also wanted to share this post as it my story of grace – which is the subject of my friend James’ new book, Mosaic of Grace, released yesterday (you can check it out here). What I share below is taken from my own book, which will be published later this year. I first wrote this for Amy Boucher Pye’s Forgiveness Fridays blog, but feel it is an appropriate way to celebrate my own marriage today. If it weren’t for my husband’s forgiveness and grace extended towards me there is no way we would still be journeying together today…

 

Our lives were shattered – lying about in little pieces on the floor. And the worst thing was that it was pretty much all down to me. I had chosen to believe the lies, especially the one that whispered that my husband didn’t care about me. I believed it because he worked around the clock in a recording studio and there was little left of him when he was at home. I believed it because my heart was hurting and I was lonely…

Vulnerable and foolish

As a woman who had grown up with self-esteem issues, I didn’t deal well with feeling abandoned. When I came before God with my feelings that I didn’t matter to my husband, His answer was that He wanted to take care of me and show me how to lean on Him completely. But I threw it back in His face. I needed someone who could hug me – and God just didn’t seem physical enough at the time.

But this put me in danger of allowing my emotional needs to be fed by other sources. Eventually, a friendship with another man in my church, which had started innocently enough, resulted with us deciding to leave everything behind and to start a new life together. With our actions we devastated the lives of my husband, the man’s wife and all the other members of our close-knit church community.

Lost

Two weeks later he chose to go back to his wife. I was left reeling, feeling totally deserted – but also knowing I deserved it all. Tellingly, it was my husband whom I rang once the other guy left. After all, my husband had been my best friend since I was a teenager so it seemed natural and I called him without thinking. How hard it must have been for him to take me back home, watch me huddled in the foetal position, sobbing endlessly. The next day he moved me, and a lot of my belongings, to my parents’ home where I was to stay until I had healed enough to discover what was next for my life.

I had lost everything by wrongfully pinning my hopes on another human being rather than God. And I was like a wounded animal at times – licking my wounds, lashing out, wanting to be left alone. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my husband going home, getting up for work each day and not knowing whether our marriage was salvageable.

Of course, we had deep issues that needed dealing with within our marriage. But I had to get to a place, first, of believing there was a future there. That I could look past all the years of hurt and misunderstanding and repent as well as forgive, and move on.

A taste of real love

When my husband visited me, at times I felt a little suffocated, as I knew he was trying his best to win me back. But, most of the time, he was gracious, gentle and loving, knowing also when to give me space. How he responded to me during that horrific time of limbo taught me what real love is. He showed me Jesus’ love for me in a very tangible way.

I had used him terribly – basically turned my back on him – and all our friends knew about it. And yet he was there, whenever I felt I could see him, a solid anchor who remained firm. He showed me that, even though I had done the worst thing I could to him, his love for me hadn’t faltered. He proved, over and over again, that he wanted our marriage to work.

Yes, we had counselling. And yes, we both had to face up to our failings, to understand the responsibility we had for one another and the changes that needed to occur. But his gentle patience during that time melted my hardened, broken heart. Even after I was back home, there would be moments when I would be wracked with emotional pain all over again and he would just hold me, caring for me through the tears.

Salvation through sacrifice

I know it must have been so, so excruciatingly difficult for him, and he certainly laid down his life for me. He also spoke to his bosses about what was going on, and the result was a miracle: studios always work around the clock but they agreed to put into practise the unheard of rule that the studio my husband ran would close by 8pm. Yes, his sacrifice saved our marriage – and revealed another layer of God’s love to me in such a powerful way.

Although this period of time was more than 16 years ago now, I can’t help but think of my husband’s loving sacrifice anytime I ponder the concept of forgiveness. You can read more of our story, and the passion for authentic openness that it birthed inside of me, in my forthcoming book: Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically.

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God isn’t put off by our negative emotions

looking wistful out window

Recently I’ve been spending time reading psychology books, mainly about infant attachment and parenting styles, as research for my own book. I have been really struck about a particular aspect: how a secure self learns not to be threatened by negative feelings.

I’ve read how sensitive parenting allows a child to feel those negative emotions and also teaches him/her how to deal with them through both support (unconditional love and empathy) and challenge. The child is also reassured that the source of their security and love is not threatened by such negative emotions either.

I’ve looked at how behavioural patterns learned in childhood get transformed into our adult lives. They affect the way we respond to, and interpret, the actions and words of those around us.

I was challenged by one particular book that linked the way a child approaches negative feelings to the way we respond to God when we are experiencing negative emotions.

We are His children and yet has the parenting style we’ve experienced by our earthly parents affected the way we anticipate His responses? I’m sure it must do.

For example, if you are feeling angry, bitter or sad do you feel God will condemn you, pointing out all the reasons why you are feeling like that – and revealing that it is your fault?

To read the rest of this post please click here.

Learning to be thankful – at all times

The new term is well under way and already I feel like I’ve been struggling to catch up. I had the most wonderful Christmas, but since then both my husband and I have been dogged with illness. New Year came and went with no let up, then the kids went back to school and life continued to seem like a blur.

Friends asked if I’d made new year’s resolutions, but I replied that I was frustrated that I hadn’t had any time or space to reflect on the previous year and pray through my goals and vision for this year (something I like to do every January). I hadn’t even got my office in order or put up a new calendar.

beach walking shot

A few days after the kids went back to school it suddenly dawned on me how down I felt. It wasn’t that anything awful had happened – and, as I’ve said, we had a lovely Christmas. But the constant pain and problems in my body, combined with a lack of sleep, were taking their toll on my emotions.

I knew I was responding negatively to people – my husband, kids, others around me – and was desperate to do something about it. But I also knew that I needed time with those who would do me good rather than just pressing through and trying in my own strength. And that meant spending time with God – and booking a lunch date with a friend who both encourages and challenges me.

Over lunch we talked and cried, and I left feeling lighter. The following morning I couldn’t get the phrase ‘For yet I will praise Him’ out of my mind as I drove back from dropping the kids off at school. I had been saying to God that I was frustrated with myself; there was so much I wanted to get done, but I still felt like I just wanted a date with my duvet.

I came home and looked up the phrase, finding it in three psalms. Here’s one from Psalm 42:5:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

Something inside me leapt. I realised that, like the psalmist, I needed to speak to my soul and remind myself to put my hope and trust in God.

To read the rest of this post, please click here.

Life is short…

Memorial services are great for bringing perspective.

I recently attended one for a dear guy who, at one stage of our lives, was extremely instrumental in our continuing faith journey. He was the first small group leader we had in the church we attended more than 20 years ago. We’ve since moved on from that church, moving home to help start another church in a nearby community.

What shocked us about this situation was that his death was sudden – and he was so young (just four years older than my husband). So there we were, a group of people that had come back together from various corners of the country to celebrate and acknowledge the life of this unassuming man who had had an impact on us.

He had been a somewhat clumsy, awkward guy, but so friendly and gentle. Everyone who paid tribute to him recognised those qualities. But they also talked about his absolute assurance of the truth of the gospel. Although a scientist, he had had no problem marrying his faith with scientific fact, and his faith had been the stronger for it.

As I sat listening to people speaking that day, I suddenly heard a gentle whisper:

What would people be saying if it were you? How would people describe you?

I know that the word ‘gentle’ would certainly not be among the words used. Unfortunately that’s not a natural character trait for me…

But would there be the things I would hope for, such as: kind, loyal, honest, authentic, faith-filled, inspiring, encouraging? Or would there be, as I suspect I’m viewed as currently: over-busy, stressed, aloof, overbearing, difficult to approach, emotional?

I know I’m overstating the case somewhat, but sitting there that day made me take stock:

What is it I’m investing my time and efforts in, and are they worthwhile?

To read the rest of this post please click here.

Francine Rivers on writing, faith and her new book

Bridge to haven coverFrancine Rivers has written over 20 bestselling Christian-themed novels (winning numerous awards), and regular readers eagerly anticipate each new publication. Her latest, Bridge to Haven certainly will not disappoint.

Based in 1950s Hollywood, it is the story of Abra and her journey to find true love and acceptance. Abandoned at birth and never truly finding her place in her home town of Haven, the naïve young woman is vulnerable to the charms of the fast-talking rich boy who lures her away to Hollywood.

Once there, Abra soon learns what is expected of a girl with ambitions of fame. The price she pays is huge, but Abra has burned every bridge to get exactly what she thought she wanted and feels trapped as a consequence. If she were honest with herself she’d realise all she wants is a way back home…

I had the great opportunity of being able to ask Francine about the inspiration behind her new novel – and what she hopes her readers will glean from it:

You have written about such varied subjects – a retelling of Hosea; the persecution of Christians in Roman gladiator times; the tradition of the sin-eater in 1850s Appalachia. Each one of them is written so expertly it seems that you must have immersed yourself in the subject. How do you go about researching each new topic?

“Almost every story begins with a question or issue with which I’m struggling, and each story seems to dictate the time in which it needs to be told. For example, when I was struggling with the question of how to share my faith with unsaved family and friends who didn’t want to hear anything about Jesus, I thought of the early martyrs who died in Roman arenas. The result was A Voice in the Wind.

“The Scarlet Thread came from a study of sovereignty and a cross-country trip several friends and I took, following the Oregon Trail. Local museums showed story after story of people setting off to find a better life. Hardship and tragedy followed them across the prairie – along with the question: who is in control of our lives?

“What is the difference between guilt and conviction was a question that fit the Appalachian highlands custom of sin eating, a practice brought over in the early days from Scotland and Wales. The result was The Last Sin Eater. And The Shofar Blew came out of questions on how to build a church in modern times amidst massive building projects that often destroy congregations.

“In each case, once the time and place are set, it’s a matter of immersing myself in the time period, finding good books, finding pictures, making binders with dividers between subject matter – what people wore, what their homes and daily lives were like, the political atmosphere, music, customs, etc. I even listen to music that fits the time period while I’m working. The writing process is a quest for answers and a journey with characters that become real people to me. Writing a story is my way of worshipping and praising the Lord.”

To read the rest of my interview with Francine, please click here and for a review of the book please click herepic_full_Rivers_Francine

 

The wisdom of the ages

Life has been hectic to say the least – hence my lack of posts recently. But something occurred that has drawn me back to writing here again. Since school went back my eldest – my daughter – has been having great fun, and doing brilliantly, but her attitude at home has been really difficult for me to deal with. Her homework is harder – she is doing so well with her reading her books are really long now – and now she is over the initial excitement of getting more grown up books she seems to lose interest quickly because she is tired. It doesn’t help that her brother is either crawling all over both of us or crying at reading time! But this morning she totally lost it. Her world seemed to fall apart because she looked in her lunch box and told me I had given her too much to eat. I couldn’t believe it – I thought I’d made her a lovely lunch. So, feeling a little hurt already, I asked her what the problem was. I was met by a torrent of tears. Eventually I was told she only has 14 seconds to eat lunch – to which I snapped back she was now being silly. Apparently one of her friends talks to her all the time and demands answers so she feels like she doesn’t have enough time to eat, and she has a lot left when they are told to eat up because it is almost time to leave. It seems like such a simple, ridiculous situation – but to her, a six year old, it is a disaster that she is struggling to cope with. There is the social element – they are still working out friendship dynamics and all of them seem to be lacking the understanding that they need to wait for each other to speak and listen nicely (and they crowd one another) – but it also made me realise however confident she now seems she is still a shy little girl.

It is worship practise tonight – and last time we finished early so I asked everyone to pray with each other. What followed was a wonderful time mainly focusing on my family – praying for our protection as we are one of the pastors’ family plus I was leading worship that week. Someone spoke wisdom and grace over us – particularly over the difficulties we’d been facing with our daughter – and it suddenly struck me that Grace is her middle name. And yet I’d been forgetting to speak and pray that over her. That is what the situation needed – God’s grace! And it still does. She left for school this morning and I crumpled and cried out to God that I didn’t know how to deal with her anymore. But I know who does. And I’m going to keep calling on the wisdom of the ages, and asking Him to impart some of that to me so I know how to do my daughter good, and encourage her to be loving, open and honest when at home, as well as at school. I know it won’t be easy, but recognising I can’t do it in my own strength and asking for His help is a big step forward. So, whatever difficulty you are facing today the wisdom of the ages is what you need too – don’t forget to call on Him.

A pioneering woman, pt 3

Here is the third part of my interview with Wendy Virgo.

As you have both grown in your ministry, to the local church and internationally, has your understanding of any issues changed over the years? Have your approaches changed at all?

I think that principles do not change, but the ways they are applied must be flexible. As we have got involved in church planting in other countries we have had to learn a lot about cross-cultural issues; we had to recognise that we are not seeking to import English ways of thinking, but to try to understand what is a biblical way and to establish that. I think this is one of the reasons that wherever I go in the world to visit one of our churches, I feel instantly “at home”. I may be in Mexico, Australia or Zimbabwe, and I may be experiencing different food, climate, dress and customs, but when we gather as the people of God and worship Him, we are together expressing a culture that belongs to the kingdom of God.

We have to be confident that the Gospel is still the power of God for salvation and is relevant to every culture and stratum of society; we have to be persuaded that biblical values hold true and work in every nation. For example, Terry has preached the Gospel of grace all over the world and has often come up against certain practices that are traditional but very legalistic. These have had to be challenged, not because we don’t like them, nor because this is “not Newfrontiers” – not even because “this is old-fashioned and no one does this anymore”. Things have to be evaluated on the grounds of “is this biblical?” For example, in Armenia, it was deemed unspiritual for a man to wear a tie; but in some areas of Africa it was deemed unspiritual if they did not wear a tie! We have to help people to see that the grace of God declares that what you wear is totally irrelevant to your worth or spiritual status! This could, however, be quite hard to establish where there is a hardened tradition. People often flounder on details and have difficulty identifying what is a primary issue that must be attended to, and what is a secondary one and therefore not worth fighting over!

 

A whirlwind week

It has been a little while since I’ve been on here – mainly because life has reached whirlwind proportions. And the thoughts spinning around my head also have me reeling from their speed. So I’m trying to catch a moment to slow down and take stock. The last week has certainly been a varied one: I had my birthday, found out my mum was incredibly ill, had a terrible conversation with a magazine editor that left me wondering if Christians really can be that judgemental, shot down to see my mum in hospital, enjoyed a fantastic international day at church and also made some great new contacts with book and magazine publishers.

Each night I have fallen into bed late, absolutely exhausted, only to be denied sleep by my 2 year old, who really doesn’t seem to understand that waking up at night does not equate to coming to say hello to mummy, daddy and his sister! Even with the gate firmly fixed on his door he is still finding a way of keeping us all up at night. I look at him tearing around during each day and wonder where on earth he gets his energy from – and whether I could borrow some of it! In amongst the busyness, and emotional turmoil at times, I worry that I am so focused on different things I am not parenting to the best of my ability. I guess as parents we always have that nagging feeling – could we be doing things better? Are we juggling too much? Our society seems to only accept survivors – supermums who can spin every plate highly successfully and look fantastic at the same time!

That’s not really the reason for this entry though. I could write a series of blogs on that subject – and on the fact that while I believe in a God who can heal today, and have seen miracles in front of my eyes, one of those dearest to me – my own mum – continues to suffer pain from a debilitating disease day after day, year after year. I know suffering and healing are subjects I’m never going to fully understand, but I do have lots of questions I’m waiting to ask God when I do see him face to face! God does seem to have a way of turning things upside down – I travelled to see my mum expecting her to be hardly able to lift her head from her hospital bed but I was greeted by a beaming face as she had just had a chance to talk to a daughter of a patient about her faith and offered to pray for her. Gone was the downcast soul who had had enough of struggling with each breath and here was someone excited and vitalised by her faith once more. She said herself that every time she is in hospital she has such ‘divine encounters’ and that being there had lifted her spirit from the depth of despair. She is still physically in severe pain, but her spirit is back in line with her God.

All of this has made my own spirit go up and down. A high point was definitely yesterday at church where we celebrated the diversity of nationalities within our church. Sam Amara from Nigeria visited us and preached and we feasted on a wonderful array of dishes from around the world afterwards.

Yes it has definitely been a pretty crazy week. And today has continued to be crazy. I’m on my own for a few hours, for which I’m exceedingly grateful to my husband, but busy organising work and what I need to do before heading off to Brighton for the last Newfrontiers International Leaders’ Conference, Together on a Mission. I am excited about what God will do when we are all together – I just hope I manage to stay awake! ;D

Spring cleaning your soul

I was busy cleaning my bathroom yesterday when I started thinking about how busy I have been recently. For quite a few weeks my cleaning regime has been rather curtailed due to lack of time. I have made sure that the place is hygienic, but it has been more about tidying up surfaces and making the place look okay rather than doing a thorough clean. As I started scrubbing I suddenly realised that that is how we can often be with our spiritual lives too. The things we do as so-called disciples of God can often be more about making sure we look good on the outside, rather than taking care of ourselves spiritually. Our souls can be crying out for some good nourishment, but we are so caught up with external things that we don’t even notice. I know that there has been much written about not approaching bible reading as something simply to be ticked off a ‘to do’ list, and not to be under condemnation if we don’t manage to read it every day. But I do think we are in danger of cheapening the grace that Christ won for us. Yes He died to set us free, but that didn’t take away our own responsibility to look after ourselves. Our society has a work hard, play hard mentality, which usually involves sessions at the gym or whatever your chosen method of exercise is. But for some reason, while we are happy to come on board the ‘look after your body’ camp, many of us Christians don’t seem to think much about looking after our souls. As we believe that our bodies are temporary (I know we are to look after them!), and that the important part of us is our soul, how come that belief hasn’t filtered down into what we actually do? The book that I was asked to write 8 years ago was on keeping ourselves spiritually fit – and it is just as much of an issue today. I am going to consciously try and take some time this week to honestly look at the state of my spiritual health (there are even some helpful checklists in my book that I will probably go back to! ;). I wonder, when was the last time you ‘spring cleaned’ your soul?