Grief catches even the fastest creature, no matter how we duck and dive, flick and divert…It catches us all.
I don’t know how to describe the loss of loved ones, the loss of relationship, the loss of health and the deep lament it unearths. Each time I think of the people in my world who are lost deep in the trenches of grief, my heart aches and wanes.
I feel like my heart is running on just a few bars of battery, because grief has emptied my centre of its power.
I’m on my way out tonight for a gathering, a community of people coming together to pray and my heart longs to be recharged again.
Grief, I will not speed past your sorrow. I will ask the questions that loosing my loved ones demands. Although lament is not popular or accepted in our society, I will continue to dig deeply to places where the ache pangs.
My favourite scripture of all time is this from Lamentations 3;
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.
25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.
And from the perfect wordsmith of Spurgeon from 40 days of decrease today
“God draws the curtain about the bed of his chosen sufferer and, at the same time he withdraws another curtain which before concealed his Glory”
Day 35: I am refusing to speed past sorrow, this Easter, because the end of twenty fifteen and the beginning of twenty sixteen has had it’s fair share of deep loss.
There are many days of late that I am walking by faith not by sight. One could say we are in an intense battle and if I listed everything that has been challenging us, the list would fill pages.
Today at 6.40am to be exact I got a call from my husband saying his car had simply stopped working. On his way to work, he had to pull over and wait for a friend who lived close by to come and rescue. We had the car towed to the mechanic and this afternoon we found out the engine has completely died and the only answer is a complete new engine.
We’ve laughed many times, that we will drive the car until it falls apart and it has been a faithful companion, through my single years, a funny story keeper from our dating days, an adventure bound journey maker on our honeymoon and it carried our little Man when he was just days old.
No matter how often you have used something, it is never a good day when it blows up.
I have been asking myself “Are we doing something wrong?”
The problem I am having of late though is with something I have wrestled out here in this forum before. I have been once again dancing hard out with doubt.
Worry is displacing certainty and my shield of faith has been shaking.
I have been contemplating questions like;
“What if the bad actually wins? What if good doesn’t get the final say? What if this has been all a big exercise of praying without answers?”
Heavy questions I know.
Yes, doubt has taken me on a ride and nearly taken charge.
Today Alicia, on the journey of 40 days of decrease, challenges the reader to allow doubt and uncertainty to form and mature us. Allow these times to decrease our reliance on self and to step out deeper into the waters of faith.
You see yes, doubt has the capacity to lead us off track but it also has the potential to fling us wider and higher into places of trust. We cannot trust something that we have not fully embraced. Unless we embrace the fear, unless we admit the difficulty, unless we wade into the thick place of questioning, we cannot find the space of reckoning that is required for a robust relationship.
When we wrestle we are strengthened.
When we ask, seek and knock we are found waiting.
I am learning to sit more comfortably with doubt. Allowing myself to question whether I am safe and what is safety. What is important and why so many people I know are going through time of trial.
I am lamenting and shouting, seeking and finding, asking and waiting.
This is a place of decrease.
This is uncomfortable.
But honestly, I would much prefer to be in this place of raw anticipation, than in a place of innocent pride unaware of my own self obsession.
I will never be too cool to say that I have questions.
I never want to arrive in a place where someone cannot ask me hard questions.
I want to be malleable, flexible and when doubt rears it’s ugly head not to be so focussed on shutting down a dialogue that makes me feel sick, but to dig deeper and find the real source of pain.
Stepping one day into uncertainty, knowing that as we walk with the broken and seek the Father of our beginning and end, that we are contained only by his love.
Everything we carry with us in this life will pass away.
I took a chalk and wrote on our blackboard…To remind myself, even on the days I am not sure if I believe it.
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Psalm 91: 11
Day 36: stepping forward with my doubt tucked away in my pocket, learning to be okay with its weight.
Today I did something that scared the hell out of me. I drove by myself to a classroom, in a prison, to sit and learn all day about the art of photography. I am not a photographer, I much more prefer to align myself with the category of writer, yet in this world of online publishing and the many different forums of communication, photography is imperative.
Lately I have been preferring the hat of Novice Mum above any other titles that may fit me this season. Three years ago, that title overwhelmed every part of me, yet today as Maximus is getting close to four years old, I am so grateful for the lessons found in the ordinary, everyday of motherhood and married life.
I am realising though, that every time I settle in my life, every time I get a little comfortable, God stretches my comfort into a place of growth. Enter today. As I sat up the back of the classroom, the whip around began with everyone explaining what they do and why they were in the class. A deep part of me wanted to hide today away in the darkness of the prison cells and listen carefully to the finer details of digital photography. I wanted to shrink, because there is so much that I just don’t know. Most of the time, here on this blog and in my creative walk, I am just totally winging it. Most of the time, I am very uncertain, but I just keep on saying yes and figure the rest out on the fly.
Do you shrink back from new opportunities or environment because you just don’t know?
Are you embarrassed when you want to learn about new things, but don’t step in the arena because you might just fail?
This is a place of decrease, that we all struggle with. The place in our worlds where it is okay to be uncertain, it’s okay to be the person with the least connections on Linkedin. It is okay to just not know.
It is okay to not have the next five years mapped out.
It is okay to not have your meal plan colour coded for your families health.
It is okay to start something that you have never tried before with the potential of failure looming.
Humility is a vivid place of the unknown, when we step softly into places that we don’t have the map and directions for and start to learn again. My little children remind me of this all the time, whenever they learn a new skill or a new word. Whenever they discover a part of the earth that they never knew existed, the pure joy they have in discovery. They never question whether it is okay for them to explore, they just step into the ring of knowledge and dig up it’s archeological finds.
When we place ourselves in positions of learning, when we place ourselves in environments of uncertainty, we place ourselves in spaces of decrease and it is so very formational for our soul.
When was the last time that you admitted to someone that you just don’t know the answer?
When was the last time you did something for the first time?
When was the last time you asked for help?
We decrease in these places of growth and God is always leading us to uncharted and uncomfortable waters. Growth is not easy, it is painful and often discouraging. In fact today I have come away with more questions about photography than answers, but I feel so deeply grounded and satisfied.
I sat in a room with twenty people who don’t know me at all.
I listened to an expert in the field and marvelled at his skill and knowledge.
I floated into the background and took steps towards uncovering potential in my own life that has the absolute opportunity of glorifying God and his beautiful creation. My heart and life was re-calibrated today by the magnitude of creativity and the potential to bring connection and life to people I will never meet.
What if my uncertainty brought certainty to someone about the presence and power of God?
Every time we learn and place ourselves in positions of learning, we have the capacity to bring radical freedom into our future. When we become okay with the fact that we indeed do not know everything and indeed are in need of help, the awakening of the new is breathtaking.
This is the magic of creativity.
This is the beauty of allowing ourselves to be used by One who is far greater than us alone.
This is the sheer complexity of humility.
When we decrease so He increases, everything changes.
Day 37: I am learning to be okay with not knowing but getting in the arena anyway.
Tomorrow I have signed up for a manual photography course. It was a present from my ever encouraging husband, doing his absolute best to keep doors open in my novice motherhood life for inspiration and growth. If I could I would go back to uni and finish my masters, If I had more courage I would step boldly into the new days before me and send my manuscripts to more publishers.
If I could.
The more I focus on my manual photography skills, the more refined my eye is becoming to imperfection. I am seeing things I would never have noticed before, but in someways I am not that keen on over filtering and editing the imperfection of this season away.
You see, I just snuck away from our lounge room, to take 15 quiet minutes to myself as my two littles watched their first television for the day. As I quietly snuck away, they were deep in conversation with Paddington Bear and spellbound by his quirky ways. Three short minutes later, they are both next to me, at my desk, fawning over my computer and my attention. We are just like toddlers somedays, we seek attention from anyone who is willing to acknowledge our efforts. Social Media is a cesspool of attention seeking behaviour and I am not free from its snares.
These days of novice motherhood are imperfectly perfect and I grapple often with the juxtaposition of its brilliance and the pain. I remember those long years of my single wait, as I begged God for little people to call my own. I knew the privilege of single life and being able to travel and I knew the freedom was a blessing, but the ache of the unknown baffled my heart. My single years were imperfectly painful. I asked God often whether he noticed me, saw me, was he listening to my grieving prayers.
Just as my baby girl sits and stares into this portrait, only seconds later she was pulling the covers off my bed and balancing my patience with her screams of delight. Life is a swing between the imperfect and our perception of perfection. We are but dust, with a life that is so fragile and also we are made perfect in God’s eyes, a work of art, an evolving progression.
We were born with purpose and potential, but have vulnerabilities and broken cracks.
And often the broken parts of us scream for someone to see and notice our pain. We often don’t realise that the hidden parts of our pain shout much louder than we even realise.
When we listen to someone praise and encourage our pursuits, there is always this awkward moment, should I be saying thank you? or should I be ducking and diving for cover.
There is something so awkward about encouragement and praise. We long for acknowledgment and to be noticed, but at the same time we know that humility and grace are mature reflections of a life sown.
If I tell someone with confidence about a project that I am embarking on, am I being prideful?
If I withdraw from a conversation because I don’t want to sound like I’m a know it all, is this humility?
How do we sit comfortably in the awkwardness of being told that we are doing a great job but reflect the overall design and purpose to one who created our inmost being?
How do we decrease, without it being false?
We do this by reframing what is imperfect about praise and reflecting the honour to One who is greater than us. When we take time to thank God, to acknowledge God, to refer to and be grateful, we are aligned in this area of perspective. We become framed by who brings the increase and what parts of our humanity need to fade away. Some of the most humble people I have ever met, have been the most confident people. Also some of the most narcissistic people have been the most overt deflectors of praise.
The way we acknowledge someone’s encouragement and then reframe the person who is really responsible, is the most powerful dance of our walk towards Easter.
Jesus was strong, he was people savvy, he was kind, he was present, however he was always referring people back to the Father. He was always directing the praise and the honour back to the place of power.
Encouragement, praise, confidence, attention, self obsession and narcissism are real struggles in our emancipated culture in the west. Today as I read through 40 days of decrease, I am watching the times that I shrink in the midst of imperfect praise and reminding myself to reframe who the praise actually belongs to.
Day 38: is all about reframing praise.
There is an amazing song at the moment that has taken me captive. The words repeat “His praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips…” This is my prayer this Easter, that I would not be deflecting praise, but redirecting where the praise should be given.
We live in a world that is overwhelmed with self. From self expression, self awareness, self care and selfies. The list goes on and on. In essence all of these concepts and pursuits are not necessarily bad but when we combine them with our lack of reflection, retreating and sabbath, we lose sight of our place in the largeness of the world.
Maturity says, that we are but dust and ashes and in the other breath whispers we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
How can we decrease in a world that tells us constantly we need to increase?
How can we find our voice, with a humility that whispers strongly with hope?
Over the next forty days I am going to attempt to fast, by writing on this blog a devotion through the days of lent leading up to Easter. Early this morning, I woke up after deciding last night I wanted to start the lenten season by going to Catholic Mass and consecrating this season to God. My kids were off the charts, my husband left for work before 6am, but something within me niggled telling me to get the kids dressed and take time to reflect.
There is something so powerful about the Catholic mass. Their heart to reflect, be quiet and submit is honestly breathtaking. I think in all our attempts to be modern, relevant and hip, the contemporary christian church has lost pieces of the sacredness of sitting in contemplation with a company of seekers.
We must all decrease a little.
We all have seasons of needing a little reboot.
Every time I write, it means I put my phone down. Every time I pray it means I realign what is important in my life. Every time I listen, I remember that people are way more important than things. Every time I breathe deeply I am reconnected with the absolute privilege of life. Every time I read words that were penned thousands of years ago, I am reminded of the depth of humanity that have grieved the same ways that I am grieving.
Lent is the perfect place to reconfigure what is important. Traditionally many fast something across the forty days of lent. I have been wrestling with what I should give up. Until late last night when I saw something small on instagram that showed me, I just needed to give up being so consumed with myself.
Enter this fast.
I am going to read this book 40 days of decrease by Alicia Britt Chole and write here each day (as much as possible when I am in Nepal and Bangkok). Retreating away from the things that tempt me to believe that my needs, my wants, my thoughts are more important than another. Stepping back from my thoughts, my opinions and my judgements and trying to find perspective in the midst. Slowing down my language and contemplating more on a divine one.
This year as I walk towards Easter, I want to think less about myself and more about what ignited my faith when I was a young girl. I want to consecrate my heart and life again and cleanse the parts of me that have become self righteously consumed.
“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger, and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deut 8: 2-3
Today I stood in the aisle of Coles and a lady came up to me and with a look of embarrassment said, ” I am sorry to tell you, but you have a massive black smudge on your head.” I smiled and replied “It’s okay, I went to mass this morning, today is Ash Wednesday and it is the start of the lead up to Easter”, she retorted quite embarrassed. “Oh sorry I didn’t realise it was religious.” and I said “Don’t be sorry, it’s far from religious for me, it is actually very personal, it is a relationship that I am so deeply moved by.”
And if I was completely honest here, there have been seasons where I have been embarrassed in this forum to be completely open and frank about what I believe, because I never want anyone to be put off by the culture of christianity and the disgusting things that have been done in the name of faith, instead of the pure depth of being overwhelmed by the power of God.
So over the next forty days, I am stepping deeper into a place of lenten reflection.
If you read my words regularly and don’t believe what I believe, it’s totally cool, I am not going to debate you or embarrass you. I am just going to take you on a journey of relationship and what is so deeply personal for me.
Join the journey.
Use this blog as a devotional in the lead up to Easter and journal about the questions, the scriptures, the thoughts.
And comment along I would love to hear your reflections.