A Story to Write

write

WHENEVER I hear Francesca Battistelli sing “Write Your Story” I’m captivated by the idea that God is the Author of my life and He has a beautiful story that He longs to write on every page of the book of my life. And sometimes His story for my life has twists and turns that I would not have included if I was in charge of the writing!

They say
You’re the King of everything
The One who taught the wind to sing
The Source of the rhythm my heart keeps beating

They say
You can give the blind their sight
And You can bring the dead to life
You can be the hope my soul’s been seekin’

I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I do, that You can make me new, oh

I’m an empty page
I’m an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark

Author of my hope
Maker of the stars
Let me be Your work of art
Won’t You write Your story on my heart

This was certainly true for a young couple who found themselves in the middle of a story that neither of them could have ever imagined.

The bride found herself pregnant outside of wedlock. The groom was not the father but being an honourable man he still went ahead with the marriage. Together they had to endure the sting of the whispered innuendos and pious smirks of people that are so often prevalent in small towns. And in the midst of it all, right at the moment when the baby was due, they had to make a long and difficult journey to fulfil a Government demand for taxation purposes.

I am quite certain that an unexpected pregnancy, public humiliation and giving birth to a child in a filthy stable would not have formed the major plotline had Joseph and Mary been writing the story of their lives. But it was a part of God’s story. In fact, it was a part of God’s story for the whole world!

This story of God’s – the coming of Jesus as Saviour and Lord of the world – had been written eons ago, deep in His heart. It is His response to a creation that had decided they would be responsible for the story of their lives, not the Author of Life. In fact, His story about Jesus was written long before they decided to go their own way.

It is a story as the song above suggests, about a Man who came to give the blind their sight back, life and restoration in place of death and hope to the desperate soul. It is a story that says no matter what the plotline of your life looks like up to this point – pages of wasted, desperate and lonely years – that plotline can be changed when you invite Jesus to become the Author.

No matter how bad your plotline has been, He can make your story new!

And don’t think that when you invite Jesus to be the Author of your life that your new story will be pain and trouble free – just ask Mary and Joseph! There will be twists and turns in the plot that you will never have anticipated but because you can trust the Author, you can also trust Him with where the story is headed. Mary and Joseph discovered this.

On the night Jesus was born the sky was filled with the voices of a myriad angels, singing the praises of the Majestic Author and Creator of the greatest, true story ever told and announcing that the Saviour of all people, everywhere, had come into the world.

They had joy because they submitted in trust to the Author! So, whose story is being written on your heart..?

The mind reader!

mind

I have a bad habit that I need to confess to. It has got me into trouble more times than I can remember and sometimes it has caused great pain to people I love dearly.

I read minds. There, I said it!

What I mean is that when I am in a conversation with someone, instead of listening to what they might be really saying, I tell myself, “I know what you’re thinking” and I base my response to them on my faulty assumption.

It’s a nasty habit.

I end up believing things about the person that are not true and my wrong assumptions have also caused unnecessary hurt in my relationships.

I have hurt my wife Karen at times when I have “read her mind” instead of allowing our conversation to flow in a natural and open way.

And I have also been hurt by others who have attempted a little mind reading with me.

It’s a nasty habit.

I have found that it has been a difficult one to break and my progress has been slow over the years. But I have also discovered some incredibly simple tools that I have endeavoured to put into practice and they have made an amazing difference in my conversations with others.

If I find myself beginning to “mind read” someone I will now ask them a question along the lines of, “Can I check out an assumption I have?” or even just “Can I check something with you please?”

In effect, I am asking their permission to read their mind! But if the person is willing to answer my question honestly then I am more likely to hear what they really think and respond to them accordingly, rather than basing all of my responses on what I think I know.

Asking a simple question like this clears up a lot of confusion, prevents misunderstanding and promotes healthy, honest conversation.

It also saves me from a lot of foolish anger because I am no longer basing my attitude on negative thoughts that are designed to bring the other person down in my mind.

An old proverb warns us of the danger of mind reading when it says, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions…”

The second tool is also in the form of a question and is asked as a follow up to the first one.

“I think that you think…Is that correct?” or “I’m wondering…is that correct?”

If the answer is no, then things have been cleared up.

If the answer is yes, then it will lead to further positive conversation!

If all of this sounds simplistic or childish to you, then I would caution you to think again with the following true story.

At a marriage seminar we led, Karen gave the couples present an exercise based on these questions around mind reading in relationships.

As she moved around the tables to see how they were each doing, one lady admitted to Karen that she had just worked up the courage to ask her husband about an assumption she believed about him for twenty years.

She discovered that she had been wrong and that she had been hanging on to much unnecessary hurt for all of that time!

A whole new world of communication for this couple was opened up that afternoon through two simple, but powerful questions.

Relationships in our world are dogged by wrong assumptions and the faulty things that we have come to believe about each other.

We see it every day in TV programs, social media, friends, families and husbands and wives.

But there is a better way and it starts with the courage to ask two simple questions that begin with:

“Can I check…?” and “I think that…Is it true?”?

Conversation begins with you

self

If you wanted to develop and deepen your communication with your spouse, where would you begin?

The answer may surprise you!

In her book, Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle says that it begins with a conversation with yourself.

Since the 1970s, Turkle has been studying the impact of technology upon our ability to engage in conversation with one another and, while she is writing about relationships in general, her observations also apply to married couples.

With the advent of the “smart phone” and other electronic devices, we are constantly connected and yet, we have grown more distant in our desire to relate to others at a meaningful level.

Turkle notes that there has been an increasing loss of empathy between people and the reason behind this is because a phone or computer makes no emotional demands upon you, there is no need for you to enter into what the computer might be feeling and there are no requirements for intimacy at any level.

So when it comes to real relationships with real people we are unable to empathise with them and we have no desire to enter into their world in any meaningful way.

And this is disastrous in friendships, especially marriages.

So if you want to change this, you may like to begin a conversation with yourself!

“Because it is in solitude,” Turkle says, “Where we learn to concentrate and imagine and to listen to ourselves.”

Just think about that for a moment.

Time alone with ourselves means that we need to give it our full attention and put away our electronic devices. You cannot pay attention to what is going on in your inner life if you are constantly distracted by who is saying what on Facebook or engaging in a text conversation.

And it holds true for our conversations with one another. The human brain is only able to give its attention to one thing at a time so if you are reading a Facebook status while you are talking with your spouse, then you are not giving the conversation (or the person) your full concentration.

Think also about the importance of being able to listen to yourself.

In times of solitude we are able to make space in order to process our internal world. It is here where we take time out to reflect on how we have responded in certain situations and to what feelings, good or bad, we might be experiencing at the moment.

“Why was I so angry when…?”

“What is it that I am grieving at this time?”

These are just a couple of the questions that it is important to ask of ourselves.

I have found that by making regular time for solitude in my life, I engage at a much deeper level of conversation with Karen.

It is a discipline that we have practiced for many years but which has grown significantly over this past year of our life together.

We have found that when we take the time to understand ourselves then we are in a much better place to also understand each other.

Turkle describes it like this: In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.

So let me finish by asking you some questions:

What is making you happy or sad right now?

What is your biggest dream or hope?

Where are you grieving loss right now?

If you cannot answer those questions with any clarity then it is time you had a conversation with yourself?

Father’s love and affirmation is vital

davidmeece

SINGER-SONGWRITER David Meece has produced some profoundly moving songs over his long career, many of them telling the story about his struggles with his self-worth.

If you have ever attended a Meece concert you will know that he intersperses his music with deeply personal illustrations about growing up in a family with an alcoholic father.

One of the most powerful of these is when he tells of the night that his father, in a drunken rage, drove the family car through the wall of David’s bedroom.

His father staggered out of the wreckage, held a shotgun to David’s head, stared into his eyes and said, “You’re worthless…”

When David Meece recounts this story he points out that those words were more devastating to him than had his father actually pulled the trigger.

You can hear the pain that it caused Meece through his song, When I was Seventeen:

My daddy left home when I was a kid
Said he had to move on
He took the bottle as his only friend
I didn’t know why, I didn’t know why

Mama tried to do the best that she could
But she just didn’t understand
All the confusion I was feeling inside
I didn’t know why, I didn’t know why

Feeling so alone
How I wish back then I’d known
When I was seventeen

From study hall to the senior prom
I felt like no one at all
And just a shadow in a crowded room
I didn’t know why, I didn’t know why

David Meece carried the scars of his father’s deadly words for years and despite his fame and success as a musician, they crippled him.

And many of you reading this column right now can relate to Meece’s pain.

But then something brought a radical change to Meece’s heart. He discovered the deep, deep love that God had for Him.

He discovered he wasn’t worthless but precious in God’s eyes.

He discovered what many others have discovered – that God loved him for who he was and that He called him “son”.

David Meece discovered that God was his Father and that he would never be rejected by Him.

In his song, My Father’s Chair, he contrasts the love of his Father God with the abandonment that he felt from his earthly father:

Sometimes at night I’d lie awake
Longing inside for my father’s embrace
Sometimes at night I’d wander downstairs
And pray he’d returned, but no one was there.
Oh, how I’d cry, a child all alone
Waiting for him to come home.

My father’s chair, sat in an empty room
My father’s chair, covered with sheets of gloom
My father’s chair through all the years
And all the tears I cried in vain
No one was there in my father’s chair.

Sometimes at night I dream of a throne
Of my loving God, calling me home
And as I appear, He rises and smiles
And reaches with love to welcome His child
Never to cry, never to fear
In His arms, safe and secure.

My Father’s chair sits in a royal room
My Father’s chair holds glory beyond the tomb
My Father’s chair, my God is there
And I am His eternal heir
Someday I’ll share my Father’s chair.

Study after study reiterates that a father’s love and affirmation is vital for the healthy emotional development of a child.

Many of us understand the feeling of being abandoned by our natural fathers.

And the scars and pain of this loss can be carried well into our adult years.

But here is good news!

God longs to be your heavenly Father and when you turn to Him in simple trust and faith, He accepts you as a treasured son or daughter.

You can be His much loved son or daughter –now that is reason to celebrate this Father’s Day!?

Going light: ‘keeping score’ weighs down marriages

backpack

THE OLYMPICS are here again and the world will marvel at the exploits of superbly fit athletes competing against each other for gold and a place in history.

For Aussies, when we think of the Olympics, our minds go to the pool. But there will be a lot of excitement out on the velodrome where our cyclists will also battle for glory!

Over the last several years I have been something of an on again, off again bike rider myself.

I say on again, off again because I have not been able to maintain the kind of consistency with riding that I would like.

I have all the necessary equipment – an Avanti carbon framed bike, cleats and of course, the much maligned Lycra nicks!

I have morphed into that strangest of early 21st Century suburban creatures, the MAMIL (“Middle Aged Man in Lycra”).

Yet despite all the gear I have not become the Cadel Evans of the back streets of my suburb.

Oh, and I also own a backpack.

I must say that I am rather proud of my backpack.

I have had it for about 7 to 8 years and in that time it has shared many a journey with me as well as assisting me in transporting a number of necessary items from A to B.

I have also become quite adept at what I can actually pack into it.

On a recent trip I managed to find room for a heavy bike chain, three highlighter pens, two standard pens for writing, a complete change of clothes and a pair of shoes (bike cleats won’t cut it around the office!), a stoutly packed lunch box, at least one book, some writing paper and preparation notes for a sermon I was working on.

I was even able to squeeze in my wallet, watch and phone when I discovered I had left them out in the original packing!

We marvel at what a woman can put into her hand bag but people are in awe of what I can cram into a backpack!

It occurs to me that many people carry backpacks in their marriages.

I wrote recently about the baggage that we bring with us into our marriages and how important it is to deal with that.

What about the baggage we also accumulate after we are married and which we stuff into our backpack called “for future use, as needed?”

You know what I mean!

There was the time your wife smashed the car. Into the backpack it goes, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice to remind her of her incompetence.

What about that time when your husband forgot to bring the washing in as you had asked him to?

In the middle of an argument, you reach into your backpack and draw out your deadly weapon: “You always let me down like this! Remember the time when you…”

On and on it goes, with our backpacks becoming heavier as the years pass, bulging at the seams.

We human beings can cram an awful lot into our emotional backpacks!

And we take great delight in dumping their contents on our husband or wife when we feel we need to emphasise a point.

One thing I have noticed about cyclists at the Olympics.

Regardless of what event they compete in, they don’t carry backpacks! Olympic cyclists know that they must travel light to ensure maximum speed.

It’s good advice for a marriage – travel as lightly as possible.

Carrying around your emotional backpack, waiting to dump it on your partner, only undermines your relationship.

Better to dump the whole backpack into the hands of God and let Him free you of its contents.

There, doesn’t that feel better?

Backpacks might be good for MAMILs on suburban streets but they are lousy “accessories” for an Olympic cyclist…and a marriage.?

Forgiving others removes emotional baggage

sorry

Some of the emotional baggage that we carry with us into our relationships is found in a sack labelled un-forgiveness.

The idea that someone has wronged us and that they should pay has been likened to a debt – the person owes us for what they have done.

But when we carry this kind of baggage around with us we also end up carrying what author David Seamands calls the “Fearsome Four of guilt, resentment, striving and anxiety.”

That is a lot of baggage to lug around!

More importantly, if our practice in life has been to not forgive, then we can be sure that this will also be our habit in marriage.

Forgiveness is a complicated subject because there are so many intricate avenues and nuances associated with it.

“I was the victim of verbal and emotional abuse for twenty years in my marriage – how can I be expected to forgive that?”

“My father suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of a brutal regime. Surely you don’t mean he needs to forgive them?”

I want to assure you that I understand these statements. While I have not experienced treatment like that or other horrors inflicted on people, I can appreciate how difficult a thing like forgiveness can be in these situations.

But I am also challenged by this statement:

“The world is made for forgiveness; it is made for grace; it is made for love in all of life. The need for these has been built into the structure of our bodies, in every interpersonal relationship. We are made for grace and love and acceptance.”

Every one of us hungers for grace. Every one of us longs to be accepted. We all want to be loved.

And if this is true, then there lies within all of us the capacity to demonstrate that same grace, acceptance and love to others.

The problem is that some of us feel we have a right to hang on to our hurts and to withhold forgiveness to those who have mistreated us.

This kind of thinking leads to destruction. We slowly torture the other person by our refusal to forgive, forever keeping them imprisoned by their misdeed and our lack of grace toward them.

But we also keep ourselves imprisoned. While ever we refuse to forgive the other person, we give them power over us to keep us locked up in our bitterness, pain and rejection.

Yet at the heart of the word forgiveness are two incredible concepts.

The first is that to forgive is “to let go”. When we forgive someone we make a deliberate choice to let go of the offence as well as letting go of our perceived right to make them pay or to exact revenge.

The second is that “to release”. When we release a person through the act of forgiveness we make a choice to not keep them enslaved to our bitterness or held prisoner forever for their act of wrongdoing.

And we also release ourselves!

While ever we hold on to our grudge or some so called “right” to feel the way we do, we inadvertently give the other person power over us because we are forever held captive by them and what they did to us.

Little wonder then, that people who do not forgive fall prey to the “Fearsome Foursome!”

At the height of the US Civil War, a commander told President Lincoln that he “had an enemy and (you) must slay him!”

To which Lincoln wisely replied, “If I make my enemy my friend, have I not slain my enemy?”

You were made for forgiveness, grace, love and acceptance.

And so are the people in your life that need your forgiveness…?

Finding God in the wilderness

wilderness

As I write this, God has been leading me into the wilderness again, so it is fitting that my thoughts turn to Psalm 63, written by David when he too, found himself in the wilderness.

What impresses me about Psalm 63 is the way in which David recalls moments when he has seen God’s power and glory. In fact, it was God Himself that he saw in in the house of worship.(Psalm 63:2-5).

I wonder what it was that David saw? And when have I seen evidence of God’s power and glory in my life?

I vividly recall the time that I, along with other leaders in the church I was pastoring were called to the bedside of a young expectant Mum who was in the beginnings of suffering a miscarriage.

Humanly speaking it seemed impossible that she would carry her child full term.

But we gathered around her hospital bed, held hands and prayed.

I confess that my faith was weak and I left the hospital fully expecting a call later that day to say that she had lost her baby.

But she didn’t and she gave birth a few months later to a very healthy boy!

It was certainly a demonstration of God’s power, if not His glory.

But as I said previously, David says that He saw God in the sanctuary (Psalm 63:2). I take this to mean that God Himself was the One that David sought – the One we also seek in our wilderness times – and that this was a greater blessing by far than His acts of power and glory.

So right there in the wilderness, David chooses to both praise and rejoice in God. His will be a life of constant praise and of giving glory to God with his words and songs. And the reason for all of this is a quite remarkable statement in verse three:

“Because your love is better than life…”

To know the love of God in your life and the peace, comfort and security this brings is a greater gift than life itself, even in the wilderness.

“God Himself is enough for me and my soul is satisfied.”(Psalm 63:5)

But being in the wilderness is never a fun experience. I have had many times where I have doubted God’s presence – “Are you really with me, Lord?”

Times I have doubted His goodness – “Why this, at this time, Lord?”

Times I have doubted His power – “Are you really going to heal me?”

But the message of David through Psalm 63 is fairly straightforward to me as I walk through this wilderness time.

I can choose to live a life of constant praise to my Father and to thank Him every day.

I can choose to live my life for His glory and to rest in the peace, comfort and security of God’s love for me.

I know that is easier said than done. When you are feeling emotionally exhausted, that perhaps you have become lost in this wilderness and might never find your way out, the idea of resting in the assurance of God’s love seems like a cruel joke.

But here is what I have discovered.

While it seems as if He is not there (I have felt this many times), my Father has consistently reminded me of His presence with me, even if I cannot “feel” it.

Sometimes it is a promise of Scripture: ” Fear not, I am with you…”

Or it has come through the encouragement, prayers, loyal love and faith of my wife, Karen.

And I have seen His presence in the love and support of colleagues and friends who have simply asked me how I am going.

So here, in the wilderness, I find I am able to tell God how much I love Him, thanking Him for every good gift in my life and for teaching me again about humility and my need to depend utterly upon Him.

In this my soul is satisfied – in and with God Himself.

He is enough…

True intimacy means sharing your burdens

luggage

Everyone comes into a marriage carrying emotional and relational baggage.

A skit performed in a church in the United States illustrated this by showing the young couple taking their vows while having heavy burdens labelled guilt, insecurity and fear draped over their bodies. When it came time to “kiss the bride” they were unable to do so – “how can you hold someone when you are carrying so much baggage on your arms?”

What do we do with the baggage?

Pretend it’s not there?

Hope that we lose it at the airport of life?

Expect our partner to carry it?!

Solomon gave some very helpful advice about how we might handle our baggage when he wrote:

“Two are better than one, *because they have a good return for their labour:
If either of them falls down,*one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls*and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.*But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,*two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

In the world in which Solomon lived, people would often travel at night but the journey was dangerous. There was the risk of violent robbery and, at night, falling into deep ditches carved out through the constant wear and tear of travellers and the weather upon the road.

Only if you travelled travel with someone could you be sure someone would immediately help you out.

It has been my experience in marriage that when I share my burdens – notice that I did not say dump my burdens – my wife Karen will listen to me, encourage me and pray for me.

And when this happens, I am incredibly aware of both the truth and the comfort of having a true friend beside me and who is able to lift me out of whatever emotional ditch I may have fallen into.

And of course, I do the same for Karen.

This is what true intimacy in marriage is all about.

It is the assurance that the person closest to you will listen to you when you are in trouble and not judge or reject you.

It is the confidence of knowing that there is someone traveling with you on the road of life and they will always be there for you.

Gordon MacDonald likens it to traveling through life in “the company of a happy few” – that as husband and wife you experience the joy and delight of not just being lovers, but true friends as well.

More poetically, Michael Card describes it this way:

Home is where someone is waiting and loving
And happy to see you again,
That half of your heart that somebody else treasures
The one who’s your forever friend.

We all have baggage and we do bring it into our relationships.

Some of us are unaware of our baggage and for some of us, it may take a lifetime to be rid of it.

Which is why it is much better to share the load with someone else.

How sad it is to see couples who have been married for decades but have never come to the place of truly being able to help each other out of the ditches of life.

One more thing.

Solomon spoke of the “cord of three strands.”

How much stronger is the couple that not only supports each other in tough times but also relies on God’s everlasting and unfailing strength, grace and encouragement!?