Not just a book

Yesterday I rearranged the bookshelf in my office.  I found that I have a number of Bibles, different sizes, ages and translations, some brand new and others with well-worn pages.  These days I am more likely to use the app on my phone than pick up a physical Bible, but looking at these beautiful Bibles I am struck by the realisation of how much I take for granted these incredible books that sit on my bookshelf.

As a new Christian I devoured the Bible for hours as a staving person devours a delicious meal.  As I have matured in faith and my need is not so urgent, it is easy to lose the hunger and the awe and wonder of the scriptures, that I had at first. 

Looking at the Bibles sitting on my bookshelf I am renewed in my appreciation of this incredible book.  I am so incredible grateful that I live in a time in history that the Bible is freely and abundantly available to me.  I am grateful that I have the ability to read, it is in a language I understand and I have the liberty to read it whenever I like.  It is a privilege to own a Bible, a privilege many people around the world do not have.

Today I challenge you to take a moment to reflect on the beautiful, complexity and creativity of the Bible.  This precious holy book which holds the story of Gods love for us.  Consider the privilege we have owning a Bible and thank God for His great gift of scripture. 

Pain Management

Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Westley, The Princess Bride

In the iconic and well loved movie the Princess Bride there is the above quote, which I love. Westley was right. Life is full of pain, that is the cost for the human experience. It comes with grief, disappointment, anger, hurt feelings and pain – physical and emotional. We tend to think that pain is the problem in our life, but pain itself is not the problem. The problems comes because we do not want to face our pain, we want to hide from it and so we look for something to ease our pain.

There are thousands of self-help programs, people, organisations that promise to take away all our pain and they promise us that we can be always be happy, feel good and be successful. But just like Westley said, these people are always selling something.

Another way we avoid pain is through mood altering substances or behaviours – alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex, sugar, Netflix, exercise. There are so many things we can use to change the chemical balances in our bodies artificially or naturally, to make ourselves feel better. As a recovering addict I know how attractive it can be to dull the pain for a moment. But those things only ever do the job for a moment and the pain returns.

By making ourselves feel better and using temporary avoidance of pain, we do ourselves a disservice. Because…

Where the pain is, is where you find growth.

Where the pain is, lies an opportunity to get closer to God

Where the pain is, we identify the truth about ourselves.

God never promised we would not suffer pain, in fact in many parts of the Bible we are told to expect suffering, persecution and pain. But God had a plan for us. Not in the comfort of people selling us a false dream or in activities that dull our pain but in faith and trust as we journey through our pain and into healing.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 43:2

God tells us to expect suffering and pain, but also promises to comfort us, strengthen us, protect us, care for us and love us as we walk through the pain. Let yourself feel the pain, sit with it and process it and reap the benefits of walking out the other side. On the other side of pain is perseverance, strength, wisdom and truth.

Waiting for the phone

Imagine these two pictures…

The first is a headmasters/principal’s office, big desk, big chair, angry man behind the desk looking all stern, super busy with loads to do and annoyed at being interrupted and having to deal with you. This is how we can see God at times, as an authority figure disapproving and too busy with running the universe and dealing with the worlds ‘real’ problems to want to deal with us and our little problems.

But then imagine a picture of the old type of phone with a cord attached to the wall, do you remember those type of phones? By the phone is an excited teenager waiting for a special phone call.  I remembering being a teenage girl, having an old phone like that and desperately waiting for a phone call from a friend. I would sit by the phone all night, just trying to make it ring with my mind power. I would be worried about leaving to go to the toilet or to get food, in case it rang and I did not get back in time (no leaving messages back then). Every now and then I would pick up the receiver to check the dial tone, to make sure it was still working, then hang it up carefully so it was properly in place. 

These 2 contrasting pictures shows us to different ideas of God. But God is not like the grumpy old man, he is more like the teenager excited and desperately waiting for us to call Him.  He is waiting for us to pick up the phone, to call to tell him about our dreams, our hopes, our fears, our struggles and to ask Him about the plans he has for us. 

A phone call is a two-way communication. And God is waiting eagerly for us and is eagerly waiting to talk to us and share with us His plans.  In the old days the phones where connected to a wall so you had to just stand there and talk to the person on the other end, totally focused on the conversation. Now days we walk and we chat and do the dishes, watch Tv, send emails or whatever, the person on the other end does not have our full attention. But God wants a old fashioned phone call from us.

God has some really exciting and important things to share with each of us but we need to pick up the phone.

Can I challenge you to not only expect to hear from God but be open and willing to listen. Be prepared to hear something that we might not expect or be comfortable with.  Gods plan maybe something you don’t want to do or something you never thought of doing or something so far outside your comfort zone it terrifies you.  And that is GOOD, growth happens in the space beyond what we know and it is time to explore that.  Gods plans are for our good, to prosper us and not to harm us, for our future and to give us Hope.

Gods plans are not to leave us where we are, it is always about growth, moving ahead and becoming more and more like Jesus.

Lets create space to hear from God where we are listening with expectation and with an open heart to hear HIS plans without filtering them through what we want to hear or through our own plans. Let God tell you HIS plan for your future.

The 3am Wake Up

God loves to talk to me at 3am. I will be fast asleep then suddenly I am awake, wide awake. God is there with something for me to hear.  It has happening to me so many times I have now learnt it is best to listen.  So now when I am woken at 3am I am expecting to hear something from God.

I have had most of my big life revelations at 3am. Most of my book ideas or speeches are planned with God at 3am.  This is the time when I am most likely to hear from God and hear His plans for me.  So why 3am? 

From the moment I wake up I am running around ‘doing’ things and even when I do pray and read my bible or do church activities, I can be just checking of another item off the to do list. They are good habits to have, but at times I can perform them but not really engaged in the activity. I am doing the action but not fully tuned in.  When I read and pray it is easy to rush off to the next thing and not stay silent or still long enough for God to speak back to me.  The noises and the activity of my life can be distractions and barriers to hear from God. So when God wants to tell me something important and have my undivided attention He calls at 3am and at 3am there is no Netflix or kids or emails to distract my attention, it is just God and me.

Maybe you can relate?

But when you need answers from God or you want to know Gods plans, we don’t want to rely on 3am wake ups. The answer is to create those 3am moments at other times in the day.   Creating 3am type moments throughout your day, when God has your attention and you are connected, and you are listening.   Being open for God to speak to you through all your activities and PAYING ATTENTION.

God speaks in so many different ways. We can hear from God through the Bible, song lyrics, a chat with a friend when they say the thing you really needed to hear, in prayer, listening to a speaker or in quiet moments of reflection and in journaling or writing.  For each of us finding that space to hear from God is going to look different.

Be intentional in creating quiet moments in your day with your ears open and expectant.

When you cannot sleep at night, have you ever thought maybe it’s God saying “We need to talk and you now have time”.


Being busy is not the problem

Being busy is not the same as being stressed. You can be very busy and not stressed or conversely you can be very stressed but not that busy. Stress is not related to how much you have on your plate but how you deal with it.

I am a very busy person. I love being busy and having many projects on the go at the same time.  I used to run on stress, feeling like I was always overwhelmed and under pressure and I was making myself sick from it. But I have now learnt that there is a difference between being busy and being stressed. It is possible to very busy and NOT stressed. It is not how much you are doing but how you deal with what you are doing. Now I do more than I did before but have significantly less stress in my life.

Stress comes from feeling like you have no control and can not cope.  When you feel like your life is running away from you and you are chasing it, running as fast as you can but you are out of breathe and always behind, never catching up. Stress from unmanageable and unrealistic work loads or expectations or the responsibilities placed on your shoulders that you carry alone and struggle under the weight. Situations that are uncertain or unfamiliar can cause stress too. So how do you regain control of your life?

Firstly realise that no matter the situation, personal or in your work, you have choices. You might not have full control over a situation and you can not control what other people do but you always have control over yourself.  You have control over your expectations, your words, your attitude, your thoughts and feelings, your behaviour, what you will accept and put up with, when you say yes and when you say no, your schedule and your priorities.  It might not feel like you do, but in reality you have so much more choice that you realise.  Stop telling yourself how stressed and overwhelmed you are, instead fill your mind with positive, empowering and encouraging words. Exercise your control, make healthy choices.

Secondly where do you get your strength from?  Are you trying to do everything under your own strength?  Jesus said

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus has already offered the solution for stress and worry. The exchange Jesus offers is incredible, he will carry your burdens, so you can live light.  It does not mean there will not be work to do, you might even be called to do more, but Jesus will carry the weight of it and will provide peace and joy when you work under Jesus. I know that when I work under the strength and guidance of Jesus, my stress and anxiety are lifted and I can cope with far more than my natural abilities and capabilities allow.

Thirdly, what practical things can you do?

  • Prayer is the antidote to stress. In prayer, you hand over your burdens, release the things you can not control and ask God to guide you in the areas where you have choices. So many times I have been feeling stressed about a problem I can not find the answer too and then remember to take it to God in prayer and immediately the answer pops into my head or I get a call or email with the solution. God cares about our worries and wants to help, we just need to seek Him.

  • Ask for help. We are not designed to do life alone and we can not cope by ourselves. We need each other and we need to ask for help. Do not be a martyr and struggle through alone, bring people into your life and let them work with you. It is not failure to need help or to ask for help, we all do at times. Today you need help and tomorrow you help someone else. In community we can achieve so much more than alone.

  • Lists, I love lists. Whatever is running through your head and overwhelming you, write it down. Get it out of your head and on to paper so you arrange your day, plan your time and your priorities. Be intentional in spending time on what it important to you. Take control of your time and take control of your life.

I Would Love to, But … I Can’t Do That

Extract from ‘I would love to, but…’ by Staci McLean

… I don’t know how to do that.

… I could never be brave enough to do that.

… I don’t have the skills to do that.

… I don’t even know where to start.

Excuse or Obstacle?

At intermediate school, I had a teacher who taught aerobics at the Christchurch Les Mills Gym in the evenings. One day at school, she ran a competition and the kids who did the best in the task would go on a field trip with her after school to the gym to attend a Les Mills aerobics class. I don’t remember what the particular assignment was, but I was determined to win. A friend and I did win, and we got to go on the trip. The gym it was exciting, with loud music pumping through the sound system and everyone wearing the brightly coloured lycra workout clothing that was popular in the 80s.

The exercise class was high energy, dancing around with the music. I watched the instructors with amazement. They looked like they were having so much fun, as though they enjoyed teaching the class.

I remember thinking I would love to do that when I grew up, but I could never do that. It seemed so far out of my experience. I had never been to a gym before. I was twelve years old and self-conscious, my developing body scared me. Anyway, I didn’t look like those instructors, so I thought it wasn’t an option for me. I put the dream aside.

The ‘I can’t do that’ statement covers so many versions of the same excuse.

  • I don’t know how to do it.
  • I have no talent.
  • I’ll have to start at the beginning.
  • If I’m not going to be the best at the start, then why bother starting at all?

It is overwhelming to start something new and there will be things to learn.

The Brutal Truth

You say, ‘I can’t do that’, but the truth is you can’t do it at this present moment. Just because you can’t do something at this time doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do it.

Who came out of their mother’s womb able to do anything?

Everything we do in our lives we had to learn, step by step. You learned to walk, to talk, to tie your shoelaces. You are reading this book, so you had to learn to do that. Then you learned how to do your job. So why, as adults, do we think we should automatically know how to do something?

I’m sure that we fell when we started learning to walk—I know my children did. But we didn’t stop learning to walk. Our parents didn’t say, ‘Look, he fell down. He’s no good at walking. He obviously can’t walk, so let’s stop teaching. He can just crawl everywhere for the rest of his life’.

Or, if you’re starting a new job, they don’t expect you to know all the systems and processes of your new company on the first day (well, they shouldn’t!). No, there is (or should be) an induction or training programme to teach you how to do the job.

When I was training for a marathon, people often said to me, ‘I’d love to do a fun run, but I can’t even run to the end of the street’. That is the most a ridiculous excuse. No normal person I have ever met or read about got up one day and ran five kilometres, let alone a marathon. There are probably some super athletes who could, but they are not the norm.

Every single runner started at the beginning. I didn’t decide to run a marathon one day and run the race the following week. It took years of build-up and training. When I started running, I could only run for thirty seconds. I slowly built up to running longer distances and times.

Overcoming the Obstacle

If you don’t know where to start, find someone who is already doing the thing you want to do, and ask them. Meet other people and learn from them. We live in an information-saturated world. Whatever you want to do, there will be blogs, Facebook pages, YouTube clips, support groups, organisations, books, classes, or workshops to inspire you or teach you.

When you start, accept that you’re not going to get it right the first time. You’ll need to learn as you go, and a great way to learn is through making mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes when you’re trying to learn something new, you’re probably not pushing yourself enough. Get out of your comfort zone! Making mistakes helps you learn faster and become competent quicker.

Remember my story of me as a twelve-year-old girl dreaming of being an aerobics instructor? It took a while, but I discovered Ezymovez dance fitness in my forties. I trained as an instructor and now teach my own class. Yes, it turned out I could do it after all.

All the same old insecurities I had when I was twelve were still present now, as well as quite a few new ones. There were the additional pressures of work and family, but I took it step by step, gained more confidence, and learned new skills.

As an EZYMovez dance fitness instructor I talk to students who say they don’t know what they are doing. Or I talk to would-be students who say they have two left feet and can’t do it before they even attend a class. But many of the instructors started as the nervous student hiding in the back of the class nervous, struggling to move in the right direction. It doesn’t come in just one class. It takes practice and training to get better.

You can’t do it now, but you can learn. You can grow, and you can do it eventually. If it turns out in the end that you actually can’t do it, I guarantee you will have had fun trying, and learned other skills you never knew you could learn.

No lesson in life is wasted as long as you learn something. So have a go.

Freedom at all costs

Have you seen the movie ‘Harriet?’

It is about Harriet Tubman, an incredible woman who was born into slavery, escaped and then led many missions to rescue slaves and led them to freedom. It is a true story and a compelling movie for many reasons. 

Harriet had suffered a head injury as a child and as a result she had headaches and dreamlike trances.  She believed her trances and visions were God’s revelations.  Because of her strong faith she listened carefully to God and she would only go where she felt God was leading her.  She had extraordinarily success on her missions despite the unfavourable odds against her and the real danger to her life and she lived to over 90 years old.  A truly inspirational story.

In the movie there is one scene which impacted me as I felt like she was speaking directly to this current generation.  In this scene Harriet is meeting with a group of prominent and important politicians and those working to abolish slavery and they tell her that further rescue missions are too dangerous and impossible.

Harriet replies to them, ‘Many of you don’t know slavery first-hand. You were born free, or maybe you have been free so long, you forgot what it’s like. You got comfortable and important’.   (paraphrased)

It made me think about my freedom in Christ.  There was a time when I was a slave to addiction, to brokenness, to sin and to pain. I was made free by Jesus over 20 year ago and I fight with myself all the time to not to get too comfortable and forget what it was like to live under the slavery of world.  There are people in our communities and all over the world living under oppression, captivity, and hopelessness, who need us not to forget or to get comfortable in our lives.  They need us to stand up, to fight for them, to make it our mission to find them and led them to Jesus to be set free.

In the movie Harriet goes on to say What those still enslaved are going through right now! I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them! (paraphrased)

We need fresh eyes to see the pain all around us and fresh ears to hear the groans and a fresh spirit of a warrior to take action, to not allow comfort or the busyness of our modern lives or our lack of confidence to stop us from stepping on to the battlefield. We can play our part in the plan, we can see Jesus change lives and set free the captives. When we listen to the voice of God, go where we are called and go where we are led by God just like Harriet Tubman.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. 

Harriet Tubman
‘Harriet’ the film

Round one goes to…

I am learning to celebrate the victories and a job well done.

I have a great job; I get to share my stories with people, through what I write and speaking at events and workshops. I love what I do.  I do not love the day after an event, or after my work has gone out public. 

I find it extremely easy to focus on the little mistakes I made, sometimes real but mostly imagined.  No matter how well an event has gone or the great feedback I get, I go through this process of tearing it all apart and beating myself up for not doing better.  It is a boxing match with many rounds as I try to dodge punches from myself.  I am the meanest and toughest opponent I will ever face in a fight, because I will always go for the low blows, pulling out all the insults and old baggage to use against myself.

The joy of a doing a good job, of seeing all the hard work in planning and preparation come together is stolen through self-doubt and self-criticism. 

Yes, it is always worth reviewing your work and getting feedback so you can learn and grow for next time.  A healthy debrief is vital in improving our performance and services but a personal attack on ourselves for perceived failure or obsessing over it, is not healthy or helpful and destroys confidence and joy.

So, what do we do instead?

What has worked for me is to stop focussing on myself, but instead focus outwards.  Self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-reproach have one thing in common: SELF.  These destructive thoughts are all directed internally.  Too much time spent dwelling in the negative or when we became too absorbed thinking about ourselves is damaging.

To change your focus from your inner critic to the outside world, change the direction of your thoughts.  For me instead of thinking about all the things I might or might not have done right, I think about the people I met or talked to. I pray for the people who heard me speak or brought my book.  Praying for other people shifts your focus.  Do not stay stuck in your own boxing match, fighting against the nastier and meaner version of yourself.  Take off the gloves and step out of the ring. 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3-5

Avoid the rear vision mirror

Today as I was driving my car, the car behind me stopped suddenly in the middle of the road, it was usual behaviour so I kept looking in the rear vision mirror as to what was going on. I quickly realised how dangerous it was to get sidetracked by what is in the rear vision and not focusing on where I was driving. It made me think, how often in life do we get so concerned with what has happened in the past and behind us that we do not see the obstacles and interesting view in front of us.

When you learn to drive, you are taught to take quick looks behind you to check there are no vehicles about to overtake you or in your way when you shift lanes. But only a quick view. Most of the time you need to look forward, surveying for possible hazards and navigating to your destination. Taking your eyes off the road even for a minute can have life changing results.

In our lives it can be tempting to take a peak in the rear vision mirror a bit too often. Either to remember better times or rehash old wounds. It is fine to take a quick peak every now and to watch for previous struggles reemerging from behind you, but not to linger there.

Look ahead and watch for what could be a hazard ahead of you and look ahead to admire the amazing view and enjoy the journey. The view is not in the rear vision. The best view is in front of you.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

Eliminating the What ifs

Extract from ‘The Unburdened Warrior’ by Staci McLean

The answer to control is surrender. Surrender to God, who is the only one in control. You can control some things in your life—your behaviour, your thoughts, your emotions. You have control over yourself, and you can choose to surrender that control to God knowing He can do a better job of managing your life than you can. He knows everything, He wants the best for you, He loves you and cares for you.

You can’t control everything. You can’t control how other people will act, although you can influence their choices. You can choose who you have in your life and what behaviour you will accept from them, but you can’t control them. For that, we have prayer, faith and trust. God is in control when we can’t be. He knows better than us, as He can see the whole picture at once. We cannot.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

Peace and freedom come from accepting that we can’t control everything and neither do we want to. So many of life’s amazing experiences come out of the blue. God has incredible plans for you, amazing experiences for you, and opportunities for growth which will help you learn and become a stronger and better person. Don’t miss out because you’re holding on too tight, trying to control the world around you, not leaving space for mistakes or surprises.

The peace of God from surrender, trust, and faith doesn’t magically make the problems (the real problems) go away, although God can and will do miracles in your life when you let Him in. The peace of God is there despite your problems. It is a peace we have in the middle of the storm. It is not an easy life, but a light one.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6–7