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What lies within

One of the most thought provoking sentences I’ve read this year leapt out of a page of the devotional book my mother-in-love bought me last Christmas:

‘Honest souls know what’s inside of them. They alone can showcase a Saviour’
(Chris Tiegreen )

Someone has wisely said that we need to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with God.

Honestly, what really lies inside us?

Truthfully, what lies deep inside us is much darker than sugar and spice or even slugs and snails suggested in rhymes.

Augusten Burroughs wrote ‘I myself am made entirely of flaws stitched together with good intentions’

When I look within myself I can clearly see an obvious bias toward selfish ways, bad attitudes & cold indifference. ‘Old fashioned’ sin that is as common as ever.

For the Bible says, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23 NIV)

We humans all bear damaged souls & broken beauty. We fall short of what we are created to be .

Built into each of us is tremendous capacity for both good & evil.There’s a mix of fears, failures & faults. The hope of all we long to be versus the truth of who we are (as Casting Crowns aptly put it)

We as humans fall painfully short of our own expectations, let alone God’s.

Paul wrote ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.'(Romans 7:15 NIV)

‘Sometimes the most impossible person to live with is yourself,’ wrote Ann Voskamp, ‘Our hands are so stained with sin, that even our best works can leave traces of dirty prints’

She echoes words written by a prophet thousands of years ago: ‘All our righteous acts are like filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)

But the great news is this, that between then & now, at the very crux of history, Jesus came to earth to deal with our dirty rags of sin within:

‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.’(Titus 2:11 NIV)

‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.’ (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV)

And,’Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1 NIV)

If we trust in Jesus, His glorious grace shines within us , dispelling the grip of sin:

‘For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.’
(2 Corinthians 4:6 NIV)

‘In the presence of light you see darkness.
In the presence of power you see weakness.
In the presence of beauty you see ugliness.
In the presence of God you see your need for grace’
(Tim Keller)

And asking for God’s grace within us can totally transform us!

‘We know what we are but not what we may be’ (William Shakespeare)

‘He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,’ (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV)

For the amazing truth is that God knows exactly what lies inside us-
& yet He still loves us!
He sees our sin & has sent a Saviour
He sees our problems & our potential
He knows our mistakes & our mission

And because of His grace, our sins are:
Forgiven
Forgotten
Forever

His grace inside us:
redeems our life
releases us from fear
& illuminates our path

When we focus on
the grace & mercy of God the Father poured within our lives,
the sacrificial love of God the Son,
& the light & power of God the Spirit,

Then:
‘What lies behind us & what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

And remember:
‘We’re far worse than we ever imagined, & far more loved than we could ever dream’ (Tim Keller)

‘In your greatest moment you are never more than a sinner who has been embraced by the mercy & love of God & forgiven at the expense of the death of His Son.
In your most broken times you are never less than a daughter of the King, a chosen child of the Father & an inheritor of every blessing in Christ’
(Valerie Murphy -Focusfest 2011)

If you’re like me, you might want to read those quotes again slowly, to inhale the audacious truth, then exhale grateful thanks to our Good, Good Father God.

Amen!

Blessings,

Ruth x

The most wonderful time of the year!

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Daddy sang as he cleared the table. The Christmas tree looked very pretty in the corner. Little fairy lights twinkled all around the house – even in the kitchen.

Molly sat, with her arms folded, at the table.

“IT’S NOT FAIR!” she said – to everyone who could hear (including the fairy at the top of the tree!). “It’s not fair! Annabel is Mary, Lily-Jane is an angel, and I’m a donkey. A donkey!!”

“Now the donkey had a very important job to do,” said Daddy, patting her head. “The donkey brought Mary to Bethlehem to have little baby Jesus.”

“But being a donkey – it’s just not a very girlie thing to be!”

“The donkey could wear pink lipstick!” Max suggested.

“MAX! Don’t be silly!” Molly said as she ran upstairs.

This was the first year Molly had decorated her own room for Christmas. She even had a little tree in the corner, and paper chains along her window. She opened her bedroom door.

“NO!!” she cried! The little tree had toppled, and the silver reindeer decoration that Great-Aunt Morag had sent in an envelope marked ‘fragile’ was lying minus an antler and one leg in the middle of the floor. She grabbed the silver reindeer and stormed back downstairs. Max was hiding behind Mummy.

“He knocked over my tree and broke my reindeer called Fragile,” Molly explained to Mummy.

“Max?” asked Mummy, turning round behind her.

“Didn’t mean to,” he said, and Mummy believed him – as his eyes were filling with tears. “Sorwee!” he said, and tried to give his sister a great, big hug. Molly was not in a forgiving mood, and did not want a hug. She pushed him away.

Just at that moment the doorbell rang. It was Granny and Granda K. They had arrived to take Molly and Max to see Santa in his cottage.

“Now get your coats on, and be good,” whispered Mummy.

An hour later Molly was singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” as she walked round Santa’s cottage.

It was amazing! Santa came down the chimney. Molly and Max got to speak to him for ages as he sat by the fire. He asked what they would like, told them to leave a carrot for Rudolph and warned them not to fight!

“He’s the real Santa!” Molly said to Granny K, as they walked out the door. The children’s eyes grew wide as saucers. All around were fairy lights, and far above were twinkling stars and a full moon beaming down onto the magical cottage. A little elf called Lazy-Bones was feeding four white geese by the pond. Beside the pond was Rudolph and Santa’s sleigh. Rudolph’s nose wasn’t red, as it wasn’t cold enough yet.

Lazy-Bones said “Goodnight,” as they walked round the corner towards a wishing well.

“You have elf ears!” Max whispered out of the blue to Molly.

“I don’t!” Molly glared at him.

“What are you going to wish for?” Granda K asked as they stood by the Wishing Well.

“Keep your wish secret and it’ll come true!” said Granny K.

Molly had no problem deciding what to wish for. She looked at Max who had called her Elf Ears again. She closed her eyes and concentrated hard.

“I wish I didn’t have a brother. I wish Max would disappear!” she thought. She was rather disappointed when she opened her eyes and discovered he was still there!

The sleepy shepherd

“Why do the days in December seem the longest of all?” thought Molly.

It felt like Christmas was NEVER going to come! Molly thought she was going to explode!

She couldn’t believe that morning when she went to open the advent calendar and discovered that it said ‘23’ on the little door. Just two more sleeps to go until the BIG day!

The 23rd was a Sunday. Mummy noticed Max had a bit of a cough as they drove to church. Max didn’t notice his cough! He was so excited about being a shepherd that he insisted on putting on his dressing gown, and a tea towel on his head, kept together by Daddy’s tie. He had also insisted that he didn’t want to bring a cuddly sheep, but Dino, his big cuddly dinosaur instead!

Molly was delighted that she was an angel in this Nativity play. Though being a donkey in the school play hadn’t been as bad as she thought it was going to be! She enjoyed being the centre of attention when the choir sang ‘Little Donkey’ and Mrs Mac made coconut halves sound like donkey hooves! In fact she even met a new friend at the manger – a little boy in Primary 1 called Sam, who was a sheep.

Today, Molly looked so angelic at the front of church in her silver foil wings and tinsel halo. There were several shepherds – but Max was the only one with a dinosaur! The children said their lines and sang their songs beautifully. They even blew candles out on top of a huge birthday cake, to remind everyone in the audience that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

To finish, everyone in the church sang ‘Silent Night’ together. After Pastor Dee closed the service with a prayer, the only sound that could be heard was the sound of gentle snoring, from beside the manger. One little shepherd was sleeping. The sleepy little shepherd was fast asleep, curled up, clutching Dino.

The rest of the day went surprisingly fast and soon it was bedtime.

Max was coughing and coughing in his room across the hall. Mummy was with him, giving him ‘magic puffers’ (as he called his inhalers) to take away his ‘wheezes’. Dino got some magic puffers too!

Molly soon fell fast asleep, looking even more angelic than she had earlier that day. She was dreaming of the next day – Christmas Eve – the most magical day of the year!

Max disappears

Next morning Molly jumped out of bed! She was SO excited! She flung open her curtains – the fields were all sparkling. Jack Frost had visited leaving a silvery trail!

She would go and waken Max, and together they could go and open the final door in the calendar. The door that said ‘24’ was bigger than the rest! And Christmas was the only time of the year that they were allowed to eat chocolate before breakfast!

But Max’s bed was empty. When she went into Mummy and Daddy’s room, no one was there either. Max wasn’t watching TV in the living room. The whole house seemed strangely quiet. Molly’s heart was pounding, as she went into the kitchen, where she found Daddy having a coffee, alone. Her eyes grew wide, then filled with tears.

“I made a wish that Max would disappear,” she sobbed. “And it’s come true.”

Daddy looked bemused, as he gave her a big hug and explained. “Mummy had to take Max up to the hospital last night. His wheezes were too bad.”

That news made Molly sob even louder.

“He’ll be OK honey, but I’ve just had a text from Mummy to say he’ll be in hospital today and tonight too.”

Molly’s mind processed the information, while she continued to sob. “But … But … it can’t be Christmas without Max. Santa can’t come when Max isn’t here,” she cried. “Can you phone Santa and ask him to come to our house, to Lilac Cottage, when Max is better?”

“Well maybe someone at the Cottage where you visited Santa would be able to get in touch with him,” suggested Daddy.

“Could you phone them now please, so they can catch Santa before he starts loading the sleigh?” asked Molly.

“OK – but can you eat some toast while I try to sort that out?” asked Daddy as he set an extra buttery slice of toast in front of her. She took a tiny, tiny bite and tried to stop sobbing. Max would be OK, because Daddy had said so. And she knew that Daddy would be able to sort Christmas out – even if there was a huge task like asking Santa to come to their house on the night after Christmas Eve!

The rest of the day, Daddy and Molly were very busy, collecting the turkey, buying brussel sprouts and Shloer to drink. Molly helped him wrap presents for Mummy. She wondered what Christmas presents she would get and what surprises Santa would bring.

But the best Christmas present that Molly got on Christmas Day was getting Max home, just before dinnertime! She gave Max the biggest hug ever.

That night they sprinkled reindeer food on the doorstep of Lilac Cottage. And just as Molly had suggested, Santa came back, after travelling across the globe, and visited their house twenty-four hours after the rest of the planet!

From A Year with Molly & Max
by Ruth Coulter
Illustrations by Blair Bailie

Story-telling in the Land of Smiles

Twenty years ago I  spent a summer in Thailand for my medical elective in Manorom Christian Hospital in Central Thailand with Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) I was inspired by the inspirational skill & devotion of the doctors serving God there. I also have happy memories of  running along paddy fields, visiting markets, eating tropical fruit, & of the warm hospitality of missionaries. This country captured my heart & for a significant time I believed I would be back there as a medical missionary.

In April 2017 it was eventually possible for me to return to Thailand again. I’d been in Singapore & I had the opportunity to visit Thailand just for the weekend.

It was a short visit just after Thai New Year. Just after Songkran- the national water festival. Just after a week of challenge, education & encouragement at OMF headquarters.

Just a weekend, but it was long enough to see spirit houses & temples – a reminder that ‘To be Thai is to be Buddhist’

Long enough to see beautiful Thai smiles & hear ‘sawadee ka‘ (‘Hello’)

Long enough to hear what love sounds like at House of Grace orphanage.

Long enough to feel the tropical sun in the hot season & the sand beneath my feet as I walked along Crystal Beach.

Long enough to recognise how stressed I had been & to sense the blessing of this weekend that was just what I needed.

And most importantly, long enough to hear Alan & Maelynn’s story- a story of following God’s call across the globe in the days when travelling to Thailand meant embarking on a three week journey to Asia by boat!

They married in South Thailand & worked as missionaries there. Soon Alan & Maelynn had 5 children under 4 ( including 2 sets of twins!)

There followed years of ministry in South Thailand & Bangkok. Then on World AIDS Day in December 1990, God challenged them about the 300,000 Thai infected with HIV. In 1992 ,Aids Care Education & Training ( ACET) Thailand was born- an opportunity to show God’s love in action.

Now in their late 70s, retirement isn’t really on their agenda. As long as they remain healthy, & there’s work to do- they’ll remain here in Thailand.

I listened to a chapter of their story in their home nestling among banana & papaya trees near Chantaburi. I thought about how stories have been described as social glue- the substance that binds humanity together. I was also deeply challenged by the fact that Alan & Maelynn’s  story was actually all about telling His story

Just the week before in Singapore I’d sang ‘May our lives tell your story’

(from Shine on me by Graham Kendrick)

What a prayer: May our lives tell your story!

Eugene Peterson wrote an article ‘Living into God’s story’:

‘The Bible is basically and overall a narrative, an immense, sprawling, capacious narrative. Stories hold pride of place in revealing God and God’s way to us.’

God’s story contains the overarching themes of His faithfulness, redemption, sovereignty , eternal love, deep mercy & amazing grace.

His story is eternal:

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT)

His story involves:

*Blessing

‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.’
(Ephesians 1:3-4 NIV)

*Saving

‘But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,’
(Titus 3:4-5 NIV)

*Calling

‘He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.’
(2 Timothy 1:9 NIV)

*Encouraging

‘May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.’
(2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NIV)

Yes, may our lives tell His story.

After all, He is the Author of life, the healer of hearts & the Saviour of souls.

God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.’
(Psalm 18:24 MSG)

‘None of us is the leading character in the story of our lives. God is the larger context and plot in which all our stories find themselves.’
(Eugene Petersen)

‘Lord write your story on the pages of  my life that I may bring glory to You’
(Leah Dipascal)

‘Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.’
(Isaiah 25:1 NIV)

‘Generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts.’
(Psalm 145:4 MSG)

Blessings,

Ruth x

The sound of love at House of Grace

In April 2016 I was 6200 miles away from home in a country close to my heart. I was visiting Chantaburi in Thailand -150 miles from Bangkok toward Cambodia.  This verdant area grows infamous durian fruit- banned in some public transport yet exported throughout Asia. Nestled near  banana groves lies the home that grace built- designed to give hope for children affected by AIDS. At the House of Grace Pastor Kitisak & his wife Jariya are parents to  68 children aged 4 to twentysomething.

The story began in 1995 when Pastor Kitisak & his wife Jariya were asked to look after 2 children affected by AIDS. Rejection of children with HIV or whose parents have died of AIDS is sadly common. It’s not always possible to look after them in their local  communities. So, gradually the number of children entrusted to Pastor Kitisak & Jariya’s care  increased.

Initially they moved to live in an old school but soon they had a vision for purpose built facility for these children affected by HIV . In 2006 building started & one little boy in the home named Toto was the first donor – giving 15 baht.

Last year , I had the privilege of visiting Alan & Maelynn Ellard who work with ACET Thailand at House of Grace.

As I walked upstairs into the sunny green room where House of Grace church meets, names & photos from prayer letters became live in 3D!

‘Love can be spoken in any language, though it may sound a little different.’

I had read  these words on the plane- in a blog written by Luke- Rob’s cousin’s husband.

So, what did love sound like at House of Grace?

Love sounded like children praising God wholeheartedly . One of the little girls had been very ill & needed hospital treatment. Watching her sing brought tears to my eyes.Listening to the older children leading worship was so encouraging.

Love was Pastor Kitisak exhorting the older children at Bible class  from God’s words in Proverbs 4:4:

‘Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live.’

Love sounded like happy chatter  in the dining room as Jariya served food to the children after church.

Love was the excited sound of three little boys playing cars with Alan after lunch.

The week after I got home  Alan & Maelynn sent some photos. As I scrolled through the digital photo album, I caught glimpses of what  love looks like at House of Grace:

*Playing after school

*Having fun at camp at the beach

*Praying over a grown child as they start the next chapter

*Celebrating Christmas together

*Baptising a teenager in the sea

There was a photo of a plaque inscribed with words from 1 Samuel 7:12 :

‘Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”’

God has helped so far. He has been faithful . One powerpoint slide stated that they had never had to buy a grain of rice as God had provided for their needs.

House of Grace brings hope- the chance to belong in a family & for the children to find true life in trusting God.

Jesus said:
“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
(John 10:10 MSG)

‘Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’
(John 17:3 NIV)

Please pray for Pastor Kitisak & Jariya as they show grace & love to the children, & look after them physically,emotionally & spiritually.

‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’
(James 1:27)

Find out more information from ACET Thailand

Blessings,

Ruth x

‘Tis the season…to make room

December starts with good intentions of organization & calm & cards posted on time. Yet as the month rolls on, it gains momentum like a giant snowball gathering more & more festive events & shopping.

I can identify with Bilbo Baggins who said, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)

Someone wise once said ‘Rest before you are tired’ And the Wisest of All created rest in the beginning.

We need to create margin, or white space as we approach this time of the year. Our diaries may be jam-packed already, but:

‘Its in the white space- the in between moments of stillness- where the joy of Christmas is found’
(Rebecca Cooper)

‘White space is where the magic happens’
(no sidebar)

‘The quieter you become the more you can hear’ (Ram Dass)

In the middle of the mayhem & busyness attributed to Christmas celebrations, the  sound of silence can be deafening. Last month’s minute of silence on Remembrance Day felt much longer than  sixty seconds

‘There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech.’
(Charles Spurgeon)

Even in this season,‘We must also identify what gives us life, what recharges us and restores our capacity.’(Alli Worthington -Breaking Busy)

In the quiet, we can connect with God. We can make room to  marvel & wonder at the miracle of Christmas, that God is with us – Imanuel

How can we make room for God this Christmas?

*Read

In December I set aside my usual reading plan & start off each day reading from an Advent book

This year I’m reading The One True Gift by Tim Chester. Last year I read The One True Light by the same author.

The year before I read The Time is Now by Amy Orr-Ewing

*Pray

We can pray for our family,community & our broken world.

I love these little books to help us pray using God’s Words:

5 things to pray-
For those you love
For your church
For your world

*Listen

Listen to Christmas music.  I love traditional carols blended with contemporary worship:

A Christmas Offering-Casting Crowns
Adore– Chris Tomlin
A Hallelujah Christmas – Cloverton

*Explore

Wrap up warm & escape into the great outdoors to  breathe deeply, clear your mind,  & star gaze.  Creation is the ultimate whitespace- the best way to unplug  from the un-necessary & connect with the One who made it all!

Each day we have choices to make:

‘Each of us is an inn keeper who decides if there is room for Jesus’
(Neal Maxwell)

‘Let every heart prepare Him room’
(Joy to the world)

Blessings,

Ruth x

FATT-Frazzled All The Time ?

They say that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they react to:

Traffic jams
Tangled Christmas tree lights
Toddler tantrums
& of course spilt milk!

These minor mishaps & countless others can lead to us feeling hassled & annoyed.

But I’ve noticed that there’s a more subtle ongoing background activity that makes many of us feel F.A.T.T.- Frazzled All The Time. We are not functioning at our optimum & feel slightly stressed a lot of the time. We are frazzled & frayed at the edges-worn away to exhaustion.

We are multitasking to a level our brain was not designed for. We scroll down through social media incessantly- at the same time as watching,cooking, talking & toileting! We are multi-tasking too much, & becoming inefficient. Indeed digital scrolling has altered the way we read

We are never unplugged! We can’t switch off so we never truly unwind.

This causes mental clutter & mind congestion & leads to us being fuzzy-headed, scattered brained …& frazzled.

We are overloaded & supersaturated with oftentimes irrelevant, useless facts. We are drained by information we don’t even need to know! Apparently, an average Sunday paper contains more information than an average medieval man acquired in his lifetime. This is the Information Age with the constant stream & newsfeed. Our minds are over fed yet undernourished.

‘That’s often the case with busyness: it robs us of the gifts right in front of us.’ (Jeff Goins)

Our daily lives can be hijacked by small things.

‘Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.’
(Song of Solomon 2:15 NIV)

In the whirl of activity, we have no time to wonder or ponder.

No time to calm your mind or search your soul.

We are easily distracted, getting dragged into the vortex- entangled in the world wide web- searching & skipping from one screen to the next.

I find myself drawn into the minutiae of ‘Friends of friends’ on Facebook & yet I run out of time to write a note to our Compassion kids. This highlights my very poor time management & skewed priorities.

There are so many {too many} good things on social media & the web, that we need to focus.

We have to form clarity in the clutter. In the same way that we de-clutter our homes or our desks, we need to de-clutter our minds.

‘We make choices & our choices make us’

We need to conscientiously choose to focus & de-frazzle!

It can be soothing to disconnect with the digital to engage fully in reality!

What can we decide to do to de-frazzle?

Here are my simple suggestions:

•No screen time before breakfast
•Always read God’s Word first
•Set a time limit before you switch on
•Ask does this really matter?
•Is there anything more important you should do instead?
•Go for a long walk- & leave your phone at home
•Read a paper book rather than Kindle/ibooks
•Go back to basics & use paper & pen to journal thoughts
•No phones out at meal times- at home or when out & about
•Consider a ‘cyber Sabbath’ i.e. no tech/gadgets for one day a week
(I haven’t managed this one yet- but it’s a great idea in theory!)

And when we quiet our minds, we can start to hear the still, small voice of Truth:

‘Be still, and know that I am God’
(Psalm 46:10 NIV)

Meditate on those words:

Be Still
Be Still & know
Be still & know that I AM
Be still & know that I AM God

‘Stillness is to the soul as de-cluttering is to the home.’
(Emily Freeman)

‘When you have an overwhelmed world, you don’t have to have an underwhelmed soul -if Christ fills the thoughts.’
(Ann Voskamp)

Blessings,

Ruthx

A life less ordinary

Perhaps, if you’re a  like me, you  yearn for a life less ordinary. Especially when my mood is as grey as an Irish Summer, when days blur together & weeks merge to months consumed by work & responsibility. Perhaps we feel life is being survived in black & white, rather than enjoyed in an array of colour.

When the best of our awake time is spent on things outside our control, & we want to travel lightly but we feel the weight of the everyday grind, we just want to step off the wheel.

Our perspective is altered by pressure & our days seem bland.

Beige.Vanilla.Ordinary.

It’s God’s love that brings colour to our lives- indeed God’s presence brings us truly to life! It is He who breathes ‘extra’ into our ordinary.It is our relationship with God through Jesus that makes all the difference.

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.”(Ephesians 1:11-12 MSG)

Jesus said,”I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
(John 10:10 NIV)

Jesus said,“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
(John 10:10 MSG)

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
(John 17:3 NIV)

It is knowing God that makes life less ordinary ..from here to eternity!

It is God who created each of us for a unique purpose in His Grand Design. He placed us where he wanted us to be in time & space:

‘From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
(Acts 17:26-28 NIV)

Living a less ordinary life requires us to seek God & reach out to Him though he is not far from any one of us. We need to choose the life He offers:

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.”
(Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV)

When we do, He has promised:
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”
(Psalm 32:8 NIV)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
(Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV)

These words are more than nice sentiments to put on a bookmark. They are a truth to hold onto when ‘ordinary’ life feels difficult. It is a promise given  by God to His people at the worst of times.

On the Sunday morning I attended church in Singapore,the Anglican Minister preached from this verse & expanded its meaning in a way I’ve never heard before.

The Hebrew word for ‘plans’ is hama-ma-ha-sabat . It means exquisite design rather than technical plans. The same word is translated ‘ways’ in the following passage:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)

Our life is less ordinary because our lives are the exquisite designs of our Creator God. God’s plans may be different to our ideas:
‘We can make our plans but the Lord determines our steps’
(Proverbs 16:9)

But ultimately His plans will transform our ordinary lives, to bring  Him glory.When we grasp this truth, we can thrive in the mundane, & cope with the challenges of everyday life on planet earth. We can have hope in the dark times.

We can live our ‘ordinary’ lives in an extraordinary way with the help, grace & love of our Awesome God.

As we go through this week, consider:

‘What if you stepped into all that God created you to be?’
(Dr Jennifer Barnett)

‘Quit trying to fit. Why try to squeeze all your extraordinary into ordinary?’
(Ann Voskamp)

‘The Lord is the strength of my life’ (Psalm 27:1)

Blessings,

Ruthx

Brewing some perspective…one coffee shop at a time

No blogging. No running. No unwinding. No margin. All work & little play is rarely a good combination.

A trip to the North Coast before the end of summer was a welcome pause. Caris & I walked along the path by the Atlantic from Portstewart Promenade to the Strand. It brought back memories of walking the same path with my Granda Murphy many years ago.

We started with a coffee to go from the new hipster Three Kings coffee shop. As a collector of quotes I noticed what was written behind the coffee machine. As the barista crafted my cappuccino, I read:
‘Be awesome you’re a hand of the king’

I’m not sure where the quote came from (even Google couldn’t help!) but I liked the sentiment. Striving to be awesome, being a hand of the king.The King. Doing things wholeheartedly. For the King.

As I walked along the Port Path I thought of William Makepeace Thackeray’s words: ‘Whatever you are, be a good one!’ As we walked passed the convent, I thought about Mother Teresa’s words: “Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”

In subsequent weeks things went from bad to worse. I thought about what can be done when you’re feeling too awful to try to be awesome. When you’ve been under stress, overstretched & are feeling spent.

This month, I sat in another coffee shop with Cecilia mulling over this question. We talked about the need for rest.True rest. We need to find rest in the struggle, peace in the middle of the storm.

We find rest in Someone. We need to draw near, move close to God to find the rest we need.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
(Matthew 11:28 NIV)

‘Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”’
(Psalm 91:1-2 NIV)

Even when we are feeling awful,
‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair’
(2 Corinthians 4:8 NIV)

‘We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.’
(2Cor 4:8-MSG)

Last week, as I left Ards newest coffee shop I caught a glimpse of a familiar face that is dealing with life threatening Illness & little children simultaneously. That’s taking tough to a whole new level. I realise I don’t really have the right to describe this year as hard compared to others.

I thought of the untold stories & invisible burdens carried in the lives of the people who surrounded me sipping coffee. In that coffee shop there were likely to be people dealing with unwanted diagnoses, bereavement, divorce & a multitude of other stresses as we progress along this journey called life.

This journey can take us through painful places. Yesterday I read of the Israelites pilgrimage through Valley of Baca, the vale of tears. There are beautiful words in Psalm 84:

‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.’
(Psalm 84:5-7 NIV)

I love that image of soft autumn rains- a season of refreshment.

The coffee shop I visited with Cecilia is aptly named Season, because of the well known Bible verse:
‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens’
(Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV)

There is a season for everything.

‘It came to pass’ & my husband’s grandmother added, ‘It didn’t come to stay!’

A Facebook added another dimension- ‘It might pass like a kidney stone but it will pass!’

Whatever tough times, difficult days or dark chapter we’re going through- it will pass

For, ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.’
(Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)

Beautiful in time,not necessarily our time-scale.

‘He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’
(Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)

But if you’re still wading through the messy middle, longing for this season to pass, remember:
‘You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.’ (James 1:2 -MSG)

Blessings,

Ruthx

Previously posted @ blessedme.co.uk

In this place

Some days the first words we read resonate & reverberate within us- marinating throughout the day in our minds like dinner in a slow cooker! The words cause reflection & one thought ignites another.

I read a devotional based on Genesis 39 on the first 5 app. It was entitled ‘God is with you in this place.’

The story told how God was with Joseph in prison (v21)

Of course God is omnipresent-everywhere & all around:
‘We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.’
(CS Lewis)

And there are times when we are deeply aware of God’s presence. We may have an extra-special sense of God being with us in church or elsewhere during a time of worship.

I remember one Friday afternoon when the band were practicing before Focusfest, beautiful words & music filled the Waterfront auditorium:
‘We bow down & confess
You are Lord in this place’
(Viola Grafstrom)

The awesome sense of God’s presence was palpable. I acknowledged ‘You are Lord in this place’

But sometimes,like Joseph we find ourselves in unexpected & difficult places. Even in those dark,unwanted places, God is there.

Since being reminded of Joseph’s story, I’ve recalled some of the places this journey has taken me to so far:

I’ve felt under stress at work. I felt utterly spent & at the end of myself. I declared to my empty room & computer screen that I just couldn’t do this any more. Not. Even. One. More. Day.

God was with me in this place.

I’ve obeyed & gone where I believed God wanted me to go. But it was more difficult than I imagined & I felt more useless than ever before.

God was with me in this place.

I’ve had sleepless nights caused by uncertain diagnoses & worrying about precious family facing major surgery.

God was with me in this place.

I’ve been confined to the ward with devastating postnatal illness. I’ve faced the aftermath & painstakingly slow road to recovery.

God was with me in this place.

Throughout the pages of the Bible, there are many true stories of God being with His children in unexpected places:

In the flames of a furnace,
God was with Shadrach, Meshach & Abed-nego in this place.

In front of a giant,
God was with David in this place.

In the stomach of a whale,
God was with Jonah in this place.

If you are following Jesus as a child of God, He is with you in this place.

Wherever you are, He’s there too.

In this place of broken dreams & shattered hope.
In this place of grief, hardship, pressure & pain.
In this place of suffering

Wherever you are:
God is there with you & even more astoundingly within you!

This place, this unexpected, dark, difficult ,unwelcome place that you find yourself in, may be a place of blessing in disguise:

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise
(Blessings– Laura Story)

At times we may feel we are free-falling to this place, but we are being held by the everlasting arms of our Heavenly Father. He holds the planets in orbit in this universe & so, we can hold on to Him with trust & hope in this place.

If you find yourself in one of those places today, remember:
‘Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans,
but God is not helpless among the ruins.’
(Eric Liddell)

‘All our difficulties are only platforms for the manifestations of His grace, power & love’
(Hudson Taylor)

Blessings,

Updated from http://www.blessedme.co.uk

Life is beautiful 

The photo above captures what my husband Rob has {unaffectionately} christened our house tattoo.

He has minimalist ideas & was aghast at this wall art. He doesn’t realize (yet) that it’s removable, so for now, ‘Life is beautiful’ is our home’s tattoo.

‘Life is beautiful’ -not in a Pinterest perfect,whimsical,shabby-chic sort of a way.
But, ‘Life is beautiful’ in a messy,lovely sort of way-a deep beneath the surface beauty, surviving the battering storms, rising from the ashes.

My favourite film ever is Life is Beautiful -or should I say La vita e bella- for the original is in Italian with English subtitles. Roberto Benigni became an Academy Award winner in 1999 for his role as Guido.

Hearing the sunny Italian greetings in the piazza, in the film, instantly transports me to Orta. And reminiscing about idyllic holidays, counting blessings beside the blue blooming hydrangea.

In the film, Guido’s wonderful life takes a grim turn when he & his wife & young son are taken to a concentration camp. Yet, even here, he manages to make life fun for his son.

As time marches on, we have marked over seventy anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz. If we held a minute silence for every victim of the Holocaust then we would be silent for eleven and a half years.

While this tragi-comedy makes us laugh-out-loud in places, it in no way diminishes the horror of the Holocaust. By focusing on the devastating effects on one family it makes poignant powerful impact.

The film portrays how Guido chooses to make life beautiful in the darkest of places for his wife Dora & son Giosue

Our life is beautiful-because God is making it so:
‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.’
(Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)

Everything- the good, the bad & the ugly can be made beautiful by our Creative, Redeeming God
The verse continues:
‘He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)

In ways we cannot fathom, beyond our understanding God creates beauty for time & eternity-that we might know Him:
‘Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ (John 17:3 NIV)

In the pressure & grind of mundane, daily life, I often loose my bearings. I can’t see the beauty. I get easily annoyed by trivial problems, nuisances, & IT hiccoughs.

I can’t see the wood for the trees. I can’t see the blessings though they are all around.

‘Sometimes all we need is a little perspective’ -as Jones in the Noticer says
Somedays, I’d be transformed with even an ounze of perspective!

And God can give us a glimpse of His perspective. He can lead us to higher ground:
The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (Habakkuk 3:19 NLT)

He can help us soar:
But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:31 NLT)

From these heights:

We can see His purposes, rather than our problems
We can see rainbows rather than thunderstorms
We can see the exquisite tapestry above rather than the tangle of dark threads underneath.
We can trust His promises & trace His grace.

And truly see:
Life is beautiful

Blessings,
Ruth x


Updated from http://www.blessedme.co.uk