Some Perspective on Significance

My nation of Australia has been ravaged by devastating fires and many parts are now experiencing floods. I (like many people) have given money to help those affected, but I desperately wish I could do more. My contribution feels futile when I see the images on my phone. What is happening to my country breaks my heart and brings me to tears. I can’t do much, but I have done what I can with what I have, unfortunately at times like these it still doesn’t feel like enough.

Yesterday I had a moment in my kitchen, looking around my little house and thinking about my life. I felt so very insignificant in that moment. Not unhappy, just insignificant. I know that we all have those moments; when we want to be more, do more, help more, see more and yet… that may not be on the cards for us. At times like that I often picture an old lady working in the rice fields in a country like China and wonder if she feels the same. I wonder if she would be envious of my life? I’m sure many, many people would be and would give anything for my seemingly insignificant life.

As I wiped down my kitchen bench, I also thought about those who are more fortunate than me and what they must be exposed to in their lives. What experiences and opportunities they might have that I will never come close to? As I packed away the craft paper from the dining table, I felt inconsequential. Although I keep a tight lid on my own social media, I thought about people with millions of followers and imagined what it would be like if someone very famous requested to follow me. How would I react? Would I feel more valuable? Would I believe that I had something to offer that no one else did? What story would I tell myself about my self-worth now that a famous person had noticed me?

AND THEN….

And then I felt God whispered so clearly…

“I created everything and I am following you.
I am watching your stories and your day.
You are significant to me.”

Oh man that made me smile. I hope it made you smile too. It’s a delightful reminder for those of us who feel insignificant at times isn’t it? Even if history doesn’t remember us, there is always One who does and I am quite frankly, in awe.

Sometimes when I see tragedy around me, I feel small. Sometimes when I get a glimpse into a far more glamorous social circle, I feel small. Both at opposite ends of the scale, but similar feelings. Honestly, it’s not even about where I sit on the social or economic ladders that I’m struggling with here, it is clearly about worth and value. It’s about realising that if and when I encounter tragedies or trailblazers, I am still significant. That thing I did, the words I wrote, that call I made, He actually thinks they were wonderful. He is not as impressed by quantity or output as I am, it is who I am (the person of Jess) that so captivates His attention.

All of Matthew 6 is a great read, but I just wanted to put verse 26 here in front of your eyes as a reminder. When I heard God tell me that He’s following me, I instantly thought about this verse:

Matthew 6:26 (NLT) – Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

I also like this translation from The Message – Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

You are significant. Perhaps your name will never be recorded in earth’s history books and maybe you will live out your life in the same area you were born, but don’t believe the lie that there is anything wrong with that. God thinks you are significant. God thinks I’m significant. Sometimes, being reminded of that is all we need.

Love Jess

PS – If anyone super famous does want to follow me; I’ll just give you a heads-up now that I’ll probably take a screen capture and send it to all my top WhatsApp contacts.

My plumb line

Zechariah 4 v 9-10

“Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation of this Temple, and he will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me. 10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (NLT)

Honestly, last week was not great. Tim went away to a Community Development conference and I have been running on empty for a few weeks now; a perfect storm for becoming unhinged. Mid-week I came across this scripture on Instagram:

 

This post on Instagram took me on a little journey as I read the whole chapter in context and became captivated by the phrase ‘plumb line’ at the end of verse 10. This term can also be found in Amos and a few other places depending which translation you use. Not being a builder, I immediately searched on Google and did some reading (I found this blog really insightful). If you can’t be bothered looking into it yourself, a plumb line is a tool used to ensure buildings are built straight – think of it as an ancient ‘spirit level’.

A few days later as I hid in my garage away from my kids, I thought about the plumb line. I realised that in this season my kids are using me as their plumb line for life. They look to me to see if things in their own little lives are on track. They look to me to know what is right, what is acceptable and what the boundaries are. They like to push me and there are times when the pushing causes me to feel unstable. They have also been known to frequently grab onto me and give me an almighty shake. My sister and I often encourage one-another to ‘hold’ in the moments when we feel unstable. I am often reminding myself to ‘HOLD’ my centre and not allow the conflicts and uncomfortable moments in life to push me around. However, I am not a perfect parent, so naturally there are times when I end up swinging out of alignment. During these moments, I often feel like a failure and am discouraged that I am not holding my emotions or reactions in check as much as I’d like.

So, back to the garage… as I sat (shamelessly hiding) behind the car trying to get a moment to myself, I sent up more “Help me Jesus” prayers and felt myself coming back to centre. I felt God reassuring me, reminded me that although I’m a plumb line for my kids, He is my plumb line and He is never shaken. If I keep holding onto Him through prayer, worship and reading His words, when I am faced with the bumps and swings of life, I will naturally come back into alignment. I don’t have to fear the shaking; sure, the shaking of life will continue to happen, but it’s not something to fear.

This timely, gentle reminder carries a lot of freedom for me. There are many times when I overthink my reactions, but knowing that swinging doesn’t equal failure means I can continue to endure life’s ‘pushes’ until my head and heart get back into alignment. Instead of looking at the plumb bob swinging out of control and making myself dizzy, I’ll just keep looking up, because that is where my strength comes from.

Let me close with these thoughts – I may be my kids’ plumb line at the moment, but God is mine. He is my plumb line. I want to encourage you if you feel like you are swinging out of control… don’t fear, be still, He is a firm foundation. Keep looking to him and not at the plumb bob; we’ve got this. Big breath, remember the plumb line.

Love Jess xxoo

PS – Yes, I went and bought myself a plumb bob/line from Bunnings while processing this all, because sometimes I like a physical reminder of what God is speaking to me about.

How to worship to a song you hate

Disclaimer: These thoughts are based off my experiences in many churches, conferences and meetings across different denominations, cultures and countries, so everyone relax. I’m not being critical, just having an honest chat.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get to a church event and they are singing my absolute favourite song and I’m right there heart, body and soul. Other times, not so much. Let me be honest, there are some songs that I really dislike. The ones that talk about being unworthy and how terrible we are just really frustrate me. I hate that we, a redeemed people, are still holding onto our old identity and actually singing about it together. Ugh, talk about creating identity confusion.

*Jess takes a deep calming breath*

Sometimes, my worship playlist looks very different at home to what I hear in a church meeting, because I like a certain style. Kind of like if you loved jazz, but went to a country music festival. Neither are better, I just like one over the other, so it’s easier for me to engage with what I like. You feeling me? If you’ve been in church for more than three months, I know you will get it.

How about you? I’m sure you have songs that you dislike too. Maybe you don’t understand the lyrics, find it too repetitive, have sung it a thousand time, find the lyrics aren’t actually biblically sound, you don’t think it suits your church’s own flavour or you hate the musical arrangement and so on. I started singing on worship teams in the kid’s rooms when I was 12-years-old, so I’ve had my fair share of songs I don’t love. I thought (for a bit of transparent fun) that I’d share four things that I choose to remember when I come across a song at a church event that I really dislike or don’t connect with. Here goes 🙂

  1. I realise that everyone has different taste.

Tim and I have had a few laughs over the years when we get to church only to find they have added a new song to the rotation that we had only just expressed our dislike for. It honestly makes me laugh. Although I may not like the song, someone else clearly does, so maybe I need to allow opportunity for others to connect to God and not make it about me. I have to remember that the Creative Team are not responsible for my connection to God, I am. So regardless of the song, style, etc. I need to push through my own preferences and connect.

  1. I try to find something.

Within any song there will be one line or some musical hook that I can connect to. For example, even if I dislike the style of a song, the lyrics might be incredibly powerful, so I’ll focus on that. Maybe there is an awesome bass line that I feel is prophetic, so I will lean into that moment. When I come across a line in a song that I really feel is not based on scripture or actually undercuts the finished work Christ, I’ll just skip over it and put my focus into the next line. For me, I have realised that just because not every part of a song is perfect, doesn’t mean I should write it off… kind of like us. Ouch! Not everything we do is perfect, but our imperfections don’t discount from the parts that shine. I still may never play a song I dislike at home, but if it’s played at church, it’s all good. This one is good for me to remember when I’m getting particularly hung up on a song. I have taught myself to become intentional about finding something I like, particularly if I’m meant to be leading others from the stage.

  1. I remember the writer’s intent and season

It’s good for me to remember that someone wrote this song with a heart to connect to God. They wrote it out of their own personal experiences, out of a desire to express their heart and love towards their God. I also realise that the song writer’s revelation or breakthrough can become mine even if (in this moment) it doesn’t seem relevant to me. There is power in recognising the heart behind a song, especially when the style isn’t my favourite or the theme is different from the season I’m in.

  1. I remember why and who I am trying to connect with

At the end of the day, I’m here to connect to God. I do not have to enjoy or even sing along to connect to Him. One time, I was so put off by the theology behind a song that I didn’t sing it and made up my own lyrics instead, because I still wanted to connect to Him. My heart is for him. Regardless of what the song is, my intent is to let Him know how much I love Him. Full stop. Maybe my outward expression looks different during a song I find difficult to connect with, but my heart-to-heart connection with God should never change and that’s what I focus on. That’s where I always end up.

Man, I know within my own social circle there are many others who find music a very personal way to connect with God and I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you do when you don’t connect with a song?

Speaking of songs, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite songs at the moment. I would not call this a typical worship song and my preference would be to not sing this in a congregation, but I’m so glad it was written and these guys recorded it. It’s a song from God to us and the bridge has me bawling every time.

Love Jess xoxo

Check out my other popular faith-based pieces:

When Faith and Hope Run out

To the Christian Couple trying to fall pregnant

Behind Close doors – Stories of Domestic Violent in Christian marriages

Into the pit and back again – A story about depression

Behind Closed Doors – Stories of Domestic Violence in Christian marriages

Trigger and graphic detail warning: This blog is about the domestic violence and abuse of women in Christian marriages. It contains real life examples of abuse which is not appropriate for younger readers and may be distressing for some, but honestly, I’m praying it’s disturbing for all of us.

The names in this blog have been changed to protect the identity of the women who have bravely allowed me to share some of their stories. Many of them have continued contact with their ex’s due to child arrangements. I dedicate this blog to you brave sisters and I write it for the women still in silence, still in darkness. I see you and I’m shining a light on this evil so others can see too. Never fear, the darkness is starting to tremble.

Beth:
Beth was having a shower, naked and vulnerable while her two young children wandered in and out. Her husband stormed into their bathroom and held up her mobile to the glass screen with anger burning in his eyes. “You’ve been messaging with Courtney again! Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” Courtney was a recently divorced Christian and was now according to her husband, a bad influence. As the dread and shame filled Beth’s heart, her husband threw the phone onto the bathroom tiles yelling, “Lying B*itch!” He stormed out of the room, leaving his wife feeling physically ill while she looked at her phone smashed to pieces. She went a week without her mobile, her husband making her fix it herself. On Sunday, they sang the songs in church, listened to the sermon and chatted with their friends. When people asked Beth how her week was, she smiled and said “It was ok thanks, how was yours?”

United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines domestic violence as: ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.’ Secular and faith-based organisations in Australia identify 8 forms of abuse and violence:

I am 34-years-old and I can name five women in my Christian social circle who have revealed they suffered from abuse or domestic violence in their marriages. Violence against women is a serious problem in my country (and world-wide), but I naively thought it wasn’t happening in Christian relationships. And so, after years of hearing otherwise I feel its time for me to write about this specific issue. In a faith context domestic violence has its own unique complexities as some men actually use biblical scriptures to justify their actions while many women stay because they believe they will disappoint God if they leave. It breaks my heart and I am so very angry.

All of the women in this blog have since separated from their husbands, and I would say that all of these ladies have come out of their marriage ostracized, judged and slandered. Most have children and almost all of them don’t share publically about the years of devastation they endured. For some reason, the men remain protected. But I see you dear ones. I see you and I say that what has happened to you is not right. What you have been through is absolutely NOT what God had in mind when he said “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). I applaud you and your bravery for leaving. I know many of you have endured extraordinary internal struggles, to the point of contemplating suicide, yet you have kept going. You, precious sisters-in-Christ, blow me away. Your stories are important for us to hear and share.

Laurel:
Laurel’s home-life was just one long emotional assault. Her husband, who was meant to treasure her, constantly put her down. He frequently rolled his eyes, spoke to her like she was a child and openly disregarded her opinions. In his eyes, he was always right and she was always wrong. Her husband’s refusal to treat her as an equal caused her constant emotional pain, but he never took her concerns seriously; dismissing her distress any time she brought it up. In social situations they would hold hands and joke while she publically laughed off any humiliation he put her through. If she said something that embarrassed him, he would discretely pinch or kick her to keep her quiet. They were both actively involved in their Church, going to home groups and serving in teams on a Sunday. Her girlfriends sometimes worried amongst themselves how he treated Laurel at home, but they never questioned either of them. The onslaught of condescending, belittling, eroding and numbing words broke her fragile heart until there was nothing left.

Kirsty:
Kirsty thought her husband was a gentle man with a heart after God. Just six-months into her marriage she realised he was not the man she thought he was. Kirsty endured another 5-6 years of married hell before she was finally able to call a family member to come and get her from the house. “Did he hit you?” Christians tend to ask and her heart sinks because he didn’t. It reinforces her husband’s ideas that only physical strikes to the body count. She doesn’t tell them about the times he shoved her, pushed her off the bed or repeatedly threw objects at her head. She doesn’t say a word about the times he aggressively grabbed her, the time he slammed a freezer door into her head or how he locked her out of the house. She doesn’t mention the ‘episodes’ – frequent 3 hour-long sessions of verbal abuse she would endure long into the night, which he said were her fault. They will never know the number of times he screamed in her face calling her a “Stupid F-ing B*tch” (his favourite phrase). Then there were the restrictions on who she could be friends with and his constant need to know word-for-word what everyone said any time she was out without him. Appallingly, Kirsty’s husband often used scriptures to justify his treatment of her.

On three separate occasions after an ‘episode’ from her husband, Kirsty came out of the shower with her towel wrapped around her body. Her husband taunted her laughing, “Are you purposely trying to hide yourself from me?”. Kirsty, full of confusion and hurt didn’t respond. He stripped the towel off from her naked body proceeding to touch her in the most violating of ways. Meanwhile she stood there crying, desperately yelling “Stop it, stop it!”, pushing his hands away to defend herself. Her husband would continue touching her saying “I’m allowed to touch you Kirsty, you’re my wife!”

In their faith community they seemed like one of those incredible ‘Christian power couples’, so involved in church and on the surface, so very supportive of each other. Although separated, Kirsty continues to fight against to her ex-husbands controlling behaviour and has serious concerns about the safety of her daughter.

Emily:
Emily’s husband had complete control over the household and over his wife. He controlled her through every means he could including financial control (down to an allowance that he set), control over who her friends were, what activities she could do, where she could go and more. He used sex as a bargaining tool saying, “You can only do this activity/see that person/buy this item, if we have sex”. He was the ‘head’ of the household and he made it very clear that she was the tail.

If he did not get his way, he stopped talking to her civilly and a screaming match would erupt. In extreme conflicts he would throw threats of suicide in her face. All she could do was retreat, give him what he wanted and peace would return for a short while into the family. At church they were the picture-perfect Godly family, esteemed from the platform and involved in everything. Other people would seek them for marriage and business advice, but no one knew what was really happening behind closed doors. When Emily did reach out to friends, they told her that “marriage was for life, you’ll just have to put up with it”. So, Emily thought that this was what a Christian marriage was, she didn’t realise it was abusive.

When Emily finally got the strength to leave she was completely isolated from her church friendships. Her ex-husband spread slander and rumours to anyone who would listen. When none of Emily’s friends came to see how she was, it was a devastating second blow; best friends disappeared overnight. Unfortunately just like Kirsty, Emily is still on the receiving end of her ex-husbands abuse as they share custody of their children.

Willow:
Whilst the kids were in bed Willow and her husband discussed a trial separation. Despite his numerous affairs and constant belittling, she hoped for reconciliation. A fight broke out, escalating until he grabbed her and threw her to the ground. Physically and emotionally bruised Willow ran out of the house in her pyjamas while he locked the door behind her. Separated from her children, her phone and her money, Willow felt utterly helpless. She contemplated finding a way calling the police, but she was concerned she’d be found at fault and didn’t want her husband to get into trouble either; she continued to protect him. Willow eventually got back into the house, calling a friend to come get her. To add to the trauma, she had to leave all the kids at home with her husband, including the baby who was still breastfeeding. Through an intermediary, she instructed him how to give the baby its first bottle feed.

Although they weren’t regular church goers, they still attended from time to time and pretended to be a happy family. Willow found it difficult to be in an environment where everyone else seemed to be fine, while her home-life was a battleground. She kept the details of her marriage a secret for over 8 years.

This is dark stuff. Beth, Laurel, Kirsty, Emily and Willow, I believe you. I believe what you are telling me. I have known some of your husbands rather well and I never would have guessed what was happening behind closed doors. However, I believe what you are telling me, you don’t have to convince me. You do not have to have physical scars for me to know that you had to leave. I know some of you have been judged for how you coped at the end. I know people have pointed their fingers at you and told you horrible (or flippant) things to your face. But for some reason, this man, who treated you so badly, has come out of your separation with most of the sympathy and not a hit to his reputation. After all the abuse he hurled at you, it seems to everyone else that he is the victim. But I know, I know what he did to you. I know what he did when no one else was around, how he treated you in the darkness. I see you.

When I hear these stories a small part of me thinks, “I’m so grateful my husband is nothing like that.” And then I catch myself… I’m grateful that the man I share my life with doesn’t abuse me? You have got to be kidding right? To be treated with respect and as an equal is the benchmark, not the exception. I am disgusted by my own reaction, even if it’s fleeting. What kind of culture do we live in where we congratulate men on treating women well, instead of just knowing that is what is expected of them?

During my discussions with Willow about her abused (I have shared but one story), her concern is for the women still trapped. She says to me, “If I could share anything, it would be that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to stay. You don’t have to extend grace so far to your husband that you damage yourself or your children.” Wow, just wow. This is perhaps one of the most powerful truths for women to hear within the faith context.

I sat in church a few weeks ago, thinking of the beautiful women I know. They have endured so much and I wondered how many other women are still being abused, controlled and belittled. Was I still seeing women every week like Beth, who smiled and said, “Good thanks, how was your week?” The heartbreaking reality is that I probably am. Some of the women I know went to churches in my own denomination. It’s easy to think that things like this happen elsewhere, but the truth is, domestic violence and abuse against women exists across Australian church groups. This darkness has to stop. We need to become more aware that it’s actually happening and start to develop stronger pathways to protect and support these women.

There is a song that has been playing on repeat in my mind whenever I have worked on this blog. It’s called Tremble by Mosaic. The lyrics say:

Jesus, Jesus, You make the darkness tremble
Jesus, Jesus, You silence fear
Jesus, Jesus, You make the darkness tremble
Jesus, Jesus

When I started contemplating putting this together, this song roared through me and left me kneeling on the floor in tears. I felt Jesus saying that He wanted the darkness to tremble. This ugly, ungodly thing in supposedly Christ-centered marriages, this thing we are fearful to face and talk about, He wants us to talk about. This is happening, right now, possibly in your church, perhaps to your friend, daughter or sister. We need to shine a light on this issue for these women. To let them know it’s safe to speak up and that we’ll believe them. I spoke with an older Christian couple about this blog whilst in it’s infancy and expressed my hesitation in addressing such a complex issue in 2500 or so words, but the male said passionately, “Jess, we need to talk about it everywhere and anywhere we can, however we can. We need to have these conversations.” My prayer is that other Christians will continue to take up the conversation. This is not a one-week sermon topic (although that’s important); it takes ongoing discussion, awareness, re-education, accountability and action to bring down an ungodly culture that is present in godly people. We need men and women of all ages and stages to partner together and invest in shifting this culture of abuse and violence.

If there is one thing I could say to a Christian women caught in domestic violence and the cycle of abuse it is this…

God loves you more than he loves the institution of marriage –
you do not have to stay to honour God.
This is not the marriage that God had in mind,
it is a man-made prison.

Where to from here? Well, firstly, if you have read these stories and identify with something shared, I encourage you to speak up and get help. The help-lines below are wonderful places to start. Alternatively, you may want to discretely share this blog with friends and say “I am like Laurel” or “I am like Kirsty”, try to start the conversation somewhere. Unfortunately, you are not alone and what you are going through is NOT RIGHT.

For the rest of us, if you are part of a faith community:

  •  Please share this blog with others and have a read through some of the articles below (Common Grace has some great blogs).
  • Talk about this topic this with your friends, in your cell groups, at women’s and men’s events and do it more than once. Perhaps you can write an article about correct biblical interpretation, share information about local support groups or teach couples about appropriate conflict resolution? Yes, marriage has conflict and yes it is hard at times, but it shouldn’t be this hard, it should never include abuse. These examples are powerful because they give you a framework of what abuse can look like. We often only listen when we hear the words hit, slapped or strangled.
  • Ask more questions instead of giving throw away lines. I know next time a friend tells me that they ‘have been fighting a lot”, I will ask them to tell me more and give specific examples instead of speaking in vague terms about things like communication and compromise. Perhaps her definition of fighting is a lot different to mine and his way of communicating is actually abusive. We need to look a little closer and see if she’s trying to tell us that something is happening behind closed doors.
  • Lastly, let’s pray that things come into the light. I’m praying that hidden abuses will be revealed and that women and men will be released from this darkness. I do not do this lightly or gently, but with fierce determination and righteous anger. Domestic violence does not belong in anyone’s life, Christian or not, it’s time we ripped this thing out of our lives.

Love Jess xxoo

Helplines:

  • 1800 RESPECT National Helpline: 1800 737 732
  • Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
  • Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
  • Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114

Resources for Churches:

Common Grace – Resourcing Churches

Common Grace – Blogs about Domestic Violence

SAFER – A Domestic Violence Resource for Churches

General Information – a few to start with:

White Ribbon – Australia Wide campaign to stop violence against women

White Ribbon – Dometic violence Statistics

OurWatch – National Campaign to stop violence against women and children

Life Line – Domestic violence information

Respect – Education for kids and young people

ABC article – Domestic Violence in the church, published 23 May 2018

To the Christian Couple trying to fall pregnant

To the Christian Couple trying to fall pregnant,

I have been thinking a lot about you the last few weeks. You are on my mind and I can’t shake you no matter how much I try. Some of you I know personally, while others I wouldn’t know you if you were sitting next to me right now. Regardless, I wanted to take a few moments and type these words to you, because what you are going through is painful, so incredibly painful and usually hidden.

Psalm 56 v 8
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

If I could sit and have a beverage with you, I would look you in the eye and tell you that you aren’t alone. I know it feels like it, believe me, I know it does. It may seem like others around you are falling pregnant with not a care in the world and you feel you’re the only one’s struggling… but you aren’t. For some reason, knowing that other Christians are going through or have gone through a similar struggle can make you feel less isolated. I say this not to take away from your unique experience, but to encourage you and remind you that your thoughts, questions, doubts, victories and triumphs are perhaps similar to what others have felt.

Psalm 31 v 7
I am overcome with joy because of Your unfailing love, for You have seen my troubles, and You care about the anguish of my soul.

Although some of your closest friends may not see your pain… I see you in my mind’s eye. I acknowledge this difficult season with its’ faith filled highs and the hopeless lows. I understand the courage you draw upon when you celebrate other people’s victories and the anguish in your heart when you see that photo on social media or glossy picture in a catalog. I can relate to the faith in your heart when you respond to an alter-call and the frustration when someone says something insensitive. Sometimes you have grace and things don’t bother you, while other times you want to put your fingers in your ears to block out the noise. It is difficult. Plus, those ever-changing thoughts and emotions can really throw you can’t they? Up and down and round and round. Then, there are the faith-based questions, medical decisions and ethical considerations that can keep you up at night! You are really doing so well. No, really you are. Be encouraged.

Psalm 9 v 9-10
The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, O Lord, have never abandoned anyone who searches for you.

I am aware that your stories are all different and so will the outcome. I sincerely pray that your dearest dreams will be realized, and yet I know how hard it is to believe that at times. I don’t pretend to have answers for your situation; I only want to let you know that you aren’t forgotten. You aren’t abandoned and your journey is important, so important that God keeps bringing you to my mind. Even if you don’t tell anyone about this season, I am praying for you and for the child or children you want to have.

All my love

Jess xxoo

When Faith and Hope run out

I have a friend my age that has a chronic illness. I have a friend who is in her late thirties and longs to find a life companion. I know someone who suffers through the heartbreaking disappointments of wanting to fall pregnant. I know others who struggle through the dark complexity of mental health issues. As a “person of faith” aka a Jesus-lover, sometimes I have great faith. Faith so strong that I know in my very soul that something good is going to happen; be it a physical healing, a new job or a mended relationship. Other times, I have hope. Hope in people, hope for a fresh start, or hope that this time I’ll see my prayers answered. And then, and then my dear friends… there are times when my faith and hope have depleted and it’s too painful to even dare to pick them up. I feel faithless and hopeless, with no answers and no end in sight. My heart is downcast.

There are some incredible commentaries on 1 Corinthians 13, but recently I have been thinking about verse 13 in particular:

 Three things will last forever
— faith, hope, and love —
and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)

Three things will last forever – it’s an interesting notion, especially when at times it feels like those exact three things have faded from my heart. However, if they do in fact last forever like the verse says, then they must be intricately linked. Therefore, if the greatest one is said to be love, surely it’s something I should take note of and turn to in a personal crisis. Personally, when I spend time receiving love from God, I’m surprised by the way hope finds its way back into my heart. Then, after a little while (and even more love), hope builds and eventually produces embers that ignite into faith.

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Many of you know my journey with pregnancy and some of you don’t. In a nutshell it took 3 and a half years, one miscarriage, many, many blood tests and doctors visits to see our first child into the world. During this journey, some months I would be full of faith. I would believe with all my heart that this time was ‘the month’ so much so that I would go out and buy nappies as a ‘step of faith’. Some months I would have hope, hope that held onto promises in God’s word and prophecies that people had given me. Other months, I had nothing except my knowledge that God loved me and that He was holding me through my pain. I didn’t have faith and I couldn’t find hope, so I would just tell God that I had nothing that month and knew that others around me would have to do it on my behalf.

If you don’t have faith for a personal miracle and can’t find hope that your situation will ever change, let me encourage you to let go of everything else and just let yourself be loved. As Christians often say ‘camp out in love’. This means that you don’t have to force your faith or hope. Just close your eyes and ask Father God to show you His love. Remember, don’t force yourself to feel something you don’t, simply ask to see His heart, then, ask again the next day and the next day and the next day. You’ll never be disappointed focusing on that – camping there. You can always find rest by being loved by the best Father that ever was. I can promise you, that as you get a greater revelation of His indescribable love, hope will inevitably come and eventually, so will faith.

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Allow me to interrupt this nice warm fuzzy moment… couldn’t that be overly simplifying things? What about people in deep depression who can’t feel any love? What about people who don’t see a physically healing and no longer have faith for one? Ok, let’s go deeper…

I’ve have already alluded to it, but let me give you my thoughts about how this can work. When you can’t feel love, experience hope and find faith, in steps what the bible calls “The Bride of Christ” – which basically means other Jesus followers. When I’m authentic with other Jesus-lovers about what’s in my heart, they can help me out when I lack something. No love? Boom, they can pray about the barriers that are keeping me from feeling love. No hope? They can have hope on my behalf that things will be brighter and can encourage me on the journey. And lastly, if I’m lacking faith, I can lean on theirs. Of course it works both ways – even if you don’t have faith, hope and love in your own life and circumstances, it’s surprising how sometimes you find it for someone else.

I see this constantly in my own life, not only with my husband, but also in my relationships with others like my sister; always patient, always kind, not jealous or rude or proud. They love me in all my seasons, inspire hope when things feel hopeless and stir up faith. Deeply trusting and authentic relationships built on unconditional love are a beautiful gift. Plus, these are earthly relationships with limits on the amount of time and energy we can offer each other. This leads me to ponder how much more does God want to give us? We may not see answers to every prayer, but I believe we can always experience love. If I am lacking faith, hope or love, I can allow my life-affirming friends to intercede on my behalf to a willing God. I believe God is a good God, so breakthrough will inevitably come and love will be released.

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God’s love never fails and I know this to be true. How do I know this? Because I have spent a lot of time being loved by Him when my hope and faith had faded. So, I say it again, if all else fails, camp out in love; it really is the greatest.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13 (NLT)

 Love Jess xxoo

Into the pit and back again – A story about depression

I sat on the floor in the kitchen in front of a clean dishwasher that needed to be emptied. After angrily telling Tim to “leave me alone”, tears ran down my face and all I wanted to do was pick up all those clean dishes and smash them on the floor. I felt like I had fallen into a dark pit, alone with no way to get out. I rang my sister. When she picked up I sobbed and sobbed into the phone and told her what was going on in my mind.

Before (when I was pregnant)

Amy was my miracle, my long-awaited baby! God was on this and He was with us, it was going to be amazing! I prayed that He would prepare my heart and that I would be a perfect example of His love to my kids. That I would represent Him well and be the physical manifestation of His heart towards my kids. I ‘rejected in Jesus name’ any of the negative stories that I heard about parenthood, because I was doing this with Jesus. Holy Spirit and I…. man we were tight. I knew how to hear His voice so well and I certainly had His joy living inside of me. I felt I had been through enough personal ‘fires’ to be prepared. I had been through a lot, including seasons of loneliness, anxiety (with heart palpitations) and the pain of a miscarriage; I had the tools to get through the tough stuff.

Worship has such a central part of my journey when we were trying to fall pregnant. I would worship God when I was in pain and instantly be lifted up and filled with joy and freedom. I (naively) dreamt that Amy and I would worship for hours and hours together. That the atmosphere in our house would be as it always was, a place of peace and rest, where the presence of God would be so tangible.

Additionally, I was so conscious of the negative impact that parents can have on their kids. Little people’s personalities are developed by the time they are four, so what I did in those early years really mattered. I didn’t want my kids to have to ‘forgive my mother for (insert reason here)’ in a therapy or sozo session years later.

During the first year

During Amy’s first year of life she cried – A. LOT. – and so did I. I clearly remember one Sunday afternoon she cried for 5 hours straight. I did everything and I really do mean everything: Feeding, burping, cuddling, pumping her little legs, leaving her to cry it out (it got worse and worse), every holding position I knew, bathing her, giving her Panadol, walking up and down the house, changing the nappy, praying in tongues, praying with words, singing worship etc. Nothing helped and some of it made it even worse. I had nothing left to give… absolutely nothing. I put her back into her cot, shut all the doors and with tears slowing rolling down my face, I sent out an SMS to a few people and asked them to pray. Amy fell asleep 20 minutes later and I sobbed on the bed. People may say “Amen, yeah she did, those prayers worked.” All I felt was my failure. I had tried everything and I was carrying the Holy Spirit with me. His love never failed, but apparently mine did.

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Church life, which has one been a place of pure joy and freedom, become an isolating experience. Tim was on staff, so we rarely got to be with him during a service and he was unable to help me. I would drive to church and spend most the time in the nursing mothers room or unsupervised crèche. After the service one of my beautiful friends would usually seek me out for a quick hello, but by then Amy was in the ‘feral zone’ so I would dash off not having heard the message, been able to engage in worship or connect with my church community. I would then drive the 30 minutes home with a tired child screaming at the top of her lungs. We would arrive back home both in a mess of tears and totally exhausted.

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I started to become angry and I wasn’t a naturally angry person. I thought things and said things in my head that I never thought would enter my life. I would hear people say how well I was doing or looking etc. and all I could think was “You don’t know the half of it.” I was also constantly told (by people who no longer had young kids) to “Treasure every moment, because it goes so fast.” So, I started stressing about ‘treasuring every moment’ and tried to put my energy into that. Turns out that ‘treasuring EVERY moment’ is hard to do when your little one cries a lot and you are running on empty.

Looking back, I clearly didn’t ask for help as much as I should have, mostly because I believed the lie that I shouldn’t. I prayed for this, I asked for this, this was my new ministry and my responsibility. I also didn’t think people would understand why I was in so much pain and I didn’t know how to articulate what was I was going through. I had also heard it said (unfortunately many times) that when Christians ‘burn out’ it’s because they aren’t getting their strength from God; that it is somehow a reflection of their relationship with Him. They are a failure. The thing was, I was actually inviting Holy Spirit into everyday, I would say it when I woke up and asked Him to help me constantly. I was trying to get my strength from Him, but I wasn’t able to spend time with Him like I used to. Plus, any time I planned a worship session at home, Amy would go ballistic and cry the place down. I was trying so hard to not become self-centered and continued to pour into other people’s lives like I used to. I spent a lot of time praying for and ‘counselling’ other people through their own pains. I wasn’t working after all so ‘I had the time’. I was giving out in excess, while feeling as though I was letting everyone down.

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Just to add to the growing burdens that I was carrying, I knew there were many other people in the world who had it worse than me, which of course made me feel worse about feeling worse. I ‘should be able to do this’ and I ‘really didn’t have anything to complain about’. It was a downward spiral. I didn’t understand that I was burning through my serotonin levels faster than a mentally healthy person. All I knew was that I was somehow ‘failing’. Failing Amy, failing God, failing at this thing called Motherhood. What made it harder was the fact that I had prayed and dreamed about this season for over 3 years. Amy was a miracle, she was a precious gift, but all I wanted to do was be alone so I could cry without her seeing.

I asked God to help me. I asked Him to remove my heaviness, my sadness and my anger and yet… it remained. I meditated on scriptures, stuck them all around the house and yet it remained. I made declarations and proclamations and yet it remained.

The phone call

So, just before Amy’s 1st birthday, I sat on the kitchen floor talking to the safest person I knew – my sister. She listened and loved me so much. Looking back, she represented Jesus to me in that moment; a perfect example of God.

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She met me where I was at and listened to the state of my heart. She loved me completely. She told me to go onto the BeyondBlue website and take their online questionnaire. We chatted for a bit and then she said she’d check back in with me every day for the next few days.

I did the questionnaire and it told me to see my GP ASAP because I was in the danger zone. Two days later, after being told I had post-natal depression, I started my healing process with the help of medication. They say it takes about 2-3 weeks before antidepressants work, but I honestly noticed a difference straight away. For the first time in about a year, I could think clearly.

And so my next journey began. Three years on I have come a long way in some areas, while others require a bit more attention. Honestly, sometimes I don’t feel completely victorious in these things but I chose to believe that I am a great Mother. With the help of Holy Spirit and others around me, I am gradually taking back the ground and replacing the lies and unrealistic expectations with truth and rest. I look back and I’m grateful for how far I’ve come.

After

My family and I were recently talking about whether or not God heals people with serious mental health disorders. The Flatt clan likes to talk about the deeper issues of life, like really talk them out and challenge each other… I seriously love it. This is where I land in any area of healing… Jesus is the standard. What I mean by that is when you look at the life of Jesus he healed EVERYONE that came to him. EVERYONE! So, regardless of my experience, it’s God’s heart and intention that everyone is healed and whole. If I pray for someone and they aren’t healed, I believe God still wants them to be healed. Really Jess? Seriously, read the Gospels, there is not one example where Jesus wasn’t willing or where he said ‘No, healing it not for you. I’m not doing it. It’s not my will for you to be healed.” So where does this leave us?

This leads me once again to the Goodness of God. He is so wonderful, so loving and so aware of our individual journeys that He meets us where we are. I prayed that God would remove my depression, but for whatever reason it didn’t lift. And so, He made a way for me. Does God want to heal depression? Absolutely. Did He miraculously heal mine? No. Wait a minute, does that mean He doesn’t heal depression? No. For me, my experience does not alter the person of God or His good intentions for His children. Jesus is my standard. Where there is a gap, He meets me where I am and continues to help me along my journey to healing.

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If my leg was broken and after being prayed for it was still broken, I wouldn’t pretend it was healed just to prove my faith was strong enough. I would go to a doctor and get that leg fixed. Why struggle through the pain and possibly cause more damage and increase the healing time? I view mental health issues/illnesses in the same light. I will pray and believe for healing in the mental health zone, but if it’s not healed, I’m not going to pretend it is. I will take myself to a doctor and recommend others do the same. There is no point carrying guilt and shame, because you haven’t been miraculously healed. Would you judge someone else for taking a clearly broken leg to a doctor? I seriously hope not 🙂

My own journey

I am not ashamed to share this with you, but I do feel slightly vulnerable. To share my own journey and own perspective is a scary thing to do at times, but we each have our own story and there is power when we share them with each other. I can learn something from you and maybe you can learn something from me.

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I hope you are encouraged by my journey out of the pit, because if you’ve never been there, believe me, it really does feel like a pit. If you are in that pit yourself, you are not alone. Many more people have been there than you realise, in fact 1 in 5 Australian adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness this year. There is hope for us, for you and for me. God has made a way.

Love Jess xxoo

Unforced Rhythms

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message Version)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I recently left Tim at home with the girls so I could attended a local church by myself, but what unfolded was not the spiritual connection I was hoping for. The service was lovely, the atmosphere friendly and the people had beautiful intentions and yet… as the Pastor’s message unfolded I felt like I was witnessing two separate and competing schools of thought. Needless to say I was perplexed by the contradictions I heard during the hour and a half I was there.

The first main train of thought was that all you had to do to be a follower of Jesus was to come to Him. Nothing else. There is nothing else you need to do. The second was that to be a ‘true’ Christian you must attend a local Church. Without local Church fellowship Jesus died for nothing. What the? Do we have to come to church to be classified as a ‘true’ Christian? Does Christian fellowship and spiritual growth only occur within the context of organised religion? When you quote “I will build My Church”, I’m pretty sure God had more in mind than Western Church structures and Sunday meetings.

I desperately wanted to sit with this Pastor and ask questions about what He was saying, but unfortunately large gatherings don’t lend themselves to open discussions. Perhaps he was having an off day and wasn’t articulating what he wanted to say very well? Perhaps I was actually ‘hearing’ something different to what he was saying (I know this happens to preachers a lot)?

In the past I might have agreed with most of the things this passionate preacher was saying, but those days are looooooooong gone. I am living in the ‘unforced’ zone these days, refusing to march to someone else’s expectations (or my perceived expectations) of what ‘being connected’ means. I am continuing to learn the unforced rhythms of grace within a transparent and loving community… and sometimes we even go to Church 😉

I LOVE doing life with my family and close friends. Many of them challenge and encourage me to think outside the box. They aren’t afraid to highlight lies I’m believing and through open and honest chats we discover more about our King called Jesus. It is not heavy or ill-fitting. Tim and I will chat for hours and hours about the character of God – podcasts or sermons we have listened to, books we’ve read, scriptures we have encountered and other conversations we’ve had. It is exciting and we treasure it. It is a delightful season of growth and even though it is stretching and challenging, it is also free and light because it is unforced. It is like listening to a heart beat. It is like a bird flying effortlessly in the sky. It is the rhythm of grace.

Love Jess xxoo

A little light

I haven’t posted in a while – I have written, but not posted. For some reason I feel as though this one might make it, but we will see.

An older friend recently commented that she thought the world was going down the toilet. I understand given recent global events, but if you look back through history, tragedy, war, slavery and the love of money and self are nothing new.

Knowing this does not make me indifferent by any count. I read stories about sex trafficking, see pictures of war and starvation on the TV, witness friends lives blindsided by the death of a family member, the ache of infertility, depression, sickness and so on. It can be crippling and leave your heart aching.

“Well Jess, this is all rather depressing”, I hear you thinking. The realities of life can be at times, but there is good news as well. I also read stories of great courage, see pictures of aid organisations helping others on the TV and I witness friends pick up the pieces of their lives and move slowly towards healing. It is encouraging and can leave your heart full of hope.

The sweetest thing I’ve ever heard
Is I don’t have to have the answers
Just a little light to call my own
– Sleeping at last

And here is my little light, it is the best news… it is beyond good, I can hardly describe it:

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Obviously I don’t have the answers and I don’t pretend to, but this prophecy by Zachariah (about Jesus) recorded in Luke 1, fills my heart with joy. According to this ancient text Jesus has already visited us and He is available to guide us to the path of peace amongst unrest. So, I ask Him today to show me how to bring peace and find peace in my day and in the world I live in.

If you need Morning Light from Heaven (as I daily do), He is here. He is with you. He is for you. He will guide you.

I picture it a little like this:

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Love Jess

PS – Life is a rather grand adventure isn’t it? There is so much to learn about and so many different ways to ‘grow’ as a person. You may not hear from me as much as you used to because there are things that I am learning that are only meant for me. We shall see what happens as the adventure continues to unfold.

 

 

God, where were you?

In early 2010 I lay on the gurney alone in the halls of the hospital. I remember being left by myself as tears streamed down my face along with the crushing revelation that the baby we had hoped for was no more. They had not allowed Tim to come with me for the scan and I felt so sick that He didn’t know and I would have to tell him. I felt completely and utterly alone. 

Amy has had two seizures in two and a-half-weeks. It has happened to her before when we were overseas, so it wasn’t so shocking for us this time round, but it’s still not very nice. A virus enters her little system and her temperature can spike up to over 41C (106F) . If you’ve never seen someone have a seizure it is can be frightening and when it’s someone little it’s even worse to witness. We know in Amy’s situation that it is ok and it’s not uncommon for kids to have febrile convulsions.

The problem is, that as parents you can tend to worry more after the event has taken place. Visions of Amy’s body convulsing can haunt you when you least expect it. Unhealthy imaginings of when it will happen next and what will transpire do not help you sleep in the wee hours of the morning.

In recent years when Tim and I have faced difficult situations and not had peace, we will undoubtedly ask Holy Spirit to show us where He was when the event was taking place. For example, I asked Holy Spirit where He was when Amy was having her seizure. He showed me that as I had my hand on her forehead, He had His hand on my shoulder and at the same time, He was holding Amy.

*sigh*

Peace like a river. Fear, time to move along.

Years later, in a moment of beautiful Worship with Daddy God, Tim had a picture of me laying alone in hospital and he saw the word ‘abandonment’ written over my head. He felt God wanted to show me where He was when I was facing my darkest moment.

I want to encourage you, if you have been through a negative or traumatic life event, it’s important to ask Holy Spirit to show you where He was. If you see anything other than a loving, caring response, you need to go read about the life of Jesus. He was moved by compassion for people in all sorts of situations and He is a direct representation to us of what Father God is like. Asking God to answer this question can really start the healing process if you’re carrying trauma.

As soon as Tim explained what He saw, I knew what He was talking about. I knew that God was good, but somehow the feeling that I was alone had snuck in to my thought-life, so I asked Holy Spirit to show me where He was. And being so wonderful, He showed me. He was holding me so very close, arms wrapped around me, understanding all my pain and loving me so completely. The secret fears that I held started to fade and another level of healing started taking place.

Sometimes, it’s only when we ask this question do we realise He was there all along. Don’t wait years to ask it, don’t let the little moments go by without questioning those fears. Say it with me… God, where were you? Can you hear Him answer… I was right there.

His truth sets us free.

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Love Jess xxoo