I could never have imagined I would do something so silly in front of my new (non-believing) friends…

In February 2019 my family and I moved to the Illawarra region in NSW, Australia. It was meant to be a very temporary stay as we prepared to move where my husband’s work was to take him next.  However, due to the virus, we are still here. I could never have imagined I would live here for so long! I suppose, around the world as we navigate this Coronavirus, millions of people are experiencing similar sentiment: “I could never have imagined…!” 

I must confess: I did not like this town before living here.  As a child I spent many Sundays here visiting my grandparents in their small apartment across the road from the beach. The weather was always a bother. It was either awfully windy, the kind of wind that causes the sand to ‘bite’ your legs, or it was pouring with rain. In summer the tidal surf, made worse by the wind, was  dangerous, so swimming even on a very hot day was unpleasant. I did not romanticize the area at all so the idea of staying here long-term didn’t excite me. But, as it turns out, God knew better. I can see that God brought us here with intention and purpose and it has been one of the most rewarding (and confronting) times of my life. It’s the friendliest town I’ve ever lived in and as a result I’ve made more new friends than I ever thought possible. And once I came to accept the wind as it’s own character, I have come to see the certain charm and true beauty to the place. 

Regrettably, If I had known that I was to be here for over a year, maybe even two, I would have put more effort into making friends during those first weeks and months but then I don’t really think it would have mattered: people here are so nice!  Also, with the town being a little over one hour train ride from Sydney, there’s a steady flow of new families into the area eager to make new friends. I now have a local circle of friends and acquaintances far greater than I ever could have imagined. It’s going to make it tough to leave!  Eighteen months ago I did not realize that God would reveal his promise in Romans 8:28 to me so succinctly:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” 

The more I read the Bible the more I learn that God is all-caring and loving. He knows what we need (even when we don’t) and he plans how to meet that need.  (Some examples of God doing this can be found in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, David, Esther, Mary, Peter and Paul.) Before moving here I was not aware that I lacked connection with people and that I needed to make new friends and work on my social skills. I had forgotten that I used to be more of a people person (Having four children close together in a foreign country (USA) can be isolating). But God knew! Psalm 138:8 says: ‘The Lord will work out his plans for my life’. As God makes his plan work out in our lives, He often reveals ideas, beliefs, pain, fear, or worry that may be hindering our character from becoming more Christ-like. For me, God has cleverly used my new friendships to reveal the fear and discomfort I have about revealing and discussing my faith in the most embarrassing way. 

“That’s my son. His name is Isaiah. But we’re not religious at all. In fact we’re atheists”, is what Isaiah’s father said to me when our children happened to play together at the beach. His atheist beliefs didn’t surprise or shock me but the manner in which he made his statement did. It was said in such a matter-of-fact way I wasn’t sure what my reaction should be. Mostly, there’s either a hesitance or confrontational sound in people’s voices when they mention religion but Isaiah’s Dad said it in the exact same way he discusses the weather (and I know this, for my family has now spent much time with his).  I was taken aback because he had no emotional connection to what he said. I however, felt so thrown about his unexpected admission, I was rendered silent. I said not a word.

Recently, I have come to think what a strange statement it was to make for unless a person knows there is an Isaiah in the Bible, the name wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Either this man had some association with Christianity in his earlier life or he has met with braver christians than I whom have questioned his faith connection when they hear his child’s name? I’m going to guess it is the latter. I’m also going to guess that Isaiah’s Dad does not want to be associated with religion and that he has made this simple matter-of-fact statement many times before because he has not yet come across a Christian who questions him on it. He is trusting, and assuming, that most people around his age are faithless. 

Isaiah’s Dad is not the only person in this town to have woven into generalized, and unrelated, playground chit-chat their atheist and agnostic beliefs. Every time it is brought up, I note my reaction: their confession makes me nervous! I find myself nodding along, smiling politely, and doing everything I can to disarm myself from any potential conflict and conversation. I don’t want them to talk about their lack of faith because I don’t want to talk about my growing faith! I feel myself become anxious because I am very aware that I don’t want to say or do anything that might offend them. Yet, here they are, brazen in their speech with the assumption that I must agree with them, because in their mind there’s no way that I could be one of those ‘silly brainwashed people’ who could believe in such a thing as God, particularly the Christian God.  In such circumstances, I do the one thing I want to do: I change the subject. 

Would it surprise you to know that these ready-to-confess atheists and agnostics make up the majority of my new friends? If this is a trend or just the way the western world is going, I’m not sure. However, Jesus does wonder if he will find the faith at all on earth when he returns (Luke 18:8).  

Are you familiar with the verse in Mark 8:38 that says:  “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man (Jesus) will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels”? I am. I’ve known the verse for quite some time and still, I hide my faith. 

You might be very kind and wish to come to my defense in thinking that changing the subject is not a shameful act! Surely, you might say, isn’t it better and wiser NOT to challenge the atheist beliefs of those people we spend occasional time with THAN appear like a bully Bible basher -someone who forces the beliefs of the Bible on someone else?  Don’t Bible bashers only confirm the suspicions and prejudices non-believers have about us, thereby making the salvation of the unbeliever more difficult? Isn’t it better to show our faith by the way we live than what we say? Jesus did say that ‘it is by their fruits that you shall know them” (Matt 7:20) and if that’s true, why not stay silent when someone brings up the subject of faith, particularly when my the answer might make me look bad…or dare I say it, dumb?

It is absolutely true that we should act out our faith and that our lives should reflect the very character of Jesus so that we can be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ and serve as example to our non-believing neighbour. God created us to be set apart from the world (LEV 20:24) so that we live as witnesses to God’s truth and goodness.  But what about those times it feels inconvenient or embarrassing to live set apart What about when it’s just easier and less controversial to just go with the crowd? What if keeping silent, or ‘hiding our light’ (Luke 11:33) means that people will like me more, that I will fit in? Surely that’s ok? God doesn’t want me to be lonely, right? What if I just fit in now and then pray about it later? It’s too hard, too awkward, too embarrassing to talk about God in front of my friends! None of them agree with me anyway, and what if they don’t like me as a Christian? 

I confessed at the beginning of this blog that I didn’t like the town I was to live in, so let me confess something really embarrassing now: I cringe at the thought of my new friends seeing evidence of my faith. It’s one thing to say I’m a christian, it’s another thing to have evidence of how seriously I take my belief. The simple acts I’ve done speak deeply about who I am:  I’ve hidden my Bible and other books about Christianity when non-believers have come to the house, I’m always embarrassed by the cross hanging on the wall that is visible from the front door, and I’ve shut the door so that anyone passing by the house won’t hear the Hillsong worship songs I’m playing.  It’s a real effort I have made to hide evidence from my new non-reliving friends? Is this an act that ultimately shows I am ashamed of Christ? Yes. Absolutely. He knows my heart. He knows exactly what it is. The reality is, and what God has shown me, is that I’ve been keeping my faith secret my entire adult life.  Thankfully Mark 8:38 serves as a warning to me. 

There is irony here too, it’s not all bad and embarrassing. Though I make effort to hide the little light I have and cower at the prospect of entering into a faith discussion with my friends, this has also been a time of such growth of faith and knowledge. I could never have imagined that I would read and love God’s word so voraciously. I could never have imagined that the scriptures would begin to make so much sense.  I could never have imagined that with my Christian friends I now speak about God, His Holy Spirit and His Son so openly with passion and conviction. I could never have imagined the swelling of my spirit within. And, I could never have imagined that I would dare to blog about any of this before either! So, what’s up? How can someone be such a contradiction? 

This week I read John chapter 7 and  God in his eternal wisdom, opened my eyes to verses 12-13:  “There was a lot of grumbling about him (Jesus) among the crowds. Some argued, “He’s a good man,” but others said, “He’s nothing but a fraud who deceives the people.” But no one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble…

There’s nothing new about the controversy of faith! Jesus is as controversial now as he was then! There’s always been people who openly dis-believe and there’s always been people who hide their belief in fear! Jesus said himself that he did not come to bring peace, he came to cause division, to ‘render judgement – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’ (John 9:36) Must admit, it is a relief to know that I am not the only one but it is also terrifying to think of how many people stay silent when they know the truth. 

Another example of being to afraid to show faith is in John 9. Verses 20 -24 describe the actions of parents who are brought into the synagogue to confirm that their son whom Jesus had miraculously given sight to, was actually born blind.  They are able to confirm this but when asked how his eyesight was suddenly made possible, they defer the answer to their son because they are too afraid to say what they know and believe. “Ask him” they say “He is old enough to answer to speak for himself.” The Bible is very clear in the explanation as to why they do this in verse 22: “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue” 

It’s apparent then, that since the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth right up to now people have been afraid to speak their faith…for fear of consequences. 

This I now know to be very true of myself. Though I am delighting myself in the scriptures, relishing reading His Word, and honored to feel His presence in my life, I am deeply afraid of being ‘the christian’ to my new friends. What Christian means to my friends is another discussion but for the purposes of today’s blog, let’s just take it as it is; a person who believes in Christ.

To clarify my fear a little more: I’m not ashamed of my faith and I’m certainly not ashamed of Jesus, his message, miracles, life and resurrection, I’m embarrassed to be known as Christian first because I am in fact, afraid of the questions my new friends may have. I’m afraid of how I am going to act, what I am going to say. I’m afraid of the conversation because deep down, I am afraid of what God is going to say through me. I don’t mean that I will get all preachy or rain down fire on them, not at all;  God always wants us to responds to people in love.  But I think that in his strength and light and, as my weaknesses and failings are made known to me, I am more aware of the importance and relevance of his message.

There’s another thing I think I might be afraid of: to speak is to become the person God wants me to be and I’m not sure I’m ready yet! There’s so much I don’t know. Surely, it’s better for me to be well prepared and equipped with knowledge and experience before I tackle the topic of God and faith with anyone, right? Wrong! Absolutely wrong. 

I am ready now. You are ready now. For the Word of God in Luke 21:15 says not to worry: “I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!” 

That’s the NLT translation. Here it is in other interpretations just so there is no misunderstanding:  The NIV: “for I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict”.  Now the ESV: “for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my confession, embarrassing as it is. I know that what I have to do is simple: stop hiding!  Leave my Bible out to be seen,  keep the doors open when I play Hillsong Worship and then pray without ceasing when, if ever, one of my new friends asks me about what I’m reading (currently Knowing God by J.I Packer). For most certainly, God will answer their questions through me, without fear and with much love.  Jesus did say in Matt 9:37 that “the harvest is great but the workers are few.”

My prayer for you, for me, is that when the time comes, we are counted among the workers.  

If you have something similar to share, please do so at the bottom of this page in the comments section. Thank you!

Anyone else feeling tired and overwhelmed? They say it’s ‘quarantine fatigue’ but I’m not so sure…

Is it just me, or have you been feeling fatigued and weighed down by the worries of the world? Are you experiencing days when you wake up and wish that it were already time for bed? Does it feel near impossible to focus on a simple task for work? Are you not able to motivate yourself, let alone all the people that rely on you at work or at home? Or, perhaps even more frustrating, can you not do your job because the person you rely on, simply doesn’t have the energy or direction to do theirs? If only it were already 2021, right? 

Do a quick internet search on ‘quarantine fatigue’ and you will see article upon article discussing our collective feeling of tiredness and how best to beat it. The sheer number of articles, linked articles, nested articles, blogs, tweets etc. on the topic is fatiguing to think of. This tiredness, it’s too much. Coronavirus is too much. Everything feels like too much. ‘God how long can this go on? Can’t you see it’s crippling me, crippling everyone?’ 

Having experienced the physical fatigue that often accompanies Covid-19, the kind of tiredness that keeps you in bed all day as the body aches and the headache feels like it’s teetering on the edge of explosion, what I feel now is something very different. I wonder if what I am feeling is not ‘quarantine fatigue’ but grief. 

Grief, as defined by my Apple Pages writing software, is ‘deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.’  To define it further: sorrow is ‘a feeling of deep distress caused by a loss, disappointment or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others, and distress is ‘extreme anxiety or pain’.  I do not doubt that I, and much of the globe’s population, as we watch our nations, families, and friends lose loved ones and face unemployment, social unrest and upheaval, we are living through a prolonged period of grief…and, until that elusive vaccine, there is no end in sight. Could the entire world be living through a period of grief? 

For me, my tipping point was the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Police Officer in the United States and the subsequent protests, violence and looting. Then seeing businesses burning that I would frequent in Los Angeles up in flames; it broke me. For I saw the deep scars, pain, hurt, anger, despair, rage, and grief of an entire community of people ripped open and laid bare. The truth can not be denied: we are a broken people living in a broken world. And Coronavirus, our unseen enemy, makes ground every day. Our cries for justice, our grief, is surely heard throughout the universe. For we are ‘exhausted and completely crushed. (our) groans come from an anguished heart. (Psalm 38:8) 

Until today, I have not been able to bring myself to blog. And even now, I still don’t know what to say. I am as lost for words as I am in thought. I have no answers. No solutions. I am but a small voice in an increasingly loud world. What, if anything, could I blog about that might encourage you? That might bring you peace? That might inspire you to read God’s word? That might be an answer, or insight, into an unspoken question you have? How could I possibly think that I could be a little of a light to you when the world that we knew crumbles beneath our feet and nothing seems to make sense? I have been overwhelmed with sadness, with confusion, with grief. It’s not just because of injustice, it’s everything. And I’m going to guess that you feel it too. 

I did make a few attempts to blog. I have been reading about King David and King Saul. I finished the books of Matthew, Mark, Judges, and Joshua, as well as reading most of the Book of Psalms. There’s a lot of topics I could have chosen to blog about but nothing felt appropriate. Personally, I was encouraged by David’s years in the wilderness and, as it touched on a previous post of mine (Is it just me or does isolation feel like a wilderness?), I could have easily written something about it – Specifically that David spent about a decade in the wilderness running for his life even after God (and Samuel the Prophet) had anointed him as the next King of Israel – talk about a long time waiting for an answer to prayer! I found many Psalms of David to be relevant and encouraging (honestly, given his struggles and persecution, his songs and poetry are extraordinary), but I still couldn’t bring myself to write.  

So why today? Why is today so different? Well, I think it’s because I am finally able to recognize, to define, what it is that we are all going through. It’s not fatigue, it’s grief. We’re grieving loss that our generation has not known before. Lost jobs, lost health, lost lives, lost childhood, lost economy, lost connections with family and friends, lost education, lost birthdays, lost weddings, lost funerals, lost church, lost entertainment, lost travel, lost opportunities, and lost freedoms. We’ve also managed to lose faith in the democracies and nations of the world we live in. Nothing is certain. All is unknown. Together we cry out for God’s help and together we can weep and mourn for ‘Morning, noon and night (we) cry out in our distress and the Lord hears (our) voice.’ (Psalm 55:17.) 

So, I’ve cut myself some slack for not being able to blog. For, in periods of grieving, it is better not to say anything and just listen.

Listen and pray. 

Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am ovewhelmed by my troubles.’ (Psalm 55:1-2)

Pray for our world leaders. Pray for God’s presence to be found and known. Pray for revival. Pray for God’s will to be done here as it is in heaven. Pray for healing. Pray for peace. Pray for the families of those who have lost love ones. Pray for those who are sick. Pray for a vaccine….the list goes on. 

God is listening. He is waiting for us to seek him. He wants us to trust him. He desires for us to be in relationship with him so that, and because of, ‘God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace’. (Luke 1:78-79.) 

Is it just me or does isolation feel like a wilderness?

I wanted to start this blog off with a brief look at The Lords Prayer (what a better way to start, right?) however, I feel that Exodus 16 is just as good a place as any.  

Give us today our Daily Bread

Just four weeks after God rescues the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by a series of miracles, including separating the waters of the Red Sea so that they could walk through on dry land, the Israelites are disturbed to find themselves in the wilderness. They don’t like their situation at all and complain to Moses and Aaron about it (Moses being the guy who God appointed to lead them out of Egypt, and Aaron his right hand man). In their opinion it would have been better for God to have killed them in Egypt than be out here in the wilderness. There in Egypt, they had pantries full of food and could eat all the meat and bread they wanted. Here, they are in fear of starvation: ‘How could Moses (and ultimately God) do this to us!’ (Exodus 16:3)

Hearing the people’s complaints against him, God tells moses that he will rain food down from heaven. He says that in the evening they will have meat to eat and in the morning they will have all the bread they want. In doing this God’s intention is clearly stated, ‘Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’ 

Exodus 16:13-14 says ‘that evening vast numbers of quail covered the camp’ (the meat) and the next morning an edible flaky substance as fine as frost covered the ground. The Israelites called this Manna (literally meaning ‘what is this?). It tasted like honey wafers and they were able to bake with it.  In the middle of nowhere, in times unprecedented to them, as they wandered and wondered what all of this could mean, God provided for them. 

I find it remarkable that even though they had just witnessed (and forgotten) God’s miracles in their escape from Egypt, and had been reassured that he had heard their cries of oppression as he remembered his Covenant promise to their forefather Abraham (another story that sets in motion how God sets apart the Israelites to be his people), the Israelites still needed a daily reminder that He remains their God. Daily, they failed to trust him and daily, he reminded them of his power and grace. By taking them into the wilderness he saved their lives and there he waited and watched for them to grow in trust toward him. He didn’t want them to to just enter the promised land and then forget about him (like he knew they would). He wanted their hearts and minds set on him, no matter the frightening wasteland they found themselves in.

In answering their complaints, God’s grace and compassion towards them meant that every morning the Israelites woke up to an encounter with God. He was there. The Manna on the ground wasn’t just food, it was a daily reminder, a daily encounter, a daily miracle so they would know that he is their God and He is with them always. Should we then, expect that as we pray for our Daily Bread, that we should be expecting an encounter with God? Yes! I wonder, is that what Jesus meant in The Lords Prayer, that we pray for God to show himself to us every day, that he in fact is the Daily Bread? Of course Jesus said something that strongly hints to this, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4 – and Jesus got this from Deuteronomy 8:3) 

I don’t know what you personally are going through. I do not know what lies ahead of you, what lies ahead of all us. But I do know and believe this: God is in this moment. He is here and he promises to meet the needs of all those who trust in him.  And in this moment, He wants to show himself to you, to reveal more of his love for you. In calling you to trust him during the darkest time our generation is yet to know, he desires for you to feel peace and to be hopeful.  In providing daily for us, and as we encounter him and his great works daily, he wants us to not be afraid, to not worry but to give thanks for what has has already done, and what he will do for us. Then, when we can do that, we can be the light of hope for our families and communities. #bethelight

Coronavirus inspired me to read The Bible (and to make this blog).

In March 2020 the novel virus, Coronavirus Sers Covid-19, changed the world. Countries around the world closed their borders, stopped working, and sent their people into isolation to deter the spread of the potentially deadly virus. As the virus took hold, thousands of people lost their lives and hundreds and thousands more were sick. Economies were at a standstill. 

On March 16 my husband, John, returned to Australia from a five day trip to Los Angeles.  That day, any arriving passenger from overseas was ordered to remain at home in quarantine for two weeks. Arriving home, John coughed a little and felt rundown. Four days later I had a headache. John was declared Covid-19 positive on the 23rd of March. My results came back positive on the 28th. Rough days. 

I began writing this blog, my Counter Covid-19 attempt to Be the Light to a worried and isolated at the beginning of March when the news of virus was spreading faster than the virus itself (at least in Australia). I managed to write four posts before I no longer felt well enough to read or write.  It was a long sickness and it has been a long recovery process. I had a slight cough that I could not shake. Finally on the 4th April both the Public Health department and NSW Health declared me officially recovered. I’m a Covid survivor. I had no previous illness or concerns and this virus knocked me flat. It was the sickest I have ever been in my life. I did not go to hospital. I suppose I am one of the lucky ones. John was sick too but in some ways I was worse. Now however, I seem to be more recovered than he, meaning I can run a little without having to catch my breath. He will need to work up to this. 

No doubt, these are extraordinary days. We are all living through an unprecedented moment in modern history. Our daily lives are greatly affected as we all wait in isolation distanced from our family and friends. ‘Social distancing’, effective from spreading the virus, does seed suspicion of every person encountered in a grocery store or on the footpath. This suspicion, ‘Does that person have the virus’ , breeds mistrust in our families, friendship and communities yet as a population we are being asked to place unquestioned faith and trust in our leaders, police and governments.  Freely and readily freedoms were given up as people stopped working and going about their daily lives in the hope that someone one day will come up with a vaccine so that life can ‘go back to normal’. As a people we trust that those freedoms will be returned to us. All around the world people wait for a better tomorrow.

Believing in God’s word, God’s story, as the beginning and end of everything, I wonder what is He wanting us to learn at this time? What lessons, what grace, what blessing, what change, what warning is there for us in this moment? What, if we wanted to listen, would he be whispering to us in this new found quietness we find ourselves in? For surely, in between our zoom sessions and Netflix binges, it is quiet. ‘Be still’, He once said. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. (Psalm 46:10)

So that’s what I am going to attempt to do. I am going to read my Bible and see that if, in these times, God does speak to me (and you) through it. I confess, I’ve read a lot of the Bible already and most of it hasn’t made much sense or given impetus for further thought but that was then, this is now. I am much more interested. Things change. Life obviously changes. But what I am pretty sure doesn’t change is the Bible, or the character of God. He remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and He promises that while the ‘earth remains there will be planting and harvest, cold and night, summer and winter, day and night’. (Genesis 8:22)

This time will end. There will be an end to our isolation. There will be a day to get back to work. This coronavirus disaster will one day be a time to remember. What then, will you remember it for? There are opportunities here for this to be a time of generosity, love, compassion and learning. There are opportunities here to sow seeds that produce marvelous fruits of the spirit. There are opportunities here to look for God and for Him to be found by you. There are opportunities here for you to trust and grow in faith. God promises good things to those who love and follow him. There are opportunities here to change your life and the lives of those you love for the better. What will you do? Who will you become? Will this be a time of growth or a time of lament. The choice is yours. As always, the choice is yours. As for me and my family, we choose to serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Please know that I am not a theologian, rather just someone thinking through the Bible and please afford some grace to my writing. I confess I struggle to share my thoughts in writing, I err and um and ah over every written word. I have very little confidence in my ability to clearly express myself however, as these are extraordinary times, I will attempt to explain my Bible studies in the hope that someone, just one person even, will be encouraged by it.