Friendship, community and serving

“Friends voluntarily tie their hearts to one another.”

This beautiful quote from Tim Keller’s The Way of Wisdom reminded me just how important it is to invest in the people around me.

One of my goals for this year was to find ways to serve others. That doesn’t mean signing up for a rota or doing a few random good deeds. It means an intentional* shift in the way I think, the way I interact and the way I look around me. It means going out of my way to be there for my friends. It means sacrificing my time if needed so that others come first. It means making it a priority to check in with my friends; to find thoughtful actions or ways to make sure they know they are loved.

And it extends beyond my friends. Serving others is hugely rewarding, even when you don’t know them well. It is a privilege. The number of times in the last few weeks, people have served our new little family and when I’ve tried to express my huge gratitude, they’ve responded: ‘Are you kidding me?! It’s a privilege to be trusted and brought into your family.’

That mindset – that others can get deep and genuine joy from serving others and even consider it an honour, no matter how much of a stranger – still staggers me but I want to cultivate it. By serving others, we are serving the Lord; Jesus said when you serve others, you serve me (Matthew 25:35-40). Serving the Lord is what we were created to do, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it brings us joy!

As a start, I’ll try to check in on my friends more regularly, send more snail mail, try to say ‘yes’ more often and invite people round for a good meal that inspires community. From there, we’ll see how it goes!

Shabbat shalom.

 

*Apologies for the cringe-worthy Christianese but I felt it was appropriate here…
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Joy

With a new baby, joy has been something heavily on my mind. It is an expected emotion when a tiny human is born and an anticipated aid to help you get through the difficult early days. But joy was not found in my earliest days with our little one and, alongside exploring what that means in terms of emotional health and wellbeing, I’ve also looked at what that means from a Biblical perspective.

“The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Proverbs 18:14

Having a joyful spirit is imperative when it comes to tackling the ups and downs of life. Without it, everything becomes crushingly overwhelming. I love the phrase Timothy Keller uses in ‘The Way of Wisdom‘ – ‘I need both a mind convinced by solid arguments and an imagination fired with the beauty of your character and story.’ This is how we pursue joy.

Finding time to read my Bible has been neither a priority nor, seemingly, a possibility, with a newborn, but without that spiritual input, my joy has only been lower. On my lowest days, my husband prayed with me often and encouraged me to be thankful for the small (‘baby steps’ if you please…) accomplishments in the day – from physical healing, getting laundry on or simply keeping our baby alive.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

It’s no coincidence that a central part of CBT and other talking therapies is training your mind to see the good in your day and being thankful. It’s right there in Paul’s letter. Recognising the beginning of a descent, catching it and acknowledging good things in the day, is a powerful tool. When I couldn’t see improvement, joy or anything to be thankful for, my discerning, patient husband would gently point out a few things and help me to see them clearly.

Proverbs is filled with acknowledgements that laughter may still have an aching heart and that grief and rejoicing are closely intertwined (14:13) – simple acknowledgements that no life is perfect or void of sadness, loneliness and confusion. Yet despite all of that, there can be joy and peace alongside the difficult emotions, when we remember the character of Yahweh and keep him at the centre through prayer, reading his word and giving thanks.

 

Why I love the American lifestyle

…as told through my rose-tinted glasses.

Ask me when I have been at my happiest and I will tell you, when I’ve been in America. Recently I’ve been trying to figure out why that is.

Standard American workplaces get c.10 days of holiday a year. We get around 25.

Until Obamacare kicks off properly, Americans have to pay for their health insurance. We have the NHS.

Americans have a work ethic that is fierce compared with the European work-life balance.

So what is it?

I think, for me, it’s that people and family always trump money. The generosity of spirit across all of the Americans I have met has been overwhelming. Their hospitality is genuine and all-encompassing and ultimately, certainly for the Americans I know, real life and real relationship take precedence over whatever demands this world makes.

I realise that my perspective is warped and that Americans as a nation are pursuing a Western dream and are often completely oblivious to the rest of the world. But even in their naivety they prioritise family and people.

I’m not sure how I, as an introvert, would truly survive state-side but I’d like to think that I’d embrace a work hard, play hard lifestyle, frequently interspersed with alone-time of course!

Grandparents – a legacy

The role of a grandmother brings with it a legacy to pass on to the women who follow.

The grandfather leads by example in life skills, in faith and in strength. The grandmother nurtures, she teaches how to listen, to be gentle, humble and gracious and to be a woman filled with faith. The grandfather takes on responsibility for the wellbeing of his family, for making decisions and for ensuring that he walks alongside his family, not dragging them behind. He invests his very soul into praying for every individual member of the generations who follow and encourages his wife to do the same. The grandmother is wise, she guides through her intuition and leads her husband in a way that does not intrude on who he is. She prays with all her might, inspires and gently encourages all whom she meets.

Both, together, serve one another and take delight in discipling their children and grandchildren. As a team they walk as one and as old age takes hold of them both they continue to put the other’s needs first – enticing a smile or a laugh and making sure the other’s heart is content so that they can be a shining light to others.

In all of these things, my grandparents were the lifeblood of our family. They fulfilled their roles in their very beings because at their core they had faith. Their every breath was an inspiration and now that they are both at home with the Lord, I miss them greatly. I am determined with all of my might to continue the legacy they gave us.

That’s Christmas to Me

PeaceOnEarth_chippedpaint

One of my favourite music groups, Pentatonix, have just released their new seasonal album ‘That’s Christmas to Me‘. The title track tells of all the things that make Christmas special for them from stockings to snow angels to kissing under the mistletoe.

For me, Christmas is all about family and children and I can’t wait until I have kids of my own to delight in Christmas with and to share the Good News of the Christmas story with. In the meantime, there are many things that spark that ‘Christmassy feeling’ in me. Last year, I didn’t get a chance to do all of these things, so sensible and future-thinking me sent an email to myself with reminders for Christmas 2014. These are a few of those suggestions with a few more that I’ve realised in recent weeks.

Shop on the High Street. Doing all of my Christmas shopping online may be hassle-free but it takes away two crucial parts of Christmas to me: 1) Being outside and 2) seeing joy on other people’s faces as they bask in the spirit of the season. I’m not saying I won’t do any of my gift shopping online, but I want to support my local stores and embrace Christmas, rather than try to hide from its bustle and in-so-doing, hide from the noise, energy and warmth that gives it such exhuberant joy.

Be with people. I am an introvert. Such an introvert. As much as I dearly love my friends, spending time with large groups of people exhausts me. Yet Christmas gives me the perfect excuse to see lots of people who don’t exhaust me. Those closest to me, those who have really lived life with me, energise me, light me up and make me feel full and content. Christmas is about the people I love and I mustn’t forget that sometimes, even for an introvert, there are certain people who make you feel loved and warm in return.

Light candles. The flickering of the flames and the scent of my favourite red berry candles is perfectly Christmas to me. They dance and make the room cosy and alive at the same time. Add in a log fire and I’m in Christmas heaven.

Christmas crafts. Every year I try to make something new – be that a tree ornament or a table decoration – anything that I can make using fir cones, dried oranges, star anise, cinnamon sticks and ribbon makes my heart sing. Baking Christmas biscuits also rates pretty highly – especially if they are full of Christmas spices. The senses are powerful triggers of emotion and Christmas smells, sights, sounds and tastes, can combine to create an indescribable experience of contentment and peace.

Read the Christmas story in German and listen to German Christmas carols. I once said to my Oma that my favourite Christmas was a German Christmas. It’s what I grew up with, it’s a huge part of my heritage and it’s something that soothes my soul. My Opa always read the Christmas story to us on Heiligen Abend and hearing that story in German somehow connects me to the truth and meaning of the story more so than the English translation. The familiar German lilt brings it to life for me and the same goes for Christmas carols. There’s something about Stille Nacht that resonates so much more with me than Silent Night.

The crucial part to all of this is that it is Christmas to me. I also watch Christmas movies, decorate, go to carol services and have an advent calendar but the things I’ve written about are the things that stir my heart and my spirit the most and remind me that it really is possible for Shalom to overcome the bad in this world, even if just for a season.

What is Christmas to you?

Those days are gone

I have just booked a whistle-stop journey to see my Oma in Germany for her 90th birthday. I’ll catch the first flight out in the morning and the last one back in the evening. I won’t have time to visit her home, just the place she now resides in – a home.

The days of us visiting our grandparents, splashing in the pool in the back garden of the home they built themselves, lounging in the sun, playing games with them, eating cake and learning about life from them, are now gone and it is only in this past year, since my Opa died, that I’m finally beginning to realise that.

I am so unbelievably blessed that I have had two grandparents who could not have been better role models for me. Every fibre in their being was love and faith. They exuded wisdom, they laughed from their heart and they demonstrated the kind of devotion to one another and to God that is so hard to emulate.

Dementia now has much of the mind of my Oma, but her heart is still the same. She misses her partner of over 60 years but she is still wise, she still has faith and she still loves with every ounce she has left.

But those carefree days of my childhood with them truly are gone and that makes me sad. I wouldn’t say I didn’t make the most of them because for most of that time I was too young to know the blessing I had, but they made sure that they cherished their time with me and my sister and in doing so, they gave me memories that can never be taken from me.

I am one fortunate girl to have those memories and, though I’m sad to comprehend that they will never be experienced again, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to experience them at all. I will continue to make new, albeit different, memories with my Oma for as long as I get to keep her on this earth. She is one very precious lady.