If you’re ready to quit, read this …

There’s a plant in our house which, until last year, lived in my daughter’s bedroom. It was looking a bit sad and neglected so some time last year she moved it to the dining room where everyone could be responsible for remembering to water it. Earlier this year,  I noticed “everyone” actually meant “no-one” and the poor thing was dead.

Never one to admit defeat, I moved the plant to the window sill in the kitchen. My record with house plants is fairly terrible but I decided that at least if it was in the kitchen, it was so close to the tap, it at least had a chance.

Every few days, off and on, whenever I happened to think of it, I watered this dead plant. It looked terrible. It’s leaves were brown and falling off. I didn’t hold out much hope for it and when I looked at it last week, it appeared to be little more than decayed, dried up mud. After feeling guilty for forgetting to water it (again!) I gave it more water and thought no more about it.

Until last night when I watered it again and, to my utter astonishment, I saw it had grown baby leaves …

To say I was delighted would be an understatement!

You can’t easily tell from the photo but these little shoots are tiny, the biggest ones are smaller than the fingernail on my little finger, they’re really cute.

And yes, I was happy for the plant but more than that, they’re new life, evidence that, despite appearances, things are never as over as they might appear to be.

If this plant could speak, it would probably complain about what’s happened to it. “Look what you did to all my luscious leaves. What has become of me?!? I’m ruined!”

And yes, compared to eighteen months ago, that conclusion would be correct. Compared to what it was back then, it’s nothing but compared to what it was two weeks ago, it’s a miracle!

Logically, that dead looking plant should have been thrown away weeks ago. There was no reason to keep on watering it, it was dead. There was nothing that could be done to save it. But you know what? Never say never.

Life has a way of surprising you and so today, if you’re on the brink of giving up, take this as your encouragement to give it one more day. And then maybe the day after that, and the day after that.

Sometimes giving up is the kindest thing we can do, but for everything else, there’s always one more day.

Know someone who needs some encouragement?

What are you expecting?

Monday morning. A brand new week. What are you expecting?

Are you expecting a wonderful new week full of exciting opportunities?

Are you expecting a tough new week full of trials and tough stuff?

Sometimes life just happens but what if, some of the time, the stuff we expect is actually what ends up happening?

Maybe that sounds a little too woo woo and left of field for your liking?

You know what? Sure, it might sound a little woo woo but the bible is littered with verses that talk about expectations. We’re told by James that we must pray expecting an answer and even Jesus told us to ask, believing that it will be given.

Is prayer something that is only valid if done with our eyes closed or with our hands together and head bowed?

If so, how was Paul able to tell us to pray continuously? I’m pretty sure his tent mending business might have suffered a little if he did all his work with his eyes closed!

What if every thought that enters your mind were prayer?

And those half whispered words? Yep, them too. The Holy Spirit can even take the aches and groans from our heart so I’m pretty sure he can use less than grammatically correct sentences.

So, if all of it is prayer, what if everything you think as you come into this new week were prayer too?

I’m not suggesting that, by expecting the week to be terrible, you’re actually praying for God to make it so, but what if you started this brand new week giving it to God, asking him to help you have the best week ever (whatever ‘best’ looks like for you and him) and expecting him to make it so?

Sure, bad stuff happens and some weeks are terrible.

But terrible is not the default setting so how about we go into the new week expecting stellar?

What might that look like?

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Do you think it’s possible to live in a world that’s inherently good?

Imagine the scene … you or someone you love is out for the evening. A few drinks. A little dance in a local club. All good.

And then someone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. Your stomach in knots, you take a deep breath and tell the guy that it’s not acceptable for his hands to go there.

And then he beats you up and breaks your nose!

Seriously?!?

You couldn’t make it up. This happened to a young lady from Oxford. She has the bruises to prove it.

What kind of world would someone need to live in, to believe that that’s the way to treat another human?

It’s easy to blame up-bringing and society but we’ve both heard too many stories of perfectly lovely children with nice families suddenly flipping one day and going bonkers, to believe that it’s all about nurture.

Sure, as parents, we do our best and I really, really hope that it helps our young ones develop into well rounded, kind, loving adults, but it’s never a dead cert. There are too many unknown factors and outside influences that we can’t control. And don’t even get me started on the media and the messages we unconsciously inflict on our loved ones.

Yeah, when I said yesterday that all this gets a bit messy in my brain, I really wasn’t kidding! 😉

But then I got to thinking … if we all value kindness and love so much, why can’t we change the world around us?

If people are inherently good and made in God’s image, can that be encouraged and fostered so that, over time, it really does become like heaven on earth?

Paul talked about us being new creations. Jesus announced that the kingdom is right here, right now.

And yet the same bible that makes those promises also talks about how all of creation is groaning in anticipation. Paul talks about doing what he really doesn’t want to do and you can often hear his pain coming right off the page.

Maybe the messy conflict in my head isn’t that surprising after all? 😉

I have no answers to this one but am compelled to believe that, as conflicted and messy as we are, ultimately (God helping us) we are to live by Jesus’s teaching:

Love God and love other people.

People of faith are commended throughout the bible but of faith, hope and love, the greatest of these is love so here’s to loving, even when we feel like our faith is shaky and our hope might run out.

Because as The Beatles once sang,

Love is all you need.

If we’re all basically narcissists at heart, how does that work when Jesus talks about “dying to self”?

One of my friends became an auntie at the weekend. Her sister named her daughter Ellyson, Elly for short. My first thought?

Ooooh, another El! 😉

We’d already heard of another El entering the world (and that time, she was a fully fledged Eleanor, just like me) so I was delighted!

It got me thinking though … deep down, we’re all just a little bit narcissistic aren’t we? Or maybe that’s just me?!? 😉

What’s that really about? And how does that work when Jesus talked about dying to self and the need to lose our life in order to save it?

I mean, if everyone who was friends with Jesus literally died for him, that would leave no one to love everyone else on God’s behalf so it can’t be that exactly.

What if “dying to self” was about every day, asking God to help us show up as the people he created us to be?

What if he never meant it as a negative thing (because if I’m being totally honest, I’ve always thought ‘carrying my cross’ and ‘dying to self’ sounded like an awful lot of hard work!)

What if he actually wanted it to be something that made day to day life better?

You being you, the “you on a good day you”, God’s best version of you, is an act of love and worship.

It’s like taking your time over a gourmet meal, enjoying every bite, and being sure to thank the chef.

It’s like walking around the Louvre, drinking in the colours and textures of the art, thankful to whoever invited you.

It’s like belly laughing with your children, free from distractions and stress and screens.

And sure, it should come naturally to us, seeing as it’s just us being us, but this is life and sometimes it’s not all that easy. It’s so, so much easier if you don’t try and do it alone.

What if “dying to self” was about saying “no more” to trying to do it alone?

That I could get on board with 🙂

How about you?

You might just be amazed at what you find under the hood!

Sat in church yesterday morning and the chap preaching started telling us a story from his days managing a children’s home. This came after a story about the time he and his wife bought a new house so as to accommodate four brothers they’d been asked to foster.

Did you ever listen to someone and find yourself realising that there is so much about them that you really don’t know?

Yeah, that 😉

This gentleman is in his 60s. A fairly quiet, unassuming man. He met his wife when he was older than average. They couldn’t have children of their own so they adopted then fostered. This after she’d already mothered five children with her first husband.

The stories they could tell!

But, other than the occasional gem (like yesterday’s) they generally don’t. I know bits of their story but it’s pretty clear that I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Look around you. Every person you pass on the street has a story.

Reminds me of that Native American proverb:

“Don’t judge a man until you walk a mile in his shoes.”

But more not judging someone, I find it absolutely fascinating to think of all the things that other people have going on and it’s usually impossible to tell.

Get to know someone and the two of you might share stuff with each other but how honest are you really, even with the people who think they know you really well?

And if there’s stuff that you don’t let anyone else in on, the same is almost certainly true for the people around you. Don’t you think?

People are amazing. Every single one, made in her creator’s image.

Makes you pause and think for a moment, doesn’t it?

A reminder for those days when you’re glad it’s over!

Did you ever have one of those days where you go to bed thankful that the day’s over so at least you can’t say the wrong thing any more?

And not in a feeling sorry for yourself kinda way. You’ve just had one of those days.

Maybe you had an argument with someone you love, largely because you were tired and being grumpy, and you totally tried to turn it round and blame them? Or maybe that’s just me 😉

And in that moment you have a choice …

You can either run with the blaming them routine and enjoy an evening of arguments and crossness.

Or you can do the really uncomfortable thing where you have to face up to what you were doing and say sorry, hoping that they love you enough to forgive you and put the evening back on track.

Yeah, that.

We all have them, it’s just that usually we don’t write about them in an email and send it out into the world.

Steve Furtick said:

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

(Incidentally, I didn’t even know who Steve Furtick was until I just Googled him, despite having versions of that quote rattling around my brain for ages. He’s a Jesus freak too and I’m looking forward to digging into his books.)

What would your today looked like if you stopped believing that everyone else has it so together?

How might you smile more knowing that the person next to you, while they have quirks and foibles different to yours (because you’re you and they’re them) is actually just as messed up as you are?!? 😉

Seriously, stop beating yourself up. You’re brilliant! And sometimes, a mess, and gloriously human.

And made in God’s image.

And he doesn’t need a do over! 😉

What about when it’s not the answer you were hoping for?

I could tell from the silence that it wasn’t really what she was expecting to hear.

Should I change my tactic? Tell her what she wants to hear? Make something up?

It was Skype so thankfully I was spared having to make eye contact. (My internet connection really doesn’t do well with video!) All the same though, I found myself feeling almost guilty that I didn’t have a better answer.

We were talking about blogging and what she could do with her blog. Topics of interest. Ideas for business. Best next steps. That kind of thing.

All of the ideas are great. You really could go with any of them. You know, there isn’t any one correct answer. Sometimes it’s just about trying something, anything almost, and running with it, seeing what happens.

Silence.

Ok, so not the answer she was hoping for.

What do you do when you’re holding out on an answer and when it finally comes, it’s totally not the answer you were hoping for?

Maybe a “no”, when you were expecting a “yes”. Or a “wait” when you wanted a “go”.

A couple of weeks ago I applied for a job. It sounded amazing and I could see so many ways it could be great, both for me personally and for us as a family. I had what I believed to be an inspired idea.

I talked to God about it. Told him that I was really excited about it but that if it wasn’t right for me and my family, that I didn’t want it. And I genuinely meant that. Really.

Until I got an email to say I’d been rejected before they’d even heard my idea.

I was gutted! It was totally not the answer I was expecting and I have to admit I cried, just a little. And then I pouted. And then I sulked.

And then, eventually, I got over it.

And less than two weeks later, I felt compelled to restart these daily blog posts. I’ve also got an outline for a book that has been a long long time in the making and life feels fun again. Great result all round!

But here’s the thing … sometimes the answer we’re waiting on is a whole lot bigger than some random job. Sometimes it really crucial life or death stuff.

What then?

How do you pull yourself back from the answer you totally didn’t want to hear? Or how about when stuff is falling down around you and you hear nothing but silence?

Is it possible to hold onto a scrap of faith then?

The correct churchy answer is that those are the times when you need your faith most and that you’ll dig in and God will do his thing and carry you. Et cetera, et cetera.

But what does that really look like? And what if all you can do is scream and cry and rail? What then?

You know what? I believe in a God who is big enough to cope with you and me on our very worst day. He has broad enough shoulders to carry the blame, even when he knows it’s not actually his fault.

Sure, shouting and anger might not be his favourite method of communication but it’s got be to preferable to silence.

What if God just wants you to show up, honestly, just as you are?

What if he doesn’t need you to have the correct words or the perfect prayer?

What if just wanted you to show up and be real?

What might that look like?

The perfect sacrifice?

It’s not about finding the perfect space to create. There’s no magic bullet that will mean everything is perfectly wonderful, with ease and success a dead cert.

Sometimes it’s not even about looking around and learning from your peers. Only you can be you. If your peers were about to do what you must, they’d probably do it very differently. Or at least, with their own flavour.

Only you can be you. There is no other.

It’s time to stop looking to others and to start trusting that your creator knows what he’s doing.

Listen to the nudges. Try stuff. Pay attention to what lights you up and makes you smile and do more of that stuff.

Doing the easy stuff doesn’t make you selfish. You’re not a hedonist because you like to smile.

You were put on this planet to be you, quirks and foibles and eccentricities and all.

Embracing who you are is an act of worship.

Feeling and expressing thanks to the poet, when it’s God’s poem, that’s worship too.

Worship isn’t about waving your arms around on a Sunday morning or saying a perfectly put together prayer.

Be you. Embrace what God is doing in your life. It’s the best kind of sacrifice you can offer.

I quit!

It wasn’t quite as big or dramatic a decision as that, but on Christmas Day, I published my last daily dose email and podcast episode. I didn’t know what 2014 would look like yet. I expected to just take a little break before coming back.

I’d had big grand plans for The Itchy Soul but suddenly none of it sat right. So I just stopped. I quit.

Maybe that’s happened to you?

Maybe you had things that you felt called to do, things that were bigger than you and, on the days when you were honest with yourself, things that were really quite scary and you kinda wished someone else could do them instead?

What do you do?

Do you quit?

Maybe tell yourself a story about why it was never meant for you in the first place so you can feel better about changing your mind?

What if that thing that’s bigger than you is bigger than you because you were never meant to do it on your own?

Mother Teresa said:

“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”

Taken literally, that’s just not true. God does and did give us and Mother T more than we can handle, precisely because we’re not meant to handle it on our own.

What if instead it’s about stepping into each new day asking God to help us with each thing that might come into our day?

Because running with the thinking that God only gives us stuff he knows we can handle means agreeing that he plots all the crappy stuff that happens and, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t fill me with confidence or whisper of unconditional love.

What say you? 🙂

What if?

What do you do when you feel a thing tugging at you, refusing to let go? And you feel so unqualified to really have an answer, let alone the answer.

And so maybe you stumble forward, distracting yourself with other projects, procrastinating, until one day, maybe years and years later, that thing comes back.

It will not let you go.

And you thought that by now you’d feel better qualified to handle it but instead, you’ve just added to the list of reasons why there must surely, please God, be someone else who can do it.

But it will not let you go.

We read so much about legacy and worth and making a difference. The child prodigy and self-made millionaires leave us feeling like we’ve somehow missed our turn. We’re too late. All that’s left for us is more of the same old, same old.

“You’re doing ok. You’re a great mum. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.”

And yet still it will not let you go.

A yearning. An ache. A thing, deep inside whispering into the very edges of your soul.

What if you were carefully and exactly put together, quirks and foibles and yearnings and all?

What if the whisper into your heart were God’s spirit talking to your spirit?

What if the ‘it’ that will not let you go were actually a ‘him’? Calling you forward. Holding you gently, even when it feels lonely and impossible?

What if God, in his infinite wisdom, doesn’t need anyone better qualified? What if he wants you, just as you are? To love on and whisper sweet nothings to?

What if it’s less about legacy and what you’ll leave behind when you’re gone, and more about being you, fully and wholly and completely you, in the here and now today?

And what if you just started, one foot in front of the other? Letting go of the ‘what ifs’ and the not knowing and just be?

What if?