Hole in the Hedge

ShearsFrom the few memories of my early childhood in England, I recall we had a hedge framing our front garden. My father meticulously maintained that hedge with handheld trimmers. I recall him being rather dismayed about a hole in the hedge that neighbouring children used to climb through. As long as kids made a habit of playing in this leafless passage, the hole would be perpetually maintained. 

What about our lives? Where is the hole in our hedge? An area where we’ve repeatedly let in such things as bitterness, fearfulness, or anger? Maybe that area is so frequented by unchecked thinking that a gaping hole has formed. Anything that becomes a habit treads a well-worn path. In the case of negative or destructive thought patterns, the habitual cycle can be detrimental to both ourselves and others.  

Unlike my father’s hedge, we can choose that which we allow passage through the perimeters of our lives. We can cut off fruitless patterns of thinking and deny them entry into our thought life. However, with our jam-packed lives, we’re often distracted. We leave little space for reflective contemplation and instead snatch fleeting fast-food bites on the fly. The quality and quantity of the life-giving morsels we consume are often not enough to fully nourish or protect us.

If we fail to examine those thoughtless meanderings before we let them in, they lead to well-worn openings of fruitless behaviour and thought patterns. If we don’t set aside time to examine our thinking and replace toxic thoughts with “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8), we leave our lives wide open to hedge-holes.

hedge-hole

Holes in hedges can develop anytime we let in bitterness and refuse to forgive. They take shape when we allow impatience and anger to proliferate. They evolve when we compare and grow dissatisfied opening the door to envy and jealousy. They become firmly formed when we repeatedly choose fear over faith. They grow distinctly larger when we settle into sin.

Ignoring hedge holes won’t make them disappear. Managing them takes a concerted effort and proper maintenance requires taking a firm grip on our thought life and conforming it to God’s. 2 Corinthians 10:5 encourages us to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Make no mistake, we have a choice regarding our thought permeations. 

hedge

We prevent holes by cutting off the flow of thoughts at the gate, discerning whether they deserve to pass through, and aligning our thinking to God’s. We combat hedge holes by setting aside time, disciplining ourselves to reflect and be renewed in God’s presence. When we spend time soaking in God’s word, he fills the holes, packing them with his peace. His Spirit quickens us and helps us to grow in discernment regarding that which we allow to enter through the perimeter of our lives. Soon, where once there were holes, we see new growth and lush foliage—composed of God’s love—encircling us.

_______________________________________

  1. Where do you notice hedge holes in your life?
  2. How can you adjust your thinking to align with Christ’s?
SoulFocus_Book_Trials_071619
Coming November 12th

 

 

Leaving the Ninety-Nine

This weekend, my husband and I attended the 30th-anniversary celebration for China Partner, an organization that trains and equips pastors in China. Erik, the president, has carried on this ministry from his father, Werner, who was born in China and whose parents were missionaries in a place called Jiangxi province before China closed its doors to missionaries.

shutterstock_1166352823

Erik’s grandfather’s journal records that he led ten people to the Lord during the twenty-five years they ministered in China. This weekend we heard from Chinese pastors from Jiangxi that in the same place today there are 530 000 followers of Christ.

Ten people may not seem notable to our western way of thinking, their ministry may even have appeared a failure. But not in God’s economy. God will leave the ninety-nine to look for the one. That is how precious each of us is to him.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.” (Matthew 18:12-13)

shutterstock_1198824526

Erik’s grandparents left Germany—left the ninety-nine—to go to China. The ten cherished souls who found Jesus in Jiangxi were forever changed, and so were their families. You see, in God’s economy, it doesn’t matter if the returns seem small, or if the work takes years and years. God sees the whole timeline, and eternity too—the forever place he made possible for us through Jesus’ death on the cross.

This is the Good News Erik’s grandparents went to China to share. It’s the same Good News their son carried back to China years later, the same gospel that Erik continues to minister in China and that these Chinese pastors also teach to this day.

erik-burklin.jpg
Erik and his father, Werner, receiving scrolls from the Chinese pastors of Jiangxi province.

Can’t you see it? The impact of one faithful couple—their hopes and dreams coming to fruition long after they entered eternity?

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

There will be times when it appears that the work of our hands is fruitless. In our present circumstances, position, or place we find ourselves, it may not appear that we are making a difference at all and that our efforts are wasted. But you can be sure that anything done in God’s name and strength will bear fruit. Whether we see it or not, we can trust God for the outcome.

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.” (Isaiah 54:4) 

Like Erik’s grandparents, you may never see the fullness of your labor. You may never know the outcome of your faithfulness this side of heaven, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t bear an impact. How amazed do you think Erik’s grandparents would be to hear about the 530 000 souls who know Jesus today in the province they ministered in 94 years prior? So it is with us. Make no mistake, your life’s choices, work, and faithfulness matter and multiply far beyond what you can see.

shutterstock_1072062770

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:11)

The next time you are tempted to give up on something or someone—or even give up on yourself—remember that this is never God’s posture toward us. He never turns his back on people. He never gives up. He never lets us go. His love offer is always available. The invitation to come to Jesus is for everyone and is only a prayer away.

You may feel weary in your work or relationships right now. You may feel like giving up. If you are discouraged, remember this truth: you are precious to God. Everyone and everything matters to Him. He sees it all—the past, present, and future all at once—and is in control. He made a way for you through His Son. Entrust your life and your troubles to Jesus and let Him be Lord of your life.

 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

______________________

  1. In what area(s) do you feel discouraged?
  2. Hand it over to God trusting him for both strength and the outcome.

For more information about the ministry of China Partner visit: http://www.chinapartner.org

SoulFocus_Book_Trials_071619
      Devotional Journal Trails Coming November 12th. Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

 

 

 

 

Why Are We Still Starving Ourselves?

modeling picIn the mid-’80s, when I was fifteen years old, I decided I wanted to become a model. A Toronto agent agreed to represent me but explained that I needed to lose weight. I had been a cross-country runner for five years and never in my life had I given a second thought to the scale. This particular year, I had discontinued running and had stopped growing. I was 5’7” tall and weighed 127 pounds. Now, for the first time in my life, someone was telling me I needed to consider what I ate.

I hadn’t a clue how to diet so I went to my family doctor for advice. He gave me a pamphlet that explained how to count calories, and so I began to figure out how to limit my food intake. Each Friday, I had to call into the agency to let them know how much weight I had lost. They wanted me to lose a pound per week. It was no small thing to change my eating habits since spending time with friends usually included things like ice-cream, candy, chips, pop, and McDonald’s visits. 

After managing to drop fifteen pounds, I was booked for a fashion show at Harbourfront in Toronto. I had been hard at work figuring out how much food I could eat and still lose weight. My agent had come to watch and afterward commended me on how well I had done in the show but told me I still needed to lose more weight. So I ate even less and landed at 108 pounds. For me, that meant virtually starving myself. 

comp sheet
Penny Noble Model Management – the agency I modeled under for 8 years.

I’m not sure how, but my sixteen-year-old brain realized that this wasn’t going to work. That not only did I dislike such a restrictive eating behavior, but that this lifestyle wasn’t realistic for me. I met with my agent and told her that I didn’t want to diet anymore or be a part of her agency. She told me that was a shame, but that if I could ever keep the weight off she’d be happy to have me back. After months of sometimes eating as little as 200-400 calories per day, it took nearly two years for my metabolism to return to normal. I’m thankful I chose to put a stop to the strict dieting before developing anorexia.

Two years later, and twelve pounds heavier, I decided to give modeling another try. I met with two agents who both extended invitations to join their agencies. Neither one mentioned my weight. I continued to model for several years after that in Toronto, Montreal, and on contract overseas. I realized that the problem with the first agent was that she was trying to make me something I wasn’t. She wanted me to be a thin, high-fashion model when I had a more girl-next-door commercial look. 

Sante mag cover

Don’t misunderstand me, I endorse exercise, healthy eating, and self-care, but just like my initial modeling experience, when we attempt to become something we aren’t—when we go to extreme lengths to be accepted but deny our true selves—we run into trouble. We become trapped on a treadmill of never-enough’s, people-pleasing while attempting to fill a soul-hole that can never be satisfied with the things of this world. 

Because here’s the thing, there will never be enough weight to lose, enough money to gain, enough compliments to receive to make us feel full. We’re starving and seeking to fill the emptiness with junk food. The lack of nutrients leaves us feeling even more depleted, but thankfully there is a remedy.

The Bible says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) When we seek God, we are satisfied. When we desire God, the other fixes fade in importance. Our taste buds change, and we see the former things for the empty calories they were. No longer trying to be something we were never made to be, our identity grows secure in Christ and his love, and we partake of his rich blessings.  

The apostle Paul put it this way, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

We find that all we ever needed and wanted—all that satisfies—is found at the feet of Christ. There we discover security, acceptance, healing, love, forgiveness, hope, peace, and joy—all the things we searched for but couldn’t find. In Christ, our true identity surfaces and an internal work of growth and transformation begins that no amount of earthly accoutrements could foster. From here on in, we are fueled by faith and nourished by the word of God secure in his promises.

I’ll leave you with this verse to ponder:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
______________________________________________

  1. In what ways are you starving yourself trying to fill the soul-hole that only Jesus can fill?
  2. You can gain the whole world and lose your soul, or you can find Jesus, save your soul, and gain eternity.

Unknowns, Courage, and Creativity

70193968_2238602879770712_6298107495592230912_n
A photo of my author copy the day it arrived in the mail.

Tomorrow, my debut novel launches. 

I’ll be honest, a cocktail of emotions are brewing at the moment. A hearty mixture of excitement, nervousness, and outright fear of failure. It feels rather like I’m about to fling my heart out into the world hopeful it won’t get flattened. It’s always that way when trying something new, don’t you think? Maybe even more so with creative pursuits because a part of you is sewn right in with it.

Yet, where would we be without the kind of courage creating requires? Without those brave first strokes of ink or paint, our bookshelves would be barren and our walls unadorned of colourful masterpieces. There would be no music to make us merry. No architecture to take our breath away. No sculpture to stop us in our tracks. No gardens to still our souls. No chocolate—I go too far! Our beings would be bereft of nourishment without people answering the creative call.

I admire the courage of creators, those who bring life to their ideas despite the naysayers and critics. I applaud those who keep creating, keep trying, and keep overcoming obstacles to do both what they love and what gives them life. I’m inspired by the ones who continue to show up and don’t give up even when their inner critic won’t shut up. I’m grateful to those who pursue their gift as a gift to others.

But it’s not easy. 

As a recovering control freak, unknowns make me uneasy. The blank page—that sacred inhalation of breath before beginning—is crowded with both possibility and nightmarish uncertainty. And right now, I’m on a new precipice of uncertainty and in desperate need of exhaling.

But there’s hope. I’m considering reframing my concept of unknowns. Instead of attaching fear to them, I’m thinking of renaming these unknowns “new firsts” and viewing them as dynamic opportunities to explore something new. 

So let’s say it together: An unknown is a dynamic opportunity to explore something new.

Feel better? I do… for now. Ask me tomorrow when I’m standing at the book launch trying to wax eloquent about my book! I’m slowly easing into my “new first” by only inviting family and friends to the launch. I’m going to take that nervousness I feel toward introducing my book to the world, and all that goes with it, and view it as a dynamic opportunity to explore something new. 

I wonder, do extroverts require this much reflective self-talk? And at what age did I begin to be unsure of creative pursuits? But that’s another blog.

What it always comes down to is a conscious effort to hand over control. It’s not a one time fix. It’s a trust thing, and for me, there’s only one who can be entrusted with it—God. The unknowns, ahem, I mean the dynamic opportunities to explore something new are also an exciting chance to grow closer in my trust journey with my Creator.

So let me expand my definition: An unknown is a dynamic opportunity to explore something new and trust God more fully. 

Boom. There it is!

I hope you’ll join me on this trust journey. Let’s do this!

_______________________________________

  1. Do you have a fear of the unknown?
  2. What creative pursuit have you been putting off for fear of failure?
  3. Breath in, breath out, and begin that sacred journey trusting God every step.

OneMoreTomorrow_Cover_042919
Available September 17th, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4866-1537-7

Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. 

eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

 

Don’t Give Up

shutterstock_459655336You may be tired. Tired of timing. Tired of transition. Tired of today. Tired just thinking about tomorrow.

Maybe the situation you’re experiencing is wearing and it’s getting harder to place one foot in front of the other.

You’re tired of putting on your game face. Tired of facing the next conversation in a mile of unpleasant ones. Tired of going to bed at night feeling lousy and waking up feeling the same. Tired of wondering when hope hiked off and left you alone.

Let me share a story. In my mid-twenties I joined a running group. The first night I showed up they were heading out for a 10K run. I had never run that far before. These people had. In fact, they were hardcore runners and trained almost every day. Somehow I made it through that first night. I may or may not have also made several visits to the toilet later that evening!

Months later, one of the runners suggested I come out on Saturday morning for a long run. That Saturday I dragged myself out of bed at some inhumane hour. It was mid-January and terrifyingly cold—minus 22 degrees Celsius cold—and still dark. I had neglected to ask exactly how far the “long run” would be. I learned too late that it was 22KM long. Again, somehow I made it through. I may or may not have experienced mobility issues the next day.

From there I decided to begin training for a marathon. I figured I’d managed to deliver three babies—also rather painful and lengthy—so how hard could running 42KM be? I started with Around the Bay, a race in Hamilton, Ontario. It was the furthest I’d ever run… 30KM. There are rolling hills near the end of the race that culminate in a rather large and long incline—think escarpment—before the flat to the finish.

I remember the feel of my wobbly legs after that final hill and how they began to lose the purpose for which they were made. I was nearly delirious, my brain willing my body to keep going, and saying things aloud such as, “Not far now. You can do this! You’re almost there!” Once again I made it through to the finish line, this time to be enfolded in a thermal blanket and the arms of my husband and kids. Five months later, I was able to reach my goal of completing a marathon.

So here’s how this ties together. Sometimes our hardship seems endless. We’re tired. Our legs are unsteady and we desperately want to stop, to give up the race. But we know we can’t reach the finish line by standing still. We need to keep going, to move through this place—however painful—to reach the other side.

In trials, I need to remind myself that this struggle won’t last forever. This isn’t my permanent location. I’m just passing through. I’m climbing the hill, I’m taking the next step and the one after that. I will myself not to stop, I ask God to help me not to give up. And even if I feel tired and weak, I trust I’m getting stronger with each step. I’m building spiritual fortitude.

I may have questions. I may feel discouraged, but I need to show up for the long run. No matter how dark, how long, or how far. I must keep going even when my legs aren’t cooperating. Whatever I do, I can’t quit. Every hardship I face, every escarpment I scale, makes me stronger to face the next hard thing. The same applies to you.

You are more resilient than you think. There’s more grit inside you than you know. Sometimes it means talking yourself up the hill when your body is screaming for you to stop. Sometimes it’s simply taking the next step, the next breath. But don’t give up now. Neither be content to just get by. Dig in. You still have things to do.

Your voice, your influence is valuable. You make a difference every time you show up. Don’t be lulled into lethargy. Don’t be tempted to quit this hard thing you’re facing. Your character, your growth, depends on it. Train through the tiredness—or the wilderness— knowing that it’s making you stronger and more beautiful. Afterward, you can run alongside another or cheer a fellow runner along.

You will make it through this long run to the finish line to be enfolded in the blanketing love and comforting arms of your Saviour. And you’ll be a light to others struggling on their journey to do the same. Don’t give up!

shutterstock_699867238

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

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

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:11-13)

Coming Sept 17th, 2019

OneMoreTomorrow_Cover_042919

ISBN: 978-1-4866-1537-7

Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. 

eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

Weddings & Love

69263302_487623432028438_1628037293765820416_nTwo weekends in a row we have had the privilege of attending weddings. Last weekend our nephew Robbie was wed, and yesterday we attended the wedding of our dear family friend Sarah who our son Kurtis stood beside attending as the Man of Honour.

It was heartwarming to witness Kurtis handing a tissue from his breast pocket to absorb Sarah’s tears of joy and then shoving the dampened ball back in his breast pocket after her use. He held Sarah’s bouquet for the signing of the registry and smoothed her trailing veil as she returned to her place at the altar. I didn’t see what else Kurtis did that day, but what I did see was a touching display of a loving friendship.

At each of these weddings, I also witnessed evidence of deep joy and love between the bride and groom. At the altar stood two different people courageously undertaking the mystery of becoming one. They said “I do” to a lifetime of two, entwining their years together, attesting to disallowing the world and its ravages to rip their love asunder.

Our friendship with Jesus bears some similarities to our friendships and especially our marriage relationships. Jesus stands beside us in our most joyous moments but also in our most difficult ones. In times of turmoil, he smooths out the ruffled material of our lives and helps carry the things that are too cumbersome for us. Psalm 56:8 says, You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Jesus is gentle and kind to us, sensitive to our needs and diligent with his care. His love and affection toward us never fail.

It appears Jesus loved weddings too. His first miracle was performed at a wedding when he turned water into fine wine. In this, we see a display of Jesus’s intimate care and provision to us, and his desire to be present in the everyday experiences and details of our lives. Jesus’s presence welcomed and celebrated within our marriage—and every aspect of our lives—brings blessing, comfort, strength, joy, peace, and love to our marriage and our broader relationships.

Knowing that Jesus celebrates with me during my joy-filled moments and holds me during my soul-crushing ones is a source of great comfort to me. He is a faithful friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). I can look to Jesus for wisdom and help at every turn, hand him a burden too heavy, or ask him to smooth out the wrinkled messes of my life. With Jesus, I’m never alone.

In this, there is not only deep security but also deep joy. Whether married or single, we can take comfort in knowing that in Jesus we are not alone. In Isaiah 41:13, God assures us, I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” and in 1 Peter 5:7 we are invited to release our troubles by casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Perhaps the most astonishing and differentiating part of our relationship with Jesus compared to our other relationships is that he was willing to die for us. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) Jesus’s love toward us was so great that he took the punishment of our sin upon himself, giving his life in place of ours to secure eternity. 

Jesus’s love relationship transforms our lives and our future. You need only say “I do.”

Coming September 17th, 2019

OneMoreTomorrow_Cover_042919

 

ISBN: 978-1-4866-1537-7

Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. 

eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

Illuminating the Dark

shutterstock_301363406Who of us has never doubted?

We could easily insert the word dark in place of doubt. When I doubt my circumstances, myself, or God, it’s a lot like stumbling around in the dark. I can’t see where I’m going, and I can’t find my way.

How do we find the faith to trust God when we can’t see? What will get us through the dark days of doubt? How do we keep going when there’s no sign of either the direction to take or a shift in our circumstance—some of which truly bring us to our knees?

When our finances are stretched. When our loved one’s health is failing. When life as we know it is crumbling around us. When what we’ve prayed for remains unfulfilled. It’s easy to wonder if God’s promises were meant for us personally. It’s easy to believe He has forgotten us.

But will we only believe if things go well with us?

In such trials, I need to be reminded that God is faithful. Rock-solid. No matter what, He is loving. All that He does, how He acts, is an outpouring of his love. No matter if all that’s happening around you is falling apart, no matter how hopeless it looks right now, no matter if you feel utterly alone, God is still with you. He still hears you. He can make beauty from the ashes (see Isaiah 61:1-3).

What we must decide is whether we will only follow him, love him, and believe in Him if all is well in our lives. Faith is most itself when we can’t see with our eyes. When life gets hard, when we can’t find the answers, and when our prayers don’t seem to be answered.

Trials have the hidden potential to help us see properly. When the superfluous falls away, the things that matter most crystalize. We realize the degree to which we trust the one who can fully be trusted with everything.  We learn our God is the one who can lift us up and can help us to walk through the darkness. We relearn that he is faithful.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” It appears that God’s word, the Bible, can help to enlighten the darkness and help us find our way. It makes sense that this spiritual practice, taken up regularly, will remove doubt, provide encouragement, and bolster our faith.

If you’re in the dark right now, take up the lamp of God’s word. Read it and be reminded of his faithfulness, his love for you, and how, time and time again, he rescues. Notice how the darkness is transformed by the light of his word, even if your circumstances are not. Note how his word stirs up heavenly hope, peace, and joy to dispell the darkness within. Watch and see how the darkness of doubt is illuminated enough for you to take the next step in faith.

You don’t need to see the entire path; the journey is taken one step at a time.

______________________________

  1. When was the last time you sat still and soaked up God’s words?
  2. Set aside time each day this week to read the Bible to be filled with God’s promises and reminders of his faithfulness.