It takes a village…

I was watching my birds the other day and I observed that, whilst it was clear that there was one pair of birds raising the newly hatched chicks, a number of other birds were getting involved. At one point several birds were gathered around the breeding box and at other times different birds were contributing nesting materials. They even took turns in feeding the young chicks who have such voracious appetites. The whole ‘flock’ seemed to be involved and it reminded me of the old adage which states “It take a village to raise a child”.

Raising children is a challenge and an opportunity like no other…you have the opportunity to guide, shape and launch an individual into what is hopefully a successful and meaningful life. But it is not a job just for the parents – we live in a culture that is not as ‘connected’ as it used to be. Many people are dislocated from family, busy at working multiple jobs, and challenged by the demands of our consumer and technological society.

We can easily find ourselves alone, even though we are surrounded by people.

The fact is that we need to take the opportunities that are afforded us – we need to be involved (appropriately) in the lives of our grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends and neighbours – I am not talking about ‘butting in’ and imposing your values or attitudes upon them, I am talking about being available, being supportive, listening and understanding when that help is needed.

I learnt so much from my parents but if that was the only input I received I would not be the man I now am. I am thankful for others who had the courage and the determination to speak into my life and help me navigate through the various choices and twists I have taken.

When was the last time you made a choice and a determined effort to be a positive impact upon someone else – especially a child? It might be that this is a common pattern in your life or it might be something you used to do, or perhaps you have never thought about it…

My birds are all busy making sure the new chicks have every good thing they need.

Maybe it is time for us to share the load and help someone else become what they are destined to be. The Word of God challenges and calls us to… “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”     Galatians 6:2

Grief…how long?

“She seems very quiet and withdrawn, she hasn’t been sleeping well and she has had some bad dreams…is this normal?”

The little girl in question was about 7 years old and she was coming to terms with the fact that her father had died about a month ago after a fairly long battle with illness. The uncle and grandparents I was talking too were naturally concerned and they were asking the question that I find so many people need to ask.

A significant part of my job entails working with people who are facing grief and loss – it is not a part of the job to ‘enjoy’ but it is an important and special place where I am given the privilege to walk alongside people at some of their darkest moments.   The thing about grief is that we don’t really want to know too much about it, we don’t want to experience it and, if we could, we would chose to avoid it for the whole of our lives. However, the reality is that we all will face grief and loss at some time and it is good to be able to recognise it and help those who are facing it.

There is no simple or concise answer to the questions “How do you grieve?” or “How long does grief take?” Everyone is on their own journey and these questions will be influenced by your experience, your culture, the depth of relationship and any ‘complicating’ factors that may be present. One person will grieve one way and another totally differently.

For the inexperienced, grief looks strange, confronting and even a bit scary…people respond in unexpected ways and it can be unsettling. But the truth is that there is a range of responses that fall within the boundaries of what could be called “Normal Grief”. It is not a series of ‘stages’ to move through but a convoluted and twisted pathway which includes complex emotions and re-organisation of our lives. The deeper we love the deeper we grieve.

Quiet support, gentle understanding and appropriate time are the best things you can offer to assist those who are facing grief and loss. It is also helpful to point them towards someone who knows a bit about the process of grief they are traversing. The last resource I would recommend is the support and care of the Lord Jesus Himself who of course was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Isaiah 53:3

If you are grieving today, I pray that peace and comfort will surround you…

Made herself ready…

Six months of preparation culminates in a single day… invitations have been sent and answered, people are travelling in from far flung places, venues are booked and paid for, flowers and decorations are in place, dresses and suits are hanging in readiness, place-cards, table settings, music, cars, speeches, bonbonnieres, food, wine, and all manner of trimmings are all set and ready to go…

All that is left is for us all to get dressed and show up at the appointed time and I will have the incredible privilege of walking my daughter down the aisle and joining her hand in hand with my new son-in-law.   It is going to be a great day and one the whole family has been waiting for.

Whilst it has not been the only thing going on, this wedding (like all of them) has dominated its far share of time and effort. You want a wedding to be just right, to reflect the nature of the couple being married and to give it a sense of occasion and gravitas. Because of this, lists are written and re-written, checked and double-checked and finally it comes down to the moment where everyone just has to do what they are meant to do.

I have never been to a ‘perfect wedding’, there is always something that doesn’t go slightly to plan, someone forgets something or technology lets you down. But no matter what little things go wrong, the outcome has always been the same, the couple who walked in as ‘two’ leaves as ‘one’.

This wedding reminds me of another wedding we are all invited to attend…

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

Just like a normal wedding, there is some preparation involved; ‘The Bride’ (the people who choose to belong to God) has to make herself ready. It is inconceivable that my Daughter would forget to put on her dress, smudge her makeup and walk into the service in a pair of dirty, ripped jeans and a tee shirt.

I know the effort she has put in and how carefully she has prepared herself to look radiant for her husband. She will be ready…

So the time has come – our wedding is here and we are ready… but the question is, for the wedding which is yet to come which signals the culmination of the age – are you ready?

Unknown Assistance

Last night my wife took on an unwelcomed intruder who had ventured into our house. It was during the middle of the night that she first heard the intruder and then saw him – a large huntsman spider crawling up the wall of our bedroom.   At first she thought about letting the ugly critter remain but she knew that she would not have been comfortable nor able to get back to sleep if she did. So she stepped out of bed, put on all the lights and dealt with the problem…all of this happened with me blissfully ignorant and asleep in the bed.

If she hadn’t told me what she had done I would never have known and it made me think about what other things had happened for my benefit without me being aware.

I thought about the police force and intelligence communities who vigilantly keep our country safe from those who would seek to attack and spread terror; I thought of the researchers who are working behind the scenes to target diseases and make our crops more resilient to pests and rigours of our climate; I thought of the hundreds of people who do hundreds of little things to make our lives a little better and found myself amazingly grateful for them all.

It is so easy to take things for granted and remain unaware and unthankful – we live in a society that has so many benefits that we become callously attached to our comfort and we lament the loss of it loudly at the first sense of discomfort…

Being unaware of what someone has done for you leads to being ignorantly unthankful, this is not a great place to live – the person who has done the deed on your behalf can feel unappreciated and you as the recipient can appear unappreciative and entitled. The best answer to this problem is to regularly take stock of all the benefits which are present in your life.   Psalm 103:2 “Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all of His benefits!”

There are so many things that the Lord and others have provided for you – make sure that you are not ‘asleep in the bed’ just enjoying them. Take a moment today to list the good things that God has done and the good things that other people have done for you – approach your life with thankfulness – it is a lot more enjoyable than any other option.

The way of life winds upwards

It has been a dramatic four weeks and she is very happy to be finally heading home. My mother went to hospital to follow up on some tests and it became very apparent, very quickly that she was going to need immediate, significant, surgery. She underwent a quadruple bypass operation and she has been recovering ever since.

The operation went forward without incident, it was very successful and we again are thankful for the skill of the doctors and nurses and for the quality of care that is available in our nation.

I visited my mum each day and, along with everyone else, I was greatly concerned as she initially came through the operation. People look so vulnerable in ICU and time seems to pass so slowly. But the next morning I found mum sitting up in bed and changing channels on the TV! Every day from there she showed improvements – it was not without its pain and challenge but each day she grew stronger. She was able to stand, to walk, her ‘foggyness’ departed and she slowly returned to her old self. She undertook rehab and it seems that she will be even better than she was before… it is a great and pleasing outcome.

Not everything in our life automatically and consistently improves, we have times that can be difficult and our circumstances can spiral out of control.  It is at these times we must careful not to give into despair and we must hold onto hope. The book of Proverbs tells us “The way of life winds upward for the wise, so that they may turn away from hell below.” (15:24)

It promises that if we are wise then our lives will ‘wind upwards’ – that doesn’t mean that our lives will be perfect and without challenge but it promises hope that better things are ahead.

The fact is that ‘this life’ is not just about ‘this life’.  Our time on earth is limited, flawed and filled with both good and bad…our response to this life, our response to each other and our response to Christ determine our eternity.

Your life may currently be on the ‘up and up’ or it might be spiralling downhill and out of control, or it may be somewhere in the middle….but wherever you find yourself, I hope that you are making a ‘wise’ response, because then your road will wind upwards. Yet another proverb caps it off… (9:10) “The fear and knowledge of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”

Maybe He is the wisdom you really need?

Difficult is the way…

There are two ways that you can get to the almost mythical ruins of Aguas Calientes which is more commonly called Machu Picchu. It is a ruined city nestled high in the mountains of Peru and is one of the world’s most famous heritage sites. Your two options are: a four day hike up the Inca Trail – challenging, breath-taking, tiring, thrilling, stretching and fulfilling or;

you can catch the train, step onto a bus and then take a 5 minute walk from the bus to the ruins.

Many people choose to complete the walk but even more people take the train and bus option.

I wonder how those people feel when they arrive – what do they recall of the experience?

The walkers have endured and conquered a challenge that seems fitting to the destination. The riders have possibly been a little uncomfortable on the trip but have had it pretty easy. I wonder if there is a bit of an ‘us and them’ attitude between the two groups?

When I think about experiences and journeys in my life the most valued and memorable ones have been difficult. I have walked through the highlands of New Guinea, taken small boats to remote Islands in the Pacific and ridden ridiculously under powered motor-cycles 800 km circumnavigating and Island in the Philippines. My observation is that, the more difficult the trip, the more I enjoyed the destination and the experience.

Very few things worth having in this life are easy – and yet we all tend to strive for an ‘easy life’. The reality is that if you want a quality life then a certain amount of challenge is going to have to be experienced.

In the book of Matthew in the Bible we find that Jesus said precisely this…

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

  • Difficult doesn’t mean wrong
  • Difficult doesn’t mean lack of blessing
  • Difficult doesn’t mean unenjoyable
  • Difficult means that there is something worth seeing at the end!

So don’t just opt to catch the train and bus – take the challenge to live your life the difficult way, the Christ-like way…

Believe me, the destination is worth it!

Mount up with wings…

This week I had the opportunity to watch one of my newly hatched budgies take the awesome leap out of the nesting box for the very first time. I had been observing these young birds for the last few weeks, ever since they hatched and I have been amazed by just how fast they have grown. The previous two days I found two young birds flying about the cage but yesterday I happened to be present as the last of the clutch suck its head out of the box, stepped onto the ledge and then took its first flight.

It was not very impressive, it didn’t last long, the landing was less than perfect but the second attempt was better. Within half an hour the young budgie was exploring the whole cage and was being welcomed by the other birds.

Throughout the course of the day his flying improved even more and it is more than likely that he will never return to the nest.

In the last few months I have been coming to terms with two of my own children ‘leaving the nest’. My son was married in September and my daughter is getting married in February. I am excited to see them ‘take flight’ but I am also a little conflicted, as I will miss the way things were. Life presents opportunities for growth but growth leads to change and change is a mix of exciting and uncomfortable.

Some of the birds in my aviary are very young and others (of course) are much older – for some, flight is a new thing but it is normal and even passé for the others. Flight is to a bird as walking is to us – you don’t even think about it until you cannot do it.

But if a bird gets too tired to fly, if weariness grounds it so that it cannot move, then it is in danger: Danger of predators; danger of starvation; and danger of separation.

Weariness has the same effect upon us all and tiredness can make everything seem hard and fraught with dangers, which can hinder us.

 

“Even the youths shall faint and be weary…but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”           Isaiah 40:30

 

So whether you have recently flown the coop or if, like me, you are an older bird – be refreshed as you wait upon the Lord!