Don’t trust first impressions…

It certainly didn’t look promising – my first impression was that I had made a mistake not booking somewhere a little more pricey. But it was late and I needed somewhere to stay and so I would make the most of it. I walked past the building site, down the long laneway, avoiding the rubbish and the various bits of debris and made my way to the nondescript front door. After a couple of attempts I managed to key in the pin number which had been texted to me and I found my room down the corridor – From there everything was just fine. Good room, clean, well appointed – perfect for a business trip – really it was just what I wanted but the first impression left me more than a little cold.

I suffer from the same malady that most of us face – we often make snap decisions based on ‘first impressions’ and those impressions can often be wrong. We make judgements based on how people are dressed, what car they drive, how they interact with their kids or partners, or how friendly they appear to be.

I have learned (through mistakes and prejudice) that my first impression can be very misleading; it does not take into account many factors which change the circumstances and the interpretation of behaviour we see with our eyes.

The frustrated parent who is under unseen pressure because of finances; the dishevelled individual who is struggling with mental illness; the quiet and reserved man who is almost completely isolated because of illiteracy; or the woman who is bitter and twisted because of the compounded grief of her last six months.

I have found that people are just like icebergs which only have about 12.5% of their mass above the water – most of the time you do not know what is going on below the waterline in people’s lives.

This should encourage us to try to get past our first impressions and look for more substance below the surface – just like my hotel room proved, there was more than meets the eye.

I am glad that the Lord does not deal with me based on first impressions because He would have written me off long ago.

I am glad that the following scripture is true…

“I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” Jer 7:10

So don’t stop at first impressions today – and be glad that the Lord doesn’t!

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“She seems very quiet and withdrawn, she hasn’t been sleeping well and she has had some bad dreams…is this normal?”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

What is your first memory?

The mother asks her rather energetic two year old son who had a concerned look upon his face…“Hi darling, what’s wrong?”

The child answers and says…

“I have a peanut up my nose!”  

“Don’t be silly – we don’t have any peanuts”

“I have a peanut up my nose!”

The mother, getting exasperated asks the child’s father to take a look…

“Guess what?” The father says..

“He has a peanut up his nose!”

This is a well worn story of an event which happened precisely 50 years ago aboard the HMAS Ellennis as we migrated from England to Australia. It is, in fact, the earliest memory that I can recall. I probably remember it because of both the quirkiness of the event but also because it has been retold so many times.

The next thing I remember is a doctor, in a white coat, leaning towards me with (what seemed at the time to be) a huge pair of scissors who, after a bit of prodding and poking, managed to extricate the offending obstruction before pronouncing me fully functional once more.

This is the closest I have ever come to a peanut allergy and it was probably much easier to address than an anaphylactic shock. However, an epi-pen would not have helped no matter how many times I jabbed it in my leg!

When you cast your mind back in time – what is your earliest memory? Is it something significant, something frightening, or was it something that was out of the ordinary?

My memories of my childhood are getting limited – I tend to only recall the big events, like watching the moon landing whilst I was in kindergarten, things like that…

The truth is that there are many things I have forgotten, many experiences, conversations, acts of kindness and love which have fallen prey to my ‘forgettory’ and may never again be recalled. Many of these would be superficial or unimportant but I am certain, just like you, that there are things I should remember which I cannot. Occasionally, when I am talking to my parents, they will recall an event or circumstance and it will trigger something out of the ‘fog’ and bring it into clear focus for me once more.

So my challenge for you today is to allow me to urge you remember something that you have forgotten.     The Bible says… “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:”

Psalms 103:2

Maybe there is some act of His kindness and goodness that you should recall…

Outer diameter or Inside diameter?

All I was told was that I needed some 25mm pipe – but I soon found out that I did not have enough information to make an informed purchase. The supplier asked me a question that I could not answer … “Is that ID or OD?” Upon seeing the blank look on my face he added “Inside Diameter or Outside Diameter?”   After some more research it all became clear – I needed some 30mm outer diameter pipe which ends up being 25mm internal diameter. So I made my purchase and now I am ready for the hard part which is digging the trench – but that is another story.

Apart from the initial confusion regarding precisely what was being measured, the pipe I purchased follows the natural order of things… larger on the outside than the inside. The opposite of this is something that has intrigued Doctor Who fans for 40 years but it is not the norm. My pipe gave me reason to ponder about myself – Which is larger, my internal life or my external one? The truth is that the outer diameter of my life has reached its maximum (that is as long as I am careful about what I eat!), I have no more growing to do, I won’t get taller, I won’t get more teeth, I won’t take up significantly more space – but what about my internal diameter? I hope that I have not stopped growing, I hope that I have areas of expansion yet to experience and that there is even more ahead of me than behind. The truth is that we should defy the ‘norm’ and actually be bigger on the inside than out.

When you look at your life which aspect is larger? Is your personality and flamboyance the greater part or is it your internal compassion, integrity and honest understanding of who you are? Are you striving to build your influence on the outside or are you building a solid and secure internal world?

It would be a shame to live a life which was all show and no real substance… what really matters is what is going on inside, what really matters is the size and pliability of our hearts.

So perhaps it is time to take some measurements and check out what is really going on – it is good (and easy) to check your outer diameter but the deeper and more important question is what is happening on the inside?

“I will follow the course of Your commandments and You shall enlarge my heart.” Psalms 119:32

Fantasy or reality?

It started over 30 years ago when I first read ‘The Hobbit’ and it continued when I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to my wife during the first year we were married. I loved these books and I would find myself visiting them at least every couple of years. I had copies of the BBC radio adaptations and various versions of the audio books but when the movies finally came out I was overwhelmingly impressed with the world that Sir Peter Jackson had released from the printed page and brought forward into a visual reality.

This week we had the opportunity to visit the movie set of ‘Hobbiton’ which last year was the most visited tourist attraction in New Zealand (and is probably going to be so again this year). To say that it was ‘well done’ would be a massive understatement as I found that it lived up to and exceeded my expectations at every turn. I am not going to spoil it for anyone by giving away details because I hope (if you are interested) you will one day be able to find them out for yourself but I just want to say that I was not disappointed by what I experienced.

So many things seem to fail to live up to the hype they are surrounded in. We are bombarded by reality and lifestyle shows that promise dramatic and ‘shocking’ outcomes, only to find that someone merely made a mistake when cooking dinner – which happens in most houses from time to time. We have all made a purchase which has promised to change our life, but when we get home we soon find it is merely another item on a long lists of ‘almosts’. We have all looked forward to a special event and had it fail to impress or travelled to visit somewhere special only to find that it is actually not that special after all.

So when something lives up to its advertising we are surprised, refreshed and satisfied all at the same time. This is precisely how I felt after visiting Hobbiton and it was a welcomed rarity. When you come across something that lives up to its expectations you want to share it with others. That is why every week I share with you. Even more than the fantasy of Hobbiton I have found a reality that you can rely upon – the hope found in the person and promises of Jesus Christ.

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given.”   Romans 5:5

What a difference the light makes…

“And just out this window you will have a beautiful view of the river…”

We had arrived at our destination after the sun had fallen, it had been a good trip but it felt like we had been taken into the middle of no-where and it was dark. There were no stars to be seen and no moon gracing us with its presence. For most of the afternoon it had been raining steadily and how we had arrived at our very nice accommodation but it was dark, cold and wet. We looked outside but we could see nothing at all. I found myself trying to imagine what I was missing and the longer I looked, the darker it seemed to get. I wondered if it was going to live up to the expectations I had been encouraged to hold – I would just have to wait until the morning.

What a difference the ‘light’ makes!

When the dawn arose (I was awake because of the time change), there truly was a sight worth seeing; an expansive river, framed by a picturesque grove of trees, an un-interrupted and totally natural viewpoint which refreshed your heart just by looking at it. The little Bungalow where we were staying sat right on a bend in the riverbank so from every angle it felt like you were surrounded. To say it was peaceful was an understatement and to say that it lived up to the hype was dreadfully inadequate.

The fact was that the beautiful view was there the night before but we couldn’t see it because it was obscured by the darkness. The fact was that the ‘peace and tranquillity’ were there but they were overrun by the effects of the cold and falling rain.

One of the sad things in life is when our circumstances overtake our potential and when the challenges we face cause us to lose sight of all that is available to us. The truth is that many positive opportunities are missed because we never allow ‘the light’ to shine upon us. Darkness closes in and traps us in a cage of unbelief and doubt and we miss out on what could belong to us.

The purpose of God and the very mission of Jesus; was to come to earth as ‘the light of the world’ – to shine true light on our potential and to demonstrate the picturesque nature of a life lived on His terms.   That is an image worth seeing and that is a life worthy of waking up for!

Change of contract..

I was dealing some legal issues this week regarding an organisation that I oversee. We are transitioning from one legal entity to another and so everything has to be re-written and transferred across. One of the many tasks that were on my list was the re-issuing of contracts to the various people who are employed by us. It is only a simple change really, but it has taken quite a bit of time to work it out. The only thing that had to change was the name of the organisation that employs them but, of course, it is not that simple.

Firstly, I had to engage the lawyers (to write the draft contract), then I had to run it by the Board of Directors, then I had to prepare the contracts with the various idiosyncrasies of the individuals involved, then I had to discuss the contract with each individual, then I had to negotiate with a couple of them who wanted to make adjustments and changes, then the final contracts were agreed on, signed and actioned… simple!

Contracts are agreements between at least two parties, which spell out the understood parameters of the relationship. In changing from one contract to another I was informed that the new contract must not remove any benefits or conditions from the employee but could add benefits or improve the conditions under which they work. So I had to make certain that my employees were ‘better off’ under the new system. This is not always the case, an often people are faced with a change of working conditions or a limiting of their income or benefits – at that point they are left with a difficult choice to continue in that employment or to look elsewhere.

I don’t know what contracts you are party to in your life…perhaps work, a mortgage, a marriage or a partnership. This week gave me an opportunity to pause and think about the most important ‘change of contract’ I have ever been involved in.

From birth, I was in charge of my own life. I was free to make my own decisions, to go where I wanted and to do what I pleased but the result was not satisfaction but emptiness and longing. It was not until I exchanged contracts and allowed Jesus to be in control of my life that I found the peace and joy I was looking for.

Perhaps it is time to renegotiate?

You will be better off I guarantee!

“For you are not your own, you have been bought with a price…” 1 Cor 6:19