Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Resilience is the Answer to the Question of Change

The answer to the question of Christian character is resilience of holy accord.  Mix with the ability to endure, to persist, to persevere, the moral desire to become holy.  Both attitudinal imperatives set us a sail for an intrepid voyage over the contemptible lifespan where tougher seasons make us better, and don’t rip us apart, sinew of shame from sinew of fatigue, even though shame and fatigue are inherently part of it.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of the day; that’s where we’re most tempted to fold.  Let’s remember:
The day cannot defeat us
If we know in the week we can recover.
And the week is no enemy
If we know the month holds us tight overall.
And the month won’t get the better of us
If we know that seasons come and seasons go.
Where we are right now isn’t how life will be soon… even in six months.  Two years into the future and things will be different.  We’ll be challenged by different challenges.  That’s sweet relief.  Think about your present challenge.  You’d take almost anything else rather than the present humiliating task.  But it’s all relative.
The reason there is change in life is that God’s impassioned to make us resilient; of mind and heart and character.  He wants us perfected in holiness, which is perseverance.  Sure, we’ll never get close to perfection, but we can progress in resilience, which is humility.  We can adapt to change in such a way as to deal with it all as if we know life’s about difficulty.  The answer to difficulty is resilience.  We must expect difficulty, and then, paradoxically, life gets easy.
In the midst of change we may feel fearful and unhappy, even broken and unable to sustain any hope.  Depressed and anxious to the point of questioning your purpose, ability to endure, even your very life.  It’s understandable.  Nothing to feel guilty or ashamed for.  But an invitation to wrestle, to resist the spiral, to ever push quietly and hopefully forward.
The answer to the questions of such a life is resilience, which is a hope-fuelled way of stepping faithfully forward, even when we feel terrible.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

God’s Season of Stretch Growth and Reward of Hope

I move leaves from one place to another, and from that place to yet another.  I move leaves.  It seems like pretty senseless and meaningless work.  Something akin to the mood of the writer, Qoheleth, of Ecclesiastes — “work is utterly meaningless!”
Yes, and no.  Yes, because on the surface my labours are in vain.  I don’t get anywhere.  My work should make me despondent.  I was certainly tempted to view such work as a waste of time.  But no, also.  And this may well be one of the meanings of life; a kernel of God’s wisdom He’s just shown me.  A truth for all to see.  Yet we can only see it if we meet our meaningless work with the candour of openness to wander with abandon into the wonder of His mystery.
Here’s the no.  The outcome of the work — blowing leaves from one place to another — is not the point.
The actual point is this: in doing the work, God works me into a reflective state, and then He speaks!  As I work, He teaches.  As I allow myself to be absorbed in the work, He guides, He satisfies, and He fulfils a promise.  As I work, He gives me revelation of hope.  Honestly, He flourishes in my mind and swells my heart with purpose.
In a season that has stretched me more than any other season, when I’ve been removed from my beloved vocation, I’ve approached work I would otherwise loath with a positive attitude — because I felt I had no choice but to honour God the best I could.  As a groundsman and handyman.  And because of that, He has rewarded me, because in stretching me, thus far I’ve not resisted His stretching.  Sure, I’ve complained bitterly at times.  Ask my wife.  At times I’ve been a pain to live with.  But the outcome of complaint is exhaustion, and in that weakness is surrender, and in surrender is fresh faith, which is resurrection.  Grace (let me call God, ‘Grace’) has continually brought me through from complaint, and, having forgiven my disobedience, has blessed my eventual obedience with His faith perspective.
I have come to fully believe this: God gives us something intensely salient when we surrender ourselves to go into a stretch season of growth with Him.
Such is God’s faithfulness He always gives us a reward of hope when we press in with Him into the pain of growth.
Such is the blessing of weakness, when we cannot resist His will to grow us, He avails to us strength in the dialect of hope.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

God’s Glory in Our Non-Christian Past

THIRTEEN years as a born-again Christian, born-again — born finally from above having been born into some resident belief, unbequeathed of action, some thirteen years previous.  Thirteen years ago, having had my Saul-on-Damascus-Road conversion, the Father pulled the plug on that old life, blinding me from return, convicting me to walking blindly ahead by faith — which is the only true vision.  Thirteen years, like Saul, I thought I knew God.  I didn’t.
Thirteen years of living a wrong life above God, have been followed by thirteen years of living a right life under God.  I sense there is a Jubilee coming; timely, as my fiftieth year approaches.
Jubilee is a sabbatical vision of liberty and justice for all.
A rule of seven sevens, Jubilee, in this context, is one of release.
As I step back from 49 to 36 to 23 I cannot help but seek to step back even further.  As I seek to reconcile with those bits of my past where I betrayed God’s grace in my lifestyle daily for those thirteen years — never really understanding how to live the Christian life, not desiring to learn, not ‘getting it’ — I cannot help but step back into the further reaches of my life in the eighties.
As I drove my delivery van today, I listened to secular radio.  Doing a secular job avails such exploration.  It was playing nineties music.  Billy Idol’s Flesh for Fantasy, OMD, and INX — bands and songs you might only recognise if you were a twenty-something two decades ago.  When Mike and the Mechanics’ The Living Years came on, I was approaching Fremantle, and instantly I felt the tears flow.  Not really of sadness unless there is a catharsis that occurs.  It was the initial part in a Jubilee of release.  Actually enjoying this work for the first time, because I can do it, and because it’s my own private cave, my tears spoke of the truth of what I’m experiencing; God having, over that thirteen-year period, softened me and strengthened me.  Being soft and strong means I can enjoy being teary.  Being taken deeper and deeper into valleys of heartache has only served to make me softer and stronger, for the glory of God.
This Jubilee of release means I no longer need to covet tomorrow,
for I have today, and I’m released into it.
When I was a non-Christian, and especially when I was Christian but living like a non-Christian, I did some shameful things.  And yet all I feel for all those things I did is a great sense of God’s grace, to enjoy the memory of them as part of the making of me today; they’re part of my history that God neither wants me to deny nor repress.  I’m released to enjoy what those things taught me.
Our non-Christian story speaks powerfully for the work God’s done in our Christian story.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Surviving the Worst Day of Your Life

SOONER or later we all have one of these: what qualifies as the worst day of our life.
You’ve already had one, perhaps several, but, and I hate to be the bearer of such a fact, there is another one coming.  If I could be allowed to extend the truth further, I could say there will be more than one.
Life does not get easier.  It gets harder.  It gets harder because we are more and more sown into life the longer we live.  From only being worried for ourselves, then we have families, and then our children have their own kids.  The older we get, the more our own mortality’s positioned front and centre.  That’s just two examples.  We have, typically, more to lose the longer we live.  This is not so much a depressing truth, but a truth that will undergird us if we’ll configure life around such a truth.
The longer we live, the wiser we should become, and that wisdom is underscored most when we accept we do not control life.  God does.
Age provides us the wisdom that compels us to believe we cannot trust in our own strength.  Sooner or later life smashes us sufficiently that we learn, once and for all, that weakness is best, so that His strength might embody us.  Embodying us, this strength first becomes ours in the secrecy of our consciousness alone.  And here’s an indelible irony!  Even in weakness, we have praise for what God’s showing us; we’re frustrated that we cannot shout about it from the rooftops.  But ultimately people do catch on; there’s something irretrievably inimitable about us.  Such weakness, in God, is the greatest of all gifts in this broken life, if His love weren’t already the supreme gift.
And it’s in this state of being sufficiently weak in His strength we’re best situated, in meeting the worst day of our lives; so it’s not so hard!
One thing that ‘worst days’ are designed to teach us is that attitude trumps circumstance.
But we won’t know the importance of our attitude until we try the futility of railing against life when life’s at its worst.
Surviving the worst day of our lives is as simple as knowing our perception is our biggest barrier to overcome.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Presence of God Hidden In Every Encouragement

Therefore encourage [comfort] one another with these words.
— 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (HCSB)
With what words?  The reminder of Christ’s coming.  That He is coming again.
For Christ comes in every moment of encouragement that lifts us out of a secret dolour that only the interceding Spirit knows anything about.  Certainly the person who brings us a word of encouragement has no idea what it means.  That shows us God’s Presence is incisive and all-knowing.  God knows when we need a lift, and such a lift is often so perfectly timed and unique in its manner of coming.
The Presence of the living and active Lord is resplendent in a hidden way in every word of encouragement.  That’s because the word is given at a time when we richly need it; when others wouldn’t know what it actually means.  And when we choose to obey that gentle nudge of the Spirit, through a specific and well-timed word that we give, we never know how God will encourage us back.
When we lack encouragement most could be the very time God wants us to encourage others most.  Not that we encourage others so we ourselves are encouraged, because that would make our encouragement fail its own integrity test.
But in our encouragement of others, God is able to show us the love we’re capable of, particularly if our prospects are down.  Besides, there is the fact that He has spoken to us in that nudge, and that of itself is an encouragement — that God is using us, and that in encouraging someone we’re being obedient.  There’s no better encouragement.
Nothing speaks of God’s Presence more saliently than a word of encouragement delivered in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s nudge.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Six Paths to An Outcome

CHANGE affects us all in different ways, but just the same, we respond to change in much the same way.  But our responses are not set for life.  Our responses to life’s difficulties and disappointments are our responsibility to control.  We have the ability to respond well.
When something happens to us, we’re in the place of having a choice what our response will be.
Here are six possible outcomes of response:
1.     Something bad happens and we use the issue to rail hard against life for plunging us into an abyss.  The trouble isn’t responding like this, but landing in this outcome that anchors us in bitterness.  The outcome is to become stuck in the seething rage of resentment manifest in passive aggressiveness.
2.     When something bad happens we decide the pain of responding to the issue is too great a cost.  How will we know if faith will serve us well, i.e. is it worth it?  We deny the reality and therefore decide not to adapt to the learning and fail to grow.  The outcome is to become stuck in a comfortable place of spiritual sameness, in boredom and of being boring.
3.     Something horrendous takes place and nothing happens.  No response is made.  It’s as if nothing bad happened at all.  Total denial.  Until you’re reminded of the outcome when you don’t expect it and then you turn panicked or run in the moment to cynicism.  Disparaging the situation or outcome won’t help, however.  Running won’t, either.  In response to future upsets, the cynic behaves like a child.  The one given to panic learns to inwardly fear the unknowable future.
4.     Change pierces the comfortable divide in our lives and it levels us, and the trauma becomes something we must overcome.  Indeed, it’s trauma.  We bear the marks of post-traumatic stress.  But we refuse to stay there, committing what’s within us to the journey to coping.  And, over the following years and decades, coping becomes our response.  God proves faithful.
5.     As change moves us into a new and challenging season we commit prematurely to a stoic response, without truly processing the costs of change, and feeling the losses for what they are.  The outcome is initially a good one, but it’s fraught with danger.  When the test comes, we fracture under pressure.  But cracking under pressure is not the end of the story; God gives us the ability to learn as part of the following sixth response.
6.     Changes rocks us, and for a time we’re backwashed into an emotional stupor, but in time we recover, and despite the ups and downs of recovery, we learn to reflect, buckle in humility, and ultimately we learn.  God speaks.  We listen.  God advises us to lean in and endure the besmirching reality.  The outcome is we move through the groaning passage of loss and our grief, and, through openness to learning, we acquire new resilience, wisdom and understanding.
Some things in life,
Do surely condemn,
Things bringing strife,
When we need a friend.
God is one,
Who when we’d ensconce,
Helps ensure what’s done,
Is our best response.
The harder we meet change, the more likely it is that we’ll feel its full force and adapt best.
Our responses to life’s difficulties and disappointments are our responsibility.  Taking responsibility is empowering, just as refusing to take responsibility is a bondage.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Take Heart When Life Goes Against You

Bear with me in reading the following long quote:
“In the walk of faith there is a sound that is impossible for us to get used to; it often comes abruptly, and it always happens surprisingly.  It’s inaudible, but it is powerful.  And most of us can name specific places and times in our lives when we heard that sound.  And I’m referring to the sound that occurs when God closes a door.  The thing that makes it most difficult is that we usually misinterpret that sound.  It often comes on the heels of a strong commitment to obedience, being filled with the Spirit, going through a season of prayer, often over weeks of time, followed by hard work, diligent effort, the counsel of others… and then SLAM, that door shuts.  And to make it even more difficult, following the closing of the door, there’s silence, deafening silence… God’s silence.”
— Charles R. Swindoll, When God Closes a Door
You are not in control of your life, no matter how much you insist you are.  Yes, this particularly applies to those who hate God.  God proves that He controls everything.  And that doesn’t make anyone happy, including Christians.  But it’s a fact.  Christians and non-Christians need to get used to it.
Nobody likes it.  The non-Christian says, “Yes, there you go, a ‘loving’ God would not let good people suffer!”  The Christian says, “But, I’ve been living a good and godly life; and now this!”  For the Christian, lament is permissible.  But lament is worse than a waste of time for the non-Christian, because they complain to others and end up with a bad name.  The Christian rails against God, to God, and finds that God allows such railing — in fact, He designed it.  It’s an important kind of prayer.  But that, in itself, doesn’t seem to help much in the midst of anguish… only later is it seen to have helped.
There are times in our lives when, for no apparent reason, a door slams closed.  At such times life’s so unfair.  Our misfortune runs counter to what we expect.  And then, silence?  From God?  We wonder what that’s about.  We imagine some of our Atheist friends having a chuckle; not that we’re suffering, but that God is somehow proven (in their eyes at least) to be impotent.  But what they don’t count on is our faith — that backs a faithful God.  Such a faith proves that God does in fact exist, just as such a faith inspires an acceptance for something nobody can change — life, in the ultimate sense, is beyond anyone’s control.
So if we would pursue a real faith we must know that such a faith can only be procured in the testing.  When life goes against us.  Otherwise faith is window dressing.
Take heart when life goes against you.  God is for you, necessarily in His silence, in fortifying your faith.
He chose us.  We must choose Him.  When He’s silent.  And if at the first sign of vacuous darkness we depart, we choose comfort from a liar, because there’s no comfort in darkness without faith in the Lord.
The ultimate expression of faith is choosing to be still before God when He’s silent.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Gambler’s Psychology for Life, Happiness, Success

You never count your money
when you’re sittin’ at the table,
there’ll be time enough for countin’
when the dealin’s done.
— Kenny Rogers, The Gambler (written by Don Schlitz)
Life offers up plenty of surprises, and the conversation that occurs between a gambler and a fellow traveller highlights the wisdom of an old-timer who learned the wisdom of life, supposedly, from his poker games.
The gambler picks that the traveller is down on his luck.  They travel aboard a train bound for nowhere, which is often the train on which gamblers end up.  The gambler’s there perchance.  His conversation with the traveller is his legacy, for a nip of whisky, a cigarette and a light.  The deal done, things get quiet, and the mood changes from frivolity to frankness.
The gambler knows what he knows about people who gamble by simply looking at their eyes.  Studies of body language make it possible to predict with some accuracy where others are at.  Body language, expression, and gestures are cues.  If we’re sufficiently interested in other people, motivated by actual love for them, God can give us the ability to see them.
As for the chorus of the song, here is what I believe the gambler is saying to us:
Know when to hold ‘em: retaining what we should keep, no matter the temptation to sell.  This is especially true about the spiritual things we’re to retain.  This is a spiritual matter.  Spiritual acquisitions of God are precious and priceless.
Know when to fold ‘em: giving away that which we should not keep.  Parts of our characters we need to let go of.  The rough edges God, by cruel experience, is burnishing off us.
Know when to walk away: when we’re behind before we get too far behind.  It takes a mature person to quit ventures trending to nowhere before things get dramatically worse.
Know when to run: when we’re ahead, we run, before we get behind.  Not being greedy, we get to run from that which could be a sweet temptation to stay when we shouldn’t.
When to Count Our Winnings
Only in clear sight of transition is it the right time to review what happened; what we walked away with.  We don’t count our chickens before they’ve hatched, because some might just be unfertilised eggs, suitable only for eating.  We don’t count our winnings at the table, because they’re not ours yet.  Only when we’ve run can we do such a thing.  This applies to all performance.  Do the performance mindfully, and when the performance is over, then conduct the review.
The secret to survival is knowing what to chase from what to leave alone.  Sometimes we’re winners, and sometimes we’re losers.  Nobody holds the aces on victory, just as nobody owns defeat.
It’s true that the gambler says, “the best thing you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”  To not have to experience death consciously is about the best way to do death, given that we all must experience such a morbid end.  And when the gambler, he rolled over, ready for that sleep, the song tells us he “broke even,” which is a gambler’s way of understanding he died.  In death we break even, for all we gained and lost in life is then put in a box.
Our circumstances in life are the cards we’re dealt; the way we play our hand speaks about our choices.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.
Postscript: whilst I deplore gambling for its addictive qualities that produce no end of personal and social problems, I couldn’t get past the incredible wisdom in this song, as a metaphor for applying wisdom to life.  Learn the wisdom, but please don’t gamble!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Feeling All Your Emotion, Thinking With All Your Mind

“Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that we cannot bear the pain.  But we have already borne the pain.  What we have not done is feel all we are beyond that pain.”
— Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931)
Often we think much of capping our feelings in order to control them, and certainly a lot of the time we need to.  Sometimes our feelings swarm and threaten to overwhelm us.  But what if they did?  We might suffer another panic attack.  Yet in controlled circumstances we might be able to venture safely into the fear of such an event in order to let God heal us of our fear.  I don’t suggest you do this anytime soon without having consulted people trained and competent in such expertise.  The point is we fear our emotions to such an extent we’re likely to avoid them, and in the process avoid the healing we could experience for simply enduring the emotion by engaging in the fullness of the feeling.
It’s the same with our thinking.  We’ve got everyday opportunities, each moment of every day, where we can engage the senses and become intentionally mindful.
We may think too much, but that isn’t the type of mindfulness that leads to the power of being present.  That type of analytical thought usually bogs us down in dread.  Being mindful is the practice of conforming the mind to God-willed and God-glorifying thought — a type of obedience; the practice of prayer, as much as anything is, provided we’re praising or thanking God in our thoughts.
Feeling With All Our Emotions
One way to harness all our fear is to intrepidly venture into the fullness of our feelings.  Again, we design a safe place and way of doing it, with safe people around to catch us if we might fall.
One thing that goes with courage, in venturing into the fullness of our feelings, is its polar opposite: vulnerability.  We never think that courage and vulnerability are anything close, until we realise that to stand in the presence of one’s horror, we’re both courageous and vulnerable.  No self-protection was afforded to us, and to feel the weight of our emotions is an empowering permission we can give to ourselves.
Thinking With All Our Minds
This practice doesn’t seem quite as risky as feeling with all our emotions.  But it’s just as scary, as we give God permission to reveal whatever He will during our deliberations.
Thinking with all our minds can produce through us some crazy, inane, and even some insane thoughts.  We have to trust them all in the Presence of God within us.
Thinking with such intention is the removal of all distractions, even a meditative state of mind.
We can be more if only we can endure more of what we actually feel and think.  There is nothing to be fearful of, and, when we commit to feeling the fullness of our emotion, we empower our mind to think with might.  Facing what we actually feel and think is a boon for a self that normally kowtows to society’s norms, where it’s easier to deny.
When we permit ourselves to feel the weight of our emotions, we permit God to heal us, for the more honestly we feel, the better we think, the stronger we grow in bearing our weakness, the greater we enjoy life.
We’ve already sustained ourselves in the rawness of the experience of our pain.  Now is the opportunity to feel it for what it was.  Now is the time to thank God for the fortitude He gave us to hold up under such trauma.  Face it and heal.  Do so with your spiritual director.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Who’s to Judge the Length of a Person’s Grief?

Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness.  It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love.  The only cure for grief is to grieve.
— Earl A. Grollman
At a time when we’ve recently ‘celebrated’ two years since a significant grief started, I’ve often wondered how others honestly perceived me and us in this social media age.  I’m an avid blogger, as you the reader will know.  I’ve written about two-hundred articles on our personal journey since July 1, 2014.  Overall, I’ve written nearly six-hundred on grief and loss.  I’m acutely aware that writing so much is ingratiating for some.  I feel called to write on whatever God places on my heart, but the social media age can bring with such expression the idea of ‘enough already’ in those who receive my posts.  I do understand that that can lead to negative perceptions, which is a cost of expression.
Recently I heard about a woman who had been abused by a Facebook friend for apparently posting too much about her loss.  A lady I’m acquainted with posted a photograph of the text message, worried that someone might do the same to her.  She and her partner had lost their baby at 59-days-old.  Shattered by her loss, her grief found safe harbour within a special group to which I belong — because of our loss.  Only six months have passed.  The baby she had long prayed for, the baby that was hers, hers to enjoy, had Pallister-Killian Syndrome (PKS) — the syndrome our deceased son had.  Nobody can comprehend the journey she’s been on, least of all herself or her partner and their family.  Nobody.
To read words like those in the picture above is infuriating in one sense, and bewildering in another.  Infuriating because nobody gets to say those words to someone bereaved.  Bewildering because there are many out there who think people just need to harden up a little — and nothing anyone says will convince them otherwise.
The point I want to make is this: who can legitimately judge the length, or the expression, of a person’s grief?  And how unfair is it, that, given our grief must be expressed, that the only cure for grief is to grieve, people find they cannot bear those who grieve during this time; that they might find those who grieve ingratiating.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past thirteen years of experiencing a series of losses, it’s that grief lasts longer than we would ever like or anticipate.  And the irony is, the person grieving has had enough of the grief long before anyone on the periphery would complain of them being ingratiating.
Love is measured in how well we bear the burden of others.  It is better than somebody else experiences loss, and that we have the privilege of support, than such loss strikes us.
If someone has experienced loss, let us love them by giving them plenty of space to express how they feel, with no limit of time.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.