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String of Pearls

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In his book “Steering through Chaos”, Os Guinness compares mercy, or if you prefer, ‘forgiveness’, directly to avarice or greed. He says that it is the complete opposite and encourages us to  do as Jesus does. He says: “Mercy, as Jesus describes it, is no respecter of persons; rather, it reaches its highest form when offered to those who least deserve it – our enemies and those who persecute us unjustly…” [2000: 205]

I need you to answer a question: God, Maker of heaven and earth, allows the sun to rise every day. Does it only rise for the just among us? Or, does it rise over both good and evil? Who are we then, claiming that we belong to God, that the Holy Spirit lives in us, to NOT forgive even those who hurt us most?

As Christians we need to live by example to BE…

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Reflection: On Fear

String of Pearls

Reflection image fear

Over the past week we’ve discussed fear. I’ve sought to reassure you, dear reader, that we should never fear anything in this world,  be it the future, enemies or our own abilities, because God is always in our presence.

Let us reflect on this issue of fear:

Fear is such a distinctly human emotion. We are, by nature fallible in body and mind; we can get hurt, we can die and many of us fear death itself. Some people fear pain,  some fear loss and, these days, with the world in turmoil, many of us fear the future. We worry endlessly about these things and, given half a chance, fear will overwhelm us and leave us in despair, quivering with anxiety.

Sometimes the fear is not even for ourselves, but for our loved ones. Many of the things we do these days are the result of fear: we live behind…

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Garden Spring 2015

Now, I’m no fan of the summer. I detest the heat. In South Africa we experience rather scorching summers and the past few years have been particularly bad – sometimes up to 38°C in Pretoria. I mean, PHEW!! Our summer holiday in December is not much better….our holiday home is in KZN, on the coast and the humidity can really get to a person. And, sun worshippers, I do not ‘’tan’’. I’ve been avoiding the sun years before science proved the dangers of UV-rays.  I prefer my pale complexion, thank you. I would rather be caught dead than simmering in the summer heat, glistening with a disgusting mix of suntan oils and lotions and sweat. In my opinion, baking is something you do in your kitchen with the oven safely closed.

Despite my aversion to anything summery (including summer clothing – oh how I long for sleeves and pants to cover those icky body parts), I need to say that there is indeed something I like about the season. The thunderstorms for one. Since childhood I had a thing for rain and thunder. I love the smell of rain and ozone in the air just before it starts to pour, the sight of the blue-black cloudbanks and the distant rumbling. Its as if the whole world is filled with expectation. And after….the smell of wet earth, the sound of leaves dripping water and the air so clear and crisp you can almost hear it crackling with freshness. I love the sky after a storm….so pure and blue that it hurts your eyes to look at it. I need to add, though, that I love rain at any time of the year….rain cleans and refreshes, even in the bitter cold winters. When the sky is heavy with the promise of a downpour, the clouds so low you can almost touch it….it calms me somehow. My husband reckons it’s the Scot in me…he says that, perhaps, my soul longs for the icy moors and snow-capped mountains in the country I so adore.

Another thing I love about summer is our garden (pictured above). It comes to life after the long winter. I love to watch the tree outside our window, its branches swelling with the promise of new leaves. Every year I promise myself that I will track this change from bare branches, to buds, to full, sagging limbs, filled with leaves of the deepest green you can imagine. Don’t ask me what type of tree it is, though…..I have NO clue. Maybe it is just as well, I don’t really know plants, I just appreciate their beauty without getting all scientific about it. Some names I do know, but that’s just pure luck, I guess!

We have this shrub, a Mayflower (yes, I know that one) in front of my daughter’s bedroom window. It is in full bloom now, covered with pure white flowers. Our purple iris and yesterday-today-tomorrow, the sweet jasmine and the roses, the azaleas and a multitude of others, names unknown to me, of course. Every imaginable hue of green fills all the corners of the garden. Such a riot of color and mix of fragrances and, in the background, the ever-present sound of our little water feature.

Sitting quietly, just me, the sound of the water and the birds in the trees, I can almost feel the plants growing….it is like a living creature, surrounding me. Sometimes I’d lie on my back, settling deep into the grass, close my eyes and just smell and listen. It is at times like this, in the season I dislike, that I can hear the universe talking. In our little garden, our little piece of the world, there is this abundance of life….we have been blessed to enjoy it. This is God’s gift to us. It is a privilege, an honour, to be here and to be able to experience this moment.

I am reminded of an old song we used to sing in church: “In moments like these, I lift up my hands to the Lord”. All this, all of it, all the plants in our little garden, all the small creatures living there….such a tiny thing, so inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things, yet it exists, its there for me and my family to enjoy. It was given by the God of our Fathers, my God, something to enjoy and draw peace from, not something to destroy. Thinking this made me feel the presence of God in my life and it comforted me to know that He thought we deserved this little piece of heaven.

People talk about living IN THE MOMENT….let me tell you a secret; the MOMENT will not happen if you don’t actively seek it. Take the time, set aside five minutes of your day, go to a quiet garden,  listen, smell….you’ll be amazed at what you discover. Perhaps you will find that, yes, even though you feel small and insignificant, even you’ve been given a piece of heaven.  God found you important enough to bring you to a special place where you can reflect, meditate and find peace in an otherwise chaotic life.

It doesn’t even matter that you don’t believe in God, friend….because, trust me, HE BELIEVES IN YOU!

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I spoke to my aunt this morning….what a woman she is. Always an inspiration to us all. Aunt Ester is in her 80’s now, still working full time and, well, for lack of a better phrase…fighting fit. She refuses to give in to old age, illness and despair and claims that she wants to live until she’s at least 104. I once mentioned this ”goal” of hers and she told me that she considers revising it now….120 may be more…errrrr….realistic, especially since she has no competition anymore. I remember when my Mom died, it was such a terribly sad moment, but I had to bite my tongue to keep from giggling…she bent over my Mom’s body and, frowning sternly, she said: “Spoil-sport!” She later told me that Mom dying took all the fun out of her little getting-older-than-you-competition. That is just SO aunt Ester.

All my life I’ve looked up to her as an example of how to live my life and now, nearly 50 myself, I look back on the years and realize that the family resemblance is there after all, despite the fact that I don’t look like anyone in my family. The storms have always been raging in my life and, somehow, I just adjusted my perception of the circumstances and managed to survive. Oh, I must admit, there were times that I felt VERY depressed and down indeed, but even those dark moments couldn’t hold me….the chains broke and I was set free. I’ve faced death, I’ve faced loss and deep sorrow, I’ve had to deal with challenges….but in that I am definitely NOT unique. Each one of us has our own battle, our own demons to overcome and none of us can claim that your suffering is worse than the next person’s – we don’t know each other’s hearts.

What I want to share with you today, however, is the truth that one can actually face everything, every storm that life throws at us. Each one of us has a unique battle, but what is often true is that we badly underestimate our own strength and power to persevere. Life is made up of a million little wars, fought each day in the battleground of our minds. We have a choice, we can allow these little evils to overcome us, to drag us down into darkness and despair OR we can stand up with courage and face it head-on.

Sometimes, all we need is a little perspective….the general public do not really fight wars, like soldiers on the battlefield, so we don’t have to face down a real enemy. More often than not, the only enemy we have, is ourselves. We think we will never be able to finish that assignment, pass that test, sort out your finances, whatever your problem may be….the word ”can’t” usually creeps in. “Can’t” is such a final word, don’t you think? I can’t write this essay, I can’t finish this job….perhaps we would do well to re-think our use of “can’t”. When you say you can’t do something or that you can’t survive some kind of challenge, you imply that you are ready to give up; that you will just let go, without a fight. ”Can’t” rules out possibilities; the chance that you may find a way through, that you may, indeed, triumph over whatever issue it is you are struggling with. ”Can’t” implies ”impossible” – I can’t win, I can’t do, I can’t this and that….saying that you ”can’t” shows how much you underestimate your own abilities.

Never say ”can’t”…..when you have a problem in your life, do not simply sit down and let it drown you, think it over, from every angle and seek out a possible solution. Nothing is impossible, though to our human mind it may seem that way. If you are lost in the desert, it would not do to give up and say: “I can’t go on” (not unless you wish to sign your own death warrant). No, you MUST go on, find a way….watch the sun, the path it follows in the sky to get your bearings…and struggle on. Such is life in reality….we all sometimes feel lost in the desert, yet our responsibilities (family, mortgage payments, whatever) forces us to go on. I know that you sometimes feel battle-weary and that you just want to give up. When that moment comes, take the time to look back over your life and see how far you’ve come. Look at the expanse of the desert behind you, all those painful times, those hardships you’ve already survived….if you can make it this far, you can definitely go the rest of the way.

We should not see our trials and tribulations as some sort of judgement or punishment, neither should we feel that we are too weak to overcome our present troubles. Even our darkest moments can provide wisdom; something to file away in our  minds and to use at a later stage when other, new problems arise. We learn from the past, so that the future can be less of a challenge.

Be strong, have faith……..God granted you this life, because He knew you will be strong enough to live it.

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