A Seat at the Table

“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”  Luke 14:13 (NIV).

Picture the scene: an elaborately decorated banquet table situated in the center of a great hall. Every detail planned and executed with the greatest of detail and finesse. No expense spared. The places are set, the food exquisitely prepared and ready to serve. It is a feast fit for a King.

The large doors creak open and one by one the guests start filing in. But wait. There must be some mistake. These can’t surely be the invited guests? There is nobody of wealth and high position here. Nobody worthy of such a feast. Of a seat at this table.

And yet there is no mistake. No misunderstanding. The placecards are correct, they are supposed to be here. Every single one. The poor and the sick. The lonely and the lost. The misfits and the marginalized. This is the Lord’s table. And ALL are welcome.

It may sound unbelievable, but this is no fairytale. There is a heavenly feast being prepared and no-one is undeserving of an invitation. But something is going wrong. The message isn’t getting out – to the people that need to hear it the most. And if they don’t know that they’re invited…how will they know to come?

Remember the great commission. To make disciples of all nations. ALL. Not just people that look and think and behave like we do. It may not be comfortable, to reach out to those so different from ourselves, but then Jesus was never concerned with being comfortable. He was on a rescue mission to save every single soul. And He didn’t do that by separating himself from those He wanted to reach. By closing the doors and turning them away. Instead, He went directly to them in the midst of their sickness, sorrow and sin. ‘Come’, He said. And they did.

I wish we were able to do the same. But instead, we fall so very short of the standard He set for us.  Focusing so much on the sin, that we forget about the person. Pursuing our own causes and agendas, without pausing to consider the human cost behind it. People who have had to make agonizing, life altering choices. Who are struggling to survive in their homeland, maybe even in their own bodies. We call them out on their sin instead of offering what they so desperately want and need. Love and compassion and so so much grace. To know they are valued beyond measure by their Creator and Father. That there’s a seat at the table, with their name on it, waiting to be filled.

But this is not the message they’re hearing — from the church, or from us. They have only ever been told what they are not. Not good. Not enough. Not acceptable.  Not welcome. At least not as they currently are.

That, my friends, is not the message of scripture.

In the gospels, Jesus tells a parable about a man hosting a lavish wedding feast. After realizing that none of his wealthy and important guests are planning to attend, he decides instead to send his servant out into the streets to invite anyone and everyone they can find.

“Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”

Luke 14:21-23 (NIV).

God wants His house to be filled. And what’s more, there is no prerequisite entry standard to get in the door. The guests in this story were simply invited. As they were.

What if we did the same? If we went out beyond our comfort zones and just loved people? Just as they are. Without condemnation, or judgement and shame. With an invitation in hand.

We should never think we alone are powerful enough to change people’s lives. Only God can do that. But first, they need to want to meet Him. They need to know they can. And if we, as His followers, could love others with the love and compassion of Christ, the same self sacrificing, all consuming kind of love that caused Him to lay down His very life, I think, just maybe, the message will get through. And people will come.

But first things first. They need a seat at the table.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV).

The places are set, the banquet is ready. Who are you going to invite to the table?

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Photo by Tembela Bohle on Pexels.com
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Just As They Are

One of the most enduring images I have of the summer is that of my three year old at our favorite, local splashpad. Curled up on a bench in her bone-dry swimsuit, head in hands, it looked like I had dragged her to her worst nightmare instead of a fun morning activity with friends. From the very first moment we arrived, she decided she was most certainly not going to entertain this particular outing, and, like most three year olds, her decision was final. I did what I could to get her on board but my kind, encouraging, gently persuasive tone gradually shifted to one of irritation and annoyance. Still, she would not budge. As the other children danced joyfully in the sprinklers, she whined and cried, resolute in her decision to opt out. Embarrassed, disappointed, defeated, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question:

Why couldn’t she be like all the other kids there having fun, and just fit in?

I think we’ve all probably been there at some stage. A moment where our child appears so very obviously different. Whatever the reason may be, those situations where our babies noticeably stand out from the crowd can be hard to bear. We so want them to fit in. To be successful, and happy, and well adjusted. To have the opportunities and experiences we have dreamed for them. It’s not wrong to want the best for our children… is it?

The problem comes,  I think, when we take it too far. When we shift the focus from the individual to the collective. When we get so caught up with what everyone else’s children are doing that we fail to see, really see, the one standing in front of us. When we treat their failure to ‘fit in’ as a personal one, reflecting our own insecurities, doubts, and fears of judgement and rejection. When it becomes more about us than it is about them, because maybe, more than we want to admit, we want to fit in too.

I wonder if we have forgotten somewhere along the way that ‘fitting in’ was never actually the goal in the first place. That being just the same as everyone else , was never actually part of our design.

“Before you were born, I set you apart.”

~Jeremiah 1:5

I sometimes, shamefully, need the reminder that my daughter was fearfully and wonderfully made by her master Creator. Set apart to fulfil her divine purpose and plan. At times she may march to the beat of her own drum, stand out from the crowd. Yet, nothing about her is accidental, mistaken or flawed. She is quite simply, exactly who she was created to be, whether the world appreciates her or otherwise.

So maybe we need to start implementing Psalm 139 parenting a little more. Focusing less on what our children are not doing and embracing, instead, their uniqueness and individually, quirks and all. Instilling in them confidence and self assurance, raising them to recognize and appreciate their true God-given value and worth. Reinforcing over and over again, as many times as they need to hear it: You are enough. Just the way you are.

We returned to the splash pad a few weeks later, and this time, we did it her way. Without pressure and expectations, with the freedom to be herself and the space to flourish – and flourish she did. This time I didn’t care what everyone else might have thought, because this mama spent the morning enjoying  her little girl just as she is, and could not have been any prouder.

On the night you were born, 

The moon smiled with such wonder

That the stars peeked in to see you

And the night wind whispered,

“Life will never be the same.”

Because there had never been anyone like you… ever in the world.”

~On the Night you were Born, Nancy Tillman 

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A Moment worth Celebrating

If your social media accounts are anything like mine, the start of September may have left your feeds inundated with a vast number of first day of school pictures. Photo after photo of smiling, excited new preschoolers, almost toppling under the weight of their cute little backpacks. Maybe you found it a little much, thought it was overkill even. “Not another one,” you might have inwardly groaned. “They’re just going to school- what’s the big deal?”

I confess, before I had children of my own, I was probably one of those people. Yet I’ve come to realize that moments like this, well, they are a big deal. They are moments worth celebrating. Not only because the moment itself is a momentous one, as our little ones take very tentative little steps towards their independence in that big scary world (sob!), but because it also represents the millions of tiny moments it took to get to this very one.

Behind every smiling child, and their proud parents behind the camera, there is a journey.  The lessons that had to be taught and learned, the battles that had to be fought, the challenges that had to be overcome. Our challenge has been one of adaptation. Or more specifically my daughter’s lack of it. To look at her here you wouldn’t know it. You may not see it, yet it’s there. It has been our story.

She stands there with pigtails. Pigtails! There was a time I couldn’t even brush her hair without tears. Hair bands, bows, clips, forget it.  That hair was wild and free. Thank goodness it was short! Yet here we are. Mommy is granted the privilege of styling her hair and believe me, we do not take that for granted. A moment to celebrate.

The water bottle. We honestly thought she’d be drinking out of a sippy cup in high school.  Our cupboards are still full of our rejected attempts to instill change. Bottles that were the wrong size, or shape, or color. Bottles with lids or spouts, or that, God forbid, had a straw. This month she went to Target and chose two new ones for school, just like that. No issues, no fuss. A moment that to anyone else would seem insignificant, but to us it was epic. A moment to celebrate.

There are snacks in her little lunch bag that not so long ago she would not eat- our food battle being the biggest one to date. Foods being typically rejected on the basis of their unfamiliarity. Their look, color, texture, all carefully inspected before being cast into the reject pile. We’ve encouraged and threatened, bribed and bargained to get to this stage. Where she will at least try. She will eat cupcakes at a friends birthday party or enjoy a special treat at Dunkin. I no longer have to cut a blueberry into eight(!) pieces. For these seemingly small yet momentous achievements we are so thankful. We celebrate.

There are other moments too. Tolerating trying on new shoes in a store. Riding a pony for the first time. Using the potty at school. Seemingly small moments that represent unimaginable progress. Moments that deserve recognition, and so much celebration.

There are many many other journeys represented in these photos that litter your newsfeed. Maybe it was the long road to fertility, or the rainbow after loss. Maybe it was the endurance of a difficult pregnancy or a long post-partum recovery. Maybe it was developmental challenges, the battle to get your child the services they needed to make the progress they are showing today. Maybe they didn’t sleep, or eat, or play well with their friends. Whatever it was, or is, never underestimate what it has taken to get here. The patience, the perseverance. The worrying and the despairing. The prayers and the sleepless nights. The hope.

So bear with us, friends. Be kind. Humor us if you must. Allow us the privilege to rejoice in this moment, that is ours as much as it is theirs. It is a moment to celebrate and be thankful for, and you are all invited to the party!

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A letter to my littlest

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I can hardly believe it’s been an entire year since you entered the world and we were transformed into a family of four. A whole year of transitions and changes. New routines, new challenges. A new family dynamic. A whole new little person to love. We watched from our sleep deprived haze as your personality emerged and flourished. Our sweet, playful, bold, adventurer, disarming us with smiles, all the while pushing the boundaries as far as they will possibly go. Joy by name, joyful by nature. What a blessing you are.

Yet from time to time, there looms a beast that threatens to strangle the joy of the last year. Mom guilt. Maybe it has visited you too, suffocating you with its presence. Casting its shadow over your thoughts and actions, causing you to question your decision making and capabilities. Things I could have done better, ways I could have given you more, maybe even loved you more.  So today, on your first birthday, I want to take a minute to clear the air, to vanquish the monster of guilt once and for all and start this new year fresh and new.

I’m sorry little one for all the times you were placed haphazardly on the floor or returned to your bouncer when I knew in my heart you would really much rather be in my arms. For the feeds that were rushed or done on-the-go or even abandoned midway. Your sister needed me and her needs were usually more pressing, more desperate. You had to wait.

I’m sorry that your schedule always seemed to take second place, for the naps that were cut short or missed altogether. For spending too long in the car while we did errands and school drop off. You never complained but the stab of guilt was always there when I buckled you in yet another time. When I knew you needed to sleep or wanted to play. You had to be flexible, to fit in with an established routine instead of having your own.

I’m sorry that you sometimes had to cry a bit louder to be heard above the commotion. That I couldn’t always get to you right away as soon as you wanted me. That you often got poked and prodded and bounced just a little too enthusiastically. That your toys were snatched from you, or weren’t offered at all. You grew up learning how to share everything. Time, attention, toys, even personal space. Nothing was your own.

I’m sorry that mama was tired. Frustrated. Overwhelmed . That she was sometimes too quick to lose her temper. I’m sorry that we read to you less, played with you less. Left you to your own devices a lot more.

I’m sorry that your baby books are still in their wrappers, your milestone photos always late. Your photos are in the cloud instead of frames. Memories in my head instead of boxes.

Reading it back, I wonder if you feel hard done to. Neglected even. That if maybe you were the oldest one, life would have been fairer. Better. Yet sweet one, I promise you, your birth order does not dictate or alter how much you are loved. And being the littlest one has its fair share of blessings too…

I’m thankful you have a big sister. Someone who will love you and defend you fiercely. Who will become your teacher, your playmate, your confidante and closest friend. It may feel like she is always taking  something from you in this chaotic season. Time, and attention, always shared. Yet I hope one day you will see her for the blessing that she is. One of the greatest gifts I could have given you.

I’m thankful that by the time you came along, your mama was already a mama. A little more seasoned, a little more sure. No longer as terrified or self doubting as she was before. With you she relied less on the ‘experts’ and more on her instincts. She worried less about milestones and how ‘things should be done’, and followed your lead a little more. Aware of how short and fleeting this season is, she treasured and appreciated the little moments as much as she could, snuggled you and nursed you to sleep for longer than your sister. She simply enjoyed you more. I want you to know that.

I’m thankful that without a nervous new mom hovering around your every move, you had the opportunity to be you a little more freely. To explore and test your limits. To jump on a trampoline that’s too big for you, climb a step that’s too high. To be swung slightly too fast or bounced roughly down a slide. To be constantly surrounded by language and learning. Stories and songs. Laughter and love.  

I’m sure looking back over this year, there are things I could have done differently. There’s always room for improvement. Yet I hope in spite of it all, you know this mama is doing her very best for you. That you are loved beyond measure. That you  bring joy you bring to us each and every day.

Happy birthday sweet girl. For you, I will never ever apologize. For you, I will only ever be thankful.

Love mummy x

When you feel unseen…

My daughter loves to play hide and seek. The only problem is, she hasn’t quite grasped the concept of hiding yet. If she can’t see you, she pretty much assumes that you can’t see her either. So after lots of anticipation while she goes and finds the perfect hiding spot, there she is in front of you, hiding in plain sight, face buried in a cushion.  She never can understand how I can find her so quickly…

Ever felt invisible even though there you are in plain sight? I can think of times serving in ministry where this has been the case. Maybe you had dreams of being a headline act. A Billy Graham, a Chris Tomlin, a Lysa Terkeurst. A big name making big waves for the kingdom of God. Yet instead, you feel like you’ve been cast as the support act. Doing tasks that seem thankless, that go unacknowledged. Using your God-given gifts to the best of your ability yet still barely making ripples, never mind waves. ‘Is anyone noticing what I’m trying to do here?’, you wonder, ‘am I making a difference?’

If this is you, then take comfort from what Paul writes at the end of the book of Romans, or rather who he recognizes as he thanks various people who have helped him on his missionary journey:

“Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, these women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord

Greet Rufus…and his mother, who has been a mother to me too.”

We don’t find out any more about these women, the specifics of what they did for Paul, how they supported him, or why they deserved special recognition. They were likely ordinary women, humble support acts to Paul the headliner, who probably didn’t feel like what they were doing was all that extraordinary. They ‘loved, ‘worked hard in the Lord’ – and God used their willing hearts to make an impact in Paul’s ministry and subsequently the life of the early church. Such an impact in fact, that they earned permanent recognition in God’s written Word.

1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that, like a well functioning body with many parts, we have all been assigned different but no less important roles to play in the kingdom of God. The body, however will only work well if all its parts work together for a common purpose.

“For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of… no part is important on its own.” (MSG)

Every role has its place in God’s kingdom, from the headline acts, through the supporting acts right down to the jobs that are downright thankless and invisible. They are all necessary for God’s church to function and flourish in our broken world. If we start playing the comparison game, we risk the whole system collapsing in a sea of envy, dissatisfaction, and discord and what use is that to the kingdom of God? We are called instead to do whatever job we have been assigned to do with honor, working at it,

“with all of our heart, as though working for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)

I wonder how the women mentioned in Paul’s letter would react if they knew what their legacy would be many thousands of years later. I wonder if they ever felt they were making a difference, making waves. Yet they ended up playing a supporting role in one of the greatest missionary journeys undertaken in the early church. What an opportunity they may have missed if they chose not to obey God’s call on their life, no matter how small or insignificant it seemed at the time.

In the same way I see my toddler ‘hiding’ in front of my eyes, God always sees us when we feel unseen. When we feel unimportant or ineffective or invisible. When our work seems fruitless, when we feel like we are not performing at the level we should be, when we feel like a support art instead of the headliner. He sees us and He promises us our work for Him is not in vain. So whether you’re a Paul, or a Tryphena today, take heart. Every wave starts with a ripple, and your legacy might reach far beyond your wildest dreams. If only you stay the course.

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Discouragement: Keeping your boat afloat

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My daughter was having a hard time trying to build up a tower of blocks with her baby sister. Babies, she’s learning, don’t follow the rules. Just as she was starting to build up some momentum stacking up those blocks nice and tall, the baby would gleefully knock everything down. Prematurely. No matter how hard she tried, it was never fast enough and the end result was always the same. A pile of bricks on the floor and cries of  ‘…but I didn’t get to finish!’ ringing in my ears. We put that game away for another day!

Life in this season can be a lot like that, I’m finding. You keep plowing on, but no matter how much effort you’re putting in, it never seems like you’re getting anywhere. The house is always in an apparent state of neglect. The laundry: don’t even talk to me about the laundry. Maybe it’s potty training, sleep training, trying to get your child to eat something other than grilled cheese for dinner. No matter how many hours you put in, or books you read or strategies you try, you’re just not seeing any results. A relationship that just doesn’t seem to be healing despite your best efforts or intentions, or a career goal you’re striving for that just never seems to be coming to fruition. You keep building up that tower and time and time again the bricks end up in a pile at your feet. Discouragement sets in and soon you’re wondering if you should even try to build the tower again. Why try so hard if the result will be the same? Why not just give up?

I love the analogy of the little boat sailing through stormy seas. Wave over wave crashes over it yet it keeps sailing on, bruised, dented, but undeterred. However once that hull is breached and water starts to seep inside, it’s game over. The weight of the water overwhelms it until it finally can’t take it any more and succumbs completely, dragged down beneath the waves. Discouragement can be like that. If you let it, it can seep into your soul and threaten the very foundation of who you are. Before you know it discouragement turns to doubt. ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not trying hard enough, you’re not equipped enough, surely someone else could do a better job.’ It doesn’t matter what it is your facing, a major storm or a freak wave, once you give doubt and discouragement a foothold, let them take root in your soul, it’s like letting water rush in to your boat. Before you know it you’re sinking. Overwhelmed, disheartened, giving up.

So what is the antidote? We are told in Hebrews 12 to:

“ run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Remember Peter? He was doing just fine walking on those choppy waves…until he took his eyes off Jesus. That’s no coincidence. As soon as he looked down he lost his confidence. He lost his assurance. He looked at the water all around him, and he started to sink. Once we let the water in, it can easily start to take over until we’re feeling like we’re in danger of drowning. So, when water is threatening our boat, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus and replace the lies with truth. Truth that will keep us afloat.

Look at what Paul says in Galatians 6:9

“Do not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest – if we do not give up.”

He sees that we’re tired. We’re weary. We’re discouraged. Yet He asks us to just trust Him and keep going, keep persevering, keep pressing on. That even if we don’t see the fruits of our labor immediately or ever this side of heaven, we need to remember that ultimately nothing we do for God is ever wasted. At the proper time, In God’s time, there will be a harvest. There is always hope on the horizon – if we do not give up.

It’s all about what we choose to focus on. Focus on the water and we drown. Fix our eyes on Jesus and we stay afloat, on even the roughest of seas. He is our role model, our inspiration, our biggest supporter, our source of strength and hope. Our lifeline.

So when a season of discouragement threatens your stability, friends, keep sailing on. God only knows where your journey will end– if you do not give up.

When we can’t see what’s next…

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“Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4 is one of those verses that is supposed to give you comfort. It’s a verse that I’ve bookmarked, memorized, and passed onto others as an encouragement time and time again. Yet for some reason when it appeared in my inbox as the ‘verse of the day’ recently, I did not feel encouraged, or supported, or any the feelings I would normally associate it with. I felt panic.

It was the last phrase that did it, “the desires of your heart.” That’s all well and good if you know what those desires are. What if you don’t? What then?

To explain, currently I feel like I am on a precipice. Where I’m standing, my footing is secure, my purpose and role is clear. Yet just beyond where I’m standing, is a vast, open space, full of possibilities and opportunities and question marks. The ‘what’s next.’ It spells a new chapter of life where I am no longer my children’s caretaker 24 hours of the day and can rejoin the workforce, volunteer or serve in some other capacity. It’s exciting and exhilarating and it also makes me deathly afraid.

Why am I so afraid? Partly it’s because when I look into the void, I see only blankness. I don’t have a predetermined plan, a goal I am working towards, or a specific role I can visualise myself doing. I see only blankness. If I can’t see ahead, if I don’t know what my desires are for the next stage of my life, I’m worried that I’ll miss it: this Thing that I’m supposed to do next. How can you get from A to B if you don’t know where B is or what it even looks like? How do I get to where I’m going without any signposts?

As humans we all tend to want to know what’s coming next. Spoilers if you will. My little 3 year old loves to go through the list of what we’re doing for the day and after every single item will add, “and then?” From sun up to sun down she likes to know what we’re doing next. The order of things. There’s logic to that. Knowledge gives us security. When we can’t see what’s ahead we can feel restless, like an anchorless boat bobbing out on the waves. For me, not knowing what was next or even what I wanted to do next was terrifying.

Then I came across this passage in Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Uninvited, which talks about Psalm 37:4 specifically and states that when we,

abide and delight and dwell in Him, He places within us desires that line up with His best desire for us.” That… ‘He wants our hearts to be in alignment with Him before our hearts set about doing today’s assignment for Him”

Well. This hit me like a ton of bricks. Straight away the emphasis comes off ourselves and onto God. Deciding what’s next is not a task that we have to undertake alone. In fact, we can take the heat off ourselves even further and say that our most pressing job is to rest in the Father. By spending time with Him, He will mould us and shape us and grant us desires that will align with His plans for us – plans that will be infinitely greater than anything we could come up with on our own.

God has not made us to be purposeless, or useless, or lost. Even if we can’t see what’s ahead, He can. He is our anchor when we’re bobbing around in turbulent seas. In the midst of the unknowable, He is all-knowing. All we can do is trust Him with what we can see, like a car whose headlights only uncover one section of the road at a time. Even though we can only see a little bit of the road ahead, we have to keep driving in order to get home. All we can do is trust God with what we can see and keep moving forward, trusting that he will continue to light the way ahead.

Yes it’s scary not to know what’s next. But I feel that God is saying “trust me. I have a plan for you, even if you can’t see all it yet. In the meantime, when you’re doubting your worth or your usefulness or your ‘what’s next,’ come to me. Then I can start to change your heart and create desires in you that reflect me and everything I created you to be.”

Suddenly Psalm 37:4 is no longer scary, but full of hope. The potter knows his clay. The father knows His children, and His plans for us are far far more exciting than anything we can imagine for ourselves.