Shavua Tov!

From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought:  Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.

“‘From this day on I will bless you.’” Haggai 2:18-19 NIV

Rest in Me

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‘Come to me if you’re tired, weary, burned out and I will give you rest. You’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.’ Matthew 11 28-29 Message Translation.

Christians often talk about the Lord telling them to pray and rest in Him. What does this mean? Does it mean we must take to our beds and sofas and kick back for the rest of our lives, giving up jobs and lives and staying at home?

As appealing as this may sound, on the contrary, if we are praying in all circumstances, we have the confident hope that the Lord is actually telling us, ‘Pray and I will do the rest.’

This sounds so simple. He is certainly stronger than we are, has our best interests at heart, can see the future before it happens and has designed each of us for a specific purpose (this is why comparison is futile and steals our happiness.) The Lord’s grace is enough for us; His power is made perfect in our weakness.

We are not to try to understand, underestimate or know how He does things. The grace of the Lord is stronger than all our faults and failures. His love for each of us is deeper and greater than our hearts could ever fathom. We must humble ourselves, therefore, before the Almighty God, for truly He alone is the One who gives and takes away.

Do not be afraid to go boldly forth into the new day. Just as none of us would go into the laundry basket and take out yesterday’s clothes to wear, so it is with the mercies of Christ which begin fresh each day. We must not take the garbage of yesterday into the freshness of today. Why be afraid when we are given a spirit of love, courage and a strong mind?

As St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy, when the going gets tough, take it on the chin, just as Jesus did, running the race of faith, love and peace. Let’s not be argumentative but be gentle, listeners, keeping cool and keeping on, keeping on.

Asking the Lord to help us and sort out our stresses and messes starts a positive cycle of strength and reassurance, relief from pressure and real progress. This is most certainly difficult to start with but will become easier as we rest in Him, spending more time in prayer and thankfulness for all He has done and is doing for us. As our “Attitude of Gratitude” develops, we will see how our days become less stressful and more productive. The rest will come and our bodies will become physically and mentally recharged and stronger.

“You pray, I’ll do the rest,’ says the Lord. The rest of our hearts, souls, minds and lives is found as we pray, trust, believe and obey that He is with us always. The rest will come in the Lord’s time but, in the meantime, He will equip us through the Holy Spirit to cope with life and its grenades. We can confidently go in to today to work and enjoy the freedom He has given us through the price paid through His death and resurrection.

Lord, in your mercy, help us pray and let you do the rest. Help us to remember that you are a God who loves us and has our best interests at heart. Help us Lord, graciously help us go into today with happiness and gratitude for all you have done and are doing for us and through us for the good of each other. Help us develop attitudes of sincere gratitude. Enable us, Lord, to set aside stillness in each day to listen to you. In this stillness may your Holy Spirit help us remember times when you have answered our prayers and enabled us to to more than we could physically or mentally have achieved in our own strength. May we openly talk with others about these times to encourage, refresh and build one another up. Bless us, good Lord. Thank you Lord for we can’t do this without you.  Amen.

What is Love? (Baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me…)

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Recently, I have been pondering what the true meaning of love is. If you love someone, set them free.  All you need is love. Love is a many splendid thing, indeed, but how do we really show someone that we love them?  Sometimes, it is by sitting on our hands and doing and saying nothing while they hurt us with words and actions. Sometimes, it is giving them our last dirham or a simple smile and hello. This passage of the the New Testament is a Wedding Favourite, but imagine if we substituted the word ‘Love’ for ‘I am’ when reading the following passage. A somewhat sobering thought as all of us strive to attain the all perfect love for each other when it is the last thing we feel capable of. Lord, help us. Lord, graciously help us show the world what true love is. Peace out.

The Way of Love…

I Corinthians 13

13 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t Iove, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

(Therefore, with God’s help and grace…)

  • I never give up.
  • I care more for others than for self.
  • I don’t want what I don’t have.
  • I don’t strut.
  • I don’t have a swelled head.
  • I don’t force myself on others.
  • I am not always “me first.”
  • I don’t fly off the handle.
  • I don’t keep score of the sins of others.
  • I don’t revel when others grovel.
  • I take pleasure in the flowering of truth.
  • I put up with anything.
  • I trust God always.
  • I always look for the best.
  • I never look back but I keep going to the end.

http://www.biblegateway.com

Less is more

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We have all had to simplify our lives living here in the desert. The nearest city is around 180 minutes drive away and the journey is nothing short of exhausting.  A weekend trip to Abu Dhabi is supposed to be refreshing but any relaxation felt is soon erased by the arduous drive back to our desert accommodation.

At some point, all of us have felt that our former lives in the West have been brutally stripped away and have left us bare and vulnerable. Each of us has often questioned why we are here.

Yet something much stronger overrides this sense of exposure to the unknown and uncertainty of this lifestyle we now find ourselves in. Its name is Peace. http://biblehub.com/john/14-27.htm

Expat Desert Inhabitants have made difficult choices, sacrificing friends and family and a lifestyle back home to follow what we know in our hearts to be the right professional and/or personal choice.  If we looked at our situation with human eyes and took everything at face value, we would feel overwhelmed.

Yet, when we are in a place where we know we are meant to be, we are somewhat at pains to describe to others why we remain.  Paradoxically, we know that if we stayed in our home countries, we would feel restless and unsettled with each passing day; the silent sentiments of no longer belonging to the society into which we were born steadily consuming us.

I am blessed by new friends and colleagues who identify with the difficulties we are facing together. Chats whilst sharing cups of tea and coffee, bread, biscuits, books read, clothes that no longer fit, recipes, drives to the city, weekly car-pools to work when we all need a 30 minute lie in, recommended podcasts and albums all combine to enable us to develop our sense of community and sisterhood.

There is much joy to be found in what is sometimes an incomprehensible life when we look outwards, forget ourselves and keep going. Personally, I am often encouraged by the words once sent to me many years ago by my sister:  Look outwards; forget yourself. And those of my dad:  Keep going and don’t look back or you’ll turn into a pillar of salt! http://biblehub.com/genesis/19-26.htm

Many of us are finding talents which have been lying dormant for so long and are making jewelry or painting and sketching. Some are learning languages for travels to and from the Middle East whilst others are discovering a flare for making sour cream and guacamole (see last post: In the desert, we make our own sour cream…)

Although it may seem we have little, we are growing inwardly and outwardly.  Just as it was in the story of Jesus feeding the 4000, we learn that although things more than often do not make sense, as we continually pray in all circumstances and keep looking on the bright side, miracles happen and we find ourselves coping.http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+8&version=MSG

Prayer:  Lord, forgive us for times when we have been disgruntled, disillusioned and disappointed about the circumstances we find ourselves in. Forgive us for the times when we don’t appreciate what we have and help us see the satisfaction of simple living. Help us understand that it is by spreading out what little we already have that more of us are blessed and encouraged. Thank you that by trusting you, we don’t need to always have and understand the answers. Thank you that you are a creative God who loves communication http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john%201&version=MSG; that you invented words, chats and a wonderful world to be discovered.

Please, help us, Lord.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+5%3A16-18&version=NIV,

Listen to:  Mumford & Sons

Courage and Encouragement

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The desert is getting hotter and the environment feels like it is on a knife-edge. As we leave for work at daybreak, there is no telling just how hot each day will become. The heat is like a wild, untamed beast. It bites your face, your mood, your diet and stings every aspect of your life. But yet, the desert terrain remains beautiful and ever changing; a hot mess melange of intrigue and exasperation.

In this environment, of course it is vital that people drink enough water, take exercise, eat healthily and get enough rest, but most importantly it is imperative that we remain kind to one another despite our feelings and our internal and external struggles.

Everyone is fighting a demon of some kind or other. Maybe it’s fear; maybe regret about the past and worry about the future. Every single person you meet today, or have come into contact with or watch crossing a road is wrestling with something. They are worried they don’t have enough money to pay the bills. They’re regretting putting that new laptop/dress/shoes on their credit card. They’re thinking their clothes are feeling too tight. They’re worried why that person never called. They’re wondering if they are in the right job, the right relationship, the right city. They’re wondering if they will ever waken up without exhaustion or dread breathing its smelly breath in their face before their feet have even got out of bed and touched the floor at that most mutant of the morning hours.

So often, when people ask how we are, we are pressed for time (or we pretend that we are), or we are afraid of the reaction to our truthful response, so we chirp, ‘Fine!” and skip past them as quickly as we can for fear that they might just see the real us with our jaded and faded smiles and stinging tears welling in our eyes.

I have tried so many times to tell myself to be a person of courage and encouragement. In fact, if we take a closer look at the word, Encouragement, we will see that within it lies COURAGE! Yes, it will feel like we are stepping off a cliff edge by opening up and saying that we are actually not FINE (Fearful, Insecure, Neurotic & Exasperated), but by staring fear in the face and admitting that we are perhaps feeling rubbish, inadequate, ashamed, remorseful, we will free ourselves up to allow more love to grow in our relationships with others. (Now, I’m not saying we have to start telling everyone we meet how we are actually feeling, but I am convinced each one of us has at least one trusted friend with whom we can openly talk. When my friends and I meet together to catch up, we have the rules that what is said in these walls, stays in these walls. It is my dad who wisely says that if someone is not there to defend themselves, then we are not to talk about them.)

Encourage one another. We are not better or worse than anyone else on this planet.

Be careful with words and body language. In Christianity, the Bible teaches us that we have the power of life and death in our tongues.http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=proverbs%2018&version=MSG

It also teaches us that if we judge others, we will be judged.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke%206:35-42&version=MSG

How many of us have looked at someone else’s tattoos, lifestyle choices, tutted and sighed thanked our lucky stars that s/he wasn’t our child/brother/husband? (I thank you Lord that I am not like that tax collector over there… http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+18%3A9-14&version=MSG)

When we judge others, we are actually opening up a spiritual crack in the doors of our homes and our lives to invite the very same things into the lives of those we love and are called to care for. With each harsh word spoken or judgement made on someone else, bricks fall which form a wall around you, ultimately separating you from friends, family, colleagues and fun times! So, check out your tongue. Give it a medical and remind it and you of your responsibility to speak LIFE into those around you so that you, too, will experience life in all its fullness.

PRAYER:   Lord, thank you for friends around us. Forgive us for times when we have judged too readily or harshly. Guard our mouths and our minds. Fill us with your gentleness and compassion. May we grow in honest and comforting relationships, building one another up with joy, encouragement, trust and love. Lord, help us to become those people of courage and encouragement. May we speak life into all those we come into contact with. Help us, Lord. 

Don’t give up!

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Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. Romans 8:28 MSG

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scbn4mXADaQ 

Memories of food (good and bad).

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I’ve never really recovered from the time I ate take away sushi in Singapore and managed to get wasabi in my eye. Fear and loathing set in as a result of such unbearable burning and watering of the eye and I haven’t touched the stuff since.

The same applies to my relationship with octopus. I choked once on the slithery tentacles in an upmarket restaurant in Languedoc whilst on a French exchange as a teenager and now look fearfully towards this particular specimen. I can almost feel the gag in my throat as I write and am reminded of this most distressing of formative teenage moments.

Mushrooms, too, remind me of a time a guy at university sent me a valentine’s card with a mushroom stuck on the cover asking me to be his valentine as I was a ‘Fun-Gal’ to be with. Sure, it made me laugh and I loved the unique approach but there was no chemistry and alas, I had to break up with him shortly afterwards. I am reminded of the breakage of his heart each time I see these slithery items in grocery stores and vegetable stalls throughout the world.

Such is my culinary malaise that I will often reply with a grimace, “Seafood and mushrooms,” when asked for dinner and what I eat and don’t eat.  Mushrooms make me feel guilty. Octopus makes me gag and reminds me of social clumsiness around a sophisticated French dining table. Sushi just hates me.

What a shame! I am most probably missing out on the most exquisite culinary delights in the world yet am letting fear and memory combine to prevent this from happening. And I always, always feel uncomfortable telling people that I really don’t like to eat these things as I love, and am so grateful for, any invitation to eat with others.  I get so excited at the prospect of what topics of conversation will be covered and the people I will watch and learn from. And I  especially enjoy getting dolled up in anticipation of a good evening with friends and acquaintances.

Once bitten, twice shy, is a phrase often associated with a broken relationship but can also be applied to our relationship with food. Memories and emotions associated with mealtimes are powerful tools to prevent us from living in an emotional and healthy state.

How many of us were forced to eat dried up fish on a Friday and now resent Christianity as a result?  Sometimes, it is through facing our fears and gulping down that octopus, mushroom or dried up piece of Friday fish that we regain power over our minds and emotions. Perhaps this is why the good Lord invented Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot to help ease our pain in both the natural and in the emotional?

Not so long ago, whilst staying in a Kibbutz along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I was offered some tasting looking St Peter’s Fish. Juicy, succulent and smelling great (and without a hint of dryness), I cautiously accepted. The fish was lovingly prepared by a chef and perhaps this attitude towards its preparation combined with the lack of association with a religious ritual had something to do with its tastiness and flavour?  Words can’t describe how delicious that piece of trout was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t from the Sea of Galilee itself, but it certainly has made a difference in my attitude towards eating fish in the future.

It is my prayer today for freedom in our memories and a quiet yet strong healing our hearts and minds and their somewhat unfortunate (and at times overpowering) association with food.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the freedom and love that you bring through allowing us to all have our quirks and foibles and attitudes towards food. We thank you for providing us with so much food in this earth to cater for our diverse palates and menus. But most of all, thank you for providing us with new mercies each morning to enable us to walk forwards and forget about the pains associated with food from our past.  Help us and forgive us Lord for the times we have allowed our memories to prevent us from moving onwards. Crush the fear in our hearts with your love. Amen.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Lamentations+3%3A22-23&version=NIV

Listen to:  Angus & Julia Stone:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDiCXmERp7Y&list=PL3B4CAA77361F7D49