My ‘one thing’ for 2013

My  husband did a great talk at the start of January which in a nutshell challenged us to choose a ‘one thing’ to spend our lives on this year.  I loved the text from Nehemiah 6:3 “I’m doing a great work, I can’t come down” I was very challenged to determine what my ‘one thing’ would be, my great work that I would not leave this year.  Jason had gave me a preview of the talk before Christmas so my usual list of  “things I need to work on” was high on my mind, but there literally was ‘one thing’  that kept niggling at me all through Christmas.  On the morning of the talk I was hoping that God would highlight something else so I could put off tackling this one for another while.

What is it? My ‘one thing’ for 2013?  I want to say less. To speak carefully, truthfully and with words dripping with grace.

I battled for years to find my voice but now that I have it seems like a floodgate has opened and there’s a lot of rubbish flooding out with the gold.

I need to to stop gushing and filling in the silent spaces and saying things that don’t need to be said. Even and somedays especially the stupid things that just clog up the airwaves and make it difficult for others to be heard.  I feel sobered. To be honest I feel chastised.  Not by anyone in particular, but chastised by myself.  I disappoint myself when I say too much.  Sometimes its literally just an opinion, or a sentiment or a suggestion too far.  I need to park sooner rather than not drive at all.  And maybe that’s the difficult part.  To be almost completely silent would be easier.

The nonsense flows easily like heavy rain down a spouting.  And yet the heavy words, the important words that should and must be spoken literally stick in my throat sometimes. My throat constricts physically and I can’t get them out, more accurately I can now that I’ve learnt to push through the bottleneck and release the words to the air.

I don’t want to just become more calculated in what I say.  I wonder could our pursuit to understand the mechanics of communication have made our communication less authentic.  Its helpful to increase our skills of listening and understanding, but in trying to say the right thing in the right way we can sound scripted and stunted.  But our hearts know the difference don’t they?

I love and hate in equal measures the truth ‘that out of the heart the mouth speaks’  I love it because its true and means that if its authentic communication that I’m after then I allow my heart to speak and that will do the trick.  The part I hate is this, the condition of my heart.  Aghhh.  You see I know my heart.  And even though my spirit has been made completely new, at best lets just say my heart is a work in progress.  I am only too aware that the words that spill from my mouth, the careless, undisciplined, unkind, unloving, hard, stinging, poisonous words originate from my murky heart.  They fight for space and position with the kind, loving, gentle, encouraging, challenging, peaceable words that also flow from my heart.

I conclude my heart should be my focus rather than carefully measuring every word I speak.  If I only allow myself to speak the words that I feel others will approve of then they are false.  If I concentrate on the condition of my heart then chances are the words that flow will be more pure.  Good that I know a great heart surgeon, who’s more than willing to transform my heart when I let Him. 


this sheep hears her Shepherd

I believe that God still chooses to speak to us today. I just want to put that out there. God speaks to us today through His Holy Spirit. God speaks from the inside of us in whispers, shouts, pictures, impressions, feelings, dreams, visions, sensations, smells, tastes, words, and more. Each as individual as the person who experiences His voice and then tries to articulate it to others. His voice often lands like a butterfly (thanks Al for this metaphor) or less often is all encompassing like a heavy fog that deepens the more you move into it. I love hearing His voice. The resonance of my heart testifies that I know Him; My Father. I can easily picture myself as the sheep who knows the shepherds voice. I only realised it was God that I was sensing 20 years ago (wow was that really 20 years ago? my life is flying by). But once I’d made the connection I could look back and remember the whispers, the sense of Him being there, close, since I was a little girl.

I love that He would speak to me. I love that He speaks to me. His voice calms my inner storm, His voice stirs my passive soul, His voice breathes life to my dead places, His voice. His voice.

You can’t convince me that God stopped speaking when man canonised the bible. You could try, but you’d never convince me not now this sheep recognises His voice.

I love His voice. I yearn for it. It is my bread. His voice is my life.

I love that He speaks from the outside too, the precious Holy Spirit speaks from where He roams all over the place. I love that He illuminates the scriptures, the living words of God. I love that He speaks through them time and time and time again. His words remembered, recited and recorded over 1000’s of years still ringing true, still bringing life, still showing the way to live a better life. The instant I followed Jesus at 7 years old the words became alive. Not on every reading, but often and especially when I needed them too.

Increasingly I love listening for God in the outside places. In the lesser looked places.In cities. At the ocean. At concerts. In crowds. It is like we play hide and seek. I find His clues in crowds of people especially when they sing. In the sheen of my babies’ sleeping faces. In the still of night. In loud raucous laughter. In beautifully crafted art. In music that transcends words. And more recently as I write, I sense Him there ready to whisper.

Do you listen for Him too? Seek. Find. Knock. Open. Wait. Listen.

why write?

This blog was born because I wanted to be a more disciplined and frequent writer.  The jury’s still out on how I’m doing so far.  I find myself making excuses.  Just how disciplined is disciplined? And how do you define frequent?  More excuses abound, I have written 2 talks in the past 3 weeks so I HAVE been writing after all.   The best craic is I set myself the task, no one else did.  No one asked me to write more.  So why do I feel compelled to write?

First I love words; love, love, love them.  When I listen to songs it’s the words rather than the melody that grip me, or loose me in disinterest. I am moved by narrative.  I become lost in stories.  I can feel the heartbeat in beautifully crafted words, the sense that they are more than the sum of their parts. I’ve always loved reading.  In fact my Mum asked my teacher in primary school if it was normal for me to like reading so much.  Truth is I wasn’t that prolific a reader just seemed like one to my Mum.

Not all readers like to write and maybe not all writers like to read but I can’t actually think of any that I’ve met.  I enjoyed writing at school, wish I had learnt more about the how to – not sure how I missed out on that.  I kept a diary as a teenager – who didn’t in the 80’s? And the most cringe worthy of all I wrote poetry – awful gushy teenage girly stuff that is too embarrassing for me to even read myself. I promise to never post it here.

It wasn’t until we planted a church and I began to speak at our Sunday gatherings that I began to write creatively again.  For 12 years I had been in the bank surrounded by my other love; numbers.  I’m a bit of a freak like that I love words and numbers.  My logic, problem solving, finding the answer part of my brain had been in full flow for that time, in the midst of 3 lots of pregnancy hormones and the brain cells that they kill in the process.  Now in this new ‘job’ of church planter I picked up my pen and began to write, quite easily when I managed to stop procrastinating and chatting to anyone in the same building as me, and making cups of coffee and even TIDYING!  My problem is focus, staying on task, even though I enjoy writing it feels like homework, or coursework my hope is the more often I write, the easier it will be to be focused. I read an article recently that reckons all the surfing and flitting back and forward that we do online is killing our concentration. I could blame that but instead I’d rather change.  How many times do you need to do something for it to become a habit? They reckon 16-21 times repeating something before it becomes a habit. This is post 6 just 10-15 more to go before I stop procrastinating and faffing about.

Why do I feel the need to write? Secondly because I can.  Oh that feels like I’m being big-headed and we Northern Irish peeps are much better at being self-depreciating or at feigning false-humility.   Simple I think I should use what I have instead of hankering after what I haven’t.  And I’m hoping that practice will improve my writing too as well as improving my attention span.

Thank you for participating in my writing-habit-forming exercise and please know that you are invited to critique, in the hope that I can improve and you can be part of my process.

intentions pt II


There’s a flip side to intention. We all know it, feel it, fall into it, fall foul of it.  This intention that I speak of is the intent of the heart behind a word, an action, a comment, a deliberate act.  I’m pretty sure you have at least once been offended by something or offended someone.  I have countless times.  My thinking is this, if the heart that the word, or action, or comment, or deliberate act came from was inclined towards your good, then its unfair at best, to be offended by it.  What do you think?

The problem then is how do I decipher intent? How do you know what is truly in someone’s heart in that moment.  Sometimes it’s easy, especially with someone you know well, or be around frequently.  You can observe patterns of behaviour, so if they say or do something thoughtlessly you will know its out of character and hopefully be gracious enough to believe the best and choose not to be offended.  And yes I did say choose. The close people in my life are those whose hearts should be most visible to me, and yet they are the ones that I’m most quick to be offended by. I get that it’s the investment, the feeling of greater betrayal when someone I love appears to speak words, or act in a way that’s not for my good, but why am I so quick to assume that their heart is inclined against me and not for me?  Surely those hearts that are closest to mine I should judge most accurately and graciously. I know its the past that causes the greatest obstacle to my discernment. My tender heart has a memory like an elephant.  If I’ve been wronged deliberately before, then my heart remembers.  It takes mighty will power on my behalf to wipe the slate of my heart clean. Will power or more like the knowledge that I’ve been forgiven much (grace power as I like to call it) that helps me forgive and makes me forget, and yet it feels even when I do manage to forgive, like there’s still a dent left behind on my heart.

If it’s someone we don’t know well and its not an obvious deliberate act to hurt or offend us, then why do we bother being offended.  Honestly if we have to search and try to discern the intention of a less significant person’s action towards us, should it warrant our offence?

I don’t want my heart to be like an elephant with those I love.  Wisdom tells me to forgive, forget and choose to believe the best in the hearts of those I love and who love me.  As for all the other many, many incidences where I could choose to be offended, my intention is to try very hard to let them go.  If its deliberate I’ll acknowledge the offence, work it through, forgive, and move on.  If it falls into the grey area of unsure, maybe they did, maybe they didn’t then God give me grace, the grace to let it go.

I long to dwell in a grace-filled, forgiveness-fuelled, discernment-driven place where my heart is a perpetual clean slate.


It feels to me like I’ve heard myself say the words intention, intentional and intentionality a lot lately. Being intentional is not just making wise decisions in the moment it’s choosing the wise path in advance. Intentionality is plotting the direction of your life, as opposed to the ‘on the spot’ wise decisions that keep us on the road that we’ve chosen, like steering the car, the constant adjustments that we make without thinking. But its futile to steer well on the wrong road! Intentionality chooses the right road. One of the qualities that I admire in my personal heroes is intentionality. It seems to me that those who exercise intentionality bear its fruit as good outcomes in their lives.  A healthy marriage, a focused mind, a disciplined life, generous living, a greater capacity for more.  Yet to live intentionally feels at odds sometimes with the world we live in.  A world that says, instant satisfaction is the goal. Act now think later. If it feels good then it must be ok.  Pleasure is the ultimate goal.

To live intentionally is to see beyond the instant into the realm of delayed gratification.  We deny ourselves now for a greater reward later.  Or we make wise, calculated decisions now knowing that the results will come further down the road. It’s the age old principle of sowing and reaping.  You sow, you wait, there is new life, growth and then you harvest.

Wisdom shouts intentionality.  It screams make good decisions now that will lead to a fuller life later.  The book of Proverbs is full of it.

Wisdom says intentionally put safe boundaries in your marriage to protect it, safeguard your mind from fantasies and images that will lead you on a path that will eventually feel impossible to get off. It’s putting up strong defences now rather than crossing your fingers, hoping for the best and having to clean up the mess later.  Our marriages exist in a storm of temptations and assaults from the world, the enemy and our own selfish lusts.  If you knew there was a storm coming your way in the natural world you’d be nuts not to take the precautions necessary, like putting down sandbags, securing your property or moving to a safe place.  So I’m on a rant now but you’d be mad not to take the precautions needed to safeguard your marriage from the storm that swirls around us. Build the wall of open and honest communication. Put up the fences of healthy boundaries around your relationships with the opposite sex, you know yourself how high they need to be, and don’t be worried about looking weird or offending others, a healthy marriage is more important. Get out the sandbags of wisdom these are what you fill you mind with.  Intentionally and daily or at least regularly pull out the gold in your spouse.  Speak out the good. Encourage, build up, ban criticism. OK enough on marriage for now, I could go on. Sorry one thing – enjoy each other 🙂

Wisdom says intentionally live a disciplined life (honestly I’m still battling this one!!) because it will lead to a full life. Plan to eat well, exercise regularly, study the scriptures daily, pray EVERYDAY, get enough sleep/rest and intentionally fill your life with life-giving friends.

Wisdom says be careful with your money, not so it becomes your security instead of God or not just so you can have more for yourself but so you can afford to be generous to others. Intentionality with your money is as simple as setting a budget and sticking to it.

Wisdom is asking God to enlarge your capacity.  It’s intentionally running after the things of God and desiring more of Him in my life, not so I can grow fat with His goodness but so that I can give more of HIm away. It’s allowing God to stretch me and grow me beyond what I think is possible, even when it feels too difficult and the gap too huge.  It’s permitting Him to bend me to His will when I feel like I might break. Trusting that if He needs to break me that’s ok because He needs to remake me again.  It’s staying in the race when honestly I’d rather lie down and give in. It’s in those times, that the decision made in advance to finish the race, to not give in, to stay standing, in those places that God increases my capacity for more.  This intentionality leads time and time again to my growth.

It must be turning 40, well I’m blaming that for a lot of things at the moment, but being intentional about the next 10, 20,30,40 years of my life seems very pressing right now. I can look back very clearly at the last 20 years and see the depth that came from the intentional decisions I made and that spurs me on to be even more intentional in the next how many years I have left.


September. Routine. School uniforms. Timetables. Homeworks. Packed lunches. Being organised. N.I.G.H.T.M.A.R.E.

This September has crept up on me a bit like Christmas normally does. I felt pretty sure we had another week to go before the dreaded month. Like everyone else I was still patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for the sunshine and had started to convince myself that we would have an ‘Indian’ summer, lulling myself unconsciously into maybe even looking forward to my most dreaded month.

Previously I’d assumed that most of my problem with September lay with my last organisation; last year that lead me to almost crying in M&S on the last week of August trying to find school trousers to fit my 3 sons in the melee of picked-over-scrag-end stock. But this year I even managed to stock up in July before the 20% sale ended. Result. Stationery was purchased early August, traditionally by Granda Ivan who has a stationery addiction that I fear he has passed on to me and at least one of my boys, along with his sweet tooth – but thats for another day. School shoes, trainers, school bags and sports kit. SORTED.

Last week I wasn’t dreading it at all. I thought the super-new-organised me was ready for September. The weekend passed without even a whiff of nervous anticipation. It waited to hit bang on 7am Monday when my alarm rang out. Aghhhhhh the expectations began to pile on. Be on time. Uniforms pristine. Lunches that they like and are healthy. EVERYTHING to remember. That’s just at home. Then there’s work, where September is our new year. Not just reinstating the old routines, there are new routines to introduce.

Over breakfast this morning, with a close friend who LOVES September (I seem to have accumulated quite a few of those) we tried to analyse my ‘problem’. We didn’t get too far to be honest we had way too much to catch up on, however I did acknowledge that I don’t feel like I really have a problem, in fact I’m secretly a little suspicious of those who really really love this season. This is how I’m wired. My favourite days are those with no plan, no routine, just a sense of hours ahead yet-unfilled, possibilities endless like a series of rolling green hills, or a meandering path with nooks, crannies and luscious surprises around every corner. No schedule, no agenda, just sweet time and space to breathe. Reminds of the words, “He leads me beside still waters and restores my soul’, in my mind those still waters are surrounded by meadows that go on and on and on. Like sweet un-planned time simply with Jesus. Summer is far from filled with days just like that, but they are much more likely to occur then than during term-time.

My best attempt to describe September is it feels like a very tight harness, that I get to throw off for the summer, and squeezing back into it is uncomfortable, tight and constricting, a bit like wearing new high heel boots after only flip flops for 2 months.

By 2 weeks in the harness it will become more familiar and by October it will be like wearing my glasses every day I won’t even feel it. And I’ll intentionally find my “moments of still-water-restoration” in the mix of my organised full life.

So if you know me in the real world give me an extra dose of grace for the rest of the month, and I promise by next month I’ll have conformed to the routines again only dreaming of an escape to a favourite type of day far from September.