Faith, Life, Motherhood

Sacred Space

Sacred space by barnyz on flickr

Mow the lawn.  Pay the bills. Feed the dog.  Change the oil.  Check the homework.  Supervise the music practice.  Tame the toddler.  Ferry kids from place to place; take a meal to a needy neighbour; make a plan for the next school holidays; fold the laundry before ‘Mount Washmore’ erupts…

Life is busy.

We’re one month into 2016 and already the pace has picked up.  Here in New Zealand we’re launching ourselves into the merry-go-round of a new school year.  Already the spaces in the calendar are starting to darken with activities; our schedule’s filling up.  We have to think ahead and squeeze the things we want to do into the available time each week.  But while all that’s happening, I’m trying to create space for what’s important.

How do we do that?

How do we create space for what’s important when life crowds in so insistently?

In a cold stone kitchen in England, a pot of stew bubbles above the fire, sending savoury-scented steam up into the rafters.  A small child crouches by the hearth, dandling a cloth doll on her knee as she chirps out a lullaby; her next-older brother tosses wooden pegs into a tin bucket – it clangs and rings out as the pegs find their mark.  Six older siblings sit at the worn dining table, books open, chanting their lessons.  A cradle in the corner sits empty; another baby gone to heaven.  Susanna stirs the dinner as she calls out corrections to the children’s Latin recitation. 

As she removes the pot to the windowsill to cool, Susanna reminds Hetty that it’s her turn for Mama time this evening; she’ll test her daughter on her memorised scriptures and they’ll spend time talking away from the others.  And then, in the midst of the younger children’s clamour for their meal and the older children’s scholarly disagreement, Susanna throws her apron over her head. In this strange but sacred space, she begins to pray.

Susanna Wesley (mother of Charles and John) knew a little something about busyness.  She also knew a bit about creating space for what’s important.  She bore 19 children and raised about half of them (the others sadly died in infancy), schooling them in the Christian faith, teaching them the classics, and nurturing them into rich and productive lives.

Susanna served her family wholeheartedly and mindfully; but she also recognized the importance of maintaining her own spiritual walk.  Life, death, grief, separation, struggle, work – all competed for attention in Susanna’s life.  But her children all noticed how she found a way to make space for holiness in the midst of the mundane – how she spent time with God even while remaining physically present with them.

We all need to take time regularly to ensure that our hearts and minds are aligned with God’s will for our lives; and the trick is that we need to figure out how to do that while we’re in the midst of living those lives.

I’m still figuring that out.  I keep falling short and losing my balance in the busyness.  I’ve got a few little ideas of how I’d like to create sacred space this year, though, and now seems as good a time as any to make a start:

  • Short Bible reading/devotional/prayer to start the day, before I even get out of bed (praises due to West, who does breakfast for the boys) – to create space for this I’m going to need to be disciplined about getting lunches made the night before, and possibly setting the alarm for an earlier wake-up (eek!)
  • Praying instead of yelling – Yep, I still get caught in that awful habit of raising my voice when I’m at my wit’s end, but I’m determined to focus that energy on something that will bring change instead of negativity; I’ll create space in frustration for a clear-headed and calm response to challenges
  • Loving notes for the boys – in the midst of the task of raising these precious children, I need to create space to just breathe life into them. I’ve started a love project – each of the boys has a ‘Things I Love about You’ poster, and from now until Valentine’s Day I’m putting a heart on with a word or phrase of something I love about them (so far they love it!).  From there I’ll need to find a new way of affirming their unique places in my heart – but the goal is to ensure that each day I take time to build them up, instead of simply being caught up in getting them to do their chores and homework and improving their behaviour…
  • Worship/meditation music on in the house – it’s amazing how certain music creates space for peaceful interactions and a calmer approach to life

How about you?  How do you create space for what’s important in your life?  Does it happen easily or do you have to be intentional about it, as I do?  I pray that we’d all find ways to create space in our lives for peace and time with God in the year ahead.


Thanks for reading!


Faith, Life

Holding Patterns

Plane by Matt Crane on flickr

We’re homeless right now.  That is, we have a place to stay (thanks to the kind hospitality of West’s folks), but we are currently ‘of no fixed address’.

We haven’t yet found a house to rent – which also means that, as we move into the new year, we don’t know what town or suburb we’ll be living in; what school our boys will go to; what church we’ll attend.  We have no idea what our life here in New Zealand will really look like.  And there are still other uncertainties attached to those decisions and choices we’ll be making – how well our boys will assimilate into their classrooms; what activities we’ll be able to provide for them; how the move will affect their attitude towards school, church, and home…

It’s easy to be discouraged.  It is very easy to be caught up in the anxiety of not knowing what happens next.  We’re in a holding pattern, and for a planner like me it can be tough to be in this kind of state for any length of time.

This feeling of uncertainty, amplified exponentially, undoubtedly accompanies other life-changing situations – a serious illness in the family; separation or divorce; job loss – and I know that, as ‘life-altering’ things go, ours is definitely on the minor end of the spectrum.  But the same rules apply.

In my own life, I can recall a number of times in which I’ve felt that I was maintaining a holding pattern.

I distinctly remember, somewhere in the middle of my university years, starting to feel a bit like I was treading water.  I was trudging through a bunch of prerequisite courses in order to get into the classes I really wanted to take; my social life was minimal, because my university was a ‘commuter campus’ and most of my volunteering was with kids and teens (which was great, but not the same as time with peers); and there didn’t even seem to be any particularly interesting boys around upon whom I could hang my affections.

So what did I do?  I made a list.

I sat down and wrote out a whole lot of goals – short-term and long-term – which I could intentionally work towards and achieve.  These weren’t things like ‘get married’ – they weren’t things that I couldn’t control.  They were little things like, ‘Call so-and-so and go out for coffee’, and ‘Go to the gym 3x a week’ – and bigger things, such as ‘Graduate with my BA (Crim. Maj, Engl. Minor)’.  It was amazing how much it changed my outlook to know that I had a sense of direction and purpose.

What else did I do?  I moved forwards.

I just took one step at a time towards the goals I’d set.  Even in a holding pattern, you’ve got to keep on moving – and that is far easier to do when you trust in the outcome.  And you have to remember that baby-steps still get you there in the end.

Last but not least, I prayed.

I prayed.  I trusted.  I believed that God had good plans for me, and I knew that he would illuminate my path.

Gradually I ticked things off those boxes on my list.

The next time I remember feeling like I was in a holding pattern was when I’d just returned to Canada from a year of living overseas in my early twenties.  Although it was an amazing experience, there had been times while I’d been away that I had been in very basic survival mode.  Much of my energy and effort had been expended towards just coping and hanging in there.  So when I got home, all of a sudden I lost the purpose to which I’d been clinging.  I needed to find work, re-kindle acquaintances, and make new friends – but I didn’t have a clear sense of my overall goals or a firm sense of purpose.

I made a list.  Funnily enough, one of the things on my list was just to ‘go out more’ – and that sparked a list of what I’d be looking for in the perfect guy (for me).  It was important for me to identify what I felt were my core needs and goals in life – and it gave me a sense of momentum as I re-created my life in Canada.

I took one step at a time.  I wanted to be social and hospitable; I made an effort to be more engaged with the people around me and to seek out new friendships as well.

I had faith.  I prayed that God would lead me in the right direction, and I trusted in the outcome.

I ended up doing a bit more travelling while I sorted myself out – a solo trip out to the East Coast to see my sister and brother-in-law and then a trip to South Africa for a special wedding and visiting with my family.  Shortly after my return to Vancouver I made arrangements with some friends to go together to the opening of an Irish pub (finding social opportunities, as I’d promised myself I’d do!).  I commandeered a spare beer keg for a stool and sat down at a small table across from a guy I’d never met – who ended up being the love of my life: my West.

Having one aspect of your life sorted out doesn’t make you immune to other complications, either.  There have been a number of other phases in which I’ve had a spell in the doldrums.

A couple of years ago, when my life was interrupted by my shoulder injury, I felt that familiar sense of anxiety over not knowing what happens next.  I couldn’t travel (insurance wouldn’t cover me with a ‘pre-existing condition’, and my shoulder was too unstable to risk it); I didn’t know what the prognosis would be (surgery? physio?  life-long suffering?); I couldn’t drive…  Even our longer-term travel plans were up on the air.  I felt like someone had pressed ‘pause’ on my life.

I made a list.

I took one step at a time.

I had faith.

I found ways of nurturing my boys without being able to physically wrap them in my arms; I made small goals and met them; I grew in my faith; I healed.




Here I am again; back in a holding pattern, not knowing what lies ahead.  The days and weeks and months in the coming year are going to be full of change – full of things as yet unrevealed.

I’m making lists.  I’m taking one step at a time.  I have faith.

“’I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,

plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

to give you hope and a future. 

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me,

and I will hear you. 

You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart…

(Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Plans to prosper you.  Not that we will ‘get rich’, but that our life will be enriched.

Not to harm you.  Whatever happens, God will make something good out of it.

To give you hope and a future.  We trust in the outcome.

In these times of ‘not knowing’, we do call more on God; we do pray more to him and rely more on him.  We do seek him more (with all our hearts), and we do find him.  God’s provision will be there for us.

The trick is recognizing his hand in all of it, and taking the opportunities he provides.

I don’t want to be the guy in the joke – you know the one: there’s a flood and this guy is stranded on a roof.  A raft, a boat, and a helicopter all come by to offer him a ride but he keeps saying that God will save him… The waters rise and he calls out to God, who answers with,

“What more do you want?  I sent you a raft, a boat, a helicopter…”

I don’t want to miss the boat.

And so I’m praying.  As we make our lists; as we take baby steps; as we rely more deeply on our faith – we are listening for his ‘still, small voice’.  And what a comfort to know that, all over the world, our friends and family are praying for us too.

God is good – all the time.  Even when we’re on hold.