29.9.12

{Community}

I'm supposed to be doing a little bit of a talk at a local church this weekend. As a part of a wider theme of community, they asked me to talk about "a week in the life of Stillwaters." I have a lot of thoughts about community, and being asked to talk for just 5 minutes on what it's like living in my particular community seemed to me to be very hard. Not because community is a complex or confusing thing; but because it is so simple. How does one explain what life is like living with other people, when its just...normal?

Stillwaters is a community in Wellington city who have committed to doing life together and creating a safe space for people to come to where they feel welcomed and hopefully, where they see Jesus. We try to live simply and outside of the individualistic consumer culture that is so pervasive in this generation. There are a few key things that we commit to; our main event is Friday night dinner at the Castle 
(the central and largest Stillwaters household). We talk, we cook and we eat together. On Sunday evenings we then have a church service. During this time we sing and share stories, we read the Bible and say a prayer, and we share communion. And on Thursdays we have a bible study and a music group. And we are committed to our neighbours.

It makes me laugh when people think that community is such a huge deal, so post-modern/revolutionary/activist. I thought that too; it took a few months living here until I hit the wall of my own idealism and realised that in fact, community isn't a shiny, beautiful utopia where I, in all my angelic perfection, selflessly serve others with my precious time and resources. It is in fact extraordinarily ordinary and quite messy - full of ordinary and broken people in an ordinary and broken world, coming to terms with their brokenness and being shocked at their own ordinariness when viewed in the light of the grace of God. And through that, other ordinary and broken people come and we have conversations with them and we eat with them. And somewhere in the midst of all that ordinariness and brokenness  Jesus turns up.

When I was preparing notes for this talk on Sunday, there were 10 people sitting in my lounge drinking tea. Some of us were watching Gilmore Girl reruns, some were at the sewing machine preparing bunting for Stillwaters' 21st celebrations. Some were writing essays and others were having extended conversations over crosswords about the meaning of ‘obfuscated.’ This is one kind of typical evening in the Castle. There are also the quiet evenings that are just as common where we read, or are out of the house, or escape to our bedrooms, or are at work, or just have dinner and a chat, and go to bed.

Given that each of us in the Castle have our own lives, I can really only talk about myself. And I don’t think there is anything particularly revolutionary about my life at Stillwaters. From Monday to Friday I wake up and am blessed enough to go to university. I study Development Studies and Māori Resource Management and every day we face issues of justice and injustice, less-than ideal race relations in Aotearoa and inequality in all aspects of society. I guess the difference between my classmates and I is that when I go home at the end of the day, I don’t get to leave these issues behind in an academic setting; instead, they are a reality that by choosing to live in community, I have chosen to live alongside.

Living in the Castle has unique moments; never knowing just how many people to set the table for on a Sunday night after dinner; having friends off the street knocking on the door for a cuppa at all sorts of times; extending your culinary tastes to include our Friday night speciality “sausage surprise."

But in this talk, I really want to emphasise one point; living in community isn’t radical. It’s not an amazing feat and it’s not a novel concept. Living in community isn’t really any different to living with a family; we may not be blood-related but we are whanau. That is the wonderful thing; our God is a god of reconciliation and of community. We are created to be with others in the deep, relational sense, to experience reconciliation to one another and to God. People have been living in community for thousands of years; it’s only in the last 300 that we have started to pursue this concept of the individual, and build walls around our possessions. Our lives in Stillwaters are exceedingly boring 90% of the time. We are merely a group of people responding to the call of Jesus to love others, trying to open up that path of reconciliation.

So in light of these thoughts, how do I describe a week in the life of Stillwaters? 


We have commitments that we are committed to. We cook meals, we go to university and work, we look after kids and we have cups of tea. We pray for the brokeness and violence in this city and we that everything will be well. We do it because in our own individual journeys we have each seen a glimpse of Jesus. When I see the side of God that proclaimed "blessed are the poor...blessed are the hungry...blessed are the meek", then I realise that I cannot change the world. But maybe God can change us, if we would just open ourselves to the concept of love and sharing with others.

23.9.12

Sunday moments


This morning, I got up early to have a chat on the phone Mum before the day began. And lo' and behold, it is a stunning day! I made myself a cup of tea, went in to the backyard and finished my law readings in the sunshine. 




Inspired by the vitamin D coursing through my veins, I ended up weeding 3 entire beds in our garden and unearthing our baby lime tree from underneath a blanket of weeds. Productivity plus! 



Nothing beats a city like Wellington on a beautiful sunny day. I think it may be my favourite city in the whole of New Zealand. Having said that...I'd still take 50 acres of rolling meadows and native bush to run around in over any city. Happy weekend!

22.9.12

thankfulness and joy


I am learning to be grateful.


Research shows that people who show gratitude are healthier, sleep better than their peers, have better relationships, and generally have more productive lives. One such research test was done at the University of Manchester, England, where 401 people filled out questionnaires that rated their gratitude. The response showed those who scored highest in gratefulness slept longer and better than less-appreciative participants. Ta-daa! Facts to back up an argument.






"Thankfulness is an outpouring of the very root of the soul". It reveals peace, contentment, goodwill. Too often I am unthankful or discontent, only to be plagued with these thoughts at bedtime, waking up with a heavy heart and a long day ahead. The consequences are endless. But thankfulness...thankfulness is joyful and peaceful and wholesome. And it is contagious! How often is it that a friend's smile and cheerful attitude brightens your day? Something that is an act of will, a chosen attitude, something that is so simple, and something that is the key to honoring, obeying and loving God and others.

Thankfulness is an act of will. It is a conscious decision that God and this day is worthy and deserving of praise and adoration, no matter the circumstances. It is choosing to walk past the negative thoughts and fears and and in to a place of contentment with what is and hope for what will be. It creates fertile soils in which mercy, gentleness, love and kindness grow. It leads us to a place where we recognise our blessings and are led to want to bless others with what we have in return.

On the flip side, I think that discontent creates unhappiness. We tell ourselves all the things that aren't so, or that we wish were different. We entertain dreams of greener grass and we wish that the person just wouldn't do this or that. And we house this negative energy. We tell ourselves that nothing is quite good enough, and we tell others that too. It creates a breeding ground for insecurity, a lack of trust and worst of all, joyless relationships. 

But the scariest thing is when discontent and unthankfulness take root in our souls, and we become bitter. Bitterness causes us to perceive hurt. We become defensive, snappy, and hollow. A young child grows up in a home and sees his parents acting bitterly towards one another because of past hurts. He then grows up seeing the world through their discontent and bitter eyes and it taints everything; his career, his love life, his spirituality. Because bitterness is toxic. He marries and his wife walks on edge, wondering what will set him off. He craves love but he is unsatisfied, he is hurt. And so the cycle goes on, one toxic relationship after another, one broken person hurting another, all because we are yearning for something more.

Don't let unthankfulness and bitterness eat away at your soul. Instead, choose to fill it with joy and laughter and gratitude. Ask yourself, what is it with your life that makes you unthankful or that you feel discontent with? And then declare war on unthankfulness. Change what you can; pursue the healing of relationships, and yourself. Choose to laugh when you feel like crying. Choose to love when you find yourself wanting to run away in hurt. When you feel sad, depressed, frustrated or discontent, stop and think "why do I feel like this? How do I choose to feel in light of this?" and thank God that you are alive, blessed, and empowered to break the chain of unthankfulness.

Our lives are meant to be full of rejoicing, gladness, thankfulness and joy. As one of my lecturers says, you have to laugh because otherwise you'd cry! I have been learning this, and am still in the process of learning. I have found that instead of being obsessed with what is broken, I want to be a woman who's smile is ready, who is quick to laugh, and who is constantly loving. I want to be able to empathise with brokenness and then I want to be able to hope for new and beautiful things. I am of no use to anyone when I am sad and discontent with the state of the world. Instead, I can walk with fire in my step, passion in my heart, a smile on my lips and my arms wide open. And I am able to do this only by the grace of God. 

So take a moment to think...what is it in your world that fills you with joy and thankfulness?

18.9.12

[forgiveness] contrite.

It's hard not to be selfish.

It's this inherently human thing that takes over our souls. In a world that tells us that we deserve the best, we should have the best and what we want is what is best, it's hard not to fall for the lie. Think about it; how many marketing schemes whisper "it's all about you" in our ears? iPhone, iPod, iPad. "Because you're worth it" (L'Oreal), "A Choice for Every Goddess" (Gillette), "You Deserve a Holiday" (P&O cruises)? To top it off, amongst these screaming advertisements there is also this stubborn voice inside of me that says that it's not ok to give up. It's not ok to admit my faults, and it's not ok to surrender my pride.


But then Jesus tells me to turn the other cheek. To get my hands dirty and pick up the broken on the side of the road. To go and sin no more. 


It is a simple choice between life and death. Between love and hate. It is not the bullet that kills, but the hatred that leads to a fatal movement of a finger on the trigger.


And so I am left with this choice...to feel resentment. Hurt. Anxiety. Pride. Stubbornness. Self-righteousness.To revel in t he satisfaction of not giving up.  However, to feel this way, to stand tall and indignant, is at the cost of the person I stand over. 

Alternatively, I have the option to love. To open my arms and kneel on the floor. To ask for forgiveness. To step down humbly, and faithfully lift up those I hurt. 

If I have a choice, to turn away from my pride and to turn to Jesus, and all who He loves. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


I talk too often about how broken I am, about falling at the feet of Jesus. But in all honesty, the majority of the time I choose to cling to all my failures rather than admit defeat and fall at His feet. I am selfish and I am proud and I have hurt those I love because of this. But I say, with all honesty and bleeding heart - Jesus is greater than I, and it is in these weaknesses that I can see the power of his beauty, his love, his sacrifice. When I am shocked to find how unwilling I am to reach out to another, I see Jesus reaching out his had to the sick. When I am selfish in my desire to be affirmed and recognised, I see Jesus being whipped, beaten, and crucified. 


This is the meaning of true selflessness and humility - that the Son of God would live a life healing the faithful, and eternity healing the lost and broken.

16.9.12

Still

What does "to wait on the Lord" really mean?

I find this so hard. Does waiting on God mean to actually sit there in transcendent meditation until you hear his voice booming like thunder from the heavens? Or does it mean just waiting until you feel like you know something that you didn't know before? I think the issue is that we don't tend to wait around for things that don't have an estimated time of arrival. Buses always have a schedule, even if they are notoriously unreliable. People plan to meet up at 10am and most likely will be punctual. The ETA of life beginning is apparently in your 20's (I am yet to see if that is true - was I not living before? Was I in some delirious imaginary world?), and you can always be certain that if you ask your friend a question, you will get some sort of answer eventually.


But with God, quite often waiting means...nothing. When I was 6, I used to make fairy houses in the garden and then hide behind a tree and wait for the fairies to appear. And I once waited for a boy for quite a long time. But I find it hard to wait on God, possibly because I feel like I don't have any control. As humans, we have this constant desire to manipulate situations to suit our own priorities, and if a particular thing doesn't accommodate that plan then we often ditch it. I certainly do...I gave up playing soccer in primary school because I couldn't stop the ball smacking me in the face at random intervals. However, I think this is a time where I need to literally make space for God. Clear my diary. Clear my head. "Be still and know that I am God."

I am waiting on the Lord.

15.9.12

{gratitude} lately

Too often, I focus only on the negative. But in actual fact I am abundantly blessed. Lately I have been grateful for;


This wonderful girl who is both a sister, a best friend, and a partner-in-crime. So proud of her achievements and so in love with her heart.

This little city thatI have grown to love it for the sunshine and the joy it brings, along with the gale-force winds and the life lessons. I am also so grateful for the beautiful community it contains. 


My wonderful parents who taught me who to be and how to love.  

The joy of nature and torturing oneself only to reach the top of a mountain. "O Lord, how majestic is Your name on all earth!"

A small reminder of the big issues.

The whispering promise of summer and the loyalty of those who love me. 


 The surging love I feel for this little man and the hopes and dreams he is yet to fulfill.



What are you grateful for?




10.9.12

guess who

I forgot myself.

I forgot who I am, what I stand for, what I am. 


I've lost the grasp I had on my soul. And now I look inside myself, and I struggle to find it.


I remember saying that I was broken, and the pieces within me made up a beautiful mosaic, perfect in God's eyes. The problem is, my mosaic is fading in colour and I can't recognise the outlines of those beautiful pictures.


I know what I want. I want Jesus. I want to be grateful. I want to be salt and light. I want to be filled with fire. I want to be passionate. I want to live simply, and I want to live in love. I want to feel valued and I want to value all that is of God. I want to love Him with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength and all my mind, and I want to love others as I love myself. 


How do I find this, again? How do I live this desire out?


Lord, open me up. Show me Your light, and shine that light in to the darkest, dustiest parts of my heart. Papa, please heal me. Please be here. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.



5.9.12



Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.


For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.


Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.


Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.


Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.


May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar