A prayer for those who long for more of God

We desire more time. We desire more stuff. We desire more money. 

But so rarely do we desire more of you.

We are afraid of not having a home, of not having clothes, of not having a job.

But have we ever been afraid of not having you?

You promised you would never leave us or forsake us and we’ve hung onto that just as you’ve hung on to us.

And sometimes we confess that we’ve let that promise be an excuse for not seeking more of you.

We confess our worry that we will have enough. 

We confess our longing to have more.

We cannot comprehend a life without you, yet we so rarely invite you spend more time in our lives.

We don’t just want enough of you in our lives. We want you in all of our life.
We want you in the nooks and crannies and hidden places.
We want you out in the open, like the clothes we wear, on display for all to see.
When we look for more elsewhere, remind us to turn to you instead.

We know we don’t have much to offer. We are like the widow in the bible who could only bring empty jars. We also know that you’re a God who longs to fill empty vessels and give more than we ask for.

Jesus, we want more of you in our lives.

Thank you that more of you won’t mean less of us.
Thank you that the more of you we encounter, the more we can live fully loved, believing that we are enough.
Thank you that more of you will help us to embrace the ups and downs, believing that you have come to give us life, life and more life.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

How to guarantee you’ll never feel like a failure

How to guarantee you'll never feel like failure
Pay careful attention to your own work,
for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done,
and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.

I’ve been running for about 3 years now. I have never called myself a runner though.

In my mind runners are fast. They move gracefully past me at races. Their shoes and running clothes are coordinated and they don’t have to be ashamed of their running times.

I don’t do any of those things. I’m in the back 10% of the pack and frequently have people walk past me.

At races I often speak to myself, “Don’t worry that you’re at the back you’re running a race in a town that hosts IronMan. All these people can run a 10km after swim and a run. Relax. Just put one foot in front of the other.”

While that self-talk might be true it doesn’t do much to stop me feeling like a failure.

Recently, I posted a pic of my running shoes on Instagram. My original plan had been to post a picture of my distance and pace too. However when the time came I chickened out. I didn’t do it because my 5k time was slow and I felt like a failure.  I worried about what others would think of me.

You see I know a lot of people who follow me on social media run. And I’ve run with some of them or seen them post about their running and they run farther and faster than me. When I compare myself to them I feel like a failure.

I've been so worried about being compared to others and not measuring up that I almost injured myself.

I'm following a half-marathon running programme that includes pacing based on my current 10k race times. I started off running 12% faster than their guidelines. The first few pace guidelines were slow enough to walk the distance in the time. I didn't want someone to see me running the slow pace they suggested and think, 'Wow, she's a slow runner.'

Instead what happened is I ran faster. And I found myself stiff and sore. I could feel my ITB's tightening up. You see, I've done this before; it’s part of my tried and failed to run a 21k story (at least twice). The narrative is the same every time. I run for a few weeks than my ITB's become so sore that even when I'm sitting they ache. When I eventually head to physio they tell me they feel like finely tuned guitar strings ready to snap at any moment. And the physio makes me stop running. After 10 days I can run a few km every other day. And by the time I’m back to running any distance the race I was training for has come and gone.

This time I set out to do things differently. I have a plan that allows to progress at a healthy pace. I have stretches that I do after my runs. I have a foam roller. I warm up and cool down.  

But then comparison came and made me feel like a failure.

And I threw all the things out that I knew were good for me out to prove to people (most of whom I don’t even know) that I’m as good as they are.

You know what I'm talking about; comparison is that insane feeling that you need to keep up with the Jones’. Even if the Jones’ happen to be Olympic Marathon runners.
Or Bill and Melinda Gates.
Or Taylor Swift.
Or the girl you knew back in High School.

What I'm learning about comparison is that it hurts me more than it hurts others. << Tweet this 
Did it hurt any of you that I didn't post my slow times publicly? No.
Did it hurt me that I ran faster than I should have? Yes.
In fact, it almost stopped me from achieving my goal (again).
Bible verse about comparing yourself to others

So much of what we post on social media is driven by comparison. I think it's why I curate a perfect looking life rather than the one I actually live. I don't spend every day on the beach. I spend most days in a small, messy office that has what looks like someone dragged a garbage bag through the middle of it – thanks to a teenage Giant Schnauzer having to entertain himself while I work.

We’ve all seen the famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” but it’s true isn’t it?

Comparison is the thief of so much more than just joy in our lives.

If you want to guarantee that you’ll never feel like a failure, you need to stop comparing your achievements to others. << Tweet this

After my ITB’s almost gave in on me, I slowed down. I started following the guide paces even if they felt too slow. Do you know what? I’ve enjoyed running way more since then. I haven’t been in pain and I am getting faster.
And I’m no longer feeling like a failure.
I’m feeling (dare I write it?) like a runner.
guarantee you'll never feel like a failure quote

Why your story matters

At 18, I landed in Switzerland for my first solo adventure. I was 1000’s of KM’s from home, I didn’t speak the language, and I had to travel my boat and ferry to my home in Germany. I remember being so nervous as I shoved a pre-written slip of paper into the kiosk with a request for tickets and prayed that I would be given the right tickets.

For almost four months, I au paired two children in Germany, and travelled – for the most part on my own – to various towns and cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France.
I learnt so much in those four months but one of the things that sticks with me now is that I don’t like travelling on my own. I like having other people to experience things with. And I like being able to look back with others and say, “Remember that time we…”

A few weeks ago I shared how I’m taking a new journey on this blog: a journey that is about living well – not perfectly – but well.

I don’t want to take this journey alone. I want companions to stare at unfamiliar boards in train stations and try to figure out which platform we might have be on. I want to laugh with people when we realize that we’re on a bus going the wrong direction. And I want to sit in restaurants and tell the waiter to bring bowls of food that I don’t recognize to our table.

To put my desire in the context of this blog I want you to share your heart and words and wisdom and mistakes with me. Just as I will be sharing mine with you. I want this to be a conversation (not just you reading a postcard from my trip).

I’ve loved how more and more people have been commenting on my posts since I changed the format of the blog. Each time I see a comment it feels like I’ve walked into a backpacking lodge and we’re sitting down sharing stories about our journeys. So thank you to everyone who has taken the time to kick off your shoes and share.

Let’s not stop. If you have something bubbling in you every time you read the word "well" that you want to share, I want to hear it. I want you to tweet it to me, or write it on my Facebook wall.

And if you’re the kind of person who can express yourself in written words I want you to guest post on my blog. I hate that term “guest post” it sounds so formal. What I really want to do is to open up the doors of my home, (tell the dog to stop barking at you), sit you down on my couch, and fill you up with cake, and then listen to the stories you have about "well".

I’d tell you as you sat opposite me on the couch that sometimes I worry about using the word “well”. I worry that it puts pressure on me, on us, to be perfect, to leave broken at the door but the more I journey towards well, the more convinced I am that you can’t get to well without tearing back the veneer of “I’m alright”.

Then I’d ask you to tell me, between bites of cake, the first feeling that comes to mind when you hear the word "well". And then we’d pass conversation back and forth and share stories full of hope, and grace, and Jesus. When it was time for you to go we’d both wish you could stay longer. If I was feeling really brave I might even offer to pray with you. Then I’d stand in the driveway holding the dog back as you backed out your car and think about when I’d get to see you again.

Okay, this is a pretty long way round to tell you that I’d love to share your stories here. It’s one of my favourite parts of blogging (and travelling), the opportunity to enter into other peoples stories, to see something through someone else’s eyes.

So, what would you add? What story would you tell if we were sitting chatting together? How does "well" challenge you? Is their one moment in your life when you {insert verb} well and  learnt something that changed you? How can “well” be holy?

I can’t wait to see what you have to say. Leave a comment if you want more info or go take a look at the guest post page for further submission info.

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One simple tip that will help you break bad habits

My husband and I work together from time-to-time. The other day we were driving home from a meeting when he very gently said, "I haven’t said anything but I find it very hard when I'm speaking, and then you break in and say something, it often takes a lot of courage to speak in these meetings."

I knew this conversation was going to come up because I'd been thinking I needed to try break this habit for a while. I told Xylon, "I'm sorry. I'm aware of it and I'm trying to stop."

Even as I said it in the car I wondered, ‘What do I mean by trying? What am I really doing to stop?’

Maybe I should have been more aware of God in that moment. Prodding me. Sticking his big God finger into my heart and poking around till I paid attention. But I was more concerned about making sure the conversation didn’t turn into an argument. 

A few days later, Trevor Hudson sent me a message about my bio which I had recently changed to read, “Trying to love well, read well and run well…”

This time I was more awake to the fact that God wanted to do something in me.

Trevor's words were so kind and wise and gentle. He told me a story about himself and how his wife threatens put the words “He really tried” on his gravestone. And then he shared how he has given up on the word, “trying” - in its place he has put the word "learning."

I loved this simple tip. Replacing “trying” with “learning” made sense to me in so many ways. I changed my bio immediately. It now says, “Learning to love well, read well and run well.”

This simple change of exchanging “trying” for “learning” has extended much further than just my bio, it has also been helping me to break my bad habit of interrupting people. I know there are a bunch of people nodding their heads right now – and that bunch of people has all spent time with me – and I’ll say right up front, “I’m sorry. I valued facts over your heart. I am learning to do better.”

I used to tutor a teenager. She struggled academically and I can’t recall the number of times she’d tell me, "At least I tried!" What I do remember is how frustrated I got at that response. I wasn’t able to pinpoint why it irritated me at the time. But it did. 

Since God’s been prodding me to learn instead of try I’ve been thinking about those tutoring sessions a lot, hoping to figure out what bugged me about that phrase. Then I stumbled on this story from John Ortberg’s book, The life you’ve always wanted. This is my paraphrase but you’ll get the idea:
Imagine you wake up tomorrow morning and decide to run a marathon. You vow to give it best shot and try as hard as you possibly can. Up until this point the only running you’ve done is to the store but you put on your running shoes, dress like a runner and begin your marathon. You try harder than anyone else there to finish it. No one has ever tried harder to finish a marathon than you. But it doesn’t matter you aren’t able to cross the finish line. Why? Because you haven’t trained for it. 

Trying won’t turn you into a marathon runner. 
However, if you learn from that experience and go home and learn about what it takes run a marathon. And you train for it and work toward it you’ll be able to run a marathon. 

That’s the rub isn’t it? 
You and I can be the best at "trying", but effort alone won’t change our bad habits or give us the lives we want.  << Tweet this

When I told my husband in the car that “I am trying to stop interrupting him” the phrase hung in the air without meaning. If we had the same conversation over I would say, “I’m sorry I did that. You know that I’m learning to stop interrupting you. Is there one thing I did today that I could do better at next time?”

It would be awkward. Since I take correction like a toddler throwing temper tantrumI would probably feel raw and hurt when he told me what I needed to learn to do differently –– but I’d learn something. I would be able take action to change something the next time round.

Trevor ended his message to me saying, “Somehow replacing ‘learning’ with ‘trying’ feels lighter.” I’m discovering that is true for me. I pray it will be true for you too.

The best books I read in 2015

I read a lot. For the last three years I have read upward of 100 books a year. One thing I’ve realised though is that those books aren’t always all quality books. This year on my quest to read well I am going to try and read fewer books but read more good quality ones.

In the mean time I thought I’d share some of my favourite books from the last year. You’ll see that my favourites tend to be in the memoir genre, but you’ll find a few fiction and Christian living mixed in.

You’ll find many of these books won’t be on the latest releases shelves. This is because I try to save money on books (100 books at an average of $9.99 quickly adds up) by buying them cheaply or picking them up free on Kindle.

All the descriptions of the books under “What it is about” come directly from Amazon book summaries. I’ve also included affiliate links here which means if you click on these links and buy any of these books through Amazon you’ll be helping me to be able to read well this year.

So here they are in no particular order:

Genre: Memoir
What it is about: "You count a pregnancy by weeks and Kayla Aimee had only ticked off 24 of the 40 when she unexpectedly went into labor. She thought her church upbringing had prepared her for every circumstance but when swept into a story of suffering, we all find ourselves vulnerable, questioning everything we thought we knew as we wonder, “Where is God in this?”"
Why I’d recommend it to you: I love memoirs that are real, that open up a door for you to walk with a person through hard things and Aimee does this. She manages to write with a mixture of vulnerability and humour. If you’ve ever wondered where God is in the midst of tough stuff than this book is for you.

Genre: Christian Living
What it is about: "Renowned author and ragamuffin Brennan Manning presents a love story for the brokenhearted. For those who are burdened by heavy religion. For those who feel they can never measure up. It is a provocative and poignant look at the radical, no-holds-barred love of our Heavenly Father. It is a message that will forever change how you view God."
Why I’d recommend it to you: If you’ve read this blog last year you’d know that I’m a big fan of this book. I picked it up after not reading a non-fiction Christian book for a long time and it just spoke grace into my heart. I re-read it three or four times and would recommend it to you if we sat down over coffee and you shared your questions about whether or not God loves you and is for you.
What it is about: "Undone is author Michele Cushatt’s quest to make peace with a complicated life. It is an honest confession of a diagnosis of cancer and the joys and disappointments of motherhood and marriage, ripe with regret over what is and, yet, still hopeful for what could be."
Why I’d recommend it to you: To be honest for a long-time after Xylon’s cancer treatment was completed I didn’t read any books that mentioned Cancer. The pain and reality was too raw. This book is the first I read and I found a book with enough humour to ease the rawness of my own wounds and her story.  I’d recommend it to you if you need to connect to God’s persistent, gracious love again.
Bonus for South African readers: Michele will be speaking Johannesburg from 20-21 May at the Beauty For Ashes 2016 conference. Find out how to book your spot: http://beautyforashes.com/event-registration/

Genre: Fiction
What it is about: “South African native Joubert brings her country to life in this tale that begins in Poland at the twilight of World War II and ends deep in the South African bushveld. Jakób Kowalski is a member of the Polish Home Army, tasked with blowing up a Nazi troop train. But a train carrying Jews to a death camp crosses the tracks first, and all aboard are killed except for Gretl and Elza Schmidt, sisters who escape the train just before the explosion. Gretl ends up under Jakób’s care in his family home, but with German and Russian troops patrolling Poland, Jakób sends Gretl to South Africa for adoption.”
Why I’d recommend it to you: I originally bought this book for three reasons. Firstly, the author sounded South African. Secondly, the book was set in South Africa. Lastly, it was written by a best-selling author. I’d read this book again for so many reasons. It is a beautiful written story of war, redemption, language and love. It taught me more about the country I call home and helped me to understand some of the wounds my country carries.

Genre: Memoir
What it is about: Hope Runs is the emotional story of an American tourist, a Kenyan orphan, and the day that would change the course of both of their lives forever. It's about what it means to live in the now when the world is falling down around you. It's about what it means to hope for the things you cannot see. Most of all, it's about how God can change your life in the blink of an eye.
Why I’d recommend it to you: This was the book that taught me how to pray when you want God to change your life. If you’re in a place in your life where you’re at a crossroads or if you’re just going through something that you don’t understand but want God to use it than I’d tell you read this book with an open heart ready to be challenged to live differently.

What it is about: When Ben Underwood became blind at the age of two, anyone would have thought he faced a life full of hardship and uphill challenges―a world full of things he’d never be able to see and activities he’d never be able to enjoy. But as far as his mom, Aquanetta Gordon, was concerned, nothing was impossible for Ben . . . and so he accomplished the incredible. Ben mastered human echolocation―the ability to detect the size, shape and location of objects through the reflection of sound waves. By clicking his tongue and “seeing” the waves, Ben could ride his bike, shoot baskets, identify objects, and even play video games. Some called it a miracle, but to Ben and Aqua, the real miracles were the otherworldly experiences God gave Ben―physical and spiritual―that others couldn’t explain.
Why I’d recommend it to you: This is a book that reminds you that nothing is impossible. Some of the things this little boy learns to do are beyond me. His mother’s attitude is such a gift. I read this a few months after my nephew was born with Down Syndrome and it made me realise that my expectations of him could be more limiting than having an extra chromosome.

Genre: Fiction
What it is about: In an unassuming apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, three lives intersect as the reality of war invades each aspect of their lives. Young Esther is heartbroken when her father decides to enlist in the army shortly after the death of her mother. Penny Goodrich has been in love with Eddie Shaffer for as long as she can remember; now that Eddie's wife is dead, Penny feels she has been given a second chance and offers to care for his children in the hope that he will finally notice her and marry her after the war. And elderly Mr. Mendel, the landlord, waits for the war to end to hear what has happened to his son trapped in war-torn Hungary.
Why I’d recommend it to you: If you’re looking for some well written fiction that will have you feeling like you know the characters you’re reading about I’d tell you to pick this one up. I also loved that the characters often experienced God as silent. I could relate to that. I think we all can.

Genre: Memoir
What it is about: In the startling tragedy of the Amish schoolhouse shooting at Nickel Mines, one story has never been told; Marie Roberts Monville, the wife of the man who created such horror, tells her story for the very first time. Within a solitary moment, Marie Monville realized that life, as she knew it, was over. What she never anticipated was a tangible encounter with God reaching into her circumstances, through them rewriting all she believed about herself, her faith, and the God she thought she knew.
Why I’d recommend it to you: It's honest. Marie doesn't hide the parts of herself that I think I would hide in a similar situation. She faces her life - all of it - and manages to share how God found her on the good and bad days. 

Genre: Fiction
What it is about: Sam is, to say the least, bookish. An English major of the highest order, her diet has always been Austen, Dickens, and Shakespeare. The problem is, both her prose and conversation tend to be more Elizabeth Bennet than Samantha Moore.
But life for the twenty-three-year-old orphan is about to get stranger than fiction. An anonymous, Dickensian benefactor (calling himself Mr. Knightley) offers to put Sam through Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.
Why I’d recommend it to you: This is not a new book. I’d heard about how great it was for years but was put off a little by the Austen references. I think I was given this book to read and I couldn’t put it down. It was nothing like I expected. I’ve since told anyone who asks for a light, well-written book to pick this up.
Bonus: Katherine Reay's book Lizzy & Jane is on special for $1.99 on kindle. Not sure how long this deal will last though, so hurry!

What were your favourite books in 2015 and why would you recommend them to me?