15 September, 2017

Hope Outside Ourselves

It’s national suicide prevention week in America, and Elissa is doing a beautiful series on why it’s worth it to stay. I was reading through the posts of her guest bloggers, and thinking about my take on stay. I remembered a post I’d written a couple of months ago challenging the ‘be yourself,’ ‘you do you,’ ‘live your own truth,’ idea. It didn’t feel right to share back then, but now I realize why it means so much to me.

I agree with living authentically and being genuine. God created us with different interests, preferences, and tastes, and He has a purpose in those differences, a plan to use them together in His service. We enjoy different foods, sports, and hobbies; we like different style of dress, art, and music; we have different talents, gifts, and callings. That’s the wonderful diversity of humanity, and that’s the way it should be.

But how does this relate to suicide prevention? Because if the only direction I had was ‘be you,’ I don’t know if I would be here. When I look inside myself, it isn’t pretty, it isn’t noble, and it doesn’t offer hope. I’m selfish, I mess up, and I hurt people. Sometimes I make someone smile, achieve a goal, or find satisfaction in new possessions, but it isn’t lasting. At the end of the day, I still have reason for discouragement and depression.

It’s a law of nature that we become like what or who we focus on. To rise, to find hope and reason to stay, we have to look outside ourselves. Even if our goal is to become our best self, we must analyse people we admire, consider qualities to imitate, look at the past and choose how the future will differ. 

But my goal isn’t to become the truest version of myself, because I don’t want to be that selfish failure. I’m not aiming for the best version of myself, because all my goodness adds up to nothing before Him. Instead, my greatest satisfaction and hope begins in laying myself down, and becoming who I was created to be: like God. As Vishal Mangalwadi explains:

As I started rereading the Bible’s first chapter, I found a radically different view of the human self. It says that God created human beings in His image (“man” – both male and female). On one hand both dogs and I are creatures. We are similar in many ways. For example, we are both mammals. Yet, in fundamental ways we are very different. I cannot know the essence of my humanness by studying dogs. If I am made in God’s image, would not knowing God be essential to knowing myself? The Book That Made Your World page 47

If dogs could reason, the only place they could look to be themselves is within. There is no greater dog they are made to be like; they can’t elevate themselves. But we’re made in the image of God, to be like God. If we want to rise, to find out who we’re meant to be, to discover the reason for our existence, we have to study the Pattern

I believe the answer is not to look in, but to look up. That’s why I have hope, rest, and reason to stay, even amid my mistakes: I know I am loved by a God who never lets go, and He’s slowly shaping me to be more like Him.

So don’t misunderstand – we’re purposefully unique individuals. But immaterially, in your soul, in the deepest parts of life, don’t do you. Don’t be yourself or live your own truth. Look up; look to the only One who understands what you’ve been through, who picks up the failures and messes of our broken existence and meshes them together as only grace and love could imagine. Be who God made you to be: a beautiful soul created in His image. Our hope is in Him

P.s How rare and beautiful it is to even exist... Listen here.

30 August, 2017

Where is God?

Frenchman Peak, Cape Le Grand, Western Australia

I was going to share something different today; a chirpy post I’d written about change and rainbows and turning twenty. But this has been pressing on my heart. I wanted to wait until I had concrete answers, but no, God had other plans. 

This world is broken. Pain exists everywhere –every country, ethnic group, family, and individual. There’s so much evil and suffering and disconnection. In the last week I: read No Longer A Slumdog which opened my eyes to the intense suffering of millions in Asia; saw footage of damage caused by hurricane Harvey; heard of crimes and suicides and miserable people; learned of toxins in our environment and food and corruption in the healthcare system; witnessed homelessness as a reality for many people; observed hurting, aching hearts; and yesterday evening I read Priceless which gives an inside look into human trafficking. 

That’s just one week. That’s only the things I heard about. That’s merely the perspective of a girl who has her needs supplied with extras on the side. I was lying in bed last night feeling overwhelmed by it all. How can people do that to each other? What would it take for people to see people as people? How much worse can it get? Is there any way to help? Is there any point trying? I’m one person, and it’s huge. It hurts me, and I’m not even experiencing it.

I was talking to God about it. I wanted to understand where and how I fit in with all this, but I ended up at the age old question: where and how does God fit into our human misery? A thought came forcibly to mind. It wasn’t an audible voice, but God spoke:

My heart breaks too.

Perhaps out of fear of cheapening God, of trying to keep Him high and holy, I forget He is real. He has feelings and emotions. He’s not a wall of piety, immune to our suffering. The fact we feel pain and horror about evil is evidence we’re made in His image and this world isn’t our home.

I don’t have a solution for world hunger, a plan to stop child trafficking, or a way to heal our hurting brothers and sisters. But I know when I feel weight in my chest, questions in my heart, and cry out, God, this is terrible! He replies: I know. My heart breaks too.

God is with us.

14 August, 2017

How to Help a Struggling Friend

Once I wrote a list of things I hated – actual hates, not dislikes or pet peeves. I wrote a few things before I saw the theme: I hate feeling powerless. I hate being in a situation where something awful is being done, but I can’t do a thing about it. I hate seeing other people hurt and damaged, and I can’t help. I hate being a viewer behind glass.

But there are times we can reach into people’s lives and hearts. I have a burden for helping those who are struggling. I don’t know how to help, what to say, or what to do. I’m awkward and I struggle too. I used to think I was powerless to help, until I realized: the smallest things can make the biggest difference. I once read of a girl who, because a stranger smiled at her, chose not to end her life. That was enough to let her know someone cared.  A sentence can change someone’s day. A thoughtful gift, or kind act, can. We have so many means in our grasp to be life changers.

Here’s a list of things I’ve found to be helpful in my experience, and I endeavour to be to others. I have much to learn. But it weighs on my heart that people are hurting, and some people don’t care, but some of us (including me) don’t know how to care. It doesn’t have to be hard or big; even the smallest thing can mean the world to someone. And God always has our back in this war. Let’s fight darkness.

Be there. This is the most important thing, and it’s simply showing up. We don’t have to have answers, or know what to do: just say, “Hey, I’m thinking of you. How are you going?” 

Show you’re there. For me, this mostly looks like sending a note by text, email, or on paper in real life. It could include phone calls, gifts, doing something for them, having them over for a meal - small tokens of love and care. 

Listen and let them grieve. We’ve got to understand their perspective, and that means listening. I have a tendency, when someone is talking about all the negative things happening, to drill positivity into them.  Count your blessings! Look on the bright side! It might be true, but it’s not what they need to hear then. These negative things are real in their life and by glossing over them, we’re not showing respect.

Ask genuine questions. Ask how they’re really feeling. Get beyond small-talk. Ask how they feel about themselves. And please, don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve thought of harming themselves or taking their life. Suicide isn’t always expected, and it’s worth the awkwardness: death isn’t something you can regret.

Pray for them and with them. Sometimes prayer is the only thing we can do, but it’s not a small thing. We’re talking about the all-powerful God here, and He has victory over darkness. We can claim His promises on behalf of our friends. And if the person is willing, praying with them is so, so powerful. Someone praying for me in my hearing is one of the most powerful things I’ve experienced.

Don’t break their confidence, but. If they share personal struggles, it shows care and respect to not repeat them to others. We’ll win their confidence and be able to support them better. But if the person’s life is at risk, we need to tell someone and get help. 

Earn the right to give advice. It’s natural for me to think solutions and strategies. There’s a problem? Let’s get to the solution already! But we have to listen and understand where the person is coming from, and remember it is their choice what they do. You can never have too much empathy. As they realize we care and understand, they’ll be more open to advice.

Don’t judge. The other person will feel more comfortable if they sense we’re not judging them. It’s easy to observe and presume things, but we can’t read minds, and understand hearts. 

I want to challenge myself this week to reach out, notice the beautiful people God has put in my life, how I can encourage and support them, and follow through with it. I want to show I’m there, and I care. We can make a difference; let’s believe it.

If you’re actively investing in someone who is struggling, look after yourself as well. Getting burnt out, or emotionally overloaded, doesn’t help us or others. Time with God, good rest, and nutrition, is still a priority, and sharing confidentially with a trusted friend or mentor can help. 

And, friend, if you’re struggling, please know you are not alone. God invested His heart and soul into you, and no one can take that away. You are priceless, of infinite value. I care about you, and if you want to talk – I make no profession of being able to help, but I can listen: blog.applesofgold@gmail.com. No one needs to bear their burden alone.

Thanks for being there for me, guys. Your lovely comments have cheered my blue days, and made me believe in my purpose. I know you’ve reached out to others, and experienced struggles, so what would you add to the list? What has meant the most when you’ve been struggling? Can I count you in on the challenge?