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?

05 August, 2017

Be Fearless in the Pursuit of What Sets Your Soul on Fire



Rachel from Silver Mess, and Grace from Totally Graced recently shared posts where they challenged themselves to share a memory in one hundred words. I thought it was a great idea, and decided to condense what I wanted to share into one hundred words. My posts normally run between five to eight hundred words, so you can imagine I understand the ‘challenge’ part of it. I didn’t quite make it down to one hundred, but anyway, here’s my current inspiration on being passionate. I’m looking forward to hearing what you make of passion, and tell me if you try the one hundred word challenge!




 

My music teacher advised: pursue your passion. If it doesn’t work out, go study law. But if it does, you spend your life doing what you love.


Sara Beth said passion is God given; it’s how we’re created to exist. She quoted La La Land: “People love what other people are passionate about.” 


Ove’s wife says in A Man Called Ove: “We can busy ourselves with living or with dying...” 


Why settle for okay when you could be excited, on fire, spending and being spent, living up, wearing out, but you love it. You’re alive. You’re doing what you’re made for.


I’m re-evaluating:  am I doing it because I’m obliged, because it happened, or because I feel called, I fervently desire, I have excitement, enthusiasm, recklessly brave abandon, not to spend my life on something, but to give my life for something?


The world needs passionate people.

30 July, 2017

A Note On Insecurity


I’m insecure. It’s a tiny sentence, but I haven’t wanted to admit that. Other people have insecurities. I can see them, and I’ve even looked to make sure I wasn’t doing the same thing. But I had an experience which gave me a different perspective. I saw my insecurities: I saw they were changing the way I behaved, the people I talked to, the self-talk I allowed. I noticed a change in my interactions with people in real life, and I gave time to my insecurities about online interactions. Is it worth blogging? Am I offending people? What if no one reads it? Can I even write? I want to share what I feel God’s been teaching me, but what if it’s not really truth?

You may have noticed a gap in my posting (or you may not have, as my insecurities would like to point out). It’s not because of a lack of desire or things to say. I’ve been busy, yes, but I’ve been hesitating. I want to be honest: I have insecurities about blogging. 

They’ve been there all along, but I hear God calling me to do more with blogging – to go deeper, to see it as my ministry, to open up and allow Him to work. It’s a step out of my comfort zone; it requires walking past those insecurities.

It’s made me realize something: insecurity is about fear. Why am I insecure about this? It’s because I’m scared. But God doesn’t dwell in fear. He’s love, and perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18) And that’s the answer to my problem, my weakness, my struggle: more love, more God.

 ~

Everyone has insecurities.  They’re a natural part of life in our fallen world. I’m not suggesting to glorify them, but please, don’t be insecure about your insecurities. If you’re struggling with something, feeling alone, feeling less-than, scared about what people will think, about what you’re called to do, about the past or the present or the future: you’re not alone. You’re beautiful, you’re loved, and you have purpose.

“But now thus saith the Lord that created thee… Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee…” Isaiah 43:1-4

Let’s be a little kinder to those around us: we don’t know what they might be struggling with inside. Let’s be a little more open, because we’re all in this, and connection is powerful. And when we find ourselves facing those fears, let’s go to the One who is perfect love, and let His truth set us free. 

Thanks for listening, and I hope to see you more often from now on. In the meantime, what has been on your heart recently? Is insecurity something you struggle with? How do you think we can combat it? Tell me what’s going on for you. I appreciate you all, and you bless me so much. 

Jessica xx

28 June, 2017

Change


Yesterday I shook hands with a homeless man. His name was Grant, and he was sitting out the front of a shopping mall, head down, dog beside him, and a sign which said hard times had come and every bit of change counted.

Call me childishly innocent, but once I see people like that I can’t get them out of my mind. I’ve been sheltered from the scary scratch-to-make-a-living world. I knew about these things; I’ve read books about people who are homeless, addicted, or abused. I know it’s reality, but it’s never been real to me.

I remember the first time I saw someone’s makeshift bed up an alley. I looked twice before I realised. That’s someone’s bed. That’s where they sleep. That’s where they live. Something out of the storybooks was in front of me, and I had to realise it was all nonfiction. I can still picture it now. 

Back to yesterday: my mum had to go to the city, and I decided to go along and do some busking while she was busy. She dropped me off in the city centre, and I started walking through malls and along streets of shops looking for a place to set up. I went down a street, and the first thing I noticed was a bright purple blanket, laid out to the footpath. It had something underneath it, and at first I thought someone was lying there, but when I got closer, I saw it was a sleeping bag.

A man shuffled past me, and stopped. He was dirty and unkempt, and he had a cheap bag over shoulder. He pulled the bag off, and got out a pair of scuff-like shoes, which he put on and kept walking in the frosty morning air. 

I went through a mall, and that’s when I saw this man sitting with his piece of cardboard in front of him. People were rushing past, pretending he wasn’t there. I couldn’t get him out of my head; I wanted to give him something, but most of all I wanted to talk to him, to understand, if that were possible.

I went and busked for a while, and came back with what I’d made. He was still sitting there. I joined the flow of foot traffic, and walked right past him into the next mall. Why was it so hard to approach this man, a human being just like me? Why was I worried what people would think of me?

When I went over to him and emptied out the bag with the small amount I had, he thanked me profusely. Now what? I wanted to help him yes, but I wanted connection. I wanted to know what life was like for people like him. So I asked, and he told me. He told me how it started when he was thirteen, and struggles he’s had with his family, and how he has health problems now. He told me he was more fortunate than most because he had a car and his driver’s license. He told me he doesn’t drink or do drugs, and how he helped a few other homeless people out that morning and told them where they could get help. He told me he was a Christian and his faith in God helped him through. In the end, he asked my name and extended his hand.

I went back to my spot and busked some more, but things were different. My stereotypes were shattered. I played on, and observed from his perspective, from their perspective. I was a person on the street, and I was ‘asking’ for money. I saw how people ignored, pretended I wasn’t there – or noticed but didn’t acknowledge except by glancing at my case to see how much I’d collected. I watched the kids stare and the parents make sure they kept moving. I’ve had it before, but I realised what it would be like if I were sitting instead of playing, had a cardboard sign instead of an open case. I would be inferior, not worth a glance: too familiar to have any impact.

Again, this is new to me. I’m not desensitized. I still see people, and I want to stay that way. I don’t want to be one of the crowd. I don’t want to be so consumed by materialism I forget people are people, just like me, just like you. 

But there are redeeming factors. Parents gave their kids some coins to put it in my case. A lady told me it was a beautiful song. People smiled. A man said he’d give me something except he was broke. A dad said to his kids while I was setting up ‘that lady’s going to play some music.’ The connection made it worth it. The smallest smile kept me playing. The kids’ curiosity made me happy inside. 

So I’m only asking one thing of myself and of you: next time, be that redeeming factor.

16 June, 2017

Lessons From Ezekiel and Mount Trio











Recently I read through Ezekiel, a prophetic book in the middle of the Bible. Elissa encouraged me to share some things I learned, so here we go! :)

Ezekiel was an amazing man. In his commission in chapter two, God says, “And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou doest dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak my words unto, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear…” (Ezekiel 2:6-7) God gave him some hard messages to deliver, and asked him to do some strange things as illustrations. Ezekiel never complained, never backed down - even in chapter twenty four where Ezekiel’s wife died and God told him not to mourn, because it was a sign and lesson for the people of Israel. I struggled with that; questioned why God did that to the poor man. But it gave me even more respect for Ezekiel, his humility, his acceptance of whatever God said, and His never-ending heart for the children of Israel, rebellious and stubborn as they were.

Although I couldn’t comprehend a lot of the visions God gave Ezekiel, I got one thing out of them: God is holy, so much holier than we grasp. In chapter ten, Ezekiel sees some of the glory of the Lord, and He can’t even describe the cherubim articulately – some of God’s created beings. What must God Himself be like? I feel our society, modern worship culture, has lost sight of the holiness of God. This is the same God whose glory Moses couldn’t stand to see, and when He came down on Mount Sinai, the Israelites had to cleanse themselves and keep away from the mountain, because the glory was so great it would’ve killed them.

A common thread throughout the visions and messages for His people was God’s unending love for them. He calls them rebellious from the beginning, and finds plenty of other synonyms along the way. He foretells destruction and ruin. But in it all, His heart comes through. He’s not angry; He’s grieved. He yearns over His children, and makes every effort to prove Himself to them – that He is faithful and all He wants is them to choose to come back to Him. Ezekiel thirty-four describes this beautifully: “For thus saith the Lord God; behold I, even I, will both search my sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that He is among His sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep that are scattered; so will I deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring then to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick… Thus shall they know that I the Lord their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, saith the Lord God. And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16 & 30-31)

The passage which impacted me most was the first half of Ezekiel thirty-seven, where Ezekiel describes his vision of a valley of dry bones which, at the word of the Lord, come to life and become an army. It was such an inspiration, and has become a vision in my own life. But maybe I’ll share that in another post. :)

I hope I’ve taken a few of these lessons from Ezekiel into my life – learning to humbly accept what God asks, being willing to be used by God, ask for a heart that yearns over people like God does, having respect for the supreme holiness of God, and learning to trust that God is still God in things I don’t understand. 

Take courage friends, if God used Ezekiel to spread His message, He will use us if we’re willing. If you’re feeling distant from Him, or experiencing cloudy and dark days, know He’s still there. In fact, He’s not on some far away throne in the sky, He’s out there looking for you. He’s by your side, and He will pull you through to His pasture. And in the end, the only thing any of us will be able to say is that He’s the Lord, our God.

~

What have you been reading or studying? Have you ever read Ezekiel? Do you think we have lost sight of God’s holiness?

09 June, 2017

Current Inspirations and Announcement!







Maybe it's because I've been spending a lot of time in front of a screen, between studying, keeping up with the blogger peeps, and beta reading/reviewing three totally different but enjoyable stories: Jordy Leigh's soon-to-be-released novella, Isolated; Jesseca Wheaton's latest short story, A Place Called Lonesome, and They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? which I received in exchange for a review through this website. My mind is swirling with things I want to share, but every time I sit down to a blank document, the words just don't come. I'll get them out soon enough (I have a feeling God is trying to teach me something with this), but in the meantime, here are some things which have been keeping my inspiration levels up:

Hosanna's new blog page: The Story. If you only check out one of the links in this post, make it this one. I've read The Story a few times now and it still gives me greater glimpses into what Jesus really did for me, for you.

Hosanna and Paige's recent posts about Project Love (Hosanna's here, and Paige's here). This is an awesome project which technically started on the first of June, but it's never to late to love more.

Kara's thought provoking post: What Feeding Your Brain Looks Like. This post is relevant and practical and true - something I needed to read.

When God's Commands are Unpleasant, over on Gloria's blog. I hadn't read anything like this in a while, so it was refreshing, and... convicting. What is my Nineveh?

Another convicting and heartfelt post: For Them/By Them {the lost}.

Elissa's recent posts: His Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Vision, Broken People Sit in Church Pews, and Be. Wow, each one has such a good message.

And this thought out and fascinating post on life by Anna: Have We Been Misunderstanding Life All along? I only recently discovered her blog, and it was a great find.

Emily's poem: Spring Rain. I really like the flow of words in this - it matches the title perfectly.

I also have to mention Julia Ryan's book of her poetry is now available to buy! (See her poems here, and blogs about life here.) I rarely,  rarely, like free verse poetry but Julia's poems are an exception, and I hope to acquire a hard copy of them soooon. Also on that note, Schuyler is publishing her book, War of Loyalties, and she's running a Kickstarter to pay for the publishing, which I think is a brilliant idea. Of course, helping her out means getting the book and other bonuses in the end (unless you live outside the USA like me :/).

This beautiful quote from Kailey Anne's blog:

"There are some questions we will never get the answers to until we reach the other side.  Some things will just never make sense while we're here.  Life burns but it's happy too.  When I was younger I expected life to roll out exactly as I expected.  Woah.. was I wrong.  Things never go as you expect.  I was supposed to be fulfilling my "big" life purpose traveling the world, working an amazing job that I loved.. etc.  It's hard to accept years of seeming emptiness.  But here's something I've learned:  Nothing is ever wasted.  Even if our only response to things is "why?" uttered from the deepest longings and aching of our souls.

It will all make sense someday.  Even if that someday is when we reach the other side."

Ezekiel 34:11-16 & 30-31. There's so much of Ezekiel I don't understand, but that passage speaks to me. If you need encouragement, go read it. God's love for us, his sheep, is overwhelming.

Now the announcement (don't miss this):

My fabulous, awesome, sweet-as-date-pudding-with-icecream, super inspiring, sister Rachel has started blogging! I've had the privilege of hearing her deep spiritual thoughts and lessons from life, and reading her writing, (and yes, goofing around together when we're meant to be asleep), and I'm so excited to see her start reaching out to others through blogging. I know God is going to use her blog: Me, My God, and Maverick. Go help yourself to the amazingness, and see what I'm talking about (or at least find out who Maverick is)!

Thanks for reading this disjointed rambling post, and I hope you have an excellent weekend. What's been inspiring you recently? Any posts or blogs or books I've been missing out on? Have you checked out my sister's blog yet? ;)

P.s This is the first time in over four years blogging I've written a post straight on blogger. Does anyone else write up their posts in Word, or somewhere else, before posting?

19 May, 2017

The Gospel of Loving Yourself


Self-love is a widely accepted concept these days. I’ve heard many different strains of it – some decidedly not Christian, others quoting Bible verses to back up their points. I wasn’t sure where to stand on the subject, but things are becoming clearer as I’ve researched and thought about it. I want to share – not to be disagreeable, but because I believe in making informed decisions, rather than going along with whatever’s popular.

The biggest problem I found with self-love is it takes away the need for salvation, and ultimately the need for God. If we love and accept all the sinful parts of ourselves, why did Christ have to die for our sins?  If we become better through loving ourselves, why do we need the power and grace of God? If we are perfect in our imperfections, why follow Christ’s commands and grow in Him? If all power comes from within, why is there need for surrender? If we are enough in ourselves, why do we need God?


But the Bible says all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, (Isaiah 64:6), and all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Jesus said, I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in Him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9) The truth is, we can’t trust ourselves, we can’t better ourselves, and we can’t save ourselves.

Being self-centred is also the opposite of God’s ideal for living: Love…seeketh not her own. (1 Corinthians 13:5) Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another. (Romans 12:10)

God, the definition of perfect love, gave up everything so we could have salvation, and lives now to continue working salvation in us. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16) Ultimate love equals ultimate self-sacrifice. Self ‘love’ is the opposite. Ultimate self-love is sacrificing anything to gain what we want.

But, this isn’t to say the right attitude to have about ourselves is self-hate. The Bible is clear we’re created and redeemed and loved by God, and have infinite worth and value. 

So what is the antidote for self-love? How can we find self-esteem or self-acceptance apart from it? The answer is God, in resting in His love. Apart from God we can’t do anything; without Him, we’re nothing. But with Him all things are possible. Instead of trying to fill the holes inside with positive words and thoughts about ourselves, fill them with God’s truths. The truth that God promises to be with me, to satisfy my longings, to give me everything I ever need. The truth that when I fall, God extends His grace and forgiveness to me, and I’m never beyond His love. The truth that He gave up everything to be able to have me with Him forever in a perfect place, and He calls me His daughter, an heir of His kingdom.

There’s a natural law that whatever we focus on is what we become like. If we focus on ourselves, we’re never going to rise above ourselves. But if we focus on God, the Bible promises:  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18) By the power of God, our fallen messed up selves will change to be more and more like our Maker. 

What could be better than loving ourselves? Being loved and accepted and treasured by the definition of love Himself, the all-powerful sustainer of the universe who personally loves you.

~

I know I haven’t begun to cover the different aspects of this extensive topic. I recommend this brilliant article which discusses a few other points: Did Jesus say I must 'love myself' first? Also, I want to be clear: this wasn’t written to target anyone specific, or as a response to any particular post. It’s something I’ve been personally chewing over for a while.

I hope you know I’m eager to hear what you think! How do you see self-love? Do you agree with what I’ve said? Please share your thoughts and findings! I’m still learning :)