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Fridays with Phil

Life, family and unshakeable faith

Why you need more hope

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There is no doubt that we all need hope to face the future. As we enter a new year, how can we live with hope for a better 2017, especially when we’ve been knocked down and need the strength to get back up again.

I want to share with you how I live with real hope while fighting this terminal illness called MND/ALS. It’s a question I am asked often. It’s how I explain the dynamic of my body getting weaker, but my spirit gaining strength.

One thing I know is hope is similar to love. We can sing about it and write about it, but to describe its essence is difficult at times.  We cannot put it in a jar to measure it or look at it.  The best we can do is reveal its impact on our external circumstances and expose its effect as it changes us on the inside.

Last year, I was able to speak 31 times, officiate two funerals, and raise thousands of dollars for critical research funds and to support those who suffer. I couldn’t do that without hope.

We can put our hope in so many areas: medicine, science, knowledge, people, time and the supernatural. Let me warn you sometimes our hope can be misplaced as well, like when we hope in things or people that are not tested or not trustworthy.  For example, if you are living in an abusive relationship, hoping that one day the person will change and yet time and time again they come back abusive and violent, then your hope is misplaced and even dangerous.   False hope can be fatal hope.

Hoping a bank will give you money to buy a home when you have zero deposit and no work is false hope. But getting up and going to yet another job interview is a hope that can be the first step towards having that home.

Hope does not discount reality, but faces it with courage to bring about change. I believe hope is powerful and necessary to live a full life to the best of our ability and even more than our ability. Hope picks us up and carries us through the most difficult of days.

Hope never surrenders to circumstances, but rises above them.  This can be very painful because, at times, it pushes us to our limits and into some uncomfortable places.  Even if that means leaning into the pain of what is and finding a way through. Hope, more often that not, does not carry us away from our pain, but through it.

Hope is having a positive expectation for a better future while at the same time having a real contentment with today. Hope forgets what was, acknowledges what is, all the while embracing what is next. It’s believing that things will get better, and a peace while you wait.

This is a big one because having contentment may look like surrender, but it’s far from giving up. It is a result of hope that is both present and future focused.

I would suggest if your hope does not produce a true sense of peace and comfort, then it is probably misplaced.

Hope also demands a response.  At times, it is an internal response that produces a quietness of spirit as we meditate on hope’s presence in our lives. For example, when my hope is of a spiritual nature, my response is trust.  It’s knowing that God has me, He has got this.

At other times, it’s an external response that brings about an action that moves us forward.

Therefore, when my hope is in science, then the demand is that I do something.  I take the medicine and actively look for whatever may help.  For me, it means taking approximately 40 supplements a day, importing drugs from France, subjecting my body to scientist’s research.

I also have hope in assistive technology that can help me live with as much independence as possible. I know these things may not cure me, but I’m hoping they help and slow down what can be a very fast moving disease.

When I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, I was told there was no cure, but hope says there is a cure, we just haven’t discovered it yet.  Hope says, I will search the world and find something that may help. It’s an attitude of never giving up because who knows what opportunity may present itself tomorrow. It means doing all you can.

Did you know that Japan has already released a fully tested advanced drug to slow down the progression of MND/ALS.  It’s too expensive for most of us, but it is available.

My point is, hope keeps on looking, knocking and seeking.

Hope says, I will raise awareness and funds to help scientists discover new ways. This may mean that our hope is not just about ourselves, but about those who will come after us.

Our hope is wrapped up in a sense of legacy, making the world a better place for those who one day face what we face. 

What if the world was a place, where, when someone is told they have MND/ALS, the very next thing they’re told is that we have a cure for you.

Hope is a sacrifice at times.  It can look like people laying down their own agendas, comfort and freedoms for the benefit of others. Soldiers do it all the time. Or, think of all those who have died of cancer. In a very real way, their death has driven us to find a treatment and today, other people live because they died.

Hope never gives up. I have learned that focusing my hope in different areas does not mean a weakening of hope. I want to be spiritually, physically, emotionally and mindfully strong in this battle.  Hope, therefore, can be multi-focused without becoming diluted.

It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope, it is made up of individual colours coming together and producing a beautiful pattern with balance and poise.

I guess it’s similar to loving your first child and then when the second comes, you wonder how you can love two as much as you have loved the one.  You soon find that love is not divided up, it multiplies.  It’s the same with hope. Hope is not divided up, it multiplies.

I mentioned that hope can have a supernatural focus.  If you have every prayed, you have hoped in the supernatural. For me, that’s a hope that transcends this world and its limitations. I pray daily for the help of Jesus, literally, as simple as three words: “Jesus, help me.”

I choose Jesus to be the focus for my hope.  He is, if you like, the anchor of my hope.  When all other hope falls short or disappoints due to its limitations, I have a hope in Jesus to rise above all other hope.

Our world is fallible and imperfect. Drugs don’t always work, people don’t always turn up, weakness is real. But, my hope in Jesus is grounded on the belief that the same power that raised Him from death, is available to me. That God, by His grace can move at anytime and heal us of our sickness. Hope that means death has lost its power over me, my hope rests is heaven and eternity.

I will tell anyone who will listen about the hope Jesus brings, whether it be my psychologist, my neighbours and friends. I explain that the more I have relationship with Jesus, the more hope I have in my heart.  That my hope ultimately is that I would become more like Him and even one day be with Him.

Yes, put your hope in medicine and people but also find a hope that transcends all of these.  It’s a personal hope, it’s an intimate hope, it’s a hope that has real substance produced by faith, it’s a hope that prays “Jesus, help me.”  Why not give it a try?

Phil

 

That Christmas Feeling

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There’s no time like Christmas. 

For me, just the word “Christmas” conjures up feelings of happiness and family and presents and roast potatoes.

You may have heard it said recently, “Christmas is upon us”.   That is true.  But what if Christmas didn’t have to be something that came and went? Here today and gone tomorrow. What if Christmas could be, and was even meant to be, within us?

I believe that the message of Christmas is about what we get to experience in whatever current season or situation we find ourselves in – success, heartbreak, loss or victory.  

Christmas is a season we don’t have to wave goodbye.

The crux of Christmas isn’t the presents we do or don’t receive.  The crux of Christmas is that God gifted us with His presence.  

If we want it, that Christmas feeling, can extend beyond December and throughout the year. 

What does that look like?

The Bible says in Matthew 1:23, Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.

God with us!

Jesus came to earth so that He could make a personal relationship with God accessible to us.  In essence, so that we could know God with us, in our good times and bad.

For some of my readers, this sounds like a nice idea, but I realise that it can be difficult to understand if you are yet to experience it for yourself. 

For those who choose to believe the truth of who Jesus was and what that means for you, our belief moves the Christmas story from fable to fact, from the fictional shelf of our heart to the non-fiction shelf.

Our belief changes the way we see, changes who we are and even what we do.

While Jesus’ presence didn’t change God’s love towards us, it did change how we get to experience God’s love. 

What does that mean?

It means that we can experience God’s permanent presence in our lives.   

God doesn’t come into your life, only to leave you.  His presence is ever-there.  It is unchanging, uncapped, and undeniable.  It is meant to encourage you, to help you, to guide you, to prompt you, and to enable you.

God is still with you friend, He has not left you alone to fend for yourself.  He goes before you, He is behind you, He is in your future.  He is present.

You are never alone, you are never on your own. 

It is a gift, generous and undeserved, available to each of us.

What difference does it make?

The difference between the presents you may receive this Christmas, earthy and fleeting, and the gift of God’s presence, eternal and tangible, is astounding.

Our presents won’t last, but His presence is permanent.

Our presents won’t change the people we are, but His presence cannot help but change us for the better.

Our presents give us a temporary happiness, but His presence offers lasting joy.

God’s presence meets a deep need and longing within every person.  

God loves you friend, and He promises you peace because of that deep love for you.  

Know today that God’s presence comes with the promise of peace.

Have you ever prayed for things?   I have, and I still do, occasionally. But I will tell you what I want more than things.

I want peace.

I pray for God’s peace in my life, that I might experience it, and that I might become a man of peace. And I pray it for our world.

Nothing, literally no “thing”, can take the place of peace.

We need peace in our lives, and God is willing to give it to us, if we will only ask for it.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:27) 

An angelic choir sung at the very first Christmas, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)

What is my first step? 

If you like the sound of a God of peace and love, a God who can be permanently present in your life, the first thing you can do is recognise your need for God and ask Him to come into your life, forgive you of your sins and fill you with His presence. 

That’s what I did and it changed my life.

I’ve learned that when I’m walking in God’s peace, being “right” just isn’t as important, arguing isn’t worth it, and loving is far easier. 

God wants to take you out of your stress, and out of your anxiety, and give you peace.

Simply put, He wants a relationship with you.  He doesn’t want to be remote and distant, he wants to be right with you, right now, every day of your life. 

That Christmas feeling is yours for the keeps, 

It is the very good news,

Phil

Give me life

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Sharing with Pastors & Leaders at our recent State ACC Conference

None of us always feel like doing the right thing all of the time, like giving of ourselves and like living for others instead of ourselves.  But, I wonder if it is the very key to experiencing the unforced rhythms of grace in our lives.

I wonder if as we nurture those who we encounter on life’s journey, we live with a greater sense of wellbeing.

Just from my own observation, the most giving people I know are also the happiest people I know.

It’s true that to live, we need to exhale, so that we can then inhale. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

In the same way, we need to give, to receive. Give, receive, give, receive.

Not only is this a principle to live by, but it is a principle for life flow. It is oxygen.

In pouring out ourselves, we are not depleted, we are filled.  In fact, my motive for giving is partly the purpose it creates within me, the energy and life it brings.  I have found that a peaceful “inner” world (my mind, will and emotions) is greatly impacted by how I reach out into the “outer” world around me.

Living with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Lenore and I have become actively involved in the MND community. We endeavour to offer words of comfort and care to those suffering and their loved ones and carers. It has forced me to face my own feelings in order to bring life to others. And I wonder if, in turn, it has given me back life.

By helping others through their suffering and giving of ourselves, we receive the ability, that is beyond ourselves, to stand in the face of trial.

 When we give to others, we are saying, “I have abundance, I have resource that is not based on scarcity.” For me, that abundance is the overflow of God’s love and care for me.

When we do not reach out and care, we start to believe we are bankrupt, we are saying “I give nothing because I have nothing.”  The truth is, we have nothing of real value or substance because we choose not to give.

Take gravity for instance. Even though it pushes against us, it is the very force that enables us to stand upright and walk on earth.            

When, in the face of the very thing that is pressing against us, we decide to reach out to others, our pain becomes the vehicle for God’s grace to reveal itself in and through us.

Today, I believe that your suffering and brokenness is an opportunity for God to reveal Himself.  In the middle of your pain, you can find joy because of how it touches the hearts and lives of others. But only if we choose to give.

When people tell me that my words and story are encouraging them in their lives, all I can say is “thank you.”  You see, it does as much for me as it does for them to know that my pain is not in vain, not fruitless or pointless, but has been used to somehow help others.

Einstein said it this way, “only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”  Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive”.

God established how much life is worth by giving His all. When the disease of mankind, sin, separated man from God and asked God how much are we, humanity, worth to Him? His answer was “all of Me”!

Galatians 2:20 says that the life I live now is a life of faith established on the reality that Jesus gave Himself for me and He did it because of His love for me.

In the same way, when we love people, when we give ourselves to them, we establish their value to us.  We affirm that they are significant and we are prepared to do whatever it takes for their benefit.

Every day we have the opportunity to be generous with our time, our energy  and our resources.

Not only are you doing a good thing when you give of your life for others, but I believe it’s in giving that you experience a personal sense of wellbeing.  I also believe you will have a sense that your life is more meaningful as it is attached to greater purpose.

A survey of 2000 people from different socioeconomic backgrounds found that those who volunteered at least 5.8 hours a month and those who gave at least 10% of their income had higher levels of happiness, less depression and had generally better health (Smith and Davidson).

An exchange of generosity and love will in itself have a benefit to both the giver and the receiver. 

Next time you give your time, energy or money for the benefit of others, know that in your own way you are laying down your life – and there really is no greater love.

Giving is oxygen. Remember to exhale.

Phil

Yes, No, Maybe.

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Who is on your team?  In business, in friendship, in marriage, in family, in sport, in life?

My “life team” is literally made up of people helping me live the best life possible.  It consists of people who are skilled in their area or profession, like neurologists and doctors, psychologists and pastors, friends and family.  And I like to think, I sit on the “life team” of a few people myself too, helping them reach their full potential.

The thing about team, mine or yours, is that it isn’t accidental.  It is intentional.  It requires an answer. Are you on board – “yes” or “no”?

Often, I will receive a text message a day or two before my next specialist’s appointment asking me to respond with a “yes” or a “no” as to whether I will be attending.

Interestingly enough, they don’t give me the option of sending “maybe” as an answer.

In the “yes” or “no” equation of life, “maybe” can be the most damaging of answers we can give.

“Maybe” frustrates, it wastes time, it procrastinates, and it is an indicator of double-mindedness.

Do you think this is a good idea? Maybe. Are you able to make that appointment? Maybe.  Would you like to come for dinner? Maybe. Should we buy the house? Maybe.

When my wife asks me if I want steak for dinner, she wants me to choose.  If I shrug and tell her “whatever,” I may think I am letting her choose, but I am really frustrating her.  The reason she asked me is because she wants my answer.  If I choose not to answer, I am not caring about something she cares about.  (By the way, she will be shouting a loud “hallelujah” to this revelation).

You will notice a person who is able to give a “yes” or “no” answer is someone who knows what they want, someone who knows what direction they need to take, and what their values and priorities are.

Imagine when driving, asking the passenger if the blind spot to you is clear, but instead of a “yes” or “no”, they answer “maybe.”  You would hesitate, or you would possibly proceed unsafely.

“Maybe” delays the decision-making process and uses up precious time, when a simple answer would suffice.

I have often found myself challenged by the verse in Matthew 5:37 that says, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’”

So how do we become “yes” and “no” people?

They are two words we would all benefit from learning how to use effectively in our lives.

Like I’m sure you do, I like hearing the word “yes,” but I have also learnt how to become unfazed hearing a “no.”  (And when spending time with our almost-two-year-old grandson, let’s just say, hearing “no” is not uncommon!  It amazes me how quickly they learn that word).

The upside of “no” is that I know where I stand and can respond appropriately.  A “no” spoken with love and grace can be even better than a well-intended “maybe” or an empty “yes.”

I have learned that behind every “yes” is a “no” and behind every “no” is a “yes.”

Over the years, I have discovered that when a person said “no” to me, it opened up a door to someone or something else: it became another’s “yes.”  When we hear “no,” it can motivate us to find other ways and other people who are willing to say “yes.”

Security in my own soul realises that when someone says “no” to me, they are more likely saying “yes” to someone else or visa versa.

Sometimes I am asked to speak and I don’t always say “yes.”  In fact, my “no” has grown and grown as I have had to to say “yes” to energy and health and life.

I’m very aware, that my “no” holds consequences, but it doesn’t make me a lesser person. It just means that it results in a different outcome.

One of the best illustrations I can think of is Jesus in His humanity crying in the garden before His crucifixion, “Father, if there is any other way?”  Our Father said “no” to Jesus because He was saying “yes” to you and I.

When we encourage people to live their best lives: in family, in work, in health, the flipside is that we need to be comfortable with sometimes hearing “no.”

What about the golden word: “yes”?

Oh, she is lovely to our ears.  She represents commitment and obedience.   She represents ease and comfort.  When she is outworked, she builds trust, integrity and results.

“Yes” can be the response we give because of our guilt, ego, fear or confusion.  At the same time, it can be a response we give out of purpose, capacity, kindness and confidence.

In any team, including our “life team,” whatever that may look like for you: doctors, lawyers, advisors, friends and family, we need people who will say “yes” because they want to, not because they have to.  People who know how to say “yes,” not driven by fear of an adverse reaction if they say “no.”

In life, there will always be an “ask” put on us, especially if we are living large lives. The bigger our lives, the bigger the ask. That’s not a bad thing, but never lose sight of the fact that you hold the power of your “yes.”

Say “yes” to your priorities, say “yes” to your responsibilities, say “yes” to things that resonate with your own core values, say “yes” to building or repairing healthy relationships.

I’m mindful that a “yes” or “no” answer may come with timeframes attached, “yes, but not yet,” or “no, not anymore.”  In your life, it could mean saying “no” to something you have previously said “yes” to, or it could be saying “yes” but at a different time.

Give it a go!  Try it this week.  Be more decisive, and minimise the use of the word “maybe,” be gutsy when it comes to “yes” and gracious as you say “no.”

Phil

Nevertheless

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Over the winter months, my wife and I, and even our dog, have loved having a fire burning away.  There’s nothing like the crackling of timber and warmth of a fire.

The only problem is that when we need more timber, I am too weak to carry it.  I’ve had to ask a friend to do it for me.

It’s moments like those, one of many examples I could give, that remind me of my own disability.

When my physical weakness slaps me around, it can make me feel like less of a man than I once was.

You see, the more dependant we are on others, the less significant we feel.

The more of a burden we are, the less useful we feel.

The more help we need, the more helpless we feel.

The more it cost to keep us moving, independent and social, the less of a value add we feel.

Our disabilities mean we are less able.  Being less able makes us feel less useful or even useless.

And while my limitations are caused by a disease (MND/ALS) in my body, I also know that the wear and tear of life, disappointments, disillusionment, relationship breakdowns, negative mindsets, and even the reality of our humanity and aging bodies, can at times, all make us feel “less than.”

Let me encourage you on how I have been challenged to think of my own worth and usefulness in spite of my limitations.

I believe you need to know today, that you are “never-the-less,” no matter what life has served up to you.

Your disability, your limitation, your disappointment need not lessen you.

God has shown me that He always see us as “never-the-less.”

Have a look at this verse from the Bible.  In Deuteronomy 31:8 it says, “And the LORD, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”

It’s a promise that no matter what, God will be with me always. He is my constant companion through the valleys and the mountaintops of life’s experience.

But it is even more than that.

The word I want to draw our attention to is “forsake.”

God not only promises not to leave us, but He also promises not to forsake us.

If you’re like me, for years I just took the words “leave” and “forsake” to be a repetition of the same meaning, just spelt differently.

But “forsake” actually means that God will not relinquish, resign, surrender, abandon, or reject us.

God will never leave us, but he will also never see us as less when we can do less or we feel less.

Friend, God says He will never retire, relinquish or reject you.  No matter what weaknesses you have or limitations you are plagued with.

One of the biggest challenges a disabled person may face is the feeling of being “less.”  Less when it comes to their humanity, their self worth, their belonging, and their value to the world.

Whilst we are inspired by the efforts and courage of many disabled people, we are less likely to be friends with them.  This can make them feel like less.

God says, no matter what your condition is, He can use you now.  You have meaning, purpose and usefulness.

You may have been abandoned by your spouse, retrenched by your boss, rejected by your community, but not by God.

When we believe it, we become empowered to live it out. We understand that in being human, we have intrinsic value placed on us by God Himself.

To be honest, until you see yourself as “never-the-less,” then others will struggle to as well.

I used to be the pastor of a thriving Church with an incredible team of people around me.  Today, because of MND/ALS, I could never have the energy to carry such responsibility and create the momentum that a growing Church deserves.

I am blessed because most of the circle of friends that I had when I was a pastor have responded like God responds to our increased weakness. They didn’t forsake me. They didn’t see me as less, but as “never-the-less.”

I have continued to speak in Churches and at conferences, invited by people who see me as “never-the-less.”  I’m sure if the day comes when I can no longer speak, God will have something else I can do.

In fact, you just being you and rising with courage above your disability into His ability for your life can be an inspiration to many.

Feelings of being less are closely attached to the reality of what we can no longer do (the focus being on what we’ve lost).

But when we realise that we are “never-the-less,” we focus on what we are able to do and more importantly, we feel that others see our strengths, not our weakness, our ability not our disability.

I have a friend who is completely paralysed and unable to speak, but who, through technology, disciples new Christians online, answering their questions and helping them discover who Christ is.

In fact, another friend, the same one who carried the timber for my fire, rang me before heading overseas.  He said, “Phil, can you do something for me?  Pray for me while I’m away.”

If you have people in your world who are unable to do what they used to be able to do, don’t forsake them.

Find ways to help them know they are “never-the-less” and believe it to be true of you too!

Phil

Are you doing good?

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Great to have the opportunity to share that even in times of challenge, we can overcome evil with good.

Are you doing good?  I’m not asking you how you are going, but rather, is your life producing goodness?

Recently, I have found myself affected by the tragedies happening in our world. The terrorist attacks, young innocent lives lost, and even another friend who lost his battle with Motor Neurone Disease last week.

My immediate emotional reactions are sadness, concern and helplessness.

You can’t avoid feeling sadness for the families left behind, or the victims of such horrific attacks, concern that it could happen at any time and anywhere, and helplessness that I could do nothing to change what has happened.

So often, we let these emotions leave us as just as quickly as the news reporter says “let’s move onto something a little more light hearted.”

The problem with this is that we can move on too quickly and in doing so, we remain unchanged.

Instead, allowing these very real events to sit with us to the point of dissatisfaction means we will be able to stand in the face of them and decide, “enough is enough, I can’t take it anymore, I will be an answer in my world to bring change.

3 John 1:11 says, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.”

What does it look like to be a carrier of goodness in a world of strife?

It has been said that goodness is easier to recognise than to define.

It’s true that while most of us cannot bring about global change on our own, we can all do something to change the world of someone.

It may only be the world of one person, or it could be 10, 100, 1,000, or 10,000 people.

Whatever your sphere of influence, you can bring peace, joy and hope to it.

The person who is good, as God is good, is generous to give what is not deserved.

This person who is good, as God is good, is open-hearted and open-handed.

What does the Bible say about overcoming evil with good?

Quite simply, it’s a “must do.”

The Bible tells us that as a result of God’s presence in Jesus’ life, He went about doing good.

When goodness is motivated by the presence of God in us, it has eternal value as well as immediate earthly value.

The Bible word for “goodness” is the word “agathosune.”

It is a rare word that combines BEING good and DOING good. It means goodness that originates in our heart but manifests itself in our actions. It literally means, “to be godlike.”

Doing harm is not being like God no matter how you justify it or dress it up.

Matthew 5: 16 says, “Let your light shine before man that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven“.

Light shining in darkness is what God desires for our lives.

What could goodness look like?

True goodness is not necessarily doing what is in the best interest of myself but doing what is truly best for others.

It’s a goodness that goes beyond the aspect of justice.

Goodness may look like a random act of kindness given to a complete stranger.

I remember when the Church I was pastoring started doing random acts of kindness in our community. It spread like wildfire. Kindness is contagious.

People would do things like buy a magazine and randomly walk into an office and give it to the receptionist with a gift voucher attached.

One person was lining up at a chocolate cafe and paid for the people in front of them after they had ordered. Little did they know the girls were sisters who were still grieving the death of a friend.

So come on, let’s be the change in our world and increase acts of goodness and kindness no matter what tragedies surround us.

Let’s not allow our concern to blind us to the goodness that manifests itself in our world, nor sadness to paralyse us from becoming and doing good in our world.

I would encourage you to look for opportunities to be good and do good to someone today.

Phil

 

If you would like to read more about “Random Acts of Kindness Day”, you can check out these links:

https://www.facebook.com/RAKd-123502287691931/?fref=nf

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/475348/its-random-act-of-kindness-day/

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/459389/stan-walkers-random-acts-of-kindness/

Who do you say I am?

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When you are labelled with anything – an illness, disability, divorce, unemployment, infertility, burnout or whatever it may be, that label can seek to define your life.

I have always said, “I may have MND but MND does not have me.”  I have fought the temptation to fall into an abyss of darkness, being defined by an illness many doctors call “the beast.”

Why have I not gone there and allowed the diagnosis to define me?

Firstly, I had to discover true value and self worth is never gained fully by the things we have, what we achieve, or positions we hold. 

If the world can give it, the world can take it away.

I needed to know my self worth, my value as a human being, and my security were bigger than this world and its promises.

Galatians 2:20 says that Jesus loves me and gave Himself for me.  That one verse gives me a lifetime of self worth and significance that the world cannot steal.

My value is in the reality that Jesus loves me, always, and that He gave His life for me and will continue to give me His life daily.

Like me, you may have heard of sports personalities living life full and seemingly happy until a broken bone or torn muscle robs them of many more years of professional sports and they are devastated.

Putting your faith in what you do can cause you to go to a dark place when things don’t go to plan.  But knowing you are not what you do means you can be happy even when the world you live in isn’t harmonious.

Secondly, I learned the value of not focusing on what I am losing, but on what I could still do, as well as the things I could never lose and what I had to gain.

I was not going to give up.  Life was and is worth fighting for.  I found ways to continue in my calling.  I changed my perspective from the temporary to the eternal.

This is a personal decision on what you will focus on.

I have found it quite challenging to hear of the limitations people want to put on others who have disabilities.  There is sadly a perception that a person with disabilities, mental or physical, can be more hassle than they are worth.  I don’t believe that to be true.

The decision to concentrate on what remains when so much is taken, can feel unnatural.  It would be easier to give in and stay there.  So while I continue to trust God’s presence at work in my life, I am also thankful for the newly learned skills to navigate a road I hadn’t travelled before.

Thirdly, I had to ensure the cause I was living for was not self-centred but others-focussed.

Your cause in life will give meaning to your life and will determine who you become.

As a young man, I was obsessed for many years trying to become the person who I thought I needed to be. This put a lot of my own focus on me: on what I needed, what I wanted, what I thought was of value to my process of “becoming.”

The more egocentric and self-seeking I was, the less I knew about my own purpose and meaning for being.  However, I’m learning more and more that life is not about me and who I do or don’t become in this world.  Life is about finding someone else I can help become all they can be.

When we are busy with a cause, along the way we discover meaning and who we are. Even more than that, it has the power to create a better me and a better you.

You will find your life when you live a life for others, for a cause that you have made your own.

Phil

Being honest about mental health

FullSizeRender.jpg_JC
My brother John with his two sons Benjamin and Abe

They say that one in every two people will suffer mental illness in their lifetime.

We can too easily hide our head in the sand and think that, because mental illness can’t be seen physically or hasn’t touched us personally, it is somehow less real.

I remember the day eight years ago when mental illness became very real to me.

I can remember when and where it was that I received a phone call to say my only brother John was dead.

I cried outside the cinema, sitting in my car with my wife and youngest daughter for what seemed like the longest time, trying to grasp what I had just been told.

My brother, passionate loving husband, father to two sons and someone who brought so much joy and adventure to people who were blessed to know him.

It didn’t make sense.

It’s only as I came to understand the nature of mental illness that I understood how important and how undervalued our mental health really is.

Mental illness is real and is taking lives.

I know that the death of my brother doesn’t make me an expert (or anywhere near an expert) on the incredible web that is mental illness, from chemical imbalances to personality disorders, the web is complex.

However, I can talk about my own experience and my many years of coming alongside people struggling with mental illness in my pastoral ministry, and more recently, the people I meet who are facing terminal illness.

According to Beyond Blue, mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy – the way we think, feel and develop relationships – and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.

Further they say that having social connections, good personal relationships and being part of a community are vital to maintaining good mental health and contribute to people’s recovery, should they become unwell.

I can tell you now that when I was first diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, I went through a dark place in my own mental health. I was scared I would be as suicidal as my brother.  I knew I would have to get mentally strong for the long road ahead.

This may surprise some people but I believe that the decision to get professional help has kept me able to continue doing what I am today.

Did you know that in Australia, a General Practitioner (GP) can provide you with a mental health plan that allows you to visit a counsellor or psychologist 6-10 times for free?

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help in the area of your thought life and mental wellbeing.

If you find yourself pushing people away who you once found great joy being around or you have this sense you don’t want to bother people, or if you are having feelings of being overwhelmed, unhappy, disappointed, miserable, sad or continually irritated, or if you believe life is not worth living or that people would be better off without you, its time to seek help.

Taking the bold step of making the first appointment is always the hardest, but it simply needs to be taken.

I am so grateful that I can talk to someone who has no other agenda but to see me mentally and emotionally strong in the midst of what can be a painful experience.

Just as I learned to trust my GP, my physio, my nutritionist, my respiratory specialist, my occupational therapist and my neurologist with my physical wellbeing, I needed to trust a professional counsellor with my thought process and managing my stress and emotions.

Alongside all these supports, my faith and trust in God to give me strength is vital.  To all of the above I continued in Church, pastoral support and my personal prayer life.  I guess you could say I created a “life team” of sorts to help take care of my body, soul and spirit.

It is clear that the challenges of today will not be overcome by yesterday’s weapons. I believe with greater attention to mental health and with the right help, mental illness doesn’t have to win the battle over your mind.

Phil

[For immediate support in Australia, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636]

Keeping it real on relationships

true-gifts-friendship-1100836-TwoByOneWhen it comes to relationships in life, we soon learn that no two are the same.  Yes, we all need them, but if we’re not intentional about them, we could set ourselves up to face lonely days.

It may come as a surprise, but relationships in and of themselves are not intrinsically good, just as they are not automatically close.

More than that, recognising that different relationships should carry different expectations can help us enjoy the diversity they bring to our lives.

For example, if we place high expectations on casual relationships, we could face disappointment and frustration, maybe even feelings of “no one cares.”

However, there is great freedom and wisdom in aligning your expectation with the type of relationship you are in and appreciating that diversity.

What does relational diversity look like?

There are those casual encounters, people we meet as a consequence of sharing a common interest, or attending the same parties, cafes or riding the same trains.  They are people you may only meet once, those who you are friendly with, but who never cross over to becoming more than that. It’s friendliness that just makes life a little easier by a sense of mutual respect.  You may go to the same parties but it is unlikely you would open up to them about how you are really going.

Then there are relationships that seem to happen by default. These are social friendships, they are useful and pleasurable and probably the most common. They don’t take a lot of effort because you are in each other’s worlds, whether at work, you live on the same street, share the same classes, attend the same Church, or you have kids in the same school.

Both of those types of relationships (casual and social) are good, great even, however, I believe they are also inadequate.

Why? Because they are circumstantial. Circumstances change and they change.  If you leave your job, you move house, you stop playing that sport, then the common denominator is no longer an adhesive force.  These types of relationships can come and go, appear and disappear, regularly through life’s journey.

That’s why we need something better.  It’s this third type of relationship that many of us fail to build intentionally into our lives.  It’s real, raw, no-matter-what friendship.

It’s the friend who walks in when others walk out. Do you have those friends in your life? And how do we ensure those relationships are healthy and strong?

I believe Proverbs 18:24 holds the key when it says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, BUT there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (emphasis added)

Firstly, this proverb tells me that we need to be friendly.  This could be defined as the casual or social relationships.  And that is where many relationships stay. But, this proverb goes onto say that there is something even better than that.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it describes a friend who sticks closer than a brother. In other words, a friend who is loyal.

Loyalty means that you can’t spread yourself so thin in “friendliness” that you don’t have the capacity to be a true friend to a few.

This type of loyal relationship survives through all types of twists and turns, the highs and lows in life.  It’s a friendship that is not momentary or passing but is anchored and long-lasting.  Ultimately, it is anchored by honour, honesty, integrity and goodness.

You can be this type of friend by:

  • loving at all times
  • inspiring your friend to think bigger
  • giving your best for them
  • encouraging, or “putting courage in”
  • letting them know you are with them
  • standing with them through life’s challenges
  • being uncomplicated and “user friendly”
  • appreciating their uniqueness
  • being quick to forgive
  • listening and understanding

If you’re given to jealousy, fear, insecurity, intolerance, apathy, anger, possessiveness or selfishness, then enjoying real friendship may be difficult.

But, when you know what real friendship looks like and nurture it, then you can be sure of the fact that no matter what you face, life will be better together!

Phil

 

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