musings on life and holidays from Spain

Street art in Valencia

Today is about the halfway point of our holiday in Spain, and I woke this morning feeling anxious to make the most of both the day ahead and the rest of the trip.

With little more than accommodation and flights organised beforehand and our longest overseas holiday together since our honeymoon, I really don’t want our spontaneous adventures in Spain to end!

So this morning I was already thinking ahead to the end of the holiday, sad that our adventures would be over and apprehensive about going back to work with zero days of leave.

Holidays are wonderful high points in life – a concentration of new experiences and a time for refreshment and reflection away from the usual busyness of the everyday. I’m really thankful for this opportunity and that I live in an age and culture where holidays are encouraged.

Medieval gateway in the streets of Valencia

Five years ago I booked a trip to Melbourne within a week of returning home from my first overseas trip. I needed something new to look forward to. I love having good things to look forward to, especially holidays. But as I get older I realise it’s dangerous living from holiday to holiday.

John Lennon once sang,

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

It’s true. This morning I was imagining myself feeling sad days in the future, but as I did that I was missing the real life happening around me here, on the holiday I was anticipating the end of. Things like the sounds, smells, sights and flavours of daily life in Valencia: the squeals and laughter of children heading home for siesta in the middle of the day, impressive medieval gateways, even the regular whiffs of sewerage on the footpaths and the cross-shaped neon green ‘Farmacia’ sign flashing outside the window of the apartment.

Modern architecture in Valencia

Even if holidays aren’t what life’s all about, I think it’s natural for us humans to look forward to and enjoy rest. We were made in the image of a God who rested after his work of creating the world. He created rest – but we were made to glorify him not the good things he has created.

As a Christian, my challenge is to embrace the tension of living in the moment and enjoying God’s good gifts, including holidays, while at the same time fixing my eyes on the only true rest possible, in eternity. And as Adam reminded me, our spontaneous adventures won’t be over when our holiday ends…marriage is a lifetime of adventures! Five great years of them tomorrow actually.

Yesterday’s adventure – we cycled to the beach in the pouring rain and celebrated accordingly!
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the myth of missing out

On Tuesday I stayed home from work sick with a nasty headache and pounding pain behind my eyes. I was only feeling marginally better by the evening, but as I tried to decide whether to go to bible study that evening, I found myself torn – 15 minutes before it started. I struggle with a fear of ‘missing out’.

In my childhood and teenage years there were orchestra practices, netball training, violin lessons, tennis, swimming squads, hockey training, bible study, school musical rehearsals and youth group. I’m thankful for all these opportunities and for my parents funding them and ferrying me around, but I think somewhere in amidst all this busyness, the fear began to creep in.

Maybe it started in Year One when I was sick the day they gave out parts for the school play – I was given the role of playing a mustard pot in ‘Food, Glorious Food’ from the musical Oliver. Or maybe when I stopped doing ballet at the age of nine, and I wanted to start jazz ballet. I was probably busy enough, but I thought I was too old to start. I had missed out already.

As an adult I still don’t like to miss dinners with friends, church on Sundays, or failing to do things I’ve said I will do, whether for illness or because I can’t be in two places at once. When I have to make decisions like these I’m plagued with thoughts of “I really should…” and “what will so and so think?” Sometimes I just put it off until I really have to or I get others to make the decision for me. The husband is not a fan. “What if I don’t choose the best thing? What if I get sicker? What if…?”

Well I recently joined with thousands of women at the Equip Conference in Darling Harbour. The Bible talks on the theme Heaven is Waiting were a powerful reminder to live in light of eternity – looking forward to Jesus’ return.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives  as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:11-13

Through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection we can look forward with hope to the day of Jesus’ return, when he brings heaven, where God dwells, to us (Acts 3:21).

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

This world is not where I belong, but it matters how I live here. In Di Warren’s talk at Equip she gave four suggestions* for how we live now in light of our true citizenship. The first:

We enjoy good experiences, but we don’t chase them

This is the counter to my struggle. To entertain the idea that I am ‘missing out’ in any sense, amounts to a lack of trust in God.  This world offers many good things, but ultimately it is fallen and is just a shadow of what is to come. No amount of me controlling the events of my life in the pursuit of happiness will truly satisfy. In fact, usually when I pursue the ‘perfect’ day, I end up sad or fighting with my husband because things didn’t go according to my plan.

This world isn’t intended to satisfy and I’m not supposed to be in control – Jesus is Lord of my life. The worst that can happen in any situation is that I die or am injured in some way. Death and injury do not justify a life lived in fear. Because heaven is waiting. God doesn’t make mistakes and always works for the good of those who love him. Not for our happiness, but our good.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
― C.S. LewisWeight of Glory

I’m challenged to make decisions in faith. Yes I must be thankful and enjoy God’s good gifts – delicious food, breathtaking sunsets, soul-nourishing time with friends, inspiring music, my loving husband. But I’m convinced that with God in control, ‘missing out’ is nothing other than a silly myth.

heaven is waiting

***

* Di Warren’s other helpful suggestions for living as citizens of heaven:

  • We invest in our homes, but we don’t over-invest (Matt. 6:19-20)
  • We save souls, not the environment
  • We have hope, even in pain

Worship worthy

Yesterday I went along to the City Bible Forum in Sydney for the first time – a weekly lunchtime meeting investigating what the Bible says about different issues.

Working with missionaries all over the world as part of my job exposes me to some of the realities of life for people serving and living in countries where security risks for Christians are high. It reminds me to be thankful for the freedom we enjoy in Australia to gather around the Word.

The talk was on the theme, “Must love always end in tears?”  Now, tonight I’m sitting here with dry tears on my face after watching the start of a romantic comedy where a man loses his wife in a car accident.

The end of love whether through death or otherwise, is excruciatingly painful.

Worship of something is inevitable for humans. Bertrand Russell said “love ceases to be a demon when it ceases to be a god.” I don’t think we can love someone too much, but we can put the wrong thing in first place – and that will certainly end in tears.

God has always commanded that we make him our first love. We were challenged yesterday to consider that if the object of our worship is anyone/thing other than God, it will almost certainly, destroy us. The object of our worship must be worthy of it.

Love is painful. Jesus has been there – confronted by his friends mourning for the loss of their brother Lazarus, he wept (John 11). He had compassion for the woman at the well whose own love life had likely been deeply painful and unsatisfying. He pointed her to himself, the Christ, the one who could offer living water, eternal life – through the only truly satisfying love relationship possible.

How good it is that there is a bigger picture, one who is truly worthy of our love, a God who from the beginning has called us to worship Him alone and who came to earth to show us how.

I long to love God with all my heart, soul and mind. It’s a regular prayer of mine. And as I love him more, though there will certainly be pain, I will love others more like Jesus did. I will love my husband well.

Though inevitable, death is not the end. Our hope is in an eternity with our supreme love, the all-powerful, gracious God who romances us like no human being ever could or will.

weddings, hope, celebrations and joy

I had the idea for this post a week ago…so forgive me for the common delay between idea hatching and writing.

I said it on Facebook and twitter, but I’ll say it again – I really loved watching the royal wedding. It’s hard to remember another event in my lifetime which was so widely watched, and was neither sport-related or disaster-related. These last few days have certainly brought back to many the memories of 11 September 2011.

The Royal Wedding was rife with gossip, traditions and the strangest of fashion. All things which I don’t care much for. But above all this, I think there was a sense of hope as we watched this couple of our own generation vow to spend the rest of their lives together. How would the possible future king of England and a gorgeous middle class girl who became a duchess in Westminster Abbey, change the world?

The wedding itself was beautiful, positive, understated and, despite the 2 billion people watching, by the time they waved to the crowds from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, perhaps a brief but honest insight into the real Will and Kate.

(If you’re interested to read more intellectual thoughts on the royal wedding from a wise friend of mine, click here. )

The Prodigal God

The night before watching the wedding, I finished reading The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller. The concluding thoughts of the book were still bouncing around in my head as I reflected on the wedding afterwards in my rather joyful state of mind.

The book is essentially a deeper look at Jesus’ parable of the The Two Lost Sons (often referred to as The Prodigal Son). But in summary, the parable is about a man who has two sons, the younger asks for his inheritance while his father is still alive, he spends it all in a foreign land, then realising he would be better off a slave in his father’s house, returns from the foreign land to his home, to the unexpected embrace of his father’s arms. His older brother isn’t so excited to see him and refuses to join in the feast his father prepares.

There were two lost sons…

One of Keller’s main points in this book is that so often the focus of this parable is on the frivolous pleasure-seeking actions of the younger son, and we ignore the fact that the elder brother is perhaps just as lost – as we see in his jealousy, his refusal to rejoice at the return of his brother (he is thinking about the cost to his own inheritance of his father’s actions).

Jesus’ teaching in this parable has just as much to say about people like me – who often stumble into acting like the elder brother as it does for younger brothers. I have been a Christian for many years now, and I can look back at times in my life I have acted like the younger brother, though not as much as I have acted like the elder brother – holding to legalistic ideals and withholding love, joy and kindness because of my own hardened, bitter heart. Both ways of living ignore the love of our Father God who showed me and all the world His amazing saving grace in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

What’s a book about God got to do with the royal wedding?

It’s all in the celebrations! Prodigal means ‘recklessly extravagant’ and the parable climaxes with a feast of the finest foods available to the Father. It sounds amazing right? The father goes all out for the son who returns home.

Jesus points his listeners and readers in this parable to a God of redemption, hope and joy. A God who literally celebrates when what is lost is found. Soon after I gave my life to Jesus as a teenager someone reminded me of the message of Luke 15 – that God would have celebrated with his angels that I had decided to follow Him. This blew me away – God, creator of the universe, would celebrate me? Yes, and you too. Knowing Jesus now brings me peace, joy, comfort and a trust in God’s purposes as I live in an uncertain world. But it also heralds the hope of a greater joy in the ultimate feast that is yet to come…

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.
The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him;let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:6-9