August 3, 2013

Home is where the Heart Is

imagesI didn’t realise our time in Australia would run out so quickly. It was as if someone smashed the bottom of our hour glass and the sand spilled out in seconds. Time just fell out of our lives. The sadness of saying goodbye to so many friends and family personally overwhelmed me and I would ask myself  why? Why were we doing this? Quickly the face of a sex trafficked girl would come hurtling to the front of my mind. A girl kidnapped and abused who is so numb to the horror of her life that she wishes daily that her hour glass would break forever.  This is where God takes me ~ back to the first  place he called me ~ back to girls of Moldova, a cause I could lay my life down for. I deeply share the vision God  gave John for a church in the UK because it is the best vehicle for God to do the work in Moldova. When  Northern Lights Church was conceived the nation of  Moldova was being knit into its DNA.

The trip to the UK itself was mostly uneventful. With excess luggage  we required a favourable hostess at the Melbourne check in and got one. With final hugs and kisses we said goodbye to a small group of friends and entered Customs. After a 14 hour flight to Abu Dhabi we paid through the nose to spend 4 hours in a private lounge. Had a glorious shower and ate some yummy food, back on the plane again bound for Manchester only 7 hours this time. After picking up our bags we cleared customs quickly being greeted by one smiling  Stephen Wyndham – our former Senior Pastor and good friend.

John awoke the next morning excited at our arrival, me not so much. I felt flat and tired. We ticked off a multitude of necessary but mundane tasks but my mood remained under a shadow all day. We arranged to meet with a real estate agent in Halifax the following day. The next morning I awoke at 1.30 am excited and jet lagged all at the same time. Something had shifted. The only way I can describe that morning was that ´I felt destiny swirling around me´. For over 13 months this day was in the planning, The reason I hadn’t been excited was because my heart knew it was still in transit. I was not in Halifax yet.

As we drove the one and half hours from Southport to Halifax tears of joy welled up in me. How good was God to bring us safe thus far. Today was the day – there would be no more delay! We drove down into Halifax via this enormous semi circular tunnel, ait t first sight it was lush and green and reminded me of my favourite places in Melbourne – Sasafrass. Beautiful beige stone buildings were nestled in the greenery. It looked so right. So perfect.

I realised I had been holding my breath for 13 months. So often I had wondered – would I like it?  Would I arrive and think ´what have we done?. That day was here and I didn’t just like Halifax, I loved Halifax.  Somewhere along the way God had placed a love for this city deep within me and as we got closer and closer I realised how full, rich and mature that love was. I wanted to do a Julie Andrews song in the middle of the main street. I think I even skipped a little as we walked around.

Never have I felt a bond with a geographic location like I do with Halifax. I know that I am meant to be here and here I am meant to be.  My heart is home for the first time in my life.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

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July 17, 2013

Leaving Australia

ozIn just under 2 weeks the Warren family will board a one way flight to the UK.  In recent weeks we have been consumed by the task of cleaning out the house and packing the things that we are taking with us.  The amount of stuff that a 3 bedroom townhouse can hold is simply staggering.

We have also just finished a sort of east coast farewell tour, having just spent time in Brisbane and Sydney.

Life right now is whirl of strong emotions.  It’s quite the roller coaster.  Here are some scriptures that I am conscious of at the moment, some thoughts that are keeping me grounded:

and I (Jesus) assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.” Luke 18:29-30

When I stop to think about it we are making a significant sacrifice.  On numerous levels we are launching into the unknown.  Being a lawyer in Melbourne Australia is a pretty good life.  From an external point of view it offers you a great lifestyle.  One of the most “liveable” cities in the world, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, at the most peaceful and prosperous time in history.  That is pretty hard to improve on. Of course on top of that there is friends and family.  But of course one day Melbourne will be dust.  If I truly believe the bible, if I truly believe that the eternal is more important than anything else then the only thing that I should trying to accumulate is treasure in heaven.  Because this earth will pass away.  The verse I have quoted above makes clear that God rewards those who make a sacrifice for him.  He sees what we are doing and he rewards those who sacrifice for the kingdom.  Right now, that is a huge comfort.

Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations…” Matthew 28:19

Jesus last command is our first priority.  When we have out first baptism service at Northern Lights Church in Halifax I will be in a mood to party.  What a sensational occasion that will be – having travelled all that way in obedience to the Great Commission we will get to baptise someone.  I cannot wait for that day.

Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail…” Luke 12:33

The more I read the bible the more it becomes so obvious that Jesus simply does not care about wealth. When I do the sums I sometimes think about the implications of leaving our jobs here in Melbourne, but this verse reminds me that Jesus simply doesn’t care.  He wants our hearts.  The things of this world will all pass away.  He tells us to seek first the kingdom and not to worry about the things that the rest of the planet is obsessed with.  So this verse, one of the most stark about possessions in the bible, is helping me focus 100% on the kingdom.

In 13 days we will be at Melbourne airport.  Bring it on!

John

 

 

June 25, 2013

Real Paranormal Activity

Godly encountersI was lying awake in bed the other night listening to John breathe, it was about 2.30 am. We had gone to bed late and my mind was still winding down from our busy and full day. I turned over to face the outer side of the bed and there were two people – a man and woman standing next to my bed. I didn’t freak out or yell out in fright because a week earlier I had experienced something similar. I had seen the shadow of a young girl about Poppy’s age beside my bed – in fact I thought it was Poppy. At that time I sat up and reached out but my hand went right through the shadow and then it disappeared. I gasped loudly and woke up John. I guess in some way that prepared me for seeing this couple standing beside my bed. I must be plain speaking here – they were very, very real. After looking at them for a moment the ‘couple’ disappeared but I prayed and asked God ‘What were they?’. I was thinking they could be angels. Suddenly the couple reappeared and as I was looking at them, the man’s jaw seemd to unlock and his teeth punched out of his mouth and came at me hissing, snarling and gnashing. Freak me out! Instantly I felt this enormous sense of fear. Not of the man himself but of going to England to start the church. Negative and fearful thoughts bombarded my mind. Thoughts that I have never experienced before or since!

As a Christian, my worldview contains a belief of not just God and the Angelic but also Satan and the Demonic. The bible says that when Satan (an angel) was kicked out of heaven (because he wanted to take over God’s job) it says he took a third of the angels with him. Over 25 years of ministry I have encountered ‘demonic angels’ regularly but I must admit in the last 5 years these kinds of experiences have occurred less and less. Why? I believe it is because I have come to know who I am. I am the daughter of the King of the Universe. He loves me, protects me and has given me His authority to tell them to rack off and I have done so. After God showed me who this ‘couple’ really were I had this outrage well up inside of me. I thought ‘How dare this demon couple come into my bedroom and scare me.’ The following evening John and I prayed over the house and our bedroom and I know that that yucky thing is now gone.

When you start recounting ‘paranormal experiences’ everybody has a story. Stories of lights flickering on and off, looking for something and finding it in a place you’ve already looked in, ghostly apparitions and noises etc. There used to be a TV show many years ago called the Twilight Zone and it would try to explain these types of experiences but sometimes they can’t just be explained away because there is really a paranormal realm that exists. In fact there are two. Two Kingdoms battling for the hearts and minds of all people. The Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness. The goal of the Kingdom of Darkness is to rob, kill and destroy. The goal of the Kingdom of Light is to bring love, freedom and eternal life.

When I have paranormal encounters from either Kingdom they have an ‘emotional feel’ that goes with them. Demonic experiences leave me feeling scared, hopeless, misunderstood, alone, rejected, confused and burdened and in contrast Godly experiences leave me feeling safe, encouraged, joyful, peaceful, protected, clear headed and light.

If you are experiencing demonic paranormal activity in and around your life – cry out to God to help you and He certainly will! The truth is the battle has been already won. Christ secured victory with His death on the cross. If you need to talk to someone most churches are equipped with people and processes to help and they are a far cry of those shown in movies like the exorcist and paranormal activity.

I am more than happy to help or guide you toward people in your area that can help you with this. Don’t hesitate to contact me via our blog email address:

blogsidebyside@gmail .com

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

June 25, 2013

One Husband’s need for Unconditional Respect

Respect

In almost a year and half of blogging the most popular post that I have written was my one about submission in marriage.  Here is a further post on the subject.

What the bible says about marriage is pretty simple.  It goes like this: wives, respect your husbands, husbands love your wives.  It is laid about by Paul in Ephesians 5:21-33.  Of course that one simple rule takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to put into practice.

In the Western world at present the part of that command that says, “wives respect your husband” is controversial.  But for those of us committed to living as Scripture tells us rather than how the world tells us we have to grasp with putting it into practice.  If you think that the bible shouldn’t say that wives must submit, obey and respect their husbands then your argument is with the bible authors, not me.  I’m just trying to do what is says (as is Catherine).

The problem that we come up against is that in our culture we believe that respect must be earned.  Not so with love, mind you.  Love should be unconditional.  But respect is only given when we see behaviour that we think warrants respect.  This cultural mindset makes it hard for Christians to have a biblical marriage.

What it means is that Christians, and Christian wives in particular, have to make a decision to not do what they would do naturally (which is give respect only when they think it warranted).  Instead they have to commit themselves to giving their husbands unconditional respect.

Just think about those 2 words sitting side by side for a moment – unconditional respect.  What a radical thought.

It’s radical because what happens in marriage is that we see the other person’s faults, weaknesses and sins far more closely than anyone else does.  If there is one person who knows your failings in the most detail it is your spouse.  As the saying goes, “behind every great man there’s a woman shaking her head”.  She’s shaking her head because she knows what he is really like at home.

Yet a Christian wife is called to respect her husband.  Not just when he is loving and Christlike, but all the time.  Men crave respect.  If you doubt this then try this experiment – tell your husband that you love him, and see what the reaction is.  The next day, in a similar context, tell him that you respect him, and see what the reaction is that time.  Men need respect from their wives more than they need love.

Now I don’t know about you, but for me there is plenty of times that Catherine has seen things in me that she could disrespect if she wanted to.  There has been no lack of selfishness and failure that she could point to if she wanted to keep a record of my shortcomings.  But she gets this, so she does her best to show unconditional respect, even when it is really hard to do it.  Thank you sweetheart!!

As for the male readers of this post, your challenge is quite simple – you are to show unconditional love to your wife, despite the fact that you may or may not receive unconditional respect from her.  People are sinful, men and women.  For all married people, God calls you to show grace and forgiveness when you are wronged.  If your spouse has failings, welcome to the club.  I’m sure your spouse is a member too.  All of us are called to show grace, mercy and forgiveness.  That is unconditional.

Unconditional love, unconditional respect.  These are the basis for Christian marriage.

John

June 11, 2013

Secret Diary of a TV Addict

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I love TV.  There’s no point trying to deny it.  When I was a kid I watched plenty of TV.  When I was a teenager I watched plenty.  Now that I’m an adult I watch plenty as well.  I like to think that I don’t, because there are not many shows that I make sure to catch every week.  But of course I do watch the news pretty frequently.  And I watch sport – lots of football of various descriptions.  There is even a soccer match on tonight (Tuesday the 11th) and this morning I have already been thinking about what I am going to have to do to be able to watch it.  And I watch the odd movie on DVD.  And those times that I just switch it on to see if there is anything good on because I have some time to watch it.  So when you add all of that up…I watch plenty of TV.

The average Australian adult watches perhaps three hours a day.  That’s a tricky thing to measure because it changes from year to year, and if you are doing a task but the TV is on in the background, does that count or not?  I found various figures suggesting how much TV people watch, and three hours a day came out about average.

The average child aged 5 and up watches perhaps a bit less, but not by much.  Our daughter, thanks to the super high quality parenting she receives watches none, ok, she watches an hour a day, ok two hours, hmmmm, alright, I confess she’s average.  She watches heaps.  In fact if the impressive DVD collection that is next to the computer that I am writing this on is any indication, if she’s not average then she’s above average in how much she watches.  And she loves it!

Before I met Catherine I was a bit of a snob when it came to reality TV.  I was too busy watching documentaries to go near all that rubbish.  However my sweet wife has changed me in that regard.  Reality TV is good stuff!  We have watched so much Survivor, The Amazing Race and various other ones together.  As for The Bachelor, I just want it on record that it was a COMPLETE COINCIDENCE that I was in the room for every single minute of seasons 1, 2 and 3.

Of course the problem is that you can spend your whole life watching TV.  We only have so much time on this planet and I intend to make as big as splash for the gospel as I can.  The bottom line is that I cannot reach my potential for Christ and watch over 3 hours of TV a day.  I will watch some – there’s nothing to be gained by a legalistic approach that says you can’t look at any.

It’s about balance.  There’s nothing new about needing balance in life.  Neither is there anything new about Christians who find entertainment options more interesting than serving God.  Back in 400 A.D. St John Chrysostom preached about the fact that too many Christians were spending time at the chariot races!

The reason that I know that I often get the balance wrong is because when I don’t watch TV I am simply so productive.  I get stuff done.  I read.  I call people.  I go out.  I meet with people.  I learn.  It’s great.  It feels so much better.  I could have that feeling every night if I wanted it.  So why don’t I?  Because it is so easy to switch the TV on!  The remote is right there, the couch is right there – what could be more enticing, especially at the end of the day?

Of course it’s a matter of rising above the temptation to crash on the couch and stay there once “the Eagle has landed”.

If you agree that you could indeed be more of the person that God wants you to be with the TV off, then don’t go cold turkey and make radical changes like some sort of fad dieter.  Just make gradual, sustainable decisions to watch less, and be with people more.  After all, who ever died wishing that they watched more TV?

John

June 4, 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On – Now Panic and Freak Out!

Keep CalmIn May 2012 I was having my morning prayer time with God. This day seemed like any other day except that God decided to speak clearly and at length to me about building a Ministry Centre in Moldova. Its primary purpose would be to house, counsel, train, educate, support and offer spiritual guidance to woman who had escaped a life of sex trafficking or were potential victims of it. It was an enormous project. I shared this all with John and he started to pray into it. In June of 2012 God spoke clearly to John and said ‘Go to England, plant a church and that church will be the base for the missions work into Moldova’. When John shared that with me, my first response was ‘I could work with that’. Together we said to God – we believe you have spoken to us so we are going to start to take steps toward what you have said to us about this.

Meanwhile life went on as normal, I got a job and after being long time congregation members of Yarra Plenty Church we felt God clearly tell us to leave and go to Manningham Christian Centre. We carried the vision for planting a church in England in our hearts but it all seemed a bit of a pie in the sky.  On the surface we had so much to lose. The move to the UK would involve both of us quitting jobs we enjoyed, selling most of our possessions and moving to a place we had never been. Foolish as that may seem our hearts were on fire and we prayed and prayed that it would happen.

The steps we started to take involved everything from getting Poppy a passport to buying boxes to ship some of our stuff over to the UK. The two most expensive steps were buying the plane tickets ($4,000) and applying for the Ancestral Visa’s – a five-year working permit for both of us.($1300). The application is tedious and complex and as we read through the documentation we realised that they required a copy of your travel itinerary  to be sent with your application and they also didn’t want your application till you were 3 months out from the date of travel. This meant we had to pay for the plane tickets before knowing if we had the visas to work and live in the UK.

We worked on the visa applications for months. It was a long and arduous process. We argued about the ambiguous questions and shelled out the $12 fee to speak with a UK consulate officer 3-4 times who were surprisingly helpful. The application included 5 birth certificates, 3 marriage Certificates and 5 passports. There were 17 pieces of supporting documentation and a stamped confirmation that our biometrics had been completed. That is fingerprints and facial recognition. On May 10th we sent the whole lot to Sydney whereby it was sent to the UK processing centre in Manilla, Philippines. We were told it would at least three weeks. Eighteen days later we received notification that we had been successful in our application.

Since that moment I have been on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s real. We are going. The only step left is to get on the plane. Recently it was my mum’s birthday and as I wrote in her card I got all choked up and bawled my eyes out. This is possibly the last birthday I will celebrate with her in person. I love my mum. Now when I see friends I wonder – is this the last time?  If that is the low point in the emotional rollercoaster the high point is best summed up by a scene from The Hobbit. If you haven’t seen it picture this – the movie opens in the idyllic Shire inside a young Bilbo Baggins House. Gandalf and a large bunch of boorish Elves come uninvited for a meal and discuss a dangerous quest they feel called to go on. Bilbo is invited by Gandalf to join the group. He doesn’t really even consider the request seriously but when he wakes the next morning to a quiet house he has this enormous realisation that he is missing out on something very important – an adventure of a lifetime! And with that he grabs his Hobbit back pack and runs after the others. This is the high part of the emotional rollercoaster for me – the adventure, the call – not wanting to miss God’s plan and purpose for my life. That is awesome, that is what dreams are made of. That is really grabbing life by the throat and living!!

And then I cry because I am going to miss my friends, my life, my church and my family. I’m sure it’s just another season in the process of moving to the UK but for me right now the journey is bittersweet.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

May 29, 2013

The Underestimated Church

church-jelsa1As church planters Catherine and I have a vision to do several things beyond the planting of one congregation itself.  There’s three things that are on our hearts.  They are planting further churches, university ministry and missions in Moldova, specifically to the needs in that country related to orphans and young people at risk of being victims of the sex trafficking industry.

When we talk about the last one of those a lot of people get interested very quickly.  That’s great.  It is indeed a bold and remarkable ministry to get involved in.  Catherine blogged a bit about it here.

However I find that people tend to be a bit ho-hum about the thing that will start it all – planting a church.  After all, there’s lots of churches around.  It’s not as though no one has ever thought of that before!

I am immensely excited about starting the church.  I think that people underestimate the local church.  What we have seen in the last 30 years is a complete transformation in what the local church can accomplish.

It used to be that in the West if you had vision and you wanted to do something great for the cause of Christ then what you would do is start a missions organisation.  So in 1960 Loren Cunningham started Youth With A Mission, and a mountain of missions work has been done through this organisation since.  In 1951 Bill Bright founded Campus Crusade for Christ in an attempt to make an impact in colleges and universities.  Bright and Cunningham would certainly be two of the most significant Christian leaders in the West in the second half of the 20th century.  Back in that era the local church is where you went to pastor.  If you wanted to lead you went elsewhere.

The other way to have influence used to be through academia.  The likes of JI Packer and Don Carson sold huge quantities of books and were widely read by both church leaders and by lay people.

If you fast forward to today the most influential Christian leaders in the West are all pastors of local churches.  They are Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and Brian Houston, Bill Johnson and the like.  Those four leaders have had enormous influence by their conferences, writings, travelling and speaking.  They have set the agenda for the Western church.

In my lifetime there has been a re-rating of the importance of the local church.  The local church has overtaken missions organisations and denominational headquarters as the main tool that God is using to grow his kingdom and impact the world.  Let me be crystal clear – this is a brilliant development.  I praise God for all the wonderful work that missions organisations have done.  However the local church is far better suited to making a long term impact for the gospel.  Local churches have the mandate to be salt and light in their community as well as doing what they can to get the gospel to the ends of the earth.

So if there’s a problem that you want to solve – start a church.  If there is a need – the local church is the answer.  If you have a vision for doing something mind-blowingly huge for God then the local church is the place to work that vision out.  Do not underestimate what can be done through the local church!

John

May 28, 2013

Confessions of a Christian Binge Drinker

binge drinkingI have an addictive personality and have struggled with moderation on all fronts my entire life. What ever I have done  – work, God, people – I have always done it with passion. The consumption of alcohol has been no exception. Being a ‘larger sized lady’ I could really put it away too. It was nothing for me to drink a whole bottle of wine or champagne to myself and not show any external signs of inebriation. I used to kid myself that because of my size it wasn’t a lot to drink.

Being a committed Christian I have come to understand that the consumption of alcohol while permitted is not always helpful. I used to say to people – I like to have a drink but not get drunk – but I think that was a bit of denial.  I loved to have a drink and I didn’t just want one or two, I always liked the feeling of getting a little tipsy.

On New Years Eve of 2010 I decided to fast the consumption of alcohol to pray for my church. I was particularly praying for a financial breakthrough. The church had done a massive renovation and the debt weighed heavily upon the leadership and congregation. I promised God I would not drink until I saw that debt reduced in a major way.  Eleven months later I ended the fast as God answered my prayers – certainly not in the way I imagined but nevertheless the debt no longer overshadowed the church. A good friend was getting married so I chose her wedding to break my fast and break my fast I did. With a well rested liver I drank like a fish and only experienced a mild hangover. In the next month I found a few other celebrations to have a few drinks with friends.

In the eleven months I had fasted alcohol I had a number of occasions such as my birthday, a going away dinner for Canadian friends and my anniversary that I would have liked to have had a drink. But once the celebratory moment passed I realised the next day that I never thought to myself  ‘Oh, I really wish I had drunk last night’. In fact I thought the opposite. I was so glad I hadn’t over indulged.   I loved not getting the sweats through the night as my liver struggled to process the alcohol or the thumping headache in the morning or that seedy feeling that only time and McDonald’s heals. I most certainly didn’t miss having to apologise for any stupid or immature behaviour and I loved that I could remember these events clearly and I didn’t lose the following day to a hangover. In fact I realised that I didn’t actually like drinking that much and I didn’t like the Catherine I became when I had too much to drink. I didn’t like her at all. She was loud, offensive and toward the end of the night – angry.

So after 3 weeks of ‘drinking’ I decided to give up the booze forever. I sent an sms to my close friends and family letting them know of my decision and that was it. I felt fantastic. It was the best decision I’ve ever made for my spiritual, physical and emotional health. It was an amazing feeling. I no longer wrestled with the drink or not to drink question  I just didn’t even think about it anymore. If I had known the peace that would be mine after making this decision I would have done it years ago.

I once asked God if there was anything I did that held me back in ministry – He said to me ‘Yes your drinking”. So now, after 2 ½ years of almost complete sobriety but for that 3 weeks in December of 2011 God has called me to be a Pastor. I feel absolutely honoured and totally unworthy of this call to lead God’s people. I am glad God is able to look beyond all my personal failures, all my other issues and all  my problems and use me to serve in his kingdom. Mostly when I think of myself as a Pastor I think of the verse that says ‘His grace is sufficient for me”. Oh let that be applied liberally to my life. I really need it with a capital G!

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

May 16, 2013

Real Blessing

The BeatitudesHave you ever had one of those moments when you thought, “wow I’m blessed”?  All the time people on facebook are saying that they are blessed.  I think it has sort of become a Christian word that non-Christians understand, so therefore Christians use in liberally.  We know what blessed is when it happens to us.  Who wouldn’t want to be blessed?

When Jesus spoke he spoke to people who thought they knew what a blessed life looked like.  The only trouble was that, well, everything that they thought was wrong! So he had to set them straight.  This is what he said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We call this passage the beatitudes.  When I first read it as a teenager I assumed that it meant that these are attitudes we are meant to be like.  Whilst that is kind of right the word itself means “blessings”.  The word has nothing to do with attitude. This passage is all about the blessing of God.

Jesus had to say to his hearers that the blessing of God looks nothing like what they thought it did.  If Jesus was walking around Christians today I think it would be much the same.

When you see someone poor do you think – wow, that person looks so blessed?  No, neither do I.  But Jesus sees it differently.  When you see someone grieving do you think that they are obviously walking in the blessing of God?  We actually think the opposite – we see someone who hasn’t grieved for a long time as the blessed person because all their loved ones are healthy.  Not according to Jesus.  When you read about Christians in China being persecuted and imprisoned do you reflect on how blessed we are to be able to worship freely in this country?  According to Jesus it’s actually the persecuted Christians who are blessed.

But why?  Why are all these people blessed?  They don’t look very blessed to me.  The answer is in verse 12 – because great is your reward in heaven.

Jesus is thinking eternally.  He is saying that blessing goes to the person who accumulates the most heavenly rewards.  Almost all of the “for they will…” promises are rewards that you don’t get in this life.  In Monty Pythons comedy The Life of Brian a person listening to Jesus deliver verse 5 – blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth – says, “Oh well it’s nice that they get something because they have a horrible time of it down here don’t they?”  The writers were trying to be funny but they have actually ended up making the very point that Jesus is trying to!  The writers probably assumed that Jesus is saying that being meek is virtuous and “virtue is its own reward”.  Jesus is saying nothing like that at all.  He is saying that the rewards of the next life are what we should be pursuing, and the more difficulty that you have to push through here the greater your reward is there.

Heaven is not the same for everyone.  It is great for everyone, but the rewards that each Christian get differ.  The greatest rewards go to those who are blessed.  Jesus is not saying that grief, meekness and persecution are fun and we should enjoy them. They are not “good for the soul” or some such nonsense.  He is saying that God sees them and God rewards them in the next life.

That’s real blessing.

May 15, 2013

RIP Suzie, 16 years on…

suzie's dayToday is the 16th anniversary of the death of my friend Suzie. She died in a head on multi car collision of which I was a part of. On May 15th every year I stop and remember her life with a group of close friends. We go the cemetery where she is buried and honour her memory with the reading of a letter depicting the current events of our lives. We have kept these letters and plan to make them into a book on the 20th anniversary. This is a bittersweet day for me as we are moving to the UK in July this year and this is possibly the last one I will physically attend for a while.

I wrote the following post on May 15th , 2012 telling Suzie’s story. I’ve decided to re blog it as it is still amongst our most read posts.

In 1996 after living in Canada for 9 years I came home to Australia to reconnect with my siblings, family and friends. I arrived home in the October of 1996. There was a brutal 40 degree heat wave that summer and I remember having to take salt tablets because I sweated so much and couldn’t retain any body fluids.

I stayed with my family for a short while and then moved in with my good friend Suzie and her boyfriend.  I had known Suzie since primary school and then we attended the same private girl’s high school. We hadn’t really been close in our primary school years but we knew of each other. We became good friends in high school.

Suzie didn’t live life, she attacked life. She was the most energetic person I have ever met. She squeezed every possible minute out of every day. She loved people and her zest for life was insatiable. She was extremely loyal to her friends and men swarmed around her wherever we went like bees to a honey pot. She was beautiful, petite, smart and had this unawareness of her own charisma and attractiveness. Suzie didn’t like boundaries and the worst thing you could do was hem in her or tell she couldn’t do something. She only saw possibilities not limitations.

In May of 1997 I was no longer living with Suzie and her boyfriend as I had found my own digs. I had been dating someone and the four of us decided to go away to Inverloch for a weekend. We left on the Thursday night – it’s funny how even 15 years later the details are so front and centre in my mind. We had all gotten the Friday off from work and couldn’t wait to start our weekend. We drove down in a 2 car convoy. About 20 minutes out of Wonthaggi we stopped for dinner. Fish and Chips. I tried to persuade Suzie to swap cars so she and I could gas bag but she wanted to stay with her boyfriend. As we pulled out they took the lead car position as to direct us to Suzie’s parent’s holiday house.

It was dark, probably 8 – 9 pm and I was watching the road ahead. I remarked to my boyfriend on something I could see. A car was travelling toward us and for some reason I could see that one of its headlights was on either side of Suzie’s car. I thought out loud that the only way physically that could be happening was if that car was on our side of road. Things happened very quickly after that. Suzie’s car swerved out to the other side of the road uncovering the problem, there was a car on our side of the road. The speed limit was 80 km and we were closely the gap very quickly. The other car then attempted to correct to their own side of the road and they squarely hit the passenger side of Suzie’s car, directly where Suzie was sitting. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Suzie’s car which was white became a blur as it spun around and around and around past us on the other side of the road. The other car ricocheted off Suzie’s car and hit us, ending up in a ditch. Damage to our person and vehicle was minimal. I remember jumping out of the car when we came to a stop and running as fast as I could back to Suzie’s car.

Prior to this I had recently updated my first aid certificate because I was a nanny. During the class I had asked the teacher about the likelihood of ever using CPR. He said with such certainty that one out of ten in the class today will use it. In that moment I knew that it was going to be me. I went above and beyond to memorize the process of not just CPR but taking control of an accident scene.

I arrived at the Suzie’s car. Her boyfriend was out of the car already and I was totally relieved. I thought – they’re ok. But then it was like the volume went on and I could hear him screaming Suzie’s name. She was still in the car not moving. I climbed in the driver’s side and felt for her pulse, it was weak but she had one. I remember reeling off commands to those around. You in the blue shirt call for an ambulance now and report back to me. You in the hat go and assess the other driver for injuries. Suzie was unconscious and her legs were trapped under the dash which had been crushed upon impact. I knew that we needed to get her out of the car. Breathing was the most important issue. Her legs were clearly already broken and I commanded the two boyfriends to get her out of the car. We laid her carefully on the side of the highway. Someone tried to tell me what to do and I shut them down. I had listened; the CPR instructor had said that many people will offer advice and that you have to be sure of yourself and what you are doing. I had listened, I was sure. Suzie had no pulse so with my bare hands I ripped her bra off and we commenced CPR. I started on breathing and her boyfriend on compressions. I then noticed this massive laceration on her neck and all the air I was breathing in was just bubbling out in front of me. I also kept thinking where were all her teeth? With one hand on her neck and the other trying to seal her nose I was trying desperately to get some oxygen into her lungs.  We swapped places after 5-10 mins.  A crowd had started to gather unable to journey around the carnage on the road. We both knew that Suzie’s life had ebbed away at some point on the side of highway but we just kept going until help arrived. Finally an ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over. I remember them laying a hand on my shoulder and saying ‘she’s gone, she’s gone’. I just couldn’t believe it.

The police arrived and the other driver was taken into custody. I was taken with Suzie’s boyfriend to the Wonthaggi hospital where they tested both drivers for drugs and alcohol. We arrived at the hospital and unbeknownst to Suzie’s boyfriend the offender was in the very next room. At some point I slipped into his room and I had this immense clarity and calm. I asked if I could call anyone for him. Wife, family? He was clearly in shock and because he had been restrained by others at the accident scene he actually didn’t know that Suzie had died. He asked me if she was OK and I told him that she was dead. I said to him, “This will mean nothing to you now but in years to come it will.” I said to him “I forgive you, I forgive you” and I left his room. I didn’t attend the trial and I never judged him for what he did. He was one of the first people in Victoria charged for ‘drug driving’ and he spent two years in jail. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you his name. All I know is that Suzie numbered one of 377 that died on Victorian roads that year.

For fifteen years now 5 of us who attended high school with Suzie have attempted to meet every year at the cemetery where she is buried. We started a tradition of writing her a letter every year as if she was alive. We are brutally candid and honest in this letter and it is probably the truest declaration of our lives at the time it is written. I have a love-hate relationship with ’the letter’ because sometimes life is crap and I hate that it is forever immortalised in writing. Over the last fifteen years we have experienced a lot of pain and grief. We have lost babies, said our goodbyes to parents and grandparents. We have walked through the heart-break of divorce and joy of having healthy children. Two have moved interstate but often make the journey to Melbourne for what we all now call Suzie’s day. We laugh and cry but we celebrate the life and friendship we have together.

At the time of the accident I wasn’t close to God but the Sunday following Suzie’s death I returned to church. I was very messy but God took me as I was. I am grateful for the people who cared for me at this time. After re-committing my heart to God I have never left His side. I love Him more than my own life and I am forever grateful that I lived that night.  I have often wondered, if we had of swapped cars would it have been me?   I’ve decided this thinking is not helpful. God saw fit to keep my life  – and I’m determined to make it one worth living.

Over and Out,

Catherine xo

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