What’s your ‘starfish story’?

Do you know the story about the starfish?

Just in case you haven’t, here it is (author unknown):

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed the figure was that of a young man, gathering the starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out:

“Good morning! May I ask what it is you’re doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied:

“Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said: “I must ask then – why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“Well, the sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented:

“But young man – don’t you realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish on every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean, past the breaking waves. He said:

“It made a difference for that one.”

This story poignantly reflects a common rationale when it comes to helping others.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who becomes overwhelmed with the injustice in the world. Like many, I think I can’t possibly make a difference. But every person counts, and we have to start somewhere.

“There is no greater tragedy than doing nothing for fear of doing too little,” as the saying goes.

The Bible has a lot to say about helping others – especially the poor:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

I especially love that last verse. So that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

We don’t give just because it’s a good thing to do. We don’t give just because God tells us to. We give because we see that life is not so much about this life, but life after we die. The best legacy we can leave on earth is one that involved telling people about the love of Jesus, and showing them his love in our actions. That’s the kind of legacy that will last. And the best possible future we can hope for is our future in heaven, when we will finally understand God’s purposes for this world. There, we will celebrate what God did through us. Not because of our own innate ‘goodness’, but because of the Holy Spirit working in us to carry out his will. He is our only real and lasting hope, and the only hope for our friends and family. This hope is one that will last into eternity.

What’s your ‘starfish story’? Remember – every person matters.

(In case you want to prayerfully consider supporting something new, my family aids the work of The Indian Christian Mission Centre (ICMC) in Salem, South India. It exists to serve impoverished communities with food, education, and teaching about Jesus. Visit their website to find out more.)

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My son (in red) visited ICMC, India last year, and loved the experience.

I don’t hate the weather. I just can’t stand talking about it.

How are you at talking about the weather?

I’ll be the first to admit – I’m not very good at it. Whenever someone brings up this topic, of all topics, I’m quietly annoyed and stumbling for words. Especially if it’s the fifth weather rant I’ve heard that day.

I completely understand it’s the go-to topic when starting conversations. And we do need openers.

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But continual anecdotes do my head in. I’d rather say nothing and stand in awkward silence than go there. Please, do not go there with me. OK, it’s raining. OK, it’s hot. OK, OK. OKayyyy…

But at the risk of sounding completely anti-social and psychotic, I do like other conversation topics. And I don’t avoid people altogether. Even the weather-haters.

I think what frustrates me is the perpetual ‘small talk’. And I know I might be in the minority here. But I blame it on my fraught, melancholy, INFJ personality. I’m just not good with the standing-around-chatting-about-this-and-that-thing. Unless we’re talking food… Then, I will talk all day. So yeah, I can be shallow too.

I think I just have a propensity towards over-sharing – ponderous thinking, if you like. And I realise that can get boring too unless you’re just like me. Maybe that’s why I need a blog to get it all out.

I really do prefer the ‘how are you really‘ question to the ‘how are you’. I want to talk about life, and relationships, and struggles. I want to be real, authentic, truthful – even if I don’t always live up to this ideal.

I want to be able to cry if I need to, rage at the world – or listen to another person do the same. Am I sounding high-maintenance yet?…

And sometimes I just want to sit in silence with you. And be OK with that too.

We’re all designed for relationships, as complicated as they are. We might, for a while, convince ourselves we don’t need them. But friends are like ventolin to an asthma sufferer. We need to connect with our ‘puffers’, or we die inside.

So, if you’re already my friend, please be honest with me. And I’ll try my best to be real with you too. I won’t wow you with my weather talk, but I’ll be one of the best listeners there is :)

Life ‘on the outside’ is scary

In the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption, a character named Red (played by Morgan Freeman) speaks to new inmate Heywood (William Sadler) about a prisoner who’s been serving there a long time…

“The man’s been in here fifty years, Heywood. Fifty years! This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man. He’s an educated man. Outside, he’s nothin’! Just a used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Couldn’t even get a library card if he applied. You see what I’m saying?
These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes… you get so you depend on them.
They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.”

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The film is a fascinating insight into the impact of imprisonment. It shows how, even when ‘free’, some inmates prefer their old life. They’re so used to the prison routine that they don’t know how to live anywhere else.

I think we can all relate to this on some level. There might be areas of our life where we’re entrapped, imprisoned. But the prospect of change is terrifying. Life outside the walls might be less consistent, less ‘safe’ – and breaking free might make us feel more caged-in than ever before. We’re afraid of the unknown – the unfamiliar – so we remain in our shell. Unmoving.

Victims of abuse can suffer from this mentality. As the quote says, first they hate it, then they get used to it – then they might, in a strange way, depend on it. Abuse is the only reality they’ve ever known. In the worst cases, the victim becomes a perpetrator too because they’ve never understood the pattern they are in.

When true freedom doesn’t seem so ‘liberating’, we are stuck. When old ways become the only way, we are frozen.

Only when we unlock the door, dream about the possibilities outside, and dare to step out – do we find there’s a whole other world out there. We don’t have to be victims of our past. We don’t have to stay entrapped. There are always people who can help us find courage – and wings.

“Be brave for us…”

A few months back I was deeply impacted by a girl who spoke as part of a mixed-age women’s gathering. She candidly shared some of the hardships of teen life, and emphasised the need for strong role models. With tears she spoke five words I’ll never forget:

“Please… Be brave for us.”

She represented a community of youth who desperately needed strength and resilience modelled to them. A tribe of girls who wanted to know what bravery looked like as they faced uncertain futures.

Her words made me consider how I could better love those in my care. How I could show what a courageous life lived for God looked like.

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And tonight I read this article by Jackie Knapp about the reality of suffering in the ‘best years of our life’ – and the importance of hearing our ‘elders’ talk about it.

Knapp writes:

“We… need to hear from the older generations, how they have faced hard things and fought for faith. We need their perspective, their wisdom, their words spoken into our lives. We want to hear more from our pastors and leaders about how they move though struggles.

We wish the church were more honest, that we didn’t feel alone there in our addictions and sin and heartbreak, that we could walk in and be real. Most of us don’t care all that much about the music style and building aesthetics. We long for transparent relationships with people who are willing to enter our mess and point us to Jesus.

[We need] to teach them that even the ‘best’ years of their lives will include heartache and pain. We want them to have all the excitable idealism of being young, but we want that enthusiasm to be met with wisdom and tempered with reality. Most of all, we want to tell them of all the good we found along the way, how we learned to live again – and how we look to our next decades with hope that God is making something new out of our crushed expectations.”

Amen!

…Have you considered sharing your “crushed expectations” with someone younger than you?

Youth need ‘real talk’ as much as anyone. Let’s cheer them on – be brave for them… And part of that bravery involves sharing honestly our own disappointments, heartbreaks, failures and triumphs.

God blessed me with a number of wise role models in my youth. They rejoiced in my successes, held me close in my hearbreak, and pointed me towards a God who loved me more than they. I remember the tears and the nurturing well. They didn’t pretend that life got better – but they gave me hope that I’d become better at working things out.

I want to be a role model like that.

And I want to be brave – not just for them, but for me.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Modern-day idolatry

Have you ever idolised something, only to find it disappointing in the end?

In the Bible the prophet Isaiah had something to say to the idol-worshipping people of Israel, who’d lost faith in God and been captivated instead by the things they believed could guide them or save them.

He addresses them in chapter 40:25,26 with these words from God:

“To whom then will you liken Me,
Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high,
And see who has created these things,
Who brings out their host by number;
He calls them all by name,
By the greatness of His might
And the strength of His power.”

God is reminding his people that the objects they ascribe such honour to are simply the things he created. They can’t be compared to him.

Sometimes we become so distracted by the created things that we forget to look up to their Creator.

Matthew Henry described an idol as something we esteem or love, fear or hope in more than God. We might not ‘worship’ it as such – but we allow it a place in our life that is above God. We allow that thing – whether it’s a relationship, career, money, others’ approval, family, power/control, or popularity – more sway over our decision-making than God. Our fear of losing it trumps our fear of losing our relationship with God. That’s what makes it an idol, even though the thing in itself isn’t necessarily bad.

May we bow our knees only to the one who made us, who named us, who calls us his. And turn from worshipping the things which so easily distract us from his incomparable greatness, goodness, and love.

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Defining our values

I’ve just finished reading a book called Beyond Boundaries by Dr. John Townsend (the co-author of the original Boundaries book).

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The first book defined what it means to set loving limits around our lives so we can experience healthier relationships. It’s one of the best ‘self-help’ books I’ve read.

Beyond Boundaries expands on this concept, and explores the idea of ‘defining boundaries’.

Townsend says defining boundaries are those which establish who you are and who you’re not. “They are at the core of your identity and reflect what you believe is important and valuable in life,” he explains.

Such values might include:

“I follow God and his ways and will always live my life in him,” or “I will always be growing and will not get off the path”.

Defining boundaries help others to know who you are – the real you. And your values will help guide your decisions in life.

I believe knowing our core values, and knowing what we will and won’t tolerate from others, is vital to the way we start – and maintain – healthy relationships.

It’s easier said than done. We need God’s help – and the help of wise friends – to keep doing the work of setting boundaries.

Who are you, really? What are your core values?

I’ll start by sharing a few of my own:

* God is the centre of my life and my reason for being. Through Jesus he has won my heart, and no other relationship will come before him.

* I believe all people have value, even though not all make healthy choices. All people, including myself, are worthy of forgiveness and grace.

* Each person has been given at least one gift or talent from God. With his help we can use it and express it during the space of our life.

* I believe it’s important to be authentic – to say what you think, boldly and with love.

* If we value ourselves, we’ll teach others to value us too. Good relationships start with a strong sense of identity and healthy self-esteem.

* God has a purpose for my life, but life is made up of many small choices squeezed into each day. I hope not to be so distracted by ‘the bigger picture’ that I lose sight of my Heavenly Father’s daily directives. Ultimately, I’m on the ‘home stretch’ to Heaven, and I want to live a life that leads others there too.

Thanks for letting me share these with you :) May we each live valuable lives that bring glory and honour to our King.

- Ali

Flawed friendships

Anyone who’s had a friend in their lifetime knows what it’s like to be hurt, disappointed, let down.

Anyone who’s been a friend knows what it’s like to hurt. To disappoint. To let down.

It’s as if relationships are designed to reveal our flaws. Our quirks. Our weaknesses.

And point us towards the only One who’s flawless.

And when we’re satisfied in Him, we have more realistic expectations of the people in our lives.

When that aching abyss in us is filled by God, we stop putting them on pedestals.

We realise they are the icing – not the cake…

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Dear Lord,
Thank you that you’re the “friend who sticks closer than a brother”, as Proverbs 18:24 says.
No one will ever match you as companion, Saviour, or Lord. You’re everything we need, all at once, for all time.
May we choose to rejoice in your goodness when we’re tempted to rehearse our disappointments.
May we find our security first and foremost in your arms.
And appreciate the beauty of the people you bring into our lives at just the right time.
Thank you for friendship, and thank you for being our best friend as well as our King.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
Amen.

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