Letters From Greece—#1

Dear Reader,

It’s been a year—exactly a year today in fact—since my husband Ross and I moved to live in Athens, Greece. And what a year it has been!

Culture stress is a well-known phenomena experienced by anyone who moves to live in a culture new to them. Someone once briefly described to me how the human brain (or is it the mind?) reacts in relation to a new and unfamiliar culture; it made sense and helped explain what I was going through. In a fairly normal, everyday sort of situation in my new life, I automatically head off down a well-worn pathway in my brain only to find that I can’t go that way. All the familiar signposts don’t work here! The process of developing new pathways can be a confusing and exhausting one, even if the adventure of it adds a wonderful myriad of colour to my life!

So, you might ask, what are some highlights of this first year in Greece for me?

The food. Most local areas in Athens, like the rest of Greece, host a weekly farmer’s market known locally as the ‘laiki’ or more technically, the ‘laiki agora’; literally, it means the people’s market. Imagine table upon table of the freshest fruit and vegetables—and you’d be correct! Not only is the food fresh, but it is also seasonal. I remember the time I forgot about the lettuce in my fridge. I expected to find it wilted and sad; but no, I found a lettuce which looked fresher than I would’ve found in the supermarkets of Melbourne!

The people. (Maybe they should’ve come first!) This is a nation of people who are strong and resilient and creative… a people who have learned to persevere in the face of one trial and crisis after another—both historically and more recently. Hospitable, friendly, helpful, delightful, kind-hearted, passionate, encouraging. These are all words which might generally describe the Greek people I have encountered. Of course, there are exceptions, but aren’t there anywhere?

The language. One of the best things I chose to do was to more formally learn Greek. A lesson with Kiki (my teacher is Greek and she teaches Greek!) is a weekly adventure. Each new grammar rule expands the capacity of my brain, even if it does sometime ache with the effort! (Note to school students: it’s worth paying attention to those grammar lessons!) Each new word and phrase learned and practised, serves to open up a new avenue of communication! It’s an exciting new world, and one in which I have encouraging and enthusiastic language helpers most places I go to; supermarkets, the local church, market, neighbours… And just a note on language dear Reader; if you ask me to say something to you in Greek, in my experience, all my words seem to disappear somewhere I can’t access ‘on the spot’!

The roads. Oh, the roads! One of the major victories I have had during the last year in Greece, is to learn to drive on the ‘other side’ of the car, on the ‘other side’ of the road! Another has been to learn to expect the unexpected! That time when the woman crashed into the rear of our (borrowed car), I was so very thankful that Ross was with me, no one was hurt, she spoke English and she admitted fault! On a more general note, it seems to me that switching on the hazard lights of a car means its driver can pretty well do anything—even stopping unexpectedly right there on the road in front of you! I might add here that the many motorbike riders without helmets worries me. I’ve worked in a major hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. Enough said…

The weather. Living in Greece has allowed me to experience every season. Summers are long and hot made even hotter by heat waves! Anyone who can do so, escapes Athens in summer, especially in August. Winter was cold but not as cold as I imagined it might be. There was a brief covering of snow on the mountains just before Christmas which made for some super-cold winds but spectacular scenery! Springtime has possibly been my favourite season with its mild weather, and such treasures as the wildflowers. On my daily walks, to see the rich display of red poppies together with their neighbours all dressed up in blue, yellow and purple in a riot of colour, has been wonderfully life-giving.

The Celebrations. Christmas, Easter… It has been such an experience to be here and experience the various celebrations that are familiar to me but are celebrated in different ways. Maybe I’ll tell you about the red coloured Easter eggs another time (by the way, I didn’t see any hot-cross buns and very few chocolate products which was refreshing!). Other celebrations or remembrance days unique to Greece, have spoken into my love of culture and history.

Transition and Home. Dear Reader, Ross and I don’t regret leaving ‘home’ to come to live in Greece but we do miss our family and friends, not to mention all the familiar support structures that we took for granted. We treasure your communication with us and gifts of encouragement to us, as we continue to navigate our way through one transition after another. We’re gradually making new friends and learning how to thrive in our adopted home.

We began our adventure in Athens staying for a few weeks in an apartment in central Athens. From there, we moved to the foothills of one of the mountains surrounding Athens to ‘house-sit’ a property for eleven months (we sub-leased the fully furnished house). The cat, whose care was entrusted to us, will be joyfully handed over to her family soon! (We’re not ‘cat-lovers’—apologies if you are!) The coming three months will see us staying in different places whilst we wait for an ‘inner-city’ apartment to be ready for us.

May you and I know through faith and experience—especially in the winds of change and uncertainty—the reality of being held secure, at peace, in the sure and strong and wise grip of Jesus who is magnificently one with the Father.

Until next time,

With love from Heather

PS, What’s a letter without a few photos? Here are a few of my favourites in a slideshow…

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The path

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Imagine with me for a moment as together, we stand on the path…

Look! I see Jesus… He is standing there up ahead at the bend in the pathway! 

Of course Jesus has been with you all along! Did you know that? Or did you not recognise that it was Jesus who was with you all this time? Is it possible that you have been so intent on just getting to where you think you must be, that you paid no attention to Who it was that has been offering to equip you, help you and guide you on your journey in life?

Did you not know that if only you would come close to God, He promises to come close to you?

Or have you been so focused on the path itself—trying to work out how and where every part might fit in (does it even have a place?), that you lost sight of Jesus?

In perfect and loving harmony with God the Father, Jesus has not lost sight of you.

Did you notice the wonder and the beauty of the unfolding story contained within the path?

Did you see that even the smallest piece of rock has its own place and is held securely together in the cement?

Or did you think He did not care?

Did you think He did not treasure even the smallest part of your life that you thought would not matter? Did you think He was just watching—from a distance? 

You are loved by the Father-heart of God! He sees you. He knows you. Intimately. 

The Father’s plans are all about Jesus. He loves you with the same love He has for His Son Jesus! There is no other pathway to God except through Jesus.

Beloved, just like every one of your tears and sorrows is lovingly, carefully collected and treasured in the heart of God, so has every one of the steps you have taken this far in life been lovingly, intentionally and creatively brought together.

It is all there and there is more yet to come! 

Worked together. Held together in the embrace of Jesus who is The Way. The Truth. The life!

It is the only wise thing we can do. Leave everything to be where Jesus is. Go where He is going. Choose to partner with His Spirit wholly surrendered to God’s plans!

It is all for the glory of our redemptive and sin-forgiving God who is love and has the gift of life to freely give and invites us to join Him!

Through Jesus. For the fame of the name of Jesus Christ!

By the way… did you notice in the picture that the day is drawing to a close? The mercies of Godwho is I AMare new every morning.

“… we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. God knew what he was doing from the very beginning.

He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.

After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself.

And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.” (Romans 8:28-30 The Message) 

What else might the Holy Spirit want to speak to you about or show you as you reflect on my photo (taken in Athens, Greece)?

I see something different every time.

I see that there are gum trees and I am comforted by the grace of my compassionate God who has transplanted me into another land and gives me visible memories of my home in Australia.

I see the dry ground scorched by the summer heat and am reminded that by God’s grace, I am like a tree planted along a riverbankwith roots that reach deep down into the water. Such a tree is not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. The leaves of such a tree stays green and never stops producing fruit. (Jeremiah 17:8 NLTparaphrased)

God has so much to show you. Get your journal out. Take the time to be still with Jesus and listen to His Spirit and receive all that He has to give you. 

Peace. Hope. Freedom in Christ. Healing from the inside out.

To love God is to trust and obey.

All for Jesus!

One Step At a Time? How?

Imagine… You are climbing a mountain. Now you are on the final ascent—the pinnacle is within sight. Exhorting yourself on, you shout on the inside, “Come on! I can do this. Just a little further.

And just for another moment. Imagine… What do you do, once you have reached the mountain-top, celebrated the victory & surveyed the land laid out before you?

Have you ever thought about what is on the other side? Or do you simply presume you would descend the mountain using the same path by which you climbed it?

Are you curious—even a little bit—about what lies on the other side? Or do you presume it would be the same as what you experienced before? And after all… you just want to get there. No surprises. No distractions. No detours along the way. Tired & weary you turn. Ready, set…

Suddenly, you realise you are not alone! Instinctively, almost as if you are being drawn to a magnet, you turn to your left & slightly behind you.

There stands a Man. Dressed for hiking complete with sturdy boots & a backpack, he stands holding his hand out towards you with a welcoming gesture.

You sense your soul within you relax. At the same time, there are some things you simply just know… He is a Man with strength & power born out of identity & authority. His confidence & wisdom gives you assurance accompanied by peace that finds its way deep into the very centre of your being. You see that he knows what he is doing. Looking into his face you recognise—reflected in his eyes— an authentic kindness & honesty… an ‘openness’ together with a warm twinkle that draws you into a place of wanting to get to know him more.

You realise that you deeply want to remain with him.

You recognise something else. Where there was weariness within you & all around you like a blanket—now there is a new energy. Perhaps you might even call it… joy.

Whatever it is, you know that within, something has changed. Hope has lightened your soul where there was previously heaviness & an unrecognised (to you) expectation of loneliness, boredom, routine, of ‘going through the motions’ & more… that you thought was all you deserved.

Now you know… you will go anywhere this Man goes. Adventure beckons. The promise of enjoying the journey. Even the landscape around you seems different! Through fresh eyes, you see colour. With unplugged ears, you hear the sounds of life. And it is good.

Come”, says this Man. “Come to me. I AM. Walk with me. I will show you the way & lead you. You will not be disappointed.

Together we will travel & together we will explore. I will provide for your journey… Look! I have everything you will need—I come prepared. Do not fear getting lost—I know the way. I even know what we will encounter along the way—I will shield you. I will help you. I will steady you when you stumble.

The adventures we will have together will give you stories to tell that will amaze all who hear of them. Others will want to join you! Place your trust in me—it is safe to trust me. Take a risk. Come on… take a risk!”

It is safe to place your faith & trust into the Spirit of the one true God revealed to the world through His Son Jesus Christ, the Man. 

Second-hand Shoes

The ‘year of the shoes’ stands out in my childhood memories. That year my mother passed on to me a secondhand pair of ‘Sunday-best’ shoes (‘hand-me-downs’) complete with the unspoken expectation that I would and could walk in someone else’s footprints. It was never going to work for me. Not only were the shoes too big for me but into them had been imprinted a legacy that did not fit me. Instead of taking delight in going to Sunday School, I became overly-conscious of my feet—anxious and fearful that I might fall down. I tried so hard to fit into those shoes…

Using this story (of the shoes) as a metaphor, have you ever been expected to walk in someone else’s ‘footprints’? What legacy has been handed on to you? Has it been a positive experience? Is it bearing good fruit? Have you been freely walking—taking delight in following Jesus—living the ‘rich and satisfying’ life that He came to lead us into? (John 10:10) Or… have you been so focused on maintaining your balance to avoid stumbling and falling down, that now you are beginning to recognise just how weary you have become?

Or was it you asking another person to accept something that no longer fits you or someone in your care? Maybe in that moment when you first tried to walk in those ‘shoes’ never designed with you in mind at all, you began looking around with a burning question in your mind, “Who can I pass this on to?” “How can I get rid of this…?”

What do you do with a legacy which you have inherited and are perhaps even now trying to operate under? What might be the expectations wrapped up in it? Has your identity been entangled or even somehow lost in it? How has your attitude—your stance in life—affected your behaviour? 

With the eyes of your heart (your mind), let God’s Spirit help you to re-focus on to Jesus. Who does God want to be for you? What does He need to do? Take courage! Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there really is freedom. Is today the day the Lord has made for you to surrender to Jesus and let the Holy Spirit fit you with ‘shoes’ lovingly, wisely created by Him—tailor-made for youwith a Kingdom of God calling and purpose.

Our gracious, merciful and creative Father God calls you to trust Him and follow Jesus walking in His footsteps. His grace means that His Spirit will help you to do this daily. Your footprint is unique to  you as it is to every single person, but we each discover in Jesus, a perfect fit—the ‘sweet-spot’! Freedom in Christ!

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me (Jesus Christ). Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message —emphasis mine)

I wonder how God our Father through the work of His Spirit—the Spirit of Jesus Christ, plans to apply this in your life? Have a conversation with Him today. Ask questions. Be prepared to listen and watch for the answers…

Love, problems, opportunities…

What is written in blue (below) was something I wrote last week as I enjoyed time with God. It seemed like He was giving it to me as a gift. As Monday approached last week, it seemed right to share it in the ‘Monday Morning Minute’. Ross (my husband & MMM’s International Director) challenged me to ask God how it might be applied to our lives. I pray that as you read it, you’ll encounter the beloved Spirit of the Lord Jesus &… explore the Father’s heart.

I have loved you with an everlasting perfect love—untainted by the dust of the world. Pure & undefiled, this love brings life. This love has brought an end to the problem of sin & pain. This love builds up—it does not tear down.

My love is My character reflected & expressed in Jesus Christ. My love is good—all the time. My love has divine, eternal purpose. My love is like an oasis bringing hope & life in the desert. My love is a well watered garden that produces fruit in seasons & out of season. In my love there is no fear of lack, no anxiety of famine. I send My love to you & … I will perfect it in you. The world needs to know My good & perfect love.

My love sets you free—to be who I call you to be—for the glory of My beloved Son Jesus Christ. When you honour Jesus by recognising that He is My only begotten Son, righteous & holy, pure of heart… you honour Me.

Submit to the authority of Jesus in all things. In this way, you please Me. Through you, My joy will overflow & change atmospheres. Practice resting back into Jesus & you will be made whole by the work of My Spirit.

The process of you being made whole is a glorious one—enjoy it! I do!

What is our default ‘turn-to’ setting when we have a ‘problem’ in life? Some of us might want a problem-free life but what if God actually needs us to have a different mindset? What if He needs us to view our problems as ‘opportunities’? Opportunities inviting us to explore the Father’s heart in a new way. Opportunities where perfect love has a chance to flourish & drive out fear. Opportunities that are created where believing God & trusting Him displace doubts about who God is & wants to be for us. Opportunities to let God out of the ‘box’ & give Him the freedom to be God in, all around, through our lives. Opportunities…

I’ve noticed Jesus attaches the gift of a promise to each ‘problem’ that His Father permits to intersect with my life. Years ago, I was surprised by the voice of the Holy Spirit who seemed to say, “Heather, you’re an overcomer.” Of course He was giving me such a gift… being intentional, compassionate & eternally lovingly kind, my Daddy (God) needed me to be more than an ‘overcomer’ in Christ. Just as important as that is, He needed me to know & accept that I am who He says I am! The first step of this process becoming a reality was, by faith to receive His good gift.

Various ‘problems’ rose up to challenge His gift to me over the following year. But God was equipping me by His grace & goodness. Contrary to my former thought patterns, I began to exchange the (mindset) lie for the truth… “I’m an overcomer” & reflecting to God words like, “I will trust You. Thank You for making me an overcomer in Christ.”

By giving me a constructive, life-giving framework to which I could continually reference what was happening in & around me, the Spirit of Jesus helped me move through the problems in life rather than getting lost in them or disabled by them.

When you & I encounter a problem, it might be like arriving at a T-intersection on a road. We need make a decision & choose which direction we will take. Do we turn ‘left’ reacting as if we are orphans—all alone—not knowing who our Father is? Turning that way, we might find that fear, anxiety & worry have opened the door to other things like the need to be in control, relying on our own resources (or those of the world) & working to navigate a safe route through an unsafe land.

Or, do we intentionally choose to turn ‘right’ into the arms of our Father through faith in Jesus who has everything we will ever need (& is not reluctant or miserly in giving!). That would be like jumping into the River of Living Water in which we are gloriously out of our control & depth!

Submitted to the flow which is neither haphazard or without meaning, we are carried in & nurtured by the Water, whose Source never ends, will never be defeated, will never be overwhelmed & will never be taken by surprise. Nothing is impossible for HIM! Let us today & each new morning, surrender in trusting submission to the Lover of our souls.

Upon Him we can depend with certainty even in times that scream to us, “uncertainty’ ahead”.