Have you ever felt like a mouse running round on one of those wheels, an endless repetitive cycle, round and round and round…

 

Once there was a little mouse. He was living a seemingly happy mousey life in a  mouse home with fresh food and water every day and a clean bed of straw to lie on. Best of all, he had a big wheel that he could run round and round and round in. He could control the direction and how fast or slow it went. It never did anything unexpected and never went anywhere but round. His home was perched high on an old window ledge and he often spent his days running around in his wheel, gazing out at the beautiful fields beyond. “What are they like I wonder” he said to no-one in particular. His kind master had told him he wouldn’t be staying in this home for long; he had something much bigger and much better in store for this little mouse. As for the wheel, well the master hadn’t put it there; it had been there all along. Every now and again his master would put something new in the cage or scoop him out to hold him but the little mouse didn’t want anything to do with that. All he wanted was what he knew was safe and what he could control. And so he ran round and round and round.

As the days wore into weeks and the weeks into months he thought more and more about the lovely fields. “There must be more than this old house”. But no, how could an old mouse like him live out there and what would he do to survive? He wasn’t too sure about his master’s plan either. What if he didn’t like it, what if it was scary, what if, what if, what if? And what would he do without his wheel? At least he could control his wheel. Out there, well who knew what would become of him? He became restless, irritable and discontent knowing that somehow he was made for more than this and yet he didn’t know what that something was. “I don’t think this home is the best thing for me” said the mouse one day “and I’m not too sure I can trust my master. I must escape and go and find those fields”.

With this exciting plan in mind the little mouse waits for the next time the door to his home is opened and he darts out. How big everything is, how bright, how exciting!  Surely he will find what he’s looking for out here. He ran and ran and ran until he found himself facing a huge door. So excited was the little mouse that he didn’t pause to wonder what was beyond and so under the door he squeezed. He ran some more until he realised he was very tired and very hungry. The light was fading and he was alone. Suddenly the little mouse didn’t feel so brave and wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision. Seeing a small light glinting nearby he ran over only to find himself at another door and tantalising smells filled his little twitching nose. In anticipation of what he might find he crawls under the door and goes off searching of its source. A pantry!  A beautiful, big, food filled pantry with everything a bored, frustrated and discontent little mouse could want. He starts to eat and eat and eat. His little belly gets fatter and he feels good. Surely this is the way a little mouse should live! He has all the food he wants and he has found a little hole in the wall that he can hide in to sleep.

Days wore into weeks and the weeks into months and the little mouse started to miss the comforting voice of his master. He missed his warm bed and not having to search for food and most of all he missed his wheel; his stable, predictable wheel. One day while scampering about in the pantry the most delightful scent fills his little pink nose. With his whiskers trembling in excitement of what he might find he follows the almost palpable smell. And there it is; a big piece of cheese! As he moves closer he realises another mouse has found the cheese first and yet something isn’t right. This other mouse is very still. In timid darts he makes his way to the other mouse only to discover why it is so still. “Oh this is bad” he said in a squeaky frightened voice “this is very bad”. He knew he could no longer return to the pantry; it was not a safe place for him anymore. For days he hid in his hole wishing his master would rescue him until finally the gnawing pains in his belly forced him to tentatively peek his head out. He knew he needed food. Maybe there was another pantry or maybe something even better. “That’s it” he thought “I just need to explore some more, take control of my own destiny”. He darted out of his hole and scurried across the floor towards and then under the door. For only the second time in his life he found himself outside. But it was noisy and bright and the little mouse felt oh so timid. “I wish my master were here to help me” he thought wistfully. A faint smell drifted by, a faint but very, very good smell! Once again following his nose he came upon a mountain of food. Nothing was wrapped, nothing in containers; it was as if it were made just for him. And so he began to eat the decaying scraps. It didn’t quite taste as good as it smelt but what choice did he have? He made a small home under the scraps, it was damp and smelly but it would do. His nights were cold and his days spent avoiding all the new dangers he was encountering. “This isn’t nearly as fun as I thought it would be” said the little mouse slowly. “I want to go home. Maybe my master can be trusted after all”. He didn’t know how to get there and was too proud to ask for help and days wore into weeks and the weeks into months.

One day he found a great treasure, a scrap of food barely a day old! It was too heavy to move but he desperately wanted it and so sat there on the top of the compost heap eating as fast as his little teeth would allow. So busy was the little mouse, he failed to realise he was being stalked. Out of nowhere a huge shadow loomed over him and as the mouse looked up all he could see was the grinning face of a cat! A gigantic paw with long, sharp claws swiped at him, opening large gashes on his back. He squealed in terror and began to run as fast as his little legs could carry him. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been running or where he even was but exhausted, he had to stop. Resigning himself to fate he lay down, closed his eyes and curled his tail around his body.

“Hey there little fella, this isn’t a safe place for you” boomed a voice. The mouse’s eyes sprung open and he found himself staring into the kind face of his master! Could it be that his master had found him? And would he take him home knowing he might run away again?  To his astonishment the rough but gentle hands of his master lifted him from the ground and placed him in a warm pouch. Not knowing what was to become of him all he could do was sleep, he was so tired. The mouse woke not long after when he was lifted out of the pouch and into his old home. There was a little water bowl, a very inviting pile of straw and fresh food. And most exciting of all, his big white wheel stood in the centre of his home. “Don’t worry little fella” said his rescuer “it won’t be long ‘til you have your strength back and are ready to face the adventure I have in store for you”. The mouse still wasn’t so sure about that but he was too tired to think much about it and while his master tended his wounds the little mouse drifted off to sleep.

Days later he was strong again and running round and round and round on his wheel. He was back in control! Sometimes his master would try to talk to him but he was so busy concentrating on running in his wheel all he heard was noise. And again his master would put new things in his home or scoop him out to show the little mouse what he had in store for him, however all the little mouse wanted was his wheel. Days wore into weeks and the weeks into months and once again the little mouse began to feel restless, irritable and discontent. He knew outside was unsafe but he wasn’t entirely happy where he was either. “At least I’m in control” he thought running even faster on his wheel. One day his master sat down next to his little home and scoped him out. Cradling him gently in his hands he said “Come now little one, it’s time to move to a new phase of this grand adventure? Don’t worry, I’ll still be looking after you, you can trust me”. The little mouse trembled. He wasn’t so sure about this. How could this man, kind as he’s been, know what’s best for a little mouse? “I can’t trust him” he thought. The little mouse leapt off the man’s hand, back into his home and onto his wheel. “This is a safe place, this is what I know and trust” he said to himself. His master looked down sadly at the mouse. “I won’t force you little one” he said “but if only you’d trust me. The plans I have for you are so much better than your wheel”. But the little mouse didn’t hear. He was too busy concentrating on controlling his wheel. And he ran round and round and round….

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Psalm 139:1-18  You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts,God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.

 

Tonight I felt powerless, completely unable to help someone I love. There was not one thing I could do and I felt out of control. I don’t like to feel out of control, especially when I’ve spent so long being the boss of me (mind you, that has been a very unsuccessful venture). And then the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit broke through my distress and reminded me I am not powerless, at least not spiritually. What better time than now, to practice what I’ve been learning about handing over to God, the one who has all power. Within half an hour a dozen people were praying for this person and while I still don’t know what is happening and am waiting to hear, I feel a peace that is not of this world. Philippians 4:6-7 says Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. It’s a peace that can’t be explained, it’s beyond our human understanding because it comes from a supernatural God.

I can know bible verses like this and quote them from dawn to dusk but they will remain words on paper, memory verses, unless I believe them and allow the Spirit of God to transform them into to a dynamic awareness of truth. My pastor said in a message a while back that we can listen without hearing. It’s like that conversation your having with someone where you can hear them talking but your mind is elsewhere so you don’t really know what they’re saying. It’s just white noise – listening without hearing. I have often done that with God, whether in prayer or in reading scripture. But I’m learning to listen and when I do, when I invite the Holy Spirit to help me understand the truth of these verses…his voice, while not audible for me, is loud and clear!

While standing in the queue at a local supermarket I saw the guy behind me roll his eyes and sigh. I understood why. There were only two isles open and both of us had one item each. The woman in front was not only purchasing the entire supermarket (at least it felt that way) but returning some items. I tried not to make eye contact with the man behind me; I didn’t want to get caught up in his frustration but then I heard my own thoughts and they were no more patient than his. Here I was judging him for the very thing I was doing. That’s one enormous log in my eye! I too had been sighing and shuffling my feet and it occurred to me that whether I show it or speak it or think it, I complain a lot! So I started trying to figure out why, and believe me there was plenty of time to do that. As far as today’s incident goes, I could blame it on being time poor, inefficient supermarket operations, the lady in front of me but exactly what will that achieve? She is being served, there are two isles open, I have no choice but to wait and there is not a thing I can do about it. All the huffing and sighing and shoe shuffling and eye rolling and making that non-verbal “this is ridiculous” look with the guy behind me is not going to achieve anything but to make me hot under the collar. And I’ll just look like the impatient grumbler that I so readily judge everyone else for being (while doing it myself). Perhaps I have a saw mill and not just a log in my eye!

I have come to realise in the last few weeks that I spend an awful lot of time complaining about meaningless, pointless things when I have ten thousand more things to be grateful for. And today was one of the many reminders I’ve had lately. Slowly, slowly my thinking is shifting.

  • How can I complain about housework when I have a house and not a single room tin shed that I share with my entire family?
  • How can I complain about mowing and weeding when my backyard is not a rubbish tip or a laneway filled with sewage?
  • How can I complain about washing my windows when I don’t have to walk miles to collect dirty water just to drink?
  • How can I complain about the wait at the doctor when I have numerous GP’s and hospitals within 50km of my house?
  • How can I complain about the cost of electricity when I can sit down in front of my TV for hours on end while playing with my computer, iPad, iPhone, kindle, MP3, playstation etc…
  • How can I complain if the kids say they are bored when my child hasn’t been kidnapped and forced to become a child soldier?
  • How can I complain about the piles of laundry when I have enough clothes that I could wear 50 outfit combinations a day and still not have gone through my entire wardrobe?
  • How can I complain about the queue at the supermarket when I have more groceries to choose from than some people would eat in a lifetime?
  • How can I complain about my old car when I don’t have to walk miles to work or school with the threat of being raped or robbed?
  • How can I complain about traffic congestion when I have an abundance of well-constructed roads that will get me anywhere I want to go?
  • How can I complain about overcrowded classrooms when my children are guaranteed education?
  • How can I complain about my wage when I haven’t been sold into slave labour?
  • How can I complain about the cost of lamb when there are those who don’t’ know if they’ll eat today?
  • How can I complain about my minor cold when I’m not faced with the daily threat of rabies, tuberculosis, malaria, HIV or dysentery?
  • How can I complain about the queue at the fast food store when my child doesn’t look like a skeleton?
  • How can I complain about how cold winter’s been when I have jumpers, jackets, an electric blanket, doona and heater and I’m not sleeping under a cardboard box?
  • How can I complain about the heat of summer when it’s not going lead to a severe shortage of crops, loss of livestock, starvation, dehydration and death?
  • How can I complain about how long this blog is when, by the time I’ve finished writing it around 600 people living in poverty will have died, half of them children under five?

In our first world countries we are not without problems but for those of us doing ok, many of our “problems” are associated with our luxuries. Our roads are congested yes, but they are congested with people going to work, to visit family or friends or to go shopping. Some of our classrooms might be a little overcrowded but our kids have easy access to education. Our cost of living is rising and for some that is more than a challenge but for most of us it just takes away some money we would have spent on ourselves anyway. We live in a consumerist society, we want more of what we already have and envy what our neighbours have even though we don’t want it. We overfill our bellies, decorate our houses and amuse ourselves with whatever new gadget has come out. I am pointing the finger directly at myself here. I can get frustrated sure, but it’s time to get over it real quick and look beyond my frustration at my blessings. As someone who is blessed, abundantly blessed, what right do I have to complain about the results of those blessings? Because I am so far removed from those who live without it often seems only a tragic story. What can I possibly do for those in my nation and those overseas? There are things I already do but I can do so much more and it starts with my attitude.  I can change my thinking and as I change my thinking, I believe my attitudes and actions will change. I want my gratitude to grow legs in my community and beyond!

All of us at inevitably, whether often or infrequently are faced with challenges, crisis’s or stressors. We easily categorise the gravity of that concern because we compare it with what others are going through, because we’ve grown up believing we shouldn’t burden people with our worries and instead should “harden up” or because we think we can deal with it on our own. And when we do that, it can so subtly influence what we take to God. We think he won’t be interested, or he’s sick of our lamenting or that he will only help us if we first help ourselves. Bill McKibben wrote in Harper’s magazine that three out of every four Americans believe that the bible says “God helps those who help themselves”. Even the US press secretary in a follow up to an Obama speech quoted this phrase stating he believed it to be from the bible.

Over the last 6 months I have faced some difficulties and it has been the greatest struggle to talk to God about this for, I see now, all of the above reasons. And in the few times of heartfelt prayer I’ve reverted to being more religious than relational. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe I thought that by appeasing God he would be more likely to listen to me. I’ve spent much of my Christian life striving to be a good little Christian and please God in both the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. It’s a hard pattern to break and the enemy knows that; he’s more than eager to whisper his lies that I so easily believe, so often. But my saviour is persistent, relentless and I’m becoming more accustomed to his voice. There have been moments where I’ve sensed God saying “just share your heart with me” and it’s now time to do what he asks and put ego and self-pity aside. Why? Because his word tells me to. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”. Taking into consideration the Greek text it could be interpreted literally as:

Stop being self-reliant and bring yourself under God’s supreme and prevailing hand and in His time he will lift you up. Throw all your worries, cares and anxieties on him because your worry is his interest.

And what does that mean? Firstly it means that getting rid of that big ego that says “I can do it on my own” and realise that I can I NOT! Jeremiah 17:5 says that cursed is the self-reliance person. God alone has all the power and wisdom to fix us, help us, heal us, restore us, guide us and so on. Secondly, I need to humbly surrender my best laid plans to my God and completely trust Him (Proverbs 3:5) despite what I think and against all odds because he really does know best; he’s already in tomorrow and he can bring good out of yesterday! Thirdly, I need to stop categorising my worries into levels of importance thinking that he doesn’t want to know them all, or that some are just too big for him and instead give them ALL to him. Verbs for cast include throw, hurl, pitch, lob and in relation to this verse none of those implies tiptoeing up to the Father and timidly whispering our concerns. Consider the anguished cries in some of the Psalms (6, 22 and 88 for a start) and see how the psalmist poured out his every emotion, fear and turmoil. He didn’t hold back and according to 1 Peter 5:7 nor should we. Finally I need to believe, even if I don’t understand it, that God is a relational Father who deeply and passionately cares about me. Anyone who feels that way about another is concerned for their concerns and God is no different. It’s time for some of us to stop believing the lies (my concern is too small, my problem is too big, God doesn’t want to hear that, it’s not that important, he’s too busy, other people’s problems are of more concern, why would he listen to me, I can take care of myself, I don’t want to give him control, he’s not going to listen – the list is endless) and stand on the truth; two simple verses of truth!

  • If you’re taking your phone, be sure to organise international roaming before you leave and iPhones need to be unlocked.
  • It’s often much cheaper to buy sim cards overseas than use your local one.
  • At the end of your trip if you have any small amounts of foreign currency hang on to it. You never know when you might return to that country or even have a brief stopover where you might want to buy some food or a coffee.
  • Learn basic phrases in the local language. There is nothing more offensive than hearing someone immediately start speaking English in a non-English speaking country assuming the local person speaks it. Learning hello, goodbye, please and thank-you is not only polite but you’re more likely to be helped or served. Of course it helps to learn the phrase “do you speak English” as well.
  • Walking or cycling tours are a fantastic way of seeing and learning about a city or the countryside and don’t limit yourself to just doing them during the day.
  • NEVER offer to carry another person’s luggage or accept gifts from a stranger. You may inadvertently become a drug mule.
  • Never leave your luggage unattended. It may either be stolen or something put in it.
  • If you have concerns about your luggage being tampered with en route, many airports offer a service whereby your bag is wrapped in plastic for a small fee. It makes it time consuming for a thief to get into and they are therefore they are more likely to pick another bag.
  • Don’t assume your bags are safe once in a hotel room. I always keep them padlocked because unfortunately there are dishonest people all around the world who wouldn’t hesitate to go through your bag given the opportunity. If you are really concerned and travelling in a dodgy place you could use a bag cover (made of steel) and a small cable attached to something immovable. Refer to the following website for more information http://www.pacsafe.com/www/index.php
  • Read the fine print on your travel insurance documents to make sure you are covered for any adventure activities like skydiving, white water rafting and riding a motorbike. Each company varies in what they do and do not cover.
  • If you’re travelling on a longer journey take a little sewing kit you never know what you’ll need it for.
  • While many travellers love them, many hostels and hotels frown on the use of a sleep sheet because they risk the transport of bed bugs from place to place. Yes it is less likely you will be bitten but they can easily sit on the outside of your sleep sheet and be carried to your next accommodation (and in you luggage). Bed bugs are typically associated with dingy, dirty places but they can be found in any accommodation and this is often the case because of sleep sheets.
  • Join a frequent flyer club. Most don’t charge you and if you travel a lot the points quickly add up.
  • As a shift worker I don’t seem to experience jet lag or at least I don’t feel any different to when I’m working. What I have found helps when I work that may help with travel is a product called Melatonin. It is a hormone naturally secreted in the body and helps to regulate sleep. The tablet form is a synthetic melatonin and may help with jet lag. It can be obtained over the counter from pharmacies.
  • If you arrive at an airport early in the morning and aren’t able to check into you’re accommodation until that afternoon make the most of the airport showers and freshen up.
  • Know how to get to your accommodation before you arrive at your destination. Don’t rely on travel guide maps as they don’t always include small streets and if you want to use the internet at airports be prepared to pay more than a reasonable price. It’s much easier to print out a map before you leave home; this can also be helpful for non-English speaking taxi drivers who can’t understand where you want them to take you.
  • Get a local map as soon as you arrive at your destination. Mark out your accommodation and the places you plan on visiting.
  • Have the number of your accommodation if you need to call them at any stage.
  • Ask someone to write down the name of your accommodation in the local language; you never know when you might need to use it.
  • Know the emergency number for the country you are visiting.
  • If using public transport always remember the name of your departure station so you remember where to get off on your return journey. It’s very difficult otherwise when all the stations (particularly in the underground) look the same and are written in a foreign language.
  • Be aware of how different countries use tickets and public transport. In some places you need to validate your ticket for it to be recognised. If you don’t validate it you risk a fine.
  • Don’t be tricked into giving out your address or phone number to locals in third world countries.
  • In some countries they have been known to use these details to contact your family and falsify a kidnapping for money.
  • Some people who want to immigrate to your country may try to use you as a sponsor if they have your details.
  • There are pickpockets all around the world and they prey on tourists who are distracted or careless. Just be careful; never leave you bag unattended, don’t leave your bag open even if you have it on your person. Try to avoid constantly opening and closing your bag to pull out money, camera and other valuables.
  • Be aware of the various scams in the countries you plan on visiting. If you’re prepared you’re less likely to fall victim.
  • If you want to wear makeup and nice clothes and a different outfit everyday then be prepared to carry around a lot of luggage! Some tinted mineral powder, lip gloss, mascara and eyeliner will do. As far as clothes are concerned…you’re travelling, just enjoy it. Take a little bit of jewellery in a small, clean hand cream container and some funky scarves and you can mix your look with these.
  • Dress modestly and look at what the women are wearing in the country you’re visiting.
  • Be aware of cultural expectations of male-female relationships. Some countries have strict rules about the interaction between men and woman and other places frown heavily on overt displays of public affection.
  • Make use of toilets at every opportunity, you never know when your next loo stop will be. And always carry a little bit of toilet paper.
  • Some toilets in Asia & Africa do not have doors and some are only one long trough lined up against the wall. Nothing you can do about it so just saying…be prepared.
  • If your taking the oral contraceptive pill while travelling you can safely skip your periods for up to three months (speak with your doctor about this first) by skipping the sugar pills. If for whatever reason you can’t take the pill and will get your period while overseas, there is another option to pads and tampons called menstrual cups made of reusable silicone or gum rubber. I haven’t used them myself so I can’t review them but just do a Google search if you want more information.
  • If you want to swim in countries that frown upon exposing too much flesh look for modest bathing wear at http://seabirdswimwear.com, http://www.cwear.com.au or www.onestopplus.com
  • If your travelling for a while, avoid shaving your legs every few days by getting them waxed (if you don’t already). Take along some ready made wax strips to use when needed.
  • If your on a tour with a lot of early starts, save yourself having to wash your hair by alternating normal shampoo with spray on shampoo every few days – works a treat.

Dealing with men

  • Men in any country will try and attract the attention of a solo female particularly if you “look” foreign. Most of the men are harmless so treat these situations as you would at home. Don’t be rude but don’t be naive either. Either walk away or give a firm “no”. In most cases this will work but if at any stage you feel threatened go to a cafe or shop and wait there. You can even talk to the owners to let them know what’s going on and they may help send him away.
  • Wear a fake wedding ring.
  • Don’t stare at men, this may be seen as an invitation.
  • If you’re walking around at night, stick to the crowded areas.
  • Don’t put yourself in situations that could lead to danger ie: isolated areas, the back of shops, alone in a bar or club, our alone late at night.
  • Don’t EVER let a stranger buy you a drink unless you see the bartender pour it yourself and hand it to you! And never leave your drink unattended.
  • Having said all that don’t let this discourage you from talking to men overseas. Most of them are friendly, helpful and you can learn a lot about their culture and country. I spoke with many men inAfricaand if I thought the conversation was heading in a direction I didn’t like I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in pursuing anything or simply ended the conversation.