As I run….

I started this weekend with my heart pretty churned up with a particular situation, struggling to know whether I was dealing with it right, what God was saying about it all and other such questions. It is now Sunday evening and I have just been for a run and realized as I was running that my heart felt calm again, it felt full and it felt thankful – as I was running I was thinking of all the good stuff I can see happening in lives and situations around me and I realized over the course of the weekend God had taken me from a place of feeling churned up and vulnerable to a place of thankfulness, calm and excitement.

Often as I run I hear God speak to me about stuff in my life and yesterday and today have been no exception.

On a weekend I run through the woods near where I grew up – woods I have been going to for 38 years or so, which are so familiar but as I was finishing up my run yesterday morning my eye was drawn to these massive trees, and particularly to their roots, which I have never really noticed before. The roots were thick and strong but they weren’t neat and ordered, they were all over the place, they were all interlinked and messy. I stood looking at them for a while and just felt like God was saying to me about the particular situation I was struggling with that it was never going to be neat and ordered,(even though that would be my preferred way), but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t in it, and that even though I am not really sure how God is working in it and how it will all turn out he is building strong roots through it even though at the moment it all feels a bit messy and confusing.

Tonight I ran through the streets where I grew up – the wealthier parts of Sheffield. I was running past these beautiful big houses, houses where family friends lived, my friends grew up in and my child’s friends live and I knew that God was stirring up the fact I needed to finish working on something I had written last week, something which felt too vulnerable to share but I felt God was saying I had to share it – so here goes!

Have you ever had those times when someone calls you up on you behaviours or attitudes? When someone questions something within you which is not good or needs to change? It doesn’t feel great – you end up feeling incredibly vulnerable and icky, well at least I do. I don’t think I take challenge well, something I am sure that is to do with my perfectionist tendencies. There aren’t too many people I take challenge from well or gracefully!

Over the last few weeks God has been showing me the importance of challenge, in a safe context, and how my attitude towards it need to change as well as a big fat lesson about the importance of forgiveness.

A couple of Mondays ago I was in a lot of pain in my jaw, which had been there for a good few days – it is a pain I have had before and which I had been told by the dentist was stress related. When I have had the pain in the past it has been at times of real stress and change so I was a little bit unsure as to why it had come back as I wasn’t in anyway stressed. Some colleagues prayed for me and then asked me what I thought it was about and what God was saying and I knew that it was linked into unforgiveness I had about some job related stuff from the past. There and then that colleague made me ask God for forgivenss for the unforgiveness – I felt so vulnerable, that these colleagues could see the rubbish inside of me (it is easier to write down than speak out loud) but I knew I wasn’t going to get away with saying no so I had no choice but to pray those prayers out loud. I knew I was safe with these people, that they wanted the best for me but nonetheless it felt hard – but perhaps unsurprisingly the pain eased considerably.

I knew I hadn’t dealt with the unforgiveness because I felt justified in feeling it and maybe I was justified to some extent but the physical pain was a reminder that it was not something that I needed to be holding on to – yes maybe stuff that went on in the past wasn’t fair or good or right but it was the past yet that past was still affecting my present. Every time I thought of the particular situation I would end up feeling sick with anxiety to the point I was avoiding relationships linked to it – I think the pain in the jaw was a bit like a thorn in my side, reminding me it was still there, that it had not been dealt with.

As I reflected on it and kept praying into it I became aware of further unforgiveness that I needed to say sorry for  – forgiveness that was a little harder to face because it was forgivessness tied into the work stuff but people it was much harder to hold unforgivness against. God showed me that I was holding unforgivesness towards my precious Daddy and my grandfather, and to some extent the rest of my family – people I love desperately.

The afternoon of the day my Dad died I went to look for some paperwork in his study – he was very poorly at that stage and I needed to find something to sort something out and I came face to face with boxes of paperwork. At that moment I felt a heavy weight of responsibility come down on me because I knew that the task ahead of me, in terms of sorting out his business and his affairs out was massive, and that it also included my grandfather’s affairs, which were also far from straightforward. What followed was 18 months of battling authorities, family arguments and just a lot of stress.

I have at times felt really cross at my Dad and my Grandpa for leaving me with that stress, for not making sure things were in better order and towards the rest of my family for what I felt at times was a complete lack of support. I was the one with the legal background and experience and so it made sense for me to deal with it but I think the weight of what I carried, alongside being a single mum and doing a full on job pushed me to breaking point and I have had to face the fact I was blaming my family and the old job for leaving me no choice but to walk away from my legal career, a career that I had invested so much in, whilst their lives went unaffected – so many hours of study and hard work and it felt like they had taken that away from me. Tied into all of that was the expectation of family – of career, of success and running past those houses tonight was a reminder of a life that I used to have, a life maybe I expected I would have.

I am probably making it sound like these issues have been really big deals for me and they really haven’t been. As I have written about before changing jobs and all that was last year have been amazing, positive, life changing and healing – I am where I am meant to be and life is good but that jaw pain was a reminder that those things were still very much there and whilst they weren’t massively affecting me on a day to day basis they would come to the surface when I was sad or angry or anxious.

About a week later I had to face all that past stuff because of something that came up and for the first time there was no anxiety, no feeling sick, no fear and no jaw pain! I knew it was over and had been dealt with. I was again reminded about the power of unforgiveness in our lives, how it can manifest and affect us and how important it is to deal with it, even when we feel like we are in the right. Again it takes being vulnerable and broken and that is hard but the freedom I have felt has been amazing and it has given me a greater sense of anticipation of all that is ahead because the past is now in the past.

As for challenge I am not sure I will ever love it or welcome it but the last weeks have been a reminder to me of how important it is to have those safe people that challenge us, and who we can challenge.

I also realized as I ran tonight that God didn’t have in store for me wealth or success or big houses (not that there is anything wrong with those things) and that that is totally fine because actually I don’t want those things and whatever comes will be right for me.

And I ran 5km tonight in 27 minutes, which is a minor miracle so maybe healing, forgiveness and freedom actually do make you run faster!!

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Real love

 

I have been thinking a lot recently about what love looks like – real love, love that transforms, love that heals, love that brings hope, love that is in it for the long haul, love that really makes a difference. I have realized as I have thought about it that I am not very good at it. I love my child, my family, my friends but they are pretty easy to love most of the time – I have chosen them or they are a part of me and so love for them comes naturally and that love is fierce and overwhelming.

Is that though the love that the bible talks about?

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13 vs 13)

I have no doubt I am asked to love the people that God has given me to share life with but I am pretty sure that that is not where it ends.

The other week I heard someone say that the gospel could be summed up as always being willing to love the next person that came along. I love that! But what if that person doesn’t fit into the type of person I want to love or that I find easy to love. What if that person is difficult, or needy or smelly?

Then on Sunday I read a really familiar passage from the bible, from Mark 2 and in particular verses 2 and 3 just really hit me in the gut – “Some men came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.”  That is quite some effort for that man’s friends to go to – to take time out of their day to carry their friend to find Jesus, with presumably the hope that he could heal him, but then they get there and they can’t easily get to Jesus because the crowds are massive and so they climb up with their friend to the roof, and then start to take the roof apart to be able to lower their friend to Jesus.  As I thought about the level of their friendship I was really impacted – they put in so much physical effort, presumably a fair bit of emotional effort as well as risking embarrassment and getting into trouble for taking someone’s roof apart. They jumped in and got stuck into the mess of their friend’s life, they showed commitment, compassion and faithfulness despite of how hard the circumstances were or what the outcome was.

I would love to think I would show that same commitment to people– to sit with them in the hard, dark places, to stick with them even when issues and struggles did not disappear quickly or when those same issues and struggles were tough and heavy going and when it meant personal discomfort or inconvenience to me. If I am honest I think there are probably times where I haven’t been able or wanted to go to those places because it pushed me out of my comfort zones, or when I was just plain lazy and/or selfish.

I say those things totally and completely believing that love is the most powerful thing there is, and knowing it has the power to change lives but yet often my sin, my humanness and my rubbish just gets in the way of loving the way I was made to do and called to do.

On the flip side I have experienced that love in abundance when I have been so undeserving of it. As I waded through my grief, my anger, my hurt, my questions I was truly horrible at times – I lashed out over and over again. People would say to me that they thought I was doing amazingly but I knew the truth that if they asked those closest to me, my parents, my brother and my closest friends they would be able to tell them a very different side. My pain was so deep and so big that at times I just didn’t know how to handle it. I can feel the tears coming as I write this as I think about the faithfulness those people showed me, they never stopped loving me even when I was at my foulest, they would hold me as a I screamed and sobbed, they listened patiently as I threw questions, struggles and confusion at them – they got right in there, right in the crap of it all even though they were hurting themselves and walked through it with me, sometimes pulling me through – quite simply loving me through it. I would not be where I am today without them. They showed me true love, the love of God.

I have been given so so much in terms of family, friendship and community that I know that so much is expected back of me. So how do I do that? I believe God wants me to love not just those that are easy to love but those that are difficult, those whose lives are not easy and comfortable, but those whose lives are in chaos, those whose lives are broken- even when that is really uncomfortable for me.

I work for a charity called Church Army, which works with hundreds of people, each year, throughout the British Isles, who are on the margins of society – the broken, the rejected, the hurting. Over the past year I have grown in passion for this organization – I love what it does, its projects are amazing – so many people sacrificing so much to get stuck into the brokenness of people’s lives to bring hope and transformation. I have the privilege of working with people, many of whom I often wonder if they are actually angels. They have shown me what real love means – transforming, healing, powerful, life-changing love – loving when it is hard and messy and complicated- young people self-harming, women locked into lives of addiction and prostitution, homelessness, mental health issues, deprivation.

So as the challenge has come my prayer has become “God help me love the next person that comes into my path with that life changing, hope giving love that only comes from you, and don’t let me hide away when that love is hard, when it takes commitment, when it is out of my comfort zones.” I truly believe that if we truly learnt to love we would see so many more lives transformed and situations changed and healed. That type of love is infectious and so life giving. I can think of people I know and love who just shine with that love and every time I spend time with them I feel closer to God and come away with a desire for more of God and more of that love. I am desperate to get better at it but I know that that will be an on-going choice to push myself, to think beyond my own needs and to keep falling into God.

“I am a strong believer in aggressive love. And it challenges me to the core. I AM going to love my neighbour. I am going to forgive. I am going to have faith that things can and will change. I am going to hope that my children will lead a better world than the one that I leave behind. And I fight that lust that licks at my feet day in, day out, choosing generosity, love, inclusion, hope, faith, …it is these things, and these things only that make an eternal difference in our world.

Live an inclusive life, not a selfish one. Challenge yourself to seek faith, hope and love in every circumstance. Don’t just look out for yourself, but build into other – share you life openly, spread faith, hope and love around generously.” (DVO)