For you have redeemed me, you have called me by name

So its very late at night and really I should be sleeping, but my head and my heart feels so full of the last few days that I know I needed to start writing to process it all.

On Saturday a precious friend married her lovely man. It was a remarkable day in so many ways, mainly because they are a pretty remarkable couple – it was full of fun, laughter, love, lots of music and a shed load of rain. Think fields and tepees, rain, rain and more rain, and a whole lot of mud. I spent a large percentage of the day wet and cold which is not something I normally love but it didn’t matter. My heart was left overwhelmed and not just because it was a great day but because of the stories that led to that day and what that day was a culmination of.

I have known my friend for over 15 years, she is part of my “framily”, of the precious community of people who are my people. She is quirky, and all things lovely, my child like all children think she is amazing for many reasons including her creative abilities to think of the most random games which she tirelessly and patiently plays with them over and over again. Her lovely man I have known since he came into her life about 3 years ago and he has blessed our “framily” so immensely in that time.

It would have been easy to sit there on Saturday and be swept along in all the love and warm feelings of the day, to think it was all about the happiness and the joy, and that was totally what Saturday was all about, but it would have been easy to forget the paths that got these two precious people to that day, paths which have been tough and painful at so many times over the years. Theirs are stories which include loss, tragedy, waiting a flipping long time, loneliness, and dark days.

There are so many things that I could list about why Saturday was an amazing day, but the one think that stands out above it all, the thing that has blown me away and left me unable to sleep (not that it takes a lot) is what a story of redemption it is.

Now they aren’t my stories to tell in detail but I sat in that church on Saturday remembering so many tough times for my friend, so many times of waiting and wondering where God was in it all and here we were celebrating God bringing two people together, two people who could not be more suited to each other, two people who have had to overcome so much and face their fears and take big leaps of faith. They acknowledged on Saturday, all the way through the day, that it was a day of redemption, of God’s turning around of situations, of God’s second chances, of God making tough places beautiful again.

I loved looking around on Saturday and seeing such an eclectic and crazy bunch of people, people this couple have walked life with, people who stood at what was a pretty epic and amazing open mike of words, singing and laughter, telling the stories of these two from their perspective, of people testifying of the redemption they could see in their lives.

It is such a powerful story and one I am so grateful to have been able to watch.

“Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43 vs.1).

I have said this before and I have no doubt I will say it again but I love the way that when God is trying to tell me something, challenge me or remind me of something he shows me in so many different ways. So last week I got the privilege of playing a tiny part in another amazing story of redemption, another story of loss and tragedy, of unresolved pain and grief, which after 30 years God is healing up, where I can see freedom, forgiveness and God’s power shining through in amazing ways. Again it blew me away because actually there is nothing more amazing than seeing God show up and turn situations around – it is an inexplicable feeling which words can’t do justice to.

Then in the last few weeks I have had to put together a piece of writing for a potential project, something which has bought all my fears and self doubt to the surface. It is a project which may come to nothing and if it doesn’t then that is fine because actually there has been real power in the preparation, in the process – as I have written the words of the last ten years of my life I can see God at work all the way through the story, I have seen come off the pages the truth and reality that although it has been so incredibly painful at times, and although it feels like God has taken so long to put me back together, with me feeling so forgotten at times, he has been there all along bringing me back to life, slowly (well at least in my timescales) but surely, small steps but in a deep way, so many lessons learnt, so many riches in the midst of it. Mine is a story of redemption, of God turning around, of rebuilding, of restoring. I asked one of my best friends to read what I had written because I needed some reassurance, a friend who has walked more closely with me than any other, and part of her response was to remind me of bits of the stories I had forgotten, to point me more clearly to the ways God has bought healing and freedom. Again I was left a little overwhelmed at his goodness.

I have been reminded again that nothing is impossible, that however hard the situation it doesn’t have to be the end of the story, that with God there is always a way out. ALWAYS. There are always second chances. ALWAYS. That beauty can always come from the pain. ALWAYS. It never normally looks like we think it should do, it is not normally in our timescales and generally it will not be all easy roads to get there but there is always hope. ALWAYS.

As I looked around on Saturday and as I have reflected since it wasn’t just the story of redemption that blew me away but it was the lessons learnt in the midst of the wait, it was the compassion birthed as a result of the pain, it was the relationships forged and deepened because of the tough times. I looked at my friends coming together, knowing that because of what bought them to that point it will shape who and what they do going forward, there is such love and compassion because of what has happened in their lives and I know that they will not allow that pain to be wasted because I know that they will invest into many people’s lives things they can only invest because of what they have had to walk.

My heart also came away full because I get to do life with people who are real and vulnerable – we have walked the hard roads together, we have held each other up, we have listened to each other, we have cried together, we know each other’s stories, we are inextricably part of each other’s stories and I love that so much. And because of that we get to celebrate the good stuff together and those celebrations are so much the sweeter because of it.

That wedding on Saturday is not the end of the story – these stories have lots more pages to be lived and redemption will be an on-going process for them and for us all, but there is nothing I would rather put my hope in that redemption and the one who gives it to us with such grace and love because hand on heart there is nothing that makes me feel more alive.

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Our father in heaven……

 

I wonder if I say the word prayer what it means to you. Is it something you ever do or ever even think about? Is it something that simply happens when something big happens and when life feels desperate?

I may not be great at much in this Christian lark, I wrestle, I struggle, I doubt, I don’t know my bible as well as I should but the one thing I always come back to, the one thing I love and the one thing that without doubt always roots me, brings me peace and brings perspective is prayer.

I am no expert at prayer. There have been reams written on the subject over the years and I am sure there will be reams more written before the end, all by people much clever than I am. I am no great theologian in any sense of the word – I am all about the heart, all about the feelings and emotions but what I do know is that prayer links me back home and it changes situations.

I could write a very long list of all the prayers I have seen answered over the years, some small, others big and pretty amazing, and plenty in the middle. At the same time there are many prayers I haven’t seen answered. I don’t know why God answers some prayers and not others, I don’t get why sometimes it’s a yes and sometimes it feels like there is silence or a very definite NO! God is God, his ways are bigger and better than mine, sometimes my heart’s desires, the things I am praying for are clearly not in line with what God wants, sometimes they are simply not good for me or for others and sometimes there just seems to be no rhyme or reason.

What I do know is this:

  • If I go too long without hiding myself away, in my own quiet space, to talk to God, to listen to him and to just be with him I feel it. I feel the struggle getting stronger, I don’t feel quite so peaceful and I certainly get more anxious and lose perspective a lot more easily. I need to be with him. I need to give it all to him, to tell him all about it. I need to hear what his heart is saying, what he wants me to hear and to do. Sometimes I need to wrestle and cry, sometimes I need to say thank you because my heart feels full, sometimes I know I just need to tell him I have messed up and to say sorry – at other times it is a mixture of all of those things and much more.
  • I may not get the answers to my prayers I want or think I need instantly or at all but I know that prayer changes my spirit. It gives me a peace and perspective that reassures my heart again, it lifts my soul heavenwards, helps me fix my eyes on Jesus and whispers to me again that whatever is going on, whatever is happening it is going to be ok, because God knows and he has got it. It reminds me that God is bigger than it all. Like many people I woke up early on the morning after the EU Referendum and checked the news – within 15 minutes we were having a discussion on our Family WhatsApp and I felt dread fill my heart, I felt scared for the future and depressed about what was to come. It was a feeling I couldn’t shake and the more I read and watched and listened to and the more conversations I had the greater the anxiety grew. I knew I needed to just be with God, to hear what he was saying, not the world, not even the people around me who I love and trust but him. His ways are bigger than ours. He is bigger than this situation. Once I talked to him and let those truths settle in my heart I had my perspective back and knew whatever came it would be ok because he was in control.
  • Prayer changes things. One of my favourite stories of God’s faithfulness at the moment is that of one of my best friend’s. My friend and her husband have a son, who will soon be 7. An amazing, full of life and life giving little boy. But my friend’s family did not feel complete, her strongest longing was for another child but it wasn’t happening. There were miscarriages and many years of simply nothing. So many prayers were prayed, all around the world. This precious friend has only been in my life for the last few years but she is one of those rare finds of a friend that has your heart from the beginning, and from early on she shared her story with me of longing and hoping for that second child. I felt like I went into battle praying for that child and prayed many prayers in the silence of my room as well as praying over and over with my friend. I know I wasn’t alone in that battle that many others battled in prayer for them too. Trusting God, claiming that child, asking him in his goodness to provide. At the beginning of this year my friend laid down the dream of having another child and accepted she would simply only ever have one child. It was an incredibly painful process – she sold or gave away all her baby equipment and asked God to show her what he had for her instead. She had rightly let it go because she felt like she had come to the end of the line with it but something in me kept asking and kept fighting believing nothing was impossible for God. Then 2 months later in the middle of the working day I got a message from my friend which was a picture of a positive pregnancy test with the text “When God has a sense of humour………………” – my first response was “but you’ve sold all your baby stuff” and then I cried tears of pure joy.  God had answered all those years of prayers and that little one will be here come the autumn.
  • Prayer changes things, prayer works, prayer is powerful. I say that knowing there are possibly people reading this who have prayed and prayed for similar situations and the outcome has not been such a celebration. I know those situations are painful, so painful that your heart breaks over and over again. I prayed and prayed those 4 hours John was lying on a hospital bed desperately ill but God didn’t save him in the ways I wanted and the consequences of those unanswered prayers were life shattering and life changing. Likewise I prayed for 3 years that my Dad would be healed, that the cancer would be gone from his body but he wasn’t healed. I don’t know why in those cases those prayers didn’t get answered. There is a tension, a tension that is very hard to explain but I have seen too many situations changed, people’s lives transformed and healings come through prayer to ever stop. I am learning very slowly to trust, to trust that God knows best and that if I put a situation in his hands and ask him to work and take control he will, trusting that whatever outcome he brings he is in it and knowing that in the process he will change me and bring me closer to him.
  • Nothing is too big or too messy for God, nothing is too bad or too difficult for him. He can turn any situation around, he can bring beauty and hope and healing out of the most broken of situations and lives but it all starts with prayer. It starts in making yourself vulnerable before him, by being honest and real. He is not looking for fancy, clever, articulate sentences – he wants to hear your heart. I have spent so many hours in prayer crying, shouting, and questioning. God is big enough to take it all, he just wants us to come to him, to give it to him in whatever state it comes.
  • Prayer builds community, as you pray with people it builds trust and vulnerability and something so beautiful can come from that. I love being in communities where we pray together. It is often during those times were special things happens, both seen and unseen, where relationships are forged and deepened, where family is built. Sometimes prayer is the only thing I can offer – when situations feel impossible and hard – sometimes all I can is “I am praying for you” but in those moments we feel less alone, we know someone else is standing with us, that we aren’t in it alone, that someone is showing and claiming faith and life and truth on our behalf and what a different that makes in the natural and the supernatural.

So I will probably never be that great at this journey, I have no doubt I will make many more mistakes before I am done, but I know that I will never stop praying, never stop putting my hand in the hand of the one who has it all and always will.