Who is fighting for you?

IMG_4021A few weeks ago a friend played a song which included the line “ Praise the one who fights for me and shields my soul eternally” – I was so struck by those words that I haven’t been able to quite shake them off and they have been going round my head on loop.

It is probably just me being a bit late to the party but I had never really thought about the fact God fought for me. I know God loves me, that he longs to know me, to be my number one, that he longs to bless me and that he is my protector, my redeemer, my saviour but that he goes into battle for me well that has blown my mind a little.

Fast forward a few weeks on and I hit a situation which hurt my heart and I couldn’t quite place where God was in it all – a situation where I really needed to know God was protecting my heart. One of my best friends in the midst of it sent me a text to say she was praying over me a verse from Exodus (14 vs 14) which says “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” I had never heard that verse before but was immediately taken back to the words of the song.

It started an internal wrestle with God which found me on a weekend run asking God over and over whether he was in fact fighting for me – 3 or 4km of me saying “are you really fighting for me in all of this” over and over and then I just felt in my spirit God say to me “I have fought for you from the first breath you took and I will fight for you until your final breath, many battles that you will never see or never fully comprehend – I have this and I am fighting for you.”

The next day I was flicking through Instagram and again that same verse in bold letters popped up “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Only yesterday with a few hours to spare in London before my train home I went to Evensong at Westminster Abbey – in the midst of the seriousness and old fashioned language the words “I will fighteth for you” jumped right off the page.

I love the fact that God is so patient with me, that when my humanness and my weakness means I struggle to accept a truth he keeps telling me over and over again. The truth that the one who holds the whole universe in his hands fights for little old me! That whatever situation I find myself in he is right there with me, on my side, he has my back and I don’t have to fight or battle because he is doing it for me and his fight is so much better than mine. All I need to do is be still – to be honest that is so much more of a battle for me than letting him do the fighting. I just have to be still, to surrender it to him and to wait and watch.

And as my heart found that peace that he was fighting for me it renewed my fight for people I love who I know need to know he is fighting for them too.

I don’t know what you are battling, big or small, but I know there is one that wants to fight that battle for you, to give you that hope and reassurance knowing he is in control of it and he has the future. All you need do is be still x

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Traces & Shadows

So I am totally stealing this line of thought from other people but I am pretty sure they won’t mind –it is one of the bonuses of being surrounded by wise people on a daily basis.

Back in February I received a work email which was all about the traces we leave in people’s lives and the fact that “every contact leaves a trace”. It was encouraging us to think about what traces we leave in the lives of those we meet, bad and good. The email ended asking us to pray that God would help us leave traces of grace, traces of hope, traces of life, and traces of Jesus. That email spoke right to my heart, I loved what it was saying and it challenged me so much that it has stayed with me pretty strongly ever since.

Then in the last few days I have heard Psalm 91 read on two separate occasions.

“He who lives in the safe place of the Most High will be in the shadow of the All-powerful. I will say to the Lord “You are my safe and strong place, my God in whom I trust.”” Psalm 91 vs. 1 & 2

On the first occasion I listened as the person reading it gave his take on it and talked about how so often we cast shadows over people and people cast them over us but actually the only safe shadow to be under, the only shadow that matters, was the shadow of the almighty God. I loved that and again it reminded me of the email and the traces we leave in people’s lives. The idea that actually I have the power to leave shadows over people by my words and my actions or lack of them and that people have that same power over me, if I let them, which let’s be honest most of us do because we are human and we want affirmation, encouragement and acceptance.

It also reminded me of a vicar who used to say a lot that often we will never know during our lifetimes the impact we have had on people’s lives, for the good and the bad!

These ideas totally feed into my heart; they bring me alive and excite me. I think probably because I love people – I have a long list of favourite people (with a few firmly rooted in the top spots) – I love being with people, I love meeting new people, I love talking to people, I love doing life with people. When people talk about what your dreams and passions are I struggle to think beyond people and relationships.

I love the power and the challenge there is in the ideas of the traces and the shadows and how it feeds into every one of our relationships, whether they be the closest ones or passing.

I am sure we can all think of lots of people that have left positive traces, big and small, in our lives. There are the obvious ones – spouses, parents, siblings, children, family, friends, colleagues – I am so thankful that I have been blessed with all those relationships and that all of those people have invested so much into my journey. As much as I love those obvious impacts I love the smaller, more random interactions with strangers in shops, with waitresses or randoms on the street – I love the feeling I am left with when I have a conversation with someone I don’t know or when someone gives me a big smile, how it can make your day so much brighter. I have become much braver at saying things to strangers, at telling them they look good, or that their child is gorgeous or encouraging them if they look like they are struggling.

I have noticed that runners are generally very good at this – for the most part I am usually struggling to breath, a deep red colour and in no place to want to smile and engage but without fail I will pass a number of other runners who will give me a big smile and say hello. On Saturday morning I went out for a run and I passed a particularly perky runner who gave me the biggest smile, said hi and even gave me a wave – part of me wanted to laugh at her perkiness, in contrast to the fact I had just pulled myself out of bed, was no doubt looking pretty rough and was definitely not wanting to engage with any other human let alone a stranger but actually that little wave made me smile and made my heart smile and buoyed me up for the rest of my run.

I am also a big believer in telling people where they have impacted my life, where they have helped me or encouraged me or made me feel loved and special because I think it then becomes a two way thing – it gives them that encouragement and love right back. I think we need to get so much better at doing it. I remember after John died a friend saying if only we could have thanksgiving services for people whilst they are alive – now I am not sure I would go that far but I remember thinking, and again when my Dad died, I wonder what they would think if they could see all the people who had turned out to remember them, or hear all the stories and read the letters with people’s memories of them and the impact they had had on so many people’s lives.

One such letter will stay with me for the rest of my life – my Dad ran his own business and was incredibly committed to his clients. He loved work and he loved helping people through that work. After he died mum received a letter from one of his clients, who we had never heard of, telling a story of how on one occasion he had gone to Dad’s office to take some papers. His sibling had recently died and he was feeling pretty fragile and vulnerable, and had broken down in tears. Dad had taken him into his office, shut the door and let him cry and talk – this man was just saying how much that kindness had meant to him. Dad probably didn’t give much thought to it but that man had remembered the time and kindness Dad had shown him many years down the line.

So whilst I am not necessarily advocating thanksgiving services for the living I am most definitely an advocate of telling people that we love them and what we love about them, for thanking them for what they have done for us and who they are to us.

I love that our lives are so interwoven with the lives of those around us, that our stories are all so interlinked but with that brings a real responsibility and challenge. As much as I can remember so many of the positives of the words spoken over me or the amazing ways people have impacted me by their actions I also know so many of the negatives, of the shadows, both big and small. I remember the negative words about my character, the people who told me I could have grieved better or the criticisms of something I had worked hard over and the people who made it clear they didn’t want to talk to me or be my friend. Those shadows that make you doubt yourself and who you are and whether you are good enough. I also know I will have cast many of those shadows over others – some knowingly others without even realising. Some will be because I get angry or I have moments of pain, anxiety or insecurity and I speak out of those places of my hurt, others will be because I am tired, hungry or not thinking properly and others will be from a place of selfishness and laziness. I am truly sorry if you are reading this and I have ever cast a shadow over you.

I want to be so much better at leaving those traces that give hope and life, that speak of love, that tell people they are loved and accepted, that inspire and encourage, that leave people feeling better about themselves – that is one of my constant prayers that God changes me so I am better at that. I guess the shadows are a part of life but I want to cause them in other people’s lives less and less and when others cast them over my life I want to rest in the knowledge that the only shadow that I need to be in is that of my heavenly father and that that shadow brings with it healing, safety and love.

 

 

When there are no answers

Do you ever doubt? Or is it just me?

Do you ever question where God is in life and how he works? Or again is it just me?

I don’t ever doubt God is real or that he is incredibly good and loving but sometimes I just don’t get the way he works and I can become like a dog with a bone, I wrestle and wrestle, until I am exhausted with wrestling, I lay it down again until something happens that means those questions come to the forefront again.

I came into this year excited about what was ahead, expectant, full of hope and faith – it felt like a new season, I had experienced God move amazingly in my life in the last few months of last year and again into this year and it felt like the past was truly the past. Then the other week, out of nowhere one of those phone calls came that left me curled up in a ball on the floor screaming “No” and “I don’t understand” over and over again. One of those phone calls that means that your family is changed forever, again.

My heart broke because even though the news on the end of that phone wasn’t a direct loss to my life it was news that has shattered the lives of two of the most important people in my life, the two people who are the closest I will ever have to sisters, and I knew the depth of their pain and what is ahead.

And so the questions and the doubts and the wrestles came flowing back and to be honest left me feeling lost, a little bit scared and very heavy hearted.

Does God have a plan for our lives? Is he there and working for our good? How does he choose when and how and when not? I have lost so much sleep over the past 10 days trying to work out the answers to these questions – even though the last 9 years should have taught me I will never have the answers. As ever there are angels there who listen and help me process, who reminded me that it is always about truth and grace, and that sometimes truth is messy but that grace is always grace. That doubt and wrestle can sit side by side with worship.

I said to my brother that his work were going to start thinking he was making up things, given the number of times he had to phone in and say there had been a death or medical emergency – to which he responded that he had only said the same thing that morning.

He then went on to say that we were going to keep choosing life.

Since that phone call I feel like I have been walking a tight rope where I literally could fall one way or the other, one being right back into the valley of death, that valley which I know God lifted me out of. I feel like there has been a battle raging inside me.

Last night as I spent time talking to God and being quiet and I felt a peace return – I felt that all God had done in the last 6 months was coming to the forefront again. I want to keep choosing life. That doesn’t meant my heart will stop hurting for those I love, I have a feeling I will be hurting for them in some shape or form for a long time to come but I want to be their hope when they can’t hope for themselves, I want to be the one who is strong for them, as so many people were strong for me, I want to be able to push them forward when they don’t have any strength left.

I don’t want to keep asking the questions, it exhausts me, it takes away my peace – I want to remember God’s faithfulness in the past, in the way he moved in John’s life, in my Dad’s life, the way he bought me through, the enormous blessings I have in my life, the way he showed up and pursued me at the end of last year when I was ready to throw the towel in and the way he breathed life back into me – that same God who was faithful in the past, is still faithful today and will be going forward.

This world and this life can be overwhelmingly hard at times but it can also be breathtakingly beautiful. I love that unexplainable feeling of seeing God at work, the excitement that it brings that is so difficult to articulate. I love the people he gives us, I love that we don’t have to do any of this on our own, so yes there are times in life where the pain is unbearable, where the loss feels too great but he puts us in families, in communities and in relationship which help us to survive, heal and thrive again. In the first few days after that phone call I wanted to hide away, to stop caring about people because actually it hurt too much and it hurt too much to see people I love hurting but the reality is my heart is already too entangled with them and so many others to simply stop loving. It is just not the way I am wired or in fact any of us are wired – we have no choice but to love people despite the potential costs.

I still don’t understand but I am putting the questions down and learning to trust that I may not know but he does, he knows the answers, the reasons but also the pain, he holds it all and us in the midst of it – I keep coming back to the fact that I can’t but he very much can.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brene Brown.

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!!

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)

 

And the truth will set you free

This follows on a bit from what I wrote about a few weeks ago but it is something that feels like is weighing on my heart really heavily and normally that means I just need to write it out.

Do you ever lie? Big or small lies – do you ever tell them?  I am not talking about lies we may or may not tell to other people but rather the lies we tell ourselves. I am pretty sure that the answer for the majority of us would be a big YES to those questions.

I do it all the time – I am not good enough to do what is being asked of me. I am not interesting enough. I am not attractive enough. I am not a good enough mum. I am not holy enough. And so the list goes on.

I hear friends tell these lies all the time about themselves. I can recognise the lies much more easily when my friends are telling them about themselves than when I hear them about myself in my own heart.

Last year I had to do a lot of letting go of my time in my previous job and it has been painful in many ways. I worked there for 11 years and it had become a big part of who I was and had been the steady factor when a lot of my life was being pulled from under me – it was the one thing that didn’t change. Not long after I had moved jobs I sat chatting with one of my oldest friends, who has known me most of my life – someone who is one of the most rational and level headed people I know, a thinker to my feeler. My friend asked me how I felt about the job stuff and I said to her that I felt like I had failed. She told me very clearly that for 10 years I had thrived in the job, that I had had many successes, passed exams and been promoted in spite of really tough personal circumstances and that what had happened in the last 8 months had not been my fault and was not indicative of my abilities and the rest of my time there. She very firmly spoke truth into the lies my heart was telling me. It was so releasing to hear those truths and every time I hear the lies I remind myself of that conversation.

At the beginning of December I had signed up to do a 10k race but1.5k into that race my ankle went, my whole body seem to go and mentally I felt like I had gone too – I knew I couldn’t continue. I had only done a 10k race a few months before and had been training in between and whilst I knew the last 2 or 3 k would be tough I had been regularly running 6 to 7k without too much issue. I felt so humiliated as I had to hobble back to the start, through the spectators, and spent the rest of the day in tears or very close to them. By the end of that day I was ready for the day to end, to sleep and wake up to a new day and a new week. I was really struggling with a heavy feeling of failure. The next day a friend emailed me to see how I was feeling and I told her I felt sad and like I had failed and the response I received was pretty firm but loving, clearly telling me that it was far from the end of the world, these things happen and reminding me of all that I had achieved and survived and that that made me far from a failure. It was exactly what I would have said to a friend in my position so why couldn’t I be kinder to myself? Why couldn’t I see or believe the truth?

Feeding into these lies are the lies that our culture, our society tells us. Those messages that we don’t have enough or we aren’t enough, and that we would be better off with more or in some way different.  I am a monkey when it comes to clothes – I love clothes. I can always justify a new top – ALWAYS! I buy into those lies that it will make me be a better person but without exception the shine wears off within days.  For others it may be shoes, or music, or gadgets, or their house or holidays.

I think sometimes we have told ourselves/heard these lies so often that we believe them to be truth.

I have been really challenged recently to almost have a list of truths that I memorise – that every time a lie comes into my head I can speak against it – whether that it a scripture, or a quote or just words I know are right.

  • You are valuable.
  • You are precious, adored and cherished.
  • You are worthwhile.
  • You are a child of God, of the King.
  • You are not a mistake – God knew you before you were born, he has a plan and a purpose for your life.
  • You are loved.
  • You are good enough just as you are.

As I have come to the beginning of this year I have felt a little overwhelmed, it feels like a big blank canvass and I have struggled a little bit to say goodbye to 2015 as it was so amazing and so crazy and so full of transformation and hope. I have no idea what this year holds, absolutely no idea and I am a little scared it won’t be able to top 2015!

I feel like seeds have planted in my heart and head about the future, about things I would like to have a go at, about possibilities and potentials but each time I think on those things I hear a little voice saying “but surely you don’t think that is possible or that you could do that”, “how would that ever work financially” but the biggest by far is “what will people think”, “would people think I am not good enough”.

Maybe I won’t be good enough to do those things, and maybe those ideas will come to nothing. Maybe people will think I am stupid or not like me but what I have realised more and more is that those insecurities usually focused around what other people think of me are more about me than them and so what if people don’t agree, or don’t like me as a result – I know the one who loves me unconditionally and I also know there are plenty of people who do have my back.

I feel like that about my writing – each time I go to press the publish button I sit there deliberating, fearful of what people will think but I feel so strongly I have to keep writing until God tells me to stop that I have to trust it has a purpose.

I want to live in truth and in freedom from the lies. I want to live a simple life loving God and loving people. When the lies take hold they taint all those things – I may be on my own here but when those lies take hold I struggle to come before God vulnerably and honestly, they affect relationships because I almost start believing that my insecurities are what other people think of me and most definitely those lies don’t allow me to see me how God sees me.

More and more I know that the only way to live in that freedom and that truth is to come and be with God, to talk to him, to listen, and to learn. If I don’t invest that time the lies win out.

I also know that we need to be people who speak truth over one another, who speak love and encouragement, – when we recognise the truth in someone else’s life, when we see the good in them, when we recognise their amazingness, we need to be speaking that over them and into them. We need those people in our lives and we need to be those people.

So as I face a New Year I am going to hold on to these words I read on New Year’s Day:

“Just humbly live every day doing what you love, doing what you can with what you have: dare to do. And you never know where you’ll find yourself come 2017.” (DVO)

I am going to keep saying yes to the opportunities that come along, keep taking risks, as each day I come before God giving him my insecurities, the lies and rubbish that hold me back, asking for his plans and purposes, that he will set his dreams in my heart and resting and learning more of his truths.

And if today you are struggling to hear the truth know that you are precious, that you are so so valuable – that you were and are wonderfully created, and that there is hope and a future for you.

Turning mourning into dancing

In a few days time it will be nine years ago since my lovely husband suddenly and unexpectedly went home to be with his heavenly father. I can hardly believe it is nine years ago since I last saw him and yet in so many ways he feels a lifetime ago as so much has changed and so much has happened.

Normally I struggle with the Christmas period and have been known to have a few meltdowns. 2015 has been one of my most significant years so far – and as I reach the end of it I can honestly say this Christmas I felt nothing but peaceful, content and full of hope and anticipation – more so than I have done in 9 years, perhaps more than I ever have.

The last few months have been pretty special in that I know there has been a massive shift in my heart. God has pursued me and turned up in amazing ways – mainly through other people, through conversations, through answered prayers. I feel like a very different person at the end of 2015 than the one that started 2015. My heart feels full – full of blessings, gratitude and love. The last few months I have had so many moments where as my head has hit the pillow at the end of the day I have just felt overwhelmed with the surprises, the joys, the excitments of life – often small things, maybe just someone’s words, or time with a precious friend or the sound of my child laughing hysterically. That’s not to say suddenly everything in my life is perfect. I still have lots of frustrations, bad days, and feelings of anxiety or insecurity but generally life feels good.

Why did it take 9 years to feel free of the grief? Why has that journey taken so long? Nine years, with lots of blessings, happy times and a whole lot of love but overwhelmingly marked by struggle, sadness, loss, emptiness, silence, and heartbreak. I don’t know the answer – I don’t understand the way God works or the way he times his plans and purposes. A few weeks ago I listened as a friend told his story in church – a story of loss and of tragedy – he talked about how in the last few months God has met him and healed him and you can physically see it in him – a lightness and a life which is new. It was however 17 years before that healing came. 17 years is a long time and I think a little bit of me questioned God as to why it took him 17 years to show up, and what about all those years of waiting.

What I do know is that in part time heals, time takes away the rawness, the agony and the desperation but it didn’t take away the sadness, that always sat there underlying everything and it was only when God came in, on a very normal working day, in a very understated conversation, with some very simple words that everything changed for me, that that sadness lifted. Words that probably I have heard in different contexts from different people at different times but it was at that moment, in God’s timing, that they were to be significant.

I don’t know why it had to take nine years – and I am sure my nearest and dearest wish it hadn’t taken so long (there will never be words enough to thank them for their never ending patience) but I know that those nine years have shaped me and changed me, that nothing will or has been wasted. I may never see all the ways the weeping, the anger, the confusion, the hurt have been used to shape my character, change situations and affect others, but I am sure it has. I have learnt in the last few months that it is often in the silence, in those times where it feels like God is at his most distant, that he is doing his greatest work.

I am someone that strives to get it all right, as I have written about before, to be this really together and sorted person (not easy when you have been gifted with a large amount of emotions and a strong need to express those emotions) – so nine years of a long and frankly at times pretty hideous grief journey have found me beating myself up on many an occasion. I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling, I didn’t want to still be struggling 3, 4 or 5 years in – I felt like people were expecting me to be over it and moving on. If I had a pound for every time someone asked me if I wanted to meet someone else or had there not been anyone else I would be a rich woman! Not that I mind being asked that question but it was that expectation that I felt that people thought I should be in a different place than I was (and I know as well a desire to see me happy). I wish that healing had come sooner, I wish my 30s hadn’t felt like they had been stolen by that valley of death but it didn’t and to some extent they have but I have to chose to trust that God will redeem it and use it. That somewhere in the midst of those years I have been taught lessons and had things invested into me that are all part of what is to come going forward.

As I come to the end of 2015 and reflect back and look forward I have an overwhelming desire for the new, for God’s plans and purposes whatever they may be, to hopefully in some way be a blessing to others but something deep inside me is telling me that none of what is to come could be without what has been before.

I have lots of precious people in my life that are struggling at the moment with big things, things that break my heart and have me on my knees for them regularly. Maybe you have those places of pain, sadness, and silence at the moment. I can’t take those things away, I wish I could – nobody can. Sometimes they will last longer than we hoped, and I want them and you to hear that it is ok if it takes time. My precious friend, Rich, told me in the midst of my pain that it was ok, that it was ok if it took 10 or 20 years, and only a few months ago one of the wisest people I know, my lovely old housemate Jo, said it would be ok if I still needed to rant and hurt in 10 years time – those word were words of unconditional love and acceptance for me. Things take time, often healing is not a quick process (although I also totally believe it can be an instant thing), but I know with your hand in the hand of your heavenly father it can and will come, (and again I don’t say that easily because most of the time I felt I was hanging on to him by a very thin thread), that he longs to bless each and every one of us, that nothing is ever wasted and in the midst of the toughest times he never leaves us or forsakes us – he will always turn our mourning into dancing.

So for me I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings. I am incredibly thankful for all the amazing people I have in my life and for all that has gone before, the bad and the good – which is easy to say out the other side but for those still in the midst of it I promise it won’t always feel so hard and so tough, that there are brighter days to come and even though the wait can sometimes feel like it will never end it will end – there is always hope and always a future, it may look different but it can still be good. I pray that you like me, in the midst of it, will have good people to love you, to believe in you and to push you forward and more than that you will know there is someone bigger, someone whose plans and purposes are greater than ours longing to hold you and heal you.

When its not how you thought…

So what if what it was all about was not about being happy? What if that wasn’t the main purpose of it all? What if actually it was about being broken? What if being broken was better than being whole?

These are all questions I have been thinking about the last few weeks.

Growing up I was always taught that life is not always easy, that it sometimes has its struggles and battles and that you learn and grow through the tougher times. In reality though my life was pretty easy, safe and comfortable and so it was easy to say and believe those things because the struggles I faced were pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

So when the struggles and battles then came at full pelt I wasn’t prepared, because whilst I knew that suffering was part of the human experience it wasn’t meant to be quite as devastating and life changing. And ok if that is how it had to be God would put the pieces of my life back together in a way deserving of all the loss and devastation that had gone before wouldn’t he?

I think the last few weeks/months have been a bit of a revelation to me, a lesson perhaps only now I was ready to learn. I have been so fortunate to be able to have had access to an incredibly wise lady in the States who has been helping me process this stuff and there has been a fair helping of tough love.

I am not so sure I will articulate this well but here goes – I think I have been asking for a comfortable life, a life where everything is together and whole, that that was somehow the aim.  I think I have been fighting the battles, the struggles and the lessons to be learnt because actually they didn’t fit into my picture of how life should be. On a train to York the other week I suddenly realised that all the things that I felt were a priority for my life to be put back together in the way I expected or thought was best were not the priorities on God’s agenda.

God’s agenda was that I know him and love him, that I experience him deeply, that I surrender myself to his ways, his plans and his purposes, whatever they may be. To get to that place I had to be broken – that brokenness was the only way to that place and will always be the only way. To acknowledge that actually everything else wasn’t enough. That actually the reality was that God’s plans were better than mine, and saying that when it meant letting go of what I wanted – my hopes and dreams.

I know and totally believe God is in the business of blessing us and loving us but what if those blessings and that love weren’t what I thought they should look like.

Alongside all of this for me has been the bible story of Ruth and Naomi –Naomi lost her husband and her two sons, a hideous and painful story. She spent a decade angry and bitter at God, but then met with God in a new way. At the end of her life she was able to say categorically God’s plans were better than hers.

I have also been thinking about Joseph of the nativity fame. I have never really given him much attention before. Then something I read a few weeks ago got me thinking about how it must have been for him, and how his life did not turn out how he expected. He thought he was going to live a simple life, marrying a nice girl, raising a family and working in the family business. He was then suddenly faced with an unbelievable situation which I have no doubt at times felt like a nightmare for him – his fiancée pregnant and it not his baby, then being visited by an angel, in the middle of the night, telling him the baby was conceived of the holy spirit. The different gender issue aside I have tried to put myself in his shoes and imagine how he must have felt and how messed up his head must have been. Yet he trusted God, trusted his plans were greater than his and look how that story ended up!

So as the tears flowed over Skype I told my wise lady that I accepted that maybe God’s plans for me weren’t remarriage or more children – my heart broke as I said the words out loud, and maybe a little more as I write them down now. However as I am letting go of one of my greatest heart’s desires, I have found more and more a longing for more of God and what he has, in ways I have never experienced it before. Trusting that his plans for my life, for my child’s life are good, even if they don’t look like I hoped – that actually they will be so much better than I could ever have hoped or imagined.

I have changed the way I pray. The prayer I keep praying is asking that my desires, my plans, my thoughts be aligned with God’s –instead of asking God for his will at the end of a long list. It feels like a scary prayer but also exciting. Exciting because it becomes less about me, and more about love, more about adventure, more about others, because it becomes more about being where I am made to be, with the people I am meant to be with, doing the things I was made to do. It becomes more about hope, change and transformation.

So thank you God that with you nothing is wasted and that you take the broken, ugly, messed up, sad parts and you make something new and amazing.

Teaching our kids to care

If I get to the end of my parenting journey and can say my child is kind to those around her and to the world in general I will feel like I have succeeded. I may be being totally naïve but for me that is one of the most important lessons I can teach her. Most days I will ask her if she has been kind, if she has looked out for people in the playground who perhaps are not always included in the games and who do not naturally have lots of friends around them – she has now reached the age where I receive an exasperated response along the lines of “yes I know and yes you have told me enough already”. Educating the heart is just as important as educating the mind (stolen from a cheesy American website!!).

As part of some research I was doing for work I started to think about engaging children with charity and helping them to learn about our responsibilities as human beings to help our neighbours and those in the world around us – I think in schools it is taught as being a good global citizen.

I guess when it comes to parenting there will be different schools of thought about what we tell our children about the pain and suffering in our world. As parents our natural instinct is obviously to protect our children, and not cause them harm or upset. I personally though am a big believer in being real with them, because the realities of life will at some point affect them personally and I wanted my child to have the tools to cope and I also want her to learn compassion and kindness to reach out and help people around her who are struggling and who are in pain. It is for that reason I have never shied away from letting Lucy visit family members in dementia homes, she has done that since she was a baby and likewise my Dad spent 3 years in and out of hospital for his cancer treatment and she spent a lot of times in those hospitals and maybe witnessed things that she was too little to see – I don’t know. When my Dad died there was no question she would come to the funeral, even though she was only 6 at the time, and we talked openly and honestly with her about the process and what would happen and let her be part of the discussions with those leading the services, allowing her to give her memories and share what she loved about her Papa. My hope is that these experiences will make her more compassionate, will give her understanding and will equip her with tools to take into later life.

I don’t though just want it to be about sensitising my child to pain and suffering in the world but I want to empower her to make a difference, to know she can play her part in making the world a better place and to teach her about the importance of giving so that she grows up to be generous.

Not only that but when I look at what my child has I sometimes feel a little bit sick – Christmas morning in the past has verged on the obscene side and that is without me having spent more than £30 – my child is lucky she has lots of people around her who love her and want to show her that love by giving to her but I want to move away from that “me me me” “I want” expectation to one of giving and generosity.

So I took to our good friend Google to come up with some ideas about how we as our little family can together engage in charity and here’s what I found:

  1. Children learn best by example – model everyday acts of kindness to them. Share your values with them. Whether it be financial giving or smiling at someone on the street, holding open a door for someone else or visiting someone who is sick.
  1. According to a United Nations Foundation study talking to our children about giving is one of the most effective ways to encourage philanthropy and increases the likelihood of them giving as adults by 28%. The study is quick to say though that the way we talk to our children is the key – be specific, don’t just say we give because it is a nice thing to do but talk to them about how their actions affect others and frame it in a way that can relate to. Allow the subject of giving and charity to be part of your every day conversations.
  1. Allow children to be part of the decision making process of who as a family you give to – allow them to hear about different charities and causes and let them make the choice – let them direct the process. The greater their involvement the more they will learn. Make it fun!
  1. When it comes to pocket money (and I am rubbish at this – I so want to teach my child good financial skills but find it a rather overwhelming subject so often put it off!!) give them 3 jars and explain that they can have some to spend, some to save and some to give away. Giving cash can be an abstract concept to children, especially when these days it is often simply an on-line click so think of ways to make that giving practical. Is there an old lady who lives on their own who would be blessed by a bunch of flowers, or could they go with you to the supermarket and use the money they have saved to buy some money for a foodbank?
  1. Create family traditions. We try and every year to make up a box for Operation Christmas Child – we go to the shop together and pick out items, and I let Lucy chose and think about what another child may like.
  1. Set your children challenges – ask them to do something nice for 3 other people every time someone is nice to them – to teach them the importance of giving back.
  1. Giving is not just about money but time too – could you as a family go and do something which will help or bless another person.
  1. Partly because I am marginally OCD before every birthday and Christmas I make Lucy go through all her clothes and toys and decide what she wants to give away – some go to friends others to the charity shop.
  1. Sponsoring a child in an overseas country – that makes it more relatable – one child engaging with another where letters can be exchanged.

Those are just a few ideas that I am going to try and be intentional about implementing but if anyone else out there has other creative ways I would love to hear from you.

A lot of my working life has been about “legacy” and what people leave behind and I have seen plenty of the bad as well as lots of the good but I passionately believe we have a responsibility to teach kindness, generosity and respect to our children. I don’t get this stuff right all or even most of the time but I like to think of it as a work in progress!

Thank you little one

The other night I went for a run and I ran avoiding hills at all costs (not easy when running in Sheffield) but I found myself totally out of run and faced with a long walk home in the dark up lots of hills – on my walk home I walked along a certain road in Sheffield which always makes me think of my sister-in-law as she loves the houses along this road. I then got to think about my nephew or niece (currently at home in my sister-in-law’s belly) who will be here in 2 months time and I became a little overwhelmed and a little tearful – this little person will be right up there as one of the most important people in my life, someone I will have an overwhelming love for but yet I don’t know them, I have no idea what they will look like or what they will be like.

It got me to thinking – it was a very long walk – about how we don’t know who or what is ahead and I had a sense of excitement and anticipation and hope. Those blessings when they come can be big or small but equally life giving.

My thoughts then led me to reflect on a couple of encounters over the past few weeks – all with total strangers which were so full of encouragement, hope and reassurance and each little thing has allowed life to bubble up inside me a little more.

The other week I had to go into Lucy’s school to sort some teddies out for a charity I have been helping with a bit – I knew the task ahead of me was fairly large and that I could do with some help and after exhausting obvious avenues I put a note out on the charity’s Facebook page to see if any fellow parents could help and a lovely lady responded saying she could. We spent a lovely few hours as we sorted through literally hundreds of teddies talking life, families, and careers. A few days later I got a message from her asking if she could sponsor me for my run – it was only something small but I was so blessed by it.

A few weeks later I took Lucy to a party and got talking to a gorgeous lady I had never met before but it was totally a conversation I needed to have – to anyone listening in the conversation may have sounded slightly depressing but to me, and hopefully her, it was totally full of life – a couple of hours of chatting shared experiences, feelings, questions. That conversation felt like a real gift.

Then only on Friday I was meeting with a lady that supports the charity I work for about the possibility of her appearing in a video I am putting together. I had never met this woman before and had never heard of her before. The first thing this lovely old lady asked me was was I the girl whose husband had died when she was pregnant and I said that I was and she told me that her and her friends had regularly prayed for me and Lucy over the years – I really had to compose myself to get through the rest of our time together. I was blown away that a stranger who didn’t know me had not just said a few prayers in the weeks after John’s death but for years after had faithfully upheld us in prayer and that years later our paths crossed– I was completely humbled and massively impacted.

These three incidents were small and passing but have encouraged, inspired and lifted my spirit so much.

6 months ago I didn’t know the group of people I spend my working days with now– didn’t know that these wonderful people existed, these people that inspire me, challenge me, care for me and make me laugh (and reintroduce me to the music of Whitney – thanks Mrs W) – these people who have become lovely friends.

So little one I can’t wait to know you, to love you and to be your auntie and thank you for reminding me on a cold, dark autumn evening always to try and hold onto hope and anticipation – that the unknowns of what is ahead, big and small, are worth pushing through for.