Defrosting hearts and minds

I love how in the kingdom of God, nothing goes to waste, not even the mundane household chores…like today’s special: defrosting the freezer.

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One day I’m going to have one of those fancy freezers that just doesn’t frost up at all, but in the meantime, I found myself laughing out loud as God revealed his truths in this most dreaded of tasks!

It had got to that point where it was a pain to open and close the drawers as there was so much ice that it kept catching, and today I’d done an internet food shopping order and I realised it just wasn’t going to fit unless I dealt with it!

So…out came a spoon, a bowl, a hairdrier (to be used with extreme caution, since water and electricity don’t mix well!), and cloths and sponges – the tools of today’s trade.

The top layer was worst, so I started by applying the stream of hot air there first. I sat on the floor, hairdrier in my left hand, and spoon scraping off frost in the other, and the bowl sitting in the bottom ready to catch at least some of the drips.

By the way, for those of you who might have wondered why I don’t just empty the freezer, open the door and let it defrost into the reservoir at the bottom…? Well I did this once and the discovered, to the detriment of the laminate flooring, that the reservoir is no way big enough to cope with the melt water from that amount of ice (about 5-6 litres by my reckoning!).

The top layer was about 5 cm deep in places and it just seemed as though nothing was happening up top at all, so I ploughed on with the other layers. Who knew there could be such satisfaction when a huge chunk would suddenly come away?! My strategy was definitely to try and get big chunks off so that they didn’t all just melt and overflow (as per previous experiences). As I did so, it struck me how like evangelism and our own relationship with God this whole thing was (bear with me!).

You talk a little to your friends, neighbours, colleagues, about church, your faith, maybe even your testimony and if feeling really brave, actually mention Jesus himself! And you’ve taken the big step, a leap of faith…and then the result…? Nothing. Or apparently nothing at least. There’s no obvious evidence that anything has changed for that person as a result of opening the metaphorical freezer door and attempting to invite them in from the cold.

You try and drop some more hints. Maybe you go out of your way to serve and meet the needs of those around you in order to be Jesus’s hands and feet. Perhaps you even offer to pray for them. Still it appears nothing is happening!

Then one day, you pluck up the courage to ask them to an Alpha Course launch event – and to your astonishment, they say, ‘yeah, why not?’.

The iceberg has calved! See here for some amazing footage of what I’m alluding too!

Did you notice how in the video, there is little warning of the magnitude of what is about to happen? A little creaking, some groaning and small shudders, then suddenly there it is!

What I’m saying is that for whatever reason, we all build up these defences, barriers, logical and emotional arguments for not letting God into our lives, for not acknowledging him and for not listening. And I hate to say this, but this doesn’t end when we DO accept Him into our lives!

These barriers are like the ice that had built up in my freezer. In some cases I wonder if it is in fact permafrost – built up over years and years, even through the generations – through the lies of the enemy that we’ve inadvertently accepted; the beliefs we’ve built up about ourselves, about church, faith and God; the experiences that have shaped our values and then our beliefs.

The thing is, we know from climate change that permafrost isn’t so permanent afterall. And so it is with us. Even in those most inaccessible places in our hearts and minds, the warmth of the Holy Spirit can still reach. Just as He was hovering over creation as it was formed, so he dwells with us and around each one of us every day, whether we know it or not. God promised He would never leave us alone, and by the Spirit he makes good in that promise today. Once we have made our own commitment to God, not only is He with us, but in us and we are in Him – how incredible is that!

As I sat on the floor of our kitchen (getting a numb behind, and a tired arm holding the hairdrier up at that top level) I had plenty of time to observe the melting process. We tend to think that things melt from the inside out, and from that perspective it’s an awful long way to reach the heart when it’s buried deep below – how can we ever get through?

However, I discovered a few different things as things proceeded. Firstly, when you apply heat in one direction, crazily it affects other parts too! So today what I saw was that although I was pointing the drier upwards the parts below were benefitting from the heat too and were dripping away furiously.

For us what that means is, when we have a heart turned outwards, looking for ways to bless and serve others, seeking to witness to the good and glorious in our own lives, then although our attentions may be focused on one individual, it rarely goes unnoticed by others. How we ARE, is our best witness and is far more telling to those around us than the words we say.

I also realised today that when I put my frozen shopping in an insulated coolbag along with the contents of the freezer (as I wasn’t quite quick enough with my defrosting!), when you put cold things with other cold things, they stay cold for a pretty long time (there’s a whole other analogy right there). When there’s one thing set apart it in it’s own it will defrost relatively quickly at room temperature. When I thought about the Holy Spirit as heat, it brought home to me that God is at work all around us, all of the time, with or without us. The hairdrier is like our focussed and persistent prayers, bringing the focus of God’s warmth and love to bear in one particular place. God had already ordained that the heat would melt the ice – that’s physics, I just hastened the process in this case.

All in all, it took me a little over an hour to get the whole thing defrosted, but I think that that top part really only started to give way about 15 minutes before I finished – it really was stubborn! So much so that I did risk one of my posh sharp knives to cut into the ice in a couple of places. It was still too solid to lever any ice off, so I kept going, carefully, with the hairdrier! A few minutes in and I noticed that where the notches had been cut, deep Vs were forming where the heat had been able to penetrate much more deeply. I asked Jesus what he might be saying here, and what I heard was that those times when we really actively love someone, to the point of self-sacrifice, it goes deep to that person’s core in a way that nothing else does. It’s the ultimate in walking the walk; in picking up your own cross so that someone else may be blessed.

Lastly, in the process of defrosting, I noticed that having got much more to the heart of the matter with these notches, what then happened was that the metal that ran underneath was getting really quite hot itself – indeed much hotter than the air in the freezer was. It made me think that when we get ‘plugged in’ to God – when we dwell in His presence, we pursue Him by worshipping (upwards), by serving (outwards), by reading His truths in his Word and through prayer (inwards), we become ‘hot’ ourselves and not so reliant on heat applied externally.

Equally, when everything was finally ice-free and dry, I switched the freezer back on, and it was astonishing how quickly the elements frosted up as the water from the air surrounding them crystallised. What does that tell us (apart from the fact my freezer was still working!) – if you don’t switch the function of those internal elements from freeze to heat (which can only happen when we make that personal connection to God) then as soon as that heat is taken away, and the icy blast returns, that frost will come and in no time at all that ice will have returned with a vengeance, whether to our hearts, our minds or indeed both.

In my mind, it was no accident that the uppermost part was the bit that took the longest to thaw. My sense is that particularly here in the Northern hemisphere of our world, we seem so easily tied up in, and indeed blocked by, logic, reason, rationale and evidence – our minds get frozen in one particular mindset! Yet what about intuition, gut instinct, love, being moved emotionally, reacting to art, music, awe-inspiring nature – none of that is very logical, and at the same time we’d be lost, and undoubtedly less, without them. If we believe that God created us to be able to reason, then it stands to reason, that he would be able to address our altogether reasonable concerns if only we would just let him. Then He can share with us something of God’s utterly unreasonable and irrational love and passion for each one of us!

Where do all of these musings leave me? Well, I was laughing out loud at God’s sense of humour at using the defrosting of the freezer to teach me, but ultimately what I’ve taken away from it all is that God is all around us and at work already, that it’s my part in this collaboration to tune into what he’s already doing and pray it into being, call it down from Heaven, and focus my attention in the direction where God is leading me. Prayer does work, with persistence and patience, and pursuing God in the waiting (more on that another day!); and mostly when it’s working, it’s working on me! I came away deeply encouraged to continue pressing in personally, and keeping on keeping on with friends and family, even when it looks as though nothing is happening – perhaps especially when it looks as though nothing is happening.

By the way, did you notice how I only dealt with the iced up freezer once it became a pain? Funny how that is echoed in our lives…that it’s so often only when we are, or someone we love is, going though pain, whether emotional, physical, even financial, that we start to address what’s really going on beneath the surface. In fact it’s often then that we cry out to something outside ourselves; something bigger, greater, and more powerful. Something which can melt the ice which we ourselves have built up or allowed to build up, so often unwittingly, and which becomes our very own icy prison. At which point I can only thank God that he sent His Son to bring us true freedom.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 NIV)

When I think about it, this has really all come out of my heart and mind as I’ve been chewing over the teaching we’re so blessed to have had at Trinity on ‘Pressing in and pressing on’. So if you want to get plugged into the Lord, you might fancy popping over to the Trinity site and lapping up some of this great teaching! Enjoy!

I love lions!

As the title says. I love lions! To me they are sociable, fierce, elegant, playful, powerful, aloof, but above all they are full of majesty. To mix my metaphors they are top dog! If I had to pick an animal to be, I would like to be a lioness: strong and fiercely protective.

The majesty of such a beautiful animal can, to my mind, only have been put on this earth to give us some kind of tiny insight into God’s own wonderful, amazing, majestic character.

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In the same way that I love lions, but wouldn’t want to get too close to one (particularly not just before their lunch!), and know I should have a healthy respect for and fear of them…I have been reflecting on the need to have an awesome fear of God.

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In some ways, I just don’t feel particularly afraid of God. It’s really not the main feeling that springs to mind when I think of my relationship with God. I wasn’t brought up on a spiritual diet of ‘hellfire and damnation’ unlike others I know (and I’m thankful for that). Instead I feel so close to Him; I see Jesus as my friend, the Holy Spirit as my comforter, and God as my Daddy in Heaven. Fear is not the first emotion, but I’m sure it must be there, somewhere underpinning so much of how I feel, what I believe, how I behave. Those times (so very often) when I know I’ve fallen so far short of his lofty standards, so I know I’m not oblivious to it.

I wonder just now whether I need to redress the balance. Yes, ‘I have a friend in Jesus’, but I think I also need to remember the God of the visions of Ezekiel and of John in the book of Revelation.

Ezekiel 1:26-28 (NLT)

Above this surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking to me.

Revelation 4:1-11 (NLT)

Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast. The voice said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this.” And instantly I was in the Spirit, and I saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it. The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow. Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God. In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal. In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty— the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.” Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.”

God as judge. God as king. God as…God! Slightly scary, mind-blowing visions! Awesome creator of the universe. Incredible power beyond imagination in just his voice alone, never mind his fingertips. A power to sweep away nations, to bring plagues and judgement, to being down rulers, to humble the strong, to command angels, yet power to raise up the meek, power to forgive and power to love.

It’s not just about assuming my proper place, bowed at his feet in humility, although that might not be a bad thing! It’s about realising the spiritual realm, and the kingdom, is so much bigger than ‘little ole me’: my life; my hopes and fears; my trip hazards and struggles; even my very purpose and meaning.

I know I’m a daughter of the King. But what a king that is, I can barely conceive.

Not simply a king who lives in a fortified castle, sits on a throne, issues decrees, and rules the kingdom. A king who created and is creating the kingdom. Not just a castle, but a palace the likes of which I’ve never before seen. A throne around which incredible heavenly beings await his every command, his every breath.

A king who not only commands respect and devotion by his vestments, by his birth, by the authority of the crown and sceptre, but who IS authority, and who emanates a presence which causes all those in it to fall on their faces.

His purity, his magnificence, is blinding. The sense of his presence is overwhelming. The love exuded by the Lord of all is simply overpowering in its totality.

Waterfall, Venzuela

The awesome power of a waterfall – nothing compared to the hand that created it

I have a sense that when we see him face to face, it won’t be that there’s criticism, condemnation or judgment coming from him, but from ourselves when we see us for what we are, in the context of who he is. Seen clearly and distinctly, I know the robes of my years gone by won’t look so sparkling white. And yet somehow they will be as brilliantly dazzling as His, since I am covered by the blood of Jesus. I can’t quite get my mind round that. Once and for all time he said ‘it is finished’, and so it was. For let us not forget that Jesus, the very Word, there before Creation, spoke those words out loud and therefore surely they became fact in the very saying of them. I am clothed in the lamb’s robes of righteousness. Bought with the price of his life.

So am I afraid? Yes and no. I have to confess that I’m a perfectionist and it’s been said more than once that I’m too hard on myself. I see only too clearly how far short I fall from Heaven’s perfection, and yet I must wrestle with the idea that I am perfected in Jesus. I suppose that’s because I’m living both in the now and the not yet.

Sunset skies,

Heaven’s perfection? Beautiful, but nothing compared to what awaits!

So there are these tensions, these paradoxes which are all part of God’s mystery.

Why do I dwell on the fear of God? Simply because I recognise that I’m so afraid of so many other things. For instance, fear of failure, of falling (from heights or not – mostly just falling!) and of pain, fear of being wrong, of not being good enough (for what or whom, I’m no longer sure), of depression, of mediocrity…that I know that to put these fears in their proper place, I need first to put God in His proper place: on the throne of Heaven.

Then these fears become nothing in His presence. That is why he reiterates time and again. Do not be afraid…but more than that…for I am the Lord you God and I will never leave you. Wow. What a promise. The only way I can be afraid in this context is either to forget this promise, or to forget who God is. And I’m sorry to say, most often it’s the latter.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)

I think I understand this verse now.

So my challenge to myself is to take my focus off my problems, my limitations, my failures, and to seek more and more of God, until who He is fills my whole field of vision, and everything else of concern pales into insignificance besides his rich and glorious majesty.

Garden gems: Looking from the outside in

When you start tending and paying attention to your own garden, you notice what’s going on with others’ – what plants are thriving, what the snails are nibbling, where a shrub needs pruning or shaping, where a spot of weeding would be handy to prevent them running amok. How much easier is it to see these things clearly from the outside looking in?!

Having been stung quite badly by some rogue nettles in our garden (a childhood flashback of falling into a huge mound of nettles by a stream springs to mind !), I suddenly became aware of a substantial patch of nettles creeping through the rails of the local school, and then further down there was a bramble entwined with a bush. On another corner was a broken beer bottle with a lethal shard of glass, still attached to the circular base, pointing upwards and almost inviting someone to trip and fall onto it! And yet when you looked within the school grounds, they were well tended and neat.

I wasn’t sure whose responsibility these areas were where they spilled out onto the pavement, so I asked the school, who were rather incredulous at first as the council-sent gardening team had been only that morning, so surely it couldn’t be all that bad. The property manager said that nonetheless she would take a look, and that there was no issue with responsibility and the gardeners would do whatever the school asked them to do.

I was amazed and delighted that by the next day all the edges and the growth under the fences had been cut right back and tidied up, including the brambles and nettles (I’d dealt with bottle straight away rather than risk leaving it).

So what is the point of me telling you all this, is it simply a feel good story about if you don’t ask, you don’t get?? Well, not really. It made me think about how amazed the lady was who I had spoken to. Since her experience was that the gardeners always did what they were asked to do, they were clearly obedient and conscientious, so how could what I was saying be true? She could not be convinced without going to see for herself.

I reflected that it’s so much easier to look outwards than looking inwards, and even when I do that, I see what needs to be done *from my point of view*!

There’s a nifty model called the Johari window, which I make use of from time to time in coaching. Like many a management model, it is a four-box grid, looking at what is ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ about us, by self and others.

As introduced by Alan Chapman on the BusinessBalls website, ‘The Johari Window model was devised by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955, while researching group dynamics at the University of California Los Angeles.’ (For such a long time I thought that Johari was an exotic name, to be pronounced like that femme fatale, Mata Hari…it turned out that the name had a much more amusing and in some ways mundane source: simply Jo from Joseph and Hari from Harry!)

Alan Chapman explains that there are four segments of the johari window:

1 – what is known by the person about him/herself and is also known by others – open area, open self, free area, free self, or ‘the arena’

2 – what is unknown by the person about him/herself but which others know – blind area, blind self, or ‘blindspot’

3 – what the person knows about him/herself that others do not know – hidden area, hidden self, avoided area, avoided self or ‘facade’

4 – what is unknown by the person about him/herself and is also unknown by others – unknown area or unknown self

If we live in isolation, always viewing the world only from our own standpoint, how will we ever find out what is in our own blindspot? Secretly of course we want to be right, or at least believe that we’re right, all the time! To that end we’re not generally too inclined to seek out opposing opinions or even simply different perspectives – instead, like tends to attract like, and so we reinforce each other’s viewpoints. Then we take offence when our worldview is shown to be skewed, through our experiences, our upbringing, our families, our schooling, our nation, our language, our culture!

The thing is though, we are made to live in relationship with each other, in diverse communities and our lives are richer for the complexity that that often brings. We need those alternative perspectives!

To take a completely different example of what is unknown to us, perhaps you use Microsoft Office software like Word, Outlook, or Excel, or other bits of technology? The phrase I often hear from my colleagues when I ask what they want to learn is ‘I don’t know what I don’t know!’. Sometimes there’s a sense of, ‘There must be a better way of doing this, surely? Please, can someone help me?!’ Or perhaps, ‘I’m so frustrated! This thing is so RUBBISH! Why won’t it just do what I want it to do??’.

I wonder how many of us feel like that about life in general? We get to the end of our tether, thinking to ourselves, the way that I’m doing life, it’s just not working, it’s too hard, too unsatisfying, too soulless. I just don’t know how to get myself out of this hole, because I know I need to find a different answer, but I don’t know what that is, and sometimes I don’t even really know what the question is! Surely someone out there must know a better way!

When things are really, truly awful, even for those of us who aren’t quite sure about God – who he is, what he stands for, what he expects from us, what those followers of his are about – the bit that seems to resonate within us is that when we reach the end of ourselves, we can turn to the one who must know more than us. The almighty, all-knowing, omnipresent One.

In that moment of no longer having the answers, of having lost control, it is then that we finally admit – there are things that you know, that I don’t know; things about me…who I am, who I could be, what I could accomplish, what my purpose is…but above all you know the me that is loved so recklessly, so insistently, so sacrificially by You. For to be truly known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.

I wonder if you feel known? Or truly loved? Or both?

Can you identify with that sense of getting stuck in your own perspective? How do you stay open to other’s views? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Garden gems: A wolf in sheep’s clothing

So I’ve been a bit quiet on here…not because not much is happening, but the very opposite, so much has been happening! You can now read about all that here, here and here!

Something I’ve done a lot of recently is gardening. Now, I’m not a natural gardener, let’s just get that clear from the start! My Mum is great in the garden and I do my best to absorb as much as I can from her. And in keeping with my adventure in imperfection, after about 4 years of working away at our garden, I have very much accepted that sometimes plants fail. Even when they’re the right kinds for the soil, even when you water them regularly…but not too much! Even when you wrap them up against the frost, feeling like a fool with the fleece and the string, manhandling the fronds of a phormium! Sometimes, they just don’t make it.

Stunning ‘bleeding hearts’ in my garden this year

 

How is it that other people can grow beautiful delphiniums and lupins in their garden, meanwhile in ours within days everything, including the flowers had been ravaged by slugs and snails?!

It really brings home that parable about the kingdom being like a seed…we can plant it, water it, tend it, but only God can make it grow and thrive!

All this, would you believe, is by way of introduction (the Lord hasn’t yet seen fit to teach me to write concisely just yet, and I’m acutely conscious of this!), to say that whilst in the garden, God has been whispering his words of truth and revelation in a way that makes me almost glad of my dirt-encrusted nails and aching body at the end of the day! I’d like to share these with you in a series of bite-sized posts, so here goes:

Garden gem number 1: A wolf in sheep’s clothing

All is not what it seems. My son has been with me much of the time in the garden, and he loves to bring me little things. Yesterday’s offering was a note, ‘For Mummy’ with a small pink flower in the note, he was quite egalitarian ..there was one for Daddy too. It was one of the flowers from a small pink bindweed creeping along the edge of the lawn in our neighbour’s front garden.

What could I say, but thank you! I resisted the temptation of telling him that although it was pretty, it was from an insidious and pervasive weed!

How many things are there that come into our lives like that bindweed? So sweet, pretty and innocent-looking. Who would think it could choke the life out of other plants?? Who would think that that tiny plant with the tiny, delicate flowers could get…everywhere.

I think some coping mechanisms are a bit like that. That thing we do to make ourselves feel a bit better when we’re tired/angry/frustrated/disappointed/bored/ashamed/sad/lonely. ‘It’s harmless surely. I’m not hurting anyone when I…have that drink, eat that chocolate bar, smoke that cigarette, swear out loud, flirt at the bar’, or whatever your outlet might be. (And I’m speaking to myself here!)

‘What’s so wrong about that anyway, everyone’s got to have a vice or two, and no one’s perfect!’

And there’s the rub. The best lies are twisted up with the truth. We might not (immediately) be harming anyone else, but we’re more than likely hurting ourselves. We’re seeking comfort, security, escape in something other than the one place we can truly have our needs met … In our heavenly Father. And when we expect those things to fix the way we feel, ultimately we’re doomed to disappointment. Eventually, as so many of us know, our release becomes our snare. Instead of the promise of freedom from that bad feeling we were hoping to escape, we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of bad feelings, short term distraction or numbing, and then the bad feelings return, now accompanied by their brothers in arms: shame, despair, failure, and they call for more escapism once again – and there’s the loop we don’t know how to get out of.

There’s only one way to deal satisfactorily with a weed. That is to pull it out it the root, and to get all of it out.

As I’ve said to my boy, there’s just no point pulling off only the flowers or the leaves, we have to dig down. Hold it at the base, use just the right amount of strength and wisdom to work it free. Then we bin it all carefully, we don’t just chuck it in the grass ready to put down roots elsewhere!

The good news for us, and for dealing with those pretty little weeds with the oh-so deep roots in our lives…? It’s Jesus of course. He is the author of our salvation, the bringer of peace. And he left us the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth in our lives. When we ask him to ‘search us and know us’, he will show us the roots deep down, and it is he who empowers us to expunge that weed once and for all. We are made new in Christ Jesus, and when the Son sets us free, we are free indeed!

Did you know you can ask the Lord to reveal the roots of that pain in your life? He is the great gardener and he doesn’t just yank those lies, vices and deceptions out. His grace is sufficient for us in every circumstance – praise the Lord! The only way we can know whether we’re deceived or not is by holding up every belief against the benchmark of truth that is the Word of God. That is Jesus. When he brings into the light those lies we’ve believed, and of course we have all believed and still believe different lies (don’t kid yourself that you’re not deceived, after all how would you know – surely that’s the point of being deceived??), then He will empower us to repent of those lies believed and to break the power of them in our lives. Instead then we can receive the glorious truth of God’s love and his truth that shines a light in all those dark places. His light breaks through with his promise for us

High heels and healing…Part 3: Not yet the end

So how has all this healing – of my ankle and my back -  been a couple of weeks on? You might be wondering if I’m still walking in that same healing and wholeness that I’d experienced so powerfully, with four lots of healing in six days flat…

Signs of healing
Now, as I’ve said before, retaining a certain logical and healthy scepticism, I wanted to keep an eye out for things that would tell me that I really had been well and truly healed, and that God really was moving beyond simply with me, and this is what I noticed:

1. As said before (in Part 2) going down the stairs no longer causing my knees pain.

2. When I went to pick my son up from his after school child care that Thursday, getting out of the car I instinctively was expecting to be stiff from sitting back in the seat from the drive, and almost braced myself as I went to get out, and then was shocked to discover that I could get out quite easily!

3. I measured myself against my son’s height chart, and having been 156cm, or 5ft 1.5″…in a very non scientific study, with a book and a wall chart, I now appear to be between 158 and 159cm…measured at the end of the day, when you’re supposed to be shorter – wahey!

4. As I got into the car the next day, I realised I could actually feel the lumbar support of the seat for first time, as previously it hadn’t reached sufficiently far into my back to make any difference, that was an odd sensation first thing In the morning!

5. Going to the cinema on the Friday night, at the end of the evening, I went to descend the steps sideways, as that is what I had taken to doing, even though they are only shallow steps, just to avoid the pain, and again, I realised I didn’t need to and just trotted down the, quickly and lightly!

6. On the Saturday, I did 8 hours of gardening almost straight through, with my Mum, and normally I’d have been almost crippled with the pain, but beyond the achiness you might expect, particularly when you’re not used to it, I was absolutely fine, so much so that…

7. …on the Saturday night, we went to an evening wedding reception, and I decided to wear my high heels I hadn’t worn for the best part of a year (see Part 1!) and people around me cautioned me to be careful and not to over do it – well, I took it easy, but I wore my 3″ heels, with no pain, dancing ceroc with my gorgeous husband on the dance floor, and I loved it!

8. That night I told my Mum about the healing I’d experienced, and offered to pray for her very painful arthritic toe, which was so bad that she had a burning sensation at night from the duvet on it…and the next day she said she’d had no pain, and had slept brilliantly which she hadn’t expected!

9. I wore heels to my church service the next day, danced all the way through the worship, stood up on stage and gave testimony, again being overcome by joy and laughter, so much so that the church and pastor were breaking out in laughter too! At the end of the service, as part of the usual ministry time, I had the opportunity to pray with a friend for a lady’s ankle. I haven’t heard the latest, but he was certainly bringing her new freedoms in her ankle while we were there. Then I had the opportunity to pray for another lady’s wrist, who then had an incredibly powerful encounter with The Lord and was healed immediately! I had so many people come to me at the end and since, to say they’d been so grateful that I’d shared what God had done, and that they’d been encourage, moved, inspired – praise God!!

10. On the Sunday afternoon I went with my family for an afternoon out at some beautiful local gardens and we walked, in the heat, for 2 hours, and my back was absolutely fine, even after the previous day’s gardening!

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11. My husband said to me on the Sunday evening, ‘are you limping?, and I admitted that I was, more with stiffness in my foot than anything, and I realised I was and that I was because of the orthotic I had been wearing in my left shoe for the last 6 months, which now that my foot was healed, was actually now pushing it into the wrong position! Into the bin with that then (it was getting worn, so needed replacing anyway, so perfect timing!)

12. I notice now that I can arch my back further backwards and recreate the pain and discomfort I was in all the time before, but which I just lived with and so was therefore my old normality, and I can tell you that it feels as though my vertebrae are being squeezed and pinched when I do that – ouch! I can’t believe that that was my daily reality and no wonder that previously after a 20 minute walk I would long to sit down as my back was so painful and uncomfortable, only to do so and feel everything creak back into position with a different kind of pain.

13. I remembered one time my trainer explaining that when the hip flexors were in proper balance with the hip extensors and the glutes, that there was much more freedom and rotation in the hips as you walk, and you get a more natural swing and a longer, freer gait…and that’s what I’ve noticed now as I walk – the stiffness has gone!

14. I was back at the gym this Monday and I office this time how much easier it was to do sit up crunches than ever before. I was able to go from being on a fit ball and hanging down, to sitting all the way up, which I couldn’t do before, and I was able to really able to work my core hard before my back and neck got tired first! (As a result, after just 20 reps, my abs were still killing two days later and hurt, in a good way, when I laugh!).

Plain sailing?
So, has it all been plain sailing? I want to be perfectly honest here because I think it can be so discouraging if things don’t go quite as you expected for you, and it appears that you’re the only one – not entirely. I’ve had a couple of moments where my ankle has suddenly hurt, but I’ve prayed, and kept going in faith that it has been healed, and the pain has gone – and besides no one is getting me out of my heels now!

In terms of my wrist (see Part 1), I’m now waking up much more rarely with numbness in my hand in the morning, and the clicking has gone completely, so I’m praying that The Lord continues the work that he’s doing there and brings that to completion in his perfect timing. Both of my wrists have been a bit sore with all the digging and lifting I’ve done, so I’m just trying to be a bit wise there, and keep asking The Lord to reveal his truths to me, and press in for full healing.

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I also turned a bit awkwardly whilst gardening and my left knee was really uncomfortable, and in a different and much more sudden way that the previous pain, but again I’ve kept going this with listening to and observing my body, and noticing how things have been on the stairs, and God willing, that pain too seems to have gone again. My back has been brilliant. My hamstrings have been pretty tight, but I figure that getting healed doesn’t negate the need for a good bit of stretching, especially if you’re being physically active – and I think doing over 24 hours of gardening after the last 10 days, as well as going to work and looking after our boy, probably just about counts!

God’s Glory
I’ve taken from all of this that God is very much on the move, and it’s not just about one place, but about catching the fire, and fanning the flame, sharing the light and the heat with others (note that we’ve been singing along to the Big Start 2 CD in our car, ‘this little light of mine – hide it under a bushel – NO!’, and it has stayed with me all week!). It’s not so much my testimony, as my simple witness to God’s incredible grace, power, goodness and glory, and I cannot keep that to myself. I am a broken person in a broken world, but God’s love is so deep, I know he can and has overcome all of that brokenness., so I know that this is not yet the end, by any stretch of the imagination!

So, how about you. what do you make of all this??!

Have you been able to acknowledge your need of the King of Kings to bring healing and restoration in your life? Would you dare to believe that He would have good gifts for you, even if these might not be exactly what you are looking for?

Have you stepped out as yet in the full authority of Jesus given to you as a believer? Could you seek out his presence and his face today? What burdens will you bring today to the Lord, who delights over you with singing (isn’t that a wonderful image?!)?

And lastly, what are your experiences of healing?

 

High heels and healing…Part 2: The middle

Walking out the healing
In the next few days after my amazing time in Cardiff and Cwmbran, and after trying out my previously dodgy ankle out at the gym, I was literally walking out my healing: testing and checking, checking and testing, and being constantly surprised by the lack of pain!

At our cluster (a bit like a church small group) on the Wednesday night we watched a Robby Dawkins teaching DVD on Deliverance, but the first part that we watched was more about stepping into our Kingdom authority, about being intentional and expectant for God to move, and about us stepping out in faith and taking a risk in order to the see the power. I found it so inspirational, and had such fun sharing my testimony of what God had been doing in my body that week! I was fired up!

The Mariners Church and the Kingdom of God
Thursday came around and a couple of us from work go fairly regularly to the lunchtime Communion Service each week at The Mariners church in the Gloucester docks, close to our office. As I only have a half an hour lunch break, I decided to go for the last half an hour of the 45 minute service, as that would be better than missing out entirely. I arrived in time to hear a great word about the kingdom of God being like a seed planted by a farmer,which just spoke volumes to me:

Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” (Mark 4:26-29 NLT)

He was talking about how there’s a mysterious aspect to the kingdom, whereby we might be able to plant the seed, even water it, but the germination and growth of a seed – for instance an oak coming from an acorn – is something marvellous and amazing! He spoke of how there are times when we are called to plant, and there are times when the timing is such that we need to sit back and wait, and allow it to grow…until once again our input is required to harvest the fruits of the crop.

I listened to the talk, and with the previous talk from Ashley Collishaw at Trinity also in my mind (where he had talked about seeds constantly falling from heaven, and us needing to put out our hands, receive and nurture them, particularly with respect to healing), I felt that it was right to press into, and water the seed of healing I had already been given that week.

Seeds, Trees, Growth

What beautiful things grow out of such tiny seeds – apple blossom in our garden

Getting a bit of prayer
At the end I asked my friend from Mariners to pray for my knees, and explained what had happened, and how my trainer from the gym had said I should get my knees prayed for, so that I could run properly and without pain! I said, “oh, and while I’m here, you may as well pray for my back too, as I did 4 hours of gardening yesterday and it’s pretty achey and sore now!”, so she did!

We started off praying in the usual way, waiting on The Lord, and asking him to heal my back and my knees. My friend, I’ll call her S in case she doesn’t want to be identified on here, gave me words and pictures that she felt The Lord showing her. The most key of these was that she saw a plumb line hanging down, and felt that The Lord was aligning me. As she prayed, I found myself kind of rocking slightly side to side, almost wriggling my lower half as I sat on the pew! Not my usual reaction when I’m prayed for, I must say! I wasn’t sure what The Lord was doing, but just as earlier in the week, I was absolutely sure he was working.

Another word from S was that she felt that the Lord was tilting my pelvis, well I was amazed. Why? Well, she had no way of knowing that I have had ongoing, relatively low-level, but irritating back pain for as long as I could really remember, and certainly since my teens. I had been diagnosed as having a hyperlordosis, which is an exaggerated lower curve of the spine (your spine is supposed to be a gentle S-shape, but mine was not really so gentle in my lumbar region!); this meant that my pelvis had an anterior tilt (leaving my stomach tipping forwards and my bottom rather akin to a duck’s!), not good for my core muscles. S also explained that the Lord was showing that my knee issues were directly related to my lower back, something I had suspected, but not known for sure.
The back issues meant that it was hugely painful to press on my sacro-iliac area, the area you rest on if you lie on your back and pull your knees up to your chest (there’s another Pilates exercise I used to do in class that started in that position and then you rolled from side to side, and it used to bring tears to my eyes with the pain), or place your hands either side of the very bottom of your spine. It had also meant that I had had problems with my hips for about 8 years, had had sciatica, then had had knee problems and finally my ankle issue (as previously related here).

After a few minutes of praying like this, with me just receiving from God, and S listening and relaying what Jesus was showing her, as well as both of us laughing and giggling as The Lord worked, an exercise I used to do when I had done Pilates many years previously sprang to mind. It was called the roll-down and you stand against a wall, and very slowly roll your vertebra down, one by one, as far as is possible, until you are hanging down from your hips, with your hands near your feet. I felt that I needed to go and do this!

S said to go for it, and that also she felt that The Lord just wanted me to let Him do to my back what he needed to do, so up I got and found a bit of flat, available wall against which to stand. The first time I did the roll down, it was pretty similar to how it had always been, in that the top half of my spine was fine, but the lower half tended to move as one with very little flexibility, and having got to the upside down position, my fingertips just about touched my toes – I’ve got pretty good flexibility overall so that was expected. I was still wriggling and shimmying my lower back and hips, and it felt as though the Lord was freeing something there, and I was still laughing! I seem to recall saying that it was just as well that I didn’t mind being a fool for The Lord as I must have looked so silly, but I just didn’t care! The next time I did it again, I found that I could get my hands very nearly flat onto the floor, something I’ve never ever been able to do, and my legs were still very much straight and against the wall!

While I was doing this, S was still praying all the while, and was getting pains in her knees, where The Lord was showing her my pain, it was quite bizarre really as at the time I had no pain there, but as she described it, it was exactly where I would normally feel it, especially when going down stairs. My back was feeling better and better, and in testing out my knees, I squatted down to the floor several times, and lo and behold, no pain or nasty crunching or clicking! I felt I was pretty much there, and S said, that she just felt that there was a spot on her left side, near her hip/in the glutes where there was still pain, I wasn’t noticing anything in particular, but when I pressed where she indicated it was indeed extremely sore, and I realised that that was the spot where it would get really tight and painful, when the Iliotibial band or IT band was tight and sore. That was the area I’d been told I had had a problem with, back when I’d become almost immobile with sciatica back in 2005…and it had never completely gone away as a issue since. So we kept on praying, and that soreness went too, just being left with a very slight ache, a bit like the memory of a bruise.

I found that I wanted to stretch my arms out, as I stood against the wall, and as I stretched, I felt my chest and spine opening out, and it felt wonderful, I closed my eyes and felt like I was spreading my wings so that I could fly! S had the same word again of being aligned with the Lord’s plumb line, and also that she had the sense that through the work he had done, and was doing, that he was making me taller. Well, being only 5ft 1.5″, and that 0.5″ is very important at my height, I was particularly excited by this!! ;-) And it made perfect sense, since if you imagine a strong curve being flattened out into a shallower curve, the overall height is indeed longer!

Back to the ‘ranch’
I practically skipped back to the office with a huge smile on my face!! I got back to our office building and as usual walked up the stairs to the first floor, only this time, I got to the top, and then walked up and down the last section three or four times, just so I could test my new knees out, it was incredible! I the past I would prefer to take the lift down as it was so uncomfortable at best, and painful at worst on my knees, and yet now they were pain-free!

I went through our big open plan office, and saw one of my friends who knows the Mariners, and with an enormous grin, I said, you missed out on a most fantastic time over there today, and then I couldn’t help but laugh out loud! The joy of The Lord was poured out on me, and would not be contained! I’m usually a pretty joyous person, but this was clearly too much, as she started laughing as well, she asked what had happened, and I laughed and said,’ oh, the Lord just healed my knees and back that’s all!’. By this point a couple of her colleagues were starting to stare inquisitively, so somewhat embarrassed she said, ‘Go away! People are staring!’, all the while laughing herself! I continued down to my office at the other end of the floor, still chuckling away to myself and unable to hide the beam on my face.

I got back to my office and managed to restrict myself to simply saying that I’d had a great time over at the church today. Anyway, I still couldn’t stop smiling, chortling, humming away…, and eventually, catching the infectious laughter, my colleague (who describes herself as an atheist) said, ‘come on then, tell us what has happened that was so good!’. So I did! Well, my three colleagues were a bit incredulous, but curious and pleased for me too, and were amazed when I told them about testing out my knees on the stairs! I noticed in the course of the afternoon, that where I had additional lumbar support on my chair, I no longer needed it, and indeed it was almost a bit intrusive.

I couldn’t stop smiling all afternoon, there may even have been a little bit of singing of ‘Oh happy day!’, which my colleagues know that I sing, much to their amusement, either when very happy, or very tired and in need of a pick me up!

Blessed to be a blessing
At the end of the day, I went back to see my embarrassed friend, and she said that she’d been really struggling badly with IBS that afternoon so I said why don’t we just pray straight away, which we did since most of the others had by that time gone home. I saw a picture of an old ship’s rope, which was stiff and immovable, and which had hardened with knots of knots. As we prayed Jesus’ power to loosen it, she felt it just relax, so much so that she was laughing as the release came! I went home from work, dancing down the stairs, and still feeling as though I was indeed flying!

Ship's rope

Ship’s rope

 

High heels and healing…Part 1: The Beginning

Happiness in high heels
Two Sundays ago saw me standing up on the stage in our church, almost doubled over with joy and laughter telling everyone how it was that I was now wearing my high heels (completely pain-free!) for the first time in over a year!

How did I get to this point? As a friend said, the only place to start, is at the beginning…

My precious friend*
It all started with a beautiful friend of mine from the school gate, whose husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January of this year; being told that he had a couple of years to live was a huge shock, but come mid-June his condition deteriorated considerably. He was admitted to the palliative care unit on the Tuesday, told he had two weeks to live; then getting even worse, was told by the Friday that he had a couple of days. Of course his wife was devastated, and was at home with a 5 year old and a 10 month old wondering how on earth things could have changed so drastically. My heart was totally broken for them, as individuals and as a family. I prayed. A lot. With them, with our school prayer group, on my own…and I felt that I just had to do everything that I possibly could.

The Cwmbran Outpouring
At around the same time, I started to hear things about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit happening at Victory Church, in Cwmbran in Wales. I realised that I desperately wanted to go there to pray for my friend’s husband. Why would it make any difference to pray there, you might wonder? In some ways I wondered the same, but as a friend of mine described it…it’s is a place where, in the same way as there are some places where you get all four bars of signal on your mobile phone, the reception there to receive and hear from the Holy Spirit is very strong! I felt I had to give it a go.

The first weekend of July, we were booked to see some good friends of ours in Cardiff, and on enquiring and finding out that Cwmbran was just 20 minutes down the road from them, I knew we had to make it work to go there! We left our very understanding husbands at home to put the children to bed, and we headed off to the industrial area where Victory Church makes its home, unsure of quite what to expect.

I like to maintain what I would call a healthy scepticism. The Word calls us to weigh and to test prophecies (1 Corinthians 14:29), and in the same way, I felt that I should approach this outpouring by testing what I heard and saw, as well as being aware of what I felt. We are called to have a balance of the Word and the Spirit, and this saying I’ve heard in church before sums it up well,

Too much Word and not enough Spirit and you puff up (in the sense of pride). Too much Spirit and not enough Word and you blow up [you are not grounded]. With the Word and the Spirit together, you grow up. (www.enduringword.com/commentaries/4204.htm)

With all this in mind, and thinking too of Todd Bentley and the Lakeland, Florida revival, and the confusion surrounding that, I went to Cwmbran with an open and enquiring mind to see what percentage of what was being experienced there was truly God, and what might, however inadvertently, be of man.

The evening started immediately with worship, even as we were walking in, and within about 20 minutes I had tears streaming down my cheeks. It wasn’t the words of the worship, or even that the band were so emotionally charged and amazing musically…it was heartfelt and sincere, but there was no whipping up of the crowds in any rock-stylee way. I felt the Holy Spirit just breaking my heart for my lovely friends from school, His sorrow that my friend’s husband does not yet know the depths of Jesus’ love for him, and then Him showing me the immense grace and mercy he has for us all, including both of them.

As we worshipped, my sorrow was replaced by relief and a clearer focus on the Lord – even while many around me were bouncing up and down, dancing, shouting for joy, singing at the the top of their lungs, hands stretched to the heavens and generally giving their all to worship the Lord – it was as if he had taken my cares upon his own shoulders and left me with a new lightness and calm.

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The calm stillness of Madrid Cathedral

I had heard, generally, of people being healed physically purely through worshipping the Lord, and so having released my friend and her husband into the Lord’s perfect hands, I was in a position to hold open my own hands to receive from God for myself. I asked Him to heal my ankle.

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The story of my troublesome ankle
Last July I was rushing to get to the gym, and in taking off one pair of shoes and trying to put on my trainers, I twisted my left ankle and rolled it inwards. Being sure the initial pain would go over quite quickly once the shock had worn off, I continued to the gym and did my workout. I took some advice and gave myself the dreaded ice baths for it and dosed up on anti-inflammatories, but to no avail. I was assured that being a soft-tissue injury it would recover on its own, probably within 6 weeks.

I was not convinced since the whole time that the ankle wasn’t getting better, I was acutely aware of having had a similar injury some 10 years previously, again rolling my foot inwards, which is apparently very unusual. Having done it again indicated a probable weakness in the ankle – either pre-existing, or caused by both the trips.

By September I had completely give up wearing high heels (prior to that I had worn them occasionally, but for short periods only, like evenings out, and with great pain). Flat shoes were purchased, much to my husband’s chagrin! Physio was booked. Six sessions of private physio later, fortunately provided through my work, and things had first improved and then got significantly worse – worse even than the original twinges and catching pain. That was not what I had bargained for! So, I took some more advice and tried to see a physio leg specialist through the local hospital. He wasn’t available for a while, so I was seen by another lovely lady there. I did the exercises, and there was still stiffness and pain, and not a lot of improvement. She suggested I might be better off with a wedged orthotic on that side only, and that did provide some relief, but without eliminating the issue altogether. She did also suggest I try some wedged shoes, and hoping that this could at least be an answer to my reduction in height, I did have a go…I managed about 10 minutes at work – involving walking up a straight corridor to the kitchen and back – before giving up in pain and defeat and being in agony for the rest of the day. It is safe to say I was not a happy bunny :-(.

I had had quite a bit of prayer over the months, with various words given to me indicating possible roots, people were giving me encouraging pictures and yet still I had awful heel pain in the morning, stiffness first thing, then an intermittent and unpredictable catching pain which was like an electric shock up my leg, so sudden and disabling as it was, and the rest of the time a bit of an ache. One benefit at least: it got me out of running the Mummies’ race at our son’s first school sports day, as he declared, “Mummy can’t run. She’s got a poorly ankle”, said in a very serious voice! Ritual humiliation averted!

A new work and perfect peace
Anyhow, having prayed that evening at Cwmbran, I didn’t notice any of the possible signs of healing, such as heat, or tingling, no movement of tendons, muscles or bones in my foot, but somehow I had a quiet confidence that Jesus had done a new work in my ankle.

When the call went out to come forward to receive prayer, I was one of many who did so. There was a real sense of The Lord releasing joy to many who were there, and there was much laughter and excitement. I really wasn’t feeling it for myself, so I asked The Lord, am I holding back from you simply because I don’t want to surrender control? He showed me, that as before, he speaks joy over me and has done so for many, many years (it was the first prophetic word given to me!) and that like an unbreakable stick of rock, I have the word JOY running all the way through me, and it is unbreakable, because ‘the joy of The Lord is my strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10). He then showed me that at that time it wasn’t so much joy that he was pouring out on me, but his incredible peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7), and, ‘”Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”‘ (John 14:27 NIV) – and I felt most wonderfully serene and rested in his presence.

By 10pm, having been there since about 6pm when we were queuing outside to get in, we decided we should head home to our families, even though in many respects the party was only just getting going! We left with church volunteers who were staffing the doors, gazing open-mouthed at a lady who had apparently not been able to walk since birth, and who was wearing those heavy looking medical boots, which I imagine are provided to give support and perhaps to deal with uneven leg length? It looked as though she had a wheeled walker with her, but when we left, she was on about her third lap of the room, taking big strides, albeit somewhat awkwardly, with someone holding her hands out in front of her (while they walked backwards), and she looked delighted!

cropped-100_2999.jpgWhen we got back, I think the guys were expecting us to be pumped up and overflowing with the excitement all that we’d seen and experienced, but in fact we were really quiet and calm, as we both, I think, felt very peaceful and we were reflecting a lot. As an extrovert, who usually likes to process a lot externally, I think my hubby was somewhat surprised at me, and he even thought we were both a bit subdued! I guess the peace of The Lord can do that!

Healing: a double measure
The next morning, I got up and my ankle felt undeniably felt better. Still being with our friends in Cardiff, and with the husband of the household pretty sceptical and wary of the gifts and manifestations of the spirit, I was cautiously and quietly optimistic about my ankle. It felt strengthened and stable – previously my balance on that side had been dreadful! As I went down the stairs it felt strong and pain-free, hallelujah!

We went with my friend and her children to her church, Cardiff Vineyard, and all the time my excitement about my ankle was growing. I kept checking and noticing all the time how it was feeling. We got there, and after the worship there was a time of listening to shared words and testimonies, and a young woman there explained that she had previously been an Olympic-standard archer, but through injury her wrist tendons had been ‘shattered’, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant really, but it sounded horrendous! She stood up and explained that the week before, she had been prayed for, and her wrist had been instantly, completely and miraculously healed. One of the things which had so saddened her was that she wanted one day to be a mother, but hadn’t been able to imagine holding her baby in her arm, as it wasn’t strong enough either to hold an infant or to do anything with that arm once the baby was in her good arm. It really resonated with me as I’d developed something called ‘mother’s wrist’ (or the less catchy but more specific, ‘de Quervain’s stenosing tenosynovitis’) in both my wrists after our boy was born and I had wrist splints for months and months. My wrists are so much better than they had been back then but still weak and still I was getting pins and needles, and numbness most mornings in both wrists. My left wrist had been prayed for in January and had been completely healed; now I was holding out for total healing in my right wrist too – greedy I know!! As I’d heard that testimony, and having heard a talk at Trinity just last month about testimony being seeds of God’s promise which we can receive for ourselves, I stood up for prayer at the end and asked for prayer. The most obvious thing for me to test after I’d been prayed for was by rotating my wrist – previously it had been clicking. After praying it was still clicking, but again I had the quiet confidence that Jesus was going to do something!

By Monday, back home, my wrist was no longer clicking and all pain had gone! I couldn’t believe it, as much as I had been waiting in hopeful expectation, it seemed too much to be true for both my ankle and wrist to have been healed!

Putting my limbs to the test!
I went to the gym as usual (a glutton for punishment!), and met there with my trainer. Working with him is a luxury I allow myself as he has been the only person really over the last few years to have been able to help me to exercise without pain (in my feet, knees, hips and lower back, never mind my wrists!). I don’t think he would mind me saying, he is fairly sceptical of healing by God, so he was interested but really not completely convinced by my tale of my ankle being healed! He certainly put it to the test, getting me to do interval training of shuttle runs up and down the gym. The thing I noticed the most was that I wasn’t even thinking about being careful about how I placed my foot down as I did the turns at each end, and I could really roll through my whole foot as I ran! On the other hand, my knees were creaking away at the end of a tough session, and that was what was preventing me from doing more. I always worry about really damaging my knees in a way that means that I’m set back rather than advancing in my fitness, not unjustifiable given my past history of injuries! We finished the session with him saying to me, ‘well, you’d better get some prayer for your knees now then!’. If only he’d known what that would start off…!

 

* With thanks to my lovely friend at the school gate for allowing me to share a little of her story

My story: Who am I?

There are lots of different ways to answer the question: ‘Who am I?’

It’s an important question, perhaps even more so to me than to whoever is asking me about who I am. For me there may be many complex facets to my identity which influence what I believe, how I think and feel about myself; for you, the answer may well frame how interested (or not) you may be in getting to know me, whether you will read on further, indeed how much weight you give my words…

My identity is variously about who my parents are, what they do and where they come from (I’m having flashbacks now to Cilla Black on Blind Date now!)…my Mum is an incredibly dedicated and hard-working Anglo-Indian ICT teacher, with a more than hint of Portuguese thrown in; my Dad is a Chartered Accountant and spreadsheet genius, who is English through and through – with family from the Midlands and Yorkshire. Perhaps it’s about where I was born (in a London hospital, but residing in a leafy suburb in Essex), or what I do (Learning & Development professional), even how old I am (you should know better than to ask a lady her age!). Maybe it’s about where I call home (Cheltenham, in the West of England), what I believe, and then once finding out that I am a believer in Jesus, what kind of church I go to (you’ll have to have a look at this post!), what my interests are (see here), and so on, and so on…

The thing is, when I answer all those individual questions, I’m consciously or unconsciously selecting the things I think you’re most likely to want to hear. It’s all true, but it’s like striking up a conversation at a party, trying to find the Goldilocks answer (the one that is just right, not too arrogant and overblown, and not too modest and dull – we all do it in one way or another, even if we don’t like to admit it!

So instead of trite dinner party answers, how about I tell you about the raw, unadulterated and messy story of how Jesus came into my life, not once but twice! Grab a cuppa and sit awhile with me.

Childhood
Way back when I got Christened as a baby, I got the obligatory small white, unintelligible King James New Testament and got a couple of Godparents, neither of whom I think had much knowledge of or relationship with God – but still the thought was there, and I hugely appreciate that brilliant start in life of being committed to God. It surely paved the way for other things in my life to come, even if it was simply the done thing at the time, these things really do have significance in the spiritual realm.

Skip a few years and I went to Sunday School regularly, at Church of England (Anglican) church, All Saints in Woodford Green. I have memories of groups called Explorers, Ramblers and Climbers, not necessarily in that order! Now all this sounds fairly average and perhaps quite middle class for many, what I suppose I found interesting looking back on it was that my Mum being a Roman Catholic by upbringing, and my Dad professing no faith, except perhaps faith in science and knowledge both of which are pretty important in my house (then, and now too, I suppose). I consider myself very blessed to have had these Christian influences around me in those all too important years. That time when children are as malleable as soft clay, and imprints may last for a lifetime. I went on a couple of Explorer holidays, one to a boarding school in Felixstowe and another to Swanage in Dorset. These were, if I remember rightly, mostly characterised by me being in tears at the start, as the fears of going off on my own for a week and not knowing anyone had set in, and then tears at the end as I couldn’t believe the holiday was already over, and I couldn’t bear to be parted from my new friends! It was at the latter of these trips where I met a lovely lady called Judy who looked after our dorm (sadly I don’t recall her surname). I don’t remember the details, but I know it was her who talked to me about Jesus, the sacrifice he had made for us all on the cross, and who led me in a prayer to say sorry for the things I’d done wrong, to turn away from my old life of living for myself, and to welcome Jesus into my life, choosing Him by my own free will. I was about 10 years old, and I treasured for many, many years the Footprints bookmark Judy gave me with a message of encouragement and her name on the back.

So far, so good. However, I wouldn’t really do this story justice if I didn’t tell you that there was a big chunk of my childhood that was very tough indeed, and which has involved much untangling with the Lord in the last 12 years or so. I’m not sure if it will ever be right to share the details of that stuff on here, but definitely not today. All the unravelling of those complicated knots, through various stints of counselling and so much healing prayer and ministry, has meant that I can now look back on those years and be grateful that all of that has made me who I am today. I can see too how blessed I am to have a loving family and that amongst the painful memories which used to overshadow everything else, there was also so very much that was good, and that God never departed from my side.

The teenage years
All of that childhood complicatedness played into the next stage of my life, a big house move 100 miles from all my close primary school friends, a new school, a new town, new everything, and the ‘joy’ of the pre-teen years (I am so looking forward those years with our son, ahem!!).

We found a new Anglican Church nearby, but it was very different; it was, as I would later learn, ‘high church’ – incense, bells, church aerobics…, and there was just one group of children, the Junior Church, made up of, ooh, about 5 of us, of a few different ages.

Most of the kids were there, partly because their parents had were part of that church community, but a big part of them being there was about getting into a local former Grammar school which was now a very good Church of England comprehensive…so you can guess what happened about a year or so after I arrived…yep, the other kids pretty much stopped coming. I was already only coming to church with my friends: two sisters and their parents, so it didn’t make any sense for me to come to the family service as I wasn’t there with my family, although I did try for a while – I just felt that I didn’t fit. So, I’m sorry to say I gave up on church. It was at such a difficult time in my life (my Grandad died very suddenly around that time and that knocked me hard) and I just felt the church wasn’t there for me. I didn’t give up on God, I suppose at that time when I was only about 12 or 13, I just didn’t really realise that God and church weren’t the same.

All the same, although I felt so alone, I can look back and see that God was with me, and that He gave me the strength to do what I needed to do. Not only that but I know now that he protected me from all kinds of trauma and disaster in my life that could so easily have befallen me. Over the next few years I trundled through school, doing academically very well, filled with the kind of inner emotional turmoil that seemed little different to that of most of my peers at school (will I ever get a boyfriend, am I loveable, am I ok; what should I do with my life, what do I want; am I pretty, am I ugly; am I funny, am I boring? And so on…). It wasn’t until I got to about 17 that the depression really kicked in. I struggled on, with a bit of counselling, but I was utterly miserable through my sixth form years, and in my lower sixth my grades started to be affected, not good. Also not desperately helped by one of my tutors who told my parents, in front of me, that my health issues were psychosomatic. On reflection I didn’t realise that expertise in sixteenth century English history also gave you in depth mental health knowledge! At the time all I knew was that someone who I had respected, who was in authority over me thought I was no good and simply shirking. Thankfully now I know better.

Flying the nest
Somehow I rallied, having decided that achieving academic excellence would definitely make everything better. I completed my extra GCSE (just for fun!), got through my A-levels, S-levels and additional AS-level with a lot of slog, got my place to do modern languages at Oxford, and that seemed to be me sorted.

Until my next crash (the one where I escaped uni and came home to spend a weekend with my best friend from school and her folks, who asked no questions, but who were unstintingly supportive and an absolute answer to prayer). And the one after that (where I knew I couldn’t cope and took myself off to the GP and formally diagnosed depression for the first time and we tried to deal with it through regular routine and looking after myself, which to be fair worked for a while). And the one after that (the one where I took myself back to the GP and he prescribed the first lot of antidepressants; I bought and read the book, Prozac Nation; them I told my tutors I had depression, which surprised them as students didn’t normally tell them, they mostly had to figure it out for themselves).

Living abroad…with depression
I defiantly had my year in Germany (my home GP got me assigned to a Community Psychiatric Nurse for support, who was the first person I was able to actually talk to about what I had been through. He thought it was madness for me to go and live abroad at that time, but I just couldn’t see any other way as I couldn’t yet explain to anyone else why I was in the state I was and had to just keep going). I moved onto some stronger medication, and armed with a recommended self-help tome or two, off I went. But that was a seriously challenging time for me, a time during which another of my closest friends said she just wanted the old me back as I was so low she almost didn’t recognise me as the same person. Having taken off the old mask of everything being okay, I just couldn’t (not wouldn’t) put it back on any more). I could barely get myself to my job as a part-time teaching assistant some days, I operated in a haze and I recall my German supervisor at the school, Magdalena, having stern words with me at one point, yet when I was there I found that teaching came naturally to me.

At night I would to go to sleep with my headphones on as I didn’t want to have to deal with the cacophony and chaos of my negative thoughts pressing in. Often it was a Madonna CD playing, I was a big fan. Mostly I remember listening to Ray of Light, after all that’s what I needed so desperately at that time. It was on one such night, with the stars arrayed like a blanket spread out across the skylight above my bed, that I sensed God say to me, as clear as a bell, “I am with you”.

I knew without question that it was God, I don’t know how, but I just accepted that. That was it, there was no angelic visitation, no vision of Jesus, no booming voice in the manner of James Mason, as Eddie Izzard would say. Nonetheless, that experience, though it didn’t bring me running back to church (which being in German may not have been much fun for me admittedly), neither did it completely transform me (I still did a whole bunch of stupid stuff after that, of which I am not proud and would not recommend), but it did sustain me through my very lowest times which were, unbelievably, yet to come. I went through a messy break up with the long term boyfriend I had been with since the earliest weeks of uni, with him having had an affair that apparently even my college tutors were aware of before me. I was devastated; floored. I then threw myself into travelling around Germany and the bits of Europe that bordered it, and that distraction technique worked for a while… I finished my teaching year and went to Perpignan for an intensive French course. Although again I passed with flying colours, at points I was quite ready to throw myself off the balcony of my room. Once again God put two truly lovely people across my path, who not really knowing the half of it, took me under their younger wings, and gave me enough hope to keep on going. I will always be grateful to them for being there at just the right time.

Back in Oxford again, then not
I came back to the UK absolutely determined to rise above all these challenges I had faced, and launched myself back into my studies with gusto, having decided to do my optional extended essay by the end of the summer. I went up to Oxford and stayed in a college house offsite to focus, but that voice of failure hovered over me like a dark cloud and once again I reached that low place where the window beckoned temptingly. It sounds so awful now to look back on it, and I know that there were snapshots of happy times interwoven with the bleakness (as a gorgeous picture of my then very little Godson, taken in the back garden of that house as we had a picnic there, reminds me). I booked an appointment with my pastoral tutor who invited me to her home and talked a lot of sense into me, I rang my parents to come and get me urgently and then, to their utter dismay, put in train the mechanisms for me to take a year out of my degree to get the help that I so obviously, when the mask came down, needed. It was such a hard decision, as it not only meant disappointing my parents, it meant leaving behind all my friends. Even assuming I came back, which in itself wasn’t guaranteed, I would be returning to a college full of strangers.

When I first got home my parents struggled to understand what I was going through and why I had apparently opted out of doing my degree. I think they were terrified I would drop out forever and be a failure. For those first few months, I did a whole lot of reading, day and night. Pure escapism into fiction – I was a regular at the library! I slept a lot. I switched off to the world really. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had well and truly taken off the mask. The genie was out of the bottle and would not be out back inside. Now that I wasn’t happy, bubbly, outgoing, confident, life-of-the-party, flirtatious, risqué, super-successful Judith, I didn’t know who to be…and it was terrifying. At that time I didn’t know if I would ever find my way again. I wanted to hurt myself, but thankfully was never quite brave enough. I hatched all kinds of plans in my mind which never came to fruition, they call it ‘suicidal ideation’. If you identify with those feelings, then please ask for help and keep asking until you get the support you need, Samaritans was a lifeline to me on more than one occasion; especially in the middle of the night when friends and family were either asleep or just wouldn’t be able to understand.

Eventually the fourth even stronger type of antidepressants must have kicked in, along with my Mum kicking me out if bed and in the direction of a temping agency, and I got a job. In the true manner of how things had been before, I was good as an administrator and PA, but it was hard work keeping up appearances at work; maintaining a veneer of normality. I went to regular counselling sessions with a social worker with some counselling training as it was best the NHS could offer me while I waited for the more specialist help I had taken time out of my degree to get. Such is life that my appointment for my 10 week course of sessions finally came through as I was about to head back to university, but I got there in the end, it just meant that I had to commute back and forth for them in between lectures and tutorials!

Oxford University is an amazing place and I learned so much there…sadly I just can’t particularly say I had the gloriously happy time pictured in the films and brochures. My college was very supportive of me taking that additional year out, and my tutor was brilliant with me, unfortunately as accomplished as they were, it was just that none of the Fellows had a magic wand! In the end I came away with my high 2:1 degree that I’d wanted, I had just taken an additional year over it. I left with no huge hoard of Oxford buddies with all those shared experiences from Freshers week, no rowing experiences, and no job. I did however maintain one very special friendship through from those early days at Oxford, with a precious friend who stood by me through thick and thin. And I came away with a very special man in my life, who I would never have met had it not been for that extra year out! And he would eventually become my husband, oh, and even more amazingly out of the blue I left with a rediscovered faith!

My husband and Jesus
How did that last bit about the husband happen, I hear you ask?? Well, in my final year I lived on a corridor in the nicest of the on site college buildings, with just me and nine guys, ideal you might say for finding a fella. In fact, despite my better judgement having vowed to focus only on my studies, I had returned to university with a boyfriend back home (we were both on the rebound, never a great idea). That was all over by the Christmas (gutted once again and utterly depressed that I was a hopeless case, unloveable, unwanted, a mess, destined to be alone…), but meanwhile I’d become friends with one particular guy who was a good friend of the only two girls I till knew from before I’d left for Germany two years previously as they like him had been in the year below. We used to chat a lot and cooked together quite often, and after the Christmas break, I came back newly single (and devastated) and he came back sporting a new haircut and a cross on a chain around his neck! Now I knew that being a physicist he valued science and knowledge greatly (who does that sound like?!), and he found it a mighty challenge to overcome his scepticism to embrace any kind of faith, so when we first met he was most definitely a dyed in the wool atheist.

What miracle had happened over Christmas? Well, unbeknownst to me, or any of his friends, bar one, after many deep and meaningful conversations with another friend of ours, who happened to the the daughter of a vicar, he had been going to an Alpha course the previous term on the quiet. The series of talks and dinners had finished just before Christmas and he had made the leap of faith to commit to a life following Jesus. He came back to Oxford in the January on fire and so enthusiastic about his new-found faith, that he rather cheekily, I thought, put a Nicky Gumble book (link) outside my door. He left it with a post-it note attached saying, read this particular page. I couldn’t believe his audacity, after all I’d been a Christian way longer than him, since childhood in fact! I didn’t need him to try and convert me! Ok, I wasn’t living life in a particularly Christian manner, so he probably could have been forgiven for not realising… Of course, curiosity got the better of me after a few days and I couldn’t resist reading the section he had marked for me. I couldn’t even tell you what it said, but the next thing I knew, not only were we together as a couple, but I found myself saying, “So, when can I come to this church of yours then?!”. God most definitely has a sense of humour!

Church and the Holy Spirit
We went to St Aldate’s, a very studenty, happy type of church, which is much like where we are now, but at the time I couldn’t really quite deal with how far different it was from the church I had experienced just 9 years earlier – I recognised none of the songs (where was ‘the battle of Jericho’, or ‘Jubilate Deo’?!!), and there was no church aerobics, but instead around 40 minutes of sung worship, (with people who weren’t in the choir (there was no choir!) singing loudly in harmony right behind me), so having dressed up smartly (another mistake as everyone else was in their normal jeans and jumpers) in my high-heeled boots and skirt etc, my feet were killing me by the time we sat down for the sermon! I found it hard to adjust, so we headed off to St Andrew’s in North Oxford where we were welcomed in like family. To be honest, we were there barely over a term, but they treated us as if we would be there forever and we loved it so much that neither of us wanted to leave Oxford after finishing, just so we could stay at our church! It was there that I first did the Alpha course, mostly as a way of meeting others in the church, but my eyes were truly opened. An adult in a way that as a child I couldn’t have understood.

As part of that Alpha course, we had a Holy Spirit day at a beautiful house just outside the city. On that day we learned all about who the third person of the Godhead, God the Father and Jesus the Son being the first and second. We also had the opportunity to be prayed for and to receive the Holy Spirit. What did that look like, quite simply sitting at a table with one of the group leaders, them praying for me and asking God to send his Holy Spirit, and me holding out my hands in a posture of being ready to receive. I had no idea of what to expect, and in some ways I can’t really remember exactly what happened, but one way or another, I experienced a closeness of God, an intimacy, a warmth, a lightness, a clear-headedness and certainty that I had never experienced before. Something changed that day in me, something that was different to having made the choice to welcome God into my life, and it was like a switch being thrown that can never be thrown back by anyone or anything. I don’t mean that I no longer have free will, of course I do. I could walk away from my faith if I really wanted to, but the way I would describe it is that receiving the Holy Spirit, is like the pilot light in a gas oven having been lit (remember those?), once it’s on, you can turn it to the minimum, you can choose never to let that fire burn brightly in you again, but it is there for you no matter what, whenever you need it, ready and waiting. It’s our choice.

Marriage and growing up
Since then, we’ve overcome us having had a long distance relationship involving much motorway driving, particularly for my long-suffering other half who came to see me far more than me him (my place was much nicer!); overcome opposition from family to us being together; overcome my own initial scepticism at us lasting the course (I was pretty brutal at first and said I wasn’t guaranteeing our relationship beyond the end of the summer term – ouch! It probably served me right then, that by the end of that Summer I knew I wanted to be with him forever, but it took a further 2 years and 9 months before we got married at long last!); overcome us being made redundant from both of our first jobs; more challenges with anxiety and depression, and so much more. So you can see that it hasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, been easy or straight-forward since inviting the Jesus into my life, but I can tell you though that my life has been totally transformed. It is immeasurably better than it would undoubtedly have been had I continued on the path I was walking on my own, and I am such a different person now (kinder, more humble, more caring, more balance, more forgiving, more thoughtful, more genuine, more secure…) I have so much to thank my husband, and of course God for!

Where does that leave me now? Well some years on, I’m still learning, still growing, still being challenged, still being humbled. I’ve been privileged enough to lead, to teach, to pastor and to minister to others within our church, and I have a huge heart to reach out to others, especially those who have been hurt along the way, those who would be so blessed by a touch of an awesome, loving God in their lives. I’m a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend, and each of those roles has taught me so much about my relationship with God, how rich, how deep, how multi-faceted and yet how simple it is.

So, my identity? Ultimately it’s in Jesus, it’s in Him that everything about me comes together and makes sense. He has taken all the tough stuff in my life and has worked it all together for good into the most amazing pattern. It is still very much emerging and like the back of a tapestry, quite messy, but which the end of my life will be seen from a different vantage point and I believe will have been perfected by Him.

Having got this far (congratulations!) it’s now your turn…how do you introduce yourself to others?
Where do you find your identity? How do you define yourself?
Or perhaps that’s something you’re still figuring out?
And what have been the big influences or milestones in your life?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and responses… :-)

Light in the darkness

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On a hill, an empty cross stands; high above a city.

An innocent man died. Nailed to a cross.

Died the death of a criminal.

Yet in the light of his radiance I saw my guilt all too clearly; as I stood there in judgment.

I didn’t understand. I didn’t know!

How could I??

He was bound so I might be free.
My debts now paid.
My soul ransomed

That Passover He was the lamb; pure and without fault, sacrificed so that we might be spared death.

Where there was sin, a turning away from God, a blood sacrifice had to be made.
The law demanded it.

The scales of justice were weighed and our sins hung in the balance against us. The wages of sin is death.

How could I ever escape my debt; this millstone around my neck?

I was separated from God, far from his perfection, his purity, his love – so very far away.

In one selfless act, those sins were forever wiped out. Obliterated. Forgotten. Never to be held against me, or you. A slate wiped clean. Once and for all time. The way back to my Daddy made clear.

My heart is overwhelmed. I emerge from blackness into the light. All things made new.

I am not perfect. I may not be that bad. But I can never claim that I deserved the death of another; His death substituted for my own.

He took my place on that cross. I see it now. I can scarcely take it in.

I have known pain, but I can never know the pain of a Son separated from his Heavenly Father. A very part of His being.

Never before alone, and for those three days unutterably so.

The sky is dark. That cross now stands empty.

Somehow, where the darkness meets the light, the darkness is darker and the light shines out even more brightly.

So that we too may stand on that hill and stand like a beacon of light in the night.