What is a mother?

Mother’s Day: We think of a mother and young child – it’s a classic image; but of course it’s only one of many ways that we experience ‘mothers’ and motherhood. Here are just some of the mother figures I could come up with:

  • House Mother in a Boarding School
  • Step-mum
  • Mother-in-law (or Mother-Outlaw?)
  • Adoptive Mum
  • Birth or Biological Mother
  • A neighbourhood ‘adopted’ Mum
  • The ‘mum’ of the friendship group (the sensible one who has tissues in her bag, a shoulder to cry on and chicken soup at the ready)
  • Mother Earth
  • The mother-heart of God – who longs to gather us in, like chicks sheltered under their mother’s wing

The whole concept of ‘Motherhood’ can evoke strong emotions. It may be that you never knew the woman who carried you in her womb. There is a disconnect there: a cutting off, a dislocation, a rootlessness, even rejection. 

…the egg from which we developed was formed in our grandmother’s womb…

It is strange to think that the egg from which we developed was formed in our grandmother’s womb…growing in the unborn child that would become our mother. There is such a deep sense of connection running through – or sometimes we feel at least that there ought to be. 

‘Motherhood’ may sum up for you a host of hopes unfulfilled. Something you imagined would always ‘just happen’, and for one reason or another, it has not come to fruition. In fact, often times, it’s something that was very carefully avoided – even feared – until the ‘right time’. For people who haven’t experienced this emptiness it can be hard to comprehend the depths of grief it evokes. The complex bundle of relentlessly regular cycle of hope and disappointment; the sense of failure or even (self-)blame; the questioning of identity – if not a mother, then who am I?

What about ‘Mothering’? 

After all, this day was originally known as Mothering Sunday? “Stop mothering him! He’s got to learn to stand on his own two feet!” It can bring to mind the so-called helicopter parents; the idea of the apron strings being firmly tied on; or even the umbilical cord not yet cut! Perhaps the phrase is redolent of over-protectiveness, or even cultivating dependence. 

Can you be maternal without being a mother? 

Of course! I was always very maternal growing up – despite being a younger sister, the role of big cousin came very naturally when there was something of a baby boom in the wider family. In fact, I was always the ‘mum’ of our friendship group – and still friends from the school gate, who aren’t really that close, will confide in me their heartbreaking dilemmas and worries. Someone to listen. Someone who won’t judge, or preach. Someone to comfort and hold. Someone to gently guide, inform or advise; or someone just to sit alongside. 

Carrying a child is only a very small part of being a mother – as many friends who have struggled with infertility; have adopted; or who were given up for adoption; and many who got pregnant just fine, but found the reality of having a tiny person entirely dependent on them completely overwhelming (not to mention the pervasive post-natal depression that may strike at anyone, no matter how sunny their character or strong their faith). 

Perhaps we grieve a mother who has left this earth (lost too soon, or even at a ripe old age – as someone said to me last year, their elderly mum having had a stroke – it doesn’t matter how old you are, you still need your mum) Wheyher or not you agree with that sentiment, I think there are certainly times when we wish we had someone to hold us, love and comfort us, even simply reassure us – and often the shorthand name for that person is ‘mum’.

Sometimes it’s more the case that we feel too keenly the imperfections, or absence, of parents still alive. My hope is that each of us will find someone around us to be a mother-figure; or perhaps a collection of friends whose sum total represents the family we would wish we had had. 

The Hallmark profit-generating shindig that is Mother’s Day is largely an artifice – with saccharine pseudo-poetry gracing a £4.50 card adorned with flowers – and armfuls of teddies, fridge magnets and fresh flowers at the ready. Yes, it’s a good thing to take time to honour mothers – but not all those who are mothers to us, are ‘mothers’; and sadly not all mothers are kind or even loving. 

My parents aren’t perfect and my biggest learning on this journey we call adulthood has been to learn to accept them as they are – and not to dwell on who I might have wanted or even needed them to be. They are who they are – and acceptance is a powerful and ongoing gift. I won’t buy a card whose words I couldn’t, hand on heart, say face to face to someone. Words are important to me, as a linguist I suppose that should be no surprise.  So, I won’t be a hypocrite for the sake of a retail event. I do however look for those things for which I can be truly thankful, and do my best to show my appreciation accordingly.

As a mother of one son (we would that there had been more children – but that’s in God’s hands and his timing), I recognise that however hard I try, someday my son will be disappointed in me – it’s inevitable. We joke that we’ve already put money aside for his future therapy! We are all imperfect and we’re simply doing the best with the resources we have available to us at any given time. Of course, the trick to finding a healthy balance of being a mother / mothering / being maternal – biological or not – is to recognise when things could be improved and go out looking for more and better resources for ourselves (professional support, advice, training, information, peer support), to do an even better job at this role we call ‘mother’. There are some great, free parenting courses available out there for instance.

Parenting: one long obstacle course?

My boy gave me the most wonderful card this morning – I was absolutely touched, but my reaction was also to say to him and my husband, “If I live up to even half of these claims, I’ll be doing well!” – I hope he knows I’ll always love and accept him – through my mistakes and his.

When reflecting on this subject I thought about the most famous mothers (famous for that title rather than just happening to have offspring) – I came up with two – so who you think came to mind ?
Mother Theresa – never a biological mother, though arguably (and I recognise that not everyone agrees with this) ‘mothered’ thousands of people.

And Mary, Mother of Jesus (likeness according to Leonardo da Vinci):

Let’s remember that Mary never asked to become a mother at all! It looked at one stage like she might be a single mother; she had to give birth in a strange place, amongst the animals, and away from family and friends. Then they had to flee to another country as refugees.  And later still her son clearly prioritised his God-given calling over his family. 

At a time when Jesus was persecuted and falsely accused, His mother and brothers were concerned about His welfare. They came to the house where He was residing:

 “A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:31–35, New Revised Standard Version).

 Although Jesus loved and respected His physical mother, brothers and sisters, His primary concern was for the spiritual family that followed His teaching.


Not quite the picture perfect nuclear family!

At the end of her famous (or at that time, more accurately ‘notorious’) son’s life, He looked down from the cross and called upon his best friend, John, to take His place, and become a son to Mary, and to take care of her as his own mother, 

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Jesus saw quite clearly that being a mother or son had less to do with biology, than it had to do with relationship, respect and honour; love, protection, acceptance and care (by the way, ‘woman’ was a term of endearment back then – just in case that jarred with you too?).

So a few thoughts to end. Perhaps this mothers day, as well as acknowledging the person in your life you call ‘Mum’…

  • take a look at the others around you who share in those attributes – honour them with thanks as well. 
  • look at who you know – could you offer some of these qualities, possibly as a mentor or even spiritual parent, to someone who needs care and guidance?
  • send a note of kindness to someone for whom this day is hard – either because of the loss of their mum, a great distance between them, or maybe the grief of their own motherhood denied.
  • lift up in prayer those who have lost children or unborn babies. A mother who loses a child, whether she has more or not, will always be a mother – forever changed by this monumentous experience. 
  • recognise those, known and unknown to us, who may be a biological mother, but lack the skills and role models to provide their child with the qualities we associate with motherhood. Rather than jump to judge, as we all too often do, look to offer a word of encouragement or solidarity. Parenting is a tough job, and judgment just makes it harder. 
  • if you are a mum, be kind to yourself. You may not feel like ‘Best Mum in the World’ or ‘Supermum’ whatever that shiny new mug might say, but remind yourself- ‘this is what it is right now’. Tomorrow can be different. If you’re feeling ‘under-resourced’ or drowning, help is out there. The first step is to acknowledge it, and reach out for help. 

If all that sounds too much like hard work, of course, feel free to make a cuppa, pop your slippered feet up on the sofa, and enjoy these flowers from me to you. 

Leave me your own thoughts below and in the meantime, have a…

Happy Mother’s Day

If you liked this blog, I would love it if you would leave me a comment of encouragement and share it too. Thank you.


What is your emergency?

I’ve been watching a three-part documentary called ‘Ambulance’ on the BBC. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a watch on iPlayer. 

‘Ambulance’ – BBC (c)

As fascinating as I found it, it challenged me. I used to think I had bundle loads of empathy, but watching some of the calls who ‘waste’ the time, money and resources of the London ambulance service, I find my true colours coming out and I’m not sure I like what I find. My levels of empathy definitely have limits! For example I feel immensely frustrated with the failing of the mental health provision available. It seems to me that we need a mental health A&E – for those who are having a lapse into unmediated bipolar; who are full of anxiety and can’t get hold of their care teams; who are threatening to jump off Hammersmith Bridge; who are homeless and incoherent; who are having a crisis in the throes of dementia and constantly, and I mean constantly, phoning for ambulances. I’m not cross with those people – and yet at the same time when there’s someone else, for instance, whose 6 year old daughter has fallen from a bunk bed and hit her head – it is frustrating to see the delays in others getting treatment. For those with issues of homelessness and/or alcoholism – is an ambulance what they really need? Wouldn’t sustained help to rehabilitate, to get warm, to get fed, to get cared for be better?

And what of the elderly? Some with no friends, no family and failing health – lonely, worried, vulnerable. One man has a carer come in three times a day, but it’s not enough to stop him calling for ambulances again and again and telling them his heart hurts. I almost wonder if it’s heartache – he seems so desperate for someone to look after him, to care about him. It’s not traumatic heart pain and he doesn’t need taking to hospital so the ambulance crew discharges him, again. You can’t help feeling that he may well call them back before the night is through. He is clearly troubled.  Where is our social care in all this?

The ambulance service staff talk about what avenues are open to them, and those which simply aren’t there. What would it be better to do with and for the homeless guy who discharged himself from hospital with a canula still in his hand (it can’t be removed by the ambulance staff – why, I’m not sure)? Back to hospital he goes, with his suspiciously diluted bottle of Coke which he gulps regularly, and clarifies his priorities, “when I get there, I’m going to tell them I want a sandwich, otherwise I’ll die.” They get there and they’re out of sandwiches for patients apparently (who even knew that was a thing?) and the best they can offer is bread and jam. Apparently that’s not up to standard – he doesn’t like bread and jam. Huh. Then he falls asleep sat in a chair in the warmth waiting for his canula to be removed. It’s a result of sorts.

It’s a strange kind of poverty that we see here, and compares peculiarly with what you see in other countries where we see people fall on a sack of uncooked rice or flour like vultures, desperate for anything to feed their families. Perhaps it’s a poverty of community, of social care, of family? I don’t know. Neither, it is clear, does the government.  

I feel frustrated for the paramedics on a Friday night dealing with an ecstasy drug overdose; a stabbing, sorry no – stabbing, after stabbing, after stabbing; a taxi driver punched; a guy in a pub glassed in the face…by a woman; people passed out from alcohol; people fighting – is the assailant still on scene? On with the stab vest. Seriously? This isn’t what these courageous, caring people signed up for (although one young paramedic does love the adrenaline of the unexpected and the chaotic – just as well really!).

The guy who has the unenviable job of assessing the calls and deciding who gets an ambulance, and who must wait when there is no one available – that’s right, no first responders, no ambulance crews, no air ambulance, no motorbikes, none of the private ambulances contracted to provide additional cover, no volunteer responders (again, who knew?) – he says he anticipated making a difference, helping deliver babies by phone,

and giving life saving instructions for CPR – it’s just not like that now, they are small percentage of calls.

I mentioned empathy – and I found it really hard to continue to feel for the woman who repeatedly calls up saying she’s having an late miscarriage of a stillborn baby when really she’s an alcoholic and just wants help and attention. Especially when that means a 92 year old ‘elderly faller’ who has been on the floor for hours (three hours, I think, in the end) has his ambulance diverted away at the last moment to help her. 

She has needs clearly – but an ambulance wasn’t the answer. 
What of the older man with bipolar who hasn’t been taking his medication. He has been sat outside in the cold for hours, and his son is at a loss as to how persuade him to accept help. He won’t let the paramedic even touch him. The police have to be called to assist.

The only ‘avenue open to them’ is to take him to hospital- it’s that or if he resists help and is a danger to himself or others, it’s the police station. Sadly he’s been there before. They do their best to care for him without having to resort to handcuffs and manage it in the end. You can’t help feeling though that this mental health problem and the man suffering with it, is like a ball in a pinball machine, passed from pillar to post. 

Now, they’ve done their bit, the police and ambulance can get on with dealing with other more serious call outs, and he becomes the hospital’s problem. I’m not entirely sure what they will be able to do for him, but it’s pretty certain that numerous nurses and doctors and other hospital staff will be involved. They will now get to tussle with him, cajole, persuade and placate him with a mental health band-aid until the morning comes, when I guess his social worker or mental health care professional will be contacted- “Aha! Tag! You’re ‘it’!”. But strangely no one is laughing; and the ambulance crew know that more likely than not, they’ll meet this chap again- in a week or a month. Do I feel cross with him for stopping taking his medication and ‘bringing this upon himself’? Momentarily, yes; but of course I know it’s not that simple, and medication isn’t the panacea we wish it were.

The call out for the ambulance is about £450. Imagine totting up the cost of all those resources and staff across all the different services – police, ambulance, hospital, social care, mental health.  And what of the human cost to this man and his family – this is no way to live.  What better illustration of a system which is clearly, if not already broken, then certainly at breaking point?

If I were to end there, it would be pretty depressing. As a tenacious problem solver, I can’t let it stop at that point. The question becomes, so what can I do?

There are different trains of thought here – many would be tempted to say, “well it’s the fault of the government isn’t it”, and then list a litany of criticisms; or perhaps complain about the local MP or NHS. Others might be spurred in to enter politics themselves.

On the one hand it’s too easy to blame; and on the other whilst making a difference politically may be laudable, personally I can bear neither the snail’s pace of progress, the schoolboy posturing of parliament or the untold bureaucracy of local government. Equally whilst campaigning at a strategic level is important – yes, you must lobby your MP and your local council when you see the opportunity to make a difference, if you leave it there, you miss the opportunity to make a difference yourself, today even.

“What can I possibly do, faced with these enormous issues??”

I mentioned community above, so how about some starters for ten: do you know your neighbours? Are there elderly people living on your street? Are there young people you can positively engage with? If you could extend care and compassion to those in your immediate vicinity, you – yes you, can make a difference. 

Pah! I hear you say, so what if I help just one person, how can that ever help our current crisis?

Have you heard of the starfish analogy? Where the little boy says, ‘yes but I made a difference to that one’. Some might say there are limitations to this parable in that blindly doing one thing, without looking at the bigger picture of the ecology and the root cause, could at best cause burnout for the ‘little boy’ and at worst perpetuate the problem with no long term resolution. 

If we want to see significant social change, I think we may need to acknowledge that Government can do some things that impact society, but I don’t think it can cause fundamental culture change; that has to happen from the ground up.

Much of political policy is about looking at dealing with symptoms – more policing, more prisons, more drug treatment programmes perhaps – but what of the root causes?  These are often too big for a political party with a 4-5 year mandate to get to grips with. They require cross-party consensus, cross-cultural participation and commitment to make a long term sustainable difference. 

What are the possible causes behind this panoply of social issues? Breakdown of the family and it’s dispersal far and wide – away from elderly family. Loneliness of older people – some living kinger than others, but sadly often outliving spouses and friends. And the loneliness of young people and children too – living in a world where people think they’re connected – by the wonders of the Internet, but we know according to research this generation is the loneliest ever; cyber-bullying continues unabated; parents are advised to talk frankly with their under-10s about the dangers of sexting. Wow.

We see both adults and teens desperate for escape – they don’t know how to deal with their problems, dysfunctional family life, the mental health issues (estimates vary from 1 in 4 of us having mental health challenges in their lifetime, to 1 in 2. I can put my hand up and say that I am and have been one of that number.) Do people know how to get help? Where do they turn? All too often it is to easily available alcohol – bargains abound in pubs, clubs and supermarkets? Or to drugs perhaps? 

It seems to me, these are people lacking two important things in their lives – hope and purpose. They don’t know what the point of life is any more, and they despair of their existence getting any better. 

‘Be the difference you want to see in the world’ ~ Ghandi

What if on your daily wanderings through life, you could inject a little hope into those who cross your path?

  • Perhaps with the supermarket checkout worker? Give them a smile or a compliment. 
  • Could you give a hearty or silly wave to the kids on the bus and see if someone waves back? See the delight on their little faces!
  • Let that annoying pushy executive car out into the traffic with a smile and a gesture of ‘you’re welcome’. Choose to bless rather than curse them in their stress and drive to hurry wherever they’re going.
  • Thank your child’s teacher for the job they’re doing with your kid – even if you don’t totally agree with everything they do – they’re doing the best they can.
  • See a police person out and about? Give them a thumbs up, or a smile, or a word of thanks.  Be a role model to those around you – show that we respect and are grateful to the defenders of our society and the upholders of the law. 
  • Greet older people out and about – they might look at you askance at first, but persevere – being the ‘salt and light’ in a bland and dark society takes courage and heart! Before long they’ll recognise you and greet you first, and how great does that feel?!

Imagine it starting with you, and with me. Then imagine an army of ordinary people rising up to stamp the ground, and shake the earth just where they stand. Tapping into the organisations already working in these areas*, finding more and more synergies and connections. Wouldn’t the tremors of positive social change start to spread far and wide? You might be just one lantern in the darkness – but what if we were one of thousands or even millions chasing away the shadows and the darkness that pervades our society?

 It’s the accumulated power of the little things. 

If a group of neighbours rallied round to look out for that potential ‘elderly faller’ and pick them up when they fall down. That’s one person quickly helped, an ambulance call saved, and a person having a stroke or heart attack more quickly attended to. 

What if more of us had first aid qualifications? I’ve had to give CPR before – it’s brutal, but it can be life saving. You can make a difference there and then – and if an ambulance is called out, then you know you’ve got that patient into the best possible position for a good outcome with the paramedics.

What if you took the time to find out who amongst the parents at the school gate had asthma, epilepsy or diabetes? What if you took the time to ask and find out what life saving care they could need? A diabetic going into a hypo could be saved by a sugary sweet or drink – life saving help right there and then with the right knowledge. 

I love Jesus with all my heart and I try to love him with every aspect of my life – hands to help, feet to go, voice to speak out on behalf of those who can’t, heart to love, eyes to see those in need, finances to bless, time to give and to serve. It strikes me that my first aid qualification is years out of date now – I still remember most of what I learned but it wouldn’t take much time, effort or money to renew it. To make myself available to those in my immediate surroundings.

Jesus’s told the shocked and appalled pharisees the story of the Good Samaritan (link) – and people today often say, well who is my neighbour? Let’s start with our neighbours. Knock on the door, introduce yourself, take biscuits  – invite them for a cuppa. You never know when you might be on the receiving end of their help. 

It took a bit of courage to knock on the door of our neighbours on a cold winter especially afternoon after we had moved in to our place, and some older folk were pretty suspicious at first.

But since then, neighbours have become precious friends: people who babysit for us; who have called to tell me that in my distracted state I had left the front door wide open; other neighbours who called to let us know that some unexpected tradespeople had tripped our burglar alarm on a Sunday morning; they’ve shared harvest from their gardens or allotments; they’ve provided a shoulder to cry on when times have been tough; we’ve helped with transport to hospital; they’ve watered plants; we’ve messaged to check everything was alright when the curtsins were closed and the lights off for more than a day or two – illness turned out to be the reason; we’ve watched films; commiserated over England’s sporting defeats; had a bring and share lunch, explored selling unwanted stuff on Facebook together!

Isn’t that what building community is all about? When you take a little time to become vulnerable yourself, to risk rejection, to be a little brave…who knows, you might just make the world of difference.
I hope these thoughts stir you up, and make you want to make a difference to your neighbourhood and your spheres of influence!

  • Who could you reach out and make a connection with today?
  • If you have elderly parents or friends – what would you want their community to be like – every day and in times of need?
  • If you have a faith- would you prayer walk your streets and ask for blessing and protection over all those who live there?
  • Could you make a point of smiling and saying hi to the dog walkers and the shoppers at your corner shop?
  • What will you do differently today? 

I’d love to know what resonates for you, and if you’d like to share in the comments below how you are creating a community you want to live in, or what you will start doing, that would make my spirit soar!
* Here in Gloucestershire for organisations I can recommend:

  • The Barnwood Trust – building communities and offering free training for this
  • Trinity Church Cheltenham – homeless ministry ‘The Garage’ and Street Teams
  • Age UK
  • GRCC manages befriending services for the elderly
  • CCP working with children, young people, families and vulnerable adults who have multiple and complex needs
  • Street Pastors engaging people all kinds of people out and about in the evenings and weekends
  • Young Gloucestershire works with young people not in education, employment or training – and offer Prince’s Trust programmes as well. They are always on the look out for volunteer mentors to support their young people  

Pool or Mirage 

​Isaiah 35:7 “The mirage shall become a pool.” (NASB)

A platoon of soldiers was marching through the blistering heat of the Egyptian desert during the Second World War in desperate pursuit of water. Their guide was confident of where to find it, but suddenly one of the troops spotted a beautiful desert lake several miles away. It was undeniable. So despite the guide’s pleading, they hurried off course towards that beautiful water. Sadly as they approached, the lake grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared in the sand. It had been appearance without reality. They had chased a mirage, and we only know about this because it was recorded in one of the troops’ journal in his dying hours.

Are you caught up pursuing mirages, rather than the pool – keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus?

We’re bombarded with adverts promising happiness and fulfillment if only we acquire what they suggest we can’t do without.

Can you think of any potential mirages in your own life?
Sometimes even perfectly good things can end up being mirages. Phil Vischer, the founder of the children’s hit series Vegetales, went from being a multi-millionaire to bankruptcy when one of his distributors sued him. In Phil’s words: “If God gives a person a dream, breathes life into it and then it dies then God might want to know what is more important to the person—the dream or God… The impact God has planned for us doesn’t occur when we’re pursuing impact. It occurs when we’re pursuing God. At long last, after a lifetime of striving, God was enough. Not God and impact or God and ministry. Just God.”

So much of that hit me hard. Think about it: the impact God wants you to have for him doesn’t come when you pursue impact – it comes when you pursue God.

This is a daily challenge to keep your eyes on the narrow path, avoiding temptation and other shiny prospects.

But seek first his kingdom<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-23316A" data-link="(A)” style=”line-height: 22px; vertical-align: top; font-size: 0.625em;”> and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33 NIV)

Lord Jesus, please help me see the mirages for what they are, and to pursue the Pool instead of the mirage.

What a tangled web we weave

The other day I found several messy bundles of tangled cotton thread – straight off whole reels and directly into ‘tangle-dom’ – my heart sank and I was just a touch cross with the ‘perpetrator’. (For more of the back story and something of what I learned about myself in the untangling process, pop over to the Connected Coaching blog and take a peek.)

Long story short, I ended up untangling some of the thread. As I did so, my hands were busy, but my mind was occupied much less than usual with the task at hand, needing as it did little intellectual thought, and a lot more perseverance and determination! At times like these I suspect God sighs with relief, and says something like, “Finally! Now she’s not so swept up with her own thoughts, worries, plans – analysing, struggling and empathising, perhaps I might now get a word in edgeways and she’ll actually be able to hear me!”. 

And so it was, as I carefully drew threads apart, teasing, pulling, gently prising, this is what I saw.

My thread was golden, and I saw it as if a daddy were looking at his son or daughter; a mass of energetic potential which had got itself into a terrible mess. 

If this child were to try to extract itself, much like me, it would struggle to find the free ends, and even then with each pull or semblance of progress, something somewhere else would pull fast. The knot would become unworkable and more loops and twists would suddenly have formed. Frustration would surely ensue!

I was challenged as to the value of the thread. Why not throw it away and start again? 

My time is worth so very much more! It seems quite ridiculous.

Dad looks on. He could never again give up on His child like that! He had wiped the face of the earth once before in horror at what his creation had become and the mess they had made, but had promised resolutely never to do that again. 

He loves his children fiercely and jealously. He pursues them, gently though, always hoping, believing they will let Him ease out the tangles, loosen the knots and bring things back into alignment.

He looks at that golden thread. He knows full well that the enemy will whisper to His precious children – ‘You’re worthless’, ‘God’s given up on you; abandoned you, you’re condemned to be messed up like this forever’, ‘Your parents probably wish they could chuck you away again and start all over with your little brother’, ‘What a disappointment!, ‘What a monumental mess you’ve made of things!’, 

‘Well, you’d better sort yourself out, get straightened up on your own – surely know one is going to come to your rescue now – they wouldn’t want to know you if they saw what you were really like inside’. 

It’s important to know and remember, the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy (our truth, our love, our peace, our future, our relationships – especially our spiritual childlike-ness). (John 10:10). The only father the devil is good for, is being the father of lies.

When God looks at that tangled thread, he might feel sad for his child, but he doesn’t condemn; he doesn’t throw his hands up in despair, or roll his eyes in contempt at his kids’ predictable lapses. He is committed to the process with a heart full of love.

He sees those pinch points, he knows our pain and distress. He works slowly and tenderly, taking just one piece at a time. Work it a little, find the lines of the thread, seek out the roots, loosen it up. “I’ll come back to that part in a bit, that’s enough for now.”

Then taking up another tangle, working now with that – what looked like an impenetrable and hopeless bunch of fibres, suddenly come loose revealing a few twists here and there. Finding a knot that wasn’t really much of a knot, just a small loop around some other loops. He sees where the thread has become immovable, where it seems a cut must be made to make any more progress, his penetrative gaze sees how truth and lies have become twisted together meaning they are stuck, apparently embedded the one in the other. Somehow, with a delicate pull here, and a teasing apart there, they fall apart so easily as if they had never been attached. 

Occasionally there is a small length that must be cut out. It is knotted in on itself and to try to prise it apart would shred the cotton to pieces. The part that has already been wound back onto the reel just won’t fit through.

To preserve the part that has been saved and to continue to make progress, it is cleaner, kinder, just better to simply remove it – as a surgeon takes out tissue that has become infected. 

Michaelangelo (allegedly) said of when he created his most famous stunning statue, all he had to do was the chip away all the stone that wasn’t David. 

Now, regardless of the fact that it’s highly unlikely to have been said by him or any other famous sculptor, there an enchanting idea contained therein which perpetuates the myth.  Similarly it occurred to me that with this cotton thread, perhaps the Lord simply takes out those parts which never truly reflected his child; the sections that added nothing to his or her potential. As he continues the untangling – a life long process it seems, he gently removes that tiny knot which would prove such an obstacle if you were to try to thread it through a needle; or that frayed part which would no doubt have broken the thread under the least tension or strain.

There are times when it seems that God takes something away from us which we had been very attached to. 

We find that even lengths of cotton that have been freed still have kinks and creases which encourage the thread to twist up again at the least opportunity. To be properly marshalled they must be turned round and round the bobbin – kept under tension to keep them in place.

 Left to their own devices they would return to their troubled nature! Only later can we look back and see the bigger picture. See how it was for our benefit or how he worked it all together for our good.  For a future – at that time yet hidden from us.

Let me know what you think. Are you in a place of tangles perhaps, or feeling fairly safely wound onto that reel at the moment?

Circles of Prayer

At the moment my holiday reading is The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, which I thoroughly recommend! It’s a seriously powerful read which challenges us to dream huge dreams, audacious, crazily impossible dreams…unless God were to get involved!

This book has provoked me to reflect on my own circles of prayer…

Prayer for a place to live… if I’m perfectly honest, at this stage of my walk with God, in 2002 ago, it wasn’t so much a prayer as a cry of my heart, as back then I had no idea of praying for my everyday needs.

This prayer was answered by the owners of the bed and breakfast where I stayed as part of my relocation for my first post-uni job, who suggested a flat just a few doors down from them which was available to rent. Consequence? I was ideally positioned to see for myself how vibrant a church Trinity was (although I still wasn’t in the parish, even though I could see it from my front gate – it’s a truly tiny parish!); then I realised I’d really found myself in the perfect place when I discovered that a couple of my age leading a home group lived nearby…in fact in the flat above! Coincidence or God-incidence??!

Prayer for my now husband, then boyfriend, to ask me to marry me…I had asked him many, many times. I look back now and wonder whether it was simply justice that, having started out quite brutally in our relationship at university saying to him that I couldn’t guarantee this going any further than the remaining two terms of uni (bad history with ex’s), once he’d been away with Tearfund on one of their Transform teams over the whole summer, I then realised that this was the man I wanted to marry (after six months together)!

Unfortunately for me, The Lord clearly decided to teach me a lesson in patience and perseverance, as well as simply waiting for His timing, as we were together for two years and three months (not that I was counting!) before he popped the question. (He had had to tell me to stop asking him, else he would never ask me!!). The Lord was so gracious in that time, and during one of the many times I went forward for prayer at church, and prayed with my prayer partners, I was given, by a complete stranger, the picture of a ring – I could have wept with relief!

Consequence? I’ve learned a lesson in persistence, and in not forcing God’s plans. Our wedding wasn’t the timing I would have planned, but I look back and am glad that God made me wait and really press in for this marriage so that later on I would know how much I wanted to fight for it when things got tough.

Prayers for our wedding venue…we desperately wanted a particular venue, and for it to be on the first May bank holiday weekend, at the same time as the Cheltenham Jazz Festival which was where we’d been the evening of our engagement. It didn’t look like we were going to get it, but after much prayer it came through. Consequence? I learned that our God is the God of the details, and when we care about things, so does He. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get exactly what you pray for, after all He may have a much better plan for you, but it does mean He sees, he hears and He cares.

Prayer for my wedding dress…Our wedding was planned on a tight budget; we had a spreadsheet and everything (designed by my beloved), and moreover I actually used it! I had an amount set aside for my wedding dress, which in reality, I had no idea how it was going to buy me one of the beautiful dresses I’d clipped for my scrapbook from one of the many magazines I’d had. On my very first outing dress shopping with one of my bridesmaids, when I was really only expecting to browse and try a few things on, I found it! My perfect dress, in my size, as an end of season sample, and the only one of that kind left – I loved it! It came in exactly on budget, much to my fiancé’s amazement and delight, and at a fraction of the made to measure cost. Wow!

Prayer for a new job…after I was made redundant from my graduate job, I had some time out of work, which although tough mentally and financially proved to be a blessing in some respects, as I could take time to plan our wedding and I could offer some support to my Mum caring for my Nana during end stage cancer. It also meant that I got some ‘outplacement’ support as part of the redundancy package and therefore the opportunity to really think about what it was that I wanted to do with my career.

Just before our wedding, I received an offer to become an Employment Advisor with a company up in Birmingham, which had a contract from the JobCentre to help people on benefits back to work, and was able to start immediately on our return from honeymoon. It was tough commuting on the train for over two years, but I loved my job and the people I met, and it was the perfect place to gain the skills I would need for my next role: communicating with people from all cultures, walks of life, nationalities, languages and class; learning how to run training programmes, learning about recruitment and induction, becoming a coach.

Prayer for a way out from a job(!)…I loved my job in Birmingham, but as it was target driven, and I was doing more and more training over fellow advisors, of clients, coming up with new programmes, working with the ‘hardest to help’, it became impossible to keep hitting my targets (doing the training was in theory an optional extra). I got quite ill with stress and ended up in hospital with chest pain, which culminated in the third person (two of whom didn’t know God) using the exact same phrase, word for word, to me, “no job is worth your health”. I finally got the message from The Lord! I was dedicated to my colleagues and my clients and really didn’t want to leave, but being performance managed was no fun and I had to accept that looking after myself was as important as looking after others.

I prayed, and asked my husband if we could survive for a little while on just his salary, and he tentatively said yes. When I prayed some more, Jesus very clearly told me to leave my job at the end of August; it was mid-July. So I gave seven weeks’ notice – a bit longer than usual, and I hoped my continued job hunting would finally pay off – after all it was I was employed to do for others, so I should be able to sort myself out!!

In the meantime, my bosses did everything they could to try and persuade me to stay, including asking me to come back as a consultant on a day rate – a very attractive proposition!

However, God had made his will clear and I had to step out in faith, job or no job. I left, secure in the knowledge that I was being obedient, even if my long-suffering hubby was now none too sure about the route we were taking, despite having hated taking me to and from the rail station all that time!

Praying for a new job… I found a couple of temp jobs, my parents gave us a financial gift and then all of a sudden I found a job, through an agency, which had the briefest of descriptions – in some ways I didn’t really know what I was applying for in terms of the organisation, simply that it was a Training and Development Manager post.

What you should also know, is that I had applied, during my notice period, for a similar role at a Christian charity which supported ex-offenders to resettle after their release, and a I felt a very clear prompting to go for this job from the Holy Spirit. “Woohoo, this is it, this job is earmarked for me!”, I thought to myself. I was utterly convinced.

I was terrified about giving 5 minute presentation on how I would approach training, to the Chief Executive and one of the Directors, but it went really well. Everyone around me was really excited for me. Except one friend, who was enthusiastic and supportive, but at the same time, felt that The Lord had laid it on her heart to pray for a job for me that was within 10 miles, and the head office for this place was about 25 miles away, with a tiny office more locally where I hoped I could potentially be based…but she was cautious about this being the one. Of course, she turned out to the correct and I didn’t get the job as another candidate had more experience in a particular area of training qualifications. They did however give me some very positive feedback on the creativity and content of my presentation. I was completely gutted at the time and convinced I must have heard wrongly from The Lord.

I look back and realise that something can be right and wrong at the same time. When I got an interview for the job that I had applied for through the agency, I was quickly called back to a second interview that same week (which I couldn’t have done had I still been employed up in Birmingham), and I had to deliver a 15 minute training session to…the Chief Executive and all the Directors, as well as the Head of Human Resources! Well, I was scared, but not half as terrified as I would have been had I not had that positive experience of the ‘practice run’ with the other charity!! Wow, God really does provide; I was humbled. I started within the week, and my new company was delighted that they didn’t have to wait for me to work out a notice period as unbeknownst to me, they’d already tried to recruit a couple of times previously, without success!

And the consequence of not knowing too much about the organisation from the agency’s write-up?? Well, had I known that it was a quasi-public sector organisation working with lots of academics, I might well have run a mile – I don’t think I would have thought I was good enough for the academics, merely having a degree and no post-graduate qualifications! And having had such dire experiences of dealing with the benefits offices, tax credits office and the JobCentre, I had pretty much sworn to avoid all the bureaucracy and committee structures of the public sector! The Lord knew exactly what he was doing when he aligned all those things for me! And after my initial misgivings, here I am over eight years later still here!

Prayer for next steps… Over the last 6 months I’ve been really quite ill with severe anxiety and depression, and now diagnosed with symptoms of PTSD :-/. (I expect at some point I will start to write about that to untangle what has been happening and why, and how the Spirit has been with me in this time.) For now I’m waiting on my heavenly Dad to show me how I should go forward. After all, whilst the pause button might have been pressed on my work life – in my workplace, life continues apace with the only modern constant: change.

For some around me not knowing what I’m doing next is intensely frustrating and even frightening for them – will I be well enough to go back to my job, will I be able to handle the changes? For others in my life they are focussed on helping me simply to get well, my job is less relevant to them; others still are concentrating on holding me step by step as I move forwards whatever that means.

And for me? It’s scary, it’s exhausting, it’s a sad time where I’m struggling, it’s a time where I’m trying to appreciate the opportunity to be still, and to press into going deeper with God, and it’s a huge exercise in trust. I’m asking/crying out/sighing to God daily, “what do I do?? what am I doing – I’m so confused and lost? what will I do? and how will I do it?? I just want to be well, and I want to use my gifts and experiences and talents to serve you and others, to fulfil my purpose in this life!!

The answer?

“Do you trust me?”

“Take each day as it comes, one step at a time. Wait on me.”

“My plan is perfect. My timing is perfect. I am equipping you.”

My deeply held secret?? I’m not so good at waiting! Or being. Or especially being patient with myself. I’m good at doing! At being busy!


I sense a lesson at work here. The penny drops, I suspect God is using this difficult time – not that he has caused it, but now that it has occurred, to deepen my reliance on him, and trust him and his plan for me. To learn patience. To learn that in my (very great) imperfection that in His eyes I am already perfect, that I don’t need to relentlessly strive, and try to make it on my own.

And as I reflect on these select circles of prayer, I see that I have come full circle (no pun intended!) – as when I was desperate to marry my now-husband, I realised God was teaching me patience, and perseverance, and it looks as though now I’ve moved onto the next level of learning these things and going deeper with God.

My prayer? That God will indeed ‘take all these things and use them for good, for those who love him’ – for me and my family, but for many others too. That this painful time will be transformed into something beautiful which blesses others in a way I could never have imagined.

Tough times and tuning in

Flaming Christmas Pudding

From my list of posts on here I can see two things: that a year ago I had a number of pieces in draft, and that my last published post was in September. It’s been a tough time since then for lots of reasons and in some ways is at its worst just now, but I figure rather than ‘waiting for the storm to pass’, I must get back out and ‘dance in the rain’.

I didn’t consciously take a break from blogging, but having done so, I have decided to start back with some shorter blogs, pictures which occur to me when I’m praying or worshipping, or simply walking, doing every day things like washing up, tidying, driving, shopping, or playing the piano!

Tuner, radio, aerial

Tuning in?

The picture I’d like to share was one that came to mind when I was praying for a friend who has a very close family member in a hospice just now.

I’d love to say I was being super holy or spiritual, on my knees whilst fasting and praying…I was in fact standing in the queue for the checkout at a local supermarket, oh so glamorous I know! I started thinking that I’d like to pray for her – I didn’t know what the current situation was, but I knew the prognosis hadn’t been good the last time we spoke. So I wanted to be able to give her an encouragement of some kind, and to let her know she was in my thoughts and prayers.

I’m looking around, awaiting my turn at the checkout, and inviting God to give me some inspiration, and I see some holly on an overhead sign, and a picture of Christmas pudding forms in my mind’s eye. Great. That seems (a) quite likely just to be my brain telling me that Christmas is coming as it’s not an entirely unsurprising image to jump into my head at this time of year, in a supermarket! And (b) it doesn’t exactly seem too spiritual.

However, God does speak in mysterious ways, so I’m gonna go with it, so then I see the flaming bandy being poured over the pudding, and I can hear the oohs and aahs of the diners, as they watch the dancing blue flame transfixed in awe and amazement. Then swiftly followed by the ohhhh, when it peters out and is no more. A sense of disappointment and a wish that we could do it all over again, we don’t want it to be over.

I felt that this flame was like our life on this world. So captivating and sparkly, we get so engrossed in it, and yet…It is just the fanfare to the main event. The pudding is what it’s all about! It’s rich and delicious, multifaceted and complex, satisfying and substantial. The flame is ephemeral, magical even, but temporary and lasts no time at all.

My understanding of all this is that life on this earth is far shorter than we imagine, it seems like a ‘lifetime’ – that phrase we use to mean an unimaginably long time – but that this is just a foretaste of something far more significant still to come, that we mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘this is it’. Both God and eternity are so much bigger than our human lives here and now, that it just blows our mind.

The best news is that eternity doesn’t simply start as the ‘afterlife’ when we pass from this mortal coil. But when we invite Jesus into our hearts, we invite the Kingdom, eternity itself, into our hearts too! We become citizens of heaven from that time on and we carry the Holy Spirit within us, as we are a new creation in Christ.

Isn’t it amazing what can happen when you take just a few seconds to choose to focus on, or tune into, God? He’s all around us, in us, speaking to us, will I make a little time again to listen today? Could you too?

I’ll be reminding myself to listen often, even when I’m busy, distracted, preoccupied, self-involved, or perhaps especially in these difficult times.

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.


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!

The Choice: Have or have-not

We are just so blessed.

Who is we? Well, we three are me, my husband and our 5 year old boy.

However, we also consider that we have three African children of 16, 12, and almost 6 yrs (in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya respectively). If you looked at the hearth in our lounge, you would see the gorgeous faces of our precious Compassion-sponsored children shining out at you.

We started with one, Mercy, when we had just had our own son. We knew the cost of sponsorship would be nothing compared to the costs of having our own child, and if we could afford the latter, then we would afford the former.

Our second and third came quickly one after another. We saw the film, A Small Act, telling how a Kenyan guy had been sponsored by a Swedish lady, as a boy and how it had led to him eventually setting up an educational support programme in her name. It moved my husband and I to tears. We simply had to act; so we did, that very evening.

We chose Joyce, knowing that being that bit older (almost 15), there was a strong possibility both that she’d lost her sponsor through the recession, and that if she didn’t find a new sponsor to support her schooling, being a Maasai, there was a risk of her being subjected to FGM and married off.

When through our Tearfund-arranged church partnership with the Diocese of Kericho in Kenya, there arose the opportunity just months later to sponsor a third child, it was a chance we had to leap at. It is so important for our son to know that far away, is another little boy, just like him, but living in entirely different circumstances; and so little Samson came into our lives.

The truth we have to face is that even if things get tight for us, it’s nothing compared to the desperate poverty that these children experience. Not having electricity, a bed, access to healthcare…it’s all so hard to comprehend, but even worse? Being without hope for the future – no child should have to experience that.

As a moderately well-off family in the West we have to face the realisation that we are, in comparison to the rest of the world,  ‘rich’. It sounds so smug, so superior, so self-satisfied.

Checking on the internet (that we take for granted) we see that we’re in the top 0.1% richest people of the world – that’s just incredible! We feel we ought only to be up there if we had a Lear jet, or at least designer clothing. But sadly it’s not so much a reflection of the things we don’t have, as a picture of the dire situation of millions of people.

Then we realise that we have Jesus in our lives, so we are truly rich beyond measure! We have the One who loved us first, who was broken for us, who dwells in us. In Him we are chosen, we are significant, we are accepted, we are secure…and He will never ever leave us. Wow. That is hope indeed.

We have a choice. What do we do with this remarkable blessing?

We choose consciously to turn away from looking at the ‘even-richer’, and at all the things we haven’t got.

We look to make a difference, to share our ‘wealth’ with the hopeless and the least; with our global and our nearby neighbours.

We choose to see, to let our hearts be softened and to act.

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