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?

 

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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

image

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.

Rescue ropes and helicopters

“I just don’t know how to pray!”

If you’ve wanted to pray, or tried to pray, then I’m sure you’ve at some point said, thought or felt that…

No?? Just me then… 😉

I would love to encourage all those on a journey of faith with a picture that the Lord showed me as I was praying for our mission partners, the Crokers who are out in Kericho, in south-west Kenya with their young family.

Kenya girl at side of road

God showed me that it is both the small, quick, one line prayers, as well as the deep times of dwelling in God’s presence and really tuning into his voice, which are necessary to see the breakthrough we are seeking. We should not despise those quick prayers, any more than we would scorn the quickly exchanged words of friends greeting each other and sharing a little news.

Jesus showed me a picture, which is that we, here at home, are collectively are like a big, solid, RAF rescue helicopter, and that the Crokers are like the rescuers on the end of the line dangling down, facing major risks (whether practically or spiritually), in order to help others. Make no mistake, you may think the Crokers are out there so that Mark can simply use his building skills to help others in another part of the world, but that is entirely secondary to the reason God has put in their hearts this call to leave their home.Helicopter

When Jesus started his ministry, what did he say? See the verses below:

Luke 4:14-19 NLT:
Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord ’s favor has come.”

IMG_6542

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and so that too is Mark and Eleanor’s call, to be rescuers, bringing people into the Kingdom, so that those people might be lifted out of poverty and pain in this life, and may start living their eternal life in the Kingdom right now. If you’re not sure what the kingdom of God is actually like, imagine a place where people are filled with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5), if we all lived like that wouldn’t the world be amazing?!

So, how do we fit into that picture of the helicopter? Key to the rescue operation is that incredibly strong rope, capable of holding two people. It is, ‘a Kernmantle rope, which is constructed with its interior core (the kern) protected with a woven exterior sheath (mantle) that is designed to optimize strength, durability, and flexibility. The core fibers provide the tensile strength of the rope, while the sheath protects the core from abrasion during use.’ (Wikipedia). The rope is made up of so many individual strands, and the core may well be the core prayer group and the dedicated staff at Trinity, but even our quick one line prayers are like fine gossamer threads woven into that lifeline.

Rope

The Crokers have already said that they can really feel the weight of our prayers from afar, in a different way to when they were still here. Let’s make sure that whether we’re in the core or the outer layers, that we, in whatever way we can, play our part in ensuring that rope is as strong as possible that enables them (and all those for whom we’re praying) to do God’s work.

Modest beginnings

Crochet with light JSAKWound perfectly into a neat ball.
Waiting to be worked into something new,
Something lovely.
The feel of a new, soft skein of wool.
Anticipation bubbling up.
Excitement at what might be.
A tumble of ideas chasing through mind,
Imagining,
Wondering,
Forming,
Possibilities.

A design is chosen,
The crochet hook comes out,
The work begins,
Perhaps with some trepidation:
Will it turn out as beautiful as I imagine, as I hope?
Will I be able to do it?
Turn this plan on paper into something real and tangible?
It starts.
Slowly at first.
The foundation chain must be set in place.
Count the loops, and count again.
Get this right and the rest will follow.
Get this wrong and forever we’re wondering why things are askew!
The foundations: not exactly exciting,
In fact, barely seen,
But, these modest beginnings should not be despised.
Indeed they are essential.

Great works do not simply spring up ready-made,
They come from small things started long before.

Like a seed.
Huge potential packed into such tiny space.
Alone it is not much to speak of.
Alone, a ball of wool, is…just a ball of wool.
It needs the hand of a creator to bring it to life,
To design it, to form it,
With love, care and attention.

An acorn falls from a noble oak,
What will fate will befall it?
To be eaten by a squirrel?
Its goodness unpacked and nibbled for fuel?
Or perhaps it will be buried,
And left, forgotten, to rot away,
Returning in time to the earth?
Or will it fall in fertile soil,
Protected in the cool shade
Primed for germination,
At just the right time.
Its hard shell softened and broken through
Just enough to allow that tap root out
To draw moisture and nutrients
From all around.
That potential needs water,
And warmth
And light,
And time,
To grow little by little,
Into a mighty oak.

IMAG0310And that wool?
Well, as stitches were shaped, that neat ball unravelled.
It was messy at times;
Little knots formed
Seemingly of their own accord;
Tangles occurred
Seemed impossible to solve.
Yet, somehow, with patience and faith,
Those snarled up threads were tamed –
They unravelled under the guidance of a delicate touch,
To then take their turn in the pattern of this creation.

How these stitches are formed is yet mysterious,
Even though fabricated by my very hands,
I cannot quite fathom it.
The first part of the work is nerve-wracking,
I’m holding my breath to see if it will work.
So much hope,
Such expectations,
It’s daunting.
Then I get into my stride,
Going great guns,
I get a little too confident,
I make mistakes.
Do I plough on regardless,
Or stop and undo?
I pull out those stitches,
See that curled wool,
Looking forlorn, awaiting redemption.
I keep going,
This time I concentrate,
Pay more attention.
I find a rhythm.
It goes well.

Then…I get fed up, disheartened,
It seems to be taking forever.
My wrists are sore,
My back is too,
I’ve done too much,
Pushed too hard.
I am downcast.
And yet I must keep on.
When will I see the finished article?
Will it be all that I envisioned?
I keep going some more.
And some more.
It is a slog.
But with the end vividly in mind,
I press on towards the goal.

Suddenly I’m almost there!
I slow down, want to cherish these last few rows.
After all, I’ve become fond of this work,
Some of me is bound up in it.
I don’t really want it to end.
But on the other hand I just can’t I wait,
To see it all finished,
What a delight.
Plans realised,
Dreams come to fruition.
And there is.
It is done.

There was a small beginning,
A perfect package,
A little bundle of potential.
Then came the plan,
The design took shape,
And a journey was begun.
It wasn’t easy,
I made mistakes,
I learned much.
What not to do!
There was pain,
There was despair.
There was hope renewed.
A push to the end.
A finished article.
Imperfect in places,
But beautiful nonetheless,
And created out of my hands.
I am the creator.

And I am pleased with my creation.

2012-12-22 18.57.532012-12-20 11.15.44Ripple baby blanket - first crochet project!

A ray of sunshine in someone’s day

image

Aren’t these flowers beautiful? What special occasion were they for I hear you ask…well, none! My husband is not usually a spontaneous buyer of flowers for me, but the other day he did just that – a little something, just because. They weren’t wildly expensive, and they weren’t from a posh boutique florist, but after 9 years of marriage we’re really focussing in at the moment on helping each other to feel loved, and to feel special. And it worked! There was nothing he needed to say thank you for, or sorry for, for that matter! And in fact that day it had been him who had borne the brunt of the work in our home and in our family, and that made it even more precious. It meant they were for me, just because of who I am, not what I had done. My heart swelled a little more, and a joyous warmth crept over me.

So I wondered to myself, how could I pay that forward, not only to my husband (that’s in hand), but perhaps to someone who doesn’t have someone to make them feel special, or whose life situation would make even a little bunch of supermarket flowers seem extravagant?

A week or so ago I saw a Big Issue seller when I was mooching about in London after a night out with one of my very best friends, and these verses came to mind:

“ ‘I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:34-40 (The Message)

I knew I couldn’t just walk by and do nothing, so I popped into the nearest shop, bought a drink and some chocolate, and made sure I had enough change to buy a magazine from him. I’ve done that before in my home town, but on that day I also wanted to give him something he couldn’t buy, something that would bless him and let him know he was special and he was loved. So…with my learning from the Exploring the Prophetic day, with Liz Evans, at The Mariner’s Church in Gloucester fresh in my mind (more on that another day) I asked the Lord for a picture to give to this man, and for a sense of what He was saying through that image.

Then with some trepidation I went outside ready to bless him! And he had disappeared! Brilliant, I thought, now what do I do?!

I stood for a few moments feeling rather silly, just outside Covent Garden looking up and down the street, trying not to catch the eye of one of the many street performers, I really didn’t need to get drawn into an act at that point? Eventually I spotted a guy he had been talking to just before I’d gone into the shop. I couldn’t quite tell if he too was a Big Issue seller, as he was sat down to one side and didn’t have his tabard on. I tentatively asked him if I was right in thinking that I had just seen him talking to a guy selling the Big Issue, and he said yes, do you want to buy one? So I had a quick word with the ‘Big Man upstairs’ and asked him if the word I had had was in fact for this man instead of the other, and I felt that peaceful, settled feeling inside signifying that yes, it was for him. You see, God knew the other guy would leave, and he knew too that the man I had presumed was just someone the seller knew was also a Big Issue seller – there is nothing that is unknown to the God of all Creation!

As I handed over my coins for the magazine I explained very quickly and briefly that I wanted to bless him as that is what Jesus would do if He were here, and asked him if he would like the things I’d bought, and he looked so shocked and grateful. While he was still surprised, I casually said that when I had seen him a picture had come to mind, which I described and said that I felt was the Lord wanting to share something of how He saw him, and that He saw what was beneath, which no one else saw, and that that was pleasing to Him. My heart was hammering in my mouth, and he didn’t really say much in reply except, something along the lines of, “oh right, yeah, thanks”, but thankfully he didn’t turn and run for the hills, or respond negatively to this ‘God-botherer’, a phrase I heard for the first time that weekend (not unkindly) in conversation with someone when talking about faith! (Actually I don’t mind being seen as someone who bothers God, and I think Jesus would positively encourage that; not quite sure that’s how it’s really meant though!)

All in all, not a roaring success in the manner of Wesley perhaps, but also not a resounding failure. I think it’s so important that we (and I) recognise that blips, indifferent experiences, mess-ups and all-out-disasters are all part of life and of our journey of learning. Comparing it for a moment with photography, I think that if I insisted that every photo I took were perfect, then I would just give up completely, but instead with the wonder of the digital age, I can take many pictures, choose the best, learn from my mistakes and delete the rest! In this way my adventure in imperfection continues, as does my dancing with the Spirit. And I feel encouraged.

Could you reach out to someone today to make their day a little brighter? You may not yet know who that might be, but if you set out with the intention of looking for such opportunities, then it’s amazing how many will come along. And if you’re of the praying persuasion…well then, as you go out of the house, or even simply go online, why not offer up a one-line prayer that Jesus would put someone across your path today whom you could bless?

In fact you could bless me ;-). What encouragements could you share of how you have reached out to someone who was ‘overlooked or ignored’, or how you in turn have been reached out to?

Kenya: The Traills, the Crokers and prayer

Today’s post is mostly about Keith and Anna Traill who are part of our church family at Trinity, Cheltenham, and are living out in Kericho, Kenya as one of our church mission partners. They have been back for a visit over the last month or so. I’ll mention another fabulous Trinity family, the Crokers, and I’d like to tell you about an exciting answer to prayer for the Traills.Anna_Keith_Sunday_School

This is Anna and Keith leading a Sunday school segment
on the trip to Kilgoris, in south-west Kenya that we went on in October 2010

We have a very special partnership, originally set up through Tearfund, with the Anglican Church ofIMG_6205 Kenya diocese there, and with Bishop Jackson (pictured here on the right). (you can find out more about the diocese and the ‘Bish’, as Anna calls him, on their blog!). He is an amazing man of God, with a huge heart and an even bigger vision to bless the people around him!

As ycrokersnotextou will probably know by now, I have a huge heart for Kenya, and as I am the point of contact for mission prayer support for another wonderful family, the Crokers who have just moved out there last month (also to the diocese of Kericho) with their 3 young children.

The Croker Family: Image by Jonathon Watkins (Photoglow Photography)

So it’s no surprise that I have a particular interest in really understanding what the day to day life – both the challenges and the opportunities – is like out there.

I went out on one of our short mission trips to Kilgoris (I’ll post some of the amazing pictures from that trip one day!), one of the three key towns in the diocese, which is further over towards the Maasai Mara, so I have some understanding, particularly of the health concerns (it is a IMG_6865malarious area for one thing); the challenges for the youth workers there particularly regarding education the young people about AIDS/HIV, as well as FGM; the state of the roads (particularly further towards the Mara); but I also have an abiding sense of the beauty of that country and even more importantly of its people. They are so incredibly warm hearted and welcoming; utterly gracious and I can, hand on heart, say that I have made friends for life. I am just waiting for the Lord to give me the nod so that I can visit there again! Pictured to the right is Margaret, who looked after us admirably at Kilgoris!

Anyway, I was thrilled to be able to get along to church one evening a couple of weeks ago to listen the Traills and hear all about what they are up to and for us all to be able to pray for them (if you prefer to watch rather than read, you’ll love this video that Keith and Anna made!).

During the prayers, I had a picture in my mind of a tap being turned full on (the kind you often have in disabled toilets that are really easily moved), and that the Lord would only turn it off when enough had been received for them to be able to get the car which would enable them to get about in a difficult terrain. It was such an encouragement to know that God had promised to fulfill their desire of having this car to be able to get out independently, and to get involved so much more in helping and supporting the communities around them. We know that when the Lord has spoken, that is a creative word that causes it to be, and that that seed has been sown and it is already happening even if you can’t yet see it (if you want to know more about this, then I would thoroughly recommend Ashley Collishaw’s talk from this Sunday just past).

Read on at this blog post: The Traills drive forward! to hear how it turned out with the car…

How about you – what could you really do with prayer for?  Something that your heart longs for so much that you almost don’t dare ask for it? I’d love to be praying for you. Have you had some encouraging, or perhaps unexpected, answers to prayer that you could share? What about Kenya – have you been out to that amazing country? what was it like for you, and can you identify with the challenges and beauty described above?