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.

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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.

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… 🙂

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!

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?

Rest for the weary?

Resting, being still, waiting, being patient…

What do these things have in common? Well…I’m not sure I’m very good at any of them! I can be physically still (unlike my 5 year old son!), but mentally still, wow, that’s another thing entirely…

My mind is always on the go, there’s always something I feel I should be doing, something to tick off the list. Someone recently described a woman’s mind as being like an internet browser with many, many tabs open (have they been peeking over my shoulder??!)…

Years ago in my first job in Human Resources I used to administer a psychometric test that looked at overall personality, and it made the assertion that I didn’t know how to relax, and I was quite outraged at the time – who did this computer program think it was?!  I did plenty of things to relax, lots of interests, lots of friends to socialise with and unwind with…hmm…but really relaxing, sitting and just being rather than doing… Ah. Houston, we have a problem.

And all these years on, I’m far more self aware, I make myself take time out for myself, to go away on retreat, whether on my own, or to have a weekend away with my husband. But…I was challenged by something I heard on UCB radio one morning, about not just taking time out, rather taking ‘time IN’…IN the midst of the day; IN amongst the chores, the tasks and targets; IN amongst the maelstrom of our thoughts; IN the midst of the distractions, the conversations and the people. Time to ‘be still and know that I AM God’.

Me…just being…not switching off mindlessly, but taking hold of my thoughts, quieting them down and controlling them (rather than allowing them to control me perhaps?), making them obedient to Christ.

People say don’t they, that when we’re not hearing from God, it’s not because he’s not speaking to us, just that we’re not listening,we’re not tuned into him or perhaps we just keep talking at him without waiting, giving space for an answer. Or perhaps we don’t want to hear what he’s saying so we dismiss it…? Not that I’d do a thing like that of course ;-).

So, just now I’m sitting in the quiet, no music to soothe the silence, the little boy safely ensconced in bed. I walked past our overgrown lawn earlier and pushed away the thought that on this rare dry day I ought to mow it.
I have pain and sadness in my heart (don’t we all? in one way or another?) that I know I need to bring to Jesus and to surrender it to him; to wait on him, in an actively submitting myself to him and listening to him kind of a way. To trust in him, to set my fears aside, allow him to restore hope and cover me with his incredible love.
I’ll let you know how I get on, awareness after all is the first step!
But those who trust [wait, hope] in the LORD will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
Sunset
How do you rest? Do you in fact take time to really rest? Do you practice mindfulness perhaps? Or like me, is your mind whirring continuously from morning til night, until unconsciousness finally says ‘shhhhh’?!

Taking the plunge!

This is a story about swimming, about God, a little about parenting, and a lot about fear, faith and taking a risk!

DSC01390

I get the impression that a lot of people imagine God as the grumpy lifeguard at the side of the swimming pool, in his lofty position looking down on us all, with the shrill whistle at the ready, who does his best to stop people having fun. Perhaps even pointing with a wagging finger at the list of rules on the pool wall (no running, no diving, no jumping, no bombing, no petting ;-), and so on!), And then pointing at you, accusing, shaming. In taking my son to swimming lessons this week, I saw very different picture of God: God as a loving Father, ‘Daddy’. He lies on his stomach on the side of the pool, hands reaching out over the water as far as he can physically stretch, calling out encouragement to his precious child, “Come on, gorgeous boy, you can do it! Keep going! Daddy’s right here! You’re almost there!”. He wants so much for his little one to succeed, He wishes He could do it for him, feel the fear, take the risk, but this is something his child has to choose to do on his own and God will be there throughout no matter what.

So where did all this swimming malarky start? Well, this last week our 5 year old was staying with his Nanny and Grandpa for the half-term holiday. Nanny was very keen to take him to an intensive swimming course at the local leisure centre. Despite some rather up and down times with one of those well-known baby swimming programmes (which concentrate on getting the babies swimming underwater, and unfortunately for us, ended up with him frightened of putting his head under the water) I figured enough time had gone by for us to give it a go again, although I was pretty sure how my boy would feel about that, i.e. not very keen at all!

Suddenly it was D-Day and I had only casually mentioned the swimming course to my boy over the previous few days, in the manner of, “when you go to Nanny’s you’ll be able to go swimming” (met with “I don’t want to!”). Then I moved on to “you’ll be doing lots of swimming this week” (“where will I go swimming, Mummy?”), to “tomorrow you’re going to have a really special time at the swimming pool, and you’re going to be a big, brave boy (there will be little ones who are only three and a half years old, can you imagine?!) with a lovely lady who is going to do lessons with you!”, at which point he started to get a bit more excited! “Will you come with me, Mummy?”, he asked, and I reassured him that both Nanny and Mummy would come to the poolside and watch although we wouldn’t be getting in with him, and thankfully he was satisfied with that and responded with a resounding, “Yay!”.

That morning we headed off early in the car to the pool, in the pouring rain – always an auspicious start! I think I had more butterflies than my little pickle! Eight small children got into the learner pool (just 0.75m at its deepest point, which meant he would never be out of his depth) with a lovely, friendly young teacher called Jenny. Although my boy looked around, taking it all in somewhat anxiously, he was soon smiling delightedly. And I was glad of all the time and money we’d spent on those early lessons, as the muscle memory seemed to come right back, and his beaming face was worth it!

As we parents and grandparents watched in near silence from the other side of a glass wall (where it was blissfully air conditioned, having been baking hot by the pool!), I pondered the nature of learning to swim…the feeling of being all at sea in unfamiliar surroundings. Suddenly feeling small in an expanse of water; the bravery needed to trust that ‘swimming noodle’ to stop you from sinking beneath the surface; the moment of pushing off the ground and letting your legs float up; the challenge of getting from one side of the pool to the other; that far side may at first seem so very distant, but with a little support and encouragement that it suddenly comes into focus with delight and relief!

It struck me as not being so dissimilar to someone starting to explore questions of faith or looking for a church to try out. Stay with me here for a moment and just imagine someone who has had a bad experience of church or Christians…perhaps being freaked out by the ‘church aerobics’ of people standing up and down without warning or explanation! Or maybe having experienced the embarrassment of the collection bags suddenly appearing and an expectant face waiting for you to put something in. Or perhaps you had taken that brave decision to step into church for the first time, only to be suffocated by incense, deafened by bells, or bored to tears by a dry and irrelevant message from the Vicar, or perhaps still worse, you might have been pounced upon by excited parishioners, eager to keep hold of the ‘new person’ who had stumbled into their dwindling congregation! Perhaps you started getting interested in who this Jesus was, or whether there could be a God, and then you were put off by pictures on the news of placard-waving Christians decrying abortion/gay marriage/the Jerry Springer Opera or whatever that group of people happened to be ‘anti’ this time! Perhaps being in a desperate place, you had reached out to God, had felt his comfort, but still not been able to reconcile this God of your experience, with religion and the violence and wars that seem to be carried out in its name.

At the other end of the scale, perhaps it was those over-friendly, enthusiastic, happy clappers, who you feared had been brainwashed and who scared the living daylights out of you! Not, of course, that any of these things have happened to me! 😉 In fact, having just written these words, I’m conscious that I may occasionally slip into that last category myself – I have, after all, already confessed that I am a joyful extrovert, and I am part of a large, kind-of-evangelical, kind-of-Pentecostal, technically Anglican Church, where we do sometimes like to ‘put our hands in the air like we just don’t care’…!

Anyway, you get the idea. So we take this poor person (with their bad experience of the church/Christians/religion), and if we go back to our swimming analogy, we imagine them being encouraged by a friend who would love them to learn to swim, not just so they don’t fear the water and don’t drown, but so they can enjoy the sheer joy and freedom of splashing around in the water; feeling weightless, floating like a star, swimming underwater, and whether in the open ocean or the swimming pool, getting in touch with that childlike part of ourselves that loves to bob around, floating, jumping, splashing, laughing, squealing with delight…and generally having a fantastic time! Is that friend not like those of us who long for our friends and family to be ‘saved’? For our loved ones not only to be assured of eternal life, entry to heaven, life after death, or however we put it, but also for them to have that amazing personal, individual friendship with Jesus. For them to know that once we invite Jesus into our lives we are no longer considered to be sinners; that we have an awesome freedom that comes from knowing that we are completely forgiven for everything wrong that we’ve ever done, thought or said (and will do, think or say!); that God’s grace – his gifts freely given to us despite us never having earned them – is unending, that we can enjoy that promise of being perfectly loved, totally accepted and never abandoned by our omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God, and that drives out our fears!

Even though that friend thinks having faith in Jesus is the best thing since sliced bread, it’s a big deal for that person, who is sitting on the edge of the pool looking in. It feels like a risk, and it does means taking the plunge (let’s be honest, you’re not going to get the most out of a trip to the pool if you only ever stay on the side – dipping your toes in is not the same as swimming!), but I’m a great fan of the phrase, ‘if you live not risking, you risk not living’. After all what have you really got to lose? When you consider some of those ‘bad experiences’ above (and I’m sure others have had both milder experiences and worse) how do they balance up against the amazing promises of a life lived out with Jesus, a life lived to the full? To put it another way, for most of us, wouldn’t we think it crazy that there are people out there who are so afraid of swimming, or so reluctant to go near the water, that they would rather live their lives never swimming, and being so much more vulnerable to drowning??

From my own point of view, the truth is that my life has been transformed since I really got to know Jesus properly in my early 20’s, and all for the better (more on that another day!). Now, that doesn’t mean that life has all been plain sailing; it hasn’t, not by a long way, and that’s not what God ever promises! Whatever challenges life has held for me, it has certainly not been a life sitting back in an easy chair, of mediocrity, or of regrets, or dominated by fears, or of living other people’s dreams for me, or of the world’s definition of success which quite honestly left me empty and unhappy. Instead my life has been undeniably been bigger, better and clearer, more purposeful, more joyful, more stretching, more exciting, in community, with people from every walk of life and background: an adventure of living life to the full. Why wouldn’t I want that kind of awesome fulfilment, peace, joy, and love for my friends and my precious family??!

So lastly, assuming you’ve made it this far, what has this story of swimming and faith brought up for you? Are you more on the side peeking in, or are you the kind of swimmer who completes Triathlons for fun?! Do you feel you’re living life to the full as yet? I’d love to hear how this all resonates with you…