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.

Advertisements

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.

Garden gems: A wolf in sheep’s clothing

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

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

Stunning ‘bleeding hearts’ in my garden this year

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1766

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.

2012-08-15 08.22.43

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?

 

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.

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’?!

A little off focus

A little while ago I trialled some contact lenses for the first time in twenty-odd years of wearing glasses and it was an interesting experience.

I have an astigmatism which is particularly pronounced in one eye – basically meaning that instead of being perfectly spherical, the eye is rather more rugby shaped (not that you can tell this from just looking!). What I discovered is that you may be able to correct the short-sightedness, but if you don’t correct the right degree of astigmatism, the world is just that little bit out of focus.

Using both eyes together, I could still read the letters to the equivalent of the number plate test for drivers, which is apparently 20/20 vision. So I walked away from the opticians with my trial lenses in (with standard degrees of astigmatism corrected, but not exactly the same as I required). I felt a little confused as I’d always thought that 20/20 meant perfect vision, so it was strange to find that everything out of one eye was slightly ‘off’! I found I could drive perfectly well thankfully, but close reading and working at the PC was really hard going. In a sense, I could manage the big picture, but not the detail.image

It all made me think about vision, and how we see things in life; how being a tiny bit off in terms of focus can make a subtle, but important difference. Now, in my situation I noticed it quite obviously, but what about when we’ve got used to seeing things a certain way? We may go to the opticians, be presented with a brand new pair of specs and suddenly the world is crystal clear – almost jarringly clear. You may find that things seem almost to leap out at you, they’re so crisp! And yet until our sight is measured against an accepted standard of perfect sight, often we have no idea that our sight has deteriorated at all. All too often it’s the headaches that come with eyestrain that persuade us to finally go for a sight test. So really it’s the symptoms, not the cause that we want to get fixed. How many of us try to avoid wearing our glasses, we’d rather squint and peer instead of facing up to the correction we need, and dealing with our vanity of course!

So, what about our vision of the world, of life, of ourselves – could that be subtlety ‘off’? And how would we know? After all, it’s so easy isn’t it, to point the finger at others and say, how could their perceptions be so warped (think, young girls – fashion industry – heroin chic – anorexia vs a healthy weight, as just one example that springs to mind). It’s so much more comfortable to cast our beady eye on others, rather than look at ourselves. (I know this, I’m married! I’m sure all spouses find that their other half, just needs to do x, for y to be fixed!). It’s not desperately surprising, since the enemy comes to deceive, kill and destroy (John 10:10), and when we’re deceived, we don’t know we are deceived – that’s the whole point!

What standard are we measuring ourselves against? Our friends, our family, our neighbours (the ones with the bigger house and nicer car!), the media, FaceBook??

There are things I’m sure we can all agree are wrong. For instance when someone has an affair we generally know and accept that it’s wrong, but what about the things that are merely a degree or two off? Think of the phrase ‘a bit of harmless flirting’. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of the after effects of their husband or wife starting off with some ‘harmless’ fun or escapism (and ending in an affair, a broken marriage and devastated children) will tell you: it is anything but harmless.

This isn’t about condemnation – since we know there is ‘no condemnation in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1-2) – we already have a heavenly judge so there is no need for us to take on that responsibility (unless we want to be judged by the Lord as harshly as we judge others!).

Matthew 7:1-7 (NIV), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

If you have a clear vision for your life, your marriage, your work, your children – how much more likely are you to keep a razor-sharp focus on your dreams and goals? You’re that much more likely to say no to unhelpful distractions and ‘harmless’ dalliances (whether flirting with the opposite sex, or long stints whiling the hours away on the Internet procrastinating).

Remember that the ship that sets its navigation systems out by just one degree, ends up miles and miles off course over time…unless somebody, somehow notices the error and corrects it!

I know I need to keep checking that my vision is clear and recheck my own bearings, catch hold of that errant-thinking, and reset my course. How do I know I’m getting off track? I’m seriously blessed to be part of a large vibrant church, where the sermons don’t pull any punches (as my husband said this last week!), and where I find myself regularly challenged, hearing the Word brought alive and applied to my life. I find myself humbled and reminded of where I am missing the mark, in the light of God’s perfect goodness and love. Thankfully this is all in a supportive context, where, through prayer and study, I can get back on track.

We all fall far short on a daily basis, but at least we know where we’re heading, and we can be glad to know that the Holy Spirit is equipping and transforming us as we go, to be ever more Christ-like.

What is your vision for your life? If your goals are already clear, how will you ensure your course is set for success? Is there a reliable standard you can check yourself against? What would it be like if Jesus were your measure?