Things are all a bit messy

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So I am currently in limbo. There are a few things I was expecting to be resolved by today and they aren’t.

There are a few loose ends that remain untied, a few extra things yet to be ticked off the to-do list, an a couple of big unknowns.

Funny isn’t it, how the unknowns seem ok to begin with but then they creep up on you at the last minute ( 3am if you’re like me)

The fact is, things are all a bit messy and yet, in the midst of it all I find myself straying into a place of stillness and peace. Maybe it’s the eye of the storm? Maybe it’s a mirage? A created oasis in this desert place. But, when I find myself there, even though I can’t make sense of it, I am calm, at rest, my soul quietens.

I found that place at the end of my Zumba class on Wednesday, as we warmed down and the last song began my eyes were drawn to the wooden cross at the side of the stage. My Zumba class is held in a Salvation Army building.

It felt poignant so soon after Easter to find myself staring at an empty wooden cross and to be reminded of the ultimate sacrifice and then this song began…

I felt tears form and realised that I was having a moment, that something was calling deep into my heart. That this was a message for me.

You could write it all off as coincidence, I was just reading too much into it all but there in that moment I experienced God more closely than I had in a very long time and had a renenwed understanding of it all… The Cross, the love, His sacrifice, my response and although I have no idea how, I knew it is all going to be ok but at a cost.

At life group last night we sang the following words:

‘And no matter what the cost I will follow you. Jesus everything I’ve lost I have found in you…’

There’s a cost, a cost to all these loose ends, the unknowns and there has been loss but there is hope and right now I will hold on to that and to ‘My Salvation, my my’

A new season – no holding back

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On the eve of the first day back to school it seems only right to blog.

Usually, at this time of year there is a real sense of expectancy about what is to come over the next academic year – how will I engage the students, what ideas can I use, when will I hit the wall? This has been routine for me for over ten years.

This year however, things are different. Yes, I am going back and excited to see the students but this time it will only be for a week. After that, maternity leave starts and along with that a new season in my life.

I had never really entertained the idea of becoming a mother, mainly because a doctor felt it was a good idea to tell me at 15 years old that I would have trouble conceiving because of having X-rays.

This was a seed that planted in my mind and I believed I would not be able to have children.

Whenever people asked, I said I wasn’t ready yet but what I wasn’t saying was that I was too frightened to even consider the idea as the doctor’s words echoed in my head on a daily basis.

3 months into trying and I fell pregnant. Still now at 37.5 weeks it is so surreal to me.

This is a new season for me, I am moving from years of being very comfortable, having a career and a routine that worked for me. Moving on from knowing what to expect, planning, organising and feeling in control.

All of that is about to change…

I believe that this is part of me growing in my faith and going on with God.

I am to be taken out of my comfort zone, which is where we need to be for God to fully work in us and through us.

I am no longer in control. I don’t know when the baby will come or what my life will be like.

I have a choice, I can either wait in fear of what is to come or wait in peace, believing that God has plans and purposes for me.

I choose the latter. I am looking forward to the adventure that lies before me. I am expectant for what is to come and I truly believe that the best is ahead!

Are you heading into a new season?

Are you letting words spoken over you hold you back?

Are you expectant for a new adventure?

How are you dealing with stress and worry?

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Last night at life group we were discussing ‘Jesus on Stress’ from Phil Moore’s book ‘Gagging Jesus.’

It was interesting to have a frank discussion about the things that we get stressed about and how we deal with stress. For many of us prayer was last on the list. 

That is often the case isn’t it? Prayer is our last resort – when we become desperate, when we get to our wit’s end and there is nothing else we can do to sort out what is worrying us and causing us stress.

What’s interesting in the book is that it explains that Jesus teaching on stress:

It tells us that stress is the chief symptom of our idolatry and self-worship

Read that sentence again. Quite hard hitting isn’t it? Few of us would care to admit that we partook in idolatry or self worship. The truth is, many of us are.

“I’m worried” is just another way of saying “I’m not convinced that God will do his job without me… I’m feeling stressed” is just another way of saying “I’m trying to do God’s job for him and it’s not working out for me.”

How often do you use those phrases in your everyday life?
How often do you attempt to do God’s work for Him?

In our human nature we like to be in control and the truth is we can’t be. We need to fully rely on God.

Our stress and worry draws our focus away from God and puts it onto ourself. We do all that we can to solve our own problems. We forget about prayer, talking to God. We lack faith that God will come though for us.

There were a number of contemplative silences as we discussed this last night. As the realisation sank in.

It is so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life, in the issues that arise, in the striving and problem solving and desire to force things to work themselves out.

It is so easy to become self reliant, to feel that we are masters of our own universe and that we can do as good as or even a better job than God. We will sort it out faster, we know what needs to happen and we will fix it all.

The thing is, we are not called to go it alone. We are not created to be our own personal saviour.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

So, today at the end of the week how about taking Jesus up on his offer?

Go to him, find rest for your soul. Free yourself from the weight of worry and stress.

Convenience or The Cross?

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I’ve just got in from my friend’s flat. I was waiting for a delivery from Ikea. I am so thankful that delivery drivers now call an hour before – this meant I didn’t have to sit there all day but could just pop up the road about ten minutes before their arrival.

I am now waiting at my own home for another delivery within an hour window. How convenient!

That can be the problem sometimes can’t it? Convenience.

The quality of being suitable to one’s comfort, purposes, or needs

This is how we would like life to work all of the time isn’t it? Being suitable to our comfort, our purposes and our needs. But it’s not.

The life we are called to says different:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Not much about convenience there. Comforts, needs and wants don’t seem to feature.

Now, if you are like me then the concept of denying yourself doesn’t really come naturally or seem all that appealing. Our nature is to be ‘all about me’ to think about self and ultimately be selfish. Jesus came to counter that – the Holy Spirit works within us to counter that. Thank God! There is no way I could do it alone.

In the UK at the moment we are having what we like to call a ‘heatwave’ and the rest of the world looks at us funny and quietly suggests the word ‘Summer?’

We have been through months of cold, wet, rainy weather and months of moaning and now we have sunshine and heat – it isn’t exactly convenient. We love this weather when we are abroad, when we are on holiday and relaxing but put it alongside stuffy office and tube journeys and we struggle.

Oftentimes we actually don’t know what we want. We think we want hot weather but the reality isn’t quite right. We think we want the latest gadget but it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. We think we want to be in control but in reality we realise we can’t control it all.

So we are offered an alternative : to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow. Now it doesn’t sound logical, or easy or appealing at first but if you look deeper there is a freedom within that.

We can be free from ‘self’ and selfishness.

We can pursue sacrifice -giving up the things we think are important for things much more important. Be free from collecting possessions, putting others down or not seeing their worth.

We can follow – we don’t have to be in control, in charge, have all the answers. There is someone else to take the burden of leading.

I host a life group with my husband every Thursday night. Is it convenient? No, not always. Having up to 15 people in your home, making drinks, using all the milk and tea bags.

Do I always want to do it? No, sometimes I am tired and would rather put my pyjamas on watch television and have an early night.

Do I do it? Yes. Out of duty? No. So why?

I do it because despite being tired, sometimes grumpy and often staring at the milk wondering if it will last, I know that I will get far more out of it than sitting in my pyjamas watching television.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.

There is a reason we are told that. It is so easy to do. Miss a life group, miss a Sunday morning and things are all ok but we slowly become more distant and more about self.

Life group is often the highlight of my week. I love my beautiful, messy group. I say that because our lives are often messy and we bring all that together and it becomes something beautiful because we share, care, pray, comfort and show love to each other and in that beautiful things happen. People are uplifted, God is glorified, we gain a new perspective.

We share and invest in each other’s lives and it is often far from convenient but it is amazing.

So how about you is your Christianity, your faith walk about convenience or is it all about the cross?

One of my favourite songs by a band called Gungor has the lyrics ‘You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of us.’

How about turning your back on convenience, facing the cross and becoming a beautiful thing?

Who are you listening to?

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I had a wobble this morning. The heat and being pregnant just got to me and I was crying in the kitchen before 8am and feeling I had really lost the plot.

You see, I was suddenly overwhelmed with everything that is going on over the next week and just couldn’t cope. I couldn’t manage the fact there was a delivery due today, that there is furniture being delivered to a friend’s flat over the road that I need to collect tomorrow, that our bathroom door is due to be fixed, that I am due back at work next week, that the summer holidays are coming up and we need to get the house organised for our new arrival in September.

It was like a wave hitting me all at once and I felt condemned, as if I was a failure.

A glass of water and a hug from my husband helped, as did him popping back in just after he had left for work for another hug and just to check I was ok.

As I had my shower this morning, I prayed and felt that sweet release of the perfect peace that passes all understanding wash over me and a real sense of calm.

What had happened? Yes, partly hormones, partly heat, partly pregnancy but a lot of it was to do with listening to my fears and anxieties and allowing them to take hold. Hence a rather unhealthy and demoralising response.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law

My initial response was to beat myself up about it. To condemn myself for my reaction, to berate myself, to remind myself what a failure I was for my reaction and to feel guilty and as though I had messed up all my progress with God.

Then, I opted for prayer.

It made me think about how easily we fall into the trap of believing the worst about ourselves over little things. How easily that sense of guilt can creep up on us and hold us captive.

This is not the life we are called to, this is not the freedom that was bought for us on the cross.

Freedom – something we all agree is a good thing. Something we all crave and aspire to feel that we have achieved. The issue is, we try to attain it alone and that doesn’t work. It cannot be earned through human effort but it has been earned for us though the work on the cross.

It is finished. It is completed.

I could have let the incident this morning affect my whole day. I could have given up, decided I was too unworthy to blog about faith and the Christian walk when I had so obviously failed. I could have become consumed by negative thoughts and feelings and just remained silent.

But, I didn’t. I was transformed by the renewing of my mind. Remembering that all have sinned and fallen short. Remembering that there is grace for us in our failures. Reminding myself that we are not perfect and that we will have moments of weakness and difficulty but it doesn’t have to consume us.

I chose to listen to the truth rather than the lies. I chose to pick myself up and start again rather than keep dwelling on what had happened.

How did your day begin? Did it have the start you anticipated?
If it did – great.

If it didn’t – who are you listening to right now? Are you in a place of guilt or a place of freedom?

Who are you focussing on? Yourself or the author and finisher of your faith?

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Be free today.

Free from guilt, free from negative thoughts and emotions, free from lies.

Be free to be you.

Adding value to others

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I am feeling much more sparky and with it today. I feel like I have my energy back and by this I mean my emotional energy.

I listened to a preach this morning ‘You complete me’ and I feel like I have fully woken up. There was so much that spoke to me about where I have been in my own life and where I am seeking to move on from. If you follow me on twitter you will have seen plenty of quotes from this message – it is so rich in what it says.

I don’t want this post to simply be a précis of the message – I have included the link to encourage you to listen for yourself. This post is about thinking on a couple of the points raised and how we can ensure we are attempting to work towards them in our every day lives.

What does it mean to socialise like Jesus? Not coming, being consumed with self but looking for creative ways to add value to people.

How often in relationships or social situations do you look for ways to add value to people? In theory we would like to say we do that at all times, in all encounters that is what our relationships are about. Is that really true?

Are not relationships and encounters sometimes more about what we can gain? More about our needs and wants? About self rather than serving?

Ah, I mentioned that word – serving. Did it make you flinch or cringe slightly? The problem is, we have often taken the word serving out of context and associated it with meaning we have to do things we hate. Am I wrong? Serving in the church, serving others has begun to mean that there is a long list of things that need to be done and if you don’t do them then you feel guilty – it has become works based.

What about if we thought about serving as adding value to others. To me there is something beautiful about that, being able to be a part of something that adds value to people.

If we are to live out of the fullness of Jesus, where we are offered fullness and wholeness and completeness, we are offered peace and rest then ‘serving’ adding value to others could become a natural outpouring of our own fullness.

What would it look like if thousands of people lived, related and loved people from a full place. The knee jerk reaction was to give and add value.

Just think about that for a moment. What would it look like? Think of all that is going on in the world now. Think of the latest news stories you have read.

Was your first reaction ‘it could never happen.’?

The thing is, it could. It could start with you.

What would happen if today you sought to serve other people – you set out to add value to others. What would that look like?

What are the best ways to add value to others? What are the most creative ways?

What adds value to you – what things add value to your own life? I love encouragement. I think words are really important and powerful. Words can build up of tear down. Words can be influential, words can provide much needed healing for the soul, words can lift you, inspire you, keep you going even in the dark places.

Who could you add value to by encouraging them today?

What about giving? Again we have taken this word and learnt to associate it solely with money. Yes, giving freely of your finances to support and help others is great but there osis more to giving. Have you been content in your ‘giving’ that is solely monetary. Have you ever thought of other ways to give?

What else could you give that would add value to someone today?

How can you add value to others?

I am so struck today that we are promised a life of abundance and yet we so often live consumed by insecurity and fear. We focus inwards on self instead of on Him. We become selfish ‘all about me’ instead of selfless – All about Him.

I am expectant and excited about what God will do if we seek to add value to others and live out of the fullness of Jesus.

How about today, we focus on adding value? How about we start just where we are serving and giving and loving people?

The 'all about me' attitude

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I am off to somewhat of a slower start this morning. I was up as usual with my husband before he went to work but decided that for me, this morning, the best thing I could do was rest. 

The weekend was a very busy one. Consisting of a meal out with friends Friday evening, antenatal class Saturday morning, a garden party Saturday afternoon and a dedication at church and then a picnic afterwards on Sunday with an impromptu visit to my mum’s for the evening. 

It is weekends like this that I realise I cannot be so much of the social butterfly when I am 31 weeks pregnant and the temperature is almost hitting 30c. 

So, this morning began with an extra nap. 

I didn’t post over the weekend – apart from the fact that I didn’t really get near my computer, I  had the weekend to think about all that God has been doing and saying to me recently. Sometimes the listening is as important. 

Sunday morning, I prayed in my kitchen with my husband this time as he was not on a rota this weekend and I again saw the words we prayed echoed in the prayers of the congregation as we met to pray before the service. 

It was hot in church on Sunday – it didn’t  stop me from giving my all in worship but it did mean I suffered from that hot weather paranoia about visible sweat patches on my back. 

Our church twitter account was announced and while tweeting during the service – another local church began to tweet and retweet the sermon points I was sharing. it was good to build a link this way and encouraging. 

By the end of the service I was in desperate need of a shower, sweaty, hot and uncomfortable so obviously this is the point when the pastor asked me to pray for someone.  I could have said no, could have chosen not to pray from feeling uncomfortable and hot and sweaty but I didn’t.  

It made me think about the fact that God does not need us to be pristine and perfect to use us and work through us. Ultimately because it is not about us but all about Him. It made me think about whether we can often say no to God because we aren’t quite feeling ready or feeling like it at that moment. It isn’t the right time, we have somewhere to be, we are not in the right place ourselves, we don’t know what to say, or how to act and actually it just feels plain uncomfortable. 

The words pride and vanity come to mind. I am convicted myself by this. The ‘what about me?’ come into play all too often. The ‘there must be someone else’.How often are we missing out on blessing for ourselves and others because we are dictated by our feelings and the ‘it’s all about me’ attitude?

Hard to admit isn’t it? Ugly to admit? leaves a nasty taste, an awkward feeling. How often have we allowed this to happen?

I don’t write this to make you feel condemned. There is no condemnation. There is grace.

Grace that says to us ‘Ok, you have recognised the mistake now turn back to me.’ Grace that says ‘Hey, shall we try that again?’ Grace that says ‘Whoops – that didn’t go so well did it? How about you fix your eyes on me and we will do this together.’

So today, if you are heavily pregnant, hot and sweaty, if you are feeling overwhelmed by your to do list, if you are trying to juggle life and family and God, if you are feeling lonely, if you are feeling down. If you are trying to muddle your way through this journey we call life.  If you have been a bit too ‘it’s all about me.’ there is grace for you but God is also calling you, speaking to you and asking to use you and work through you. 

We don’t need to be pristine and perfect in our humanness. We cannot make ourselves that way. Jesus makes us that way through his death on the cross. It is not about us, it is all about Him. 

What is God asking you to do today and what will your answer be?