Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Conferences - Why Bother?

I'm not a conference junkie.

I'm not a big fan of camping, either.

There is a British cynic inside me who struggles with the big 'celebrities' on the stage and the lights and loud music.  I look around the thousands with their hands in the air and wonder what's going on in their hearts.

The effort to squeeze the whole house into the car, set up a tent (in the rain) and live under canvas for a few days with the mud, the wee bucket being missed in the middle of the night and the cold that seeps into my bones at 4am makes me question whether it's worth it.

And then I remember.

I remember my childhood of 'Downs Bible week' and in my mind's eye I see pictures of my friends and I, face down, worshipping our God.  I remember having my first word of knowledge during a kid's meeting and someone was healed.  I remember the gunge and the leaders who (sacrificially, although I didn't think of this at the time) so inspired me.  I remember Katy Caterpillar the puppet who brought bible stories to life. 

I remember my teenage years at 'Stoneleigh Bible week'.  I remember racing to be the first in the queue outside the 'cowshed' and running in with a horde of teens to get the best spot on the floor.  I remember feeling like I had a part to play in bringing God's kingdom to our world.  I remember very late nights, star gazing with boys.  I remember seeing hundreds of people healed.  I remember the cool kids, worshipping God as though He was the only important One.  I remember lying, prostrate on the ground, as God broke my heart for the nations.  I remember holy moments where I felt like I had to take off my shoes.  I remember listening to inspirational people who had been there and done that.  I remember unspeakable joy.  I remember watching thousands of teenagers yielding their hearts to their God.

I remember the last two years of the Catalyst Festival.  So different as a parent.  So much harder in so many ways.  And yet I remember Max being healed of tonsillitis and of a stomach condition.  I remember Jonah beaming as he danced his heart out.  I remember standing together as a family as people we had never met before prophesied over us about loving the broken, adding people to our family and going on an adventure.  I remember surrendering my everything all over again, but this time including my own precious boys.  I remember a lady I didn't know telling me God was going to use me to restore broken women.  I remember Toby, inspired to start a youth alpha at school.  I remember weeping from the very depths of my soul as God gave me permission to be myself again after long years of trying to be someone different.  I remember watching as my friend was healed of deep-rooted OCD.  I remember feeling like God was breathing life over me again.

And so how can I even question whether this is worth it? 
How can I deprive my family of all that I was given as a child and young person? 
How can I stay away when I know God is going to be there, doing his cool stuff?

The changes that these precious times have brought to my life outweigh the mud, the cold and the effort every single time. 

I can't wait.  I wonder what God has up his magnificent sleeves for us this year.

N.B - That last phrase was stolen from someone else, but it's so good that I can't replace it with anything else!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Being A Voice

The results of this landmark election have led me back to Isaiah 58.  

‘Shout it aloud, do not hold back.  Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 

For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.  

They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. “Why have we fasted,” they say,“and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves,and you have not noticed?”

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn,and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you,and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungryand satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness,and your night will become like the noonday. 

The Lord will guide you always;he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.You will be like a well-watered garden,like a spring whose waters never fail. 

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruinsand will raise up the age-old foundations;you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbathand from doing as you please on my holy day,if you call the Sabbath a delightand the Lord’s holy day honourable,and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the landand to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’  For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. 

I am praying for our nation. And I am preparing to raise my voice even louder.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The day I nearly got myself arrested...

Last Saturday we set out in the sunshine for a family day out.  Stratford was our destination and we told the boys we weren't doing any packing but were just going to have a fun day.  

Little did we know the kind of fun we were going to have.

After an epic stall of the motor boat we had hired, causing us to call the rescue services of the lifeguard and embarrass us in front of all Stratford's public, we nipped to the shops to buy some sweeties.  

Outside the shop was a lady sitting on the pavement with a cap full of loose change in front of her.  I left the boys to their complex sweetie choosing and sat down next to her.

The town was busy and it felt like hundreds of feet walked past us as we chatted.  I ignored the looks of disgust and concentrated on the face of this precious woman.

"What does it feel like to be sitting here?" I asked her.

"I hate it." She replied. "I never wanted to be sat here and I hate having to scrounge off people.  Sometimes people kick me when they walk past and sometimes they spit on me.  It makes me feel like a real down and out.  I feel ashamed."

She then went on to explain how she ended up sitting there that day in the sunshine as the rest of the world enjoyed their ice creams and boat trips.  Leaving an abusive relationship left her homeless and waiting for a place in a hostel in the next town.  

'We're all only one step away', I thought to myself as I sat next to my new friend who began to pour her heart out to me.

As we were in mid-flow of conversation about kids and pregnancy (it's what us women like to talk about, whether we are homeless or not), a policeman rode up to us on his bike and shouted.


No chatting.  No preamble.  No attempt to see us as real people.  

No compassion.

We stood up and continued to chat.  My new friend had difficulty standing as her legs had become numb from sitting on the concrete.  I gave the policeman my best disgruntled look.

"GO ON!" He continued bellowing. "MOVE!!"

In my bravest voice (for in truth my legs were a little shakey by this point as we had drawn a crowd and I wasn't sure what was going to happen) I explained to the policeman I was merely waiting for my family and chatting to this lady.

"If I see you here again, I'll pull you in!" He warned me as he mounted his bike and rode away.

Outraged at the way we had been treated, I explained everything to Jared when he eventually found me.  

Seeing the policeman cycling past, Jared stood in front of him and stopped him in his tracks.

"Excuse me," he interrupted him, "But I hear you have just spoken very rudely to two young ladies."

The policeman smiled in a way that didn't reach his eyes. "Oh yes, and what evidence do you have for that then?"

"One of them was my wife."

And the policeman's face dropped.  

When I eventually joined them and explained to him what I had been doing he transformed instantly from harsh, rude and draconian to smiles and apologies.

But deep down, I knew that what had just happened wasn't out of the ordinary.

The so called 'undeserving poor' are despised in our country by the very people who should be protecting them.  I had faced the injustice that they face every single day, and it wasn't a good feeling.  My new friend never wanted to sit on a cold, hard pavement asking for people's spare change.   She did not choose to live a life that causes people to spit on her and kick her.  

There are people in our society who need our compassion, our understanding and our support.  They need a hand up not a slap in the face.  They need to be treated like the precious human beings that they were made to be.

Call me naive if you like, but I know where Jesus would have been sitting.  And it wouldn't have been on the policeman's bike.


Monday, 20 April 2015

Be Still My Soul

This morning I read about the Israelites' first few months in their Promised Land.  

Joshua had led them courageously across the Jordan river, watching it part before their eyes so they could walk across on dry land.  He had been commissioned by the 'Commander of the Lord's armies' and promised help from the armies of heaven.  He had marched the Israelite army around Jericho obediently for a week until, on last day, they shouted and watched in triumph and the walls simply collapsed in front of them.  

And then the good feeling went.  

The Israelites lost a battle and everything suddenly seemed to be going wrong.

And, despite all the miracles he had witnessed, Joshua got on his face before God and cried:

"If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!"

And as I read those words I realised that I say them too.  Even today.  Despite the absolutely miraculous provision of our last few weeks, when the owner of our new house told us he wants to wait yet another six weeks before we complete and can move in I have cried "Why couldn't we just have stayed where we are and not tried to do this Hope House thing?"

How often am I content to stay in my safe, secure comfort zone?

How often am I content to stay where I am instead of taking big risks which will lead to seeing the faithfulness, might and power of God?

How often does my fear of taking those risks cause me to pretend to myself that I am content?

Going across the Jordan in my own life is a risk and, like Joshua, sometimes the good feeling goes.  My battle is to find my contentment in the God I have chosen to follow and not in my surroundings and circumstances.  So, despite the situation, I can choose to be content because of the hope and the promises that are before me.

When I am content in Him, my soul becomes still and I can face crossing the Jordan, even if I can't see what is on the other side.

So, I take a deep breath and I make my choice.  

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Joys of Boys

Boys get so much bad press, but there are so many reasons to celebrate them.  

Here are the things I love about my boys:

1.  I love it that they can spend two hours making 'nettle sting potion' with doc leaves and water.

2.  I chuckle to myself when someone asks 'who's farted' and they proudly own up, enjoying being congratulated by the others.

3.  I love listening to them whispering secret plans to each other: "Get dressed and I'll meet you outside."

4.  I smile watching them spend almost a whole week creating 'defence systems' for their playhouse, complete with water bombs, stinging nettles and elaborate traps.

5.  I love watching them eat their food with wholehearted satisfaction and enjoyment.

6.  It makes my insides melt when they hug me at just the right time.

7.  I love the fact that they can be arguing and bickering and then the cat suddenly sees another cat in the garden and is frightened.  Suddenly, the boys square their shoulders, forget their petty differences and go outside to protect their cat together.

8.  Their surprised faces when I wear clothes that are different to my usual 'mum' attire and their comments of 'wow, Mum, you look really beautiful' give me a glimpse of the men they are going to become.  And it's a good glimpse.

9.  I love the way they fight courageously for justice. 

10.  Their laughter, fun and sharp sense of humour makes me laugh, even when I am trying desperately not to.

11. I love the fact that a kiss from me is the ultimate threat.

They are hard work and exhausting sometimes but I wouldn't have my family any other way.  What a privilege to be able to grow these young ones into the men they are supposed to become.

Friday, 3 April 2015

What's so good about Good Friday?

We live in an age where we have to be enough.

We strive to be better.  We have to have the perfectly tidy home, children who aren't picky eaters, a satisfying job, dinner parties where we can cook Jamie Oliver's extravagant dishes.  We are supposed to be a size 12, or even a 10, and we sweat out that evil fat by doing ridiculous challenges.  Our children are meant to be polite, all the time.  Young people have to achieve academically or they are deemed failures.  Careers are the be all and end all.

We are told that we are good enough, strong enough, courageous enough.  We read enlightening memes in social media that tell us we don't need anyone else because we have it all.  If we can just summon up all our good qualities from within ourselves, our lives will turn out to be amazing.

And yet, beneath our facade of having it all together we feel like we are crumbling. Mental health issues are on the rise - and I know firsthand what this feels like.  Young people suffer from depression, and self harm and eating disorders are increasing at an alarming rate.  Women who were told they could have a satisfying career, perfect home and family life are on the edge of sanity trying to hold it all together.  Men and women turn to alcohol to numb the truth that they aren't who they are supposed to be.  Marriages fail because they've been built on the foundation of believing the other person is enough.  Ambition drives us forward at menacing speed.  

We wonder why we can't be like Everyone Else who seem to have it all together.  And inside we question whether we are good enough.

Good Friday gives us the opportunity to breathe out and realise we are not, in fact, enough.

Good Friday tells us to stop trying, because we can never be enough.

The events of Good Friday point us to the truth that we don't have to do it all because Jesus has done it.  

He died so we can live.  Not just survive.  Live.

He died so we can know what it means to find our fulfillment in God.  

Good Friday is so outrageously good because we can stop wearing ourselves out by striving to find the strength from within ourselves when it simply isn't there.  

Good Friday is jump-up-and-down-and-dance-round-the-kitchen good because our freedom from guilt and judgement has been bought.

Good Friday is extravangantly good because we can stop.  And breathe.  And know we are loved so much that Jesus would die in our place.  

Good Friday is life-changingly good because our purpose for living changes from 'be it all' to 'you're my all.'

Good Friday is overwhelmingly good because we can be free.  

This isn't a platitude or a Facebook meme.  This kind of life is offered to us, freely, without any effort on our part.  Sound unfair?  Ridiculous?  That's because it is.  God loves us unfairly and ridiculously.  He offers us this way of living when we don't even deserve it.  

The question to ask ourselves this Easter is will we take it? 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Being a planner when you don't know the plan.

In May 2014 we sat in huge auditorium listening to a man talking, with great humour, about Abraham and the conversation with his wife, Sarah, when God had told him to move his family.  Abraham had to explain to Sarah that they were moving, but had no idea where they were moving to.

I laughed and looked at my modern-day version of Abraham sat next to me.  I could relate to Sarah's horror at the prospect of packing up her home and her family and leaving without knowing which direction to take.  It was funny because I was married to a man who is also a dreamer and has huge faith.  It was funny because we were talking about someone else.

And then it happened to us.  

And suddenly I wished I had Sarah to talk with.

The year following on from our trip to India has been a whirlwind for us.  Hearts ruined, tears sobbed, questions asked and eventually lives laid down daily, we have wrestled with wasting our lives and finding purpose.  Last summer Jared was offered a job in Bangalore and we began to prepare our hearts, our boys and our family and friends for the prospect of our moving out there.  After finding a peace in my heart about taking our boys to such a huge unknown life change, the job offer was withdrawn and we were left confused and back to the start.

We had no idea what God was doing with us.  We clung to our trust in His plan and the promises He has given us.  Like Abraham, we knew there were changes ahead but we didn't know what they were.

Over Christmas we noticed a house for sale down the road with enough bedrooms for our family to live in but also for us to welcome other people into our family.  We weren't sure who this would be, but we knew we had dreamt about this.

Was this the next step?  It was beyond our price range.  But after viewing the house we decided to put our house on the market 'to see what would happen'.

Our house sold.  For above the asking price.  Within six days.

Perhaps this was the right direction, then.

We put in an offer on the big house, knowing we did not have the money to afford the mortgage.  Some may say we are crazy.  I would agree.  

It took six weeks for the owners of the house to accept our offer.  Six weeks of agonised waiting as our buyers were organising the purchase of our house.  It was more than frustrating but in that time of waiting, we were able to see more clearly what the house was going to be used for.  We began to see our dreams being realised at last.  Dreams that we had held for over 20 years.  In the waiting, we found purpose.  

This week we have had a meeting with people who may invest in our house, partnering with us to restore and love those broken by modern day slavery.  We continue to pray for God to provide.

And so we have found ourselves, like Sarah and Abraham, taking steps of faith without knowing what the next step will be.  We put our foot down tentatively, and then look for the next place to step.  We only know one step ahead.  When people ask us questions about it, we don't have all the answers.  Often we simply have to say 'I don't know'.  Because we truly don't.  

I don't know if Sarah was a planner but if she was she will have learnt, like I am learning, that sometimes the unknown is more exciting than any plan she could have made.  When fear of wasting my life silences the fear of the unknown, I can take those tiny steps of faith knowing that my God, the Master Planner, already has it all mapped out.

One day, when I meet Sarah, I will have a chuckle with her over our husbands.  I think we may have lots to discuss.