princessemmablog

A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

Dreams Rediscovered: The Importance of ‘Us Time’

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We found this card in the brilliant ‘Daisy Chain’ Gift Shop in Stratford and I just had to buy it for my daughters! The design is by Leigh Standley.

The last couple of days have been, quite simply, wonderful. In a previous post I talked a bit about priorities and how God had reminded me that my marriage needs to come first; this week I ‘got away from it all’ with my lovely husband in Stratford-upon-Avon. This much-needed ‘us time’ nearly didn’t happen. Apart from having numerous clashing events for these particular few days (events which we had turned down, at first involuntarily- again, I refer you to my previous post!- and then once we’d finally been made to see sense, voluntarily), our break was preceded by a few days of some quite impressively monumental arguments. Tired, grumpy, frazzled people do not a happy marriage make.

So we found ourselves en route to Stratford, on an impossibly beautiful spring morning, having jettisoned feline dependents at the cattery and human ones at the grandparents. As the miles clocked up, and the responsibilities receded, I could almost feel the tension starting to melt away too. At the beginning of the journey we were still a bit tense and snippy with one another; as we drew into the hotel car park we were joking around.

We didn’t do anything particularly earth-shattering in the 48 hours we were away. We went for a walk along the river, explored some fantastically quirky shops, drove through sleepy Cotswold countryside full of lambs and blossom and rapeseed, ate too much, drank too much. But we talked. And not just about the mundane stuff that by necessity dominates our conversation at home, such as what time the under 6 football starts, or whether we’ve paid the window cleaner, or whose turn it is to clean the litter tray out. No, without the distractions of a hectic work and family life we were free to concentrate on one another; for once, to make each other the centre of our attentions. We could talk about our hopes and plans for the future. We could put the world to rights. We could think big. God has consistently used these little oases of tranquility to recharge our batteries in every way, and it is times such as this that have birthed many of our dreams. I know that not all of these dreams will come true, but if we don’t allow ourselves to have them, and pursue them, then none of them will.

We’ve tried to get away on our own like this every year since we’ve had our children. Where we’ve been, and for how long, has varied along with our finances! We are so blessed to have two sets of wonderfully supportive parents who look after our munchkins for us, and make sure that they have at least as good a time as we do. I know that isn’t true for everyone. But even if it’s not for long, even if it’s just finding a friend to provide reciprocal babysitting so that you can spend an evening with your partner and focus on each other, to be Mr and Mrs instead of Mum and Dad; even if it’s just going for a drink for an hour or so, or going for a walk around the block together- whatever works for you-  it will be a vitally important investment in your marriage, and your family.

Below are a few pictures of our time away…

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Handsome swan

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The church where William Shakespeare is buried

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Cotswold thatched cottage

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Coffee break at the RSC cafe

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Old market at Chipping Campden

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Time for a beer…!

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Beautiful Stratford

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Mother’s Day: A Bittersweet Celebration?

On the surface it sounds like a premise no-one could take issue with: a day to celebrate mums, and all they do for us. A time to thank those we often take for granted. A chance for mothers everywhere to put their feet up and enjoy some well-earned pampering.  For some, it’s a happy day, and that’s wonderful. But for some- I would even go as far as to say most- it will be tinged with slightly less positive emotions.

Those who have lost their mums, and wish they were still with them.

Single mums of young kids who have  no-one to affirm them and tell them they’re doing a good job.

Those who long to be a mum more than anything else in the world, but can’t be.

Those who’ve lost a child.

Those who lack that wonderful relationship with their mum that on Mother’s Day it seems like everyone around them enjoys.

Those for whom motherhood is a daily struggle, and at the moment feels like nothing to celebrate.

Those who feel unappreciated in their role as a mother.

Even for those fortunate enough not to fall into any of those categories, it can be another day when the commercial hype sets us up for a disappointment. We are bombarded with things to buy and places to go in order to show our mums how much we love them.

Make Your Mum Feel Special This Mother’s Day. Shop Today. Hurry!  (Tesco)

Show your mum how much she means to you, with a Mother’s Day gift to remember.  (Argos)

Make this Mother’s Day completely perfect by shopping with Thorntons.

Show your Mum how much you care with our mothers day gifts… (Matalan)

These are just a small selection of this year’s advertising slogans. It’s difficult to avoid them; it’s easy to feel like we’re falling short, or being short-changed ourselves, if we’re not part of it. But we all know that there are many other ways to make people feel loved and appreciated than just buying them stuff.

Let’s celebrate mums for who they are: normal people who have been blessed with children, for the most part trying our hardest to carry out the role of mother as best we can. We’re not the super-saints and paragons of virtue that we are somehow portrayed as on Mother’s Day. It is not a role that everyone is able to have, or that everyone wants, and on today of all days we should be sensitive to that.

Why not say something encouraging today, be it to your mum, someone else’s mum, or someone you know will find the day difficult, and celebrate those that have mothered and mentored us, whether they are related to us or not. And let’s not allow ourselves to be made to feel guilty (or guilt-trip those we think should be treating us!) if we haven’t spent a fortune on gifts and cards. We’ve got the rest of the year to make the mother-figures in our lives feel loved and appreciated- it’s not meant to be a one-day wonder.

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Quality not Quantity: It’s Not All About Numbers

We might moan about maths at school,  but we adults  like facts and figures. We like to record how long things take, how much they cost, how long it takes to get to a destination, how many people attended an event. Often, this data is useful. It provides us with objective information, quantifiable answers. But it’s not the whole story, or even, in my view, the most important part of it.

My team at The Princess Project are in the middle of running a parenting course. I was telling someone about it on Sunday at church. Can you guess the first question she asked me?

“How many people are coming along to the course?”

“Five.”

“Oh….well, there’ll probably be more next time!”

There’s nothing wrong with what this lovely lady said- she was being genuinely interested, and to be honest I would probably have asked the same thing. But I confess it got my hackles up a little and put me on the defensive. Why? Because the assumption was that the success of the course could only be measured by attendance figures, and I know that isn’t the case. I know that getting five young mums along to a parenting course for four weeks on the trot with children in tow is no mean feat. As  I get to know each of these mums individually I am seeing the impact that a little support and encouragement of their parenting skills is making. We could be running a course attended by fifty parents but if no lives were being affected by what they were learning, it would be pointless. If they were to be there in body but not engaged, the effect would be minimal.

This led me to ponder where else this principle of quality rather than quantity might be applied. At work, for example, I know that a few, committed, loyal clients are worth more to the business than several unbonded clients who shop around for the best deal.

At home, how I spend my time was what immediately sprang to mind- specifically, time I spend with my children. I might spend an hour in the same room as them, listening to them with one ear and halfheartedly interacting with them, priding myself on the ability to cook dinner, referee the bickering and comment on their latest masterpiece simultaneously, but wouldn’t even five minutes of undivided attention be better? No TV, no phone, no tablet, no Twitter, no chores, just Mummy all to themselves?

And what about  the time I spend with God? Perhaps ten minutes of focused attention and wholehearted reading, praying, or simply being still and listening is more meaningful than an hour-long quiet time with brain and heart disengaged, and me unchanged and unchallenged afterwards.

I think that the inevitable focus on data, statistics, and numbers is one of the reasons that I find writing grant applications so difficult. I understand that funders need quantifiable data and measurable outcomes. But I am convinced that some of  the most important things in life can’t be quantified.  I would argue that the question we should be asking is not ‘How many?’ or ‘How much?’ or ‘How long?’  but ‘What difference is it making?’

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Marriage Matters: A Question of Priorities

I was reminded of something crucially important this week. That whatever else is going on in my life, however significant or momentous they may appear to be, there are few things more important to me than my relationship with my husband Graham. So much hinges on it; it is vital both to my own wellbeing (and, I hope, his!) and that of our children. It is the bedrock on which all of our work, ministry and family life  is built.

Like so many things which are a constant in our lives, it is easy to take this relationship for granted. I confess that this week I think I have done just that, and that it has taken a nudge (or rather a painful poke) from God to make me realise it. I am currently applying for funding on behalf of the charity of which I am the founder and CEO, The Princess Project. My friend Jen and I had applied for the opportunity to present to an audience of Christian philanthropists up in London in April, and had put a lot of time and effort into our application. Unfortunately, seeing as organised chaos is my preferred way of working I had omitted to put the date of the event into our family calendar.

One evening last week, Graham looked up from the laptop where he’d been researching a long-planned short break for the two of us. This has turned into an annual tradition, a couple of precious days of ‘us time’ without the children, and something we both look forward to for months. I knew he was planning it for April, but as this year he was taking the reins in terms of the research and booking, in my typical scatty way I hadn’t paid much attention to the dates.

“This hotel looks good, but they don’t have much room left. Shall I book it?”

“Good idea. When are we going again?”

He told me and I had an awful sinking feeling in my stomach. I checked the website of the organisation we had applied to for funding, although I didn’t really need to. I knew that they were taking place at the same time.

“I can’t go then! I need to keep it free in case we’re short-listed for the funding forum…”

There was a long silence.

“Well that’s that then,” he said. I knew he was upset and disappointed.

“We can find another time, surely?”

But I knew how pressured our diaries were. How it had been nigh on impossible to find a time when we could both take time off and find someone to look after the children. I felt really bad about it, but I am ashamed to admit that I was still thinking the funding thing was more important than the weekend away. This was what God wanted me to be doing, wasn’t it? How could I take the charity forward without the funding?

We were due to find out at the beginning of this week whether we had been chosen to attend the event in London. We still haven’t heard anything, and I’m not surprised. I think I knew that the answer was going to be no. And in the last few days I have realised that it really doesn’t matter, not even a tiny bit. There will be other opportunities, other sources of revenue. If God wants it to move forward and go ahead, the money will be there. He has been so faithful every step of the way, and I just need to keep trusting and not get impatient (yes, STILL working on that one!)

My husband, on the other hand, is totally irreplaceable. He supports me, inspires me, makes me laugh. He has taught me so much about integrity, patience, and forgiveness. He loves God, loves me, loves my girls. What more could I ask for?

So today, I told him that our marriage is more important than any ministry, however worthy it may be. That God will never want me to do anything that comes between the two of us. And I said I was sorry for taking him for granted. There followed a BIG hug that ensured the girls both went to school in fits of giggles at the parental display of affection.

Tonight we’re going to book our little break. We’re both really excited about it. I don’t know what the future holds for the Princess Project, or which of my dreams and hopes will come into being, but I know one thing- Graham will be right at the centre of it, because without him, none of it would be possible.

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Keeping the Faith: presentation from Princess Project charity launch February 2014

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This week has been a very memorable one. On Tuesday we held an event to celebrate the Princess Project achieving registered charity status, and for the mayor of Maidstone, Cllr Clive English, to officially open our new office. There was lots of information on display boards around the room explaining what activities we are engaged in, and getting across the facts to those interested in finding out more about what we do. What I wanted to do in my presentation (to an audience made up of supporters, volunteers, and professional partners) was to talk a bit about the why.

Below is a transcript of that talk, but first of all I have a big thank you to make- to Gillan Scott who writes the excellent blog  ‘God and Politics in the UK’.  It is my go-to source for all matters to do with faith, politics and community, as he provides links to all recently published reports, research etc. It’s a great and balanced resource. Do check it out!

 

” In 2005, when I was expecting our first child, my husband and I were leading a team from St Luke’s Church going into Trinity Foyer, accommodation in Maidstone town centre for young people who might otherwise be homeless. Some of the girls resident at Trinity at the time were also pregnant, and the difference between our situations really affected me. Even though I was blessed with an extensive support network- supportive husband, family, friends, church family, house, car- I still found those early days of parenthood difficult. For those without those support structures in place- young single mums in a flat with a baby, without family around, and with friends who were no longer interested in them when they couldn’t go out clubbing any more- frankly I didn’t know how they coped at all. As a Christian I knew that God loved these young women, His precious daughters, so much- and I felt that he wanted me to do something to demonstrate that to them.

The Princess Project officially came into being in June 2011, with a vision to support and encourage mums, especially those parenting in challenging circumstances. The first 2 years brought lots of networking and training;  we made extensive efforts to set firm foundations, establish high quality services and build relationships of trust with other agencies working in the same field. The befriending service and Princess boxes came first, followed by parenting courses, drop-in coffee mornings, and then Totcycle, our baby goods exchange, this time last year. All of this has been achieved by a team of dedicated volunteers, who between them donated an impressive 700 hours of their time last year alone.

Rather than give you a long list of activities that we do, I’d like to tell you a couple of stories.

Ellie‘s befriender met her before she was pregnant, and walked with her through miscarriage, the subsequent birth of a healthy baby daughter, domestic violence, relationship breakdown, financial difficulties and post natal depression. Now Ellie is mum to a healthy, happy 3-year-old who is thriving at nursery and a credit to her mum. Ellie has recently found a part-time job, and is one of the founding trustees of the Princess Project.

Katy is the single mum of 3 boys living in a deprived area of Maidstone. Her health visitor referred her to the Princess Project as her baby was sleeping in his pushchair at night- his cot had broken and Katy could not afford to replace it. We delivered a cot to her (via Totcycle), along with stairgates to make her flat safer for her two boisterous older boys. As a result of ongoing contact and the relationships she has made with the Princess Project volunteers she has signed up to take part in our next parenting course.

So what’s next for us at the Princess Project? It is an exciting time for us! Our new office is open 3 days a week, meaning local mums can pop in, members of the public can drop off donations for Totcycle, we can hold client, volunteer  and partner meetings on-site, and assemble Princess boxes too…. one of our ‘regular’ mums spent an afternoon here last week helping to wrap presents to go in the Princess boxes, and we are hoping this would be a regular, mutually beneficial activity. We have a parenting course starting here in Parkwood tomorrow, which was fully subscribed the day we started publicizing it.

We also have a lot of fundraising to do this year. I currently manage the project on a part-time, voluntary basis, fitting that in between a part-time job and my own family commitments. As the charity grows, I am finding that there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done. The trustees have decided that to allow the Princess Project to grow and develop further, they would like to employ me full-time. This means that we need to raise an additional £24000 annually to cover a salary and other costs associated with employing me. This will mean I can spend more time recruiting and training additional volunteers, promoting the project to other churches and partner agencies, and in the conventional and social media, and, most importantly of all, ensuring we continue to develop and deliver the high quality services for which we are becoming known, to as many mums as we can.

Although we are applying for funding from a variety of sources, our long-term aim is to cover our day-to-day running costs by donations and fundraising, especially regular standing orders from our supporters. This means that the level of service we can offer to our clients will not be affected by variations in external grant funding. If you would be interested in becoming a supporter of the Princess Project, please do contact us.

People often ask us why we do what we do. The motivation of the Princess Project trustees and volunteers is our Christian faith. We believe that God loves us, and that He has called us to love the world around us, our community, as He does. We believe that this love should be demonstrated in practical ways, and not just talked about. And we’re not alone. A study carried out in London last year showed that 35% of all social action community work was being carried out by Christian groups. And that would seem to be the case all over the country. Here in Maidstone, there is so much amazing work being done by faith groups. Street Pastors. Maidstone churches winter shelter for the homeless. Maidstone Christian care and the Food for Thought community food share scheme. Celebrate Maidstone. Countless toddler groups. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

‘Faith in the Community‘ is another recently published parliamentary report that makes for interesting reading. It examined the level and type of interactions local authorities have with faith groups, and identified many examples of where this partnership is working well, but also many examples of misconceptions on both sides. In the words of North Yorkshire County Council,

“There is a perceived fear (within parts of the public sector, public and media) that faith groups will seek  to use public sector-funded service delivery as a means of increasing the number of followers of that faith group; and/or seek to discriminate between users of public sector-funded service delivery on the basis of the users’ faith or adherence to the beliefs or practices of the faith group, in particular beliefs that are or might appear to be contrary to equality legislation. There is a perceived fear (within faith groups) that local authorities won’t work with and/or don’t value faith groups. Generally, all of these perceptions are false or can be overcome through discussion and better understanding of each other – but they do create barriers.”

We want to work as hard as possible to remove these barriers- to be upfront about what we do- and what we don’t do. All our services are open to everyone, regardless of beliefs, background, colour, sexual orientation. We don’t attach any conditions to the services we provide. However, we don’t think it’s right to never talk about our faith. We would not be being true to ourselves if we did not discuss what motivates us, gives us hope, a sense of self-worth and identity. Only addressing people’s physical and emotional needs and leaving out the spiritual dimension is only looking at part of the whole picture. A report was published in April 2013 looking at faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless men and women, through interviews conducted with more than 70 people. Written by Carwyn Gravell, a self-confessed atheist, the report states that

“Faith has become a dimension of life that is largely ignored within the philosophy of mainstream service provision, regarded as irrelevant, or as a private matter best avoided, and even perceived by some in the sector with suspicion and outright hostility”.

However when the service users themselves were interviewed, a vast majority said that they would welcome the chance to talk about faith and spirituality. For many of them faith had been an important factor in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, or in preventing them reoffending. They spoke of faith bringing hope, fellowship and a sense of purpose. We, too, are working with people with often complex and deep-rooted needs and insecurities, and we think we would be short-changing them if we did not give them the opportunity to explore this aspect of all of our personalities.”

 

More information about The Princess Project can be found on the website, www.princessproject.co.uk.

 

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The Heart of the King: People Matter

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As Jesus was saying this, the leader of a synagogue came and knelt before him. “My daughter has just died,” he said, “but you can bring her back to life again if you just lay your hand on her.”
So Jesus and his disciples got up and went with him. Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him. She touched the fringe of his robe, for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”
Jesus turned around,  and when he saw her he said,  “Daughter,  be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
When Jesus arrived at the official’s home, he saw the noisy crowd and heard the funeral music. “Get out!” he told them. “The girl isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” But the crowd laughed at him. After the crowd was put outside, however, Jesus went in and took the girl by the hand, and she stood up! The report of this miracle swept through the entire countryside.

Matthew 9:18-26

Jesus’ compassion blows me away in this passage. He interrupts what he is doing, drops everything and responds to a call for help- because to him, nothing was more important. People mattered to Jesus. Their hopes, fears, anxieties, problems, joys, and sorrows. They mattered to him then, and they matter to him now. He, the Son of God, doesn’t make the distraught father wait until he’s finished an in-depth conversation about the kingdom of God (Matthew 9:14-17). He doesn’t think that he is too important for such ‘trivial’ missions and send someone in his place. All he sees is a grieving parent asking for the help that is within his power to give, and he responds without hesitation. No sooner has he set off then he is interrupted again, and once more gives patiently and graciously of himself.

It is interesting to see who it is that Jesus reaches out to in this passage- a dead girl and a woman with a chronic gynaecological condition. Both would have been considered ‘unclean’, and if you add being female into the mix, were pretty much bottom of the pecking order in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day. (Those misogynistic attitudes still prevalent in many parts of the church today do not, it would seem, find their spiritual roots in Jesus!) Only Jesus would drop everything to go and minister to two people as poorly regarded as this.

And Jesus sent the crowds away before raising the girl. It wasn’t about flashy public ministry, gaining popularity and followers, or proving who he was (although it did do exactly that!), just about reaching out in love to those in need around him, without counting the personal cost and inconvenience.

My prayer is that I may not let busyness and a sense of self-importance stand in the way of the little acts of kindness and compassion that God wants me to be doing, every day. Jesus isn’t here on earth in person today- we are his hands, we are his feet. He may not choose to heal or raise the dead through me, but whatever he wants to do, with God’s help I pray I would be a willing channel of his love and power and not an obstacle to it. People mattered to Jesus. I pray that they would matter- really matter- to me, too.

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Bee Yourself (Life Lessons from Disney Volume 2)

I was in the car today, listening to the radio, when an unwelcome voice came into my head.

“You are so old, listening to Radio 2! If people could see you they would think you are so sad…”

A trivial example, I know, but a couple of years ago I would probably have listened to that voice, and questioned my choices. (I still remember ageing about 10 years in my own eyes when I made the epic decision to switch from Radio 1 to Radio 2. It was Chris Moyles leaving that was the final straw. But I digress). In the last 2 years or so I’ve gradually started to become more comfortable in my own skin. Or, in the wise words of the fantastic Genie in Aladdin, to Bee Myself.

This is a lesson I have found particularly hard to learn. From childhood I have been taught that what people think of you really matters. That it doesn’t matter what’s going on indoors, as long as we put on a good show for those watching from the outside, and that they think well of us. “What would (insert name of easily outraged person here) think?!” I am gradually teaching myself a new answer to that question: “I really don’t care!”

Of course, we all care what people think of us to some extent, and it’s right that we consider the opinions and sensibilities of those we love and respect. But if we live our lives governed by other people’s ideas of who we should be and how we should behave, it will cripple us.

We all have different ideas about pretty much everything. What we spend our money on. What we watch on TV. How we bring up our children. We need to acknowledge those differences, but be OK with them. What’s right for one individual, one family, may well not be the right thing for another. When we are insecure about ourselves and the choices we make we often feel the need to make other people, who may do things differently, feel small. And at the end of the day that won’t make us feel any better, it’ll just make the other person feel a whole lot worse.

Jesus famously said

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Matthew 22:39

We tend to focus on the first part of that statement- but that is only half of the story. We need to learn to love ourselves. God loves us as we are now; he doesn’t need us to change first. And it’s his opinion that really counts. We may be a work in progress, and there will probably need to be some growing and changing that needs to happen so that we can do all we were made to do- but we don’t need a personality transplant for God to like us. He made me me, and you you; we were never meant to be the same.

So let’s cut each other, and ourselves, some slack. Let’s not worry too much about what other people think and just get on with being us- the real us, not the people we think others want us to be.

In the words of Sting, from the song ‘An Englishman in New York’:

“Be yourself, no matter what they say.”

 

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A Dream Delayed: building character along the way

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Do you have a dream for the future? If life right now is not all you had hoped it would be, do you get frustrated? Do you ever wonder when your dreams will be fulfilled, and question whether they will be at all? I think if we’re honest, we all do sometimes. I read a verse in the Bible this week that really spoke to me about this:

Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.

Psalm 105:19

If God has given us a dream, it will be fulfilled. If he has made us a promise, he will keep it. But in the meantime, we mustn’t expect just to sit around marking time, counting down the days. We have work to do. God has work to do in us. If we embark on a new career, we expect to do at least some training or preparation- go on a course, do some reading, maybe undertake some work experience.  And if God has given us a new dream, a new vision, there will be preparation to do there too. And not just in the revising, sitting-in-a-seminar-dozing-off kind of a way, but preparing our very selves. And that kind of preparation is a lot harder. It involves God showing us where change is needed, challenging bad attitudes, sanding down our rough edges and sharp corners. And it seems as though God often uses difficult circumstances and situations to bring about those kind of changes.

Take Joseph’s life as an example (you can read the whole story in Genesis 37 and 39-47). He had received dreams and visions from God from an early age, and he knew he was destined for greatness. But he could have been forgiven for thinking that God may have changed the plan for his life along the way. He was sold into slavery in a foreign country by his own jealous brothers, and then falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He must have wondered what had gone wrong.  Joseph entered that time of testing and hardship as an arrogant young man, and emerged as a wise leader and a faithful servant of God. As Pharoah himself remarked

Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?

Genesis 41:38

He ended up in charge of the entire land of Egypt, second in rank only to Pharoah himself. I wonder how things might have looked if his dreams had been fulfilled immediately. If a brash teenager had been made ruler, one who hadn’t had years of learning dependency on God in the isolation of a prison cell; one who hadn’t been taught wisdom, humility and compassion. Given Pharoah’s penchant for impaling those who offended him (see Genesis 40:1-3,22) I don’t think things would have worked out all that well.

I am often impatient. If I know where I want my destination to be, where I think I am headed, I want to get there straight away, without any deviations or detours. But for God, and for our characters, the journey is at least as important as the destination. The journey is often less glamorous, and less public. It might be that no-one can see us trudging along other than God himself. But when we’re walking that path,  God will be building integrity in us; transforming us into the people we were made to be, and we long to be. In the words of Christine Caine

What we do in anonymity will build our inner world.

Becoming people of character and integrity cannot be rushed. We will be a work in progress until the day we go to be with Jesus. So take heart. God always keeps his promises. The bigger the plans he has for you, the more groundwork will need to be done first. So I will try not just to look ahead to the future, but to embrace the present. To serve God where he has put me, right now, even it’s not where I want to be forever.

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Fearless not Frozen

Yesterday, my husband and I took our girls to see Frozen, the new Disney extravaganza loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. We all thought it was fantastic, but the sequence above and the song it contains completely mesmerised me. In it the young snow queen, Elsa, starts to use the powers she was born with but has always been told she must hide away. As she starts to experiment, to draw pictures in the sky with frost and ice, and then to get more adventurous and conjure up an elaborate ice palace, you see her start to come alive, to become more confident as at last she is released to be the person she was created to be.

In ‘Let It Go’ she sings

The fears that once controlled me

Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do

To test the limits and break through…

It brought tears to my eyes as I watched it (not hard, as I am a Disney girl through and through and  so emotionally labile I have been known to cry in certain adverts…!) But even after we’d left the cinema, back home, I kept coming back to this scene in the film. At the start of a new year, full of promise, hope, expectation and uncertainty, what a great reminder that we need to use the gifts we’ve been given. There is freedom  in being who we were made to be. And using our gifts helps us to hone them, to employ them more effectively. In the film it is only through using her powers that Elsa discovers just what she can do and how she can control them and use them for good.

I don’t think that anyone I know has the power to turn anything they touch to ice. We all however, without exception, have our own unique set of gifts and talents, and most of us will have some that we aren’t using. Maybe we’re afraid, like Elsa, of the reaction of those around us. We may be afraid of failing if we step out into something new. We may be comfortable carrying on doing what we know we can do, happier in our comfort zone than out of it.

For me, the challenge this year is to keep writing. To stop making excuses about being too busy (if I have time for Facebook and Candy Crush I have time to write, right?!) To stop worrying about what people think about my writing and just do it. To stop being afraid of not being good at it and keep on keeping on. To stop reading books about writing books and just get on with the blinking thing.

I don’t know what your ‘thing’ is, but I bet there’s something. In the words of Orrin Woodward

It’s not the gifts you don’t have that hold you back as much as the gifts you do have that you don’t use.

So let’s get out there in 2014 and be the unique and wonderful people who God created us to be, all different, all complementary, all with our own particular part to play, not afraid of failing but free to be who we really want to be, who we really are. Oh, and go and see Frozen. It’s great.

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You’ve got a Friend

 

The last few weeks have been rather strange ones for me. A tumble down the stairs whilst on holiday (note to self: rushing down a polished wooden staircase wearing a onesie with fleecy feet is not a good idea) resulted in what was thought to be a rather painful broken toe. At a routine follow-up appointment a flustered registrar informed me that it wasn’t actually broken, but there was a growth in the bone. They thought it was probably benign, but  weren’t sure. I was dispatched to the MRI department with a green slip of paper requesting an appointment, which reassuringly contained the words ‘Benign?? Malignant?? ***URGENT***’ !!! The scan was arranged with impressive speed, and then I had a 10-day wait for the results.

And that was what I found tricky. A little knowledge is very definitely a dangerous thing, and I inevitably extrapolated from animals (I’m a vet by profession) to people. Bone tumours in dogs and cats are generally bad news. Dr Google informed me that bone tumours in humans are not usually anything to worry about, but I guess that message didn’t quite get through to my subconscious. Rationally, I knew the probability was that all would be well. I knew that God was with me no matter what, and could and would use my circumstances for His glory if I allowed him to,  whatever those circumstances were. I was still reading my Bible, still praying, still just about keeping everything ticking over at home and work but that was about it. I am used to tackling life with enthusiasm and driving things forward, being proactive; now I was only doing what really needed to be done, and struggling even to do that.

And that’s where my friends came in.

I can often find it difficult to ask for help, but this time my hand was somewhat forced. I was unable to walk the children to school the first two weeks after my tumble as I couldn’t put any weight on my foot, so two lovely friends stepped in to walk them there and back for me. People kept kindly enquiring after my broken toe and so I told them what was going on. I was overwhelmed by people’s response. Words of support and offers of help at the school gate. Text messages reassuring me of people’s prayers. Bible verses offering encouragement and reassurance.

As so often is the case, my daily Bible reading seemed very topical and timely. Having worked through the book of Colossians, I had come to the final verses:

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and  the church in her house.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Colossians 4:7-18

I found it striking the amount of time and space Paul devotes in this letter to personal greetings and news of his friends. We often associate Paul with dense and weighty theology, or view him as a lone visionary and evangelist and think of his ministry and mission as being a one-man affair. But more down-to-earth sections like this one from Colossians remind us how far from the truth this picture is. Paul was very much a team player. Yes, he was the one with the apostolic calling and often the one with the vision, but he makes it clear time and time again that he could not do it alone. He had a close relationship with God, but needed the support and encouragement of his friends as he journeyed through life.

And if that was true for Paul, one of the most influential people of all time, responsible for the spread of the Christian gospel out of the Middle East and into Europe and Asia, how much more is it true for all of us? For me?

We are not designed to live in isolation, as individual islands as the river of life flows around us. We are designed to live in community, in relationship with one another. To laugh with each other, cry with each other, love and support one another in good times and bad. These kinds of relationships require a degree of vulnerability that some of us find more difficult than others, but are essential to our wellbeing.

I found out on Monday that the lesion is indeed a benign one, and so nothing to worry about. A weight has been lifted from my mind that I wasn’t even aware I was carrying. Looking back I can see that the last few weeks have taught me many valuable lessons. That in all things, God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). That I can’t always do it on my own, and that I shouldn’t  be trying to. That the good health usually enjoyed by me and my family is something to be extremely thankful for, and not taken for granted. And most of all, that I am blessed with many wonderful friends. If any of you are reading this, know that I am thanking God for your presence in my life.

 

 

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