princessemmablog

A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

A Tale of Many Hats

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Like most people, I wear many hats. I have a wife hat and a mum hat, a work hat and a friend hat, a daughter hat, a sister hat, and a neighbour hat. I have a hat that I wear when I’m standing up for something I passionately believe in. And don’t even get me started on the mad cat lady hat.

Sometimes it is clear what hat I am meant to be wearing, and when. Sometimes it isn’t. Quite a lot of the time I try and wear several hats at once, which can get a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels like I’m playing a never-ending adult version of the chocolate game we used to play at parties when we were kids, desperately trying to remove a hat or put one on as quickly as possible, depending on how the dice rolls. There are times- school summer holidays being a notable example- where it becomes seemingly impossible to juggle my hat-wearing successfully and I end up either wearing all of them or getting so overwhelmed that I fling them on the floor and feel unable to wear any of them.

I am learning that not all hats are created equal. Some hats are one-size-fits-all. Anyone can wear them. I may possessively hang onto them, but the reality is that someone else might be able to wear them with more panache. In fact, it might be the only hat they are wearing, rather than an extra layer perched on the top of several others. A work role or task. Baking homemade goodies for the school fair. Feeling like you have to say yes to any and every request for help. Campaigning about every issue. Those types of hats will be different for everyone…. but we probably all know what ours look like.

At the same time, there are those hats which are hand-made for us, molded to our heads. The ones that no-one else can wear. The wife, mum, family hats. These are the ones that we wear under all the others, that we never take off. But sometimes, with all the others stacked on top, we can forget we’re wearing them; forget how important they are. Sometimes we need to unashamedly strip off all the others and let everyone know that these are the only hats we are wearing today.

I find my hat-juggling becomes more difficult if I forget that I am not defined by what hat I am wearing (even by the really good ones). If I forget that my identity is found in being a child of God, a daughter of the King, someone who Jesus loved enough to die for. If I forget that I have been forgiven, restored, renewed and equipped to live the life I was created for.

When my relationship with my creator and saviour is my focus, somehow the juggling seems more doable.

As we walk into a new season (September always feels like a time of new beginnings) I am going to try and remember what’s most important, and prioritise wearing the hats that only I can wear. I might even send a few hats off to the charity shop. Not the cat one though. That one’s staying for good.

Who You Say I Am- Hillsong Worship

 

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Thought for the Day: Living in Freedom

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This week, the Princess Project board of trustees got together to think about our vision and strategy for the next 12 months. We talked about the practical stuff, the whats and the whens and how much it would cost. But we also prayed for the mums we support, and how we can better meet their needs. And one word that kept coming up again and again was freedom.

A lot has been said, and sung, and written about freedom. The philosopher Albert Camus said that

“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”

Paul McCartney sang

“This is my right

A right given by God

To live a free life

To live in freedom….”

One definition of freedom is the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. Most of us in the UK are free in this sense- at least superficially. But the reality is that many of us are held prisoner by things we can’t see. By fear. By anxiety. By our circumstances. By debt. By a lack of hope.

In all the scary weirdness of the world at the moment, from Russian nerve agents to economic uncertainty, to the Beast from the East, it is very easy to stay within our prisons, to allow ourselves to be held captive by our fears and insecurities. But there’s more to life than that. Difficult as it may be to believe on a morning like this one, spring is just around the corner, with all the promise of new life and hope and Easter morning. Love banishes fear, and the perfect love of God frees us from all the things that bind us and keep us captive.

Being set free from what holds us back is only part of the picture. It is not just about freedom from, but about freedom to. Freedom to step into all God has planned for us. Freedom to be the men and women we were created to be. Freedom to hope, and dream, and live life to the full.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus made this kind of freedom available to all of us. In John’s gospel it says:

“If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

It takes bravery to step out into the unknown, to walk into the freedom that has been promised to us. As the ancient Greek historian Thucydides put it,

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret to freedom is courage.”

My prayer for us all this morning is that this week we would have the courage to step into that freedom that God has promised us.

 

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Kent Sunday Breakfast 17/3/18

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Soul Restoration

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Yesterday I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work stuff I have going on at the moment, running alongside trying to be a vaguely functional wife and mum. ‘It’s too much!’ My inner voice was shouting. ‘You can’t do it! You’re not up to the task!’

I knew what I needed was some time out and so I put on my trainers, put my worship playlist on Spotify shuffle, asked God to tell me what I needed to hear and took a long walk around beautiful Mote Park.
My faithful daddy God reassured me that he is faithful, and trustworthy, that no, I can’t do everything in my own strength, but that I don’t need to. He goes ahead of me and equips me for what he has called me to do. It’s not about me, it’s all about him and his love and grace and goodness which is MORE THAN ENOUGH. His voice is the voice of truth, not the one saying that I can’t do it, that the task ahead is too big for me. Yes, it is! However God doesn’t send us out alone but sends us in the name of Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit. He is with us in the midst of whatever we are walking through.

Sunshine and natural beauty and the presence of God through worship really did restore my soul. I went home and had a very productive day… although if I hear the letters GDPR one more time, I won’t be responsible for my actions.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.”
Psalm 23:1-3a

Here is a link to the Spotify playlist that I ended up with yesterday should you want to have a listen too! 

 

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A Miracle in the Mail

                                                              

I don’t know why I’m so often surprised by the goodness and faithfulness of God. It’s not that I don’t believe in it, or that I don’t have plenty of personal experience of it. I think it’s just that often in the day-to-day strains and stresses of life, the tricky situations, the things we find it a bit difficult to fully trust God with, it is easier to pay more attention to what we don’t have, than to the many things we do.

But sometimes God steps in in such an amazing way that we can’t ignore it. The only response is to full to our knees in wonder at His total awesomeness. That happened to me yesterday.

I arrived at the Princess Project office to find a note in the letter box, from a lady from a local church who I had met once and told about PP. She is a trustee for a grant making trust who wanted to give us a donation towards our work. Lovely! There was a cheque enclosed, which I unfolded, not knowing what to expect, maybe hoping for a couple of hundred pounds, if we were lucky. I had to read the words and numbers several times to check I was reading it right. And count the zeros. The cheque was for £8,000.

Such an unprecedented and unsolicited donation would be cause for grateful celebration in itself. But to fully appreciate the miraculous provision it represented we have to rewind a few days.

For several months our trustee board have felt that we needed to take on another part-time member of staff to grow our work and better support our mums. We had a trustee meeting last week where we finalised the job description, and the timescale for the application process. All we needed was the funding. We stepped out in faith, trusting that God would provide what we need, when we needed it, as He always has so far. (When I quit my job and started working at PP, the trustees had enough money to pay me for 6 months- that was over two years ago and I’m still here, and still being paid!) The amount we calculated that we needed to make this appointment for a 12 month period was- you’ve guessed it- £8,000.

This provision of exactly what we needed- no more, no less- at exactly the right time, and through absolutely no effort on our part, undid me. For me it represented more than just a financial blessing. It was a reminder that God is completely trustworthy. It seemed like God was saying that, no matter what might be going on, no matter how big and insurmountable an obstacle might seem, nothing is too big for Him. It was also an affirmation that we were on the right track, and doing what God wants us to be doing as an organisation. 

Once I’d finished crying (!), and burbling incoherent prayers of thanks and praise, I phoned the lady to say thank you. I wondered if she’d caught wind of our future plans, or knew of our funding needs…..but no, she was as surprised as I was that God had used her and the trust to meet our need so specifically.

Yesterday’s events have already greatly encouraged me, the generous donor, the trustees who I phoned in what must have been quite a worrying state of euphoria, and my family. My elder daughter remarked:

“You never need to worry about money at the Princess Project. God always gives you what you need!”

Out of the mouths of babes. What a lesson for my daughters to have learned first hand.

‘As the scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”‘

2 Corinthians 10:17

This was absolutely nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the Lord. So I want to shout it from the rooftops, in the hope that it would encourage many more people, and be a great example of His goodness. I hope that our miracle in the mail will encourage you to approach God with whatever is on your heart, too. He is good, He is faithful, He is trustworthy, and, unlike me, He always listens to His kids.

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Thought for the Day: Of Politics and Prayer

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As a self-confessed politics geek, I’ve been in my element this week. I love it all- the debate, going to cast my vote, being able to have my say, feeling like I’m part of something bigger; even staying up all night to watch the drama unfold on election night. During this election it’s been great seeing so many younger people engage with politics for the first time. My daughters are of an age now when they understand more about what’s going on- even if being able to vote themselves is still quite a few years off- and talking to them about the political process and fanning the spark of their interest has been an added bonus this time around. I think my husband is concerned that before too long he will have three opinionated feminist socialists on his hands instead of one….!

There is a downside to it all though, even a dark side. We human beings are not always very good at disagreeing well. Impassioned differences of opinion can turn into arguments and personal attacks, which can cause rifts in relationships. Elements of the media have been vitriolic in their treatment of various politicians, who have also been subject to horrendous online abuse and trolling.

But this isn’t just about those with a public platform- we all have a part to play. We can disagree with those in authority, whether in government or opposition, whilst still respecting their humanity and treating them with grace and compassion. We can hold different opinions to our friends, family, colleagues and strangers without casting aspersions on their intelligence, motivations or understanding, and without making unkind personal comments. We can listen to each other. We can listen to God.

In the Bible, both Paul and Peter remind us about the importance of praying for each other, and our leaders. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:3

“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can go quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Saviour God wants us to live.”

It’s worth pointing out that the ruler in Paul and Peter’s day was the Emperor Nero, who murdered his mother and both his wives and persecuted Christians… yet they still urged the followers of Jesus to pray for him! When we pray for people, whether they are those in authority over us, or our friends, or family, or even (as Jesus commanded) our enemies, we start to see them in a different light. We start to see them as God sees them. We are reminded that they are all made in the image of God.

So whether you voted for her or not, perhaps, if you are the praying sort, you could commit to taking some time this week to pray for Theresa May as she seeks to form a government, and for politicians of all colours as they find a new equilibrium and a way forward. Healing our divided nation may seem at times like an uphill task- but it’s good to remember that all things are possible with God.

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Kent Sunday Breakfast 11/6/17

 

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Thought for the Day: God’s got it covered (but we’re not off the hook)

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Even the briefest look at a newspaper, or discussion of current affairs, reminds us that we are living in strange and uncertain times. Donald Trump, Brexit, climate change…..Whatever we think of recent world events, we can all agree on one thing- the world as we know it is changing.

Things don’t stay the same in our own lives, either. I celebrated my 40th birthday a few weeks ago which caused me to stop and reflect a little on how much has changed in my life over the last 10 years. I’m a very different person now compared to then. People have come and gone, circumstances have changed, some for the better, some not.

I was chatting to a young mum at our Princess Project Hub this week about how difficult she is finding it adjusting from being a professional working outside the home, to working at home being a stay at home parent. At times of transition in our lives- as we pass from one stage of life to another- as well as at times of transition on a wider stage- it is good to be reminded that we are not just adrift in a pilotless, rudderless ship, but that God is in control, of both our lives, and the world he created.

When everything around us is uncertain, God is faithful, his love unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. We change and grow; circumstances may be unrecognisable; but God is the same. He is good, and trustworthy, and always with us. As the prophet Isaiah puts it in the Bible

“For even if the mountains walk away and the hills fall to pieces, my love won’t walk away from you, my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart.” The God who has compassion on you says so.” [Is 54:10 Msg.]

Whatever the situation- God has got it covered.

But that doesn’t mean we can just sit back on autopilot. God being in control doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for what’s happening around us. Proverbs 24 makes this clear:

“Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help. If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,” will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know- someone not impressed with weak excuses.”

It is our responsibility to stand up for injustice when we see it, in our own lives, homes, schools, workplaces, as well as in the wider community. It is crucial that the church takes a lead in these matters. This is why Krish Kandiah’s letter to the government challenging the closure of the Dubs scheme, which has been signed by church leaders of all denominations up and down the country,  is so important. It is also why we at the Princess Project want to challenge and work to combat the disadvantages faced by many of the women we work with right here in Kent. God’s got it covered- but He works with us and through us to achieve his purposes.

So let’s go forward into a new week, a new era, feeling confident that whatever happens, nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that he will work his purposes out in our lives, and in the world- if we’re prepared to let him.

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Kent Sunday Breakfast 22/1/17; subsequently edited to include link to Dubs Closure letter

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Some positive thoughts for a crazy day

                                    

Just when we thought it couldn’t, 2016 became officially weirder. Here are a few positives that I’ve been trying to focus on today… 
  • The election in the USA passed without major incident; people stayed safe.
  • Donald Trump’s victory speech was more magnanimous and less triumphalist than it could have been; he was gracious towards Hillary and publicly acknowledged her service to the American people, and spoke of the need for reconciliation and working together.
  • My two daughters (age 8 and 11) have once again been engaged with a political event as it has unfolded around them in real time. I think they will always remember watching the Brexit vote and this presidential vote and I hope and pray that they will learn from it the importance of engaging with the democratic process, that their vote can make a difference, and that they make informed choices for themselves when old enough to do so.
  • Since the dawn of time, empires, nations, politicians and ideologies have come and gone. This is a new season- it isn’t forever.
  • We are still all responsible for our own actions. We don’t have to go along with things we know aren’t right. Whoever is in charge- in this country or across the pond- we need to stand up for what we believe to be right, and especially for those whose voice is often unheard.
  • God is in control. He is the highest authority, and whether this is his will or not (and contrary to what some may claim, I don’t think anyone can possibly know that for sure), he has this covered. 
  •  “Perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18. Love is the only way to overcome hate and fear. Jesus is the perfect example of love- so I’m going to focus on him, and the peace, hope and freedom that relationship with him brings.

 

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Let your Light Shine

This past week will surely go down in history as one of the most momentous in our nation’s history. However you voted, whether you are in the just-over-half or just-under-half, life will never be the same again.
Unsurprisingly, in a time of such unprecedented change, social media went crazy. 


Euphoria, triumph, grief, anger, bewilderment…. There were many different opinions expressed, with varying degrees of sensitivity. 

Then followed a spate of ‘stop whinging and get on with it’ type posts. We are being exhorted to pull together, accept things, put a brave face on it, stiff upper lip, it’ll all be OK- oh, and don’t ask any difficult questions.

On the face of it this seems like sensible advice, and what I was telling myself. The country has been pretty much split down the middle (52:48 is hardly a resounding victory) so more arguing is hardly going to help.

But in the light of recent events I have been prompted to reevaluate my position. I no longer think it’s OK to sit back and hope for the best. I strongly believe that, now as before the vote, we should be on our knees praying for wisdom, and guidance, and courage ….but I don’t think that our Christian responsibility stops there.

This vote has unveiled a deep divide within our country. Those who voted ‘Remain’ can’t just dismiss all 17.4 million ‘Leave’ voters as racist, or old, or uneducated. Those who voted to ‘Leave’ need to recognise that the pain being expressed by the Remain camp is not just intellectual snobbery, or being bad losers. There is a deep dissatisfaction in our society, a distrust of red and blue politicians alike. The campaign was fought on both sides in a way that promoted division and sowed harmful seeds of bigotry (whether racial or educational), fear, and selfishness. Something has broken. And no amount of ‘Keep calm and carry on’ memes are going to fix it.

It seems like the  referendum result has somehow made racism and xenophobia socially acceptable again. Whether it’s teenagers on a tram in Manchester disrespecting and verbally abusing a fellow traveller, or Polish schoolchildren being confronted with racist notes and graffiti, or the BBC thinking it’s OK to interview a neo-nazi (complete with swastika tattoo) on the breakfast news- it’s like the boundaries have suddenly been taken away and, like children, we are now testing them. The problem is that our political leaders have abdicated all responsibility for the genie they’ve let out of the bottle. Our Prime Minister has walked away from the result of his self-inflicted nightmare and left us to our own devices. Both Labour and the Tories are seemingly too busy scrambling for power to notice what’s happening, let alone provide leadership and direction.

And that’s where the people of God should come in.

As citizens of the Kingdom of God- a kingdom that transcends all earthly powers and nations- we need to put our trust first and foremost in Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We need to make it clear, both to ourselves and to those around us, that our hope is in Him and not in politicians. This is not a time for the Church to be anxious or divided. Now more than ever we are called to be lights shining in the darkness. Our little lights may feel weak and flickery, and if we’re relying on our own battery power they will eventually stutter and go out. But if we are plugged into the mains, energised by the Holy Spirit, then together we can shine an unwavering beam of light- of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control- into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

That might mean calling out and standing up against racism and xenophobia wherever we encounter it- on the street, online, amongst our friends or families. It might mean giving a voice, and being Jesus’ hands and feet, to the disadvantaged in our communities who feel disempowered and ignored by the political elite. It will almost certainly mean loving those we find difficult to love, and forgiving those we find difficult to forgive. 

It may well come at a cost. Following Jesus has always been a costly business if done wholeheartedly. But the cost of sitting back and doing nothing will be far higher. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is in itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

So I am going to stick my head over the parapet and risk being labelled opinionated (again!) I’m going to stop apologising for caring deeply about the future of our nation, and the safety within our communities of people who don’t look or sound like the majority. I am going to try my best to do what I can with what I have, where God has placed me. And I hope you’ll join me.

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Thought for the Day: Created for Community

Last week I went to meet a young mum who had been referred to our Princess Project Mum2Mum befriending service. I really enjoyed spending time with her and her gorgeous baby girl. Materially, they seemed to be doing OK. There was clearly a close and loving bond between mother and daughter. But she was isolated, living alone with her little one, with no real friends to speak of. When I asked her what her biggest concern was at the moment the answer was simple- that she was lonely. She was longing for community.

I believe that as human beings we have been designed by God to walk through life in the company of others; that we were created for community- to share our joys, our sorrows, our successes, and our failures. As we read in the book of Ecclesiastes “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no-one to help him up!”

Of course, being in relationship with other people is not always easy. Being honest with each other, sharing of ourselves, making ourselves vulnerable, can be very uncomfortable. As well as love, support, encouragement, and friendship, we open the door to being hurt, disappointed, and let down- because none of us are perfect. But as Theodore Roosevelt famously said “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”

As we’ve heard this morning, and will be thinking about this week in the run up to Easter Sunday, Jesus himself was no stranger to difficult relationships and experienced conflict, disagreement, betrayal, and disappointment just as we do. But he also models for us healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. My prayer today is that we too would embrace and invest in the communities that God has placed us in, be they our families, friendship groups, or churches, however imperfect they may be. I pray too that we would be prepared to open up these communities to those who are lonely, isolated, and vulnerable- because I truly believe that we are better together.

Broadcast on the BBC Radio Kent Sunday programme 20/3/16 (1:47:48)

 

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Little Miracles

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Sometimes, it’s the small things that speak the loudest. (In the case of my 7 year old that’s definitely true, but that’s not what I’m talking about today!)

An encouraging text message from a friend, telling you they’re thinking of you.

A hug at just the right time.

An unexpected present.

Getting home late from work to find that your husband has made you dinner.

As Axa Insurance put it in their irritatingly catchy advert “Little things mean a lot.”

In my experience, the same is frequently true in our relationship with God. He is the creator of the universe, he flung stars into space, he has billions of people to concern himself with, but he really cares about the minutiae of our day-to-day lives. And that is what I find totally mind-blowing.

I shouldn’t be surprised- the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, who showed us in person just what God is like, show that he always concerned himself with the individual. Things that mattered to the people he loved and came to save mattered to him. He cared when they were about to run out of wine at a wedding (social death!) and intervened to fix it. He frequently interrupted his plans- usually with large crowds in tow- to answer an individual cry for help and healing.

The same is still true today.

When our family moved to a new church at the beginning of this year, I prayed for my big girl, who doesn’t like change, or big groups, or meeting new people. We had tears of anxiety beforehand from her, and soul searching from my husband and me. Were we doing the right thing? Had we got it wrong? Please, Lord, look after my girl and give her peace; help it to be a positive experience.

The first thing that happened when we arrived at the venue was doughnuts. That put a smile on her face. Then she was welcomed by name and told in advance where she would be going and what would be happening. That allayed her anxiety. Then later on when she  went into her group, there was another girl of a similar age who loved horses and riding. BOOM! (as she would say). Jobs a good’un.

I could not have planned a more fortuitous set of circumstances myself, and I like to think I know her pretty well. But her Daddy God, who made her, and loves her even more than I do, knows even better what she needs.

I could give countless examples like that.

Often these little things aren’t even external, but internal; incremental changes that are happening within me and those around me. Watching a good friend take her first steps of faith, and blossoming into the woman she was created to be as she discovers her real identity and purpose. Gradually being set free from negative patterns of thinking and low self esteem as God lovingly heals the hurts of the past and reveals to me the wonderful potential of the future.

This is how I know that God is real. He is not distant, only concerned with the major issues of the day. In Jesus he is also our friend, our Saviour, with us in every situation and circumstance, should we invite him to be. We can know him personally, and see him at work in our day-to-day lives. He can, and still does, do the big miracles- as the angel reminds us at the very beginning of Luke’s account of the Christmas story

“Nothing is impossible with God.”

Luke 1:37

But it’s the little miracles that speak to me more; that remind me that eternal, almighty God is a loving Father who cares deeply about the individual needs of his children.

 

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