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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

Find the Voice of Hope

Picture credit: Lily Padula, New York Times

The world is full of competing voices clamouring for our attention. During this challenging season, our country- our world even- seems to be increasingly polarised. There are lots of big, loud opinions around (mine included!) Lots of people are fearful, or angry, or both. We are frequently bombarded with negativity on our social media feeds and TV screens.

But we can all choose which voices we listen to.

We can listen to voices that wind us up, make us more angry and cynical, make us feel bad about ourselves, cause us anxiety- or we can make a concerted effort to spend more time listening to voices that leave us feeling encouraged, hopeful, at peace; that speak the truth to us in love. Maybe these voices belong to trusted friends or family members; maybe they belong to public figures that seek to build up and reconcile rather than divide and tear down. Maybe it means changing what we watch or what we listen to.

During lockdown my family and I have been walking- a lot. First of all it was because it was all we could do, and more recently because it’s grown into a habit we all enjoy. Sometimes we walk together, but I’ve also been spending a fair amount of time walking alone. We are lucky enough to live within walking distance of Mote Park in Maidstone and I have been getting up early and walking around the park before work. This has given me time and space to be still, and to reflect, and to pray, and to listen- to the still, small voice of God.

He tells me:

 I am chosen (1 Thessalonians 1:4)

I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I am blessed (Galatians 3:9)

I am set free (John 8:32)

I am strong in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10)

I am accepted (Ephesians 1:6)

His is the voice that tells me who I really am; that encourages and challenges and strengthens me; that brings hope, and peace.

If we seek out and listen to voices that build us up, we can then speak hope and encouragement into other peoples’ lives, and help to spread peace and reconciliation, rather than negativity and division. It’s a big challenge- but one that I think is well worth accepting.

Originally broadcast as a Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Kent, Sunday 5th July 2020

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Frozen Revisited

Show Yourself, from Frozen 2

Yesterday I was doing some cleaning whilst belting out songs from my Disney playlist (don’t judge- it turns out both Snow White and Mary Poppins had a point, this does actually make menial household tasks more enjoyable). One song I kept coming back to was Show Yourself, from Frozen 2. I love that song. I love that movie (nearly as much as I loved the first one). I remember so clearly going to see Frozen at the cinema back in January 2014, accompanied by my over-excited 8 and 5 year old daughters, and a long suffering husband (who secretly really enjoyed it too). I was transfixed from the beginning. Never have I identified with a character on screen as much as I identified with Elsa (see Fearless not Frozen, and Good Girls (and why we shouldn’t always try to be one)).

Fast forward 6 years, and in Frozen 2 Elsa continues her journey of self-discovery. She discovers both the origin and the purpose of her powers, and finds freedom in finally being able to express them fully (with the help and support of her loved ones).

Channelling my inner Idina Menzel (sorry, nighbours) made me stop, and look back. This is a good thing to do every so often. All through the Bible God reminds His people of the importance of remembering what He has done for them. In the Old Testament, God tells Joshua to make a memorial to remember the miracle He had just done:

“In the future your children will ask you. ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”

Joshua 4:6-7

Back in 2014, The Princess Project was just a few years old, and I was juggling running that with working part-time as a vet and being around as much as possible for my husband and my girls. I was just beginning to step out into a new season- into God’s plan for my life.

Six years on, so much has changed. Things have changed on the outside, sure- if you had told me in 2014 that I’d be working full-time for PP with a fantastic team of four ladies alongside me, that we would be being mentored to replicate on a national scale, that I would be regularly speaking in public- I would have laughed at you (or cried, or run away). But it is what God has been doing on the inside that has been the real miracle.

For the first time in my life, I am comfortable in my own skin. Like Elsa, I have accepted who I am. In 2018, we sang a song in church for the first time that impacted me profoundly. I remember listening to and then singing these words, with tears pouring down my face:

Who the Son sets free

Oh is free indeed

I’m a child of God

Yes I am

In my Father’s house

There’s a place for me

I’m a child of God

Yes I am

I am chosen

Not forsaken

I am who You say I am

You are for me

Not against me

I am who You say I am…

Who You Say I Am- Hillsong Worship

As I sang, I found myself letting go of all the words that other people had spoken over me, that I didn’t even realise I had been carrying around. Superior. Judgemental. Stand-offish. Guarded. As I sang, I really started to believe the words I was singing. I wasn’t who anyone else said I was. I was who God said I was. I felt the weight lift.

I realised that God had made me the way I am. I knew that I was His daughter, and that nothing else really mattered. I knew I had to let go of other people’s expectations and acknowledge that living up to those was impossible. For the first time I was able to make peace with, even embrace, my often misunderstood introvert self; the one that prefers writing to speaking, struggles with many social situations, and needs time alone to relax and recharge.

I received a fresh understanding of the unconditional nature of God’s love for us. He gives us work to do, calls us for a purpose- but His love for us is not contingent on us carrying it out. He knows us better than we know ourselves and if we choose to be obedient to His call, then that will lead to a freedom and a fulfilment like no other. And our calling doesn’t need to be a dramatic one; usually it just looks like lots of little everyday decisions to be faithful to what God has asked of us, and true to ourselves.

Rumour has it that there will be a Frozen 3 one day (yay!) If so, I look forward to discovering the next instalment of Elsa’s journey, and also to taking the opportunity to look back and reflect on mine. I am certain there will be lots to be thankful for.

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Finding Solid Ground

Have you ever walked along a sandy beach when the tide has just gone out, when it’s hard to tell what surface your feet find with each step? Solid, dry, compacted sand; a wet salty puddle; sinky mud… you have to consciously think about where you’re walking, make adjustments, meander around to adapt to the terrain. A far cry from walking along a straight, paved path, when you don’t really need to think about what your feet are doing at all.

To me, the last few weeks and months have felt like walking on that sand. It feels like everything has been shaken, and that merely attempting to keep walking requires concentration and effort and a lot more energy than usual. Nothing is as it was. The measures we have had to adopt in response to covid-19 have affected every aspect of our lives. Home life has changed, as we have had to adapt to either spending most of our time cloistered away with the ones we love (who also happen to be the ones who can drive us bonkers!), or to being alone. The way we connect with friends and family has changed- from the national discovery of Zoom, in all it’s useful-but-a-bit-annoying glory, to, more recently, socially distanced walks and picnics with a chosen few. Work has changed. For some, work has come to an end, at least temporarily. Others are trying to juggle working at home with home schooling. Those of us in charge of businesses and workplaces are having to constantly adapt and refine our ways of working to cope with latest guidelines and developments. Church has changed, moving into homes and online into Zoom calls and YouTube services and live Facebook streams.

Against this backdrop came the killing of George Floyd, the catalyst for the release of a tsunami of pent-up hurt and anger and frustration across the world. That event, and varying reactions to it, prompted the beginning of a series of conversations in our multicultural church. Watching those conversations on the television, and having them myself with my black friends, has been challenging, uncomfortable, and revelatory. As shocking and awful as the video from the USA was, it seemed somewhat removed from the situation here in the UK. What has opened my eyes and broken my heart is hearing about the everyday lived experiences of black people in our own communities. Watching the youth pastor speak of his worries about his children’s future with tears rolling down his cheeks. Seeing a confident young man lost for words and choked with emotion trying to express how the drip, drip, drip of casual, covert racism has affected every area of his life. Hearing about a side of my black friends’ lives that, to my shame, I had never really thought about before. Listening to stories, and feelings and emotions that have been long suppressed but are now resurfacing. Scratch the surface and there is so much hurt and pain; this seems to be the big social justice issue that has been right under our noses this whole time but rarely acknowledged, let alone discussed. It feels like we are at a momentous cross-roads, at the beginning of a journey of listening, repentance where needed, reconciliation and change. It will likely be bumpy and difficult in places but we trust that it will lead us to a better place than where we are now.

All of these things can leave us feeling like the ground is shifting beneath our feet. It can be disorientating and unsettling. This morning I woke up and knew that I needed a bit of a reset. I’ve written before about my favourite way to get my head around tricky stuff– trainers, headphones, worship playlist, Mote Park. I love how the park is always there, a constant, despite changing weather and seasons and degrees of busyness. I find walking the familiar paths whilst praying and worshipping helps soothe my soul, order my thoughts, and listen to God. Today was no exception. I was reminded once again of the importance, especially in times of turmoil, of focussing on the constants, on eternal truths that never change.

God is good.

Praise the Lord because He is good. Sing praises to our God. It is good and pleasant to praise Him.

Psalm 147:1, ERV

God is faithful- He always keeps His promises, and is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.

1 Chronicles 16:34, NLT

Nothing can change His love for us. He looks at us and loves us- no matter who we are, how we behave, what the colour of our skin may be, or what language we speak- and nothing we do can make Him love us any more, or less.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow- not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below- indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39, NLT

So rather than focus on the shaking ground, the shifting sand, I am going to make a conscious decision to try and keep my gaze fixed on Jesus, who never changes and will never let me down or let me sink.

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For Such a Time as This- a Princess Project Update

Jordan and Louis rainbowArtwork by Jordan and Louis 

This morning, I suspect along with a significant proportion of the nation, I find myself feeling more than a bit unsettled. Life as we know it has completely changed. Our Prime Minister is seriously ill in intensive care. People I know have lost loved ones. The need around me is huge. It is difficult not to feel overwhelmed.

Breathe. Pray. Reflect.

So much has happened over the last couple of weeks. I feel out of sync with much of the world, whose pace of life has slowed to a snail’s pace; we have been so busy at the Princess Project that I realise I haven’t really given myself much time or space to think, and adjust. But as it all started to catch up with me this morning, and I did think, and cried, and prayed- I was struck by how much I can see God at work.

Right from the outset of this crisis this verse from the book of Esther has been slooshing around my head:

“Who knows if perhaps you have come to your royal position for just such a time as this?”

Esther 4:14

Just like Esther, who became queen at the time her Jewish people faced great danger, maybe God has positioned our little organisation (and countless other churches and organisations like us) at the heart of our communities, so that we can be His hands and feet to His precious children when they need us most. I know that in our strength, responding to this huge need is too much, overwhelming, impossible.

But God.

Suddenly being a small, independent charity has given us a massive advantage. We have been free to listen to God’s prompting and adjust the way we work- just like that. Our overheads are small, and we have always been used to a hand-to-mouth, having to trust-God-for-everything existence, and at making limited resources go a long way. So the current financial uncertainties are familiar territory for us.

We are privileged to already be in relationships of trust with many of the vulnerable, isolated families who are being hardest hit in the current climate- mums on a low income, often parenting alone, many in small flats with no outside space, many with children with additional needs. Their lives were hard before- and even harder now.

God had already showed us a way forwards and so when the lockdown hit we already had new plans and processes in place for how to continue to provide support and build relationships and community when meeting together physically became impossible. Our team are in frequent personal contact with at least 100 of our ‘regular’ mums, messaging or phoning at least weekly, providing a reassuring, encouraging voice to counter the understandable panic and anxiety and fear; to remind our mums that although they may be physically alone, we are still all family together.

We have started Facebook Live sessions three times a week when our Hubs would have been meeting, which hopefully provide a friendly, familiar face for our mums and their children, as well as providing links to free activities to do together at home and family challenges to complete together. Despite this being massively out of our comfort zone (some of us more than others!), and being let down by technology on more than one occasion, they have been viewed nearly 4,000 times so far, and, more importantly, mums are engaging with them and telling us that their kids are enjoying watching them, and sharing lovely photos with us of them trying out some of the activities at home. Definitely worth the moments of awkwardness, blind panic, and Facebook making every effort to choose the most unflattering pictures possible as the video thumbnail images!

We have also been delivering formula, nappies, food parcels and other baby and toddler items from Totcycle (our baby/toddler bank) to both mums known to us already, and to sick or self-isolating mums who have been referred to us by other agencies, including the council-led community hubs in both Medway and Maidstone. We have made 32 such deliveries over the last 2 weeks. At the outset, we had estimated that we would need £2,500 to be able to provide this service free of charge for 6 months- and, as usual, God has provided exactly what we need! This has come in the form of a generous grant from our local Park Wood County Councillor Gary Cooke (always so supportive of community initiatives such as this), an equally generous anonymous donation, and numerous smaller donations to our emergency response fund. Amazing!

As well as providing practical and emotional support to our mums and their families, it is our greatest privilege to be able to pray for them. We believe that God didn’t cause this situation, but that He is in it with us, and that Jesus can bring hope, peace and healing into every circumstance. We have been praying for scan appointments, for safety, for housing situations, for healing…. we know that no worry or request is too big, or small, for our God to be concerned about.

Even as the ground seems to shift beneath our feet, I am reminded that it is not sand we are standing on, but rock. The solid, Jesus-shaped rock that doesn’t change, doesn’t falter, is the same yesterday, today and forever. That is absolutely trustworthy. So I will choose not to let my heart be troubled; as our foundations are shaken, to look up and not down; to trust in the God who has, time and time again, proved Himself to be infinitely trustworthy.

Good Grace by Hillsong United

 

 

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Mother’s Day Reflections: Reality vs Perfection

shallow focus photo of pink ceramic roses

Today is Mothering Sunday. A day when we think about our mothers, and mother figures, for better or for worse. A day when we are often presented with the image or idea of a perfect mum, and then feel inadequate or short-changed when our reality does not match up to that. I think that this year, more than ever, we need to let go of that perfect ideal and accept that there’s no such thing as a perfect mum- or a perfect person for that matter- and that that’s OK.

Everything is new at the moment, and we are all making it up as we go along. We will make mistakes, we will get it wrong- and that’s OK.

Despite our good intentions of a structured school day at home, lots of wholesome activities, catching up on projects we’ve been meaning to do for ages, working from home, the reality is that we can’t do everything- and that’s OK.

There are still lots of things we can do. We can prioritise relationships over everything else. The way we invest in these relationships may look different at the moment- video calls and group chats and messages rather than visiting or going out together- but it is so important that whilst we are physically apart, we still journey together.

We can make an extra effort to show kindness and patience to those around us, both in person and online, whether they are our loved ones or those we’ve never met. Our kids are going to need our love and reassurance much more than lessons and activities at the moment.

In this time of uncertainty, when everything is changing, I take comfort from the fact that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is good, and He loves us. We sing a song at church that contains these lines:

“He’s not moved by perfection

Or how well we look the part

But He’s wild about the hidden stuff,

Like He’s wild about the heart…..”

from ‘Ready or Not’ by Hillsong United

I love that. God has never expected us to be perfect, to have it all together, but He wants us to be honest with Him, admit when we’re struggling, and ask Him for help. He sees the real us- and loves us anyway.

So today, on this Mothering Sunday, let’s all hold tight to the thought that in God we have a perfect parent who loves us unconditionally, just as we are. And let’s try and love each other in the way He has asked us to, so that we can make this situation a little bit more bearable for us all.

Originally broadcast as a Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Kent Sunday Breakfast 22nd March 2020

Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on Pexels.com

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Learning to Let Go

Let-it-go

Life has a habit of shifting the goal posts. Just when we think we’ve got stuff licked into shape, got into a good routine, got things under control, then everything changes again, for better or worse. These may be major life changes- a new birth, or a bereavement; changes in our health status; a new job or a redundancy; relationships beginning or ending- or, more insidiously (and inevitably) smaller, incremental changes- changes in season. I find myself in changing seasons in a few areas at the moment, and I confess that this has unsettled me a little. God has been using these changes to work on a few control issues that I wasn’t aware I had (a work in progress!)

Firstly, at home. My girls are now both at secondary school. They get there and back under their own steam. They both have friends I’ve never met. They don’t need me to do so much of the practical stuff for them anymore. Our relationship is evolving, but this isn’t a bad thing; I love sitting with them and putting the world to rights, having conversations that can range from politics to theology to ridiculous internet memes in the space of a few minutes. They are great company. I love seeing their personalities develop, watching them make decisions, helping them learn from their mistakes, laughing with them, crying with them. But I can’t control them any more (if indeed I ever could!) My elder daughter is 14 and I have to trust that as she takes the first steps towards independence, that she would make good choices. I can’t make them for her any more.

We run Care for the Family Parentalk courses at the Princess Project, and one quote from the course (from speaker and author Katharine Hill) really stuck with me:

In navigating the road to independence one of the most helpful pieces of advice I received was to ‘keep the children on elastic, not string’. If we hold them tight on a short bit of string it will pull taut and eventually snap. If, however, we keep them on elastic from the beginning we can gradually let it stretch, giving them more responsibility and more freedom appropriate to their age. This makes the journey to independence easier both for them and for us.

I need to learn to let go.

Secondly, at work. The Princess Project seems to be in a constant state of change, as God grows it and prunes it and takes it in all sorts of different directions. These are good, healthy, God-ordained changes, but they are changes none the less. Our team has grown (again!) Mary joined us at the beginning of the year, to help Beth run our Maidstone services, with the idea being that it would free me up to concentrate on our Mum2Mum replication work, and the governance-type stuff that by necessity always takes a back seat to real people with real and urgent problems that need addressing.

I knew it was the right thing do to, so when people asked if I was OK with being less hands-on and front-line I glibly said of course, totally fine. The reality was, as ever, slightly messier. I have experienced a range of emotions. I don’t know everyone anymore. There are mums and their kids who have visited one of our Hubs who I’ve never met. This is a very weird feeling. Beth and Mary started a Parentalk group on Monday morning, the first one that I haven’t been at, which was by all accounts a great success. I turned up late to the Gillingham Hub having been stuck in traffic, and arrived to a happy hubbub of noise and activity, all running perfectly fine without me being there.

I am simultaneously so proud of our amazing team that have risen to the challenge and are seamlessly stepping into leadership, excited at being able to work on the ‘big picture’ stuff, ready for a new challenge- and fighting the urge to check up on everyone and everything, interfere, and micromanage. The Princess Project is my baby- but, like my girls, it’s growing up- and I need to let it.

Holding on for too long- to our kids, to particular tasks or roles, to the way things have always been done, to the status quo- holds others back, as well as ourselves.

This need for control is hard-wired into us humans. We like to think we know best. One of the most counter-cultural teachings of Christianity is that we only truly find freedom  when we surrender our lives to our Creator; when we acknowledge that He knows best, not us; when we can truly and honestly pray, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, “I want your will to be done, not mine.” In relinquishing control of our lives to God, we are admitting that He knows what we need better than we do- and most of us find that pretty hard. The good news is that when we do let go and let God take over, we are free to step into all He has prepared for us, into His perfect purpose for each of our lives.

So I am going to make a conscious effort, every day, to try to do a bit more letting go. To give my children space to grow and thrive and fly; to give my wonderful team the freedom to take the Princess Project forwards; to let God take control. I feel lighter already.

Let Go- Hillsong Young and Free

 

 

 

 

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Seasons

Mote Park through the seasons

I think September is my favourite month. I love the weather…. if you’re lucky, still warm and sunny, but with a morning chill and a gentle warmth to the light; memories of summer still fresh but the promise of orange-hued autumn days and cosy winter evenings just around the corner. It is a time of new beginnings. I became a wife in September, became a mother in September, started school and university and work in September. It is always a poignant time of year for me.

This year is no exception. It feels like the beginning of a new season in a number of ways. My beautiful youngest child (the happy, gurgling, contented little baby- no wait, that was 11 WHOLE YEARS AGO) left home this morning to walk to secondary school with her big sister. She went with a smile and a spring in her step and didn’t look back. I did most of my blubbing last term when we left our wonderful primary school after 9 happy years so it was more just a small amount of gentle eye-leakage this morning. Such a mixture of emotions- intense pride, excitement that she is stepping forward into new opportunities and adventures and into all God has planned for her, tinged with a slight sense of loss as our family life moves into a different phase. Fortunately this little one (even though she is pretty much as tall as me already) is still a cuddly, home-loving bundle who has told us in no uncertain terms that she never wants to leave home (I’ll remind her of that in a few years’ time.)

We are stepping into a new season at the Princess Project, too. God has opened some big doors for us and we are starting two years of mentoring with a view to taking our little local project all across the country. Our team is going to be growing again, my work will start to be more strategic and big-picture stuff and a bit less of the hands-on service delivery. I am going to have to hone the art of delegation as I entrust more of the local work into the capable hands of our Maidstone and Medway team. Changes, changes.

After I had watched my munchkins disappear into the distance this morning, I decided that rather than sit around weeping into my coffee I would stick my trainers on and do what I usually try and do at any time of emotional fragility: prayer walk my way around Mote Park with my worship music playlist on. As I walked out into the glorious sunshine, into the familiar beauty of the park, I could feel my head lift and my spirit soar. As a confirmed introvert I find the summer holidays a bit challenging- I absolutely love having my girls around for 6 whole weeks, but at the same time that means I am in the company of other people for 6 WHOLE WEEKS. Just being on my own outside in the presence of God with just the butterflies for company was so restorative.

There is something immensely comforting about the familiar. I know Mote Park so well. I am so thankful that we have this gem of a place within walking distance of our house. Graham and I went for our first dog walk here, he dragged me round it when I was in labour with Sophie, the girls have learnt to ride their bikes there, fed the ducks, had picnics, picked up conkers, picked blackberries. Back in the day we took young people from Trinity Foyer there for BBQs, trying to avoid being locked in on light summers’ evenings- this year we watched Sophie do the same with her own youth group. Everything changes, yet nothing changes.

We know that whatever the autumn holds, winter will inexorably follow. Whatever season we are in at the moment- one where everything is ticking along uneventfully, or one where everything is in a state of upheaval; one we are enjoying or one we cannot wait to come to an end- it will come to an end. We don’t know what’s around the corner but we can be certain that in all the different seasons of life, God never changes. Every season He brings us through reiterates His faithfulness to us. Our circumstances, the faces around us, our physical environments may alter, but God doesn’t. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And as everything around us changes, there is great comfort in that.

“Jesus the Anointed One, is always the same – yesterday, today, and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8, TPT

 

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Ready or not

ready or not

Miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are big, obvious, must-give-God-the-glory kind of miracles, like healings and resurrections. Many of them are less obvious, more mundane, but no less significant. Indeed, so commonplace are these little miracles  that there is a real danger that we start to take them for granted; that we can forget how totally amazing they are, or- even worse- forget to give God the glory that is rightfully His. But let me back up a bit.

For some time now, the Princess Project trustees have been thinking about how we might be able to replicate some or all of our work more widely. I have always had a sense that the Princess Project was going to grow beyond what I could envisage or understand (let alone be comfortable with) and this is something that other trusted voices have shared with me, too. But how? Where should we start? What was the next step? Where did God want us to go?

Just before our March trustee meeting I saw a post on Facebook saying that the Cinnamon Network was inviting ambitious church-based projects that want to replicate their work across the country to enter the Project Lab 2019 competition. The winners would receive both funding and, more importantly from our point of view, a place on the Cinnamon Project Incubator where they would be able to get support from industry leaders to develop their project so it can be replicated through other churches. The more I looked at the application form, the more excited I became. It seemed to me that we ticked all the boxes. It seemed to be exactly the opportunity we had been praying for and waiting for. I raised it at the meeting and said I thought we should enter Mum2Mum, our befriending service for young mums.

“Go for it!” said the trustees, in typically encouraging fashion.

So I did.

This involved submitting both a written application and a video in a pretty tight time frame, made even more hairy by my penchant for leaving things until the very last minute (my deadline-driven personality is a slight bone of contention between my Creator and myself). The deadline was the day after the Easter weekend- so of course, this is how I spent the majority of Easter Saturday and Monday, roping in the girls to help with the video.

(“No mummy, you look a bit deranged, try it again.”

“I don’t know what you’re doing with your hands but it looks weird.”

“Is that bit supposed to be funny?”)

Eventually we came up with something that met with the approval of a 10 year old and a 13 year old and by that point I was hoping that the Cinnamon judges would be somewhat easier to please.

From that point on everything happened rather quickly. I received an email to say we had been shortlisted, and then a few weeks later another to say we had made it through to the final and inviting us, along with 6 other finalists and reserve finalists, to a presentation masterclass up in London to prepare us for it.

Beth (my right hand at Princess Project but also a good friend and all round wonderful person) and I felt quite excited and grown up going up to town on the train looking smart with all the commuters in the rush hour. We arrived in a grey, rainy London and once I had handed over control of Google maps to Beth, who unlike me could at least manage to work out which direction we were facing, navigated our way to Mercer’s Hall.

And then it all started to get very real.

Those who know me well know that I am a confirmed introvert. My own company, quiet, a book, a pen, Netflix, cats- fantastic. A room full of strangers- not so good. Having to go round the room and introduce yourself and your project- slightly uncomfortable. Writing a pitch from scratch and presenting elements of it to a room full of people- you what now?

I just about survived the first session and then they took us into the rather grand and imposing room where the final would be held (think a lot of wood panelling, high gilded ceilings, renaissance art, velvet chairs) and informed us that we would be standing on a small stage at the front of the room and presenting with just a hand-held microphone- no lectern, no stand, nowhere to hide- then taking questions from the judges afterwards, Dragon’s Den-style. I honestly thought I was going to throw up, or burst into tears (the latter would probably have been more manageable but I didn’t appear to have much control over my physiology at this point so to be honest anything was possible). Beth looked over and saw me on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

“Are you OK?” she whispered.

“No! I can’t do this. I just can’t.”

“You can, and you will,” she said (always good with the tough love). “God’s brought us this far, He will see it through.”

And she was right. That’s where my little miracle comes in.

The rest of the day passed in a bit of a blur. I held it together until I got home and then when my husband asked how it had gone, the emotion of the day came pouring out like a snotty tsunami and I sobbed on him until I felt a bit better. He gave me very similar advice to Beth, and although I knew deep down they were both right, it didn’t shake the worm of anxiety eating away inside. I thought about it all the time. I was waking in the night worrying about it. Although I told myself that no-one had ever died from talking for 12 minutes, that reality did not seem to be getting through to my overactive brain.

A few days later I was driving back from our Gillingham Hub and listening to a new worship album, Hillsong United’s ‘People’. A song came on, Ready or Not, that I had heard before but never really heard before. As I listened it seemed as though God was talking directly to me.

He’s already seen the ending
He’s already seen us through
He’s already breaking out in us
He’s already on the move

He’s already won our battles
He’s already paved the way
He’s already gone ahead of us
And He is ready when we are

Come now
For all we’ve seen
We ain’t seen nothing yet
Are you ready
Are you ready

Come now
Bring Him praise
For what He’s gonna do next
Are you ready
Are you ready or not
Come

I felt my anxiety about the whole Cinnamon thing lift and I knew with certainty that God had gone ahead of us, He had already equipped me for what He wanted me to do, and I had peace that His will would be done, whatever that may be. I didn’t know what lay ahead but my daddy God did. He has proven to me over and over and over again that He is faithful and trustworthy and as I surrendered all of this to Him I knew it was going to be alright. I had been trying to do what was impossible- to do this using my own limited resources. And that’s the whole point! God delights in calling us to do things that we could not possibly do in the natural, so that we don’t start thinking it’s all about us and what we can do, but instead are compelled to cling to Him and trust Him to do through us what we couldn’t do in our own strength. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9

“The Lord answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.”

I drove home worshipping my God with all my heart and soul and with tears rolling down my cheeks. I knew He was with me and that it was going to be OK.

And it was.

When the final came around, it was a gloriously hot and sunny day, and despite a warm-up session where we had to talk about something we loved (cats, obvs) and present our pitch to the other finalists in a deliberately over-the-top style (yup pretty much my worst nightmare), I was remarkably devoid of panic. Sweaty palms, yes, and a little shaky- but at peace knowing my God was right there with me and trusting that His will would be done. We weren’t one of the overall winners, but that was OK. I felt I’d given it my best shot and we knew that we were walking in God’s will for us and trusting that He knew better than us what was the right outcome. We secured over £4,000 of pledges from members of the audience on the evening, and a place on the Incubator, which was what we really wanted. Our aim is that eventually Mum2Mum will be able to be offered as a service by churches or groups of churches all across the UK.

We have just held another trustee meeting. When I look back at where we were in March, compared to where God has brought us to now- the answered prayer, the open doors, the new opportunities, the provision, the equipping- once again I am on my knees in wonder at the greatness and faithfulness of our God.

Come now
For all we’ve seen
We ain’t seen nothing yet
Are you ready
Are you ready…

 

 

 

 

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A Tale of Many Hats

hats

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

freedom-2053281_1920

 

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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