princessemmablog

A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

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 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: 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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The Glass Half-Full

glass

Last Wednesday was a really bad day.

It started off with a sobbing elder munchkin, distraught because the new hamster was gnawing his bars, which meant, according to her new Bible Hamster Book that he was stressed. And that obviously meant that she was the worst hamster mummy in the whole world and that he was going to get wet tail and die and…and…and….

By the time she had stopped crying and everyone was more or less calm it was 8.20 and we were all still in our pyjamas. Cue 15 minutes of frantic dressing, book-bag packing, hair-doing, squabbling, rushing, but we did at least make it to school on time.

And breathe.

At lunch time I discovered that a major Princess Project grant application that I had had high hopes of receiving had been turned down. This would have meant we had funding to ensure we could keep everything running for the next 6 months or so. But now…. it made me question all sorts of things. Were we doing the right thing? Where was I going wrong? Would we be able to pay the family bills in 6 months’ time?

I spent the afternoon preparing for a Princess Project Prayer evening, which is a chance for our supporters to get together and pray for the organisation, its direction and strategy, as well as for specific situations. I rushed to get dinner cooked, eaten, and cleared up, reading done with both munchkins, small munchkin in bed, big munchkin whispering sweet nothings to the hamster. All just about done and dusted in time for the advertised start time of 8pm. And then only one person showed up….!

Not a good day.

But that wasn’t the whole picture.

I texted my best friend in a fairly self-pitying fashion to say bleuurrghhh we didn’t get the grant application and everything is a bit rubbish. Like the wonderful person she is, despite being busy herself and with enough worries of her own at the moment, she phoned me almost immediately to see if I was OK. There’s one good thing, one blessing, right there. And as I was telling her about my day, a strange thing happened- I realised that actually it hadn’t been that bad after all.

Sure, Hamstergate was quite a stressful way to start my day. But together, my big munchkin and I managed to turn the situation around. I was able to tell her something that I hope she remembers and holds onto forever- that she never needs to face a problem or worry or anxiety alone unless she chooses to. I could reassure her that her daddy and I, as well as her Daddy in heaven, would always help her if she wanted us to, and would always support her and walk alongside her. We’re a team. We prayed together, and hugged a lot, and I dried her tears, and it was a special time that actually brought us closer together. After school we walked up to the pet shop in the sunshine, small munchkin, big munchkin and I, and laughed, and brought a ridiculously expensive new wheel in case the hamster was bored, and a fake log for him to munch on instead of the bars. (And prior to that, he and I had a tete-a-tete in which I calmly informed him that if he kept on stressing out my sensitive, oh-so-responsible big girl, I would take him back to aforementioned pet shop and ask them for another hamster that looked the same but behaves better. I think we reached an understanding).

When I found out about the grant application, I had just come back from looking at office furniture to put in our new Princess Project town centre office space. I should have said- looking at FREE office furniture, kindly donated by a firm shutting up their office to work from home, who were going to sell it on ebay but gave it to us instead. And I also should have said to put in our FREE office space, let to us at no cost by a charity that matches long-term vacant commercial properties with local charities needing space. We have a whole floor of an office building to share with two other local Christian charities, to use for storage, training, meetings, and whatever else we fancy. We may not have succeeded with procuring cold, hard cash, but God has been so amazingly generous in providing us with more than we could have ever asked or imagined! And I was reminded that God promises to give us what we need, when we need it, not what we want, when we want it.

When the email came through about the grant application, unlike most working days I wasn’t at the office alone- I was working from home, and hubby just happened to be between meetings and had popped home for lunch (this hardly ever happens!) So I was able to tell him about it, share my disappointment, and have him reassure me, dry my tears, give me a hug, just like I had done with my big girl a few hours before. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that same lesson- that I don’t need to deal with stuff on my own unless I choose to.

And what about the prayer meeting? Only one person came…. but it was just the right person. It was a lovely lady looking to get more involved with the Princess Project, and the fact that it was just the two of us gave us a chance to get to know each other better, and to have some really good prayer time. It was another reminder to me that in our results, outcome-driven world, it’s not all about numbers (as I’ve written about before). Jesus said

“When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” Matthew 18:20, The Message

It doesn’t matter whether it’s 2, or 20, or 200, the important thing is that we’re putting God at the centre of the Princess Project, and He’ll honour that.

The next day I was leading a parenting course, and our group discussion turned to how it’s all too easy to focus on the bad rather than the good in our children, too.To pay more attention to the blazing row my children are having rather than the hour of harmonious co-existence that had gone before; to the 2 wrong spellings as opposed to the 18 right ones; to the spilled drink rather than the effort my daughter made to fetch it herself.

What we focus on the most will assume the greatest significance in our minds. If we choose to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, on what God has done rather than what we think He should have done, on what we love about our partner rather than their flaws, on our children’s good behaviour rather than the behaviours that press all our buttons- then I have a feeling we may find we have more good days.

Wednesday really wasn’t so bad, after all.

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Incredible Journey

ppdisplay

Today is a big day for me. After nearly 14 years working as a veterinary surgeon, it’s my last day for the foreseeable future in clinical practice. In a few weeks, after some eagerly anticipated family time, both my husband Graham and I start new jobs, in what is a completely new season for our family. I’m going to be working for the Princess Project, swapping dogs and cats for mums and babies. So how did I get here? I was asked to speak at a Ladies’ breakfast last weekend, and I took the opportunity to look back over the last few years and reflect on exactly that. What God has been doing is simply incredible, and I am just thankful that I have been a part of it.

I had my first baby in 2005 (now a very grown up 9 ½- neither she nor my smaller munchkin who is nearly 7 can be called babies anymore!) At the time it struck me how hard it was despite all the support I was lucky enough to have- husband, family, friends, church, house, car. I was surprised even then how little support or preparation there was for parenthood from ‘the state’- and started to think that this was a gap the church community could be filling. State provision has only got less since then, with resources being stretched all the time. At the same time Graham and I were running a weekly activity evening at Trinity Foyer in Maidstone, accommodation for young people aged 16-24 who would otherwise be homeless. I got to know several girls who became pregnant – and discovered that they often had very little or no support once they’d moved out, and could therefore become very isolated.

I had the word ‘Princess’ given to me from a number of different sources. Then I heard the song ‘White Horse’, by Taylor Swift, whose lyrics include

“I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairytale, I’m not the one you sweep off her feet, lead her up the stairwell; this isn’t Hollywood, this is a small town, here in your rearview mirror disappearing now, and it’s too late for you and your white horse to come around….”

That same week I read a verse that seemed to provide the answers for the disillusioned girl in the song searching for her fairytale hero to sweep her off her feet:

“God is bedrock under my feet, The castle in which I live, My rescuing knight.”

2 Sam 22:2 (The Message).

I felt God was saying that these young mums, often judged, looked down on or just ignored by society at large, are so precious to him. They are his princesses, not in a Barbie sparkly sense but in the sense of being daughters of a heavenly King. I wanted to be able to demonstrate to them that they were loved, by God, and by his church. They often had no hope, no aspirations, no confidence, either as individuals or parents. I wanted to show them that they matter, and that in Jesus they can be whole and healed in every sense- that he is that fairytale hero we all search for.

In 2011 one of the Trinity Foyer project workers phoned me out of the blue wanting me to come and meet an 18 year old girl currently living in their move-on flats who had just found out she was pregnant and had no real peer or family support. This girl, and one other who I was already meeting regularly having met her when she lived at Trinity, were my two original ‘princesses’, and our relationship was the pilot for the Mum2Mum befriending service.

And it all started from there!

At the time, I did not feel at all equipped or confident to step out for God. The confidence I did have was not really rooted in God but in other things, especially my career. At the beginning of 2011 I joined a small veterinary practice in Maidstone (I had been working for a larger practice just outside Canterbury- the Maidstone job was a miraculous provision in itself, but that’s another story…!) I found myself in a practice full of laid back people and clients, the atmosphere less self-important and intense than that which I had been used to.

God began the process then of showing me that I can serve him wherever I may be, and that what I do does not define who I am; my identity is in him. My confidence had taken a massive knock at university- I went from being the top of my class at school, a member of the orchestra, in the swimming team, chair of the debating team- to spending 6 years at Cambridge University feeling totally out of my depth and inadequate. My identity had been so tied up with my achievements- I had always felt like people liked or approved of me because of what I did, the grades I got, not for who I am. I guess I thought that was how God saw it too. But over a period of months I started to realise, and believe, that God loves me for who I am, not what I do. I started to believe that I am one of his princesses too, and to become more and more confident in that identity.

At this point I was completely terrified about speaking in public- even speaking out at a meeting was way out of my comfort zone- I’d get home and wished I’d had the courage to say what I’d wanted to say. Even meeting new people, phoning people up, walking into a strange place were all things I found uncomfortable. But I knew that God had put this passion for mums on my heart, and that just seemed to take over. I came to the realisation one day that if I waited until I felt ready, until all my ducks were in a row, until I had the time, until circumstances were just so, then I would never do anything. And I really didn’t want to go through life without at least trying to find and walk in the purpose God had for me.

That was when I made what for me was a life-changing discovery- that when we step out of our comfort zone into the unknown, God will bless us, and equip us with exactly what we need. In 2011, my younger daughter started at preschool, giving me a few child-free, work-free hours a week to finally start putting some time into what had up to now only been a dream- the Princess Project. We officially launched the Princess Project at a Community Day at St Luke’s church in June 2011.

Banner at the 2011 launch

As a result of that I was invited to go along to a conference a month or so later at the Hazlitt Theatre about tackling teenage conception in Maidstone. I arrived at this event, just me and a few leaflets printed from my home PC, and felt completely out of my comfort zone. I forced myself to do that activity that struck fear into my heart- “networking”. I made myself walk up to people I’d never met (some of whom were blatantly wondering why I was there, as it was mostly professionals and everyone else had been paid to attend!) and introduce myself and explain about the project. I found the whole process acutely uncomfortable but came away with a real sense of achievement, and knew that it was the Holy Spirit who had enabled me to get through the day.

Since then God has gradually been setting me free from my fears and insecurities. I’ve had stands at other conferences since that first one, and felt a lot more at home!

Slightly more sophisticated display at a conference in 2012!

I’ve spoken at church services, been a seminar speaker at Detling Summer Conference, even been interviewed on Premier Radio’s Woman to Woman programme. Every time I do it I smile. Every time I stand up to speak and know that I haven’t had countless sleepless nights of terror leading up to it, I am struck by the miracle that God has brought about. It is his way of constantly reminding me that it’s in his strength that it’s all possible, not mine. God has been removing the barriers that were holding me back as I step out towards him, and he is now releasing me to be who I really am; who he has created me to be. I started from a position of saying ‘No, I can’t possibly do that’ to discovering that if I’m relying on God then- yes, I probably can! One verse that I have returned to time and again is Philippians 4:13:

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Let’s not write ourselves off, and put a ceiling on what we think we’ll be able to do, or rule certain things out without trying them. God loves to show his strength by working through our weakness- we just need to be willing and obedient, and prepared to give things a try.

In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul writes

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”

I used to be crippled by that spirit of fear and timidity, but the Holy Spirit is gradually changing me from the inside out.

In May 2012 Graham and I went to the HTB leadership conference at the Royal Albert Hall. We were lucky enough to hear Rick Warren, Christine Caine and Judah Smith (amongst others). For me, the take-home, life-changing message was embarrassingly simple. These men and women of faith, who are quite literally changing the world with the work they are doing, all emphasised how essential it is to be spending time with God, every day. To be reading his word, listening for his voice, kneeling at his feet, growing in intimacy with him. It really impacted me that this was the ‘secret’ of their success. There are no shortcuts. If that is true for them (as it was for Jesus himself!) then how dare I think it was not just as essential for me? If I was too busy for that, then I was too busy, full stop. Since I have recommitted myself to that, my relationship with God has deepened immeasurably, and I find that when I am being filled up by the Holy Spirit I have plenty of energy for all he wants me to be doing.

Something that God has had to teach me repeatedly is patience, and the importance of trusting in His perfect timing. Quite early on I read a tweet from Christine Caine that I found really helpful:

“What satan can’t stop, he will often try to speed up. The timing of God is everything!”

Right from the off there has been the temptation to tear ahead at 1000 miles an hour; time and again God has slowed it down, closed doors, made me wait. The best example of this is my employment. Back in 2012, the trustees agreed that to take the organisation forward, I needed to be working for the Princess Project full time- we needed someone to be accountable, overseeing the day to day running of the organisation, managing the volunteer teams, as well as thinking about the strategic development of the charity. They agreed a salary based on comparable positions. The only thing was…. we didn’t have the money! We applied for various grants and were unsuccessful.

Then I realised that there was another factor in play. My husband needed to be 100% on board with the idea of me jettisoning a well-paid, professional role for a temporary contract with a small organisation with nowhere near enough regular income- and at that time, he wasn’t. I don’t blame him at all for that- a lot of people still think I’ve taken leave of my senses! He is hard-wired to be our provider, he is the one who always deals with our family finances, he is the sensible one who is always having to rein me in and keep my feet on the ground (we make a great team!) And the idea of leaving that stability behind was stressing him out quite a lot. I was in a bit of a quandary as I really felt like this was what God wanted me to do- but at the same time, I knew with absolute certainty that he would not want me to do anything that would cause conflict or difficulty in our marriage.

Praying with a friend, she told me she’d had an image of me swinging tarzan stylee through the jungle (apologies for that mental image)- and that I had to let go of one vine before grabbing the next. It felt like God was saying there had to be an element of trust- we couldn’t wait for it all to be in place before stepping out and letting go of our financial security. But she also said that my green light to go would be Graham’s blessing of the decision. Another good friend suggested that, like Gideon (see Judges 6), I lay down a fleece and asked for a sign. I asked God that when the time was right, Graham would be OK with it- not superficially OK to make me feel better, but really OK.

And God honoured that.

I kept quiet, didn’t go on about it (quite a feat- I’m a very good nagger!) and one day Graham came back from work and said “Well, if you’re serious about stopping at the vets I suppose I’d better do a spreadsheet and see how it’s all going to work!” Once spreadsheets had been mentioned, I knew he was on board. Just as I’d asked, it was my green light to go. In his own, unique, understated way he was giving me his blessing, and trusting God for our future- a real act of faith for him and I was, and continue to be, so very thankful for his support and belief in me, and the vision that I have for the Princess Project. He really is a faithful man of God and it is very much a shared journey that we are on. I was also so thankful to my Daddy God who had given me the clear sign I had prayed for.

We decided that one way or another I wouldn’t go back to work at the vets after a holiday we had planned for April. Since then, so much has happened. When we stepped out in faith not knowing where the money was coming from, suddenly it started coming in earnest. The Princess Project received £3000 in donations in the first 3 months of this year alone. In February the trustees decided that there was enough money to offer me a 6 month contract starting in April (and actually we now have nearly enough for another 6 months after that!) I start my paid role at the Princess Project on the 27th April, and can’t wait to take things to the next level. I am also so excited at the prospect of bring able to work around my munchkins, not work at weekends, pick them up from school, look after them when they are sick. They, as well as Graham, have enthusiastically embraced the Princess Project, telling people about it, holding ‘tombolas’ at home to raise a few pennies, coming to events with me. It is very much a family enterprise, and if through this whole process they learn that nothing is impossible with God, to pursue their dreams wholeheartedly, and that some things are more important than money, I will be a very happy mummy.

I don’t know what the future holds- I am very excited about it though! Since I have handed in my notice at the vets, things have rather exploded at the Princess Project, with referrals for the Mum2Mum befriending service coming out of our ears, two Parentalk courses planned, and a new arrangement in place whereby we provide all the new mums accessing the Meadow Children’s Centre with a Princess gift basket. We have two more funding applications in the pipeline. One thing I know- God is graciously only revealing a small part of his plan at a time. If you had told me 5 years ago where I would be today I would simply not have believed it (and quite possibly run screaming for the hills).

I am forever grateful for the reminder that God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. We don’t need to be super talented, or super spiritual, or extraordinary in any way. We just need to listen, trust and obey, and then God can use us in ways that surpass our wildest dreams.

Collecting at our local Sainsbury’s (we’re their charity of the year) with my big munchkin and our good friend and Princess Project volunteer Anne this Mother’s Day

Princess Project Ball 2014

Speaking at the Princess Project Butterfly Ball, October 2014

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

schumannphotography-3 (2)

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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Beginning to Bloom: A Princess Project Update

rosebud

Yesterday morning, as I was thinking and praying about the Princess Project, a picture of a rosebud came into my mind. A tightly closed, deep red rosebud, just beginning to unfurl; a tantalising taster of the beautiful bloom soon to be revealed. To me it was a powerful metaphor for the development of the Princess Project. We’ve spent many years dreaming about what the garden will look like, and two years preparing the soil, planting the seeds, watering them, nurturing them. And now we are starting to see signs of vibrant new life. Carry on reading…

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Worth the Wait

I am not a fan of waiting. I feel myself getting irrationally impatient with the person at the front of the queue at the supermarket who seems to be taking an interminably long time to find their purse. If I post something on Facebook or twitter (or even a blog page!) I’m looking for a pretty instant reaction. As I’m watching my children take an age to put on their coats and shoes to go out I can feel my blood pressure rising. And it seems that I’m not the only one. A 2009 study conducted by TalkTalk looked at how long it took people to reach their ‘point of impatience’ in a variety of scenarios. Apparently the average UK resident loses patience with being kept on hold after 5 minutes 4 seconds (I’m sure the 4 seconds make all the difference!) We don’t like to be kept waiting by our friends for longer than 10 minutes, and  we expect our texts or voicemails to be responded to within 13 minutes and 16 seconds. Mark Schmid, communications director at TalkTalk said

“The speed of the online world is making us less prepared to wait for things to happen in the offline world, causing people to reach the ‘Point of Impatience’ earlier than ever before.”

(TalkTalk, 2009)

Since the Princess Project was born in 2011, God has been teaching me a lot about the importance of waiting. Starting the project had been a deep desire of mine for so long, that once it finally started to become reality, I felt more impatient than ever before. Carry on reading…

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