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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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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Guest post: WW1 Christmas Truce

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of my deepest desires for my girls is that they dream their own dreams, and work to see them come true. I recently posted a poem that my smaller munchkin had written at school; today my big girl came home and showed me a totally awesome piece of writing that, coming from a 9-year-old, leaves me in no doubt that whatever she chooses to do in life, writing will surely play a part in it. I share it here because I think it’s wonderful, and suitably festive, and because I am an unashamedly proud mummy. And because in doing so I hope it will help her to know how amazing and talented I think she is. She wrote this letter as a class assignment after studying the Christmas truce in WW1.

To my dearest Lizzie,

You will never guess what happened yesterday. It was the greatest day of this horrifying war by far! I want to tell you everything about it!

It was a snowy Christmas morning and I was sitting alert in these horrendous trenches that are infested with revolting rats. The boggy mud was squelching under my disgusting leather boots. I heard the gushing of the latrines overflowing and thought how you would hate these terrible conditions! Just then I saw a muddy German emerging from his trench waving a white flag although the war was still waging in the background! He shouted “Merry Christmas” and before too long, our soldiers were out there too! We shook hands happily with our enemies and swapped food and cigarettes despite the fact that we had desperately trying to murder each other yesterday! Suddenly, some of the lads threw their coats off into piles and a football match began in ‘no man’s land’. I actually scored a sneaky goal while the goalkeeper tied his shoelaces…

Eventually the Germans won 2-1! They were as happy as the blazing sun because they beat us! Suddenly we heard gun shots firing in the distance and it brought us back to our senses. We waved hurriedly and trouped back to our trenches in the front line.

As we sat in our own disgusting trenches in the evening, we sang the lovely carol of ‘Stille Nacht’ (Silent Night in English!) until our throats were hoarse and sore though it almost felt good!

How is our Jenny doing? I do so hope to be back home with you by next Christmas and will be thinking of you and Jenny until I am back! Miss you lots.

Your loving

Jake xxx

By Sophie Tanner, aged 9

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A poem for anti-bullying week: words of wisdom from a 6 year old

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Guest post by my baby girl 🙂

Sticks and stones can break your bones
But words can hurt you more.
Bullies bully and buddies help you.
Be a buddy not a bully.
Be friends not enemies
Help others not hurt them.

By Charlotte Tanner (age 6)

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Mother’s Day: A Bittersweet Celebration?

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

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

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

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

Those who’ve lost a child.

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

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

Those who feel unappreciated in their role as a mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marriage Matters: A Question of Priorities

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

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

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

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

“Good idea. When are we going again?”

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

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

There was a long silence.

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

“We can find another time, surely?”

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

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

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

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

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

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An angel to watch over me

guardian angel

What comes to mind when you hear the word angel? Cute chubby figures with wings decorating a Christmas tree? Something akin to a fairy, but with a halo- and just as mythological? Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about angels. I’m pretty certain there’s been some concerted angel-action in my family over the last month or so, so I’ve been delving into the Bible to see what it has to say on the topic.

The very day I was beginning to ponder this, my morning Bible reading happened to be Psalm 91, which contains these verses:

If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.

It always blows me away when God does that. Of all the verses in all the books in all the Bible, He directs me to just the right one…. (with apologies to Humphrey Bogart).

But let me backtrack a little and tell you why I started thinking about all this in the first place. My younger daughter is 5. A few weeks ago she was going through a spate of waking with nightmares. She was starting to get quite distressed when going to bed, as she was anxious about what the night would bring. The rest of the family prayed for her every night before she went to sleep, which seemed to settle her and allow her to drift off peacefully. We prayed that she would not be scared, that she would know that Jesus was right there with her when she slept, and was more powerful than any of the nasty, scary things she might dream about. We prayed for dreams filled with beautiful images. And we prayed that angels would watch over her as she slept.

One night a couple of weeks ago I woke to a very strange noise. I couldn’t quite place it, and was in that brain-addled state halfway between sleeping and waking when I saw a little figure standing in the doorway- again.

“Mummy,” said the figure, “Coco’s making a funny noise.”

Yes, I thought, that’s what I heard. My smaller munchkin has an interactive Chuggington train set in her bedroom, complete with talking trains. What I had heard was Coco saying “Chugger chugger, chugger chugger,” over and over again- very surreal!

I got up and took my little person’s hand and led her back into her bedroom. All was quiet again by this time. When I went to investigate, I found the offending train the right way up in the middle of the floor. It wasn’t touching anything that could have set it off. It hadn’t been played with or made any sort of sound for months.  I tucked my munchkin back in, prayed with her, and went back to bed. She went straight back to sleep.

I lay in bed, a little freaked out by these strange nocturnal toy antics. I was praying for my girl, lying in bed, worried that this was an escalation of the nightmares and that it represented some sort of spiritual attack. Then I heard God’s still, small voice whisper

“Don’t worry- it was me!”

“What do you mean?!” I replied.

And then it dawned on me that He had answered our prayers, completely and awesomely. He had sent His angel to wake up my little girl before she could suffer from another of her nightmares. Angels were watching over her, just as we’d prayed. In the morning, she didn’t even remember that she had woken up at all. And she hasn’t had a nightmare since.

The following Sunday I was praying with a member of our church ministry team for and about my girls. She told me that as she was praying, she could see both of my girls with their own angel looking out for them and protecting them. At that point I hadn’t mentioned  the episode I’ve just described.

In our cynical, all-knowing society, we don’t like things that we can’t explain. Or rather, things that do not have an empirical, rational explanation. I dare say that some people reading this post will not believe my interpretation of events, but prefer to put it down to a collection of random coincidences. They will be incredulous that someone with a scientific degree from Cambridge University would believe in God, let alone angels. But I do. And my world is richer for it. It means that I can be confident in the knowledge that the precious jewels of my life, my two daughters, are being looked out for by someone who loves them even more than I do. That’s the kind of God I believe in. One who flung stars into space, but can still take the time to reach down through time and space into a bedroom in Kent, and bring peace to a little girl’s sleep.

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Reflections on a low-tech summer

summertime walk

This summer has been for me a celebration of life in the slow lane. The beautiful weather (such a welcome, much-loved but, alas, frequently absent friend to us Brits)  meant that the munchkins and I have spent much of their summer holidays outdoors. We’ve been on lots of walks, picked blackberries, spent time with friends, been swimming, played in the garden, had water fights, got the paddling pool out, grown tomatoes.

At the end of July we travelled to France en famille to spend a fortnight camping in a sleepy part of the Northern Dordogne. I know camping isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but we love it. We love being able to stay right in the middle of stunning scenery and spend two weeks effectively living outdoors. The girls love the fact they have a bit more freedom than at home.  I love the fact that Graham does all the cooking on the barbecue (and even does the washing up, too- result!) I love eating all our meals outside, and having loads of picnics. I also love the fact that we have no TV, no laptop, no wi-fi, no Facebook, no e-mails, no Twitter. Just a paperback, a bottle of rouge, and an impossibly big blue sky. Bliss.

I find the pace of life, snail-like compared to the rat race that is the South East of England, immensely therapeutic. There is time and space to think, reflect, dream, pray. God always tops up my dream-banks when we’re away on a holiday like that.

clouds at sunset

There is more time to spend with the children, too. We went swimming in lakes, gave them rides in the inflatable dinghy in the river at the bottom of the gorge, played tennis, played mini golf, taught them to play cards. It has become a family tradition for me to tell them made-up stories before bedtime when we’re camping, too. These stories feature my munchkins and their adventures with an assortment of talking animals-  this year we had stories about the herd of rather handsome red limousin cows that grazed in the field next to the campsite. That time snuggled up together in their tent bedroom is so precious. They won’t always be impressed with my ramblings about Colin the Clumsy Cow so I want to make the most of an appreciative audience while I still can. At home, we would be negotiating about when to turn off the TV. When we’re camping, they don’t even miss it.

limousin cows

And now, we’re back home. I always love the first night back- the novelty of lying in a comfortable bed, and of being able to go to the toilet in the night without having to first put my shoes on and go for a walk. But the challenge for me is to try to retain some of that tranquillity and serenity now we’re back home. To be disciplined with myself, to try not to do a million things at once, to choose how I spend my time wisely and carefully. It is our most precious and finite resource but so often I squander it doing pointless things- watching something mindless on the TV that I didn’t mean to watch, but it was on, so I did; spending an hour on Facebook looking at the holiday photos of people I barely know; playing a game on my phone; the list goes on. If I am a bit more choosy about what I spend my time on, and what I don’t, then maybe I will find that, even when I’m not on holiday, I have more to spend with those who really matter to me- especially my Daddy in heaven and my wonderful little family here on earth.

path in summer

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Lighten Up! The power of laughter

 

When my husband Graham and I were first married, life was quite stressful. In the space of 3 months I’d done my finals, moved house twice, got married, and started work as a newly qualified vet. Looking back on that time, I think there was one thing that helped (rescued?) our marriage more than anything else- Graham’s ‘melting’ skills.

Let me explain.

Wife comes home from work, exhausted, overwrought, near to tears, looking for an argument. Husband tells inappropriate joke, diffuses situation, perseveres with downright silliness until aforementioned wife cannot help herself but to smile (despite all her best efforts). Husband then continues until laughter ensues. Followed by hugs. Situation redeemed.

“Melted my wife!” he says triumphantly.

My husband is great at not taking himself too seriously. He is very good at seeing the funny side, especially if I am struggling to. Although this has bordered on irreverence at times (I never quite recovered from being made to watch his take on ‘liturgical dancing’ following a demonstration at church), it has led to lots and lots of shared laughter over the years.

And now he not only has one girl to melt, he has three. Our small munchkin doesn’t usually need much encouragement to find life funny- she usually starts us all off- but the larger munchkin has inherited her mummy’s tendency to take herself a little seriously at times, so is a much more satisfying subject for the practising of one’s melting techniques. If he can get through the frustrated

“DADDY! You’re SO ANNOYING!!!”

the wonderful giggle that he can coax out is well worth the effort.

All of this has started to rub off on me. I try not to take myself as seriously as I used to. Shared silliness has started to become the norm in our house. As Graham remarked a little wistfully when I told him I was writing this post,

“I don’t need to melt you as often as I used to…”

Seeing the funny side can prevent us from being crippled by that most British of fears- looking silly. If we’re not afraid to look ridiculous, if we can laugh at ourselves, then we often find that we worry less about what other people think of us. And perversely, if we are laughing at ourselves, it is much less likely other people will laugh at us anyway. People with an overinflated view of their own gravitas and importance and who aren’t prepared to join in with the joke are a much more tempting target.

If we’re jumping around the kitchen singing along to One Direction with our children using wooden spoons as microphones, all having fun together, who cares what other people think? We’re making memories, and that’s what counts. (What, you don’t do that?! It’s only us?!) The sound of my children’s laughter must be my favourite sound in all the world.

And it’s not only our homes and families that benefit from a healthy dose of laughter- our churches do, too. All too often Christians are stereotyped as being killjoys, miserable, anti-fun- and definitely as people who take ourselves too seriously. We absolutely must take God seriously- but not ourselves. As Jesus said,

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10

That seems to me to be a call to enjoy the lives we have been given.

The Psalmist writes

We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.
Psalm 126:2
Wouldn’t it be amazing if those outside our churches could look at us and think the same.
So my challenge to you today is to make someone laugh. Smile at a stranger. ‘Melt’ your partner even when it would be more tempting to shout at them. Smiling and laughing are incredibly contagious- let’s start spreading some silliness, lighten up a bit, and who knows what may happen.
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I Heart Holiday

DSCF1609

Recently I’ve been looking and thinking about ways to hear from God; to listen, and be still. I went away on a family camping holiday armed with plenty of reading matter, my journal, and lots of good intentions about finding an idyllic spot in the forest to sit, and reflect, and listen. (Did I forget that the children were coming too?!)

The first day of our holiday saw us setting off, armed with a picnic, on a mission to Explore the Forest. As we walked along the track, the sunlight hit the new spring leaves and made them zing a vivid green that hurt your eyes if you looked at them too long. The girls started picking up stones from the path- nothing new there, their pockets are always full of them- but these were different and they wanted to share them. Carry on reading…

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