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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 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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Soul Restoration

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Some positive thoughts for a crazy day

                                    

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

 

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Little Miracles

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

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

A hug at just the right time.

An unexpected present.

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

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

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

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

The same is still true today.

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

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

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

I could give countless examples like that.

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

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

“Nothing is impossible with God.”

Luke 1:37

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

 

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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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Soundtrack to my Life

There is nothing quite like music to instantly transport you to another place, another time. This struck me afresh a couple of weeks ago, when I was lucky enough to be invited by my sister Becky to a concert in her home city of Birmingham. I hadn’t been to an event like that for a long time, so I’d forgotten the excitement, the feeling of anticipation mounting as gradually 16,000 people found their seats or somewhere to stand. The lights going down, the warm-up beginning, loving hearing the fabulous Ella Henderson sing but knowing that she was only a tasty starter, the main course being yet to come.

An interval, moving the set around. The lights go down, a couple of artists come on stage but you can’t see their faces. Is it them? Is it starting? They toy with the audience a bit, tease them, but then three figures appear and everyone knows. A collective scream comes from the assembled masses and there they are! Gary, Mark and Howard. What remains of Take That. Their music provided the soundtrack to so much of my teenage years, but so much I’d forgotten. Hearing it again brought so much flooding back.

Doing the dance routine to ‘Could It Be Magic’ with my ‘posse’ of friends, age 15, in my then-boyfriend’s front room.

‘Back for Good’, which marked the end of every Churchill Pav, the Thursday night disco held in the bar and the highlight of our undergraduate week.

‘Never Forget’- the last one before they split up (first time around), so obviously tinged with memories of hysterical overreaction by 19 year-olds who were old enough to know better.

There was a 10 year gap in the middle but then they picked up the baton again. ‘Patience’, ‘Shine’, ‘Greatest Day’ taking me back to when I was at home with my munchkins when they were tiny.

I wouldn’t call myself the world’s biggest Take That fan (honestly!)- but I found it an uplifting and emotional experience singing the familiar words along with so many other people, and submitting to waves of remembrance and nostalgia as I did so. Even if Gary Barlow’s thank-you-for-coming talk did involve thanking everyone for getting babysitters, reminding us collectively of our advancing years.

Music moves us. It speaks to our hearts, our souls, as well as our minds. It gets under our skin in a way mere spoken words can’t. We find it easier to remember the words we sing along to than those we just read- they seem to become hard-wired into our brains much more easily. I guess as a Christian that’s why I try and pay attention to what the munchkins and I listen to.

During our recent trip to the USA we did a lot of driving, and listened to a lot of music on the radio along the way. There is a very different line-up of radio stations over there compared to here in the UK, with many stations playing either country music or contemporary Christian music. I’m a big country music fan but the girls just loved the Christian music stations (especially Z88.3 Orlando!) and so that’s what we mostly listened to. We came home with a family playlist of songs that had touched all of us as we listened to them repeatedly, and which became the soundtrack to our holiday.

One song in particular really touched my big girl and me. I will be forever grateful to Francesca Battistelli for writing the beautiful ‘He Knows my Name’, that reminded my munchkin and I that we are loved, chosen, free, forgiven, children of the King. That it doesn’t matter whether we are known or celebrated by anyone else- we’re famous in our Father’s eyes, and we are loved just as we are, and used just as we are, imperfections and all. It was a perfect accompaniment to our holiday of a lifetime, and if it remains the soundtrack to my daughter’s life I will be a happy mummy indeed.

Do have a listen. It’s a beautiful song. And who knows, maybe it’ll end up being the soundtrack to your life, too.

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Incredible Journey

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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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Sacrifice: A Dirty Word?

What does the word ‘sacrifice’ mean to you? One of the Oxford dictionary definitions is ‘an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.’ I think that the concept of sacrifice is one that we struggle with in our contemporary culture- seen as outdated, irrelevant, negative. We want to have and do it all. We don’t want to give up anything, let alone something we (or society as a whole) view as valuable. But the Bible says it is a fundamental part of Christian living, and so maybe we need to think again.

This year I have started using the Bible in One Year (BiOY) app, a great free resource that takes you through the whole Bible in a year (obviously!), and using that have been reading through Matthew’s gospel. Jesus’ teachings on how to live in community with God and with each other were counter-cultural then, and are definitely counter-cultural now. I think that sometimes, the temptation can be to view our faith as an ‘extra’ on top of the life we are already living; something that adds value to it, completes it. But that is not what Jesus taught. He is looking for total commitment that invades every moment of our waking lives- every decision, at home, or work, or school; every relationship; everything we say and do. Unless we are prepared to live all out for Jesus, we will not be able to step into all the amazing plans he has for our lives- the unique work that each of us were put on this earth to do. In the words of Jesus:

If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.

Matthew 10:38-39, The Message

There will inevitably be a cost involved to living this way. Something has to give. Some things will have to be surrendered, given up. If we are walking in step with Jesus, life can never be the same as it was before. Sometimes we think it’s enough to sacrifice things that we were never very attached to, anyway. But according to the definition above, true sacrifice is giving up something we value. Maybe that’s popularity- being prepared to identify ourselves as followers of Jesus even when it’s not going to make us any friends. It may be financial security- listening to God’s voice and following his call even if that takes us away from a 9 to 5 job with a pension and job stability. Perhaps it’s career progression- turning down a promotion if we know it’ll mean we’ll be having to spend so much time at the office that there will be no time left for anything or anyone else. Maybe it’s how we spend our time, or our money- giving God the first-fruits, the very best, not just what’s left over once we’ve done everything else we want to do. The hardest thing to surrender is our sovereignty over our own lives- acknowledging that God is in control; that he knows better than we do what’s best for us.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:33, NLT

Or, as The Message puts it:

Steep your life in God-reality, God- initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

We mustn’t just dwell on the first part of the definition, but read to the end of the sentence and remember that anything we may give up is for the sake of something of even greater value. Not only can we be freed to live the lives we were made to live here on earth, but we have a promise of eternity in heaven from a God who always keeps his promises. Following Jesus is always costly. But it is so, so worth it.

If you have questions about Christianity, why not try Alpha? There’s a course starting at Christ Church, Park Wood, Maidstone on January 28th in the evening. 

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