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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

The Discipline Challenge

I came upon this picture yesterday, posted by an inspiration and role model of mine, Christine Caine. It really spoke to me. I am quite good at the vision part- dreaming big, coming up with ideas, knowing where I want to end up- it’s the making it happen that I find more challenging. Having a vision, putting a plan in motion, embarking on a big adventure- that’s one thing. But the daily grind, the mundane reality of working hard every day to keep it going, is quite another. Whether it’s my dreams for myself, my family, or the Princess Project, I have finally worked out something that I should have twigged long ago- that it is the tiny steps taken every day, and repeated over and over again, that make the difference. That it’s not about the big breakthroughs, the mountain top experiences, the impressive achievements, but about being disciplined enough to keep on doing what we need to do day in, day out even when we’d rather be doing something else.

Most of us have probably seen documentaries or news items about successful sports men and women. They are gifted, and talented, sure- but what really sets them apart is the dogged determination to keep going; to train every day, whatever else is going on in their life, whatever the weather, however they feel. To press on through injury, disappointment, failure. To be prepared to make sacrifices to achieve their goals. The Bible frequently likens life to a long-distance race, and emphasises the importance of discipline to keep us on track:

Do you see what this means- all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running- and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed- that exhilarating finish in and with God- he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honour, right alongside God. When you find yourself flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he ploughed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message

In this age of instant gratification, we want the end goal, the victor’s crown, without wanting the blood, sweat and tears that go with it. We want to be instantly famous by winning a singing competition, instantly rich by winning the lottery, to lose weight without having to diet for months, for all we touch to prosper without the need for sacrifice along the way. I guess for some people, achieving goals really can be that easy. But for most of us, we need to be prepared to put in the hard work first. If the Bible doesn’t do it for you, maybe you will be convinced by another heroine of mine, the wonderful Dolly Parton. I loved her song, The Sacrifice, from the first time I heard it, as it summed up all I wanted to say on this subject so perfectly:

So this year, my resolutions are all about committing to small acts that I can try and repeat on a daily basis, such as spending more time with God than my Galaxy tablet, and writing every day, even if just for five minutes. I know I won’t always manage it, but that doesn’t matter. If I keep on keeping on, eventually all those baby steps will take me to my destination.

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Dream your own Dreams

Message StonesThis last couple of months have been even more of a roller coaster than usual. I stand poised to make a major life decision, and swap financial security and social standing (through ‘professional’ status) for something less finite, less certain…. and infinitely more exciting. I am aware that calling time on my veterinary career and stepping out in faith into what I believe God has prepared for me will raise a few eyebrows; it will affect those around me, specifically my husband and my children; it may cause us to tighten our belts for a while. I trust that what God has called me to, he will equip me for. But that’s not what this post is about. Recently I have started to hear a little nagging voice saying “But isn’t that selfish? Shouldn’t you be concentrating on your children, on their dreams and ambitions and not yours?”

This got me thinking. Am I being selfish? Am I relentlessly pursuing God’s purposes for my life to the detriment of my children? Shouldn’t it all be about them?

These thoughts came at an already testing time of conflict and discord and things generally being a bit pants. That’s usually when these sort of things rear their heads. I worried about it a bit, had it lurking at the back of my mind, not fully explored or dealt with, just a dark brooding shadow.

Then I realised (belatedly) that I was carrying around all sorts of worries and stresses that weren’t mine to heft around, and made the conscious decision to give it all to God. Praying it through I realised that actually there wasn’t a conflict at all. God is the only being who loves my family even more than I do; His purposes for me include them. As a family we’re all part of a whole, a symbiotic unit, and His purposes for all of us are intertwined.

I also realised that it is OK to have dreams of my own. Parents- mums especially- need to hear this. We can have dreams for ourselves as well as for our children. Indeed, I think that it is healthy to do so.

It’s good for our children to see us dreaming, trying, achieving, perhaps failing. We are role models for them- they may not dare to dream big, life-changing, maybe world-changing dreams if we don’t show them how. They may not all come to fruition- we need to help them understand that, too- but one thing is certain: if we don’t entertain the dreams in the first place, they definitely won’t come true. And I’m not just talking about paid employment- having ambitions, interests, dreams and plans of our own is equally vital whether we are paid to work outside the home, do it in a voluntary capacity, or are stay-at-home parents.

If all our dreams and ambitions are tied up in our children, that can put immense pressure on them. Our dreams for them may not be the same as their dreams for themselves.  They may end up taking a direction that they would never have chosen themselves, just to please us. They need to know we believe in them, no matter what life choices they make- that we love them for who they are, not what they do. We need to help them to discover God’s plan for their lives, not teach them to live out our plans for them, otherwise they may go through life feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

So I’m going to continue along the path I believe I am meant to be walking, but not alone. We will all walk it together, and hopefully learn together, laugh together (and no doubt share some low points together, too). It’s not all about me- but it’s not all about them, either. It’s all about us, and I can’t wait to embark on the next leg of our journey together as a family.

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Raising Risk-Takers

Caution children s

A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are for.

(John A Shedd)

My Big Girl and I have been talking a lot about taking risks recently. As someone unused to failing or getting things wrong, this is a concept she struggles with. The issues now may be small- trying something potentially dangerous (using the kettle) or embarrassing (reading aloud in public) for the first time, for example- but they will only get bigger.

It is a natural instinct for parents to protect their children. But do we sometimes go too far? Do we sometimes insulate our children so much from the physical and emotional dangers of the world they live in that we teach them that ‘playing safe’ is what is most important?

I want to raise daughters that are willing to try something new for the first time, and not worry too much about whether they’re going to be any good at it or whether they’ll look silly. Daughters who invest in relationships that go beyond the superficial, who are prepared to share of themselves and be vulnerable, even if that may sometimes result in hurt and rejection. I long for my daughters to dream, to fly;  not to be intimidated by anything other than the familiar and mundane. Nothing world-changing (or life-changing) ever happened from staying in your comfort zone.

Easier said than done. For me, I think it means being prepared to let go a little, loosen the reins, let my girls get on with things even if none of us are sure how it’ll turn out. Maybe I need to stop thinking “But what if they get hurt? What if…. What if…”  and realise that- yes,  maybe they will, but that’s not the end of the world. It’s life; it’s normal. I won’t be able to protect them from everything forever. Far better to teach them how to handle hurt, failure, rejection. To show them that whether they succeed or fail, how I feel about them will not change- that they are loved for who they are, not for what they do. To praise the efforts, not the results. And to be there to pick up the pieces and reassure and comfort if it all goes belly up.

It also means leading by example- to walk boldly in God’s purposes for me and my life, tackling the rapids head on where necessary, not just pootling along in calm but insipid backwaters. Allowing my daughters to witness my failures as well as my successes, and to see that getting something wrong is not the worst thing that can happen; that it’s possible to come out the other side, perhaps a bit bruised and battered but hopefully a little bit wiser, too.

For those of us who try to walk where Jesus leads this represents a particular challenge as he often seems to delight in leading us far past where we feel comfortable and at home, stretching us, showing us that we are capable of so much more than we would ever have believed possible. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is this:

For I can do anything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13

If we can do anything, then surely doing nothing, never risking anything, never being prepared to try and fail and fall and get up and start all over again, is not an option. I pray that my girls and I will continue to learn together that some risks are worth taking.

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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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Bee Yourself (Life Lessons from Disney Volume 2)

I was in the car today, listening to the radio, when an unwelcome voice came into my head.

“You are so old, listening to Radio 2! If people could see you they would think you are so sad…”

A trivial example, I know, but a couple of years ago I would probably have listened to that voice, and questioned my choices. (I still remember ageing about 10 years in my own eyes when I made the epic decision to switch from Radio 1 to Radio 2. It was Chris Moyles leaving that was the final straw. But I digress). In the last 2 years or so I’ve gradually started to become more comfortable in my own skin. Or, in the wise words of the fantastic Genie in Aladdin, to Bee Myself.

This is a lesson I have found particularly hard to learn. From childhood I have been taught that what people think of you really matters. That it doesn’t matter what’s going on indoors, as long as we put on a good show for those watching from the outside, and that they think well of us. “What would (insert name of easily outraged person here) think?!” I am gradually teaching myself a new answer to that question: “I really don’t care!”

Of course, we all care what people think of us to some extent, and it’s right that we consider the opinions and sensibilities of those we love and respect. But if we live our lives governed by other people’s ideas of who we should be and how we should behave, it will cripple us.

We all have different ideas about pretty much everything. What we spend our money on. What we watch on TV. How we bring up our children. We need to acknowledge those differences, but be OK with them. What’s right for one individual, one family, may well not be the right thing for another. When we are insecure about ourselves and the choices we make we often feel the need to make other people, who may do things differently, feel small. And at the end of the day that won’t make us feel any better, it’ll just make the other person feel a whole lot worse.

Jesus famously said

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Matthew 22:39

We tend to focus on the first part of that statement- but that is only half of the story. We need to learn to love ourselves. God loves us as we are now; he doesn’t need us to change first. And it’s his opinion that really counts. We may be a work in progress, and there will probably need to be some growing and changing that needs to happen so that we can do all we were made to do- but we don’t need a personality transplant for God to like us. He made me me, and you you; we were never meant to be the same.

So let’s cut each other, and ourselves, some slack. Let’s not worry too much about what other people think and just get on with being us- the real us, not the people we think others want us to be.

In the words of Sting, from the song ‘An Englishman in New York’:

“Be yourself, no matter what they say.”

 

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A Dream Delayed: building character along the way

DSCF1508

Do you have a dream for the future? If life right now is not all you had hoped it would be, do you get frustrated? Do you ever wonder when your dreams will be fulfilled, and question whether they will be at all? I think if we’re honest, we all do sometimes. I read a verse in the Bible this week that really spoke to me about this:

Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.

Psalm 105:19

If God has given us a dream, it will be fulfilled. If he has made us a promise, he will keep it. But in the meantime, we mustn’t expect just to sit around marking time, counting down the days. We have work to do. God has work to do in us. If we embark on a new career, we expect to do at least some training or preparation- go on a course, do some reading, maybe undertake some work experience.  And if God has given us a new dream, a new vision, there will be preparation to do there too. And not just in the revising, sitting-in-a-seminar-dozing-off kind of a way, but preparing our very selves. And that kind of preparation is a lot harder. It involves God showing us where change is needed, challenging bad attitudes, sanding down our rough edges and sharp corners. And it seems as though God often uses difficult circumstances and situations to bring about those kind of changes.

Take Joseph’s life as an example (you can read the whole story in Genesis 37 and 39-47). He had received dreams and visions from God from an early age, and he knew he was destined for greatness. But he could have been forgiven for thinking that God may have changed the plan for his life along the way. He was sold into slavery in a foreign country by his own jealous brothers, and then falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He must have wondered what had gone wrong.  Joseph entered that time of testing and hardship as an arrogant young man, and emerged as a wise leader and a faithful servant of God. As Pharoah himself remarked

Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?

Genesis 41:38

He ended up in charge of the entire land of Egypt, second in rank only to Pharoah himself. I wonder how things might have looked if his dreams had been fulfilled immediately. If a brash teenager had been made ruler, one who hadn’t had years of learning dependency on God in the isolation of a prison cell; one who hadn’t been taught wisdom, humility and compassion. Given Pharoah’s penchant for impaling those who offended him (see Genesis 40:1-3,22) I don’t think things would have worked out all that well.

I am often impatient. If I know where I want my destination to be, where I think I am headed, I want to get there straight away, without any deviations or detours. But for God, and for our characters, the journey is at least as important as the destination. The journey is often less glamorous, and less public. It might be that no-one can see us trudging along other than God himself. But when we’re walking that path,  God will be building integrity in us; transforming us into the people we were made to be, and we long to be. In the words of Christine Caine

What we do in anonymity will build our inner world.

Becoming people of character and integrity cannot be rushed. We will be a work in progress until the day we go to be with Jesus. So take heart. God always keeps his promises. The bigger the plans he has for you, the more groundwork will need to be done first. So I will try not just to look ahead to the future, but to embrace the present. To serve God where he has put me, right now, even it’s not where I want to be forever.

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Fearless not Frozen

Yesterday, my husband and I took our girls to see Frozen, the new Disney extravaganza loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. We all thought it was fantastic, but the sequence above and the song it contains completely mesmerised me. In it the young snow queen, Elsa, starts to use the powers she was born with but has always been told she must hide away. As she starts to experiment, to draw pictures in the sky with frost and ice, and then to get more adventurous and conjure up an elaborate ice palace, you see her start to come alive, to become more confident as at last she is released to be the person she was created to be.

In ‘Let It Go’ she sings

The fears that once controlled me

Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do

To test the limits and break through…

It brought tears to my eyes as I watched it (not hard, as I am a Disney girl through and through and  so emotionally labile I have been known to cry in certain adverts…!) But even after we’d left the cinema, back home, I kept coming back to this scene in the film. At the start of a new year, full of promise, hope, expectation and uncertainty, what a great reminder that we need to use the gifts we’ve been given. There is freedom  in being who we were made to be. And using our gifts helps us to hone them, to employ them more effectively. In the film it is only through using her powers that Elsa discovers just what she can do and how she can control them and use them for good.

I don’t think that anyone I know has the power to turn anything they touch to ice. We all however, without exception, have our own unique set of gifts and talents, and most of us will have some that we aren’t using. Maybe we’re afraid, like Elsa, of the reaction of those around us. We may be afraid of failing if we step out into something new. We may be comfortable carrying on doing what we know we can do, happier in our comfort zone than out of it.

For me, the challenge this year is to keep writing. To stop making excuses about being too busy (if I have time for Facebook and Candy Crush I have time to write, right?!) To stop worrying about what people think about my writing and just do it. To stop being afraid of not being good at it and keep on keeping on. To stop reading books about writing books and just get on with the blinking thing.

I don’t know what your ‘thing’ is, but I bet there’s something. In the words of Orrin Woodward

It’s not the gifts you don’t have that hold you back as much as the gifts you do have that you don’t use.

So let’s get out there in 2014 and be the unique and wonderful people who God created us to be, all different, all complementary, all with our own particular part to play, not afraid of failing but free to be who we really want to be, who we really are. Oh, and go and see Frozen. It’s great.

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You’ve got a Friend

 

The last few weeks have been rather strange ones for me. A tumble down the stairs whilst on holiday (note to self: rushing down a polished wooden staircase wearing a onesie with fleecy feet is not a good idea) resulted in what was thought to be a rather painful broken toe. At a routine follow-up appointment a flustered registrar informed me that it wasn’t actually broken, but there was a growth in the bone. They thought it was probably benign, but  weren’t sure. I was dispatched to the MRI department with a green slip of paper requesting an appointment, which reassuringly contained the words ‘Benign?? Malignant?? ***URGENT***’ !!! The scan was arranged with impressive speed, and then I had a 10-day wait for the results.

And that was what I found tricky. A little knowledge is very definitely a dangerous thing, and I inevitably extrapolated from animals (I’m a vet by profession) to people. Bone tumours in dogs and cats are generally bad news. Dr Google informed me that bone tumours in humans are not usually anything to worry about, but I guess that message didn’t quite get through to my subconscious. Rationally, I knew the probability was that all would be well. I knew that God was with me no matter what, and could and would use my circumstances for His glory if I allowed him to,  whatever those circumstances were. I was still reading my Bible, still praying, still just about keeping everything ticking over at home and work but that was about it. I am used to tackling life with enthusiasm and driving things forward, being proactive; now I was only doing what really needed to be done, and struggling even to do that.

And that’s where my friends came in.

I can often find it difficult to ask for help, but this time my hand was somewhat forced. I was unable to walk the children to school the first two weeks after my tumble as I couldn’t put any weight on my foot, so two lovely friends stepped in to walk them there and back for me. People kept kindly enquiring after my broken toe and so I told them what was going on. I was overwhelmed by people’s response. Words of support and offers of help at the school gate. Text messages reassuring me of people’s prayers. Bible verses offering encouragement and reassurance.

As so often is the case, my daily Bible reading seemed very topical and timely. Having worked through the book of Colossians, I had come to the final verses:

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and  the church in her house.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Colossians 4:7-18

I found it striking the amount of time and space Paul devotes in this letter to personal greetings and news of his friends. We often associate Paul with dense and weighty theology, or view him as a lone visionary and evangelist and think of his ministry and mission as being a one-man affair. But more down-to-earth sections like this one from Colossians remind us how far from the truth this picture is. Paul was very much a team player. Yes, he was the one with the apostolic calling and often the one with the vision, but he makes it clear time and time again that he could not do it alone. He had a close relationship with God, but needed the support and encouragement of his friends as he journeyed through life.

And if that was true for Paul, one of the most influential people of all time, responsible for the spread of the Christian gospel out of the Middle East and into Europe and Asia, how much more is it true for all of us? For me?

We are not designed to live in isolation, as individual islands as the river of life flows around us. We are designed to live in community, in relationship with one another. To laugh with each other, cry with each other, love and support one another in good times and bad. These kinds of relationships require a degree of vulnerability that some of us find more difficult than others, but are essential to our wellbeing.

I found out on Monday that the lesion is indeed a benign one, and so nothing to worry about. A weight has been lifted from my mind that I wasn’t even aware I was carrying. Looking back I can see that the last few weeks have taught me many valuable lessons. That in all things, God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). That I can’t always do it on my own, and that I shouldn’t  be trying to. That the good health usually enjoyed by me and my family is something to be extremely thankful for, and not taken for granted. And most of all, that I am blessed with many wonderful friends. If any of you are reading this, know that I am thanking God for your presence in my life.

 

 

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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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