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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

Find the Voice of Hope

Picture credit: Lily Padula, New York Times

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

But we can all choose which voices we listen to.

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

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

He tells me:

 I am chosen (1 Thessalonians 1:4)

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

I am blessed (Galatians 3:9)

I am set free (John 8:32)

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

I am accepted (Ephesians 1:6)

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

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

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

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Frozen Revisited

Show Yourself, from Frozen 2

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

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

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

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

Joshua 4:6-7

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

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

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

Who the Son sets free

Oh is free indeed

I’m a child of God

Yes I am

In my Father’s house

There’s a place for me

I’m a child of God

Yes I am

I am chosen

Not forsaken

I am who You say I am

You are for me

Not against me

I am who You say I am…

Who You Say I Am- Hillsong Worship

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

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

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

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

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For Such a Time as This- a Princess Project Update

Jordan and Louis rainbowArtwork by Jordan and Louis 

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

Breathe. Pray. Reflect.

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

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

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

Esther 4:14

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

But God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Grace by Hillsong United

 

 

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Mother’s Day Reflections: Reality vs Perfection

shallow focus photo of pink ceramic roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s not moved by perfection

Or how well we look the part

But He’s wild about the hidden stuff,

Like He’s wild about the heart…..”

from ‘Ready or Not’ by Hillsong United

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

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

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

Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on Pexels.com

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Thought for the Day: Living in Freedom

freedom-2053281_1920

 

This week, the Princess Project board of trustees got together to think about our vision and strategy for the next 12 months. We talked about the practical stuff, the whats and the whens and how much it would cost. But we also prayed for the mums we support, and how we can better meet their needs. And one word that kept coming up again and again was freedom.

A lot has been said, and sung, and written about freedom. The philosopher Albert Camus said that

“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”

Paul McCartney sang

“This is my right

A right given by God

To live a free life

To live in freedom….”

One definition of freedom is the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. Most of us in the UK are free in this sense- at least superficially. But the reality is that many of us are held prisoner by things we can’t see. By fear. By anxiety. By our circumstances. By debt. By a lack of hope.

In all the scary weirdness of the world at the moment, from Russian nerve agents to economic uncertainty, to the Beast from the East, it is very easy to stay within our prisons, to allow ourselves to be held captive by our fears and insecurities. But there’s more to life than that. Difficult as it may be to believe on a morning like this one, spring is just around the corner, with all the promise of new life and hope and Easter morning. Love banishes fear, and the perfect love of God frees us from all the things that bind us and keep us captive.

Being set free from what holds us back is only part of the picture. It is not just about freedom from, but about freedom to. Freedom to step into all God has planned for us. Freedom to be the men and women we were created to be. Freedom to hope, and dream, and live life to the full.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus made this kind of freedom available to all of us. In John’s gospel it says:

“If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

It takes bravery to step out into the unknown, to walk into the freedom that has been promised to us. As the ancient Greek historian Thucydides put it,

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret to freedom is courage.”

My prayer for us all this morning is that this week we would have the courage to step into that freedom that God has promised us.

 

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Kent Sunday Breakfast 17/3/18

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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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Let your Light Shine

This past week will surely go down in history as one of the most momentous in our nation’s history. However you voted, whether you are in the just-over-half or just-under-half, life will never be the same again.
Unsurprisingly, in a time of such unprecedented change, social media went crazy. 


Euphoria, triumph, grief, anger, bewilderment…. There were many different opinions expressed, with varying degrees of sensitivity. 

Then followed a spate of ‘stop whinging and get on with it’ type posts. We are being exhorted to pull together, accept things, put a brave face on it, stiff upper lip, it’ll all be OK- oh, and don’t ask any difficult questions.

On the face of it this seems like sensible advice, and what I was telling myself. The country has been pretty much split down the middle (52:48 is hardly a resounding victory) so more arguing is hardly going to help.

But in the light of recent events I have been prompted to reevaluate my position. I no longer think it’s OK to sit back and hope for the best. I strongly believe that, now as before the vote, we should be on our knees praying for wisdom, and guidance, and courage ….but I don’t think that our Christian responsibility stops there.

This vote has unveiled a deep divide within our country. Those who voted ‘Remain’ can’t just dismiss all 17.4 million ‘Leave’ voters as racist, or old, or uneducated. Those who voted to ‘Leave’ need to recognise that the pain being expressed by the Remain camp is not just intellectual snobbery, or being bad losers. There is a deep dissatisfaction in our society, a distrust of red and blue politicians alike. The campaign was fought on both sides in a way that promoted division and sowed harmful seeds of bigotry (whether racial or educational), fear, and selfishness. Something has broken. And no amount of ‘Keep calm and carry on’ memes are going to fix it.

It seems like the  referendum result has somehow made racism and xenophobia socially acceptable again. Whether it’s teenagers on a tram in Manchester disrespecting and verbally abusing a fellow traveller, or Polish schoolchildren being confronted with racist notes and graffiti, or the BBC thinking it’s OK to interview a neo-nazi (complete with swastika tattoo) on the breakfast news- it’s like the boundaries have suddenly been taken away and, like children, we are now testing them. The problem is that our political leaders have abdicated all responsibility for the genie they’ve let out of the bottle. Our Prime Minister has walked away from the result of his self-inflicted nightmare and left us to our own devices. Both Labour and the Tories are seemingly too busy scrambling for power to notice what’s happening, let alone provide leadership and direction.

And that’s where the people of God should come in.

As citizens of the Kingdom of God- a kingdom that transcends all earthly powers and nations- we need to put our trust first and foremost in Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We need to make it clear, both to ourselves and to those around us, that our hope is in Him and not in politicians. This is not a time for the Church to be anxious or divided. Now more than ever we are called to be lights shining in the darkness. Our little lights may feel weak and flickery, and if we’re relying on our own battery power they will eventually stutter and go out. But if we are plugged into the mains, energised by the Holy Spirit, then together we can shine an unwavering beam of light- of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control- into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

That might mean calling out and standing up against racism and xenophobia wherever we encounter it- on the street, online, amongst our friends or families. It might mean giving a voice, and being Jesus’ hands and feet, to the disadvantaged in our communities who feel disempowered and ignored by the political elite. It will almost certainly mean loving those we find difficult to love, and forgiving those we find difficult to forgive. 

It may well come at a cost. Following Jesus has always been a costly business if done wholeheartedly. But the cost of sitting back and doing nothing will be far higher. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is in itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

So I am going to stick my head over the parapet and risk being labelled opinionated (again!) I’m going to stop apologising for caring deeply about the future of our nation, and the safety within our communities of people who don’t look or sound like the majority. I am going to try my best to do what I can with what I have, where God has placed me. And I hope you’ll join me.

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