Emma Tanner

A Work in Progress

A Story for Pride Month

Once upon a time, there was a girl. The girl lived in an affluent, middle-class town in an affluent, middle-class area, and she lived in a bubble. She went to a very nice private school, was always top of her class, and always followed the rules. Every Sunday she went to church at a very nice, very pretty Church of England village church, because that’s what you did.

When she was 17, she had a revelation whilst reading a book in the bath (a whole other story) and realised that being a Christian really should involve more than going through the motions in a very old stone building on a Sunday morning, and invited Jesus into her heart. Shortly afterwards, she moved to Cambridge to study veterinary medicine.

On her first day, she met the only other veterinary student at her college, in whose company, as it turned out, she would spend most of the next six years and who would become her very best friend- her brother.

She also joined a big student church in the city centre (a very conservative evangelical church, but that wasn’t language she possessed at the time), and the Christian Union. Her village church back home hadn’t been very hot on teaching about how your faith should impact your actual daily life, so this was all a bit of an eye-opening journey of discovery. She found out that sleeping with your boyfriend before you were married was wrong (oops), as was teaching in church if you were a woman (what?!) and, worst of all, being gay.

Some of this didn’t really sit right with her at the time, but she thought they must know what they were talking about, and at that time she definitely wasn’t one to question authority or rock the boat. So she rolled with it.

She met all sorts of people from different backgrounds and walks of life and started to burst herself out of her bubble.

Then, during their first year, her brother-from-another-mother came out as gay. She walked beside him as his family journeyed from rejection to affirmation, and as he finally allowed himself to be his true authentic self. People questioned how a very conservative Christian girl could be best friends with a gay man but to her it never felt like a contradiction.

What she did have, though, was a deepening sense of disquiet at the teaching she was hearing. She didn’t really understand why being gay, even if you thought it was wrong, was a worse sin than anything else. She knew there were people in the Christian Union who were having (heterosexual) sex outside marriage, and getting drunk, and gossiping. How was being gay worse than that? No-one could give her a satisfactory answer. She kind of parked it, figuring it was something she wouldn’t understand this side of heaven.

Fast forward a few years, and the girl was now happily married, with two little girls. She didn’t see her friend so often now, but they had the kind of relationship where they could always pick up exactly where they left off, no matter how long it had been. She was growing in faith and confidence, stepping into God’s plans and purposes for her life, and becoming rooted in her identity as a daughter of the King. She was realising that her mind was a God-given gift to use for His glory, that thinking and questioning and exploring was OK, and she was starting to let go of the stifling need for the approval of other people.

She followed with interest, and no small amount of dismay, the story of Christian worship leader and theologian Vicky Beeching, who after years fighting her sexual orientation (and countless people praying for her ‘healing’ or ‘deliverance’) publicly came out as a lesbian, and promptly saw her livelihood disappear as the (predominantly American) conservative Christians who bought and played her music dropped her like a hot potato. This made the girl stop and think. What if everything she’d been taught about this issue wasn’t quite as black and white as it first appeared?

At the same time, and seemingly coincidentally, she started reading through the whole Bible, following Nicky Gumbel’s Bible in One Year. Reading through the entire Bible, some of it for the first time, pulled her up short. She was familiar with the ‘clobber passages’, the small handful of verses in the Bible that appear to address homosexuality- behaviour, mind you, not orientation- but she now got a sense of the ‘bigger picture’, the wider Biblical landscape, in a way she never had before. She hadn’t been reading with any particular agenda or conscious preconceptions, but her main take- away was that the things that the Bible, and indeed Jesus himself, seemed to focus on weren’t the same issues that the church prioritised. Social justice. Standing up for the oppressed. Holding the rich and powerful to account. Putting Jesus above everything else. The amazing gospel story of God’s unconditional redemptive love for all His children. This gave her more food for thought.

Then the girl got talking to an acquaintance from church. This lady casually dropped into the conversation that if one of her children came out as gay, she’d disown them. Kick them out. No need to pass go, no collecting £200, just out, no questions. The girl was really shocked by this, and it made her ask herself the question

 “What would I do?”

And she knew she didn’t even need to think about it. She would continue to love them as best she could, would try in her limited, imperfect way to mirror the Father’s unconditional love for all His children.

But where did this leave her theologically? Was coming to a position of affirmation and acceptance of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, a contradiction? The girl wrestled with this for a long time. She read lots of Biblical commentaries reflecting a wide range of viewpoints. Then, one day, as she prayed about it once more, with tears rolling down her cheeks, she heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit say

“It’s OK! You don’t have to choose. There is no conflict.”

And she felt an overwhelming sense of peace in that moment. She talked it all through with her husband, who in his quiet, understated way said he was in total agreement. And that was the end of her journey. Except it wasn’t.

Fast forward another 5 years or so, and the daughters of the girl were now teenagers. She liked to talk to them about anything and everything, and so over the years they’d had plenty of conversations about sex and relationships and sexual orientation. The girl had taught her daughters that there were a wide range of different positions and Biblical interpretations in the church as a whole- but in that in their house, the girl and her husband would try their best to love in the way the Father does- universally and without conditions.

When the girl’s younger daughter was 13, it seemed like they were having more and more conversations about sexuality. Eventually the girl asked her daughter

“Do you like boys? Or girls?”

Her daughter replied, ever so awkwardly, that she had known since she was small that she liked girls. She knew that she was a lesbian.

The daughter loved Jesus, and knew her Bible. She had read all the clobber verses, and the interpretations of them that would deny either her sexuality or her faith, but she was unshakeable in the belief that God had made her just as she was, and loved and accepted her just as she was. She was under no illusion that a significant majority of the Christian world did not see things the same way. It made the girl sad that her precious daughter had already mentally divided up her friends and family into those who it was probably safe to tell, and those who it wasn’t.

The daughter asked the girl to share this revelation with her dad and her sister (gay or straight, faith that would move mountains or not, teen social anxiety is still a thing). Her sister, who also loves Jesus (but very definitely likes boys) accepted her and had her back straight away. Her dad took his daughter for a walk and said

“Mummy told me your news. Very good. Excellent.”

Which apparently according to the daughter was the best response because her mum liked to talk about everything and use ALL THE WORDS which was embarrassing.

A few months later the girl and her daughter went for a walk and the daughter said

“You know how when I was little I used to dream about heaven, and angels, and Jesus? I’ve started having those dreams again. I saw myself speaking in church. I’d really like to do that one day.”

The girl said to her daughter, with tears in her eyes and thankfulness in her heart that surely if there was any doubt about how her daddy God saw her, and accepted her, then this should dispel it. God was releasing something beautiful in her as she embraced all aspects of her identity and started walking in wholeness, not living a watered-down version of herself that was more palatable to other people.

Indeed, the daughter’s life bore such fruit that it would be almost impossible to deny the reality of her faith. She was kind, and generous, and wise beyond her years, with a steely core of faith running right through her. One of her friends at school asked her

“Is it normal for someone to be able to tell you’re a Christian just by how you behave?”

This made the girl’s heart sing.

A short time later, the daughter was baptised. The following week she announced to the girl that she was doing a presentation about LBQT issues to her school Christian Union. Gulp, thought the girl. She was worried about her daughter- it felt like she was voluntarily entering the lion’s den.

The teacher advertised the CU session with a content warning (bah, thought the girl.) The daughter spent ages preparing a power point. Then, ever so bravely, the daughter stood up in front of a room full of her peers, and a hostile teacher, not knowing whether they would reject her or not. She told them that she was gay, and she knew that God had made her that way- that she was fearfully and wonderfully made. She answered questions, some of them combative. In the end almost everyone was supportive, and even the sceptical teacher said the daughter had given her food for thought.

The girl was in awe of her daughter, and that day she was struck afresh by the awesome kindness and faithfulness of Jesus, who had gone ahead and made a way and prepared her heart years before to parent this amazing, courageous, faith-filled, gay, young woman of God. And she wanted to share her story in the hope that it might make people think, and give hope to those who feel on the edge, that they are somehow outside of the love and acceptance of God- because that is a lie that the church has been telling for far too long.

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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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Finding Solid Ground

Have you ever walked along a sandy beach when the tide has just gone out, when it’s hard to tell what surface your feet find with each step? Solid, dry, compacted sand; a wet salty puddle; sinky mud… you have to consciously think about where you’re walking, make adjustments, meander around to adapt to the terrain. A far cry from walking along a straight, paved path, when you don’t really need to think about what your feet are doing at all.

To me, the last few weeks and months have felt like walking on that sand. It feels like everything has been shaken, and that merely attempting to keep walking requires concentration and effort and a lot more energy than usual. Nothing is as it was. The measures we have had to adopt in response to covid-19 have affected every aspect of our lives. Home life has changed, as we have had to adapt to either spending most of our time cloistered away with the ones we love (who also happen to be the ones who can drive us bonkers!), or to being alone. The way we connect with friends and family has changed- from the national discovery of Zoom, in all it’s useful-but-a-bit-annoying glory, to, more recently, socially distanced walks and picnics with a chosen few. Work has changed. For some, work has come to an end, at least temporarily. Others are trying to juggle working at home with home schooling. Those of us in charge of businesses and workplaces are having to constantly adapt and refine our ways of working to cope with latest guidelines and developments. Church has changed, moving into homes and online into Zoom calls and YouTube services and live Facebook streams.

Against this backdrop came the killing of George Floyd, the catalyst for the release of a tsunami of pent-up hurt and anger and frustration across the world. That event, and varying reactions to it, prompted the beginning of a series of conversations in our multicultural church. Watching those conversations on the television, and having them myself with my black friends, has been challenging, uncomfortable, and revelatory. As shocking and awful as the video from the USA was, it seemed somewhat removed from the situation here in the UK. What has opened my eyes and broken my heart is hearing about the everyday lived experiences of black people in our own communities. Watching the youth pastor speak of his worries about his children’s future with tears rolling down his cheeks. Seeing a confident young man lost for words and choked with emotion trying to express how the drip, drip, drip of casual, covert racism has affected every area of his life. Hearing about a side of my black friends’ lives that, to my shame, I had never really thought about before. Listening to stories, and feelings and emotions that have been long suppressed but are now resurfacing. Scratch the surface and there is so much hurt and pain; this seems to be the big social justice issue that has been right under our noses this whole time but rarely acknowledged, let alone discussed. It feels like we are at a momentous cross-roads, at the beginning of a journey of listening, repentance where needed, reconciliation and change. It will likely be bumpy and difficult in places but we trust that it will lead us to a better place than where we are now.

All of these things can leave us feeling like the ground is shifting beneath our feet. It can be disorientating and unsettling. This morning I woke up and knew that I needed a bit of a reset. I’ve written before about my favourite way to get my head around tricky stuff– trainers, headphones, worship playlist, Mote Park. I love how the park is always there, a constant, despite changing weather and seasons and degrees of busyness. I find walking the familiar paths whilst praying and worshipping helps soothe my soul, order my thoughts, and listen to God. Today was no exception. I was reminded once again of the importance, especially in times of turmoil, of focussing on the constants, on eternal truths that never change.

God is good.

Praise the Lord because He is good. Sing praises to our God. It is good and pleasant to praise Him.

Psalm 147:1, ERV

God is faithful- He always keeps His promises, and is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.

1 Chronicles 16:34, NLT

Nothing can change His love for us. He looks at us and loves us- no matter who we are, how we behave, what the colour of our skin may be, or what language we speak- and nothing we do can make Him love us any more, or less.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow- not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below- indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39, NLT

So rather than focus on the shaking ground, the shifting sand, I am going to make a conscious decision to try and keep my gaze fixed on Jesus, who never changes and will never let me down or let me sink.

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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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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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Thought for the Day: Living in Freedom

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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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A Miracle in the Mail

                                                              

I don’t know why I’m so often surprised by the goodness and faithfulness of God. It’s not that I don’t believe in it, or that I don’t have plenty of personal experience of it. I think it’s just that often in the day-to-day strains and stresses of life, the tricky situations, the things we find it a bit difficult to fully trust God with, it is easier to pay more attention to what we don’t have, than to the many things we do.

But sometimes God steps in in such an amazing way that we can’t ignore it. The only response is to full to our knees in wonder at His total awesomeness. That happened to me yesterday.

I arrived at the Princess Project office to find a note in the letter box, from a lady from a local church who I had met once and told about PP. She is a trustee for a grant making trust who wanted to give us a donation towards our work. Lovely! There was a cheque enclosed, which I unfolded, not knowing what to expect, maybe hoping for a couple of hundred pounds, if we were lucky. I had to read the words and numbers several times to check I was reading it right. And count the zeros. The cheque was for £8,000.

Such an unprecedented and unsolicited donation would be cause for grateful celebration in itself. But to fully appreciate the miraculous provision it represented we have to rewind a few days.

For several months our trustee board have felt that we needed to take on another part-time member of staff to grow our work and better support our mums. We had a trustee meeting last week where we finalised the job description, and the timescale for the application process. All we needed was the funding. We stepped out in faith, trusting that God would provide what we need, when we needed it, as He always has so far. (When I quit my job and started working at PP, the trustees had enough money to pay me for 6 months- that was over two years ago and I’m still here, and still being paid!) The amount we calculated that we needed to make this appointment for a 12 month period was- you’ve guessed it- £8,000.

This provision of exactly what we needed- no more, no less- at exactly the right time, and through absolutely no effort on our part, undid me. For me it represented more than just a financial blessing. It was a reminder that God is completely trustworthy. It seemed like God was saying that, no matter what might be going on, no matter how big and insurmountable an obstacle might seem, nothing is too big for Him. It was also an affirmation that we were on the right track, and doing what God wants us to be doing as an organisation. 

Once I’d finished crying (!), and burbling incoherent prayers of thanks and praise, I phoned the lady to say thank you. I wondered if she’d caught wind of our future plans, or knew of our funding needs…..but no, she was as surprised as I was that God had used her and the trust to meet our need so specifically.

Yesterday’s events have already greatly encouraged me, the generous donor, the trustees who I phoned in what must have been quite a worrying state of euphoria, and my family. My elder daughter remarked:

“You never need to worry about money at the Princess Project. God always gives you what you need!”

Out of the mouths of babes. What a lesson for my daughters to have learned first hand.

‘As the scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”‘

2 Corinthians 10:17

This was absolutely nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the Lord. So I want to shout it from the rooftops, in the hope that it would encourage many more people, and be a great example of His goodness. I hope that our miracle in the mail will encourage you to approach God with whatever is on your heart, too. He is good, He is faithful, He is trustworthy, and, unlike me, He always listens to His kids.

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