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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

The Glass Half-Full

glass

Last Wednesday was a really bad day.

It started off with a sobbing elder munchkin, distraught because the new hamster was gnawing his bars, which meant, according to her new Bible Hamster Book that he was stressed. And that obviously meant that she was the worst hamster mummy in the whole world and that he was going to get wet tail and die and…and…and….

By the time she had stopped crying and everyone was more or less calm it was 8.20 and we were all still in our pyjamas. Cue 15 minutes of frantic dressing, book-bag packing, hair-doing, squabbling, rushing, but we did at least make it to school on time.

And breathe.

At lunch time I discovered that a major Princess Project grant application that I had had high hopes of receiving had been turned down. This would have meant we had funding to ensure we could keep everything running for the next 6 months or so. But now…. it made me question all sorts of things. Were we doing the right thing? Where was I going wrong? Would we be able to pay the family bills in 6 months’ time?

I spent the afternoon preparing for a Princess Project Prayer evening, which is a chance for our supporters to get together and pray for the organisation, its direction and strategy, as well as for specific situations. I rushed to get dinner cooked, eaten, and cleared up, reading done with both munchkins, small munchkin in bed, big munchkin whispering sweet nothings to the hamster. All just about done and dusted in time for the advertised start time of 8pm. And then only one person showed up….!

Not a good day.

But that wasn’t the whole picture.

I texted my best friend in a fairly self-pitying fashion to say bleuurrghhh we didn’t get the grant application and everything is a bit rubbish. Like the wonderful person she is, despite being busy herself and with enough worries of her own at the moment, she phoned me almost immediately to see if I was OK. There’s one good thing, one blessing, right there. And as I was telling her about my day, a strange thing happened- I realised that actually it hadn’t been that bad after all.

Sure, Hamstergate was quite a stressful way to start my day. But together, my big munchkin and I managed to turn the situation around. I was able to tell her something that I hope she remembers and holds onto forever- that she never needs to face a problem or worry or anxiety alone unless she chooses to. I could reassure her that her daddy and I, as well as her Daddy in heaven, would always help her if she wanted us to, and would always support her and walk alongside her. We’re a team. We prayed together, and hugged a lot, and I dried her tears, and it was a special time that actually brought us closer together. After school we walked up to the pet shop in the sunshine, small munchkin, big munchkin and I, and laughed, and brought a ridiculously expensive new wheel in case the hamster was bored, and a fake log for him to munch on instead of the bars. (And prior to that, he and I had a tete-a-tete in which I calmly informed him that if he kept on stressing out my sensitive, oh-so-responsible big girl, I would take him back to aforementioned pet shop and ask them for another hamster that looked the same but behaves better. I think we reached an understanding).

When I found out about the grant application, I had just come back from looking at office furniture to put in our new Princess Project town centre office space. I should have said- looking at FREE office furniture, kindly donated by a firm shutting up their office to work from home, who were going to sell it on ebay but gave it to us instead. And I also should have said to put in our FREE office space, let to us at no cost by a charity that matches long-term vacant commercial properties with local charities needing space. We have a whole floor of an office building to share with two other local Christian charities, to use for storage, training, meetings, and whatever else we fancy. We may not have succeeded with procuring cold, hard cash, but God has been so amazingly generous in providing us with more than we could have ever asked or imagined! And I was reminded that God promises to give us what we need, when we need it, not what we want, when we want it.

When the email came through about the grant application, unlike most working days I wasn’t at the office alone- I was working from home, and hubby just happened to be between meetings and had popped home for lunch (this hardly ever happens!) So I was able to tell him about it, share my disappointment, and have him reassure me, dry my tears, give me a hug, just like I had done with my big girl a few hours before. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that same lesson- that I don’t need to deal with stuff on my own unless I choose to.

And what about the prayer meeting? Only one person came…. but it was just the right person. It was a lovely lady looking to get more involved with the Princess Project, and the fact that it was just the two of us gave us a chance to get to know each other better, and to have some really good prayer time. It was another reminder to me that in our results, outcome-driven world, it’s not all about numbers (as I’ve written about before). Jesus said

“When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” Matthew 18:20, The Message

It doesn’t matter whether it’s 2, or 20, or 200, the important thing is that we’re putting God at the centre of the Princess Project, and He’ll honour that.

The next day I was leading a parenting course, and our group discussion turned to how it’s all too easy to focus on the bad rather than the good in our children, too.To pay more attention to the blazing row my children are having rather than the hour of harmonious co-existence that had gone before; to the 2 wrong spellings as opposed to the 18 right ones; to the spilled drink rather than the effort my daughter made to fetch it herself.

What we focus on the most will assume the greatest significance in our minds. If we choose to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, on what God has done rather than what we think He should have done, on what we love about our partner rather than their flaws, on our children’s good behaviour rather than the behaviours that press all our buttons- then I have a feeling we may find we have more good days.

Wednesday really wasn’t so bad, after all.

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Sacrifice: A Dirty Word?

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

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

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

Matthew 10:38-39, The Message

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

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

Matthew 6:33, NLT

Or, as The Message puts it:

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

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

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

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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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Good Girls (and why we shouldn’t always try to be one)

 

A few years ago I attended a seminar about working with teenage girls. I was hoping for some useful tips, inspiration and new ideas, and I came away with all of those. But I also came away with something a little more unexpected- a revelation about myself.

This seminar introduced me to the concept of the ‘Good Girl’- one I instantly identified with. Good Girls like to please. They tend to overachieve. They don’t like getting into trouble, and care very much about the opinions of those around them. And this behaviour is held up as a model, something to aspire to. Compliant teenagers?! The Holy Grail! But of course, scratch the surface, and underneath lurk the same swirling mire of complicated, hormone-driven emotions that are an integral part of growing up. Good Girls tend to suppress these emotions, rather than display them. Rebellion may be internal, or (as was in my case) concealed; they aren’t looking for the attention that confrontation brings, but seeking to avoid it at all costs. Parents of Good Girls may drift along in blissful ignorance, unaware of the double lives their apparent model offspring are living. And of course, the danger then is that if Good Girls do derail, they do so in spectacular style.

Recognising this trait in myself was the beginning of a journey of discovery for me; realising that other people’s opinions of me are not the be all and end all, and realising that God’s opinion of me does not change according to how I behave- He loves me unconditionally, for who I am and not what I do.

I’ve been reminded a lot about this recently. For one thing, my girls and I have been watching Frozen (a lot). And listening to the soundtrack (on loop in the car, much to my husband’s dismay. Although he does do some good Sven impressions. But I digress.) Readers of this blog will be aware that I am a big fan of the movie (see previous post Fearless not Frozen ) and every time I watch it I find more in it that makes me think. At the start of the film Elsa, one of the principal characters, is an archetypal Good Girl. She has been taught from an early age that she must hide her powers away from the world, and protect her little sister at all costs:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see,

Be the Good Girl you always have to be,

Conceal don’t feel, put on a show…

Make one wrong move and everyone will know…

But (spoiler alert- if you live on another planet and have not yet seen the film) this does not turn out well. Unsurprisingly, trying to suppress who she really is and constantly put on an act for everybody else eats her up inside; consumed by fear she is unable to harness her powers until she embraces who she is, and is accepted for who she is by those she loves.

Another reason this has been at the front of my mind is that I have the makings of a Good Girl myself. A compliant, eager to please, academically gifted child to whom expressing her emotions does not come naturally. I am trying to encourage her to share how she feels, and to reassure her that getting angry is not always a bad thing. To tell her often that no matter what she does, her mummy and daddy (and her Daddy in heaven) will love her just the same. To make sure she knows that she won’t be able to please everyone, all the time, and that that’s OK. That being herself, knowing herself, standing up for who she is and what she thinks is right is more important than keeping the peace.

My hope and prayer for both my girls is that they would feel able to be themselves, wherever they are and whoever they’re with; that they may be thermostats that influence the environment around them, not thermometers that merely reflect it. And that they would realise that ‘Being Good’ is often not all it’s cracked up to be.

 

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Raising Risk-Takers

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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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Marriage Matters: A Question of Priorities

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

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

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

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

“Good idea. When are we going again?”

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

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

There was a long silence.

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

“We can find another time, surely?”

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

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

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

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

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

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Keeping the Faith: presentation from Princess Project charity launch February 2014

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This week has been a very memorable one. On Tuesday we held an event to celebrate the Princess Project achieving registered charity status, and for the mayor of Maidstone, Cllr Clive English, to officially open our new office. There was lots of information on display boards around the room explaining what activities we are engaged in, and getting across the facts to those interested in finding out more about what we do. What I wanted to do in my presentation (to an audience made up of supporters, volunteers, and professional partners) was to talk a bit about the why.

Below is a transcript of that talk, but first of all I have a big thank you to make- to Gillan Scott who writes the excellent blog  ‘God and Politics in the UK’.  It is my go-to source for all matters to do with faith, politics and community, as he provides links to all recently published reports, research etc. It’s a great and balanced resource. Do check it out!

 

” In 2005, when I was expecting our first child, my husband and I were leading a team from St Luke’s Church going into Trinity Foyer, accommodation in Maidstone town centre for young people who might otherwise be homeless. Some of the girls resident at Trinity at the time were also pregnant, and the difference between our situations really affected me. Even though I was blessed with an extensive support network- supportive husband, family, friends, church family, house, car- I still found those early days of parenthood difficult. For those without those support structures in place- young single mums in a flat with a baby, without family around, and with friends who were no longer interested in them when they couldn’t go out clubbing any more- frankly I didn’t know how they coped at all. As a Christian I knew that God loved these young women, His precious daughters, so much- and I felt that he wanted me to do something to demonstrate that to them.

The Princess Project officially came into being in June 2011, with a vision to support and encourage mums, especially those parenting in challenging circumstances. The first 2 years brought lots of networking and training;  we made extensive efforts to set firm foundations, establish high quality services and build relationships of trust with other agencies working in the same field. The befriending service and Princess boxes came first, followed by parenting courses, drop-in coffee mornings, and then Totcycle, our baby goods exchange, this time last year. All of this has been achieved by a team of dedicated volunteers, who between them donated an impressive 700 hours of their time last year alone.

Rather than give you a long list of activities that we do, I’d like to tell you a couple of stories.

Ellie‘s befriender met her before she was pregnant, and walked with her through miscarriage, the subsequent birth of a healthy baby daughter, domestic violence, relationship breakdown, financial difficulties and post natal depression. Now Ellie is mum to a healthy, happy 3-year-old who is thriving at nursery and a credit to her mum. Ellie has recently found a part-time job, and is one of the founding trustees of the Princess Project.

Katy is the single mum of 3 boys living in a deprived area of Maidstone. Her health visitor referred her to the Princess Project as her baby was sleeping in his pushchair at night- his cot had broken and Katy could not afford to replace it. We delivered a cot to her (via Totcycle), along with stairgates to make her flat safer for her two boisterous older boys. As a result of ongoing contact and the relationships she has made with the Princess Project volunteers she has signed up to take part in our next parenting course.

So what’s next for us at the Princess Project? It is an exciting time for us! Our new office is open 3 days a week, meaning local mums can pop in, members of the public can drop off donations for Totcycle, we can hold client, volunteer  and partner meetings on-site, and assemble Princess boxes too…. one of our ‘regular’ mums spent an afternoon here last week helping to wrap presents to go in the Princess boxes, and we are hoping this would be a regular, mutually beneficial activity. We have a parenting course starting here in Parkwood tomorrow, which was fully subscribed the day we started publicizing it.

We also have a lot of fundraising to do this year. I currently manage the project on a part-time, voluntary basis, fitting that in between a part-time job and my own family commitments. As the charity grows, I am finding that there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done. The trustees have decided that to allow the Princess Project to grow and develop further, they would like to employ me full-time. This means that we need to raise an additional £24000 annually to cover a salary and other costs associated with employing me. This will mean I can spend more time recruiting and training additional volunteers, promoting the project to other churches and partner agencies, and in the conventional and social media, and, most importantly of all, ensuring we continue to develop and deliver the high quality services for which we are becoming known, to as many mums as we can.

Although we are applying for funding from a variety of sources, our long-term aim is to cover our day-to-day running costs by donations and fundraising, especially regular standing orders from our supporters. This means that the level of service we can offer to our clients will not be affected by variations in external grant funding. If you would be interested in becoming a supporter of the Princess Project, please do contact us.

People often ask us why we do what we do. The motivation of the Princess Project trustees and volunteers is our Christian faith. We believe that God loves us, and that He has called us to love the world around us, our community, as He does. We believe that this love should be demonstrated in practical ways, and not just talked about. And we’re not alone. A study carried out in London last year showed that 35% of all social action community work was being carried out by Christian groups. And that would seem to be the case all over the country. Here in Maidstone, there is so much amazing work being done by faith groups. Street Pastors. Maidstone churches winter shelter for the homeless. Maidstone Christian care and the Food for Thought community food share scheme. Celebrate Maidstone. Countless toddler groups. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

‘Faith in the Community‘ is another recently published parliamentary report that makes for interesting reading. It examined the level and type of interactions local authorities have with faith groups, and identified many examples of where this partnership is working well, but also many examples of misconceptions on both sides. In the words of North Yorkshire County Council,

“There is a perceived fear (within parts of the public sector, public and media) that faith groups will seek  to use public sector-funded service delivery as a means of increasing the number of followers of that faith group; and/or seek to discriminate between users of public sector-funded service delivery on the basis of the users’ faith or adherence to the beliefs or practices of the faith group, in particular beliefs that are or might appear to be contrary to equality legislation. There is a perceived fear (within faith groups) that local authorities won’t work with and/or don’t value faith groups. Generally, all of these perceptions are false or can be overcome through discussion and better understanding of each other – but they do create barriers.”

We want to work as hard as possible to remove these barriers- to be upfront about what we do- and what we don’t do. All our services are open to everyone, regardless of beliefs, background, colour, sexual orientation. We don’t attach any conditions to the services we provide. However, we don’t think it’s right to never talk about our faith. We would not be being true to ourselves if we did not discuss what motivates us, gives us hope, a sense of self-worth and identity. Only addressing people’s physical and emotional needs and leaving out the spiritual dimension is only looking at part of the whole picture. A report was published in April 2013 looking at faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless men and women, through interviews conducted with more than 70 people. Written by Carwyn Gravell, a self-confessed atheist, the report states that

“Faith has become a dimension of life that is largely ignored within the philosophy of mainstream service provision, regarded as irrelevant, or as a private matter best avoided, and even perceived by some in the sector with suspicion and outright hostility”.

However when the service users themselves were interviewed, a vast majority said that they would welcome the chance to talk about faith and spirituality. For many of them faith had been an important factor in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, or in preventing them reoffending. They spoke of faith bringing hope, fellowship and a sense of purpose. We, too, are working with people with often complex and deep-rooted needs and insecurities, and we think we would be short-changing them if we did not give them the opportunity to explore this aspect of all of our personalities.”

 

More information about The Princess Project can be found on the website, www.princessproject.co.uk.

 

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The Heart of the King: People Matter

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As Jesus was saying this, the leader of a synagogue came and knelt before him. “My daughter has just died,” he said, “but you can bring her back to life again if you just lay your hand on her.”
So Jesus and his disciples got up and went with him. Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him. She touched the fringe of his robe, for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”
Jesus turned around,  and when he saw her he said,  “Daughter,  be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
When Jesus arrived at the official’s home, he saw the noisy crowd and heard the funeral music. “Get out!” he told them. “The girl isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” But the crowd laughed at him. After the crowd was put outside, however, Jesus went in and took the girl by the hand, and she stood up! The report of this miracle swept through the entire countryside.

Matthew 9:18-26

Jesus’ compassion blows me away in this passage. He interrupts what he is doing, drops everything and responds to a call for help- because to him, nothing was more important. People mattered to Jesus. Their hopes, fears, anxieties, problems, joys, and sorrows. They mattered to him then, and they matter to him now. He, the Son of God, doesn’t make the distraught father wait until he’s finished an in-depth conversation about the kingdom of God (Matthew 9:14-17). He doesn’t think that he is too important for such ‘trivial’ missions and send someone in his place. All he sees is a grieving parent asking for the help that is within his power to give, and he responds without hesitation. No sooner has he set off then he is interrupted again, and once more gives patiently and graciously of himself.

It is interesting to see who it is that Jesus reaches out to in this passage- a dead girl and a woman with a chronic gynaecological condition. Both would have been considered ‘unclean’, and if you add being female into the mix, were pretty much bottom of the pecking order in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day. (Those misogynistic attitudes still prevalent in many parts of the church today do not, it would seem, find their spiritual roots in Jesus!) Only Jesus would drop everything to go and minister to two people as poorly regarded as this.

And Jesus sent the crowds away before raising the girl. It wasn’t about flashy public ministry, gaining popularity and followers, or proving who he was (although it did do exactly that!), just about reaching out in love to those in need around him, without counting the personal cost and inconvenience.

My prayer is that I may not let busyness and a sense of self-importance stand in the way of the little acts of kindness and compassion that God wants me to be doing, every day. Jesus isn’t here on earth in person today- we are his hands, we are his feet. He may not choose to heal or raise the dead through me, but whatever he wants to do, with God’s help I pray I would be a willing channel of his love and power and not an obstacle to it. People mattered to Jesus. I pray that they would matter- really matter- to me, too.

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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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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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