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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

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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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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Thought for the Day: God’s got it covered (but we’re not off the hook)

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Even the briefest look at a newspaper, or discussion of current affairs, reminds us that we are living in strange and uncertain times. Donald Trump, Brexit, climate change…..Whatever we think of recent world events, we can all agree on one thing- the world as we know it is changing.

Things don’t stay the same in our own lives, either. I celebrated my 40th birthday a few weeks ago which caused me to stop and reflect a little on how much has changed in my life over the last 10 years. I’m a very different person now compared to then. People have come and gone, circumstances have changed, some for the better, some not.

I was chatting to a young mum at our Princess Project Hub this week about how difficult she is finding it adjusting from being a professional working outside the home, to working at home being a stay at home parent. At times of transition in our lives- as we pass from one stage of life to another- as well as at times of transition on a wider stage- it is good to be reminded that we are not just adrift in a pilotless, rudderless ship, but that God is in control, of both our lives, and the world he created.

When everything around us is uncertain, God is faithful, his love unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. We change and grow; circumstances may be unrecognisable; but God is the same. He is good, and trustworthy, and always with us. As the prophet Isaiah puts it in the Bible

“For even if the mountains walk away and the hills fall to pieces, my love won’t walk away from you, my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart.” The God who has compassion on you says so.” [Is 54:10 Msg.]

Whatever the situation- God has got it covered.

But that doesn’t mean we can just sit back on autopilot. God being in control doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for what’s happening around us. Proverbs 24 makes this clear:

“Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help. If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,” will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know- someone not impressed with weak excuses.”

It is our responsibility to stand up for injustice when we see it, in our own lives, homes, schools, workplaces, as well as in the wider community. It is crucial that the church takes a lead in these matters. This is why Krish Kandiah’s letter to the government challenging the closure of the Dubs scheme, which has been signed by church leaders of all denominations up and down the country,  is so important. It is also why we at the Princess Project want to challenge and work to combat the disadvantages faced by many of the women we work with right here in Kent. God’s got it covered- but He works with us and through us to achieve his purposes.

So let’s go forward into a new week, a new era, feeling confident that whatever happens, nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that he will work his purposes out in our lives, and in the world- if we’re prepared to let him.

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Kent Sunday Breakfast 22/1/17; subsequently edited to include link to Dubs Closure letter

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Some positive thoughts for a crazy day

                                    

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

 

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Thought for the Day: Created for Community

Last week I went to meet a young mum who had been referred to our Princess Project Mum2Mum befriending service. I really enjoyed spending time with her and her gorgeous baby girl. Materially, they seemed to be doing OK. There was clearly a close and loving bond between mother and daughter. But she was isolated, living alone with her little one, with no real friends to speak of. When I asked her what her biggest concern was at the moment the answer was simple- that she was lonely. She was longing for community.

I believe that as human beings we have been designed by God to walk through life in the company of others; that we were created for community- to share our joys, our sorrows, our successes, and our failures. As we read in the book of Ecclesiastes “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no-one to help him up!”

Of course, being in relationship with other people is not always easy. Being honest with each other, sharing of ourselves, making ourselves vulnerable, can be very uncomfortable. As well as love, support, encouragement, and friendship, we open the door to being hurt, disappointed, and let down- because none of us are perfect. But as Theodore Roosevelt famously said “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”

As we’ve heard this morning, and will be thinking about this week in the run up to Easter Sunday, Jesus himself was no stranger to difficult relationships and experienced conflict, disagreement, betrayal, and disappointment just as we do. But he also models for us healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. My prayer today is that we too would embrace and invest in the communities that God has placed us in, be they our families, friendship groups, or churches, however imperfect they may be. I pray too that we would be prepared to open up these communities to those who are lonely, isolated, and vulnerable- because I truly believe that we are better together.

Broadcast on the BBC Radio Kent Sunday programme 20/3/16 (1:47:48)

 

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Little Miracles

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

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

A hug at just the right time.

An unexpected present.

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

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

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

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

The same is still true today.

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

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

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

I could give countless examples like that.

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

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

“Nothing is impossible with God.”

Luke 1:37

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

 

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Incredible Journey

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Today is a big day for me. After nearly 14 years working as a veterinary surgeon, it’s my last day for the foreseeable future in clinical practice. In a few weeks, after some eagerly anticipated family time, both my husband Graham and I start new jobs, in what is a completely new season for our family. I’m going to be working for the Princess Project, swapping dogs and cats for mums and babies. So how did I get here? I was asked to speak at a Ladies’ breakfast last weekend, and I took the opportunity to look back over the last few years and reflect on exactly that. What God has been doing is simply incredible, and I am just thankful that I have been a part of it.

I had my first baby in 2005 (now a very grown up 9 ½- neither she nor my smaller munchkin who is nearly 7 can be called babies anymore!) At the time it struck me how hard it was despite all the support I was lucky enough to have- husband, family, friends, church, house, car. I was surprised even then how little support or preparation there was for parenthood from ‘the state’- and started to think that this was a gap the church community could be filling. State provision has only got less since then, with resources being stretched all the time. At the same time Graham and I were running a weekly activity evening at Trinity Foyer in Maidstone, accommodation for young people aged 16-24 who would otherwise be homeless. I got to know several girls who became pregnant – and discovered that they often had very little or no support once they’d moved out, and could therefore become very isolated.

I had the word ‘Princess’ given to me from a number of different sources. Then I heard the song ‘White Horse’, by Taylor Swift, whose lyrics include

“I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairytale, I’m not the one you sweep off her feet, lead her up the stairwell; this isn’t Hollywood, this is a small town, here in your rearview mirror disappearing now, and it’s too late for you and your white horse to come around….”

That same week I read a verse that seemed to provide the answers for the disillusioned girl in the song searching for her fairytale hero to sweep her off her feet:

“God is bedrock under my feet, The castle in which I live, My rescuing knight.”

2 Sam 22:2 (The Message).

I felt God was saying that these young mums, often judged, looked down on or just ignored by society at large, are so precious to him. They are his princesses, not in a Barbie sparkly sense but in the sense of being daughters of a heavenly King. I wanted to be able to demonstrate to them that they were loved, by God, and by his church. They often had no hope, no aspirations, no confidence, either as individuals or parents. I wanted to show them that they matter, and that in Jesus they can be whole and healed in every sense- that he is that fairytale hero we all search for.

In 2011 one of the Trinity Foyer project workers phoned me out of the blue wanting me to come and meet an 18 year old girl currently living in their move-on flats who had just found out she was pregnant and had no real peer or family support. This girl, and one other who I was already meeting regularly having met her when she lived at Trinity, were my two original ‘princesses’, and our relationship was the pilot for the Mum2Mum befriending service.

And it all started from there!

At the time, I did not feel at all equipped or confident to step out for God. The confidence I did have was not really rooted in God but in other things, especially my career. At the beginning of 2011 I joined a small veterinary practice in Maidstone (I had been working for a larger practice just outside Canterbury- the Maidstone job was a miraculous provision in itself, but that’s another story…!) I found myself in a practice full of laid back people and clients, the atmosphere less self-important and intense than that which I had been used to.

God began the process then of showing me that I can serve him wherever I may be, and that what I do does not define who I am; my identity is in him. My confidence had taken a massive knock at university- I went from being the top of my class at school, a member of the orchestra, in the swimming team, chair of the debating team- to spending 6 years at Cambridge University feeling totally out of my depth and inadequate. My identity had been so tied up with my achievements- I had always felt like people liked or approved of me because of what I did, the grades I got, not for who I am. I guess I thought that was how God saw it too. But over a period of months I started to realise, and believe, that God loves me for who I am, not what I do. I started to believe that I am one of his princesses too, and to become more and more confident in that identity.

At this point I was completely terrified about speaking in public- even speaking out at a meeting was way out of my comfort zone- I’d get home and wished I’d had the courage to say what I’d wanted to say. Even meeting new people, phoning people up, walking into a strange place were all things I found uncomfortable. But I knew that God had put this passion for mums on my heart, and that just seemed to take over. I came to the realisation one day that if I waited until I felt ready, until all my ducks were in a row, until I had the time, until circumstances were just so, then I would never do anything. And I really didn’t want to go through life without at least trying to find and walk in the purpose God had for me.

That was when I made what for me was a life-changing discovery- that when we step out of our comfort zone into the unknown, God will bless us, and equip us with exactly what we need. In 2011, my younger daughter started at preschool, giving me a few child-free, work-free hours a week to finally start putting some time into what had up to now only been a dream- the Princess Project. We officially launched the Princess Project at a Community Day at St Luke’s church in June 2011.

Banner at the 2011 launch

As a result of that I was invited to go along to a conference a month or so later at the Hazlitt Theatre about tackling teenage conception in Maidstone. I arrived at this event, just me and a few leaflets printed from my home PC, and felt completely out of my comfort zone. I forced myself to do that activity that struck fear into my heart- “networking”. I made myself walk up to people I’d never met (some of whom were blatantly wondering why I was there, as it was mostly professionals and everyone else had been paid to attend!) and introduce myself and explain about the project. I found the whole process acutely uncomfortable but came away with a real sense of achievement, and knew that it was the Holy Spirit who had enabled me to get through the day.

Since then God has gradually been setting me free from my fears and insecurities. I’ve had stands at other conferences since that first one, and felt a lot more at home!

Slightly more sophisticated display at a conference in 2012!

I’ve spoken at church services, been a seminar speaker at Detling Summer Conference, even been interviewed on Premier Radio’s Woman to Woman programme. Every time I do it I smile. Every time I stand up to speak and know that I haven’t had countless sleepless nights of terror leading up to it, I am struck by the miracle that God has brought about. It is his way of constantly reminding me that it’s in his strength that it’s all possible, not mine. God has been removing the barriers that were holding me back as I step out towards him, and he is now releasing me to be who I really am; who he has created me to be. I started from a position of saying ‘No, I can’t possibly do that’ to discovering that if I’m relying on God then- yes, I probably can! One verse that I have returned to time and again is Philippians 4:13:

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Let’s not write ourselves off, and put a ceiling on what we think we’ll be able to do, or rule certain things out without trying them. God loves to show his strength by working through our weakness- we just need to be willing and obedient, and prepared to give things a try.

In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul writes

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”

I used to be crippled by that spirit of fear and timidity, but the Holy Spirit is gradually changing me from the inside out.

In May 2012 Graham and I went to the HTB leadership conference at the Royal Albert Hall. We were lucky enough to hear Rick Warren, Christine Caine and Judah Smith (amongst others). For me, the take-home, life-changing message was embarrassingly simple. These men and women of faith, who are quite literally changing the world with the work they are doing, all emphasised how essential it is to be spending time with God, every day. To be reading his word, listening for his voice, kneeling at his feet, growing in intimacy with him. It really impacted me that this was the ‘secret’ of their success. There are no shortcuts. If that is true for them (as it was for Jesus himself!) then how dare I think it was not just as essential for me? If I was too busy for that, then I was too busy, full stop. Since I have recommitted myself to that, my relationship with God has deepened immeasurably, and I find that when I am being filled up by the Holy Spirit I have plenty of energy for all he wants me to be doing.

Something that God has had to teach me repeatedly is patience, and the importance of trusting in His perfect timing. Quite early on I read a tweet from Christine Caine that I found really helpful:

“What satan can’t stop, he will often try to speed up. The timing of God is everything!”

Right from the off there has been the temptation to tear ahead at 1000 miles an hour; time and again God has slowed it down, closed doors, made me wait. The best example of this is my employment. Back in 2012, the trustees agreed that to take the organisation forward, I needed to be working for the Princess Project full time- we needed someone to be accountable, overseeing the day to day running of the organisation, managing the volunteer teams, as well as thinking about the strategic development of the charity. They agreed a salary based on comparable positions. The only thing was…. we didn’t have the money! We applied for various grants and were unsuccessful.

Then I realised that there was another factor in play. My husband needed to be 100% on board with the idea of me jettisoning a well-paid, professional role for a temporary contract with a small organisation with nowhere near enough regular income- and at that time, he wasn’t. I don’t blame him at all for that- a lot of people still think I’ve taken leave of my senses! He is hard-wired to be our provider, he is the one who always deals with our family finances, he is the sensible one who is always having to rein me in and keep my feet on the ground (we make a great team!) And the idea of leaving that stability behind was stressing him out quite a lot. I was in a bit of a quandary as I really felt like this was what God wanted me to do- but at the same time, I knew with absolute certainty that he would not want me to do anything that would cause conflict or difficulty in our marriage.

Praying with a friend, she told me she’d had an image of me swinging tarzan stylee through the jungle (apologies for that mental image)- and that I had to let go of one vine before grabbing the next. It felt like God was saying there had to be an element of trust- we couldn’t wait for it all to be in place before stepping out and letting go of our financial security. But she also said that my green light to go would be Graham’s blessing of the decision. Another good friend suggested that, like Gideon (see Judges 6), I lay down a fleece and asked for a sign. I asked God that when the time was right, Graham would be OK with it- not superficially OK to make me feel better, but really OK.

And God honoured that.

I kept quiet, didn’t go on about it (quite a feat- I’m a very good nagger!) and one day Graham came back from work and said “Well, if you’re serious about stopping at the vets I suppose I’d better do a spreadsheet and see how it’s all going to work!” Once spreadsheets had been mentioned, I knew he was on board. Just as I’d asked, it was my green light to go. In his own, unique, understated way he was giving me his blessing, and trusting God for our future- a real act of faith for him and I was, and continue to be, so very thankful for his support and belief in me, and the vision that I have for the Princess Project. He really is a faithful man of God and it is very much a shared journey that we are on. I was also so thankful to my Daddy God who had given me the clear sign I had prayed for.

We decided that one way or another I wouldn’t go back to work at the vets after a holiday we had planned for April. Since then, so much has happened. When we stepped out in faith not knowing where the money was coming from, suddenly it started coming in earnest. The Princess Project received £3000 in donations in the first 3 months of this year alone. In February the trustees decided that there was enough money to offer me a 6 month contract starting in April (and actually we now have nearly enough for another 6 months after that!) I start my paid role at the Princess Project on the 27th April, and can’t wait to take things to the next level. I am also so excited at the prospect of bring able to work around my munchkins, not work at weekends, pick them up from school, look after them when they are sick. They, as well as Graham, have enthusiastically embraced the Princess Project, telling people about it, holding ‘tombolas’ at home to raise a few pennies, coming to events with me. It is very much a family enterprise, and if through this whole process they learn that nothing is impossible with God, to pursue their dreams wholeheartedly, and that some things are more important than money, I will be a very happy mummy.

I don’t know what the future holds- I am very excited about it though! Since I have handed in my notice at the vets, things have rather exploded at the Princess Project, with referrals for the Mum2Mum befriending service coming out of our ears, two Parentalk courses planned, and a new arrangement in place whereby we provide all the new mums accessing the Meadow Children’s Centre with a Princess gift basket. We have two more funding applications in the pipeline. One thing I know- God is graciously only revealing a small part of his plan at a time. If you had told me 5 years ago where I would be today I would simply not have believed it (and quite possibly run screaming for the hills).

I am forever grateful for the reminder that God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. We don’t need to be super talented, or super spiritual, or extraordinary in any way. We just need to listen, trust and obey, and then God can use us in ways that surpass our wildest dreams.

Collecting at our local Sainsbury’s (we’re their charity of the year) with my big munchkin and our good friend and Princess Project volunteer Anne this Mother’s Day

Princess Project Ball 2014

Speaking at the Princess Project Butterfly Ball, October 2014

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Sacrifice: A Dirty Word?

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

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

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

Matthew 10:38-39, The Message

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

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

Matthew 6:33, NLT

Or, as The Message puts it:

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

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

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

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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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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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