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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

Thought for the Day: Of Politics and Prayer

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As a self-confessed politics geek, I’ve been in my element this week. I love it all- the debate, going to cast my vote, being able to have my say, feeling like I’m part of something bigger; even staying up all night to watch the drama unfold on election night. During this election it’s been great seeing so many younger people engage with politics for the first time. My daughters are of an age now when they understand more about what’s going on- even if being able to vote themselves is still quite a few years off- and talking to them about the political process and fanning the spark of their interest has been an added bonus this time around. I think my husband is concerned that before too long he will have three opinionated feminist socialists on his hands instead of one….!

There is a downside to it all though, even a dark side. We human beings are not always very good at disagreeing well. Impassioned differences of opinion can turn into arguments and personal attacks, which can cause rifts in relationships. Elements of the media have been vitriolic in their treatment of various politicians, who have also been subject to horrendous online abuse and trolling.

But this isn’t just about those with a public platform- we all have a part to play. We can disagree with those in authority, whether in government or opposition, whilst still respecting their humanity and treating them with grace and compassion. We can hold different opinions to our friends, family, colleagues and strangers without casting aspersions on their intelligence, motivations or understanding, and without making unkind personal comments. We can listen to each other. We can listen to God.

In the Bible, both Paul and Peter remind us about the importance of praying for each other, and our leaders. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:3

“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can go quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Saviour God wants us to live.”

It’s worth pointing out that the ruler in Paul and Peter’s day was the Emperor Nero, who murdered his mother and both his wives and persecuted Christians… yet they still urged the followers of Jesus to pray for him! When we pray for people, whether they are those in authority over us, or our friends, or family, or even (as Jesus commanded) our enemies, we start to see them in a different light. We start to see them as God sees them. We are reminded that they are all made in the image of God.

So whether you voted for her or not, perhaps, if you are the praying sort, you could commit to taking some time this week to pray for Theresa May as she seeks to form a government, and for politicians of all colours as they find a new equilibrium and a way forward. Healing our divided nation may seem at times like an uphill task- but it’s good to remember that all things are possible with God.

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Kent Sunday Breakfast 11/6/17

 

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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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An angel to watch over me

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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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Prayer is Pivotal (Part 2): Learning to Listen

Aylesford Priory

Aylesford Priory, photo  © Copyright Ian Capper and  licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I like to talk. I talk at work (I’m a vet, some of the time, and on a work day might spend up to 7 hours consulting- that’s a lot of talking). My daughters and I like to talk at home. I talk to my friends. I talk to my husband (whether he replies or not!) I talk to my cat. I even talk to the washing machine if it’s misbehaving, or to the meal I’m preparing. Some might say that at times I can be a little bit too fond of the sound of my own voice. Lately I have started to realise that this is often true of my prayer life, too. I’m so busy talking that sometimes God doesn’t get a look in. I so easily forget that prayer, like all conversations, is a two-way affair.

Listening is not something that comes as naturally to me. A communication skills module in a professional qualification I undertook a few years ago has helped me to make a conscious attempt to listen more, and practise reflective listening  in a work setting. The parenting children course has taught me the benefit of using  similar techniques at home. And recently I’ve been prompted to do more listening and less talking where God’s concerned, too. Carry on reading…

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Prayer is Pivotal (Part 1): Lessons from #LC13

I’m not usually one to spend hours on end staring at a computer screen, but this week I made an exception. Holy Trinity Brompton, the large central London church which is (amongst other things) home of the Alpha Course, held their annual Leadership Conference. Last year my husband and I were fortunate enough to attend in person; that not being possible this year I opted for the next best thing- watching the event from home as it was streamed live over the internet. I joined thousands of others from across the world who watched the event online, adding to the audience of 5,500 people from 86 nations and representing numerous Christian denominations who were actually there in the Royal Albert Hall. Carry on reading…

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It’s Good to Think: being a Godly Geek

I have a confession to make- I’ve always been quite lazy when it comes to using my brain. I’m lucky in that I’ve always found it easy to learn, and when I was at school, if you were good at memorising facts and regurgitating them, you could do pretty well. (When I arrived at Cambridge University and they expected me to actually think for myself I very nearly came unstuck, but that’s a whole different blog post!)

One thing that God has been teaching me lately is that he wants to engage with all of me, brain included. I have always been quite embarrassed about being academically able (or a geek, swot, teacher’s pet, and a whole load of other less polite terms that I could mention but won’t- I’ve heard them all). For some reason intellectual prowess is definitely not as socially acceptable as excelling at sport, or music, or drama, or anything else. Recently, though, it seems as if God is releasing me from that embarrassment, and has been reassuring me that he made me this way. I can (and should) be using the gifts he has given me, unapologetically. Carry on reading…

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