princessemmablog

A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

For Such a Time as This- a Princess Project Update

Jordan and Louis rainbowArtwork by Jordan and Louis 

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

Breathe. Pray. Reflect.

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

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

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

Esther 4:14

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

But God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Grace by Hillsong United

 

 

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Ready or not

ready or not

Miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are big, obvious, must-give-God-the-glory kind of miracles, like healings and resurrections. Many of them are less obvious, more mundane, but no less significant. Indeed, so commonplace are these little miracles  that there is a real danger that we start to take them for granted; that we can forget how totally amazing they are, or- even worse- forget to give God the glory that is rightfully His. But let me back up a bit.

For some time now, the Princess Project trustees have been thinking about how we might be able to replicate some or all of our work more widely. I have always had a sense that the Princess Project was going to grow beyond what I could envisage or understand (let alone be comfortable with) and this is something that other trusted voices have shared with me, too. But how? Where should we start? What was the next step? Where did God want us to go?

Just before our March trustee meeting I saw a post on Facebook saying that the Cinnamon Network was inviting ambitious church-based projects that want to replicate their work across the country to enter the Project Lab 2019 competition. The winners would receive both funding and, more importantly from our point of view, a place on the Cinnamon Project Incubator where they would be able to get support from industry leaders to develop their project so it can be replicated through other churches. The more I looked at the application form, the more excited I became. It seemed to me that we ticked all the boxes. It seemed to be exactly the opportunity we had been praying for and waiting for. I raised it at the meeting and said I thought we should enter Mum2Mum, our befriending service for young mums.

“Go for it!” said the trustees, in typically encouraging fashion.

So I did.

This involved submitting both a written application and a video in a pretty tight time frame, made even more hairy by my penchant for leaving things until the very last minute (my deadline-driven personality is a slight bone of contention between my Creator and myself). The deadline was the day after the Easter weekend- so of course, this is how I spent the majority of Easter Saturday and Monday, roping in the girls to help with the video.

(“No mummy, you look a bit deranged, try it again.”

“I don’t know what you’re doing with your hands but it looks weird.”

“Is that bit supposed to be funny?”)

Eventually we came up with something that met with the approval of a 10 year old and a 13 year old and by that point I was hoping that the Cinnamon judges would be somewhat easier to please.

From that point on everything happened rather quickly. I received an email to say we had been shortlisted, and then a few weeks later another to say we had made it through to the final and inviting us, along with 6 other finalists and reserve finalists, to a presentation masterclass up in London to prepare us for it.

Beth (my right hand at Princess Project but also a good friend and all round wonderful person) and I felt quite excited and grown up going up to town on the train looking smart with all the commuters in the rush hour. We arrived in a grey, rainy London and once I had handed over control of Google maps to Beth, who unlike me could at least manage to work out which direction we were facing, navigated our way to Mercer’s Hall.

And then it all started to get very real.

Those who know me well know that I am a confirmed introvert. My own company, quiet, a book, a pen, Netflix, cats- fantastic. A room full of strangers- not so good. Having to go round the room and introduce yourself and your project- slightly uncomfortable. Writing a pitch from scratch and presenting elements of it to a room full of people- you what now?

I just about survived the first session and then they took us into the rather grand and imposing room where the final would be held (think a lot of wood panelling, high gilded ceilings, renaissance art, velvet chairs) and informed us that we would be standing on a small stage at the front of the room and presenting with just a hand-held microphone- no lectern, no stand, nowhere to hide- then taking questions from the judges afterwards, Dragon’s Den-style. I honestly thought I was going to throw up, or burst into tears (the latter would probably have been more manageable but I didn’t appear to have much control over my physiology at this point so to be honest anything was possible). Beth looked over and saw me on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

“Are you OK?” she whispered.

“No! I can’t do this. I just can’t.”

“You can, and you will,” she said (always good with the tough love). “God’s brought us this far, He will see it through.”

And she was right. That’s where my little miracle comes in.

The rest of the day passed in a bit of a blur. I held it together until I got home and then when my husband asked how it had gone, the emotion of the day came pouring out like a snotty tsunami and I sobbed on him until I felt a bit better. He gave me very similar advice to Beth, and although I knew deep down they were both right, it didn’t shake the worm of anxiety eating away inside. I thought about it all the time. I was waking in the night worrying about it. Although I told myself that no-one had ever died from talking for 12 minutes, that reality did not seem to be getting through to my overactive brain.

A few days later I was driving back from our Gillingham Hub and listening to a new worship album, Hillsong United’s ‘People’. A song came on, Ready or Not, that I had heard before but never really heard before. As I listened it seemed as though God was talking directly to me.

He’s already seen the ending
He’s already seen us through
He’s already breaking out in us
He’s already on the move

He’s already won our battles
He’s already paved the way
He’s already gone ahead of us
And He is ready when we are

Come now
For all we’ve seen
We ain’t seen nothing yet
Are you ready
Are you ready

Come now
Bring Him praise
For what He’s gonna do next
Are you ready
Are you ready or not
Come

I felt my anxiety about the whole Cinnamon thing lift and I knew with certainty that God had gone ahead of us, He had already equipped me for what He wanted me to do, and I had peace that His will would be done, whatever that may be. I didn’t know what lay ahead but my daddy God did. He has proven to me over and over and over again that He is faithful and trustworthy and as I surrendered all of this to Him I knew it was going to be alright. I had been trying to do what was impossible- to do this using my own limited resources. And that’s the whole point! God delights in calling us to do things that we could not possibly do in the natural, so that we don’t start thinking it’s all about us and what we can do, but instead are compelled to cling to Him and trust Him to do through us what we couldn’t do in our own strength. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9

“The Lord answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.”

I drove home worshipping my God with all my heart and soul and with tears rolling down my cheeks. I knew He was with me and that it was going to be OK.

And it was.

When the final came around, it was a gloriously hot and sunny day, and despite a warm-up session where we had to talk about something we loved (cats, obvs) and present our pitch to the other finalists in a deliberately over-the-top style (yup pretty much my worst nightmare), I was remarkably devoid of panic. Sweaty palms, yes, and a little shaky- but at peace knowing my God was right there with me and trusting that His will would be done. We weren’t one of the overall winners, but that was OK. I felt I’d given it my best shot and we knew that we were walking in God’s will for us and trusting that He knew better than us what was the right outcome. We secured over £4,000 of pledges from members of the audience on the evening, and a place on the Incubator, which was what we really wanted. Our aim is that eventually Mum2Mum will be able to be offered as a service by churches or groups of churches all across the UK.

We have just held another trustee meeting. When I look back at where we were in March, compared to where God has brought us to now- the answered prayer, the open doors, the new opportunities, the provision, the equipping- once again I am on my knees in wonder at the greatness and faithfulness of our God.

Come now
For all we’ve seen
We ain’t seen nothing yet
Are you ready
Are you ready…

 

 

 

 

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

schumannphotography-3 (2)

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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Beginning to Bloom: A Princess Project Update

rosebud

Yesterday morning, as I was thinking and praying about the Princess Project, a picture of a rosebud came into my mind. A tightly closed, deep red rosebud, just beginning to unfurl; a tantalising taster of the beautiful bloom soon to be revealed. To me it was a powerful metaphor for the development of the Princess Project. We’ve spent many years dreaming about what the garden will look like, and two years preparing the soil, planting the seeds, watering them, nurturing them. And now we are starting to see signs of vibrant new life. Carry on reading…

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Worth the Wait

I am not a fan of waiting. I feel myself getting irrationally impatient with the person at the front of the queue at the supermarket who seems to be taking an interminably long time to find their purse. If I post something on Facebook or twitter (or even a blog page!) I’m looking for a pretty instant reaction. As I’m watching my children take an age to put on their coats and shoes to go out I can feel my blood pressure rising. And it seems that I’m not the only one. A 2009 study conducted by TalkTalk looked at how long it took people to reach their ‘point of impatience’ in a variety of scenarios. Apparently the average UK resident loses patience with being kept on hold after 5 minutes 4 seconds (I’m sure the 4 seconds make all the difference!) We don’t like to be kept waiting by our friends for longer than 10 minutes, and  we expect our texts or voicemails to be responded to within 13 minutes and 16 seconds. Mark Schmid, communications director at TalkTalk said

“The speed of the online world is making us less prepared to wait for things to happen in the offline world, causing people to reach the ‘Point of Impatience’ earlier than ever before.”

(TalkTalk, 2009)

Since the Princess Project was born in 2011, God has been teaching me a lot about the importance of waiting. Starting the project had been a deep desire of mine for so long, that once it finally started to become reality, I felt more impatient than ever before. Carry on reading…

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