When You Feel Like Your Hands Are Tied

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Sometimes in life, we can find ourselves feeling enslaved by circumstances that seem impossible to control or influence. Whether it’s at work with a boss, peer or colleague that we don’t see eye to eye with or an unexpected health diagnosis that comes out of the blue. Life can present many situations which leave us feeling uncertain about our future. Difficult relationships, financial struggles and dreams lost can all leave us feeling like the future is hopeless with no escape route in sight. 

It’s not just negative circumstances that can present obstacles to us moving forward. Stepping out in faith, whilst exciting, can also be daunting and overwhelming. Although we may wholeheartedly believe in the decisions we make, inevitably we don’t have the full picture of how everything is going to work out. A life lived by faith sounds inspiring and adventurous, but it often requires walking into a future we believe for, but don’t yet possess. What can start as a positive move in the right direction may quickly feel like venturing into a dusky wilderness rather than following a clear and steady road and weariness sets in. 

Since a personal loss in my own life, I have developed somewhat of a holy dissatisfaction; a longing to see God move more. Loss, unfortunately, is an inevitable part of life this side of eternity. Disappointment, failure, pain and weakness are experiences we all face. However, despite the fragility of this life, and even because of it, God still can step into our daily lives in miraculous ways if we can just keep persevering in our faith and fix our eyes heavenwards.

As I grow as a Christian, I am increasingly challenged to exhibit my faith in the good, the bad and the ugly seasons of life. Either God is Who He says He is and can do what He says He can do, or He isn’t and He can’t. In “God is Good, He’s Better Than You Think” Bill Johnson puts it this way…

“If He is as good as many claim, how we respond to this truth will require a massive change in how we do life. Instead of creating doctrines that explain away our weakness and anaemic faith, we’ll actually have to find out why ‘the greater works than these’ have not been happening in and around us (see John 14:12).”

When I read the accounts of some of the great influencers and leaders in the Bible, I see that their success was in spite of difficult and challenging circumstances. Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah for example, all influenced some of the most tyrannous world leaders of their time and yet they were all slaves. Slaves! In the natural, they had little influence and significance according to the hierarchy of the day. They lacked a title, resource and freedom of choice. It’s easy to forget these important details. The conditions of their lives saw them outwardly enslaved and in many ways lacking. Yet, in spite of their slavery, they experienced breakthrough and change, not only personally but also for their nation. Their courage in the face of adversity was not based on the outward condition of their lives but rather their inner conviction about Who their God was and His promises to them. Knowing and believing in God Almighty caused them to pray and believe in their time of need. God miraculously saved their lives and opened doors of opportunity as He responded to their faith. They weren’t passive in their actions but they did seek God first.

Another great account of God responding to faith-filled prayers in a time of need is found in Acts 12. Here we read that Peter has been thrown into prison by Herod. The opening sentences describe how James and his brother John have recently been put to death at the hands of this same Herod which heightens to us the severity of Peter’s present situation. The passage continues to explain how he was bound with not only one, but two sets of chains and guarded on both sides. There was no escape route in sight and his future looked bleak. Yet, despite his seemingly slim chance of survival beyond this imprisonment, verse 5 states that the “church was earnestly praying to God for him.” When it appeared that this could be his end, that there was no way out of his circumstance, the church prayed anyway. They believed anyway. Miraculously Peter was rescued from the prison by an angel of the Lord and “the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.” (Acts 12 v 7). 

God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. If He could come through for Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah and Peter in answer to prayer, He can for us too. Not only did he rescue them and provide for them personally but His greater purpose was fulfilled through them.

Just recently I was reminded again of how God feels about me as I looked on at my daughter Sienna. As her mother I so want her to do well, to be healthy, to succeed, to nurture and grow all that God has placed within her. I am biased towards her because she is mine and I’m invested in her doing well. I will do everything in my power to ensure she grows up knowing my love and belief in her. Rich and I will do our best to practically provide for her in whatever way possible to help her to flourish. In the same way, we are His. He loves us, He provides for us, He is invested in our wellbeing, in our success and our future. He wants you and I to find freedom from the entrapments of life and to flourish into all He designed us to be. 

Whatever circumstances we may be facing right now, even if our hands feel tied like Peter’s, we can remember that our heavenly Father is on our side ready to lose the chains that are holding us captive. Sienna has to take her own steps and build her own life but all she has to do is ask and Rich and I will be there to help. As we remember God’s love for us we are emboldened to pray earnestly and in faith see His breakthrough.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7 v 8 – 11

 

 

Love Beyond Reason

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This past week I attended Hillsong Conference Europe as I have every year for the past seven. In one of the evening sessions Carl Lentz, Hillsong New York lead pastor, preached a powerful message about God’s love. It was so significant that I think many were deeply moved and changed, myself included. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you will have seen I’ve returned to the subject of love in the scriptures often. Clearly, God is stirring something within me. This stirring should be an obvious expectation for a Christian, to linger on and develop in love, and yet sadly it isn’t. Carl’s message was based on John 13 v 34 – 35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples”. Interestingly, this passage is one Rich and I have talked a lot about over this past year as we’ve processed life’s changing scenery. I was reminded once again by his preach that there is no reasonable excuse not to love. Even when it hurts, when it’s messy and when it’s undeserved. When I look at Jesus and how He lived, and all that He has done and continues to do for me, I have no foundation to stand on that allows me not to love. To remain in Him and on this journey with Him, I must remain in love (see previous post, Remain In Love). God is love. If I say yes to Him I say yes to love, there are no grey areas surrounding this subject.

What resonated most was how important the stakes are when considering love. People will see Jesus if only we love one another. We so often focus on our ‘calling’ or purpose, our work or the gifts and talents we have and how to develop them as we pray ‘me-centric’ prayers to satisfy our desires and yet we live in a world desperately crying out for love. God delights in us fulfilling all of our potential but not at the expense of love. Carl reminded us that love is easily defined – just look at Christ, it’s simply developed – follow Christ and it’s dangerous when demonstrated – Christ changed the world forever with His ultimate act of love.

So why do we make Christianity so complicated? At what junctures, in our well-meaning efforts, have we missed the mark and gone off track? I don’t know all the answers to those questions, but I do know the simple solution to realignment and the ultimate purpose of the Church – Love; to receive love, to have love and to give love.

To love is to show grace and mercy, to forgive without receiving acknowledgement or apology, to show kindness where others haven’t and to give second chances where most wouldn’t. Love gives with no hope of return. It goes further than one has asked and extends considerably beyond the limits of worth. There’s no way we can do any of this in our own strength nor should we try. When we misunderstand or misplace love it causes problems. Our own reserves are finite and easily wasted. True Love does not exhaust us until we are dry, empty and weary. It doesn’t cut deep and leave us broken, but it does penetrate the deepest recesses of our souls. I can’t love undeservedly and even deservedly of my own accord consistently and faithfully. I must place my love in Him and look beyond the reality of the circumstance towards Him.

His love is infinite and abundant, it never runs out, it encompasses all things if we allow it. Our hurts, disappointments, misplaced hopes and unfulfilled dreams all wash away in the ever-flowing stream of His love. Not only that but this plentiful and refreshing flow allows new things to be seeded and grow, joy to replace grief, life to replace death, peace to replace anger. His love knows no bounds and it waters even the darkest and most lifeless parts of our soul if we allow it.

There’s no situation I can face that Jesus does not understand. He was grossly misunderstood by his own people, falsely accused, rejected, beaten, abused and tortured. He acutely feels our pain. He asks us to forgive not to exonerate bad behaviour, but to set us free from the bondage of bitterness and hate. Love is the better way. He doesn’t ask us to pretend that things didn’t happen but rather He offers us healing. He doesn’t excuse poor behaviour, but rather teaches us to see the brokenness in others. He’s not asking us to try and love because people deserve it, He’s showing us how to receive His love so that we can move beyond our past.

True Love is unreasonable. Reason informs me that because of this they deserve that. Reason is a good thing and applied well can carry great wisdom. But love trumps reason.

Love melts away anger and offers comfort. It has the ability to bring us to our knees because we choose it not because we are forced and then it gently lifts us up and restores.  

Love doesn’t offer us behaviour modification as prescribed by self-help gurus, although that may be a fruit of its tender embrace. Rather it offers hope, belonging, faith and security. It first pours in and only when we are full to overflowing is it required to spill out into our lives. Really God isn’t asking us to do too much more than allow Him to first love us and see what happens. To quote an old hymn, “love changes everything”. I’ve written it before and no doubt I will again because I personally need reminding of it daily, “Love NEVER fails” (1 Corinthians 13 v 8).

There’s an old Aesop fable I remember hearing as a child about a dispute between the North Wind and the Sun. As they discussed which of the two was stronger, a traveller passed by wearing a cloak. They agreed that whoever would be able to strip the man of his cloak would have the greater strength. The North Wind went first and blew and tore angrily at the cloak but this only made the traveller hold onto it all the tighter. When the sun had its turn, the warmth of its rays offered much relief and as the heat gently grew stronger, of his own free will the traveller removed his coat. This old tale reminds me of the love of God, it’s strong and powerful like the heat offered by the sun but it doesn’t force itself upon us and demand we let down our guard. Rather it warms and shines and gently nudges us to let go of our burdens.

Give Love a chance, your life and others depend on it.

You Do You Boo

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There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing a garden start to bloom, especially when it started out as a wasteland. Unfortunately, the previous owners of our house hadn’t taken much interest in anything beyond the back door and so what we inherited was their personal dumping ground. I’ve admitted before, I’m not the avid gardener in the family, but I am slowly becoming more interested and most definitely enjoying the fruit of Rich’s hard labour (cheers hubby).

Each plant in the garden is unique and beautiful in its own way and serves a purpose within the greater ecosystem. Some have heavenly scents, others provide shelter for wildlife, some provide pleasure as they flourish in bright and beautiful colours. All require care and planting and all have similar fundamental properties important for their growth. All are established in the same soil in our backyard and must form a solid root system to remain healthy as they grow upwards towards the sun. Each element of nature in the garden is connected and compliments the overall masterpiece (you’re welcome Rich – in faith ;)) that is our garden. The beauty and purpose of one flower doesn’t subtract from the beauty and purpose of another, but rather it adds to the overall picture and essence of the landscape.

There’s something about the snapshot of our garden that speaks to me about life as a Christian. We also require planting and care to grow, including the occasional pruning (ouch). We have many similarities and our fundamental needs as people are the same. Together as His church, we should create a magnificent landscape alluding to the wonder of God. As individuals we are spectacularly unique and yet can unite together to contribute to the common goal of His will. The essence of our Creator is reflected in many finite beings who each have different desires, gifts, preferences and purposes, like the essence of the gardener is reflected in the variety of his masterpiece.

When we say yes to God and grow as Christians – the aim is not to become clones of one other but to be released into the freedom of who we were always destined to be. We’re inextricably linked by the Source of our creation, who provides our planting and nourishment. Whilst we have similarities, individually we have permission to bring our unique beauty to the garden of life. All of us are designed to glorify the creator and together unified all add to the form and strength of His garden. Too often it’s easy to misinterpret salvation and belonging as changing to become carbon copies of one another. God is the one that connects and aligns, not a sterotype or set of behaviours. He unites us with some non-negotiable truths, such as love, grace, mercy, faith and of course Jesus to name but a few. Our commission is the same, however, if we’re not careful we turn unimportant man-made beliefs into obligations under the guise of faith and in doing so try to squeeze people into a mould they were never created to fit.

When you envisage the garden, each plant can only be what it was created to be, nothing more, nothing less, its purpose is set from the beginning. The rose bush fails at producing apples, whilst the lilly will never be evergreen, but that doesn’t make them lacking, it makes them different. To expect them to bloom in ways other than what they were created to do is a course set for failure and misses the opportunity to cultivate the personal beauty within each of them.

Without negative intent, I think at times we Christians, unknowingly guide people into discipleship with a slightly skewed understanding of what it is. The goal of discipleship is not to produce mini ‘each-others’ that all think the same, speak the same and act the same, but rather to point others continually to the ever careful and faithful Gardener. In Him, we find true purpose, kind pruning and continued sustenance. Guided by Him, we find our true place in His garden and learn to love our unique expression of Him whilst still remaining planted in the greater landscape.

We must also guard against comparison amongst ourselves as we step back to view the greater perspective offered by eternity and our relationship with Him. This allows us to dig deep into what it is He has for us to fulfill in this ministry, privilege and opportunity called life. There isn’t only one way to serve, to minister and to be. We all have an important part to play in making the Earth a better place and Heaven more full. 1 Corinthians 12 puts it another way as it likens us as Christians; Christ’s body to a human body made up of different parts, different in function, capacity and size but every part important to the overall purpose.

Let us all celebrate our differences, encourage our unique qualities and embrace each other’s gifts so that we may flourish in our respective patches of the garden. Let us get to know the Gardener who provides all that we need as we grow alongside and compliment one another. Planted in the same ground, watered by the same Source but flourishing in our unique ways. He will guide us into Truth so that we are always growing towards the Son.

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Will The Real Slim Me Please Stand Up

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I’ve recently joined slimming world because I’ve realised that I can’t keep pretending that the clothes I wore pre-baby will one day miraculously fit again. In my mind, I’m still 25 and as fit as I was when training to be a professional dancer, in reality, I have an ever-expanding mum-tum. Whilst proud of the beautiful munchkin produced by the mum-tum, I’m no longer ok with this extra flab taking up permanent residence on my person and I can’t use the excuse of being a new mum anymore – that ship has sailed.

Harsh as it was starring in the mirror at the withered balloon that is now my midriff, I had to face up to the hard fact that to fight back against it, I must actually do something about it. Much to my surprise, I managed to lose a few pounds in the first week of following the programme, and for once, not due to a hole in my purse! I have witnessed actual bonafide weight loss! It’s amazing what we can do when we set our minds to something, and when it costs us something to participate!

I wouldn’t have seen any results or even joined any group had I not first admitted that I was no longer the perfect size 10 and that something had to change! Wearing baggy oversized clothes not only has a time and fashion limit, but nobody is fooled as to what lies beneath, least of all myself. Admitting the need for change to myself was the first step towards getting healthy.

This all got me thinking about why it takes us so long to admit and deal with things in life? To drop the pretense and actually take actions to get help or get better? I don’t know why we put so much pressure on ourselves to appear to be perfect, especially as Christians. Maybe it’s media, celebrity and image, or maybe it’s family, friends or the past? Either way, deep down we know that we actually aren’t perfect. We default to masking our issues and continue to fool ourselves into believing that we’re ok with them and will deal with them at some point in the future. It’s amazing how much we can hide by parading around in baggy T-shirts to cover our underlying issues. The irony is that the longer we smile on the outside and keep up the facade of being ok with whatever situation we are in, the further away we are from seeing real progress and change. As soon as I decided to face the fact that I was no longer my healthiest self and put action into thoughts and words, I saw results quicker than anticipated.

As Christians, we should definitely seek to attain maturity in our faith but this shouldn’t be mistaken for pretending to be perfect. The longer I walk with God and the deeper my relationship with Him develops, the more I realise my need for Him. If I am to actually mature, to love and lead better, I need to be more reliant on Him, His word and His strength. I never want to think or feel like I’ve made it. If that is ever the case, I will have missed the point. Being transformed into His likeness requires pruning. Pruning produces greater fruit, greater influence, greater love, more grace, more of His heart. I believe wholeheartedly that the world needs to look upon our lives and see blessing upon blessing and grace upon grace. They need to see a church flourishing, people with financial freedom, dreams and vision, healings and justice, but for them to see that, we must first admit that we are sick and in need of help. We must conquer mountains and take new ground and move forward and beyond things that hold us back so that we can do more for His kingdom. However, we can’t achieve this if we pretend that life is always a party full of ‘insta’ worthy friendships, relationships and careers all of the time. The truth is that pruning can suck! Pruning requires honesty, sacrifice and perseverance, but pruning produces the BEST fruit.

We mustn’t forget that it was grace motivated by love that bought our freedom, and it is His grace that continues to guide us through life. It is grace that the world needs alongside our honesty and love and a life that signposts to a real Saviour who reached down and pulled us out of our pit and continues to do so. Without Him we have nothing and we are nothing and we produce no good fruit. He enables us to breathe, to live, to love and to laugh, He enables us to dream and upskill, train, do and be. He gives us platforms we don’t deserve and opportunities we couldn’t create ourselves. He is good and kind and faithful, slow to anger and rich in love.

So, will the real slim me please stand up? She’s in there somewhere, underneath the layers! She’s waiting on the other side of some honesty, hard work and sacrifice and a little bit of pruning, discipline and help from some healthy weight loss gurus.

What are you waiting for? What’s on the other side of your fresh admission of your need for a forever Saviour? It could be healing, restoration, freedom, financial stability. Let’s not waste another moment pretending everything is ok. It’s ok not to be ok. We must give ourselves permission to be human and therefore God to be God. It’s not an excuse for sin or complacency but an opportunity to grow, a path towards real freedom.

John 15 v 5 – 8 NIV

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Mirror, Signal, Meltdown

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Recently we purchased a new car, I know what you’re thinking – what an exciting life we lead! It’s not ‘new new’ but new for us and still in great condition and get this – amazingly, (this feels like a novelty) –  everything works! We were blessed with our previous one and it’s been a huge help since having Sienna to have the extra space it offered for the mountain of things that come along with travelling with a child. However, it was a miracle that it passed its last MOT as there was a lot of onerous things wrong with it. For example, the driver’s seat fixed in only one position, so both Rich and I had to manoeuvre a one-size-doesn’t-quite-fit-all driving posture. If the driver door wasn’t at least ajar when unlocked, the car automatically re-locked itself causing the alarm to trigger – tricky when trying to get yourself, bags, pram and kid out of the car. It wasn’t far off a crystal maze challenge! There were also various important buttons missing, no air-con (imagine that in this heat wave UK peeps) and other minor but annoying issues that all made vehicle operation pretty tedious at times.

The new, but not ‘new new’ car has all sorts of fancy bells and whistles and fandangled ways to turn on the car and operate a variety of gizmos and gadgets. All wonderful and super efficient – as long as you know what you’re doing. You can probably tell by my description of car parts that I’m not completely au fait with motors. I’m not ashamed to admit that I took a test drive with the hubby to ensure I knew what I was doing. The first attempt was only mildly successful, as it resulted in me stalling in the middle of the road whilst passers-by asked if we needed a push! Cue the hubby wanting the ground to swallow us up whilst I break into a mild sweat and hit all sorts of buttons in an attempt to restart the car. Have you ever done the same thing multiple times and expected a different outcome and find yourself shocked every time that you achieve the same result? That was me! (That can be a different blog for another day!) We had to quickly jump out and switch positions amidst the ever-growing queue of traffic as I tried to politely smile and wave with a confused look expressing, “sorry, not sure what’s wrong, it’s a mystery, we’ll be gone before you know it,” – Eek! You’ll be glad to know, the streets of South East London are now safe to drive again and I am of course a pro at driving our lovely new but not ‘new new’ family car.

Despite the fact that I had been desperate for a new car, in that moment of discomfort and ever-so-slight mild beetroot face embarrassment, I longed for my old broken and dysfunctional car, because at least I knew what I was doing and that brought me some comfort. Even though the seat didn’t quite fit my stature and preference, I had adjusted accordingly to its awkwardness and it became my ‘norm’. Even though everything took twice as long to accomplish, at least I was prepared for its malfunctioning parts. I’d become accustomed to its irritating nuances.

Isn’t that a bit like life sometimes? We long for ways to make our journey smoother and more efficient but when opportunities arise, if we don’t ‘click’ with them straight away, our lack of experience and insecurities can make us want to run back to our old broken and dilapidated ways. Even though our old ways are broken and dysfunctional, like my old car, at least we knew how to function in them, how to get by and make things work. We became accustomed to operating slightly off-kilter.

When pushed out of our comfort zone, it takes a while to adjust. It can offer a better experience of life in the long run if we embrace the stretch. But can we take the risk and embarrassment of our vulnerabilities being exposed as we stall in the middle of the road in full view of nosey onlookers whilst trying to find our feet?  

One thing I’ve realised about the stretching seasons of life is that they are rarely planned or welcomed. We don’t wake up one day and think, “today is a good day to feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and overwhelmed”. Rather, they seem extremely ill-timed and we can feel completely unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the changes required. So, here are some quick things I’ve learnt about the seasons of stretch from my new but not ‘new new’ car test drive experience:

  • I’m Perfectly Equipped – I’ve actually been driving for a decade and ask Rich on a good day and he’ll agree that I’m a great driver! I know the laws of the road (mostly – ha! Who knows all of them seriously?) and I can do all of the necessary procedures to get safely from ‘a to b’. In this instance and often with stretching and new ventures, I just needed a bit of practice to adjust to the new settings. We actually know more than we think and have more in us than we realise. Take salvation, the initial decision and the daily walking it out, it offers many new revelations which present choices for us all on how to apply them. Sometimes we soar and sometimes we struggle, but we need not worry because the Bible reminds us that, “God has placed eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3 v 11) In other words, we are hard-wired towards our destiny right from our conception. It’s His plan and His will that we find Him and learn to navigate this life with Him. He wants us to stretch and grow and even prosper. So take heart that you have everything you need to face what’s ahead, you just need to practice and grow into it.

 

  • Try Again Straight Away – For a moment I felt deflated and a tad anxious to try again, but as soon as we had managed to pull over, we swapped seats and after a little recap of all the important buttons, off I went again. I was probably a little tentative and over-cautious, but nevertheless, it was easier. It’s so important not to let a failure or failures stop us from going again because our success could be on the other side of one more try.

 

  • Don’t Stretch Alone – Fortunately for me, I had Rich at that moment to help bring some guidance, clarity, encouragement and let’s be honest, a kick up the bum. We weren’t made to do life alone, we were made to live, love, laugh, cry, try and fail alongside others. Life is better when shared, warts and all. Who can we lean on to take the wheel when we need them to and who will encourage us back into the driver’s seat when it’s time? Or who can we do that for?

 

Well, there you have it, I hope my mini, ‘new but not new new’ car drama has brought you some encouragement. Whatever you’re facing, be it big or small, don’t be tempted to jump back into old and broken ways that weren’t really working for you anyway. Have faith that it’s within you, take a breath, try again and don’t do it alone. Once you get the hang of it, the ride will be much smoother in the long run.

Right, I’m off to swat up on some road theory – jokes!

 

Remain In Love

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This post is just some thoughts I had on John 15 today, rather than my usual style of blog post. The next ‘official’ blog is coming shortly, so disclaimer if it’s not what you expected and there’s an undeniable multiple and heavy use of the word love!

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit-fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

John 15 NIV

Yes, I’m still on the love vibe, riding that love wave like a Jesus hippy. Not always intentionally if I’m honest, nevertheless, I guess God is drawing me into something.

So many times I have read the above scripture and missed some of its beautiful truth. There’s so much to glean from this one passage. I must remain in Him, the possibilities of my eternal fruit-bearing potential depend on it in fact. I draw my strength from being connected to Him, there’s no doubt about that. I recognise that pruning is for my benefit however uncomfortable, it fortifies me, deepens my roots and ultimately produces greater fruit. Without Him I am nothing, that’s clear. Yet all the while I’ve missed the blatant and glaringly obvious command given right in the midst of it. I’ve understood that I must keep his commands and perhaps without realising have thought this required some sort of dutiful compliance on my part. Obedience isn’t a bad thing when you know the intent. 

However, as I have read it afresh this week, what has leapt off the page at me, is that remaining in Him and keeping His commands look like loving others. Jesus Himself reminds us in Matthew 22 v 37 – 40 that all of the law and the prophets depend on the greatest commands of love – to love God and to love others. And yet at every turn it’s so easy to miss in our religious ways. It’s no small and easy thing to love others, especially when they aren’t easy to love, but really it is what most reflects Him and what truly bears precious fruit. What empowers me with the ability to do that again and again? Through ease and discomfort and all of the sometimes seemingly painstaking list of loves attributes noted in 1 Corinthians 13? Remaining in His love. His love is my source, His love bears fruit through me and gives strength and purpose to my love. The fruit of His love is more love, love that changes things, that messes things up in the right kind of ways. When we lead with love, look with love, start with love, forgive with love, atmospheres are changed and strongholds are broken. God doesn’t want our sacrifices of time and hard work, loyalty and striving, He wants our love. He doesn’t want us to do better, to do more, to be more, He wants us. Love is key. Love is the way, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life; God IS love!

Love does, love acts, love serves, love calls out injustice, love goes the extra mile, love is patient and kind and keeps no record of wrongs. The receiving of love breaks down walls, it makes one trust, it draws people out and it embeds security. It makes us stand taller, believe harder, dream bigger and most of all, love never fails (1 Corinthians 13 v 12).

My perception of this verse has changed and deepened, my revelation of the constant need to receive and make use of His love has quickened. His all-consuming, abundant, heaven-come-to-earth kind of love.

So much I could write, so many scriptures I could use but all I choose is this – Lord let me remain in you, in your love. To truly know it, to feel it, to be wrapped in it and to exude it to others. Help me to love others how you love me, the good, the bad and the ugly, teach me to remain. Help me to know what’s important. Love.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

1 John 4 v 7 – 12

 

Storage Space

STORAGE SPACE PHONE copy.png

Phone storage is one of my most frustrating weekly battles. I find myself constantly deleting apps and pictures and trying to rearrange things in order to avoid that annoying pop-up reminder that my storage is nearly full. I feel like I’ve literally just sorted it when it rears its ugly head again! I even have an extra monthly “cloud” add-on to allow me extra space! One of my biggest irritations is when the mysterious “cloud” decides for me which apps to offline without consulting me. Then, ridiculously, I find myself in an extremely inconvenient situation, like being stranded in London and desperately hoping my bus times app will reload in time for me to make it to my destination. What often happens is I delete and then reload apps and spend ages going through files and photos in order to organise my phone which is supposed to make life more efficient. Too much wasted energy is thrown at this process and it irks me! (Random fact – I love the word ‘irk’).

Unfortunately, I have to hold my hands up and say it’s probably down to user error rather than a technical fault. If I’m honest I can’t think of anything duller than spending a precious child-free evening figuring out how to properly rectify the issue. In fairness, I have tried a few times but it leads only to further frustration as I can’t figure out how to improve the issue. (All phone-storage-for-dummies suggestions welcome!) The add-on storage I pay for on top of my bill is so little per month that it seems like a good temporary solution. However, that temporary solution has now lasted six months! If you total the overall spend it’s definitely money that I could be spending elsewhere in a better way. Not only do I still not have enough space on my phone but now I’m paying for the ‘privilege’. I wonder at what point I will stop brushing this annoyance under the carpet and actually learn to deal with the cause of the continuing problem? Now that I’ve shared it with you all, I feel it’s about time I dealt with it! You can keep me accountable.

God often speaks to me through the ordinary everyday experiences of life. As I was frowning once again at my phone and trying to refrain from throwing it through the window – yes I do need space for one more cute picture of my child even if it looks the same as the last five –  I reflected on what issues in my own life (apart from phone storage) I keep pushing to one side. Perhaps they aren’t so huge that they cause major ripples in my day to day life but too much energy, time or stress is being spent on them. Like when totalling up the cost of my add-on storage bill, it all soon compounds.

Could we be living more care-free in some areas of our life? Could we have more freedom in others if we just sat down and faced some issues head-on, no matter how dull or even painful? If we took a step back and considered the long-term effects on our health, finances, relationships or careers we’d probably view things differently. There’s only so long we can keep rearranging our “apps” before something has to change.

It’s often easy to “deal” with big things head on because they often have an immediate and obvious effect on our lives. We have to be careful, however, not to neglect the small niggling things in hope that they will magically disappear if we ignore them for long enough. Like a child playing hide and seek that thinks just because their eyes are closed, they can’t be detected.

Many small things can actually shake our foundations more than huge events if left unattended. Did you know that termites are known as ‘silent destroyers’? They can chew through wood, flooring and wallpaper undetected for a long time, which apparently (according to pestworldforkids.org) contributes to a massive yearly damage cost to properties of around $5 billion dollars!! They are only ¼ of an inch long and yet together colonies of them cause insurmountable damage.

What “small” things are we not dealing with that if rectified could allow us more space and energy in our soul to focus on moving forward into greater avenues. What are we unnecessarily paying extra for, with our finances or time and energy? God is so good and faithful, He desires wholeness and purpose for us and is ever patient. He lovingly guides us, if we allow Him, into the continued path of righteousness. This isn’t a path to obtaining perfection through rules and striving, but rather continued revelation of our right-standing in Christ, and therefore all that we are and have access to because of His love and sacrifice. How much more space would we have to fill our lives with good if we sorted out our storage issues and properly cleaned out our data?

It’s just a short blog this week, nothing particularly profound but rather a nudge to myself and maybe you if the shoe fits, towards making room for more of Him and less of annoying underlying things, that left unchecked, have potential to cause more strife than I need to deal with in this life. Who’s got time for that? Not me! Some circumstances in life require extreme breakthrough and prayer and others just require us to stop long enough to linger in His goodness and accept His grace to deal with our “stuff”.

Recently I’ve been delving into “The Passion Translation” of the Psalms. The language is beautiful and eloquent and it’s been a refreshing journey into the continued goodness of God. I’ll sign off (and check my phone storage plan – maybe) and leave you with the one I read yesterday and pray it will lead us to His wonder, love and guidance as we take time to Selah and prepare to clear out some unnecessary nuisances.

Psalm 19 – The Passion Translation

“God’s Story in the Skies

God’s splendour is a tale that is told;

his testament is written in the stars.

Space itself speaks his story every day

through the marvels of the heavens.

His truth is on tour in the starry vault of the sky,

showing his skill in creation’s craftsmanship.

Each day gushes out its message to the next,

night with night whispering its knowledge to all.

Without a sound, without a word, without a voice being heard,

Yet all the world can see its story.

Everywhere its gospel is clearly read so all may know.

What a heavenly home God has set for the sun,

shining in the superdome of the sky!

See how he leaves his celestial chamber each morning,

radiant as a bridegroom ready for his wedding,

like a day-breaking champion eager to run his course.

He rises on one horizon, completing his circuit on the other,

warming lives and lands with his heat.

God’s Story in the Scriptures

God’s Word is perfect in every way;

how it revives our souls!

His laws lead us to truth,

and his ways change the simple into wise.

His teachings make us joyful and radiate his light;

his precepts are so pure!

His commands, how they challenge us to keep close to his heart!

The revelation-light of his word makes my spirit shine radiant.

Every one of the Lord’s commands is right;

following them brings cheer.

Nothing he says ever needs to be changed.

The rarest treasures of life are found in his truth.

That’s why I prize God’s word like others prize the finest gold.

Nothing brings the soul such sweetness

as seeking his living words.

For they warn us, his servants,

and keep us from following the wicked way,

giving a lifetime guarantee:

great success to every obedient soul!

Without this revelation-light,

how would I ever detect the waywardness of my heart?

Lord, forgive my hidden flaws whenever you find them.

Keep cleansing me, God,

and keep me from my secret, selfish sins;

may they never rule over me!

For only then will I be free from fault

and remain innocent of rebellion.

So may the words of my mouth, my meditation-thoughts,

and every movement of my heart be always pure and pleasing,

acceptable before your eyes,

my only Redeemer, my Protector-God”

 

Why Mums Make Great Leaders II

why mums make great leaders 2

In the midst of the debate over equal pay for women, and varied opinions on the recent news that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is pregnant, it is obvious the need to continue to reaffirm why mums and even women, in general, make great leaders. It is astounding to me that the potential and value of women is still questioned in many places around the world in 2018. However, that’s a larger topic to be explored another time.  

Continuing on from my previous post (see here), here are a few more attributes of leadership that I believe can be enhanced in motherhood…

3. Adaptability/flexibility

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

John C Maxwell

When I gave birth to Sienna, it was also the birth of a mother; me. Parenthood isn’t something you arrive at with experience and qualifications. Even those that have worked with babies, children and young people have to navigate the intertwining complexities of loving, teaching and providing for a small human who has their own personality, will and needs.

If we are to be the best we can be, adaptability and flexibility are key as we learn to be parents to an ever-growing child in an ever-changing environment.

For example, as soon as you feel like you’ve nailed some sort of routine with your baby, their nap changes! Or just when you feel like you’ve built a positive relationship with your child, puberty hits and suddenly there’s a whole new storm to navigate.

As parents and leaders we have to be ready and able to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances that we find ourselves in, otherwise, we are susceptible to becoming overwhelmed, ignorant or insignificant.  

4. Perseverance

To persevere is a choice. For me giving up on my child is not an option. As a mother and a parent, I realise that the buck stops with me. No-one else is going to care for Sienna as much as Rich and I do. In spite of sleep deprivation, flu or anything else for that matter, I still get up in the middle of the night to attend to her needs. When your toddler is having a tantrum or your teenager a strop you still have to persevere in love, patience and discipline.

The perseverance built in motherhood can help re-ignite the tenacity to not give up in other areas of your life also. For me, I want to be someone that inspires Sienna and encourages her to be all that she can be, to go further than I have gone and do more than I have done. If I don’t demonstrate perseverance, how can I expect from her what I’m not willing to give myself? It’s a matter of integrity.

Leadership that lasts the distance requires perseverance. No tree springs up and bears fruit overnight. Likewise no team, business or pursuit fulfils its potential in an instant. Like a child, all these need continuous support, investment and nourishment in order to bear fruit.

5. Discipline

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh

It can be easy to feel like small tasks lack significance when faced with them on a day to day basis. Yet nothing of great worth ever just happened. Reaching long-term goals requires daily discipline.

Motherhood helps to reinforce or implement discipline and understand the consequences of a lack of it. For example, every day I have to wash and sterilise Sienna’s bottles, an often boring and mundane task. If they aren’t sterilised, however, there is an increased risk that bacteria will breed and have the potential to make her ill.

Consistency can be hard when it comes to disciplining a child. However, the risk of a lack of consistency in this area can have long-term negative consequences. For me, as a parent, it is important that I maintain discipline and consistency in the values that I wish to pass onto my daughter.

As a leader discipline is a key to long-term success and credibility. Integrity is built upon discipline; a consistency of good character.

There you have it, three more reasons why I believe that mums can make great leaders. I’d love to know your thoughts and even experiences in relation to this topic. Will you join the conversation? 

 

 

Good Value This Christmas

good value this christmas

For as long as I can remember my Dad has been a professional Santa at Christmas. Yesterday my mum forwarded a review posted by an elated mother about his epic Santa skills. This year Dad had the opportunity to learn some Makaton; a language programme using signs and symbols that helps people to communicate. It is designed to support spoken language and can also be useful for those children and adults who struggle to communicate via speech. One little boy visited Santa (my Dad) this year looking only for a picture with the magical present deliverer. His mother explained that he wouldn’t be able to talk with my Dad, who usually has a little conversation with each child. Fortunately, because of his Makaton training, Dad was able to communicate well with the young boy. In the review the mother gushed that this encounter had not only made her year but also made her cry! Go Dad! Such a simple act placed value on a little boy and his mother. In a small way, in that moment my Dad was able to enter into their world and reaffirm their importance.

So many times in the gospels we see how Jesus places value upon others, on those in society that due to the culture of the day would have been seen as less-than in many ways. One particular account that I love is when Jesus heals a man with leprosy, recorded in Matthew 8 v 1-3….

“When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.  A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Other than the incredible fact that Jesus healed him, what I love is the recorded detail that Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. It is likely that this man hadn’t encountered any human touch for a long time due to his leprosy, and the belief that he was therefore unclean. Before Jesus declared that He was willing to heal the man, He first showed him that he was valuable, loved and worthy of being touched even in his current sick state. In reaching out and touching the man he showed His heart of love towards him in a society that would have deemed him as worthless.

Sienna, my now 10 month old daughter is entering a beautiful stage of development, where she has begun to smile at everyone. Her big brown eyes gaze expectantly at people as she waits for them to notice her, and then she welcomes that recognition with a huge grin! The pure joy that shoots across her face when someone gives her a wave or even a hint of attention is infectious. Her smile is genuine and pure and you can’t help but beam from the inside out in return. This unbiased, non-judgemental and unconditional love that she offers, often gets a coo and a smile in response, and in that moment offers a metaphorical outstretched hand to the lucky recipient. From the full tank of love, smiles and acceptance that she has received from myself and Rich, as well as her close family and friends, she is able to offer the same to others. She hasn’t yet learned to conceal her true feelings and so what you see is what you get.

This Christmas season I’m reminded again how easy and important it is to value one another. Jesus stepped out of His glory and took on human flesh, to once again place value on all humanity. A value so great it cost Him his life. From an overflow of love, He paid the ultimate price so that we may know how valuable we are to Him. My prayer this Christmas is that He would help me to continue to know His love and my true value in Him, and so therefore be empowered to show it to others. If we could keep life that simple I wonder what a difference that would have on us, and what a difference we could make to our world. In knowing our own value, we also learn the value of others.  

1 John 4 v 19

“We love because He first loved us.”