Sunday 30 July 2017

The Living Room

I often wonder how we got here… how we got to a place where life feels like wine and the water of everyday living refreshes the soul with it’s clarity and purity. It feels like we have been given a blank page that we dare not touch or write on unless He says so; that whatever our ideas, whatever our dreams we cannot fill the space unless He ordains it. It’s an invigorating place to be, where breathing deeply is commonplace and freedom runs with us like a child at the playground and God has given us this for our pleasure, to enjoy and be fully present in. A place where there is hope and refuge and purpose. Those are the words at the center of the page and they are for everyone.

Looking back our lives are rich. Our church was family and to walk away was a wrench, but we knew we had to. God nudged us out and we continue to fully find ourselves in Him. We knew we had to make more room, to extend our table and to extend this family. To make more space for those in need of refuge, for those who need hope restored and for those who dare to dream to be championed and encouraged in finding their purpose.

So that’s why we ended up here, to reimagine, to simplify and to create and this is what we have found… that life is light and full of space and beauty and that home is made up of many rooms. The place that we feel the most ourselves and the most alive is in ‘The Living Room.’

When God is somewhere, and His presence is evident, living water flows in a way that reveals who we really are. In our home the living room is the place where friends and family come and relax. We can ‘take a load off’, share how we are and we are safe to laugh and cry and just be ourselves. When God joins us, it’s not just people having a good time together, it’s powerful, it changes perspectives, it heals, it envisions and it loves. When we encounter Real Love, we can never be the same again. How wonderful that Love Himself makes His home in us. He dwells in our praises and breathes life into us when we come together in His house.

The Living Room is where we gather, where we take time out to be with each other and with Him. It is a place of encounter, connection, unity, support, challenge and celebration and it is a place of hope where Jesus changes us.

The kitchen is different. It is equally valuable but it just scratches the surface of what is available in the home. It is the natural place where relationships are developed. It’s a place for chatting; for ‘getting to know’; for discovering and experimenting. It’s a step on from ‘bumping in to someone’ and it brings comfort, connection, welcome and refuge. Those ‘kitchen’ moments lead us into to a safe place where the kettle is always on and life chats are always available.

Then there’s the table. The table runs through our lives as a place of depth, a step in from the kitchen. We are fed around the table and we can always make room. It’s a place to be inspired, a place to grow in relationship, a place where we respond to the nudges of God and where purpose is often discovered through conversation and communion, and God’s fingerprints, whether they are recognised or not, are everywhere.

What if these places become a metaphor for how church works? What if the values held within these environments roll into our everyday lives and, guided and directed by God, we allow ourselves to be shaped by the natural progressions of relationships with each other and with God? What if these areas are not a progression that we are led through, a trajectory that we are all aiming for but a spirit filled cross contamination where it’s ok to stay in the kitchen, it’s ok to be in different places at different times? What if being a ‘history maker’ looks less like a platform and more like making a difference to the lives of those around us? What if God stirs us to action to make an impact on this world around our tables and what if ‘The Living Room’ really is where life is found, where celebration and suffering are shared, where worship is more than songs and where Love himself makes us more like Him as we gather together and make room?

We believe in church. We believe there is a place where you fit and we are excited about experimenting with this stuff. There is more to discover. We don’t know how far we will go but we are daring to dream because we do know that the One who is Love itself will drive this, that the blank page is His and that as this unfolds He will be at the center of it all. It’s simple really, make room for Him in our everyday and He will do more than we could ever imagine. From September we’ll be in ‘The Living Room’. If you want to step in to ‘the kitchen’ again and see if God is really there, if you want to get around ‘the table’ and chat deeper, or if you want to join us in ‘The Living Room’ you are so welcome. There is refuge, hope and purpose to be found and we are excited for the adventure.

Monday 28 November 2016

The Struggle to Become

In the heart of winter under the surface of the ground a bulb begins it's struggle to become. A crocus thrives in winter. It starts it's journey in Autumn and under the ground it puts down it's roots and then slowly pushes it's way up through the frozen ground and out towards the light where it's colours flash against the white backdrop. It is one of the first signs that Spring is coming, new life is on it's way but it has to struggle through the hard ground first to flourish. 

We all face the struggle to become. Transformation cannot happen without struggle. I don't know about you but I don't want to stay the same. I want to be transformed. I want to be more like Jesus and I want to get closer to who he has made me.

If you cut a caterpillar out of it's cocoon it will die. We cannot speed up the process. It needs the struggle to become. A baby chick begins to peck it's way of of it's shell because it has run out of oxygen. It's struggle is for air. It cannot remain where it is, it must struggle to become.

God is the air we breathe. With every breath in I am taking Him in and with every breath out I relieve myself of the other stuff! The stuff that tries to suffocate us. He is with me in the struggle. 

“GOD ’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with GOD (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.

GOD proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from GOD. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst.” “Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense. He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way:”
‭‭Lamentations‬ ‭3:22-33‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Whatever the struggle looks like we cannot avoid it or run away from it. We need it to become. 

Credit to my Dad. I totally nicked this idea from him!

Sunday 12 June 2016

When Pain and Power Collide

There is too much pain in this world. There will be people reading this who are in the depths of pain right now, those who have felt it deeply and who are learning to live with it, those who have experienced it a long time ago and have come out the other side and those who have never really felt much deep pain. Of course there are levels of it, and really we shouldn’t compare pain, there are stories behind every situation and the people who know those stories intimately.

Pain is an unbearably powerful source. It takes your breath away. When we found out our third baby had died I walked out of the hospital and almost collapsed under the weight of the pain. I felt like I was having some kind of heart attack because there was a physical pain in my heart and as the pain anchored itself in me, I dragged it around for months desperate to feel light again.

During this time, my mum gave me a quote. It says,

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” Aeschylus.

No-one would ever choose pain. Sometimes people make choices that cause deep pain, but they would never choose the pain. It is against our will, but even then comes wisdom to us if we let it. Pain is powerful but so is wisdom.

For me wisdom comes through a whisper from God. In the midst of the grief, anger, disappointment, anxiety and noise, is a quiet voice that says, “What are you going to do now?” This voice can be silenced easily, drowned out by hurt and fear, but if you listen, really listen, you can hear hope, love, peace, and joy. And if you wait and learn, there is uncontrollable power: power that undermines the darkness and brings light to someone just when they need it most.

Our response gives ‘power’ permission to be expressed. You can choose to do nothing, to move on from your pain and forget how others are still suffering but if you let the pain in your story change your response to others you open the door for the power of God to invade their lives and in fact yours too. If you see a situation unfolding that you can relate to in some way, you have power to lighten someone else’s experience. A kind word is powerful. An acknowledgement that hearing good news might be a difficult reminder for someone who has lived through the opposite outcome or lost something that has been freely given to someone else. A text that says, ‘that must be hard for you, we remember’ removes the isolation surrounding pain. A gesture of love says ‘you are not on your own’. Isolation is undone by love. Fear and anxiety is disempowered by a voice of hope. Wisdom shouts loudly at ignorance and for the one who is suffering, it matters. It matters that you remember how you felt in ‘that’ situation. It matters that you don’t forget the things that hurt you in order that you can help protect others from the same feelings. Our stories are a way of unlocking power if we share them and go back in to them in order to lighten someone’s load.   

The resurrection says ‘even when the worst happens, you can get up’ and Jesus walks into our pain with hope, peace, love and light. Let’s be people who do the same, who overthrow the things that can destroy us by acknowledging the power of solidarity, seeking it out and expressing it whenever we need to.

Saturday 19 July 2014

You fit! You fit right here!

We all want to belong. We all want to feel valued. There are many of us who feel we deserve to be noticed and there are many of us who feel like we just want to fade into the background, and then there are others who fall somewhere in between.

I am the oldest of four children. I have three brothers. All of us are very different but we have some kind of family gene that means we have similar talents and similar natural flairs; that is perhaps apart from Ben. Ben is my second youngest brother. He is very creative, very talented, wise, witty and generally he is a leader wherever he goes. He is a valuable member of any team. Growing up, though, we used to tease him about being adopted. We all had our own individual fashion senses, we were quite quirky and we wanted to stand out from the crowd. We were artistic and musical. Ben was sporty, and none of us were. He loved his tracksuit bottoms and trainers. He was artistic, creative and musical but in a different way, so my brothers used to say he was adopted.

He wasn’t. He was just Ben.

Perhaps there is a child in your family that was teased in this way.  Perhaps it was you. All of our childhood experiences shape us into the people that we are. I used to feel pretty confident in myself until I was about 15 or 16 and then my individuality seemed to become something that people around me would mock. They would say things like ‘What are you wearing that for?’ or ‘you’re so weird’, in fact one boy in particular used to call me ‘skinny weirdo’. I was never too bothered by this stuff, but when I look back it shaped me. Perhaps it took off my quirky edges and made me fit in better amongst my friends or maybe I lost parts of me. I don’t know but I do remember developing a feeling inside myself that made me feel like I didn’t fit.

I was confident on the outside but often I would walk into a room and feel like I didn’t fit or that people didn’t want me there. This feeling was confronted by a lady who came to visit our church. She picked me out in a church service and spoke in to my life saying, “There are times when you have felt like you don’t fit, but God says I’m grafting you in, you are accepted, you’re my daughter.” Something broke off me with her words, though sometimes it is still something that every so often is whispered in my ear and I have to fight it.

The truth is, we only find our place in the family of God by really understanding who our heavenly father says we are. In the film Cheaper by the Dozen there is a scene where one child (one of twelve children) goes to his mum and says, ‘everyone calls me Fed ex because they say the Fed ex guy dropped me off and I don’t fit in this family.’ His mum pulls him into her for a cuddle and she says, “You fit! You fit right here!”

That is what God is saying to us. He is pulling us in to His embrace and saying, “You fit! You fit right here!” Until we can grasp that we will always be wondering what our role is, whether we are in the right place, why we can’t find friends that value us for who we are. In church I think sometimes this stuff is heightened. We think we’ve found our place on the host team, or as a connect group leader, or on the worship team, or working with the kids. Whatever it looks like, at the root I guess we all have similar needs. We just want to be free to be ourselves and to belong.

We don’t need a role or a title in church to be free to be ourselves, though it can feel like that. We don’t need acknowledgment from others to know we are in the right place, we just need Jesus and he will give a place to flourish that might surprise us. There are, however, some practical things that we can do and some questions we can ask ourselves that will help us.

The first thing is to stop and ask ourselves whether we are trying too hard to be someone we are not. Do we feel lonely because the people we want to be friends with just don’t seem to notice us? Maybe we are looking for friendship in the wrong place. As church we are family, we all belong; we all have a place in it, but when it comes to friendships we don’t need to be friends with everyone. In fact it may not be healthy. If you are continually striving to fit in within certain people groups maybe you need to ask yourself if these are the people who are going to make you soar. Are these people helping you flourish or do they, unknowingly, fuel your insecurity? We all need friends who we can totally be ourselves with and if we are putting on a front everyday to fit we need to look ourselves in the mirror and ask God who He says we are.

Are we trying too hard to please leaders? If we do too much just to please people we will loose ourselves and loose sight of Who it is that we are really serving. If you are on the children’s team (or any team for that matter) to please your leader: STOP!  Reassess why you are on that team. You are there to serve Jesus, to let him use the gifts he has given you. Being on the right team will help you find your place in the church and we should serve with everything, it is our worship to God, but when it isn’t anymore we have to stop and look at our motives and the internal damage it could be doing to us. People will let us down: God never will. Serve Him first.

Spend time with God. He knows who we are even when we don’t. I have found that through the toughest things we have faced, I have lost myself and found myself all at the same time. I lost who I thought I was. This can be such an isolating process. It can feel like no one has noticed that you are not the same person anymore, but you’re not the same and you never will be again. I had to get to know the new version of me, the one with broken pieces that didn’t fit together anymore. Illness can do this to us, grief can do this, depression all sorts of things can leave us bewildered and in the middle of an identity crisis. Sometimes we need to be brave enough to let go of things in order to find new things. I was disturbed in my comfortableness! And I had to understand that only God, my source, my song, can use the stuff that life throws at me to refine me and shape me. 1 Peter 4 in The Message says this:

Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.

Too often our motives are about getting what we want and even getting what we think we have earnt or deserve. None of us deserve any of this. We don’t deserve the gifts that God freely gives us and we don’t deserve recognition. None of these things will help us fit but if we can learn to work in our giftings quietly and diligently behind the scenes we will feel fulfilled. Some people are called to lead others, some aren’t and leadership comes in many forms. You don’t need a platform to lead in life. Sometimes we think we should be something that we are not and we will spend our lives feeling unfilled, undervalued and overlooked. Titus 3:14 in the NIV says, “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not to live unproductive lives.” The MSG puts it like this: ‘Our people have to learn to be diligent in their work so that all necessities are met (especially among the needy) and they don’t end up with nothing to show for their lives.’

I don’t want to be someone who has nothing to show for my life, but I don’t want that to come in the form of acclamation or recognition, I want to bear fruit for the Kingdom. If we try to be someone that we are not there is an ‘us’ shaped hole left in the places where we could flourish. If we don’t get over ourselves someone else will do the stuff that we could do and they will go on to lead fruitful lives while we sit and look on feeling sorry for ourselves.

Ask a good friend or a trusted leader to tell you where they think your giftings are. Others can often see this stuff better than we can because iron sharpens iron and then get over yourself! Get over your wants and look only to what God wants. Sometimes hunger for the things of God is shown in discontentment, sometimes discontentment is just about our own selfishness. Learn to discern between the two.

We need to help each other find our place. We need to be brave enough to acknowledge when we are wrong. We need to correct the lies of the enemy over each other and speak truth and life, instead of being jealous or insecure and we need to be more like Jesus. Stop striving and rest in the embrace of Father God. Today and everyday He is saying:

‘You fit! You fit right here!’ 

Monday 9 September 2013

I Want to Talk About Miscarriage

Actually I want to talk about babies, because that’s what they were. Miscarriage is a word that describes losing a baby in the first 23 weeks of pregnancy. The first 23 weeks! Miscarriage is not a good enough word to describe losing a child, at any stage, because that’s what it is, however tiny, a child. To me they are not just a group of cells, these are the tiniest of people, the potential of greatness, the longed for and the hope of a legacy that is worth so much more than we could ever build with our hands.

There is a lot of room in the heart of a mother. That room often grows with a positive pregnancy test. When you have a child you feel like you couldn’t love anything more and the prospect of loving anyone or anything as much as that baby seems hard to comprehend; but you do. You love another baby with the same love, in a different way: but just the same. When you lose a baby it leaves a hole in your heart.

I have two beautiful girls that are here, with us, and three babies in heaven. When I talk of losing a baby I don’t think that baby is lost, I know exactly where it is, born into heaven. I did not understand how big this loss was until I experienced it, and if I’m honest it has taken three babies for the weight to really take hold of my heart. I was surprised by the pain I felt when I didn’t know these babies for very long, but that’s what they were, my babies and I love them like my girls, the same love; but different and that is why it is so heavy.

I want to talk about miscarriage because not many people do. I want to talk as someone who as been on the receiving end of the people who didn’t know how to talk about miscarriage. I believe our God wastes nothing and for all our babies I want to talk; to help people to talk and to help more people know what to do.

They say that 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage. It is a fairly common occurrence but for the one who loses, there is nothing common about it. It is not an average day when your baby dies. We will all know someone who has lost a baby. You might not know who they are, and they might not know how to tell you that they had a baby and it died but you will know someone, it might even be you. If it’s you, I want to honour your baby and raise a glass to the little life that didn’t make it, and say to you, “Your baby is recognised and you are not alone”, because it can feel like that… very lonely. If you know someone who has lost their baby or babies and you don’t know what to say or do here’s some thoughts that I hope will help.

1.    If you don’t know what to do, please don’t do nothing! Bring shopping without asking. Everyone will need milk and bread at some point, or little treats, or cook tea just so that the person doesn’t have to think about it. It means doing the washing up when you pop in for coffee or cleaning the bathroom without asking. It means sitting and listening, sharing tears and hugs and silence. It means bringing hope but not underestimating the pain. Try not to say ‘Let me know if you need anything’. It shows you care but can bring pressure to someone who just. Needs. Something. Use your initiative, it’s up to you to help.
2.    If you don’t know what to say it is totally ok to say, “I just don’t know what to say but I’m here.” And then actually be there. Being there means not trying to say ‘helpful’ things, or fix a broken heart that is not easily fixed. And when you say ‘I’m here’, you need to be there for the long haul. Everyone is different and some people take a very long time to recover from losing a baby and it should be ok. The other thing is not to assume that if someone wants to talk they will let you know, sometimes a grieving mother just wants to be asked; it’s not hard to say ‘How are you doing?’ and then give time to listen to the answer.
3.    Don’t expect someone to go back to ‘normal’ after losing a baby. We don’t get over these things, we are shaped by them. I feel like I have been battered in to a completely different shape, but I also felt a pressure at times to just go back to ‘normal’. After losing three babies, I couldn’t even remember what normal was. Be someone who reminds the grieving mother who they were, who they are now and who they can be.
4.    Please don’t judge. Everyone is different. We all react differently and we all need different things. I confess after losing my first baby, I picked myself up quite quickly and when it happened a second time I thought it would never happen again, but it did and it might again, and for me the pain was almost unbearable. For anyone who suffers tragic loss the shock that sets in can overtake your life and send you into panic. No-one knows how they will react to a tragedy until they are in it and reason and controlled responses can be out of reach. Please be someone who doesn’t judge. Who says ‘you do what you need to do and I’m here’. Jealousy, anger, sorrow, sadness, wanting to be left alone, wanting distraction, wanting to keep going, wanting to not be on your own, are all normal responses. Be someone who can see if things are out of control and step in, and be someone who listens and understands that each day is different to the last, just because someone is in desperate pain doesn’t mean they can’t laugh or have fun.
5.    Don’t be afraid to talk about the baby. Even if the mother cries. It’s comforting to know that your baby is remembered. If someone dies, they have a name to say and tell stories of. If a baby dies in the womb often it doesn’t have name to remember, the only stories come from the mother who felt them growing and the Father who shared it all. To acknowledge that they existed means everything.
6.    Try to remember a due date if you can. Any mother who has lost a baby will remember when her baby should have been born and if you can ask and make a note it means a lot to send a text on the day or around the time saying ‘Today I am remembering your baby. Wish they were here.’  When a child has a birthday everyone celebrates. A due date is a potential birthday but it can pass silently with a deep pain that no one really sees. It matters to send a card on that day.

When people ask me how many children we have my heart breaks a little bit. I want to say five, but I say two and smile. When those close to me acknowledge that there were three others it helps to make those questions lighter.  It matters what we do for others. A good friend said to me once, ‘the way that people are really determines how much you can bear’. And it’s true. Isolation hurts but an invasion of love matters. ‘The Lord is close to the broken hearted’ so let’s try to be Jesus to those with broken hearts. Miscarriage is so often hidden and the pain underestimated. It is not something everyone wants to talk about, but for those that do it must be ok. The grief is hidden too and it’s heavy.

If you are pregnant and you know someone close to you who has lost their baby near to your pregnancy don’t assume they don’t want to share your joy. It’s hard to, but sensitively make it the choice of the one in sorrow. You can simply send a text or ask them how they would like to you to be. Do they want distance or do they want to be involved? Keep checking in on their pain and be sensitive in how much you share. Read how the person reacts and let them share your joy in a manageable way for them. No-one wants to undervalue your joy, but for a broken heart, that joy can be hard to enter into truthfully. Again, everyone is different, take the time to find out what your friend needs from you and remember that if you feel awkward the one who has lost their baby feels worse. It’s hard to be brave when you hurt, so if you have your joy, be the brave one and take the first steps, it will protect your relationship.

If you have children please don’t say ‘I can’t imagine how you feel. The truth is you can. Imagine a due date arriving and passing and no baby to hold. It hurts. Let yourself go there and compassion will stir you in to action. Remember the Dads who carry the weight too.

I hope this helps you to help anyone who is suffering, and if it’s you I hope you read this and it makes the weight a little lighter. There is so much more to say and if you want to support someone, need support or just to know you are not alone this organisation wants to help You can follow them on twitter @sayinggoodbye and they are brilliant!
I want to finish by sharing a prayer by the wonderful @AnnVoscamp. It is a Prayer for the broken hearted. We can cling to the hope that with pain can come wisdom if we look for it, and with suffering can come compassion if we let it and when we change shape we are carved out into people who can change this world, one person at a time, with the little things that are big for some and matter more than we will ever know. Our God wastes nothing unless we let it be wasted. If it’s you ‘the secret way to heal a broken heart is to 'let love leak out like an ocean through all the cracks.’
Be loved. Be strong. Be weak. Be comforted.

Father of the broken-hearted daughter…
oh, hear our prayer….

Give Your daughter the wisdom to know it:
Hiding when you’re hurting won’t heal you and growing isolated can just let infection grow.
Give Your daughter the love to live it:
The secret way to heal a broken heart is to let love leak out like an ocean through all the cracks.
Give Your daughter grace to do the crazy impossible:
It’s the hurting and wounded who are always the ones called to be medics — to administer lavish grace, to cast the messy in the best, merciful light.
The best way to tend to your open wounds is to open your arms. Out-loving is the only ointment that healed anything.
Let the broken choose it: When you’re most wounded by words, run to the only Word that always brings healing.
Let the broken see it: When you’re wounded and need dressing, look in the mirror, touch you face, and see how He clothes you in righteousness, wraps you in promises, swathes you in a Savior — who saves
When you have Jesus on the inside, you’re never on the outside.
Let the broken say it: When you’re bruised by lies, believe truth and whisper it louder: I am my Beloved’s.
When Love’s got hold of you, there isn’t a lie in the universe that can pull you apart.
Let the broken trust it: Giving the benefit of the doubt — is what benefits the people of the Faith.
Doesn’t love always believe the best, not the worst?
And may that wind the brokenhearted daughter faces, may it fly her hair like a glory flag,
And may the hills that rise before her be but an exhilaration,
And may all her trials be but a trail,
all the stones on the way be but grace stairs to God.
In the name of Jesus who broke His heart to heal ours…

For our babies - we miss you xxx