I dont know about you, but when I am tired, overwhelmed and a little insecure I am more likely to hide. I am more likely to build a wall around me. I am more likely to take the easy option. I retreat in myself. I let the echoes of lies reverberate around my head. I allow myself to lose the ground of my journey I have gained over the years.
I can remember the first time I went to church for myself. A friend invited me to a youth service she was involved in when I was 16. I can remember where I sat. I can remember how I was feeling and I can still remember the emotion I felt when I heard my friend read out this poem in the service.
"To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams,
before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the
greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing,
have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change,
grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves;
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free."
Looking back, I can see that God was talking right to me. I look back 12 years and see a shadow of who I am today. I was afraid. I was ashamed. I was hiding. God was telling me to step out and RISK. To risk being known rather than keeping people at arms length. To risk believing good things instead of accepting the lies. To risk being loved rather running in fear rejection.
My fears are still there. I still have to quiet the words in my head. I still have to remind myself of the words in this poem. I dont want to be a person who does not learn, or feel, or change, or grow, or love. I want to live life to the full.
I now know that God bridges the gap between my step of faith into the unknown when I take a risk. I know He is a God who honours the brave and courageous. He breaks the chains of those who refuse to be enslaved. He accepts us and loves us even when those risks dont work out. Through Him, stepping into the unknown, risking, is safe.
I have this poem up in my classroom and I have had to print it out several times for students who start copying it out when they are supposed to be listening to me! These arent usually students who are "into" poems but I think it speaks to their heart. As it has continued to speak to mine. It reminds them that there is a choice we make through life. A choice to take the easy road, to hide our true selves or a life where we are free. I hope for people to choose freedom. To be so deep in the knowledge that they are loved and accepted that they risk showing themselves. And in doing so find a place of peace whilst staying in a habit of risk.
This Saturday I came away buzzing from the "Faith at Work" conference, it was just what I needed in the last weekend of half term. I needed that space to be reminded of why it is I went in to teaching and why it is I choose to live the way I live. I also challenged me to think how I could do it better.
I went into teaching because I wanted to help give hope to those who felt they didn't have any. I want to show them their potential. God has given me compassion particularly for those who haven't had someone to champion them, to speak truth and encouragement into their lives. I get excited when a student starts to feel safe in my classroom, when they trust me enough to participate in a lesson. When they are brave enough to show their true selves, to smile. But in the business of a teaching day, it is easy to forget. It is easy to get impatient and grumpy and overlook what is important. It is easy to resent how much time it takes up and how tired you get. It is easy to live for the weekend and buy into the "Monday morning blues."
At the "Faith at Work" conference, I was challenged to embrace work. God called us to work. It was meant to be a privilege and it was the curse that made it into a chore. We have all been given gifts and abilities to invest into His kingdom and we will be asked to account for what we did with our time. I am not entirely convinced I will be happy with what I have to say when I meet Him face to face. I think I could do life a whole lot better.
God has been speaking to me over the last year a lot about intention and it cropped up again at the conference. About being intentional with my time and relationships. With being intentional with how I spend my time and who I choose to do that with. It all started with a book my dad got for me for my birthday that was all about making sure our weekends are restful yet full. It was all about being intentional, choosing what you really want to do and doing it exceptionally well. If you want to have a duvet day because you are tired, what would make it an exceptional duvet day? Being intentional is about having a choice. Its not drifting in to activities and then feeling guilty. It is about living life to the full, guilt free.
I want to be intentional with every area of my life. I dont want to fall into habits and drift through. I dont want to separate my work life and the rest of it. I want to be intentional. I want to be all I can be in every part of my life. I want to be disciplined enough to get up each morning believing that God has his hand on my day and faithful enough to allow God to work through me. I want to live out my values and prioritise. I want to embrace the business and well as the rest.
So on the eve of another half term, or maybe for you it is another week. Why not be intentional with your time. Use every moment to the full. Dont get distracted, choose. Give everything you have to each second, value it enough to give it your full concentration. Maybe for you that will be turning facebook off when you are watching tv. Maybe it could be only watching the programmes you really want to watch, not channel hopping. Maybe it is choosing to get up each day and work hard and not resent it. Maybe it is remembering who God has called you to be in every area of your life. But whatever your week holds, I dare you choose intention over habit.
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"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed IN us. For the creation waits in EAGER expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in HOPE that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage and bought to the FREEDOM and GLORY of the children of God."
Last night at cell group, we reflected on Romans 8. It left me feeling relieved, refreshed and a little reassured. It is such a well known passage and one that I come back to again and again as it reminds me of the truth. I was relieved to be reminded that there is no condemnation in Christ. I was refreshed to learn again that nothing can separate us from Gods love. And I was reassured that Jesus intercedes on my behalf when I dont have the words or the energy. I felt humbled as these snippets worked there way into my heart and I felt a surge of thankfulness at all God has done for someone like me who does not deserve it.
The bit that struck me the most were verses 18-25. As I read the passage, I could identify with the "inner groaning". Of that tension between the now and not yet. There is a frustrating struggle between the present suffering and the future glory we know is waiting for us. It is that feeling of knowing that life isnt meant to be like this, that there must be more to it. I had never thought of that frustration being useful before, but as I re read the verses I realised that the groaning helps remind me that there is more to this life than meets the eye. This is not home and we are not yet who we were created to be. Maybe as we embrace those groanings we have more capacity to be salt and light in our lives as we embrace, rather than fight, we find a sense of freedom.
There is another tension between the words suffering and freedom. How can we know freedom when we also experience suffering? I guess for me, knowing that this life is part of the journey and suffering just another symptom that we are not yet in heaven, I feet I can breathe easier. I dont need to struggle against it. Instead I can use it as a catalyst to eagerly anticipate the day I arrive home. There is freedom in the acceptance that God works for the good of us. That may not mean a pain free life but we can be safe in the knowledge it is leading us to liberation and freedom. It doesnt mean I understand or find it easy that bad things happen and so many people around the world face hardships. It doesnt mean I am ok with broken relationships, illness and poverty. But right now, through Romans 8 I think I am being shown that I dont need to struggle against injustices in life. It means I can be comfortable in the uncomfortableness of feeling like I dont quite fit. It means I can be brave in standing out. Because all that tension means is that I am on my way home.
This week I have found I'm at the end of myself. I have been running on nearly empty. I feel a little bit beaten and bruised. Im vaguely surprised that I have made it to the eve of the weekend. There have been tears shed and a few sleepless nights. There where times I doubted whether I would make it.
As my resources depleted, I found myself on my knees. And as I reached the end of myself, I found Him. This week I have clung for dear life to His promises and found them, again, to be true. The one that has been on my mind the most has been Philippians 4 v 13.
"I can do ALL things through Him who gives me strength!"
I was reminded again that its not about doing things in my own strength. God gives me everything I need for each day. The energy. The grace. The capacity. The love. The patience. The resources. The wisdom. The forgiveness. The ability. The time. The vision. The knowledge. The faith.
I sometimes feel like our culture values independence too highly. I dont mean it is a bad thing, but I wonder what putting so much importance on not needing anyone else leads to. Does it lead to having to pretend to ourselves and others that we are fine? Does it mean we only try for things that we know we can succeed in? Does it limit community and vulnerability? I dont have the answers but I know I have felt more freedom this week, despite hard situations, due to knowing it is not all down to me. It is more than a net underneath me incase I fall off the pedestal independence puts me on. It is a friend offering to walk with me through everything. It is a Father saying He will share the load of my life. It is my creator saying He knows what's ahead and asking me to trust Him.
Dependance allows us to realise our humanity. It allows us to not get it right all the time. It allows us to take a step at a time and allows us to ask for help when we need it.
I guess my challenge is to make dependance on God a daily practice, kneeling and surrendering hourly and asking his guidance for each step, rather than waiting until I'm at the end of myself.
P.S The verses at the top are for your comfort when you ever find you are at the end of yourself :)
God often speaks to me through a lyric of a song I am listening too. I am frequently finding Gods truths in soundtracks that accompany my day. Its nearly always on the background; whilst I am lesson planning, cleaning and sometimes even when my class are getting on with work. It is not uncommon for a line of a song to jump out and wrap itself round my heart. And in the times without it, I find phrases spinning round my head. In the business of life, when quiet times and bible study are hard to fit in, God finds me through music.
This week, God found me at a Brooke Fraser gig in Brighton! It had been a particularly emotionally draining day at school, where I was let in on some heartbreaking situations that some of my students have been living with. Normally as a teacher, you get to know snippets but in my new role I am privy to much more background information. Its terrifying and unbearably sad.
As I got caught up in the music, a song that wasn't a particular favourite, grabbed my heart.
"...Come, tell me your trouble
I'm not your answer
But I'm a listening ear
Reality has left you reeling
All facts and no feeling
No faith and all fear
I don't know why a good man will fall
While a wicked one stands
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land
Who's at fault is not important
Good intentions lie dormant
And we're all to blame
While apathy acts like an ally
My enemy and I are one and the same
I don't know why the innocents fall
While the monsters still stand
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land
I don't know why our words are so proud
Yet their promise soothing
And our lives blow about
Like flags in the wind
You who mourn will be comforted
You who hunger will hunger no more
All the last shall be first
Of this I am sure
You who weep now will laugh again
All you lonely be lonely no more
I know the last shall be first
I know the last shall be first..."
I felt like God was reminding me that He knew what went on behind the closed doors and in the hearts of my students. They may be used as if they are nothing, deprived and ignored. Victims. But that they will be comforted, they will laugh again and they are first in Gods heart. I felt such a relief and such hope for all those that mourn and hurt. It made me realise that I don't necessarily have to understand why things happen or why people do certain things, but as I stood there in the midst of the music I prayed I would have Gods eyes. I want to see more than these earthly eyes can. I want to see behind behaviours and words and get to the heart. I think it might be more painful if God gives me these insights but my hope is that I will learn more grace with others. That I will become less judgemental and be able to love in a more real way. I want my faith for what is unseen to be bigger than my fear.
On the 23rd of September this year I received a text from a very special friend saying, "HAPPY EIGHTH FRIENDSHIP ANNIVERSARY!" I can barely believe it has been 8 years since I started Uni! For us, that day was the start of something life changing! So we text each other on the 23rd each year and reminisce about who we were back then, how we have changed, how much we have accomplished and recount many of the memories we share.
I always look back at my time at Uni with fondness. It was fun. It was depth. It was real. It was full. It was freedom. It was discovery. It was growth. It was where I started to realise Gods heart for me. It was where I found out I was cherished and may even be worthy of love and friendship. It is where I found my love of community. It is where I found myself. I look back and see a 19 year old that I barely recognise. She is not who I am now.
It was definitely a season where God was working within me. I can look back and see glimpses of where He has been taking me but there was something different about that season. In the gap between who I wanted to be and where I was at the time, so many amazing people mentored and lived life with me. I rolled up my sleeves and got stuck into every aspect of Uni and church life. The late night discussions over tea and toast and even later alarm awakenings. The times of getting ready with the girls and dancing the nights away. The cell evenings spent wrestling about how we could bring God glory and share His heart for the people around us. The all nighters pulled to meet a deadline forgotten. The times of laughter and the ones where tears were shed. It was where life was shared, every single bit of it. The bits we wanted to share and the bits we would rather have forgotten. The parts were God reigned and the parts where I left Him out. It was a time of acceptance of who I am and where, with the help of others, I became acutely aware of the adventure I am part of and that has run way past the 3 years at Uni.
This year, the 23rd of September has been even more poignant. I have been eagerly awaiting the new freshers in Chichester and anticipating what God will do with this group this year. I cant wait to see them grow and start their adventures. I can feel it bubbling inside me just writing this :) I cant wait to share the ups and downs and learn with them in the knowledge that God is shaping us all for His kingdom. My wish is that they would have life changing experiences, that they would find God in a new way each day, that they would look back in 8 years time and have enjoyed every second and see that they have made a difference. My prayer is that they would PRAISE God in the happy moments, SEEK Him in the difficult ones, TRUST Him when it is quiet and THANK Him in every season they have here.
I love my cell group. We are all very different but it works. Our strengths compliment one another and we challenge each other with our own opinions and thoughts. It makes life colourful and interesting. This has never been as true as it was this week! We are wrestling our way through Paul's letter to the Romans and this week we were challenged/frustrated/confused with chapter 7.
I am still digesting and learning, but basically Paul talks about sin and the law and how the law is just and holy and without it we wouldn't know what sin is. But despite knowing the law, sin gets in the way because we are human and we end up doing the very things we don't want to do.
He puts it like this;
"The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do." (NIV)
I was relieved when I read this. It wasn't just me that struggles with those moments of horror when you say or do something that you instantly regret. The times when you try so hard and want to do something else, yet end up doing something completely different. I don't mean that as an excuse, I just mean I am glad I am not alone in this. As we reflected on our own thoughts about Romans 7, I was reminded of a quote;
"We are extremely vulnerable and easily victimised by the beautiful lie. It looks like freedom, it turns out to be bondage. It looks like cool, it turns out to be foolish. It looks like love, it turns out to be lust. It looks like life, it turns out to be death." Duffy Robbins
My fears and insecurities often get in the way of me being loving and kind to people. I am often fooled by the 'beautiful lie.' I really value attributes such as kindness, being inclusive, depth, honesty, faithfulness and integrity but often they get lost because of my sinful nature. I try to live out these values and often end up, if I am lucky, a messier version of the ideal or more often than not, the complete opposite. I want to be inclusive, yet often what I end up seeking is to be included and that sometimes looks like gossip causing exclusivity. I want to be kind but I am often judgemental and therefore can be unkind. I want to be faithful in my relationship with God, but often that looks like a rigid timetable so I lose the very thing I seek.
I don't have the answers to this conundrum. I guess being reminded that sin is at work in my life, helps remind me to seek forgiveness. To seek Jesus. And in the battle against the 'beautiful lies' we can often be fooled into believing, I want to seek TRUTH.
Last weekend I spent the weekend in the beautiful Solace tent at Bestival on the Isle of Wight. I was there with one purpose, to serve free tea and home-made cake to the masses alongside some amazing people from the various Churches on the "island". It was a fantastic weekend and even though I came away tired, I was also refreshed...Solace truly was refreshment for the soul. After reminiscing about the whole experience, I really felt God was talking to me about two different things...
Firstly, about the rhythm of life and how we miss out on 'solace' when our lives become crowded and busy. During the weekend we were rotered on to different areas of the whole Solace operation; hosting, serving, praying and resting. We were giving but also receiving. How many of our lives have that balance? Where we serve and host and then retreat to spend time in prayer and rest with the Father? We know this is a good model because Jesus did it! My life tends to get out of kilter, life is mainly BUSY. Don't get me wrong, life is fun in the business. I love my job and I love getting involved at church. I work best when I am busy and have a purpose. But I wonder how my busy life overshadows my quiet times, those important times to recharge, to spend time with God. If I am honest there is more hosting and serving and then collapsing out of exhaustion rather than praying. It made me realise how important it is to retreat. I have been challenged recently to re evaluate my rhythm of life, scheduling in a bit of solitude and prayer time with God and those people who breathe life into me.
The second thing that I felt God was chatting to me about was how we receive things. Our friendly faces and free refreshments were received with mixed responses. Some where unnerved, some were thankful, some were expectant and some tried to pay. I couldn't count the amount of times I heard, "...but nothing is free in this world!" and it made me think about how we receive the free gift of grace! My husband, Will, said to one girl who kept wanting to pay, "Don't you think you're worth a cup of tea?" I know I fall in to the camp that would prefer to earn a gift rather than receive it freely. I rarely feel worthy of such a treat. And it is true, nothing is free in this world. Grace and love costs. It cost Jesus his life. But he paid the price so we don't have to. Yet, even though I know that, I will happily try to earn it, I will work hard and try and do good things so I can be deserving!
With both these things, God is showing me that He would rather have me sit at His feet rather than run around like a headless chicken. In this season, He wants me to be a Mary as well as a Martha (Luke 10 v38 - 42) and find a little solace for the soul amidst a busy life.
So, Will and I recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary in July, and it is in my character to analyse how the last year has gone and make a list of things we could do better..very romantic, I know! I suggested that we could do this over our anniversary weekend whilst we escaped to beautiful Wales. Will does NOT work like this and made it very clear that this would not be a fun way to celebrate! I would have happily sat down and scheduled in prayer times, quiet times together, work out how we would make sure we were putting God at the centre and create a list to measure ourselves against. I find it hard to know how I am doing in terms of my faith unless it is measured legalistically, but what I am realising is that this way of doing life does not allow freedom and that was not what God had in mind for us! My relationship with Jesus cannot be based on a set of criteria that I either pass or fail. It cannot be a radical "revolution" I choose at the beginning of a new season to be better and do better. It HAS to come from being in love with my creator. For me, this is not the easier option, but I recognise it is a better way.
St Francis of Assisi once said;
"True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice."
These words made me look back and see ] where God has taken me in this last season. It has been far. It has been surprising. And it has been totally unexpected. God didn't work through my wish list of how I wanted to grow; more joyful, more holy, more disciplined, more forgiving, less selfish and generally a better person. Don't get me wrong, I don't think these are bad things to strive for, but I think I was waiting for a revolution. An overnight transformation. Something easy to see and cross off my to do list so I could move onto the next item on my agenda. Instead it has been much more subtle. It has been more about "evolution'. It has been on Gods terms rather than mine. At times it has been painful and in others I have barely noticed it happening. God is definitely transforming me, day by day. In the past year I have seen healing, growth and miracles that I never would have even dared to hope for. There have been times I have been challenged and times I have felt reassured. I have felt near to Him and very very far. I have doubted and I haven't "tried" very hard. Yet there has been tangible change.
I am still very much a work in progress but thats ok. And I am sure there will be much more evolving in the years to come, but for now the only thing on my wish list for the start of this new term is to breathe God in, and let Him lead me to where He wants me to be. Running, with endurance, the race God has set before me. (Hebrews 12v1)
I have an instant physical reaction to beautiful songs, its hard to explain but it is overwhelming. It is sometimes the depth of the music, the gentleness of a voice but mostly it is due to a lyric that grabs my heart. If I have ever talked "music" with you, it is more than likely I will have raved on about an amazing New Zealand artist called Brooke Fraser. I LOVE her :) She instantly became a favourite when I heard her first song, "Arithmetic" at University. I recently saw her play live in Birmingham and I was drawn to one particular song called, "The C.S Lewis song." It talks about how we can sometimes feel unsatisfied by what the world offers and the only conclusion is we were made for somewhere else...HEAVEN. Through the summer I have kept coming back to this song, gleaning a little more of what it might mean and how that real knowledge of having a heavenly home might impact life! I have come to the conclusion that I want to stop seeking to be satisfied with what this life has to offer, I dont want to fit in. I want to be different; salt and light. I want a reminder that I am not yet who I am born to become and that feeling of being dissatisfied and wanting more is just a product of still being on the journey home.
"If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
then of course I'll feel nude when to where I'm destined I'm compared
Speak to me in the light of the dawn
Mercy comes with the morning
I will sigh and with all creation groan as I wait for hope to come for me
Am I lost or just less found? On the straight or on the roundabout of the wrong way?
is this a soul that stirs in me, is it breaking free, wanting to come alive?
Cos my comfort would prefer for me to be numb
And avoid the impending birth of who I was born to become
For we, we are not long here
Our time is but a breath, so we better breathe it
And I, I was made to live, I was made to love, I was made to know you
Hope is coming for me
Hope, He's coming "