Merry-Go-Round

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On a recent trip to Brighton, I enjoyed a brush with the past and some childhood whimsy as I joyfully rode on a merry-go-round. I was a little sceptical as to whether I would enjoy it as much as I did as a child, but I needn’t have worried, because it was blooming marvellous! However, it did seem to last a little too long and towards the end, it was becoming a little awkward being one of only two adults on a ride full of mostly children. Plus, there’s only so many times you can circulate the same views before becoming mildly nauseated (I loved it really!)

There’s nothing wrong with a little fun on a fairground ride and life should most definitely be enjoyed. However, like the merry-go-round that repeated the same motions over and over, and continued around the same axis a little too long for my liking, life too can become tiring, boring and nauseating when we continue to circle around the same issues. Week after week or even year upon year we can face the same battles if we’re not careful. Sometimes they’re disguised as something different but if we dig a little deeper, we’d see the root of our issues is still very much the same. Whether it’s a struggle with relationships or finances, insecurities, health concerns or our past, life has a way of allowing us to think that we’re making progress. We appear to be moving forward until something happens that forces us to realise we’ve actually been journeying around in a large circle only to have ended up right back where we started.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we’re supposed to speed through life and conquer one thing after the other like we are totalling up points in a computer game, and I also believe that certain things take time to process and change. We need time to grow and mature. Nevertheless, I wonder how much more I could accomplish or how much further on I could be in some areas of my life had I jumped off the merry-go-round of some of my struggles sooner and dealt with them earlier. Can anyone relate? Like the moments you think to yourself, “why am I here again?” Or “why am I dealing with this again?”

I can’t help but think of the plight of the Israelites in Exodus, as they travelled unknowingly and unnecessarily for much longer than needed in the desert. A people miraculously rescued from slavery, destined to be known as “God’s people”. They were guided and protected by His Presence, despite themselves, and set up to show the world the Glory of an amazing, saving, all-powerful God. Which they did, through no effort or deservedness of their own but purely because of God’s mercy and grace. One of the saddest things about their wilderness experience is that the oldest generation saved from Egyptian slavery died in the desert. Thank God that their offspring still went on to inherit the land the Lord had promised, but I can’t help but feel a little sorrow for those who perished in their desert season, they were saved for freedom and yet missed out on their promise. Their discouragement and grumbling claimed their inheritance. They failed to remember and see the goodness of God and mature from their past issues.

It makes me ponder my own life and salvation and some of the things that maybe I encircle around. Things that have held me hostage for too long when I should be living in a promise. Doesn’t the world need to see the people who claim to be God’s, carrying His Presence, seeing His victory and overcoming their battles and living in the promise? Not for selfish or exclusive reasons that lord it over others, instead because people everywhere have needs and face various issues daily. They could do with knowing about a loving and saving God who, despite the issues of life is able to penetrate our circumstances with His grace, favour, healing and restorative power. There’s not only our promise at stake but others too.  

Of course, when we become Christians, life doesn’t just magically and instantly improve. We learn many things gradually as our revelation of Him deepens. But, what holds us back from our breakthrough? What stops us from taking hold of the promises of God? Yes, we have been ‘saved’ and our eternity is sure and that’s the most amazing gift we have, but to quote Brian Houston, “There is more” for us now. More to pursue, more to do, more to be. Eternity starts now.

What if we weren’t always playing a defensive game which sees us reacting to the issues of life, feeling like we’re always on the back foot and just managing to get through? What if we played in the offence for a change. Rather than feeling like we’re always fending off the attacks of the enemy when they arise, why not start from a position of victory (1 Corinthians 15 v 57), put on our armour (Ephesians 4) and take some ground for a change. Move forward. Advance. First, in our own lives so that we can cease riding upon the same old problems. Then, for the lives of others so that we are free to actually show and tell the good news of Who God is in our everyday lives. Whilst we remain on the defensive and focus on putting out the same old fires, we are distracted from deploying all that we have access to as children of God (Romans 8 v 16) and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8 v 17) to take down the kingdom of the enemy. We don’t want the world to look on and wonder what’s so special about being a Christian, but rather think I want to know their God. Will life stop throwing us lemons? No. We are after all part of a greater eternal battle, but we can learn to slice those lemons and make delicious lemonade for ourselves and others along the way. A soldier with some successful battles under his/her belt has the confidence to pursue the enemy and wisdom to take him down.

So what must we do? Well this is just a short blog post and not a Bible study, plus I’m running out of words but here are three quick things I’m learning to practice:

Pray – It’s absolutely one of our greatest weapons and key to unlocking our breakthroughs. It connects us with God, opens heaven, keeps focus, changes us and declares truth. I start with the Lord’s prayer because, well, Jesus told us how to pray, so it has to be the best way.

Don’t Delay – This is a very tenuous title (don’t judge me!), but I wanted them all to rhyme! So, here are some cheeky subpoints that are actually the point! Don’t delay:

  • In the Word – It’s alive and active and our firm foundation. It guides, declares, corrects and brings life. 
  • In taking action – whether that be getting help, stopping or starting something, just do it!

Slay – Change my perspective and therefore my position. I’m on the side of victory and I’m going after that which belongs to God. We have no reason to fear when we realise the battle is the Lords.  

FYI – I haven’t got this nailed! But we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. God is good – let’s hold Him to it. Time to get off the merry-go-round.

One Of ‘Those’ Days

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Do you ever have one of ‘those’ days? Or even one of ‘those’ weeks where everything all seems just a little too much? Often, it’s not major life-changing events that cause the frustration and anxiety that go along with such times. Instead, it’s a culmination of lots of small annoying occurrences that gradually pile up and cause niggling unwelcome emotions. These then snowball into an avalanche of feeling somewhat out of control.

Sometimes, things just don’t go according to plan and we feel like we’ve got out of bed on the wrong side. We wish we could hit replay, start the day all over again and give it another shot. We then get stuck in a deep well of self-pity and struggle to see an easy way out. Have you noticed how negative emotions and feeling sorry for oneself are strange social companions that love to hang around together? Not content with just each others company, they also invite memories of failure and sad stories along to the gathering. Then before we know it, we’re moping around, dragging our feet and ready to snap at anyone who dares smile at us. Like the last guest to leave a party who misses the ‘*yawn, oh is that the time?’ hint, these emotions linger beyond their welcome.

Well, I’ve had one of those weeks recently. Nothing terrible happened. In fact, many good things occurred, but I realised that it was the perceived lack of progress on my self-imposed to-do list that was the cause of my irritation and stress. Basically, I was increasingly frustrated that things didn’t seem to be going the way I had anticipated or envisioned. So, after engaging in some internal ‘woe is me’ dialogue, and whilst my fifteen-month-old daughter clung to my arm and nestled her snot covered face into my nice clean clothes for the umpteenth time, I finally prayed, ‘God help me at this moment!’ Suddenly, before my eyes, a huge bright vision appeared before me, a host of majestic angels with fiery red eyes, strong glimmering wings and sparkling silver Doc Martens descended through the ceiling. They were carrying a pile of completed laundry, some delicious galaxy caramel and a beautifully written blog post – jokes! Not really! Hey, I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, God is the God of the impossible after all! But, what actually happened was that I decided to stop moping around, realised that I couldn’t just snap out it, pushed aside my sense of entitlement and employed some practices that positioned me to engage with His peace.

In keeping with the current trend of list writing in some of my blog posts, here are some things I do/have done when things don’t seem to go my way in my every day, and it all becomes a little overwhelming:

  • Take Time Out – Whether that’s a literal removal of oneself from a situation, or just a deep breath and a moment in a different room, I take at least a second to close my eyes and be still. I say a prayer, inhale and try and zoom out of the downward spiral of pity to re-align my focus.
  • Accept It! – Most of the time, continued frustration occurs due to the fact that I keep dwelling on the to-do list rather than just accept that the goal posts have changed and so, therefore, I must adjust accordingly.
  • Choose Joy – It’s been said many times that we can’t choose our circumstances but we can choose how we respond. I can’t always control what’s happening but I can choose what I think about.
  • Encourage Myself – Proverbs 18 v 21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death”. I speak life into my present and future using the truth of God’s word which exists beyond the boundaries of my physical reality. A truth that is living and active (Hebrews 4 v 12) and refreshes my soul like the dawn of spring.
  • Talk To Someone Who Loves Me – Fortunately for me, this time around, my husband was around to notice my grumpy mood and help lift me out of it. Talking to someone who loves me enough to allow me a ‘moment’ but also pushes me out of it, is a perfect tonic for a stinky attitude.
  • Change My Perspective – Perspective changes everything! Looking at something from a different angle can completely change how you view it. My wise, (don’t tell him) and lovely husband, loves a bit of Mathematics, and once shared a perfectly simple example of this – a cone from directly underneath can look like just a flat circle, it’s only when you change your perspective that you see it’s actually a three-dimensional shape.
  • Do Something That Inspires Me  – This isn’t always easy to do in the moment, but at the first available opportunity, I find something that ‘fills up my bucket’ (as my friend Rach would say). Something that draws me forwards and brightens my eyes. It could be as simple as reading a book, listening to some music, having a conversation, watching a video or strolling in nature.
  • Live In The Moment – It is what it is, and what it is, is what it is. When things don’t go according to my plan, I just have to decide to be flexible and present rather than dwell on the past or lament a future that’s not yet happened. Why is it, that when we’re in a bad mood, we start to make believe fake conversations and events that all seem to go from bad to worse?! What a waste of good imagination and energy. Living in the moment helps me to think clearly, see it for what it is, accept it, problem solve and maybe even enjoy something in it!
  • Practice Patience And Perseverance – We all want more patience, but the tricky thing about that, is that it’s developed in situations that require it! The same is true of perseverance. Both require practice and both again require a choice to participate in them. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, so I pray and allow Him to take centre stage. Perseverance requires a courage and strength that His grace always bestows.

So there you have it. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, I mean, chocolate sometimes helps too! I’ll leave you with a beautiful scripture that has a far better list than mine and kind of sums it all up plus some. More importantly, it provides a perfect pathway to peace.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4 v 4 – 9

Love Thy Neighbour

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London is a beautiful City full of history and innovation that sees rapid growth and change and has the obvious hustle and bustle of a Capital City. It’s bursting at the seams with people and is often a place in which many live but don’t necessarily dwell long term. There are lots of rentals and students and people passing through for a season. We ourselves have been here for only 7 years and have moved 4 times during that period due to rental contracts and differing jobs. Having a community in a busy and large City, with such a migrating population can be tough, and for us, we are lucky to have found one through Church. However, we don’t all live in close proximity to one another, and so some of the places where we’ve lived have provided more of a base rather than a home.

Last year was a busy year full of lots of change for us. We welcomed our first child, transitioned into new roles and found ourselves once again in a different area of London. This time, however, we had the opportunity to purchase a house as we were blessed with some inheritance which we used as a deposit. I think there’s a saying in property that reads along the lines of, “buy the worst house on the best street”, that way you will add value to your home in a sort after area and it’s still affordable to buy. The London housing market is in a league of its own and as we looked for a property it soon became apparent that our money wouldn’t stretch as far as we’d thought. No matter, we were still fortunate enough to own our own home, it just turned out that it was the worst house on not the best street! Regardless, we have a nice little two-bed end of terrace with an amazing 60-foot garden. It wasn’t left in the finest of conditions from its previous owner and so it was what you’d have called a ‘fixer-upper’. Nevertheless, whilst we haven’t viewed this as our forever home, it is a good start on the property ladder and a place to establish our little family together. A home that we can raise our young child in and be hospitable with, a safe haven to come back to and the start of building a legacy for Sienna.

Recently I was challenged at Church as our pastor addressed the issues and growing concern surrounding young people in our City and the increased levels of violence amongst them. As a Church, we want to be part of a long-term solution. This is, after all, our City. In his message, he said something along the lines of, “Don’t pray to God for something if you’re not prepared to be part of the answer.” Inspired by this but not knowing where to start, I consciously made a decision to pray not only for our City and Country but also for my street, my neighbourhood and my community. I felt challenged to be present in this community for as long as we live here and not just see it as a transitional place. I realise that it’s not yet the most sought after area, but the majority of people that live here are normal, hard-working every day decent folks. I prayed my prayer and got on with my day.

Then something happened which made me want to rescind my previous thoughts, challenge my prayer and make plans to leave the neighbourhood as soon as possible. Someone walked into our house in the middle of the day, assuming everyone was out and took the easiest things they could grab in an instant. On realising someone was upstairs they made a quick exit. We only realised we had been burgled when we noticed our visiting family’s car was gone from outside! They’d taken the keys!

As if it wasn’t enough that someone had broken into our private property, the very next day, I noticed something across the street that appeared suspicious. With a heightened sense of awareness, and despite feeling nervous as I got our daughter ready for bed, I called the Police. The short version is they responded quickly and efficiently and so the criminals were caught and arrested. In that moment I had a choice, do I still love my community although it’s hard or do I close the curtains, let the world pass by and hope for the best as I plan my departure? I thought if I really want to pray for my City and see a change it must start with me. As the title of Bob Goff’s book states, “Love does!” Love does even when it’s uncomfortable and love loves even the bits that we don’t like as much. If I don’t care about my street and if I don’t take action how can I expect anyone else too? It’s easy to point fingers or step back but if this is now my community, it’s my responsibility.  Getting involved in things at arm’s length not having to get my hands dirty feels better, but there are needs right on my doorstep.

The enemy would have us stunted from moving forward because we feel intimidated or fearful. However, as my dear friend, Ope always says, “the devil is a liar!” It’s true he comes to kill, steal and destroy but what’s also true is that Jesus is, “..above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1 v 21. He has the final say, He is our provider, protector, redeemer, saviour, strength, peace and victor – AND the list goes on. The devil has nothing on Jesus. It’s an uneven match.

We were blessed to buy this house and therefore blessed to be in this area and so we must not let those who wish to destroy our blessings have the last say. There are so many exhortations in scripture that remind us of the goodness of God and the protection we have as his people. I need to believe that whilst we are here our prayers and our actions can make this a better place for not only ourselves but also our neighbours. My neighbours need to know a loving and very real God who is able to reach down and infiltrate their lives and situations. This starts with me; with me showing them the evidence, showing them His favour and the power of prayer. This means not being afraid to do the right thing. Of course, it’s easier to type than to action but if ministry truly is life, then this is my life and therefore this is my ministry and our neighbourhood is our responsibility.

A few quick things I have learnt or been reminded of this week:

  • Light casts out darkness – ALWAYS! “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1 v 5
  • God is on my side, He’s my protector  – Psalm 91
  • Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as in Heaven,” so He’s invested in the outcome – Matthew 6 v 9 – 13
  • Ministry is life – Romans 12
  • God loves my neighbours and so should I – Mark 12 v 30 – 31
  • Jesus has all authority Matthew 28 v 18 and He gives us authority – “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Luke 10 v 19
  • Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to attack – put on your armour – Ephesians 6 v 10 – 18