Things I wish I had told my daughters when they were little

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We drove home along the country road, fields flashing past the window and the sun hanging low over a winter sky. For once you were quiet; sleeping seemed to be the only time you weren’t jabbering away, giving me a constant kids-eye critique of what you saw, heard, touched, held. A stream-of-consciousness toddler’s insight into the joy and wonder with which you beheld everything that happened all around you; the never ending commentary on the details of your day that never stopped, even now when you’re 11.

As the wheels turned and you slept and I took a moment – a quiet moment to just breathe, remembering what this headspace felt like and how precious it had become since you came clattering into our lives with your noise and love and newness – it washed all over me and took me by surprise all over again.

Does anyone ever expect this? Can you ever really explain it? That despite the tiredness and the noise and the relentless everything; among the chaos and the out-of-control and the days when you slid down the wall and cried hot tears of wondering: am I really ever going to get through this? Can I do it? Am I enough? – there is this. This stillness. This quiet love that comes – mostly when you sleep, I must admit – and I am again overwhelmed with love.

I drove home and promised myself that I would write it all down. And when your sister arrived a year later, that I would write you both a letter, each and every year, marking the milestones and the dizzying passing of time. But the years flew by and now you are grown and I never did get to put those precious words down on a page for you to read in years to come. So many things left unsaid, unrecorded.

I tried to write them later, but the words came out untrue. It felt contrived to backdate the memories, the emotions; like they were validated only by being spoken then and there in the hubbub of those toddler years.

I wanted to tell you how much it all meant. That despite the overwhelming feeling that I was getting it wrong most of the time, and the frustrations and the tiredness that boiled over far too often into harsh discipline and hot words, that I loved every second of it. That it was – and is – my greatest privilege to be your Mum, and not one single day goes past that I take that for granted, despite my words and my attitude sometimes.

I wanted to tell you that I’m thankful to you for letting me experiment with you. So many firsts. So many late night discussions and how-do-we-deal-with-this? The not knowing is perhaps the hardest thing – how will this turn out? Have we made the right choice? Will they one day thank me for what they hate me for right now? I guess that bit never gets any easier, but despite the look in your eyes that sometimes tells me you don’t think that it’s true, every decision we ever make is only ever intended to nourish you, protect you, grow you into the amazing human beings that we know you were created to be. And every time we get it wrong, know this: we’re sorry. Today and yesterday and for always – I am sorry for the times we’ll get it wrong, the pain we’ll inflict when we’re trying to love you, the times that we miss the mark when we’re trying so hard to protect you.

If I could tell you one thing, it would be this: you are amazing. Without us and in spite of us and 100% of your own volition: You. Are. Both. Amazing. You have qualities and talents inside of you that could change the world. And in this world, you have a sea of opportunities from which to choose. I hope that we have done enough to help you choose wisely. To be brave and courageous, especially when courage means walking hand-in-hand with fear. When it’d be easier to sit still, keep your head down and not risk. I hope that we have given you enough to know that you have it in you to do more. That it isn’t about friends, or money, or success or fame; but about doing what’s right, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God (Micah 3:6). Putting others first is always the source of life’s richest blessings.

And above all, I would tell you this: we love you. And even more than we love you, God loves you. So whatever happens, whatever mistakes you make along the way, we’ll always be here, and so will He.

So go get ’em. We’re right behind you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Serbia and refugees and kids like mine…

It’s raining outside. Water pouring down for the past three days apparently, turning my garden into a veritable mud bath. I slip on my ‘garden shoes’ – the old trainers I no longer choose to wear out and about but that are still perfectly serviceable – not stopping to untie laces but jamming in my toes and trampling down the heel, and stamp across the mud to let out my chickens. The sky is grey and I am damp when I return from the school run and shake off the rain.

I glance at the trodden-down trainers and swallow hard. Last night I returned from a freezing-cold Serbia. Three days in sub-zero temperatures visiting the impromptu shelters that have sprung up across the capital as neighbouring borders have closed and refugees have found themselves stranded here, in Belgrade. The conditions were worse than horrific. Worse than anything I could have prepared myself for. We met boys as young as 13 sleeping in car parks in the snow, bedding down under blankets that grew frost as they slept. Derelict warehouses that now sheltered clusters of men and boys in the most unsanitary, unsafe environments you could imagine. We wrapped scarves around our head as we entered, the smoke from a thousand little fires stinging our eyes and making our chests hurt. Futile attempts to stave off the cold instead poisoning lungs as thick, dark smoke belched upwards from burning wood coated in who-knows-what.

Serbia Refugee Collage

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My shoes look back and reproach me. They look like the shoes I saw on so many feet this week. But their heels were not trodden down because of laziness or lack of time. Heels poking naked out of shoes that were 3 or 4 sizes too small, bare and vulnerable without socks to shield them from the snow and ice. Not garden shoes or a second pair of shoes (or God forbid the 10 or so pairs that I have in my wardrobe right not) but the only shoes; shoes that have travelled who knows how many miles and that offer the only protection those feet know.

The contrast with my own life is feeling hard to bear this morning, as I settle back into old clothes and old routines and my normal, comfortable life. I know it’s to be expected, and many others have been and seen and felt similarly on their return.

But it’s hard.

Hard to come back and hug your own children and try to imagine them out there, on their own. Try to imagine a circumstance – anything at all – that would make it seem preferable that they leave me and here and our family to make a journey of many thousand miles, alone, in search of safety and a better life.

I tried to put my snowboots in the washing machine, and somehow couldn’t quite manage it. They are filthy and muddy from playing football in the melting snow with refugee boys. I never knew how much joy a football could bring, how much it could mean to try and fashion a moment of ‘normal’ in a life like this. Somehow I don’t want to wash all of that away just yet. I don’t want to stop seeing their faces.

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I cried as I put away the children’s laundry, feeling ridiculously grateful and guilty all at the same time that my children own many pairs of clean, dry socks.

I don’t know where they’ll go, or how their stories will end, and maybe that is hardest of all. But I pray that they find peace, and safety, and a way to be with their families again – wherever that might be.

And I pray I will never forget what I have seen, never stop feeling it, even if it does make it hard to breathe sometimes.



I travelled to Serbia with Creation Fest. To read more about their work with refugees, click here. Whilst there, we worked with Calvary Chapel Bible College Europe and volunteered with three amazing projects in Belgrade: Hot Food Idomeni, Refugee Aid Serbia and Refugee Aid Miksaliste. All are doing amazing work feeding, clothing and providing refugees with a safe space to access services. If you’d like to donate to any of them, please visit their websites.

 

The thread of a story… how everything unravels and yet holds fast

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So last week I told you that I would share the outline of the story I am going to try and write this year. It’s one of my goals for 2017, and putting out there is one way of me being brave and accountable and not procrastinating forever. So here it is: I first wrote this as a spoken word piece for a threads workshop at Creation Fest a couple of years back, but I think it might make a pretty good outline for the book. See what you think…


I was 18 years old and sitting on the floor of my room in my university halls, chatting with the girl who had the room next door. We hadn’t known each other long and we were just sharing about our lives, I was telling her about my family and where we were from.

At some point in the conversation she turned and looked at me square hard in the eyes and asked ‘Didn’t you ever think it was weird? You became a Christian and then your whole life just totally fell apart?’

I stopped and thought, long and hard. The honest truth was no, I never had thought it weird. In fact it’d never even crossed my mind before she asked the question.

Rewind 6 years, and in a little hut somewhere in deepest Sussex, I had just met Jesus – like properly, for the first time.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian house. My parents didn’t know anything of Jesus to teach me and my brother. But I had started going to church for church parade, when I joined the Brownies at 8 years old. A little post-war Anglican church on the edge of a housing estate in Essex. It was nothing special; a little choir and some dusty song books. But – I don’t even know how to explain it – I loved being there. A year later, I asked to be christened for my birthday. My brother, who is 3 years younger but whose birthday was a week after mine, got christened for his 6th birthday too, and we had a little party I remember. I’m sure he’d have been happier with a Tonka truck or something but there we go. I went as often as I could, and a few years later, my friend and I got confirmed. She went to the youth group there, and one night took me along. They were all signing up for this weekend away, and so I did too.

It was nothing like the hymns and patterns of my little Anglican church. The band, the music, the people – they talked about Jesus and not just about God. And I felt like I had come home, that’s the only way I could explain it. I met a girl from school there whose youth leaders were running the weekend. I gave my heart to Jesus and came home changed. I started going to their church and youth group, learning what it was to be a Christian, reading my Bible, drinking it all in.

And then. Then it happened. For the first time. I could tell you I should have seen it coming but the truth is, I did. I just didn’t want to. See, that is. Like most 12 year olds, all grown up and mature on the one hand, but all of us desperately trying to secretly hang on the security and safety of home on the other. I saw the evening I came home and found my Mum sitting there in the front room. Lights out, back pressed hard up against the sofa and knees hugged tight to her chest. I asked her if she was alright, she smiled yes and I didn’t want to hear any different.

I saw the day I opened his wallet and found a photo there. All blond hair and smiles, it wasn’t my Mum’s dark curls. I put it back in a different place and the next time I looked it had gone. We talked about it one morning as we walked to the bus stop, my mates and me, but we all agreed – it couldn’t. It wouldn’t.

But it had. And it did. He sat me on his bed, a couple of months after that first encounter with Jesus in the shed in Sussex, and wrung his hands, stared at his feet and asked no one in particular

‘How do you tell your little girl something you know will break her heart?’

A few weeks later and I came home from school and he was gone. The first of many times he’d up and leave us after promising that day that he never would.

My Dad was a powerlifter. Married to my Mum at 19, they were loving parents and seemingly happily married. Dad owned a successful building business and we had a lovely life. What I didn’t know was that a weightlifting injury had led to a dabble with steroids. The crew he mixed with at the gym had led to a bit of work as a nightclub bouncer; the money was good but the day job and the training and the nights on the door – a pick me up led to a habit, and before any of us could blink, everything had imploded.

My Dad walked out on us in November 1989. I was 12 years old and had been a Christian for literally months. The cocaine habit had racked up some debts, and so Dad had convinced Mum we needed to move, to downsize. What she didn’t know was that he’d forged her signature on the mortgage documents and so as we moved, alone, he was leaving the country with a holdall full of cash, new girlfriend in tow, leaving us to move to a smaller house on the other side of town with just as much debt as before.

Everything changed. My Mum, struggling to make ends meet, went back to work full time. We became latch key kids, letting ourselves in after school and getting dinner ready, laying the table. Except as often as I could, I didn’t go right home – you see school was OK. At school I could mostly cope; forget Dad was gone. But coming home… coming home and laying the table for 3 people instead of 4, there was no escaping that. So I didn’t. I walked straight up the road and straight past our house and through the little alley way at the top of the street and round the corner – to the little flat where the youth leaders of my new church lived. You see, when my Dad was lying to my Mum and convincing her we needed to move because of his debts and his drug addictions, when he was manoeuvring us into this little house so he could run off and try to start over with our money and some other woman – what he didn’t – couldn’t  – know, was that God was already one step ahead of him. Ahead of all of us. God was years ahead in fact, sowing a seed into an eight year old’s heart that would hold her tight and stop her from falling and stop all of their threads from unravelling.

And so I’d go, not home, but to my new youth leaders house, now conveniently just round the corner from where I lived, and I’d sit on their couch and we’d eat custard creams and drink tea and pray that God would make everything OK. I was just a kid, and a baby Christian – and if I’m honest, I had no idea whether I really thought God could or would make everything alright. I just had no other place to be and no other idea what to do.

Those people prayed faithfully over me and my family. That church held us up over the next 4 years as my Dad came and went and turned up and begged my Mum to take him back, dry him out. And then he’d go again and I’d be angry and hate him and know that I shouldn’t. I’d read my Bible and write prayers, learn the truth and wrestle with it, letting God slowly teach me how to do this stuff called life, with all its complications and hurts and pains.

There were times when I hated him with an energy I never even knew I had. Times when I stood in a field and screamed angry words at him, promising him he’d never come to my graduation, my wedding, never see his grandkids if he left us. Hot words pouring out as though they’d never stop.

When my Mum took him back time and time again and I would cry and shout and beg her not to, and she’d cradle me in her arms and whisper

‘It’s not him Emma, he’s not the man I married.’

But through it all, those threads of faith that God had started to weave held fast. First me, and then eventually all of us. Mum, getting tired of driving me to church each week and sitting waiting, wondering what sort of cult I got myself mixed up in, eventually came in with me. Walked through the doors and as she dropped the pretense she had been carrying, the burden of being strong and holding us all together, as it crashed down, she found Jesus held her up, and so did a bunch of lovely ladies at that church who dried her tears and told her stories of their imperfect lives and of God’s great love and grace. And so that love and grace became the thread that held her firm too.

One night, I went on a journey with my Dad. He was working at Spitalfields fruit and veg market in London, fighting for money and living in a bedsit in the East End. I didn’t know even a fraction of the violence and madness that his life had descended into by then, and we hadn’t seen him for months. But as we drove, he told me he’d been to see a man who had told him he had a choice to make.

‘I’m not going to become one of those Christians’ he told me ‘I don’t need a label’

But he later stood in the car park of the market in the small hours of one freezing night, and asked Jesus to come into his heart. He threw the knife he had strapped to the inside of his arm into a skip, and moved back home to my Nan’s, presenting her with a holdall of coke and drug taking paraphernalia to get rid of, and  going cold turkey for the last time.

And then one day, in the summer of 1993, I stood in that church and watched my Mum and Dad renew their wedding vows. And after months of living round the corner at my Nan’s house, being allowed round to visit us after school and taking my Mum out on dates, my Dad moved home.

24 years later and he spends his days travelling to prisons, army barracks, churches – anywhere that people will let him tell the story of how God rescued his soul. He came to my graduation, my wedding, he was there when my children were born. And so no, in answer to that question first asked in my room at uni, no I didn’t think it weird at all that I became a Christian and then all that happened. I think God knew what was going to happen and put into place a rescue plan – much like he does for all of us,

It isn’t everyone’s story, life doesn’t always have a happy ending – but it is ours. God weaving a thread into our lives before we even knew we’d need it, ready to pull it tight, and hold us fast.


I’d love your feedback on the outline of the book I am dedicating this year to write: the story of what happened to our family and how God rescued a teenage girl and held her fast through it all. I also need to think of a title, so if you have any bright ideas, I’d love to hear! And if you like it, please share..

Goals – why I’ll be being brave in 2017

My favourite place to sit and contemplate the world going by is on the floor of my bedroom; back pressed up against the bed, making the window just the right height to frame the sky. I sit there a lot like that, often when I’m looking for a little piece of my own peace and quiet, or need some way to frame the day and put it all into perspective. Often with a notebook and Bible in hand, it’s where I do some of my best thinking and praying, thoughts rolling quietly around my brain as the clouds roll across the sky outside.

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So it’s the beginning of the year, and January rolls across our lives like those big fat clouds roll across my window pane, and Blue Monday rolls right into us and for some, it knocks the wind right out of our sails and for others, we sail right on regardless. It’s a time of resolutions and plans for the year ahead, of goal setting and re-evaluating; some more out-loud and conscious than others, but we all do it I think – hopes, dreams, plans pinned out there on the line, flapping gently in the breeze, clouds rushing by overhead.

My plans this year are big. Audacious hopes that frighten me as I whisper them out loud, slowly, to the people I trust and love. What do you do with plans so big that they threaten to scare the very living daylights out of you? Where do you start when the dreams overwhelm and loom large and what if I fail? What if I don’t make it and now everyone knows and how will I deal with that disappointment? 

I whisper it in the dark. Disappointment.

Isn’t it the very thing that makes us all keep our dreams hidden down there in the dark? Frightened that if we bring them up and into the light they will crumble in our hands, leaving nothing but dust and ashes and that bitter taste of disappointment in our mouths? Frightened that we will disappoint ourselves, that others will be disappointed in us, that we won’t be enough for them to love regardless, that we won’t be enough for God to love if we aren’t good enough to meet our goals and if our dreams don’t come true, what then?

Our goals can help us aim straight, channel our energy and our time and our passion. They can help us focus and cut out all that hinders and distracts. Or they can overwhelm us, frighten us with their prospect of failing, of falling short, or disappointing.

And we chose. We chose to move, or we chose to stay. We chose to bring our hopes and our dreams and our goals for the year out into the light and let others help and cheer us on, or we choose to hide them away, frightened of others’ reactions and our own fear of disappointing ourselves and them.

This year – 2017 – I chose the former. I am choosing to share my dream – my goal for the year – with a trusted few and with you, my online community of cheerleaders and readers and people that encourage me with your support and friendship. My goal for 2017 is to write a book. A story of a family that was busted apart but that came back together again. That was broken in the most horrible and terminal of ways but that was healed and restored and so much more. It’s my story – the story of my family. Some of you will know it in part, have heard bits of it spoken either by me or my lovely Mum or Dad. And I’m hoping this year that as I journey through the dreaming and the writing and the worrying that I will disappoint you, or me, or God somehow in the process of telling it, that I will be brave enough to tell it well, and confident enough to know I’ve done my best, which is all any of us can do with the dreams we have in our hearts.

So next week I will be letting you in on a sneak-peek of the story. I’d love your thoughts and comments. And I’d love to know what dreams you are holding in your heart this year. Let’s share them as a community and encourage one another in love!

And to inspire us to be brave, here’s one of my favourite quotes. It’s by Marianne Williamson, and spoken by Nelson Mandela on his inauguration in 1994:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

My Epiphany

WHERE CHRISTMAS ENDS, IS WHERE CHRISTMAS TRULY BEGINS

I’ve had an epiphany.

And it’s just this:

Where Christmas ends, is where Christmas truly begins.

It’s been 12 long nights since that tree swam in it’s sea of gifts gently tied and presents placed with careful hands.

12 long nights since meals were eaten in a house overfull with food and people and noise and weren’t we all over-tired and over-fed and with eyes overflowing with love and laughter ringing true and tall round tables heavy-laden?

And as we stuffed down this table of love, ate long and laughed loud, crossed hands and snapped crackers and marvelled at his wondrous gift of grace, given to us again and again and again; I wondered what it all means come January when the presents and the Christmas placemats are all tucked back away. When baubles don’t hang on trees, and windows no longer sparkle with Christmas lights.

How do you hang on to Christmas, even as you’re packing it away?

How do you keep on marvelling, when the mayhem threatens to swallow you all over, and bags need packing and shoes polishing, and kids in cars need ferrying to clubs.

That advent spirit, once still and true – how do we keep it from becoming jaded? Bruised and battered by January’s business and busyness and back-to-work overwork?

Because it doesn’t just end there. Christmas was never meant to end there.

This is really just the beginning.

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”

– Howard Thurman

epiphany
ɪˈpɪf(ə)ni,ɛ-
a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.
epiphany
ɪˈpɪf(ə)ni,ɛ-
the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:11)

 

So the real work of Christmas comes not in the sending of cards to loved ones not seen since we sent them a card this time last year? Not in the racking up of credit card bills and the appeasing of guilt and the buying of gifts and how do we tell them that we want their time, their love, not their presents?  It’s never the gifts that we really need anyway, it’s the love. Always love.

The work of Christmas begins quote

Oh this is hard.

Hard love that comes not once a year in tiny boxes and shiny wrapping paper, hard love that comes not in token gestures and yes this is better than nothing but is this the best we can really do?

The real work of Christmas comes when the beginning has truly begun. When the tree is packed away and real life returns. It comes when children are sick and cars break down and lives get busy. It comes when we are asked to give more than we think we can, more than we want to, and can I really do this? Am I really enough this time?

I can tuck tenners into envelopes and send presents through the post and I can feel like I am doing alright, doing my bit. I can get online and order presents from amazon, but what if really I needed to get offline more? To shut down laptops and shut down my own voice, shouting loud and hard about jobs not done and things not written and have I really got time for this?

But what if Christmas looked less like a once-a-year one-shot at loving those around me and more like an everyday giving of all that I am?

Could I do that?

Could I be that gift?

Can I pour myself out as this epiphany sinks in, let myself not let Christmas be put away until next year, but make every day, this year, count like Christmas?

Not in the presents or the glitz or the party, but in the everyday remembering that Christmas was not an end, but a beginning. A starting over of a new way, a new promise, a new love. A giving of one human being to start and show that a love revolution could bust us all wide open and make us whole again, all at the same time and without drawing a breath.

That the miracle of one life was enough to give us all new life. A new start. Enough to share and go around. Jesus birth was meant to show us that all we needed to bring was us. Yes, those wise men brought gifts, but those shepherds came on empty, bended knee, just to be. And it was all taken as grace. All accepted, all cherished.

All I need to bring is me.

Do I always believe it is enough?

Enough to stop and pause in the day and send a text. Kind words and a soft heart and is that enough? Enough to draw breath and take time to cook a meal, or write a card, or extend a hand?

Shouldn’t there be more, flashier ways, of declaring it all holy? Will what I offer make the grade?

Can it really make a difference?

Epiphany. It comes from the greek word “manifestation”.  An event, action, or object that clearly shows or embodies something abstract or theoretical.The action or fact of showing something.

We can all be a manifestation of love.

We can all speak good news, and not turn our eyes from the bad. We can all play our parts – however small – in praying for, and paying for and campaigning for freedom for prisoners and release for the oppressed and sight for the blind.

We can all show grace, in a million little ways, to those around us everyday. Take the time to stop and see and drink tea with those who need it. To care and engage and be present. We can all embody the true meaning of Christmas come, and Christmas here to stay, and Immanuel – God with us. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it has to be something. If epiphany means manifestation, and a manifestation is the ‘action or fact of showing something’ then it has to be something. Because the lost, and the broken, and the hungry – they all need something. We all need something; whether it’s today or yesterday, or next week or next year. We’ve all lifted weary heads and breathed in deep the gift of another’s thought or care or love.

So shouldn’t it be our job, our purpose, our highest calling perhaps, to carry on doing what He came to start?

Let’s be the difference. Be the gift. Be the hope. Be Christmas all year round.

That’s my Epiphany. Le’s start something.

 


I’m putting this epiphany into action by coming up with one thing I want to do every day (or most days!), every week and every month during 2017. Reading Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way has inspired me more than I thought possible, and the beautiful quote above, shared on twitter by St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday, has put some more meat on those first stirrings of my soul. More on this in future posts, but if you’ve got your own ideas on how to keep on with the work of Christmas now that Christmas is over, I’d love for you to share your thoughts and ideas – let’s start something!


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Rockpools at Polzeath

Lazy days and new starts

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So it’s the second day of the New Year. New Start, clean slate and all that jazz. I’m not there just yet though, not quite made it through the threshold and into all that newness and cleanness yet.

Just one more day.

Just one more day of kids home from school and the tree still there, wilting slowly in the corner of the living room. I know it’s days are numbered but still it hangs on, lights twinkling just one more morning, curtains drawn against the dark January skies. There’s still board games half-played on tables, craft projects mid-flow, presents yet to find their way to a permanent resting place.  Every surface half-covered, all around the signs of lazy days and a full house and no rush, no plan, nowhere to be.

So much to do before the New Year really begins. Am I really ready this time?

Sometimes those fresh starts and new challenges appear before us all shiny and new and we just can’t wait. Can’t hold ourselves back from charging into all that newness and blank canvas and open road. Every muscle taut, every sinew straining, waiting, poised. We’re like an athlete at the top of our game, finely honed, perfectly prepared. Everything leading up to this moment, and all that preparation perfecting itself here and now. Fire the gun! Let us go! We can’t wait to show the world what we’ve got. Send us over the top and into battle. We’re ready.

We are invigorated by the challenge, set free from what has gone before and all that has held us back. It is like being released from the traps and given a second chance. It is good, and we thrive on it.

I love those times. I wish all new years and new starts felt good like that.

Today, mine looks like cleaning the living room and polishing school shoes. Of January belt-tightening and packing away of Christmas decorations and waving my husband off to work and getting back to the realities of life.

Sometimes, those sorts of new years are not so easy to get psyched up for. I feel less like an athlete and more like a reluctant recruit, wondering what I’ve signed up for and what do I do next? Going over the top feels scary and I’m not sure I’m ready and what difference will it all make anyways?

We stand at the edge of the beach and watch the gentle roll of the waves. In and out. In and out. In and out.

Walking at Polzeath

Reflections on the sea at Polzeath

Rockpools at Polzeath

The sun hangs low on the horizon. Winter rays reflecting off soft, wet sand, turning the cold all golden. Our breath rises and we splash in the shallows.

The wide expanse of the low, low tide reveals hidden caves and rock pools filled with secrets like treasure and we clamber and climb and laugh and look. Look at newness of it all, in spite of ourselves. This beach that is so familiar to us, becomes new again under our newly appreciative gaze and the cleansing regularity of the waves that wash it clean.

The sea is calm today. Small ripples of wave that make pebbles jump and that quiet rush that fills your ears. Today is not a roar, it is a gentle music that stills the soul and quietens the spirit.

Not all days are like this one. Some are mountainous days with waves of such ferocity that you stand on the cliff tops and look to the sea and wonder if this is all some giant cosmic battle, and who will win this time? As waves pound and the sounds fill the air like the cracks of thunder, it seems impossible that it will ever subside, that these rocks will withstand. Heartache, heartbreak, death, disease, disaster, famine. They roar around us and who would blame us for asking the question: can we remain? Will we make it this time?

Days and years go by and ebb and flow like the tide. Some days and years are calm and peaceful and we call all of those blessing. Some not so, the waves pounding and the noise deafening and so we stand, and brace, and try to remain.

Sometimes we run into the New Year with arms flung open wide, head back and laughing; optimism pouring from our hearts and we feel as if we are splashing in the shallows, all low summer sun lighting us gold.

Sometimes we look up, and we take stock and we nod, yes, we are still here. Still standing. Battered, perhaps by the storms and waves and the noise; but still here.

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And I realise this: that whether you’re running or just still standing, it’s still a new start.   

 

The waves come in and the waves go out. Back and forward. Back and forward. In and out. Day after day. All that goes before is carried away, and in it’s place, all that remains is beautiful, smooth, washed-again newness.

And you might not feel ready, or good enough this time. You might not feel energised, inspired, or engaged. But you ARE here. Still standing. And that – that is blessing enough for today, and hope enough for tomorrow. For this new year. For this new start.

The steadfast love of the Lᴏʀᴅ never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (The Bible – Lamentations 3:22–23)

 


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In search of awe and wonder

in-search-of-awe-and-wonder

Image: Valeria Aksakova / Freepik

Sometimes I wonder if we’re all just big old magpies, dressed up in human form.

Flitting around from branch to branch, scouring the earth for the next big shiny thing. Lining our nests with all that glitters – even when it’s not really precious at all but an old piece of tin foil, or a plastic ring from a Christmas cracker, glinting as if it might be something special, foxing us with it’s own reflection.

Sometimes I wonder how we ended up chasing all that fools gold, seeking solace in tinsel and trees covered in lights, presents piled up underneath. Finding fleeting happiness as paper is fast-unwrapped, packaging piling around us; life –with all it’s cares and burdens – for just a moment, forgotten.

Sometimes, when you are surrounded by so much, it’s hard to keep finding the awe and wonder in the everyday. Hard to find anything at all that stirs your world-weary soul anymore to soar, and hope and dream.

Dream of a Christmas where half the world is not cowering beneath a bombed-out sky, looking up and waiting not for Santa and his sleigh to steal overhead, but for aircraft, heavy laded with all the wrong sorts of Christmas gifts.

Dream of a time where people do not live in fear, in hunger, without shelter, free to talk and share and speak of their faith without risking their lives.

In my comfortable, western life, I cannot imagine such suffering and persecution, and yet I know it goes on. Occasionally I see it on the news, more often I hear of it through books that I read, or through stories of people that I know living and working in places where even saying you are a Christian can result in your death. Does that really even exist anymore? Oh yes.

Would I have the courage to stand under that? To stand and stand and keep standing. Never wavering, never fearing, just holding fast to the hope that is in me, the Light of the World?

I read a story recently about two young women, imprisoned in Tehran, Iran, for converting to Christianity and daring to speak to other people about Jesus. Their courage and bravery was inspirational,but what was really startling for me, in this season of tinsel and glitter and all that sparkles, was the awe and the wonder that rose up in the women that they met, every single time the name of Jesus was spoken.

Women in prison, living in filth, tortured and beaten; for trying to escape a violent marriage, for being the wrong ethnic group, for getting caught in the wrong place with the wrong head covering, for being an inconvenience, for daring to have an opinion or trying to do a job. Women who live in a society where they are property, not people, who live at the mercy of another ruling over them, with no rights, no advocate, no hope.

Except this Jesus, who came down from heaven – God with us, Immanuel – to be our hope. God in human form, who does not require or demand anything from us apart from our love, and who offers us mercy, hope, compassion. Can we ever understand the newness of hope that springs up in the soul of a person who has never before met this Jesus? Whose only experience of religion is a forced one, covered in fear and obligation, hopelessness and never-changingness?

The books of the Bible that speak of the early church, letters written to baby Christians in places like Ephesus and Corinth, also tell tales of awe and wonder as it spreads through a  society that has never before seen such love, such hope. Instructions on dealing with widows, with orphans, slaves and women – there because the early churches were crammed full of them. Oppressed people with no rights, living under a Greco-Roman household code that placed men at the top, and all else underneath, where their testimony was not even valid in a court of law, running to the one that offered them equality, a place to belong, a home. Running to Jesus, who loved women so much that he first appeared after his resurrection to Mary, the prostitute-turned-pupil, and told her to go tell the men (John 20:11-18). Who built a church that lived by the once-revolutionary-now-more-ordinary premise that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Churches where women could prophesy, tell of God’s goodness, where they are mentioned as leaders, as fellow-workers, as equals. In a society that did not afford them anything like that status. No wonder they loved Him.

We cheer now that this motto, once oh-so revolutionary, is taken for granted as a basic human right – for us here at least, if not for everyone, everywhere. But as we cheer, I will try this Christmas, as I baste my turkey and celebrate with my beautiful family, in our comfortable, privileged life, to conjure up once more some of that awe and wonder. To remember what exactly happened that night 2000 years ago, when God left heaven and collided with out world, ushering in – if we let Him – a new world order.

When He offered us something more than fear, something greater than chasing after the next shiny thing. When He gave Himself that we might live with Him forever. I will try and remember the newness of that, when those women and children and slaves in Greece and Rome and Israel heard it for the first time. When women today, living in societies that oppress and violate them, hear it for the first time:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Maybe here, we hear it so often that it becomes like white noise. The choice – because we have so many! – becomes unimportant. Our privilege, our opportunity, our options blind us to the awe and wonder found in the Christmas story. But my heart cry is simple. It is this: not this year, not here, not in this heart.

Don’t let me be blind to what He gave. Don’t let me be deaf to what He offered. And don’t let me be so dazzled by all that is around me, to my comfort and privilege and afforded rights, that I forget how truly blessed I am to live where I do, in the time I do, and that I don’t have to suffer what some people suffer every day because of their gender, their ethnicity or their religion.

To oppressed people everywhere: you are in my heart this Christmas. I don’t take this freedom for granted.


There are many great organisations working in war-torn parts of the world such as Syria, or supporting church communities in countries where they are oppressed. Below are a couple that you could donate to, but there are many more out there on the internet!