Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The one where I 'come out' (Part Four)

*This is the fourth in a series of posts explaining how and why I decided to 'come out' as an Egalitarian.  This post will make a lot more sense in light of the first post, second post and third post*

So, it was out: God had called me into pastoral ministry.  Finally, after many years of silence, I was free to completely follow his voice.  I could put down fear, take off apprehension, and do away with guilt.  God had spoken.  I knew it and my pastor knew it.


'Men lead, women follow'
'Women are not permitted to teach'
'Women should remain silent in church'

These beliefs had become ingrained within my being.  My calling as a Christian women must fit within these scriptural constraints.  The battle for understanding, and unity of heart and mind exhausted me.  I wasn't strong enough.  Following the call would not only create an internal battle, but it would cause tension and rock the boat in the church as well.  But God had called and surely his voice would triumph?

For several years I bounced back and forth in my thoughts. Should I push it?  Should I continue to serve God and let him open the doors?  Nothing.  Should I push it?  And so it continued.

I began to search and ask God to reveal a focus to my calling.  Maybe my 'pastoring' would remain with the young people I worked with.  This would be ok.  I believed God had given me a passion to see young lives changed by the transforming work of Jesus.  An incredible ministry to be involved in.

But ... I felt there was more.

What?  How?  When?  So many questions that once again I kept to myself.  Why didn't I talk this through with my pastor or anyone else?  I feared appearing pushy or power-seeking. I didn't want to be like one of those women; those spoken negatively of in leadership circles resulting in skepticism and fear of women in leadership.  I wasn't like them; I was different.  I had a 'male' style of leadership that set me apart.  Back then I simply accepted this ridiculous and offensive label. I actually think I was quite proud of it.  I didn't question why my style was 'male', or why a man presenting himself with a passion to serve God in ministry received encouragement and support, whilst a woman with such passion experienced criticism and even oppression.  I am sorry I ignored this for so long.  I should have spoken up and challenged the idea, although I suspect this may well have provided more fuel for their fire.  It's a difficult pattern to change.  But it must.

It wasn't all kept locked away though, as I enrolled at a distance learning course at Mattersey Bible College.  This required me to approach the church leadership and seek their approval.  They gave it, and I felt as though things were moving in the right direction at last.  I knew I needed to develop academically.  I had such a thirst for the Truth.  I studied hard and learnt a lot.  But the most significant learning experience during this time was the realisation that the interpretation and application of scripture is not always that simple.

And with this realisation I was released to see a different biblical view of women in leadership without feeling heretical.  The black and white slowly began to merge to form a grey area that needed to be studied, discussed, and prayed through.  I read books on the subject and tentatively opened the discussion with select friends.  A peace began to settle.  The voice I had heard on numerous occasions might not be in direct conflict with the Bible after all.  It made sense.  I understood more about the context in which the books were written and learnt of various academic debates regarding words in difficult passages.  I saw how it was possible to obey God without going against Scripture.

I was introduced to Complementarianism and Egalitarianism.  Although my intellectual understanding steered towards egalitarianism,  I still stood within the Complementarian Camp if challenged.  Who was I to go against the traditional teaching of my church? 

Before I had finished my course at Mattersey, God stepped in and altered the course of my life in an amazing way.  One of the older youth asked me to attend an open day at Moorlands College with him as he was considering studying there.  As I sat with potential students and their parents I experienced a strange mix of emotion.  Excitement led the way as I experienced the joy of sitting in a lecture room at Bible College participating in a sample lecture.  I LOVED IT.  But joy receded as envy took over.  These people had an opportunity to study here and I was insanely jealous. Why them?  And then a blanket of sadness descended as I realised this was where I should be.  But I had ignored God and it was now too late.  I had missed my chance to be in the will of God and I was truly crushed. 

But, God had a different plan!  Amazingly, I ended up in discussion with one of the lecturers (these should have been booked in advance by potential students only) and she introduced me to the idea of studying for a degree placement based.  Within three weeks I had filled out an application form, attended an interview, and received a letter of acceptance.  I was going to Bible College to study for a degree in Applied Theology (and youth and community work).  Bible College.  My feet didn't touch the ground for weeks!! 

I cannot begin to describe how much my time at Moorlands changed my life.   I knew God had called me to study there and I allowed him to develop and shape me.  And he did, way more than I could ever have imagined.  Foundational beliefs about myself, my calling, and even my faith were stripped right down, and had to be slowly and prayerfully built back up again.  When all my other 'rocks' were shattered, I began to understand what it really meant to trust in God and lean not on my own understanding.  I was broken and lost - and yet I found freedom and acceptance to be who God created me to be.  (You can hear a short testimony I gave at my Graduation ceremony about my experience at Moorlands here)

Towards the end of my second year I knew I needed to let go of past fears and discuss my future ministry development with my Sr. Pastor.  This marked the beginning of my application process to apply to train as a minister with the Assemblies of God.  Alongside my studies at Moorlands, I filled in application forms, wrote essays on the AoG foundational beliefs, requested references, attended interviews, and finally heard the words I had longed to hear for so long - 'We (Assemblies of God Ministers Training Panel) have no doubt that God has called you to pastoral ministry'.  Amazing.  I had heard God's voice nearly twenty years ago and he hadn't given up on me.  I continued my probationary ministers training with such excitement and thankfulness that God is bigger than our fears and insecurities. 

Totally posing at Graduation!! 
I completed my degree at Moorlands and graduated with First Class Honours in 2010.  As had been the plan for a while, I was offered a paid role at church upon completion of my degree.  God was faithful.  I had a degree in Theology, was training to be a Pastor, and now had a paid role at church which included Youth Pastoring, Ladies Ministry, Mentoring, Leading, and lots more.  It had been a long and difficult journey - but it was worth it.  I had arrived at where I believed God wanted me: In Pastoral Ministry within the local church.

And then I discovered that my role, although taking on the form of pastoral ministry and leadership, would be titled 'PA'.  I would become the Sr. Pastor's Personal Assistant?!  Whilst I have nothing against the work of a PA - it wasn't what I had been called to do, and it wasn't what I was training to do, and it wasn't what I was being asked to do.   Where had 'PA' come from?  Would a male in the same position be called a PA?  I felt physically sick.

(I must add here that I honestly believe no offense was intended with the suggestion of 'PA'.  A title was needed, and it probably seemed acceptable at the time)

I was gutted. 

As I tried to tell myself that the title didn't matter - I realised that it was no longer about me.  It was about the experience of all women.  If I continued to keep quiet, could I expect anything to ever change?  How many other women would walk a similar path and end up unable to fulfill God's calling on their lives?

I knew I had to say something, and this time it was obvious a little whisper would not be enough.

Part One in this series
Part Two in this series
Part Three in this series
Part Five in this series

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The one where I 'come out' (Part Three)

*This is the third in a series of posts explaining how and why I decided to 'come out' as an Egalitarian.  This post will make a lot more sense in light of the first post and second post*

When I became a Christian at fifteen I knew it would be a lifetime commitment.  It wasn't a fickle or half-hearted decision; it had been well considered, weighed up, and thought out.  When I sought forgiveness from God and asked him into my life as Lord and Saviour, I meant it.  From then on I would live my life for him.  At least, that has always been my aim.  It isn't always easy, but it is something I continue to strive for.  And always will.

I have never been particularly good at doing things by halves, so threw myself into absorbing everything 'Christian' in order to live the life as best I could.  I recognised the need to change, to put my old way of living and thinking behind me, and I took this seriously.  I socialised in the Christian community, observed the life of more established Christians, and listened to their interpretation of the Scriptures.  I also watched the way they related to each other, and let this permeate into my being. 
Image Source
Life was good.  I loved being a daughter of God and I loved the church.

I even loved the challenge of living biblically, and the set of rules that came with it.  Actually, I thrived on them, appreciating the boundaries they created.  Abiding by them meant that I fit the 'good Christian girl' mould and belonged.  This was important to me; I needed to belong.

I threw myself into church life and served wherever I could.  Several years later I found myself running a youth group with my boyfriend (now husband).  We ran a group for the youth from the estate, and I loved being able to share Jesus' love with them in a practical way.  For a number of reasons this group had to close, but my involvement with young people continued when we were asked to lead the Christian youth group (at that time they were split!).  I knew that God had given me a passion for young people, and I felt privileged to have the opportunity to impact on their lives.

I felt in the right place.  I was able to love, motivate, challenge, teach, inspire.  It was what God had called me to do, I was sure of it.  But how did this fit with the instructions of Timothy?  I considered this verse amongst others, and concluded that in this context it was okay.  I led the group under the authority of my husband (a man), and I only taught young people (no 'men').  I could fulfill what it was I believed God had called me to without breaking any of the 'rules'.  Life continued to go well ...

Until a quiet voice began to say... 'I have called you into ministry to pastor my people'.

Surely I misheard.  This must be for my husband?  But he hadn't heard it, and still hasn't to this day.

It didn't go away.  In fact, it grew louder and stronger.  God, you can't mean me, have you overlooked something - I am not a man!  Confused and ashamed, I kept quiet.  Asking God for forgiveness, I prayed that I would have a clearer understanding of his will for my life.  A life that reflected my belief that men lead and women follow.  A life that clearly didn't involve a call into ministry.  And yet, it didn't go away. 

'Some of you here this morning are called to be Pastors' - my heartbeat doubled in speed and I knew God was speaking to me.  But how could this be?  I still kept quiet.

I spoke nothing of it for ten years.  During this time God continued to confirm his call. Visiting ministers prophesied over me in line with what I had already heard. I still kept quiet.   I learnt how to deflect God's call towards my work with the youth.  It was acceptable then.  I still fit the 'good Christian girl mould' and obeyed the rules.  But in my heart I knew I had heard from God, and despite all efforts, I couldn't completely ignore it.

And then the volume and intensity increased.  Every direction I turned, I heard it.  I could no longer find a haven from his voice.  I knew I had to respond.  But how?  What was I allowed to do?   I considered my work with young people, and decided to apply for a course in Christian counseling.  A safe avenue to go down.  But I didn't feel God's peace,  and knew I was still running.  

I am aware that in divulging the above it may well be concluded that my thoughts and actions demonstrate a fear of man, and lack of trust in God.  And I can understand this.  However, as my opening paragraph declares, I really do strive to live my life according to his will.  The difficulty was that his will seemed to be going against what I read in the bible.  This was the tension I had to live with.  I feared that questioning might label me a trouble maker at best, and heretical at worst. 

The interview date for the counseling course arrived and I began to prepare for it.  It still didn't feel absolutely right for me, but what harm would it do?  It would still benefit my work with young people; at least I was doing something.

A week before my interview, God stepped in.  It blew me away.

It was a Friday afternoon and I had Youth Alpha to set up for at church.  I had a lot of chairs to move but I didn't mind at all.  It provided an ideal opportunity to pray for the young people attending.  It excited me and I loved that I could be a part of it.  The Senior Pastor turned up to sort through paperwork in the office.  We had a quick tea break together before carrying on with our work.  Twenty minutes later he reappeared and stopped me.  And then he said it.  Words that I will NEVER forget ... 

'This might not be for now, but I feel God prompting me to ask you, do you feel called into ministry?'  Boom!

I had kept silent for ten years; no one except my husband knew.  And now, God had told someone else: the Senior Pastor, who had taught and modeled male only leadership.  The relief.  The emotion.  The presence and peace of God that filled my heart.

But, there remained a lot to work through - in theory and in practice.  The battle wasn't over.  In fact, with hindsight, it had only just begun ...

You may also like:
Part One in this series
Part Two in this series
Part Four in this series
Part Five in this series

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The one with the Symphony

This morning, as I sat in church, I knew that God wanted to speak to me.  Of course he did, he loves to speak to us doesn't he?  I just hadn't anticipated it stirring me up as much as it did.

God of Justice, Saviour to all, 
Came to rescue the weak and the poor ...

As I stood worshiping God, I felt a nudge to stop.  At times I can get so caught up in the music, the words, the atmosphere, that I forget the One to whom I am singing: The Creator God.  It is all for, and about, Him.  Not me.  So I stopped, and as I did, God spoke deep into my heart.

There is a whole world outside the comfort and stability of our church walls that Jesus came to rescue.  We all know it don't we?  And we continue to sing ...

Jesus, You have called us
Freely we've received
Now freely we will give

We must go live to feed the hungry

Stand beside the broken
We must go
Stepping forward keep us from just singing
Move us into action
We must go

To act justly everyday

Loving mercy in every way
Walking humbly before You God

You have shown us, what You require

Freely we've received
Now freely we will give

Fill us up and send us out

Fill us up and send us out
Fill us up and send us out Lord

(Tim Hughes, God of Justice, Holding Nothing Back, 2007) 

Jesus, fill me up and send me out.  I prayed it and I meant it, and God started to give me a glimpse of where it was he was sending me.

And then, we were reminded of our upcoming Carol service and told to invite people.

The moment passed, and I felt as though a book had been taken away before I had the chance to finish the chapter.  God had been filling me up to send me out, and I felt ready for the challenge.  A challenge that he had been preparing and equipping me for.  A challenge to invite people to the Carol service?

I couldn't help feel as though we were missing the point. We had been asking God to fill us up and send us out, and then perhaps we limited the response.  Was God sending us out to bring people back to the same church at the same time?  Or did he have his own plans?  Was he equipping us for the same job?  Or did he have a different work set aside for each of us? And as I thought about this I felt God say ...

Do you only listen to what people say, or do you also listen to me?
Do you only do what people tell you to do, or do you also do what I ask you to?
Do you follow people, or do you follow me?

God is a creative God, and his people are all different.  He designed it this way.  

He doesn't paint us all the same colour.
He doesn't ask us to play the same instrument.
He doesn't give us all the same fragrance.

If we were all a shade of green, how could we paint with yellows or blues? 
God asks for different colours so that together we can form a rainbow.

Image Source
If we all play the flute, how can there be an orchestra? 
God asks for different instruments so that together we can play a symphony.

If we all had the fragrance of a Rose, what of the cut grass?
God asks for different fragrances, to encapsulate the scent of a summer's day.

We are unique.  We have different gifts to use, and different people to reach.  This is God's plan and purpose for the world.  

We need to ask Him to fill us up and send us out ... not to follow the footsteps of another but to carve the path that he has called us to.  A path that will feed the hungry and stand beside the broken.  A path walked in humility with God.  And we need to encourage and empower others to do the same.

Fill us up and send us out - as an army of people - marching to your drumbeat Lord. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

The one where I 'come out' (Part Two)

*This is the second in a series of posts explaining how and why I chose to 'come out' as an Egalitarian.  This post will probably make a lot more sense in light of the first post.*

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that's what little girls are made of, right?

As a young girl I used to detest this verse because I felt it commanded me to fit in a box with all other girls: girls that fashioned pink dresses and matching hair ribbons, girls that skipped merrily along holding their Barbies, girls that played house wearing mummy's high heels - girls that were nothing like me!

Me in my football pjs
I seemed to be made of something entirely different.  I wore a red tracksuit, kicked a ball, climbed trees and often had mud in my fingernails.  But I was still a girl. 

Throughout my childhood I preferred the company of boys, not because I thought they were better, or wanted to be one, but because they generally enjoyed the same activities as I did.  They went to the park to play football, rode in the woods on their BMX bikes, and swung from the tallest of trees.  I say 'they' but really I mean 'we'.  At the time it wasn't 'them' and 'us', no gender divide, we were just a group of kids enjoying the innocence and freedom of childhood.

And then, things changed.  I moved up into the next class at Junior School and found I could no longer play football during the break.  Footballs were only allowed on the top playground, and only boys had the privilege to use it.  The bottom playground could be used by all.  Suddenly, I was forced not only away from my friends, but into place of extreme boredom and discomfort.  I didn't want to skip!  I wanted to play football!

So, I did what any ten year old would do - I marched down the corridor and knocked on the Head Master's office door.  Fueled with a sense of injustice, I proceeded to voice my anger.  Of course, in my ten year old world, it was all about me:  I thought the rule unfair.  I couldn't play with my friends. I wanted to play football.  I was good at football.  I wanted to be able to do what I wanted in my breaktime.  I was cross!!
Image Source

I don't remember the Head Master's exact answer, but I do recall him asking the opinion of a couple of the boys. Would they be happy with a girl playing on 'their' playground?  I think about it now and my blood boils, but at the time they answered 'yes' and I was happy.  I could continue to play football with my friends, and once again life was good.  I was their equal ... and it carried on that way.

Until I became a Christian.

At the age of fifteen my friend invited me to a Christian youth group. I had never before been interested in Christianity and knew next to nothing about it, but the group sounded fun so I decided to give it a go. However, I made it absolutely clear to all involved that I had no interest in the 'God stuff', and I really meant it.  God had other plans though.  Six months later I recognised and acknowledged the Truth, and committed my life to Jesus.  Forever.

This commitment changed everything: I belonged to a new family, had a new social schedule, and a new set of rules to follow.  I was a new creation; the old 'Jo' had gone.  This new life excited me, and I threw myself into learning as much as I could.  I learnt about forgiveness and grace.  I learnt about God's love and the cross.  And I learnt that God created men to lead and women to follow. 

I longed to please God, and at the time assumed this meant believing, accepting and living everything I was told.  Why wouldn't I?  I had never read the Bible before, but they had.  I put my trust in their knowledge and soaked in their wisdom.  I simply accepted.

I read the Bible, listened to sermons, spoke with Christians and observed their way of life.  I wanted to be a good Christian - I stopped swearing, smiled at shop assistants, and washed the dishes without complaining.  I also accepted my new role as a Christian woman.

It felt uncomfortable.  It felt unfair.  It felt wrong.  I had always believed in equality, and I couldn't quite make it fit.  But Christianity was about sacrifice and surrender and the laying aside of one's own thoughts and feelings - and the ten year old who fought for justice in the school playground must now be ignored. God had ordered things differently, and who was I to question it?  I told myself off, buried those thoughts deep inside, and prayed they would stay there.

And they did.

Because no one told me that it was ok to read the Scriptures, and question their meaning.
No one told me that God is big enough to cope when asked 'why?'
No one told me that Christians are not always in agreement with each other.
And no one told me that being a 'good' Christian didn't mean disengaging my brain, surrendering my character, and becoming a carbon copy of somebody else. 

So I kept quiet, accepted their teaching, and worked hard to fit into their mould.

Until I started to hear God speak ...

(Part three to follow)

You may also like:
Part One in this series
Part Three in this series
Part Four in this series
Part Five in this series

Monday, 14 November 2011

The one where I 'come out' (Part One)

I write this post series with a degree of apprehension, not because I am ashamed of the content, but because I suspect it may produce a few uncomfortable waves on what has always been a fairly calm sea.  It may cause the boat to rock.

So why write?  Because, in the attempt not to create ripples for others, my internal boat is being tossed about ferociously in a raging storm.  The extreme motion is nauseating, with thoughts and emotions churning, waiting to be spewed during an unexpected moment of weakness.  And when it happens, there will be little time to run into a place of inconspicuousness - it will be messy and people will be caught in the line of fire. 

Whilst this would cause vexation and discomfort,  it wouldn't be the end of the world.  Embarrassed apologies would be offered, the mess cleaned up, and the smell fade with time.  The incident would soon become a distant memory and life would move on.

But this is what I am afraid of.  Life moving on, and nothing really changing.  The risk is then that the very same attitudes and experiences that have caused anxiety, heartache and confusion in my life, could far too easily become entangled in the experiences of others.  Is this really what I want?  Do I wish to see others struggling to navigate the familiar stormy waters?

No, I really don't.  Not at all.  It hasn't been fun.  It has silenced me and held me back.  At times it has caused me to question and even hate who I am.  Strong words, but it is time to be honest.   No more hiding at the bottom of the seabed in the hope that the storm will pass, and the fierce waves surrender to calmer waters. 

Running away wont help.  Exploding over it wont help.  As I see it now, there is only one answer to the problem, and that is to open up the discussion in an open, honest, and loving way.  I acknowledge that this will be uncomfortable for some, just as it has been for me over the years, and I hope that my thoughts will be received with the graciousness with which I will aim to write.  I am not looking to offend or cause irritation, but merely to share a journey traveled in order to encourage a change in attitudes and practice.

But what about unity?  This has been something I have literally lost sleep over.  What if my speaking up causes discomfort and upset?  What if it leaves people in a place of confusion, being forced to consider the crossroads in their own journey of understanding?  What if ignorance was bliss and I burst their bubble?

But, what if my honest speaking has an alternative effect and begins to challenge oppression?

Should it be completely overlooked for the sake of unity?

How might those being oppressed answer?

Does love encourage us to hide oppression or expose it? 

I know what I think.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour (Luke 4:18-19).

I had no idea this preamble would take me to this verse.  Originally, I expected only to share a journey of conformity and confusion in order to offer a glimpse of hope to those riding the same storm.  However, having given my fingers permission to type what is truly in my heart and mind, it seems the foundation upon which these words are formed, is the desire to see the above verse realised here on earth.  I can no longer gloss over these words, leaving them in the hands of someone else.  It is time to accept this is my responsibility.

My own journey involves oppression.  Perhaps not to the extremity experienced by so many others, but enough to hold me back, and force me to create a persona that says 'this is fine', whilst in reality it hurts.  And I know I am not alone here.

The cause of such oppression?  My being a woman.  More specifically, my experience of what it means to be a Christian woman.  

Over the next few posts, I intend to share my journey from being a fairly wild ten year old who fought for gender equality in primary school, to becoming a Christian and obediently accepting female subordination as being God ordained, through to the gradual reexamination of the scriptures and my arrival at a more informed understanding of them.

I now believe in equality.

I believe men and women are equal in value and that roles should be given based on character and gifting and not on gender.  

I am an Egalitarian.  

Still prepared to read my journey?  I hope so.  I seek to encourage a willingness to reexamine scriptures, attitudes, and mindsets - not because I want to be seen as 'right' - but because I believe Christians have a responsibility to release the oppressed - and sadly, this is the experience of many women today.


You may also like:
Part Two of this series
Part Three of this series
Part Four of this series 
Part Five of this series

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Masks (an extra little bit!)

After this week's posting about masks I was reminded of a Youtube clip shown at church a while ago.  It talks about the masks we put on and ... well ... why don't I just let you see for yourself?

The question left on my mind after watching this again, is not so much about what masks I put on, but whether my actions and attitudes encourage other people to discard their masks?

Do I cultivate a safe environment for them to do so?  

Do I give people time to say how they really are?  

Do I listen attentively and respond accordingly? 

Am I modelling a mask free life wherever possible?

Am I quick to judge?  

Do I try to understand?     

Do I care enough to enter into the hidden lives of people knowing it may be messy, difficult, painful?

Am I willing to let go of my own thoughts and agendas and ask Jesus what he would want me to do?

Am I prepared to show the love of Christ in all circumstances?

Successful and long-lasting discarding of masks involves more than the mask wearer - it requires the time, love, support, encouragement, effort etc of those around them.  Let's not expect action from others without being willing to give ourselves.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The one with the Mask

This week, just for a little while, I took off my mask (see previous post).  I displayed a little more of my true self than I am comfortable with.  It left me feeling as if I were walking around in an open field, undressed, with nowhere to hide or shade to seek refuge in.  I felt vulnerable and exposed.

Was I right to take off the mask?

(Insert good Christian answer here ... 'yes, of course, God wants us to be open and honest at all times')

Over the last few months, a lot has been said at church about taking off our masks.  It is obvious really isn't it?  As Christians we are to live our lives with integrity.  We are to be open and honest in all we say and do.   We should therefore make every effort to peel off our masks, and live and love as our real selves.   Anything short of this 'realness' would be deceptive and dishonest, and not congruent with our faith and relationship with Jesus.

If this is true, then we should immediately take off and discard our masks.  Right?

I think there are a couple of questions that need to be asked before we go rushing about in a self-awareness frenzy, identifying and throwing away our masks.

Firstly, and most importantly, we should ask ourselves - 'Who is it we are hiding our true self from?'

If we are trying to hide from God, then we have a problem.  You see, we will never be able to do this.  We need only to read Psalm 139 to know this.  God knows our innermost being.  He knows our thoughts.  He has examined our hearts and knows everything about us.  We try to hide in vain.  Our masks don't fool God.  Take them off, and come before God as you really are and accept the love he has for you - the real you.

How about if we are wearing our masks before other people?  Isn't this wrong too?

If our masks are concealing our true thoughts and feelings from other people, dare I suggest that it isn't always completely wrong to do so?

Does that shock you?  I have thought quite a lot about this lately, and whilst I agree that we should live our lives with complete honesty as much as possible, I can't help but acknowledge that some masks are valuable.

There are some masks that are worn for self-protection.  It would be crazy to suggest a fencer participate in a fight without wearing a mask.  The mask is there to protect and enable a fair and safe fight.  Without it a quick thrust of the opponent's epee could cause great harm and end the fight prematurely.

There are times when we need to wear a protective mask to keep us safe whilst in battle.  Perhaps a mask is needed to conceal our weakness and vulnerability from the enemy. Or maybe the mask is needed just long enough for us to prepare and build up our strength before we attack.

There are also masks that are worn for the protection of others.  Surgeons wear masks whilst operating for a number of reasons, one of which is to protect the patient from infectious droplets carrying bacteria or viruses that become airborne through a cough or sneeze.  Similarly, there are times when we may need to wear a mask to protect those around us.  Sometimes a mask of strength may be worn to risk hurting others.

That said, these protective masks are worn for a period of time for a specific purpose.  The fencer does not continue to wear the mask once the fight has finished.  The surgeon does not leave the theatre and go home to sleep still wearing the mask.  They are taken off when they are no longer necessary.

We too should take off our masks when they are no longer needed.  The danger is that we get comfortable and continue to wear them.  They begin to form our identity.  Masks that are worn out of season stop protecting and start to form barriers.  They hinder the real you from fully participating in all that God has in store for you and they keep others at a restrictive distance.

I took my mask off this week, it wasn't easy, but I knew it was time.  It had been worn when it was needed, but it was beginning to restrict my own journey, and that I hope to walk with others. 

What about you?

What masks are you currently wearing?

Who are you wearing them in front of?

Are you hiding your true self unnecessarily?

Is it time to begin to take them off?

I am thankful that God knows and loves the real me - of course he does - he created me!  I am also thankful that he will help us to take our masks off at the right time.  He wont force it, but will gently encourage and support us as we do.  Phew!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Out of Sorts

Image courtesy of Heart and Soul
Today, I post out of sorts; it doesn't follow suit.  Its irregularity protrudes when laid aside the norm.

Its difference scares, but is comforted by the recollection of where it began ... nearly a year ago. 

In November last year, after a very difficult month, I began to blog.  The full reason for the venture into blogging can be read in The one at the Beginning, but the significance of today's post - I have copied and pasted below...

'Thirdly ... writing somehow allows me to express myself in a way that makes sense - to me at least!  As someone who finds expression difficult in spoken word - I seem to be able to put my true thoughts and feelings down through pen and paper (keyboard and screen!).  Which - I guess - is ultimately the whole point of attempting this blog.  I hope writing this will allow me to explore and express!  That is for me.'  

So, today, I need to 'explore and express'.  Life is tough.  It has been battle after battle.  I feel like I am losing, and yet, I can't let go.  Sometimes I want to, it would be easier that way.  But it isn't right - I must find the strength and determination and keep going.  I know God has called me to hack away at the overgrown grassland and clear a path for myself (and others) to walk, but the grass cuts the skin, and the work is difficult.  Can I take a rest?  Just a little breather?  Will the grass grow back that quickly if I do?

In all this confusion I am thankful that GOD IS.

That GOD IS my Strength.   

That GOD IS my Guide.

That GOD IS my Comfort.

That GOD IS my Peace.

That GOD IS my Refuge.

And that GOD IS Sovereign and Lord over ALL!

Remembering that GOD IS will keep me going.  Knowing that GOD IS encourages joy amidst the trials.

It is tough, yes, but it never promised to be easy.  BUT ...

GOD IS who I am living for and deep down I am thankful for the privilege and opportunity to do so.

I'm tired but I will push on, run the race, and leave a trail.

Friday, 21 October 2011

The one with the Teabag

I am very blessed.  Yes, I know it.  You see, most mornings one of my sons will bring a cup of tea up to me in bed.  Some mornings I might even get two!  Life is good.

The other morning however, it was not so good.  My alarm had gone off, and been put on snooze, and there I lay, drifting in and out of sleep, waiting to hear the familiar 'chink' as a cup is placed on my bedside table.  It seemed a long time coming this particular morning, but it did arrive.  I slowly sat up, picked up the new Starbucks mug that had appeared, and with a content sigh, I took the first sip.  MMmmmmm ......

BUT - the MMmmmm soon turned into Ewwwwwww.  Something was wrong.

It was still hot.  It looked the right colour.  It was in the right mug (yes, that does make a difference!) - So - what was the problem?

It just didn't hit the spot!  Something was different.  Somehow, something seemed missing.  And then it dawned on me ....

Caffeine!  Or rather, the lack of it!

Somehow, the teabags must have been mixed up in the cupboard and the teabag my son had used was void of caffeine.

Not so good first thing in the morning! Thankfully, I still had time to have a 'proper' tea before leaving the house.

Later on that morning, I met with a friend (yes, you guessed it, for tea!), and I shared my early morning experience with her.  After laughing at how I can make such a big thing out of tea, she explained that she wouldn't have known the difference.  This got me thinking ...

How did I know with such assurance?  After all, it was early in the morning and I was still very sleepy and decaf tea doesn't really taste that different to regular tea.

But ... I knew.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The one with the Sat-Nav

I finished my Tall Vanilla Latte (skinny, sugar free and extra hot) and made my way to the car. Today I would be catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in a couple of years. I was looking forward to it. It had been too long! All the details had been arranged via Twitter, and the postcode of her new address had been put into the Sat-Nav in advance. Music - check. Glasses - check. Engine running - check. Sat-Nav on - check. Ready! I was on my way!

However, as I left the carpark, and entered the roundabout, it became obvious that the journey would be a little more challenging than I had anticipated. I looked at the Sat-Nav to see where I should be exiting, only to see a blank screen! Panic! As I drove around the roundabout for a second time, the screen came back on - but with no directions. Not much help! What was a girl to do? No option but to drive round again and hope that the satellites were found and the directions given! This I did, but to no avail. Three times around a the roundabout, and the Sat-Nav had still not told me which exit to take. Getting dizzy!

I had to make a quick decision: drive around again and again in hope that it would work, or, try and make it on my own. Whilst the first option sounded tempting (and fun!) I was already on a pretty tight schedule if I was to arrive when expected. So ...

I did what I should have done right at the beginning of the journey - engage my brain! I knew this roundabout well, and surely should be able to work out which exit to take. The problem was, I wasn't entirely sure of the direction of the destination.  I began to eliminate the exits I knew wouldn't take me to my destination.  This helped. 

And then, well, I just went for it.  I exited the roundabout and headed for the motorway.  I figured I could always stop at the services and have a look at google maps if I still had no idea where to go.  Or, I could even swallow my pride and give my friend a call, admit I was lost without my Sat-Nav and ask her for directions.  It wouldn't be the end of the world.

Guess what?  Just as I entered the motorway, the Sat-Nav kicked in!  Yes, it had finally found the required satellites, and had the directions at the ready.  Phew!

I was pleased that I could now relax a little and let the Sat-Nav guide me, although I did give myself a little pack on the back for being prepared to try it on my own.  I had somewhere to get to, and I hadn't let unreliable technology stop me.

As I continued my journey, I reflected on this experience, and wondered how often we do something similar in our relationship with God.  Let's take worship as a destination for example.  We key in a heavenly destination on our internal Sat-Nav, and get ready to set off.  We head to the roundabout, and as we do, we focus our heart and mind on the things of God: how awesome he is and worthy of our worship. And then, as we enter the roundabout - nothing.  No emotional satellites are found.  We are not 'feeling' the warm and fuzzies we expect as we worship.  So, we go round again.  And again.  And again.  Nothing.  And yet, our destination hasn't changed.  God is still there and worthy of all our praise and worship.  So, what do we do?  Do we continue going round, in the hope that we will suddenly 'feel' right?  Or do we focus on the destination, trust in the Truth, exit and go for it?

We cannot rely purely on our feelings.  Just like technology, they can fail us.  They can be unreliable.  They can let us down.

We can, however, rely on the Truth.  Always.

Are you currently going round the roundabout, waiting for your internal Sat-Nav to work?  Are you focusing on the screen, instead of your destination?

Can I encourage you to take your eyes off of the screen and fix them firmly on where you need to go.  Trust in the Truth and pull off the roundabout.  You may find that unless you do, you will be going round that roundabout forever!

What if we take the wrong exit?  Well, is this really such a problem?  Isn't it better to set off, discover a wrong turning, and put it right, than to keep going round and round and never getting anywhere at all?

I once heard a great analogy that I have often considered in these situations -

It is much easier to change the direction of a car once it is moving, than to try to position it perfectly whilst it is stationary.  I would rather set off and allow God to alter the direction, than to try to lift the car into place myself!

How about you? 

Sometimes when we do put our trust in the Truth, rather than our feelings, we find that somewhere, further along the road they kick in - just like the Sat-Nav on my journey.

I had a great afternoon catching up with my friend.  Would I have ever got there if I had waited for the sat-nav to work on that roundabout?  I doubt it.  What a shame that would have been.

Don't put all your trust in your 'feeling' sat-nav, you never know what it is you will miss out on!  Instead -

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5,6)

Focus on the destination, and make it happen!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The one with the Duck Song

WARNING: Interacting with this post will get into your head and stay there - for a very long time!
Waddle Waddle!!

Last year one of my boys introduced me to Bryant Oden's genius Duck Song.  I say genius because for a short and simple song (with video) first uploaded in 2009 - it has already had a whopping 59,924,170 hits!!  That is some achievement.

What is the appeal?  Well, watch the link below and you will see for yourself .....

Cute and catchy eh?  Now, I challenge you to watch it again without singing along - it just can't be done!!

So - that is it, there is no going back!  The Duck Song is well and truly inside your head - and for that I do apologise a little.  However, my hope is, that in sharing this song with you, it will find its way not only into your head, but also you thoughts, your mind and your heart.  You see, I believe this simple (if not annoying!) song has a lot to teach us.  Really?  I invite you to read on ...

The story begins with the duck walking up to a lemonade stand and asking ... got any grapes?

However, to his dismay, he soon discovers there are no grapes on offer .... and he waddles away ... till the very next day ...

Our duck friend doesn't seem to learn from this, as the following day, he walks back up to lemonade stand, and again asks ... got any grapes?

Once again, the duck is to learn that the lemonade stand has no grapes to offer, and he waddles away ... till the very next day ...

Despite being very bright in colour, it would seem that Mr Duck lacks a certain amount of intelligence, and visits the same lemonade stand a total of five times, each time asking for grapes.  Why would he do this?

My guess is that such was his desire for grapes that he would do whatever was needed in order to get some.  He had his heart and mind fixed on grapes and nothing else seemed to matter, including continued knock-backs. 

Silly duck.  We wouldn't have been so daft right?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The one where I dish the dirt

Whilst I wouldn't say I was obsessed with cleaning, I do like to think that I keep my house in a reasonably clean and tidy state.  I hope that if you popped over for an unplanned (but always very welcome) cuppa with me that you would find the house looking tidy but lived in.  There may well be dishes in the sink that need washing, Playstation leads across the lounge floor, and paperwork piled on the table ready to be filed - but all in all - it is generally tidy and comfortable to be in.  That is my understanding anyway.

Which is why, last week, when I had the afternoon free to do some housework, I had a little bit of a shock!  Perhaps my idea of a clean and tidy house really needs to be revisited and revised!  Had I been deluding myself?

The next few paragraphs I do not share with ease, as it may well reveal a little bit too much for comfort.  Hopefully it wont have a negative impact on the frequency of friends' visits to the house.   I am not so sure though ... as I know how shocked I was myself!  Am I really ready to dish the dirt?! 

Having dusted and polished the entire house, I turned my attention to the carpets; it was time to vacuum.  I carried the vacuum cleaner upstairs, turned it on, and set to it.  In no time at all, upstairs was finished.  However, it was a while before I made my way down the stairs.  I couldn't believe it.  I stared at the vacuum cleaner, which sat proudly upright in my son's bedroom.  It was as if it smuggly said: 'Look how dirty your house is!'  and believe me - it was!!  Gross!

Warning: For those of you who have a 'thing' with dirt - I suggest you quickly abort this post - and find a 'cleaner' one to read ...

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The one with the handprints

Yesterday at Twinkling Stars Toddler Group we made handprints.  I say 'we' deliberately, as I also decided to put my hands in the paint!  'Such fun!'

My Handprints - to remind me how quickly I am growing up!! :)  

The handprints joined a poem about growing up and were named and dated before going through the laminator.  The children enjoyed getting their hands messy, and the parents were pleased to have a record to keep of their little one's hands.  A perfect mornings work!

So, why did I choose to join in the fun?  Because I am all too aware at the moment of how quickly time goes by and how much we can lose if we do not make the most of the opportunities we are presented with.  Carpe Diem and all that!

The circumstances that led to this reflection?     A pair of shoes!

Most of you will know that when I say 'shoes' - I am not referring to the 'shiny heeled lady variety', but pumps.  Yes, I will admit to having a slight obsession with Converse.  For the last 3 months I have been searching for a pair of green Converse to add to my collection.   With all the different Converse colours around this may sound a simple mission.  It was not!  Having searched far and wide it appears this particular shade of green (it had to be just right!) is not being made by Converse in this country at the moment.  Even the online Converse shop let me down!  Sadly, I had to abort the mission.

That is, until I spotted a pair of green Converse style pumps in Superdry a few weeks ago.  They were the perfect colour!  Despite the obvious fact they weren't real Converse, I decided to give them a chance.  They fit well, were on par with Converse price, and looked great.  Fantastic.

I am now a proud owner of green pumps - the perfect colour to wear with several of my favourite tops.  End of story?  Not quite ...

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The one with the proud mum

Usually my ten year old son greets me in the playground after school with a smile - but last Thursday was a different story all together.  Looking down at his feet, he slowly made his way over to where I stood.  After offering only a very quiet 'hi', he waited beside me for my nieces to come out of their classrooms.  I suspected the worst.  There I stood, pretending to search intently for the girls, when really I mentally prepared my 'it's ok, you tried your best, that is all that counts' speech.  You see, today had been a big day for him.  Having been elected onto the school council the week before, this was the day he would stand in front of the whole school and give a speech explaining why he should be elected as Chair.  His face and manner suggested the day hadn't gone all that well.

We stood in the playground for what seemed like eternity, when I took the plunge and asked how his day had gone.  'How has your day been?'  I casually asked, trying not to visibly cringe as I waited for his disheartened response. Still looking down, he answered, 'Not so good' - and just as I was about to launch into my speech, he added - 'I only got voted in as Chair!'  The toad!!

Looking pleased with himself after the elections :)

Pride began to rise up within me, quickly doing away with all the feelings of dread that had occupied my mind only seconds ago.  My boy had done it.

As I walked back to the car listening to his account of the day, it dawned on me that I would have been just as proud of him had his response to my question been different.  You see, his attitude towards the elections had, in my opinion, been exemplary.  This is why ...

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The one with the attitude

As I scanned over my Facebook wall this morning I spotted a new post at Bloggerish Allsorts - a blog that I enjoy reading.  I always enjoy Dan's posts, but this one has really made me think.  The title, short and to the point, says it all: 'Positivity'.

I encourage you to click on the link and read the blog for yourself - it is a quick and easy read - but one that may just well change the way you see things today.  It has me.

In his opening paragraph Dan sets the scene:

'I've been finding myself up against a lot of negative attitudes recently, not least my own, and am really trying to continue to be up-beat despite them. It seems that all around us we are encased in walls of discouragement and in many cases, complete apathy (which is even worse).'

Isn't this a very real observation?  It is certainly one that I have noticed in recent months.  And, like Dan, I have to admit that one of the worst examples of negativity has been my own.  I have grumbled, complained, seen the worst in people or situations, and my enthusiasm and motivation has at times been buried deep.  This is not something I am proud of, and I am not sharing this publicly to evoke kind and encouraging words from friends.  Instead, I hope that by confessing this in black and white - I will be challenged and motivated to change.  

This may seem a little dramatic, or over-the-top, but I honestly believe positivity is key to living life to the full and encouraging those around us to do the same.  Don't misunderstand me, this doesn't mean we need to go around permanently smiling, singing, dancing, and viewing absolutely everything as wonderful.  This is not positivity - it is ignorance and stupidity.  Harsh?  Yes perhaps, but we all know life does have its measure of disappointment, pain and hardship.  So what does it mean?

Friday, 2 September 2011

The one with the mistake

Last week, a friend and I visited Vistaprint online with the intention of designing a Welcome Card for Wessex.  I have used Vistaprint fairly regularly over the last few years and think they are a great cheap and easy site for business cards.  If you haven't already, you should check them out!

We found a design that we both liked, checked it was fit for purpose and filled in the necessary information.  Pleased with the outcome, I ordered the cards, and even paid an extra £3 for speedy delivery!!  Our super-cool new 'Welcome to Wessex' cards would be with us in less than a week.  Exciting!

And so the wait began ......

Five days later a small parcel arrived, that I immediately recognised as a Vistaprint parcel.  They were here!  Yay!  (Yes, I do get really rather excited at strange things - I am the same with new stationary!)

So, with a great amount of eagerness and anticipation I opened the box, and there they were.  Black background, green and grey lettering, cool design, yes, they were good!!  With a smile on my face (easily pleased!) I kept one out to admire later, and put the rest of them back in the box.  And that was that.  Job well done.

Until two days later, when everything changed.  I glanced down at the card on my table and my little world of joy turned upside down and inside out!
The issue?  I had spotted a mistake.   There it was, in black and white.  I couldn't believe it.  I had double checked the details, and so had my co-worker!  Well - not well enough evidently as it seems that our church was now called 'Wessex Christian Fellowsihp'!

Although, the mistake is not glaringly obvious at first glance, it is still there.  The card is flawed.  250 imperfect cards, unfit for purpose.  What a waste.  What a disappointment.  They may as well be thrown out.

What if God saw us that way?

We mess up all the time.  Our character is blemished.  We make mistakes.  We think, say and do the wrong things.  Like the card, we are imperfect.

And yet, God doesn't put us back in the box and throw us away. 

Yes, he sees our flaws.  He sees us mess up.  He knows what we are really like.  But - he doesn't let our mistakes define who we are and what we can do.  He does not deem us useless, inept, redundant.

God created us and knows us inside out, and still chooses to use us!  He allows us to learn from experience and continues to teach us and develop us as we walk and work with him.

Our mistakes and imperfections do not change the way he feels about us;  He loves us unconditionally.  He sees the good in us, and knows our potential.  He doesn't scold or rebuke when we fall or mess up, but gently and lovingly encourages us to get back up, to learn, and to try again.

Be encouraged today, God loves you and has a plan and a purpose for your life.  He doesn't make mistakes.  Of course, we may (will!) mess up along the way, but our mistakes do not make us unlovable or of no use.  We have a purpose, and God will help us to fulfill it. Even during our darkest times, when we feel invisible, broken and faulty, God looks at us with pride and encourages us to keep going.  We can be confident that He who began a good work in us, will see it through to completion! (Philippians 1:6)

I am so thankful that God is so much bigger than my mistakes!  Aren't you? :)

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The one with the little green man

I was a little surprised to be honest.  There I stood, waiting patiently for the little green man due to materialise sometime soon - when a mother and child walked straight as if they were oblivious to the imminent appearance!  I couldn't understand why they would rush on by and miss the opportunity. 

It was a lovely sunny morning and I had just enjoyed walking my son to school.  The walk isn't particularly long, but it is a great way to wake up and clear your head.  The route is a pretty one which takes us along some nice roads and wide tree-lined footpaths.  Unfortunately - it also requires us to cross one busy road.  Thankfully, the little green man is there to help us safely across.

Since my own children have been old enough to walk with me, my attitude and conduct at pedestrian crossings has changed.  Previously, I would use them as the last resort.  If there seemed to be a reasonable gap in the traffic, why bother waiting for the little green man?  Wasn't this a waste of time?

But is this the attitude I would want to convey to my 9 year old boy?  Would I want him to follow my example and try to cross the road using his own judgement?  No way!!  The road is extremely busy at times, and as it is at a crossroads, it has traffic coming from different directions.  There is absolutely no way I would knowingly allow him to cross without the use of the green man!

It is very important to me that my boys learn to cross roads safely.  What would I be teaching them if I chose to ignore the red man warning, even if it appeared safe to cross?  It is no good telling the boys one thing, and my example suggesting something else altogether.

So now, instead of using my own judgement at pedestrian crossings, I make sure I always follow the correct procedure.  This is what I want my boys to do, and I am sure all parents would want their children to do the same.

Which is why I was so surprised this morning when, during rush hour traffic, the mother and her young daughter rushed past me whilst I stood patiently waiting for the green man. 

Thankfully they made it across safely, although they did have to run.

As I continued walking home afterwards, I thought a lot about this incident.  Why did this mother ignore the pedestrian crossing?   It was there to ensure a safe crossing.  It was there for her benefit.  And yet, she chose to ignore it.  She ignored the help offered, and relied on her own judgement instead.  She thought she knew better.  She grew impatient and took a risk.

Shocking eh?  I would never do such a thing ...

But as I indulged in some sort of self-superiority, something occurred to me that brought me back to earth, and wiped the smugness off my face. Whilst I may not behave this way at pedestrian crossings, there have been many times in my life where I have grown impatient and rushed on, or relied on my own judgement and thought I knew better.  Isn't this really something we are all prone to at times?

As Christians we believe God has our life in his hands.  He knows the plans he has for us.  A good plan!  A plan not to hurt us -  a plan offering hope and a future.   (Jeremiah 29:11)  This is awesome news!  God knows where we are, knows where we should be going, and how we should get there.  He sees us standing at the pedestrian crossing - and provides us with help in crossing.

And yet, just as the mother and daughter did this morning, we often ignore the help he is offering and run on ahead anyway.

There may be circumstances in our lives that we are wanting to get on with, to cross the road and get to the other side.  But God has placed a red man in front of us, to let us know it is not the right time.  It may not be safe for us to cross just yet.  There may be many obstacles in our way that may harm us and the work we are doing. 

Maybe we are stood at the crossing and tempted not to bother waiting for the little green man.  The traffic doesn't seem too bad; we think we can get across safely.  We want to rely on our own understanding.  We think it is worth taking the risk.  However, perhaps our 'red man' isn't so much about the traffic, but about us.  God could be at work in our lives, preparing and equipping us for the journey ahead.  If we get impatient and run on ahead, we may cross the road without meeting any cars, but find our journey difficult or ineffective when we get there.

If you are stood at a crossing, facing a red man, be encouraged,  the lights will eventually change.  They may not change as soon as you would like, and perhaps your own plans will alter because of this, but when they do change - it will be because the time is right.  God will make a way for us to continue our journey safely and effectively.  He will remove the obstacles, and prepare us for the journey - and the little green man will appear!  We can then cross safely - with the full assurance that God is in control - and we are walking in the plan he has for us.

For another interesting read on traffic lights - why not check out this blog?
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