Sunday, 14 June 2015

Tea and Truth

There’s no escaping it. This blog (and each and every one like it) is a virtual reality. It could be seen as yet another chance to present a shiny, polished version of myself onto the Internet for all to see – a made up, well behaved, confident, funny and intelligent version of myself. No pressure. With social media growing at a terrifying pace, it’s astonishing that so many of us fall for the versions of others that they choose to present to the world. The aspects of themselves and their lives that they decide to share, when no doubt the reality is often very different. Ever found yourself perusing the pages of people who appear far happier than you? More beautiful, successful, organised and talented? As 21st Century women (and men!) we are faced with a constant barrage of images and lifestyles we are supposed to aspire to. The idea is that we compare our own realities with these and, more often than not, find that we don’t match up.

I don’t want this blog to adhere to the fantastical notion of what I, as a 25 year old woman, should be. OK, so the fact that I choose to talk about my faith rather than the latest beauty and fashion products probably bucks the trend somewhat. However, when starting this little space in the corner of the Internet, I set out to present an entirely honest reflection of myself. Not to lace it with a thick sugar coating, or photoshop it to within an inch of it’s life because that’s not real. I try to reflect my own struggles and fears in life and in my walk with God, as well as the moments when I feel pure contentment – yes, contentment, because (despite what the media tells us) it’s OK to be happy with what you have!

So, here’s a belated, basic intro for you. I ain’t no photoshopped, plastic, media friendly doll, because that’s not how I was made and neither were you. Here’s me in a nutshell.

I’m a 25 year old primary school teacher. For someone with very little patience, this may be considered an unusual choice of occupation. Indeed, there are days when I resemble Miss Trunchbull more than Miss Honey as I repeat for the thousandth time “You have just got in from break, you should have gone to the toilet then [insert child’s name here, along with angry eyes and gritted teeth]”. 

I long ago stopped trying to tame my thick, mousey hair and it is entirely left to its own devices each and every day – devices which, I might add, seem to swing from being relatively presentable to downright unmanageable. Stepping into a new hairdressers, I can always predict the sighs of wonder at the ‘amount of hair’ I have cleverly managed to grow on top of my head and the questions as to how long it takes for me to blow dry and style (HA!) in the mornings. On one occasion, the hairdresser managed to do such a ‘wonderful’ *hideous* job of ‘volumising’ my hair that I had to request anti-frizz be plastered in huge amounts immediately. Her efforts to hide the snigger which followed were courageous, though futile as she shuffled off to find the ‘extra strength’ bottle – kept out back (for emergencies I can only imagine).

I bite my nails when I’m stressed and I hold a personal record of approximately 2 hours of having nail varnish on without it chipping. Every now and again I optimistically attempt to shape them, but am bemused by the concept of sanding down my nails and tend to give up when I get to my right hand since my left is completely and utterly hopeless. Ambidextrous I am not (and, in the spirit of truthfulness, yes I did just have to look up the spelling of that word).

I wear jeans practically every day and have a proper fear of my skirt flying up in the wind when walking the streets in a dress. Truth.

I am useless at small talk and find the prospect of entering rooms with large groups of people that I do not know faintly horrifying. My brain will quickly clam up and I find myself panic talking about the weather… dreadful. I escape at any opportunity and retire to the sanctuary of my comfy lounge with a steaming cup of tea, sleepy cat and handsome husband. Heaven. On that note, long gone are the days when nights out were considered the perfect Friday or Saturday night. Nowadays, a good documentary (yes, you heard me), comfy slippers and a single glass of wine do me just fine. I realise this makes me sound old at the age of 25, but that’s me.

I’d choose a bath over a shower and prefer cats over dogs.
I read chick lit (despite my Literature degree), drink £5 bottles of wine and consider 11pm a late night.
I get bored by films and flick through the channels during ad breaks.
I can’t stand shopping for shoes and will wear the same pair until they quite literally fall apart on my feet before replacing them.
I can’t be done with taking hours over my face and my make up takes me 10 minutes in the morning, 8 at a push…

This has turned into a confessions list. Apologies. Here’s hoping you’ve made it to the end without flicking onto the next page. My tea has turned cold and the call of chocolate from the cupboard is getting louder, but I hope I’ve succeeded in (belatedly) setting the tone for this blog. A place where it’s OK to be you: whether that be a tea-sipping, introverted, frizzy haired, cat lover like myself or a totally different personality. Embrace the reality of who you are and celebrate it. Because God created you in His image and you matter to Him.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Standing with Him

I was singing my heart out in church this morning. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t sing at all and should probably apologise to the lady who was sitting in front of me today as I belted out the songs badly over the top of her head, but there’s something amazing about singing to my God in a crowd of people also singing to Him. It’s a powerful and yet intimate experience, worship. I’ve never been a singer and, despite attempting to attend several choirs in primary school, discovered very quickly that it certainly is not where my talent lies. Despite this, I love it. On inviting some friends to church when I was at university, they were horrified at the prospect of having to sing songs. I guess it is frightening when it’s not something that people do in secular culture, certainly not sober anyway! But in the context of church, it makes absolute sense to meet God in this way.

Today was unusual for me in that, having family over for lunch, I was keen to get home early. I was, perhaps optimistically, attempting to create fancy dauphinoise potatoes alongside our roast chicken dinner and so planned to slip out after the worship session in order to hit the kitchen with a vengeance. Missing the sermon itself, I wasn’t quite expecting to be challenged in quite the way that I was. Terrible, isn’t it, that we can so often turn up at church not really anticipating to meet God? As his children, we should come into his presence with the absolute expectation to meet with Him. As I wandered into the building with characteristic promptness, 2 minutes before the service began, however, my mind was on other things as I nodded and smiled at people I recognised. 

The band struck up the first song and it wasn’t long before my mind moved away from cream coated potatoes and roast chicken to the mighty Creator God who wants to meet with me right here, right now. Little old me… who casually turns up in His house with a whole host of ‘stuff’ on my mind, not really anticipating anything AND YET with awesome, amazing grace He comes right up close to meet me where I am. There are a whole host of emotions and feelings that you feel when encountering God in worship, but today I felt
                                                   and whole
                                                             and safe.

Regardless of what’s going on in life: the hundreds of reports still left to write, the books that need marking, the assessment data that needs inputting and all the things that have the potential to go wrong this week, He is with me. He is in it and I can proclaim with absolute certainty and confidence…

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind,
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side.

How amazing that He wants to be in everything that I do?! That Creator God, the same God who flung stars into space, intercedes for me and stands alongside me as I live my life. It doesn’t mean that everything I do will be successful, or that I won’t ever get hurt or feel suffering. However, in the context of God’s greatness, everything else pales into insignificance because he is bigger than it all.

Nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in your hands.
I’m holding on to your promises
You are faithful, You are faithful, You are faithful…

As you go into the next week, regardless of what it has in store for you, know the truth that He goes before you and stands behind you in all that you do. Need to hear it again? Have a listen to the song and draw close to the Father, just as He so wishes to draw close to you. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Kneel in Nature

A year ago, amidst huge excitement and slight terror, Sam and I made a giant leap onto the property ladder, purchasing our own little patch of planet Earth. Needless to say, a rather large proportion of this patch is made up of our small, though perfectly formed little two-bed terraced house… but at the back of the property, hemmed in from the outside world is our very own little outdoor space. A (not so quiet) sanctuary inwhich we can potter around as we please: exploring, creating and watching with fascination as every day miracles happen before our very eyes.


I should say from the offset, I have never been a gardening sort. I yawned loudly whenever Monty Don’s face appeared on the TV and watched aghast as Charlie Dimmock squatted over a flowerbed, wrist deep in mucky soil – leaf-strewn hair blowing haphazardly around her face. Despite my parents' best intentions, I simply couldn’t get excited by the prospect of spending my spare time on my knees, pulling up what I believed to be weeds from perfectly manicured flower beds… the identification process for this job was undoubtedly dodgy and I no doubt pulled up many a geranium during these ‘Gardening Sunday’ afternoons.


However, with the purchase of our brand spanking new property, we automatically became the owners of a garden which was solely our responsibility… Help! Being a great believer in the helpfulness of books in all situations, I immediately bought a manual to help with this conundrum, identifying ‘Gardening Basics for Dummies’ as a pretty good place to begin. An expensive visit to the garden centre, lengthy conversations with some gardening connoisseurs and a few productive weekends later and we are the proud owners of what certainly looks to be a budding little garden. We have thus far stuck with plants that profess to be ‘hardy’ – an important quality to have in order to survive  in these conditions(!), but so far, amazingly, we have managed to keep things alive.  More than that, I have been surprised by my own interest and awareness of the changes happening from week to week and season to season. As small, somewhat pathetic little seedlings are planted and, with some nurturing and encouragement, grow into strong and beautiful plants, I am struck by the miracle of Nature. 

At this time of year particularly, as humanity continues to trudge through the working weeks – eyes fixed on the summer holiday that awaits us just around the corner – Nature is coming alive. Spring is well and truly springing up all around us as trees are resurrected with their green, fresh leaves and birds are nesting, creating the next generation of little feathered beings. Even now, with the patio doors flung open, I am greeted with the beautiful sound of birdsong and rustling leaves, as white fluffy clouds pass peacefully over our heads. God reveals Himself in the beauty of nature each and every day. Do you take the time to notice? 

Do you find yourself getting wrapped up in the cares of the World? Do you get stressed and anxious at the prospect of another week, filled with more busyness? I humbly suggest one thing… Take yourself into the great outdoors. Take a walk, or you might even just want to lie on the grass in your garden or in a field somewhere. Forget yourself for one moment. Leave your phone and laptop behind. Be still and listen carefully to the miracle of life and nature all around you. The God that created the world and everything inside it, from the smallest ant to the towering mountain is the God who created you. He has you in the palm of His hand and He knows you. Hear it and know it. This God wants a relationship with you. 

Whether you know Him or not, I encourage you to dedicate your week to this God. Trust me, He’ll keep it safe.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Thin Place

‘Heaven and Earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller’
                                                                                                                    (Celtic saying)

"The Thin Place" in this quote is referring to places and moments in time whenthe distance between Heaven and Earth is smaller. Where the veil separating Heaven and Earth is lifted and one is able to catch a glimpse of the glory of God. It’s a glimpse that takes your breath away, it overwhelms and yet sustains your very soul.

Where are your thin places? Have you found them yet?

I don’t know about you, but I find it all too easy to focus my attention solely on the negative elements of our World. My eyes and ears are filled every day by atrocities happening all over planet Earth. Humanity destroying itself through war and hatred. Men and women destroying our planet and its creatures because of greed and selfishness. Natural disasters killing people in their thousands, leaving broken homes and lost family members. Illness and disease taking more and more victims every day, causing pain and anguish to the people it affects.

These events are heart breaking and I cannot understand why they happen. I try to convert my heart-rendered questions into prayers for those affected. To cry out to God for peace and restoration to the nations and families that need Him so much. I encourage you to do the same. In times like this, the distance between Heaven and Earth can seem huge. When parts of humanity walk in the valleys of darkness, the situation can feel suffocating and hopeless. 

The Bible promises that there will come a time when our world is restored and all suffering will come to an end (Isaiah 65:17). But what about now? How do we cope when people around us are suffering such sadness?

I encourage you to actively search for the thin places in our world and in our lives. The places and moments where God's love and light shine through brightly.  Why? Because it’s in our experience of the thin places that we snatch a glimpse of God and His deepest desires for us. Our eyes are opened to the glory of God around us... We see the good people who far outweigh the bad; the beauty that far outweighs the ugliness; the light which conquers the darkness. There will come a time when our world is restored and all suffering comes to an end. In the meantime, I implore you to search for the thin places on Earth right now:

The stunning view over green countryside that takes your breath away.

Sharing precious time and laughter with close friends.

The birth of a most longed-for baby.

The love shared between two people, grown stronger over decades.

A sunset at the end of a long day.

When you seek God, you will find Him. 

The thin places are all around us... Are you prepared to search for them?