Praying and watching

The snowdrops in my garden were in full bloom before I had even noticed. Last year, after my Mum had planted them I was watching much more carefully – noticing the tiny shoots as first signs of spring after the winter. This year we had much more snow – a thick blanket covering the bulbs entirely but there was still growth happening underground and the snowdrops seem very healthy.

Chris Kilby talked about watching in a garden for signs of growth in his days as an experimental gardener – I think with radishes in particular. He used it as an example in chapter four of his book ‘Equipped’ which aims to be a practical book encouraging Christians to talk to others about their faith. Chapter four is about prayer and starts with the reminder to talk to Jesus about your neighbours before you talk to your neighbours about Jesus. I was leading our study looking at chapter four this week, and was particularly struck by the verse in Colossians 4 which says:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4 v 2)

The more famous verse in the Bible is perhaps where Jesus asks Peter, James and John to watch and pray (Matthew 26 v 41), but the point we discussed on Wednesday was how if we pray about something, then we care about it more, and we watch out for things happening, and then we pray more, in a kind of cycle.

Last month I was at a worship and prayer meeting when we got onto the theme of praying for freedom for people in different areas of their lives. I felt quite strongly that another related thing we could pray about would be for release for people caught up in modern day slavery and human trafficking. I suggested it as a possibility to the meeting leader and he agreed that would be one direction we could go but he was also weighing other words and possibilities. I didn’t mind too much but did feel quite strongly that I should personally be praying on that topic.

I prayed with a fervency that rarely comes to me. I prayed about people caught up in slavery around the world and in Birmingham. I prayed for police and others investigating human trafficking, that their operations would be successful and that people would be freed. I prayed for changes of heart in the people guarding them. I prayed that neighbours and local people would notice things that weren’t right and would report them. I prayed for breakthrough and justice. I prayed for restoration and wholeness. And I ended up feeling strongly like God was going to do something, and that I should watch the news.

This had been on Tuesday evening, and on Friday morning this story was reported in local and national news.  On the Thursday, after a coordinated operation involving multiple agencies, five people in Birmingham had been rescued from modern slavery and thirteen people had been arrested. Some of the roads mentioned are local roads I know well.

How can I respond to something like this, except to want to pray more? If I pray for someone from the safety of a local church, and people are set free from actual slavery – it doesn’t feel like coincidence. If I pray for someone to be healed and they experience actual physical breakthrough – a reduction in pain or increased movement or a noticeable lightness, why am I not praying for people to be healed all the time? In fact, even when people I prayed for have not been healed, I have been surprised by how positively they have responded in appreciating the care I have shown or my willingness to do something because of my faith. But mostly I have found that when I have spent some time in praying and worshipping God, and then seek to follow his prompting, God does something.

I talked before about Jordan Seng’s 4 key points in his equation of moving in more of God’s miraculous power to heal or deliver: Obedience + Faith + Gifting + Consecration = Power. I think I’ve been talking about obedience (in the listening and seeking to follow God’s prompting) and consecration (taking time to worship and pray, and fasting goes here too, if Lent is something you are observing at the moment). Mainly in Lent I have decided to pray more rather than doing anything else less – so please let me know how I can pray for you. And then watch and see the signs of God at work.

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Multitasking in church

I’m a bit concerned that this post will read like I’m saying ‘look at me, I’m amazing’ or ‘look at me, I’m an idiot’ depending on your perspective. I’m going to do my best to avoid both and hope that some of my readers will probably relate to what I’m saying. I think part of the issue is being in a small church and being someone who does not have those other classic multitasking roles like parenting or being a carer or holding several jobs.
So here’s the run down, currently at my main church I:new guitar

  • Lead worship about once a month (play guitar and sing… and pray and choose the songs, have a practice with the singer midweek, put the words on the laptop, arrive early and set up the PA and then set down the PA at the end, mostly with some help, thankfully).
  • Preach about once a month (this has increased recently as our church leader is unwell… there’s a fair bit of preparation involved here too).IMG_0141
  • Am a trustee… our meetings aren’t that frequent but it does feel like quite a responsibility.
  • Am the Child Protection Coordinator… I have some background in this area so I took a lead in rewriting our policies and doing some training. Most weeks there isn’t much call on this role but occasionally it requires some important action.
  • Oversee finance… I’m not officially the treasurer but neither is anyone else. I do work with someone else who does the img_0865-1week to week finance admin thankfully.
  • Co-lead a house group… My friend and co-leader does more of the organisation and work at the moment I’d say, but I do go most weeks and try to say wise and helpful things from time to time.

I’ve just come off the main set-up rota as I always seemed to be doing something else at the same time.  I am grateful that there isn’t the expectation (as there is in some churches) that the same people lead worship or preach every week.  I haven’t done kidswork in many years although I feel like I should be offering to do something more to support the youth. It all seems a bit crazy, particularly alongside a full-time job although I am grateful that my job has fluctuating busy times and less busy times. Sadly I am currently in a busy time which is likely to last until late May although even now, I know my job is much less pressured than many.  Really busy people probably don’t spend Saturday afternoon blogging…

juggler cropI did some searching on the idea of multitasking in church and the consensus seems to be not to do it. People seem to think that you perform much better if you focus on one main ministry. I can see the wisdom in this, and how if top quality were required I know I could improve my guitar playing and singing if I focused a lot more time on that, or my preaching if I focused a lot more time on that. One of the things I really like about my church is that it feels more like family than any kind of performance, and that people are on my side and I think looking for ‘good-enough‘ rather than excellence. If my worship and preaching point to God, and are accessible to most people, then I don’t think people mind if I stumble from time to time over chords or words. I know other churches have more of a focus on excellence but I don’t think that’s particularly scriptural or realistic in a small church. It’s good to do things whole-heartedly, but I like a church meeting where anyone can join in, contribute and feel welcomed rather than one which feels slick and where people up the front seem super-human.

I think the idea of church as family means I help out more, particularly in times like now when others are incapacitated. Family seems like the place where everyone should get stuck in and do some regular chores as well as extra things when needed. I alluded earlier to the multitasking in parenting, and I know I could find many blogs out there listing the multiple roles played by Mums, and increasingly Dads too, often alongside full time jobs. HowIMG_2432ever busy I might think I am with church responsibilities, I still manage to have one lie-in most weekends, and I manage to go to the cinema a lot. I think most parents would be a bit envious of the amount of time I have to myself. I even manage to go to another church some Sunday afternoons (although emphatically as a punter, with the luxury of focusing on God rather than any jobs I have to do). This feels restorative, not an added pressure.

I know I need to be needed, and I really appreciate positive and thoughtful feedback from others. Interestingly this comes most often when I preach rather than any of the other roles. Perhaps I have more gifting in this area, or perhaps people are more in the habit of thanking a preacher. I know there is a danger in feeling good about myself in terms of what I do, and how much I serve rather than seeing my value in how God sees me. I want to believe that if I were suddenly bed-bound, unable to do anything much except pray, that God would still see me as just as precious. I know I would struggle with being so restricted, and I should probably pray more for the people I know in something more like this situation.

IfAmnesty Candle I read stories of missionaries or others in full-time Christian ministry, they seem to be doing so much more. When your whole life is a struggle and a witness, when you face significant opposition from authorities or spiritual attack – I guess then I realise how little I have to complain about. In most ways my life is so comfortable – I know I could be doing and sacrificing more.

But I also know about burnout – in work and Christian circles. I guess I’m writing this to help myself figure out what is sustainable. If a few different areas of church life suddenly got more stressful, I think I would find it hard to keep all my current plates spinning. I wonder how some tasks could be shared more, and whether there are other people who would love to have more responsibility in certain areas. My impression is that we are a bit short-handed everywhere, and that some people who might like to do more or clearly have gifting and talents have just too much else going on in their lives or various limiting health conditions.

If my example is Jesus, he clearly served his Father in a wide range of ways although hepan IMG_3150 tended to ask others to do the hospitality bit. He managed to go to parties and dinners, and took regular time off by himself to pray. The gospels don’t record “and then Jesus went off on a mini break to play crazy golf with his friends” or “then Jesus booked a holiday to Canada to admire the scenery and animals his Father had made”. One could argue that his main ministry on earth only continued at such a pace for three years…

I have booked a holiday (roll on June!) and I have quit the set-up rota, and I am trying to be mindful of what I am doing and why. I know my recent ‘stepping-up’ has been noticed and appreciated, and I am going to be involved in more discussions about the way forward and who is doing what. I am seeking wisdom on all this, so please do offer any helpful advice or things that have helped you/ your church, or pray for me/ us. Thanks.

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Accounting for love

I guess blogging about an ongoing relationship is complicated because the stories aren’t just yours, they also belong to someone else you care about. Perhaps it also feels risky to be putting something down as a record when it still feels very early days in the relationship, not wanting to jinx anything or be overly effusive or sickening or naive. For whatever combination of reasons I didn’t blog much last year, even though I was delighted to finally not be single, especially as a somewhat significant birthday came and went. Just as I didn’t shout about the relationship starting, not online anyway, I also didn’t shout about it ending but it’s over now. And Roxette, for my part at least, it must have been love.

Loving someone when you’re pretty sure they don’t love you isn’t to be recommended, but I don’t seem to be wired in a way that lets me hold back until my head and heart agree on something. I should probably be grateful that the object of my affection was a gentleman, and kind, and not someone to take advantage. Still, I got my hopes up and then was very disappointed. And some of you won’t be surprised to hear that those feelings don’t just go away. Someone told me it takes as long to fall out of love with someone as it did to fall for them in the first place.

The thought that struck me, and that provoked this blog and the title in particular, was that I had been focusing a lot on a particular line of a balance sheet. In looking at how much love was coming into my life from one specific direction, and how unbalanced my outgoings in that particular area, I was losing the bigger picture. Accounting for love in my life there is a massive, consistent deposit elsewhere in the chart which totally eclipses anything that any human can offer.

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us

How high and wide and deep and long is the Father’s love for us

As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is the measure of your great love

If I can truly grasp how loved I am by God, then any other balances, how much specific people, friends, family love me or whether I spend more time and energy loving them becomes pretty irrelevant. If I can truly receive that love he has for me, then the question only remains, how to spend it.

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Gathering discarded gems

Although we live in such a digital age, I still have many books around my house. Many of them mean something to me and even though I haven’t looked at many of them in a long time, I wouldn’t want to get rid of them. I was just leafing through a book about Iceland with some amazing views which I have offered to lend to a friend. Not far away there were some books of poetry by John Hegley, a favourite from years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe. I find some of his poems really moving, particularly the honesty with which he talks about family relationships.

In a poem called ‘Revisiting Home’, which I think he also recorded as ‘Luton Bungalow Revisited’ he talks about his father’s artistic skills which in later years were little in evidence, except when he got a bit carried away drawing crazy paving in cement. Hegley continues:

“We should have hung out bunting,
Let the beach-ball colours show
for all unsung potential
in each Luton bungalow.
For all unused abilities.
For undiscovered skills.
For confetti which has not been cut,
no horseshoe shapes or frills
For my mum’s soft singing voice
it was her choice to hardly show…
For the love inside the Luton bungalow”

There are a few John Hegley poems which I know by heart, but many more which have touched my heart and which I have mostly forgotten about. Perhaps if I sorted through my books a bit more often I would rediscover all sorts of treasures, some of which couldn’t be found on the internet even if I did think to search for them.

This last weekend I was away with my church family at a centre called Quinta near Oswestry. There were many different activity sessions including one with lots of different colour beads, some of which ended up rolling away as spherical objects tend to do, and ending up on the dining room floor. When I tried vacuuming the floor (more after a messy mealtime than the craft activities) the beads just rolled away, so I ended up crawling around (looking most elegant I am sure) picking up the beads which varied from purple and white beads about half an inch across to much tinier black and metal beads.

As I gathered quite a handful I was struck by how attractive they were, even though they had been lost or discarded and perhaps singly didn’t count for much. I decided that I wanted to string them together to make some sort of necklace, reclaiming what had been lost and turning the collection into something beautiful which could be worn and enjoyed. Suddenly it struck me that this could be how God sees us, and brings us together, perhaps individually discarded and downtrodden but precious and beautiful as we are united together in all our variety.

The whole weekend was a precious gathering of young and old and in between, people of varied ethnic heritage, former members of the church and friends of current members. Somehow I felt God had brought us together and found us beautiful.  I shared this picture on the Sunday morning and today I strung the beads together to fulfill what I had imagined.  One of the songs we sang referenced the lost sheep and how far the shepherd goes to recover the lost one, leaving the ninety-nine.  I was also reminded of the lost coin, and how precious that was, and you are.

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Looking for helpers

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Qubek’s Manchester bee mural in the Northern Quarter (Photo: Soup Kitchen | Twitter)

The horrible event in Manchester a week ago touched so many people, and my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones.  I was in the city again this weekend and was moved by some of the new art work promoting community as well as some of the tributes I have watched online including Tony Walsh’s poem ‘This is the Place’.  Some people have shared the quotation from Fred Rogers, a US TV presenter who used to encourage children facing scary news to ‘look for the helpers’:

Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” (PBS website)

This seems to be good advice for children and adults when we are disturbed by shocking events which we might see on TV news – faced with senseless evil which makes us see the worst in humanity it can give us a better perspective to focus on the good: the hardworking members of the emergency services, bystanders who rush in to help like Stephen Jones and those who work in counselling and pastoral services to support families and others affected after the event, including many inspired by their faith.

I went to a prayer meeting in Manchester yesterday evening where the group are working through the one of the Thy Kingdom Come resources called the Novena, using artwork by Caleb Simmons.  Here he is discussing the piece we looked at yesterday:

There’s a female paratrooper on the brink of jumping from a plane, and we looked at an accompanying passage about Esther in the Bible as she prepared to go to the King to plead for lives of her people.  One of the things that struck me about the picture and the passage was how even though each woman appears alone, on the brink of a significant step which only she can take, she’s not actually alone.  The paratrooper has someone flying the plane, and others in the plane with her and who have presumably helped with her kit and preparation.  Similarly even when put on the spot by Mordecai, Esther asks him to gather the Jews in Susa to pray and fast for her, as she will also gather those who serve her in the palace.  It made me want to be more aware of and grateful for the people who support me, and to look out for people about to take a new step of faith and see how I can support and pray for them too.

Sometimes help comes from a more unlikely source.  I had an interesting discussion with a friend in need last week, who had received a rather nebulous ‘let us know if we can do anything to help’ offer from family some distance away.  While he didn’t want to prevail upon them, or be disappointed if they let him down, I did feel strongly that he needed to give them the chance to help him out, even with all the uncertainties of how they might respond.  Sometimes we do have to make ourselves a bit vulnerable and ask for help, to allow others to help us.  Perhaps some of the victims in Manchester might not have expected a homeless person to come to their aid.

The friendship between a group of London Gay and Lesbian activists and a Welsh mining community might have been similarly unexpected, but I love this true story portrayed in the film ‘Pride’ which I rewatched yesterday afternoon.  One of the characters, Dai, explains it like this:

Pride friend

I love the way the friendship is portrayed in the film, and how later on the miners get a chance to show their solidarity with LGSM at the 1985 Pride festival.  When our fellow human beings are being beaten down, by prejudice or terrorists or cancer or depression, we have the chance to be the one who chooses love and reaches out, and to celebrate the others who are doing the same.

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Connecting up well

I’m not an electrician by any stretch, but I spent a lot of time last Saturday to Monday trying to attach a new light fitting in my study. The old one had only one light out of four working, and replacing bulbs hadn’t done the trick, so I bought a nice new set of three spotlights. Unfortunately the instructions didn’t match up with the multiple wires I had coming out of the ceiling, and I had not made careful notes of all the wires I had detached from the old fitting, and had to undo some connections to properly remove the old shell. Nine wires and three attachments had rather a lot of possible permutations. And the whole potential shock scenario if I wasn’t careful.

I love a good connection. You might have noticed that it’s one of the most prominent themes on my blog here, as evidenced by the fat word in the Word cloud on the right. Connected communication was a major theme during my PhD research, along with working holistically. I’ve been going along to a holistic leadership course lately, and one of the tools we’ve used is the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. This asks you lots of questions and then identifies your top five strengths from a list of 34. My top strength comes out as ‘Connectedness’ which apparently means I “have faith in the links among all things… believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has meaning”.

I can definitely see this in myself, although some parts of the description sound a bit Zen whereas I would rather attribute the meaning and apparent coincidences to the grace and mercy of God. I love learning and expressing things through metaphors and enjoyed img_0365-cropfinding deeper meanings and connections in my creative endeavours as a dramatherapist, even if I occasionally got overwhelmed by finding meanings in every subconscious impulse or whim, dream or story. I enjoy connecting different things in this blog, and generally find multiple ways to interpret my title.

yellow_tshirtWhen I went to Germany recently I was keen to make a connection with a church in the area where I will be teaching and supporting students. I had my yellow T shirt friend and he had mentioned a particular church in the nearby area. Investigating further I found that some other church contacts had recently been to this church and led worship there in their roles with Worship Central. They put me in touch with a musician/ worship leader there and with very little time to spare I was able to meet him, hear about the church and find out how useful it sounds, both for me and another student who plans to travel to Germany before the main group go next autumn. Very cool connections.

Back to my new light fitting and some less cool connections. My early attempts didn’t work at all, and then I managed to get the light illuminated. Unfortunately I couldn’t turn it on or off with the switch. Even worse, the kitchen lights had also stopped working. Once I removed the fitting again, all Saturday night we had no lights in half the downstairs. I asked for some advice from a physics teacher friend at church on Sunday, trying not to make him worry about me too much. He gave me some useful tips about the switch live and putting red to red and black to black but it was too much to explain in a quick conversation. When I tried on the Sunday afternoon I managed to get the kitchen lights working by connecting up some of the wires, and I spotted the switch live, but I just didn’t seem to have the right wires left to get the kitchen lights and the study light to both work together.

On Sunday night I found a useful website online which had photos and a similar set up to mine. Before work on Monday I tried to connect it all up following their instructions, but I just couldn’t physically get the wires to all stay where I needed them to be. I didn’t have enough hands to hold the fitting as well as forcing the wires into the different connectors and tightening the little screws. I couldn’t find an easy time when my housemates would be available to help during daylight and I really wanted the study to be available again. In the end I got home after dark on the Monday but managed to improvise a head torch by tucking my phone into a woolly hat brim, and a cradle from shoelaces which held the fitting in place while I fiddled with the wires. My arms were tired and my prayers were getting more frantic and I finally managed to get it sorted.

It was such a faff it made me think there’s probably something God wants me to learn in this, and a metaphor about something that I want to share here. Maybe it’s about the surprising need to attach all three live wires together. Maybe it’s about the role of the black switch live wire, which looks and acts like a neutral wire until you flick the switch which turns it live. Maybe it’s about the two neutral wires which needed to fit in the same hole to connect to the light fitting, and really didn’t want to. Maybe it’s about the need for good connections to be light for the world, and where the power comes from. Tim Hughes shared recently how Desmond Tutu said that we are the lightbulb, we just need to stay plugged in. Some light bulbs are more complicated than others – but I guess getting the church to be light involves a lot of different people and different connections. It’s definitely better when we work together.

For me I think it’s probably about being part of two different church congregations at the gas-st-lightmoment. I love my local church and want to stay fully involved there but I’ve got a lot out of the bigger city church where I’ve done some training and attended some evening services. I know that has definitely contributed to how much better I’ve been doing spiritually lately, and I know my local church has got more from me as a result, but it does feel a bit complicated. I guess if I can stay connected to God as the power source and connected in the right way to both churches then I can help spread more light.

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Carrying heavy stuff

Last weekend I finally sorted through the last boxes of img_4193belongings from moving house and packed up eight plastic crates for the loft.  Some were heavier than others but lifting them up the stairs and then up the ladder to the loft was a pretty tough job, and one I couldn’t have managed without some help from my housemate who helped from above in the loft.  I did most of the lifting myself and was pleased with a good job done, although I noticed later that lifting the crates onto my shoulder to climb the ladder had left me with some pretty impressive and odd-shaped bruises.

While I had been chuffed at the woman power that had got the job done, it made me think of how some men in particular have much more developed shoulder muscles, which wouldn’t have bruised anything like as much as I did.  Whether from manual work or time in the gym, this attractive feature I first noticed when ballroom dancing as a teenager would actually have had a much more practical application, had there been spare men around to help out.  Sadly, as often seems to be the way, spare, helpful, well-built men were not in evidence.

The idea of building one’s muscles to get better at carrying things was one I mused on more the following day, wondering whether this also holds true in a metaphorical or spiritual sense.  It seems likely that as we flex our spiritual muscles by developing our faith and trust in God, then we will be able to carry more, whatever that means.  If we take small steps in building up the amount we try to carry, then we may find that we don’t strain or hurt ourselves in the way we otherwise would.

bruiseHowever, sometimes things are just too heavy, and we need to let someone else help, or shoulder the burden for us.  Jesus said that we are to come to him when we are weary and burdened, and he will give us rest.  He encourages us to take up his yoke instead, which is easy, and a light burden.  In case I didn’t think of this, the bruises on my arm resemble something of a cross.  While I’m not keen to get a tattoo, I do want to remember what Jesus carried for me.  So I thought I’d blog about it.

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