Monday, 5 June 2017

House of Healing

Recently we have been decorating.  We moved to our home nearly 5 years ago and this is the last major decorating we need to do.  When we brought the house it was in a state of much needed modernisation and some tender loving care after some years of the owners struggling with the upkeep.  It has taken us quite a journey to get it to the state it is now.  As we painted walls yesterday I reflected on the  journey that brought us to this house and how God knew it all.  The testimony of our move is one that I felt I should blog - it may be an encouragement to others who are in similar situations where they can't see the end or what God is doing......

Early 2011 and our lives had just been hit by an event that rocked us to our core.  Although there was an element of physical trauma what we didn't realise at the time was the emotional and mental trauma we were going through.  Suddenly from being a relatively confident person I became insular, not everyone saw the change in me but Malcolm did .......... I could not walk around a supermarket if there were lots of people, crowds became a problem with regular panic attacks, some mornings I would wake up and not be able to decide anything - there were countless days where Malcolm would choose every item I would wear that day.  Most weekends we would head out of London to see the countryside - walk in open fields, breath and walk alongside the sea.  If we were out I needed to be able to see Malcolm or know where he was - my confidence was zero!  Evenings would see us return from work and an immediate change into pj's!  We had a builder friend come and put extra bolts on our front door as I found myself scared in my own home - the area we lived in was rough - I witnessed a youth stabbed, our car was stolen from our street, our neighbour was broken into and stabbed in his own home, there were frequent fights and frequent calls to the police.  I felt trapped.   It wasn't long before we realised we needed to move and so our house went on the market.

10 months later we still hadn't sold our house.  My symptoms of not coping were not really easing and Malcolm was literally holding me together.  Work was my saving grace - the one place where my confidence was ok; I knew what I was doing and knew the people around me!  At the time if you had asked me I would have told you I was doing fine; almost not realising how bad things were apart from the fact that with some advice I was now seeing a counsellor who was helping me to manage some of my symptoms from the trauma earlier that year.  It was at this 10 month mark that Malcolm said that he thought we should start thinking that not only should we change our home but we should change the area in which we lived - moving out of London; he was also starting to think that if we didn't sell then we should look at alternatives to just move from our house as soon as possible even if we still owned it.  A few weeks later we looked at 6 houses one weekend that were outside of London.  That weekend we received three offers on our home in London.  It seemed that Malcolm's idea to move out could be the right one!  One of the houses we saw that weekend stood out from the rest and so we put an offer in after negotiating on the price the offer was accepted.

A few months later and we were ready to move but then came the news that the people we were buying from had issues further up the chain and were now not ready to move out.  We were told there would be a few weeks delay.  Our buyer then announced that if we did not sell to her at that time that she would pull out - she was ready to move in! We then made a decision to sell, so we put all our stuff in storage and packed enough for 2 weeks.  Our employer had agreed to give us a room at work for two weeks in which we could live.  The two weeks became three months - I cannot describe to you the questions we had in those months - had we got it wrong?  Had we made the wrong decisions? The feelings of being homeless and concerns how it would all work out were very unnerving.  It was just about to hit the point that we would have to take a massive financial hit in respect of our mortgage when it was all resolved and we could move.  The day we got the keys my sister came with me to pick them up and walk through the front door.  Malcolm was busy at work preparing for a wedding reception the next day.  Even having the keys felt odd as we couldn't move in with work commitments and working out the practicalities of moving stuff from a storage unit to the house were quite baffling!

At the time of preparing to move we were given two words about our new home - one was that it would be a place of healing and the other that the Lord would lead us out to a spacious place [we were given that when the folks didn't know anything about the home we had brought].

Once we got into our new home we started to reflect on those three months of being homeless where we had asked so many questions about what we were doing.  If we had heard right?  If we had made right decisions.  It was only looking back that we realised that those three months God did some powerful things in us in closing doors, in starting some work in us that meant that when we eventually moved that it really was a fresh start with lots of things dealt with rather than bringing them with us to this new home.  God knew what we needed and orchestrated it so that despite us not realising that we had time and space to shut some doors ready for the new day in our lives.

In my old home to see the sky you needed to walk outside and look straight up - you could not see the sky from inside with the way that the house was positioned in respect of other houses.  In our new home I am often caught looking out from the back windows across the garden to the trees in the distance - God really brought us to a spacious place / spacious view!  We saw a change in me - confidence started to return, I began to feel more positive about life and I went from merely surviving to thriving.

5 years on and we are so grateful that God led us to this home to be a place of  healing for us and hopefully for others.  Time and time again we have seen God use our home to help others or bless them.  It is His home - it belongs to Him and we pray that He will use our home for His glory.  BUT at the same time we hold it lightly - if God tells us that He wants us somewhere else then we would happily move - we know that this season in this house as been one where He has used this home to rebuild us as a couple, as individuals, where the beauty of creation has ministered life into weary broken lives, where sunsets, rainbows and storms have oozed with His faithfulness and care.  I praise God for our home.  It has literally been a God-send, a lifeline to both of us!


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Everlasting God

This morning at Church we sang a song containing the line 'You are the Everlasting God' and it got me thinking and thinking..............  These days we live in a 'disposable' society when we purchase something we hope it lasts but more often than not it is more to do its job for a season or for the purpose for that time.  When we got married everything was new - folks gifted us wonderful presents for our wedding for our new home.  We were set - towels, plates, furniture etc etc.  But a number of years later and we have found we have had to purchase new towels, we have had our fair share of smashed crockery, we had items that broke down and would no longer work.

We have all seen those television adverts for batteries that go on and on - but you know; there still comes a point when they run out, they expire, no power left.  They are useless and need replacing.

But today I was struck once again by the permanency of God, the fact He will not run out, expire, break, falter or fail.  He will not be replaced by a better model with a superior spec or better design - He is EVERLASTING!  He is amazing - nothing and no one compares to Him there is nothing or no one that will remain as constant as He does!

The dictionary defines the word 'everlasting' as eternal, never-ending, endless, perpetual, undying, immortal, deathless, indestructible, immutable, abiding, enduring, infinite, boundless, timeless - that is my God, that is the King of  Kings - indestructible - wow - everlasting God!!!!  Dwell on that for a moment and surely your view of Him will just get greater and greater!!!!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Tears, tears, tears

This year has been strangely harder for us than other sad-a-versary times. I have my own theories as to why but it has been a ridiculously hard couple of months. There have been many private tears and (much to my embarrassment) many public tears. Those who have known me over a long time will know that generally I attempt not to cry in front of people. However sometimes the 'attempts' fail as I can't hold the tears in. The last couple of months appear to have been one where my pride has been taken out on this. I have wept with trusted friends, cried through sermons (not because they were bad! Lol!) and tears have rolled down my face during worship.  We got to the point at home that all the tissues in the house were gone and even the kitchen roll was used up!

I am not sure it is helpful to state all the reasons why I think this year has been so much harder than previous years but as Malcolm and I have talked about the tears or just had a hug I have realised afresh how blessed I am that we walk each day together. The honesty of telling him that I couldn't hold the tears in and his reassurance that it is ok and of his love.  Recently a friend and her husband prayed with us; it was a precious time. A few days later I realised that I had wept on and off since that time. I messaged my friend and told her and her reply had a depth of wisdom that Malcolm and I found so helpful. She said this "Tears release the deep pain, I see them like Father's gift to help us let go of the stuff that hurts xx".

My tears, which had been embarrassing, suddenly took on a different thing. They became a gift to let out stuff that I have held so tightly in recent years, almost fearing to show the reality of a deep pain that remains one we carry daily; despite trusting and walking with God. It may be a seeming paradox- in fact I live it and yet don't quite understand it myself! The deep pain of grief, disappointment, loss, of hope being scarey etc etc and yet at the same time a trust in a faithful God, a grateful heart of how He has brought us through and a love for God that some can't compute in light of our experience.  These two seeming extremes of grief / pain and trust / love seem to dovetail into our daily experience - they merge in what seems to be an odd combination. So through the tears of the last few months; I have begun a new journey of trusting God in my tears. I may still struggle that folks may see that real side of my ache but perhaps just perhaps my gift of tears this past few months may bring a new release of the ache. Warren Wiersbe said something along the lines of God can heal a broken heart when all the pieces are given to Him. Psalms tell us that God stores our tears in His bottle, Psalms talk about the Valley of Baca (the place of weeping or tears). May my tears be a heartfelt offering of my life,  my worship, my love, my trust, my desires - tears - God take my tears and use them! May my tears have a fragrance of a sacrifice of worship. May my tears be used for whatever He wants to do...... healing for my pain, ministering to others in pain, a sacrifice of worship - that I will praise despite..... and so today I catch myself saying a brand new prayer:

May God use my tears for His glory!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Potential for Transformation

Yesterday I collected a second hand cabinet I purchased off of a website.  The person selling it was getting rid of it.  I imagine they thought it was of no use and just old.  They just wanted to discard it.

But me - well I looked at it on the website and I saw potential. I saw alterations that could be made to transform it, I saw how useful it could be, I saw how good it could be, I loved it; I wanted it! So I spent the money and brought it investing in to a cabinet that I felt had potential to be a really nice feature in our home. There is an excitement rising as I think about the changes that I will make to it. I am looking forward to the process as well as the end result.

Today I walked past the cabinet.  It almost looked sad and tired.  It got me thinking about how God looks at people and sees past the present state of things, how they look etc......He sees the potential.  He sees the transformations that can be made, He sees how good someone can be with His Holy Spirit working in them, He loves the person already (prior to any changes!). He wants that person. Get this - He has excitement rising as He thinks about all that He has planned and will do in and through a person.

This then got me thinking about areas of my life that perhaps I feel are useless, just need discarding or can't be used, things that may seem hopeless .......... Today I learnt to start seeing the potential for transformation when God's Holy Spirit gets hold of an area. My encouragement to readers of this blog today is take a moment and just think that we have a God who not only sees the potential for transformation, is in the business of transformation, gets excited about transformation but He is the ultimate expert in transformation of people, situations, feelings, circumstances......whatever it is ..... trust Him for the transformation!




Monday, 16 January 2017

Despites and yetis!

It is the early hours of the morning; the world sleeps, all is silent and yet in the midst of the night hour the tears fall. 6 years ago today was to be the day that I would tell my parents that we were expecting; the plan was to go to church and then drive up to have lunch with my folks.  I remember the day so clearly.  Here I am 6 years on knowing that day was one of the worst of my life. I walked into church expectant, excited and looking forward.....I left church worried, anxious and headed to hospital.  My plans for the day thwarted.  I remember walking into hospital and being asked simply what was wrong. The hospital allocated which desk you check in at dependent on the severity of what was wrong. I was handed a note for the most severe end of the reception booths and seen within moments.  I hardly sat down before I was seen and then ushered to a bay in A&E.

The memories of that day seem etched into me, the days after where more medical things happened which left me bound to the first floor of our home to be near both bed and bathroom. It was tough to live through and tough to look back on.  The year that followed was so dark, I look back and think I survived rather than lived that year. A shell of a person, my head vacant and yet consumed with grief at the same time.

I sit here in the early hours of the morning reflecting on what happened but hand in hand with gratefulness to a faithful God.  The last few weeks have been tough; memories how twice in our lifetime early January has been full of expectation, morning sickness and ginger nut biscuits! Yet here we are 21 years married, two confirmed pregnancies and no kids....... And this is where the rubber hits the road...... Do I chose to live in a 'what if' environment, do I live with a comparison mentality, do I handle the fact that sometimes life just sucks with bitterness, acceptance or something else!?  

'Despite' and 'yet' have become special words for me. I can't alter what has happened in our lives; the loss, the disappointment but I have to learn how to handle this in order to live each day.  There is no easy way.  The other Sunday I felt slammed by a phrase written down in front of me regarding disappointment; the tears rolled despite my desperate attempts to keep the 'I am ok face' up; it didn't work...... The tears came thick and fast - how do you handle disappointment when every single day you live with the consequences and impact of that disappointment?  I don't have the answers BUT I really want to download what I do know. Your situation may be different to mine, your disappointment may be different, your 'life just sucks sometimes' moment may be poles apart from mine but perhaps, just perhaps, this may help.......

1. Yeti number one! Praising God anyway. Habbakkuk 3 v 17-18 sees the author write about the lack, the disappointment, the situation and then declare the 'yet'  - I often say in my head have a 'yeti moment!' The 'Yet I' will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.'

2. Don't leave it at the door! What do I mean?   I will try to explain- don't put your stuff down at the entrance to the place of worship just to pick it up again on your way out. It isn't easy to do but somehow it is learning to stand (or huddle in a heap on the floor!) in worship with the pain, disappointment, tears and all the rest of it  rather than leaving it elsewhere.  When life sucks worship becomes a choice - it is saying with the Psalmist 'I WILL seek your Face Lord' (Ps 27:8).  There have been times when the situation is in front of me and rather than leave it at the door to collect my baggage on the way out I have actually had to step into all the stuff and praise God anyway. At this point I discovered that it is possible to bring a sacrifice of praise in 2017! Sacrifices of worship have not become extinct!  I can tell you those moments when the sacrifice of praise has been the hardest I have felt like it was a sweet aroma and despite being tough initially as I have pushed through, looked up and praised then God has really blessed me. Nothing new here - look at the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8) she pushed through (quite literally) and as a result of her faith, tenacity and taking the situation with her to Jesus she knew His touch  and His blessing!  Believe me when I say if you enter the place of worship leaving all the trouble and difficulty at the door then you will only pick it up on your way out.  There is no 'baggage claim' area here - take it with you, take your burdens into His presence, let your sacrifice of worship be sweet and let Him take those burdens. Remember His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt 11:30)

3. Despite. Praising despite is powerful. Praising in spite of your situation moves the focus from your situation to the God you are praising! Worship is for Him and about Him.  

4. Don't worry about it not being all sorted.  What do I mean?  Well Psalm 40 talks of being lifted from the miry pit and our feet being set on a rock.  Sometimes some of the miry pit is still on our feet (see my other blog post for more on this) - it is ok.  God knows - Scripture doesn't say that He set my feet upon and rock and everything is then perfect.  Nope it says that He set my feet upon a rock and gave me a new song to sing.  What we learn in the pit changes the song that we sing.  Honestly if I hadn't have been through pain, loss, disappointment, depression my song would not have been the same....... I have seen what it is to meet God in the depths and have it change me.

5. God doesn't alter. One of the wonderful truths that is very deeply precious to me is that God doesn't alter, shift or change.  He is not moody.  He doesn't get weary. I don't wake up wondering what sort of temperament He is in today, whether He is going to be happy with me or if He is in a good mood.  He is steadfast, true, unchanging in His love and faithfulness. He is totally consistent and constant.  Let Hebrews 13:8 become deeply precious to you; never let go of this fact - don't give doubt a millimetre. Hold on to this truth with both hands and don't let it go!  It will see you through the darkest of days.

6.  On the worst of days when you can't see a way through hit the 'Yeti' of Lamentations 3v21-24 where the author despite the previous 20 verses of 'worst dayness' declares 'Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning: great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him."'  The Yet I call to mind is so valuable in the tough moments.  If you are feeling like you are hitting rock bottom then I encourage you to read this passage in The Message version - it helped me no end!

7. God turns things around!  From the opening of this blog you can tell that the realisation things weren't right happened at church six years ago.  There is no easy way to tell you in that morning the very place of God encounters became a place marked with loss.  Yesterday, 6 years later, I walked into church feeling broken, worn down and empty.  Yesterday for me to praise was a choice, I had to make myself raise my hands, I had to encourage myself to look up, I had to tell myself that God was worthy of my praise despite how I felt.  It was hard work to start with - distractions a plenty, mind wandering, focus dithering and then it got easier as the words pierced my head and my heart with wonderful truths that made the distractions fade into the background in the light of what God has done for me. At the end of the service I turned to Malcolm and said '6 years ago I walked into church expectant and left empty and anxious; today I walked into church empty and anxious and leave full.' Both of us teared up - the truth of that is a stark one for us but God blessed us yesterday in worship and through the word.  The preacher had mentioned the phrase 'whatever the Lord says to do' as Mary had said to the servants when Jesus turned water into wine.  In the middle of the night in 2004 - 13 years ago now - Malcolm and I got in the car to go to hospital knowing that my pregnancy was not going right and I turned to Malcolm and said 'whatever Lord.' It has been a prayer we prayed in the worst of times and one that we have prayed knowing that He won't let us down.  To be reminded of that prayer at this time of year astounds me.  God used that sermon yesterday to minister afresh to us.

8. Choose truth. This is another yeti which I have had to take hold of and whilst not word for word in Scripture the principles are there.  Some folks don't get that we can still love God and still worship Him despite what has happened (and that is ok that they don't get it; it really is our personal journey). However one thing that I have heard repeatedly is that what we have been through is a punishment from God.  The truth is this - God authored salvation, Jesus died on the cross, He took all of our sin, Jesus cried out on the cross 'It is finished' just before He died  - He didn't cry out 'It is partly done' or 'it is nearly finished'.  No!  The work of Jesus is 100% complete. The debt is paid in full.  God is a Just God!  He is a God of Justice.   Therefore He cannot punish the same sin twice.  The Yet I here is to choose to remind yourself of the truth and not listen to the niggly lies that can be seeded.

So we begin our sad-a-versary knowing this anniversary is littered with precious moments from God along the way.  We will cry today.  We will laugh today.  We will struggle today.  We will rejoice in being together today.  The 'despites' and the 'yetis' help us to lift a sacrifice of worship today.  And we lay hold of truth that He is a good Father, a Just God, the faithful One - He won't let us down, He is not in the business of abandonment, He is faithful, true, loving and worthy - Indeed whatever the 'life sucks' moment is for you - hold on to Him, even when your grip feels like it is just the tiniest tip of your fingers hold on to Him because for sure He is holding on to you, He won't let you go! I end this blog post calling to mind and therefore I have hope; His mercies are new this morning.  Great is His faithfulness therefore I WILL wait for Him and while I wait I will be caught praising despite it all......