Plans

So it’s that time of year when I am forced to think about what I’m going to do next. The internship with CAP will finish in the middle of August. In two and half months, one way or another, we will no longer be interns. “What are you doing next?” is a question I seem to be asked several times a day at the moment. It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with over the past fortnight in particular. There have been days when the decision has felt completely overwhelming, when I’ve got caught up in the tide of worry and anxiety. But other days have brought with them a little more clarity.

Many of you who asked me that question four months ago, would have got a much simpler answer. My plan was to move back down South, to Southampton, and to take any job I could get. I wanted to be back with the friends I’ve missed so dearly, to be closer to my family and back in an area that had felt so much like home. Every time the homesickness hit, I would long for my old life, reassuring myself that in a few months time I could go back.

But as the months have gone on I’ve come to question my motivation, the roots of my desire to run home. I’ve realised it can be summed up in five small words ‘I want to go back’. That I’ve been longing to go backwards. That it’s not just about a geographical location, but a desire to go back and pick up the threads of my old life. I want to go back in time, before tragedy struck, to cherish every moment and every friendship. I’ve been wanting to rewind my life and pause it there, never missing anything, never being left behind, just living in that moment.

Yet I’ve come to realise there is no going back. Our lives can only ever move forwards. Friends will move away, relationships will grow or weaken; some people will walk out of our lives and others will walk in. I could go back to Southampton, and maybe I will some day, but it would always be different. My old life is no longer there to pick back up. Nothing in our lives stays the same, things are constantly changing and evolving into something different. The adventure of faith is to keep going forwards, to keep journeying into what God has for you, following Him as he leads you into new opportunities and challenges. I simply cannot close myself off to God’s plan for my life, out of a desire to go backwards.

At the same time I have had the growing sense that Bradford isn’t done with me yet. I have a church here that I care deeply about and a wonderful opportunity to invest in it. I work for a charity that is clearly doing God’s work across this nation and I have been blessed to be able to be a part of it. CAP brings hope to so many, and hope is something I care deeply about and want to see spread. I would love to be able to sow more into this ministry. So I am pushing doors here to see if they open. I have applied for jobs at CAP in Bradford, and will have an interview in the next fortnight that will hopefully let me know if this is an option. At the same time I am looking to see what jobs are around across the country, to see if God is calling me somewhere new.

For a while I struggled with the idea that whatever I end up doing I will let people down. If I don’t return to Southampton, then I know I will not be able to see those friends as often as I would like to. If I leave Bradford then I will have to leave behind my church and all the friends I have made. People may be disappointed by the choices I make. But I know that as much as I love all these people, I cannot make this decision for them. As I was wrestling and agonising over this, I opened my bible on the psalms and read:

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands;” Psalm 31:14-15

I was struck by the truth of that verse. I can make all the plans I want, but only God holds my future in his hands, it is His plans that will stand firm. I know I can trust Him, that He has good plans for my life. So whilst I am yet to find clarity and security about the future. One thing I do know: my future is in god’s hands. And that is the safest place for it to be.

Enough

I appreciate I’ve dropped off the radar a little bit lately. Writing was definitely something I meant to do in my week long Easter holiday, but it didn’t turn out quite how I’d planned. Now I’m having to say goodbye to another Grandparent and face another funeral. I’m discovering that new grief likes to unearth old grief, and bring with it a whole host of memories. It’s left me feeling fairly sentimental, and as I thought about what to write, I kept coming back to this post that’s been floating around in my head for a while.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of spending time with lots of children in their first few years of life. I’ve been able to enjoy getting to know these small ones and watch them develop and change into who they were created to be. I got to see some of these children, and meet one new to the world, over the Easter period. And as I played with them or held them, I thought about what I would want for them as they grow up. The words I would love for them to hold as truth as they get older.

My answer was probably not the one you would expect. I could have quoted a dozen bible passages on love and faith, identity and security. But instead I would choose three simple words for them:” I am enough”.

Why these out of all the words I could have chosen? I suppose simply because the world they will grow up in, will constantly try and tell them the opposite. We live in a society that loves to highlight flaws and imperfections, an advertising industry that flourishes on the idea that we will be more if we just own this thing or that. The glossy flawless images we are bombarded with, make us all look in the mirror and see only what we are not.  There are hundreds of thousands of people who believe with their whole heart, that they are not enough. That they are not pretty enough, not clever enough, not popular enough, not thin enough or whatever adjective it is that day. People who have judged themselves against the worlds standards and have decided they are lacking. They will never be enough.

We’ve had a lot of talks given to us on the internship around ideas like complacency and expectation. The message given seems to be that our generation thinks too much of itself, that we are complacent and have unrealistic expectations of life. Maybe there’s some truth in that. But when I look around at people my age all I seem to see is people who have no idea how precious and valuable they are, who cannot see their worth. People who think they will never be good enough. Maybe they mask it well, cover it up with a show of arrogance, or push people away so they never scratch beneath the surface. But it’s still there, that insecurity, that lie.

And we have probably all seen what feeling ‘not enough’ can do to a person. How it can eat them up from the inside out, how it taints how they see the world. We’ve probably all got friends for whom this is true, maybe we’ve sat with them as we’ve tried and failed to convince them of their worth and value. Perhaps we’ve been that friend too. That lie of ‘not enough’, is so difficult to shift once it’s been accepted as truth. Once you let it embed in your heart, it becomes the scales on which you weigh each new experience, rejecting evidence to the contrary. How I would love to save the children in my life from this hurt and heart ache.

I want them to grow up knowing that they have a worth and value that has belonged to them from before they were born. To know that this worth can never be taken away from them. For them to realise they were created unique and beautiful by God and put on this earth for a purpose. That whatever life throws at them they will always be enough. That with God fighting their corner, they will always be equipped to face the challenges that come their way. They may never be the strongest, the cleverest or the prettiest. But in God’s eyes and the eyes of those that love them, they will always be enough. That those are the eyes that matter.

I want them to be able to hold out the word “enough” to the world, for those days when it is demanding too much of them. To know their limits and know they should be respected. To be able to come to God on those days when life seems to be raging around them, chipping away at who they thought they were, and find reassurance in the arms of the Father.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try and do better, and strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can. But that our value and worth cannot be increased by doing this.  We cannot achieve our salvation through works, through striving for perfection. Instead it comes from a God who looked down upon humanity and decided we were worth saving, valuable enough to send his only son to Earth to die in our place. And he made that choice ‘whilst we were still sinners’ (Romans 5:8), separated from him and guilty. He still decided that these prodigal children were precious enough to be invited to join his family. We have been judged enough and welcomed in, by the almighty creator of the universe. Who are we to judge ourselves less?

Maybe it’s not too late to claim these three words as our own, no matter how old we are. To look at ourselves and look at our God and say “I am enough”. To take those words and whisper them over our lives, to teach them to our children and loved ones. I am holding these words today, as the future after August looks uncertain and I struggle to work out what God’s plan is for me. The road ahead for me and for many of us may be difficult and rocky. But whatever may come, whatever the challenges or the joys, we can face them knowing we will always be enough.

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”      Romans 5:7-8

Before the Dawn

Today is the day we refer to as ‘Good Friday’. The day where we celebrate how Jesus died all those years ago. It seems strange to celebrate a death, especially one so agonising. To stop and recall how one man died on a cross, must seem like foolishness to many. How can a death be a victory? Why do we remember the scars, the hurt, the pain of one man? In part it’s because that cross was meant for us, that death should have been ours. We know the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), our rebellion could never go unpunished by a just God. Today we celebrate that we have been spared, that one perfect man died for us all. We rejoice because we know what came with the dawn of Easter Sunday.

But that first Good Friday, was not one of celebration. Jesus’ friends and family must have thought this was the end, as they watched the man they had loved and followed, die in pain and misery. Surely it was all over? There would have been weeping, shouting and raging at God. Grief raw and consuming, ripping wounds in their hearts. The mother who watched her baby die before her eyes, in the worse way imaginable. The disciples, who believed they were going to liberate the Jews, left with the bitter taste of failure in their mouth; on their own, with no teacher to lead the way. This was where they found themselves before Sunday dawned.

I think for us too there can be times in our lives where we find ourselves waiting before the dawn. Confronted by fear and failure, grief and pain. Waiting for our Saviour to return, but not knowing when He will come. We can feel alone, lost and abandoned. We doubt, we rage, we mourn. As we wait in the darkness of this world, before Jesus returns again in glory. Living before the dawn.

Good Friday will be to many a day full of a mix of emotions. Sorrow tinged with joy. Hope mixed with heart ache. Longing and relief. We can see echoes of so much of our lives in this one day. A day full of emotion and brokenness, so human and yet so far beyond our understanding. A day of darkness with whispers of light to come. We wait before Sunday dawns, waiting for the glorious sun rise bringing with it the wonder of the empty tomb, of Jesus’ return. Sin will be defeated, death will loose it’s sting, we can have new life and hope.

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Yet today we wait before the dawn. Maybe you’ve been waiting here for many months. Waiting for the light to break through, for victory and hope to come. Waiting to find that tomb empty; for that loved one to return, or that problem to be defeated. Let me tell you that dawn will come, that night will come to an end, just as it did for the disciples. Know that the war is  won, even if you still find yourself in a battle. But today, on this Good Friday, the church around the world will wait with you, waiting together, before the dawn.

Praise You in this Storm

I returned yesterday from a three day retreat with the other interns in the Peak District. I could write about the beautiful countryside and setting for the retreat, but unfortunately the fog was so deep for our time there, that mostly we just saw white. During the course of the trip we spent some time reflecting on the course of our lives so far, and the path that had brought us to this point. I find this kind of reflection quite emotional, as the road hasn’t been an easy one.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the role that worship has played in my life, through the good times and the bad. I’ve recently taken over leading the worship team at my little church in Bradford, which will surprise some of you (the girl who plays neither the guitar or the keyboard is leading worship- who’d have thought it?!). If I’m honest it’s not something I ever thought I would have the chance to do. It is an amazing privledge to lead people in worship.  Ultimately the purpose of a worship team is to point people to God, it should never be about the people at the front. And whilst some skill and thought has to be involved, the most important thing is that your heart is in the right place, coming before God with humility and faith.

Worship is our chance to offer praise and glory to God, as the Lord over all creation. To acknowledge that He is good, faithful and almighty, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes we do this together as church families in sung worship, sometimes we worship God on our own in the quiet and stillness. I don’t believe worship is about pretending life is wonderful, but choosing to believe that God is greater than all our struggles and problems. Therefore, worship is for every season in our life. Sometimes our worship will be that song of  joy we sing as we rejoice for all that He is doing in our lives. Sometimes it will be the words we whisper through the tears, as we find ourselves alone in the night.

Worship has not always been easy for me. When life has been difficult, there have times when I have looked around the church, seeing other worshippers, and felt alienated, with the tears threatening to fall. Times when I have wondered whether worshipping through the pain of life, is simply too hard to do. But over the years I have come to appreciate that sometimes ‘My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart’ (Psalm 51:17) and that God will not turn me away, no matter how hard it is to sing the words, or how feeble my offering appears to me. I know that it is the times when worship is the most difficult and costly, that I need to do it the most.

Over the years I have found the songs that I can still sing, no matter how difficult life seems. The soundtrack of my late teenage years was ‘Praise you in this storm’ (Casting Crowns):

“And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm”

I found refuge in the honesty of the lyrics, the reality that life can be tough, but God is still Lord over all. They were my anthem as the storm raged around me, as I struggled to hear God’s whisper above the noise of the battle. I held on to the truth that God’s goodness and character does not change with my circumstances. That He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

As I navigated my way through university life God spoke to me through the song ‘By your side‘ (Tenth Avenue North):

“Cause I’ll be by your side wherever you fall
In the dead of night whenever you call
And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you”

I knew that no matter how much of a struggle life could be, no matter how bleak the future looked or how rough the road ahead, I was not alone. He was singing this song over me and all those lost and hurting around me. At the same time, I was moved by the album ‘Beauty will Rise’ by Steven Curtis Chapman, written after his young daughter died in a tragic accident. On the days where I’d lost hope, feeling tired and alone, I would listen to ‘I will trust you’. Making that decision that ‘Even when I don’t understand, even then I will say again You are my God , and I will trust you.’ 

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Then after loosing James in Norway last summer, I found myself again having to choose to worship God, even when His choices didn’t make sense to me. As a group we kept worshipping through the tears, to trust in Him and His goodness, despite confusion and anger that He had taken James away from us. As I returned to England, still attempting to make sense of all that has happened I clung to the lyrics of JJ Heller’s song ‘Who you are‘: ‘Some times I don’t know, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who you are.’ I had to remind myself that I did know who God was and that those truths hadn’t changed. Maybe we will never understand why the accident happened, but we can rest secure in the knowledge of who God is and how He loves us.

I think maybe what I’m trying to say, is that whilst worship is for God’s glory, the act of worship changes us. That the decision to acknowledge God as bigger than the circumstances we face, no matter how painful, changes our perspective. That whilst it does not take the hurt and pain away, it gives God the chance to show us He is still there. It is in those times of pain and heart ache that worship costs us the most, and can be the hardest to do. But it is in those times when we desperately need to worship. It is that decision to continue to trust God and praise Him, in the storms of life, that will decide if our faith grows or falls by the wayside. No matter how hard it is to believe at the time, God is no less good when we face sickness or say goodbye to a friend, then He is when life is as we would like it to be. God does not change with our circumstances. Worship reminds us of that important truth.

I don’t know where you are as you read this. Maybe this is a time where life is going your way and the sun is shining, where worship comes naturally. Or maybe you do find yourself in the storms of life right now, maybe you cannot see the road ahead or how God can fit into this picture. As hard as it may be, you need to keep praising Him in the storm, to acknowledge He is bigger than your problems. It’s at our darkest times, when we find ourselves at rock bottom, that we really must look up. Know that your worship is valuable to Him, because He knows how much it costs you.

CAP Needs You!

You could probably gather from my last post that we’ve had a challenging couple of weeks on the internship. There have been their fair share of frustrations and anxieties. However, I want to make it clear that everything that has happened hasn’t changed how I feel about CAP. I still love Christians Against Poverty and all the work that they do. It is still the same charity that caused me to leave everything behind and move up to Bradford to work for them. And despite the challenges and difficulties the move has confronted me with, I would do it again in an instant.

The thing that drew me to CAP, and that still draws me in, is the way we can bring hope to those in completely hopeless situations. Debt can be a pit that can be near impossible to climb out of on your own. Our clients find themselves under incredible pressure with constant letters and phone calls, too afraid to answer the door or open the curtains. The people we serve are often the poorest in society, borrowing money to pay the bills, getting caught in the downward spiral of debt. Then with all their money going on debt repayments 70% of our clients will miss meals, with budgets so painfully tight that parents don’t eat so their children can. The longer this goes on, with debts rising by the day, it can seems like there is no way out, no hope. In fact 36% of our clients considered suicide before coming to CAP.

Yet at CAP we are blessed and privileged to be able to hold out hope to these families. To help them to find a way out of debt. Enable them to get food on the table once more, to be able to provide for their children. We have a debt counselling and budgeting system that really works, with 1,808 households going debt free last year. Combining the care and compassion of the local church, with an award winning professional service. We are able to bring the love of God to the most vulnerable and neglected in society.

But why am I writing this today? I suppose it struck me this week that I have less than five months left at CAP, the time will fly by. Before long the internship will end and I will be likely to move on. This is my window of opportunity to inspire you about this wonderful organisation. That I owe it to all our clients, but even more to the clients who we currently have to turn away because we don’t have a centre in their area. They are the reason we do what we do, and it would be dishonouring to them to keep quiet.

Because the thing is: CAP really does need you. Without receiving government funding, we are hugely reliant on regular monthly donations from supporters, to allow us to do what we do. The reality is, if these donations stopped or even if we failed to get new people on board, then CAP would be finished. Ultimately we would have to give up and go home (probably not before half the staff had worked for free for months or years, re-mortgaged houses and used all their savings- if you don’t believe me you really need to read ‘Nevertheless’ ). As uncomfortable as it is, we need money to do what we do. Without it we can’t offer a hope and a solution to those in debt, we cannot help the poorest in society, we would have to walk away.

We firmly believe that God is in this work, that it is anointed by Him and that everything we have achieved is for His glory. We are carrying on the work that Jesus started when He walked upon this Earth and said:

‘The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good new to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Luke 4:18-19

We follow a Saviour who is the Lord of second chances and new beginnings. He didn’t turn the poor and the needy away. His was a message that was meant for the last, the least and the lost. We were never meant to keep this message hidden in our churches, but to take it out and meet people where they are. I believe that our Father’s heart is aching for these clients to find hope and find Him.

So today I ask you simply to consider whether God is asking you to join in with this work? Whether perhaps you would be able to give a minimum of £3 a month to support the work of CAP, helping us to reach more and more people in desperate situations. If the answer is yes then you can do so here (if you put my name in the box marked ‘what prompted you to give to CAP’ then it will go towards my fundraising- but either way the money goes straight to CAP). And if not then please go in peace and remember us in your prayers.

I passionately believe that the church needs CAP and CAP very much needs people like you.

Courage Does Not Always Roar

It’s been a long and challenging week, for reasons I can’t write about here. It’s been a week that has shaken the foundations of the life I have built here in Bradford. A week of questioning and doubting myself. Where I have even wondered whether I should stop writing, if perhaps it’s too much of a risk. But writing this blog is something I love and has been a lifeline to me. I’m unwilling to give it up.

The inspiration for this post comes from one of my favourite quotes of all time:

‘Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow” ‘       Mary Anne Radmacher

We often think about courageous people as being men like David in the bible who take on their own Goliath. Individuals who bring justice against the odds, or who overthrow corruption, putting themselves in harms way for the sake of others, or bravely fighting the forces of evil in this world. These are the people who you will see on the news, who will have books published chronicling their lives and documentaries made about them after they die. And they should be recognised and honoured, these men and women show great courage and valour. Yet I think there are other, less appreciated, but equally valuable forms of courage.

For me I think courage can also be a quiet voice. I’ve been reminded of that this week as I’ve seen friends persevering, and battling on, despite struggling with illness or difficult life events. Or in friends who have made the decision to move forward from challenging circumstances with dignity and bravery. Their courage hasn’t roared but it has inspired me none the less.

I see courage in the person who chooses to keep living and hoping each day, despite being burdened by illness or pain. I see it in the mother who loves and fights for her children, despite life throwing countless obstacles and struggles in her way. Or in those who decide to love and trust again, even though they are still wounded by all the times they’ve been let down before. I see courage in those who fail and make mistakes, but rise again the next day to try again.

This kind of courage isn’t loud and doesn’t shout. Those who are displaying it might well go unrecognised and unnoticed, perhaps only God will see it. Maybe you think it doesn’t matter. But I think the courage and tenacity of the human spirit is one of the most beautiful things about humanity. The way that we can be knocked down ten times but will rise again eleven. The world is full of people who have overcome so much darkness and difficulty in their lives, and still face each new day with hope. These people may not change the world, but their bravery and determination should still be acknowledged and praised.

Maybe this is where you are right now. Maybe you find yourself dealing with events and circumstances that are requiring every ounce of your strength and courage. Perhaps you reach the end of the day and wonder how you can do it all again. It might be that, like me, you need to listen to that quiet voice of courage saying “I will try again tomorrow”. Your courage may not roar but God, who sees your heart, will honour it.

Blessed

It’s been a difficult week. Mainly because it contained one particularly challenging day. You see, on Thursday we had a whole staff conference, which involved not only head office staff coming together but also everyone who works in CAP centres across the country, nearly 600 people in total. I suppose I came into it with a fair amount of trepidation. I’ve been struggling on the internship recently, feeling frustrated with some aspects of it, and unsettled. I love the work CAP do, but I haven’t always felt a part of it, after all I am only an intern. So whilst excitement was building around the office for the conference, I was apprehensive, afraid that it would be a day when I’d feel like even more of an outsider.

The conference itself was a struggle for me. It was well run, with lots of hard work and effort having gone into it. But having 600 people in an enclosed space, with all the expectation that I felt to be the sociable extrovert that I’m definitely not, made me anxious to a level where most of my energy went into attempting to stay calm. With varying degrees of success. My inner introvert was exhausted by the end of the day. I thought the whole experience would be lost on me.

However, I returned for the evening reception. And as I sat there, I was struck by how God has provided for me since moving to Bradford. I looked around at all the different head office teams and realised there wasn’t a single team that would be a better fit for me than the team I’m in. None of them would have made me feel as welcomed and as valued for who I am, and no where else would I feel as free to be myself at work. I thought back over the day and could see all the wonderful people who had looked out for me and supported me when I wasn’t at my best. I could see that God had woven just the right people into my life in Bradford. The right friends both in and outside of CAP. Friends at work who ground me and bring stability, joy and laughter into my day. And a church family who have accepted and loved me from day one. That night I was able to see that no matter how difficult this past six months have been, this is where I belong right now.

It’s strange that out of what was probably the most challenging day of the internship so far, I come away with a clear sense of how blessed I am. Maybe in the same way the events in Norway caused me to look around and appreciate all I had in Southampton; perhaps I needed this anxiety-filled day to open my eyes to all I have been given here. As I drafted this I was sat on Ilkley Moor, with the sun on my back. Surrounded by so much beauty, that I had to take the time and space to appreciate it. I realised that I have been so busy looking back, that I have missed the beauty and the blessings that are right in front of my eyes.

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Today I know two things: life may never be easy, but nevertheless I am blessed.

‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.’ Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3-4