What are you looking for?

What are you looking for? Do you know? Do you know what you want? What you believe? Do you know what is good and bad? What is true and right, or wrong? Does it change from day to day?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to test or trick you.

I was thinking about questioning and doubt. About its presence, its bad reputation and its value. How does doubt and questioning make you feel?

I like to be safe and to be right and sure. Don’t you? So unknowing, doubt, insecurity – such shifting sands make us feel out of control, vulnerable, insecure – and to avoid this we seek information to bolster our understanding… to know, to be certain… and for our faith – in whatever it may be – to be unswerving and strong. This may be about the basic routines of our day, for example, or our health report, our whereabouts and location when on the move, our plans and preparations for a big event, our political persuasions and support come polling day, our financial safety-nets for retirement, maybe actual insurance policies and guarantees and often our meta-physical persuasions or beliefs and our raison d’etre.

We want assurance, insurance and reassurance again.

I think of adventure quests and heroes in story-books and on film – dangerous quests to find truth, or treasure and for valour and honour – life threatening, self-sacrificing endurance, seeking, for that which is right and true. The stuff that makes heroes. The big questions – the meaning of life and all that. It seems to be part of the heroic side of our nature – to seek wisdom, seek truth at whatever the cost. The Bible is full of such wisdom too – exhortations to seek and find the lost coin, the lost sheep, the ‘pearl of great price’, which cost him all he had. To ‘Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.’  (PROVERBS 4:7) And Solomon’s asking for just wisdom over every other treasure… and so many other examples. Wisdom and truth are seen as great treasure.

When my children were young, they would frequently complain that they had lost something important and had ‘searched everywhere’! I would smile and ask them to look again and this time to actually take their hands out of their pockets and use them to look underneath the piles of stuff!

Because if it were visible, they wouldn’t have lost it!

To seek knowledge, understanding and truth often means to go digging! It means to turn everything upside down, turn it out, get our hands dirty… it means to disrupt our comfort, camp for a while in unknowing, in the unfamiliar and in doubt. It means ‘living from a suitcase’ in questioning and a vulnerable state of being unsure, not at home and not in control. We may have to disrupt and abandon all else… Sometimes it means to admit to ‘not know’ something and occasionally it means to discover that we were partially or fully misinformed, or misunderstood, and to humbly learn…

But we are promised that if we keep on seeking we will find; if we keep on knocking, the door will be opened; and if we keep on asking, we will be answered. We are promised that if we seek Him first, then He will be found and all other things will be given to us as well. Our needs will be met. It is a constant process that we will not come to the end of in this life on earth, and maybe it will continue throughout eternity. I do hope so!

But beware. Be humble. If we seek the truth, we must be prepared to adapt, readjust, enlarge our tent and maybe change our mind. There will be change. When we find what was lost, or find revelation and truth and wisdom, we are forever changed! We have to change, for growth is change. We have to be prepared to expand our limited thinking if we want to seek truth. New wine goes in new wine-skins.

Some say “What is truth?” They say that there are many truths – for each of us, our own truth. Some say that we find what we are looking for, and that we each find something different. Some say there is but one truth. Jesus says that He is “the way, the truth and the life”. Whatever the truth is, we are encouraged to seek it. It is not something to fear, but it is something to make space for, to humble ourselves to receive. For His ways are not our ways. His ways are higher and above and beyond all we could ever fathom or imagine… But trust Him. Life is constant growth and constant change. We will never know everything in this short life on earth, but we should not be afraid to learn new things.

We are invited to seek wisdom, to seek understanding, to seek growth, truth and life.

What an adventure!

September Windfalls

September windfalls

I apologise for having neglected the weekly blog, but the monthly blog must not also go amiss.

No matter the business, the stresses and strains of life; no matter the hardships or even the challenge of un-answered prayer, there is always time, always joy, always delight in acknowledging the constant blessings and the constancies of God’s love and mercies, which are new every morning… and at the day’s end, God is still there!

A Pete Greig video left me with a helpful image of a microscope and a telescope – often we are peering through the microscope, focussed largely on our own concerns and bringing our burdens and needs to the Lord – for we are instructed to do so, by Him who ever lives to intercede for us before the throne of God – but when we take out the telescope and look up at the heavenly realm our perspective shifts… We don’t look up at the heavenly realm and say “Aren’t I important!” or “Poor me!”, No, we raise our sights and praise the Creator God and Father for who He is, in all His majesty and power and we magnify Him, not ourselves.

What we focus on, we magnify.

So I want to magnify God again for the answered prayers and windfalls of September and to remember that God is good, all the time, even when I do not understand.

I thank God for:

A good weekend together with my closest childhood friends.

That the changeover went smoothly for my babies and school and home is all good.

That S and I had another blessed week in London and both managed to accomplish much.

For inspiration and help with my writing.

For perseverance, courage and growth in my relationships.

For five good breaks away this Summer and for cover for work for each of them.

That S finally inspired to write his article.

That S free to travel around in Romania, despite restrictions.

That C and B successfully produced 2 great videos.

That A’s bloods showed that her cancer is now in remission!

That C begun University and is inspired and has risen to the challenge.

That J’s PHD has begun and all is well.

That first 2 prayer groups chez moi peaceful, blessed fellowship and tech improving.

For all the opportunities to serve.

Above all I thank you, not just for doing the things I have asked of You Lord, but for being God, for choosing to be in relationship with little me and for working with us, Your precious children, in this life on earth – for being Emmanuel, God with us – for coming to dwell in our hearts – being Jehovah Shammah – and for the assurance of Your presence. Though Satan should buffet and trials may come, let this blessed assurance be mine… It is well with my soul. Lord, where You are in the boat, no matter the storm, it is well with my soul.

Your Love endures forever and whatever happens, whether I understand or not, I know that You have me in the palm of Your hand.

Blessed be God forever.

Spend some time looking through the telescope today.

August Praises

Isn’t gratitude one of the greatest pick-me-ups? How many times has a dose of the doldrums been transformed into bubbling joy and calm, simply by thinking through and naming all the things for which you are grateful? Have you ever done it long enough to come to the end of your list?

But, slow learner that I am, I again made the mistake of thinking I didn’t have anything interesting to blog about last week and was too busy to listen… yet I had a post to be written all along. I had made a commitment (ooh, serious word!) to giving public thanks to God every month, for His faithfulness in hearing and responding to my prayers, with His Father heart of love. I am so excited, on a daily basis, as I acknowledge petitions that are answered, issues resolved, miracles happening… as I witness God happening in my life and in the lives of those around me… but, come the end of the month, I think – “I’ve nothing to write about!”

So here we are on 21st September and I’ve still not given public thanks and praise for all God’s visible goodness and intervention throughout August. But I will do so now, with repentance again for my warped priorities! Meanwhile God is so faithful, that my notebook for September continues to show countless blessings!

august definition: 1. having great importance and especially of the highest social class.

So, August praises to God is a fitting title, in all respects!

I give thanks:

That the chairs went back into rows in church, after 18 months of restrictions,

That C got more than enough distinctions and merits from his access course and a good grade for his GCSE maths, and was offered a place in university.

That my videos, recordings and writings continued successfully and the fourth edit of the book finally complete and is off for feedback.

That August holiday lunch-club was successful and many local families blessed with food.

That S and I had a very productive week of DIY in the house, related well, and managed to visit old friends.

That J and V got the council house they were looking for.

That I was able to receive the medical advice needed and tests all clear.

That You healed my right foot.

That I was able to help S to edit her paper enough to finally submit it.

That I was able to have a weekend away with old friends and all went smoothly and well.

That D and R back together, so child-care issues resolved.

That B’s tests and urgent flight tickets all resolved smoothly.

That I’ve been honoured to host a home-group for the new prayer course.

That S’s travel plans worked well and was released from the quarantine and able to visit all the people planned for.

That D’s cancer has gone and she is well.

That the tribunal hearing has been postponed until a more suitable time and venue.

That I was able to spend more time than usual with my beloved grandchildren this month.

Lord, there were 3 disappointments this month – 2 people for whom I had prayed, but who died. I don’t understand why, but I trust You. I trust You to know the bigger picture and continue to entrust all the bereaved into Your loving arms.

Not all of my prayer is petition and intercession (asking for intervention and favour for self and others) but many areas of growth and life are just too difficult to define in words and to quantify or qualify. Praise and gratitude are a large part of my relationship with my Lord and Creator.

I am most grateful that I can come with confidence into the presence of God and that He not only knows me better than I know myself, but that God loves me despite knowing the areas I hide even from myself. In other words, I am most grateful for the relationship with God and the fact that I really can bring all burdens, concerns, questions, celebrations and everything – even disappointments and laments – to a loving God, who listens, comforts and lights those burdens and pains with a peace beyond expectation and a joy that seems extravagant!

You are so loved! Always pause to give thanks for that!

It was in the plan!

Last week, while scribbling out my pen and paper rant on freedom, I also had a go at God, (which I chose to omit from the blog) for giving us this so-called ‘free-will’, but knowing the mess and suffering it would cause. I felt, as I considered the ‘options’, that ‘free-will’ had been a mistake, and not real freedom, as it felt like another, “Do it my way or die!”

I didn’t publish that thought, or a few others, as it was already becoming too complex for my little brain to hold together in one post, but I had asked God the question and a couple of days later, a clarity and peace infused my fragile doubts with a sweet smile. I will share those thoughts that were given to me:

The answer I heard, soothing my itching distractions, was that God knew! He knew we would make mistakes all the time. He knew it would take us lifetimes to learn. He knew we’d never get everything perfect, BUT He cherishes our freedom, He cherishes our feeble attempts, He cherishes our creative, eruptions of joy and kindness and love, because they are real expressions of a love response. We are made in the image of Creator God who is love. Just like we love to receive and treasure those cards and offerings lovingly made by our adoring children, so does father God enjoy our love offerings.

AND He KNEW we would need direction and teaching and He PROVIDED it. He knew we would need a role model, constant support and encouragement and He provided it. He knew we would need forgiveness over and over again AND an ‘out of jail free’ pass. He knew and He planned and provided for it all, before He even created us. At human creation, in God’s own image, the redemption plan was already in place, even then. God knew that He would love us to death, that He would become one like us, and with us, and have to sacrifice His life, so that we can be free of death, to be one with Him in His Kingdom and glorious delight. But He knew. It was not a mistake or a trick or an illusion. (Now as I read this back, I’m reminded of Max Lucado’s excellent story, ‘Because I love you” – He made the wall, with a hole in, and a staff to come find us when we climb through the hole!)

God provided for us a Perfect Role-model, directions, a conscience, support, encouragement, love, mercy, forgiveness, healing, restoration, the Holy Spirit to remind us of what is good – He gave Himself as our deliverer and Redeemer. So what do we need to do? We need to listen to the guidance He gives and to know that every time we slip or tumble, we can admit it, repent and get back up for another go. Persevere in doing good. Always get back up.

That love is an example for how we are to live, for our children and for one another. Not just forgiving ‘my brother’ when he says sorry, but a constant holding lightly of our strict expectations of perfection. Forgive as He has forgiven me. Let me give you room to practice using your own feet and discover your own wings, not shackle you to the confines of my own limitation. Let me be expansive with my children and myself and to remove the concept of ‘failure’ as that ugly, smelly, untouchable thing to be feared, but to look at it as an opportunity to learn, to be humble, to grow and stretch out my wings…

Lord, if you give someone freedom, you give them freedom to make mistakes and get it wrong – let me give others freedom to make mistakes and get it wrong too and allow for that in how I live – to encourage, support, tolerate, love – as others also make mistakes… just like young infants learning to walk or talk, we don’t punish them for not speaking a clear sentence, we coo and clap and encourage each sound and attempt and we cherish it.

The stress and devastation of perceived personal failure can leave people in utter despair. The stress of expectation for achievement and acquisition in our world and communities can seem unbearable.

Let us offer an antidote to these cruel pressures and offer encouragement and support to choose life-affirming things, remembering that we need role-models to show us healthy, excellent ways to live, we need unconditional love, ready forgiveness and grace to support and restore the falling and fallen… we need this in our homes, relationships, schools, churches and communities.

We need to encourage one another to ‘have a go’, to ‘follow our dream’, to ‘step out of our comfort-zone’, to try something different, to create something new – to re-create a culture of exploration and creativity, but before we do this, we need to acknowledge, that like the baby learning to walk, that our new venture and our daring to change may land us on our bottom or nose, time after time, it may hurt and seem hopeless, but with practice and perseverance and baby-steps… one step at a time, one day at a time, one smile at a time, one more encouraging word… How many times? “Seventy times seven” – every time!

imperfectly full of treasured love.

What is freedom?

This morning I was reading some Open Doors updates about Libya focussing on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I could have been reading about any of the similar countries in North, East and West Africa, in China, India, Middle East… Please allow me to ramble through some thoughts about freedom and control.

The violence and persecution, removing the freedom of others, towards this group or that, because of how they look, or what they believe, or how they speak, is to me very scary. But I felt compelled to look at it. I always do. I wonder what I would do if I was part of a persecuted minority and if I would stand strong, or hide? And now there is a subtler threat with technology enabling also such close surveillance of people… where can they hide?

One reads about a similar level of control in much dystopian literature as well, and this is a safer place to consider the consequences and possible outcomes to such levels of intolerance and control. I seem to be drawn to these too. I always ask myself how I would respond – in either camp? Of course 1984 springs to mind, so much so that I have recently read it again, due to what I consider to be a level of control here in the UK and all over the Western World, that shadows the horrors I see in China and amongst persecuted minorities all over the world. The Elabi Chronicles, more recently written by Maressa Mortimer, also echoes these themes in a superbly crafted way.

Silhouette, Close up Hand holding Freedom text with blurred sea sunset. sunlight effect.

Maybe it is because my father was so strict and controlling as I grew up, but to the adult me, freedom of expression has always been crucial to fullness of life. I do not want you to tell me how to dress, how to think, what to say or what to believe! Nor do I want you tell me what I can no longer say, read, or believe. I noticed a change first in the 90s, when I went to work in a particular London Borough and was told I should not speak of ‘black’ or ‘white’ coffee, and that the ‘black-board’ now had to be a ‘chalk-board’! Being ‘politically correct’ took on some amusing contortions, turning a serious situation into a rule-book lacking all common-sense. This has ‘progressed’ among various themes and issues, and now we speak of ‘cancel culture’ as well.

Please don’t think I am condoning ‘hate-speech’ or belittling the cruel words and discriminatory practices, through ways of thinking that incorporate so many ‘isms. There is never a place for bullying, discrimination, intimidation or cruelty of any kind. Never. But I defend your right to speak.

But back to the more violent persecutions in other lands, many of the perpetrators of this appear to be ‘extremist’ groups with religious, or political ideologies. And I think the same is true here and everywhere, at all levels. We all have our ideologies and we think we are extremely right.

At one level I understand the expectation: You come to my country so you abide by my laws, you learn my language and you behave and dress in a way I can accept. You conform. You are polite. If you don’t want to, you can go elsewhere or stay in your own country. You come to my house, you behave appropriately, you show respect and you abide by my rules too. You may not smoke in my bedroom. But although I may expect you to behave with respect, I do not expect you to agree with me on every matter I speak of, or even to agree with my rules and conduct. I do not expect you to behave like this in your own space and I certainly do not expect you to believe what I do, or love what I do, or want what I want. Why should I? I guess that is my question. You may face the consequences for breaking my laws of behaviour, but why would I want you to think like I do?

I am the product of one particular environment, era, country, set of experiences, personality and education, as each of us are. I do struggle with authority. I accept the need for it and God is my ultimate authority, but I do struggle to accept many of the rules…

I realise today that I have already written at least one post on this subject, and no doubt it won’t be the last, as it is a huge, complex, muddy minefield and something I grapple with frequently. As I say, I struggle with it emotionally and intellectually as well as spiritually. With freedom comes responsibility and choice. If I’m employed to do a certain job, I do not have freedom to do something completely different. Freedom should not mean anarchy or rebellion under normal circumstances… but what does that mean? How much control should people tolerate from leaders and ‘authorities’, whether they be in church, government, society or family? Rules in society have consequences. This happens in our ‘socialisation’ from birth, through school and in our societies – if we conform, we are rewarded and praised, and if we choose to not conform, we are punished. If our child obeys and seems to be trusted to do as they are told and make good choices, then we reward them with greater freedom and increased responsibility. If she does not obey, we withhold our smiles, rewards and pleasure, we chastise and seek to ‘re-educate’ the child and we may exclude them from something, take away their freedom, until they learn to conform. This is the way it is. In the areas where we do have some freedom to choose, as I say, there is responsibility and the possibility of making ‘wrong’, or unconventional choices. I struggle with choices and decisions and so I welcome advice, guidance, encouragement and direction… usually. I am also contrary and stubborn, some might say rebellious, because if I strongly disagree, I refuse to conform. Rules change though. What was right yesterday is sometimes wrong tomorrow, and vise-versa… so the question is, Who is the authority? Says whom? And if you say Peter has the authority and I say it’s Jane, and they both have opposing laws, whom do I follow? I do understand Pontius Pilate who, when questioning Jesus, disdainfully asked, “What is truth?” It is complex. What is freedom? What is free-will? What is liberty? These are not black and white concepts and require complex discussion. In my simple view, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I believe it with all my heart and in my life it proves itself to be true. But I cannot prove it to you. You have to to taste and see; you have to make up your own mind. I defend your right to disagree with me and to tell me what you believe and to uphold completely different views and opinions; you have the freedom to choose… I also believe that if you seek the truth with your whole heart, you will find it, and if you follow that truth, you will know freedom. You may disagree.

I had to look closely at myself… Like all of us, I want to be right, do right and not to do ‘wrong’. What is independence and what is community and family loyalty? I have some guidelines in me as to what is right and wrong and I have often failed, even within the confines of my own rules and laws. I often do not do what I believe I ought to do.

But what of others, whom I know only by their behaviour and not by their intention? Do I expect them to speak and behave like me? Do I want my friends to think like me? Will I associate with you if your political views oppose mine? What about your cultural, economic or social views? What about your religious views? Do I feel comfortable around all types of people? Would I invite anybody at all into my home? Will I break the law of my own land? What if the law of the land contravenes God’s law? What if the law says I cannot read my Bible, or tells me to kill a person… Would I? What if the law tells you that you can no longer do what you believe to be right? Would you? Would I prefer you to share my faith and passions for things I think are important? Would I welcome you, love you, pray for you and with you, whoever you are?

I answered many of these questions, some rather uncomfortably. I want to be honest with myself.

I pray for greater love and increased tolerance in my heart towards everything that I do not understand and even more so for that which I understand only too well.

Jubilation for July

“Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

This scripture has spoken to me for a while now and is quite sufficient for direction when I am looking for answers and guidance. Carrying one another’s burdens is very practical and you will know what you can and cannot do, but we can always carry each others burdens to the Lord. Cast all your care upon me, He says.

The burdens and cares that the Lord lifted from my loved ones during July, for which I rejoice, are these:

Healthy birth of baby K.

That D’s back has remained strong and healed since hands laid on at the end of May.

That J’s surgery successful and is back home full of praise and with a new song.

For a blessed family holiday together with grandchildren.

For J’s A for his dissertation and that he is settled, fully-funded PHD ahead and finally in a very good place.

That J got a place on the course he wanted.

That I managed to speak to an authority in the park and safety was ensured and a duckling rescued!

That L secured herself a job she wanted.

That I has had a very good month and is feeling strong.

That Z and L both got 1st-class degrees.

That some wanderers returned and newcomers to AA.

That eased restrictions saw 50 back in church at end of July, with opening plans moving forward.

That our pre-school’s Ofsted visit was favourable and the venue got the necessary ‘all clear’.

Lord, for all those specific answers to spoken prayers I praise and thank You. I thank and praise You also for all the answers to unspoken prayers of the heart and for your interventions that I haven’t noticed or have taken for granted. Thank You for Your constant presence and Your faithfulness.

Another verse has challenged me during July – it grabbed my attention as it mentions the importance of “speaking out” and I have been on that theme for a few months now. These are the words of Jesus Himself, and so I say an enthusiastic and desperately excited Amen to the words, but there is part of my heart that doubts my own faith. This verse is:

“Everything you pray for with the fullness of faith you will receive… if you do not doubt God’s power and speak out of faith’s fullness.” (Matthew 21:21)

Sometimes doubt does hold me back from speaking out a faith-filled prayer even, but when I over-ride the doubts and speak out a prayer, faith floods my shaky heart and I receive God’s peace.

I’m reminded of the friends who carried the ‘paralysed man’ to Jesus… I often imagine them questioning their actions – such audacious perseverance, taking the roof off, pushing their way in, what a cheek! What if Jesus is too busy, not interested or won’t do it? But they stood in the gap for their friend, they persevered and they pushed through until Jesus healed their friend.

So keep believing for your family, neighbours and friends; keep standing in the gap for them, bringing them to Jesus with the faith He gave to you. Keep believing that after night, the morning will come; after the drought, the rains will come and there will be a harvest. Be ready to gather the harvest and to rejoice with the harvesters.

rejoicing in the harvest.

Single-parent families

Last week I told a story about how speaking out saved a duckling and potentially saved other accidents… the previous week I spoke about violence, especially violence against women. There is a theme on my heart that I seem to be skirting around, but it could be expressed as concern for the ‘orphans and widows’ – often the weak, the vulnerable, those who have nobody else to speak up on their behalf. There are many vulnerable groups, but I want to focus on these.

Orphans and widows, according to Scripture, are very much a priority on God’s heart and God exhorts us over and again to look after them… God says He hears their cries. They are still real and visible in our society and yet for whatever reasons, we often do not see them. In many ways in modern Europe, aside from actual widows and orphans, single-parent families can also be placed in the category of orphans and widows – for whilst the other parent may still be living (and therefore those left behind are not orphans and widows in the strictest sense), they share the same burdens of societal shame and of practical and financial stress. As with orphans and widows, there is a sense of the woman and children being left without protection, without emotional, practical and financial support, etc.; often without respite from caring, or time at all for oneself, partly because living as extended families is no longer the norm. Often they are also heart-broken and suffering a sense of bereavement and loss too. I say woman, because it is most often the single mum, though increasingly it is the father, who takes custody of the children and sometimes it is a grandparent… In many Western countries there is some financial support for single-parent families, but the rest of their needs often remain invisible to society. I also know that there are many couples who struggle in their lives together, those with children and those without. I’m not saying that couples who stay together with their children have no needs, because I know that they do. I myself, as a child, often wished that my father would leave my mother, or vice-versa, but he never did and she never did. But in this piece of writing, I want to focus on the needs of single parents, who are most often, but not always, mums.

I would like us to draw our attention to these unseen, and frequently therefore, unmet needs. I think of this because I get it. I have been there for many years. And I see both sides. For the single parent, one of the unseen needs is for adult company, friendship and emotional support. In many ways, single unmarried women also share many of the challenges that I highlight here. There is nobody to come home to and to share ones joys, delights, burdens and stresses. Nobody. Nobody for whom you are that one special person. Nobody who shares that love and concern you have for your children. I particularly want to point out one phenomenon that may never have occurred to someone who has never experienced being single, but is very real to those that are – and that is that one is very rarely invited out – even by friends or by church family.

We have arranged an evening dinner for friends – for him and her, Mr and Mrs, this couple and that couple, but what do we do about you as a single parent? There are obvious reasons of course – you’d probably have to arrange a babysitter for the children or some other childcare? Or maybe you’d feel like a gooseberry, if everyone else is in couples? Or maybe you are always tired by 8pm, having had the children since 6am? Or maybe it’s awkward when everyone else is in couples – who would you be seated with? Would we have to do some ‘match-making’? And we wouldn’t want the children to come, it’s not suitable…. And we’ve never been invited to dinner at yours! Perhaps there are also deeper issues that we are not prepared to address? Maybe there’s a fear that there’s something wrong with you – after all, one of you in the couple walked out? Who’s fault was it really? It takes two to tango! Do you have commitment issues? Can you be trusted? You may have emotional needs and other needs we are not prepared or equipped to meet? What if you break-down and talk all night about your problems? Or maybe you want to steal one of our husbands? Of course we don’t really think that… not out loud, anyway!

When I lived in London, as a single mother for my two young boys, I was introduced to a ministry called ‘CHEER’ set up by a wonderful single mum, Cherie Coleman, who gets it. Once a month on a Saturday, me and the boys travelled across London to what they looked forward to as their “Party Church”, where they were greeted enthusiastically by a fabulous group of people who gave them an amazing few hours of fun, food, toys and love. Us single mums were taken for a fantastic breakfast, were treated like special, trusted friends, were led in a time of worship, with freedom and time to pray for one another. There was usually a speaker to inspire us on some issues that one encounters when raising children as a single parent , but often we also just told our own stories – and people listened, they cared, they didn’t judge… because they get it! They had empathy, most of them, but others were there to help and to serve, because they had compassion and the cause of modern-day orphans and widows had been placed on their hearts. One of the single mums back then now also is a married woman and a pastor and runs a similar group in North London – Fresh Start Single Parents Ministry. She picked up the baton and has gone on to serve the needs of other single parents in her neighbourhood.

Are we aware of the single parents in our neighbourhood and in our church – even in our own families? Do we pray for them? Are we aware of their needs, but also of their talents, giftings and passions. Do we trust them, accept them and make provision and allowance for them to join in, or do we sub-consciously discriminate against them? Do we step up on behalf of their children and be family, be healthy role models to them? Do we pray for all of our families, no matter what shape they are?

Bear them in mind.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

Rescue the ducklings?

There’s a theme going on for me at the moment and experience tells me therefore to listen to what wisdom is saying.

Have you ever had the experience of discovering something that you were not aware of before, but then suddenly, now you have noticed it, it pops up everywhere? Suddenly it’s in the shops, the books you read and comes up in conversations… It was always there of course, but the thing that has changed is your awareness of it.

I’m going to express some of the themes arising for me, through these blogs, as I did last week. Some of the thought processing is still a little jumbled.

First I need to tell you a little story:

About 5 weeks ago, I took my grandchildren for an afternoon in a large country park that I love. We were 2 adults and 2 infants – a two-year old and a four-year old. At one point, after already over 2 hours playing with sticks and rocks beside the lake as we meandered around it, we came across a small tributary to the lake, that feeds in from the marina; this part is called ‘the Sweetener’ and has a metal grill over the bit of water closest to the grass. I went with the four-year old to look at the algae and insects through the grill, noticing a gap of about a foot between the 2 grill coverings… suddenly my grandson jumped into the gap, thinking that the lush-green algae was grass! He disappeared under the water! Of course I fell to my knees, reached into the water and grabbed him and pulled him out and he was shaken and wet, but was fine, thanks be to God. Later the images began to haunt me of what could have happened if I had not been at his side and not seen where he had gone… I discovered that dogs and rabbits are frequently having to be rescued from that patch of water, also mistaking the algae for grass. I knew that I needed to speak up and say something to prevent further disasters, but to whom? Looking on websites and speaking to others I decided to contact the council – I did this, as directed, by email and by phone, but was not satisfied that it would get any further than an in-tray or locked away in a file. So I found a number for the park and eventually spoke to a person who managed the park and he told me all about what the Sweetener was for and said he would go right-away to assess the health and safety of the area in light of my report. This made me feel much better and like I had done all I could to prevent further accidents. Two weeks later I walked the park again, only to discover that nothing had been done at all – it was still exactly the same. Last week I returned to the park and saw a patrol car with a pair of community officers in it by the lake and it occurred to me to report the issue to them and ask them to look at it with me. They were from the Council, so I felt very foolish doing this and every part of me rose up to dissuade me from saying anything, but I marched over to the car and told them the story. They drove round to the spot and I walked over and spoke with them there. There was a little duckling trapped under the first grill nearest the grass… clearly he had bobbed under the water for a snack, popped up on the wrong side and was unable to get back to his mother, who was not far away and was watching intently. The poor little duckling was disturbed also by our presence and got his little head stuck through the grill and the officer was trying to poke his beak back through, but feared the duckling had snapped his neck, as he was very still… at this point a small crown had gathered and a lady had a ball-thrower for the dog, which served as a long-handled scoop-spoon and finally the officer freed the duckling’s beak from it’s prison, he popped back up alive, and they used the ball-thrower to scoop the duckling to the side, where the officer grabbed the frightened little thing and tossed him back into the other side to his mother. We all applauded! Then the officer fetched some bright yellow plastic and tied it across the two grills to alert others of the danger for those thinking the algae is grass. He also said he would report the whole thing and his intervention to the warden on his way out. Meanwhile another chap came over and asked “Is this cos of the kid that fell in last year and all the dogs that fall in?” I explained.

As I came away I felt much better. If I had not spoken up, the duckling would not have been rescued from his prison, but I knew that the duckling was a bonus! I have told this story to a few friends who it seems all know a similar story of children and animals mistaking algae for grass. Now I have my own story. Despite feeling stupid, I spoke up, not once, not twice, but until something was done. The rescue of the duckling was a bonus and a lesson to me and to the officer, I believe. I spoke up because I had had an experience that made me aware of the issue. I get it. It’s like that with many issues in life; when we are aware of it we can do something about it. If something had happened that only affected me, I would perhaps have not had the courage to report the incident, but when a loved one is endangered, somehow the courage to protect and speak up to meet the needs of others is found more easily.

It’s not true that other people don’t care about things that some of us struggle with, it’s just that they may not see the problem or solution, they haven’t experienced it and just don’t get it. I will continue this theme. Last week I wrote about violence against women mainly – because I get it – not because I’m not aware or don’t care as much about any other victims of violence, but because, as a girl and a woman, I’ve been there and I get it. I’m not alone in that experience.

I can speak for women who can’t speak. And if I speak, it gives permission for another eventually to say, “Can I tell you my story?”

This brings healing, relationship, compassion, community and hope for change. And it brings joyful surprises – remember the duckling. Look out for the ducklings – the little bonuses as you reach out and speak up for yourself and for others.

Speak up!

“We must speak up and do something”

It won’t come as a surprise to anybody that there is a great deal of injustice in the world. But I am frequently surprised at the extent of it and its insidious, all-pervasive nature. For example, I learned today that, according to United Nations statistics, over the last year, 9 million adolescent girls experienced forced sexual abuse1. That is 9 million girls whose names we don’t know – but what of all those who were too scared or too ashamed to tell? Throughout history, in different shapes and colours, in every corner and under every canopy around the globe, we hear of atrocities perpetrated against other human beings in the name of some exclusive cause or another and we are outraged and shrug; but the abuse and atrocities that occur within our own communities, our work-places, even our churches and our own families, these are the ones we somehow are ignorant of, or choose to remain silent about. Often we don’t really know what is happening. We don’t really want to know, because we don’t like violence, fear, abuse and obscenity and we don’t want to think about it or upset anybody. Also we are scared of the obligation to act if we do acknowledge an injustice and we don’t know what we can do. “We don’t want to get involved.”

Over this past year or so, better late than never, society took note and showed outrage at examples of such injustices. The murders of George Floyd and Sarah Everard were two named representations of the wider, collective experience for millions of women and millions of black people. These two have names that we have taken notice of.

There is so much abuse, discrimination and injustice in our ‘civilised’ society, but in this short article I just want to focus briefly on just some aspect of the domestic abuse. More uncomfortable statistics tell us that EVERY DAY 137 women are KILLED by male family members – husbands, fathers, brothers; but again, these are only those who dared to tell. When it happens in my house, I don’t report it because I am ashamed of my weakness and afraid of repercussions if I should tell. And I don’t tell because you keep telling me its my own fault, I brought it on myself; I’m not good enough and got what I deserved and if I tell, I’ll get what I do deserve. I am wrong and if I tell, nobody will believe me and they will also know how bad I am. We don’t tell, can’t tell; we can’t bring shame on family, can’t bring shame on the company, shame on the church, shame on the government… Can we? 1 in 4 women will be subject to domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime. Are you shocked?

Man, I’m sure you are not one of these abusers, but that woman could be your daughter, your wife, your mother? If so, what can we do for her now? Can we make sure that our churches, our homes and our communities are safe places and a refuge for those abused, lonely and scared for their lives? Are we prepared to help?

Woman, if it happened to you, I’m so sorry! And I understand the pain. Tell your story – first tell yourself and then tell somebody you trust. When we find our authentic voice we can speak up and others can listen, comfort and support; and maybe we can educate others, engage in dialogue and pave the way for others to speak out and make the issues visible, because we are not alone.

There are no simple solutions, but we can listen to one another’s experiences (and those that shock us) and we can listen with love and offer support where possible. We hope that an abused person can escape their abuser, but this is often impossible. Domestic abuse and work-place abuse, bullying, racism, sexism, all other ‘isms’ – these are areas that our churches and schools and councils could speak out against. If you want to find out what the church can to to speak into and change culture and you want to join a conversation addressing violence against women, go to eauk.org/bekahlegg

Do what you can, not what you can’t. If we don’t like the litter we can pick it up and teach our children not to drop it. If we see a danger, or issue, or injustice we can do our homework and research solutions to a problem, we can report it, or solve it, or ask for help. We can engage the media, sign petitions, write a letter, join a campaign, we can pray for victims and bullies, even for our enemies, and we can tell our story, tell another’s story, shout about it from the pulpits. Whilst you have a voice, use it for good – to speak out, to comfort, to encourage, to pray, to raise awareness… We can create a culture, create a church and a community that is safe and inclusive and that does not tolerate injustice, but does give second chances, does forgive and does reflect our God of love and mercy. Speak up about injustice happening to you and around you, tell a friend and start a small support team, pray about it and use whatever is in your hand to be an advocate, a voice and a safe refuge and support for someone who needs you.

I’m reminded of an oft-quoted gut-puncher, by Martin Niemoeller2, speaking of the cowardice of silence and of personal responsibility:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

‘First they came…’ 1946

1eauk.org/bekahlegg

2 Martin Niemöller

For the Glory of God

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask anything in my name and I will do it.” John 14:13-14

We are instructed as followers of Christ to ‘devote ourselves to praying for all the saints’, (Ephesians 6:18) and to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). There are so many ways to pray. Richard Foster has written an excellent book, entitled ‘Prayer’ and describing 21 different types of prayer, most of which I’m sure you would be familiar with. In general, my thanksgiving posts such as this focus on just 2 types of prayer – Petitionary Prayer – asking for my own guidance and needs – and Intercessory Prayer – asking for the needs of others. Categories such as this can be helpful, but the truth is that reality is largely grey areas and thanksgiving, adoration, repentance, surrender, prayer of the heart are all part of these prayers too. As Jesus says in the Scripture quoted above, Jesus answers the prayers in His name, so that God the Father is glorified through Christ. Not every answer to prayer is the one we asked for, but we have to trust the outcome of our prayer to Him to whom we pray. It is all for the glory of God, who is good, all the time. I want to give thanks and glory to God for the answers to specific petitionary and intercessory prayers that I witnessed throughout June.

Thank you, Father:-

that M went rehab and joined AA;

that K back in AA and other new-comers made the step;

that A home and declared in remission;

that J had long-awaited operation and is now sitting up and recovering;

that S gone into remission and can now look towards a transplant;

that me able to share holy Spirit words of hope to S and O family;

that S able to share words of hope to E;

for giving me Isaiah 43:1-3;

that A now able to visit her parents and family and all well;

that B in great spirits and hair returning and physio booked and full of hope;

for the 2 poems You gave to me;

for submission of J’s dissertation on time and You acknowledged;

for grace, energy and providence to babysit;

for saving C out of the water;

for all the Christian MPs gathering publicly for the online prayer breakfast for ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.

I do not find it easy to make time for prayer. I realise that usually I am in a privileged position to be able to devote more time to prayer than most. This last week I was away on holiday with four others, including my beloved grandchildren (aged 2 and 4) and taking time out to pray was impossible for me! I do understand. As a friend often reminds me – we have to do what we can, not what we can’t. And so I had to make my acts of service and thoughts my prayer life. Another friend of mine often calls and asks me not to go away and pray for people, but to agree in prayer with her then and there, over the phone, and entrust people and situations to God like that. I write all the requests down, to remind me to pray and to follow up on how those prayers have been answered. Whatever you have time for and in whatever way you can, do what you can to bring the needs of those who come to your heart before our loving God and Father. Be faithful in prayer and see God glorified through the Son. Run the race and don’t give up praying until you see the prayers answered. Don’t give up on anyone you have been praying for, but renew your commitment to see healing, transformation and growth. Bring your requests in confidence in the name of Jesus, who intercedes constantly for those who believe in the name of the Son of God.

running the race for the duration

Do what you can. Bless you.