What I would say to myself at 17

You are good enough

Advertisements

At the age of 11 (pictured above) I won a scholarship to an Independent School and was soon immersed into school life. Many of the girls that I now mixed with were from very affluent families who were able to go on foreign holidays (unlike my family), lived in substantial properties and some had tennis courts in the garden. I think that my feeling of not being enough began at that time. I was reasonably happy but I think I absorbed an unspoken message that I did not fit because my family were not affluent enough. Friend’s birthday parties were a source of anxiety because I could not buy expensive gifts.

There were embarrassing moments such as when my mum had bought a second-hand summer uniform dress which was far too big for me but I had to wear nonetheless because it was cheaper than buying a new one from the posh outfitters.

I had come to this school from a state school where I had been taught as part of a class of 45 but had thrived and was at or around the top of the class. I didn’t realise that this had become part of my identity – that I was clever. When I then went to the other school I was a little fish in  a large pond where it seemed that everyone was more clever than me, played musical instruments to a high level and had already learned French at their Junior School. Now I didn’t feel clever enough.

photo-1444730558009-b7f0368e1264I muddled on through school, did well at my  O Levels and embarked on my A Level courses. I can’t even remember now how it started but I began to fear that I would not get good enough grades to get into Cambridge University which is where the School were encouraging me to apply. By the end of the Lower VIth (Year 11) I decided that I did not want to carry on with my education and I left school without taking A Levels.

That decision was made solely because I was afraid of failure although at the time I told everyone that I just did not want to carry on at school. That decision was so costly; it affected  my life over many years. I stayed behind when my friends went away to Uni. Even years later I still felt the regret that I had not gone to University and it was mixed up with feelings of incredulity about making that decision. How could I have been so stupid?

If I could, I would tell that 17-year-old that her social status meant nothing to God. I would tell her that she was good enough whether she passed her exams, got lower grades than she needed or whether indeed she did get the grades. I would tell her that God loved her just as she was, that He would be with her every step of the way whether she “failed” or “succeeded”. I would tell her that God wanted her to fulfill her potential whether that was at University or not, that He had plans for her life which would give her a future and a hope. I would tell her that she had been uniquely created by a loving Father to be the unique person that she was. I would tell her that she was a daughter of the King, that she could lift her head high.

How sad that our fears and poor self-image keep us in a prison (often of our own making) because  we have made decisions from a place of fear rather than faith. I had cut off all possibility of a University education which was the very thing I really wanted because of my fear of failure (which was completely unfounded).

This story does have a happy ending because I did go to Cambridge University as a mature student many years later. It was the most challenging experience of my life but I did it and I loved it. (That’s another story).  It was as though that foolish decision all those years ago had been redeemed.

File_000 (15)

I am conscious that as I write this in the UK there is  a debate going on about the pressure on our young children to perform well at their SATs. As parents we need to keep communicating both our and God’s unconditional love to our children. They are precious. They are vulnerable to all kinds of wrong thinking about themselves if they only see themselves in terms of academic performance whether it is good or not so good. We need to be the ones who paint a picture of adventure over their lives.

nomadThis adventure is a journey with God; we don’t know where it will take us but we know He will be with us. We may fail but we can pick ourselves up and carry on because our failures don’t define us, they give us opportunities to try again and are steps along our journey.

Not going to University is my story  – your story will be different but  I know that many of us are plagued with fear, self-doubt and feelings of not being good enough. We are believing lies about ourselves. Jesus came to set us free – He died for us not because we were good enough, clever enough, good-looking enough or anything else but because He loved us. I am rejecting the lies about myself and choosing to see myself as God sees me.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom.5:8)

What would you say to  17-year-old you?

 

 

Photo Credits:
She believed she could so she did and School photo – these photographs belong to me and cannot be used without permission. Thank you!
others: Unsplash

 

 

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life

Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. (Ps.23:4)
If you are like me, you love the imagery of the Shepherd making us lie down in green pastures but not so much walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I love to read promises of how God cares for me but I am so glad that His word also prepares me and arms me for the difficult days and seasons. Our lives are a mixture of different experiences; some photo-1423766111988-c47a5ff6ed06good, some mundane, some terribly difficult. Last year was one of the worst years of my life, I was treated for cancer and at the same time we had a period of terrible uncertainty about my husband Rob’s job. I felt so stretched – cancer and unemployment loomed over me for months like tall mountains leaving me to walk a narrow, shadowy path. The worst thing was the uncertainty. Others of you may literally be facing death or in the kind of despair where you feel you can’t go on. When we are in those seasons we can be gripped by fear.

I found that  Psalm 23 had something to say to us at every stage of that path:

when we are in need – I shall not want – God really does provide everything I need

when we are weary – He makes me lie down in green pasturesThere is a rest for my soul

when we are stressed – He leads me besides still waters – God gives me peace that rules my heart and mind

File_000 (9)

when we are feeling dry – He restores my soulHe causes living water to bubble up within me

when we need wisdom for life – He leads me in paths of righteousness the Holy Spirit is our guide

when we are in danger, sick or dying – I will fear no evil for you are with me Jesus has conquered death, there is no greater enemy. This conqueror is with me always and fighting for me. We can take refuge in the shadow of His wings. (Ps. 36:7)

when we are under attack/opposed/oppressed – in the presence of my enemies you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. – If God is for us who can be against us?

More than that, this psalm gives us the context for the whole of our lives – surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Whatever my circumstances are, this is always true for me that the goodness and mercy of God will follow me wherever I go, not just in the green pastures but in the valley as well.

We so often think that our happiest/easiest seasons are what life should be like all the time. This is not what the Bible teaches, the book of Ecclesiastes puts this so poetically, that there is

“a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:4)

There will be difficult times but the Bible  teaches us that we can rejoice in all circumstances. Our rejoicing is rooted in the fact that Jesus has died for us, our sins are forgiven and we are now living in the good of the grace of God on our lives. Rather than being overwhelmed by our circumstances we can be overwhelmed by the love of God every day. This is what sustains us – that we are known and loved by God. He is with us in the good days (when we often forget to acknowledge Him) and He is with us in the dark days, even the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He is always the same, never-changing, unfailing.

I am learning to dig deep into these truths. I don’t always get it right, sometimes I complain , sometimes I am miserable, lonely, frustrated, anxious or just plain cross! But my prayer for me and for you is

“that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph:17b-19)

Then we will all be able to journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death rejoicing as we go.

 

 

Photos Credits:
still water – this photograph belongs to me and cannot be used without permission. Thank you!
others: Unsplash

 

 

The Impossible List

Prayer makes the impossible possible

Some years ago when our sons were very young one of them left a note for us shortly before his birthday. It was a list of things he wanted. He had divided it into three sections: impossible (a Nintendo 64),  middle (a micro scooter) possible (black biking gloves) ! As a postscript he added “I love you Mummy & Daddy” – always a winner with parents! We have kept the note ever since.

At the time we were financially hard-pressed and I think our son understood this and he knew that we didn’t buy extravagant birthday gifts nevertheless he was still hopeful.  When we saw this note something in us immediately wanted to bless our son and to give him what he most wanted and what he thought was impossible. We managed to get a second-hand Nintendo 64 and of course he was very surprised and absolutely delighted. He could not believe that what he thought was impossible had become reality.

This is a great picture of what our Father God is like with us. He delights to give us good things and responds to our faith. He loves us and wants the best for us and His timing is perfect. If we have a wrong view of God, that He is aloof, stern, a hard task-master, we will never trust Him to do good to us and we won’t ask big prayers for the impossible.

Since that time Rob and I have always had our own impossible list of things we have been praying for. Many of those prayers have now been answered and we have added new ones to the list. One example was in 2011. We had owned a succession of elderly second-hand cars which we used to run until they were no longer economically viable (in practice this usually meant that we could not afford to repair them to get them through the MOT.) In November our car finally went to the scrap yard and we began to pray for a new(er) car. We had no savings so we decided that we would pray every day for a car and get by without one until God provided for us. After two or three weeks of cadging lifts, borrowing cars to do the grocery shop and walking wherever possible we came to the point where we realised that it was a lot harder to do without a car than we had thought.

There came aFile_000 (8) day when we decided that we would pray one more time and after that we would have to look for another cheap old car. After Rob had left for work I had a phone call from a friend who said that he and his wife wanted to buy us a car! I phoned Rob who was on the bus to tell him the good news. Shortly afterwards we were able to buy a much better car than we had ever had before and which we are still driving today.

Throughout our married life we have kept a book recording our prayers and the answers we have received. From time to time we read through the book and are amazed to see how many of our prayers have been answered. This is such an encouragement when we are tempted to give up praying. We have many other examples of things that were impossible for us which God has answered.

Our book is annotated with scriptures to remind us about what God is like: “with God all things are possible“, “God has given us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness“, “nothing is too difficult for Him“, “you do not have because you do not ask” God loves it when we ask Him for anything believing that He will do it. We see this in the story of the centurion who came to Jesus asking him to heal his sick slave. He responds to our faith.

Of course some of our prayers  were not answered as quickly as the ones for the car. We are still praying for some things  after many years. Some prayers were not answered in the way we envisaged, for example I wasn’t healed of cancer but God did speak to me and sustain me through the treatment.

We can get very hung up on whether we should pray for things for ourselves but God calls us to have faith in every area of lives whether spiritual or material. He encourages us to pray for our daily bread. Our whole lives should be lived by faith not just what we consider to be our “spiritual” lives. Of course we have not only prayed for things for ourselves – but for our church, our friends, projects, people who are sick, house-moves , church building projects and so on.

IMG_3346

When our prayers are answered miraculously it is SO exciting, the impossible becomes possible, and we turn back to the Giver and thank Him with all our hearts (just as our son thanked us ). When God blesses us it enables us to bless others. There is an overflow of blessing. In fact this is just what the Bible teaches us – that the measure that God uses is “pressed down, shaken together and running over.“More than we can imagine, with plenty to share.

I challenge you to start an impossible list. You will be amazed at the answers to prayer, how your faith grows and how you can bless others through your praying.

 

 

 

Painting the fence

Sometimes our prayers seem unanswered

This week  I was painting our garden fence.  As I did so I was reflecting on the people I had prayed for on Sunday (I am part of the prayer team at our church) . I was thinking about how each week  as I pray for people I long to see miracles in their lives.

As I painted with upward and downward strokes I was reminded of the film The Karate Kid. Danny LaRusso asks Mr Miyagi to help him learn to fight.  Mr Miyagi tells him to paint the fence. Another time he tells him to polish the car with circular motions, “Wax on, Wax off”.

Danny is naturally disappointed and frustrated because he can’t see what the point is. He feels like a slave to Mr Miyagi. He came to him asking for something and he wasn’t giving it to him. Instead he was making him do menial tasks. He couldn’t have been further from the truth. The day comes when he enters the karate competition. As he fights we can see the up and down motion and the circular motion come into play. He has built up muscle memory.

Sometimes our prayers seem unanswered, sometimes we get an answer we weren’t looking for -“Trust me”, “Keep going”, “Not yet.” We know that God can help us and that He can work miracles through us. Indeed He has said “Greater works than these shall you do.” but perhaps we still aren’t seeing the answers to those prayers. Sometimes we may feel that we are just going through the motions, up and down, up and down. Does God even hear me? Does He care about me? Disappointment can take a grip on our lives.

I am encouraged  that each time I pray I am exercising those faith muscles. Each time I pray I am expressing my  trust in God. Each time I pray I am submitting to the Lordship and sovereignty of God. Each time I pray I am talking to the One who knows best for me, who loves me and those I pray for. Each time I pray I am photo-1437603568260-1950d3ca6eabconnecting with the One who has the power to  answer and has promised to hear my prayers. Each time I pray I am being obedient to God. Each time I pray I am opening myself up to hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. Each time I pray I am co-labouring with the Holy Spirit. Each time I pray I take the focus off myself and onto God. I am strengthened as I consider Him. There is so much that I don’t see when I pray because it is not tangible and physical; I can’t see what God is building into my life and the lives of those I pray for.

I can choose not to be disappointed and frustrated and in the meantime keep looking to the One who is able to do far more abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.

Now I can imagine a lot of things I can imagine the joy of seeing someone healed, seeing the lame walk and the blind see,  seeing cancers healed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see God do even more than this? So I am going to keep on praying because  I will only see a miracle by continuing to pray in impossible situations. Mark Batterson* says that “100 percent of the prayers I don’t pray won’t get answered. ”

I have decided I will keep painting that fence, I will keep praying.

 

*Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears

 

 

 

Walking through

My Father God loved me yesterday, He loves me today and He will always love me

 

Last year I was treated for Breast Cancer. I had always thought that I could cope with most things but I wasn’t too sure about cancer. It is something I suppose that most of us dread. When it actually came to it I found God to be an “ever present help in time of need”. Ps 46:1 

 After being recalled to the clinic following a mammogram I had more  scans; the doctor told me that there was a lump which, if  cancerous, would be treatable. A nurse explained to us that we would see a consultant for the diagnosis following the results of a biopsy;  she also said that if it was cancerous it would be treatable.

 Rob and I walked back home through the park, hand in hand,wondering if this was what she said to everyone and if she was preparing us for what she already knew was a diagnosis of cancer. I remember us saying that cancer doesn’t change anything – my Father God loved me yesterday, He loves me today and He will always love me. Cancer is only a word. I can choose not to give it power over me.photo-1418832178871-693e3ab5cdaf

Following the biopsy I was recalled earlier than expected, so I felt that it was not going to be good news. I wasn’t frightened I just had a sense that I would have to walk through this. The day before the appointment I was in a prayer meeting when a friend of mine prophesied over me. Part of the prophetic word was that I would walk through having breast cancer. It was so brave to bring a word like this when others had been praying for healing but I knew it was God speaking.

As Rob and I were given the diagnosis the next day we were both very calm, we had been prepared by our Father. It wasn’t a surprise to us. Both the Doctor and the nurse who were with us questioned whether we understood the diagnosis, I think because we didn’t react with any sort of shock or surprise. Actually we already knew.

There is a tremendous blessing and power in prophetic words. Of course they must always be weighed carefully. This word was in line with what God had already been speaking to us.

It not only prepared us for bad news but it also sustained us. We were encouraged that I would walk through this, I was not going to die, it was going to be ok. We have frequently reminded ourselves of  this . Walking through became the motif for all I went through with my goodness bag in hand. As I underwent difficult procedures, through the operation and recovery period, radiotherapy and even the latest mammogram (all clear) I felt that all I had to do was to keep walking. I was very conscious that if God had said that I would walk through this then I could do just that. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me “(Phil 4:13) I also meditated on the fact that the Lord is with me everywhere I go whether it is the operating theatre or the valley of the shadow of death. (Ps 23)

This word also encouraged us that God knew about us, He was in this with us. It helped us when we prayed every day for healing from cancer. We found it very helpful to pray through scriptures about healing. (A helpful book is Healed of Cancer by Dodie Osteen).

Now that a year has passed since the operation, I am reflecting that of course we are all called to walk through our lives whatever they may bring. Some days we can barely put one foot in front of another, other days we are full of energy and we could climb mountains. We do just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and entrusting ourselves to God. Wherever we find ourselves I am confident that there is one who walks beside us cheering us on as we keep walking.

 

 

I’m not like them

“Comparison is the thief of joy”.

You are not meant to be like anyone else because you are a unique creation. You are the person you are by design. You are the way God made you to be.

So often I have struggled because I didn’t think I was like other people; I didn’t have their gifting, I didn’t have their looks, I didn’t have their cleaning gene, I didn’t have friends, I didn’t have their godliness, I loved reading/they didn’t, I wasn’t married/they were, I loved studying/they didn’t – the list goes on and on.

Theodore Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy. That’s so true.Comparison imprisons us and holds us back. It lies to us. It tells us that we are not this enough or that  enough – that we are not enough. Feelings of inadequacy cripple us, we can feel shame about our shortcomings. Comparison breeds insecurity.

When God had finished His creation He “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”(Gen 1:31) We are part of that beautiful creation with all its diversity. Ps 139 says that God knitted us together in our mother’s womb (v13). We are a unique creation each one different to another. Our uniqueness contributes to the multi-faceted, multi-coloured diversity that is the kingdom of God.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Each of us has a unique path that only we can walk. We all have so much to give but it will have different expressions. Our individual character and strengths will be invaluable in any team we are part of as there will not be anyone else quite like you. We are meant to complement one another not to be clones of each other.

I am part of a team of women who are all so very different. We have learned to appreciate one another’s unique contribution to the team and to actively encourage it. Some of us are articulate, some are introvert, some extrovert, some are incredibly creative, some have amazing spiritual insight, some have incredible faith to pray for the sick, some have great wisdom, some are able to take any opportunity to pray for people they meet and to share the gospel with them. We have learned to make room for one another because we need and value what each one has to bring to the team. In an environment of encouragement we have each grown in confidence to be the people that we truly are. We need each other.

We could spend our whole lives wishing we were “more like him” or had “a ministry like her” but our Father has already given us everything we need for life and godliness. We already have all that we need to prosper in God’s kingdom. It is a huge relief to finally realise that it is ok to be me with all my quirks and idiosyncrasies. Not only that, but to learn that I can be totally confident and at ease with myself and that’s ok. It is all because I have a Father who loves me. He is the one who validates who I am.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Emu © Tonis Valing Dreamstime Stock Photos

Breaking the Jar

Making a costly sacrifice

 

Matthew 26:6-11 The woman with the alabaster jar.

In this passage the woman broke open her alabaster jar and anointed Jesus’ head with the ointment. What was it like for her to give away something so costly, something she had expected to hold on to? This woman chose not to hold onto her jar but to break it. She had counted the cost to herself but decided to give it as an offering to Jesus and she has been remembered ever since for her sacrifice. .

There are times when we may have to give up something that is precious to us in order to enjoy all that God has for us next. These are pivotal moments in our lives. Even good things can hold us back from what God has in store for us. It can be painful to let go of things that are precious to us – our ministry, the way I like things to be, the project I’ve been a part of for a long time, our beautiful home, a relationship etc. It can be difficult to navigate. We can feel powerless and adrift.

However we can take control – instead of reacting or retreating we can break the jar ourselves. We can release our hold on the thing that is precious to us.

As you do, do it for no one but Jesus. Not for those around you, not for your church leaders but just for Him. Make a pure offering to God as an act of worship. In the very act of breaking your jar, there is an incredible power released. There is freedom through the pain. There are new delights to discover.

Jesus said “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt.16:16 ESV) I have to ask myself, “Do I really believe that this is true” And more specifically “Is it true for me”. Whatever circumstance I am in, the fact is that the story of my life is part of a much bigger story.

During a difficult season in our lives my husband Rob and I struggled to understand what was happening to us. We talked out our pain with good friends, we asked God for his solution and entrusted ourselves to Him. It was a rocky ride but we weathered the storm. We gave our “jar” to God and broke it as an offering to Him.

It can be messy and painful but I know that God always has more for us, He is always good and He loves us. There is more to learn about Him, more to do for Him, more to experience of the Holy Spirit, in fact there’s more in every aspect of our lives. We may not see the bigger picture from where we are standing but our lives are caught up in an eternal story and one day we will see it from heaven’s perspective.