Finisher

I’m a strong starter. I always start well. But in the past i haven’t always been a strong finisher. Thankfully, i don’t need to be too concerned yet because the race of life that I’m in still continues for me and ultimately only time will tell what kind of finisher i become.

But recently i had the privilege of actually finishing a race and being given at the end of it, a medal, that read on it ‘finisher’. And I’m not gonna lie. I LOVE this medal. Mostly because unlike who I’ve been in the past, when i look at that medal, it speaks to who I’m becoming. I’ve just attended a two day women’s conference where we were spoken to by Bob Goff, a man who passionately loves Jesus. He talked about speaking to your mirror self and to other people, not about who they have been but as who they could be. And honestly it was revolutionary!

When i hold my finisher medal, I am filled with hope. Hope that tells me that this could actually be me. As i navigate through life i could begin to become a finisher of stuff. There’s so much hope in this medal that i hold that it makes me want to attempt other things because even though I’m not a finisher in every thing, I’ve finished THIS.

I heard recently a story of a teacher who gave her anxious student an A before she even attempted to sit the exam. The teacher wanted to boost this student’s confidence by taking away the fear of the test. And as a result of that ‘pass’ she went on to work hard and did actually get an A at the end of the term in that particular course.  I love that. The teacher spoke to the student’s potential and  called it out of her. Thankfully, that’s what Jesus does for us, too. He takes the fear away and gives us a ready-made pass. He died on the cross and won and by believing in him we can step into his victory; into his A.

My medal is a pass for me even though I’m yet to finish the exam. It gives me  hope that one day i will wear the ultimate medal that reads finisher on it from Jesus and because he calls me finisher now, while I’m  barely even practicing, stumbling towards several finish lines -if i get to finish at all. But he sees who I’m becoming and cheers that person on. There’s a verse in the bible that talks about how it’s he who has began a good work in you anyway.

What  ‘good’ work, i hear you ask? Well in Genesis it talks about how God created man and he thought that the work that he did when he made you and me was ‘good’. He began a ‘good work’ by making you. And this verse in the bible that I’m referring to says that because it IS him, not you, who started a good work in you, who placed you on the starting line of the race of life in the first place, how then it is He who will be faithful to complete this good work that he began in you and I. Doesn’t that take the pressure away? He’s almost giving us a money back guarantee. If we would only come to him and enlist in his race. He knows the way already.

And like the race i recently ran, everything has been prepared from the start for you, setting you up already so that you could win.  All you have to do is start. And once you do, keep running.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”- Philippians 1:6

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”- Hebrews 12:1


Heart made whole

God is in the business of fixing our hearts. True story. He really doesn’t like it when our hearts are broken, or sad or indifferent to injustice or worse. He made us to be wholehearted. And if we could only let him in- oh the wonders he could do!

I’m not speaking in parables- over the past year, I have had the opportunity to witness this for myself, first hand. Last year, God began the process of mending my heart from years of heartbreak that I didn’t even know I had. I was born in Rwanda, you see,  and I was unfortunate enough to be around when the genocide happened and so had been carrying around years of trauma that I wasn’t even aware of.

Without realising, this had affected my identity and the way I related to the idea of home in every sense. Every time someone asked me where I came from, it was like they were asking me to solve the square root of Pi- it was complicated.

But God cares about the condition of our hearts and so, when I was most willing, he began to help me realise that I needed healing. But in a way, this was an easy one to work through. It was years ago so less ouch- you know?

But the real test, that came last November. I’m a mum of two. I am a mum of one strong determined, 6 year old world changer and one equally world changing, but slightly more compliant 2 year old boy. Back in November, I had the incident every parent dreads- the one where you and another mum disagree on parenting methods, resulting in lost friendships. Anyone been there?

Well, needless to say, my heart was broken for a while. Having gone through all the classic stages of grief, the last thing I expected was for a text, seven months later from my friend, asking to meet up and talk about November. And suddenly my heart beat raised higher than it medically should, indicating that it wasn’t entirely whole. A great opportunity for God to come in and work.

I love what Jesus does though. He fixes our hearts. Like I said, he cares about the condition of our hearts. And i will tell you why; in the Bible, in Matthew 22:37,  Jesus asks us to love God with ‘all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”- bit tricky, when your heart is in pieces!

So I have worked out that God mends my heart so that I can love him and others better. Broken hearts may love, but they can’t do it wholeheartedly. Whole hearts love wholeheartedly. So that is why my issue with my friend was of great concern for God; so that He can heal my heart, and i can love people and God better.

Today was a good day. I went and met with my friend. We had an awkward coffee at first- it wasn’t easy. But I also had people praying for me to be strong, so I was able to handle the chat better. And as we talked through things as mums, God brought healing to us both. And I can honestly say that when I left today, i felt whole.

And that is what He wants to do with all of us. So I ask you now, do you have a broken heart? Good news, God wants to make your heart whole. Maybe it is broken over the political state of our nation or a broken friendship- or maybe it’s your kids…whatever it might be. God can and wants to heal it so you can love better. So I can love better…and that’s got to be good, right?

Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Here is a prayer for those who have suffered a broken heart:

God, you care deeply for broken-hearted people.  This is a promise you make: You are close.  We pray for all those who are crippled by broken relationships.  Our hearts take the blow of disappointment.  We feel crushed because our hopes are dashed.  God, heal broken hearts.  We cannot fix our own wounds.  But you can.  If pieces of our heart have been lost, or are held captive by another, recover them and bring them back to us and miraculously “put us back together” so that our heart is whole again.  You are a mender of broken hearts.  We ask for this miracle, in the name of Jesus.

Fearless (in the hands of a good father)

This evening on our last day in Crete i’m stood by the beach watching my amazing husband teach our two children how to skim stones. Nothing extraordinary about that-except this is the scene that almost wasn’t as almost this time last year we were all taken out by a pretty horrific car accident. Thanking God for his healing power, which restores both body and mind.

One of my favourite things this holiday apart from literally the holiday itself- which has been heaven on a plate- has been watching my little son conquer his fear of the sea.  When we first arrived here he screamed each time he was put in the middle of the waves- ever  the lover if order and structure, his little heart couldn’t understand why it would be fun for him to be put in the middle of such unpredictable waters that almost always knocked him right back in his backside as soon as he was able to stand.

And yet tonight, here he is,  confident  as ever, screaming right in the face if the raging waves. If ever there was a picture to illustrate  wgat restoration looks like, THIS is it..right  now. In THIS moment. But he didn’t get to this moment on his own. Behind THIS moment has been  a patient  father who  has encouraged him every  time  he made it close  to the waters and held him close each time the fear became too overwhelming. Who  cheered his every progress  no matter  how small  and high fived each show of bravery.

Little by little he’s been coached into strength, moving  closer to courage. and  as he stands here now, fearless in the face of  what used to make him  crippled with fear, this victory is his. But as much as it is his, it is mostly his father’s. You see his father knows something that my little boy is yet to learn; with every agonising step he took, he was never once on his own.

Whenever he fell, there were the strong arms of his father, ready to catch him should he fail or fall. And catch him they did. Time and time again. Just like they caught me. And just like they can catch you. It’s ok to be afraid. But if you lean into him as you try, your father God will begin to make you stronger. Before long you’ll even begin to feel brave enough to show courage where you had none. And eventually you, too, will become fearless. Today, whatever your circumstances, dare to trust in these arms. They Will catch you. Even if you fall.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

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(Don’t) Go compare

Over the past couple of days, the song from THAT advert has been literally stuck in my head. It has been incredibly irritating and I have tried nearly everything to get it out- worship music, radio, nursery rhymes- and nothing could get rid of it. Kudos to the guys who made it up- they knew what they were doing!

But today as I was once again at my kitchen sink washing the dishes (God speaks to me an unusual amount here)- I felt God start to show me the cost of the message of this song.

We live in a culture that is constantly inviting us to go compare. If you are buying a car, never mind the joy in the fact that you can actually afford one- you are encouraged to look on comparison sites to check out how its features compare with another before you make your choice. And we can compare so much nowadays that before long, our entire lives will be marked by comparison- and that’s where it gets dangerous.

While there is nothing wrong with trying to get the best deal, there is something deeply disturbing about living a life of comparison. Comparison breeds discontent- if we are constantly invited to go compare, we will never, ever, be satisfied. There will always be a part of us that leaves us wondering whether we shouldn’t have held on THAT little bit longer for a better deal, better holiday, better spouse…and from that vantage point, joy is ultimately impossible.

In the past I have struggled with comparison- and in the present- yes, even now, I have found it hard at times, especially as a writer (first time i’ve publicly called myself that)- not to compare my writing style to others- or even my style, period.

As a woman, I often wonder how my clothes compare with others, or my hairstyle or my shoes..the list goes on. As a mum, how my children’s behaviour compares to others or how their progress or academic performance is, in comparison to their peers. Or as a Christian, how my life measures up against all the other amazing people i see around me. The thing is, whenever I have allowed myself to dwell in the valley of comparison- whenever I have gone shopping for more, because my trolley doesn’t seem as attractive- I have never come back happier; I have always felt emptier and unhappy about life. And that is the opposite of God’s plan.

I have noticed that whenever the need to compare comes in, it is most always, for me, rooted in fear. Fear that whatever aspect of life I feel the need to measure simply doesn’t measure up.

But that is simply not the truth. The truth is God has a plan for you as He does for me. And it is good, and exciting, but most importantly, it is unique. Comparison whispers the lie that the plan that He has for others is better- in fact the plan that He has for me is just as good and it is tailor. In a world that is inviting us to go compare, I feel instead that the antidote is gratitude. Because there is always someone wishing that they had what you had, comparing their lives to yours.

So instead of going off to compare, what can you be grateful for today?

My heartbeat

I am a passionate lover of people. Once, when asked in an interview what my greatest strength was, I answered, unashamedly: ‘people’- to the surprise of the serious-faced corporate person across from me. Thankfully she did allow me to elaborate on my answer, and because it was a heartfelt, genuine answer, she bought into it!

I do very much love people. ALL people. I love speaking to the cashier at the supermarket and asking her about her day; I like talking to the lady (or gentleman) sat next to me on the bus, I like smiling at babies and generally always start a conversation with their mums and find out how old their wonderful treasures are, which then leads to questions about their sleep patterns and eventually birth stories.

I guess it helps that I am also incredibly nosy; I hate not being in the know about anything. But I am genuinely interested in everyone’s stories, much to the chagrin of my introverted husband (sorry babe! #notsorry)

As a child, I was always tuned in to conversations that I wasn’t supposed to be listening to; and my parents found this quality about me incredibly dangerous. If they were sharing any information of great importance or secret, I would be listening. And as a child, I generally used to then repeat said confidential information! Not good for a couple who were regularly entrusted with most of their congregation’s secrets!

Growing up, this gift to listen and to be interested opened a lot of doors for me; but it wasn’t always my favourite thing about myself. Sometimes i’d really want to connect with someone. And the best way for me to do that is generally to ask a LOT of questions. And occasionally, people would misinterpret my interest for something not kind. As an interrogation, or as nosiness-and as they’d reject my friendship, this would really hurt. But each and every time, I would always get right back in, talking to people again- because it is my heartbeat.

Someone asked me once how I relax after a long and busy day; yesterday was a long and busy day.

I had spent the morning  with OFSTED and being observed  teaching at College , after picking up my son and dropping him off at home to my tooth-achy husband,  I left for my second (the best in the world )job in the afternoon showing some visitors from Swansea around some projects that we work with in Manchester.

After dropping them off at their accommodation for the night I headed home to eat dinner, spend time with my children and husband and collapse on the sofa with a cup of tea, right? wrong!

After food, I realised that we had a parenting course that I had forgotten about but could cancel- but I am energised BY people. So the thought of giving up an evening of connecting with a new group of parents and exchanging anecdotes about the struggles of parenting was just too much of a temptation for me. So at 7pm, I was back in my car for the fourth time, heading out. To connect. With people. People. My strength. My weakness. My heartbeat.

There are times when I have quite frankly felt like I had nothing to give. Especially when i’m surrounded by people with incredible gifts- people who can sing, dance, people who are incredibly artistic, driven, organised, and efficient. I can quite honestly say that I have never felt efficient.  or organised. The only thing I have ever really felt good at, was talking to people. Little did I know that this was the stick that God had given me that later, He would turn into a staff.

Today, I had the privilege of asking my Swansea visitors what their heartbeat was. It isn’t an easy question to answer. But they both knew what truly makes their heart beat. That thing that makes them feel alive. That makes them feel like they could stay up longer because of it. And when they naturally reversed the question, I didn’t have to think about it- I already knew. Because from a very young age, I have always loved being with people. talking with people. Hearing their stories. Making connections. And that, honestly, makes my heart beat.

What is yours?

 

Exodus 4: 2-3

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”

 

Children play

The children play.

Pieces of rubble become construction bricks, they play.

Plastic bags and leftover strings are transformed into balls, they play.

Ragged clothes become head-scarves that shield hot faces from the scorching sun and still, they play.

Broken down homes replaced by tents become a place where friends are made.

Fetching water and splashing each other in laughter, drowning out the distant sounds of exploding bombs. Oh how they play!

Filling the desert place with innocence, joy and hope.

The children play.

And powerful men play carelessly with their care free lives.

 

“For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children”-Isaiah 49:25

 

photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra

 

Truth or dare

I once heard the story of a woman who was driving along on the motorway and then felt to pull over and go into the services and do a handstand by the coke machine.  Like any sane person,  she ignored the urge and continued to drive but as she got closer to the services the feeling intensified so much that she eventually gave in pulled up to the services,  went into the nearest shop,  found a coke vending machine and proceeded to do a handstand.  Within seconds a woman approached her crying saying that she had just been bargaining with God,  while battling with feelings of suicide.  In a desperate moment of life and death she has asked God to prove to her that He was real and that he cared about her by sending someone into the shop she was in and to have this person do a handstand by the coke machine, otherwise she would kill herself.  So you can imagine the conversation that took place between the two women as they both rediscovered anew the depth of God’s ability to rescue. When I heard this story, I was amazed. But as wonderful as this story is,  it is not the greatest story of God’s rescue. Today, at church, as I sat in a normal Sunday service, God spoke to me powerfully through a story that I have heard so many times and yet was new again to me this morning. Christians know this story so well; a few thousand years ago, in a place not unlike that shop with the hopeless lady,  we too were headed towards certain death unless God proved his existence to us by pulling a powerful trick.  Except it was no trick; He heard our desperation and really sent His son who came and died on a cross,  taking onto himself every shame,  guilt and fear that you and I have ever felt. And three days later he rose again and suddenly we were no longer hopeless. We had hope and a new life. And as I sat in the service today I realised that the story I heard a few years ago about a hopeless woman in a shop is nothing compared to the miracle of a God who answered our cry for a God we can see and came to show us that He is real and because He is real,  there is no need for us to die.  He instead wants us not only to exist but to really live life in colour.  And it’s no trick.  Don’t believe me?  Try him.  Ask him now to prove himself to you.  Go on.  I dare you.

Start with kindness. ..

Before the end of 2015 my husband and I noticed something about ourselves that was both upsetting to realise and humbling to admit.  Amid the busyness of everyday life,  we had forgotten how to speak kindly to each other and to our children.  I first noticed it when we were both helping to get our two ready for school and nursery and ourselves for our work day;  I was in the kitchen ironing a shirt and my husband was telling our distracted six year old to put her tights on, an instruction,  which by now was basically yelled rather than given.  I flinched at the loudness of my husband’s booming voice and immediate knew I didn’t approved of that tone. ..I hate shouting.  So how had this problem come to sit in our house?  Ironically a few minutes later the tables were turned and I was shouting angrily at my children to both stop messing with the fireplace and to locate their shoes.  Didn’t they know we were running LATE? ??
As we walked out of our house that morning I realised two things; we were all angry and we were all unhappy.  It was a terrible lesson in how not to start your day.
That night I came home remorseful about our awful start to the day and tried my best to make it up to my little family.  After the kids went to bed,  my husband and I finally sat down and addressed the elephant in the room.  We had to admit it to each other and to God.  We had turned into angry people,  yelling parents and frankly not nice; individuals. We repented and asked God to help us and to show us where we needed to improve.
The next day and in fact that whole week our days were a little similar but less intense but slowly God began to show both of us areas that needed to change.
As we listened to the holy spirit we realised that kindness was missing massively in our dealing with everyday life. We just wanted things done and quickly,  and didn’t always take care of people involved along the way. And sadly,  God showed us first hand how this was creating a negative impact on the children.  And how a lot of the things we bribed,  begged and coxed them to do could all simply be solved by one ingredient; Kindness.
And so on the first of January 2016,  we felt led to start our days in our house with kindness. What followed both shocked and amazed us.
Before this,  we’d practised memory verses with our children at bedtime. On this occasion though,  we felt God leading us to a specific verse that we were to write on our hearts as a family and use as a basis of our new season.

In Proverbs 16:24 it says: “kind words are a honeycomb;  sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. ”
Because our issues were speaking to the kids unkindly mostly when we were stressed and running late,  we found this verse really helpful in highlighting the importance of reversing this in our house. We wanted our words to be sweet to the soul and to bring healing,  not stress.

We felt led to do two main things:

1. Wake up half an hour earlier and begin our day with 5 minutes of praising God (good word from Ben Jeffrey when he spoke here)- therefore beginning our day with gratitude followed by reading the bible together as husband and wife.
2. Ensuring that every word that left our lips towards children and each other was uplifting.

Now, I have to let you in on two things; our days start early in our house anyway. The kids generally push the doors of our bedroom open between 6:30 and seven,  and generally act as our alarm clock.  The other thing is,  I’m so NOT a morning person.  Honestly.  I am a complete grump. So when I’m woken up,  I’m cranky,  irritated and irritable. So to wake up earlier was probably not going to go down very well with me.
But Jesus is so kind to us, it says in Matt 11:28 that his “yoke is easy and (his) burden light). So when we woke up half an hour earlier,  we would stay in bed and do our devotion from there.  I could handle that.  That was better. Easier.  And on the first day we tried it the children woke up as they generally did but this time,  when they barged into our room,  mummy and daddy were already awake, reading the Bible and in a better mood.  So they crawled into bed with us and snuggled into us as we took turns going through the HTB One Year Bible and devotional.
And that first day,  as we made our way down stairs as we always did,  something small had changed.  And it was lovely. I noticed that I was genuinely smiling as i made my way to breakfast. And I was encouraged and optimistic about our ‘month of kindness. But the following few days,  in fact the first three weeks,  things actually got worse in our house. It seemed that all our efforts to try and be kind were just not working.  I felt more frustrated and angrier than ever. My husband too.  It was terrible.  We’d do well for a few days and then fall off the wagon for a few more. It was like we’d invited anger into our home by deciding to be kind. The first few weeks were just marked with mistakes and constant sorrys often spoken remorsefully after failing to speak kindly.  And we’d hug and start again.  We considered giving up.  But we felt supernaturally pressed to carry on.
And then on day 21, (it takes 21 days to form a habit,  scientists say) as I stood in the kitchen washing the dishes my daughter walked in and began to star jump and shout as she often does and I wasn’t paying that much attention to her until I realised what she was shouting. ..

She was saying “I’m powerful,  I’m wonderful,  I’m smart,  I’m beautiful,  I’m a good sister. ..I’m a good friend. ..” and she went on like that for over ten minutes declaring positive words over herself.  It was remarkable!  As I stood there,  where I’d just been feeling like we were failing this assignment,  tears flowed freely down my face as I realised what God means in the verse when He says that “kind words. ..are healing to the bones”
What a beautiful illustration of why we had to keep doing this!
So the few days after that anger and all negative words began to lessen in our speech and our home.

I’m not saying we’re there yet at all. .I actually wasn’t going to share this as today was a major fail from start to finish. ..we’re still learning.  But as I got ready to deactivate my social media accounts for lent, I felt led to share this for someone who perhaps is on the same journey as us and might be wondering what to give up or take up for lent.  And to genuinely encourage you; why not start with kindness?

Below is a powerful video about the power of kind words…I love it! #KindnessGoals

Because you’ve always stood up for me….

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My family and I recently had to deal with a lot following a difficult Summer. Some of you will be more than aware of it so I won’t go through the details again but one thing that was very very apparent through it all was how held we felt. At times when it was really difficult we felt really held together by the arms of love.

I remember the day when we were due to attend court to hear the case of the lady who  crashed into us. I was a nervous wreck, and shook like a leaf all the way to Buxton Magistrates, where the hearing was to be held. I almost lost it as we drove along very similar roads that we’d crashed on, and flinched each time a car approached ours from the opposite direction at high speeds. I was a real mess.

And I remember the anger I felt as sentence was passed and I realised that there would be no mandatory rehab sentence in place, nor a substantial ban placed on this lady who had nearly taken the lives of my entire little family in one drunken accident but who, a few years prior had also been charged with a similar crime involving another family and other children…

I remember feeling so cheated by the system, and crying from my gut, feeling as though no one had stood up for us. For me. It has taken all our courage to get to this courtroom; my heart was broken. On the drive home I was quiet,my husband and I both in disbelief. We didn’t want or expected a jail term, in fact we’d prayed for the opposite… What we wanted was justice. And justice,in our eyes, would have involved some time for this lady to deal with her alcohol issues, which she’d admitted were out of control as well as a good amount of time without her licence to allow for her to get to trips with healing from this, which she’d expressed a desire for.

I spent a few weeks wrestling with my own feelings and unable to pray through the anger and disappointment that I felt. And then when I could finally muster up the strength, I  asked God the question that had been weighing on my mind. As I asked Him: “if the courts and lawyers don’t stand up for us, God, who then does??”

And the answer came through two formats. The first was through a song that I played over and over again that helped me find the strength to surrender. In this song God asked me to “come to him”- to let him be my anchor in the wind and the rain. And this became easier as I listened to this song, over and over.

The second answer came through him speaking to me directly and telling me that HE stands up for me. He fights for me. He’s the greatest judge, friend and ultimate father that I need. And he was on my side.

And as I took in those words, I slowly learned to step in the rhythms of grace again. I was able to let go of the anger that was weighing me down. The hurt and pain that I felt melted away the more he whispered words of healing over me and I gave him my pain for his love.

It was a daily exchange. Sometimes hourly. But he keep on inviting me day after day.
Some days it was really hard to trust. Or to give away my hurt. I wanted to hold onto it. Part of me felt justified so I wanted to wallow a bit. But if I wanted to get free, to play again, I had to allow him to stand up for me because I couldn’t do it for myself. And as I stood back and truly let God stand up for us I was able to rest and recuperate. And when I woke up, I was ready to dance and sing and laugh and play.

I came across this verse as I was reading Lioness Arising today by Lisa Bevere (great great book)-

Because you’ve always stood up for me, I’m free to run and play”. (Psalm 63: 7)

What a beautiful verse! As I read it, it illustrated exactly what happened to me when I learned to lean on God all over again this summer. As I gave him my anger over the injustice I felt, I rediscovered anew so much of myself. Not that I’m completely there yet, far from it! But what happened was a remarkable rediscovery of the joy of lost. And the freedom that had vanished- the confidence that was stolen- it all began to come back as I went to him in my anger and truly gave my fears to him.

There is a song that says He gives….beauty for ashes…strength for fear….gladness for mourning… Peace for despair… The beautiful exchange! And I never knew how freeing it is when we gladly come to him and say, I really want to hold onto this, God. They really hurt me. And they deserve my anger… My blank stares…my venomous replies on Facebook…. But here it is…take it…and turn it into something beautiful. And you know what? He will. He did. He does.

Because you’ve always stood up for me, I’m free to run and play”. (Psalm 63: 7)

Isaiah 61:3
To all who mourn in Israel,[a]
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Submitted!

On the 22nd July 1998, My family and I arrived in the UK for the very first time, refugees for the very last time. It is so strange- but I remember it like it was yesterday. After we’d sat down to a reception worthy of royalty, thanks to some incredibly generous friends, who had turned up to make our new flat look and feel like home, I felt amid the pregnant silence, the need to announce that ‘I was going to write a book about this someday!’ I was only fourteen years old then; but my dream was real.

Fast forward to 2015, a year when I was physically incapacitated in so many respects, from being made redundant from a job I loved in March, to being given the opportunity of a lifetime, that lay in resurrecting a dream that quite frankly, I had categorised under ‘dead’.

As I sat across from the most impressive woman I had ever had the chance of having coffee with in the Mess Cafe, I was invited on a journey of discovery- to explore and see what this new chapter, however devastating it seemed- would yield at the end of the year.

‘Perhaps in your disappointment- at losing your job, at potentially losing the thing you have always known- is an invitation into the unkown, into something greater. Perhaps this place of uncertainty is a space for God to perform the greatest things for you’- my friend mused…

I will never forget that day. I accepted this invitation and set aside what I had always known in the pursuit of what God was leading me into. I knew I wanted to write my book- but I wasn’t really a writer. You see I talk a good game. But when it comes down to it, the motivation to complete it is a whole other level. It would take divine intervention. But I was willing to lay aside how I had always done things and truly let God take me on this journey and trust Him to know where it would lead.

I turned down an offer of a job at my company and closed all other doors that I felt at the time weren’t in line with what God was asking me to do. Trust- it is a very hard thing to do in practice. I second guessed myself at every step of the journey. I have never turned down a conventional job before. But I found myself ready to give up a life I knew for one that I felt God was calling me into- however uncertain it looked and sounded to people who knew me.

I felt sure my new journey involved a personal journey of transformation. In April, I attended a conference in Bangor, in Ireland, which turned out to be a life affirming experience. I came away sure that God was in this with me. That his leading was secure, and my footing sure on Him. I lay aside any and every doubt that I had about following His call and instead committed to a life of prayer like never before.

I began to work with my friend on a new project that looks at desperately seeking God for the transformation of our nation in the UK. This led me to South Africa for the first time, where I was trained as a speaker and someone who would come back and commit to working with my local community in our pursuit for transformation. I spent a week soaked in stories of hope, of barren lands where God had showed up after people began to seek him in prayer asking for their communities to be delivered. The result each time was a revival in the lives of those very communities in a way that had never been seen or experienced before.

We heard from leaders in transformed communities talk about how crime had fallen as a result of the move of the Holy Spirit; how Police forces began to unite on the streets and pray before they patrolled their areas- how even the land was healed from bareness, yielding a crop so large that farmers and communities were financially set free by it. Of drug cartels leaving areas they had oppressed for decades- of whole nations coming together in repentance as they asked God for forgiveness and the healing of their land…

It was extraordinary! I came away filled with hope that this could happen here, in England, in Manchester, In Tameside, right where I live. in May, I dedicated myself to pursuing to gather a team from my area to pray over where I live- the result was that my little kitchen table became a meeting place- where over Pizza and mediocre coffee, we’d dream and chat about transformation of Tameside, but this team was really just me and my vicar friend Katie. But it was a start. We met with other church leaders in the area who were not at all interested in getting together to pray- disappointing but we felt we had to carry on meeting and chatting.

In July, unfortunately, my family and I were involved in a car crash that left me hospitalised for over three weeks and unable to walk properly for over three months. But herein lay the miracle.

In the stillness of all the activity, I really found God. sometimes it was in the darkness of what I was going through- He’d show up with a gentle hand and touch that reminded me that He was still here and still close. He was hurt that I was hurt. And so the following three months, between July and October, I wrestled to accept hugs from God as He came closer, inviting me to surrender and know that He is kind- to accept His love, especially when I felt I deserved it the least.

You see up until this point, I had accepted God’s call on this journey into the unknown but I had carried on to operate on ways that were very familiar to me- by organising, orchestrating and planning. I am not very good at being still and doing nothing. I am doubly less okay with having things done for me. And yet after the accident, not only was I unable to do things  for myself, but I also required things to be done for me. I was not okay with that. It was uncomfortable and painful and sometimes ugly. But it was a place where I found my greatest freedom. The freedom to just be and wait. To be still and to rest. Even if it looks like you’re not doing very much.

It is on this journey that after weeks of wrestling, I finally found the courage to put pen to paper and write my story. A story that has been on my heart since I was fourteen years old. A promise I made to some wonderful friends who became family to us. It was- it IS a journey of rediscovery.

My daughter told me last week that her headteacher read them a story about the invisible bucket. Such a lovely story of kindness and joy – you can watch an animated version of it here– and today she told me that her invisible bucket, even though she had a good day, felt empty and she felt very little joy. And without thinking about it, I reminded her that the best way to fill her bucket is to go through all the good things that happened today and find places where we can feel grateful. She played along with me and at the end, guess what, her ‘bucket was full’, she said.

I realised in that moment that this is exactly what had happened to me over the past few months. When I lost my job in March, my bucket was emptied almost instantaneously- I put great emphasis on what I did for a living- many people do. So when it went away, so did a lot of my confidence- but God sent me people who slowly began to fill my bucket with kindness- In the summer, when again, I was emptied of a lot of things, God sent more people who filled me to overflowing with love and help and just amazingness- and by October, I had been won over by God. I no longer needed to prove something to Him through what I did, I simply had to accept his love and kindness as a banner over me.

And then, as if by grace, I found my voice. In the middle of my incapacity, words came and spilled out onto paper. I rediscovered, like my daughter, reasons to have joy when all I felt around me was anxiety and fear. When I was afraid of the news that said I may never run again; through looking back, I rediscovered the thread that had held my life together to date. And the colour of that thread was red.

I saw a life draped in Jesus, a hand that guided us and shielded us day and night as refugees in foreign lands. I saw a cloud that hovered over us by day and a fire that lit at night in the valley of the shadow of death that kept harm at bay. The same power that showed up alongside us when a very broken woman made an unhealthy choice to drink and drive, resulting in injuries that temporarily incapacitated my little family. I saw the thread of Jesus, the red thread that was woven into my life ever since I was born. And as I wrote, the voice of fear was chased away by the strong voice of hope. And goodness. And mercy. A mercy that has followed me to date and will follow me all the days of my life.

As I sat still, I wrote day after day, words that were sometimes coated in fresh pain and grief and other times in laughter and joy. And the words took on a life of their own and the life produced together a book. But  for me it’s been much more than that. It’s been healing through reflection. being taken back to a place where God, in His sovereign power, transformed what really shouldn’t have been possible to become possible. Not because we were anything special or worth more than those whom we loved who perished, but because of His goodness and mercy that just didn’t let us go.

And you know, that kind of thing causes you to just want to bow down in deep gratitude. Not because you HAVE to, but because you want to. I realised as I wrote that actually, God,this year, gave me a much better gift than I ever hoped or dreamed of; he reminded me of the miracle that is my existence in every sense.  And today, almost eighteen years later,I finally submitted my finished, first draft manuscript of my book to the publishers. A dream come true. A hope restored. I just thought I would put a marker down in history today about that and share my journey this year. And hopefully, it will put a drop of encouragement into someone else’s bucket tonight, and that might go a long way towards filling it up.

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.