Are you a cheapskate Christian?

Are you a cheapskate Christian?

Bit of a strange question, eh?

But let me explain.

Recently, I’ve been reading through Genesis and Exodus and seeing just how overwhelmingly gracious God is with us.

Time and time again, I am reading about his loving kindness, his patience, his mercy, his forgiveness. Even in the New Testament, this incredible theme sings loudly; a God who loved us so much that he gave up his only child.

I honestly can’t think of a greater type of selfless generosity and yet, some of us, his followers struggle to understand the concept of generosity.

So, a few examples; we hoard our cash and protect what we have, as though money was going out of print.

We heap up our plates at the buffet table, not thinking about the long line behind us.

We’re offered a free book or resource from a ministry, but instead of taking one (as requested), we fill our pockets.

At work, we’re asked to put our mugs in the dishwasher, but we don’t, because, well, we’re kinda busy…

Lack of generosity can also easily spill into deceit too.

We might ‘fudge’ the truth on an application form, in order to get something free.

We might help ourselves to the leftover coins in a vending machine.

We might keep the £20 we found on the floor (finders/keepers, anyone? 😂).

Over the years, I’ve worked for different Christian charities and ministries and I’ve seen this often.

In a previous job, we once offered a free book, as an incentive to encourage people to sign up for a mailing list. One person helped themselves to 10 ‘free’ books, to ‘give to their friends’, not thinking about the cost/burden that put on the organisation.

Even closer to home, we see it in church too. It’s easy to become the type of person who goes purely to ‘take’ and not to ‘give’. We can rely heavily on the church’s support structures, but don’t want to give our time in any other way.

The point is, so much of this can stem from a lack of generosity, a sense that we are ‘owed’ something or that that we have to look after ‘me’ first of all.

And yet, God’s generosity towards us has literally no limits.

He gave us the most important thing in the world and he continues to do so in a million big and little ways.

I’ve experienced God’s generosity so, so many times and so, out of gratitude, I want to be generous toward others.

My parents instilled this in me, from an early age. Even when they had nothing, they would often choose to find a way to bless others. Even today, my dad will say, ‘everything I have isn’t mine anyway. It’s the Lord’s’.

I’m not saying it’s easy…it definitely isn’t.

Sometimes it feels like my inbuilt sin nature just constantly cries, ‘me, me, ME’.

No, I don’t want to go to the meeting, I want to stay at home and watch Netflix.

No, I don’t want to offer that person-in-need a lift, because I’m tired and it’s 5 miles out of my way.

Yes, I DO want the last piece of *quiche at the church buffet. The others behind me…well, they can have quiche some other time.

(*Quiche: the staple food of church buffets! 😂)

But yes, generosity is about way, way more than money.

It’s about smiling at cashiers in shops.

It’s about taking your trolley back to the trolley park (and not leaving it in a random car parking space at the supermarket).

It’s about allowing that person on the slip road to join the motorway, instead of refusing to budge.

It’s about helping ourselves to ONE plate of food at the buffet.

It’s about looking around at others’ needs and asking God if there is a way he could use ME to help, whether it’s with time or money.

And although I don’t believe we should give, in order ‘to get’, when we start modelling generosity, surprising things begin to happen. People notice. They start to open up. Others begin to practice generosity towards you.

But the truth is, God has given us literally everything. He has poured out unthinkable generosity on us.

And to whom much is given, much is required.

Are you a narcissist?

Years ago, I remember being in a meeting and we were waiting for another colleague to arrive. My (then) boss quipped, ‘he planned to be here on time, but unfortunately, he got waylaid by a full length mirror’.

We all laughed, because well, it was funny, but also, I wonder if any of us thought that we were susceptible to this too?

At the time, it reminded me of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, I’d seen which told the story of Narcissus.

It’s based on a tale in Greek mythology about a beautiful looking young man. He was told (apparently) that if he never recognised himself, he’d live a long and happy life.

Somehow or other, the ‘gods’ got angry with him and so poor old Narcissus saw his own reflection in a spring of water, fell completely in love and spent the rest of his days, pining away for his greatest unrequited love – himself.

I’m not sure how, but recently I ended up reading this story again and looking into narcissism and what it really means.

I’d always thought that a narcissist is a person, who, like their namesake, is someone who is arrogantly in love with themselves.

But apparently, the definition is somewhat different.

A narcissist is often a person who has been damaged in some way and so they create a false version of themselves, to cover up the truth. It is usually deeply rooted stuff, but it manifests in lots of different ways.

Conmen and swindlers are often narcissists. They build up this huge fake reality that draws others in. They’re often great communicators, people of fancy words, but if you dig below the surface, there’s very little substance. What they say in public or on a stage, isn’t really reflected in their private, ‘backstage’ life.

I hate to say it, but it exists in church life too.

It can happen because in life, we sometimes like to put our leaders on a pedestal. We create a system of ‘honour’ which can be completely life-destroying for everyone concerned, if it’s not managed properly.

If they were in a psychiatrist’s office today, I bet you’d find plenty of narcissists among Biblical characters too. Men and women who followed God but somehow got distracted (permanently or temporarily) by their own reflection.

Remember David, ‘a man after God’s own heart’ who worshipped and praised God all the time but somehow ended up stealing another man’s wife and murdering the husband, in order to cover up his sin?

Then there was Samson, a man of extraordinary strength who fell for the lies of a con-woman and ended up paying a horrific price. Did he forget that his strength came from a supernatural source and wasn’t his own doing?

I could find plenty of other examples too, but closer to home, what about me? Or you?

Are we creating a false reality or identity, because we fear vulnerability?

What about social media? Are we broadcasting this shiny, perfect version of our lives, when inside, we’re really crumbling and rotting away?

It’s a huge challenge! Have we created a picture perfect version of ourselves to display to the world, so they’ll think better of us? Are we sometimes tempted to get stuck, gazing into a spring, at an image of our own reflection?

The truth is, when we meet Jesus, he brings all the fractured parts of our lives together. He makes us whole.

And if we’re walking with him, he gives us a nudge in the spiritual ribs, when we’re temporarily distracted by what we see in the mirror.

He is the great ‘course corrector’, the one who tells us to ‘wind our necks in’ when/if we start to believe and fall for, some of the nonsense the world around us, dishes up.

But we can all get sucked into the trap. It’s so easy to see the results of a project or a piece of work and forget the invisible, creative hand which gave us the idea in the first place. It’s so easy to start gazing at our own reflection, instead of the reflection of the one who made us.

It’s not about thinking less of ourselves, but as a wise man once said, it’s thinking of ourselves less.

Don’t wait ‘till it’s too late…

Many years ago, I knew a really annoying kid.

Ok, strike that, at the time, I thought he was annoying.

There’s a difference,

I remember though, that he didn’t have many friends.

I think he once tried to be my friend, but I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to be ‘contaminated’ among my peers, by hanging out with someone so uncool.

I don’t know if he ever felt the sludge of my rejection, the way I rolled my eyes when he came near, the way I purposefully avoided him.

Looking back now, years later, I’m ashamed of the way I consciously stayed away.

I’ve tried to tell myself, ‘kids are mean…that’s what they do, before they develop proper emotional intelligence’. But in reality, I was raised better than that. It wasn’t till later in life, when I experienced rejection myself, that I learned how painful it can be.

But at that point in my life, loaded down with the impossible teenage burden of trying to be accepted among my oh-so-cool peers, I chose the lower road.

Years later, I learned that the boy-I-didn’t-want-to-be-friends-with had grown to be a man and in his 20s, had committed suicide.

When I first heard the news, all I could think about was the time I ducked behind a wall to avoid him. Did I, little by little, contribute to him having a life where no one liked him, leading him to make such a sad and devastating choice?

I’ll never know.

The reality is, he may well have struggled with mental health issues or been in a situation he thought was out of his control. It is quite possible that even if I had been his friend, I still could not have prevented it.

This story has been on my mind recently, as a few days ago, I discovered that an acquaintance of our family had also taken his own life.

I only met him a few times, when he’d been at my parents’ home. He was going through a really tough situation and would chat to my parents about what he was experiencing.

Later, when both my parents were ill, he sent me a message to ask how they were.

I don’t think I replied. I had so many (wonderful) messages that it didn’t land on my ‘priority list’.

Such a shock then recently, to discover he’d taken his own life.

When I was told, I just kept thinking about the message I didn’t reply to. Was he reaching out? Could I have changed things? Again, I’ll never know.

I started thinking again about the boy in my youth and I also started thinking about how Jesus always had time for the people no one else noticed.

He noticed Zacchaeus up a tree, he noticed the woman with internal bleeding, he went out of his way to free a demonised man, who’d spent his whole adult life, living naked in a graveyard.

Jesus was out-of-this-world popular. Everyone wanted his time, his healing touch and yet he seemed to go out of his way, to reach the people that no one else noticed.

Today, as I think back to these two people who ended their own lives, I wish I’d paid more attention.

Could I have changed things? Maybe.

Maybe not.

But the example of Jesus is unavoidable. And it admonishes me and shows up my failings.

Jesus noticed people. Not just the convenient, easy-to-know people at the front of the crowd. He took time out to go after the untouchables, the ones no one liked. He took time. He listened and he had dinner with the people no one else had time for.

Is there someone you need to listen to, today?

Don’t wait, until it’s too late.

Not everyone will like you (but that’s ok…)

I hate to break it to you, but not everyone will like you. I know, shocking, right?

For some, this will be terrifying news, for others, the sad truth may have already (slowly) dawned.

Whether we like it or not, whatever the future holds for us as we run, walk, (limp?) toward our calling or dream, not everyone will join us on the journey.

Even the people we love and respect most in the world might give up. They might walk away, ditch you, think you’re crazy for pursuing such a bonkers dream.

But if that happens, you’re not alone. Actually, you’re in pretty noble company.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about Gideon in the Bible and this morning, I started reading Judges 5.

At the time, Israel was under attack. The evil Midianites nearby, kept raiding Israel’s homes and Judges 6 says that ‘whatever Israel had sown, the Midianites would attack and reap’.

It was a HUGE mess.

The Israelites were in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode, there was no food and in the middle of it, an Angel appears to a chap called Gideon and basically says, ‘you’re the man. I’m going to use you to defeat this evil invasion’.

After a series of tests (remember the story of Gideon and the fleece?), Gideon finally accepts the assignment God has placed on his life. But he is brutally honest with the Lord when he says, ‘My people are weak…I’m a bit of a nobody…but if you think I can do this, then I will’.

(I think that’s a place loads of us have been to!)

So Gideon was finally ready to go to battle, the strategy was in place and weirdly, I have this mental image of him pacing up and down, nervously preparing for the biggest fight of his life, saying, ‘we’ve got this…we CAN do it’.

But then, all of a sudden, God says to him, ‘Gideon, your army is too big’.

Gideon: Uhm, what?

Creator of the universe: Your army is too big. You need fewer men.

Gideon: Oh Lord, you have GOT to be joking…

But God isn’t joking and little by little, begins to whittle away at Gideon’s mighty army.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that Gideon’s warriors numbered about 32,000 people. That’s quite a lot of humans.

But God wanted less people because on the day of victory, he wanted the Midianites to be dumbfounded at what had been achieved with so few people.

That meant some of the army simply had to go.

And so began a process of ‘voluntary redundancies’.

Instead of automatically ruling people out, God wanted the men to leave of their own free will, to admit this was not for them.

The process of elimination began when Gideon asked the people, ‘who’s afraid?’

One by one, thousands upon thousands of hands went up and to their surprise, Gideon released them from duty….all 22,000 of them, leaving a mere 10,000 left.

There wasn’t any shame in this, no disgrace in admitting they no longer followed the vision, it was just an opportunity for people to declare whether they were ‘in’ or ‘out’

But there was still more work to be done and eventually the Lord reduced an army of 32,000 people to 300.

You did NOT read that wrong. Not 3000. 300.

32,000 to 300.

Like, seriously?

How on earth could God do anything with 300 people, when previously they’d had enough warriors to fill a stadium?

But as incredulous as I’m sure Gideon was, the Lord said to him, ‘with these 300 people, I’m going to deliver you’.

And then God began, little by little to give Gideon the strategy for what was next.

In Judges 7, it says that the Midianites and the Amalekites (who’d joined forces) were lying in wait in the valley, ‘as numerous as locusts’. They had so many camels between them, they were ‘like grains of sand at the sea’.

Can you imagine what that must have been like?

Here’s Gideon, looking down at this sea of humanity, feeling weak and unsure, with his paltry 300 men.

There was NO way this was possible and it was only likely to end in bloody disaster.

And yet God had hand-picked the 300 right men for the job.

Everyone else from the 32,000 had left Gideon. They were afraid or didn’t qualify in some other way.

But Gideon was about to learn, with God on his side, he didn’t need multitudes of people, he just needed a crack team made up of the right people.

And you know what happened?

God used those 300 people by splitting them into 3 separate teams, to surround the evil camp.

They made such a noise by blowing trumpets and running through the camp from every direction, with blazing torches, that the people were confused and, I’m not even joking, began turning their swords on each other.

Victory was won that day.

An impossible victory brought about by 301 men, a few fiery torches and hearts full of faith at what God could do through them.

So, whatever battle you’re facing, the truth is, not everyone will stand with you. You’ll be betrayed, you’ll be used, you’ll get your heart broken.

Sometimes, life completely sucks. People you’ve relied on will probably let you down, others will run off because they’re scared or feeling insecure.

You might end up completely alone, wondering if you even heard God correctly at all.

But you don’t need an army around you, to do what God’s asked you to do.

You just need the right people.

When God is providing the strategy, it only takes a few.

Who put your light out?

If you’ve seen the movie, ‘The Shack’, you’ll probably remember the scene, where standing on a hill with God, Mack, the hero of the film sees line after line of lit up, glowing forms on the horizon.

As Mack looks more intently, one of the figures walks toward him and he discovers he knows this person. But if you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to watch the film.

The reason I mention it, is because this particular scene was on my mind recently. I was away on a work trip and we were at a women’s conference. Although I was in fully-fledged work mode, at the conference, as the band started to sing, I felt myself melting into the lovely worship time.

The songs were gentle and sweet and as I shut my eyes, something strange began to happen.

I could ‘see’ silhouettes of the people in the room and as they worshipped, they started to light up and glow. All over the room there were warm, lovely, glowing silhouettes.

At first I wasn’t sure what this picture meant, but it seemed to me that as people worshipped, their spirits were coming alive, blossoming, lighting up, glowing and basking in the warmth of God’s presence.

But also, in the picture in my mind there were silhouettes which weren’t lit up.

Instead they were dark, un-moving and passive and it felt like God gave me a question to speak out. It was a simple question;

Who put your light out?

Now I was in a church which was not my own, I didn’t really know who was in charge so it didn’t seem appropriate to share it.

But throughout the afternoon, that image kept coming back to me and later, as there was more worship, it felt like I could see it even more clearly and the question became even more urgent;

Who put your light out?

As I prayed about it, I felt the message behind it became clearer.

As we worship and our spirits tune into heaven, we come alive on the inside. I don’t know if our spirits do literally light up, but it strikes me as being possible and very likely.

However, it’s possible to outwardly appear to worship but internally, nothing is happening.

The lights are out.

No one’s at home.

Our light can go out for so many different reasons.

It can be life circumstances, sadness, apathy, so many different things.

But the end result is always the same.

There is no light, no glow. No one might actually know. You might be doing an incredible job of keeping up appearances.

To be honest, if it had been my church, I would have taken a big leap of faith and shared what was happening but an opportunity didn’t present itself.

However, later, mulling it over, a friend suggested that this may not have even been intended for the church we were in, but instead intended for someone reading this blog.

So, I ask the question again;

Who put your light out?

Was it a death in the family? A difficult work situation? A series of small things which chipped away at your confidence, which led you to think that God didn’t care any more?

Here’s the thing (and I felt this SO clearly today), there is no condemnation in this. If your light has gone out, now is not the time to beat yourself up, or to think that you’re unworthy of God’s attention or favour.

It’s actually the total opposite.

Full of compassion and grace, today God wants to turn that light on again.

He sees past the pretence, the fake smiles, all the barriers, dramas and conflicts and he just wants you to take one step toward him.

It’s actually pretty easy.

It just takes s simple, plain-English, heartfelt commitment to turn back to God and ask him to fix your broken signal.

He is full of compassion and kindness, not condemnation. He wants to speak to us, to point us in the right direction, to show us things.

So if this quick message was actually intended for someone reading this today, then I’m praying for you.

When the prison door opens…

Have you ever had a defining moment, where everything in your relationship with God changed? Shifted in some almost-intangible way?

It might have been the moment when things finally ‘clicked’ for you, the point someone prayed for you? Or it might have been a dream, a vision, or particular church service or experience. But somehow or other, you just knew that your life and understanding of God, began to shift and change when ‘X’ happened?

Over the years, I’ve had a few of those really clear, life-altering, course-correcting moments.

There was the time, when aged 15, I was walking along a muddy Blackpool beach, after attending an unexpectedly powerful youth conference. I’d been prayed for, prophesied over (for the first time in my life) and I remember feeling really overwhelmed by it all. I hadn’t even wanted to go to the conference initially but I’d gone anyway to keep my parents happy.

But the week had unexpectedly changed everything. I’d experienced the presence of God for the first time.

I remember going to the meetings and being so overwhelmed by this new experience of the Holy Spirit, if I could have curled up in a corner and slept in the meeting room all night, I would have done.

I asked Jesus into my life when I was 4 years old, but this, this felt like the moment I really started to get to know him.

That week was incredibly intense. I’d wake up and think about him. I’d go to sleep and think about him and even in my dreams, he was there. I didn’t know what to make of the tornado of emotions in my poor teenage head, but as I trudged along the inky, slurpy sand, I looked up at an overcast sky and shouted into the wind, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I’ll go wherever you say’.

Of course, that’s easy to say when you’re 15 and don’t have a family or a mortgage or responsibilities, but I meant every word.

Years later, there would come plenty of ups and downs, heartache and loss and once again, I would find myself at the altar of a church, again abandoning myself to this unseen, wild, unknowable and yet knowable God who had never let me go.

At the time, I was processing a significant loss and had gone to the church on a bit of a whim. The preacher was speaking about the ‘God who sees, the God who knows what you’re going through’. At the end, he asked people to go forward for prayer and while I don’t even remember leaving my seat, suddenly I was at the front and the speaker, who-didn’t-know-me-from-Adam was prophesying that God would ‘rebuild the broken walls’ and I would discover beauty in the ashes.

Once again I said to the God who’s always known me, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do’. And I still meant every word.

And then in 2016, came another unique experience.

At the time, I was fighting battles on lots of fronts. I found myself in a situation that can only be described as toxic. The word ‘toxic’ makes me think of green, radioactive, bubbling sludge, and that’s how it felt. The circumstances were squeezing the life out of me and yet I couldn’t just walk away.

What to do?

Sometimes it takes a prophetic word to shake you up and out of the situation you’re in. And that’s exactly what happened. I blogged about it here.

And so, fast forward to some time later, is anything different? Did anything change?

Well, first of all, it’s probably important to say that I’ve since learned that prophecy has a few functions, but one of the most powerful, is its ability to unlock prison doors…the kind our minds create and that cause us to live limited lives.

A genuine prophetic word can be the equivalent of a jailor swinging open wide the heavy, metallic gate you are entombed behind and saying, ‘The door is open. You are free to go’.

And for me, that’s exactly what happened. Something clicked, changed shape, began to alter. Whereas before I was slowly sinking in the swampy sludge of indecision, now I was clear-headed and knew exactly what I had to do.

And surprisingly, I suddenly discovered I had the guts to actually do it. As I walked out of the prison cell, mentally blinking into the freedom of sunshine, I didn’t know what was next but I knew who was with me.

And sometimes (I’ve discovered) walking into the unknown, hand-in-hand with Jesus, can set off a chain reaction you’d never expected.

But you’ve got to take the first step.

So, here I am, months later, in a brand new area, the home I’ve always wanted, free, walking alongside a community of people who are excitedly ‘leaning into the wind’ to see what God has next. None of which would have happened, if I’d stayed locked in ‘prison’.

It’s not anything I did and it’s certainly not anything I deserve and yet, God once again gave me a ‘divine moment’, where suddenly the jail door swung open and I was free to go.

The Gospel, the Bible, the words of Jesus…it’s all about freedom. It’s not about freedom (as culture likes to tell us) to be your ‘authentic self’ but instead, it’s the freedom to be who he sees you as; a dearly loved daughter or son of the unknowable and yet knowable God.

He put himself into a human body to demonstrate what true freedom looks like.

If you feel you’re behind the impenetrable bars of a darkened prison cell, there is hope, on the other side of those doors.

How to spot a false prophet

I grew up in the Pentecostal church and so over the years, I’ve heard a lot of prophecies. Some you just know in the gut of your guts, are words from God’s heart, spoken by true, honest and faithful men and women.

And yet others, might leave just a smidge of a question mark.

So, how do we spot the false ones?

After all, if the devil is sneaky and very good at producing the counterfeit, it stands to reason that a real prophet and a false prophet will probably look and sound pretty similar.

Online, there are hundreds of claims of prophetic words, new direction for churches and individuals, not to mention a dizzying myriad of books, courses and sites.

To add to that, recently a friend sent me a link from a speaker who claimed she was hearing directly from God. The email from my friend just said, ‘what do you think?’

The more I looked into it, the more I could feel the uncomfortable fizz of red flags.

But why?

What was it about this speaker (and others like her) that was setting off all my warning bells? Was there a way to definitively say this person was false? Wouldn’t that be judging? Is that even right?

So, although I’d rarely definitely say ‘this person is a fraud’ (I’d rather leave that to God), I’ve discovered there’s often a few markers which can help us tell the difference between the fake and the true.

It’s about me

Virtue signalling! I can’t stand it. If you’ve not heard the term before, virtue signalling is ‘any behaviour that could be used to signal virtue—especially ‘piety among the religious’. Ouch!

So we’ve all seen the posts, the people who film themselves giving food or shoes to homeless people, the people who receive praise on twitter and then retweet it, the people who subtly put themselves in the frame or just somehow, gently suggest that they are the hero of the story. Even posts as seemingly harmless as, ‘I can’t believe God would use little old me…’ accompanied by a photo of something incredible God has done, can fall into the trap of virtue signalling. It’s a subtle implication that somehow, you were an integral part of something God chose to do.

But the truth is, when a person starts to encourage worship of themselves (subtly or otherwise), or somehow imply that maybe they’re special, that they have some kind of secret hotline to the Almighty, I’d say they were treading on very dangerous ground. Whether we like it or not, we are not the heroes of God’s story. It’s not about ‘me’.

They tell half the tale

The Gospel has two parts; repentance and love. If the person is preaching only half the story, it’s not really the Gospel.

Here’s how this might work!

Speaker A talks passionately about the love of God, the love God has for all his children (which is true) but the story ends there. There is no mention of our response. How do we receive it? How do we live in it?

When the important part about response, about asking for forgiveness, about setting out on a brand new life is overlooked or not mentioned, it’s only half the story.

Yes, yes, yes, God wants to visit us with his love, he wants us to live a full life, he has a plan, but it’s not a one-way street. Every promise in the Bible always has a caveat, ‘if you do this, then I will bless you’. God loves us all, he died to prove it, but to live in it, to experience it, we have to choose to receive it.

New revelation

I looked at the videos my friend sent me of this new ‘prophet’. One thing immediately jumped out. She stated repeatedly this was ‘new revelation’. She said clearly that God was always speaking (true!) but that he wanted to bring new wisdom on ‘traditional teachings’.

Whoa, whoah….THAT is where the big, pulsating red warning light came flashing on in my head.

Of course we can always learn new things but I also believe the Bible is a full and complete set of God’s wisdom for humans.

We don’t need anything else.

He’s not giving us new chapters, new theology. He’s already given us what we need.

Our job is to read it with an open heart and eyes to see what God is saying. But there’s a super clear warning in Scripture that we’re not to take away from the words of God, nor are we to add to them.

Anyone who does that, is likely not hearing from God at all. They’re probably listening instead, to themselves.

The God who moves mountains

I think it’s fair to say that December 2018 was a bit of a rubbish month for our family.

In late November, after 5+ years of searching, I finally bought and moved into my dream home.

2 weeks later, still surrounded by boxes and a ‘to do’ list that would make your brain ache, I got a phone call to say my mum had been taken ill.

It was a Friday afternoon and I was at work when my phone rang.

It was Mum.

At first, I didn’t answer as I was in a meeting.

The phone rang again – Mum.

The phone rang again – my brother.

3 missed calls and it suddenly twigged that Something Was Up.

I tried to ring Mum back but it went to voicemail, so I rang my brother and he told me Mum was in an ambulance on her way to hospital, having suffered severe chest pain while in a restaurant.

I hung up, hurriedly left my meeting and headed straight to the car, to meet my brother at the hospital over an hour away.

I couldn’t get hold of my mum (not surprisingly!) and had little information to go on, so all the way up the M6, I prayed for my mum and asked God to do something, to fix things, to send angels, to restore.

I finally arrived at the hospital and was ushered into a relatives’ room to wait for news. Eventually a nurse came to see me, told me that mum had suffered a heart attack but she was doing fine, sitting up and having a cup of tea. The relief that sprung out of me was like air suddenly escaping from a taut balloon.

She was ok! For now at least, our family would be ok!

My brother, who had just arrived, had somehow bypassed the dreaded relatives’ room and had been promoted direct to the ward, now texted me, ‘where are you?’.

I quickly scurried to the lift and headed up to CCU. True to form, mum was doing well, a bit shocked at how a lovely lunch with friends had turned into a cardiac emergency, but nonetheless, upbeat and positive about what had just happened.

The next question on everyone’s lips was, ‘who will look after dad?’.

Dad, for the record, makes the most of each day but has a neurological illness and relies on my mum to sort out the details of his life.

I didn’t have any overnight stuff with me (having jumped in the car without much notice) but I decided it would now be best to camp out at their house and help out, until Mum was better.

Little did I know what was to come!

This all happened on Friday and on Saturday, I suddenly remembered (with a jolt!) that on Sunday, I was expecting a furniture delivery for the new house. You know, the one I’d just moved into? Remember that?!

Most people would NEVER have forgotten such a thing, but when you’re knee deep in hospitals and emergencies, normal life stuff goes out the window.

In the unusual circumstances, Dad suggested that I rearrange the delivery for another day and instead go to church with him on Sunday, but for some weird, weird reason, that felt all wrong. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I felt like I REALLY needed to go to my home and wait for this delivery, as originally planned.

Early on Sunday morning, I headed over to my new home and waited for the furniture people to arrive. They duly turned up on time and just as I’d ripped the plastic off my new wingback chair, my phone rang.

Instantly, I could see on the phone display that it was a good friend of our family who should have been in church with dad.

It was 11.30am. Hang on. Church was still happening.

Something must be wrong.

‘I don’t want you to panic,’ said our lovely friend, ‘but dad is ill. He’s asked us to call an ambulance’.

Now, from years of living with my parents’ various health issues, I know one thing, if either of them actually asks for an ambulance, things aren’t good. Both are the stoic-don’t-make-a-fuss types! Gangrene, internal bleeding…you name it…they’d never want to bother a doctor!

As I headed to the car, with our family friend on speakerphone, I discovered that dad had got up to pray in church and had suddenly experienced extreme, crushing chest pain. It was so bad, they’d had to abandon the service (send the children out) and lie my poor dad on a row of chairs, until help arrived.

I am so, SO glad I didn’t have to see that. Somehow, I felt God had spared me that, by nudging me to go home to wait for my furniture. God is so good.

But once again, I found myself in a car, whizzing up to a different hospital. En-route, I was talking to the paramedics (hands free) in the ambulance, filling them in on my dad’s history. ‘Has he had another heart attack?’ I asked.

‘Looks like it’ said Joe, the hero paramedic.

When I arrived at the hospital, my dad was in A&E Resuscitation, looking pretty awful.

As I got close, I could see he was breathing and despite the oxygen and the scary bleeping machines, I could see he was dopey but doing ok. Trust me, going to see someone you love, on a gurney in Resus, is not something you really want to do.

The A&E doctor told me they’d had to restart his heart and I could see on the whiteboard by the side of his bed, they’d shocked him twice.

And then it hit me…flip! Mum (in a hospital 8 miles away) didn’t know what was going on.

How were we going to communicate this without stressing her out too?

Thank goodness for many years of PR training!

For the first time in my life, as I rang her mobile, I employed those skills on my mum. Ha!

Me: ‘How are you feeling today?

Her: Definitely better. What time are you coming today? Could you bring some grapes?

Me: Well, we’ve had a bit of an issue with dad. He’s not feeling too well and has been brought into hospital?

Mum: Oh nooo…what’s happened????

Me: Well, firstly, he’s in great hands and the doctor is content he’s doing ok…but it’s likely he’s had a heart attack too.

Mum: You’re joking?

Me: I wish I was. I really wish I was.

And so began the next few weeks of December.

I wish I could say that the recovery was plain-sailing, that everyone was home for the family-Christmas-we’d-planned in-the-new-house-I’d waited-years-to -buy, but that wouldn’t be true.

The reality is that the lovely Christmas tree went up, but instead of being celebrated, it spent most of the month, solitary on its own.

Instead, we celebrated Christmas around two Christmas trees, one in a hospital on the far side of Liverpool, one in a hospital on the far side of Cheshire.

I wish I could say that Christmas in hospital is full of magic and light and fairies, but that would also not be true.

Christmas in hospital kinda sucks.

Alternating between the hospital beds of the people you love, is no way to spend the festive season when (apparently) everyone else in the world is ‘hearts all aglow’.

But you know what? My Jesus was still there! My Jesus who totally understands abject poverty, fear, loss, sadness and everything else in-between, was there at every turn.

He was there when my mum came home from hospital, took a scary turn for the worse and had to be readmitted as an emergency.

He was there when my dad contracted a horrible chest infection and spent 2 days sleeping and barely communicating.

He was there when my dad was fitted with an in-heart defibrillator and while attempting to chat to the surgical team about Jesus, dad discovered his surgeon was actually a Christian and goes to a church we know well.

He was there when they both came home after the holidays, weak, not sure what came next, but determined to get better.

He was there when I had no idea where to turn, but found myself in the car, switching on some worship music and out of the speakers came a beautiful Michael W Smith song, ‘I’ve seen you move the mountains…I believe you’ll do it again’.

And move the mountains he did.

And no, everything wasn’t suddenly, magically ok. Recovery takes time. Returning to ‘normality’ after such a crisis can be a slow, winding path.

But we’re all still here. And if we’re all still here, it’s because God still has work for us to do. Just like the song, ‘I’ve seen you move the mountains’, he can ‘do it again’.

So no matter what you’re going through, no matter what lies ahead, God can ‘do it again’ for you too.

When a Bible burns a hole in your sofa…

At work, sometimes, I’m sent free things. It’s one of the lovely perks of working in PR…companies send samples and products and the packages I receive can be chocolates, cookies, CDs or books.

Each parcel is different but on the whole, even though the box is addressed to me, I usually share what I’ve been sent. Books and CDs go into radio competition giveaways, chocolates and sweet things go to the staff dining room to be shared out.

At the beginning of last year though, looking at my well-thumbed (20 year old!) Bible, I started to think that I probably needed a new one.

Now, I love my Bible, I love doodling in it and underlining stuff that feels meaningful. And I love looking back, years later and remembering all of God’s faithfulness and mercy. I think this is something I’ve inherited from my dad. His Bibles, over the years have always been filled with notes and exclamation points and lovely revelations.

So I decided that if I needed a new Bible, it would have to be a special one, with room to scribble in. I did a bit of research and finally found a new journaling Bible which had just been released on the market. It had wide, open spaces for writing notes in the margins and I could even colour in different areas of scripture, if I wanted to. It seemed perfect.

I fully intended to order it but somehow didn’t get round to it. Just a few days later, unexpectedly, I received a package at work, from a publisher and in it were two sample copies of the exact same Bible I’d seen and settled on. I couldn’t believe it! This was absolutely from God, surely? He wanted me to have this Bible?

Whereas I’d normally pop this Bible in the ‘giveaways box’, I instead took this one home. After all, it was addressed to me and it was the exact one I wanted.

When I arrived home, I dropped the Bible on the sofa, looking forward to settling down later and having a good flick through.

And that’s when the trouble began.

As the night wore on, it seemed (in my mind) that this Bible had taken on a life of its own. It seemed to create an almost uncomfortable presence….if it could glow and burn a hole in my sofa, it would have.

Almost imperceptibly, I heard that still small voice say,

Take it back. It’s not yours.

But Lord (said I). It’s the exact one I want.

Take it back. It’s not yours.

In the end, that still, small voice was so urgent, I had to place the Bible by the front door, as a sign to say, ‘ok, ok, I’M TAKING IT BACK’.

The following morning, I took the Bible to work and put it in the giveaways box, almost immediately feeling a sense of relief that it was now out of my hands. I didn’t understand why I’d been nudged to return it, but I figured that someone, somewhere needed it more than I did.

Fast forward quite a few months later and I was by now knee-deep in the process of buying a house and organising new furniture and colour schemes etc. I’d also just returned to the office after a week of working in Scotland.

My colleague who’d been with me up North, just happened to mention she’d bought me a little gift for my new house.

She said she’d felt God had told her to buy this specific item and to my complete astonishment, when I opened the gift, there was the exact same Bible…except there was a crucial difference. This one was in a colour I didn’t even know the publisher stocked, a colour which perfectly matched my new table, next to the chair where I normally sit to read my Bible.

I asked my friend, ‘how did you know?’

‘I didn’t’, she replied. ‘I just felt God wanted me to get this for you’.

In that moment, it was almost as though I heard God say with a smile, ‘you can keep this one’.

I don’t know why God didn’t want me to have the original one, but I can only assume that the person who would receive it, needed it much more than I did. I hope whoever they are, they’re hugely blessed by it!

I may never get to know (in this lifetime) why he does things like this, but I know that when God speaks and nudges us to not do something, it’s always important to listen and obey.

A family crisis

Last Friday afternoon, my mum was sitting in a restaurant when she started to experience extreme chest pain. She was taken to hospital where it was discovered she’d suffered a (thankfully small!) heart attack.

This kind of issue isn’t a new experience to our family…my dad has had 3 heart attacks over the years, plus open heart surgery. But, as I got the call and jumped in the car to meet the ambulance at the hospital, it was still a shock.

On Saturday, things were looking a little brighter. Mum was already starting to feel a little stronger, but that night, as I visited her in CCU, the man in the room next door went into cardiac arrest. As his relatives ran sobbing into the hallway and the medical team rushed into his room, we could hear the frantic sounds of them trying to restart his heart.

It felt too private and difficult a moment for us to be eavesdropping on, so as I got up to close the door, I felt God say to me, with real urgency, ‘PRAY for life to return to his body’. Before I even said anything, my mum started to pray, ‘LORD, we ask you to bring life back to this man…we don’t know him but you do. We pray for LIFE’.

Later as things quieted down, we opened the door and overheard a family member on her mobile. They’d managed to bring him back but he was very unwell and it sounded as though his organs were failing. For the rest of that evening, I felt quite heavy hearted about it all, but I kept praying for this man (as well as my mum!!), that somehow our miracle-working God would do something extraordinary.

Little did I know what was to come.

I’d been staying temporarily with my dad, while my mum was in hospital, as he has other health issues and needed support. On Sunday morning, my dad was due to preach at their church and so I took the window of opportunity to dash up the M6 to my own house, just to grab some clothes and also, say hi to my new home, which I’ve (ha!) barely seen since I moved in.

At home, I sat on the sofa for a few minutes, having a coffee and enjoying the peace and quiet and then, just as I was getting ready to leave again, my phone rang.

It was a friend of my parents’ ringing in the middle of church to tell me that just as he was about to get up and preach, my dad had started to experience extreme chest pain.

I could hear some commotion in the background, the paramedics had been called and I was told that my dad was in a lot of pain, but he was calm and laid out on four chairs. They’d taken the young children out of church and abandoned the service to attend to my poor dad! Our friend was trying not to panic me but I could tell the situation was serious.

Once again, I was back in my car, racing this time up to a different hospital, to meet an ambulance. I was on speakerphone for much of the journey, taking calls from the paramedics, family members, people at church. ‘DON’T ANYONE tell my mum!!’ I said to everyone. ‘Don’t anyone put anything on Facebook!!!!’

When I arrived at A&E, friends from church were there and the doctor told me they’d shocked my dad’s heart twice to get it into a normal rhythm. We were shown his ECG and his heart rate had peaked at 238 beats a minute. The doctor told us frankly, that he’d never seen anyone survive an episode like that before.

I said ‘well, he was in church when it happened and people were praying for him’. The doctor replied, ‘well, if there is a God, he was looking out for you today’.

By this time, I think my mum (in hospital on the other side of town) had somehow sensed something was going on. I had several missed calls from her, so I rang and did my best to explain what I knew.

By this point, my poor dad looked like he’d been run over by a truck. He was laid on a gurney in Resus, attached to a heart monitor and oxygen and being infused with a drug to keep his heart rate stabilised. So, after nipping our into the corridor to speak to mum in her hospital (who took it pretty well!), I went back to be with dad and we waited for him to be moved to coronary care.

As the sedation and morphine started to wear off and some friends arrived, dad started to rally round. He kept trying to talk through the oxygen mask and then complained that the dry air was making him thirsty. ‘SO STOP TALKING THEN!’ we all said! He laughed. We have a dark sense of humour around these parts.

As all this was going on, I sent out a fair few prayer alerts to friends who I knew would pray.

It’s funny, in times like these, real friends rise to the surface like cream at the top of milk. You also quickly discover that other people who you thought you could rely on, are considerably less helpful. One acquaintance replied to my message by simply sending me a picture of their dog with reindeer ears on, to ‘cheer me up’ (gee, thanks!). Others started prayer chains, another responded by saying she’d jump in the car to come and be with me, if I needed her. Like I said, cream!

Finally, late that night, dad was transferred to the heart unit and I popped over to see my mum in the other hospital about 7 miles away.

Both were now a bit more stable and it suddenly began to hit me what had happened. I went back to my parents’ house and it was quite strange being alone in their home, without their presence. In that moment, I had now become the ‘parent’, the pray’er, the caregiver. What an extraordinary and sudden turn of events.

But through all the crisis, the huge lows and the running between hospitals, fetching pyjamas and talking to doctors, arranging drugs, finding two overnight bags and packing them with all they’d each need for a stay in hospital, I was so aware of my Father’s presence. I remember saying ‘Lord, there is nothing that you and I can’t do together. Nothing’.

A lovely friend left me a message yesterday and she prayed a beautiful prayer, asking God to give ‘manna in the wilderness’, to give little blessings at each step of the journey.

And how true that has been. Both parents have started to get stronger but as more details unfolded, it became clear just how much God had orchestrated every detail of this, with perfect timing and precision.

A few examples;

I believe God removed me from the situation on Sunday morning for a few hours so that I didn’t have to see my dad in such a painful, alarming state. But, instead he provided a team of 4 nurses who were already at church, who were able to comfort him. My dad was surrounded by people who love him, praying earnestly while offering practical help. What more could I ask for? Although we avoid looking at the ‘what ifs’, we know that if my dad had been alone at home that morning, things could have been very different.

God provided an extraordinary level of care from medical teams at both hospitals. I often talk about the first class nature of the NHS but never have I been more grateful for their brilliance and care and for the world standard treatment both parents have received. I will defend the importance and sheer brilliance of the NHS forever.

Both mum and dad, as they recovered each from the initial shock, have quickly returned to sharing the love of Jesus with staff in hospital. Dad has prayed for doctors (with their permission) before they attempted to put a line into him, he’s talked to nurses about the afterlife, how he didn’t want to go there on Sunday, but he also knew that if he did, there was no doubt where he was headed. Mum, meanwhile, has been comforting an anxious family, who were worried about a relative in the bed opposite, and through chats, she now knows the religious affiliation (or lack of it) of everyone in the ward.

Through it all, we’ve had some incredibly precious moments, and beautiful conversations, as we’ve held hands, prayed, asked for God’s healing touch and looked for a way forward. I will treasure these moments forever…often, great beauty is found in the middle of great madness.

And the journey isn’t over. Both have to have more tests and tomorrow, my dad is being fitted with a heart defibrillator. We don’t know what the future holds but we do know that we serve a living God who is 100% there even in the middle of the biggest of crises.

And oh, guess what? Remember the chap who had a cardiac arrest (right back at the beginning of this blog)?

Turns out that he made it.

We were told that the following morning, he ‘started to rally’.

I don’t know what has since happened to him (my mum moved to a different ward) but I am so glad that we prayed for life. And who knows, perhaps by praying life into the atmosphere, we were also praying preemptively for what was to come into our family, the very next day?

All I know is, whatever we go through, there IS manna to be found. And in the worst times of our lives, God holds us together and brings purpose into our chaos.

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