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.

A warning from God

A few weeks ago, I moved house (I might have mentioned this!). In the run up, there was all sorts of throwing-out-of-things and also buying-of things. I also decided I needed a new comfy, sink-yourself-into-it armchair.

And so, the search began.

I knew exactly what I wanted (think: light grey, huge, super comfy wingback) and so I began a search online and also all the local outlet shops, looking, looking, looking for the perfect chair.

I needed it for Christmas. There was a family ‘do’ planned. Not having a chair wasn’t an option.

As I explained this to a salesman in one shop, he blithely replied, I think that’s what you call ‘First World Problems’.

And true, he was right.

But still, I wanted a chair.

One morning I woke up and there in my notifications, was the perfect chair for sale. Better still, it was a good price and at an outlet store not too far from me. I sent an email and that afternoon, went over to take a look.

But, as I walked into the showroom, something felt ‘off’.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but all of a sudden, my spiritual senses were on high alert.

I sat in the chair (comfy!) and walked round it (perfect!) but in this little backalley discount furniture place, I suddenly found myself surrounded by 3 salespeople, all trying to convince me to buy the chair.

I continued to feel uneasy as something in my head and heart was saying, It’s wrong, you can’t buy it.

That didn’t stop me from wanting it though.

I left the shop and over the next few days, consulted with several friends who all said the same, ‘trust your gut’.

I knew they were right, but still, I WANTED that chair!

I even said to a friend, ‘I’ll pray over it, I’ll sanctify it’. Again, the response was, ‘your gut hasn’t let you down so far. You need to trust it’.

By now, I was in a bit of a grump with God. No other chairs were turning up and yet this perfect one was sitting there, tantalisingly close, but somehow I wasn’t allowed to buy it? That wasn’t fair!

The next day, out of the blue, the shop emailed me. ‘We have another chair you might like’, they said. They attached pictures and this one was even better.

I was about to reply but even as my fingers hit the keyboard, there was an urgent ‘stop’ in my head. Stop. Stop. Stop.

I didn’t send the email.

But by now, I was mighty miffed at this bizarre situation. Why was it so wrong? Whatever it was, wasn’t the power of Jesus, bigger, stronger, tougher?

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I was still thinking about The Chair.

Dozy and comfortable in bed, I said to the Lord, ‘maybe you can show me why this is so wrong? I know you don’t have to…but maybe you could let me see?’

Be careful what you pray for.

Eyes shut…drifted into a lovely, relaxed sleep.

All of a sudden, desperate blood, darkness, kidnapping, horror, someone being murdered in the worst possible way, demons attacking, more blood, desperation and darkness.

I woke up a few hours later in bed, gasping for air, slick with stickiness. And all of a sudden in the twilight hours, there was this simple voice in my heart.

THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE LETTING INTO YOUR HOME.

And I knew, instantly that my father had given me a rare insight into an unseen world.

I knew too that the people selling the chair were probably NOT kidnappers or murderers, but someone in the sales chain probably carried some kind of murderous spirit.

A murderous spirit can show up in all kinds of ways, not just in those who kill. It can be found in people who kill ideas, who crush dreams, who ‘murder’ the hopes of others.

Did I want that in my home?

Uhm, no.

I felt too in that voice, a gentle rebuke. I’d tried so hard to push back against the initial discernment.

I tried to find ways around it, to buy the chair and redeem it. But from day 1, God had said no and yet I still tried to convince him to say yes.

Where am I going with all this?

To be frank, I don’t really know. I am just as confused as you might be, about this bizarre chain of events.

But here’s what I do know,

God is faithful. He speaks to his children. He warns them about danger. He wants to protect them from harm. Sometimes he’ll use brute force to drive home a message.

I don’t like it when he does, but I had no choice but to listen.

I didn’t buy the chair and I said sorry to God for trying to push against his will.

When God warns us about something, it’s always for our own good.

I moved house…

On Saturday, I moved house.

I had no idea just how big and huge and stressful and yet, how blessed and amazing this experience would be.

But first, let me rewind to a couple of years ago.

The hunt for a house began officially in 2015. I initially registered with some estate agents and viewed quite a few places. I even made an offer on one, but if I’m honest, none of them filled me with the kind of fizzy excitement that I was promised would be mine, when I found the ‘right one’.

And then, just when I’d decided to park the idea until the new year, Number 9 popped up on Rightmove.

I liked the area where Number 9 was situated but didn’t particularly like the photos of the house. Furthermore, the street name was missing an apostrophe and everyone who knows me, knows that apostrophes are VERY, VERY important. Still, despite it all, I decided to book an appointment to go and see the house.

Surprisingly, as soon as we pulled up in front, something jumped in my heart and the minute we walked through the door, I just knew where the sofa was going to go.

This was ‘the one’.

Driving the car away later after an extended viewing, I actually pulled off into a side street to ring my financial advisor and ask him to do some number crunching to see if this was affordable. I really, really wanted it to be! Later, having a few doubts at the monumental decision I was about to make, I posted a poll on Twitter.

Could I live in a house in a street with a missing apostrophe? (Yes, I’m THAT sad!!)

I had replies from quite a few, but this one made me think.

I then had the lengthy process of mortgage-applying, valuation, all of that stuff, which was a mind-boggling mystery to me as a first time buyer, but somehow it all went through smoothly and I was given a completion date.

While all this was going on, I was busy picking carpets and colour schemes, but I also realised that in the huge rush, I’d forgotten to do one crucial thing.

I’d neglected to commit the whole process to God.

Of course, I’d prayed about it and I knew he was there, directing my steps anyway, but I’d not actively brought him in and asked for his help.

One night, I was at a Bethel concert with my friend Danielle from Manna Cards and as we worshipped, I had this lovely, clear picture of God’s presence already in place and filling my new home.

The house was stood empty at this point, I’d not even signed the paperwork, but somehow I KNEW he’d gone before me. His presence was already there, filling the rooms.

And man, I was going to need it.

Next began the process of emptying my current home. As it’s owned by a member of my family, I started assisting with some of the admin, getting the carpets replaced, showing estate agents round, arranging for pictures to be taken.

I was juggling that with trying to move into a new home as well as doing normal life and working full time at a job which is always busy.

And then it seemed, after such a smooth start, that suddenly everything was going wrong.

The new washing machine (despite measuring) was too big, the new carpet was too fluffy for the doors (the doors all needed to be removed and trimmed), the vinyl which was ordered was now out of stock, the attempts at painting a feature wall left dark splodges, the new TV stand was too small for the TV…and on and on. All decidedly ‘first world problems’ but each presenting their own set of stresses.

I had a group of lovely friends to help move (which was incredible) but in my mind, I was definitely carrying all the ‘heaviness’ and stress myself. Every time an issue popped up, my usual problem-solving nature did a backflip out the window, leaving me helpless and wondering what to do. I could feel this odd anxiety building.

But then I noticed another phenomena.

When a problem arose, every time I paused for just a few seconds and said, ‘Lord, I need a solution’ or just ‘help’, almost within the hour, I had my answer.

The shop agreed to take the TV stand back (despite the fact it had no labels or packaging), a friend on Facebook happened to know a carpenter who’d fix my doors (in return for pizza), the out-of-stock vinyl was replaced by a style I liked even better…and the list went on.

In the last few days, I’ve never been so aware of the concept of God as my ‘best friend’.

I’ve leapt from discouraged to elated within minutes, found ways and means to fix things that I didn’t even know were possible and above all, despite being tired and cranky some of the time, I have most definitely felt the presence of God in this new home. I have woken up in the wee hours, aware of his presence and my first ever set of visitors told me how peaceful the house felt.

God showed me (back at the Bethel concert) that he was already here and my goodness, how true that is.

And so, as I wrap this blog up, here’s a few things I’ve learned while trying to navigate my way through a pretty big project.

Ask God for help – even with the seemingly daft stuff

Screws won’t go into the wall? Spilled paint on a surface? Can’t figure out how to work the new washer? Ask God for help. Seriously! Yes, he’s busy maintaining the world but I absolutely believe he’s there for the small, mundane things as well.

Ask other people for help

I’m pretty self-sufficient (or so I thought!) but I’ve had to wave a white flag of surrender on more than one occasion recently. I have surrendered to the notion that I cannot do everything by myself and that it’s ok to ask for (and receive!) help. And when it’s offered and people tell you they do it because they love you, accept it. Accept that you’re loved with no strings attached and that sometimes, people just like to help. They just need to be asked.

Be kind to yourself

If you’re anything like me, you might put yourself under immense pressure to have everything done perfectly straight away.

Guess what? It’s not a competition. If some of the boxes are still there unpacked in 4 weeks, you won’t get a bad grade.

No one is watching, so go easy on yourself and take your time.

Junk food is ok (sometimes)

Sometimes it’s just ok to get your dinner from a drive thru! Dinner doesn’t always have to be home cooked from scratch or served on decent plates at a table.

If you don’t have a table (and have no idea where the plates even are!!!), just eat what you can. Your body likely won’t self-combust after living on takeaways for a few days.

You’re not alone

Whatever you’re going through, whether you’re surrounded by support or not, you’re never alone.

Loneliness is often very little to do with the amount of people in your life and more to do with an internal feeling of aloneness.

Big changes, projects and upheavals can all contribute to that feeling of aloneness…but guess what? With God in the picture, none of us are ever alone. He’s promised to stick closer than a brother and he’s right there where when we need him most. It doesn’t mean that everything gets fixed with the click of a finger, but it DOES mean we can lean on him in the heat of the moment.

And so today, sitting here surrounded by boxes, a washer which doesn’t quite fit and doors hanging off, I’m at peace.

This house is the dream house I never thought was even possible and every time I run up and down the stairs, I am breathing out thanks to my Father who made it all possible.

I am blessed beyond everything I could have imagined. And I’m blessed not just because of this precious, totally unexpected gift, given when I was just about to give up, but because no matter what we go through, God is already there.

Nothing can separate me from his love

When my dad was 42 years old, he had a heart attack. After some recovery time, he was soon on the mend, but a few years later, he began experiencing chest pain again. He was referred to a specialist and after tests, was told his arteries had become so blocked, he was to avoid any stress or exertion, as the slightest incident could provoke another serious heart attack.

He was put on an emergency list for quadruple heart bypass, but as the cardiologist drew a diagram and illustrated just how BAD things really were, he said my dad was unusual. Somehow, despite catastrophic blockages, a tiny vessel had grown which was feeding blood supply to the main artery. The doctor said he’d never seen anything like it before, but it was that small vessel which was keeping my dad going.

Not long after, dad went in for major open heart surgery and over 25+ years later, he’s still keeping our family on our toes, despite another couple of heart attacks and diagnosis of a neurological condition as well.

At heart, he’s a preacher, an evangelist and a man of prayer. If I tell him of a friend who’s struggling, he will always stop the conversation with ‘let’s pray right now’. Many of my friends will tell you how their circumstances have changed because of those powerful prayers.

Last year, on top of everything else, dad went through treatment for (thankfully benign) skin cancer and just yesterday, had an accident at home. Even as they were waiting for an ambulance, my stoic dad was doing his best to keep everyone else calm. He’s since been stitched up and sent home!

Time after time, I’ve sat with him and he’s told me he’s not afraid. Yes, he gets frustrated and fed up (who wouldn’t?!) and there are extremely difficult days for him and all the family, but there is a strong, single thread of faith which runs through all of these trials. It’s a belief that simply, our bodies are just ‘tents’, they’re just temporary homes. The real ‘us’ can never be destroyed by sickness or death.

No one wants to live in a ‘tent’ that doesn’t work very well, but neither should we be defined by it. As a family, we’ve always avoided language like ‘MY heart problems…MY disease’. They’re not ‘mine’. They might be afflicting the body, but they don’t define my spirit, who God created ME to be.

We live in a world where ‘identity’ and ‘community’ is sometimes formed and created around the things which destroy our bodies. Name an illness and you’ll find a ‘community’ and a Facebook group which draws people together under the umbrella of suffering. Don’t get me wrong, I understand fully that support groups are important to many, but at the same time, from a Biblical point of view, our identity doesn’t come from the things which don’t work, but rather the things which do work, like the incredible grace, mercy and love of God.

The apostle Paul knew this to be true too. He was a man who suffered cruel punishment after cruel punishment but yet, he was known only as a follower of Christ, as a man who was willing to lay everything on the line, to follow the God who’d freed him from his old life.

Romans 8 is a beautiful, searing reminder that even when we suffer, when our bodies are decaying (which ALL of our bodies are, whether we like it or not), nothing can seperate us from the love of God. We may face setback after setback, but our spirits, that ‘inner man’ can’t be dented by the external stuff of our bodies.

So, if you’re struggling in some way (whatever it is) today, be encouraged that you are not the sum of your circumstances. As a believer, your identity is secure in the one thing in life which is immovable and unchanging – the character and love of God.

Romans 8 says it best.

“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.

We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” )

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:18-39‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Don’t give in to hate

‘I hate Donald Trump’. ‘I hate Theresa May’. I hate Jeremy Corbyn.

Have you heard anyone say things like that recently?

I have.

In a politically divided country (and world!), they’re quite common statements.

Some days (particularly on social media), it can feel like hate oozes so easily from the end of typing figures and often, it’s a toxic sludge of hate and smug self righteousness which says, I can write what I like about this person, because they are a much worse human than I am. They deserve everything they get.

Because of this (and due to the risk of possible ‘infection’!) I’m usually kinda careful about what I read and watch on social media. But, being quite fascinated by American politics, the other night I was flicking through Facebook when a video popped up on my news feed.

In the video (which seemed innocent enough), a man (in the US) was standing on his lawn filming as a passing stranger destroyed ‘Vote for Ted Cruz’ signs which were in the front yard.

Hey buddy, that’s my property, you can’t do that‘, said the guy filming.

The stranger turned to the camera and smiled, ‘well, I’ll just destroy your neighbour’s then’.

You can’t do that either (said filming man).

The man behind the camera began to follow the stranger and then told him (politely) that he needed to leave the area.

And then something utterly horrifying happened.

The stranger turned round to the camera and in a split second (before I had time to click ‘stop’ on the video), his features contorted into the most hideous snarling expression, his lips curled back, his eyes blackened, rolled and in a completely different, other-worldly voice, he started to howl and scream into the camera, ‘I hate Ted Cruz, I hate Ted Cruz, I HATE TED CRUZ’.

The moment was so shocking, I literally dropped my phone and frantically tried to switch it off. I knew I had just come face to face with some kind of demonic possession. I’ve never seen anything like it and it was quite horrific. I was not expecting that.

I sat there, heart pounding, pulse racing and had to stop, pray and ask the Lord to remove that horrible image from my head. That was by far the worst thing I’ve ever seen on social media.

But that is what hate looks like.

‘Hate’ used to be this casual word we casually threw around to say, ‘I hate onions, I hate sprouts’. Today a ‘hate crime’ can be anything from a serious physical assault through to a wolf-whistling builder. But in reality, real hate is a soul-destroying, other-worldly, vicious force that can transform a seemingly benign person into a raving, poisonous human being.

Like the guy in the video, a dislike of a politician’s policies had somehow developed into an evil that ran so deep, he had literally embodied it.

Hate is an incredibly powerful, destructive thing and in its early stages, can affect us all, in small, subtle ways.

Does our dislike of a politician’s policies, mutate into a sneering joke about their looks, their family or some other personal name-calling?

Does our sense of injustice mean we find ourselves unable to pray for the person? Perhaps we think they don’t deserve our prayer or for that matter, God’s mercy?

Hate manifests itself in lots of different ways and no matter how strongly I might feel about a public figure’s behaviour or policies, I absolutely want nothing to do with hate.

I don’t want it in my home, on my tv and I definitely don’t want it on my social media newsfeeds. But increasingly so many people seem to be allowing themselves to be embodied by hatred and at the same time, believe it’s ok, because they think they are ‘on the right side of history’.

Most of us would never deliberately introduce a virus or toxin into our physical bloodstream, but emotionally, we can dance round the edges of hatred, dabble with it, play with it.

And yep, even Christians do it. I’ve seen it (from both sides of the political divide) in their online attacks of each other and of ‘the opposition’. Their need to be ‘right’ outweighs the command to be ‘salt’ in a desperately unsalty world.

Yes, we can challenge injustice, unfairness, policies we don’t like (of course!) but ‘being salt’ is literally about being a source of healing, a disinfectant to the toxic hell so much of the world seems to have fallen into.

Salt has cleansing properties. It can help to heal wounds, melt ice and spiritually, it can bring healing and reconciliation (even when consensus on an issue can’t be reached). In all our interactions, as Christians, is that our goal? Or is it more important to ‘win’?

Can we set ourselves the challenge of actively praying for a world leader or public figure we don’t like very much? Can we get past our own feelings to do that? That’s just one way to be different, to be salt and light, when we’re surrounded by only darkness.

I’m speaking to myself just as much as anyone else, here!

Although the video I accidentally watched the other night was deeply disturbing, I later began to wonder if I was meant to see it? Maybe God wanted to show me what true hate can look like, so that I could begin to understand, how important it is, to be salt.

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