I got a tattoo…

A couple of months ago, I got a tattoo. I’d been thinking about it for quite a while – and I always knew that if I did it, it would be a Bible verse. It’s the only permanent thing I’d want on my skin – the one thing that never changes.

There was mixed reaction from the people who know me best. A few were horrified, thinking it was a bit ‘common’ but lots more, thought it was super cool.

My verse of choice; Psalm 37: 4-5; ‘Delight yourself in The Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart’.

Why that verse? Lots and lots of reasons which maybe one day I will share ….but right now, it’s because I love the constant reminder.

Having that on my wrist reminds me that every thought and major decision I make, is better if it’s rooted first in God’s desire for me.

By nature, I’m quite impulsive and I’m often more likely to be ruled by my emotions than by logic. That’s not always a bad thing – but emotions can be super deceitful, so my ‘body art’ reminds me, ‘Hey, don’t get carried away with yourself here…consult God first’.

It’s not a bad reason to get a tattoo.


Death, divorce and a happy ending

I’m sitting on the edge of my hotel bed in Nepal, with the room curtains flung wide open. It’s a huge window and outside in the clear, night sky, a thousand stars are twinkling away over the top of the Himalayas, the crickets are chirruping madly and I’m perched here, thinking about my fantastic week.

I’ve been in Nepal for a week with UCB and Habitat for Humanity – just us and 450 other volunteers from around the world. Our task was to build 40 houses in 5 days and tomorrow, our team from GB will put the final lick of paint on House number 9, and say a sad farewell to the new home owner, an amazing Nepalese lady called Dalli.

Her new home is solidly built, plastered and rendered with a mixture of cow dung, rice husk and mud. And yep, we know, because we glooped the walls ourselves with the very smelly concoction! I have never (and I mean never) been so filthy in all my life! This is a big deal for me, lover of high heels and funky nails!

It’s been a tough week in a harsh, hot climate, with a lot of hard work and long days….but we had a great team and I’ve made some new, lovely friends.

In a week with so many extraordinary experiences, it’s hard to narrow it all down to one blog post but as I mull it over, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this week, is the power of a story.

At the beginning of the week, the HFH staff encouraged us to not just get consumed in the task but to take time out to hear stories, to listen to what the community was saying. I’ll admit, in the busyness of life, I can sometimes forget to really listen…so I purposed this week to really open my ears and hear.

Dalli, the lady whose house we are building, is a tiny 50 year old with 4 children. Through an interpreter, we learned that her husband ran off 25 years ago to marry someone else, so she raised 4 children on her own. One of her sons later committed suicide and Dalli now lives with her daughter in law, a son (who has learning difficulties), 2 granddaughters, a cow and 2 goats. Their home at present was badly damaged in an earthquake and looks pretty unstable…so our project was to plaster and render and paint the new house she’d been built. She’s been with us all week, beaming quietly as we got busy, not afraid to get dirty or lend a hand…and faithfully washing out our yucky ‘dung gloves’ every night.

As the house started to take shape today and the roof went on, she started to move heavy rocks from a rock pile and quietly rearrange a path around the house. She was very particular about the way the stones were arranged…after the fear and insecurity of living in a crumbling house, cooking and eating next to where the cow and goats sleep, finally, Dalli’s got a home.

That’s Dalli’s story, but as it turned out, I ended up not just hearing her story and the story of the people in the community, but also the people I was working with too.

There has been some very genuine and honest sharing this week, between people who have only just met. Perhaps it was being thrown in the deep end, on unfamiliar turf but a level of honesty developed pretty quickly.

It’s amazing how similar people really are if we stop to listen to them. As various friendships developed and we talked honestly about life…I heard some pretty big and tough stories about death, divorce, alcoholism and so much more. So many people had a story to tell, some stories had yet to reach a hoped-for happy ending, others were able to look back and thank God for helping them to survive. Big stuff!

I’ve made some firm and lasting friendships with some quality people this week. I came with the expectation of being able to help someone else’s life be changed. But in the process, I think mine has been too.

When God doesn’t answer prayer…

Yesterday, we were at the National Day of Prayer in Wembley.

I never really know what to expect of big, corporate expressions of faith like these.   While on my travels to other countries, I’ve been to a few which have been haphazardly-organised and I’ve also been to some lovely ones, where it felt like God turned up and smiled.   You never quite know what it’s going to be, until you get there.

I think yesterday was one of the ‘God-smiling’ events.

I was up in the Press room and though we had a great view of the stadium, we were working in a sound-proofed, glassed-in room, so most of the time, we had to rely on sudden hand waving/raising outside to know what was going on.    Every now and then though, the sliding doors would open, and I’d get a few seconds of 40,000 people singing ‘How great is our God’ or ‘Blessed be your name’ and I’d nip out, just to grab a few moments of the atmosphere. Not only was it lovely to listen to so many voices (probably from vastly different traditions), singing together, but the hot sun, blazing overheard, made me feel somehow, that God was there and was super pleased with what was happening.

The best bit of the day for me though, came on the long journey home.

It was my turn to drive (and despite my tendency to drive super slow, when I am talking about anything important), we still ended up having a fab, deep conversation about prayer and about what happens when it works….and about what to do, when we don’t get what we have prayed for.

The conclusion was that sometimes, God doesn’t answer prayer in the way that we thought He would.  And so, when that happens, how do I fit all that, into the picture I have of God, my Father, who loves me, understands my every thought and ‘counts the hairs on my head’?  I can’t say I always understand….but our conversation yesterday threw up two things;

1) God sometimes calls us to travel a difficult road, that will result in MY life being changed.

2) God sometimes calls us to travel a difficult road, that will result in someone else’s life being changed.

3) (even though, techincally, I said there would only be 2!), God calls us to pray according to His will, not mine. So, while there is nothing wrong in asking God to do things, the biggest (scariest), boldest prayer I can ever pray, is simply, ‘God, please move the pieces in my life together, to align me to YOUR will, not mine’.

There is something about being at an event like NDOP, that inspires me to think more deeply about faith. I don’t think we would have had that conversation on the way home, if we had been at an ordinary exhibition. But because we were surrounded by so many fervent, praying people, it did something to our heads and hearts and our chat, during the late night drive back, ended up being about things that truly mattered.

Love those kinds of chats.

A jolly good funeral…

Today, we went to a double funeral.

Uncle Jim and Aunty Gladys were the last of my ‘church’ aunts and uncles who’d known me since I was a baby. They were married for 71 years and did everything together.

They met at a Christmas Day party in 1936 and Gladys turned up in a gorgeous dress…but avoided the fruit on the buffet because she didn’t want to get juice on her frock. Jim, hearing of the terrible dress dilemma, peeled her an orange and shared it with her.

And as it does, Love kinda happened and every year on Christmas Day, they shared an orange, to remember the day they met. When asked the secret to a happy marriage, they both thought it was about friendship…respect and loving each other, even when they didn’t feel like it.

And all the girls say… ‘Aaawww’

When Aunty Glad died about 10 days ago, the family went to the nursing home to gently break the news to Uncle Jim and he said, ‘Well, I won’t be hanging around for long either’. And 4 days later, he passed away too.

Lovely, sweet story but beyond their love for each other, was an even bigger love for people, for Jesus and for church.

They were the founders of the church that I grew up in, they were at every meeting, responsible for the ‘open airs’ and the ‘revivals’ that used to happen every year without fail. They had missionaries from far flung places stay in their home and they loved and prayed for everyone who crossed their paths, from me to ex offenders, to their grandchildren and great, great grandchild.

They were involved in the Pentecostal Spanish mission and I don’t think they ever missed a service at Halton Pentecostal church where I grew up.

When I arrived in church as a kid with my picture Bible and pulled-up socks, it was always a reassuring sight to see Aunty Glad (as always) on the front row, in her felt grey hat. Uncle Jim, as an elder, always sat on the platform, but they both always had a kind word and a hug for everyone they saw.

Today’s service was a celebration of two lives lived incredibly well…of love for each other, commitment and shared oranges.

And, as they took the coffins out of the church, everyone sang this old, old song: I have a mansion

What a day!

Farewell Uncle Jim & Aunty Gladys.

I did a silly thing…

I did something a bit silly today!  Even as I was about to do it, there was a bit of a tug in my head; ‘Don’t do it…you’ll just regret it….

But hey, I know better, right?  So I did it anyway!

For the record, it wasn’t anything illegal or immoral,  just a stupid thing that I knew, in my heart of hearts, was probably not what God wanted me to do.

And of course, as soon as the deed was done, in poured the condemnation – that little voice that yells, ‘TOLD you not to….WHAT DID YOU DO THAT FOR?’   Yada, yada, yada.

I mulled for a bit and then looked up and noticed that the Broadcast Floor TV was tuned to Phil Pringle.    The volume was muted and I had no idea what he was preaching on, but I plugged my headphones in and started listening online.    Within 20 seconds of switching it on, he said, ‘There is nothing stupid you can do that is a match for the grace of God….nothing…so accept it, ask for forgiveness and move on’.

I had a little smile to myself, listened to the end of the preach and then about 30 minutes later, up cropped a little kernel of doubt.    “Yup”, said Doubt Voice, “that was just a coincidence…God doesn’t really speak to you like that….random occurence….why would God want to talk to you, eh?”

And then, the next preacher came on….and the subject?  Balaam’s Donkey….the speaker said, ‘If God can talk to a stinking, smelly donkey…you think He can’t talk to YOU?’

I burst out laughing!

Love it when God smacks you between the eyes, with something He wants to say…. 😉

4.30 wake-up call

I was awake at 4.30am today (cheers jet-lag!) and as I was also (oddly!) full of energy, I grabbed a coffee and plonked self in front of the big window, to watch the sun come up at 6.20.

The most beautiful sunrise I ever saw, was in Uganda about 8 years ago. We were there with a crew from ITV making a documentary about HIV and Aids. We’d had 3 hugely long, hot and dusty days of filming, when the beloved producer suggested getting up early, to climb a hill and watch the sun come up.

“I’d be delighted to..” I said with a murderous, gritted-teeth smile.

But in the end, I’m glad I did haul self out of bed at 4.45am, because as we stood there overlooking a collection of villages which had been rampaged by Aids, little whispery tendons of orange started to streak the sky, followed by hues of blues and greens, till the sun was resolutely in the sky.

We mostly didn’t say a word, just stood there, watching, probably most of us thinking about some of the tragedy we’d seen that week….but for me at least, it seemed like God was saying, “despite all the tragedy you’ve seen, I am still at work, I’m still here…I still make the sun come up each day…”

This morning as I drank coffee and watched the sun show its face over (the slightly less beautiful) Stoke-on-Trent, I was mulling over bits of Psalm 19 which I read the other day;

“The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, and the skies declare what he has done. Each day informs the following day; each night announces to the next. They don’t speak a word, and there is never the sound of a voice. Yet their message reaches all the earth, and it travels around the world. In the heavens a tent is set up for the sun.”

My favourite bit is the simple message, that God doesn’t have to say a word, because creation does it for Him. And when I see a sunrise or a sunset or stand in a doorway while a huge tropical storm rages, it knocks all of life’s dramas into perspective. It doesn’t necessarily give us answers, but to me at least, it’s God saying, “I’m still in control…I’ve got ya…”

Ugandan sunrise


Don’t judge a book by its cover…

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover….you shouldn’t look at a person and make an assumption about their life.

Well, sometimes, I do. And today I was badly tripped up by my own nasty preconceptions.

I’m at a big music conference in the US; great speakers, inspiring music and lots and lots of lights, smoke, gloss, shiny hair and put-together lives. The speakers are real pros, brilliant at what they do, full of wit and wisdom…I’m having a ball.

Today’s final speaker was sitting at a table not far from me. I knew her from the glossy picture in the brochure and in person, she didn’t disappoint. She was gorgeous to look at, shoes to drool over, enviable worked-out figure and a bright,white, white smile.

It was dark in the room, but my brain took in the loveliness and decided she must have had the sort of life featured in films; you know, huge double-fronted white clad mansion, success, few problems…and plenty of happy, well-adjusted, all-American children. A judgement? Certainly not a bad judgement, but still I’d judged her by the cover.

To start off, I wasn’t proved wrong – her delivery was sweet, effortless, charming and I found my mind wandering toward what shampoo she used, in order to get her hair *that* shiny. I can never get my hair to do that….

But halfway through her talk, like she’d read my mind, she suddenly revealed the secret to the luscious locks. She doesn’t use shampoo at all.

The glossy, slick, gorgeous mane was a wig.

She has cancer. A real nasty, virulent rare form of cancer that has a very low survival rate, but because they found it at stage 1, she’d been told she might make it. She’s at the tail end of 8 months of chemo, 2 surgeries…and that is after she endured years of infertility ,business collapse, loss of her home….and what she described as ‘God systematically removing every idol in my life’. On the big screen, she put up a picture of her at her worst, pale, skinny, bald and oh-so-sick.

I sat there, mind kinda whirling…how wrong can you be? She’s been through SO much stuff and she admitted that even though the exterior looks well-presented, she’s still working through her ‘junk’ and the ‘whys’ and the ‘what ifs’.

You could hear a pin drop in the room, as brains probably began to clunk that, ‘oh, erm…maybe she’s just like me…she’s had pain, she gets it…life isn’t always a bed of thornless roses’.

Or at least that’s what I was thinking…mingled in with some choice guilt for jumping to an unpleasant conclusion, before she’d barely uttered a word.

Today, I think God used her to cut right through the clutter of the noise and the lights and the fuzzy fame…to make it real and remind me (at least) that not everyone who looks like they have it together, actually does.

Everyone has a story. Hers was about pushing through cancer, infertility, home and business loss and all the heartache and absolute agony of that. My story might not be as ‘dramatic’ as cancer or losing a million-dollar business, but we can all tell a tale about grief or loss or sadness or things we wish we’d done, or not done. But, mostly, we get pretty good at covering up the real version. Is it just easier that way?

But today when this speaker told her story, you could see heads nodding, a few damp eyes…because everyone could empathise with at least part of what she was saying. Later, in group sessions, you could overhear fragments of other stories being told around the room; heroin addiction, suicide…one woman just felt she’d never been quite ‘good enough’ and that had coloured every decision she’d ever made.

It was weird and freeing and liberating and moving all in one go. Sort of like the speaker had been real and normal…and given everyone else permission to drop the pretense, take off ‘the wig’ and do the same.

I think we’ve all got a story….but we’re not all brave enough to share it.

Prayer….a weird and wonderful thing

A weird and wonderful sort of thing happened to me this week.

I’m on holiday and I’m staying with some friends in a top secret, undisclosed location (sorry, hardly a State secret, I just always wanted to say that!!) But, I’m loving the sun, the crickets chirping away, the relaxation and the mound of brilliant books I’m getting through, while basking in the 31 degree heat. I am basically unwinding in glorious, spectacular fashion.

But, the other night, my friends introduced me to one of their relatives. She seemed quiet, shy and I spoke to her for less than 30 seconds… but she seemed so sad. I knew very little about her, other than her mum had died a few years ago and she had some serious health problems…but it kept coming back to me; sad…sad…sad.

I went to bed and twice in the middle of the night, I woke up and she was on my mind. I was half awake but I prayed for her. The first was a groggy-eyed prayer, along the lines of asking God to give her peace and hope and then I dozed back into a fitful sleep.

A few hours later, I nodded awake again, and there it was…she was on my mind still. Again, I prayed like the time before, for hope, for peace and then the blackness of jet lag descended once more and I was out cold.

I got up late the next day, the house was quiet, but over breakfast, my friends delivered the news…the girl had tried to commit suicide in the middle of the night. Thankfully, she’d been found and had been admitted to a unit. But I couldn’t believe it and just kept saying, ‘I woke up twice and prayed for her…but I didn’t know why’.

I don’t know the specifics but I love the fact that God knew something was way wrong, even though I consciously didn’t. I don’t know if my prayers contributed to her being found…but I do know that God puts people on our heart for a reason.

And I think that even if it feels completely stupid, it’s not going to hurt anyone if I pray…and who knows what might be happening to them at that very moment? Maybe that random prayer could stop someone from tying a noose around their neck or help them to recover from an awful illness. I’ll never know, if I don’t try.

I hope God wakes me up like that, more often.

P.s… This is my view, as I write…


Go on…surprise me…

I like surprises. I always have done.

They don’t have to be extravagant, budget-stretching surprises, but sometimes just an email to say, ‘thinking of you’ or a card in the post, can make the difference between a good day and a not-so-good day.

Last week, I was feeling a bit rough and woke up one morning with a bad case of the dawdling doldrums…or the DDs.  I laid in bed and thought grumpy thoughts for a while, but not surprisingly, that didn’t help, so I got up, made a cuppa and picked up a devotional I’ve been meaning to read for a while.

That day’s reading was all about surprises and how God is a) not surprised when we are upset or stressed and b) He actually likes to surprise us with good stuff.

I couldn’t find any exact theological evidence to back it up, but it made sense. God loves me, so it’s sort of logical that He’d do nice things. The challenge at the end of the reading was, ‘Ask God to surprise you today’.

So I did. It was a fairly simple prayer (in the mornings, I am always VERY simple!!) along the lines of; ‘ I don’t mind what it is, but I’d love it if I could feel that sense of ‘awe’ again. Please could you surprise me somehow, today.’  Maybe it was a bit selfish, after all, I’ve friends who are suffering awfully at the moment, and that’s before I even begin to think more widely about the world, but in the depths of the ‘DDs’, I thought I’d ask for a bit of divine intervention anyway.

The day ticked on and I actually forgot the prayer, till about 9pm when I logged into Facebook and nearly fell off my perch.

There was a PM from an old friend that I had long lost touch with. It’s one of those friendships where you instantly click and though we’d only spent a couple of weeks together, sharing a house, we kept in touch. But time and distance had done their work and I think we’d last spoken about 8 years ago. But now here she was, in my Facebook inbox.

Her message was even more special….she’d taken the day off sick and for reasons she didn’t understand, had been thinking about me. She said I’d been on her mind all day and she’d been praying for me…till in the end, she got online to try and find me.

I worked it out; because of the time difference, at the point I was asking God for a ‘surprise’, she was sleeping, but when she woke up, I was on her mind.

Bit overwhelming really, because to me it says that God cares about all of my small needs, as much as my big ones.

He doesn’t always answer prayer the way we want him to and He definitely does it in His timeframe, but I think he always, always makes his presence known, often through little things like this. This sweet, unexpected message just reminded me that He’s got the details sorted.

I love surprises….especially the God-kind. :).

I’m running away….

I first discovered running about 8 years ago. A friend told me that at first, I’d feel like a tractor was reversing over me; chest, legs, bum…everything would beg for mercy….but if I kept going just a teeny bit more, apparently, if I didn’t drop dead at that point, it then got pretty flipping good.

So I tested the theory, I didn’t die…and whahey, turns out she was right, the endorphins are very, VERY flipping good!

But being honest, much of the past 8 years has been, ‘run like a freak for 2 weeks’ followed by ‘not do much at all for 3 months’. But a couple of months ago, I decided that I was going to seriously push through the 2 week barrier and KEEP going.

And so for the past month, I’ve been running around 30k every week and I’ve discovered this thing my friend Sara calls, ‘Runpeace’.

It’s this moment, usually after the ‘I must be mad, I’m gonna DIE’ phase has passed, where I’m suddenly floating….and in my case, I feel like I can really, really talk to God. It’s even better if you happen to be running up a mountain (yes… I attempted Moel Famau in North Wales today!!), surrounded by the very best creation has to offer.

And today, I stopped to take a glug of water (and breathe…which helps in the whole staying alive business) and there it was; glorious sun glinting out from behind a line of spectacularly arranged clouds, lush, green valleys, not a soul or sound to be heard, other than the odd pitiful sheep bleat….and wow, it was like a tiny glimpse of Heaven.

I was just overwhelmed by the beauty around me…no other word to describe it…and the peace and the feeling that me and God were up there alone and that He was listening to me…no one else…just me. So, I grabbed the opportunity and said everything out loud, that had been in my head…a sort of prayer mixed with thankfulness (and if I’m honest!) a bit of a whinge too!

But as I stood there, and took in the view, I got my breath back and kept on jogging up the next bit. And the next bit of view was even more amazing. I felt a bit weepy that God had made all this, just for me to look at and enjoy…and maybe also to make me feel a bit more connected to him.

‘Runpeace’. Love it! 🙂

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