International Women’s Day 2022

She sat at the back and they said she was shy,
She led from the front and they hated her pride,
They asked her advice and then questioned her guidance,
They branded her loud, then were shocked by her silence.

When she shared no ambition they said it was sad,
So she told them her dreams and they said she was mad.
They told her they’d listen, then covered their ears,
And gave her a hug while they laughed at her fears.

And she listened to all of it thinking she should
Be the girl they older to be, best as she could.
But one day she asked what was best for herself,
Instead of trying to please everyone else…

So she walked through the forest and stood with the trees,
She heard the wind whisper and dance with the leaves.
She spoke to the willow, the elm and the pine,
And she told them what she’d been told time after time.

She told them she felt she was never enough,
She was either too little or far far too much,
Too loud or too quiet, too fierce or too weak,
Too wise or too foolish, too bold or too meek.

Then she found a small clearing surrounded by firs,
And she stopped…
And she heard what the trees said to her,
And she sat there for hours not wanting to leave,
For the forest said nothing.

It just let her breathe.

Unknown Author.

A letter to my daughter on the day you start school

My darling daughter,

It’s been 4 years, 7 months and 11 days since you came into this world. Pink, fleshy, craving warmth and human touch.

Since then you’ve become loud, energetic and confident. Sometimes we say you’re sassy. Sometimes you seem like a teenager, full of mood, eye rolls and attitude. But, mostly, you are, I tell people, a delight. You are a joy-bringer.

You make up your own songs. You sing your own tunes. You dance and pirouette with great seriousness. And you never stop talking.

It’s wonderful. The soundtrack of our lives together. You and me. In the car. Or the supermarket. Or the living room. Or the park. Or church. Or in bed on our lazy mornings. Chattering and laughing and (sometimes) crying. My days will certainly be quieter without you around.

My darling daughter, I will miss you as you step out into this brave new world. As others mould you and listen to you, as they become a bigger part of your world and my influence on you lessens, my prayer for you is simple.

That you would always be close to Jesus.

That you would know his infinite love for you, and your infinite worth to Him.

And I pray, oh I pray, you’ll come home each day, full of the same joie de vivre you started school with. And full of chatter for me to drink in. And when the days come (and they will come) when the joy is gone and school makes you sad, or sick, or anxious, I pray you’ll crawl into my arms and seek comfort where it’s safe.

Never forget how incredible you are, my dear girl. And never, ever, ever let anyone tell you you’re “too much”. Because, my dear, dear daughter, you are effortlessly brilliant and you’re going to set the world on fire.

I so look forward to seeing how this new adventure of yours goes.

All my love,
Mummy

About Her: B Dyer

Here we are… our next instalment! I hope you’re all feeling encouraged and inspired by these stories of everyday faith. I’ll let B introduce herself…

Hi! I’m B. My real name is Bethany but I only ever get called that at work, which I still hate. I’m a social worker and mum to two absolute babes Annabelle 5 and Florence 3. Whenever I get asked where I’m from I never know what to say. I moved around roughly every three years of my childhood (vicars daughter problems). When I was 18 I moved out and started a ‘Christian gap year’ which I swiftly gave up on. I then moved to York where I worked as a youth worker and after that ended up going to uni. At some point in the York years, I got married to Ben and we moved to the tiny land of Burscough where we still live 7 years later, the longest I’ve lived anywhere! After 6 years of planting and leading a church called Red Ben started training to be a vicar, so I guess that makes me an almost vicars wife, although I feel like I’ve been one forever. Outside of social work, being a mum and vicar wife-ing you will find me working on some sort of creative project, normally party based (any excuse) taking long lush baths or doing something with people – my extrovertedness just craves the company of others which I’m finding particularly difficult under our current lockdown life. 

I am going to be completely honest with you, I feel a little like I’m the wrong person to be answering these questions Olivia has asked me. Although I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember and to be fair I’m pretty into God, I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot of these things ‘sorted’. But, if I have learnt anything in my almost 32 years of life it is that actually none of us feels like we have things ‘sorted’ and reading other people’s truth is actually really helpful so here we go…

Q1. How do you pray?
Sporadically. There have been different times in my life where I have had routine and rhythm to my prayer life but since having children I have never got back into one. I mostly connect with God through music and being in nature. I can’t help but have an internal, and often external, “WOW isn’t God flipping amazing” moment when surrounded by God’s beautiful creation, which leads to a moment of thanks in his presence. My absolute favourite thing to do, and where I hear God most clearly, is by blaring out a Christian playlist, getting lost in the music and taking time to tune into the lyrics. I also enjoy a guided meditation. I really struggle to be still, make my mind stop and tune in to God. I find that through guided meditation I have something to focus on while stilling my mind. I’m hoping longer term it will help me hear God more clearly.   

Q2. How do you read the Bible?
Again, full disclosure here, I do not do this regularly. This is something I have struggled with forever. I have never found reading the bible easy and will often use my hate of reading (like, I really hate it!) as an excuse. In an attempt to change this, I have recently bought myself a colouring in journaling Bible. I have found that by having space and freedom to draw all over it, write notes, questions and use colour has been really helpful. I also like re-writing bits of the Bible, I find this helps my brain take it in.

Q3. What’s your favourite Bible verse for this season?
I’m not sure what my favourite Bible verse for this season is, but my favourite Bible verse of all time has to be Acts 2:44-47.

This speaks so powerfully to me about the church and how the church should be. I guess in our current situation, living under coronavirus, this still has a lot to teach us. If us doing church is knowing our community, its joys, its pain and its needs then we can be intentionally and actively trying to meet these needs. This could be through prayer, giving to each other financially, through sharing what we have – our lives and our hearts. All those things can still exist even while we can’t be with each other. I think in some ways the world has been doing a good job of being community under lockdown. Thousands of people signing up to volunteer, neighbourhood WhatsApp groups starting, street bingo from your front garden (this genuinely happened on my street today), people delivering food to shielding relatives/friends/neighbours, people being far more intentional in their relationships. This, for me anyway, is what the church should look like all the time!

Q4. What songs are you singing at the moment?
So many! About 3 weeks ago I had a real God moment while driving back from work. I was listening to Lauren Daigle “Love like this” (told you most of my God moments happen via music). The lyrics go “what have I done to deserve love like this.” Now I know that for a lot of us we have heard about God’s love a lot – like a lot a lot. It’s kind of a big deal, the pinnacle of the Christian faith, but I felt it afresh. I really have done nothing to deserve it, yet here it is overwhelmingly outpoured on me. After coming out of that I remembered life right now, lockdown life. But rather than feel sad about it, I almost gained a new perspective. Even with how life is right now, with all it’s restrictions, frustrations, worry and loneliness, that does not change the overwhelming love of God. We can often let our situation or circumstance dictate how we feel or think and that can then affect our relationship with God. But the way God thinks about us does not change. The truth of his sacrifice does not change. His goodness does not change. I honestly felt, there in that moment, that if the worst were to happen and one of my babies were to die, I would still be thankful for God’s love, his sacrifice, that has saved me.

Q5. What is bringing you joy in lockdown?
My girls. However much they drive me bonkers they have equally saved me. As mentioned above I am an extrovert, full-on 100% extrovert who happens to be married to an introvert. The girls have given me company, routine, a mission to make lockdown life fun and of course an excuse for a creative project – school. That alongside working means there is no time to let myself dwell on the parts of life that are  really tough (I desperately want to see my family, squeeze my sisters and go to soft play with my mummy friends). I know I am biased but those little babes are joy bringers and I am blumming thankful for them!


I hope and pray that wherever you are and however you are experiencing lockdown that you wholeheartedly know the love of God. That you can separate your external circumstances from your eternal worth and that you can cling to the truth that God is good! 

Thanks B! Why not follow the above link to listen to Love Like This and let God’s love wash over you? See you all again next week for more encouragement and everyday faith from awesome women.

About Her: Olivia Haines

About Her is my new regular blog feature, where I’ve asked many different women from all sorts of different backgrounds about their faith. I hope it’ll give you food for thought, encourage you in your own faith journey and maybe even inspire you to try something new.

It’s me, Olivia! I’m the creator of this blog, so it felt right that I’d be the first to undergo the questions. I’m a wife, mum of 1 pre-schooler and training to be a priest in the Church of England. I live in Lancashire, and I love to run. I’m not particularly fast, but it’s great for the mind so I keep plodding on. I am passionate about the sharing of stories – I think we understand so much more when we’ve heard some of the story behind a person. Stories give us insight and encouragement; they can move us to laughter or tears; they can create community and a shared identity. Stories are brilliant!

Q1. How do you pray?
In all sorts of different ways, mainly sporadically throughout the day. I’ll be walking somewhere and spot something and it prompts a prayer in me. If I hear an ambulance siren (which I do quite a lot, because of our proximity to a hospital) I pray for protection over that life and for strength and peace for those treating the patient. I love to pray in bed, before I go to sleep. For me there is no better way to end the day than to run through it all again and let God know where I struggled and where my heart soared. Sometimes I even let God get a word in edgeways and he shows me where he was at work.

Pre-lockdown, I had my routine of dropping the 4yo at pre-school each morning and praying over her before she went in. Then, as I was driving home I would turn on my Bible audio to listen before getting home for some silence. However, that routine has disappeared, with pre-school closed. Instead, I’ve been praying with the 4yo. Sometimes she joins in, sometimes she doesn’t. We always say the Lord’s Prayer together – because she knows its rhythm – and then I’ll just start praying out loud and sometimes she will just start praying her own prayers over mine. Most of the time she just picks her nose and climbs over me, but sometimes we have these magical moments. In fact, this reminds me that I need to ask her more what does she think God’s saying to her / us.

Final bit on prayer with a small person, I promise. About 18 months ago we were walking through town. Well, I was walking, and carrying a rather heavy and lazy 2.5 year old. She closed her eyes and then said amen. I asked her why she’d said amen, and she told me that the man we had just passed was sad so she prayed for him. Children – even tiny ones – can pray. Sometimes we just need to help them.

Q2. How do you read the Bible?
If you’d asked me this question 18 months ago, I’d have said not very well. I think one of the only ways to read the Bible badly is if you just don’t read it consistently. I was a dipper. Dip in, dip out. I followed study plans which jumped around different parts of scripture. And then that all changed.

I was inspired to read the overarching story from beginning to end, which meant going deep into the Old Testament. I’d largely avoided anything tricky or heavy because I just didn’t have the stomach for it. But one lecture on Deuteronomy changed all of that, and so in June last year I began following a Bible in One Year plan and I’m not just a month away from completing it. Sometimes it has been heavy, but the overwhelming feeling I have from it is that the more I read God’s word, the more I hear God speaking to me about my life and the lives of others around me. And the more I read God’s word, the more I can see my life and character changing (for the better). And the more I see that… the more I want to read the Bible.

So, I read it. I read a portion of the Old Testament and then a portion of the New Testament, and sometimes a Psalm or Proverb too. I have missed my old plans which were more devotional in content and included questions and reflections, but I have enjoyed reading through the entire Bible in one year with 2 other people. It’s kept us accountable, and it’s been good to share questions and thoughts.

The best advice I’ve ever had on reading the Bible is: read your Bible, read it all, read it slowly, read it again.

Q3. What’s your favourite Bible verse for this season?
I’ve had a few that I’m clinging to in this time. One in particular is from Habbakuk 3, where the writer is saying even though there are no grapes on the vines, the fields produce no food, calamity is at our door, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” Lockdown has been hard for many reasons – even though all in our family are well and safe. There have been days where I’ve wept and this verse has helped me to lift my eyes up to my saviour Jesus, to remember that, even in these calamitous times, I can rejoice in Him.

Q4. What songs are you singing at the moment?
I’ve been listening to Elevation Worship’s The Blessing since they premiered it on March 6th this year. You may have seen it’s been turned into various covers by churches across the world, and when I heard it for the first time I just knew that this was an anointed song which would minister in this time. I cannot stop listening to it and singing it out over the streets I run down.

I’m also listening to a lot of Disney because we subscribed to Disney+ at the beginning of lockdown. I love how much Christian truth we can find in what the world would call secular.

Q5. How are you seeking joy in lockdown?
I’ve been seeking joy by giving myself permission to “fail”. By that I mean what society expects of us, or what we expect of ourselves. It just isn’t possible for me at this time to do life at the sort of pace I would normally. I’ve had to slow down and God has hard wrestled much of the busy-ness and distraction out of my head, hands and heart.

As such I’ve been spending much more concentrated time with the 4yo. She starts school in September (hopefully!) so it has been a real joy and privilege to get this extra time to enjoy with her. As soon as I’d relinquished control and stopped beating myself up about all the things I couldn’t do now with her on top of me 24/7, I breathed easier and the joy became easier to find.

So, we bake, we go for bike rides, we sing and read stories, we watch films and have lazy mornings and breakfast in bed. We fall out with each other, we have strops and we even cry together. But above it all I look at her and in her eyes of wonder I find the joy of the everyday, the joy of stripped back living, the joy of an unhurried life.

Tune in next week for the next instalment of About Her. Do get in touch if you’d like to answer the 5 questions. You don’t need to be a mum, but you do have to be a woman.

Jobs to do

  1. Clear hallway.
  2. Put books on shelves.
  3. Declutter dining room.
  4. Clean fridge.
  5. Go to post office.
  6. Read books for essay.
  7. Make tea.

And on it goes.

Do I ever reach the end of the list? No. And what would I do if I did? Stop. Rest.

No. I’d find more things that need doing. Because there’s always something else which needs doing.

So no more. I’ll come back to my list in a little while. It’ll still be there in the morning. Now though, I stop. I down tools.

I open my Bible. I open my heart. I open my mind.

And I rest.

“Jesus, you’re worth it.”

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26: 6-13 NIV)

There is so much going on in this passage. So much. I imagine you could preach on it every year, just before Easter, and find new things to say even after 25 years. Why am I writing about it today, then? Well, it is half term, which means my daughter is off from school; it’s also reading week at college, which means I’ve potentially got space for extra studying this week. Yet, as anyone who has raised small children or knows anyone who has raised small children will know, that isn’t quite how it works.

I am not begrudging my just turned 4-year-old time with mummy, especially as quality time with mummy is actually quite hard to come by at the moment. Plus she’s about to go through all sorts of changes with starting school, then moving house some time next year, so I figure mummy time is important. Sensibly, I’ve enjoyed time with her doing different things each day, while I’ve also allowed a bit of time each day to get some work done. However, it’s now Thursday evening and I’ve spent the whole afternoon trying to do work to no avail.

At one point I had to be quite firm with her, as I had reached the limits of how many times I can be interrupted while I try to read my book. Realising that I wasn’t getting into the flow with the book (The Joshua Delusion for anyone who cares), I thought I’d spend some time on my talk for this Sunday’s All Age service. No problem, I thought foolishly. Once again, in she trots to miaow at me. Literally. She just stand next to me making cat sounds. Cute, right? Except now I have to start again. Again. So I’m cross. And actually, it’s unnecessary for all sorts of reasons but mainly because she hasn’t actually done anything wrong.

I apologise. We cuddle. She’s ok again. Yet I’m still cross. Why? Because my husband (saint in our daughter’s eyes) is sat upstairs able to just get on with doing his work. And in that moment, my heart burns with jealous anger. “Well of course daddy is beloved in this house! He never has to tell her to go away because he’s doing work!” I mutter. I’m then torn; I know I have a choice to make. I can continue to be annoyed and embittered. Or I can calm down. But how? How can I let it go (ironic, as that’s the song that’s blasting in the living room right now), when I’m feeling hard done by?

I remember, and know, that turning to God ALWAYS helps. I decide to read the Bible, largely because it means I can sit down, put my feet up and drink a cup of tea at the same time. And I don’t have to utter a word or a thought. So I open the pages of my Bible to Matthew 26, and read of Jesus being anointed in Bethany, shortly before he is betrayed, trialled and crucified.

What do I find there? This beautiful image of a woman, unnamed, willing to undergo public humiliation by doing something ‘foolish’: pouring away invaluable, expensive perfume. For what? Some man. The reaction of those present? Absolute astonishment and anger. “This could have been sold and the money put to better use!” they cry. They have a point. Jesus had spent his ministry up until this point teaching people to look after the poor. And yet, his reaction is of astonishment and anger too, but not to the woman. Instead he is dismayed by his friends’ response.

You see, in their response they say to the room, “Jesus, you’re not worth it. Jesus, you’re not worth this lavishing of perfume. Jesus, you’re not worth this anointing before your death.”

Whereas, the woman’s act says loudly and clearly, “Jesus, this is how much I think you’re worth. Jesus, you’re worth this costly perfume. Jesus, you’re worth more than what the world values. Jesus, you’re worth this act of devotion. Jesus, you’re worth me pouring away what I own.”

As I sat reading the passage, I pondered how in that moment I hadn’t only been cross with my daughter and my husband. I’d also been annoyed by my present circumstances: that I have no choice but to work from home and actively ignore my daughter, when I’d much rather say to her, “Stuff my work! I want to spend time with you.” Yet, what does this say of how I value Jesus? How I value his death? How I value his sacrifice? For a moment – just 10 minutes or so – my heart cried out loudly, “Jesus, you’re not worth it. You’re not worth the late nights and the early mornings. You’re not worth the time away from my daughter. You’re not worth this feeling of resentment towards my husband. You’re not worth it.”

Yet the woman’s actions and Jesus’ response show us that following Christ is the only option that is worth it; pouring out our whole lives for him is all we can do. So, my cup of tea is empty, but my heart is filled afresh, as I am reminded that following Jesus’ call on my life sometimes means pouring something away which the world calls valuable. Because he is worth it. And that’s worth remembering.

Weeping: Good Friday Reflections on Mary at the Cross Pt 4

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifíxo condolére,
donec ego víxero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociáre
in planctu desídero.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:

By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.

Weeping. See Mary at the foot of the cross. When Mary stayed at the cross, did she know she would be given a new son? Someone to look after her and someone for her to mother? While she wept, did she say anything to Jesus? Did she cry out to God? Where was his mercy for her? How could he leave her? What was her prayer?

Do we look at the cross and see the pain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming? Mary did not know. She did not have hindsight.

Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Mary the mother, stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.

Let us hurry not to the Easter tomb, with gleeful joy.

Let us watch.

Let us wait.

Let us weep.

Waiting: Good Friday Reflections on Mary at the Cross Pt 3

Pro peccátis suæ gentis

vidit Iésum in torméntis,

et flagéllis súbditum.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum

moriéndo desolátum,

dum emísit spíritum.

For the sins of His own nation,

She saw Jesus wracked with torment,

All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,

Saw Him hang in desolation,

Till His spirit forth He sent.

 

Waiting. See Mary at the foot of the cross. Her face is turned up towards Jesus. She sees his frail body, hanging bleakly. While Mary waited, did she think of her life with Jesus? What was she remembering in her grief as he went from her? Perhaps the moment she was told of his birth? Or the miracle of turning water into the finest wine? So far from the wine vinegar he tasted on the cross. As we look with Mary, what do we remember of Jesus’ life?

Do we look at the cross and see the pain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming? 

Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Mary the mother, stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.

Watching: Good Friday Reflections on Mary at the Cross Pt 2

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si vidéret
in tanto supplício?

Quis non posset contristári
Christi Matrem contemplári
doléntem cum Fílio?

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother’s pain untold?

Watching. See Mary at the foot of the cross. While she watched, we know she must have wept. Her son lay bare for all to see, broken for all to mock, dying for all to live. Is her face blotched and stricken with angst? Perhaps you can hear her cries from all around? Or is she weeping more silently, more controlled? 

Do we look at the cross and see the pain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming?

Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Mary the mother, stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.

 

Watching, Waiting, Weeping: Good Friday Reflections on Mary at the Cross Pt 1

Mary, at the cross with Jesus, is an image immortalised in Stabat Mater art – Stabat Mater meaning mourning mother. Sometimes this art portrays solely Mary with Jesus, sometimes the other women are there too, as in John’s Gospel, but mostly it is Mary on Jesus’ right hand side and John on the left. These images portray the artists’ impressions of how they see what John wrote about. The Stabat Mater is also a 13th century hymn, and I want to use some of the words to help us reflect on Mary and her thoughts and feelings as she stood at the cross with her son.

Stabat mater dolorósa
juxta Crucem lacrimósa,
dum pendébat Fílius.

Cuius ánimam geméntem,
contristátam et doléntem
pertransívit gládius.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

Watching, waiting, weeping.

Mary was promised by Simeon that her soul would be pierced too. She was not promised a lifetime of joy with her beloved child, but an eventual sharing in his pain and anguish. She did not run away and hide, as the disciples did, but stood there until the end.

Do we look at the cross and see the pain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming?

Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Mary the mother, stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.