“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans…”

So says Woody Allen. And he’s not the only one. Tom Hiddleston, when talking about not making plans, said, “God always laughs at your plans. I’m going to … keep the page blank and see what gets painted upon it.” There’s a bit of an inside joke in the church that you should never say never, because God has a sense of humour. My mum once said she would never be a teacher, and yet she was, and she said she’d never be a vicar, and yet now she is. 

Why do bring this up today, in particular?

Well, in the U.K., it is A Level Results Day. That means, for anyone outside of the UK, that 18 year olds up and down the country are finally finding their grades from end of school exams (A Levels). On these results hang the rest of your life… or that’s what it can feel like. You set your hopes on going to a particular place, to study something… and on this day, you find out if that hope can become a reality.

I didn’t work enormously hard at school; I crammed in the last few weeks to try and make up for my lackadaisical attitude of the previous 2 years. It didn’t work. My envelope arrived, with C, D, D, D, E. I needed A, B, C to get into my preferred university. In fact, I needed C, C, C to get into my second preferred university. Thankfully, when I rang my second preferred university, they said it wasn’t a problem and they looked forward to welcoming me in September. What a relief!

A year on from my results day, and I remember suddenly feeling anxious. I’d taken a year out between school and university, and I’d realised that I might prefer to do Primary Teacher Training. Perhaps stay closer to home. But I didn’t. I went off, as previously planned, to the university furthest away from my parents without leaving the country. And oh what an adventure began.

Now, it didn’t feel much like an adventure at the time. It was a very intense 2 years: I made mistake after mistake after mistake. I made so many poor choices, and was balancing each day between deliriously happy and thoroughly miserable. I made some great friends, the best in fact. But none of the plans I had made became a reality.

I was meant to go to university, learn new things, experience life and meet new people – maybe even meet my future husband. In reality, I didn’t study well, I didn’t graduate, I left university after 2 years and came home to live with my parents. I found myself back working 9-5 in a retail job that was enjoyable, but left me unfulfilled. This was not the plan on results day. This was not the plan I had for my life.

And yet now, 11 years on from my results day, I thank God for those years. I learned so much about myself, what I believe and the kind of person I want to be. If you had told me at 18 what I would experience in those first 5 years after leaving school, I’d have thought you were bonkers. Now, I am not sure that God wanted me to experience those painful things. But I am sure that he was there the whole time, calling me back to him, to his plan for me and my life. All I had to do was turn to him, lean into him.

Of course, being the massively flawed human being that I am, I didn’t really learn that lesson the first time. Do we ever? But over the last 2 years I have come to know that when it says, “But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge,” it is true for me too.

In life we are faced with choices that will have a ripple effect across our lives (and others’ too). At school, I chose to not do my work. At university, I chose to spend my money foolishly and focus on the social side rather than the study side. But at any point we can say, “Enough! Let’s do things differently.” For me, that was coming back to God and reaffirming my faith. Life still hasn’t turned out as I had planned (I definitely didn’t think I’d be married or have a child before I turn 30), but I’ve learned to let go of the plan and trust in God.

If you’re receiving your results today, I pray you will know this will impact the rest of your life, but not in the way you can predict now. I pray you will be able to celebrate whatever this means for the next chapter in your life, and to see it as an impending adventure. And most of all, I pray you will pick yourself up when life gets hard, lean on those you love, and find truth in the most unexpected of places. 

The F Word

Today is a momentous day; a day which will go down forever in history. It will one day be taught in schools as part of our national story. And yet there is a four letter word going round.


I’m guilty of it myself. I have said I am fearful for the future. I am fearful for who takes control of our government. I am fearful of theunknown. But fear is the enemy here, not Brexiters.

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.'” – ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭3:13-14‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Of course, for my own reasons, I am dissapointed that the UK voted to leave. I honestly and whole heartedly believe we are better within the EU, not least because I feel it is how we best serve our little part of the world. But, as I said at the beginning, this is a momentous day. It is a day the full implications of which will not be seen for years to come.

Today I am choosing hope.

I hope that our elected government helps to build a society which protects the vulnerable and needy, whether in our country or elsewhere in the world. I hope we strengthen our global voice and take a stand on world affairs and issues of inequality. I hope we become a beacon for democracy. I hope we continue to embrace our wonderfully diverse multi-national country. I hope for good times, regardless of today’s outcome.

Choose hope, not fear. For we still have “far more in common, than that which divides us.” (Jo Cox, 2016)

You Make Me Brave: Renewed Hope

Recently I came across this version of a favourite song of mine. A few things really struck me, and I was in tears by the end.


This is a song about bravery, and how we can rely on God for strength in hard times. But more than that, it’s about stepping out in faith. There is something incredible about watching these children run and dance, bare footed in the forest, mark their territory, almost like warriors… a symbol of bravery. Jesus says to us though, to come to him like little children. That could mean many things. Children are eager, loving, forgiving, demanding, playful. But they’re also brave. They bear their hearts and souls on the playground, and are upset about things that we think are ridiculous. Day in, day out, they play and fight; they see hurt, and experience it too; they worry, and they care. And then when they’re done doing all that, they do it all again with smiles on their faces. Children are resilient and they are capable of loving fiercely. Children are brave.

What also struck me, though, is that we live in a cruel world. A world of comparisons: who is prettier? Who is funnier? Who is smarter? We think this just applies to us, but it affects our children. There are reports of children as young as 5 with body image issues, and children with mental health issues before they leave primary school. The world tells our children that they must look and act a certain way in life; they must perform; they must be ‘on’. All the time. How demanding! Is it any wonder there are reports of children crying themselves to sleep every night over SATs? Is it any wonder that young girls doll themselves up for Instagram selfies, when they should just be reading a book in their pjs at home?

This video, and song, speaks of a different truth though. It says, there is something bigger than me in life. It says, I am known, loved and valued. It says, because of these truths, I have peace. It says, I am brave. And that gives me renewed hope for my own daughter.

My prayer: that she will grow up knowing she is valued and loved; that she will love fiercely; that she will speak the truth loudly; and that she will shine her beautiful light bravely into this dark world.

Wounded, Crushed, Healed

  
This is a favourite passage of mine, especially at Easter time: a brutally honest reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for all of humanity. When it came up as my verse of the day on Maundy Thursday, I spent my quiet time reflecting on the entirety of Isaiah 53. Three words stood out to me: wounded, crushed and healed.


Wounded

What Jesus endured in that period of time becomes more and more incomprehensible as I get older. Not only did he experience enormous physical pain, but he must have also felt incredible emotional and spiritual pain too. Jesus was alone. Not lonely, but alone, abandoned and separated from all he knew and loved. He was, after all, human and capable of feeling the full range of our human emotions. When was the last time you felt alone?

For me, it was 4 weeks after my daughter was born. Despite knowing that there would be times of loneliness in motherhood, I wasn’t prepared for how I felt that Wednesday. I didn’t just feel lonely, I felt alone. Isolated. I remember sobbing, whilst my husband and I walked around the block with our daughter. Probably a mixture of postnatal hormones, being an extrovert, and leaving a noisy, busy working environment led to these feelings. It was further compounded by the lack of baby groups, as it was half term, and the fact that I hadn’t really made mummy friends yet.

But I wasn’t alone. Not really. In fact, my husband suggested I send a message to a friend whose little girl is a year older than ours. I did, and she replied instantly. The next morning I was at her house, finding that she too had felt this way, and it did get better. Even if she hadn’t replied though, I wasn’t alone. I had God. I have God. I will always have God. In the darkness of death, however, Jesus really was alone. He was cut off by our sin and his death, and abandoned spiritually for 3 days.

Yet another reason why Jesus’ sacrifice means so much to me this Easter. It means I am never alone, even at 3 o’clock in the morning when I’m sat feeding my daughter in the literal dark. Even when she has one of those nights, like last night, where she just has no interest in doing anything other than grazing on me. I might be tired. I might be lonely. But I am not alone, and this passage is yet another reminder of that.

Crushed

Something else hit me whilst reading this passage. My sin literally crushed Jesus. And my daughter’s sin will also literally crush Jesus. When I look at my daughter, I see beauty and joy. I see love and happiness. But what I see mostly is hope. She has so much potential, and no-one (except God) knows what that unique potential could lead to. Right now, she isn’t capable of doing a whole lot, because she’s only 9 weeks old. But in the future, who knows what she will be able to do. To think of the endless possibilities, as I gaze into those lovely eyes, is really quite mind blowing. So. Much. Hope.

And so, it hadn’t occurred to me until I read this passage, that my beautiful, perfect daughter is the same as me. She will sin, and those sins play a part in the Easter story. They nail Jesus to the cross. 

What it also means though, is that Jesus’ sacrifice is also a story of great hope for my daughter. What a wonderful, beautiful truth that is to behold. It makes this first Easter as a mother all the more exciting. This truth isn’t just for me and my husband anymore. Not just for the people we encounter on the street, or at work. It is a truth for our most precious loved one. A truth for us to share with her as she grows.

Healed

This is what it comes down to. Humanity suffers from a dreadful illness (sin) which leads to eternal death. Except it doesn’t have to. Tomorrow, Christians across the world will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Why? Because it means eternal healing. All that sin, all that death, completely paid for by his blood. We. Are. Healed.

  

2000-ish years ago, an ordinary man from Galilee arrived in Jerusalem with his friends. This man had drawn crowds, and proved a popular speaker. He spoke words of hope and truth; words which shone a light in the darkness. This man’s wisdom and compassion had ruffled some feathers with leaders of the established church of the time. These leaders plotted and were complicit in setting up an arrest, trial and death sentence. What was this man’s crime? He claimed to be the Messiah. The Christ. This man was mocked, whipped, and nailed to a cross. He died, on a piece of wood, cut off from those who he loved.

“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked his disciples, before he died.

I say he is the only son of God. I say he is the bringer of truth and hope and light. I say he is the greatest ever teacher, and the world’s healer.

Who do you say he is?

Trouble and Terror

I was going to write a completely different story today. That was my intention. But then I woke up to this. So now I’m writing a different post altogether.

There are many things which trouble pregnant women, and new mums (and dads for that matter). Will I ever be able to get my baby to latch on properly and feed? Is this amount of sick normal? Why are they crying when I’ve done everything I can? What if they… Catch this bug? Have difficulty breathing? Are too cold? Too hot? Are they still breathing? Are they ok? Is what we are experiencing normal?

Like I said, there are many things which trouble new parents. Many of the above questions are things that have troubled me over the last 2 months. But only one thing terrorises me. How do I explain the kind of world we live in to my daughter?

I’m no stranger to ‘the war on terror’, or just war generally. By the time I was 3, my dad had completed his first tour of duty as a British Army chaplain in the first Gulf War. By the time I was 16, he’d been back to Iraq, done a stint in Croatia, and we’d all lived, as a family, in Northern Ireland 1996-1998. I don’t remember being afraid at any time, but I also don’t remember my parents explaining to me about the world we were being brought up in.

War is just one half of it, though. How do I explain the world’s great inequalities? How do I explain that we live in a world where too many people don’t have access to clean water, a high-quality and free education, or even just somewhere safe to sleep? How do I explain that birth is a lottery, and that lottery means some people live in a very real, daily fear? That despite the fact that it is a lottery, we still insist on not allowing those who are in danger to travel to where it is safe? What a world we live in! 

Once again, there were tragedies in the world when I was growing up. Far too many dead in the Sierra Leone genocide; the Troubles in Northern Ireland; poverty; hunger; drought; civil wars. Once again, I don’t remember my parents offerin any kind of explanation. What I do remember, though, is never feeling afraid. I remember feeling great indignation and righteous anger from a young age about societal inequalities. I remember daily bible study with my mum or dad’s guidance. I remember seeing a model of daily prayer and reliance on God. I remember that, whilst being unable to understand why pain and suffering exists (I mean, I still don’t know!!), God loves me.

So, how do I explain the kind of world we live in to my daughter? Maybe I don’t. Maybe I just model a life of prayer and reliance on God, our loving father. Maybe I just show her that there is an alternative to fear and greed. Maybe I just draw close to Him.