little happenings

my little wonderments that make a bigger picture

powerful love

It’s that time of year again. The lights are twinkling over London streets, the smell of cinnamon, orange and mulled wine fills the markets and there is a bustle of people attending their annual carol service or nativity play. We prepare to see our family and loved ones again and our thoughts are full of snow, turkeys, tinsel and presents. People assume roles of merriness or ‘bah humbug’ and all of this is accepted as part and parcel of the season we call Christmas.
Now, Christmas is one of my absolute favourite things ever, and yet I have been feeling a little bit empty.

Last year I was challenged on how I could view this season while unwell. 2014 has been challenging me to view what Christmas should mean in terms of loving the people who some might find it hardest to even tolerate.

From the tone of a recent article in The Daily Mail, crying out about how unfair it is that prisoners in a Scottish prison are receiving a Christmas lunch valued at £2.47 per head (they forget to mention that this also includes dinner…), you’d be forgiven for thinking that prisoners were living the high life on all your hard paid tax. However as we reach a shortage of over 1,700 prison staff across the UK, life in prison is getting rougher and uglier for the inmates. Now you may be relieved by this, but what I would like to point out is that, while it may seem like retribution and punishment are the way to go about treating felons, there is more and more evidence that holistic care of prisoners is the answer. The Samaritans’ Listener Scheme was active in 141 prisons across the UK in 2011, offering emotional support to fellow prisoners in crisis and the Listeners were contacted almost 90,000 times through the year.’

Over the last month or so I’ve been coming to the conclusion that the-powers-that-be know prison is not working, especially for women, but very little is being done about it. Prison is a place of huge disempowerment, seclusion, loneliness and depression: as shown in a report from the Prison Reform Trust ‘49% of women prisoners were assessed as suffering from anxiety and depression…compared with 19% of the total female UK population.’ It also states that ‘46% of women in prison have been identified as having suffered a history of domestic abuse’ and ‘53% of women in prison reported having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.’

Take that in for a second. Over half of the female prison population admit to having been abused as a child and almost half within a relationship – how many didn’t disclose this information?
Now this is just a lot of stats to you but I promise you there is a point behind my number crunching.

And the point is love.

For me when I read these statistics, they tug at my heart and make it impossible for sit back and do nothing.
I believe that when Jesus said ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ he meant it. He expected us to put others first and love them no matter what else may have happened.
I believe that when Jesus said ‘visit those in prisons’ it wasn’t a throw away remark. He said it because He knows how much we truly need solidarity and companionship – no matter what our personality, history or situation.

We, as humans, were made to need each other, in fact, a report from the prison reform trust in summer 2013 declared that, ‘the likelihood of reoffending was 39% higher for prisoners who had not received visits whilst in prison compared to those who had.’ Now that’s a lot of crime considering that 47% of adults are reconvicted within one year of release. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 58% and 73% of under 18 year olds are reconvicted within a year of release.

We need to love in the way that Jesus teaches. And in prison?

To love means that I need to empower convicted, vulnerable women and help them to realise their potential.
To love means that I need to help them understand that to be loved doesn’t mean to be abused or manipulated.
To love means that I don’t only see the crime, I see the beautiful woman as an individual with a story, and a history that I couldn’t even imagine.
To love means I need to show them that even though their past is controlling the present – it doesn’t need to navigate their future as well.
To love, above all, means that I need to show them how precious and valuable and unique they are.

‘We love because He first loved us.’ 1 John 4:19

For me, this is the meaning of Christmas, my life and my job, summed up in one short sentence.
God loves us so explicitly, so personally, so entirely that He sent us His son to be God on earth. He sent Jesus as a vulnerable baby, born to die, so that we could learn how to love in the fullest sense of the word. Not a fairytale – true, unconditional love.

So if you find a second alone, or together, this Christmas I challenge you this: whether you’re a merry maker or a Christmas Scrooge; whether you love or hate this holiday season – remind yourself what love might mean. Consider those who may never have experienced love in the way that you might be surrounded with this year. Remember those who are not around family at Christmas for whatever reason. Those who need to prepare to be locked back up within an hour – who may not share laughter, presents or even a hug with a loved one this Christmas. Be thankful for the incredible richness of your life and, please, be brave and kind in your love – only good can come from it.

for more information please go to http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Prisonthefacts.pdf

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camel spit

I remember a day when I went to a camel farm with my grandparents. It was a stunning day and I was excited to see these sandy giants that we most often associate with the ancient world or the three wise men in the nativity. I was feeding these majestic, if slightly goofy, beasts when one clearly took a dislike to the fact that I was feeding his companion. There was a horrendous sucking noise and then ‘thwap’ I was struck in the face with a giant gob of dromedary spit. Urgh. Ouch. Why…?

Sometimes in life things seem to happen that seem to hit you as hard and fast as the spit of an angry camel. And usually, they are about the same mixture of painful and plain horrible.

I’ve had a year a bit like this. I haven’t understood, I’ve been pretty confused and fed up for large amounts of time and, to be honest, there were times where I struggled to see a way out of it. (This may be the part where the parallels with my unfortunate camel encounter start to fade, but bear with me here!)
I had life ‘sorted’. A job that I loved; a uni course that I was excited for; a roof over my head and wonderful friends nearby. Then ‘thwap!’ My stomach started rejecting food. Only able to keep down liquid most days, I had no energy to leave my room let alone do my job. As if in a dream I was back at my parents’ house, stuck in bed or in and out of hospital like a supercharged yo-yo. Urgh. Ouch. Why…?

Those few months were some of the loneliest, most joyful, most painful, most confusing ones I have ever had.
Most days I moved from bed to sofa to bed and back again. When asked the question ‘so, what do you DO all day?’ I felt completely inadequate because I genuinely did nothing. At all. I couldn’t even eat without seeing it in reverse a few minutes later. I just waited and cried (a lot).

So, why am I writing about my little poorly pity party?

Because this time had also helped me learn.

I realised that the small things are so important. When family, friends or acquaintances send you their love or just ring for a catch up it is so life giving – I need to do this more often, I need to not get so caught up in self that I forget the incredible people who are around me.

I learnt that having someone just to come and sit with you and talk about normality or watch a film with you is crazy important. I need to remember this. They helped me get out of my little sick bubble and remember that life goes on.

I realised that I can’t fix very much in my own strength.

I realised that you need to give yourself time to feel sad or lonely or angry – then find joy in the smallest details because, in times like this, they are the biggest details.

But most importantly of all I was taught that God’s loving embrace is the most comforting thing when you have no idea when the dark moment is going to finish. That His Grace and love is still exactly the same when you’re lying in bed feeling sad and sorry for yourself as it is when you’re praising him and serving others. He just loves you that much. In fact, He IS love.

So my thought for today is this. If you’ve just been gobbed on by a camel (either literally or metaphorically), or you know someone else who has, make the best moments out of the worst. Don’t try and fix it, live it and trust that it will get better. Be the best friend you can be. Be honest about how you’re feeling – putting a mask on the sadness will only make it worse but sharing with someone you love will take a huge weight off your shoulders. Pray.

And most fundamental of all remember how loved and cherished you are and how important it is to love and cherish others.

And if you’re still not sure, here’s 1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

love isn’t a fairytale

Your sins are forgiven, bizarre right?

In everything we do, all the day to day business and the self-importance, it’s easy to lose sight of what we need. We fill the gap, that’s gaping bigger and bigger in western society, with the idea that we need stuff. We are stuck in an ‘I’ generation of everything fast. Money, sex, power, clothes, electronics – you name it, someone wants it. It’s all about me. Or is it?

Recently I’ve been coming more and more to the conclusion that relationships are difficult (go figure right?) and I really hope it’s not just me. The idea that a relationship can possibly be about self-fulfilment is crazy to me, because the entire idea of it is that it is between two or more people. As soon as we start taking more than we give, wanting more than we are prepared to do, expecting to be waited on without any reciprocation; it’s going to get tough.

More and more I am learning that relationships are about sacrifice and far less about romance and chivalry and the perfect Disney wedding (though they still have their place.) They are more than family, more than a hug or a smile or a kiss. They are about still talking to someone even though you are angry with them. They are about waking up to a call at three in the morning because your friend is sad or having some kind of crisis. It’s about putting someone else’s needs and loves and wants before your own – even if they don’t reciprocate the gesture or understand that that is what you’ve done. Sacrificial love, that is true relationship.

This Easter time there are going to be a lot of bunnies and chicks and lambs and chocolate eggs around. Hopefully, through all the celebration you might even see a cross or crucifix.

Easter for me, means a time of reflection and yes celebration because it is a shout out of the biggest most intense act of sacrificial love the world will ever see or know. The time when an innocent man, who was also fully God (fully GOD!), died for the sake of the world. For you.

He took on every bad thing that you have ever done. He was beaten, tortured, mocked, stabbed, kicked, hit and left to die, hanging on cross for criminals and all this time he was praying for you, because he loves you unconditionally.

 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

At the point where Jesus was in the most pain, in agony knowing that he would die, He asked his father God to forgive the men who had tortured him. The men who had spat at him and hurt him in every way. He loved them more, and that cut through the hate.

I truly believe that Jesus died for you (and for me too, sorry). I wouldn’t be here writing if I didn’t. In a blog I’ve done previously about Christmas [turkeys, tinsel & treasure] I asked for you to grab hold of the whisper of Jesus.

Well today of all days is the trumpet call.

No more whispers, this is the celebration day that Jesus, a man who was also God, died on a cross in total innocence so that you today can say: I want that hope. I want to be more, I want to show the love of a God and I want to know a God who is the total embodiment of the meaning of love. Real relationship, not a fairy tale, so much better.

In this you will find a joy that is beyond anything you could have fathomed. It is greater than sickness, bigger than fear, more than hate, overcoming worry and filled with love. This is a joy that cannot be paralleled and once you have found t, it is impossible to let go because this joy comes from within and once it starts shining out we need to let it overflow.

Your sins are forgiven? Maybe they are the most significant words to ever be spoken over you – an expression of real relationship. An example to us of how we should act and love and behave. true, messy, difficult, sacrificial love.

So this is the challenge: we need to forgive, we need to break down our walls and prejudice and judgement and be ready to echo Jesus and His inexplicable act of love and kindness.

Forgiveness: maybe not so bizarre.

chasing pavements

I’m looking at my feet, pacing along the pavement, rushing for no reason and not really taking in anything around me just focused on my destination. Out of the corner of my I see two children creeping up towards a man leaning over the back seat of his car to get his baby out, they start moving faster and faster towards the man and let out a cry as he spins around and grasps them in his arms and lifts them high with unadulterated joy.
It is as if he knows that these moments won’t last forever and he is making each individual one count. Beautiful.
I tear up and continue walking, this time taking in the beauty of my surroundings. Treasuring each moment.

We can be so busy. Sometimes we don’t even know why we are rushing, worrying. There seems to be an urgency in our steps and a frustration if the person in front isn’t quite walking fast enough or if the train is going to arrive in 5 minutes not 3, or if there’s traffic and you might be a couple of minutes later than intended. We can be worked up so easily, and who is it helping?

In 2013 INVISTA (an underwear brand) took a survey of 2000 women and came to the conclusion that on average women can spend 12 hours and 4 minutes per week, worrying about their body image. Wow. (If you want to see a few of my thoughts on that check out (im)perfection..) In 2008 statistics said that the average western person spends 6.5 years of their life worrying. YEARS.

What?!

This upsets me because it makes me think maybe we’ve forgotten what life is about, forgotten that living should be joyful and fun and yes, difficult sometimes but then the good times just seem even brighter.

We worry about things instead of changing or accepting and amplifying them to make them the best they can be. Imagine if we put as much time into changing our world to be its best, motivating ourselves to fulfil the potential we’ve got and use the incredible and unique gifts and talents we have as we did being busy worrying.

Six and a half years: you could change the world.

Being stressed, being worried, being permanently busy – it makes me feel anxious just thinking about a life like that. Why don’t we let ourselves stop.

Stop looking at your feet.

We need to lift up our eyes from the pavement, slow down as we walk to work, take in the beauty, listen to the sounds; the birds; the conversations; the different dialects, smell the air, live in the moment.

I’m not saying be lazy, I’m saying enjoy the places you take for granted. Actually see the people who pass you by everyday but can’t recognise, smile.

Get up 10 minutes earlier so you don’t have to rush to work, bake your neighbour or friend or relative some food just because you think they might need it. Spend time on relationships and just sitting together. Fall into conversation with the young homeless man begging at the side of the road, ask him about his story. Show some love!

Proverbs 12v25 says
Anxiety weighs down a heart but a kind word cheers it up!

Research the things you think are unjust or unfair, don’t worry about it – think about it, pray about it, change it.

In Philippians 4:6-7(MSG) Paul says,
‘Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.’

(I can’t really say it better than that…)

I believe that I’m here to make a difference; I don’t think that involves me hiding behind my mask of worry and not involving myself in the solution.
In the book of Matthew 6:27-33 Jesus said
‘can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?’
No.

So this is my challenge to myself, and you if you’d like: Take your opportunity and fly with it. Hug that person a little bit tighter, laugh that little bit harder, walk a little bit slower, think a little bit deeper. Pray more, spend more time thinking about others than yourself. Give yourself, your time your friendship. Through doing this I hope that maybe, just maybe, it will move us into action and give us our love of life back.
Six and a half years. We can change the world.

turkeys, tinsel & treasure

Christmas: I love it.

The lights twinkle, the house has the familiar scent of fir, the Christmas tape still battles on in the cassette player and the promise of good food and seeing family and friends, hangs in the air.
This year I’ve been pretty ill and unable to eat properly for weeks at a time. It’s been frustrating and painful and tearful. I might not be better at Christmas, have energy to spend time with everyone or be able to eat that greatly anticipated Christmas dinner. It’s a shame, but it’s not the end of the world.

Sometimes I think we can get too comfortable in the way we are living and the way we do tradition, we start to put expectation on our lives and on other people to provide, which can lead to be unintentionally selfish. So maybe it’s good to have my boat rocked.
It was rocked last year. I was working in a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve and one of the men was so drunk and angry that he smashed through a wall and was dragged away by police – I found out later that he had only just turned 18 and had been homeless for three years. An older man was reminiscing to me about his son and daughter whom he hadn’t seen for 8 years, since his alcohol addiction got the better of him and his family left. And one man was just proud that he had managed 2 months sober.

This wasn’t the way I had ever thought of Christmas, it opened my eyes to real life and the real world. To the heart break and pain that still goes on behind the tinsel strewn foreground that we focus on.

I love the idea of a white Christmas or a crisp frost and cuddling up in the warm by a glowing fire – it’s amazing how easy it is to block out the idea that there might be someone outside walking through the night just to try and stay warm.

The bible tells us that Jesus was born to a teen mum and a humble carpenter. Dirty, in a stable with farm animals and surrounded by illiterate shepherds – the messiah was born.
John 1:14 says ‘the word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.’ This is what Christmas is celebrating: God became man so that we could know him, have relationship with and testament of Him, so that we could have an example of what true and unrequited love is.
I believe that I am meant to mirror this love.

Jesus was friends with the weak and the marginalised, the most dirty and disrespected. One of his best mates was a prostitute. He didn’t care about social status; he hated it when people discriminated and judged, but loved when people had faith and cared for others, whoever they may be. (If you haven’t heard the story of the Good Samaritan, look it up!)

This is the same today.
So this year I might not eat or have much energy at Christmas, but I know that I am incredibly blessed. I desperately hope that I never take life and time and family Christmas for granted, that I remember the stories I have heard and the way my boat has been rocked, so that I never yearn for more when I know that I have plenty, because above all I am blessed with the treasure of love that is far greater than any other. And I know that you are too.

So my hope this Christmas is that – behind the joyous chaos that Christmas brings, behind the lights and the tinsel and the enormous stuffed turkey – there will be a whisper that is so quiet, yet so persistent, so irresistible, that you can’t help but wonder if there is more to your story. I pray that you pursue it.

(im)perfection

She had to look ‘right.’ The mirror just wasn’t showing her what she wanted. The clothes clung in the wrong place, the hair was falling the wrong way, you could see the skin that was a little bit too white and the arms that were a little bit too big. A trickle of mascara ran down her face as she realised that this was ‘the best it would get.’ She got back into bed, not today, I can’t go out today, I’m not ‘right.’

 He’s sweating and thirsty. He’s lifting the weight to his shoulder and refuses to go any further. His arm drops to the floor and he let’s out a cry of anguish not of pain but of anger. Why can’t he do it? Why isn’t he strong enough? He looks down at his arms and legs in disgust. Why can’t he be good enough? Why can’t he be like the others?

 Too many of us hate ourselves and it genuinely breaks my heart. I’ve been in tears too many times hearing stories of people who think they aren’t good enough. I think I only have a couple of friends who would say to me that they are happy with who they are, and even then they will be judged for liking themselves. Too many of us strive for a kind of perfection that will never be reached. 

 In our lives and culture today, the judgement and scrutiny of other people on our lives takes over. It consumes our thoughts, sexuality and physicality and makes our mind refuse to believe that we are good or beautiful or ‘just right.’ 

We are told that it is good to be different but as soon as we do step out we realise its only good to be different when we’re doing it the same as everyone else. We need to look the same but still be unique and to act the way that people expect us and not to step out of line. 

I believe the bible when it says we are made fearfully and wonderfully.
Fearful: made with awe and respect.
Wow.

 When we strive for perfection we are always going to fall short, and when we look at ourselves and think we are not good enough because we aren’t perfect: not skinny enough; not muscled enough; our legs are too chunky; haven’t got a waist; can’t grow a beard (that ones mainly for the guys but I won’t discriminate..) we are disputing the fact that we are wonderful.

 I believe that we were created by a loving God, not an accident, not just a coincidence but through a transcending love that no one will ever ever be able to describe or understand.

 If that’s not your thing then I’m sorry and I hope maybe you’ll have a think about it. But even so, you are wonderful and perfect in your imperfection. Your chunky legs mean that you can climb mountains and ride horses and have power when you run.  Your eyes that ‘are just the wrong colour’ are the things that show you the world in all it’s coloured splendour and magnificence. They are the part that looks at someone and immediately knows that you fancy them or that see a rainbow and know that it is special.

The nose that is ‘an odd shape’ is what makes your face unique and beautiful because of it’s uniqueness. It is what smells the flowers and the burning when your toast has been overdone for the third time that morning.

Your body is what gives you the personal and incredible life that you have.

I would be lying if I said I was happy with how I looked or acted most of the time, but I also know that there is a reason for the way that I am, I’ll never know the full extent of that reason but I’m okay with that and I’m looking forward to growing to love and mature in the parts of me that are better and grow in the places that aren’t so much. 

 You are created out of love, with awe and respect, and are perfect in your imperfection.

flying

I am soaring above the wisps and rolls of purple, grey, silver, blue, orange and yellow; awed by the beauty and the equal feelings of freedom and safety. Stepping gently down onto a golden shore I sit on a rock, laughing as the waves sweetly kiss the tips of our toes. There is a man standing next to me, and I can’t see his face, but I know that He is good and that I am safe; peaceful. Then, we are flying again, dipping and diving between the clouds.

I love sleeping.

Well, the sleeping part is pretty necessary; it’s the dreaming part that I truly love. The part when I can fly.

Dreaming gives me a chance to remember that I can be anything I want to be. It lets me know that maybe there is more to life than waking and working and stressing and sleeping day in day out. The fact that we can dream is such a stunning part of life, it enhances the senses in a way that can never happen when awake. Dreams can affect us for days, months, a life time. We see colours more vibrantly but not at all, faces are unseen but understood. And I like that when I wake up, I feel a little confused as to how it happened and maybe even a little heart sad that it had to end so soon. I can never be ready or prepared for what will happen or what I will see, and I enjoy the idea that I don’t have to be in control.

I think that it’s good to remember this in my day to day life. Our lives get so busy and so rushed that we forget to stop and remember that there is so much more going on too, that to be in control of every detail isn’t necessarily important or helpful; sometimes it may even build barriers rather than prevent them.

That maybe to remind ourselves the world will keep spinning even if we aren’t at the steering wheel, is actually a wonderful given gift that we should embrace, rather than holding onto it as if it might escape from a fatiguing grasp.

I want to fly a bit more in my real life.

Recently I lost someone incredibly close to me, and I have been finding it hard to cope. There is a sadness that presses down on the heart that the head just cannot understand, and still now I am struggling and trying to understand what I am feeling so I couldn’t feel in control. I wouldn’t let myself fly because it scared me that I might be feeling something wrong. I might start to feel free and happy.

I have faith that there is so much more to life than living and dying, but that doesn’t mean that there is an easy way of dealing with the loss of someone who is now gone. It can make your emotions twisted and your mind keep searching for an explanation that you can’t quite reach.

This dream made me feel at peace for the first time. I felt so safe and calm in the presence of someone good and this is what I needed. I needed to be reminded that there is good, and it’s good to be happy. It let me remember that there is a place for grief and for laughter, but also that they can be in the same place and at the same time.

The way our minds persistently think and work and puzzle and sort is incredible, and the way we then make sense of that in a way that nobody particularly understands is a truly beautiful part of our make-up and design. I spent a lot of time wondering whether I was feeling the right thing or if I had become over emotional, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this is another idea of western culture and our ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude. There is no right or wrong and I’m certainly not saying let go of life and stop worrying, because that is neither possible nor sensible, we all go through struggles and sadness and grieving. But maybe we should let ourselves fly a little bit more, whether happy or sad or somewhere in-between, and maybe trust that things can be good and safe when we relax our grip a bit. Even if it is only a little.

So let’s fly.