Leaders and leading

This week I’ve completed a leadership course which got me thinking about what kind of leaders are needed nowadays. I know as soon as I say “nowadays” I betray the fact I am officially middle aged. However it’s disappointing how simplistic our expectations seem to be of our political leaders in particular. I am not suggesting all our political leaders are one dimensional but more how little we seem to care about the 3D side of them.

It seems the most obvious explanation for how we have hung out to dry a morally courageous man like Tim Farron. who explicitly shared both his discomfort at having to pronounce his views about “sin” on news programmes but also his passion for equality for the LGBT community.

To me he’s been a great leader in trying to live out his faith in politics and quite human in not wanting to denounce the doctrine of the church who support and pray for him.

There are so many people who dodge issues of faith altogether when it doesn’t fit their political ones, and I think this is actually the wider path to take. I admire particularly gay christians who struggle daily with the contradictions and hypocrisy of the church and continue to form part of our church communities because god comes first for them above cultural norms which might say “ditch it.”

Gay marriage is a hot topic and I respect everyone’s choice to hold alternative views to myself. It also seems to act as a lightning rod for other differences.

I heard Rev Richard Coles speak this week powerfully into a non Christian academic, liberal audience this week about his journey into faith and was amazed at how referently people listened to his stories which were of course beautifully crafted. It was clear to me that God had been at work in his life and that Gods love is not just restricted to those of us who are “straight”.

 

 

 

Lurking

So I’ve given up Facebook for Lent, but have actually given up posting on Facebook rather than checking it out. This is technically known as lurking. I’ve failed on a few occasions to resist the urge to press “share”, but overall I’ve found it a good discipline to self-edit my online presence a bit more than normal. I’ve never tried this before, normally I give up chocolate or biscuits and fail completely!

I’ve also just been on a silent retreat with college, where I was unable to “share” with the group my insights and thoughts and had to restrict myself to my own company. I got through it with lots of walks, reading, painting and sleep, but again it was helpful to notice how compulsive I am as an Extrovert in just sharing whatever is currently in my head on any given day!

Lurking it seems to me has some benefits. Rather than responding and sharing immediately I can think it over and reflect on what is happening. Is this me and my friends freaking out, or are we actually in the middle of something bigger that is going on. Does everyone want or need to know my political views? Maybe I should save that for Twitter?

It’s human to want to share and be part of the conversation, and in my work in the church I’ve set up a weekly drop-in so anyone who needs some company can come and have a coffee. We’ve also arranged for someone to come in and do some crafts with us after Easter, so I’m really looking forward to doing some of the stuff normally reserved for the kids!

I’ve also noticed recently how lucky I am to have the company of my family. Not always in conversation with them, (often this is really exhausting!) but like now as I write this, they are all off somewhere doing their own thing, so we are together but not really having to chat.  I think when you live alone this is the hardest part is not being quiet with anyone else. On my retreat I found the presence of my colleagues on the course really reassuring, even though we couldn’t speak to each other.

This morning at church I gave a card to lady I’m supporting who literally has noone. Her husband died at the end of last year and she has no parents, children, brothers, sisters or anyone living near her at all. It’s quite rare to meet someone in that situation, but it does happen. I have never felt so happy to give someone a mother’s day card! I can’t be with her as much as she’d like as she really would like someone as a companion 24/7 as she’s not used to being alone, but I am trying to find other people to support her, so that’s not always the case.

As a vicar, there will be a large amount of being around, rather than saying or doing much, and purposefully lurking in places where people may want a chat. In my faith journey, there’s always been times when  I’ve had to take a step back to hear from God, and part of my challenge now is to create quiet times in and amongst the madness of work, study and family life. I’m following another blogger who has just recently posted on this here.. http://lifebynaomi.com/faith/how-to-find-time-for-a-quiet-time

Right when he knew he was about to be betrayed, we hear in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus took himself to a garden and prayed through the night, so late that the disciples all fell asleep. That fervent desire to be in conversation with God, is often easier when we have an urgent request, but God really desires us to speak to him alone all the time, not just when we are after something. Jesus regularly speaks from God because he is in constant dialogue with the father.

So it’s worth doing a bit of lurking around with God, he won’t pass up the opportunity to hang out with you, and any prayer you speak will not be wasted, regardless of how daft you feel doing it. The presence of God, like that of my family and friends is often something I sense but can’t quite describe why it’s important or helpful. When I get chance to really acknowledge it, and praise him for his love, it becomes more of a conversation to treasure and remember.

This Easter I’m going to be away again at college and will miss putting up all the decorations in Holy Week and being part of my church family at that time, but I am looking forward to being free to worship God with other Christians that week, when normally I’d be with the family or at work. The more time I spend lurking with other people the more opportunity there is to give and receive God’s love, which ultimately what it’s all about.

1 John 4 v 7-8

“Beloved, let us love one another, because 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.”

Guest blogger Naomi shares about belonging to church small groups

When I look back on my journey as a Christian, something that really strikes me is how essential being part of a church small group has been for my own development. Yes, of course, there’s the growing I did in my own individual prayer life, my Bible study and my faith. There’s the teaching I received and the activities I was part of as part of a big church. But central to both of those aspects, and critical for me, was the part I played in a small group.

 

A small group usually meets midweek. It is usually has 5-15 members, who commit to studying the Bible and praying together. Almost all churches have them, and I highly recommend getting involved in one.

 

My first small group was a mixed group of us in our early twenties. We were all in a similar position: starting out in our careers, navigating that difficult path of working out who our ‘adult’ selves were. Most of us were looking for ‘the one’ (although no marriages actually resulted from that group!), and all of us were looking to grow in our faith.

 

For many of us – myself included – it was the first time that we’d led a Bible study session, or actually gone out to serve others. Having very few commitments, our attendance was good. We had our highs and our lows, but there were some really strong friendships formed.

 

After a few years, our small groups in our big church were shuffled around. I found myself co-leading an all-girls group. Again, this was an amazing time of growth and deepening for me in my faith. We explored the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I was amazed by the wisdom and maturity of women my own age. Once again, really close friendships were formed, and some of these women are my closest friends today.

 

When Tim and I got engaged, we started attending a small group together. This was a different group altogether – several couples and some single people, ranging in age from early twenties to early eighties. This group was really lovely, and supported us hugely as we stepped into married life together.

 

Again, after a few years, we were shuffled around. We joined – and eventually came to lead – another small group. This was another mixed group, some single, some married, some dating, and again, these people became some of our closest friends. They supported us through Ben’s birth and the transition into parenthood – and didn’t complain too much when he threw up all over them.

 

When we moved away from our city, I felt the loss of our small group keenly. Even more so than the wider church – perhaps because our church was so big – they were my community. As a Southerner up North, they were my family. They were the ones I could pray with, laugh with, hang out with and learn with. That’s where I grew the most.

 

We have a brilliant small group now. It’s taken a while to settle in. It always does. You have to be vulnerable and open with people, and that’s hard. We’re learning and growing together. That’s the way it should be.

 

If you’re looking to get the most out of a small group, here are my recommendations:

 

Commit. Be consistent with your attendance. Reply to emails. Show up.

 

Offer to lead. Even if it’s scary, have a go. You will get so much out of it.

 

Offer to host. People feel they know you better once they’ve seen you in your home.

 

If you can, ‘shop’ around. Try a few different groups and find out what works for you.

 

Be open and honest as soon as you feel able.

 

Connect in between group meetings – a group What’sApp is great for this.

 

Remember, you get out what you put in. If you put the effort in, God will show up.

To find out more about Christian Blogger Naomi visit http://lifebynaomi.com

 

Listen without Prejudice

I’m feeling so sad, my childhood hero  George Michael has died. Those of us who grew up in the 80’s and happened to have a huge crush on him, were devastated this Christmas. I remember being at my friend’s house in 1987 when his first solo album came out, and how amazed we were by the quality. Life after Wham! We couldn’t imagine that was possible straight off the bat. With his stylish clothing, dancing and general soulful good looks, we thought he was amazing anyway… but songs like Father Figure and Faith, made it impossible to think of him as anything but wonderful.

I can also remember where I was when someone told me he was gay. I was sitting on a bank outside school and one of the older kids described someone as a bit “George Michael”, meaning he was a bit “gay”, as an insult. I was amazed that firstly being “gay” was bad and secondly George was gay .. how could that be, what about the girls in Wham!?

It’s hard to imagine now that he was so brave in coming out and losing the straight “garb” to the horror of the record producers. Even producing “Outside” after being caught having gay sex illegally was pretty brave I thought, even if he was being promiscuous.

I hope “gay” is no longer an insult that all schoolkids use, but I am sure it is. There are certainly many hazards. The sorrow that George felt at not being able to be honest with his mum about who he was is, having to play certain roles to succeed, losing friends to HIV were part of his life. Unfortunately, it’s still the case for many young people that they will face discrimination and prejudice in life. Not many civil partnerships or gay marriages are celebrated with the complete extended family present, which must be a huge sadness for all concerned. For some it can feel like being chucked out of the nuclear family they grew up in.

I know this is a difficult for many Christians, who feel gay rights isn’t an issue we can even discuss positively, due to the explicit references to it as a sin in Paul’s gospels. I am not sufficiently confident as a theologian to challenge this view in my understanding of the bible, but I believe we are called to love each other as equal citizens of God’s redeeming love, regardless of our sexuality and we could do with showing some bravery and faith in God on this issue.

I can identify with the feeling of being an outsider.An incident of sexual abuse growing up, made me feel like the church was no longer either a safe place, or one that I could call home. It didn’t lead me to become gay, and I don’t think sexual abuse can really change someone’s sexual orientation overnight. Any kind of childhood trauma such as bereavement or loss can influence how we develop as people. It left me thinking though that sex wasn’t OK with God. It was a secret, a shameful thing. This is especially difficult when you are growing up in a Christian family if these things aren’t really discussed. I would now refer anyone who asked to the Song of Songs for evidence to the contrary!

Until not long ago, being gay was a psychiatric condition, along with being a teenage mum. We know now in medicine that this isn’t the case, and I pray that this issue won’t split the church. We have alot of work to do in 2017, working to make God’s kingdom come, working to bring in the harvest for God, irrespective of difference.We do this best when we are working to the same goals and being tolerant with one another, respecting each other’s rights and freedoms.

I hope now that George’s battles with addiction are over and he can rest in peace.It’s been so lovely to hear about his quiet philanthropy, I hope others are inspired by this to share their wealth.

Here’s a prayer for our LGBT community..

Gracious God, you love all that you have created, and you celebrate the diversity of your creation. Throughout your history with your people, you have reminded us that those whom the world sees as the least are the greatest in your eyes. We ask that you give us the grace to celebrate with our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers as they choose to live authentically in the world. Teach us to honor and celebrate their gifts, and help us to create a world in which gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers and adults are loved, accepted and celebrated. We ask this in your many names. Amen.

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Caring at Christmas

The closer we get the more emotional I am feeling this year about Christmas. it’s too much build up I think! The gap between the reality of our world and how we’d all like it to be is just getting bigger it seems. We can all help do something though however tiny if we want to. Often it’s the little things that grind you down….

My husband is a paid carer and like alot of people in the helping professions, is working this Christmas. He was fed up last night, not because he’s going to miss some of the party, but because his client had been served a half defrosted meal for lunch by other paid carers, and noone had remembered to stock up on dog food.

Because he’s working this year,  Christmas is being reordered.  Instead of normally going to church and then on to my parents, we are going to spend the morning at home for a change, and the kids are having a sleepover at my parents with extended family on christmas day, and I’m coming home in the evening to celebrate with husband when he gets back from work.

This has been preying on my mind, as we all get set in our ways and I’m also in a new context and was nervous about how to present this to people in the congregation. While I’m not yet a vicar or a curate, I responded to an article in the Church Times about vicars slacking on Christmas day. My response was published. The article was by an eminent theologian, Angela Tilby, and discussed familoraty- another eminent theologian Ian Paul has since commented on the article and it’s published responses here http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/should-clergy-have-christmas-day-off

I know there was a large mailbag as it touched alot of nerves, not just those of women in ministry but all of us who give up regular chunks of our weekends to serve in church settings at the cost of nuclear or extended family time.

It’s been a roller-coaster year 2016, and I’m relieved to have just scraped a pass on Ian Paul’s module at St Barnabus. It all seemed unimaginably strange when I started in September. The thing I’m learning about theology is it’s full of different opinions, positions, perspectives and all have nuanced rationales behind them. I am finding my feet but it’s quite odd being asked my own response to people’s perspectives who have given it considerable thought.

In previous commissioning and strategic planning roles my own opinion hasn’t been that key, as a team in the NHS or social care we relied instead on the consensus of stakeholders involved, political drivers, finance available, research evidence and it’s been my role to combine these perspectives into a set of options that someone else would then make a final decision on, having weighed up the risks and issues.

I keep thinking that at some point it will become clear whose the correct, common sense answer is. However this doesn’t really seem to be how it works! God speaks to us all in a myriad of ways in a world of multiple languages, contexts, cultures and conditions. We can all hear God’s voice and bring our own perspective, this is called hermeneutics. It doesn’t mean though that any one of us is not “on message” if we are sincerely expressing a theological view. There are restrictions of course, but within the parameters of the discussion there is more blue sea than horizon.

I took the kids to see the Disney film Moana and found it really inspiring. Like Moana, the ability of God to direct my travel plans is becoming more and more central to my life and it’s now impossible to stay in the comfort of “what we’ve all always done”.

Theology is basically talking about God, and I can happily do that all day long, I am hoping by the end of the training I’ll have more of an understanding of the debates and issues that are in the sea with me and the history and previous journeys people have made to navigate it all.Hopefully this will help me understand more about the Bible, but I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion there are no shortcuts, only my ancestors and culture behind me!

 

Being different

We’ve just formally had a diagnosis for our son that he has Developmental Delay Disorder (previously known as dyspraxia)

Ive known he was different to other kids his age from pretty early on but we didn’t know why. Having the diagnosis makes it official and will help us support him in getting the right help. It’s already opened up ways in which we can work with school to support him.

If I’m honest though I don’t feel happy about it right now as it’s like finding out that the world is going to be tougher for him in certain ways forever.

I’m  from a family of people who find physical coordination difficult and when I’m tired and emotional I do really struggle with practical jobs and I rely on others for a lot of help. It can look like I’m really not trying as well when I’m just not processing anything very fast!

With routine jobs I can really struggle to see the wood for the trees. I can  learn new tasks but it doesn’t sink in as quickly as it does for other people- both my son and I also get frustrated as we are both quite bright and pick up other things more easily.

This morning my fears about this impacting at church in a practical way came to the fore and I had to ask people to pray for me not to trip up or sneeze with the incense or drop a book etc. This probably sounds quite normal but it’s really annoying!!

We are all different and I often get along well with people who don’t fit into a “normal” mould.

A big learning point for me this term at college has been that god created me and thinks I’m perfect not just in mind or soul but in my physical body as well. He might not want us to suffer but I know of many people with physical difficulties who wouldn’t want a “cure” and I can relate to this now. Our son might be different but that is a great thing in many ways and we can support him to overcome obstacles and pick his battles. This matters because for all of us our physical body is a home for gods work

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;” 1 Corinthians 6 v19

 

 

 

Pumpkins and eschatology

My homework today has been to read up on christian theology about the afterlife, at the same I’ve been scraping out pumpkins ready for Halloween. This seems like an unholy coincidence, however I think there is a blog in this! Firstly I’ve been trick or treating with my kids, as a guilty pleasure for a few years now. It’s probably not a very christian thing to do, but it’s the one of the only times I meet up with neighbours and quite a few families on our street make a big effort to decorate their houses, and welcome in children. We don’t visit houses beyond our couple of streets, and we are usually out for less than an hour. We don’t knock on doors unless the owners have signalled in some way they are up for being disturbed. This varies from lots of decorations, to a simple pumpkin. Some people put a bowl out of sweets to avoid being disturbed. If there was a decent alternative for christian families locally I think we’d support that, for example our youngest is at a light party with her Rainbows group tomorrow.

So secondly, why are Christians not keen on the concept of Halloween? Well it actually comes from the Eve of All Hallows day (All Saints Day) on the 1st November known in some catholic countries as the day of the dead. The pumpkins and lights are said to ward off evil spirits the night before. The fundamental issue with this, is that Christians (this is new to me too) don’t actually believe that when we die there is a spirit that lives on. We don’t distinguish between someone’s body, mind or soul and see them as one being. We hope for resurrection of all three, in the same way we believe Jesus came back from the dead in an actual body rather than as a ghost. Thomas put his hand in the wound before he believed it really was Jesus.

Thirdly today I was at the church where I became a christian and I became really conscious that “Saints” or those who used to worship at the church were around. I had a sense that two ladies in particular who have recently died of cancer, were really pleased to see me there. It wasn’t in a sense of them being ghosts or haunting the church, just that in the universe their presence was part of God’s glory. As a charismatic christian I often sense the Holy Spirit visiting a group of Christians in prayer this is the only spirit we do actually believe in. It’s like a presence or warm feeling, and often makes me want to cry. It’s part of who God is and can be a real blessing. Today I received a picture of some stars that joined to form a string of beautiful glowing pearls that then formed part of God’s crown. This represented to us the people we’d lost to cancer, now being part of God’s glory.

Every time we go to church we pray the Lord’s prayer and we ask that “his kingdom comes”, this is to say we want heaven on earth, we want an end to poverty and suffering and we want to see our loved ones restored in full resurrection. We also say “for yours is the power”, and this is key to Halloween, all the ghosts, demons and imaginary spooks in the world are not as powerful as God, but dabbling in the dark side can be dangerous, if you get into things like the paranormal, you may be inviting in the demons that will surely want to keep you from knowing God as fully as you might otherwise like to do. There is of course sadly bad to every good in the world but  how much power we give to the dark depends on how brightly our own lights shine out.

So tomorrow as I visit my neighbours I will be praying for them and thanking god for the community we live in, and probably binning like last year a great quantity of sweets which get really sticky and gooey in a plastic tub! I might even hand out some prayers with the sweets at home..

Here’s a couple of prayers that you may like to use yourself…

Father,
All-Powerful and Ever-Living God,
Today we rejoice in the holy men and women
of every time and place
May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

AMEN

 

 

Counting stars

So I’ve been feeling pretty smug recently as I’m finally pursuing this course of becoming a vicar, and I’m meeting lots of lovely people, and learning about new and challenging topics. It’s all pretty wild- my new day off I think is going to be a Tuesday or Thursday which feels slightly unlikely after working a 9-5 Mon-Fri for the last 20 years or so!

Me and the kids are going to be joining in new activities, and it’s all fab. Except of course, noone is going to be paying me my lovely NHS salary once a month anymore! I’m lucky to receive a grant during training and will be in receipt of extra benefits, so it’s not all fine, but I have been feeling slightly like my side of the bargain is pretty strong negotiating position.. until Friday!

On Friday I was sitting in church which was open for prayer, and I had a picture of the stars shifting, turning like the side of a globe… it seemed like God was trying to say, look mate, I created the universe, the stars, the planets, you may or may not be in my good books, but you are still one speck in the whole of creation!

It’s also becoming increasingly clear to me that whilst my new vocation will allow me to spend much more time thinking about, talking and discussing god, it doesn’t make me any more loved or special. That’s because like the way I love my children, there is no more love to earn. Sometimes I impose conditions on my kids, like “bed time now, or there is no computer tomorrow” but it’s not like they will be any more loved as a result. I’ve learnt the hard way that any relationship or friendship where conditions are attached, is not worth bothering with.

There are no reward points on my “Godcard”, there is no Fast Track to Jesus, there is no tally of deeds done, it’s just basically that God loves me, as he’s always done. The only difference is that he’s got a new role in mind for me, but that’s it! Each of us serves in our own unique way, whether as accountants, politicians, traffic wardens or nurses, so there is no score board, and no ladder to climb.For years I think I’ve put priests and vicars on something of a pedestal, and although it’s a big sacrifice in many ways serving God in this way, it’s also a real privilege, and honour.

I’m working for our maker, the one who created the stars, but I’m not going to be able to count them any more than anyone else. Turns out this is an issue many people have thought about over the years

Psalm 8 v 1-5

 

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in the whole earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
You have made sure that children
    and infants praise you.
Their praise is a wall
    that stops the talk of your enemies.

I think about the heavens.
    I think about what your fingers have created.
I think about the moon and stars
    that you have set in place.
What are human beings that you think about them?
    What is a son of man that you take care of him?
You have made them a little lower than the angels.
    You placed on them a crown of glory and honor.

 

Just the way you are

26-28 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:

Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

29-33 She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.

He will be great,
be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom.”

This passage is known as the “annunciation”, and was traditionally celebrated 9 months before Christmas, (in March) and was 6 months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy with  John the Baptist. It’s the first step in the bible towards preparing us for Christmas and the birth of Jesus. We see the angel Gabriel visits Mary.

If someone asks you at work, or at school… Are you ready for Christmas, what do you say? Are you busy planning the food, presents, decorations, school plays and visits to relatives makes this a busy time of year? It’s such a busy time of year, it’s easy to forget it Jesus’ birthday amongst the preparations.

Who was Mary?

She would have spoken in Aramaic probably, and was living in Nazareth. She was a northerner. Probably quite a small community (estimates vary) from 400-2000 people, in a fairly rural location. Where each Jewish family would have been living together for generations.

She was probably a young girl aged 15 or 16, she could have been betrothed to Joseph as young as 12, so the actual marriage may have been some way off. Maybe this is why Luke’s account emphasises her virginity so much, to protect anyone in her community from scandal. Her parents Anne and Joachim are celebrated in the Catholic tradition, and it’s believed her mother was the daughter of a Jewish rabbi, from the tribe of  Levi. So effectively her grandfather was a Jewish leader. There is some discussion that Mary was born to older parents after earnest prayer, and that they would otherwise not have been able to concieve.

It is likely then that she came from a religious home. As a woman she would not have had any formal teaching about God, or even have any kind of status or access to church life. At the time of the Angel Gabriel’s arrival, Mary was probably going about her normal routines. She may have come from a relatively middle-class family as her betrothed Joseph was a carpenter which would have been a good trade to have in those days, but would probably have been expected to help with household duties, and several accounts of the Annunciation see her at a well drawing water.

I’ve always struggled to relate to Mary, as I think many people do. Mary’s significance is difficult to put out of our minds when we reflect on this passage, a whole chapter of the Quaran celebrates Mary, and her status in the catholic church is as the mother of God. She is a religious icon who has inspired many amazing pieces of art  but at this moment in history she was simply a young girl who was really quite shocked to be chosen.

God picks Mary, who is young, devout and from a respectable family, in the bloodline that can fulfill the prophecy from the Old Testament.

Most of my life, I’ve felt more of an affinity to Bridget Jones…

I particularly love this part of the movie, when it finally dawns on her that Mark Darcy isn’t the bad guy she thought he was..

With Mary, it’s similar, initially it’s not the news that the angel brings that is most shocking.. it’s the way the Angel greets her, as an equal, a chosen person to serve God. She doesn’t feel worthy. The Message version I think is really powerful:

Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

In other translations”blessed are you among women” and “you are very special to God”..

No wonder she was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. I think we can all relate to the idea that God sees things in us that are impossible and possibly quite shocking to our own version of events.

It’s all about the baby:

As mentioned before it’s easy to forget Christmas is about the birth of a baby, and the fulfillment of a Jewish prophecy that  a messiah would be born. In 2008 at this time of year it was all about our baby for me and my husband.

Our son was 7.5 weeks early, and it was quite a shock becoming a mum. I didn’t feel ready. When we were allowed to bring him home at the beginning of December, my husband had paternity leave, we did a lot of baby gazing, wandering about in a sleep deprived daze, trying to come to terms with being parents. One thing we were sure about was that we had to keep him safe. I was poorly and inundated with visitors, house awash with cards, He’d come out of an incubator, being drip-fed, and in a tropically warm ward. We had the heating on full blast, and panicked if he so much as coughed! Like most new parents, we wondered how we would keep this child alive, let alone help him grow up!

I think being a mum is always a real privilege and honour, even when it’s really testing. My husband and I had waited a long time to become parents, and the joy of having a baby overshone everything else. It was much harder than we’d expected though, and we were frankly pretty terrified! We had alot of support though from friends and family.

Mary certainly had a really challenging time ahead of her, travelling 4 days to Bethlehem on foot, whilst heavily pregnant, and then escaping to Egypt with a newborn, so I think that’s why the angel is really clear at this point, that it’s her that has been chosen for this special task, and that it’s because she is Mary, that she has been chosen. Not someone with more life or parenting experience, not someone who is married, not someone even who understands the Jewish faith, just a normal girl.

There are plans to support her, she goes to visit her cousin and they can celebrate together as she is pregnant with John. Mary goes there and spends the first three months of her pregnancy with her older cousin, coming to terms with the next stage of her life. Her betrothed Joseph is supported through his own encounter with an Angel, so he doesn’t leave her, and his ancestry fulfills the prophesy of the messiah being a descendant from King David, which was crucial for the Jews at that time.

If God wants you to succeed, the insurmountable obstacles will often melt away at the crucial point. He will also be really clear that it’s you he needs, just the way you are, and the ambiguity will fade away as well.

Saying Yes:

For a while I felt really angry that I wasn’t ready when Jonathan arrived before I’d finished work, and before he was supposed to be in the world at 33.5 weeks. I felt I’d let him down as I hadn’t carried him to full term. I didn’t want to have to rely on a special care unit to keep him safe.  I had a shock as there were complications with the delivery, and unbeknownst to me, I spent 24 hours on a life support machine. Poor Steve wasn’t sure if I was going to come through.

I was angry that had happened, and wanted to be fit and well to have fun being a mum, whilst I had time off work, not hobbling around feeling poorly.

Do we really need to be ready though? Do we have to have all the information, Does it have to be easy? That’s not always true with God. Our son has survived into a large 7 year old, who eats more than seems humanly possible and I no longer have to feed him through tiny doll-size bottles! If you’d told me I’d risk my life getting pregnant, maybe I wouldn’t have gone through with it, but I’m really glad I did now!

Further on in the passage Mary accepts the prophesy that Gabriel has foretold and say

Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say

That’s the only thing God needs from us really, is to say Yes to our lives, to how he is working in it, and not to run away from love.

Based on sermon on 22/11/2015 at Clifton Parish Church http://www.cliftonparish.org.uk/

Unity in Lent

This lent I’ve signed up to 40 acts through  http://www.40acts.org.uk

Today its about diversity and how the churches could work more towards unity across faiths, different colours, creeds. Today’s challenge is about diversity. Last Saturday I attended a teaching session on the Psalms, written thousands of years ago, before Christ arrived,  and the following one seems pretty relevant

Psalm 133 When Brothers Dwell in Unity

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

133 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity![a]
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

The teacher explained that the dew of Hermon was the only water for miles around, for the Jews who were living in the desert, and the oil running down Aaron, was an annointing oil that was used to express God’s pure love for those it touched. When people of faith unite to do God’s work, we are most pleasing to him. It’s not just about our faith, our doctrine, our way of worship, our cool hymns, or giving up alcohol for lent, it’s about what God’s work inspires us to do, and when we do this in tandem, like an orchestra playing a symphony, it sounds amazing to God, far better than our individual songs that he knows and loves dearly. It feels really special to know that I am making a conscious effort to live better in Lent, along with my fellow Christians in the UK. If you haven’t already signed up I’d really recommend it… so far 74,000 have given it a go!

Today gave me a good example, as we went to bed last night we noticed water pouring through the ceiling. Today I knew what it was like to not have heating, water and light in the house. I might pray about people living in poverty but if I experience it, I understand it better.