I blogged that a couple of weeks ago myself and some friends went to do some significant praying on a beach near here. It was a bleak old day, perhaps the last where the chill of winter still felt as if it might win through, and it was a pretty poignant time. I was desperate for some sign of spring, but there was none, not even any discernible signs that the season would change any time soon. I sat on the freezing shingle and raged at God.
We prayed and said a lot of things that day, but one of the strong senses we all came away with was that it was important to return to the beach, to come back when Spring had taken hold and look for the signs of our prayers being answered. It all sounds a little bizarre, I know, but the thing was… I had been so desperate to see some daffodils that day, and there had been one, not one flimsy bud. And so we returned, yesterday, to see if the landscape looked any different.
I will admit, at this point, to a definite lack of faith… I walked along the beach, slightly petulantly, still quietly raging at the injustice of everything. I was even heard to ask my two (faithful, erstwhile, loving) companions, “so, how are you going to explain this then?” I was so so sure that there would be nothing.
We walked up onto the grassy plain where, last year at this time there had been myriad daffodils, and this time two weeks ago there had been nothing, and sure enough, I could see nothing. I scoffed, I kicked grass, I mused that wasn’t this always the way. I was like, “there are no daffodils, see, I told you so.” and then my friend said “What, you mean except for those ones over there?”
This is where it got really weird – last year, there were random clumps all over the place, this year, there were seemingly none at all, until that was we got to the exact spot in which we stood and prayed two weeks ago, where there were these two lovely, bright bunches.
Now, I’m not going to debate the theology of it. I don’t believe that some heavenly hand came down and planted a bunch just specifically in that place for that time or anything, but I do believe that God was saying some stuff through those pretty flowers, and I was plentifully encouraged!
80% of the mark for one of my uni subjects is based on two websites which I’ve been working on since the beginning of term. The first was to be a self portrait site, which I completed in December and blogged about here.
The second element had to show development of skills, and had to include some multimedia elements. My first site was quite intense and busy, so I specifically chose to strip it all back and go for a much simpler look and feel with the second.
Our task was to create a portrait site about someone we knew. It could be anyone, or a made up person. I loved the blank-page that the brief afforded, and was soon dreaming up exciting ways to make it more interesting.
In the end, I decided to make my site about this city. It would be a challenge, as it would mean imagining and portraying the city as a person. What would its gender and characteristics be? How could I add depth and story to the site? How could I include aspects of prophetic imagination without making it a cheesy Christian site?
I’m really happy with the final site, which I uploaded today. You can visit it here:
Again, there were a lot of swift learning curves and I can already see stuff I’d like to improve for next time, but I still feel pretty proud of the two sites, and excited that there is a little bit of the digital world that I dreamed up and brought to life.
A few weeks after I’d moved here, a friend was raving over a new CD that she had procured. I half listened, and I have to be honest and say that my first thought was, ‘hmm, banjos?!’
I didn’t think anymore of it, until another good friend (with refined musical tastes, may I add), mentioned the band again. They were called Mumford & Sons, and apparently they were going to be huge. I was cynical, but promised to listen, and after a few car journeys with them pumping out on the ipod I have to say I really began to like their music.
The banjos still bemused me a little, but I loved the quirkiness of their sound and the lyrical intelligence of their songs. I was so happy the day I discovered that the words from one of their singles were taken from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, which we are struggling through enjoying at uni.
My memories are often very positional, so I began to associate certain songs with certain bits of this lovely county we spend much time driving around, and I soon downloaded the songs for myself and set to learning some of the words.
Things got more intriguing when it turned out that a friend of a friend knew the lead singer of the band, and soon it transpired that they were playing a gig at Shepherds Bush Empire. We managed to wangle tickets, and a potential meeting with them beforehand.
So yesterday was the big day, and it was a lovely one for a trip to London. I was treated to a lovely meal, and then we hotfooted it up the Motorway towards the big smoke. There was a lot of hanging round in a pub, playing pool and randomly banging into people who knew people I knew in Wandsworth, then we headed to the venue for what was a rocking concert.
It was only the second gig I’ve been to, and very different from my boys Take That, but the six of us who travelled up from here had a really good time. I think it changes how you hear songs when you have heard them live, and so next time I listen to the Mumfords I’ll be dreaming of Shepherds Bush!!
Here is my friend’s son posing with Marcus, the lead singer of the band:
Essays are (mostly) done and handed in, and I’m making the most of the momentarily lull to write about the wonder that was my New York Trip.
It was a new thing for me to travel in a group (there were 8 of us), it was new to go west rather than east, in fact the whole five days were jam packed with exciting experiences.
I have to write about the food, don’t I… and it really was immense in every sense of the word. There were pancakes, maple syrup, cinnamon buns, there was frozen yoghurt and snaffled crab-paste salad in Bloomingdales, there were Starbucks… and I particularly enjoyed the Bison burger I tried one night before my friends ascended the Rockefeller Center, there was feasting all round.
And then there was the weather. It was beautiful over there. On the first day we wandered around Central Park in the sun and the snow and it truly did look breathtaking:
One of the things I enjoyed most, in terms of sightseeing, was the opportunity to go off the beaten track a bit and explore some of the less ‘touristy’ and more real life areas of NY. I loved walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and then wandering around Brooklyn itself. Downtown Brooklyn reminded me of Brixton, and was a place of real life, colour and vibrancy. A highlight was asking a policeman where the nearest Starbucks was
I also loved our trip to Harlem, where we checked out the cathedral of St John the Divine. It was a pretty enormous place, and good for photos. We walked around the Columbia University campus too, which was incredibly grandiose, and put my own little uni to shame. There was a big lion statue there, and Phil threw a snowball at my camera.
The thing that impacted me most deeply, was the audio tour we did around the Ground Zero site. Its hard to describe what it felt like there… a strange mix of such sadness and grief and yet tenacity and hope and new stuff being built up. The audio tour was narrated by families of people who had died in the tragedy and people who had worked in the WTC towers. They brought a gritty realism and moving honesty to the tour. It wasn’t sensationalised or tourist-ified in any way, they simply told their stories, and it was mighty, mighty moving, and something that will remain with me for a long while.
The next day, I found myself sat in the basement of the UN Headquarters, just journalling while my culturally keeno companions did a tour. It was another really great moment for me, sat in a place that represents such good intentions, such courageous desire to bring freedom and good to the world. I sat there musing some things through with God, and praying that that freedom would become stronger and more widespread.
On the last day we wandered around Battery Park, which is right at the tip of Manhattan Island. I liked it because it was pretty in the snow, but also because it grounded the place in a little bit of history for me, which assauged my geek tendancies. It was mighty cold, and we couldn’t find any cinnamon buns, but on the whole it was a great and glorious day.
There are many other highlights of the trip I could go into – sneaking tetley tea into restaurants, talking future plans over Dunkin’ Donuts, long walks along straight streets, searching for dinosaur skeletons in the National History Museum, finding Barnes & Noble, getting rageful at rude waitresses, riding the subway, Reeses Cups, late night chats in the hotel lounge, steam rising from subway grates, the joy of finding $3 ‘I love NY’ T-Shirts, the light and colour and buzz of Times Square. I loved it all, and the week felt like a feast of experiences I can look back at and think over and process. And I’d really, really love to go back. I’m an urban girl at heart and I loved the big city.
I also loved the sense of creativity there. It’s a bit hard to explain that, but the place definitely has a buzz about it that inspired and made me want to flex my creative muscles. I dreamt of having a little studio halfway up a skyscraper where I could design and play around with shape and colour to my hearts content!
Surely one day soon I’ll be able to blog about something that isn’t snow related. Until then, I’m enjoying the fun. Today we went to the coast because my mad friends had the idea of sledging down the slopes there. I was uncertain, and once faced with the -10 degree windchill I was tempted to run to find the nearest coffee shop.
But one must persevere in these circumstances, and I soon found myself having a delightful time, enjoying the unusual weather. Snow never lays at the seaside, except in this current mad cold spell it would seem, and so I loved the rare opportunity to merge two of my most favourite things (snow and the beach).
We ingeniously created sledging devices from recyclable shopping bags (a feat, in the blizzard that raged around us!):
This green one is Sarah’s, mine was a fetching leopard skin number with French writing on (hey, we couldn’t go to France because of the weather, but at least I could enjoy something French). And then… well we launched ourselves off the frozen bank of course and hurtled towards the icey waters:
There are so many things that I never did when I was younger (snow wasn’t very common in Northampton) and sometimes I feel uncertain around people when I’m trying those things out. I guess its that feeling of – what if they laugh at me? what if I break a bone? Surely 26 year olds shouldn’t be sledging down hills in carrier bags? But I guess I’m learning that these things are worth the risk. The people I have around me are great and encouraging and they aren’t going to laugh at me (maybe with me, mind) when I’m totalled and lying in a heap at the bottom of said hills. They aren’t expecting me to fail or waiting to trip me up or anything, they are generally a lovely bunch of people and it is a pleasure to be in community with them and to be able to enjoy days like these.
Tonight was the monthly gathering of praying folk from 4 of the local areas around here. I love the feeling of gathering with others and praying together and just having a laugh in the process. It’s always good to be able to build up a bit more of a picture of what is going on in the county too, as being a bit of a newbie I haven’t quite got my head around it all yet.
There weren’t many of us out tonight (I think the bitter weather put most people off), but even in a small group it was good to chat and pray and share what we think God is saying. The meeting is called Momentum, and there is always a real sense for me of that, when we gather together.
Its fab, starting a new year and thinking ahead to what might happen in it. I enjoyed the journey there and back with two lovely friends also. Now all we need is a few inches of snow and my week will be complete
I’ve been thinking a bit over the last couple of days about this. Apparently kids get taught it in schools these days. We never did, (which explains why, when the Queen expounded the glories of the Commonwealth on Christmas day, I had little idea what she was talking about).
Anyway, so being born a UK Citizen is a great and wondrous thing, you get, a whole bunch of rights that are marvellous and beneficial. These include stuff like legal, civil and human rights, protection, free speech and other gems. You also have responsibilities… stuff like respecting diversity and engaging in community and contributing to the economy. It strikes me that a lot of that stuff is inherent knowledge, I haven’t found myself walking to uni musing about Britain’s reliance on other nations, and lot of those rights are things we take for granted until they get removed or impinged upon.
On Saturday, a friend and I went to see the film Avatar, directed by James Cameron, which is probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I won’t spoil the plot or anything, but belonging is a strong theme throughout. The film raises a question about kin – when do you become part of a people rather than just someone who is temporarily passing through? What does it really mean to be loyal and true? And when does that belonging become incontrovertible or irreversible?
I love it that there is a process in our society that allows someone to pledge their allegiance and commitment to their community, and to receive the rights and benefits of that people. I love it that a feature of citizenship ceremonies is speeches of welcome from local dignitaries and gifts that reflect a local flavour. I know it often doesn’t work like this in practice (more’s the pity), but I love the sense of adoption and protection – the biblical thing about orphans and widows being taken in and looked after and cared for. I love it that we can gain from the wisdom and vibrancy that other cultures bring to our society.
It makes me think about church, and boiler room, and what it means to be adopted, to be citizens of God’s household. Its cool to think that we get a bundle of rights, and that he gives us some responsibilities too as part of that. I love the idea that, in community, we’re not just ‘doing’ stuff… putting on meetings or doing the odd mission trip or running a soup kitchen, we have the opportunity to belong, to be kin. It’s much deeper than just charitable activities. Or I guess thats how I think it should be.
And I don’t even just think its some weird churchy thing. I think I belong to this city – this place that I love, where I drink coffee and buy toothpaste and smile at bus drivers. I am a citizen here, I have rights and responsibilities and my being here adds something beautiful to the mix. And I benefit from the beautiful things those around me bring, too. I belong to my uni friends too, I love them, and the colour they bring to my life (and my facebook wall).
As part of the citizenship ceremony, you get to swear allegiance to God, pledge yourself to the community and celebrate the significance of being part of something bigger than yourself. I am committed to the former, excited about the middle, and increasingly discovering the life and colour of the third. Exciting times.
Hmmm, so the post I’ve spent most of the week trying to avoid writing, mentally beginning, scribbling out, tossing the metaphorical paper into a handy waste-paper basket and giving up.
But the past year is worth reflecting on. For all it’s ups and downs it’s been the end of a decade, the rounding up of ten years of change and growth. I am not ending it where I expected to, ten years or even ten months ago, but even after all, I feel this is a positive ledge to be perched on, swinging my feet over the edge and thinking back to the climb that brought me to this place.
Ten years ago, I sat up at midnight-ish and wrote a prayer. My life was about to change in ways I couldn’t have perceived and I wouldn’t have desired. But there was a 16 year old me who wanted to make my life count for something, and I knew that God had something to do with that. And then, at the same time, I was so sure he was mad with me… I was so worried that he would give up and walk away. I wish I could go back and reassure that younger me that everything was gonna be ok, that he had good plans, that there was going to be a life of such freedom and so many blessings ahead. I wish I could reassure her that he wasn’t angry at all… hmmm.
The past twelve months have had some real highlights. Work-wise I think of the Setting the Captives Free conference we held in Durham, and the Fullness Retreat. And who could forget my summer travels, over 200o miles as part of the ALOVE UK Road Trip. Those are some precious memories, times and events when I really felt connected in to something bigger than myself, times when I had the blessing of catching a glimpse of what God is up to. I loved those events, the people I met there, and the journeys. The season has changed now and I’m much more based in one place, but I remain so so thankful for five years when I did get to travel extensively, to see new things and meet new people.
And then there’s uni… I guess I’ll always be able to look back on ’09 as the year when I finally stopped procrastinating and actually took the plunge. I was worried that I’d do three weeks and realise that I hated it, that I’d made a huge mistake etc… but that really hasn’t happened. I love uni, I love the intellectual stimulation. I’d forgotten quite how much I love learning. I love lying in till ten and living on caffiene and working out the intricacies of the wonderful new ‘Learning Centre’… it really is all good. I even love essay writing, and got a ‘first’ for my first essay, which I’m really proud about.
I loved my five years based at Wandsworth… and it’s proudly my answer when people at uni ask where I’ve come from, but its been fab to find my way around a new place, a new home. I love the church I’m part of here, and am exciting to keep exploring with a new community. I remember saying to someone in my first week here, ‘I’d love a church community that just meet in the pub, that just hang out and do life together’… I can really see how God has answered that prayer, even though it looked impossible when I said it.
Those are all (or at least some) of the glorious moments… there were also birthdays, christmases, cake-baking sessions and cliff-climbing adventures. There were walks along the Thames and trips to the cinema and first gigs. There were unwrapping mac-book moments and fitting too much stuff in a car excitements. There were some real highlights this year. It has been a year of hope and discovery and connection, and I’m so thankful for that.
I can’t help feeling sad though, when I think about this year. Even when I think about those triumphs of work and relationship and community, I know I’ll always remember 2009 also as a year of significant and painful loss. The pain won’t always be quite as raw, I know, but it has shaped this year, since the difficult days of June, when Jo got ill. Grief is a bizarre thing, and there are still moments when I think to myself that all this is just some bad and elongated dream. I’ve missed Jo this Christmas, she was always so so fun at Christmas. And I’ve missed her wisdom and encouragement as I’ve started this new chapter of life. I’ve missed our appreciation of Eddie Stobart and Wendsleydale sandwiches, and I’ve missed the inspiration of her irrepressible hope in what God can do, and her vision and passion for change. I have no neat, nice Christian answers for why she died… it still seems so so unfair. so 2009 has also been a year of clinging on to God when nothing seems to make sense, when there are no easy answers. Jo was a Herald of Hope, and it has been a year of finding out that nothing, not even death and pain, can destroy or steal that hope. My life is blessed and enriched and so much the better for knowing her.
Last year, a good friend and I ventured to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. I blogged about the trip then… and the underwhelming nature of said attraction. This year, when I arranged to go again, I wondered if there would have been improvements.
And improvements there were… much more mulled wine, many stalls, and some great fairground rides (the most obscure of which gave one the opportunity to explore the intestines of a dinosaur… hmmm!)
I especially liked the 53m high Ferris Wheel, which gave some awesome views over the wintry city.
Here are some photos from the trip. A bit random, as I was playing with my camera settings, but I popped one of Santa in there just to prove I really was there
Uni finished on Thursday… I’m still asking myself where the term went. Its been so amazing, such a brilliant 12 weeks, and I’m a bit sad that I don’t get to go back for a month (how sad am I). The last couple of weeks were a bit mad, what with deadlines and essays and stuff like that. Everyone was a bit ‘demob happy’ and tired… and then we got our first essay back. (I got 72%… woop!).
To celebrate the approaching Christmas season and to mark the end of a great year, Thursday evening saw me heading to France with three lovely friends. We drove onto the Eurotunnel train, which was one of the most exciting moments of my year (“It’s a road… but it’s a train…. wow!”). I loved France… I love visiting new countries, and though we weren’t there for very long, it was fab to get a taster of what it’s like there. To see a place that means so much to my pals (and that I’ve a sneaky feeling will soon be the same for me). It is an incredible place… We had yummy food, fab coffee, and I bought camembert, Good times
Here is a photo from the amazing French shopping centre. The lights behind changed colour at intervals, it was such a creative place:
After France, the next visit was to Bradford, where I’ve been over the weekend. It was a loooong coach journey, but not too bad, and it was worth it to spend time with lovely friends. I have chilled out over the last few days, enjoyed Christmas food, visited a fab vintage clothes fair and an art exhibition, watched some great TV and had some good natters. Christmas with good friends… what more could I ask.
I’m heading home tomorrow, fitting in a flying London visit before settling back at home for Christmas. And the papers say there’s even a chance of snow… hurrah!!
Is ‘One Bright Hour’, by Bebo Norman. The lyrics are amazing:
Wading throught the aftermath
Yesterday’s a photograph
Rummaging through faith to find hope
That there will be a reckoning
Of the beauty and the beckoning
Calling me to stand on what I know
One bright hour you will come for me
One bright hour you’ll set the captive free
One bright hour you will wipe the tears away
From eyes that now can see
One bright hour
He’ll chase away the fleeting dark
From broken earth and broken heart
The holy line where joy and sorrow meet
And you will sing redemptions songs
Making new what we made wrong
On the day the story is complete
One bright hour you will come for me
One bright hour you’ll set the captive free
One bright hour you will wipre the tears away
From eyes that now can see
One bright hour
One bright hour
I will sing Hallelujah
I will sing Hallelujah
All will sing Hallelujah
All will sing Hallelujah
So, I’m doing a digital art project for uni on my digital life… I’m meant to produce some sort of ‘footprint’ to show where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing/thinking.
This means I have to blog more – “daily if possible”, what on earth am I going to find to say?
Today, anyway, I thought I’d begin by talking a bit about some of the things that made me think yesterday.
One of the biggest problems I have with designing stuff is that my ideas – what I want the final outcome to look like, so often outweigh my technical skill. I want the post-it notes to flutter as if ruffled by a gentle breeze, yet I barely know how to copy and paste them into the template even as a flat object… hmm.
This made me think about often this happens – how often the things I can create with my imagination, the things I dream, I simply cannot achieve. Some of it is down to technical skill, but with wider stuff so often it is down to other things – the actions of others, circumstances of life etc. I guess if I could make happen everything I dreamed that would be vaguely deistic, and thats getting into the realms of blasphemy
Anyway, it did make me think that, in the (often frustrating) gap between dreams and reality, that’s where prayer comes in. It is true that I want to make post-it notes virtually ruffle, but more than that I want to see my friends come to healing, I want God to rescue people I know are in difficult situations, I want to know more of his fullness myself, and there’s no way I can ‘make’ those dreams a reality. I can do stuff that perhaps contributes, but at the end of the day there’s still that gap, and that’s where I’ve got to trust that God has it in hand, rather than trying to fix stuff (hmm, bad habit that).
One of my other friends said, in response, that our dreams would be limited if we only dreamed what we could achieve. Another commented that it is better to have dreamed and not achieved the end result than to have not dreamed at all. I think I agree with both of those things. It strikes me too that dreaming is a risk. If I let myself consider how I’d like something to be, how I’d like a situation to change, I’m kind of nailing my colours to the mast about it… I’m being vulnerable, because if it then doesn’t happen, or things seem to go the opposite way, then I’m opening myself up to be disappointed.
I should stop musing now and get ready for uni, but… yeah, I am encouraged to keep dreaming.
(ps. As an aside, this conversation generated a couple of the best compliments I have received in a long time. My marvellous friend Dave said that my imagination makes Twin Peaks seem understandable. And the lovely Mandy said it was a good job I couldn’t make all my dreams happen because goodness knows what would be the result. I love it that I am renown for my quirkiness!)
One of the most glorious features of the past two weeks has been the three visits from lovely, London-related friends. It was such a blessing that they would come, that they would choose to spend time here in this lovely but entirely unfamiliar city, and that they would feign interest in my dubious yet enthusiastic tourist guiding (“Look! Let’s stop and watch that bus trying to fit through those towers)…
This is a good place to visit. There are many lovely coffee shops, there is the beach, only a stones throw away, and many other delights. I have loved catching up with people I really care about, people I miss hugely – in this strange in-between season where I haven’t quite managed to convince myself that this is not a holiday, that I really can’t jump on a bus to their house for an spontaneous sausage sandwich… It was great to catch up.
This week, which heralds the celebration of a full four weeks here, has been great so far. Yesterday, I felt like a real student when we all got kicked out of our seminar for not having read the text (We’re all sure she didn’t tell us to). I spent some time hanging out with a good friend from my course, then we went back to my house and drank tea (surely doing much damage to the myth that I am engaging in any sort of student hedonism. It’s all tea and early nights here). Then my lovely house companions made yummy salmon, and we had rhubarb crumble (no supernoodles for me!!).
Today, I am in the library studying… studying not blogging… Must. Do. Work.
But I did want to tell two stories that impacted me from the weekend. On Saturday, myself and my two lovely friends caught a bus to the seaside. It’s only a short journey, probably fifteen minutes or so, and I just happened to sit on the outside, nearest to the other passengers. I got talking to a lovely lady called Ann (or maybe Anne… it makes me feel sad that I don’t know how it is spelt). Ann was telling me about her journey, about how she’d spent two hours on a bus to get to the seaside for a day, how it was the only outing she’d had for a while, and that she so missed being around people, so talking to me on the bus made her day. It was one of those conversations – we talked about the weather, the bus (which had just been involved in a minor collision), the election, the state of the nation, her family… I could tell that she was really lonely, and I really wanted to spend more time with her, to hear her story. It made me think about how I take contact and interaction for granted, I speak to people all the time, I have countless coffee meetings each week, and yet Ann had noone to talk to at all. It made me think about London, and how noone talks to anyone on buses there (except when it snows, or when there is a national emergency)… it made me want to keep my eyes open for more lonely people on buses who could just do with an inconsequential natter. It’s made me think twice about plugging my headphones in and withdrawing from the world around me this week for sure.
I hope Ann had a nice time at the beach. I hope she enjoyed her tuna sandwiches. I’m praying that she gets to enjoy the beauty of community back where she lives, that someone will draw alongside her and just listen. Bless her.
My other story involves scones, and was probably the funniest thing that happened to us on Saturday. We had decided that a perfect accoutrement to tea would be scones, with jam and cream (refer to my earlier point about the lack of hedonism), and so had proudly snaffled some before we left seaside-land. The purchase itself had been amusing, because my friends choose the wise option of a pack of scones reduced to 72p, while I viewed this with a certain suspicion. Anyway, we got home and decided to have a brief break. My friends went to have a snooze, while I went on a trip to the supermarket to procure some clotted cream.
I got back, to find a scene of carnage in the kitchen. Dogs are lovely, but they seem to have no food-related decorum (at least the dogs in question, anyhow). All that was left of the scones were some ripped up cellophane, and a smattering of crumbs strewn liberally around. I think they had enjoyed the feast (not minding that the scones were short-dated it seems). I stood there for a while, holding the now-redundant clotted-cream, wondering what to do.
This is where my friends husband saves the day. He decided to make us some new scones, and glorious they were. There were bacon and red onion scones, with special homemade maple chutney, and then normal scones, with fab raspberry jam. We feasted… and the dogs got none. We decided to take it as a spiritual lesson – that when stuff gets stolen, God always has better in store!
I think that’s all my stories for today… Back to Doctor Faustus then!
For the past three years I’ve been working for the Salvation Army based at our wondrous Uk & Ireland headquarters in London.
Today is my last day, which is weird. I don’t think I expected to have such a melee of feelings, for the bittersweet-ness to be quite this intense! This lunchtime I shared a meal with a small group of my colleagues, and I have to admit to pulling back from the conversation a few times just to muse about that little group of people, about the joys and challenges of journeying together, and about all the things I have seen over the past 36-ish months.
A lot of people think that THQ is quirky, and it is true that it has its own unique character and personality. When you have sat, desk quivering through the sprinkler-test, or ridden out the boil-freeze-boil-freeze heating system, I think you come out the other end with a real fondness for the place and for the people, and for a greater desire than ever to see this denomination fulfil what is was raised up to do – to save souls, to grow saints and to serve suffering humanity. Actually, I don’t think that’s a reflection on the sprinkler system, I think it’s the spirit of God that hovers in the place, sometimes unnoticed but always having an impact.
I’ve come to the conclusion that every member of the Salvation Army should work or volunteer at THQ for at least a month of their lives. It gives you such a fuller picture of how the SA fits together – like seeing the cogs that turn the machine wheels, and I’ve found it inspirational. I’ve tried to add some colour to the place – with my bright socks and glittery reindeer adorning my desk, but more than appearance it’s about attitude… working here has given me a refreshed vision for the Salvation Army, re-invigorating my hope for a church raised up to live out an Isaiah 61 sort-of Christianity: setting the captives free and proclaiming good news for the poor and the downtrodden and the oppressed.
I’ve already mentioned the year of discipleship, and ALOVE uk chose the four words above to explore this theme further. I like to think they sum up my experience of working for the Salvation Army, and specifically working to champion the cause of prayer within it. I was and will remain passionate that we are called to pray and to wrestle and to ‘believe the future into being’ with our prayers.
These years have been about Loving – the most fervent prayer, in my opinion, springs out of a love relationship with God and with a passionate belief that we are his beloved. I long for more people to grasp what this means, and for the church as a whole to live out of that place – understanding our position as friends and lovers, as opposed to servants and employees of our creator. Love gives and spends itself on behalf of others, love inspires the desperate prayer for a lost family member or a broken colleague or peace in our world. Oh that we, that I, would learn to love more perfectly.
They have been about Living – understanding prayer as something that weaves through our day to day lives with beauty and simplicity, living out a journey of ups and downs and sudden-corners that shake and unnerve us but that we can make it through as a community of believers with a unified mission. It has been believing that the ‘life in fullness’ promise of God extends to my life in the office, behind a desk, wrestling with a photocopier – the mundane and everyday things we all do.
There has been Learning, many many lessons that I have grappled with and often only petulantly accepted. I’ve learned about myself, my skills and talents as well as my weaknesses and struggles. I have learnt to work in a team and to be more ready to ask for help and to be less frightened of failing. I have learnt that no-one has it all together and we are all walking and changing and being healed. I have learnt that prayer helps me learn – I hear Gods voice and he teaches me at a pace which is perfect and which never pulls me down or makes me feel small.
And then, there’s Losing. (We’ll leave this one to last because it’s hard to come up with a natty paragraph about stuff which still stirs my heart, still hurts to think about). I remember when I started this job, some keen prophetic type told me that, as my influence rose, at the same time there would be a going down, a stripping away, a brokenness that would increase simultaneously. I wasn’t so sure what all that meant at the time. The thought of my having any influence at all freaked me out, and brokenness just didn’t seem to fit into my nice, neat plans for things. Why would God bring me down at the same time as raising me up? From my three years older and maybe a little wiser place, I think I understand it a little more. I’ve felt the sting of unanswered prayer and I’ve seen the frustrations of unmet expectations around me. I’ve lost people who I loved desperately at seemingly the most untimely moments, when so much seems unfinished. There have been many, many times when my prayers have been ‘God… this makes no sense… what are you playing at?’
Through all these experiences, there have been some truths that I hold on to, that have been I think indelibly written on my heart through these past years of triumph and struggle, of joy and of sorrow. These include: Prayer works, Jesus always does something even if it looks like the opposite is true. None of us are too far away from God, or our lives too ‘messed up’ for him to heal and change and use for his glory. I’ve learnt that he really does choose the weak and foolish things to shame the wise, and that he really does use all things for good for those that love him.
This truly has been a beautiful chapter of my life, and one I will thank God for, ponder on, and learn from as long as I live.
When the dog sitting in the front of the car inadvertently turns the hazard lights on with his head, and you have to give directions through a lampshade, that is the moment when you find yourself wondering if the journey you are making is actually legal…
This summer, the 24-7/SA Prayer team had the privilege of collaborating with ALOVE UK, and the International Development department at THQ, to take part in the first all-summer-school road trip.
We packed our suitcases, we saw more of the UK and Ireland’s motorway system than I ever thought possible, and we had the amazing opportunity to interact with every young person who attended one of the Salvation Army’s 14 divisional summer schools.
Now that Road Trip is over, and we are back in the office, back behind our desks, I have been musing that these past few weeks. I realise that they have probably taught me more about prayer than any of the books I have read or talks I have heard recently. I wanted to share some of those lessons with you in this article. You might not be surviving on service-station coffees or living out of a suitcase, but sometimes all of our lives feel like this: like we are on the move, like we don’t know where fit, like we’re not sure what life will throw at us next. Prayer gets me through these unsettled times.
One of the things I quickly found out about the fast-paced Road Trip lifestyle, was that there was not much sleep to be had! In all the late nights and early mornings I deduced that getting up extra early for an hour of concentrated intercession would seriously impede my ability to deliver seminars later in the day. My prayer life became flexible – I talked to God over the rabble of my travelling companions musical taste, I whispered prayers before seeking to enthuse teenagers about the things of prayer, and I think we all prayed when, in the evening ‘gig’, we had to don comedy sailors hats and step into the ‘disciple-ship’ – an inflatable dinghy where we were each interviewed about our discipleship journeys.
All of us have to pray on the move like this, when the responsibilities of work and family life crowd in. Sometimes we can find ourselves feeling guilty, because we simply do not have the time available for long devotional times. Sometimes we feel like we ‘aren’t good enough’, because we compare ourselves to others and become convinced that we don’t measure up. The truth is, God isn’t measuring our prayers on some sort of league table; he doesn’t rate us on our eloquence, or give us extra blessings because we manage to squeeze in an extra chapter of Ecclesiastes in our evening devotions. We don’t need to feel guilty, because it is perfectly acceptable, and I would argue invigorating, to mutter a prayer under our breath as we wander around the supermarket, to pray for the other parents in the playground by simply running through their names in our heads. One of the main messages we were trying to get across with Road Trip was that our personal discipleship journeys – our engagement with worship, prayer and social justice – are not extra pressures that we need to squeeze into an already packed schedule, but that discipleship is ‘whole life’ – something that should pervade and shape the lives we already lead.
The other important lesson I was reminded of through Road Trip, is that the power of God and the effectiveness of our prayers is not increased or restricted by how we are feeling at any given moment. I loved teaching young people about prayer, (especially the bit where we wrote sentence prayers on paper aeroplanes and all threw them at each other), but as any of you who’ve worked with youth will know, their engagement and enthusiasm varied immensely. It depending on the time of day, on how many hours sleep they’d had the night before, and on how many wasps were circling overhead. Sometimes I felt like they were hanging on my every word, sometimes I doubted they were even awake! I loved the material we were teaching, but after the fifteenth time I really had to rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire my delivery of it. I found myself musing that most of us shift in terms of our eagerness and belief in the power of prayer, depending on any number of factors. Some of us struggle to engage with prayer because we have experienced the pain of unanswered prayer, when we have prayed and prayed only to see the opposite happen. It is hard to trust in a faithful God after an experience like that.
I was reminded that God is the same, and his promises remain true, whether I am feeling encouraged or exhausted, inspired or irritated. Isaiah 40:31 says: ‘Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ That is a promise I hold onto through the shifting seasons and emotions of life. We all need his hope and his strength to keep us going in the times when it feels like we are going nowhere, and to encourage us to move on from places of comfort and safety when things have been going well.
Road Trip is over now, our flip-flops and suitcases have been packed away until next year, and we face the prospect of a new school year and new seasons approaching. My prayer is that we will each find prayer infiltrating our day-to-day lives, and that we will learn to more fully rely on God’s presence and promises to sustain us.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the real privilege to travel to a number of places around the country as part of the ALOVE UK Summer Schools Road Trip Tour.
ALOVE is the SA’s youthwork department, and this summer they, and us at 24-7/SA Prayer – along with representatives from the International Development department – have been visiting every single one of the 16 Summer Schools taking place the length and breadth of the UK & Ireland.
We have been doing an afternoon of seminars (two each, one with the juniors and one with the seniors), and then an evening ‘gig’, with sung worship, games, testimonies and a speak.
So far I have been to Stourbridge in the West Midlands, Chingford in Essex, Milton Abbas in Dorset:
As well as the Wirral and Uppingham in the West Midlands.
I had mixed feelings at the beginning of the tour. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about being away from home all that time, and I was nervous about all the speaking, but as we got started I soon found my flow, and even when it’s felt exhausting, I’ve still loved being out on the road.
It’s such a privilege to be able to spend time with young people, to hear their stories and to be able to get across that their prayer lives can be something they don’t need to feel guilty about – that their individual personalities will shape the kind of prayer they find most enjoyable and engaging. I have loved them coming up to me at tea and saying, ‘I’ve found out that I am a snorkeller’, much to the bemusement of other staff members. It has been fab to be at the evening gigs night after night too, to see young people responding to God – some of them for the first time.
It’s also been great to visit schools we’ve had some engagement with before, to see how some of the kids have grown and to hear some of their journeys.
Apart from all the spiritual stuff, some of my other favourite Road Trip moments have to be:
- Trying to lead a seminar whilst being attacked by wasps, managing to pause and time what I was saying around loud thumps as people attempted to squish them.
- Being given free-reign to plan a prayer room at one of the schools.
- Getting stuck in the most humungous traffic jam on the way home from Chingford and singing Westlife songs to pass the time.
- The luxury of staying in a Premier Inn for one of the evenings… sounds like a little thing but after lots of travelling and very little sleep it really did feel palatial. (It was also very amusing that they’d managed to book me in as Mr Ricky Adams…)
- My taxi journey to Milton Abbas with the most cheeriest and friendly taxi driver in the world.
- Getting to know the other team members better, chatting about our lives and experiences and dreaming about the future of the church.
- Realising the value of community even more as I communicated with my friends and Wandsworth-family by text whilst away. It can feel like a bit of a parralel universe being away for so long, but I think the friendly texts and emails kept me connected and sane.
I’ll probably think of some more and have some other tales to tell after the other tour dates: Hastings tomorrow, Scarborough on Monday, Wokingham on Wednesday & then Belfast on Thursday.
It’s been a busy few weeks. In fact I’m not really sure how it got to be August… strange that. And the weather has turned distinctly autumnal, so I’m beginning to think that summer has entirely passed me by this year…
I’ve been to some lovely places recently. I went on a three-day retreat down to Penhurst, which is near Battle, in Sussex. I so needed some time out to think and process, and the retreat was perfect for this. There was a little bit of led teaching, and then lots of space for reflection. To begin with, I was like ‘How on earth do I fill all this space?’ but by the last day I had chilled out and was feeling like I could have stayed for another three days at least!
The other women on the retreat were all from missionary contexts, so I loved hearing their stories (I now know more about Ameobic Dysentry than I ever thought possible). It was so good to share meals and to share life together, and we built up a real sense of cameraderie and community. The days started and ended with prayers in the little chapel, following celtic daily readings, which I found a real blessing.
Getting back to London was a real culture shock. It was all so noisy and crowded after the tranquility of the countryside. I really wanted to try and hold on to that peaceful space inside of me, even though everything seemed to crowd back around.
A few days later I was heading south again to visit a friend. I got to see the sea again, to feel the breeze on my face (and to eat the yummiest raspberry meringue pavlova in the world). I had a lovely day.
And then there was Stourbridge (which is in the West Midlands). I was there to do some summer school teaching, for the first stop of what will turn into a bit of a scenic UK tour. The next few weeks see me taking in Dorset, Chingford, Scarborough, Hastings, Belfast, Uppingham and Wokingham… it’s gonna be fun!
Apart from the travel, there is much else to keep me occupied. I have a couple of cleaning jobs now, so I can regularly be found decked out in attractive tracksuit bottoms and rubber gloves regularly… so much for glamour!
Church has shut down for the summer, so there’s just prayer meetings and Sunday services going on… it’s all very weird, tougher than I could have imagined. We’re all still reeling. I’m wondering when I’m going to stop being in denial. So much is changing.
Work is a bit mad, we’re having a big move-around on our floor, with people from another office coming to join us, so it’s meant lots of cupboard sorting, and lots of shredding! I’ve learned I am bad at filing, bored by mandane tasks, but excellent at throwing stuff away (especially if it’s stuff that needs keeping but I don’t know where to put it… whoops).
I’ve been reading a lot too – I enjoyed ‘A thousand Spendid Suns’, which is about two women and their lives growing up in Afghanistan. I’ve also been wading through ‘The Time Travellers Wife’, which I found a little confusing. Oh, and someone brought me back a copy of Rob Bell’s latest book ‘Drops Like Stars’, from the New Wine conference… it really is amazing, in fact I think I should post seperately about it. It’s a big, hardback book, with beautiful design work and engaging content, all about the link between creativity and suffering – a pertinent theme.
Apart from all the mad travelling, the next few weeks involve some more cleaning, some inspiring meetings and some visits from friends I haven’t seen in a while. At least life isn’t boring!
Today’s news is great, they are planning on letting Jo out of hospital next Tuesday (23rd June), after treating a minor infection she has.
Once she is home she’ll need time to rest and get her strength back and adjust to normal life again.
God has answered the prayers of his people again and again in this stuff. When we think about how things looked just two weeks ago it’s hardly seems possible that so much progress has been made. Back then, we hardly dared hope, and our prayers seemed weak faced with the medical facts. Sixteen days on from when it happened, I think we’ve all been encouraged and reminded again of God’s power to heal.
We’ve also felt overwhelmed and blessed by the responses of people across the Uk and the world, it’s been amazing that this has drawn so many people together. Unity and a passion for prayer are two of Jo’s greatest goals, and this is an example of God bringing something good and praiseworthy out of what has been a traumatic and testing time.
Prayer points for today:
- Please pray that the infection clears up well over the next few days.
- Please pray for Jo as she prepares to leave hospital next week.
- Please continue to pray for strength for the whole Norton family at this time.
Thanks lovely people!!
What a lot can happen in a week! We were musing last night that, just seven days ago, life looked very different. This morning I’m thinking that, last Wednesday, things just looked pretty dire and hopeless, but from here we have so much to be thankful for. God has answered our prayers beyond what we could have hoped, he has brought hope and healing, and he is even working through what look like complications and set-backs. We remain faithful.
Today’s news is positive, and a testimony to the many, many prayers that have been offered for Jo.
Yesterday they took Jo’s nose-tube (I’m sure that’s not the technical term for it…) out, which made her much more comfortable. They also moved her off ICU onto a high dependancy ward. This is great news. Originally they were talking about her having to stay in ICU for a whole week after surgery, so this is fantastic progress.
Her face has started to swell up, which is a normal result of the surgery she had, and she is very bruised and tired, but everything is on course and she is in good spirits.
Some prayer points for today:
- Please continue to pray that the muslin acting as a cap to the aneurysm bonds well, and that the whole area heals well and quickly.
- Please pray for energy and strength for Jo, and that she settles into the new ward well.
- Please pray for the Norton kids – Ben, Sam and Ruth. They’re doing well but it has been a lot of stress for them.
- Alan had his bike stolen yesterday, which is just rubbish and bad timing – he uses it a lot. Please pray for him, for strength and energy and that he will know God’s sustaining and provision through this time.
Thanks everyone for your support, comments, prayers and the unity of prayer and community we have experienced over the last seven days.
Thanks everyone for the faith filled prayers for Jo’s healing. Many people prayed and fasted yesterday, we’re grateful to you all.
The news post-op is that Jo has come out of the surgery well. She was chatting and moving all her limbs yesterday which is great and an answer to those prayers for safety etc.
She has a headache but is bright and hopeful.
The surgeons could not actually clip the aneurysm, as it was too close to certain other blood vessels and they would have risked inducing a stroke.
As plan B, they covered it in a mesh which should promote scar tissue to act as the cap.
We need to pray that this bonds it well and that natural healing processes take their course.
Please continue to pray for Jo – that the mesh bonds well, that there are no further complications and that she continues to improve.
Please also pray for strength for the whole Norton family at this time. Ruth has important exams next week, so please pray for her in those, especially.
Thanks for all your support, love and prayers. God is faithful.
Late on Tuesday night I received news that my church leader had been rushed to hospital with an aneurysm (a bleed in her brain). I don’t think I can articulate how stunned we all were, and the feelings of unreality and denial that accompanied each text that came to update us with the news.
On one hand, when something like that happens, you go into coping mode: get people to pray, check everyone has heard, hug those who are sad and bewildered, maintain the ‘information switchboard’, encourage the community to believe for miracles, just keep going.
And at the same time, you’re expecting at any moment to get a message saying it has all been a horrid misunderstanding, that she’d woken up fine, with a bit of a headache, a bit worse for the wear but, fine, and cheery and, herself.
It felt like a daze. It felt like normal life stopped. It felt like things changed in an instant. I’d been with Jo just an hour and a half earlier and it had been incredible. We were both encouraged by the things that God is doing at present, she was buzzing with ideas fresh from an inspiring conference and a refreshing prayer meeting. She was exuberant, hopeful, energetic. How did things change so quickly? I found myself running through every stage of the evening in minute detail: the discussion we had about suncream, our complaining about mouldy blueberries, eating tea together, hugging on the corner of the road to say goodbye. It had all been so so normal, so everyday, and now things were very different, and very wrong, and very un-everyday.
And in some senses we’re still working through that as a community. We’re still praying and believing and daring to hope and trusting in our Abba Father and beseeching him for miracles and holding each other up through difficult and dark days.
But I wanted to share a couple of things that have struck me over the last couple of days, things I have held on to. And it’s not the time for deep wrangling theology, but there is still a ‘God is good, God is in this’, on my heart.
Working was pretty tough on Wednesday, and many times I found myself picking up my battered copy of ‘God on Mute’ – Pete Grieg’s starkly personal and honest exploration of unanswered prayer – from my bookshelf. He writes about the time his wife had a severe and life threatening brain tumour, and the wrangle and heartbreak and hope, and the place of prayer in all of that.
I picked it up because I found that I didn’t know what to pray. All I could pray was random incoherent sentences, like “Please heal her”, and “Oh God”… over and over again. And to begin with I felt bad – my job is prayer, I train people on it, but when it counted I was praying like a five year old. And I was comforted, opening the book, to read the same sentiments expressed there – the same bewilderment. And that made me realise that that sort of prayer is ok – is just as effective as a long well phrased liturgy. It reminded me that God knows my heart, so when I couldn’t even utter a word, my sense of pain and grief was a plaintive and amplified prayer that he heard directly.
I was blessed by this quote:
“Our hope in the face of suffering is not to reject God, but rather to rely on him even more, choosing to call him Father with a mix of desperation and hope, militantly believing that although our prayers remain unanswered, it is not because God is callous or uncaring, because he is love.”
I think I’ve had to hang onto him tighter this week than I can remember. We’ve really experienced that mix of desperation and hope. And all we can do is keep relying, keep hoping, keep believing in his goodness.
The other thing I have noticed this week is the value of community. The Boiler Room and the wider Church have pulled together in a way I’ve never known it to before, the prayer chain multiplied and spread quickly, people in Iceland, Latvia, and the US heard the news and texted messages of support. God began to do surprising things – athiests prayed for Jo’s healing, people showed up at an inpromptu prayer meeting, others invited others for tea and support. It’s been incredible.
As I write, we hear that Jo is the brightest she has been- making jokes and smiling and testifying to God’s goodness. And he is good. We are praising him, we are believing for more, and we are holding on to hope.
I think I made that word up?!
I’ve been musing about what would be a good analogy to pick for a ‘what is God doing’ sort of a post.
2009 has felt like the year of the metaphor so far, these days I regularly find myself sitting in one hot beverage emporium or another wrestling with fitting all that he seems to be saying and doing into the bigger picture of life, and then words fail, and so we resort to pictures of houses and jigsaws and radishes (ok… I made that one up, but I needed a third example and I’ve always wanted to create a metaphor involving radishes…)
I guess I’m all too aware that the next six months are going to bring change change change, and I’m excited, really I am. Often these days I find myself lying in bed and in those moments before I drift off to sleep just feeling toe-curlingly expectant about everything.
And I’m such a ‘now’ person. I want to wake up and it all be happening today. And I want it all to fit into the nice 17 point schedule I’ve arranged, and I want it all to be perfect, and I’m mentally running around the place trying to work out if there’s anything I’ve missed, and if there’s anything else I can do to ease the proceedings along. And then I come to God at the end of the day, with my list of questions and a report of the day, and instead of responding to my debrief like an employer, he just seems to want to stop for a while and listen with me, and he’s pointing out the sound of the rain bouncing off the rooftops all around my (now sparse) attic room.
And so we sit, and suddenly the rest doesn’t seem so important after all.
Yesterday, during the great spring clean/sort out/room transformation, I learned that people approach such tasks very differently. I am definitely in the ‘clear everything out of the space, pile it up in the bathroom and bring it back in piece by piece. Try it in four different places before moving it back to the first’ camp. My lovely friend is definitely in the ‘it will save all of our backs to just pile it up by the fireplace and work with it all around’ camp. You could probably psychoanalyse that, or deduce something remarkable about our learning styles or something, but it made me think about me, and God, and my reactions to all the ‘renovations’ he seems to be doing in my life at present.
I loved the moment when my room was empty of pretty much everything, and it was fine (as long as noone wanted to use the bathroom… or get down the stairs without risking life and limb, for that matter). I enjoyed the order of building up the space bit by bit, and it made me think that I often find myself wishing healing was like that – wishing that God got rid of everything that was wonky and dysfunctional in one fell swoop, so everything could be reassembled neatly and in an ordered fashion, piece by piece. I think lovely friend was slightly terrified by my ordered methodicalness (which may have crossed the line into dictatorship only a few times), and I was smiling thinking about how much I strive for that same order in much of my life.
And then I was smiling some more thinking about how God doesn’t seem to keep things in the same neat lines, he doesn’t seem to be methodical in the way that I would rate. It’s like he listens to my plans and values my ideas and then responds with something that makes a whole lot more sense anyway, (and I am only ever a little disgruntled… really).
It seems that his way of doing things is much closer to my lovely friend’s. And I’m there feeling a bit flummoxed because boxes are half unpacked and the floor is only a third hoovered and where is the wardrobe going to go, and surely we have to get this done before we’re allowed to drink tea. And he is like ‘let’s take a break and go get some cake’, and it’s in stopping that I can take a deep breath, and see how much change has already taken place, and he energises me to keep going. He surprises me with his insight and wisdom, he knows when I am tired and just carrying on because I think I should, he isn’t restricted by my sense of pressure and deadline. It’s refreshing.
These past couple of weeks I’ve kept getting a passage from Exodus 35 resounding in my mind. The tabernacle is being built, and the Israelites all go off back to their tents in order to create something to bring to be ‘built into it’. I love the imagery in the passage about different coloured yarns, and linen, and brooches of silver etc. It’s a strong picture for me. I really do feel like I’m sitting in my little tent, crafting something to bring, but it’s like when you start sculpting with clay, and you don’t really know what it’s going to be yet, and more than that I can’t really even picture what the tabernacle is going to look like, so I’m not really sure if it’ll fit with the décor… but I’m sure God’ll be able to work all that bit out. This really does feel like a season of preparation – what is ahead is beautiful and good, but for now it’s just kind of nice to be able to sit in my dim but amicable tepee and muse about it all.