The Flesh vs The Spirit

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Galatians 5:16-18

At the end of last year we began making some big changes so we could have a better balance in some aspects of our lives. During this time we had huge devastation hit our hearts. So much changed overnight and so much was changing along side this. It’s been seven and a half months since we left our old home and we still haven’t decided on a location that will work best that we can call home. This season of my life has felt like I have been stuck swimming against a rip tide. I can still see the shore but fighting against the current of many continuing hardships and getting pulled further out to sea. I’ve felt tired, drained and worst of all spiritually exhausted. 

The Flesh v The Spirit – this title has not left me over the months, I knew I was living this battle out and knew I was ‘Martharing around’ 

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

A few days before we left our old home, as it was my birthday, I chose what we should do that day and one was to join the church, which was linked to a playgroup the children and I had attended for many months, for a Sunday service. I was sad about leaving all that was familiar and worried about the unknown. The presence of God flooded that room so much so I was in tears, his love drenched my heart so powerfully and tenderly. The sermon was about our identity but a totally different message was imprinted on my heart, it was simply –

“Don’t be afraid to step into the fire”. 

I came away at full peace, knowing the future would be hard but it would be just great and that God had the details covered. 

I moved around many times in my childhood and adolescence, my parents worked overseas for long periods so school holidays were spent making sure I got to where I needed to be. I was 13 or 14 when I travelled from Leeds to London and checked into a hotel by myself, setting my portable alarm clock to make an early flight to Lagos. If staying in the U.K. I was either getting picked up, dropped off and journeying around the country to stay with relatives or family friends. I really relate to Paddington Bear because I always seemed to be lugging a suitcase around.

This type of living provided me with great emotional and physical independence but also a huge craving for a secure base. Fast forward twenty five years and I here I was feeling the same well into my adulthood. I didn’t want to step into the fire, I wanted to stay in my comfort zone at the perimeter, toasting marshmallows and enjoying the warmth of the glow. Anything but in the fire! But one thing I know is that God doesn’t keep us in our safe spaces, what he does do is keep us safe in the unsafe spaces. 

We made plans, plans fell through, circumstances changed and we hit stumbling blocks. I became more frustrated and more focused on making sure our children continued to have access to fresh air and countryside rather than packed tube trains and the rush of city life. All my creative materials and equipment are still in storage and with limited space to design and make this contributed to more frustration. Also without our old community we were having to and still having to forge a new one. 

I made myself busy being busy but I knew my worries were all of the world. Like Martha I was distracted by everything that had to be done. I was being carried off by my fleshly desires and I was not at peace. Still struggling against the tide, my moods accurately reflected my constantly changing and uncertain conditions; up and down. 

Then there came the day where clarity hit me like a ton of bricks. We were at a museum for the day and as we were leaving the family rooms into the main foyer one of my children refused to budge and was crying loudly. A staff member made a gesture to me that I should try and keep her quiet and I just snapped. I thought ‘wow in six years of numerous tantrums, I finally found the lady who can quieten a child mid one’. I was so cross and stormed over and let her know what she was asking of me was ridiculous. Turns out that a child *can* be quietened mid tantrum when they see their mother have a tantrum too! That evening I went over what had happened and truth smacked me right in the face; I was not at peace. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Galatians 5:22

Here I was with all of God’s riches there for the receiving but I’d been led by my flesh. I felt just as the prodigal son when he realises his situation after eyeing up the food for the pigs (Luke 15:11-32). My planned letter of complaint turned into an apology letter which was passed on and received by the lady. 

Aren’t open arms the best? Even in times when I haven’t had the will to sit down and read scripture He has breathed His word into me. There are two verses that have been nudging me along over the last few months. The first, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:6

Even at the times I’ve judged myself too far gone and beyond help or hope I’m continuously reminded we can come boldly into his presence because we have been clothed in His righteousness. This can not be changed, it can never be taken away. It is eternal. The greatest gift!

The second verse that kept breathing into me was, “Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matt 8:20 & Luke 9:58

Where was my home? Was my home dependent on my physical comfort, worldly possessions, security of a house and the continued presence of loved ones around? What happens when some or all of these are stripped away. Where was my Home? 

One simple prayer I found myself saying during these months was simply “Lord, bring me back”. It is never by our power to change or do the work but by His to change and do the work in us. 

I love love love the lessons the Lord teaches us in our hardships, how he draws us nearer to him. How every difficult circumstance is an opportunity to learn moment by moment and not rush through in frantic search of an escape. In the midst of this blazing fire he has shown me Home. He is home. We can’t even rely on our own bodies to keep us, as time passes they get older heading straight to inescapable death and decay but what joy that our spirits, forever been made alive in Christ, are continuously renewed day by day.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” 2 Corinthians 5

Earlier this year we took the steam train up Mount Snowdon, the weather was fine and we were excited for the breathtaking views ahead. As the train chugged along past jagged slate and startling a few of the hardiest looking sheep I’ve ever seen along the way, we entered the clouds. We stepped off the carriage and could barely see our hands in front of our faces. This wasn’t what I had expected! After a cup of tea and a sausage roll the clouds still hadn’t miraculously moved and it was time for our return journey. 


Strangely I left the summit as satisfied as if I had seen the view because while I stood at the top of that mountain staring into the fog, I saw so clearly how God’s word still stands, what ever situation we find ourselves in; fog or fire. The magnificent view was still there, beautiful, breathtaking and unchanging.


I’ve been as stubborn as a mollusc stuck to her rock and my stubbornness has been overcome by His patience. My grumbling softened by his grace. My worries smashed by the fact he is a good Father, all his plans are good and for good even when things don’t go how we think they should. As sure as the rivers meander to the oceans, all we go through; pain, troubles and hardships all lead to a place that is good, there is no other outcome than one that is good. It is the sweetest assurance. 

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”

Roman 8:26-28

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Clothed with Joy

My heartbreak in a box, on the wrong side of my womb. The depth of the pain is like none I have ever experienced but the joy of our Father’s love; soothing, unfailing tenderness in the most devastating of circumstances is what my heart can’t help but continuously sing about. The care, the comfort, the sweetest of visions, the attention to detail and love that I simply don’t deserve, who am I, little old me that our Mighty God could care so much! And *this* is how he cares for EVERY individual. 

Our tiniest’s remains were released after two months in the mortuary. We declined testing but the hospital tested anyway, then apologised. We chose a private cremation instead of a communal one. We didn’t use an undertaker and took our baby’s remains from mortuary to crematorium ourselves. I’d been shown ashes caskets that were hundreds of pounds, instead we bought a simple little jar. The mortuary provided a woven casket and one of my happiest memories is our daughters running around in the sunshine decorating it with daisies. 

That morning I’d been thinking about how “man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”(Matt 4:4) and how this whole experience had me fixing my eyes on the unseen, how in my physical bloodied distress my soul cried out, my spirit flooded in love and my hand lifted deep in worship. The power of our Lord had me singing in an A&E ward! Only Jesus! He does turn our wailing to dancing! 

On our way back from the crematorium “You got the Love” came on the radio. I’ve heard it loads before but listening to it that day was the first time I heard the gospel in it-

“When food is gone you are my daily meal”

My daily bread. The bread of life. Jesus.

“But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:50-51. 

What joy in salvation! What peace in the unshakeable, unfailing, certain hope. Leaving nothing to do but rejoice because “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55

Jesus Loves You

A good friend of mine called over the weekend and we spoke for hours. He wasn’t having the best of times. It broke my heart at how thirsty he was so I told him all about how much Jesus loves him. He couldn’t get his head around this type of love. 

“Well what if I am [like this] or I do [this] or [that]?” He asked. 

“It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to how much you are loved, how much you are worth and how much you are valued” I answered. 

That night he went out to a party and called me the next day to tell me about it. It sounded a lot like one of the free parties we used to go to together. He said there were lots of travellers there and during the night a man came up to him and told him “Jesus loves you”. I wasn’t in the least bit surprised but he couldn’t believe it because only I had ever told him about Jesus, all through his upbringing he’d been told to stay away from “all that”. And on the same day I had told him how much Jesus loves him, a stranger had appeared at a party, in the middle of the night, amongst all the drink and drugs and told him “Jesus loves you”. 

I thought it couldn’t get more amazing to have the revelation of God’s love in my life but to see how it unfolds in the lives of others is something pretty phenomenal. People think that finding God is about finding religion, doing to please, trying, working and searching. Truth is God is pursuing us with such ferocious unrelenting love and meeting us in the places where we least expect. Longing for us to go from turning away from him to turning to him. 

Rejoice

A couple of months ago I found myself spiritually lacking, the fire had gone, the comfort had gone, the overflow of joy was no where to be found. I felt lost. I felt like God had abandoned me. I blamed him for the tough journey I was facing. Why couldn’t life be straightforward, I succumbed to the fact that the pattern of my life had never been straightforward so what did I expect now. I was down on every aspect of my life. I whinged to God about it all and even complained that me and my family don’t go to church and I felt left out. But even in my angry rants and my sorry self pitying painful state, I couldn’t shake off the hope, the light, the certainty and the excitement that the turnaround was near. I waited on his word. 

It is such a good and impossible-to-comprehend feeling to have everything come crashing down around and to feel so weak but to have a well of hope bursting from the centre of your being, to sing praises in the pain because God is good, his plans are always good, every rocky path leads to a place that is good. 

I took the children to a free community event, after crafts and play we sat in a tea room tent. A group of belly dancers were performing and I was shrinking into my seat hoping I wouldn’t get called up to participate. After the audience participation was over, a man was introduced and began to tell his story. He articulated everything I had been feeling and his words sank so deep into my soul that tears uncontrollably started running down my cheeks. I felt embarrassed I was crying in a room of strangers and wanted to leave but no sooner than he’d put the microphone down I stood up, approached him and told him his words had really spoken to me. He spoke such words of sweetness and encouragement to me, “yes of course you can pray for me” I answered and he very simply prayed peace over me. He gave me a big hug and reminded me to always speak truth over myself. The next day I had a renewed strength. 

When we are in the wilderness we become acutely aware of our spiritual need, nothing and no one can satisfy but God and through the trials our faith is strengthened. We long for deeper and cling on harder and grow stronger to stand firmer than ever before. I love Psalm 63:1 David writes “my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you”. Jesus is always pulling us closer, he is “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2) It’s so easy to get comfortable where we are, but He never leaves us stagnant, he lovingly disciplines us, guiding us in the right direction. He continually draws us in more so we get to know him more intimately, positioning us perfectly so we can see the unraveling of everything he has already laid out before us, leading us further into spiritual maturity. 

The weekend before last as I walked along a pier I got talking to a woman and as I was about to leave she pulled me back and prayed for me, she prayed with such power and authority about deep things that I hadn’t told her or anyone. As I walked back to the shore I couldn’t help smiling because that is the Church; in tea rooms, on piers, all over the place. The body of Christ, one in spirit. He in us.

The trials will come, the temptations will come, the spiritual battle is on but it’s not an ordinary fight because we are fighting from victory ground and “the weapons we fight with are not not weapons of the world” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:4

So “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 

Pour

Last weekend I was feeling unusually down and withdrawn. On Sunday night I couldn’t get back to sleep, I was really cross with endless worries whizzing around my head. I starting ranting at God. Where was he? Where had all my joy gone? And then the word “POUR” breathed into my heart. Pour?…Oh, pour out my heart! So I stopped ranting and started pouring out all my problems, the worries, questions, stresses, then I fell asleep.

When I woke in the morning, I felt refreshed and immediately the flashback I had a month or so ago came to mind and I had a lightbulb moment; of course the after effects; feeling down, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, the sleeplessness. The flashback I experienced had been so positive (in comparison to previous), I hadn’t considered the aftereffects. I didn’t even twig two weeks ago when I started writing a blog post called “Trauma Timebombs” and wrote –

“Having a flashback is like an internal bomb going off, the effects ripple out to all areas of life.”

I hadn’t realised I had been experiencing the ripple effects until I poured my heart out to our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Prince of Peace.
When we pour out our troubles, He pours in – wisdom, comfort, healing, peace and joy unlimited.
And then I came across Psalm 94:18-19

“When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

And then I read about the return of the Ark in 1 Samuel 6 and my heart flipped a million times because right there is the character of God; always providing, fulfilling every promise, never leaving us, never failing us, preparing the way before us, giving us rest in the storm, constantly working for our good even when we are not aware of it, leading us safely through the fire, scooping us up every time we fall, fighting our giants for us, surprising us with the most wonderful gifts, turning devastation to dancing, brokenness to joy, sorrow to songs of thanksgiving. He has poured heaven into our hearts.

PTSD has caused so much destruction and aguish in my life but it is a bomb that has been defused by the greatest love I have ever known. It is rendered powerless to the Name that is above all names. Jesus Christ is Lord.

Made to Praise

The last ten days has seen us go to A&E twice, 2 emergency doctors appointments and I had my long awaited maxillofacial appointment which was great news (the bone in my affected jaw now looks even better than the healthy side). As one child recovered from a chest infection, my other daughter came down with one. My husband then got struck with a virus. I also had a flashback yesterday, my first in 2 years and it was so much more positive than my previous one.

Through it all my heart keeps leaping with gratitude. I feel we are all resting in this warm blanket of goodness.

Walking in a hospital corridor last week, a tremor of fear rose in me and my helpless heart leaned into the Lord. Fear was extinguished on his words “I’VE GOT YOU”. Such peace, wondrous peace. I’m so thankful for his heart bursting, soul igniting, truly unconditional love that is equal for every one. I will never be able to get my head around this kind of love, steady and unfailing.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:

Mountains

Mountains. We all face them at various points in life. How we choose to climb these mountains will make the difference in how much we enjoy the difficult journeys.

Most of my life has been a series of treacherous mountain ranges, I’ve wearily travelled through the black valleys of depression, faced the frightening jagged edges and avalanches of PTSD, the sweeping storms of self destruction, the fog and mist of abandonment and numerous blizzards of grief. My problems governed me, ruled me with fear, held me hostage, dictated how I lived and convinced me the best I could ever have was to work on myself to be able to manage my pain for the rest of my life. What a self-centred life sentence! But the wisest of man or darkest of demons can not contend with the supreme power of our Lord.

When we stand at the foot of a mountain, we beg for it to be got rid of or we plead for a way around it. We tend to limit God by our limited understanding. Impatient for answers. We ask why a righteous, powerful, loving God allows us to go through these terrible times. But our Almighty God doesn’t move our problems out of the way because he IS mighty. He shows us he is by safely, joyfully and peacefully leading us through them. When we put our trust in him, these difficult journeys allow us to experience his awesome power. A power that is far greater than can be described by human words.

It’s often these difficult times that break down our barriers and leave us so helpless that they push us to go from depending on ourselves or others to depending solely on him. When we open our hearts to know Jesus, not only in part with our problems but trusting him with our whole lives, we are set free. He freely gives us the fullness of life. He takes our burdens, extinguishes our worries, he shows us the footholds, pitches our tent, shields us from the storms, provides an abundance of healing and comfort, we can rest always safe and warm in his unfailing love.

God absolutely delights in every single one of us. He wants nor needs absolutely nothing from us. Love is not earned, it is freely given. He will never let you go, he will never leave you and he will always carry you through the storms.