Reading the Bible

Two months ago I finished reading the bible, it took 26 months. I’m not a big reader, I absolutely hate reading, the first thing I do with a book is flick through to find pictures. Years ago I tried to read the bible because I was intrigued, I started at the beginning but didn’t even make it past Genesis 1. It was big, old and boring. Some snippets I randomly read were lovely, some frightening and I couldn’t make any sense of it. But then I met Jesus and my heart was changed. This time I read with such excitement, starting at Matthew through to Acts then Revelation and then the letters. Finishing the New Testament I began the Old Testament at Genesis through to Deuteronomy continuing with intervals of the later OT books, then finishing with Psalms.

This incredible book is no ordinary book. Some say it holds secret codes. Others say it’s just a load of fairytales. Truth is you can be the greatest bible scholar, the most respected theologian, attend church religiously but still not grasp it’s meaning. It’s possible to know the bible inside out, read it daily but be as the Jewish leaders that Jesus told “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40

But it was never intended for human wisdom. “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” 1 Corinthians 1:21. In our spiritual blindness and deafness, to which we are all born, it makes no sense to us. But God who loves you, who can not stop lavishing you with the best gifts freely gives you the eyes to see and the ears to hear. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” James 1:5

The whole book is centred on the greatest gift you will ever receive. It shows us the love of a Father who never gives up on us when we rebel, run, fail and fall time and time again. Who cannot stop giving us incredible gifts, who is righteous and just. We see a Father who is faithful in his promises, displaying his incredible love for all at the cross.

In poetry or songwriting, readers can come to many different conclusions about the meaning of a poem or song. But the only person who can ever give you the truth about it is the author. We know that “All Scripture is God-breathed” 2 Timothy 3:16. The big question is are you willing to go to the author to receive life?

I now call the bible the greatest love letter. Somebody asked me what I’d do when I finished reading it, my reply “read it again and again and again of course!” Same as a love letter!!

As I came towards finishing reading the bible, I began to wonder what the last verse I would read would be and it couldn’t have been more perfect; I was overjoyed when I read Psalm 150! What joy there is in his presence that our hearts overflow with praise now and for all eternity!

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Annoying Christians

I’ve been around countless Christians my whole life, when I was younger there were a few that I found a little annoying. Funnily it wasn’t the ones who pointed out my faults, it wasn’t the ones who shoved the bible in my face, I could handle those people by laughing or walking off. No, the ones that really annoyed me were the impossibly calm and kind ones. They glided around as if everything was perfect in their lives. They were always smiling, kindness and peace endlessly shone out of them.

I remember sniggering at how boring it must be to make so much effort to be good all the time. They were nice, too nice, but I didn’t want to be around them, I lived my life at the other extreme of their lifestyle.

In my early teens I chose to stop going to church which I found either boring or cringey. I spent the next decade living to fill my life with everything I could. Hangover after hangover, comedown after comedown. I lived for me. I needed constant refuelling, more nights out, more holidays, more stuff, more experiences. Then one Christmas I found myself alone, my mum was out the country and unexpectedly feeling lonely I opened a bible (yep that’s how lonely I was!) and this verse jumped out at me –

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” Isaiah 66:13.

Those words shot through my soul like a lightening strike. Freaked out I slammed that bible shut and didn’t go near another one for over two years!

Because of my upbringing and because I believed in God I always labelled my self as a Christian. What I now know is I was a big hypocrite; I knew of Jesus but I didn’t know Jesus and had no desire to know him. I had long outgrown the sweet childhood stories I heard about him.

In my twenties I was at a point in my life where I hadn’t made any plans. As I had time to reflect I felt really tired, not physically but internally. There was a strange empty longing in my heart. I didn’t understand it because there was no obvious reason. I turned to the self help section at a book shop but was overwhelmed by the titles and every book became relevant as I’d experienced a lot of hurt in my life, but this emptiness was more than that, I went home empty handed.

Soon after that, I was alone in my bedroom and all the feelings imploded, I was done, broken I fell to my knees and I made a pretty scary decision, I cried out to God “I am ready for you to take the lead in my life”. I was a mess and I felt so sorry. Instantly I felt an enormous burden release from my body. A huge weight that I wasn’t even aware that I was carrying lifted off me! Then love came flooding into my heart. Beautiful, powerful, pure love. Wow. The ache in my heart disappeared. It has never come back.

At the time I didn’t realise the small changes that started taking place but looking back now I see my faith started to grow, I also started losing the thirsts for once strong and embedded desires – things that I’d depended on for happiness no longer had a hold on me. I even had the urge to read the “dusty old boring impossible to read” bible, it suddenly felt comforting to me. I didn’t understand most of it but I found hope in Jeremiah 29.11 and although I didn’t know the deeper meaning at the time, I trusted the promise of it.

Soon there came a major turn around in my life and within a year I became a mother and a wife. I thought I was in the home straight of life;- settled, sober and best of all I was secure in the knowledge God loved me. I was content. A few years later life turned bad, really bad. I started praying again, desperately. My faith was tested, I was broken and in a very dark place, I had nothing left in me but to trust God and wait. He showed up in the most mighty, incredible, no words could ever fully describe way! (However helpless a situation feels, God ALWAYS turns it around for good, at his perfect timing). I came out of the most difficult time of my life in absolute awe of how wonderful our Lord is, stunned at the incredible turnaround of my situation, completely forgetting the pain and trouble. His love, his power, his beyond perfect explanations, his wonderfulness overpowered the darkness. He breathed truth into me that exposed every single lie. He showed me an incredible love and attention to detail in my life in ways I couldn’t possibly begin to describe, a love that I definitely did not deserve.

The presence of his perfectness instantly exposed the depth of my imperfectness, the destructiveness of my vast sin and, most humbling, was the fact I used to categorise sin but it became perfectly clear that God does not categorise sin the way we do, it’s one category! I am utterly imperfect but incomprehensibly loved.

I begged to be wrapped up in this incredible love forever, powerful as thunder and so extremely gentle. I begged God to just take me with him, words that I never thought possible to come from me, a woman with a husband and children who I love so strongly. So I asked “if I can’t come with you now how do I stay close to you?” And suddenly my heart flooded – “JESUS” – and as if someone flicked a switch – I was able to see Jesus. As if an invisible screen had been lifted, I saw where he had been all my life, how he had always been there waiting for me, even through the times I had rejected him and laughed at him, it became crystal clear what he had done for me and I fell head over heels in love with him. What joy!

I now understand what peace that surpasses all understanding means and the joy in all circumstances. He really is the light of the world. Jesus never just said “hey I know the way, psst I know the truth, life is over there… ” he said “I AM the way, the truth and the life”. “I AM” !

Something strange also happened – I started to read the bible again but this time I understood it’s meaning. The book that was old and dusty and not easy to understand suddenly became alive and read like the most beautiful love letter. I had been given sharp fresh new ears to hear and eyes to see what God was saying. I finally understood what the guy who wrote “Amazing Grace” was talking about – “I was blind but now I see”! Life became so bright, I never even realised I was in darkness before light came in. I started to see strangers the way God sees them, totally precious and loved beyond measure. My heart became calm, totally content with an abundance of joy, continually being drenched in a constant love that has me singing and dancing and wanting to shout about Jesus from every roof top. He’s Alive!!! He loves you!!!! So much!

Now I see that God’s love is not to do with our efforts in being “good”, or practicing religious duties or trying to change ourselves. It is not by our efforts at all. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less. No matter how far we run, he is patiently waiting for us to turn back to him. He loves us and has made a way for us in Jesus. We need do nothing else, absolutely nothing else, but trust in him. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

Real Love

When I was five I would curl up on my dad’s knee. If I really concentrate I can smell his work shirt; the soap and sweat mixed by the Lagos humidity. His hands were like giant’s compared to mine. I was entranced by the magic of cigarette smoke as it whirled up, danced and disappeared in the air. I would press my ear to his chest, listen to his heartbeat and then find mine with my palm and try to match it’s beat to his. I felt so safe, warm and calm as my head rose and fell with every breath he took. This is my earliest recollection of feeling loved. When I was 18 I held his frail hand, desperately clinging to his fast fading safety and protection. I watched his silhouette as his chest filled with air for the last time. I somehow made sense of the movement of the nurse’s lips and the world dropped from beneath my feet leaving me suspended, lost. I ran out of the room and an unfamiliar noise was released from the pits of my being. I felt an almighty pull in a place in my heart that I had no idea even existed. Then it dawned on me, our heartbeats could never be synchronised again and I calmly walked back to his bedside. The curtain was drawn around us and I kissed his forehead. The cold clinical atmosphere filled with a glowing warmth that filled me with an incredible feeling of hope and an overwhelming feeling of love. It was beautiful. It was perfect.

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My granny was the first person to make me feel special. She wrote my name on a small card and placed it on a placemat, next to a Christmas cracker, on a beautifully dressed table in a big room full with family. She never mentioned my shyness, never made me feel awkward for not eating the vegetables on my plate. Her house was always safe, warm and smelled of lavender. She drove fast on the motorway and there was always a tin of sweets in the glovebox. She loved birds and could make marmalade. After dinner she would break up chocolate into a bowl and leave it on a side table next to me. We spent evenings playing scrabble in front of the fire. I was fascinated at how she could knit without looking. She was the first and only grown up who I wanted to talk to so much it felt like I could burst. She would take me out of the bath and wrap a huge warmed towel around me and sing Rub-a-dub-dub. She would give me Kim’s favourite ball and let us out onto her perfectly manicured lawn and tell me he had missed me which delighted me. She always made sure that I had a tuck box full of treats to take back to school. She sent me typewritten letters and handwritten postcards that radiated warmth. Reading them today still makes my heart warm. She always kissed me good night, made sure I was warm enough and left a blanket incase I wasn’t. Her presents were simple and thoughtful. She made delicious meals and then told me she had put carrots in. I’m laughing now because I’ve just realised what she was doing! She is the reason I stopped being fussy and why I have the confidence to hold a conversation. I couldn’t stand it when she died. One of my remaining childhood toys is a teddy she let me choose from the toy shop. He’s missing his red ribbon from his neck and he is sat at the end of my daughter’s bed. Writing this has made it clear how much of her has shone through in the way I mother my children. My granny provided one of my deepest experiences of motherly love.

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I soon discovered a love that no one could take away from me. Safety, warmth and happiness. I felt accepted, free, at one with the world. I finally felt truly loved and I loved everyone. My cheeks hurt because I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy. I wasn’t scared of dying and if I was to die what better way to go than this! This incredible feeling tingled through my arms and my legs. Waves of elation rose and flowed through my body and exploded from the top of my head. I could fly!
The come downs got worse and worse. It took more effort to reach any kind of state that helped me numb my heart. My newfound love hadn’t become weaker, I had become a maniac. The feeling of it’s “love” leaving me was like sitting cold and naked in a drained bathtub with a head full of tangled barbed wire trapping echoes of laughter and bass. I couldn’t bear the internal pain as well as the two facedness of whatever substance I saw in the palm of my hand. I had been tricked. Synthetic love was a clever little lie.

I have prayed since I was a child. During the time mentioned above there was only one prayer I said at the start, “God please don’t let this kill me”. I didn’t do much praying after that. Prayers like asking to pass exams when I hadn’t put the work in, praying to win on a scratch card, praying to be a day girl instead of a boarder. I had never got the answers I wanted. I once prayed to be born again, I recited all the right words but nothing happened so I shrugged my shoulders and felt I was probably not worthy.

One prayer changed my life, it was an ordinary day and I crashed to my knees. I was hopeless. I was done with life. I had failed. I had such internal torment but I wasn’t even sure why. Yes, I’d experienced bad things but who hadn’t? I had friends, family, health, a good life. On paper everything seemed fine. There was just an emptiness in the bottom of my heart I couldn’t live with. I was at home and I crashed to my knees and said the biggest and scariest prayer of my life, “Lord, please help me, I can’t do this on my own anymore. I’m sorry for all the wrong things I have done. I want you to take control of my life. Please, please, please help me.” I meant those words with everything I had. I was fully prepared to change and give up my life and anything in it. I was done with making stupid decisions that had resulted in emptiness. Suddenly, I felt a heaviness physically lift from my soul. The guilt, the burden, the heavy heart. Feelings I didn’t even know I was feeling rose from my body and disappeared. Just like that. Gone. It brings tears to my eyes because it was such a powerful release. I felt love pouring into my heart. A great love. It was so pure, I don’t have the gift of vocabulary to ever fully do justice to it because it was greater than anything I knew of this earth. This was my first experience of God’s love.

Have you ever seen the Elephant Melody scene in Moulin Rouge? That was exactly how I imagined my future husband and I to feel when we met. It was nothing like that, there was no singing or fireworks, instead a quiet, inexplicable and intense connection, the more I got to know him the more it felt like broken or disconnected pieces of my life were slotting into place. It was calm, natural and effortless. All was blissful for three years into our marriage then out of nowhere we were in our first storm.

This time last year I didn’t think there was much chance of us still being together now. We had gone from being the best thing to happen to each other to the worst to happen to each other. A marriage in crisis really is one of the loneliest places to be. I found myself praying again, desperately. I knew I had to be patient in these turbulent times but it was hard, I was convinced that after the difficult life I’d had that I was doomed to brokenness. I didn’t deserve a happy ever after. Old haunts, worries, intense self destructive thirsts came flooding back. I told myself I wasn’t even a good enough mother to hide my sadness from my children, surely they were better off without me. Many evenings I drove up to the cliffs and fantasised about the drop. The blackness seemed so inviting. Months passed and when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did, again and again. I cried at the horizon. I begged and pleaded “Where are you God, where are you?” I prayed and waited but nothing. I eventually decided I would turn away from God. He had answered my prayers for a family and a future but why was my marriage falling apart? This was a cruel trick, surely. Maybe it was a punishment? How could he ruin my life like this? But when I pictured my life without God all I could see was a bleak desert, cold and loveless. If it was true, if God really didn’t love me anymore then I would sit at his closed door because to be outside his closed door was better than a life without him.

The misery and rows continued. Our home became unbearable, we were strangers to each other, we circled one another emotionally wounded, a seething hive of eggshells and raw nerves. Utter confusion at how we had turned into enemies. We talked, we resolved, but every positive step got crushed. A mere word would splinter into foriousity. We were at war with each other day after day. Month after month. We faked happiness mid quarrel when realising we were being observed by our children. We avoided one another but to make arrangements on what the best was for them. Separation seemed to be the lesser of two evils. Marriage counselling expensive and with no one to sit with our children, impossible. The lure of divorce was everywhere I turned; quick, easy, cheap, and everyone seemed to be successfully doing it.

Then came our worst day of fighting, I sat on the kitchen floor clutching the phone after calling the Samaritans. “Martha’s” voice had been a welcome distraction but she couldn’t fix anything. Through the tears I repeatedly whispered, “Where are you?”.

My husband returned home with eyes still filled with hate. The rage between us continued so I walked out and went and sat beside our youngest daughter sleeping in her cotbed. I hung my head and lost hope. I conceded our family was well and truly broken. It was then that an incredible, vast, powerful, magnificent feeling of a love so pure, so brilliant, so wonderful descended into our home. The power felt like that of thunder, the room felt engulfed in a roaring fire but somehow the ‘flames’ were cool and gentle. It was perfect, perfect. So perfect. I was drawn back to the room I had angrily abandoned my husband in and we sat together into the night.

After a Church service the next morning, our lives had changed. The things we were fighting about hadn’t changed but everything had been fixed. Just like that. A permanent resolution that we could never have even come close to conceiving. Since that day our love has deepened and grown richer. I would have thought it madness or impossibility that I could have loved or felt loved by my husband more than I did the day we married, but that is what has happened. The depth is astonishing. We are now so strong in our union.

I was stunned for days at this sudden turnaround, but happier than I have ever been in my entire life. I will never forget that moment, the magnitude of purity of love that appeared. Have you ever seen elderly ladies singing to Jesus to take them home? That’s how I felt, the love I experienced that evening was so big, pure and perfect and safe I wanted to dance in that feeling for ever. Again I don’t have the words to do it justice. Divine intervention. Miracle. We are so blessed, so grateful and so happy. We have a new deeper understanding of one another and ourselves. We have the tools to move forward. I have a newfound and even greater respect for marriage and feel truly humbled to have been blessed to be in this position. Marital love is the greatest love of another person I have ever known. Marital love with the help of The Lord has been the most incredible and profound experience of my life. Just like that, he brought comfort, help and peace to our home.

In the weeks after I took a long hard look at my life. I remembered back to crashing to my knees and the certainty I felt of being prepared to change. I felt ashamed because I had to face the fact that in the years after I had reverted to my former ways. Old habits really do die hard. I thought back to the moment my Dad died, the sudden warmth in that room wasn’t his special way of saying goodbye to me after all and it wasn’t what happened when everyone died, it wasn’t a special sign he’d gone to heaven. I now recognised that presence. God was watching me then, letting me know that even though I thought I’d lost everything, he was there for me. Suddenly a well known poem I’d long admired finally made perfect sense, they weren’t my footprints in the sand.

My first child. The moment the blue line appeared, love drenched my soul. I felt deep inside there had been planted the most precious gift. I was protective of our baby from that moment. I even stopped swearing because I didn’t want it infiltrating through to my womb. When I first saw those little eyes blinking up at me I grew wings, I felt I could face an army of a thousand men if they dared to harm a single hair on my child’s head. I wondered where more love would come from for my next child, somehow it multiplied and again for my third! Limitless, unconditional. In the moments I look at my children the love rushes through me, their eyes stun me into a heavenly trance. Warm, real, beautiful.

I have said a prayer, in my head, every day without fail for each of my children from the moment I knew I was pregnant. Only recently have I started praying out loud with them but I hadn’t spoken to them about Jesus because if I’m honest I didn’t feel “qualified” as I am still learning myself. I had always been under the impression it was best left to the professionals like RE teachers at school or Sunday school. If I’m really honest, I’ve always felt a bit shy and rubbish at praying out loud. The other month my daughter had not been very nice to her sister. I explained to her how it might have made her feel. I put my hand on her chest and said it probably made her feel sad in her heart but it is better when we feel happy in our heart. Out of nowhere she asked if we could say a prayer. I was completely taken aback. She had made the connection. Our bedtime prayers had been the most basic prayers “Dear Lord, thank you for our warm cosy beds and help us to have a nice sleep. Amen” that was it! Nothing complex! I immediately knew she had experienced the warmth of Jesus’ love in her heart from when we had been praying at bedtime. And there was my answer, I didn’t need to teach her or explain it to her because just by sharing a simple prayer with her she had already felt it and her heart was speaking for itself. I knew in that instant she had experienced the joy of all the love she was ever going to need in her life. That is Love. Bigger than me. Bigger than anything I could physically provide for my children while I am here. Everlasting.

The love that I have experienced from Jesus this year has been mind blowing. It has changed my life. Feeling the absolute perfection and grace of his presence seems to have exposed the many imperfections in myself. Becoming a mother made me lose my thirst for swearing, drinking and smoking, now I have the joy of Jesus in my heart I have lost the thirst for all that is not of him. I thought I was a fairly good person on the whole, yes I’d done stupid things, regrettable things, but I wasn’t bad bad. How wrong was I! I need working on on a daily basis! On a minute by minute basis most of the time. Like a photograph slowly exposing, the more I seek to know Jesus, the more I feel his almighty love, the more my many imperfections rise to the surface and the more I am humbled by his magnificent grace. I’ve noticed that when my children know they’ve done something wrong, they cover their eyes with their hands or hide under a cushion, it made me laugh one day because I realised that’s what I did with God, the things I do and have done wrong, I try and hide, ignore and bury them hoping they’ll disappear! I have learnt that nothing is too shameful, embarrassing, or bad for God, nothing. He corrects with Love. This is exactly how I am striving to be with the upbringing of my children. I am learning from his gentle corrections. I have certainly learnt a thing or two in my behaviour as a woman, in my relationships with the people around me. I fall so short of the perfect beauty of Jesus’ love and everyday I am still learning to be guided by him in my heart.

God’s love is the greatest love I have ever known. I have learnt that it is up to me to make the effort to nurture my relationship with Jesus. He would never barge in on my life because he is love, of course love doesn’t force it’s way in. He is there the moment we say his name with our whole heart and from there everything is easy. He makes it all easy. He provides the answers, heals all the pain. Brings joy in devastation. Turns tears of grief into tears of happiness. There are many many lies, he is the truth. He is waiting patiently around us until we call, flowing in us the millisecond we do, perfect, forgiving, so forgiving, gently guiding. His is real love, we can’t see it, we can only feel it. It drenches our hearts making us want to do better, to live better and to love better.

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Jeremiah 29:11

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Matthew 11:28

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Proverbs 3 v5-6