Joy is a Gift

When all my prideful, rebellious ways are smashed to smithereens and my soul is slumped on the floor with no where left to go is when God steps in. It’s as if those are the moments that I allow God complete authority to do his work in me and through me. Our flesh tries and tries but it never gets us very far. We can exhaust ourselves reading all the books and downloading all the apps about how to train ourselves to be better. To militarise our lives so we can have some sort of control over parts of our character that we are not pleased with, but it’s long, exhausting, all consuming and never leaves much room for anyone else.

Last week while I was rushing around the house, okay, storming around the house picking stuff up and collecting empty toilets rolls. My husband decided that this was the perfect time to give me some constructive criticism. “You’ve been really grumpy and you’ve been telling them off a lot”. Are you kidding me? I’m clearly at my limit here, apparently the designated family empty toilet roll collector, I’m overwhelmed, I’ve missed two of my zoom classes, I make my bed every morning only to return after breakfast to find it turned over and my duvet thrown out of the window into the garden (okay its never like that but it always feels like it). I had spent a good hour spot cleaning blue paint, everywhere I went there was blue paint on the carpet, no whistling while I worked here but instead, while frantically scrubbing, a muttering and shouting “why!” “How!?” “Common guys you know not to bring paint up here!”

While making dinner, the baby shrieked and before I’d even turned around I assumed his toy had been taken and told my daughter off. In fact she had been trying to help him. I apologised.

I lay in bed that night, having found a splodge of dry blue paint on the sole of my slipper, and with my translation of the words of the earlier constructive criticism playing over in my head “you are rubbish, you are doing a rubbish job” Then all the memories of all the times I’ve been an awful person to be around flooded into my head. “What’s going on, Lord?! Help me” I prayed.

At breakfast the next morning as my porridge was getting stuck at the lump in my throat, I burst into tears and apologised to everyone in my family for shouting a lot and all the times I’d not been fair. Everyone immediately protested, gathered round me, called me the “best Mummy in the world” and began to list all the reason why. This was so sweet but still didn’t fix the problem. How was this going to be fixed? Then I thought about joy, I thought about when Jesus fills your heart with joy it breaks through all situations. Even on grey days everything sparkles as if in the sun. Have you noticed when you’re down you can’t even appreciate beautiful views or birds in the trees? Everything sort of becomes colourless.

Now, miraculously, I lost the thirst for alcohol a long time ago so couldn’t even soothe myself with a bottle or even take anything else that could dull my mind, so I prayed, I left it all to Jesus, I took all my faults and burdens to the cross and trusted God with his plan for my life. Trusted that he could fill me with joy. I remembered the powerful, inexpressible joy of Lord even in the darkness of grief and also how I used to “Pray and Play through the Day” when the children were smaller.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,”

Ephesians 5:18

I told my husband that I’m powerless to permanently change myself, to not be a “grumps” as he calls me. I just can’t do it. I explained that life was like walking through the desert and I keep having to be refreshed by the one who freely gives the water of life (Rev 21:6) If I don’t get this real drink then my spirit lays parched and my flesh reigns with all its deceit.

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”

Romans 7:19

So I boldly approached the throne of grace and God met me and refreshed me with love. You see, sin makes us want to hide and try to fix things ourselves. I’m especially good at blaming others or pretending to myself that it’s really not that bad. But prompted by the Holy Spirit’s loving conviction, I decided I wasn’t going to give myself a break on this, I wasn’t going to be kind to myself, I wasn’t going to make excuses but I was going to depend on the only One who can forgive and change my heart and desires.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:8-9

Sin weighs us down and separates us, not only from others but from God. Sin is actually death’s sting. It chokes us with guilt and smothers us with shame. In a life saved it grieves the Holy Spirit. From the moment we turn our backs on sin and turn toward God, He gives us new heart, He puts Godly desires within us and we start to lose the taste for former things of the world, it is a supernatural heart change. He does the work and He does it so gently and lovingly, not condemning us but filling us with the things that truly fulfil; He works on the deep things of our heart; our desires, addictions, adulterous affairs, illegal activities, our lying tongues, our vindictive ways. He fills us in the spirit so we no longer thirst after these things in the natural. He’s continuously transforming us to be like Jesus, even while we sleep! It’s pressing and painful at times, but each trial big or small we come through singing His praises and marvelling at His great love.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Hebrews 12:11

So I sit here and write this recovering from a pulled hamstring and sprained ankle from running, egg and spoon and three legged races with my family, and remind myself I’m running the big race –

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:1-2

Made for More

As well as encouraging and kind words, the world has called me voiceless, strange, tomboy, oyinbo, spoilt child, abandoned, unloved, too white, half-caste, k**n, n****r, troublemaker, waster, s**g, druggy, victim, survivor. I’ve called myself worse at times; worthless, damaged, broken and I have also definitely not always been a voice of kindness and encouragement to others. Spiritually, unseen demons have harassed me, relentlessly chanting that I was hopeless, a mess, that there was no point in continuing to live.

But when I met Jesus my life changed forever and suddenly it didn’t matter what I, the world or the demonic labelled me because I knew whose I was, what my purpose was, where I came from and where I’m going. For the first time I had peace beyond understanding and joy I never knew before welled up from deep within me. His forgiveness and love for me meant I could forgive and love those who hurt me, bringing such freedom in the depths of my soul! My identity didn’t lie in my upbringing, the colour of my skin, my mixed heritage, being a parent, my religion, my addictions, my traumas, my achievements or my life choices.

From the minute we are born, the cry of our heart is to find our home, a place of belonging. We search all our lives, looking to find our identity in relationships of all kinds, expecting people to fill us, to “make us complete”, we make idols of people and call them “my everything” without even questioning the weight of that and whether those people even want and can live up to be “our everything”, we look to careers that will end, financial status that can change in the blink of an eye, religions that take take take, race, traditions, cultures, sexual identity, addictions, we are always searching for what satisfies. And none of it ever gives full and lasting satisfaction.

All these things can’t fill us because we were made for much more than what they can give us. God made us in his image and deep down in our hearts we know it very well, the longing is for our creator. When we allow Jesus to take his rightful place as Lord of our lives, everything changes. We no longer look to others or anything else to validate our existence because his presence alone sets everything right. The love he has for you is like nothing else. You are loved and his arms are open, always open for you to make the best decision you will ever make, to turn from being your own god to the living God. It’s a costly move; you are going to lose the life you know and all your desires for this world.

“If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” Matthew 10:39

If you just knew how much God loves you and the new life that is freely available to you! A life with a hope and a future! The world may have labelled you, condemned you, crushed you (and worse WILL come simply because you follow Jesus!) but God calls you “my precious child – I’ve been looking out for you, I’ve been chasing you, I was there all those times you thought I wasn’t, I’ve been waiting for you”

Luke 15:20-24

“So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Soar

I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety related pain. For the past week I’ve been having constant pain in my chest, it wasn’t indigestion and tests yesterday confirmed my heart and lungs were good. For the last three days I’ve been experiencing pain in different parts of my body, it feels a bit like I’m getting beaten up by an invisible man. The pain itself feels like my brain has recorded every physical pain I’ve felt in my life and everything is just malfunctioning and coming on one after another. So, for example, I’ll get pain exactly like when I fell and scraped my arm as a child followed by an ache across my stomach then a sharp lung pain like from chest infection followed by dull backache, I can feel every pulled muscle every bang and bruise. Tennis elbow will suddenly come on, then a previously healed shoulder injury will keep flaring up and then waves of pain down the backs of my legs and arms with constant pricking of pain on random parts of my body. So bizarre!

Anyway I’m lying in bed now resting and the word “soar” breathed into my heart. How good is Jesus!

But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.” John 14:26

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” Psalm 46:1

I love the Church – One Spirit

Last Spring we had a weekend away celebrating a friend’s birthday. On the Sunday I woke early and having looked up some churches, by googling “Jesus in…” and scrutinising the “welcome”, “about” and “what we believe pages” to make sure they lined up with scripture, I narrowed it down to two. Three of my children came with me.

By the time I’d found a parking space and got the children out of the car, the service had already begun. I peered in through the door at the back. The room was full. Everyone was standing and all I could see was a sea of silver hair. It was quiet, too quiet. “Oh no” I thought, I’ve made a mistake this isn’t going to be toddler/child friendly. A few years back I’d taken three age three and under to a service at a beautiful medieval church with spectacular decorations and heady Christmas scents. We were the only young family in sight and as we shuffled along the pew an older lady looked at us and leaned into her friend and said “well this should be interesting”.

Well, I wasn’t sticking around at this church, I turned around and signalled to the children to head back out the main door, maybe we could make it to the other church. But as I walked out the Holy Spirit turned me one eighty degrees and led me in. I tentatively walked back to the entrance of the room, the people were still standing and this time instead of looking and listening, I saw and heard. I saw that the people were stood up in prayer, and members of the congregation were, in turn, praying out loud. They were praying in the spirit. It was the most beautiful sight and sound.

We walked towards four empty seats at the back and sat down. A lady in the row infront turned and gave us a warm smile. As we stood to sing, another lady produced some baby musical toys, a flag and a tambourine and gave them to my children. We sang “Your Presence is Heaven to Me”, fifty or so voices, one guitar, all for Jesus. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sound more beautiful.

We were then invited to the children’s room were there was an array of crafts, toys, activities, drawing and colouring materials and snacks. The children happily played while I sat nearby and caught the sermon, which happened to be on Expectancy. Physically surprising but spiritually unsurprising my home Church was also to preach on Expectancy in the weeks after.

After the service my children ran up and down and weaved in and out of the rows of seats while I chatted to a couple of people. I was invited to stay and have lunch. While tables were being laid I learnt that this church hadn’t had any young families in for years, the only other child I had spotted was someone’s grandchild. All their children had grown and left the area and they were praying for young people to come. Now it made sense how joyfilled they were to see my children squealing, jumping and twirling all over the place.

They hadn’t had children in in years but they were ready, ready with the box of instruments, crafts, colours, stories and snacks. This was expectancy. This was Amen. I was so moved by the faith I saw in this small church in a little old building in the off season of a seaside town. We sat and enjoyed the most delicious ploughman’s together and I was greatly encouraged from conversations with a lady and a couple.

As the children and I returned back to the cottage to join my friends and rest of my family, I marvelled at all I’d seen. I love the church, I was home even though I was away from home. I am born again, born of the spirit and born into a whole new worldwide family in Christ. We walk this life with the faith we have been given and these faith filled spiritual prayers are not earthly prayers, they are powerful, fruitful and unfailing.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”

Hebrews 11:1-2

I Love the Church – Jesus

I’ve shared the gospel with a man who was a vicar, a man who was taxi driver and a spiritualist church member and every single Jehovah’s Witness who has come to my door. A fortune teller invited me in to her hut to show me some handmade jewellery, we spoke about the unseen and what truth is, she said there are many ways and that all are right. I said there is only one truth, Jesus, he is the way, the only way, at this she physically shoved me and the baby I was carrying out of the door. I’ve prayed at the bedside of one close to death, in his last days and old age his heart softened to the gospel. I’ve commanded spirits causing psychotic issues to leave a lady who was homeless. I have felt a golf ball sized arthritic swelling on someone’s knee shrinking under the palm of my hand on praying for healing. I’ve had countless online conversations with people about Jesus; speaking truth into areas where there have been religious lies. I’ve been called all kinds of names, been ridiculed, even accused of harming my children because of my faith.

Jesus, blazing bright the extraordinary in me and through me. Who am I? I’m the most ordinary individual! The Holy Spirit has taken me on this wild adventure and it’s only just the beginning.

In the Autumn last year I received news that a family friend had made the trip to the UK, fallen ill with a stroke and was in hospital. She had little support. During our holiday we were able to make the journey to see her. As I was praying in the car, I asked Jesus what she needed. My mum had given me a list but I just felt there was something more. I prayed about this and the word ‘Slippers’ came. Slippers? We stopped at a supermarket and I picked up a few toiletries and there happened to be the biggest display wall of slippers I’d ever seen! I didn’t even know her size or what style she would like. ‘Jesus which ones’ I prayed. I took a dainty pair down and put them in my basket.

Arriving at the ward, the lady who I’d known in my childhood was sitting in bed. I arranged all the bits I’d brought for her and spent some time with her. As I spoke to her, my arm stretched out over the bleak ward filled with the elderly and sick and I showed her the expanse of a beautiful horizon and said ‘the world may have forgotten you but the Lord hasn’t, God loves you.’ I prayed healing over her. When it was time to go, she began packing up all the things I’d brought for her to give back to me. I assured her they were for her. Then she picked up the slippers and looked at them. She looked at them for a long time. And as I quietly watched her face, she softly breathed out one word, “Jesus”.

In the days later I contacted a nearby church, a Church that shone Jesus, and I asked if someone could visit and just be there for her. A lady rang me saying she would go. She did. She sat with her and talked with her, text me and called the visit a blessing.

This is the Church. The body of Christ.

“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

Colossians 1:18

I Love the Church – Blazing Light

The end of Summer came too soon last year and the main reason for this was the incredible beach mission we went to every day for two weeks. There were events for all the family and holiday clubs for children aged 0-18. My daughters happily skipped to their groups; sang songs, learnt dance routines, did crafts. There were parties, water fights, family fun nights, children’s choir performances and so much more. One fortnight, over ninety volunteers, a hundred and forty hours of free activities and hundreds of children attended.

At one of the afternoon events a volunteer, who had been involved with the mission for three decades, stood and spoke to all about the love of God in Jesus Christ. We were all outside and it was a beautiful summer’s afternoon. My son was running around at the back and as I was trying to keep up with him, I looked up and the big tree in the middle of the grounds was ablaze and all I could think was “this fire can be seen for miles around”, God’s love blazing in communities through the church.

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Ephesians 3:10-11

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