Light in the Darkness

My daughter needed a Halloween themed costume for her ballet class, she described what I should make and said she wanted it to be really, really scary. Her costume was at an early stage where it could have gone two ways – light or darkness. She was adamant on darkness as it was more scary.

“You know….” I said “you know what is more terrifying than anything?”

“What?”

“Light shining in the darkness”

“Why?”

“Because when light shines in the darkness it exposes EVERYTHING and THAT is terrifying”

This simple conversation made it hit home to me the power and freedom we have been given in Christ; the incredible gift we have received that saves us from stumbling around in the bondage of utter darkness to walk free and fearless in everlasting light.

We are all born separated from God; spiritually dead. We live in total darkness, deafness and blindness. We go from having an inkling that something isn’t right within us to total brokenness and questioning about who we are. We wrestle with confusion, fear, guilt, shame. No coincidence that all these feelings are rooted in and only produced by lies. I’ve heard people talk of living with some or all of these crushing burdens and in some cases don’t even know why.

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:19-21

It’s no good measuring ourselves against people who have done worse in our eyes and concluding “well I’m a good person” because when we truly see ourselves in the full light of perfection Himself, God who is pure holiness, we ALL fall short. (Romans 3:23)

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

I spent a lot of my teenage years and twenties out clubbing. We’d spend ages listening to music and getting ready and drinking, making sure we didn’t cross that fine line that would result in a bouncer not allowing us in. Once inside, thumping deafening music would leave ears ringing for days and the only communication possible would be a signal to your friends that you were going to the bar. More drinks led to more loss in vision but then from across the room you see him. ‘Wow’ you think ‘who is this guy and why didn’t I notice him before!’

You stumble through the dry ice and blackness and shout into each others ears. Quickly breaking the pact you made with your friends, only an hour before about sticking with the girls, you spend the rest of the night dancing as if you and this man have suddenly been superglued together. Then the dj announces the last song of the night and as you admire the hottest human being you’ve ever seen standing in front of you, the lights come on. Now you see the truth and so does he!

Jesus didn’t come to condemn us but to free us, to rescue us from everlasting darkness and take us into everlasting light, bringing us from death to life. To free us from the bondage and punishment under the power of sin to having freedom and power over sin.

When we come to light himself, all our deeds are exposed, we see clearly who we are, who we have been, where we have been, who we were made for and where we are going. The truth shines so bright that all the lies are exposed. And because of what Jesus did for every single one of us at the cross we are not left terrified but met with loving open arms filled with grace. Amazing grace! And through the resurrection we are given new life, born again, not of flesh but of spirit. When we choose to receive this gift we are instantly sealed with the Holy Spirit, we have God Himself dwelling in us.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Godchildren born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” John 1: 9-13

God always gives us the freedom to choose, love always does and God is love. We can go on in futile attempts to cover our sin ourselves, working to be a good person or we can receive God’s incredible gift to us and rest in full confidence, covered permanently by Jesus taking it all for us at the cross. Do we go on in darkness or do we turn to him?

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

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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

Rest

I woke up last night fully clothed and not in my own bed (I thought this kind of thing had stopped once I stopped going out!). Last thing I remember was shutting my eyes for an early evening snooze then being woken by my 2yo who was having a midnight tantrum. So I got into bed with her and then not long after I was woken by my 5yo who was sat up and crying because she’d had a bad dream, I didn’t get out of my 2yo’s bed for fear of waking her so I spoke softly over to her “It’s okay darling lie down and go back to sleep” she immediately stopped sniffling, lay down and went to sleep. It was 3am and in that moment I was reminded how God cares for us. He speaks to us and at his word we lay our head down and rest. I didn’t know at the time but this gentle night time reminder would stand me in good preparation for today. All day this verse keeps breathing into my soul “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27. God is always speaking to us all, those familiar with his voice and those yet to be. He is the whisper of hope in devastating times, the warmth in the bleakness, the nudges of gentle encouragement when the storms come. When we stand on his word there is nowhere to go but to enter into peace, the full rest. 

Good Grief

On Sunday morning we were reminiscing with such joy about loved ones who are no longer with us. That evening I received a phonecall with some very sad news. I’ve been walking around doing the usual everyday things but my heart has been floored. Inside I have felt so weak, as if my soul was just a puddle on the floor. While I was washing up I was telling God how sad I was, how my heart hurt for the immediate family, I felt so broken that they were experiencing this devastation and I said “All I can do is rely on you to carry me Lord, I’m so weak with pain” then the Lord spoke to my heart “Why are you crying as if there is no hope?” I felt as if he was gently lifting my chin and in that moment I was reminded how mighty our God is; we have a God who is bigger than all the pain, sickness and death, we have a God of hope. We have a God who understands our worries, fears and questions and is available at all times. We have a God who provides healing, peace and deep joy. We have a God who is in total control. We have a God who we can trust, even more so when we can’t see further than the blur of our eyes that are clouded with tears. He is the inexplicable presence of warmth in times of devastation.

Two verses immediately came to mind and soothed my heart – 

 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3 and 

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5. 

When sadness has pushed me down and left me a broken mess on the floor, my hands are up ready for our Lord to pull me up and carry me through. His love leaves no room for worry – 

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 

He is always with us, pouring out his love and providing us with the strength to go on.

 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7

FEAR

  

Fear has been regularly knocking at my door through the misdiagnoses, scans, appointments, prescriptions, referrals, medications, Internet self diagnoses and handling the increasing severity of pain. I had to get through a lot of opposition to get the right medication but got there in the end. I was praying for just one day of feeling okay, just one day! And now I’m so grateful to have had 2 weeks pain free. There are still tests to do and specialists to see but I’ve learnt so much on this journey. I’ve experienced fear that subtly creeps in, it starts off as a small pin prick but it’s venom spreads through the body so quickly and, with me, at the worst it ends with anger or tears. Sometimes I’ve felt too cross to ask God for help but I’ve known that he is my only help. When I haven’t known which doctors opinion to trust I know I’m already in safe hands. When I’ve let my mind run away with the dread of what could be, he has reminded me that it’s ALL good anyway. When I’ve struggled with daily activities he’s flooded my heart with sweet words of comfort, hope and peace. When a doctor has expressed their irritation towards me, Jesus has instantly healed the hurt; showing me that doctors are only human too, they may feel pressure in their profession and to love them deeply anyway. When I have felt out of control, he has drenched me with the security that he is in control. He has enabled me to be thankful for the miraculous way in which my body works and to see the multitude of things to be grateful for that always far outweigh the difficult stuff. I’ve learnt to lean on him for everything because he really does care about the smallest details in our lives. His comfort and peace in every circumstance is like no other. It’s all been so wonderfully faith building. So fear, what ever guise it taps on the window in; terror, anxiety, post traumatic stress…He gives us the power to flick it away like the annoying little gnat it is. We don’t need to be afraid or even need to exhaust ourselves fighting or trying to control fear, we need only be still, trusting in Jesus. When I feel those first ripples of fear, that is my cue to fix my eyes on our maker.  

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Cast all you anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:19

Love in the small print

  
There have been so many adverts for LOVE over the last few days as well as images representing hope, peace and unity but in some of the attached exchange of comments there have been sparks of hate. It makes me glad we don’t have access to our own private armies, we’d be launching attacks left, right and centre! 

How can we claim we love when we slam the door on people’s opinions just because they differ from ours? 

How can we claim to want unity when we divide by viciously telling people to go away when they hold different views? 

How can we claim peace when we are quick to call and respond to each other with horrid names? 

Everyone’s story is valid, no one is more important than another. We all have the ability and intelligence to accept or reject people’s point of view, that is our human right, but sometimes we throw out the person along with their opinions. Before discarding the person, LISTEN. Really listen. Listen to their story. Ask questions. Open up. Share. It’s so amazing when we break that first barrier and we don’t let our preconceptions get in the way. Fear puts up angry barriers, love breaks them down. People will always have different views and make different choices, those are the results of the incredible gift of free will. 

Like all of us I know how to love, but I am continually questioning – am I loving as fully as I could today? Is it “love” to shower it generously on my loved ones but then hold it back at someone who I feel offended by? One thing I know is that LOVE HAS NO PARTIALITY. What good are the big displays of love if we don’t have it written in the small print of our hearts? I think the difference I can make today is to make sure I am loving fully, make sure that I’m giving love in the small details of life. To love not only the people who are easy to love but the people who are difficult to love. I know this is only possible not by my weak and pathetic standards of love but but by keeping my heart entrusted to Jesus, who enables all that do to love like him – fully, powerfully and without limits, everyday allowing him to soften and mould our hearts to be humble, gentle and kind. 

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34)

A Thankful Heart

  
I’m good at grumbling, I’m so naturally great at it I make Morrissey look like Mary Berry. A couple of weekends back I’d had enough of my chronic illness. Tired & grumpy I left my husband & children and charged back off to bed. As I lay in bed frowning at the ceiling I prayed, “Seriously Lord, you give me 3 children to care for, how am I supposed to do that when my body won’t let me! I know you can heal me in a breath, why aren’t you healing me? I can’t take this pain anymore! Lord what do I do?!” Then my exhausted heart calmed “what do I do?” Suddenly peace fell upon me and a list of so many things I had to be grateful for started flooding into my mind. All these wonderful gifts I’d taken for granted since I’d woken that morning;- the gift that I’d opened my eyes, I was able to enjoy the soft sparkle of the sun. Blood rushing through my body, my heartbeat, oxygen, cells. Underneath my skin there was a busy network of a million miracles continuously taking place, keeping me alive. The part of my body that wasn’t functioning properly had grown so big in my mind that it had taken over my day but in that moment it shrank so minute in comparison to all the wonderful things that I had to be grateful for (in my body alone!) In life there will be hardships but there is always certainty in times of uncertainty -Jesus is enough to carry us through. His peace surpasses all understanding. He was not only reminding me to trust and be thankful, he was enabling me to do so.

“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:26-27) 
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10). 

The immense power of his love for all of us has made it possible to dance in our turmoils, sing in our heartbreak, smile through our pain and have the wonderful gift of a thankful heart. What a faith building experience!