Are you ready?

Find a mirror, take a breath and breathe onto it.

News of a beautiful baby born and more joy with another arrival. A midnight phone call, coma, ongoing critical care. A message received, illness, treatment, recovery. Waking up to the news of the death of a loved one. 5 lives. 12 days into July.

Are you ready for what is to come?

My soul was pressed yesterday and in that pressing a song erupted from deep within “we thank you for the cross”. Thank you Jesus you did not leave us in despair, darkness, bleakness, blackness, dead in our sin. I rejoiced singing at the top of my lungs because what a Father we have. Thankful we have hope, peace, joy, love, truth, light, a future and an eternity in His perfect presence.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14

We are good at making plans, booking holidays years in advance. Finalising our retirement plans. Talking of tomorrow as if it’s a given but we can’t even secure anywhere near the next millisecond of our lives.

How much thought have you given to what will happen to you when you die? What ever conclusion you have come to, are you certain?

Are you certain?

Are you certain you will be reincarnated? Are you certain you will be floating around in the atmosphere? Are you certain you will disintegrate until no trace is left? Are you certain you will go and sit on a fluffy cloud with loved ones? Are you certain you are headed for heaven? Are you certain there is nothing more? Are you certain that no one can ever be certain of what comes after death?

We see that our bodies decay, so what about the part of ourselves that we don’t see physically? Our spirituality? The unseen. Do we just switch off? Does that part of us even age and decay? I’ve heard a few over 90’s say they still feel 19 inside.

We are on this earth for a little while then we are gone. A mist that vanishes. Life is short and death is certain, I plead with you to be certain about who or what you have put your trust in when you take your last breath.

I know that lies cannot uphold, so when we put our trust in a lie it will crumble at the slightest testing. Truth stands firm and is unchanging.

Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6

With truth comes certainty. Truth floodlights every single lie. There are many lies but there is only one truth. Truth is a person, his name is Jesus.

Take a deep breath and breathe onto a mirror. Your life is a mist. Here and then gone. If you desire to receive life, in this short life and for eternity, then simply ask Jesus.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

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The Church

Who knows that terrible boredom in a church service? The type of boredom that makes you want to peel your skin off and the dread that rises as you realise that the sermon may actually never come to an end.

We walked into an old church a few months ago and the children had such fun playing in the pews, singing round the alter and reading from the pulpit. It was a lovely sight as only a few days previously I had been praying that I wanted my children to always feel at home in any church they entered. I was brought up very familiar with church environments and my children are not as we don’t go very often. This long season of my life has really taught me to keep my eyes on Jesus. Not to rely on tradition, religion, nostalgia; the smell of old hymn books, the creek of oak pews, soft light through the stained glass. All lovely and good but the church is not made from mortar and stone, it is made of people (1 Peter 2:5) Church is not an activity to be done each week but it is who we are. My place in this season is not within the physical walls but outside of those walls ready with the Good News. Good news which everyone is invited to receive, those inside nightclub walls, sat beside supermarket walls, hanging around sitting on walls, surrounded by marble walls, trapped behind prison walls, confined to religious walls, those who have built their own walls and everyone who is yet to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34.8) because through Jesus, God has smashed down the wall that kept us from him, the wall that blocked our hearing, took away our sight and darkened our hearts to Him. Once we receive His gift of salvation we are given a new heart, a new spirit, (Ezekiel 36:26) our hearing and sight is restored and His word is then welcomed balm for a softened heart and not painfully boring arrows rebounding off a hardened heart.

For a long time I thought Church was about weddings, funerals, Sundays, Christmas and Easter. But Church is every day, every second of the day; hallelujahs in the car, blessings in the street, forgiveness all round, lavishing love on enemies. Bringing healing to the hurting, grieving with those who grieve, worship in hospitals, singing praise in crematoriums. The church is one family that spans across continents and denominations, breathing in scriptures, speaking His word, living life spirit led and fully free, walking in power over all darkness. Hearts blazing in inextinguishable light. Our brokenness exposed. Shedding our old nature and walking in the new. Having everything in common with someone we just met because we have the same Heavenly Father. Praying for each other. Pouring out gifts that have been poured into and over us. Overflowing with immeasurable joy through all circumstances and always ready to give an account of the hope we have to anyone who asks. (1 Peter 3:15) Church is new mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), coming boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) , thankfulness for every blink and breath and fully resting in and reflecting His glory.

“ But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:16-18

Grieve With Hope

A lovely little surprise at my Birth Afterthoughts meeting when the midwife said I could look through my hospital notes if I wanted. And there it was, my baby’s name, my beautiful, strong and shiny one always reminding me of how much love, hope, joy and peace we are lavished with in the midst of the darkest of horrors. The best is yet to come. Only Jesus. King of Kings and Lord of Lords, HE turned my mourning into dancing. No one cradles us in our anguish like he does. The ongoing care and attention to the smallest ripple of anxiety to the excruciating heaviness of heart, in my weakness his strength never fails to gently thunder in.

There is no better place than “Lord I don’t understand what is going on but I trust you. Thank you” “Lord I’m afraid but I trust you. Thank you” “Lord I feel so sad right now but I trust you. Thank you” “Lord it hurts so much but I trust you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you” and scripture that breathes into our souls at the exact time we need it; When my womb and arms ache for my baby – “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18

When I’m afraid it was it something I did?- “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10”

When I fear it will happen again – “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

When I think of the horror of the death that took place in my stomach – “he is risen” Matthew 28:6

He is risen!

Alive and Singing

As I walked through the hospital car park I saw a clown unloading boxes of toys and craft things from her car. It was three days till Christmas and I thought to myself how awful it would be to be in hospital on Christmas Day. I was 11 weeks pregnant and on my way to my first antenatal appointment.

That night I was woken by my 2 year old daughter who was having a midnight tantrum so I got into bed with her. My other daughter then woke from a bad dream a little while later. I hadn’t wanted to get out of my youngest’s bed because I didn’t want to wake her, so I spoke gently to my eldest and as soon as she heard my voice she immediately calmed, lay down and went to sleep. The reassuring power of just my voice to her ears amazed me, it was 3am and I was reminded of the relationship we have with God; at his word we lay down and rest.

When I woke in the morning I felt a small gush and thought “surely not, I can’t be losing my baby while I’m snuggled up to my baby”. I drove to the maternity unit at the hospital and they told me to go to A&E where I was assessed and waited for over an hour for the Early Pregnancy Unit to open. As soon as they opened I lay on the bed, had the blob of gel on my stomach and fixed my eyes on the screen. 

The first thing that hit me was the silence from the monitor. Little one was so still, just floating in the darkness. The sonographer was clicking away taking measurements and up flashed the words “8.3 weeks”. I wondered if maybe I’d got my dates wrong and also if babies so tiny have sleep cycles. The lady stopped clicking and turned to me and gently said “I’m so sorry. There’s no heartbeat”. Those softly spoken words were like a ten tonne boulder knocking the wind out of my chest. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. She offered me baby’s scan pictures, which I was so grateful for. 

I was handed several leaflets and given three options; 1. wait for everything to pass naturally. 2. Take a pill to help everything pass. 3. Have an operation. I was offered a cup of tea but I just wanted to get home. Unexpectedly I felt a wave of thankfulness wash over me. 

I drove away from the hospital and stopped at a quiet place to call my husband to tell him our little one hadn’t made it. 

I then went for a walk at my favourite beach and talked with God. I knew that the hospital diagnosis was not the final diagnosis. I knew that the situation could turn around. I knew that God could breathe life into my little baby, that starting that little heart again was no big thing for our Lord. I was hopeful for a miracle. But on my way back my heart spoke the words “your will be done” and because of that I knew that it was possible that things may not go the way I so desperately wanted but I was safe in the certainty that what ever happened the situation was covered. I stopped to offer to take a picture of a holidaying family, their beaming smiles filled me with warmth and then I spotted a tiny green shoot growing from the sand and I was deeply moved; against all odds this tiny shoot was thriving.

When I got home we gathered in the children’s bedroom and sat on the bed and my husband and I told our daughters that the little baby we told them was coming was no longer going to come. 

I spent the rest of the day feeling well, intermittently quarrelling; “really Lord, surely you can’t sandwich me in between the death of my father and my child!” and pleading “please just let me keep my baby, please” and crying “I said I wanted five children, did you not get the memo that I wanted them all alive!” but through all the anguish my heart always peacefully concluded with “your will be done” and with great confidence “I stand on your word” and “You are the God of LIFE not death!” I spoke life over myself and the child inside me. I slept very well that night and felt good for most of the next day and then the pains came.

Contractions came fast and also the non stop urge to keep going to the loo. I was so naive about the physical process, I didn’t realise I would be in so much pain. I’d given birth three times, spoken to countless midwives, had antenatal classes, did biology at school, read articles and knew people who had been through this and from the little pieces of information I stitched together I assumed I would just bleed a little and a tiny baby, either that I could see or inside a tiny jellylike ball would come out. The pain and the vast amount of blood I experienced was staggering. 

The contractions were so painful I was having to breathe through them and position my body leaning forward over cushions much like I did in my previous labours. I kept going to the loo and then I started passing small clots. I inspected every one in search of my tiny baby. In between reassuring me, my husband was successfully keeping things calm and normal for our children and just as he was putting them to bed I grabbed a sieve from the kitchen and asked him to find me a plastic container. I was determined our baby was not going to end up in the toilet. 

I crawled back up the stairs and across the landing in agony. Then I passed two fist sized clots, I assumed the largest had the baby inside and kept both in the container. I don’t know if it was the sight of all the blood but I started to feel extremely unwell, like I was going to black out so I asked my husband to call an ambulance. 

I was so relieved to be in the ambulance with gas and air to manage the pain. They elevated my legs to get my blood pressure back to normal. When I told one of the paramedics how much pain I was in he gently said he understood and I was so grateful for this. They then slid me onto a bed at the A&E ward and I continued to breathe heavily through the gas and air mouth piece. I was very aware that the ward was full, the desk in the middle of the room was busy with people coming and going and the privacy curtain remained open. There was a moment where because of the effects of the gas and air and contractions, it triggered memories from my previous births so I forgot for a moment and I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going to hold a warm 7 pound baby in my arms at the end of this and I just broke, sobbed and groaned “no, no, no”. 

At the same time they were having trouble getting a line into my vein and after multiple attempts had to use ultrasound to find a good vein and I was eventually given morphine and I felt its warmth spread through my body dulling the pain and contractions, I was relieved to be “back in the room” and not so dependant on the gas and air.

A doctor then asked to examine me. I agreed. She asked if she should remove anything she saw. I agreed. I had already assumed baby had come out, retrieved in the container but I didn’t know where the box had been put. I put my head back, closed my eyes and forced my body to relax. Then the incredible happened, I raised my hand pulling all the attached tubes with it, twice I felt the doctor pull my hand back and tell me I could hold onto her arm but I pulled away both times, I didn’t need or want anyone’s arm, I was reaching up to my Lord. And then I began to sing, over and over, my heart filling up and overflowing with gladness – 

“There is none 

None like you

Who can know my heart like you do

For all creation sings your song

I will join with them declaring your glory”

(United Pursuit – “Met By Love”)

I was totally lost in worship by the time the doctor confirmed that there was still something there but it was too firmly attached to remove. Knowing now that this was baby, I’m relieved she couldn’t. She then took her gloves off and leaned in to speak to me, 

“I know what you were doing. I’m a Christian. You are too?” 

“Yes” I replied. 

She looked at me, visibly moved she said “you’ve really shown me something.” then she paused for a moment and asked 

“What are you thankful for?” 

And these words tumbled out of my mouth 

“Life. I’m thankful for LIFE”

In that moment I saw that God was showing not only the doctor but both of his precious children something that day. Even though I was broken, bruised, battered, at the lowest point in my life so far, laying soaked in a puddle of my blood, devastated at the loss of my precious child my spirit was ALIVE and SINGING! I was welling up with such joy and soaked in nothing but the sweetness of his love. Not even being in this tragic mess was able to stop me enjoying a glimpse into the never ending joy in eternity. 

I was taken to a ward where I had a comfortable night and no more blood loss. I asked for some disposable bed pans as the doctor had later confirmed the two big clots I brought in the container, which was found tucked under my coat, were just clots. She showed me how they were soft and broke up easily. 

I went through about six bed pans and nothing. 

I woke on Christmas morning blinking at the blue curtain around my bed. My baby had died and it was Christmas Day, the celebration of the birth of the baby who changed the world forever. In Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection we have been given new life. The old has gone and the new has come, we are a new creation, born again. The greatest gift from a Father who loves each and every single one of us so deeply. A gift that is for EVERYONE and ANYONE to simply receive. It is because of Jesus that we are no longer left floating in darkness, no longer to live life spiritually deaf and blind, no longer under the punishment of the death we all deserve, no longer steeped in sorrow and pain and fear but have the free gift of eternal life. 

“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
John 3:16-17

Because of Jesus I have full rest. And once again in my darkest distress he has carried me through, never leaving my side. No words can ever come close to describe this kind of love. I am continually filled with such awe and wonder.

Another doctor came to review me and go through my options. He impatiently said if I had an operation I could be out the same day but if I waited it could be days. I’d been told earlier I’d have a scan to see what was going on in my womb but he immediately dismissed this and said “maybe so with a viable pregnancy but not for one that isn’t”, his manner was as cold as the clip board he held like a shield between us. I told him I wanted to wait for nature to take its course. 

Not long after I went to the loo and a large oval shaped sac slightly bigger than my fist dropped into the pan. It looked very different from the clots and was firmer to the touch. I called the nurse to check and she took the pan away and returned to confirm that the sac was baby. I was desperate to see my baby and asked if I could so she asked me to wait. She returned gently cradling and placing a new smaller disposable pan on my lap. Her manner was filled with such kindness and understanding. She explained the sac was still in tact because hospital policy did not allow them to open it. A doctor joined us and we went through the details of what happened next and I refused any testing on the little one’s tiny body. 

My husband arrived with the children minutes later just as I was walking back to my bed. I was discharged not long after so we were able to spend the rest of Christmas Day at home together and my husband cooked the most delicious meal. At times it felt a bit like I was sat in a glass box with the sound muted when I saw the happiness and laughter on tv or online but remembering what a Christmas like that felt like made me smile.

It’s the 2nd of January today and I have physically recovered very well after we all had a few days restful break with family. Our bodies are incredible and amaze me time and time again. 

We named our baby Albie. My heart aches for our little one. My womb screams for my baby. The pain is immense and the grief so deep. I love our baby so much and no one else will do. But when I search deeply for my child all I see is smiles, BIG smiles and then I can’t help but smile. The joy overrides everything else and I am so thankful. The first word I squealed when I saw those two blue lines was “hello!” and I know with far greater and unimaginable joy I will say hello again. 

I am so grateful for a Father who cares, really cares. Who never leaves us, will never abandon us. Who takes the time to explain things to us, guides us, comforts us and tend to our every need. Whose love for us -those who know him and those yet to know him, is beyond description. One thing that really hit home for the first time and gave me such deep peace is that God knew all this would take place before I was even born. All the tragedies I have faced and am yet to face. We have a Father who has gone before us. When we read –

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

This isn’t a little bit of friendly advice to keep your chin up and try your very best not to fear or be discouraged. This is the reality of being in his presence; where fear and discouragement simply do not exist.

I was given a Chaplain’s phone number as we were offered a communal cremation. During our conversation I told him I had given my life to Jesus years ago and his response was silence. I asked to see the words on the service sheet, which he emailed. 

“No singing?” I asked 

“No singing, but some appropriate music played at the end” he replied. 

How can I stand drearily repeating words passed down through religious tradition, how can I stand in an environment only allowing us to be sombre and full of grief when my heart is bursting with songs of worship, praise and thanksgiving. There’s no way, I just can’t.

 
How much more wonderful does it get! Every time I’ve witnessed God pour out the incredible and it makes me think that it surely can’t get better than this, he takes me to a place a million times better. My heart is joyfilled and guaranteed it will always be, grief runs deep but His love runs deeper. 

 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

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 God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God,but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”
John 1:1-19

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!

I was Blind but now I See

  

Luke 24:13
Jesus walks along with two followers returning from Jerusalem but they are kept from recognising him. I love that he asks them what’s wrong because God’s humour really shines through here, it reminds me of the playful excitement of a parent when they’ve got you your dream gift but haven’t told you yet. The two friends are so sad, they can’t understand what has happened to the one who was to save them. They had heard the news “Jesus has risen” but it seemed like nonsense to them. I love the way Jesus pulls out their feelings by asking them questions. 

We have a loving father who doesn’t give up on us even when we have given up, who walks with us even when we are unaware that he does, who is here to listen and take our worries and problems and breathe on us the truth that overcomes the lies.

Jesus explains everything to them. When they arrive at their destination, Jesus goes to continue on. It’s only after they urge him to stay with them, inviting him in and Jesus breaks bread and gives it to them that “their eyes were opened and they recognised him and he disappeared from their sight”. Then it hits home that it had been Jesus all along -“Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us”. And even though it was late and they had wanted to get back home they couldn’t hold in their excitement and joy and immediately return to Jerusalem to share the good news with the others.

When you urge Jesus to stay with you, accepting Him as your Lord and Saviour, he comes to live in you. Your ears and eyes are opened to him, he gives you the wisdom to understand his word and a new heart capable of doing his will.

In 2 Corinthians 3:16 we read
“But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed”. Just one encounter with the risen Christ will change your life for eternity. There are no special words, no special place to be, no special praying position, just a heart that says “yes” to receive God’s greatest gift. Jesus is walking right along side you now, waiting for you to invite him in, longing with such joy to give you eyes that see, to enjoy the beauty of his presence now and for ever.