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

The Human Heart

God is for you. God isn’t against you. He grieves the things that have hurt us, the people who did despicable things to us. He fights for us so to breathe truth into our lives where others may have spoken evil things over us. There is so much suffering in this world and man in his finite mind thinks if he were God he or she could fix the world in an instant. Heal all those sick children, strike down those who murdered. Man? What would you do? Would you be as just to your relatives as you would be to a stranger who committed the same crime? If it were all in your hands, would your world be fair? Would you heal the sick child of someone who had taken the life of yours? And how would you deal with your own wickedness? Every thought you had to steal or a flash of wanting someone else’s home, possessions, spouse? Every time you’d lied or used someone’s else’s body for selfish pleasure and discarded them like rubbish or your relentless thoughts of revenge. The times you tossed a coin in a cup but didn’t bother to even look at the person holding it or like me even crossed the road to avoid them. All the times you did the very opposite of lift up and encourage friends, colleagues, strangers or loved ones. Our disputes with neighbours, keying someone’s car, wishing someone dead. So are the depths of evil in our hearts and we haven’t even got to the crimes that break earthly laws.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23

You talk of how God, in all his power would make it a perfect world. We, mankind, are so far gone, in every way. Our hearts are evil beyond repair. Even the very ‘best’ (aka sinning in ways that don’t seem as bad or obvious as others’ sin) of us fall short of a Holy standard.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

So God looks at the world he made and the people in it, he sees the sin and darkness in our hearts and He comes, the Word made flesh. The only one, perfectly sinless, who could take the sins of the world. And this he does in his death at the cross; stripped, beaten and bloodied by men and it didn’t stop there, worse still, the unthinkable, God’s wrath against our sin violently came down on Him. Jesus is plunged into darkness, God’s love taken away from him, absolute spiritual torture and agony and all so that through him he makes the only way for us to be right with God. He lovingly gives us a choice to accept salvation, the free gift of life in him so we never have to remain in eternal darkness with God’s face turned against us. All the sins of all people, everything we ever did, thought and said and will do, think and say, all our deserved punishment came down on Jesus. Because God is a god of justice, sin is dealt with, it’s not ignored or covered up.

“But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2:24

And God raises him because death has no power over him and only in him and through him we walk freely and free into new life with him, where our sins have been exposed by his light, the light of the world. No longer slaves to sin, no longer ruled by guilt, shackled by shame, harassed by anxious thoughts and all the ways sin permeates and wreaks havoc in our bodies, minds and spirits – ultimately ending in eternal death, both physical and spiritual, an eternity in the absence of God’s love, holiness, gentleness, truth, justice, peace, life, light, mercy, grace, hope, healing, comfort, kindness, joy.

“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 3:20-21

When God’s holy, wondrous light blazed over me, it was the first time I saw myself as I am. Not the good or kind person that I thought I was but his light exposed the very depths of my nature and in an instant I saw that I was the worst of the worst. I understood I was wicked to the core but also God’s perfect love was pouring over me, his amazing grace poured over a wretch like me! Sinner that I am I was loved and because of the cross nothing can ever stand in the way of his love for me. “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12 and he has made me new “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

We no longer scurry about in the darkness, oppressed and in bondage by sin but are born again. We are given new hearts, hearts that are able and desire to do the will of God, hearts that have tasted and are filled with the goodness of God and so grow day by day repulsed by doing, thinking, saying anything not of God. Jesus went through the hardest unimaginable journey so we could easily come home to him. This is the love of God, this is how much he loves every single person on this planet. This is love.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

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 Greatest Gift

It’s a year since we found out our baby died early on in pregnancy. The grief has been searing, relentless and so crushing that at times my legs have felt like they may collapse beneath me. Over these months I’ve had so many conversations with people –

I’ve been told that I had a lot going on at the time and I was doing too much and not resting. And that maybe it just wasn’t the right time for this baby. And the suggestion that it may have been a good thing as I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things I’d done since. There have been lots of taking deep breathes along side well meaning words. Truth is how ever much we desperately try to scramble for the right thing to say, there are no positives to death. Whatever age or time.

Going out with my daughters always seems to bring up two conversation starters;

“They all yours? Are you going to have any more?”

“All girls! Are you going to try for a boy?”

A lady on the bus had come up with the first opener and I told her about our baby, she asked when in the pregnancy and showed her relief when I said it was early on.

The lady doing my hair came up with the second opener. I told her about our baby. “Still, not as bad as my sister” she said and told me that she had three babies die late in pregnancy.

A sweet family friend in her eighties who was so distraught after her little one died she could never bring herself to go through being pregnant again.

“Any more?” one of the home ed mums asked me and this led on to the loveliest conversation as we both shared our experiences of our babies that didn’t make it.

The first time I saw death up close was through a window from the car where I’d been told to stay as it had been decided I was too young to go to a funeral. I watched as the miniature white and brass coffin was carried past.

So many more experiences and conversations that are not for me to share.

So many babies.

There is one conversation that had a huge impact on me. I was sat on the sofa sharing tea and biscuits and letting somebody know about our baby. I was talking about how hard the grief had been for both me and my husband and she met me at this point because she understood, it had been the same for her and her husband. I looked down and my heart sank and I started to feel little bubbles of anger growing bigger from the pit of my stomach and I just wanted to scream “but this isn’t the same, this wasn’t MY choice!”

I started to panic because I couldn’t pop these rising bubbles. I didn’t want to upset her but I didn’t know if I could hold my back my emotions. Then just like that my Prince of Peace rescued me, peace swept over me and draped a warm blanket of stillness around me. I looked up at her and I saw brighter than day how Jesus sees her. Loved. Treasured. Died for. So desperately longed for.

Truth scattered the lies like cockroaches in torch light as I was reminded we are all in this mess together; broken people living in a broken world. I hadn’t made the same choices as her but I was so so so far from perfect in how I’d lived my life.

I saw we were both dealing with the heavy consequences of death and I listened as she opened up about the grief she was going through. We had the same pain, our babies have left huge holes in our families.

So many babies.

I birthed my tiniest baby on Christmas Day, two days after I was told there was no heartbeat. The dark valleys of grief and the trauma of the physical process have not left me and neither has the incredible hope, peace, comfort, joy and love that was poured out to me and that is all because of one little baby given to us all.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

The greatest everlasting conversation we will ever have is the one God has with us. It has never been a question of “Is God speaking?” but rather “Are we listening?”

“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

A love like no other that at our most destitute facing the punishment of death we rightly deserve, one we can never escape or work to pay ourselves. He took our place and paid the price on the cross. He took our sin, dealt with death by rising again to give us the free gift of eternal life.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

1 John 4:9-10

The greatest gift we could ever receive from a Father who never gives up on us no matter how far we run and how long we hide. He made the way, the ONLY way that we can return to Him.

We have only two choices when it comes to being presented with gifts; reject or receive.