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Doodling the Word

You do WHAT in your Bible?!

That’s what someone exclaimed when I was trying to explain my new pastime to them.  I had to explain the whole thing to them twice and they still had that look of disbelief, with a dash of disapproval thrown in there too just for good measure.

So what do I do in my Bible?  I journal.

Bible journaling was a foreign concept to me until just a few months ago when I saw a few pictures on Pinterest (anyone else spend hours on there without realizing it?!).  I was intrigued, and when a saw a free workshop advertised at my local Christian bookstore, I figured ‘Why not?’.  I went along to the drop-in workshop with only my trusty old Bible and a pen; and boy did I fall in love.

Bible journaling is a new approach to getting creative in your quiet time.  It’s growing in popularity and now I have tried it for myself I can absolutely see why: I’m hooked!

The simple explanation of Bible journaling is that you journal your thoughts right onto the page of the Good Book.  You can draw, write, date: whatever you choose.  No two people will journal the same way and so no two journaling Bibles will look the same.  But that’s the beauty of it: it’s a way for us to be creative for, and with, God.

I’ve always been a creative soul – I crochet, sew, make jewelry, write and I’ve always loved doodling.  So when I found a way I could do that for the Lord I thought I had hit the jackpot!  I truly love it, and from having never done anything like it before just a few months ago, I now journal in my Bible most nights.  Sometimes for hours.

So if you, too, are echoing the exclamation ‘You do WHAT in your Bible?’ read on and see for yourselves.  You might just get hooked on it too…

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From the Mountain…

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I live in a city built on hills.  If you want to go anywhere, you’ve got to go up a hill or down a hill.  Which is great if you want to give your thighs a workout, not so great if you’re nervous of the clutch in a manual car.  I love those hills though, because it gives you some pretty epic views.  The house I live in is, for all intents and purposes, on the top of a hill.  From my window I can see for miles: houses, allotments, churches, tower blocks, cranes (because, like it or not, my city also seems to be full of buildings-in-progress at the moment) and the beautiful wide sky.  And there’s something rewarding about my long walk to work every day, when you get to the top of a hill, turn around and see how far you’ve come.

But, of course, there are days when I’m not so fond of the hills.  Like when I’m trying to take my driving test and the traffic lights turn red at the top of a very steep hill.  Or when I’m walking home after a long day at work and the last part of that walk is up another very steep hill.  Or when it’s icy underfoot and you doubt whether you’ll make it to the top – or bottom – still upright.

Life is a little like a series of hills, don’t you think?  Some days we’re at the top, enjoying the view, looking back at how far we’ve come.  Other days, all we can see is the steep incline our weary legs don’t want to climb.  On those days, if you’re anything like me, you find yourself wishing for a bit of flat ground (don’t tell any of my fellow Steel-Citiers I said that, though ;))

But here’s the good news, friends.  Hill or no hill, God is there.  Whether your legs are weary or you’re running like Rocky up those stone steps, God is right there beside you.  And when you’re looking up at that impossible-looking, steeper-than-you-remember incline?  Yep, He’s there ready to give you the push you need. There’s no mountain too big for Him.

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***

A few weeks ago I changed my work habits in the office.  I’ve always had earphones and listened to music as I work, but I decided to change what I listen to.  I swapped Lauren Alaina and Kip Moore (yes, this girl loves country!) for Bethel Music and Housefires.  Now my day, even when I’m in an office far removed from a church room or my own personal spiritual space, I am surrounded by worship.  And it’s wonderful.  I’m not sure what my colleagues would think if they knew I was listening to songs of praise and singing along in my head, but I know that it is the best thing I have done in my current work situation.  It’s a small thing, really, but a great reminder that even in the most mundane of places God is there, and I can draw closer and closer to Him.

One song that I am playing on repeat this week goes a little something like this…

From the mountain to the valley

From the dessert to the raging sea

In the silence or the city streets

Your presence always covers me

– ‘Mountain to Valley’ by Housefires

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Sometimes it’s all too easy to forget God in your every day life, when you’re at work or with friends who don’t follow Christ.  Or when you’re tired and faced with one of those steep hills you don’t want to climb.  But the simple, and oh-so-spectacular truth, is this: God is always there.  We cannot escape His love, wherever we go or don’t go.  It’s never too loud to be still and listen to God.  It’s never to late to tune in to Him.  It’s never too secular a workplace to ground yourself in His love. You are never without Him.

So wherever you are walking today, however many hills you have to climb or valleys you find yourself trudging through, remember this: God’s presence and His unfailing, unending, extravagant, meant-for-you love is with you.  And in the words of the song, it’s such a journey walking with Him now.

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Pray Without Ceasing

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It’s been a while…

I wrote my last post on here two months ago, and those two months have been hard.  The situations that have kept this blog quiet for those weeks are complicated, filled with new jobs and transitions and a lot of sleepless nights and more besides.  But I have missed writing here.  My journal and my Bible has continued to fill up with love letters to God and to the family he has given me, and prayers of joy and pain and uncertainty and frustration.  Always prayers.

We all go through seasons in our lives.  Some seasons are like the most beautiful of British summers, where the sky is clear and blue and you float with the clouds as they dance across the sky.  But then there are other seasons, the winters where the rain pounds and the wind blows horizontally and you are fighting against the storm to stay upright, where the mere effort it takes to stand up leaves you exhausted.  But unlike Mother Nature, the seasons of our lives don’t take kindly to being told their three months are up or the tilt of the earth has shifted and it’s time to change.  Sometimes, in our lives, the season we least want to be in can last the longest.

Which season are you in now?  A season of thankfulness?  Of fruitfulness?  Or a season of confusion and frustration?

If I’m in a season, it’s one that hasn’t quite made up its mind yet.  I’m in a day where all four seasons make company together, where morning greets you with hopeful sunshine only to be pushed out by storm clouds and wintry showers by lunchtime.  I’m in the kind of day where you just don’t know whether to wear those summer sandals you haven’t packed away for the year yet, or whether to crawl into that big baggy jumper and melt into the chair by the fire.  It’s disconcerting, uncomfortable sometimes, and anything but predictable.

But here’s the thing: that’s okay. I’m okay with my uncertain, undecided season.  Because in my confusion, there is more room for God’s certainty.  When I am unsure, God reminds me that my surety is found in Him.  When rain pours, it is a perfect time to run to my Heavenly Father for cover.

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If you are anything like me – and I’m positive at least one of you will be in this! – you probably find yourself praying more in times of trouble than when you’re busy celebrating.  I’m not proud of this fact, and I am working hard to pray more in good times.  But when I’m confused, that’s when I pray most.  When I’m lost or angry or upset, that’s when I talk God’s ear off, ugly crying into his waiting shoulder.  Oftentimes, this is because I am not ready, or not brave enough, to cry on a friend’s shoulder.  But whatever the reason, I know God listens to my cries and my frustrations and my worries; and to borrow the words of a wonderful worship song, His promises to me are always ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’.  Not always ‘Yes’ in the way I think, but always ‘Yes’ in the way that is right and good for me on the path He has laid for me.

Whatever the season I am in, I am learning – aren’t we always? – to be confident in His promises to me.  I am practising confidence in His power, and certainty in His will, and comfort in His Holy Spirit.  Somedays are easier than others.

And I am praying.  Always praying.  Sometimes in ink on pages and pages of yet another worn-out journal, or in paint on the thin pages of my Bible, or in wordless sighs and unknown cries and gushing tears; sometimes in songs of praise and thanksgiving, or in poems of wonder; sometimes in simple words spoken into the darkness of a quiet room.  And God hears them all.

…pray continually…

1 Thessalonians 15:17

It always seems that when I am unsure of things in my own season, I find myself praying more for others and their seasons.  Right now I am praying for decisions to be made and for new paths to be found and for healing to begin.  I am praying for changes and for hearts to be opened and for bridges to be built.

But I am not praying for the seasons to change.  I am only giving thanks that we are blessed enough to be able to enjoy the colours of each season and to know that our God provides for us in all days, so that we flourish whatever the weather.

And as for the weather, and for my days filled with everything from sun to rain to snow?  I’m learning to layer 😉

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Real Love

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Let’s talk about love.  I don’t mean the chocolates and roses kind of love, or the love you have for chocolate brownies after they’ve been warmed up and topped with just melting vanilla ice cream (the good kind), or even the love that makes you go all teary-eyed as the movie ends and the heroine finally gets her hero.  Let’s talk about real love.

Tonight, I did my first day of the 30 Days of Bible Lettering challenge.  I know, I know, I’m a few days late for the September 1st start date, but it’s been a busy weekend and I’m going with the old adage that it’s better late than never ;).  Today’s verse was from one of my favourite books of the New Testament.

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:18

Anyone can say ‘I love you’.  It’s easy, really, to move your mouth and make the right sounds come out in the right order.  Saying you love someone isn’t the hard part.  Showing you love them; now that’s where the hard work begins.

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I think Jesus knew this challenge best of all.  How many times does he tell the disciples, the crowds who come to listen to him, and the people who beg him with clasped hands and tear-stained faces for healing, that he loves them.  His words speak love.  And yet, how many of those people, in their truest moments, just don’t quite believe it until they see him with his arms stretched wide on a cross?

Some people say those three little words as often as they feel it; others don’t.  I remember the first time my best friend said ‘I love you’ as she finished telling me she was soon to be a momma; I remember how I was taken aback because I hadn’t heard it that much, how I stuttered a response.  And then I remember how I smiled when I hung up the phone because of course I knew she loved me, and of course I loved her, and of course we would tell each other because, at the end of the day, when a truth is a truth why not say it aloud?  Yes, it was nice to hear those words but it wasn’t three little syllables that made me feel loved, it was the friendship we shared, the way we laughed together and shared comforting silences as often as we shared heaving sobs or uncontrollable laughter.

Words matter; but when it comes to love, actions matter more.

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My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

1 John 3: 18-20

What better example of love in action is there than the cross?  Than a loving Father giving his only son for his children, his children who don’t yet love him back?

If we are in any doubt as to what real love is, let’s look to the cross and to our Father God.    And as we do that, let’s look back to ourselves and to our lives and to how we love.  Do we simply say the words, but do our arms remain closed and our hands empty?  Do we speak about love but let fear hold us back from doing anything about it?  Do we let worry stop us from opening our hearts in case they get bruised or broken?

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Love is hard.  Real love is really hard.

But real love is also really wonderful, because in real love we find ourselves and we find our God.  When we open our hearts to real love, the kind that comes from God and shines so bright it spreads to the people in our lives and the people yet to be in our lives, it isn’t just others who benefit.  When we open our hearts to practicing real love, our hearts receive too.  Our hearts are made bigger and stronger and fuller in the light and assurance that we can love because we are loved.

Real love might look different for each of us.  Real love might ask us to pass dark hours of the night into the early morning in conversation because when someone one wants to talk you are the one they want to talk to.  Real love might ask us to dirty our hands in the ground as we build walls for new houses or plant seeds that will feed hungry stomachs.  Real love might ask to be silent, to lift our hearts in prayer even when we don’t know exactly what we’re praying for.  Real love might ask us to open our arms, to reach out a hand, to steady someone as they stand against challenges or change or grief.

Real love will ask something of us.  And the question God asks, with arms open wide and head bowed under the weight of a thorny crown, is this: how will we answer?

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Rest of the Real Kind

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I’m tired.

No really, I’m tired.  The kind of tired where my body aches and my eyes are blurry,  where I’m almost too tired to feel tired anymore.

It’s been a busy few weeks; a busy few months.  I’ve relocated across the ocean and started a new job and been building a website (keep your eyes peeled ;)) and a long list of other things.  Which is okay because these are things that I love, things that are all new adventures.  But what I have not done in all this upheaval and stress is to stop; to stop and rest awhile.

We all have seasons in our lives that seem busier and more frantic than others.  We all have those days or weeks or months where time seems to move with Usain-Bolt-like speed and the stubbornness of a sloth simultaneously.  We all have times when we just can’t seem to find enough hours in the day to achieve everything we need to achieve, where our ‘to do list’ only grows longer as our energy supplies dwindle.  And we all have those moments in these seasons where it all just catches up with us.

Today, my tiredness seemed to catch up with me.  All I wanted to do as I sat at my desk at work, staring hopelessly at giant computer screens filled with the long lists of tasks yet to be done, was to lower my head, close my eyes, and just rest.  But of course I didn’t: there are things to be done and rest will just have to wait.

How often do you hear yourself say, ‘I don’t have time to rest!’?

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These days it seems like everyone is always busy with something.  Things move at a breakneck speed and impatience is more common than patience.  But somewhere along the line – somewhere in-between the ‘to do lists’ and deadlines and work targets and due dates and expectations – something has to give, right?  Somewhere in the midst of all this busyness, we have to pause, don’t we?

But often the problem is that we allow ourselves to rest so infrequently that we no longer know how to rest.  Yes, there’s sitting on the sofa and relaxing with a movie; there’s sleeping in till midday; there’s tucking into a tub of ice cream in your pajamas; but are these real rests?

Jesus put it this way:

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Matthew 11: 28-30

When we go to Jesus, we get a real rest.  The kind of rest where the burdens we carry are gone, where we can be nothing but ourselves, where we can let go and give everything over to Him.  And when we take a real rest like that, we come away from it changed; when we step back into our lives we do it feeling lighter, able to live more freely.

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Let’s be honest: sometimes taking a rest isn’t easy.  As a woman and as a teacher, I know all too well the feeling of guilt that sometimes comes along with pausing, with stepping away from the things you think you ought to be doing.  But as someone who has also experienced the numbness of a body which held on for too long until it could take no more, I know that, guilt or not, taking a rest is essential.

So, maybe today or maybe tomorrow, take a rest.  Pour yourself a coffee – or better yet a hot chocolate 😉 – and take a seat.  Sit right there with God and lean on Him as you take a real rest.  The ‘to do list’ will still be there tomorrow.

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Hate Doesn’t Win. Love Wins.

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This morning at church, we played with lego and built card towers on the communion table.

Yes, you read that right.  And before you go thinking we’re a bit nuts (which, to be fair, we are a bit!) there was a purpose to all this fun and games.  We were thinking about how this world, and each one of us, is made with purpose, designed in love.  There is nothing accidental about the beauty of creation.  If you want to build something strong and wonderful, you’ve got to put some effort into it – you’ve got to have designs in mind.  You can’t leave it all to chance.

Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s an adventure to let the chips fall where they may, and detours often unearth the best views.  But it’s when you really think about what you’re doing that you get results.  God really thought about what He was doing when He made us, when He planned the amazing lives and journeys that we’re going to have, when He loved us and saved us and as He looks on with the loving eyes of a Father as we step – and misstep – along the way to Him.

And hate doesn’t feature in any of those plans.

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Watching the news yesterday and seeing scenes like those in Virginia just broke my heart; broke it with sadness and anger.

When I think about my friends, I think about the ways in which we are similar.  There’s the shared love of Harry Potter, of Jesus, and of chocolate.  There’s the movies we love together, or the books we all cried at, or the shared dreams of that big American road trip.  But just as often as I think about the things we have in common, I think about the differences between us.  Like the fact that I like to re-read books I have already read dozens of times, or that I think Fast and Furious is the perfect Friday night movie, or that I think dessert without chocolate is not dessert at all.

Because, when all is said and done, life without difference is just boring.  The beauty of life, of our world, of our relationships, lies in the color and diversity and differences in every day.  If we really think about it, we enjoy things being different.  Sometimes doing things differently can be a shock to the system, can take an ounce of bravery or a showering of courage.  But it’s always worth it.

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No one of us is the same.  Whether it’s our opinions, our talents, our religious beliefs, our life goals, the languages we speak, the places we call home or the color of our skin, every single one of us is marvelously different.  Wonderfully unique.  Or, if you want God’s truth, fearfully and wonderfully made.

So we’re not the same.  But the good news is that God loves us all the same.  He doesn’t show favoritism or partiality; He simply loves each one of us with his whole, perfect heart.

And because of that, while we’re not all the same, we can all be equal.  Why?  Because we are all human, we all get things wrong, we all hope and dream and fear and love.  We are all good at something, capable of great things, loved equally by the one who made us.  There are no divisions in God, no one better than the other.  In His love, we’re all equal and equally loved.

It breaks my heart when people let hate run their lives, when they let fear of difference lead to violence.  That was never a part of God’s plan, and I don’t think it should be a part of ours either.  So when hate strikes, let’s fight back with love.

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To those who burn crosses, let’s show them that the very symbol they burn for hate is the loudest symbol of love there is, a cross that only burns with love and grace and forgiveness, that burns down all barriers and burns away all labels of this world to replace it with this new one: loved.

To those who shout words of hatred and hurt, let’s answer with acts of kindness and understanding, with words of peace and compassion.  Let’s celebrate each other, let’s honor each other’s talents, let’s be thankful for the beauty that is displayed in the uniqueness of us all.

Let’s love each other better, without expectation or demands, following the ultimate example from a Father who delights in all of his children not in spite of their differences, but because of them.

Let’s just love each other better.

Don’t we all come from one Father?

Aren’t we all created by the same God?

So why can’t we get along?

Malachi 2:10

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The Blessing of Family

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Some days it’s hard to count your blessings.  And some days your heart is so full that you can’t help but count your blessings and simply say,

‘Thank you, Lord’.  

It’s easy to linger on the things you aren’t.  I know I’m as guilty as anyone else for doing this, for thinking too often: I’m not pretty like her.  I’m not smart like her.  I don’t know the Bible as well as he does…  Or to think on the things I don’t have.  I don’t have the same musical talent as they do.  I don’t have my career sorted out.  I haven’t found my someone God has put on earth for me (or, who knows, maybe I have and I’m just waiting for them to get the hint 😉 )

Today was a special event at my church.  It was an event I had been involved in planning, and one that was the result of a lot of time, and prayer, and love.  Last night, it would have been easy to think on the things we didn’t have sorted or the things that were going wrong.  Like the fact that we hadn’t finished the projector slides yet, or the fact that I was singing a song I hadn’t sang even once, let alone practiced with musicians.  Then there was the worry when the projector pulled a wobbly and the words still visible on the screen were at a forty-five degree angle that left you with neck ache when you tried to read them.  Oh, and then the fact that I was supposed to be delivering the message but twelve hours before kick-off still hadn’t written a word…

But today?  Today all I can do is count my blessings and be thankful.  Today, it doesn’t matter that not as many people came as we would have liked.  Today, it doesn’t matter that I wore the wrong dress for the radio mic and had to hold it awkwardly in my hand while I spoke.

Today, my heart is so full that my gratitude and love is overflowing in happy tears.

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When you make friends with someone, it’s usually thanks to some common love or interest.  I have friends who are my friends because they love books as much as I do, or because they are writers like I am, or teachers too.  Family is a little different.  Family may not share the same interests, is sometimes brought together only by blood or name.  Church family sits beautifully in the middle; bonds formed between people of different interests who share in the same love of Jesus.  I don’t know about you, but my church family are the most important people in my life, the people who know me best and who I turn to first.

I have always been blessed with wonderful church family.  But in recent years that blessing has grown.  Our church is a multi-cultural and exciting place, and several years ago we welcomed a community of believers who originally came from Nepal and Bhutan and who worship together in Nepali.  Now, years later, Saturdays are my favourite day of the week because of the Nepali worship I am blessed to enjoy.  When life took me across the ocean, it was them I missed the most (just don’t tell my other friends that!)

Today we joined together, English and Nepali, two languages but one family.  We sang together, we prayed together, we listened to God’s Word together.  Some words I understood, others I didn’t.  But one thing I knew, from start to finish was this:

How blessed I am to call these people I do church with my family

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At church, we learn together.  We try together. We make mistakes together.  We succeed together and fail together, we get things right and we get things wrong together.  We hurt together and celebrate together.  But all the while, we love together.  Today, I may be a little biased, but I know that we love each other well, all because we praise a God who loves best of all.  We take our cue from Him, and when we do that we are infinitely blessed.

To me, there was something extra special about today’s event.  The food was great, but that wasn’t what made it.  The worship was passionate, but that wasn’t it either.  It wasn’t even the dancing, wonderful as that was.  What made today so special was the family I shared it with, the family who speaks different languages but loves the same.

Today, I can’t help but think how blessed I am.

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Being a Wonder Woman for God

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Is anyone else excited about Wonder Woman 2?!  I dragged my parents to see the first movie with me on my birthday this year – under the pretense of escaping the stifling humidity in North Carolina while they were visiting me, of course 😉 And, I’ll be honest, I loved it.  So, the news this week that there will be a second story about the wonderful Diana Prince made me smile.

Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you might still have seen or heard of the infamous sword in the dress.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, a quick search on the internet will tell you.  It could seem like just a very clever wardrobe choice or a good screenshot, but the iconic image of Diana, walking through a room filled with people who have been preened and pampered, who mask themselves with airs and graces and feathers and ignorance, is so much more:  here is a woman, dressed not to impress, but to be impressive; here is a woman, armed and ready not for compliments, but for battle; here is a woman who is powerful and beautiful.

And do you know something, lovely sisters in Christ?  You are Wonder Woman too.

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I’m engrossed in a great Holley Gerth book called ‘You’re Already Amazing’ at the moment, and this week I read a brilliant quote: ‘We’re not going to prom, ladies,’ Holley writes.  ‘We’re going to a battlefield.’

How often, in our society, are we made to feel like we have to look the part?  Like we can’t leave the house without make-up or without our hair straightened or our nails painted or our outfit just perfect?  How many times are people more concerned with how we look than what we do?  How many times are we more concerned with how we look?  It’s a daily occurrence, the judgement we face on the basis of beauty.  But really, the standard of beauty the world sets is not the standard of beauty God sets.  If we try too hard at one, we are sometimes in danger of failing at the other.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we cannot wear make-up or straighten our hair or paint our nails or take joy in finding and wearing the perfect outfit.  It’s not wrong to want to look beautiful, but let’s not forget that God has already made each one of us beautiful.

But beauty is not all, not most important.  We don’t love Wonder Woman because she’s beautiful: we love her because she’s strong.  And she is beautiful because she is strong.

We are not going to prom, as Holley Gerth reminds us.  We are going to a battlefield.  And we, ladies, are armed too – just like Wonder Woman!

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Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes… put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-17

So you see, sisters, we have a sword too.  And our sword is better even than Wonder Woman’s, for it is the sword of the Spirit, the unfailing Word of God.  Our sword is from the greatest power there ever was, is or ever will be.  It’s made of something far better than steel or other-wordly metal.  It is truly indestructible.  And for those super-coordinated amongst us, it comes with a matching belt and breastplate, a shield and sandals and helmet too 😉

Girls, I don’t believe our Father made us to be shrinking violets, to stand by and rearrange our skirts while the real hard work goes on around us.  I don’t believe He gave us strength for us to never use it.  We are princesses of the King of Kings.  We carry a sword fit for a princess, fit for a warrior, fit for a woman made strong in the power of the almighty Lord.

So, fellow Wonder Women, wear that sword proudly.  Tuck it in your beautiful dress, clip it to your belt of truth, or hold it in your gentle and fierce hands that God made.  Yield it proudly and strongly, and remember that God made you beautiful, but he also made you powerful.  And yes, you can be both.

You can be a Wonder Woman for God: He gave you all you need ❤

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When Church = Home

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While I was living away, the thing I looked forward to most about coming home – after Cadbury’s chocolate and mum’s shepherd pie and cuddles with my dog, of course 😉 – was going back to my home church.   I’ve been to other churches, found friends and spiritual growth in those places, but there’s just something about the church you call home that makes it special.  Sometimes, your home church is the one you grew up in, sometimes you find it later on in life and wondered how you survived so long without it.  But whenever you find it, the church that becomes your home is something wonderful.  And one of the reasons it’s so wonderful is because of the people in it: your family.

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We should probably distinguish between the church and the church, here.  There’s the big CHURCH, the body of Christ, the church around the world.  And then there’s the other church, your church, my church, Sunday morning tea and coffee, the Bible study laughter memories, the red-cushioned pews and Hawaiian themed social nights.  Yes, they’re the same in some ways, but they are also different.

Let’s take a moment to be honest.  The church – the big church, that is – is not perfect.  In fact, at times through history it has been very far from perfect.  It has hurt and halted and hindered.  It still gets things wrong. It tries, and sometimes it doesn’t quite succeed.  Some people might expect it to be perfect, but let’s put that into perspective.  The only perfection is in the God the church serves.

Our church – the Sunday morning, red-cushioned pews church – isn’t perfect either.  Sometimes the tea is weak and there’s no chocolate digestives left.  Sometimes it’s so cold that you have to sit in your big winter coat even though you put on your nice dress specially for the service.  Sometimes, people forget to show up to the special event everyone had such high hopes for.  Sometimes, you get more frustrated because other people aren’t frustrated enough.  But let’s put that into perspective too.  The only perfection is in the God this church serves.

I love my church.  Yes, I sometimes wish little things were different, or that there was a coffee machine or a musician playing the banjo in worship time.  But I wouldn’t change it and I always come back to it.

Because it’s home.  And it’s home because it’s where my family is.

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Today was my second weekend at church since arriving back in the UK.  And it was great.  I got to see family I haven’t seen in too long, got to share hugs I have waited a year for, got to talk and laugh and pray and love together.  One of our readings was from Acts, the verses that paint the most beautiful picture of what church really is:

They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.  Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.  They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

Acts 2:42-47

Church, if we do it right, is beautiful.  It is joyful and marvelous and full of love and joy and power.  Church, if we do it right, isn’t just a Sunday thing or a building-with-a-spire thing.  Church, if we do it right, is about relationships, about sharing, about standing out from the crowd and being a shining example of God’s love and unity.  Church, if we do it right, brings glory to God and hope to the world.  Church, if we do it right, grows and grows and grows and still knows every member of the family by name and favourite chocolate biscuit.

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My church is still not perfect.  But it is perfect for me.  Because even when the tea is weak or the biscuit tin is full of crumbs, what never runs out is the love of my family there.  Whether it’s been a week, or a month, or a year, you are welcomed home with the open arms of family that mirror the open arms of a loving Father welcoming home His beloved child.  That’s what church looks like, when we do it right.

With a family like that, you can forgive a few broken biscuits, right… 😉

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When the waves roll in

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What’s your favorite Disney movie?  When I was younger, it was The Little Mermaid.  You would have known that simply by my goldfish: Sebastian, Eric, Flounder, Ariel, even Ursula.  That, and the fact that I so desperately wanted to have red hair and tried combing my hair with a fork.  Ironically, though, I couldn’t swim.

As I got older I learned to love Disney films so much more.  Sure, I was sad when I watched The Lion King as a kid, but watching it back as an adult and seeing Simba trying to wake up his dead father: that’s tragic, sobbing in your popcorn sort of sad.  And then there’s Beauty and the Beast.  I’m not a greedy woman, but that library…

But what can beat Finding Nemo?!  I love the absolutely realistic stressed single parent, the brave kid who thinks he’s invincible and finds out that yes, your parents are actually right most of the time, and then the adventure that turns out to be just what both parent and child needed to change and grow and deepen their bond.  And then there’s Dory.

If I’m honest, some days I wish I had Dory’s magnificent short-term memory loss.  There are somethings in your life you’d rather forget, aren’t there?  Some moments or things you said or events that happened to you that it would be so much easier to simply forget  entirely, have them disappear from your mind as if they never happened.  But Dory’s memory loss is not why I love her.  I love Dory because she has the best line of the movie, quite possibly of any movie ever:

Just keep swimming.

She can’t remember her friend’s name, gets herself into pickles with hungry sharks and stinging jellyfish and scary looking fish with portable lamps swinging from their heads, but Dory just keeps on swimming.  It’s a simple mantra:  Just keep swimming.


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.

Romans 8:28

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Confession time:  I can’t swim.  Well, as I usually say, if I was on a ship and it was going down, I’m pretty sure I could just about manage to keep myself afloat, but I’m not about to be swimming laps anytime soon.  I went for lessons as a kid, the once-a-week-with-your-school-class kind of lessons, but I just never managed to get to grips with it.  My mum can’t swim either – in fact, she’s near terrified of the water – so perhaps it’s genetic.

When I was learning, though, I remember the wonderful revelation that if you just simply let go, relax, and let the water lift you up, it will carry you.  You see, your body wants to float.  Of course, it took me a few nervous tries to truly believe that, and just before the moment when it might actually have happened, I fought it and ended up, arms and legs failing, water splashing over me and any nearby spectators.  But eventually I let go, and it was wonderful.  The feeling of floating on your back, the blue sky (or white ceiling!) above you, your body weightless on the water.  Surrendering to the water’s secure hold is a feeling like no other.  I still can’t swim with any real strength, but I love to float.

How many times do we get so close to surrendering to God’s secure arms, only to fight like a stubborn mule at the last minute?  How close do we get to letting God carry us, only to fight him and cling to our own controlling ways, flailing in the end and splashing around, missing out on the wonderful feeling of being carried by a force more safe and strong than we will ever know?


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I love the ocean.  Though I grew up a city girl, living for a few years at the beach seemed to put the sea in my blood and now, every time I go back to the coast, it’s like coming home.  But living at the coast I learned to never underestimate the power of the ocean.  Sea-faring folk learn that lesson quickly, I think.  It’s beautiful, but it’s powerful.  If you’ve ever witnessed a tidal surge, or just the usual winter waves, you’ll know that the sea can do real damage: its waves can wash away sea walls, upset long-established wildlife, upturn boats and take lives.  There are waves that are great for surfing, and then there are waves that only need you to stand back in respect, stand way way back.

Sometimes, life is like an ocean.  Some waves hit, and boy do they make a good ride on that surfboard.  They bring excitement and fulfillment and challenges that grow understanding and relationships and courage.  They make you work, make you hold your breath and wait for the crash, but then they reward you with the most awesome view from the top, the spray in your face like a sweet drink in the desert.

Sometimes, the waves are bigger, scarier, too great for your surfboard.  Sometimes, you just have to batten down the hatches, get those trusty sandbags out and wait for the storm to pass.

But either way, the waves are all just part of the journey, part of the ocean that is your wonderful and unique life.  And in the wise words of Dory, you just gotta keep swimming – and ride those almighty waves of His grace.

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