How to Bloom

I’ve not got a good track record when it comes to house plants. But one that I have managed to keep alive is my Christmas cactus. I even succeeded in getting it to bloom this year.

There are a couple of things I have learnt from this experience. (Not just about plants)

If I left this plant in my warm cosy living room, it would not bloom. Ever. It needs to experience some quite harsh conditions: It needs to be cold and have more hours of darkness than light.

The second thing I learnt was this: Even though it bloomed almost a month late, it didn’t matter. It still bloomed.

So I think there are some fairly obvious life lessons, (and perhaps some slightly less obvious ones too) that we can take from this. Obviously some of this will be a bit cheesy, but what do you expect? So lets get to it…

In order to bloom, we often need to experience hardship

I think this is a fairly obvious statement. But do we really live in this way? Life is lovely when everything is easy., but not so much when we are facing hardship. From my own experience, and the lives of many others, I know it to be true: In order to bloom we often need to experience hardship.

For starters, it makes us more compassionate. How much better can we understand other peoples problems when we have faced a few of our own. And it often means we have a desire to help others who are now going through the same things we have.

Paul puts it like this in one of my favourite bible verses.

Not only so, but we  also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

We grow through suffering, it even leads to us really know hope.

But when I talk about hardship, I’m not just thinking about suffering that we have no control over. In my mind, I also have the kind of hardship that we choose. If we want to get in shape we will pick up weights which feel uncomfortable at first, and then when it begins to feel comfortable, we will have to pick up an even heavier one. When you start to think about it, there are many hardships we will endure in order to achieve something.

In order to bloom we need to be willing to get uncomfortable at times. That may mean being willing to get up earlier, or go to a place which might feel difficult to us. It may mean giving away something that we hold onto tightly. The problem is, many of us (myself included) are addicted to being comfortable. We will do anything to avoid being being tired, or hungry or cold. But if we stay in our cozy living rooms, we may never have the opportunity to bloom.

The timeline doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.

I didn’t get any less joy from my cactus blooming, just because it happened a month late. I still think it looks as nice now as I would have done a month ago. Now it has bloomed, that extra month I was waiting doesn’t seem to matter at all.

Have you ever noticed this in your own life? You can wait and wait for something, for what seems like eternity. But once you get it that time you waited doesn’t matter at all, because its all behind you. You have that thing now.

You may have a timeline for your life in your mind. And maybe that time line isn’t going to plan. Especially this year!

When the pandemic hit, it felt like it was at the worst possible time. Not only had I just got engaged, but the children’s ministry I lead at church was growing. I was so excited about the future. I had plans for our wedding, and also for the children’s ministry. Our wedding was much smaller than we would have wanted and most of the plans for the ministry have been put on hold. But God has taught me so much during this time; mostly that it isn’t just about me and my timing, but that it is all in his hands. Taking our children’s ministry online has meant that some children who would struggle to get to church normally, have been able to join us, and then when we were able to return (for a time) we were able to experiment with really good all age ministry.

There have been times when I have compared myself to my friends, what they have achieved, and felt disappointed, because I hadn’t bloomed in the same way as them. Maybe you find yourself doing this. Maybe you had a plan for you life, and you feel like you are years behind schedule.

Do you think that my cactus sat on the windowsill in the spare room/ Tom’s office (which will hopefully be my office again at some point after the pandemic) worrying about when it will bloom. Worrying about why it hasn’t bloomed yet, and why all it’s Christmas cactus buddies have. Of course not! That would be completely ridiculous. Jesus tells us its just as ridiculous for us to worry.

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 

Matthew 6: 28-30

In this blog it may feel like I am trying to tell you two completely opposing things. Push out of your comfort zone in order to bloom, but relax if it’s not happening in the time frame that you want it to.

But perhaps these two things are not quite so opposed as they may seem. Perhaps the people who are most concerned about the future, are the very ones who don’t want to push out of the comfortable zone. Who don’t want to leave the living room.

So don’t be afraid of being uncomfortable, that is when God will stretch you, that’s when you will learn develop perseverance, character and hope, and also, don’t worry if you have to wait a longer than you thought you would.

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A Quick and Easy Guide to Choosing which Book of the Bible to Read

Have you ever just sat there staring at your bible, wanting to read it, but not knowing where to start, then this is the post for you. There are so many different styles of writing in the bible, which is great, because we all like different things; but do you know what’s even greater?

They all point to Jesus!

This is my cheesey and slightly tongue in cheek guide to choosing which book of the bible to read next. Please don’t take it too seriously, but let it be a reason why you open your bible, and get reading. (I wrote this a few years ago, and to be honest, it does make me cringe a bit now, but it seems to have helped a number of people, being to only post on my old blog to go viral (by my very low standards) so I thought I would put it out there again.)

A Quick and Easy Guide to Choosing which Book of the Bible to Read

If sweet romantic stories tickle your fancy you will love reading Ruth, curled up on the sofa with a bar of dairy milk!

If you are always watching home improvement programmes like Grand Designs then be sure to read Nehemiah.

If you enjoy a bit of gore and violence then pick up the book of Judges.

If you like stories with a strong female lead then go ahead and read Esther.

If you always loved the problem pages of magazines then head over to James.

If you think it’s fun to read other peoples post then 1 and 2 Timothy will be perfect for you.

If adventure is your thing then you will love Exodus.

If you are into rules and law then check out Leviticus.

If stories set in the future float your boat then go to the back of the bible and read Revelation.

If poetry is more your thing then stick your finger in the middle of the bible (and slightly to the left) and pick up to Psalms.

If you prefer your poetry to be more emotional and angst filled then Ecclesiastes is the book for you.

If you just love family history then start at the beginning with Genesis.

If you enjoy underdog stories then 1 Samuel will be right up your street.

If you want little nuggets of wisdom then look into Proverbs.

If you like intense, edge of your seat, danger and suspence, then Daniel will be sure to thrill.

Finally if you want to read something life changing then the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) really are the thing for you.

The bible is an amazing book, there really is something for everyone. I guess God made us all different, so made His book just as diverse!

If you have more to add to the list feel free to share them in the comments section.

Blessing Jars

A few years ago I made a blessings jar. About once a week I would write down something I was thankful for. Sometimes they were quite big things, like unexpected financial blessings, other times it was just something along the lines of a phone call with a friend.

This year I’ve got a bigger jar, because I believe that God’s got big blessings in store. And I know for certain that he does. No matter what happens this year, it will be full of blessings. Because really, you don’t need fancy holidays or nice cars to be blessed. (After all, Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness)

When you start looking for blessings you realise they are everywhere. A favourite meal, a walk through trees covered in frost, a chance to chill on the sofa with a good book and a glass of gin. The opportunity to bless someone else, or show them Jesus, a coincidence that couldn’t just be a coincidence. It turns out that the old song count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done really is true.

It might sound easy for me to say, after all 2020 was a great year for me. It turns out that getting married, even in the middle of a pandemic, even if you have to massively change plans at five days notice, really is great. But even if that hadn’t happened, I could have said that 2020 was a good year. Because God was there.

God is there just as much in the hard times, if you are going into 2021, not expecting much from it, and in a position of negativity, I suggest that you do something to count your blessings, you may be surprised. After all, my first blessings jar was started just a couple of months after moving home with my parents, to a town I didn’t know, and after the most difficult year of my life to date. And that blessing jar was filled to the brim.

Maybe taking that step of faith puts us in a position where we are open to receiving blessings. Maybe actively looking for what God has done, and praising him for it, gives us more faith, to take more risks, where we see God move in even more amazing ways.

If you want to read more about what it means to be blessed check out this post

If you are going into the new year feeling a bit down, why not read this

Three Years On

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Although I haven’t written on this blog for well over a year, I have had his date in my mind for several months as the date I should begin to share again. Because this was the date I made the most important, difficult, journey of my life. (Not just because I had a phone call from the police, as I was going in and out of coverage across the Yorkshire countryside side on a busy train carriage, asking for details of a crime I had witnessed earlier that year, and even if I wanted to pick the suspect from a line-up.) It was the day I finally left an abusive marriage

It wasn’t the first time that I had left. And when I was leaving, I didn’t realise it would be for good.

I remember my dad picking me up from Sheffield train station, and telling me I didn’t look good: in the most loving way possible. I remember truths slipping out through tears, as I realised I could never go back. I remember switching off my phone to break all contact. I remember the confusion of making decisions of my own for the first time in years. The freedom of knowing it didn’t matter that if I got it wrong.

But the thing I remember the most was just how close God was then. I would close my eyes and he would be there right in front of me. He was big, and he loved me so much. I have never known this is such a tangible way as I did back then.

And that was the most important thing. If that is where the story ended, if God didn’t do anything else apart from love me, that would be okay. But he did so much more.

He healed me. And he provided for me. In those months and over these last three years he has done so in such detail.

Jobs, finances, friendships and even a new relationship.

Within a couple of weeks of leaving, I was provided with a job in a card shop. That would have been enough, but God had more. I had registered with an agency, to work as a teaching assistant. On the very day I bought my car, I got a phone call from them, offering work a cars journey away.

These were the big things, but God even had the smaller details sorted out as. One day I got the bus over to Doncaster to do my Christmas shopping. I knew I wanted to get something more than I usually would for my parents. As I was walking along the high street I felt drawn to go in to one of the shops. I ignored it. I was on a mission, and it was the kind of shop that looked like even more of a jumble sale than TK Maxx. But the same thing happened as I walked back up the high street. After all, that feeling was one of them God kind of ones, although I wouldn’t normally get them to go into shops. I took a deep breath and went in. Right in the entrance there was a pile of board game. Including the one that my parents had been asking for, which normally retailed at around £40 they were selling is for £7. I had to chuckle on Christmas day when my mum commented on how generous I had been.

God has kept on working out the details for me. I could go on and on. I am now blessed to be working in a church doing a job I was made for as a children and families minister, just up the road from where I grew up. Even moving here I have been provided with an amazing flat, with a balcony (something I had always dreamed of) and two bedrooms, so I have space for friends and family to stay. (hint hint)

I guess what I really want to say is this: Whatever life throws at you, whether it is your fault or not, God can redeem it, and he can use it for good and for his glory. As October is domestic abuse awareness month, I want to make it clear that leaving an abusive relationship will be one of the hardest things you ever do, but it will also be the best. There is so much life after, it does not disqualify you from serving, or new relationships.

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Missing the Point

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I am worried that I have completely missed the point.

Being more worried about how many people are following me… than the one I am called to follow.

Being more concerned with looking good… than doing good, than actually being good.

Putting more effort into the contents of my bank account… than the contents of my heart.

More interested in making people like me… than making disciples.

And, frankly, I am sick of it. I am sick of being so selfish. And what’s even more disturbing that I don’t seem to be alone. This idea of success has seeped into the whole culture of the church.

And no where is this more obvious than in the bizarre world of blogging.

A world of perfect hair and perfect teeth and selling your soul for an extra like; spending our days sat in comfortable homes writing words of “encouragement” instead of getting out there and helping the poor and needy.

Blogging is a nice thing, but maybe, for some of us, it’s the easy option. The safest option, that avoids any real connection, or any real risk.

Blogging is a good thing. It helps me organise my thoughts, and I know it helps other people on some level. But lets not let this, or anything else get in the way of the real Christian work.

The Christian life involves actually getting out there and getting your hands dirty and helping people in the worst kind of need. It involves real community and a shed load of the hard kind of love. It means you will often get hurt. It is not the easy road. But it is the road that we need to take.

When we take this steep and stony road, which probably involves a few dark valleys or, even worse, rickety rope bridges across those dark valleys; a lot of mud and dirt and hurt, but the road that has the most beautiful views. This is the place where we meet Jesus. This is the place where we find adventure.

For many people reading this there might be other good things getting in the way of great things. Maybe the pursuit of education and knowledge; a good career; the idea of the perfect family or the perfect marriage, no matter what the cost.

While, like blogging, these can all be great things, they can become a hinderance if we do not keep them in check. If we do not look beyond our own lives and towards the rugged cross. After all, Jesus didn’t die so we could have a nice comfortable life, he died so that we could have a relationship with him. He calls us to a life of risk and discomfort, but the only kind of life that is really worth living.