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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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.

How to be #Blessed


When, exactly, did the word blessed start appearing all the time? It used to be the kind of word that was the preserve of grannies and rural vicars. Now it seems to be just about everywhere. It’s as if everyone is, or wants to be #blessed. But what exactly does it mean?

As I was thinking about this the other day, I decided to have a little search on Instagram to see what it was people were hashtagging as blessed. And I have to admit, I was kind of surprised by what I found.

It seemed like that particular hashtag was most associated with women with rather large breasts. Probably not what the grannies or rural vicars were referring to. And, unfortunately, leaving me feeling resigned that I most definitely am not blessed!

Of course there were a load of selfies (including a couple of fit men) some pictures of babies and plates full of food, and a whole lot of some what inspiring quotes.

Not exactly what the word blessed brings to mind.

Not exactly what Jesus meant when he said blessed are the poor in spirit in that sermon on the mount.

How have we managed to misunderstand this word so much, that big boobs and hot bodies have become synonymous with the word blessed?

How has this holy, bible word become so distorted.

Blessed is about none of this. Not at all.

How can it be about expensive jewelery when Jesus says that we are blessed when we are poor in spirit, because this is when we realise how much we need him.

How can it be about cute kittens when Jesus says we are blessed when we grieve, because that is when we find comfort.

How can it be abouut posed and edited photos when Jesus says blessed are the humble. He even says that the whole earth will be theirs.

How can it be about plates full of food when Jesus says we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for justice, when we want to do the right thing for people. That is when we will be satisfied.

How can it be about pictures of our latest purchases when Jesus says we are blessed when we are kind, when we show mercy to others, because he will show mercy to us.

How can it be about half-naked bodies when Jesus says we are blessed when we think pure thoughts, because that s when we will see him.

How can it be about clothes which have been made in sweatshops when Jesus says we are blessed when we seek peace, because then we will be called his children.

How can it be about semi-inspirational quotes when Jesus says we are blessed are those who are persecuted for doing the right thing, he even says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

How can it be about seeking likes when Jesus says that people will insult us, that they will say evil and hurtful things about us, but even then we are blessed. We can even rejoice in this pain, because the rewards will be waiting for us in heaven.

Being blessed, and getting blessed, has nothing to do with stuff, or hot bodies. In fact, what Jesus tell us is the exact opposite. He tells us we are blessed through what many would consider hardship, because that’s what brings us closer to him.

None of these #blessings are true Blessings, they do not bring us closer to God, they actually turn our eyes away from him they are like a barrier between us and him.

Today I am thankful that I am not #blessed, with a fit body; that would only distract me from what God has planned for me, but that I am truly Blessed by my heavenly father.

 

He Didn’t Have to But He Did

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He didn’t have to wake you up this morning. But he did.

He didn’t have to give you breath. But he did.

He didn’t have to die for you. But he did.

Some times we take these things in life for granted. As if God owes us life. As if he owes us forgiveness.

As. If. He. Owes. Us. Anything.

How self-absorbed? What kind of distorted thinking must we have to think that the God of the universe, the creator of everything, who holds it all in the palm of his hand, actually owes us a single thing.

And yet we go through everyday, acting as if we deserve life, as if we derve forgivenss, as if we deserve any kind of blessing.

How dare we. How can we forget the chasm that exists between us and God. The cost of death that was required to bridge that gap between us and him.

We should be living every single second of every single day filled with wonder that God would even bother to remember our names. Let alone love us. Let alone send his Son to die for us. Because of us.

How dare we forget to scream to the whole world about what God has done for us. When we really didn’t deserve any of it. When a girl will shout about a boy buying her a few cheap flowers that will die in a couple of days. Why are we silent about the God who did so much more for us?

How can we possibly be so preoccupied by the pointless inane things of this world instead of getting down on our knees and worshipping him.

God didn’t have to save you. He doesn’t have to keep on blessing you. But he does. Because of who he is.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

 

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)