Yet again there’s been a good few weeks between my posts. Before Christmas I was frantically trying to finish work off so that I could take a complete break, and since the kids went back to school I’ve been busy again catching up with work. But I look back to the Christmas period with really fond memories. It was a time of relaxation in which I purposefully stayed away from my computer. The way that was kickstarted is funny really – a friend’s daughter slept in a travel cot in my office just before Christmas and she asked whether the cot could stay up until the New Year’s Eve party we were hosting. So the cot became a welcome barrier between me and my computer, forcing me not to turn it on! I’ve always made sure I don’t have emails coming through to my phone, as when I’m away from my desk I’m with my kids so I don’t want the lure of work emails distracting me from them. The result: I was free of social media for the entire Christmas holiday period!
I think I’d worked so hard last year that I was quite burned out, and having time away from everything – emails, Facebook, twitter, blogs – was really welcome. It also made me realise anew the wisdom behind God’s ordering and the taking of a day of rest each week. We were explaining to the kids at the weekend that mummy and daddy aren’t quite like other mummies and daddies they know from school – our weekends aren’t just full of fun and relaxation as part of our jobs are to lead the church – me with worship and my husband as an elder and preacher. So Sundays can be quite stressful. While my husband should have a day off in the week that often doesn’t materialise, and it is hard to keep it family focused anyway as the kids are at school Monday to Friday. So we find we end up with less time to ourselves. That’s the nature of things – but that doesn’t mean it’s always right.
Since coming back to work, and being in meetings where we’ve focused on our goals for the year and how we’d like to develop, I was really struck by how one woman prayed for me. She said, ‘God you’ve heard all the ways Claire wants to develop her worship ministry, but she has just said how her highlights of last year were when she had time with her family away from it all. Help her to remember to take those rest times, and to realise that you only expect her to do what she has time to do. Stop her from worrying about those things she can’t do.’ That prayer made its way into my journal, as I realised my tendency is to forget rest in the busy-ness of life. I love being busy, and I find it difficult to relax until everything on my ‘to do’ list is ticked off but what I’m holding on to in these first few weeks of January is that it is so important to take time out.
So my exaltation to you is also to take some time off regularly – and don’t worry about whether stepping back to rest will mean you are no longer ‘in the loop’. This is something that I can get anxious about – particularly regarding social media networking for work purposes. I think if I take any time off it will be detrimental to the career I’m building. I’m now reminding myself that my spiritual health is the most important priority and time off is vital. God has told me many times that I can’t help others and give out to the best of my ability if I’m burned out myself – I guess I need to start listening! I’ll let you know in a few months whether I’ve managed to take regular time off – bearing in mind that it’s only a few weeks before my husband becomes lead elder/pastor of our church so I know that will have a huge impact on our lives!
Those of us who live in the UK have experienced a deluge of rain this week. It seems bizarre that in our country we have suddenly taken by surprise by the rain but, after such a long time without significant rainfall, it has been a bit of a shock. I’ve found it particularly difficult because my son’s bedroom has a flat roof, which makes the rain seem really noisy and he gets scared and doesn’t sleep well at night. So this week I’ve been getting more and more tired.
This all culminated in me feeling rather miserable yesterday – it seemed that every time I had to go out the rain intensified. Where my son attends pre-school is literally at the end of our road, simply a minute’s walk away, but on our way back the heavens literally opened and we were saturated. Thursday is the afternoon that we are in and out constantly – to playgroup, school pick up, his sister’s ballet lessons etc so I gave up and thought there was no point in changing us after each soaking as we were just going to get drenched again.
Then, as I stomped around in a bad mood, I felt a small tug in my spirit. I knew what it was about as I’d felt it in the biggest downfall I’d been caught in – but now I paid attention. And my heart leapt in agreement with what it was hearing – and I realised I didn’t need the rain to stop – I wanted to shout ‘Let it rain more! Let my soul be saturated!’ It was a sudden realisation that, like our land desperately needs the rain, my spirit needs more of His Spirit. I’m tired, not sleeping well, busy catching up on work after the holiday, preparing to lead worship this Sunday and now also preparing to speak alongside my husband when he preaches. I can’t do any of this in my own strength – God I need a soaking! I need to remain wet day in day out!
I am so grateful for days like yesterday – yes it was hard work but when God breaks in and reminds me (in a highly practical demonstration!) of my need for Him it makes me realise how over-busy and un-reliant on Him I can be. The challenge is not to lose that sense of dependency and to tackle the tasks with Him alongside me, guiding me by His Spirit.
Last week’s sermon included the passage that was my favourite when I was growing up – John 15, the vine and the branches. One phrase kept cropping up on Sunday – ‘Abide in me’. I haven’t been able to shake it so far this week, and I think it may be because it is a lesson I need to relearn. So what does it mean to abide? I looked up some online dictionary definitions and I really like some of the words Brainy Quote uses to describe ‘abide’:
‘To wait; to pause; to delay. To stay; to continue in a place; to have one’s abode; to dwell; to sojourn; to remain stable or fixed in some state or condition; to continue; to remain; to wait for; to be prepared for; to await; to watch for; to endure; to sustain; to submit to.’
Wow. There’s a lot to digest in there. And I think the overriding sense is of taking your time, making space and waiting to hear from God. To linger with Him rather than ticking off time spent with Him as another job done successfully before rushing onto the next one. To truly abide in Him, which is how the Scriptures say we bear fruit as Christians, we need to open ourselves up to Him constantly – wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Now, as a mum of two small kids I have certainly learned the art of talking to God while doing a hundred and one other things. And I think that’s what He likes – He wants to interact with us in all our ‘daily doings’. But I also think it is important to draw aside and come before Him quietly each day. Our lives are so full of ‘noise’ and ‘stuff’ that we can be totally distracted even when we are supposedly communing with God! And He very rarely shouts at us – His is that still, small voice. How are we supposed to hear it when it is being crowded out by everything else? When did you last hear it? I have been really challenged by the fact that I am now writing and editing for Christian publications, so am spending more time in the Word and studying than I have done since the kids were born, and yet the craziness of my schedule means I don’t feel like I have connected with God intimately for a little while. I think the words ‘Abide in me’ are a gentle nudge to me that He’s missing me. How about you? Is He missing you too?
This is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down and reflect on what I learned at the Newfrontiers Together on a Mission conference last week (the reason for that will, in part, be the subject of another blog soon!) It truly was a privilege to be at the bulk of what was the last international conference of its kind. Right from the start there was a sense of expectancy, and God had specific things to say to us as a movement that came through time and time again, through various different speakers.
I always feel so blessed at these events because it reminds me of the wider Newfrontiers family we are part of. I am always struck by the humility of the leaders and speakers, particularly Terry. Indeed that was the main reason we were first attracted to Newfrontiers. And it is great to see how other guys have come through into maturity and authority and are now heading up works within the various continents, but there is still a sense of family across the board. I loved the mixture of both honouring our roots, and founders, but also pressing forward to take new ground.
I was both caught up with and slightly apprehensive of the way that we seemed to hit the ground running. Words came thick and fast about being courageous and having courage as a leader. The natural worrier in me started to wonder what is coming Lord?! But it is so true that as a movement the ‘boys have become men’ and I also felt that challenge me personally. Yes we have stepped up into leadership roles, and my husband has proved he is capable of pastoring the church. I am mentoring and meeting with various younger women… AND YET. Life is going at such a pace am I taking the time to feed myself spiritually? Am I looking after myself and allowing God to speak to me clearly and have that vital input in my life enough? He graciously seems to speak through me when I am ministering to people, but I wonder how much more effective I could be if I carved out a bit more just me and him time…
We were travelling up and down to Brighton each day so usually left at the end of the afternoon session – it meant we could see the kids before bedtime and not get overtired ourselves. But when we heard PJ was to speak on the wed eve we decided to say. And what a great decision that was! I have said in a previous entry that the whole issue of healing is one I can struggle with because of the way my mum suffers, but he gave one of the clearest messages I’ve ever heard on suffering, sickness and healing. Where does sickness come from and where does healing come from were two of the questions he pondered during his own battle in the last year. And God gave him great revelation. Hearing the simplicity with which he explained the relationship between the atonement and healing was refreshing. His talk gave me fresh vision and hope and went some way to lift off the frustration I can often feel when people look at my mum and make a judgement call as to why she hasn’t been healed yet. Definitely a recommendation I have already made to my mum to listen to!
There is so much more I could talk about here but I think there will be plenty more future posts as I manage to grab odd moments to dwell upon my notes.
I was at my sister’s 40th this weekend. She certainly knows how to throw a great party – the food was amazing, there were drinks aplenty, all sorts of games upstairs in the attic for the kids and even a live band in the sitting room! The latter had planned to be outside, but the changeable weather made that difficult. So there they were, 7 brilliant musicians in my sister’s front room. They weren’t crammed in, as she has a large house. But having a full band in your sitting room is slightly out of the ordinary. To begin with, it felt a little odd – the sofas had been pushed back against the walls and so people were tentatively popping their heads round to look at the band, then a few sat on the sofas and watched. Not the most responsive audience for the poor band! But then the frontman encouraged some dancing, and in whirled my sister with total abandonment, grooving away in front of us all, not caring whether we joined in or not. Now I’m not a natural party goer or dancer, so I was slightly embarrassed. It was my sister after all! Some people joined in – including my parents (heightened embarrassment!) – while others, including me, watched from the side. Occasionally I would allow myself a little bop with one of my kids – but I told myself that that was okay because I was doing it for them! Suddenly it hit me – I was using them as a prop to enable myself to join in without feeling awkward. How many of us have something like that – a comforter as it were – to enable us to engage in Sunday worship without stepping out beyond what we know? Do we stay within the bounds of what we normally do or do we allow ourselves to be caught up in heaven’s party? I really felt God check me in my spirit and told me to watch my sister – to look at her pure abandonment. He said that that is how He wants us to be when we come before Him. Totally wrapped up in what we are doing before Him, and not caring if others are joining in – or even if others are watching us with disdain. David danced before the Lord and his wife was mortified. Oh Lord save me from such cynicism and teach my heart to be reckless before you…
This morning I decided to utilise one of my favourite presents from last Christmas again – my slow cooker. For some reason I was feeling more relaxed than usual with my cooking, so I suggested my little boy ‘help’. Normally I’m cooking on the hop, taking a quick break from working, playing a game with the kids or one of the many chores that are piled up waiting and so I find it hard to cope with the extra time – and mess – that cooking with a toddler entails. I’m also a bit of a control freak (I graciously say ‘bit’ to describe myself now as having two small children has certainly forced me not to be quite so freakish about things!).
Stood on a chair next to me my son was ecstatic every time a new vegetable came out of the drawer. He gasped at the sound of the pork sizzling in the pan as I browned it off, found the steam that came out of the slow cooker when I then placed the meat in it fascinating and begged me to let him help me do some chopping. Taking the time to see things through his eyes really helped me focus too. I learned today that God really is with me in the mundane. He showed me how much pleasure can be found in listening to a toddler try and say ‘aubergine’ and ‘courgette’ for the first time. I looked around my kitchen, at the mess and pile of jobs left to do, but realised that slowing down, just for a few minutes, can make so much difference to my outlook for the rest of the day. Now to see how long it lasts – especially as my son is currently on my lap busy pushing keys and playing with the mouse as I try to write this!! ;D
We are going through one of those seasons. You know the ones – where one of your children decides that waking up mega-early is fun and they are going to do it constantly, night after night. So you are surviving on at least three hours less sleep than normal.
It’s at times like these that I get tested to the limits. It always seems to come when we are at our busiest. I never quite know whether it is them showing their disdain for the extra work or church commitments we’ve taken on, or God’s wry way of asking us to check if our priorities are still round the right way. Whatever it is, I know I get more irritable, lose my patience more easily and generally feel more down. If I’m honest I can find dealing with the children an extra burden I could do without – and then when I realise that I’m overwhelmed by guilt – sometimes… And it sometimes also hits me what these seasons reveal to me about my character flaws. And I wonder how come they are all still there, when I thought I’d made some headway with some of them…
The worst night of all often happens right before a Sunday meeting – when my husband is obviously facilitating the meeting, I may be playing and singing but whatever else I’m doing I will probably be ministering to a few people. I often think how can I when I feel empty myself – when I’m drained and grumpy? And that’s when I find the miracle I’m so regularly thankful for – God steps in when I’m beyond it. I know others say it too – when you really aren’t in control because you are so tired, it is actually often easier for God to accomplish what He wants to because He doesn’t have to get past your own thoughts and feelings on the matter. That’s not to say I wouldn’t prefer to be serving from a more awake state – just that I’m extremely grateful for what He does when I am struggling to keep my eyes open and my brain focused on what I am supposed to be doing!
The last few weeks have been what I can only term mind-blowingly hectic. Thanks to both our mothers we were able to go to two conferences, staying away one night. I enjoyed my first – yes, unbelievable to so many I met there it was in fact my first – Newfrontiers prayer and fasting conference. It was such a privilege to be amongst so many other leaders praising and praying. I was struck once again by the great care of our Lord. While no agenda other than seeking His face and praying His will was set, time and time again there were words about taking this time out to enjoy resting and being refreshed in His spirit. I was also struck again by the humility of our movement’s leaders. They are so approachable, so down-to-earth. It is great to be reminded of why I am so happy to be a part of Newfrontiers, and so relieved at how trustworthy our leaders are. It is true that submission isn’t difficult when those you are submitting to are doing what they are called to!