The fog is lifting

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I awoke this morning to a London skyline that looked more like Victorian London than present-day. The fog was ‘as thick as pea soup’ – a very apt description used by many a Victorian writer! The children were excited, but I was loathe to get in the car and drive through the fog to get them to school.

But it wasn’t until I got home and was sat with my Bible that I looked up and saw the sun beginning to shine through the fog. The fog was lifting and, as it did so, I felt God speak into my spirit too.

You see, we have recently been facing a change in our 10-year-old daughter’s behaviour. She is becoming exceedingly hormonal and has had some very irrational responses to situations and everyday life in general. Last night, both children were emotional – my son because he was over tired, but I could only assume that it was my daughter’s hormones kicking in as there was seemingly no other explanation.

After an hour and a half of tears and tantrums my daughter finally went to bed more peaceful – she was chirpy as she said goodnight and couldn’t understand why I was still reeling from what had happened. I then carried the sadness of the evening downstairs with me and struggled to concentrate on what I was meant to be doing.

Today I awoke and prayed for a better morning. It started off well, with smiles all round, but the pressure of ‘mufti day’ (wearing her own clothes to school) overtook my daughter and the rants and tears started again as she felt nothing fitted or looked good on her (sigh, why does that pressure seem to appear out of nowhere at such a young age?). I again felt the tears rising up in myself, and had to take myself out of the situation. I was so frustrated and yes, did lose my cool, and then hated how my husband could walk in calmly and help her choose an outfit that I had suggested much earlier and she simply put it on…

Once my daughter was finally dressed, she came downstairs as if nothing had happened, but, yet again, I knew in my heart that I had been emotionally affected by the episode. As I drove home from the school run I pondered this: I know we are only starting the journey towards adolescence and that my daughter is finding it hard to control her emotions. She needs love and stability from both her parents – but I know that her emotional outbursts trigger something in me as I can relate to them so much.

I started questioning whether I found it difficult to help her navigate these times because I know at times I can’t navigate my own emotional ups and downs. If I’m honest, I started to feel down, allowing my mind to tell me that I’m failing as a parent as I just spiral when I hear her outbursts rather than being a steadying influence for her.

But, as that fog lifted outside, I felt God nudge me to say ‘It’s okay, just relax and let the fog lift off your spirit too.’ The fog has already lifted from my daughter – she’s at school enjoying learning and being with her friends – and it’s time for me to let go and face my day free of fog too.

Yes, I know that the last 24 hours have highlighted things in both myself and my daughter that need God’s gentle touch, but, for now, I feel a real sense of His sunshine piercing through the fog. It’s warm and refreshing – so needed after a long, draining week. Whatever you are facing today, may you feel the fog lift in your own life and know His sunshine too.

As a total aside, I just wanted to let you know that I have the privilege of being a guest blogger on Amy Boucher Pye’s website today. I’ve written about Home: refuge and resource, and honestly share what it is like having our home used for so many church activities – so do please take a look and leave a comment :0) 

 

True beauty

girl looking in mirrorI have a ten-year-old daughter who is beginning to be obsessed with fashion, make-up and yes, dare I say it, her figure.

I love the growing opportunities for girly shopping days together, as we have a huge amount of fun and the one-on-one time is priceless. But I am alarmed at the preoccupations that are already surfacing. She is thin, but apparently not as thin as one of her friends. She has some fantastic outfits (mainly from her older cousins, which is such a blessing), but is apparently not as ‘fashionable’ as that same friend (outfits are ‘judged’ at school discos).

Right from an early age, I have been teaching her that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, but as she is growing ever closer to teenage-hood I can see the message ‘you must be thin and beautiful to be worth anything’ beginning to penetrate her mind. Alarmed, I have started to ask myself: Am I perpetuating the acceptance of that silent message somehow?

Yes, as I’ve hit and passed the ripe old age of forty, I’ve uttered the words ‘Oh no! I’ve put on weight!’ as I’ve tried to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans, and have also asked ‘Does this outfit make me look fat?’ And guys this isn’t just a female-only problem: the message of the media is that you need to be toned and beautiful to be successful. The male grooming industry has exploded in recent years, so I know it is not just we women who obsess about such things.

I recently read a tweet from Stylish, quoting Helen Mirram: ‘I hate the word beautiful, I wish there were another word for it’.

That got me thinking about what true beauty is, and what I want my daughter to think about when she asks herself: Am I beautiful?

I do believe that the media’s constant use of glamorous models, whatever it is they are advertising, drip feeds us with the idea that we need to try to attain what, for some, is an unattainable goal. Here’s some of the ideas I’ve been using to combat the unhelpful messages we find all around us:

• Ask yourself: Am I happy in my skin?

When we remember that God has knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13–14), and that each one of us is totally unique, it is time to accept ourselves for who we are. We can each strive for acceptance and affirmation from others (yes, my spirit is lifted when someone says ‘you look nice today’!), and yet God has a never-ending supply of both, if we would just look to Him.

Here’s an excerpt of the verses from psalms, taken from The Message. If you find it hard to accept your body shape, why not spend some time meditating on this, speaking it over yourself, because you are a marvellous creation:

‘Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I worship in adoration—what a creation!’

Learn to be positive, and celebrate you for the person God made you to be; the real you.

• Stop obsessing about what you wear.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good, or enjoying the process of dressing smartly (and putting on make-up if you like wearing it), but allowing it to take over your focus isn’t healthy.

I have written previously about dressing our spirits; we can spend so long choosing what to wear but do we daily make a conscious decision to put on those garments that God has laid out for us?:

‘So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.’ (Colossians 3:12–14, The Message)

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• Change your idea of what beauty truly is.

As part of my daily reflections I am working through Rachel Gardner’s great book Beloved. Just today I got to her chapter on beauty, and loved the way she turned the definition of beauty on its head. She explains how our society has reduced beauty to glamour (outside, superficial, skin-deep beauty), and has some great, quotable lines on the difference between the two:

‘If glamour is the blusher painted onto your face, beauty is the inner radiance that lights you up from the inside.’

‘If glamour is the outfit that helps you make an entrance, beauty is your generous heart that makes your presence change the atmosphere.’

‘If glamour is the perfume clinging to your clothes, beauty is the fragrance of your life that lingers long after you’ve left the room.’

It is interesting to see how the Bible speaks directly about the importance of inner, rather than surface, beauty:

‘Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful.’ (I Peter 3:3–5, NLT)

Taking the time to cultivate that gentle spirit has, so far, been a lifelong journey for me, so I’m taking these verses as an encouragement to keep on going!

It is this overall message that I hope to convey to my daughter, and it has also challenged me to think about the way that I live. Later on in her beauty chapter Rachel also says: ‘The goal of glamour is to make everyone feel envious. The goal of beauty is to make everyone feel loved.’ Isn’t that so true? We can get a fleeting feeling of contentment (or smugness – let’s call it by its true name!) when we know people are looking at us enviously. But those we look up to, those we describe as having a ‘beautiful spirit’, are those people who go out of their way to make others feel loved and accepted. They are the true successes; and the true world-changers.

• Remember your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

I am certainly not saying that we should let our bodies go to wrack and ruin. They are a gift, and we have a responsibility to look after them and keep them healthy, which often takes more work as we get older. I know the following verses from 1 Corinthians are in a passage about refraining from sexual immorality, but I think they are a good checkpoint for us to see what our attitudes to our bodies are:

‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.’ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NIVUK).

The Holy Spirit is in us; is our attitude towards our bodies and the way we behave towards those we are in contact during the day honouring to Him?

This article first appeared on the Christian Today website.

International Women’s Day

I love marking International Women’s Day each year because I feel my life is enriched and challenged by the women I not only have around me but those that I either read or write about around the world too. This year, I’ve created an acrostic poem to highlight some of the qualities I find truly inspiring about women in the world today.

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Incredible strength of character;

Not afraid to speak their minds;

Tough on the outside, but tender-hearted too,

Enriching the lives of others by what they do.

Reality for so many is not what it should be,

Never allowed to choose – to be free.

At times I ache for women trapped in unjust lives,

Terrified for them – and feeling helpless besides.

In their response to life they inspire me:

Once more facing the day with determination;

Not allowing circumstances to dominate;

Always responding with dignity;

Loving those around them with such grace and mercy.

 

Women around the world

Overcoming hardship, injustice and prejudice daily.

My own world is cossetted by comparison – but still I face obstacles;

Endurance and education is key for us all.

Not settling but pushing ourselves to go far;

Solid faith in who we are.

 

Don’t ever stop believing in yourself,

Always aim high – you have what it takes to see it through;

Your very existence spurs me on to be the best I can be too.

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Parenting: a spotlight on your soul

Last night I went to the Care for the Family event: Mum’s the Word. Over 25o mums gathered at Everyday Church, Wimbledon for a night of encouragement and inspiration – hosted by the wonderful Cathy Madavan and Diane Louise Jordan.

There was so much I enjoyed about the night. After a frantic rush to get there, it was so lovely to be handed a cup of tea, sit down to a complimentary goody bag and bottle of water and listen to two inspiring women. Sometimes I can find the whole ‘we’re in this together’ approach cringe worthy, as speakers desperately try and show that they are just like you. Because the efforts of said speakers can have me squirming in my seat, totally turned off of what they are saying. But that didn’t happen with Cathy and Diane – somehow they had that mix of down-to-earth honesty, integrity, friendliness and authority just right. They managed to make us feel connected to them; it was definitely an evening of shared experiences. So hats off to them – I was incredibly impressed by their presentation skills.

So what did I learn? Well I was reminded of so many principles that my husband and I started off with as parents, but I guess can get overshadowed in the craziness of everyday life. Here’s some of the gems I took away from the evening:

Put yourself first – if you are frazzled you will have a short fuse with your kids. I think this is one that us mums find really difficult to do, because we can feel guilty about focusing on ourselves. We usually come down the bottom of the list of things to do and people to care for. But, as we were reminded last night, if you don’t look after yourself how can you hope to give out well to your kids?

Find the right priorities for the season you are in – we are all at different seasons and have different kids and different priorities (I loved how they kept emphasising the fact that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach). We were challenged to look at our diaries and see if they reflect the priorities we have currently. I’ve never thought of doing that so I’ll definitely be trying it!

Keep a long-term view – every now and again stop and think about what you are doing with your parenting approach. Rather than just muddling through the daily mess, step back and check whether your approach is building confidence and security in your child(ren).

Give your kids roots… and wings – I love this one! Our kids need our help to grow solid, deep roots but also need the confidence to be able to fly.

As a parent the days feel long but the years are short – so true!

Diane’s three tips:
It’s all about love
Seek to understand
Look beyond the behaviour – yours as well as theirs

That last one really struck me and so I’m going to be totally honest here. I’m sure (I hope!) I’m not the only one, but I’ve found that parenting has highlighted my shortcomings. It has definitely been a spotlight on my soul and there are times I really don’t like what is revealed.

I can find myself reverting to childish responses when my kids push my buttons (mainly in my mind, but sometimes they come out in my actions too – ouch!). I can get so tired of dealing with the same issues that I just want to shout ‘it’s not fair!’. In fact, I do that sometimes. I go to God feeling like a miserable, moody child and have a good old moan. When I’m finally done with that, I ask Him to replace those emotions and equip me to love my children well.

My daughter, in particular, is the one that challenges me, because so often it is like looking in a mirror. I delight in seeing her fulfilling her potential, and am amazed at her creativity and imagination, but she also seems to have the same weaknesses as me. Sometimes I feel totally helpless and ill-prepared to guide her through how to deal with them, as I haven’t got all the answers myself and am still struggling with some of the issues too. But I’m learning that God is the source of all wisdom so I can ask Him for keys to unlock the issue for both of us. I’ve found also that it can be helpful to share honestly with your children when you make mistakes or are struggling. If I can model to my kids how to take those things to God and deal with them in partnership with Him then hopefully that is a habit they will cultivate too.

Being a mum is SUCH hard work – who knew we had to be an expert in so many areas?!! But it is so rewarding too – and incredible that God has given us such wonderful gifts in our children. Motherhood can be isolating at times, when we are juggling so many balls we don’t have time to share notes with other mums. Evenings like last night are invaluable reminders that we are never alone. And, as Diane and Cathy said last night, we are great mums, with great kids. Let’s never forget that…

Finding a rhythm that works

Our children are back to school now and life is settling back into the recognisable term-time pattern. For me, the start of this particular term of each year is a time in which I take stock and look at my life’s rhythm.

This summer became of wonderful tapestry of visiting friends, enjoying holiday time as a family, reorganising my office and celebrating my daughter’s ninth birthday. Oh and we also managed to squeeze in our church’s big outreach event.

It was such a great few months – and yet we didn’t get a chance to draw breath at all. My husband and I commented that we hadn’t had any evenings on our own; we celebrated our 21st anniversary towards the end of the summer holidays and in my card to him I asked whether we could really try and pace ourselves this term!

I am now sitting surrounded by all the work I’ve kept simmering away while the kids were off school, but which I now need to tackle in earnest. I’m so grateful for the work, but taking a break to focus on the kids means there’s rather a big stack of it now!

Of course, the start of the autumn term is also usually the time that churches launch new initiatives and ours is no different. So, as I’m sure you can gather, it’s a busy time of year for us as a family.

With everything that has been going on, and which I know is coming up, I’ve had some moments when I have literally felt the panic rising up, trying to overtake me. I am, for instance, about to start a leadership training course. The material looks great but I’m wondering how I will cope with it all and fit in enough time to mull over and implement what I learn.

In those times of panic I’ve had to come back to God and ask for His wisdom. Of course, some of that is obvious common sense – I need to look after my family and myself in order to be able to serve consistently. So I know I/we need to look at the rhythm of our lives and make changes before we burn out.

To read the rest of this article please click here.

Accepting God’s adventures

In the run up to the school summer holidays our daughter was able to take part in the special celebrations the Guides were having due to their 100th anniversary. She has been part of Brownies for almost three years now. Her first weekend away with them happened to coincide with my 40th birthday so I endured a weekend of worrying and wondering how she was!

My daughter is so much like me it can be quite scary. Confident, chatty and sociable within circles of people she feels secure with, she becomes a totally different person out of her comfort zone; shy, fearful and so, so quiet. She won’t take risks, drawing back into herself to keep safe.

So when it came time for this year’s adventure weekend she wasn’t sure she wanted to go. I really encouraged her to because it was a special celebration and I didn’t want her to miss out (and we had paid a fair amount of money for it!). Well, she totally blew us away with the vigour in which she grabbed hold of every element of the weekend.

Her leader captured her mood brilliantly in a picture that shows her dangling from a harness having just stacked and climbed crates – her face is beaming with a huge smile and she looks like she’s full-belly laughing. It was a joy to see – and even better when she said that that was what she had been like all weekend. She commented, “I now know the real girl, the one you’ve been telling me about all this time.”

A few weeks later, the Brownie pack spent a day in Windsor, bungee trampolining and zorbing. Again, I wasn’t sure how much she would join in, but apparently it was all brilliant fun and “zorbing was the best”!

Knowing that our daughter grabbed all the opportunities set before her and enjoyed them so much gave us such pleasure. And that’s how God responds when we really enjoy something He’s invited us to partake in.

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How well do we support parents?

I recently attended a day at a nearby church focused on equipping Christian parents. Whole families were able to go, and the organisers did a fantastic job of keeping our children engaged and excited about the activities they did while we had teaching and discussions.

I was really struck by one of the questions we were asked:

“What is the best piece of advice you have been taught about parenting in church?”

We were then given a few moments to discuss it with the person next to us.

Those of us sat together all said the same thing – we couldn’t think of anything we had been specifically taught about parenting on a Sunday morning (apart from the few comments preachers had given about what they’ve learned about parenting from their own kids and their own mistakes). This made me wonder: how intentional are our churches about teaching and equipping parents?

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Let us never lose the wonder – or our enthusiasm…

The school Easter holidays are now in full swing; it seems strange this year that Easter Sunday is right at the end of the holiday as it creates quite a build up – the kids were excited about Easter well before school broke up!

Writing for a range of ‘dated publications’ such as Bible study guides means that I actually spend time reflecting on Easter for months before it is upon us. I have a set of notes out for Easter but probably finished writing them well over six months ago. Such long lead times can mean you feel out of kilter with the calendar at times.

But I can also find that social media can be awash with too much information about a certain event in the Church calendar. That, coupled with our general over-busyness, could mean that, while we see all the articles and postings about Easter, it leaves us somewhat untouched and unchanged.

What a shame, because this truly is the pivotal part of our story as believers. Without Jesus’ resolute determination to see His destiny completed we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the grace-filled relationship with God we have as Christians. I know you know that – but I also know how easy it is to say it and not be affected by it.

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Celebrating mothers – and my mum in particular :)

mum and ClaireAs we approach Mother’s Day, it felt appropriate for me to focus on motherhood – and the huge impact our mothers have on us. When I wrote about International Women’s Day, which we also celebrated this month, I spoke about what a privilege it is to be a mother to my own daughter, but what a challenge it is to bring her up in today’s society too.

I’m so grateful for the wisdom of the other women I have around me – who not only help me when I’m in those ‘tearing my hair out’ moments with my kids, but who also challenge me and push me not to settle for the mundane status quo. They continually urge me to seek hard after God and His purposes for my life and not to allow my insecurities to stop me from being all God wants me to be.

Those women include some great, close friends within my church, who I simply couldn’t cope without (hence I view them as God’s gift to me) as well as those I’m privileged enough to work with within my Christian publishing career. As women I think we often do a brilliant job of supporting one another. I mentioned in a previous post too that my sister also often ‘tells it like it is’ to me – while we may not see each other that often we speak words of truth into each other’s lives, and we know we are always there for each other.

Today, however, my focus has got to be on the one woman who has not only influenced me the most but also inspired me the most too: my mum. What a testimony she is to a life of faithfulness in the midst of suffering.

To read the rest of this, please click here.

A typical writing day – for me

I can’t pretend to have had this idea first, as the great Wendy Jones posted hers earlier today on her site, but I thought I would share an entry of a writing competition – that I didn’t win. It was earlier in the year, when my son wasn’t in full-time school, so it gives more of an insight into that juggling act. Since October there has still been a massive juggling act – it’s just taken a slightly different form!

Anyway, both Wendy and I submitted entries for the Association of Christian Writers’ (ACW) writing competition A Day in the Life of a Writer. Here’s what I sent in, which I think sums up the pressure and panic I can sometimes experience as a writer:

I wake up early, with that pit in my stomach that always happens on writing days. I chew over what I need to get done before the kids get up, and then it is a mad rush to get them off to school. On my return the panic sets in; I always have the overriding sense that I can’t do it – I simply can’t put the words down. The empty page on the screen seems to taunt me until I pray and then force myself to get going. Then I allow the words just to flow; I wait until later to go back and read them. The editing process is a lot easier as I am an editor by trade. Although of course it is harder to change your own work than someone else’s…

Time is a huge constraint. My youngest is at nursery so my most productive hours HAVE to be the few I have free each morning. Sometimes that’s an enormous pressure; at other times it simply forces me to get over my feelings of inadequacy and get on. But not today…today has been particularly hard, and the morning wasted. Because earlier in the week I was approached by a new magazine. I had been recommended to them and they wanted me to write some articles by the end of the week. I had sent the requested examples of work and then waited…and waited. Then today the ‘ping’ of my email informed me a new message was in. And there, staring me in the face, was a rejection. It was beautifully put, full of praise for my writing, but I was, nevertheless, on reflection, ‘not quite right for their publication’. Oh how that stung! More so because I had been approached by them. To me that meant my writing must be even more unlovely for it to change their minds about me!

On days like today the writers’ forums, such as the ACW Facebook page, are invaluable. I posted how I was feeling and the enormous response I got – full of sympathy, empathy but also great wisdom – helped me to determine within myself to get up and get back to work. After all there was only one hour left before I had to do the next school run – and I do have a book to write! Thinking of all the positives, of how I have books, articles, bible study guides all lined up to write for the rest of the year, makes me so grateful and yet…that sting is still there. Okay it has lessened, but now it is a quiet, slow-burning background pang that is still tingeing my day with sadness. I am full of resolve; to make the writing I am doing the best it can be and to rejoice in everything I do have. And yet that uncertainty, that lack of belief in myself, is hovering, waiting to pounce if I give it the chance…