Being a Mary in the city of success

I love London. I love its diversity, its culture, art, history, greenery and even some of its concrete. I love the pace at which one lives, the constant opportunity to do and see new things and the hope and expectation captured within its borders.

 

Living in the city of potential, there’s a very apparent pressure to succeed and progress. Having resided in the rather leafy west of the city for almost 6 years now, I’m not ignorant to the burden of continual movement and upward motion in which my life should be heading. It’s a burden that frustrates me, because, it’s not one I necessarily agree with. It has somehow entered into my fibres and become part of my expectation that I will swim with the upward tide of London’s successful salmon, and reach the prized pool of the elite.

 

However, biblically, this isn’t my expectation at all and I’m a contradiction to my very self. My belief that my life should be a continual success isn’t unbiblical, but perhaps self-involved and indulgent. To live to aspire to gain the world, only serves to diminish my standing with the Holy Lord, is that not true? Jesus said that whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

 

Now I’m not suggesting that success in business is a sin, far from it. More so that success as an ultimate goal is a sin. My ultimate goal is to live in communion with Jesus, to serve him as my Lord, and go wherever he goes. Still, I am ambitious in this life. The tension is great.

 

With a desire to know Jesus first, it saddens me therefore that I often relate more to Martha than Mary in Luke chapter 10. I have been known to say, in a flurry of activity, “Lord do you not care?” (Luke 10v40) although of late my disposition has been changing. God is refining me and helping me to sit at his feet. He is shaking off the burden of busy-ness, and building in me a thirst to know his kingdom come in my life. Coming to Jesus before anything else, prioritising him over all other things, is what he calls ‘the good portion’ in Luke 10v42. If I believe Jesus to be holy and perfect, a God who never lies, then I am foolish not to accept the good portion and learn from these examples. Over time sat at his feet, my heart has been changed. Slowly but surely I’m learning not to run blindly with the crowds towards an unknown goal in an unstable world. I’m learning that, in fact, God’s kingdom is not of this world and his plans will not fail. If I can sit and listen to him instead of worrying about my upward trajectory, perhaps I’ll find myself blissfully swimming in a fresh stream of success, one which credit crashes, referendums, house prices or budget cuts will never be able to take away.

Getting crafty with God

My flatmates and I have recently discovered a love of craft. Perhaps the term ‘recently’ applies only to me, but it has been a source of gentle satisfaction which has taken me by surprise.

 

There were many reasons why we held a craft afternoon in our flat a few sundays ago; a birthday, our delight in cake, the opportunity to hang out with friends and meet new ones, and a general hospitable spirit were a few of them. Our living room turned into a messy haven of coloured card, bejewelled stickers, pencils, crayons, pritt sticks and the like, whilst our kitchen burst with sweet treats, petite rectanglular sandwiches, aromatic tea and the indulgent scent of abundance.

 

A fold of card later, I decided to introduce my bible into the equation.

 

“I know someone creative”, I thought, as I clutched my pink ESV. Who could I encourage through a piece of decorated parchment? Could this add another layer to my decoupage worship of the most Holy God? Well, I was willing to find out at least.

 

Cutting and sticking, I prayed, a verse popped into my head, and bingo! I had a plan. What ensued was a flurry of scissoring, the careful peeling and sticking of minature gold letters (who brought those?) and the swift, lyrical action of a rollerball upon textured fibres. Tadaa! A masterpiece. Well, to a 2-year old, but I thought fondly of my work, and I believe God did too.

 

Since that, err, memorable day, I’ve sent quite a few of my cards to friends and family with an encouraging verse of scripture on the front and a few choice words inside. I’ve invested in a new pritt stick and my craft life has, well, taken off.

 

Now, during my latest craft-blast, as I pondered who to encourage next, I was at a loss. You see, each card I had previously made had upon it the name of a specific reciever. Now what to do? How can I create without a reason to do so? Oh the theological implications! Instead of consulting Wayne Grudem’s ‘Systematic Theology’, I chose to simply do my thing regardless and prayed for a verse or two to get me going. Three decorative cards later, I had a trio of possibilities.

 

“They’ll come in handy at some point”, I sighed, as I tucked my craft box back in the corner under my bed.

 

Propped up on the table, I returned to my creations and read the three nuggets of scripture I had scrawled. God was alongside me, the Holy Spirit spoke: “They’re for you”.

 

Ooof, my inner cat (if that is, infact, even a thing) just recieved a fresh bowl of milk.

 

God had decided it was my turn to be encouraged. He wanted me to know the breadth and length and height and depth of his love for me in that moment. He wanted to return the favour, and bless me through my art.

 

How kind and loving is our wonderful God hey? How well does he know us and want to bless us? I’m confident that he cares completely, and that he is at hand.

 

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3v20-21

As for me, I am poor and needy

I am poor and needy,
To me it did occur
I’m not at all a master
just another human ‘her’

 

I often face a quandry
I fail to run on time
I’m injured from my gym exploits
although I’m in my ‘prime’

 

I worry out of caution
I interrupt your speech
My listening ear is infantile
I judge but want to preach

 

Now, upon this revelation
it did not strike me down
in fact it raised my spirits
and lifted up my frown

 

For when I’m poor and needy,
the Lord takes thought for me
He did the same some years ago
when dying on a tree

 

And as I look to Jesus
I’m no longer without hope
His grace is all sufficient
his mercy beyond scope

 

See, all he ever wanted
was for me to know his name
to save my weary mind and soul
and release me from my shame

 

In turn I give him glory
when myself I’m in the rain
so I can know contentment
through suffering and pain

 

The Lord is my true source of joy
He overflows my cup
on finding this great treasure
my heart is lifted up!

 

My eyes are on him daily
he is my faithful friend
I’ve seen enough of his great work
to run until the end

 

So even through my weakness
my inability
I can do all things through him
who kindly strengthens me

Five years in a boat fending off Somalian pirates, and other stories…

I’ve been part of the church for a little while now; five years, 3 months and one day to be exact. From those first exciting days to now, I’ve been on an amazing journey. It’s not been plain sailing in the Caribbean though, more like rowing a boat off the coast of Somalia. Well, maybe not that thrilling… Still, I’ve got a life jacket that’s industry standard and a good Bugsy Malone style foam gun full of the, err, foamy stuff.

When I met the Lord, many of my friends thought I was a bit, how do I put it, ‘doolally’. That was cool, though, I probably would have thought so too. I’d gone from typically wayward university student to proclaimer of Jesus in the space of about 2 weeks (and one memorable day). I’d have probably thought something was slightly a miss had the shoe been on the other foot. However, I was wearing the Jesus sandal in this instance, so I had to face the music.

Some friends found it a bit too much and said their goodbyes completely, some friends closed off, most asked questions, and a few turned back to their faith. Dealing with faltering friendships was probably my first tough challenge as a Christian. I wasn’t the same, my life had been transformed and with that, people didn’t like the new me. But I did, so I guess we just couldn’t see eye to eye anymore.

Then came the decision to move my life from Liverpool to London and work for my new-found church, for free. For a year. Obviously, this had not been my parents plan for my life. They were ultimately supportive of my decision though, which was a huge blessing and massive testament to them. I knew they probably would have rathered I set up paid camp in a reputable journalistic outlet – the sector I had just spent 3 years training to work in!

A year went by and I found myself unemployed. Great.

My faith still strong, and relatively unweathered, I ask God’s Spirit to guide me. Some might have deemed that a bad idea when I ended up in a bright red jacket on the wintry streets of London asking people to give to charity. Yep, I was the annoying person interrupting your shopping on a Wednesday afternoon, with a spiel too quick and convincing for you to say no. However, people did say no. And actually, I learned how many different ways of saying no there are. Most of which I purposed to forget.

Still, nothing is wasted in the Kingdom, and I most certainly was humbled. I think a little slice of my naivety was eaten up during those two and a half weeks, and my arrogance of never being a quitter…

What came next was slightly more attuned to my idea of an answer to prayer. I got a job at Sky Sports working on the rugby. Dream job? Well, yes in the fact that I’d prayed non-stop about it for the best part of year. And no, in that it didn’t sort my life out and I didn’t live out the Hollywood fairytale with it all being happily ever after. This, of course, was my exact anticipation. There goes another slice of my naivety!

Reading this you might be inclined to ask: what went wrong? The answer: nothing really. Four years in, I love my job, it has provided tonnes of opportunity and I’m always learning. What it didn’t provide though, was an end to my aspiration and desire in life. I think sometimes we can fall into the trap of the ‘if I only get this, then all will be dandy forever’ mentality. Well, that’s just not how life works, and I’ve experienced that particular realisation in some of the greatest things I’ve ever received! How ironic hey? Something else I’ve jotted down in the ‘must remember’ folder of my brain.

Well there you have it, a (very) brief overview of my short journey so far. If I tried to list all the other challenges of the last five years, frankly, I would most probably bore you. It’s also not as light-hearted reading for a Saturday afternoon if I detail, for example, intestinal parasites picked up in Thailand, or an operation to remove metal from my jaw, is it? I could conversely list all the amazing things that have happened in my life during the last five years, but maybe I’ll save that for another post.

Anyway, who helps me when parasites strike? The God of all comfort that’s who. It might sound jovial, and obviously, sometimes it is, but from the very first day I realised God was God and that he was worthy to be praised, he’s been my reliable friend. He is the funniest guy I know (seriously, if you didn’t think I was doolally at the start, you have permission to now), he helps me to laugh at myself, he gives me all I need and do you know what? If I was really in a rowboat off the coast of Somalia, I’m confident he’d be in it with me, clutching a boom box, bashing out the tunes!

1000 days on, innumerable things learnt…

On New Year’s Eve 2013 I declared that I had made a resolution, and as I write, I am partially fulfilling it. My literary skills in the written form have, for years, been laid dormant. At university I thrived on my ability to write interesting and concise content. I blogged when I left, but life and work pushed my nimble fingertips aside and so sadly, I ceased to type. This is why my resolution for 2014 is to begin a new blog. What I am to focus on I am unsure, but hopefully as I juice my creative citrus fruit of a brain I may publish something of worth.

Having moved to London over 3 years ago, I feel only now that the city is for me. Gladly, I accepted the challenge to get stuck into the nitty gritty of London life and sold my soul to South West Trains. In doing so, I humbly accepted delays and signal failures, but equally was happy to transport myself into the abyss that never sleeps. What kept me sane though, was knowing that God was with me, every day. After all, I met the big man before moving to the city, so felt it was an adventure into God as well the place I was set to dwell.

Over 1000 days on, It’s still a wonderful thing, knowing the guy who made the world; I can’t imagine a smarter, more interesting being than he. As I commute to work he encourages me, and as I carry myself home each night he comforts me. He councils me when my wardrobe is ‘bare’ and soothes me to sleep at night. A best mate? One could not compare.

It takes work growing a friendship though, plain sailing never produced loyal shipmates, and he knows that.

I think one of the things I’ve learnt thus far on my London adventure is that God likes me to be real. Some of my closest friends will agree that I’m good at being honest. To those whom I trust I am pretty much exactly myself; I am how I was created. These friends I can relate to, and as we know each other better, we better communicate. It is the same with God, well, somewhat at least.

I know there have been times when not knowing a character trait of God has caused me to fail, burn out, trip up, worry needlessly, the list goes on! But, each time I go through a hard time, miss the last train home, find myself homeless, needy of pennies, I am never disappointed by what I learn about my heavenly father. If that plain sailing ship was happily sat on autopilot without an iceberg in sight, I’d argue that the sailors would get bored, feel unstimulated and be left frustrated. The captain and his trustee workers would find no need to communicate: friendships would become shallow & fragmented.

What London, work, church and life have taught me is that with trials, are borne meaningful relationships, trust, and respect. I’ve had my share over the last few years and through them I’ve made, and deepened, some pretty great friendships. I’m blessed to know some rather genuine, eccentric, generous, gentle, sensitive, loyal and down right hilarious people, and what’s best is…I know the one who created them all!

A fumble through a first blog, a generous helping of grammatical errors and hopefully an insight into why I can be (or attempt to be) content in whatever situation. I know the God who strengthens me.