Thursday, 22 December 2011

Zechariah

Well the wait is almost over. Christmas Day is nearly upon us. However in the Austin household we have one other important event to celebrate two days before the Big Day. Gemma was born on the 23rd December and so our Christmas time is always wrapped up around that too.
14 years ago I spent Christmas in hospital as Gems was born as an emergency cesarean. She was a week late and my blood pressure had suddenly shot up. After having a very easy pregnancy this was rather annoying but hey ho that's life I suppose.

Anyway I won't bore you with the details, suffice to say she is a joy and we love her to bits. She was definitely worth waiting for and it's a privilege to call her my daughter.

As I blogged previously I've been reading daily advent scriptures and studies to help me prepare for Christmas spiritually. It's been an interesting journey and each day I've discovered something new about God's plan and about the different people who played a part in that plan. The one character who has stood out for me this year in particular is Zechariah. I've really warmed to his plight and the part he plays in the story for more than one reason!!

He was a devout man of God, a priest. Both he and his wife Elizabeth were 'upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well on in years.' (Luke 1: 6-7).

It was while Zechariah was on duty in the temple that he was visited by the angel Gabriel who told him his prayers for a child of their own, were to be answered. Now at this point I can so sympathise with Zechariah as his initial reaction is one of doubt and mistrust. He asks Gabriel 'How can I be sure of this?' (Luke 1:18). Because of his doubts Zechariah was struck dumb.....instantly!! A little harsh I think but we see this act also plays a significant part in the story as it unfolds.

All too often I have the same reaction. When I've waited for something for so long and I just can't believe it's ever going to happen. I've questioned the answer when it's come. I wish I could be more like Mary in the story (Luke 1:38), who pretty much accepts her news of giving birth to Jesus without too much fuss!! I can only put this down to the difference between youth and someone getting on in years (!!), and having lived a long devout life trying as hard as possible to follow God in the right way, but has had to deal with disappointment and unanswered prayer. This reminded me of Jesus' words in Luke 18:17 when everyone was bringing children to Jesus and the disciples sent them away. Jesus told them off and accepted the children because, He said, 'anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it'.

However to return to Zechariah to finish, I believe he redeemed himself.
When his son was finally born, after waiting nine months living in complete silence, he did obey God and confirmed that their child should be called John. This went against all tradition and yet both he and Elizabeth knew that John was a gift from God and would become a great man of God in his own right and prepare the way for the Messiah. Because Zechariah obeyed God, his voice was returned to him. He didn't then just go about his business as if nothing had happened he used his voice immediately praising and thanking God. It is an amazing passage and well worth a read. Nine months of frustration, waiting, preparation and realisation are expressed in Luke 1:68-79.

So my challenge this Christmas is to be more like Mary, more accepting of opportunities God puts in my way, without questioning them. But also to realise that sometimes I get it wrong like Zechariah and I need to react in the way he does with thanksgiving and humility. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

November

Well November came and went in a bit of a blur!!
November is a special month for me as I not only celebrate my birthday but my wedding anniversary too.
Wayne and I celebrated 22 years of marriage this year and I have to say it's been a blast. Although we are very different we share many of the same values and we encourage one another in our own interests as well as enjoying the same taste in food, sport, and TV viewing (for the most part anyway!!!).

I'm of the artistic persuasion Wayne is a scientist, Wayne's more logical I'm not!! None of these opposite trends seems to matter though, as we seem to compliment one another, and it all comes in handy when helping Gemma with homework projects and encouraging her in different areas of interest!!

Both Wayne and I enjoy being hospitable and so we celebrated my birthday and the birth of the new kitchen with a celebratory weekend by filling our house with lovely people who have walked alongside us in our journey over this last few months. It was a fab weekend celebrating with family and catching up with old friends as well as establishing new friendships. It marked the start of the next chapter in our journey using our new kitchen to bless others as well as receiving the blessings ourselves.

This month we also had the privilege of staying overnight at one of my favourite venues, the Waterside Inn at Bray. Thankfully Wayne's company were paying but we enjoyed a fantastic meal and then the luxury of staying there, followed by breakfast served in the room the next morning. What an absolute treat. I've promised myself we'll save up to go back next year sometime, love the place the people, the service and of course the food. 

And so to December. We've already started Christmas preparations. Cards are sent, the house is decorated with Tree and Christmas candles, just the shopping to complete now and then the wrapping to be done.
But I've also started preparing my heart and mind for Christmas too, and am reading daily Advent scriptures and studies. All to often I find myself getting ready for Christmas by being busy, but this year I want to cherish each day in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. After all as a Christian that's what I'm really celebrating at Christmas. So this may be my last blog before the New Year in which case I would like to wish you all a very very Happy Christmas. May you know God's Peace, Love, Joy and Hope at this special time of year. 

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Rice and Beans

As part of Kerith Community Church I was challenged to make a choice this week, to live on Rice and Beans. Now initially this didn't strike me as a great choice to be honest, as I love my food, and in particular meat. However as I heard more about the reasons behind it all, and as Gemma had already made the decision to do this, and let us say, enthusiastically encouraged me to join her (!!) I felt I should give it a go.

This choice however was one which helped me appreciate life a bit more. It made me look at all we have in this country and the amount of variety of food and possessions we are exposed to. As a church the Kerith are supporting Serenje, a village in Zambia. It's a 5 year project in which we are partnering with Tearfund and EFZ to provide practical assistance for those living with HIV. To read more about the whole project click here.

In taking up this Rice and Beans challenge, we were encouraged to empathize with, and pray for those people (particularly in Serenje of course) who don't have the choices we have. Who can't just nip down to Tesco and get a ready meal or phone for a pizza or Chinese takeaway. The exercise in itself was not a difficult one as I didn't go hungry, but it did make me appreciate all I have access to on a daily basis. The variety and amount of supermarkets, takeaways and restaurants we have to choose from. It also made me appreciate the balance of diet we eat and what an effect that has on your digestive system!!

A great encouragement to me over the week was the way others in our community joined the challenge and shared their experiences and recipes (thanks Stacey!) on facebook. This joining of hearts and minds is what this whole Serenje project is about, and having got involved with this Rice and Beans challenge it helped me connect more with the whole ethos of the venture. We also had the privilege of hearing firsthand what a difference our connection with Serenje is making as we had two Zambian pastors come and visit recently and share at our Serenje celebration meeting. They were so encouraging and so positive about how we had helped it was truly inspirational.

Also during the Celebration meeting we heard about all that had been done in Serenje, and the many ways our community had got involved with raising money for the project. It was fantastic to hear how our young people had got so on board with it all and how local schools had taken up the challenge too. I had the privilege of playing at all three meetings so got to hear firsthand from local teachers about how this project had affected them, as well as hearing from the CEO of Tearfund himself about what a difference we were making.

Our combined vision is not just to provide short term financial support for the African village, but to link the two communities of Serenje and Bracknell in a long term sharing of hopes and dreams. In blessing Serenje we in turn are blessed.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Top of the League

Well I can't let the week end without mentioning football. I know most of you will stop reading now but hey I just wanted to express the complete and utter joy I feel every time I think about my beloved Man City!!

For those of you who haven't heard, we played Man United on Sunday and beat them 6-1....yes 6-1!!!!!
Not only did we beat our arch rivals at the weekend but we came from a goal down last night against Wolves in the Carling Cup to win 5-2 scoring 3 of the goals in 3 minutes!!! So we're not only top of the Premiership and 5 points clear, we're in the last 8 of the Carling Cup too. A great week's work!!

Now even if you don't know anything about football or indeed don't care, bear with me as I try and explain what this means to me. I have blogged previously trying to explain some of the tension between the two Manchester teams so I won't go there again. What I would like to say is the fact that my hometown has two extremely talented football teams, and it makes me feel proud to be Mancunian.

I know people will quote the figures and announce how much City are worth, but all the money in the world doesn't make a team play as a team. You need good leadership, hard work and good influential players to make it successful. Mancini has done a remarkable job buying the right players and managing their egos well. Players like Aguerro have added not only talent, but influence and hard work to the team. My prayer is that the money being invested in the club will serve as a legacy to the city as a whole. As the Commonwealth Games left a decent legacy I hope and pray the same can be said of Man City's current success.

I can remember all too well going through all the emotions possible while watching City play Gillingham in the promotion playoff final to get us back into the top flight of football in 1999. All the years of watching with uncertainty while Kevin Keegan was manager not knowing if we'd win or lose, a true rollercoaster. Some part of me deep inside misses the anxious moments wondering what kind of performance we'd give. However most of me is enjoying watching slick professional football, solid defending, outstanding passing and movement on and off the ball and wonderful goals. True team work.

I know it's only a game, and there are more important things in life I could be discussing, but it's part of me, it's in my blood. Having followed the blues for some 38 years, most of those living in the south, I've had to cope with ridicule on a number of occasions. So to all those who might want to have a go, or negate Man City's recent achievements or indeed my feelings of joy at the moment, I'd just like you to consider how you'd feel if the boot was on the other foot.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Let Go and Let God

Well October is nearly over and such a lot has happened since I last blogged!!
  • My kitchen has been demolished and rebuilt
  • I've completed two work projects
  • My computer died and has been resurrected!! 
  • The Willow Creek DVD conference held at Kerith Community Church has been and gone
All of these events are reasons for my not blogging for a while and have all had an impact on my life.

The chaos created by losing my kitchen and having walls knocked down has meant life's routines are a little out of kilter. Getting packed lunches ready for Gemma is challenging in a makeshift kitchen situated in the dining room. Entertaining is obviously not an option....... for now anyway!!! Cooking meals using the barbecue, slow cooker and microwave is all ....well interesting!!!

However the wait is nearly over and I will soon be posting pictures of the fantastic changes that I believe will not only bless us as a family, but many other people too, some of whom I don't even know yet. Hospitality is something we as a family love and we're all looking forward to being able to use our new kitchen as a true blessing.

The work projects have been relatively straightforward, which for those of you who've been following my blog will hopefully find encouraging, as I've never really found it that easy before now. However they do take time and so other projects in the house like cleaning and ironing do tend to get put on the back burner, although cleaning at the moment is a bit of a waste of time anyway, with floor tiling and decorating yet to be done!!! I'm really pleased though that I don't seem to have panicked too much and have managed my time quite well fitting in rest times, coffees with friends and taxiing Gems around as usual!!

Losing my computer for a while threw me a little, but again I coped with it ok I think (Wayne may beg to differ at this point!!). The main irritation was having to reload all the programmes I lost Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Adobe, reconnecting the printer etc etc etc...

I played in the Worship band at the Willow Creek conference at the beginning of October. This had a huge impact on me emotionally, physically and spiritually. The conference is a two day event and was attended by around 450 delegates. I've played for these events before on many occasions and have always come away challenged by the speakers. However this year was different.

The lead up to the conference involved three main rehearsals (on top of our usual Sound Professors rehearsals) and lots of practice on my part to be able to play with any kind of efficiency and longevity!!
The whole atmosphere at these events is amazing and you really feel you are part of something bigger, something that God wants you to add to, and be involved with.
However what I didn't know was that God was going to speak directly to me!! He used a very good friend of mine to basically give me a kick up the backside!!

Over the summer I'd been reassessing my purpose and place in the church and hadn't really come to any decision. I was struggling with where I fitted in and yet knew that if God wanted me to be part of the Kerith He'd sort it!! Well He did.
I was given an ultimatum, which to be honest rocked my world. It was kinda like someone taking you by the shoulders and giving you a good shake. I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach and left to process it all. However I'm finding God rarely tries to make a point by using only one person. After receiving my ultimatum, I had a number of  friends encourage me and pray with me and  help me process everything I needed to deal with.

The consequences of all of this are a new attitude, a new focus on my purpose and self worth and the start of a new chapter. I read this morning that we have to be prepared to let go of things that God takes away from us, but we should never let go of His hand. There were things that I wasn't letting go of which God had taken away from me. They were blocking my relationship with God, and holding me back from developing my faith and purpose in Him. However I never let go of His hand, and even though sometimes it might have felt like only our fingertips were touching, I knew He was always there.

So are there things you need to let go of and let God work in you?

Friday, 30 September 2011

Team Player

My beloved Manchester City had a Champions League game on Tuesday night against Bayern Munich. Now I know this won't have registered as very important to many of my friends, but if you know me at all or have been following my blog you may understand some of what I'm going to blog about. We lost the game 2-0 which in itself was a little disappointing as we've waited so long to reach this competition and hopefully get through the first stage and into the knockout stage (bear with me non football fans!!). However the most disappointing thing on the night, was the apparent lack of interest displayed by Carlos Tevez. Tevez was a key player for City last season, and helped us win the FA Cup and finish fourth in the League, our best season in the history of the Premiership. However this season we have added to our squad and he has not featured quite so often in the starting 11. On Tuesday he started the match on the bench as a substitute, and then when the manager, Roberto Mancini asked him to take to the pitch he seemingly refused.

Even if you're not a football fan, I'm sure you'll understand the frustration and outrage of the manager and the fans, as they saw him remain seated on the bench when his team needed him on the pitch.

I've always thought of myself as a team player, and this open display of dissent and disregard for his team and manager, from a player I have admired in the past for his work ethic both on the pitch and in training, really through me off guard. Now I know in the scheme of things football or sport is not the be all and end all of life, however having been involved in team sports for much of my life I believe it has taught me a number of life lessons. Lessons about working with different people, about right attitudes and working for the good of the team.

As I've blogged previously I have the privilege of playing in a band, 'The Sound Professors'. As well as giving me a sense of connectedness, playing in the band helps me to practice my sense of being a team player. Only when you are a team player can a band be successful. Only when you listen to one another properly, and are sympathetic to the harmonies, riffs and rhythms being played around you, can you add your own embelishments, improvisations and sounds that fit. Only then can the band play as one and sound fantastic.

I know that when I play in the band I have a sphere of influence and a sphere of concern. I influence how the band sound, and I'm concerned about the overall sound we create.

I believe in life we all have a sphere of influence and a sphere of concern. We all have peers, colleagues, friends, family who we affect by what we say and do. Carlos Tevez, as do many professional footballers, has a significant sphere of influence of his own, over many people. Over young aspiring footballers, as well as long standing faithful fans who may have never played the beautiful game!! Manchester City have suspended Tevez for two weeks and further talks on his future at the club are taking place. I don't know how this will all pan out, but I hope that Tevez will be more aware of his sphere of influence and change his attitudes, so that his sphere of concern becomes wider, and he appreciates the consequences of his actions on his followers.

As a christian I think this sphere of influcence is key to the way we behave and the things we say. The bible has much to say on this subject and in my daily readings today, I read the following from 1 Corinthians Chapter 10 vs 23-24:

"I have the right to do anything," you say - but not everything is beneficial.
 "I have the right to do anything" - but not everything is constructive.
 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

So as christians we have the freedom to behave in any way we like, but we need to consider how beneficial and constructive that behaviour is for the good of those we influence, for the good of the team we're part of, the church, and for the good of reaching people who don't consider themselves christians.

So who are you influencing and are you concerned?


Friday, 16 September 2011

'The Legend'

Some five years ago my brothers and their wives and Wayne and I, organized a surprise party for my Mum and Auntie. Mum was going to be 80 and Auntie 70. It was a great evening and we managed to gather many friends and family they hadn't seen for many years. It was a special night and one I will remember with great delight. I had the opportunity of honouring both these great ladies in my life with a short speech. It isn't often you get those kinds of chances while people are still with you, and it was a wonderful experience to be part of, it gave me a kind of warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Today I'd like to share some more thoughts on my wonderful Auntie who is introduced as Auntie and is considered an Auntie to my friends and is fondly dubbed 'the Legend' with a few close friends!! Her 'real name' is Iris but forgive me for continuing to use Auntie when describing her!!

I have blogged a little about her previously but I wanted to take time today to dedicate this entry to her. 

If you've read my Holiday Highlights blog you will know Auntie joined us in Cornwall for the second week of our holiday. As I've already said it was a very special time and one I will remember for many years to come, we shared many laughs and happy memories. She amazed me as she made her way down the 100 steps to the Padstow Lifeboat station knowing she would have to climb back up them!!


Unfortunately we couldn't use the lift on the left hand side as that was for casualties rescued by the lifeboat!!

On our return home from holiday we had a few housey projects to do, mainly in preparation for our new kitchen which is happening much sooner than originally planned!! So there was lots of sorting and tidying to be done. Now any of you who know Auntie will know that she's a determined woman, and someone who loves nothing more than sorting out and finding a place for everything. As I'm sure I've mentioned in previous blog entries I live with two very messy people, and as hard as I try to have a place for everything and keep everything in its place it's a somewhat uphill battle.

So on our return Auntie and I took the opportunity of Gemma being at pony camp for three days and 'out of the way' to make a start on the mess that was our house!! We worked our way through each room initially creating more mess....you know what it's like!! But ultimately ending up with a considerably tidier and cleaner house. Now if I'd been left to do this on my own I assure you I would have given up after the second day maybe but with my wonderful 'duracel powered' Auntie we got to the end and managed to achieve almost everything on the list before I took her back up north.

It is this determined, driven character that has been a true inspiration to me throughout my life. She has always been there for me. Supporting me (and the rest of my family and many friends), and encouraging me. It was only through Auntie that I owned my first bike. We went to the shop together she paid and I paid her back in installments. I was 18 when she funded the £350 it cost for my very first trumpet (in fact the one I still play to this day!). Again I paid her back in installments. She also helped Wayne and I out financially when we were going stir crazy in our one bedroomed flat after 5 years enabling us to move up the property ladder. Again an interest free loan and one that helped us out emotionally as well as financially!! 

She is a straight talker, honest, helpful, thoughtful, kind, fun and hard working. She is a true friend and since mum died has become the matriarch of our family and a central part of all we do.

I know she would say she feels lucky to have us all, and that we all want to spend time with her, but it's down to her that we feel this way. At birthdays and Christmas time the doors in her flat are adorned with warm greeting card messages which are a true testament to the kind, compassionate and thoughtful person she is. She never forgets a birthday and only yesterday we received a hand made thank you card from her for taking her on holiday. I should have been thanking her for all the hard work she'd done in helping me!!

Now I know she will be highly embarrassed about this blog entry as she doesn't like to be fussed over, but you know what Auntie, you deserve it. She doesn't have a computer but I print the blog off for her and send them to her via snail mail so I know she will be reading it!!

Thank you Auntie for all you are and all you've done. I know that losing Mum, your sister and companion, hasn't been easy, but I hope you know we all love you very much and think you are amazing. Thank you for being there for me even when I've not been great company, thank you for standing by me and loving me anyway. Just carry on being you, because we love you just the way you are, you are a true Legend.



Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Holiday Highlights

Well the Summer seems to have almost left us, although I have to say I'm enjoying the beautiful skies and dramatic cloud formations. That was one of my highlights over the summer, looking at the changing colours and wonderfully mysterious shapes the clouds made. It was probably my best summer for three years. Not because I got an amazing tan, or spent hours basking in warm sunshine on a beach, but mainly I think because I spent quality time with my family.

I had chance to catch up with family in Manchester early on in the school holidays and then Wayne Gemma and myself headed off to Cornwall for two weeks. Gemma spent the first week on a pony holiday (her idea of heaven I think!!) and Wayne and I spent some quality peaceful time together exploring the area in and around Tintagel where we were based. Then towards the end of the week we collected Auntie from Exeter then picked up Gemma and spent the second week altogether. It was fantastic.

It took me back to my childhood when we'd go out for days and enjoy exploring our own country. We even did a train trip. When I was little I loved trains so much I can remember Mum and Auntie taking me into Manchester and getting a train to somewhere (don't know where!!) then we just crossed over the platform and got the train back just so I could go on a train!!! Well we did the same in Cornwall, Bodmin to be precise, only this time it was a steam train, very Harry Potter like!!!

I think probably the only down side was that we had to pack everything because we didn't know what the weather was going to do. But all in all we were lucky and missed getting absolutely drowned!!

I discovered Cornwall. I fell in love with it, with it's crazy roads, wonderful coastline and crashing waves. Beautiful sunsets and pretty villages. We sampled Rick Stein's fish and chips and Wayne and I also experienced his wonderful cuisine at his Fish Restaurant in Padstow. Proper Cornish ice cream and fudge was also a highlight, the stunning view from the apartment/cottage we stayed in made even the coldest dampest day a pleasure. Gemma chose a visit to the Tamar Otter sanctuary one day, which was brilliant. She fed the deer and we all enjoyed just pottering through the woods and hearing all about the Otters and birds of prey they looked after. On our way back from there we stopped off at Jamaica Inn up on the moor. I'm now reading the Daphne du Maurier book and really loving it recognizing the places mentioned in the book.

But the main highlight I think was the trip to the Eden Project. It was amazing, beautiful, spectacular....I'm running out of adjectives now. But the main thing that struck me was the community that exists there. All the staff were friendly and obviously enjoyed working there. They not only worked well together but they were helpful and inviting to us visitors too. They wanted to share their passion for the environment and encouraged me to look at my surroundings in a different light. It was a truly amazing experience and somewhere I would go back to tomorrow if I could.

It's 10 years since the Eden project opened and because of that they held a circus there in the evening which we stayed to watch. It was called the Labyrinth and in the style of Circe de Soleil. Again this was amazing, top quality performances from all those involved which took you on a journey through the Eden project finishing with a finale in the stage area in the centre. We were actually below the trapeze artists and had to keep moving as other acts did their thing in different areas of the arena. The band were fantastic and performed from up in the rafters. A truly excellent experience and one I won't forget in a hurry.

I'm sure I'll remember this Summer for many years to come. Here are a small sample of the photos I took to help me remember!!




Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Thoughts on phones

I was around 13 and Mum had become seriously poorly and I needed to call an ambulance. We didn't have a phone so I ran round the corner to my Gran's house and got Auntie to make the call. What a  life saver communication can be. Just being able to pick up the phone to get help that night meant my Mum got the emergency operation she needed.

Then last night watching the live pictures on the TV of my hometown, Manchester, being ransacked was sickening and  frightening. Gemma was unsettled and wanted to know if Auntie was ok, so I was able to pick up the phone to check on her. What a sense of peace it gives you when you can talk to someone you love and are worried about and find out they're ok.

However 24 hours earlier I'd been blissfully unaware of the riots in London as we hadn't watched any news!!  How can that happen? All of a sudden your life is changed and your focus is changed from your own circumstances to those suffering such violence and lack of regard for human life and livelihoods.

There will be many discussions I'm sure about who's to blame and what the root cause of it all is, but what I've been thinking about is how it all escalated so quickly. One of the main causes seems to have been the use of BBM (instant messaging through Blackberry's). This seems to have been used to insight violence rather than help anyone, surely this 'tool' should be used more responsibly??

After all the mobile phone and the internet are only 'tools', as I was reminded yesterday when I had a coffee with a good friend of mine who had her phone stolen. It's a tool, and one we need to be the master of and not let it master us. I used to 'people watch' a lot, and really enjoy seeing how mother's reacted to their children, watching people in conversation, noticing an older person struggling with their shopping and then being able to help out. Now what do I do with that spare time, play with my phone, text, check out facebook, look something up on the internet, play a game!!! Surely we need to be more aware of our interactions with actual people rather than virtual friendships and self centred actions. Surely we need to be mastering the phone and other social networks and not letting them take complete control of our lives??

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Connectedness

Over the weekend I had the privilege of playing a gig with 'The Sound Professors' (the worship band I play in). It was at a chilled festival which gave many people the opportunity to perform who may not necessarily be given a platform, and it gave us the opportunity to play some cool secular music which we don't often get the chance to do. After only a few rehearsals it was great to jam along with such talented musicians and pull a set list together. Rosie did an amazing job organizing us all and leading the band. Rehearsing and performing in such a way, draws you together like no other medium can. Music is a great unifier, and has a universal language all of its own, and playing in the band personally gives me a real sense of connectedness and purpose. Can't wait for the next one!!

I'm currently reading two Christian books which although seem quite different, are actually sharing some similarities in their content and both discuss this topic of connectedness.
The first book is 'The Church of Facebook' by Jesse Rice.The synopsis says this about the book:

This timely release explores the community-altering phenomenon of social networking sites and what it reveals about friendship, God and our own hearts. With hundreds of millions of users, social networks are changing how we form relationships, perceive others, and shape our identity. Yet at it s core, this movement reflects our need for community. Our longing for intimacy, connection and a place to belong has never been a secret, but social networking offers us a new perspective on the way we engage our community. How do these networks impact our relationships? In what ways are they shaping the way we think of ourselves? And how might this phenomenon subtly reflect a God who longs to connect with each one of us? The Church of Facebook explores these ideas and much more, offering a revealing look at the wildly popular world of online social networking.

My relationship with facebook has been a bit of a roller coaster to be honest and I'm seeing both good sides and bad sides to it. I think it's redefining friendships and creating more superficial relationships than anything has ever done before. On the other hand it is a useful tool for sharing news, staying in touch with friends who have moved away, and reconnecting with old friends. Did you know it's only been around for five years??? What did we do before facebook? How did we communicate with our friends and stay connected to them?

I'm not very far into the book (being a slow reader!!) but already it's helping me to understand some of how social networking has changed the way we do life and stay connected with one another.

The Second book I'm reading is 'Identity' by Charlotte Gambil from Abundant Life Church in Bradford.
I read this book some time ago, but this re read is giving me new insight into my relationships, my connectedness and my own security and self worth. Along with connectedness, it talks about separation, and how sometimes we have to move away from things that aren't leading us on the path God wants us to be on. Charlotte quotes Amos 3:3 'Do two people walk hand in hand if they aren't going to the same place?' and she goes on to say 'Think about who you are holding hands with because they will affect where you end up.'
In reading these books I'm being challenged about my relationships, about who I'm connected to, and why. They are helping me to value the people I have in my life in a different way and recognise that I have my own unique path which God has planned for me. As I was reading about this connectedness, I remembered the story of 'the vine and the branches' in John's gospel chapter 15.  This passage talks about God being our gardener and how a branch cannot bear fruit on it's own. It goes on to say:

I am the vine; you are the branches.
If you remain in me and I in you,
you will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing.  

As much as I love being connected to people, I know that fundamentally, I must be connected to God.
So I'd like to throw a little challenge out there for you. Who are you connected to and why?

Friday, 22 July 2011

Improvements

Have you ever had any building work done in your house? I can remember when we had a new kitchen put in our previous house. Gemma was tiny and the upheaval was horrendous. I had to build a makeshift kitchen in the lounge so I could sort Gemma's milk and meals out. We had to put stuff away in different parts of the house or just throw things away we didn't need anymore in preparation for the work to be done. Dust sheets were put down, doors were sealed up so the dust didn't spread throughout the rest of the house.  But for all the hard work and stress the result was fantastic. I can still remember the joy I felt when it was all done and the rest of the house was back to normal and the kitchen was such an improvement.

Life can be like that I find. Yesterday I started physio on my ankles. At the moment I can't wear any shoes with a back on them (like trainers or golf shoes.....very frustrating!!) as they put too much pressure on a growth I have on the back of my heals. This causes me enormous pain and means I end up walking like an old woman, which I know I'm approaching but would rather it wasn't quite so soon!!!
I know that this physio will probably make things worse initially but I'm hoping it will give me a long term solution and I'll be able to play golf and badminton once again in the not too distant future.

Last week we finished our first Morphing chapter. (If you don't know what I'm talking about I explain it in more depth in an earlier blog). There have been times on that journey which I've had to delve into emotions and feelings which have caused me great pain and upset. We've all spent time sharing and discussing how life has treated us, and looked back on our experiences sometimes with sadness. But I know I've come to the end of this first chapter feeling in a better place and having grown as a person and grown closer to God. I've learnt more about myself and I've had challenges which have made me face up to stuff and deal with things that have happened to me. It's been a bit like counselling I suppose, but with a trusted group of friends!!

As a parent, I sometimes have to challenge Gemma on her behaviour and her tidiness (!!) so she can learn and develop into an independent young lady. Someone who will be a leader not a follower, someone who will have confidence in herself and her beliefs. And ultimately someone who will be happy with who she is. These challenges can cause conflict between us and times of stress and strife at home, but I challenge her because I care about her. I care about what she becomes and how people perceive her. I love her and want the best for her.

As a Christian I believe God challenges us in life so we can grow and become who and what He made us to be. Sometimes we have to make decisions and challenge people which may rock the boat, or aren't received well and cause conflict and pain. But God has our best interests at heart. He wants us to learn and improvements to be made. He wants us to be reconciled with Him and, where we can, to live in peace with one another (Romans 12:18).

What I'm trying to say, is that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. We have to have conflicts before we can have resolutions and growth and improvements, whether that's in a war zone, politically or relationally. So if you're in the middle of a conflict, or have been challenged about something or are going through a sad chapter of your life, then try to think about the improvements that are being made in you. Hold onto the future, and the hope and trust that God has us in the palm of His hand.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Happy Memories

Well the time has definitely come to reminisce about playing in my school band some 30+ years ago (I won't be anymore specific as it's quite a struggle to think I've been around that long let alone playing the trumpet that long!!!!).

For those of you who've been following my ramblings you'll know some of the story of my musical background....well here's another chapter....one which has been recently reopened through the wonders of technology and dare I say it, the beauty of facebook!!

As I said in my previous blog, some months ago I was given a trumpet when I started at Spurley Hey High School in 1975 (that's the last date I'm going to include!!), as I could already play a little and didn't own my own instrument. It was a brand new silver frosted Yamaha and one I treasured throughout my time at school. We shared many adventures together (including me leaving it on a bus one day on the way to school....!!!!!).

The most memorable adventures though, must have been the start of our touring as the 'Spurley Hey Wind Band'. We were invited to attend the Letterkenny International Music Festival in Ireland, county Donegal.
This was no mean feat all those years ago, especially from a large city school, and considering the troubled times Ireland were experiencing. It was only due to our visionary teacher and conductor Donald Ezard that this all came about. Yes we were good, but he made us extraordinary.

As we started playing 'Italian Festival', one of our favourite pieces as a band, at the opening ceremony in Ireland, a  wonderful thing happened. In walked an Italian male voice choir who just started singing along to all the tunes. It was pure magic and even now all these years later I can remember the ovation we got from them and from the audience watching as the connection was made between the two music groups.

This was no normal connection. It led to us touring Europe and doing concerts all over France, Germany and Italy. It led to the choir Coro Monte Pasubio, coming over to England to do joint concerts with us and visiting York and Liverpool. We also did a joint concert at the Free Trade Hall to raise funds for the Italians who had suffered from an earthquake.

Through the wonders of technology and facebook,  I have recently been reunited with many of the band members and started posting old photos of the band on our newly set up page. Yes there are some sad memories as some of the members are no longer with us, and as I look back at the photos and scan them (no digital photography then!!) I see some of those faces.

I can remember being on tour when we as a band heard of one of our trombonists, who hadn't come on tour with us, tragically dying in a motorbike accident back in England. This shook us as a band, but it also bonded us, and the concert we played that night was a tribute to Trevor and all that he represented, and the future he never had.

I look forward to hearing news from more and more members, and who knows, maybe a reunion one day of both the band and the choir will be on the cards. Whoever thought I'd be talking about the beauty of facebook!!!!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Importance

Wayne, Gemma and myself headed up to Coventry on Sunday for a family christening. It was held at a really lovely, quaint village church, which was well looked after. The stone work was beautifully clean, and inside there were subtly placed spotlights halfway up the walls to add sufficient light to show it all off well. The churchyard was pristine and the sunny day added to this lovely setting.

We sang hymns I hadn't sung for a long time and there were elements throughout the service which took me back many years, to my days as a Methodist, and to things I'm finding I miss.
We started with a good old Charles Wesley hymn 'Love Divine all Loves Excelling' which oozes truth:

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
'Til in heaven we take our place,
'Til we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
We also sang 'O Jesus I have promised' which Wayne and I had at our wedding.....it obviously meant a lot then and still does now.....it reminded me of the promise I made to him when we got married, as well as the promise I made to Jesus 'to serve Him to the end'.

'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God' was the next hymn. This is based on the verse I was given when I got baptised....yet another telling moment of the service.

The most poignant moment was during the sermon though. This was based on the parable of the sower and the vicar pointed out how sometimes we have to be patient to let things grow or see things happen. He went on to talk about what our futures might look like....something I've been thinking about a lot recently.

I love that when God takes you away from your normal routine and reveals stuff to you. It made me think about what is important to me and why, at the moment, I myself don't feel that important. I've come to the conclusion that I, like most people I think, like to be noticed, I want to know people care about me and what I do, I want to feel valued and not ignored or forgotten. I think I feel most hurt when people misinterpret  my actions or words and don't respect me or value me as a person.

Deep down I know what I do as a mum and a wife is important to Wayne and Gemma. I know that I have been involved in things in the past that have been important to people and helped them, but right now, what am I doing with my life that is important?

Sunday reminded me that what I do for God is important, not necessarily what I do in the church, but what I do as an individual follower of Christ. It also reminded me, yet again, that I just have to be patient and know that God has it all in hand, as the farmer is patient with his crops, I have to be patient and wait and see what will happen. Watch this space!!!!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I will follow You

I've not had much chance to blog recently as work has been a bit manic. This is a blog entry I've been wanting to write since Father's day....finally got round to it!!!
 
On Father's Day I had the privilege of hearing two great stories from leaders at the Kerith. They spoke unreservedly about how God had spoken to them and guided them into full time ministry. Most Christians would describe this as'a calling' and that they were being obedient to that calling God made on their lives.

I've never really felt focussed on any one particular path or vocation in my life, things just seem to have happened or evolved over time. I never had a burning desire to achieve a certain thing. I'm definitely not a visionary more a doer. But these stories really made me think 'what is God calling me to do?'

Not all of us are 'called' into full time ministry in the church. It would be impossible for all of us to be teachers and pastors after all as there wouldn't be anyone to teach to!! However I think as Christians we are all called to be ambassadors for God in our daily lives. To me that means the way we act, the way we speak and the way we think. I've been reading the book of Timothy recently and came across this verse which I believe applies to all those who would call themselves christians:

'pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.'
1Timothy 6:11

My favourite song at the moment is the Chris Tomlin song 'I will Follow'. It talks about all God's ways being good and sure, about trusting God and His ways which are higher than ours. I'm not quite sure what God has planned for me, or what He is calling me to do next, or where in fact He's calling me to be, but I'm just going to keep trying to follow Him and trust in His ways.
 

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Travelling Light


Well I've finished the Max Lucado book (yes I'll return it to you soon Janine....thank you) and I just wanted to share this small section which sums up the whole book nicely. However I would urge each one of you to read the whole thing if you're feeling in need of rest, if you're bogged down with life whether that's being too busy or not busy enough, or whether you just want to look at the 23rd Psalm in a new light:

"Let's get rid of the bags! Once and for all, let's give our luggage to him. Let's take him at his word! "Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" Matthew 11:28.

Rest from the burden of a small god. Why? Because I have found the Lord.
Rest from doing things my way. Why? Because the Lord is my Shepherd.
Rest from endless wants. Why? Because I shall not want.
Rest from weariness. Why? Because he makes me lie down.
Rest from worry. Why? Because he leads me.
Rest from hopelessness. Why? Because he restores my soul.
Rest from guilt. Why? Because he leads me in the paths of righteousness.
Rest from arrogance. Why? Because of his name's sake.
Rest from the valley of death. Why? Because he walks me through it.
Rest from the shadow of grief. Why? Because he guides me.
Rest from fear. Why? Because his presence comforts me.
Rest from loneliness. Why? Because he is with me.
Rest from shame. Why? Because he has prepared a place for me in the presence of my enemies.
Rest from my disappointments. Why? Because he anoints me.
Rest from my envy. Why? Because my cup overflows.
Rest from doubt. Why? Because he follows me.
Rest from homesickness. Why? Because I will dwell in the house of my Lord forever.

And tomorrow, when out of  habit you pick your luggage back up, set it down again and again until that sweet day when you find you aren't picking it back up."

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Hopelessly Devoted

1978, a Saturday morning, off to play in a hockey tournament, then into Manchester's Arndale Centre, to play with my school band. I had to meet my Mum and Auntie who had gone on ahead with my trumpet and music folder (which wasn't small or light!!). All seemed well planned and working well. The spanner in the works was the weather!! It was pouring with rain....some of you may think that not unlikely being Manchester and all!! I was absolutely saturated after playing hockey in the rain, then waiting for the bus in the rain, and walking in the rain from the bus to the Arndale!!!

After we'd finished the concert Mum and Auntie took real pity on me, and we went shopping. This wasn't a regular occurrence and something none of us particularly liked doing (!!) but I was so wet my shoes were ruined and my coat was dripping. Kitted out with new shoes and coat (a real treat) we headed off to the cinema to see Grease.....something I'd been looking forward to for ages and so we took the opportunity of being in town to see the film everyone was going to see.

As I sat in the cinema and watched the story unfold, I was completely sucked into the plot and loved the music. At the point where Danny sits on the swing and sings about how he's been 'stranded at the drive in' by Sandy.....he was singing to me!!!!!! And I felt for her as she sat on the porch and sang how 'hopelessly devoted' she was to him.

To this day I love this film and like taking the trip down memory lane. However as I was reading this morning I got to thinking about devotions and what we can become devoted to. Sandy was 'hopelessly devoted' to Danny. She was head over heels in love with him and yet there was a part of her that felt it was all hopeless.

I think we've all had times when we've felt hopelessly devoted to things. To a job where we don't feel appreciated, to a person who doesn't return our devotion, to a cause where it all seems up hill and no one understands our way of thinking.

The book I was reading this morning is by Max Lucado called 'Travelling Light'. It takes a comprehensive look at the 23rd Psalm 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. The chapter I read today concentrated on verse 6, 'surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life'. Lucado says, even though 'our moods may shift....our minds may change.....our devotions may falter.....He is a sure God'.

2011, some years later (!!), I know that I need to devote myself to God and all the things He wants me to achieve. My devotion to Him is not hopeless, but one of hope and security. A sure hope that He will follow me all the days of my life, with the goodness to provide me with what I need, and the mercy to forgive me for all the times I get it wrong.


Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Hindsight

Have you ever thought what life would be like, if you knew a year ago, what you know now?

If only I'd realized sooner that I didn't really want to teach, I wouldn't have done a degree in Education!!!

If only Wayne and I would have known that the mortgage interest rates were going to double when we bought our flat in 1989, maybe we would have rented and not bought our flat, and lost £20,000!!!

If only I'd known I was going to feel so frustrated about my current work situation maybe I wouldn't have invested time in re training and learning new skills.

Yet in all these things good has come out of them.

If I hadn't gone to Yorkshire to college, I would never have met Wayne, my soulmate.
We received the support and help of family and friends as they helped us move to a house, and get back on our feet financially. And in all the struggles, our marriage grew stronger.
If I hadn't retrained, and started to even think about working again, I would not be challenging myself, or learning how to cope with different stress levels!! I wouldn't understand Wayne's world (!) quite so well. Maybe I'm even learning patience....finally!!

God has a plan and has had a plan for my life since before I was born.

It was only the other day when I read John 3:16 'For God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life'. That I realized it was Jesus himself, who said this, not someone talking about Jesus after His death. He was speaking to Nicodemus (a member of the Jewish ruling council), who had gone to see Jesus at night in fear of being recognised.

Jesus knew how his life on earth was going to pan out, and yet He still lived His life as a true example for us to follow. A life full of love for all people. People who not everyone could see the good in, or would want to spend time with. Sometimes we don't know why we do things or make certain choices, why certain people cross our paths or why things turn out the way they do, but I believe God already knows.

I've had times in my life when I've felt in the depths of despair, when maybe I've felt I've made the wrong choices. But looking back, I know God had a plan, and worked it all out for my good. So today is another day where I am loving God, and trusting in my faith in Him, that He has plans to prosper me and not to harm me.

As it says in Romans 8:28

And I know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
 who have been called according to his purpose.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Waiting

Well three weeks have gone by now, when I should have finished the work project I started, but I'm still waiting to hear from work to clarify my next steps, and what is expected of me!! As I've blogged previously I find this extremely frustrating, and it got me thinking about the whole concept of waiting and the emotions we go through in the process.

I recognise that waiting is just part of life!! From an early age we learn about the waiting game. The anticipation of waiting for Christmas or a Birthday. The build up of excitement as we wait for a party date to arrive or a visit from a special friend or family member we don't see very often. The thrill of waiting for a friend to arrive to spend some quality time with them and just enjoy their company.

There are also times that trigger anxiety or feelings of dread. Times when we're waiting for a confrontational meeting to happen, or the sinking feeling when you're waiting for an apology you feel you deserve and it doesn't seem to be forthcoming. The frustration of waiting for a reply to a text or email so you can make plans or take action. Anxiety as we wait in a dentist's or doctor's surgery, or waiting for medical treatment to start or the results of a scan. All those who are in the middle of exams will soon be playing the waiting game as they sit tight in the hope that their results are all they need to be.

This all got me thinking about what I do while I'm waiting. For example what do you do if you're waiting for a taxi to arrive?? I get very nervy and look longingly out of the window and hope I'm going to make my appointment on time!! Will I miss the train?? All a bit ridiculous really cause I can't do anything about it!!

Sometimes we need to make preparations while we wait. For example waiting for our holiday date to arrive we have to buy all the right stuff, make sure our wardrobe is appropriately filled and suncream or rain protection is purchased!! I've also spent many hours practising my trumpet in preparation for concerts or gigs, so I've learnt my parts, and am confident about performing well.

We might wile away hours trying to distract ourselves with a sudoku or a crossword puzzle or 'facebook' as we wait for the allotted time. These are all coping mechanisms which I'm sure we've all adopted to some degree or other, but lately I can't seem to get a worship song out of my head which is helping me be a bit more focused and positive while I'm waiting.


As a Christian I have to keep coming back to this for my own sanity!! As much as it is only human to get anxious or frustrated, God doesn't want us to be like that. He wants us to rest in Him, and in His peace and joy. When all the waiting is over and the event has happened, whether it is happy or sad, He wants us to be a better person because of it. He wants us to learn from it and be ready to tackle the next thing. He wants us to be happy and not full of regret. These are all things I'm continuing to process and learn. I don't have it sorted but I'm trying. I'm trying to keep my focus on Him and enjoy the peace He promised us.

'Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.....
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid'
John 14:27

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Challenges

Some weeks ago I blogged about some of the Choices I'd made that week, and one of them was the choice to accept some work. If you've read that blog entry you'll see I was trying to be positive about it, and was thankful it would be all over in a week.
Well that week has come and gone and so has another one and I still haven't finished the work!!

Nearly three years ago I made the decision to re train in IT. It involved attending a week long course learning lots of new skills and new terminology. I am not from a business background and the specific area I was training in was very sales based and involved lots of business and sales lingo.

This initial retraining, after being out of the workforce for 12 years doing voluntary work, was a considerable challenge!! However with the help of Wayne and some of his lovely colleagues I managed to take on my first project and survive!!! I learnt loads and subsequently have done other projects for Waynes' company as a self employed consultant (all sounds very grand I know.....but the reality is each time I get a project, I'm learning new skills, and as I blogged earlier become nervous and panicky!!!).

There have been positives and negatives about doing this work. The main positive for me as well as the money of course, is that now I understand more of what Wayne does for a living and can empathise with his workload and frustrations.

Apart from my lack of confidence the main negative is the nature of the work. It's very hit and miss and being a creature of habit and routine I find that difficult to deal with.

I've had to deal with lots of change over the last few years. My role as a mum has changed as Gemma started secondary school and started to become much more independent. My role in the church has changed as I had to give up activities to allow time to work. I'm no longer a daughter. Some of my friendships have changed. All these have been challenges I've had to deal with, but looking back I know God has been there through it all.

My biggest challenge now is to decide if this work scenario is for me. The last two weeks have made me feel  stressed and inadequate. I know that isn't all down to my lack of skills, and a lot of the blame lies with the requirements I was given, but it hasn't stopped me feeling a bit rubbish about myself!!
I know God has a plan for me, a plan to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11), but I'm now considering my future and what those plans might look like.

I would love the writing to be on the wall, or for someone to speak to me and say this is what you should be doing, or for a magic wand to be waved and it all to go away, or a big fat cheque to fall through the door and me not have to work at all......!!! I know we all have challenges to deal with. They may not be work related, they may involve relationships or the desire for a family or a wife/husband or a disabled child or an ageing parent or a sick spouse or caring for someone with a terminal illness. All I know is that this challenge for me is one I'm going to have to rely on God to help me sort out. I don't have the answer but I trust God has, and will give me some kind of guidance in what steps to take next.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Facebook

This is a blog entry I've been considering for a long time and think maybe it's time to share it!!

I've recently rejoined 'facebook' after a considerable absence. There were a few reasons for this, the easiest one to share, was that I waste my time on it!! I love looking at other peoples' pictures and knowing how everyone is and what they're up to. It reminds me when birthdays are coming up and I can celebrate with friends enjoying good times, anniversaries, weddings, births etc, as well as knowing when tragedies have happened or people are poorly.

However I found myself becoming more and more isolated because of this....I know that sounds odd but it's true. I would sign in and see everyone else seemingly having good times, or be upset when someone was not well or having a difficult time with life. It was a dreadful distraction and caused me to spend less time with friends and family. I got to a point where I just couldn't cope with how it was making me feel so I deactivated my account.

That was about 6 months ago, maybe more. If you've been following my blog you'll know I've been on a bit of a journey and 'facebook' has been part of that journey. So last week I rejoined the 'facebookers' of this world. Today I've spent some time looking at photos I hadn't had access to for some time, and it took me back to some really happy times. I still have a problem with facebook and how it can manipulate you if you let it, but I know I'm in a better place to deal with those emotions and I know I share my feelings with other good friends too....I'm sure we'll keep one another in check!!

I've decided to use 'facebook' in a particular way, continue to guard my heart and limit my time on it. I look forward to being able to enjoy communication with friends I don't see often or live in other parts of the world but I will also continue to invest in friendships in person, rather than by 'facebook', because for me, nothing beats actually spending quality time with people.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Gratitude


On Monday it was three years since my mum died. I remember last year Auntie and I spent a lovely morning at Savill Gardens reminiscing and chatting about mum and my dad too. I was in a completely different place spiritually and emotionally and spending that special time with Auntie was absolutely what I needed.

This year as I said I'm in a different place, and that caused my thoughts and memories to be ones of gratitude and to feel a sense of peace. I understand grief is a complicated concept and something we all have to deal with in our lives at some point. I also understand that we deal with it in many ways, but for me...at the moment.....I have a confidence that God has his hand on my life, and has helped me turn a corner in my grieving process.

The continual support of family and friends and the healing and restoration of relationships in my life have all contributed to this corner being turned. I know God has provided me with some fabulous people over the last three years helping me deal with all the aspects of grieving and loss....it hasn't been easy and I know I haven't arrived, as it were.....none the less I know I'm in a better place, and even beginning to think what my next challenge might be!!

There have been some dark days and yet as a good friend of mine said to me recently, 'each year there are more good days than bad, which means I must be making progress'. I am so grateful for those people God has put across my path to help me through this season and so grateful for the wonderful relationship I had with my mum.

As I read in my Morph studies recently, gratitude protects us from our hearts being darkened. In other words if we are grateful for the blessings we have in life, and intentional about thanking God and people for what they have done to help us, then we feel blessed and our hearts are made stronger. Why not give it a go, I know it's working for me.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Attitudes

Do you ever find that life can be swimming along just fine and then something happens to you or you do something which just turns it all upside down??? Well that happened to me last night!!

I listened to a teaching cd some time ago which I re listen to at regular intervals (mainly I think because It's taking me some time to learn the lesson!!). The talk was on the influence we have on other people and the way we affect people when we enter a room. Whether it's through our body language or words we say. These influences can be positive or negative and last night I'm afraid I gave off negative vibes both verbally and physically!!

I got home and realized how stupid I'd been and then felt really rubbish!!! After pondering my actions I've since apologized to the people involved and hope we can all move on. However this could all have been avoided had I had the right attitude to start with!!!

I have a tendency to predict how an event or meeting is going to go, instead of just enjoying the moment. These predictions can cause me to be very defensive, negative and even sometimes quite aggressive!! As I get older I'm recognizing these faults in myself and trying not to go down this road anymore.

I recognise my attitudes can affect what I do, how I react to situations and people, what I say and how I feel. I know God wants me to have the right attitude and I'm striving to achieve this, but it's a difficult journey. I know my attitudes are affected by my thought processes and where they lead me. As I said in my previous blog life is about choices but those choices are influenced by the attitudes we cultivate and develop.

I know God forgives me for being so stupid I just have to forgive myself now and keep learning from my mistakes.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Choices

I'm rapidly learning that the choices we make in life determine how we feel, how we react, how we affect and influence other people and ultimately how we are perceived by other people. I keep trying to tell myself that actually it doesn't matter what other people think of me but I know that deep down that isn't true.

This week I made some easy choices and some difficult choices. Choices that have affected the rhythm of my day to day life, but all choices that are growing me and choices that are affecting others.

I chose to attend 'Fourteen' again, a day of rest, a Sabbath day for me and one I had booked in last month since I had experienced the peace and calm of the last one. (Girls I appeal to you take time to make the time to do it if you can, it's well worth it). This was a day where I put aside the washing, cleaning and ironing I should have been doing to catch up after being away, but a day where I felt totally at peace with my decision and what God wanted to say to me throughout the day.

I chose to celebrate and share life with friends. To cultivate relationships, to use my gifts of hospitality and encouragement. I chose to attend parents evening and support and encourage Gemma as she progresses through school. I chose to write notes on what the teachers said for Wayne, as he's had to travel to Liverpool for work.

I chose to be vulnerable and be interviewed for the programme which you will receive if you attend 'Real 2011'. Another step of faith, a teaching moment, a time to reconsider how God has been there for me over the last few months in particular.

The hardest choice I've had to make this week is to accept some more work. This is the one thing in my life at the moment which really throws my rhythm off kilter. I can't explain the panic I feel when I get a call or an email asking me to attend a meeting or work on a new project. Wayne is amazing and has such faith in my abilities I just wish I shared it!! I know I can only do my best, I know it will grow me and I will learn so much, but just the thought of applying myself mentally in a very foreign world, makes me feel sick and anxious. I'm sure this has something to do with 'age' and the fact that I've been out of the workplace for so long, but it doesn't really help me deal with it!! I feel like I'm trundling up the rollercoaster about to reach the peak and the anticipation of the drop is causing my stomach to churn and lose all sense of perspective!

However I do know that God will use all of these choices, the easier ones and the hard ones to mould me, to grow me, to stretch me and to use me. I just need to hold onto that truth as I try and manage my time, and fit it all in. This time next week it will all be over and hopefully the choices I've made this week will have had positive affects on people and I'll be perceived in a good light by my friends, family and work colleagues but most importantly by God.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Wait is Over

Yes I was glued to the TV on Saturday afternoon and yes I was thrilled that my beloved team finally won the FA Cup in my lifetime!!! It's been a long wait!! Saturday was not one of those disappointing games or results thankfully, even though it may have been a bit of a dull first half for the neutral, I can assure you I was transfixed!!

The whole day and atmosphere for both sets of fans was terrific. It was great to see all the Stoke fans staying to see City receive the cup and celebrate their own teams achievements as well. It felt like a real cup final. Non of the 'Usual Suspects' taking part and a true day for the fans of both teams.

May 14th 2011 belonged to the fans, and a fab day for me. It was made special by the many texts and phone calls from friends and family sharing in my happiness, and understanding that I would not be available to talk during the game!! It means a lot when you feel like you've been understood and accepted for who you are, and that people care about what you enjoy. I know most of my friends don't quite get it, but it's nice to know they respect it, and are happy to share in my happiness and mad passion.

Let's hope this isn't the last silverware we win, and who knows we might pip Arsenal to third place in the League as well...!!!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Girls on Tour - Bruges


I don't know about you but when I've been away, I try to spend some time reflecting about the 'best bits'. Those of you who have children of your own, or nephews and nieces, will I'm sure have quizzed them about what the best bit of their day was or what was the best bit about that holiday etc etc.
Well I've just got back from a wonderful trip away with friends I've known since my move south. We regularly meet for meals throughout the year but Jan had a special birthday to celebrate, so we decided to go away. The beautiful City of Bruges was the final decision and to top it all Ann managed to get time off work and join us from Wales too.....so six 'girls on tour'!!

It was a memorable trip for many reasons:

  • Easy travelling on the Eurostar.

  • Fun tours of the Chocolate and Chip museums.....of course you all know that French Fries should really be known as Belgian Fries. It was the Americans that didn't realise they were in Belgium when they discovered the 'fries'!!

  • The clip clop of the horses on the very 'uncomfortable for walking' cobbles!!

  • A lovely boat trip round the canals that circle the city, a bit more relaxing than the M25!!!

  • Moules and chips eaten 'al fresco' and the wonderful local Belgian Beers of course!!

  • The quaint shops full of intricate lace and chocolate delights.

  • Time to ponder and reflect in the beautiful Church of our Lady, and seeing the amazing wooden carving of the Nativity from a whole tree trunk. It included scenes and characters from the bible and a comma (!). This depicted the belief that when we die it is not a full stop but the end of a phrase. I was particularly interested in this after I'd previously blogged about Punctuation!!

  • A bizarre meal in a restaurant where I expected to see the Adams family dining at the next table!!

  • The wonderful architecture including the amazing Bell Tower.

  • The visit to the Beer Wall, displaying the numerous Belgian Beers on offer, and a chance to buy the ones I'd sampled!!

  • Champagne and smoked salmon for breakfast at our lovely hotel St Martins Relais, and chilling in the beautiful garden with good friends and a book.

  • Topped off by the Fine Dining at the Goulden Harynck. A truly memorable meal, especially when we had a chat with the chef, Mr Serruys, who mentioned he was coming over to England soon to see his friend Jules Holland!!!

  • All in all a wonderful few days away, time to relax, not think about cooking and cleaning, or being a mummy taxi (although I did check home occassionally to make sure Wayne had collected and delivered Gemma to the right places at the right time!!), and time spent with friends enjoying one another's company and sharing good times and laughs together.

    Happy Birthday Jan and thankyou for sharing your birthday celebrations with me.

    Thursday, 5 May 2011

    Recycling and Restoration



    Well I drove up to the M6 Toll services yesterday with Auntie, where my nephew David met us, and took her the rest of the journey home. It's becoming a lovely routine. It gives Auntie and I chance to chat about her visit, I get to catch up on how the rest of the family are doing over lunch, and then on the journey home I get to play my music very loud or listen to a teaching cd. All positive ways of using the four hours of travelling. Thanks again David.

    It's been a very productive two weeks. As well as sharing a lovely Easter, celebrating the Royal Wedding and watching the World Snooker Championships together, we've been very busy in the garden and made numerous visits to the tip!! We've been so blessed with the weather and enjoyed some lovely barbecues with friends and trips to garden centres. We've celebrated a couple of special birthdays as well and enjoyed some lovely fellowship with friends. All in all a lovely visit and one I'll remember for a while.

    You may remember in a previous blog I talked about Community and how we'd transformed our front lawn (!) into a Brighton beach look alike (we're thinking of renaming the house 'The Beach House' by the way!!!!). Well after living with it for a couple of weeks I thought it needed a few modifications, no not putting all the stones back!!!!!! But breaking the pebble look up a bit with some pots and planters.

    While Auntie's been with me we've tackled the jungle in the back garden as well, and uncovered a few lost cities and an archaeological dig, oh and some pots I'd bought years ago which had been engulfed by the rambling honeysuckle and ivy....!!! So I decided to relocate the pots to the front garden and plant some pretty flowers!!

    As well as the pots we've recycled our broken water feature!!! Genius!!!
    It was a rather large pot which stood encased by a 3foot by 3foot wooden planter type thing. Unfortunately the pot cracked due to the severe weather we had in the winter. Fortunately though it cracked round the middle about halfway down.....so we decided to use the top half to plant some flowers in and fill the wooden case with compost and plant some plants in there too.....I think it looks rather nice and has certainly lost some of it's Brighton beach look!!!


    So lots of recycling and restoration. This Easter has been a definite time of renewal for me and a time of restoring not only my garden to some sort of beauty, but restoring friendships too. I'm very grateful for God's provision in helping me get to this place of peace and joy again, and each time I look at my garden it reminds me how God provides, we just need to be patient in the waiting.

    Wednesday, 27 April 2011

    Fruit Happens!!

    Last night I hosted a 'Morph gathering extraudinaire'!! At the moment there are three Morph groups running at the Kerith and Irene from our group thought it would be a great idea for us all to gather together to share our experiences of 'Morph as we know it' so far!! It was a fun night and a thought provoking night as we shared lovely puddings and our thoughts, likes and dislikes about the Morph experience.

    It got me thinking of when Wayne and I moved into our current house, and how I struggled with it. As I've shared in previous blogs, I'm from a very humble background, and although we never went without there was never too much spare cash for luxuries and we never owned our own property. So when the three of us moved into a nice four bedroom house, with a reasonable size garden and three toilets(!!) I felt a little overwhelmed to say the least.

    I can remember sharing this at an all girls housegroup one night. They prayed for me that I would be at peace with it all, and that the house would not only be a blessing to us as a family, but that God would use it, and us to show His love, and share the gift of hospitality we have.

    That was a long time ago and since then we've hosted many events, barbecues, Christmas barbecues and carols, seven years worth of leading a life group every week, and had lots of people to stay with us. I think that prayer has been answered many times over!! Blessed to be a blessing indeed.

    One of the overwhelming feelings I got from last night was the sense of community and strong relationships that had been built through this Morph experience, and it was a privilege to host it.
    I've recently listened to a talk by John Burke (funnily enough he leads Gateway church which is where Morph originated) which was about staying connected. He uses the phrase Stay Connected - Fruit Happens'. It relates to the bible verse about Jesus being the vine and us being the branches (John 15:5). It says if we remain in the vine and He remains in us, then we will bear much fruit. This is one of my favourite passages and one that draws me back to God on a regular basis.

    Being part of a small group and connected to people as well as God has helped me to start bearing fruit again and I will be ever grateful for the Morph experience I've had.

    Sunday, 24 April 2011

    He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!!

    One of the things I miss most about the first church I was part of is Easter Sunday morning traditions. We would meet at 8am for early morning communion which I always remember being sunny!!!!! Then as a church family we would share breakfast together, toast, cereal and of course boiled eggs! It was a true community affair and one I remember very fondly. Then after washing up and maybe a short walk we would gather for our 11am service and sing fantastic hymns like 'Praise my soul the King of Heaven' and 'Up from the grave He Arose' awesome words celebrating the awesome victory Christ had over death. Then it would be home to find all the Easter eggs my brother had hidden for me!!!!

    As a child I think I looked forward to the eggs more than the early rise for breakfast but the memories will stay with me forever.

    At the Kerith we don't have the same traditions, or the same hymns, and each year is different, but I know there will be a true sense of celebration. Celebrating Jesus blasting his way through death for you and me. Even though Death is painful for those who are left, I know that Jesus is Risen and my Mum and Dad and Gran and Grandad are all celebrating Easter together, with Jesus Himself. How awesome is that!!


    Happy Easter everyone!!

    Friday, 22 April 2011

    Reflections

    So often we think of Easter and look forward to the celebration of the resurrection and the happiness of Easter Day and Easter eggs. If you're like me and you've given up something for Lent, then the expectation of being able to have what you've been sacrificing for 40+ days is insurmountable. But today is Good Friday and time to reflect. In fact this week has been one of reflection for me. I've been very blessed to be able to take time out of my daily chores to spend time in quiet contemplation, and preparation for the celebrations on Sunday.

    On Tuesday I joined with a group of ladies and attended Fourteen. It was the first of many days, I hope, where I will be given permission to just be. To take time out and enjoy God's creation and spend intimate time with Him. While I was sat in the wonderful grounds of the Barn House the word 'decadence' came to mind. I felt so truly blessed that it reminded me of the wonderful Michelin star meal I had at 'The Waterside' in Bray, a truly decadent meal and a memory I will always savour. It was an intimate meal the surroundings were wonderful and the atmosphere was heavenly, just like my retreat day on Tuesday. It was a special day and got me thinking about how I've prepared for Easter in the past.

    When I was growing up, the lead up to Easter was always a special time and Palm Sunday Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were all special days in our calendar as a family. We'd come home from church on Palm Sunday with our very own palm cross. Maundy Thursday would be a special evening service, where we'd celebrate communion and learn more about the Jewish tradition of passover and the significance of the Last Supper. Then Good Friday morning would be a quiet contemplative service with readings, and time to reflect on the cross and the sacrifice Jesus made for you and me.

    As I moved on and got involved with other churches I've celebrated these days in different ways. I've been involved with kids clubs the 'J Team' and 'Desert Detectives' spring to mind. All great ways to celebrate the Easter Story and keep it fun for the kids as well as teaching them the true meaning of Easter although much busier and not quite so contemplative!!

    Today though I've spent a productive day in the garden and I'm about to go the Kerith for a contemplative hour entitled 'In the Shadow of the Cross'.
    So however you've spent your Good Friday why not take a moment to contemplate why it might be called Good or maybe take some time out and book onto the next Fourteen gathering or something similar.

    Tuesday, 19 April 2011

    We're on our way to Wembley!!

    Well it's three days since the most significant win Man City have had over Man United in my lifetime and yes I'm still smiling!!!

    I know many of my friends think I'm completely mad, and that football is an insignificant pass time, where overpaid grown men get to kick a bag of wind around a grass field!!
    As you know if you've been following my blog, I think differently!!! Football is a passion of mine and as I've blogged about previously something that's in my blood.
    For years Man United have had the upper hand as far as the blue side of Manchester goes and as a City fan I've had to put up with arrogant United fans shouting the odds. Well Saturday saw the tables turned significantly.

    That however was not the thing that pleased me most. The best part was that we actually deserved to win. After an edgy first half hour we got into the game and then started to actually play good football and by the time the second half was under way we played our arch rivals off the pitch.
    I saw our players play with passion, and as a team, instead of individual prima donas which I had feared would be our downfall. They pulled together and because of that overturned the reds emphatically. This I have to say probably meant as much to me as the win. Getting to an FA cup final for the first time in 35 years (sadly I remember the last time too!!) is an amazing achievement, and one that makes me proud to wear the blue shirt.

    Our opponents will be Stoke City who've never made a final before, so it's going to be a thrilling day for them and their fans too. I just hope it's a good game for the neutral and of course I hope we come away with the trophy.....so I'll will be watching on Saturday May 17th.....not at Wembley, but I'll be glued to my tv and this time I'll probably be drinking a beer!!!!!

    For the time being though I'm happy with the fact that we beat United!!!!

    Wednesday, 13 April 2011

    Punctuation

    If you've been keeping up with my blog you'll have noticed by now that my punctuation and grammar are not particularly great!!! Very often my brain thinks ahead so quickly that I don't get down on paper or type quickly enough to keep up!!!

    When we're reading stuff the punctuation is very important for our understanding of what we read, and yet we don't really notice it.
    Commas cause us to pause momentarily or take a breath so we read the sentence in a kind of rhythm. Full stops indicate a longer pause or maybe the end of what's been written all together. Exclamation marks and question marks add the colour and inflection to what we read, and when we read aloud, it makes for far more entertaining listening.

    So why am I wittering on about punctuation? Well a while ago I read somewhere (sorry can't remember the reference!!) about life having punctuation marks. I've been pondering on this one for a while and have come up with some thoughts I'd like to share.

    Our lives consist of many questions. Why is there suffering? Why are we disappointed by people? When will I find the right man/woman? Why can't I have children? Should I change jobs?

    Our lives are also punctuated by many exclamation marks. Celebrations, births and deaths, world disasters, happy holidays, memorable sporting events!!

    Inter weaved in our lives are the full stops and commas. Seasons of doing certain things, certain roles, jobs, voluntary positions. Friends who come and go in our lives.

    The book I read about this, talked about God putting the full stops and commas in our lives. I have to admit that in the past I've often been guilty of using my own punctuation, and not listening to what God has been telling me, about maybe ending a friendship or starting a new one. I know now that I want to find the right rhythm to my life, and that means getting the punctuation right!!

    Tuesday, 12 April 2011

    Community


    Living in community and not in isolation is something that is very close to my heart. I am part of Kerith Community Church, quite a large church by today's standards I guess. Although community is in the title sometimes it can seem difficult to feel part of that community because of its size. To deal with this we are encouraged to be part of a small group of some kind whether that's a life group (a small group of people who generally meet during the week in someones home), or a serving group within the church. At the moment I'm part of our wonderful worship team and in particular my band, 'The Sound Professors'.

    Last Sunday we did community in a very real, practical way, blessing us as a family, our neighbours and hopefully the band felt blessed by being a blessing as well.

    It was a beautiful sunny day and Wayne and I hosted a barbecue for our band and the tech guys (those are the important people who make us sound good!!!). Wayne and I have been working on our front garden over the last 3 weeks, transforming it from a garden with grass (mainly weeds and moss actually) to becoming a pebbled beech like affair!!! We had got as far as removing the grass, levelling off the ground and putting the weed suppressent down. The 4 tons of pebbles had been delivered and were awaiting distribution on the drive. So instead of it taking Wayne and I another 3 weeks to transfer the pebbles from the four large bags onto the what was grassed area, 'The Sound Professors' helped us out, and in around half an hour the front lawn was transformed!!!!!!


    To make the experience complete we also managed to help our neighbour out with his section. We heard him starting to move the pebbles and he was very happily stunned when those of us who were still around came out to help him cover his side with pebbles too. True Community and a true blessing.


    Next time it might be an idea to do a spontaneous gig as well what do you think guys!!????!!