Ministry or People?

As I talk with people and hear their stories, there is something that many have in common; as people have grown in their faith and served their church communities, many have been rejected, criticized or burned by Christian leaders. Some have experienced ministers that were proud, some leaders have a violent temper and some leaders have gone to bed with someone else’s spouse. I, too, have been wounded by those in ministry. I experienced control and manipulation, I was pushed to my emotional limits and received immense pressure to perform ‘perfectly’.

I’m not sharing this with you to be negative or to give permission to criticize the Church, but in the midst of my pain, I experienced hope.

I think in many ways, ministry has become an industry where ‘success’ is judged. We are obsessed with growing our churches, blogs or social media following. As Christians, we have focused on advancing our groups, gaining influence and becoming recognized as a great leader. But sadly, this means we have lost sight of what ministry is supposed to do… serve God and serve others.

Jesus never taught His disciples a 10-point plan to build their ministries. He never instructed them to work until they dropped. He never said, “Hold it all together because there are people in your church depending on you and you can’t afford to put one foot wrong”. He never said, “Grow your group by 10% each year.”

Instead, He spoke of loving God and loving the people around you (Matthew 22:37-39), He included those who were looked down on (Mark 2:13-17, John 4:1-26) and He showed us that we are to grieve with those who are grieving (John 11:35).

He simply loved and put people first - not a plan, or an agenda, but people. Before the words of 1 Corinthians 13 were ever penned, He showed that prophecies will cease and knowledge will pass away, but love never fails.

We see this when Jesus told the story of the prodigal son. We are familiar with the story; a son foolishly takes his inheritance early, leaves home, totally screws up and loses everything and then comes home with his tail very much between his legs. But the father never scolded him. The father never said, “I am done with you! You have failed this family business and you are now labeled a screw-up.” No. As soon as the father saw his son returning home, he “saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 20:15)

The father simply loved his son. The father didn’t pressure or abuse his son. He forgave and received his son. He loved him.

And like the father in this story, God the Father loves us and puts our hearts first. He doesn’t focus on our weaknesses and he certainly never pressures us to fulfil an agenda, hit a quota or succeed in ‘ministry’.

If you are a church leader, it’s time to put away your expectations, plans and job descriptions, and remind yourself that life is about PEOPLE. Your reputation, social media followings or church sizes will take care of themselves, but it all begins and ends with loving people.

And if you have been hurt by ministry, if you have been broken by leaders you thought you could trust, I am sorry. I know this pain and I know how hard it can be to find the Father’s love when you feel so rejected. But it’s time to forgive and see these people as they truly are. Most of these leaders are broken people who have not experienced the unconditional love of the Father. They are people who need to know they are accepted and they belong, whether they fail or succeed. They are driven by their insecurities and they need healing. And there are some ministers who were never trained to lead. They may know the love of the Father, but they were given responsibility without the tools to manage or take care of people. These leaders have tried their best but have ended up hurting and breaking people.

We are a family. We are fathered by the Father and we are in community with one another. This is what matters. Everything else will pass away; our riches, skills and achievements, but love never fails.

So, forgive the past and get into community! Grab a glass of wine with a friend and hear what’s going on in their life. Find the struggling mum and take over a dinner so she doesn’t have to cook that night. Treat your spouse to something they love. Call your friend and tell them you are thinking of them.

Let the hurt and disappointment go and love your God, your family and your friends (Mark 12:30-31).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temptation and Identity

Until recently, I never saw temptation and identity so entwined as I do now. When most of us think of temptation, we think of temptation to do something super bad like cheating on your spouse or killing someone.  But temptation is far much subtle and yet incredibly so powerful.

It starts with a thought, not an action. 

It starts with our pride and insecurities. 

And as fears, lack and pain flourish, so does our negative behavior. We are powerless to stop the cascading tsunami of thoughts that cause us to question ourselves, others and God.

We cheat. We lie. We cut people down. We steal what’s not ours. We compare. We hurt people. It’s ugly.

Jesus gets it. Seriously. Jesus, the perfect Son of God gets what it is to be bombarded with insecurity and pain. I have read the story of the temptation of Jesus many times. I have heard people preach and teach on this passage. But it wasn’t until I was having a conversation with a dear and trusted friend recently, did the light suddenly illuminate in me.

In Luke 4 it is recorded, “Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.” (V3). Then a few verses later, “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please.  I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” (V6-7). And then finally the devil says “If you are the Son of God, jump off!  For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” (V9-11).

The enemy wasn’t just tempting Jesus to do something, he was tempting Jesus to BELIEVE something.

Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus knew it and the enemy knew it. And then he did what he’s being doing since the Garden of Eden… He whispered a question. “If you are the Son of God” (V3 and V9) and then tempted Jesus with something He didn’t have - the praise of man.

Identity and lack. 

Who are you Jesus? Are you who you say you are? Prove it. And wouldn’t you want this life rather than the one you are called to live? 

Doesn’t this sound familiar? As we journey through life, our circumstances cause us to question ourselves. Am I enough? Am I loved? Does God listen to me? Why was I rejected?  

The difference between us and Jesus is that He was perfect and we are flawed human beings. He might have been tempted to believe the whispered lies, but He knew His true identity and was able to overcome.

But we too can overcome! We can let go of the tempting pride, fears and insecurities and embrace the truth of who we are. Before we are anything else in life, we are sons and daughters of the living God. We are loved, heard, seen and known by the God of all creation. In 2 Corinthians 6:18 the bible says, “‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters.’ Says the Lord Almighty.” We are loved. We are accepted. We are seen and heard by the Father. He knows us. He delights in us. We belong with Him. Like an empty chair around the dining room table, there’s a void when we don’t turn up, and we are missed.

I find it interesting that in all three accounts of the temptation of Jesus, what follows is His rejection by the religious leaders, He forms His community of disciples, He begins to heal the sick and He begins to preach. Interesting….

 

Mary, Did You Know?

I love Christmas music! During this season I drive down the highway singing at the top of my lungs. From “Oh Holy Night” to “We Need a Little Christmas”, I love to crank up these tunes! This year one of my top picks has been the Pentatonix version of “Mary, Did You Know?” Oh, shut the front door, this song is amazing! I lay in bed the other morning playing the song on my iPhone, whilst my sweet Victoria Joy was asleep in my arms.

(If you have not heard this version, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifCWN5pJGIE)

“Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God”

As I looked at my baby, I can’t imagine what Mary experienced. Can you imagine kissing your baby and you are kissing the face of God? Can you imagine looking at your baby and knowing that they have walked with the angels? This is intense stuff!

The bible doesn’t say much about Mary. We know that she gave birth in a stable (so I am assuming there was no epidural or oversized tub to birth in), she was a virgin and was only engaged, not married, to Joseph.

When I was engaged to Josh, the furthest thought in my mind was that I would have an immaculate conception and birth the Son of God. I was thinking about our wedding, where we will live and where we would travel together. I started to plan our life and dream about “us”. Who would we know? What fun chapters lay in front of us? I was so excited!

So what makes Mary any different? She was engaged and about to start a whole new life. And then BAM! She meets an angel that derails her plans. This angel announces that Mary was going to give birth to the Son of God (again, rather intense!) BEFORE she was married. She would have to tell her fiancé about this crazy encounter. Would he believe her?  Would he assume she had slept with another man? And what about her family? Would they think she was lying to cover up some sordid affair? Her future, her reputation and the dream of a new life with Joseph were all on the line.

And yet her response to the angel is breathtaking. “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, NKJV).

Her plans were wrecked and yet her response is, “OK. Let God’s plans prevail over my own.”

Whenever my plans are derailed, I do not take it as well as Mary. I kick and scream. I rant and rave. I ignore God then yell at Him that He’s cruel. I don’t surrender like Mary. I don’t let go of my plans, my expectations and my ideas to embrace what God wants to give to me. Granted, He’s not planning to make me the mother of His child, but every day we have a choice; do we hold on (and follow my aforementioned example) or do we, like Mary, surrender?

Mary was the first Elsa from Frozen… She let it go. She let her plans go and embraced what was scary.  And that plan ended up giving hope and life to more people than Mary ever could comprehend. And somehow, I don't think she realized the full repercussions of her conversation with the angel.

And this Christmas, my prayer is that we can all embrace the scary, the vulnerable and what is uncomfortable. May we let go of our own expectations and our reputations so that we can embrace the life of faith and adventure! And who knows… The plans that God has for us may just bless more people than we realize.

 

 

Yoga Pants

I have been thinking about yoga pants recently. I love my yoga pants!  They are so forgiving of my body, comfortable and cozy!  They don’t hold me in, squeeze my squishy parts or make me feel exposed in any way.  I have no muffin top whilst wearing my yoga pants and I feel great!

I think most of us are fans of ‘comfort’. We like what is familiar and what is known. In our comfort zones we feel safe and we are at ease. There’s no stress, no anxiety. We do not feel vulnerable. Life is good in our comfort zones.

But on the flip side, when I am at home, snuggled up in my yoga pants, life can get dull. Yes, rest is vital for a healthy lifestyle. But life in yoga pants robs me of many experiences. My life doesn’t move forward and I don’t grow as a person.

When Josh was serving in combat, he rarely saw a pair of yoga pants. Life in the Army, especially whilst at war, was about advancing. As a solider he was charged to bring peace to a war-torn country. There was an enemy and so he dressed appropriately. He wore layers of clothing, boots and headgear that would protect him, give him insight to defeat the enemy and bring him home safely. Josh didn’t know if he would make it out of the country alive so he did all he could to prepare. He wore such heavy clothing and equipment, that he thought his knees might blow. No… There was no comfort at war.

 
Josh in Army
 

And then I think of me on my wedding day. I loved my wedding dress. I felt like a million dollars walking down the aisle to my groom. But that dress HURT. The boned corset dug into my ribs and the heavy satin skirt prevented me from sitting down. I was so happy to take that thing off at the end of the day, and I am not talking for sexy sexy reasons!!! It was a relief to get that thing off as I could finally breathe and sit down!! But on June 23rd 2012, my life certainly advanced. I became a wife and my life moved from singleness to marriage.   

 
Wedding Day
 

Now war and weddings seem to be polar opposites but both involve advancement and preparation.  There was a cost to Josh serving in Iraq. There was even a cost to me wearing my dream wedding dress! If we had worn yoga pants, the outcomes for both of us could have been very different!

Right now I am facing my metaphorical wardrobe and I am deciding whether to wear my comfortable yoga pants or not. Sometimes I get confused on what God wants for me. Sometimes I think He simply wants me to be happy and I assume this means that life should feel easy.  But this is not the truth. God is a good father who sees the bigger picture for my life. God wants me to know and experience Truth in the deepest parts of my life (Psalm 51:6), He wants me to love people (John 13:34) and He wants me to grow in faith (Hebrews 11:6). These things are hard to achieve while living within my comfort zones.

Our comfort zones are unique to all of us. Sometimes we are content with our relationships and we don’t step out to talk to anyone new. Sometimes it’s our careers and the level of our financial income. Sometimes we find identity in our role within the Church.  Whatever it is for you, it’s scary to step out and put ourselves in a place of vulnerability.  Yoga pants feel nice while regular pants, not so much.

I look at the map of the Apostle Paul's travels and it's clear that he never stopped moving forward with his life goals. He didn't grow stagnant but keep moving on to new cities to meet to people to teach them about Jesus. Paul is also the one who wrote that he presses on to “reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:14, NLT).

 

Apostle Paul's journeys

I am challenged, but I see hope in the unfamiliar.  I don't think I will be galavanting around the Mediterranean, but I see my unchartered waters holding new experiences, people and places that will thrill me, stretch me and (more than likely!) cause me to ask God for help.

So today, let’s press on. Let’s advance. Let’s move forward, get out of our yoga pants and embrace the unknown! It really is so exciting!!!

When we are let down

For those familiar with my writing, you may know that the last few years have been far from jolly for my husband, Josh, and me. We miscarried babies, lost jobs, and struggled financially to name just a few situations.  With the birth of Victoria Joy and the new job for Josh, we are certainly experiencing happier times but a season of sadness was not too long ago. And I must confess, during that time of disappointment, I felt let down by others.  As I looked around, I saw people living what seemed to be ‘Pinterest-perfect’ lives. They were getting their hearts’ desires and they were busy living a life full of hope! And then there was me. Physically and emotionally battered.  Alone. I felt devastated. Guttered. Broken. I felt like the church was too busy celebrating those with happy lives and they failed to be present when I most needed a friend.

The thing is, Jesus knows this feeling all too well. We think that the only let down He encountered was when Judas betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver but I think there was another let down that hurt just as much.

Peter was a trusted disciple of Jesus. He is often brought into Jesus’ inner circle and Jesus even said He would build His church on the rock that is Peter.  In Matthew 26, we read about the moments running up to Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion. He was in emotional turmoil. He was grieving and praying so hard that he even sweated blood (Luke 22:44). It was His ultimate moment of vulnerability and need. So He asked Peter, along with James and John, to come with Him and pray. He was struggling and He needed support.

It was a matter of hours since Peter had declared his unfailing friendship and faithfulness to Jesus (Matthew 26: 33-35).  Like Rick Astley, Peter promised that he was never going to give Him up, he was never going to let Him down and never turn around and desert Him.

But when Jesus needed him, Peter fell asleep. He was not there for Jesus. He was not present. If I had been Jesus, I would have been disappointed and hurt by Peter.   Peter promised to defend and fight for Jesus and he failed. And it’s not like it happened only once.  Jesus went away three times and each time He found Peter, James and John asleep (Mathew 26: 36- 46).

But what Jesus did next is the real kicker. He didn’t behave like I behave when people fail me. He didn’t walk away from Peter and put up an emotional boundary. He didn’t withdraw, but instead articulated His frustration and kept moving forward! ‘“Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”’ (Matthew 26: 45-46).

We know what happened next. Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. But what if Jesus hadn’t forgiven Peter?  Or had forgiven him but said, “You know what?  You can’t be trusted. So I am going to drop the plans I have for you and use someone else to build my church”???  The New Testament and history would look very different.  Jesus saw the bigger picture and He did not allow one person’s failings to hinder Him.

As I emerged out of a pain-filled season and began to embrace a time of joy, these scriptures encouraged my heart. Jesus gets it when we feel let down. He gets it when we are facing our deepest pain and those we trusted are nowhere to be seen.

I was challenged to let go of my disappointments and move forward in community with my loved ones.  Did I feel let down?  Yes. But can I let my unfulfilled expectations determine my future?  NO!

We like to talk about love, community and fellowship in the church but the truth is that these come at a cost. We are called to love, and carry on loving, even when the going gets tough.   It’s tempting to retreat from people and to hide behind our faith because it is the easy option.  We claim we are ‘guarding our heart’ but if we are honest, we are keeping things easy and convenient.  We think we are OK because we are praying and staying tight with God. But the bible is clear, we could have the most incredible relationship with God, but we don’t love one another we are as annoying as a loud, clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:2).

I am not saying that we should put ourselves in a position where we are being emotionally abused or manipulated, but when people have failed us without malice, we need to forgive and move forward.  We need to love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end
.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7 The Message, emphasis mine)

Jesus shows us a brilliant example of love, forgiveness and true community. And my prayer for you today is that you can encounter Jesus in your pain and disappointment. May He inspire you to love those who have let you down. It’s not easy but since when has the easy road ever led to success? May you hear His voice saying, “I get it. I know you’re hurt and I feel your pain. But I am with you and together we can do this. Forgive and let’s move forward.  You are part of a bigger picture. The best is yet to come!”

One

A few weeks ago, I was reading an article in a local publication titled, “Top 40 Under 40”. The article summarized an award ceremony where those most successful in their careers and involvement in the community where honoured. At first I was perusing to see if any of the featured professionals were suitable guests for the City TV show that I produce. But as I read on, I became a little blue. The pages before me were filled with men and women who were younger than me, seeming to be achieving more and earning more money than me. There was a 29 year old who had become a managing partner in a successful marketing agency, a 31 year old who had started his own dream surfing business (which he had made a huge success teaching kids and leading camps), and a 29 year old who was the director of operations at a large hospital.

And there was me… I know I am blessed to have a job but I am a million miles away from my dreams. Instead of producing Box Office hit movies or smash-hit TV shows, my professional life is low key and certainly doesn’t carry the influence that I once dreamed I could attain.

I think many of us have woken up and realized that our dreams are a million miles away. We heard in youth group, “Dream big! Nothing is impossible!” But there we are in our twenties and thirties, with our names far from a “Top 40” list. For some of us, we are surrounded by the domestic mundane (changing nappies and emptying the dishwasher is hardly a dream come true). Some are lonely and pray everyday to find their true love, whilst others are trapped in a job that they loathe. Life feels more pitiful than productive and prosperous.

My friend Jory Micah recently blogged on “Letting Go of the Evangelical Dream” (If you have not read it… Please click here right now and read her wisdom. Oh and subscribe to her blog. She is BRILLIANT!) http://www.jorymicah.com/letting-go-of-the-evangelical-dream-of-fame/ In this blog she described how God spoke to her, “If your message helps to set one person free, you have succeeded in my eyes.” No matter how holy you are it’s so very easy to get distracted from ‘caring for the one’. Most of us need more income, so we strive to excel in the work place. We like to hear we are doing well, so we focus on pleasing our colleagues and supervisors. This carries over into our personal lives, so we try and befriend more people, invite more women to our bible study or get a secret thrill when a large crowd listens to our preaching because we crave success. Even if we are not living our dreams, we want to feel like we are a winner!

If you are one of the “Top 40”, I congratulate you! You have clearly worked hard and you deserve the accolades you have earned. But what I am learning is that Jesus was not driven by an ambition to be included in a “Top 40” list. He was not known for his business achievements. He was a humble carpenter until he turned 30 and then began to hang out with a lot of different “losers”. He sought out James and John, a couple of random fishermen. He took care of some crazy lady called Mary from a town called Magdala. When a crowd of people surrounded him, it was the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years that captivated his heart. Jesus pursued the tax collector most people detested. He followed His heart and loved people. His motivation was not to have a huge following and a massive platform. I don’t see him asking the disciples to pray that more people would attend his meeting. And I’m sure the number of likes He got on Facebook was irrelevant.

Actually, in Matthew 25, Jesus was clear about this subject. When talking about clothing the poor and visiting the needy in prison, He told his disciples,  ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “ (Matt 25:40 NIV). Wow. When we take care of just the one – when we look out for someone who needs our love, we are directly serving God. It’s not when we have 10,000 readers of our blog or TV show with 3 million viewers!!!

Whether we are single or married, we have kids, or a career on Wall Street, each one of us has people in our lives that need a cheerleader. We all have friends and family who need to be loved, heard and seen. For me, it’s time to put down the barometer of success. It’s time to quit thinking about my scope of influence like it’s a Nielson TV rating or revenue at the Box Office. I have a wonderful husband. I have a baby on the way. I have a small group of friends who are like family to me. They have my heart and my ear and in the eyes of God, that’s a win. These are my people. They are my focus and I am going after the one!

Contentment

For the past few months, I have been grappling with the notion of being content. I know that I have a lot to be grateful for. I am married to a strong, wise man who understands me and loves me. We own our own home that is found in a great neighbourhood. We have two loving pups, a crazy cat and after a season of disappointment, we are expecting our first child. We have great medical care and we are privileged to know some wonderful people that we will love forever. Life seems pretty good.

But my heart longs for more. I long for more for in my personal and professional life. I miss my family in UK, but finances restrict the frequency of a trip home. There are relationships that I yearn to see reconciled. There are bank accounts that I want to see replenished. There’s so much that I want to do, see and accomplish!

Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content”(Philippians 4:11, NKJV)

I have been meditating on this scripture and to be honest, I feel guilty and like such a loser. I am not content. I am not happy in many areas of my life. In fact, I get very frustrated! But Paul had a much harder life than me. According to 2 Corinthians 11, he was:

  • Given 39 lashes… five times!

  • Three times he was beaten with rods.

  • He was once stoned.

  • Three times he was shipwrecked.

  • He was left adrift at sea.

  • He worked so hard there were many sleepless nights.

  • He’d been hungry and thirsty and had often gone without food.

  • He didn’t even have enough clothing to keep him warm (2 Cor 11: 24-27)

I have always had a belly full of food; I’ve never been beaten, shipwrecked or left to die. And yet I seem more unhappy than Paul! I want more money, more friends, more health, more vacations. I WANT MORE!! Why is that? Am I just a twenty-first century brat??

I struggle with contentment because I am habitually such a driven person. I see a goal and I go for it one hundred percent. I am a “can-do” person that thrives off productivity, promotion and success. And I am not just talking about trips to the shopping mall. I want to keep growing, keep giving to others and keep loving people, but that’s tough when you are out of resources, spirit, soul and body.

And the pressure to be ‘content’ conflicts with the world around me. If it weren’t for driven people, it would still be illegal for a woman to vote and science would say that the world was flat. But thanks to trailblazers who never gave up, who never seemed content, our world is a better place.

So how can I sit back and be satisfied and content with my life? How can I be content with conflict, lack and struggle that I see? Does it really mean that I am not a Christian because I am NOT content???

What would it mean if the key to contentment was not necessarily being ‘satisfied’ or ‘happy’ as we often believe? I am not sure that Paul was happy being beaten and I doubt highly that he was smiling whilst he was shipwrecked. But like Steve Jobs when he designed the first Apple Mac, or Mozart when he penned a now-forgotten concerto, I think ‘contentment’ is knowing that this our story is not over. It’s not allowing feelings of failure or lack to overwhelm us, but learn from our current circumstance and allow it to push us through to new life and new discoveries.

When Paul was shipwrecked, or beaten, or left for dead, he had a faith that God was not through with him yet. People may have treated him terribly but He had faith that his story was not over. He believed he would grow despite the pain. He trusted that God was with him. There were more victories to celebrate, more highs to be known. There was hope!

We all need to remind ourselves of this daily. We need to listen to the still small voice of hope and discipline our hearts to overcome the screams of frustration, lack and disappointment.

Like Mozart – keep writing. Like Jobs – keep pushing boundaries. Like Paul – keep going. That’s the key to contentment.

The best is yet to come!

Hidden but seen

It may appear that I have eaten one too many pies, but I am pregnant and my baby girl is growing! Most expectant mothers see their baby three or four times at routine ultra-sounds, but I get to see my little one all the time. I have this medical condition called ‘elderly primigravida’. Yes. ELDERY! It sounds like I should have a zimmer frame and take up bingo on a Thursday morning, but it in just fact means I am 35 and pregnant with my first child. (Before I buy big knickers and start looking for a warden controlled flat, I beg the medical profession to rethink this label!!!)

Despite the title, it’s wonderful having elderly primigravida because I get the best medical care in our area. I am a patient of the MFM (Maternal Fetal Medicine) department at Eastern Virginia Medical School. If you think Grey’s Anatomy, this is where Dr. Addison Shepherd would work. Yes – only the best for Mrs. and baby Kelley! And yes – Grey’s Anatomy is real.

As a patient of MFM, I had weekly ultrasounds from week six to week twelve of gestation; 3D ultrasounds began at week ten and now I have appointments every two weeks to see my wonderful OBGYN.

Whether a mini handheld ultrasound or the ultrasound-beast-of-a-machine, I have seen my baby grow. I saw her when she was just a dot on the ultrasound screen, and a week later I saw her tiny arms beginning to grow (they were these two cute little stubbies!!) More recently I have seen her thighbone, her brain, and her heart pump blood in and out. I have seen my baby girl wave at me, squirm because we are disturbing her and pose a little for the camera (whose child is she????). I’ve even seen her little kidneys! She’s a miracle growing rapidly and perfectly and I get to watch this on a fortnightly basis!! Every time I see her, I cry. I mean… There she is… A beautiful miracle growing inside of me.

King David wrote in Psalm 139:15, “My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret”. Deep in my body, a life is being formed. I am now ‘showing’, but my baby has been growing since ovulation over four months ago! She’s been the best secret. Unless you saw me turn down wine (a clear giveaway of pregnancy for me!) or knew how truly exhausted I was, most people had no idea I was carrying a child. But I knew her and saw her because my doctors have the technology to show me.  I heard her heartbeat. I loved her.

There are times in our lives when we feel hidden. We feel like many others have the “life” that we want. They have the job, family and recognition we desire for ourselves. We are overlooked. We are not seen. And this is a tough place to be. We want to be celebrated, not ignored.

But like my baby girl, we are hidden from the world but not hidden from God. We are in a secret place, growing and growing perfectly.  We are seen and are being shaped by the Artist. I don’t think my baby girl is aware of what a miracle she is to me and how loved she is. But regardless of her awareness, she is a miracle, she is seen and she is loved so much.

Just like us… Children of God… Miraculous, seen and loved even when we don’t know it.

My Sams

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog, but I’m afraid Josh and I have been having the time of our lives back in the UK. We relaxed, caught up with the best of friends and saw my wonderful family. We were served tasty dinners and drank delicious wine. It’s been a time of feasting and celebration.

Hobbits like to celebrate. They eat, drink and are merry (not that I know any personally, but I am a fan of the movies!!) I’ve been thinking about Frodo and Sam. They were two unlikely heroes, who, with perseverance and determination, defied judgment and overcame every obstacle thrown at them. They were the best of friends; true brothers who took a brave journey together. And if one had given up, the other would have surely failed.

I am no Frodo by any means (my feet are smaller, less hairy, and I do not plan to take any ring into Mordor) but I know my ‘Sams’. People often say that I have lots of friends, and perhaps I do, but I only have a few Sams, and most live across an ocean. These are the friends that see the real me. They will go through hell and high water for me. If I’m low, they speak truth. If I’m tired, they revive me. If I pee them off, they forgive me. I don’t have to perform, make them laugh or share a deep and meaningful secret. They just love me and want to walk through life with me.

And I hope to be a good Sam too. I don’t want to give up if they are making wrong choices. I don’t want to leave them to fight battles alone. Even when they tell me to go, I want to stay. I want to love courageously and with fierce loyalty. I want them to know that no matter how ugly or messed up they feel, I am in this for the long-haul.

Heavens knows, we all fight our own Dark Riders in this world. We constantly have our swords raised as we fight insecurity, fear and doubt. But we make it because our friends and family stand with us. We are able to lift our weary heads because a Sam reminds us how far we have come on this journey of life. They drown out the shrill of fear and give us strength to wield the sword of truth once more. We make it because we are supported, and sometimes carried, by a Sam.

My heart is indeed full after spending time with my Sams. Some are blood relatives. Some, like Frodo and Sam, are the very best of friends. I have feasted, laughed and cried. I have heard and been heard. I have seen and been seen. It’s their courage that makes me brave. It’s their faith that gives me hope. It’s their ‘elven bread’ that nourishes my soul.

Today, remember your Sams. Even if they are thousands of miles away, remember those friends who stick like glue. Love them. Encourage them. And if they have hairy hobbit feet, perhaps suggest waxing….

I believe in miracles - my first blog

In the words of the 70’s pop sensation, Hot Chocolate, I believe in miracles. The Bible is filled with amazing supernatural stories that stirs my heart to see how big and loving God is. He parted seas, raised the dead, and (my personal favorite) turned water into wine. Knowing that my God has done this and so much more, builds my faith. If He did these things in the past, He will do them again today!

Recently I realized that I was not always walking in faith. I had become what I now call, a spiritual smart a*se. I was living my life believing that as a Christian, God would always come and save me, answer my prayers and do what I asked. And I mean, why not? I pray. I serve others. I worship Him. I try my best to live my life as the Bible shows us to live. Don’t judge. Show mercy. Take care of the lonely and the uncared for. I give money to the church. I do my part, so God will do His.

Now don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t trying to manipulate God. I just thought this was the Christian life. Do what He says and life will be ‘awesome’ or ‘amazing’.

But for the last 12 months, my doctrine has been tested. Last year was tough. Josh and I lost two babies in the first trimester of pregnancy. The first we lost at 9 weeks, which resulted in surgery. And the second miscarriage happened only the next month. It was a difficult time in our lives, but we got through it together.

We both want to start our family, so every month we hoped to conceive. And on July 1st, I peed on a stick and found out we were expecting!

I cut out wine. I started to tell a few of our closest friends. I began my wish-list at Babies R Us. I was choosing the color I wanted Josh to paint the nursery. I was nervous, but I chose to trust a miracle working God and everything would be OK.

We saw the little peanut at 5 weeks. All was well. For the next few weeks I was nauseous, exhausted and totally off all meat. These were all good signs! This baby was growing!!!

But at an 8 week ultrasound, the little one only measured 6 weeks and her heartbeat was weak. My heart sank. “Could this be really happening again??” I thought. But like a good English girl, I kept calm and I carried on.

For the next week, sweet friends would call me or text me trying to encourage me not to give up. Someone I worked with said, “You are in the place where God can give you a miracle”. For a moment, my heart leapt. “Yes!!” I thought. “God is a miracle working God. He can give life to this little one!” So I prayed at many different decibels over my belly. I drank lots of water and dandelion tea to help clean my blood. I prayed more. I worshiped. I kept the faith….

But to no avail. The following week there was no heartbeat. There had been no ‘miracle’ to speak of. No seeming intervention of God. And this miscarriage did not end quickly. I waited 5 weeks to pass the baby, and in the end I had surgery to remove all the tissue. This was far from a miracle. This was a nightmare.

As I have begun to heal, my eyes have been opened. I have experienced love and support in ways I could not have imagined. Sometimes the miracle is not the miracle we expect. The miracle is found when your seamstress won’t charge you for a dress fitting, because she says that no woman should have to pay for a fitting because she lost a baby. The miracle is found when a friend sits with you for 8 hours so you are not alone as you prepare for surgery. The miracle is found when the heavily pregnant friend comes with her active toddler, to your house, just to pray with you and give you dinner. The miracle is found when the busy mum and grandma from church stops everything so they can be there when you wake up after surgery.

These are my miracles. And I really do believe in miracles.