Best Books of 2016

I’ve seen a couple of these posts go up by other people, and it seemed like a good idea for a blog post.  Look backing on 2016 I’ve realised that  I actually managed to read quite a range of books (rather than lots of academic monographs and journal articles).  So, in chronological order rather than any order of merit, here are my top reads – covering an eclectic range of books.

  1. The Shepherds Life by James Rebanks:
    This sneaks in, although technically it is a 2015 read, because it is the book Roz bought me to celebrate my PhD viva.  It was great to switch gear completely, and the book is a fascinating read about a part of the world I live, but telling the story of the people who live and work the land rather than the tourists who trample it.
    After that I’m sure I did read some books between that and my 40th birthday, but they have escaped my memory.
  2. The Bees by Laline Paull:
    This was one of my 40th birthday presents (as well as organising a surprise party, Roz also ensured I received lots of books by asking people to buy books they had liked over the last year).  This is a fascinating novel, set in a bee colony.  If you like science fiction type works, then this is a generally good read, and it was the first thing like this I’d read for a while.
  3. The Humans by Matt Haig:
    I really didn’t like this one for the first few chapters, but persisted as it was another gift, and ended up quite liking it due to the thoughts about what it is to be human that it provoked – it is another sci-fi type book.
  4. All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
    Another gift, this one had both Roz and I completely hooked – set in the second world war it tells the intertwined tales of a young French girl, and German boy growing up and meeting.  It was utterly compelling.  The sections set in Germany reminded me once more of the horrors of Nazism, in particular the subtle seductions of giving up thinking for ourselves in exchange for being part of an “inner circle”, and the cruelty humans are capable of.  In a year when politics has become dominated by meaningless slogans of empty promises based around demonising the outsider reflecting on the way that ordinary people became part of extraordinary horror is vital so that we don’t make the same, or similar, mistakes again.
  5. Paul and The Gift by John Barclay
    The first ‘academic’ book to make it into the list.  I took advantage of having finished my PhD to actually read some current NT studies.  This is a really good book.  As well as being important and interesting it is also really well written.  Barclay analyses various ways in which the concept of gift was used in the world of the NT, and then the implications of this for understanding Paul’s theology – aiming to chart something of a middle way between ‘old’ and ‘new’ perspectives.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, although I’d probably need to reread and think further to fully evaluate it.
  6. Old Testament Theology (three vols) by John Goldingay
    I’ve been working my way through these on and off for a while.  They contain lots of interesting exegesis and ideas, but you do need to read quickly as Goldingay is, rather like NT Wright, somewhat on the expansive side when it comes to writing.  He is always good for forcing the reader to go back to the text and see what it really says.
  7. A Praying Life – Paul Miller
    This was another 40th present.  I had read it before – but am very glad that we now have a copy because it is the best book on prayer I have ever read.  It is easy to read, but never trivial.  It never pretends that life is anything other than very hard at times, but never lets go of the goodness of God in the midst of the pain.  Most importantly when I read the book I was motivated to actually pray.  Buy it now.
  8. Serving without Sinking – John Hindley
    This is also a very good book – for anyone who serves in any way in their local church or other christian organisation this is also a must read.  Helps us ground our identity in Christ so that we don’t take on too much.  Another book to read – once you’ve finished “A Praying Life”.
  9. Being Human in God’s World – Gordon McConville
    This was my present from Roz on graduating – my PhD supervisor’s latest book, completed about the same time as my PhD.  It is an overview of what the OT has to say about humanity.  I particularly liked the chapters on place and being made in God’s image.  Very useful overviews of the OT and scholarship on various different issues to do with what it means to live as humans in God’s world.
  10. Seriously Dangerous Religion – Iain Provan
    Only just sneaks in, because this was a Christmas present from Roz.  Between Roz and I we’ve probably taken most of Iain’s classes at Regent and for me his Introduction to the Old Testament was a wonderful start to my Regent experience – I was particularly struck by the affirmation of the goodness of God.  His course on Hermeneutics and Biblical Criticism gave me a map of how and why biblical scholars have thought and interpreted as they have over the last 150 years or so, and the seminar on OT Theology I took in my final year gave me the grounding and tools I needed for PhD studies, as well as 12 fascinating sets of readings and discussion in a great small group seminar.
    This book takes on those critics of the OT who think that it produces dangerous ideas of a nasty god, and by a careful reading of the OT (especially Genesis) shows that in fact God is both utterly good and at the same time far more dangerous than they have realised.  Dangerous that is to all those who want to live in comfort and security without regard for the fact that this world is the work of a good and loving God and who damage people made in God’s image and the world that is his good gift for people to take care of.  Well worth reading – with some really interesting sections comparing the biblical worldview with that of other religions and philosophies.  It always engages closely with the biblical text, and so even if you end up disagreeing with conclusions here and there you will have been forced to think carefully about what the text says and why you think it means what it does – never a bad thing!
  11. The Life you never Expected – Andrew & Rachel Wilson
    Technically this is a January 2017 book, but it is so good that I had to list it here.  This is the next book after “A Praying Life” that I would buy on this list. It tells Andrew & Rachel’s story of raising autistic children – but in the process gives a really good perspective on the whole of the Christian life, in particular on the reality that often really hard things happen that we will never (at least this side of eternity) understand – and we have to live with the unanswered questions.  This book is really useful in giving a perspective that will help to live in such times.


Learning to plough

I have not written weekly home ed updates this season. It’s been a very different season to the one I neatly time tabled and planned in colour code back in August. Our children are people with their own minds and for this season writing that incorporated their actions has felt an intrusion on who they are. It has been a session where I have named and started to own my anxiety. To recognise past actions that have fed into that, balanced with hormonal impacts and a lack of nightly solid sleep. The difference speaking them out loud to another makes sense. In scripture we are called to confess our sins to one another. Anxiety works the same way. We are freed from the hold of them when they are out there. We still have to address them, to face the consequences, to work through them but they no longer enslave us. Just this past Tuesday having spent the day going round in circles with anxiety and finally getting time late at night to share with Mark and laugh over them together was I able to drift off to sleep peacefully and enjoy Wednesday. Issues were still present but I was able to put logical thinking into action and address those that needed action.

It has been a term when we have journeyed through the application and interview process for a new job with a church which we will be starting in the New Year. That has taken far more out of me than I anticipated. It has meant facing up to many fears and events in my past. It has meant acknowledging pains and wrongs afresh as I look to head back into church ministry. In some ways it has meant a new journey with God. I want to say it has meant I have spent more time with Him, praised Him more. In reality it has more often than not meant leaning on the truths I know of Him of old and putting one foot in front of the other as laundry, meals and lessons have gone on, hoping that it is true that He has gone ahead and prepared a place. That He has promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples.

There is a passage in scripture that speaks of some being sowers and others watering and others harvesting. I have never felt any of those have been true of me. But one Saturday morning following The Well God showed me His calling for me and in a moment; that moment after my heart had sunk and gone ‘not again Lord’ as I saw the realisation of dreams I had held for a place come to fruition but once more not on my watch; so much of my journey behind and I suspect of what lies ahead is that I am called to plough. To simply go up and down the field turning the soil and preparing it so someone else can sow, someone else can water, someone else can harvest. A friend reminded me that without soil no seeds can take root and grow. It is a hard road, the ground has often been left and there is much that needs turning over, breaking up, softening and the plough and plough horses are too heavy to go on the ground once the seeds come and so that often means I have not been around to see any harvest. I had grown weary and frustrated wondering what it was God had called me to, but in that moment I was reminded He has called me to co work with Him and this is what He has called me to. Gardening and care of creation requires preparation, so does discipleship. So does evangelism, so does worship. Our hearts and minds need to be ready to receive so they can give.  God can and chooses to use me. Another friend when I shared this with her encouraged me with the thought of how long had God been ploughing and preparing this earth for us. We may not often talk about it but ploughing is part of God’s creative work if we think of what is needed to have what we have now.

Right now we have a new job starting in January but no home to move to till sometime in February. This is hard. I like to be in control. I like to be able to plan, to write detailed to do lists, to steadily work my way through them. To have a plan of action. I have none right now. For how much can you pack away now incase you don’t move till February? The thought of doing it all quickly straight after Christmas though throws me into a spin especially as it will be for a temporary move at that point if that plan works out.

So mixing the uncertainty of the move with the fears of my past record with churches and the thought right now of stepping into this new adventure has spiked my anxiety. Realising that the last time I was in a team ministry setting as the only woman was deeply wounding at so many levels. Spiritual abuse is so often misunderstood and disregarded and damaging to the person. That twice I have been asked to leave church, the very first at my infant baptism. It may not seem much to many but realising 40 years on that at a significant event in your faith journey the minister rearranges the service to baptise you right at the start and then ask your parents to leave the service with you because you are not quiet actually spoke massively over your life. To be told you might as well leave as there is nothing for you at the church you have grown up in and served and given everything you had for it because your understanding of loving God and youth weren’t on the same page let alone same book. Yet it was where God found you. To be in a church where you thought might be safe and shared your story of spiritual abuse only to discover that the same was happening there too. To balance that another church was the very opposite where I saw clearly God providing me with a save haven thanks to the actions of the church leaders actions in the months before going without them knowing I would be coming but because of my story. God has shown me the blessings of church but church overall for me is not the safe place many say it is or should be. But it is God’s place and He is safe, He can be trusted and so I trust Him, I trust that if this is His way that He wants the world to know His love than I will stick with it. I will follow Him. I will follow His way. I will plough where He asks me. I will do my part to be a light to the world of a God who loves us, who is mercifully and compassionate beyond measure. And I will plough the ground where He asks and let Him guide someone else to sow the seeds He has for those fields trusting that in the final redemption His light will shine bright in the lines that I have ploughed and others tended.

Living by the faithfulness of God

For a year now I’ve been working, and the salary from this, together with various other sources of income usually ensures we survive from month to month.  But for 6 years I didn’t have a full time job, while I studied first for a masters and then for a PhD.  When I started the PhD we had enough money for two years, but no idea how three was going to work.  Somehow it did, sometimes by grants for the studies, sometimes by one off donations from friends or family (often we knew that this meant someone else had been generous to them, and we were enjoying the cascading effects of generosity), and sometimes from completely anonymous people.  I vividly remember the time when, after spending £90 on an unexpected car bill, an envelope containing a similar sum appeared in our letterbox.  Sometimes people would say to me: “you must have lots of faith” or talk about how we were “living by faith”.  I know what they mean, but I doubt it is true.  If we lived my faith we’d be a pretty hopeless state.  Whenever our bank balance slides low my faith slides with it.  My worry levels shoot up.  I struggle to see how God will do it this time.  I don’t think we lived by my faith.  We lived and we live by God’s faithfulness.

It is this faithfulness that is the heart of the bible story I read to number 2 tonight.  I’ve loved it ever since I translated it in Hebrew class in my second year at Regent and it vividly hit me: the God I am writing about is the God who lives today.  I know this God – and this God knows me.  Here is the story – from 1 Kings 17:

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

There are a couple of things about this story that stick out.  Firstly, it is a change for Elijah – he has been by a brook, fed by ravens, but that has dried up.  So now God sends him to a widow outside Israel, to a widow who lives close to enemy territory, close to where Jezebel comes from.  God has commanded a widow to feed Elijah, but for the widow Elijah’s request is not easy.  She is preparing the last meal for her, and her son, and after that, she says “we will die”.

Then Elijah speaks: “Do not fear” – the widow has spoken out of fear of death and out of her despair – she knows no other possibility.  But Elijah knows.  Her flour and oil supplies will not run out until the Lord sends rain on the earth.  Until the economy gets moving again her supplies will provide all she needs.  But first she must obey the word of the Lord and feed Elijah.  If she holds on to the fear she will die.  If she trusts the word of God through Elijah she will live.

I remember that speaking vividly to me.  God provides – but one step at a time.  Our part is to listen to his word and do what he says.  We can trust that God will provide all we need – even if it looks like we’ve just spent the last oil we have.  We don’t just have Elijah’s word for it.  We have Jesus’ word for it.  Seek first his kingdom – and everything else will be added to you.  The word of the Lord can be trusted.   God is faithful to his word and his promise.

Life is still hard, and things happen that don’t make sense – read the next story in 1 Kings. But God remains faithful and the word he speaks remains true.  Where do your jars look empty?  Where is it that you cannot believe God will supply what you need?  It may not be money. It might be hopes and dreams for a relationship, or a career that fulfils.  But whatever the thing is that right now will cost you all your fears and hopes for the future can be poured out, and given to his service.  He can be trusted.

The next step may not be what you want.  It may not be your dream life or career.  But it will be a step taken with a God who is good and a God who is faithful.  A God who is true.  A God who is kind.  A God who loves you more than you can dream.  A God whose design for you is that you live out the life you were designed to live by your creator – a life that will at times be hard and full of tears – and yet a life that, in the long run, will be the best for us  and for this broken hurting world. Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians holds true:

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Who can sound the depths of sorrow?

I can’t quite remember a time when politics has depressed me quite so much.  Today I found myself searching for these words of lament over the state of our nation – 30 years old, but still ringing true today:

Who can sound the depths of sorrow
In the Father heart of God
For the children we’ve rejected
For the lives so deeply scarred?
And each light that we’ve extinguished
Has brought darkness to our land
Upon our nation, upon our nation
Have mercy, Lord

We have scorned the truth you gave us
We have bowed to other lords
We have sacrificed the children
On the altars of our gods
O let truth again shine on us
Let your holy fear descend
Upon our nation, upon our nation
Have mercy, Lord

(Men only)
Who can stand before your anger?
Who can face your piercing eyes?
For you love the weak and helpless
And you hear the victims’ cries
Yes, you are a God of justice
And your judgement surely comes
Upon our nation, upon our nation
Have mercy, Lord

(Women only)
Who will stand against the violence?
Who will comfort those who mourn?
In an age of cruel rejection
Who will build for love a home?
Come and shake us into action
Come and melt our hearts of stone
Upon your people, upon your people
Have mercy, Lord

Who can sound the depths of mercy
In the Father heart of God?
For there is a Man of sorrows
Who for sinners shed his blood
He can heal the wounds of nations
He can wash the guilty clean
Because of Jesus, because of Jesus
Have mercy, Lord

Graham Kendrick

I thought of this weeks headlines.  In Britain the contribution of foreigners is being denigrated by our ruling political party (somewhat ironically in the name of attacking ruling elites, but we’ll leave that irony for another day).  Our business secretary wants businesses to have to disclose the number of foreigners they have working for them.  Apparently foreign experts are not welcome to advise the government on the implications of Brexit. There seems to a knee jerk nationalism creeping onto the Conservative platform in a way it hasn’t really shown itself before.  Yes, they’ve always claimed the patriotic mantle – but not usually directly attacking the contribution made by non-british born.  That leaves me sad, and not a little fearful of the direction of travel.  It’s made worse by the fact that the main opposition party is tearing itself apart, so it is left to the remainder of the Liberals to point out what is at stake.

And then I woke up this morning to the latest from the USA.  Words fail me.  This is such a wrong attitude to women – and his actions and words since give little grounds for believing his attitude to women has changed much.  This is why the song is in my head.  It was originally penned about abortion, but it applies to anything that treats people as less than what they are – people made in God’s image – loved by him.

It applies we imagine that the foreigner is automatically under suspicion, simply because of race.  It applies when we think we can treat women as objects to be used and thrown away.  It applies when think that people holding this attitude should hold power over us and that we should value such traits.

This isn’t the place for an in-depth analysis of how we have got to such a place.  But I wonder at the Christian response.  This is where I think the song is especially important and powerful.  We are to come back to the Father heart of God for his creation.  We are to see people as he sees them. If we are Christians we are Christians first and British, US, Irish, Canadian or whatever second.  Christians obey the state (Romans 13) yet profoundly threaten it because they refuse to worship it (Revelation 13).

We are strangers and exiles.  Exiles.  People in a foreign land.  The world is our home – because it is made and will be redeemed by God – and yet the world is not our home, because it is in rebellion against its creator – and yet it is this world in all its badness that is loved by God.  It is loved by God so much that he comes as the man of sorrows who for sinners shed his blood.  He doesn’t come as a bully threatening and boosting his image. He comes as a baby, grows to be a man and dies on a cross – and it is in this death, even death on a cross that he displays his greatest glory.  We are to lament the state of our world, and see God’s heart for his creation in the midst of it all.

So as Christians how do we respond when politics turns so ugly?

First – I think we repent of our part in these attitudes.  When have we been suspicious of difference?  When have we treated women, or men, as less than human, in thought, word or deed?  We search our hearts and repent.

Second we repent of putting our hope in princes – and not in the Prince of Peace.  For those times when we have thought that getting the laws right, or the judges right, or the right person in office would solve things, or advance God’s kingdom.

Third we recognise there are no perfect choices.  Standing in the ballot box we vote for who we can in good conscience support.  We take into account all the different options, and when we shudder at the different possible results we trust God that he is sovereign over the kingdoms of men.

Then we recognise that sometimes the result will look like defeat for truth and righteousness.  Sometimes Nebuchadnezzar will carry off the temple vessels to Babylon.  Sometimes elections mean that a Hitler comes to power.  If that happens we remember our calling.  We remember we are called to be faithful and obedient in our daily choices.  To live lives of justice and mercy one choice at a time.

There are no political parties or philosophies of government here and now that will bring God’s kingdom.  We signpost people to God’s kingdom one choice at a time, looking forward to the day when God will establish his reign of truth and justice.  Until that day we look to do the good we can, in whatever way we can.

Sometimes that means Christians influencing public policy and being involved in government.  Sometimes the doors to that path are shut.  And then we need to shine out all the brighter in a dark world.  It may just be that in the west that politics is about to turn really nasty – after a decade of economic depression that wouldn’t exactly be a surprise (can’t help remember European history in the 1930s here…).  It may be that freedoms we have taken as our rights are about to be taken away – probably always for the best of reasons, and with the most plausible sounding arguments.   If that dark turn happens then we keep trusting.  Keeping obeying God once choice at a time and see what he does.

And if things don’t turn out that badly.  If there is still a door open to hear the Christian perspective then it is still about right decisions one step at a time.  Each of us seeking to obey God’s call on our life – in whichever situation we are placed, to use whatever influence we can to show God’s ways and encourage justice and mercy in public life. We remember the example of biblical characters like Daniel who spoke truth to power (see Daniel 4-5 especially). We must always repent of the triumphalism that says we spread Christianity by the state, whether by violent means or by the ballot box.  Micah 6:8 is always the call:

He has told you O man what is good – and what does the LORD require of you, but that you act justly, and that you love mercy and that you walk humbly with your God.

Do not despair when politics turns dark.  Pray for Christians in places of power and influence.  Influence where you can.  Participate in politics.  But know that our hope is not in politics.  Our hope is in the King.  He is coming.  And until the day when our faith will be sight we are called to walk now in the dark places of the world showing his reign in lives of just action, merciful love and humble walking with our God.

on saying hello

This is not a researched piece, and I realise that there is generalisations as there are those within the faith community who are fully engaging in these areas but I suspect that for many of us who are by all appearances functioning just fine regardless of the mad kicking of legs under the water to stay afloat are not aware of those organisations. Maybe because like myself there is a sense of not wanting to have to ask for help because we know how thin any support/resources are already stretched and we tell ourselves we can manage if we just worked a bit harder on sorting out our lives ourselves in one area or another. But in my heart of hearts what I read in my Bible and allow God to whisper is something that I so seldom see within churches and I know others are asking the same question of disparity.

I have been genuinely challenged by the number of friends who have shared since I my previous post addressing anxiety. More rather than less have said that I have echoed their own struggles and thoughts. And just tonight the first news headline I heard was that young women are the highest risk for mental health problems. While I don’t fit that age category and my friends are spread across the age spectrum, the reality on the ground is that women in all walks of life and ages are wrestling significantly. I am not a researcher, what I share here is by way of anecdotes, of simply being a friend and sharing conversations. I cannot back everything up with facts and figures and to be honest I don’t want to, though I am sure I could do so if I took the time.

What has struck me though in sharing is that while being vulnerable can be hard and unsettling I have actually felt a deep sense of calm and no anxiety in sharing that post which was the very opposite of what I had anticipated I would feel. I did not feel vulnerable afterwards. I felt a weight lifted off me that I no longer had to pretend to be someone else.

And because of my faith my biggest questions come back to what is the church doing in light of such headlines that young women are at the highest risk of mental health? Is the church engaging with mental health practitioners? Is the church a safe place? Mental health is not just an issue for women, anyone can wrestle with it. And the reality is too many times over the church is not a safe place for many different reasons but this seems such a juxtaposition. If we truly believe that the gospel is good news, that Jesus who at the well with the Samaritan woman, offered her living water and at others times speaks of rest and a yoke that is light then why is the church not a safe place and why are we not engaging in the care of those wrestling with mental health issues and why are we seeing so many, including those who have faith, battle?

What are we doing to engage with the culture around us that is pushing us all to the point of breaking our mental health? As I heard recently the answer to the question ‘how are you?’ is no longer the ambivalant ‘fine’ but ‘busy’. We all need to be seen to be busy, to be stretched to the hilt. Everything needs to be done to the edge of breaking point. And it is no different inside the church it seems to me these days. When someone has time someone else can quickly fill it. Just this past week one mum said that as she grieved that season in life when none of her children were home full time as the youngest had started school she already had people wanting to know if she could fill that time now from 9-3 with extra activities and work. There is no space to breath, to stop, to reflect. We simply have to be busy and doing. Yes there are many good things to do within the life of the church but that does not mean God is calling us to do every one of them.

The church needs to not be afraid of mental health, of emotions, of mess, of medication, of therapy, of the gospel, of the power of the Holy Spirit. The church needs to get back to preaching the gospel of life giving water and extending it in overflowing jugs to those who come parched and weary and broken. With no time limits, no limit on the number of jugs a person can drink from. With no expectations of getting a new volunteer for the Sunday school or tea rota in return.  We need simply to hand out jugs of living water and sit awhile with our friends and invite others to join us.



Saying hello to myself

A year ago a pediatrician wrote me off as an over-anxious mum and that any issue my child had was most likely down to me. This hurt. Deep down though I feared that for the first time someone saw inside the mess I was hiding and dared name it. He may well not have done it in the best way or given me any helping hand to step forward but he had named that which I feared about myself. I was not the competent adult I so desperately wanted to be and feel I had to be on so many fronts. Our son did have symptoms that were not my doing and that was later recognised by another pediatrician but the first one did speak a kernel of truth.

Inwardly for the past year I have wrestled with God and myself with this truth. I could not ignore it even when others told me not to listen to the pediatrician. This morning a friend shared a link to high functioning anxiety and I sat there reading it as though I was reading a description of myself for the first time.

Various friends have mentioned their struggles with it over the year and I have cheered them from the sidelines for having the courage I wanted but lacked to say ‘that’s me too’. I have watched from the sidelines as friends have taken action to handle their anxiety, stress, anger and felt another part of me break inside as I watched them step out from chains which I knew were holding me tight. What I am coming to realise is that this is far more normal than the being together that we all try and present to the world around us. This needs a far wider conversation and the church needs to look at how we respond and teach on such passages that speak of life and worry in ways that do not imprison people but allow them to come to the well and receive living water.


A friend and I went to a Care for the Family event, it was a last-minute decision to go, something I do not normally do but went and God whispered to my soul all evening. Afterwards in a moment of courage I did make contact with a counsellor but for various reasons it is has not worked out to meet up. So part of me says it will be fine I have done it once I can do it again, part of me says see you cannot even sort yourself out, how can you even think of going into ministry? Then my head spins because ministry is the very thing my heart longs to be doing, seeing people living life as Jesus calls us to, but my spinning head sees me as failing utterly to do so myself, therefore being ruled out of such a role.  The timing of all this sucks from where I am sitting because we are one of 2 candidates being considered for a post that we would love.

I have put it down to tiredness, 7 1/2 years into this parenting life and sleep has not been something that we have been blessed with for various significant and typical reasons. I have put it down to perimenapausal reasons. I have put it down to not having roots somewhere and a lack of sense of belonging as we have journeyed down the road of graduate studies and wondered where all this is leading if anywhere as God has not shown any open doors. I have put it down to not enough exercise, not a healthy enough diet. And I have tried to fix all of those parts of my life thinking that once those circumstances are sorted it I will come through and find myself calm and steady and doing just fine and able to prove the doctor that he was wrong.  I have prayed, I have journalled, I have tried to take hold of what the Bible has said literally and felt utterly rubbish on this journey of faith. I was 9 or 10 when I read the words about not worrying and realising I did the very opposite and so I must be rubbish and the lie has stayed with me ever since. Not a great way of living for someone who is longing to believe that the Bible is actually life-giving and inside of me I felt anything but life. I came to faith in a church that had little faith and no one to come along side me so I did what I could and took the Bible in its black and white print and saw only failing and yet a voice kept whispering ‘there is so much more to it than this’ so I have kept putting one foot awkwardly in front of the other doing what I thought I should be doing if I was to fulfil the role so many often called me into – a leader, outgoing, confident. I threw myself into outdoor bound weekends dying inside with fear as I went over cliff edges, as I scrambled up rock faces, capsized in the harbour and canoed.  I stepped up and led and helped and sought to please and do the right thing. And inside I dreaded every step I took, every word I uttered because I was going to fail. And on the rare occasion I dared to step out and take a risk it went horribly wrong in my eyes that it only confounded the sense of fear even more and I shut myself away and lived the life I thought people thought I should be living.

I might well be a leader, I might have actually enjoyed abseling and climbing if I had let myself name the fear and take it on, instead I shut down and gritted my teeth and did what  I talked myself into believing I should do and had convinced others I enjoyed to hide the fear.

I long to go out without calculating every step, every moment. I long to just enjoy life. I don’t want to work out where the escape routes are, the toilets are, the time when we can legitimately leave an event without seeming rude or antisocial. Driving would be useful, and I had lots of ethical/exercise reasons I can name not to drive but the truth is I fear that I will have an accident and destroy someone else’s life so it is better not to drive. I don’t want to look back and say to those who encouraged me that I need to drive ‘told you so’ when I end up in prison for dangerous driving and hurting someone else.

I long to parent without panicking over every response, action, symptom, mood swing I am presented with in myself in our children. I want to breathe so my children can breathe too. Parenting in this place is hard when you are also parenting children who have high sensitivity reactions to various stimuli and I have to be proactive at times to be one or two steps ahead of situations to ensure they can get through events, the next hour and so on. And when one child in particular feeds off your anxiety and the two of you go spinning round and round in circles. While parenting can often bring out parts of our character we have not considered or had to give much heed to before hand I really wish I had said to my younger self for both the sake of my husband, our marriage and our children, “go and get come counselling not because there is a crisis happening but to get myself to a healthy place for what lies ahead.”

Religion does not hold the answers for me, the Bible in black and white print does not hold the answer for me. Faith in Christ does though give me the courage to seek help, His word does speak truths that I cannot speak myself yet. He came for the sick, He came to redeem us in fullness and wholeness. Faith in Christ gives me a relationship which while I often don’t get, frustrates me when His response was not the one I had planned, takes me on paths I would rather not walk but gives me life in a way I cannot give myself. And it is that life I want to live. One that is genuine inside and out, that gives life to those around me. One that can say ‘it is well with my soul’.


God’s disorientating ways…

I’ve just started reading Ezekiel, and so I thought I’d put a great quote from Chris Wright’s excellent BST (Bible Speaks Today) up about God’s disorientating ways.  I love the way in which in the introduction to the commentary Chris Wright uses imagination rooted in the text to help us picture Ezekiel’s situation.  If you want to go a bit deeper in your own study of the Bible, but aren’t sure where to start then the BST series by IVP is a good place to start, and Chris Wright’s volume on Ezekiel is a great help to getting a handle on where such a large book is going and what it is saying.

In his introduction he points out that as the son of a priest Ezekiel would most likely have expected to be a priest in turn when he reached 30.  Instead Ezekiel is in exile, with the first group of exiles, in Babylon, hundreds of miles away from the temple he should be serving in.  Chris Wright goes on to explain why it would not necessarily have been much consolation for Ezekiel to become a prophet.

As a priest Ezekiel would have a high view of the temple as the central place of interaction between God and people, the place where God lived and where people could have access to God’s eternal home.  It was a place of order, ritual and sacrifice, through which the regularity of God’s relationship with his people and world could be known and seen.   Prophets like Jeremiah called all that into question.  Looking back with the privilege of seeing the whole story we can see how Jeremiah’s message fitted into all that was going on – but at the time it would have been deeply shocking (indeed priests were among those who tried to have him killed) to the establishment.  So Chris Wright writes:

So while we can value all the positive contributions that Ezekiel’s education and training as a priest brought to his prophetic ministry, we must also appreciate the immense personal, professional and theological shock it must have been to him when, in his thirtieth year, the year he ought to have entered on his ordained priestly career, God broke into his life, wrecked all such career prospects, and constrained him into a role he may himself have viewed with considerable suspicion – the lonely, friendless, unpopular role of being a prophet, the mouthpiece of Yahweh.  No wonder the anger and bitter rage to which he honestly confessed disorientated and overwhelmed him for a full week (3:14-15).  God would use all that he had built into Ezekiel’s life during his years of preparation, but he would use it in radically different ways from anything Ezekiel had ever imagined.  Such is sometimes the way of God with those whom he calls to his service.