Could do better…

Ironically, and somewhat comically, I wrote this blog post last week but didn’t upload it because I didn’t think it was good enough. God certainly has a sense of humour! I laughed, and now I post…

I’ve realised that I’ve been living under an umbrella. The thing is though, the sun is shining, and I’m not the type to hold an umbrella for the purpose of shade. This said umbrella is the proverbial barrier I’ve created to stop myself from basking in the wonderful warm sunshine of my heavenly Father and his love for me.

Now, let me elaborate slightly, as I’m sure my weather analogies will only take us so far. You see, I’m a ‘could do better’ person. Excluding, probably, the first few months of my life, I’ve lived a life that has not been enough. I’m not clever enough, not funny enough, not pretty enough, not slim enough, fit enough, rich enough, witty enough, confident enough, quick enough, brave enough, tough enough, strong enough, perfect, err, enough. It’s such a tiring life. Living a life of striving for better can benefit us indeed, but when you reach what you thought would be the end of the ‘not enough’, there reappears the exasperated gap of ‘could do better’. The not enoughs demand attention, and when ignored, they grow bigger and stronger, sometimes overwhelmingly so. It’s the life of a perfectionist, the life of an ambitious individual on the path of discovery, yet I’ve realised of late that God doesn’t wake me every morning by slapping me around the face with my not enoughs. No, he gently sings in my ear that I am everything he wants, just as I am.

Hosea 2v14-15 says: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt”

The book of Hosea is marvelous. It speaks of a God who is faithful when we are unfaithful. It speaks of a God who chooses the unworthy, those scorned by society, those who mess up, those who really just aren’t what we would call ‘good enough’. It screams of a God desperate for his people to come as they are, desperate for his people to accept his kindness, to turn from their old ways of living and to enter into his covenant of light and life. It sings of a God who is willing to “Go again” (2v1) to bring back the lost sheep. It speaks of a God who “continues loving” (3v1) despite rejection and dismissal. Hosea loved Gomer when she despised him. God loved Israel in their rebellion. It speaks of the cross, it speaks of Jesus’ loving sacrifice for our sins, and his pursuit of our hearts.

Now, I am learning that our God pours out blessing and hope when we have done nothing to deserve it, so why, in my tiny microcosm of life, do I feel the need to do it all myself, to make it an achievement rather than to rest on his grace? I think my proud little heart wants to impress God. I want to be at optimum performance levels for his Kingdom exercise plan, and I want to do well. I also want to impress others with my prowess; I seek the approval of those around me, who are often far less forgiving.

But, God is pleased with me regardless.

In Matthew 3v17, God declares his love for his son, and says he is pleased with Jesus, BEFORE he starts his ministry. Jesus hadn’t done any miracles up to this point, but God was pleased with him nonetheless.

Now, God sees me reflecting upon my weeks, looking at all the ways I could have been kinder, softer, more friendly, more Godly, more confident, the list goes on. I sigh at my failures and the mountains grow taller. But God speaks to me, and he says: “Be still, and know that I am God” Psalm 46v10.

What can I do? I need to listen. I need to lift my eyes to him and stop being introspective. When I look at myself I am but a breath, I am a dusty street ready to be trampled. But, when I look to him I am a conqueror, a mighty woman of God, and wrapped in his strength, I am enough.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12v9-11

So I can take down my umbrella, and bask in the Lord’s love for me. I don’t disqualify myself when I say the wrong thing, I don’t need to cower for cover until I’m good enough to step into his presence. He says: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

The truth is, we have none of our own money to spend in the kingdom. But, the reality is, we have unending access to our King’s bank account. Jesus has bought it all for us, it is his free gift.

Oh the wonders of our Heavenly Father! He clothes us with the garments of salvation, he covers us with the robe of righteousness and speaks peace to our souls. We are enough in his eyes, we are his prized possession, bought with a price. All glory to God!

An hilarious near death experience

Death by horses. Wouldn’t that be a fabulous way to go? It would certainly provide a few laughs at the funeral, but thankfully that day, for me and my friend Tarryn, didn’t come to pass. Still, it was ‘on the cards’ for rather too many frightening minutes during what was meant to be a relaxing holiday!

Picture it. You’ve awoken after a deep and satisfying sleep and decided today is the day to get out and climb a mountain of some sort. You’ve dressed, gulped down an athletes breakfast, made a carb-heavy lunch and sourced a map from your hosts.

Hiking boots on, you embark with the usual expectations – uphill climbs, beautiful views, a nice picturesque spot for lunch, a leisurely descent and celebratory cider.
Perfection in a day. Right? Wrong!

Laughing, exhaling great cackles we recalled our story to our hosts a few days afterwards. “We were surrounded! Our lives flashed before our eyes!!” Others in the vicinity laughed too.

We were surprised to hear that the lady who had directed us into the Horses Den had known about the dangers all along. “Cheers!” We thought, and laughed some more, in astonishment.

So, what happened? Well, everything from the deep, satisfying sleep to the embark was as normal. Omlettes in our bellies, sandwiches prepared, map in hand we set off. Beginning the ascent we took a wrong turn and came to a dead end. There was nothing unusual about that, so we retraced our steps to find the right path. We were fifteen minutes or so in, enjoying the surrounding stillness and emerging views, when we noticed a pack of horses cantering up a path to our right. They reached our level, blocking the gate of our exit, and stared. Less than 50 metres away, we too stood still, and stared back.


Now, neither Tarryn nor I are horsey people. We’ve never felt at home in a stable and have never shovelled poo to earn favour and a free gallop. Our lives have been spent firmly on the outside of the paddock, yet somehow we found ourselves in the centre of one, without a stone or a sling.

A minute of well managed panic later, the situation intensified. The horses had friends. Another 5 or 6 horses thundered up the hill to join the already 6 strong gang. We were outnumbered, with only a few cheese and ham cobs for pacifying leverage.
“Let’s go back.” I suggested. I was not up for a duel.
“Ok.” Tarryn replied. We hoped they’d forget about us, move on.

As we turned and walked slowly back the way we came, the horses followed, and at increasing pace. We walked some more then panicked and walked off the path in a faint hope that we were really just blocking their morning running route. “Maybe they just want to get past.” I said bleakly. “Let’s just wait.”

As they approached the part of the path that we had sidestepped, they stopped, turned, looked us straight in the eyes, then advanced. Tarryn and I grabbed each other. My knees began to shake. I prayed!

Six or seven large horses snuffled our coats and nibbled our rucksacks. The others formed a barbed wire fence behind, munching the grass and exhaling violently. Tails flapped, hooves padded the ground.

“God!! Help!! Help!! I’m completely unqualified for this situation!! Help!!”
Tarryn and I must have looked a picture! Clinging to each other as if our lives depended on it (quite literally) praying whatever we could muster!

Suddenly, a small gap opened up between the heavy set horses. A pure white stallion, their leader, had either stumbled, or deliberately fallen into our nibbling friends and scattered them. Our escape route! Hearts beating and legs a-wobbling we slowly took steps past our unwanted friends.

“Left or right?” I said under my breath. Do we retreat and just get back home safely, or do we continue the walk regardless, oblivious to how many horses could be lurking in the unfamiliar Welsh hills.
“Left.” said Tarryn defiantly.
“Ok.” I said, surprised at her courage. We race-walked to the next style.

Once home and dry, with the horses safely behind the last fence, we let go of each other and bent over in relief! We laughed, but mostly were just glad to be alive!

As we sat atop the mountain, looking down to the sea, Tarryn made a suggestion. “Different route back?”

Switching Off, Tuning In


It’s summer. I’ve been on holiday. It has been great.


I’ve visited friends, family, the beach, the hills, towns and villages, all in the name of my (now) good friend, rest. I’ve acquainted myself so wholeheartedly with this friend that, in fact, (and I hope), I have found a new perspective.


You see, I am aware, and have been for a time, that I find it hard to rest. Before I took my leave for the Pembrokeshire hills three weeks ago, I was far from at peace. I had worked a tireless 10 month rugby season with only sporadic breaks. I was worn out – fed up with the daily rigmarole. Even the free days I had were spent finding tasks to complete or burying my head in a serious and complex commentary on the book of Romans. I couldn’t sit still – unless asleep – and that was a challenge in itself.


“Woe to you!!” I hear you cry! Well, yes, somewhat. But really, my view of rest wasn’t high enough on my agenda. I hadn’t grasped the secret of the Sabbath, or even considered I should observe it. My opinion was always that Sabbath keeping was for the Old Testament guys, not for those of the 21st century. God knows we have different lives now, doesn’t he? He knows that we live in big cities and can’t afford to kick back all the time, life is busy, fast-paced and travel takes great bites out of our leisure-time; there just aren’t enough hours in the day…


Disagree? I do.


I am challenged to think more seriously about rest, and to treat it kindly, rather than to dismiss it as simply a practice of the lazy. In this immediate-age, being busy is something of which to boast. It’s the life of success and, dare I say it, power. If you’re busy, you’re usually in demand, and that means you’re worth something, and that makes you more in demand and so on. Anyway, I understand that life has peaks and troughs of quietness and rush, but I believe in those busy times, we can still know the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ by observing his teaching.


Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2v27 NLT)


A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to a Christian retreat up on a hill in Pembrokeshire – the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival, we discovered that our mobile telephones were useless. No signal, no wifi, nope, not even a smidgen of connectivity. Initially, I was a little put out, but after an hour or two, I submitted to my situation: “I’ll roll with this” I thought. “Perhaps it will be a good exercise.”


Not having the distraction of my smart phone during that particular weekend was possibly the biggest blessing I received. The entire reason for embarking on the 6 hour journey to Pembrokeshire (yes, we drove at the speed limit and stopped often), was to spend some quality time with God. I wanted to be present with him and seek him with all my heart, and removing my link with the rest of the world, with Facebook, emails, whatsapp and the like, gave me that blessed opportunity. Oh the peace I knew. I can’t remember a time when I have been so tranquil in soul. So calm and quiet, eager to enjoy the time on my hands. I would sit in the little chapel on site, pray and wait. I wasn’t waiting for the thing to do next, the exciting answer to my prayers, or even for God to speak to me. I was just still, ever present in his presence.


Of course, our God being the kind God that he is, spoke abundantly to me. In fact, when I left, I felt as though I had learnt more in those few days in his presence than I would at a week-long conference. He really is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


As we embarked on the journey home. and as my phone picked up signal, I locked it in the glove box! I heard it pinging and pining for my attention, but I was adamant I would hold onto Jesus’ peace for as long as I could. I wanted to savour the moment, live in the now, enjoy every second. By switching off my distractions and tuning in to God, I realised what it means to lie down in green pastures, to be lead by still waters and to have my soul restored by the one and only God.


So what happened next? Well, in reality I flew to France, ate good food, drank good wine and mostly went to the beach, but, eventually one returned to work and to the responsibilities of life. The challenge then became how to continue enjoying God’s peace amidst the ‘stress’.


I can’t say I’ve mastered it, I’m on a journey into the rest of God. However, restoring a proper Sabbath into my week has so far granted me better replenishment and more of life in the fullness. The difference in my mood, my energy and my hope in God is incredible. Jesus said that the Sabbath was to fulfill a need in us, not to tick off the requirements of God. Jesus often withdrew to lonely/desolate places and prayed (Luke 5:16) and I want to follow his lead.  Try it? Why not, I challenge you. Set aside time to “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46v10) this week. And let’s just, well, taste and see.

My Kingdom is not of this world

As the referendum looms this week, how do you feel? Are you fearful that catastrophe could be right around the corner? Or are you quietly confident that it will all, sort of, work out alright? 

Whatever your view is of Britain’s relationship with the EU, it is important this week to remember who has the ultimate authority over the situation and to understand who is in control.


During his lifetime, Jesus was clearly subject to the state. God used the rulers and authorities to control crucial events in his lifetime which served to fulfil his purposes on earth. Even his birth place was determined by a decision of Caesar’s, whilst his crucifixion was ordered by a Roman Governor. When Jesus was tried, he revealed an insight to Pilate which helps us to grasp the authority that God has over all situations; this includes decisions made by the collective people, and by kingdom rulers.


John 18v35-36

Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 


Jesus allowed Pilate and the Jews to deliver him to be crucified whilst confidently expressing that he was in control. By stating that “my kingdom is not of this world” he gives us confidence to know that even those of the highest powers on earth cannot contend with the plans of our creator God. The history-changing decision of Pontius Pilate served to advance the kingdom of heaven when from an earthly perspective it looked like it was to end. Therefore, whatever situation we face this week come Friday morning, we can be confident that God has not been absent.


Swiss Theologian, Karl Barth, famously said to a friend the day before he passed away: “Just don’t be so down in the mouth, now! Not ever! For things are ruled, not just in Moscow or in Washington or in Peking, but things are ruled – even here on earth—entirely from above, from heaven above.”

Being a Mary in the city of success

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


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


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


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


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

God and his goodness

God is good. A simple sentence, but a huge life changing truth.


Having been a Christian for almost 6 years, I think I’ve always known this, but recently the revelation of its gravity has hit me. God really is good, and if he is (which I wholeheartedly believe), that changes everything.


In the past I think my general approach to God in prayer has been like a small child asking for a pet. It goes something like this:
“Please mum, please dad, can I have a pet?”
“Please please mum, please pleeaaaaaase dad, can I have a pet?”
“Here are some pictures of the pet I would like, I promise I’ll look after it, I promise I’ll feed it”
“Why Not? This is so unfair!”
“Louisa, you are not having a pet”
“You’re so mean, you’re ruining my life! I can’t believe you won’t let me have a pet!”


You get the jist.


Perhaps my past experience with my desire for a Guinea Pig has left an indelible scar, or maybe I just haven’t ever understood the Father’s heart for me, and his continual desire to bless me and give me good gifts. I think in this life it is so easy to read about his love and process that from a theological perspective, but to really know that truth in our hearts, and to live out each day as an overflow of that truth is a different run of rabbits all together.


Now I’m not saying that because God is good it means life is easy and everything turns out the way I want it to. Far from it. Knowing God is good and is sovereign means contentment and joy whatever the situation, because I trust him with the circumstances. The apostle Paul knew this, and whilst I’m sure I don’t know God as well as he did, I think I’m catching my first glimpse of what he meant when he wrote in Philippians:


“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4v11-13


If my life is lived for God’s glory, and I know he is good, then my emotions and feelings can be steadfast despite the trials of this world, because even though I might be in pain, God is for me, and he loves me and wants to bless me. That is his heart. If I trust that, then despite anything else, I can be content because my life is hidden with Christ (Colossians 3v1-4).


I take courage from Lamentations, a little book detailing the destruction of Jerusalem. The writer, Jeremiah, describes the horrors of that time, the loss of life and starvation. He starts chapter 3 by declaring: “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his [God’s] wrath;”. He knows affliction, he has witnessed it, he has lived it. Yet, in verse 21 he lifts his eyes towards the Lord and writes:


My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” Lamentations 3v20-25

Would I rejoice in the love of God whilst my city fell into disarray? As I write about my wholehearted trust in the goodness of God, even I’m not sure that would be my first reaction. It’s quite mindblowing, really.

Later on in the chapter Jeremiah writes:

but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” Lamentations 3v32-33

John Piper gives a helpful analysis of these verses:

“The mercies of God are often hidden and hard to see while they are happening, because it says he does cause grief and he does afflict. And yet it says there is a merciful purpose in it all. And it is not coming from the bottom of his heart. He does not willingly afflict the sons of man. There are purposes for his affliction. It is not the thing he delights most to do and yet he does it. And if we will trust him, there are mercies hidden there for us.”

Isn’t it amazing that even in the thick of affliction, God has a plan? Isn’t it a comfort to know that despite our circumstances, God is leading us through the valley with compassion? I know this strengthens me, and I know there is joy to be found in the hardest of times, because God is sovereign and his plans are far greater than those I might attempt to conceive myself. Through spending time in prayer each day, seeking God and inquiring in his temple (psalm 27v4), I have learned to lean on him and allow his plans to take priority.

So even though he might not give me Guinea Pigs, I don’t blame him for ruining my life (the one I had planned myself), no, instead I will trust him, and trust in hope that maybe he’s got a cool Llama or a curious Snar-Nosed Mole for me instead.

He is good.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55v6-9

Getting crafty with God

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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