This Woman, Food and God

Blue ButterflyI’ve noticed it before.  When my relationship with food settles my relationship with God settles, too.  I’m at a loss to explain it, but the two seem inextricably linked. 

Sometime last autumn the wheels came off and I found myself sinking into depression once again.  Not being a stranger to the way its tendrils grip me and start to pull me under, I went straight to the Doctor’s once I realised what all the symptoms were pointing to.  I’m glad I did.  Back on medication, life and clarity returned and I am grateful that I had the good sense to stand back and look at what was happening to me.  Anxiety and burnout were the triggers and although I have made an effort to be better at resting, I still haven’t successfully dealt with my anxiety.   Depression affects the way I think about things.  My usually positive and open-minded approach gradually declines into a place of negativity.  Instead of responding to situations I react to them, adopting a ‘slash and burn’ approach to coping.  It’s not helpful.

One of the things that I have been getting increasingly more anxious about is my weight.  While the diet industry would like you to believe that all your problems will be solved when you reach your perfect weight (with the help of their programme), I can categorically tell you that most of the problems that you have when you’re a size 26 will still be there when you’re a size 12.  For people like me, food becomes a way to deal with the pain; to smother it as we fill the gaping holes in our soul with things that really aren’t designed to fill it.  Let’s be honest, although we may think it might, eating an entire multipack bag of crisps is not going to do a single thing to address the pain you feel about being unemployed.  Believe me, I have conducted extensive tests into this and can confirm that no lasting benefit was received.  As well as not having a job, you’re now even more unhappy, probably guilt-ridden and going to end up even fatter than you were.   There is not a food that can get rid of emptiness, despondency, pain, grief, despair or any other emotion you’re feeling.  True, a nice big cream cake will probably be very delicious, but all it’s going to do is make you feel temporarily more alert as the sugar courses through your blood.  The only way to start to deal with the emotions is to stop using food to mask them so that you can know what it truly is that’s affecting you.  It’s a hard thing to do, I know, because I’ve done it.  I also know that looking at the knotted mess of yourself is not a pretty sight and I don’t think there’s a quick fix.

It’s probably taken me the best part of 15 years to get to where I am now.  For many years nothing external happened, but gradually I managed to unpick a few strands and understand the hurts in my formative years that were causing the distorted view of myself.  For a decade there were times when I had my food issues under control and times when they raged like wildfire.  Food was a daily battle that I fought and that I still fight to this day.  I could never tell anyone that food issues go away entirely, I think you just get better at managing yourself.

When I am fit and healthy and not under too much stress, my relationship with food is at its best.  When I get anxious, stressed or start to feel under the weather, the fragile peace is disturbed and ‘incidents’ become more frequent.  I have to accept that there will be a point in any given month when I find myself bingeing.  I can’t explain to you what sets me off, but something/someone will and it happens.  I pick myself up, dust myself off and try not to dwell on it.  Any increase in that frequency and I know I’m heading for trouble.  Having been eighteen and a half stone at one point in my life, to find my weight drifting upwards is to induce a sense of terror that all my hard work has been for naught and I’m heading back up there again.

By last autumn, my relationship with food was in a bad place and my relationship with God was in a bad place as well.  I am grateful that experience has taught me that anti-depressants work and can restore a much needed sense of order while you tackle the wildfire that’s broken out in your life.   I chose to deal with my spiritual worries first, by allowing myself to ‘drift’.  I stopped my daily Bible reading, read only what I felt drawn to (if at all) and investigated other spiritual paths, to discover if I was still on the right one.

By early December, the medication was working and my thought processes were clearing.  After thinking about how best to tackle my food, I decided that I would go back to what I know worked and I returned to doing Cambridge Weight Plan.  I don’t have very much to lose but as soon as I hit my stride I realised that I’d forgotten something very important about the way I thrive.

It’s ‘boundaries.’  The reason why Cambridge Weight Plan works for me is that it’s very defined.  There’s the plan, you follow it and the weight comes off.   There is no ‘wiggle room,’ there are no grey areas.  It’s the same with work.  If I set good boundaries, then I don’t end up too tired, too stressed and causing myself problems.  Spiritually, God sets boundaries and within them there is the freedom to live without worrying that I’m going to end up in some ecclesiastical ditch.  But the key was did I still want to live within his boundaries when some of them were causing me issues?  After an awful lot of thinking and looking at it from various angles, I reached an observation.  The boundaries were indeed causing me issues and I no longer wanted to live within them.  That was because I’d drawn them, not God.  Of course it wasn’t going to work.

Christianity is a relationship, not a religion and my relationship with God is not the same as yours because I’m me, you’re you and God isn’t in the business of making robots.  All of us have our particular strengths, weaknesses, talents, gifts and completely baffling bits, so it stands to reason that we’re all going to start from different places.  There are no starting blocks in Christianity.  We are where we are and God meets us right there.  Neither is God a neatly defined, easily understandable concept.  He’s God, not an iPod. He is far above anything I can comprehend.  He brought into being the entire universe and there’s no way that that’s going in a box with a label on it.  Neither is God just a Bible.  Although God reveals himself to us in the pages of that book, he is far beyond anything that you could get two covers and a spine around.  So I’ve stopped defining God.  I’ve stopped trying to stick God in my own boundaries.   Amazingly, this has made me emphatically say yes, that I’m on the right path.  With God’s boundaries in place all I do is follow his plan for my life (not yours), and the spiritual weight comes off.

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’ “ Matthew 11: 28-29 (NLT)

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“It says nothing to me about my life.”

Blue Butterfly My prayer partner called this morning to say that she wouldn’t be able to make our 7.30am meeting.  She asked if there was anything she could pray for me for.  I dodged the question and said there was nothing.  It was a lie. There is.  There’s lots.  But it really wasn’t appropriate to pour out my heart to an unsuspecting friend at three minutes past seven in the morning.  Besides, she’s not the one I need to talk to about this.  I need to talk to God, but I’m finding it hard to pray.  The words coming out of my mouth or even forming in my head can’t adequately express how I feel.  Writing makes it easier  so I’m venting in a blog post – no change there then!  The title of this piece is a line from from ‘Panic’, a song by The Smiths.  Back then it referred to mainstream radio, but today I’m applying it to the Bible.  This isn’t a rant dissing Christianity, it’s about wanting the Bible to say something about my life, because I’m lost and I can’t find it.  I listened to a wonderful sermon on Sunday about why it is that God knows all out our suffering, because of what Jesus went through during the crucifixion.  I’ve no doubt he knows everything there is to know about that, but what does he know about the sheer, utter FRUSTRATION of the normal, everyday life?  Can he help me with that because I can’t find the bit where Jesus looks at his hopes and dreams sailing off into the sunset and comes up with some helpful parable to give me something to hold on to.  This is about wanting to believe it, longing to live it and desperate to read something that will help with the unrelenting mess that surrounds me. 

I have in front of me a NKJV (New King James Version) Women’s Study Bible. I bought it just over two years ago.  It’s a lovely thing to look at, all green embossed cover and silver edging on the leaves.  Inside, it’s beautifully laid out and includes some pages at the front where I can record the details of my family; from my own precious children, back through my mother’s family, my father’s family and those people who are special to me.  It even includes a copy of something called the Ketubah Marriage Contract.  I’ve never noticed it before and it looks, frankly, quite scary.   On through the book, each wonderfully laid out page has the biblical text, along with study notes, explanations and periodically, sections expanding on topics that would be of interest to women.  There are features on motherhood,  time management, God’s plan for marriage, your appearance, keeping fit,  weight control and tough subjects, such as  euthanasia and eating disorders.  It’s a lovely, beautifully presented book, but the thing is, that it isn’t ‘me.’  I am not that woman.  I’m not beautifully presented, I’m not perfectly laid out and their box on eating disorders is nothing short of insulting.

They’re right in that Paul gets closest to voicing that inner frustration in  Romans 7 when he speaks of things he does that he wished he didn’t do; but it’s one verse.  It doesn’t tell you anything about that manifesting itself in anguish lasting decades.  The little box doesn’t speak of all the times you’ve prayed and people have prayed for you, and you’ve thrown yourself at the foot of the cross time and time and time again; desperate to do whatever it takes, desperate to be well and desperate for a normal relationship with food.  In its light little paragraph it conveys nothing about the utter, utter misery of living with an eating disorder that refuses to leave.

Marriage and family life are painted as a picket-fenced state of loveliness, where your husband adores you and your well-dressed and well-mannered children assist in your efforts to create a warm and welcoming home.  Impeccably furnished, of course.  It tells me nothing of a marriage that feels like it’s on its last legs, of two busy people and a bone-idle child who share an abode, but really can’t be described as sharing each other’s lives.  And don’t think I haven’t bought into that idea of domestic bliss and haven’t tried!  Read a great many Christian books and the advice is there, like needles under your nails:  Make yourself beautiful for your husband, take care of yourself, wear a pretty outfit.  Take care of your home and they’ll start to take care of it too.  Tell them in love how you would like them to help you.  I’ve been parenting for very nearly eighteen years and telling them ‘in love’ is now a screamed vent of frustration.  You might as well talk to the wall.  Thank goodness someone invented Twitter.  At least there, talking to yourself  can be passed off as ‘micro-blogging.’

And where is the help (and I mean proper help, not this 1950s ideas of help) to the woman who finds herself committed to her marriage but in tears because it’s just not giving her what she wants no matter how much they discuss it?    You never understand.  I explain it time and time again.  Why does this never bloody well change?  And then the killer advice from those well-meaning Christian women:  You need to be the one that changes.  Let me tell you,  I’ve had years of counselling, I’ve lost 100lbs in weight and I’ve read and tried to implement every Christian self-improvement book on the market and it’s still no better.  How much more changing do you want me to do?  Is this what it comes down to, me running myself into the ground for someone who still can’t work out that a hug is the first response for any emotional upset?

Where is the help for the woman who is over-whelmed and over-burdened, desperate to feel like she’s making progress somewhere?  Is it really in this perfect-looking book when her life feels like something dog-eared, with margin notes, rude words scrawled in blue biro across the end of the pages and coffee mug rings on it?  All I can see in here is advice from well-meaning writers who sound like they’ve never had so much as a facial blemish.

And then the guilt starts.  Shut up, you’re not living in a war zone.  You’ve got your health.  You’re not starving.  You have enough money to pay your bills.  You’ve managed to have one child, be thankful you have that! Your husband doesn’t beat you or mistreat you.  You have a job, food in your stomach and a roof over your head – how dare you complain!

Yes, how dare I complain.  So you slink away chastened, back to your life that’s safe but frustrating. Back to a life that you’re not allowed to vent about, even though you feel like a complete fraud, a failure and somewhere below an amoeba in the planet’s biological hierarchy.  So you go to church and hear that God knows how you feel.

Does he?  Do you God?  I’ve read the Bible cover to cover and I can’t see the bit where he shares his time as a frustrated, fortysomething woman.  Where does it give advice about coping with wanting to scream when you’ve been banging on about the same damn thing for twenty years?  There’ll be some platitude about holding your tongue yet again in Proverbs.  But nothing ever changes!  If I don’t yell at them they don’t know there’s a problem!  I’ve tried telling them nicely, I’ve even tried bribing them, but it just doesn’t work!   Perhaps Moses would know something about getting frustrated with people, but we don’t hear much about the scream-worthy moments of being the one chosen to lead 2 million moaning Israelites through the desert for forty years.

When you’re worn out from trying, how do you get up yet again and do what needs to be done to sort yourself out, put right a family or rehabilitate a marriage that is essentially in bits on the floor?  I know for a fact that God doesn’t have a magic wand.  It’s not going to magically go right again.  Some effort is going to be required and why is it always me who’s the only one who can see that – or wants that?

I’m not lashing out at God, but lashing out at the way the Bible, or this particular Bible has been presented to me.  It’s perfect when I feel anything but.  Beautiful, when I can’t even find one thing to like about myself.  It gives me neat answers when the reality is much harder and frequently filled with snotty tears.  I have faith that somewhere underneath all this wrapping and loveliness is a God who does really know about frustration, but I’m struggling to find it under the surface dressing.  I know the Bible’s full of imperfect people – I only have to look at my namesake to get an idea of that – and I know that God still uses them.  I hope he’s going to use me but I can’t exactly see where in this hotchpotch of a life.

And here’s the thing, I don’t want to turn into a beautifully coiffed, apron-sporting throwback, because that isn’t me.  That would not be the person that God created if that’s what he had planned for me.  Surely I’d have some interest in cake baking if that was my calling?  I don’t really like cake,  I like spicy stuff.  I’m savoury, not sweet.  I’m organised but only occasionally.  I’m passionate but not pretty and there are 1001 other things that don’t make me into some imagined piece of perfection.  I’m me.  Rachel Lewis.  And I hope this isn’t as good as it gets.

If you hang around any church for long enough, you will hear the phrase ‘God will meet you where you are.’  Well, I’m sat in the mess waiting for him and looking in all the places that people tell me to look for God, in the Bible, in people and in prayer.  So far I haven’t found him.  God speaks about a lot things, but I can’t hear him speaking into my life, or into my situation.  Sometimes it feels as if I’m on my own in this.  But surely, I can’t be the only one who feels this frustrated and powerless.  Am I?

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Finding Solidarity with the Archbishop’s Daughter

Blue ButterflyIt’s a tough old time of year by anyone’s standards.  It’s largely dark, it’s invariable cold and life seems to be hurtling by at speeds that only the USS Enterprise should be capable of.    I wish I could post some bright, sparkly blog about how incredibly wonderful God is and how I’m seeing him work miracles in my life –  which, coincidentally, since I’ve found him is now as wonderful as unicorn farts, because I’m in some splendid, but complicated ménage-a-quatre with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Er… no, sadly not.   This is the problem when you write about things to do with faith.  If you’re honest (and you should be), there will be times when it’s all a big old pile of saggy pants with slightly suspect elastic in them.    This is a bit of a double-edged sword.  Because, on one hand, people who do have a faith will thank you for acknowledging that not all days with God are strewn with rainbows and unicorns.  But alternatively, people who have no faith look at you with one eyebrow raised and say ‘so, where’s your big omnipotent God, now?’ 

Oh I know where he is, he’s right where he always was.  He’s not the one who moved, I did.  I’m the one who retreated.  I’m the one who made herself so busy that it’s becoming harder and harder to find the time to stop.  My Bible remains unread, my prayers remain unsaid and my level of engagement with matters of a spiritual nature is fleeting at best.  When you’re part of a church like mine sometimes that can leave you feeling like a bit of a charlatan, like you’re only here for the after service tea and chat.    My church is full of the worst kind of Christians – real ones.  They’re not paying lip service to this thing, they’re out there living it and when you’re not living it, sometimes you can start to feel like you’re the only one struggling, while all around you everyone’s smiting demons with their swords of the spirit. Kapow!  Take that Devil.

So it came as a surprise to discover that I am not alone in feeling like this.  Moreover, that the great and the good also feel like this.  Or, should I say, the great and the good’s daughter.  Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury posted a link to his daughter’s blog on twitter.  I didn’t read it then, because not exactly feeling up to much spiritually, reading tweets from people who have it all together isn’t exactly top of my list of favourite things to do, right now.  But this week I feel a little better, so I went and caught up with his tweets and read Katharine Welby’s blog.

Oh my God, that’s me, I thought.  She’s exactly where I am, too and her Dad’s the Archbishop of Canterbury for heaven’s sake, so what’s her excuse?    But there is no excuse.  These things happen and in many cases we don’t know why, but for a season we’re here in this emotionless, frustrating place.  Too busy for faith and struggling to push our plugs into the socket of the Holy Spirit.

And where’s God?  As I said earlier, he’s right where he was.  He bought me a computer for Christmas, I should probably tell you that, in an understated  just-slip-that-in-there way.  Money’s tight in our house at the moment, stretched to the limit, in fact.  There was no way that we were going to be able to replace my knackered computer and so I would have to nurse it through until… whenever.  And then one day in early December there was a phone call and a subsequent gift of money.  Writing’s important to me, writing is my call from God, so I don’t think this money was intended for me to buy shoes with (not that I would).  It was enough to buy me a new CPU.  I still have the same monitor and whatnot but I’ve got a new important bit.  So, even in the middle of this flat time God is still keeping his promises to me even if I’m having difficulty keeping my end of the bargain.  He’s patiently waiting until I’m ready to come back, and he’s waiting for Katharine Welby, too.  She writes…

I don’t really know what I want to say here. I don’t think I have a huge point to make. Other than the fact that in the midst of it all I know that there is hope to come. I don’t know what it will look like, or when it will come, but despite not talking to God, not spending time with him I know he is there. He is just sitting with me in silence.

So if you feel like I do then take heart.  The Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter knows how you feel, because she’s there too.  And I bet her Dad’s no stranger to it either.


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Prayer: The Rocks, The Maps And The Tea

Blue ButterflyI’ve been working through a week of guided prayer.  Prayer is something that I’ve had great difficulty with – this blog post from February spoke about it.  This year I’ve been greatly challenged on two fronts:  Firstly, to move away from the loud and more charismatic styles of worship and into those styles that are quieter and more contemplative.  Secondly, to address the problems I have with prayer.   This week has been illuminating in both areas.

Mug of TeaI love tea.  I jokingly call myself a camellian – a word I invented to describe a tea-based lifeform, because I consume so much of it.  It’s the way I start my day –  with a hot mug of tea.  What I didn’t bargain on during my week of guided prayer, was that this seemingly insignificant part of my day, would take on new meaning in my desire to improve my prayer time.  My prayer guide has never met me before, he’s from West London, so he’s unlikely to know just how important tea is to me.

When you pour cold water onto a tea bag very little happens.  Pour boiling water onto it and out the flavour and aroma comes.  Going into prayer ‘cold’ as I’ve been doing, isn’t helping me to feel connected to God.  ‘Warming myself up’ for prayer, infusing myself, is going to release me and enable me to pray in a way that I haven’t previously done before.  It may sound very simplistic and very ordinary; but to think about prayer whilst I’m making my tea in a morning, is bringing me into an attitude of prayer in a gentle and more natural way than if I plonk myself in a chair and try and force something to happen.

On another occasion this week I selected a rock from some items on a table. On it were beautiful pieces of polished marble, carved wood and sculpted metal.  But the thing that stood out the most was the rough piece of natural flint.  It was hard and angular in a way that I feel I am.  Geology is part of my past and part of what I still love, so to select that piece connected my past to who I am now.  I can see the imperfections in the silica, I can see the conchoidal fractures where it’s been struck and broken – flaws and scars that echo me in this simple piece of rock.  I see it as a way of addressing my fear of change by starting with something that I know and something that I can understand.  It’s something that says ‘who you are is just fine, but you know from your own studies of human evolution, Rachel, what people can do with flint if they shape it.  Think about the potential for use that I [God] might reveal if I shape you…’  Again, it’s very simplistic on the face of it, but to me it’s personal and reassuring.  It speaks to the fear and quietens it.

And today I was given a poem by Joyce Rupp about midlife and relinquishing your security in needing a map.   Oh I always need a map!  I need to know where I’m going.  I detest SatNavs because I can’t see enough of the map on the screen.  My trusty Road Atlas of Britain has never let me down (although several city ring road systems have caused deep anxiety).  Again, it’s wonderfully appropriate to me.  It’s a way to take what I am and place it before God, not to place what I think I am or where I think I am.  It is God to decide what I should be, it is God who’s navigating and Psalm 119:105 tells me that it’s God who’s providing the light for my path.  It’s not Wembley Stadium floodlighting, either, it’s just enough light for the step I’m on.

I’m not going to be able to attend the final session on Sunday as I’ll be up in North Wales, but my Prayer Guide will share a comment on my behalf about my journey this week.  It’s hard to know what to select because it’s all been so personal and meaningful.  It’s really broken down a lot of barriers about what I thought prayer should be and turned it into something personal and accessible and which starts where I am:  Sat at a desk in Ampthill, with a mug of tea at my side, a piece of flint, the shell of an oyster, a poem about maps and an understanding that God is much closer than I think.

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Radical Christians

Blue ButterflyChristians are called to be distinctive.  To mark ourselves out, in the way we treat others and by the lives we ourselves lead, that we are different to other people.  In a country that is increasingly all about conformity, being a true disciple of Jesus is becoming tantamount to unleashing anarchy in the UK.

I’ve heard it said, by people who really have no concept of what it truly means, that this (the United Kingdom) is a Christian country.


It may have its laws founded on the Ten Commandments, but if the UK really was a Christian country, then the landscape of this (in places), green and pleasant land, would be radically different.

First of all a country can’t be a Christian.  Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis (the three highest peaks in the UK), are never going to stand up and declare their faith in Jesus.  There’s the  slight lack of a mouth.  However, they do reflect the glory of God – and by God do they!   But, every single one of the people who live on this cluster of islands could indeed stand up and profess their trust in Jesus as their Saviour.   This profession couldn’t come as a result of any state-sanctioned order, it has to be a confession from the heart.  You have to want to be a disciple of Jesus, because it’s going to cost you your life.

You’re going to have to exchange your controlled, materialistic, self-serving life for one where other people come first and where you allow God to be in control.  You don’t have to read too much of the gospels to understand that living life the way Jesus asks us to would cause the biggest revolution that society has ever known.

Let’s just take one bit, one tiny bit of Jesus’ teaching and think about how that might impact life in this country right now if every single person who claimed Christianity as their faith, (35 million people in the 2001 census), lived it out as best they could.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove that you are my disciples.” John 13: 34-35 (NLT)

That’s just two verses and once you start to unpack it, you realise that compared to the experience of modern life in the UK, it’s a big ask.  Here’s just five simple ways that life might change if we wholly lived out this teaching. I’m sure you can think of a myriad of others.

There’d be no speeding.  We’d all drive our vehicles at or under the speed limit, because we know that Christians respect the governing authorities (Romans 13: 1).   Driving down the M6 would become a pleasure.  We’d all let people in when they need to come into our lane and there’d be no driving right to the end and forcing your way in, because that’s not – as St James May of Top Gear would say – responsible Christian Motoring.  James May would probably be in charge of driving in the UK,  Jeremy Clarkson having upped sticks and moved anywhere else but here.


Riot Wombles. Don’t mess with a country, who, when the going gets tough, turn up with a brush…

Nobody would ever be stuck for volunteers.  We’d all be there.  Whatever needed doing, we’d pitch up with a brush or whatever was needed, and get stuck in; just as the Riot Wombles did during the London riots of summer 2011.  That was brilliant and thank you for whoever it was who decided to do that, we need more of that spirit in this country.

Nobody would ever be lonely… or hungry, or homeless or any one of umpteen things that even in the 21st Century we’ve failed to address.  There’d be no Eleanor Rigby’s.  There’d be no tales of women found dead and half-eaten by cats and no need for any person to sleep rough.  We would all know that loving one another – loving our neighbour as ourselves – extends to all the people we share a planet with.  Where there’s a need, we’d be there, whether it was Basildon or Bolivia.

We would no longer be at the whims of advertisers or retailers because we would live by the concept of only buying what we need.  We would not be greedy because taking more than we need is hurting other people.  We would not, as Yvonne Lyon says in the song I Believe in Christmas ‘unleash our borrowed wealth’ (our credit cards), because we know that living beyond our means isn’t something that God wants us to do.  Imagine the stress if your credit card company asked for the entire bill paid, tomorrow…  Yup, God doesn’t want that stress for you.

For many, the concept of wearing clothes until they fall apart is an alien concept.  Clothes are now classed as disposable items.  We buy them cheap, we wear them a bunch of times and then we either flog them on internet auction sites or toss them into a bag for the charity shop.  We have entire wardrobe rails of ‘nothing to wear,’ racks of shoes that would never get worn out, even if we rotated each pair daily for the rest of our lives.  Not everyone lives like this, but enough do to make it worth retailers while to promote the principle of more, more, more.  Apple would be stuck for marketing to the UK if the response to their iPad version 24 was ‘no thanks, I’ll use the one I’ve got until it wears out.’
What?! But the new one has a 96 megapixel camera!
Yes, and…? This one works fine.’
But it’s old.
‘No, I bought it 18 months ago, it works fine, it does what I need it to do.  I’ll buy a replacement when I need to.’
But the new one comes in fifteen colours! 
‘Really?  You have to bring it out in different colours to get us to buy it?’ *sniff* ‘Do I smell a marketing ploy…’

And so on.  In the blink of an eye their hold on us would evaporate.

We would slow down.  Not just on the roads with Captain Slow at the helm of our motoring; but in our everyday lives, as we seek to discern what God wants for us and do it.  We’d know the true value of a proper day of rest.  A day that isn’t a homogenised version of every other day, but a truly distinctive God-sanctioned rest day.  And it might not be Sunday; it might be another day of the week that fits in with the work God asks you to do.  Because, if we all rested on the same day, we’re not going to be able to love and serve one another if we leave patients lying in a hospital bed in agony, while we slavishly observe a Sunday sabbath.  Perhaps your sabbath will be Thursday, or Monday, but either way you will observe a day of rest, because you know that in taking care of yourself you can better serve other people.

Of course, there are many, many other ways that these two verses of scripture can be practically lived out.  But the biggest one by far is your own personal decision, to change your heart and decide to love instead of hate; to build up instead of destroy and to resolve to inflict not the worst, but the best of yourself on the world.

As someone once said, love is all you need. :)

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The God Bit: Sunday 3rd November

Blue ButterflyThe Rolling Stones tell us “You can’t always get what you want,” but as they go on to say “… you get what you need.”  And so it’s true of the spiritual gifts.  God gives us what we need to serve him, but it might not be what we want.

When I became a Christian in October 2001, one of the first things I did was do an Alpha Course.  I found it really helpful, to go through the basics of Christianity.  I wish my Confirmation classes at the age of 12 had been similarly helpful, then it might not have taken an additional 19 years for me to get it.   For clarification, being a Christian is something you choose to do, it isn’t something conferred on you, like a degree or a blessing from a Bishop.  It’s not about being able to recite anything, pray anything or particularly do anything; it’s all about what Jesus has done for you, so that you can find your way back to God.  It’s a personal choice and it’s a big decision.  It’s certainly not an automatic right once a church thinks you’ve reached the correct age, or because all your friends are doing it.

One of the things about the Alpha Course is helping you to understand the Holy Spirit.  When you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within you and will start to reveal your particular gifts that are to be used to build up the church.  You can read about them in 1 Corinthians 12; but essentially think about them as each Christian being given a function – just as the various bits of a car engine or your body have specific functions – and when we work together we become a complete body, or engine.

Through doing the Network course a while back, I’ve discovered that my gifts are of administration, encouragement, helping and knowledge.  I’m an equipper.  I’m your back-room girl, making sure that you’ve got everything you need to go out and do what you need to do.  Writing isn’t listed in the Bible, but I hope very much that I’m using this gift to serve God and build up other Christians.

I love to study my Bible.  While other people stare at it blankly, to me it comes alive.  I’m able to look at it, not just from a practical, how do we live this out, way; but to appreciate the context in which it was written, how radical Jesus’ ministry was, and revel in all the amazing nuggets of information that Bible scholars through the years have discovered.  It truly is a remarkable life-changing book, but yet so many people who aren’t Christians only have an Authorised King James version at home and think that’s what the Bible is – something you can’t easily read or understand.  No, it isn’t!   There are so many better translations on the market.  The King James translates wild goats as unicorns for heaven’s sake, it’s not exactly accurate!

Anyway, I digress, I’m talking about spiritual gifts.  We get them, we use them and then we do that natural human thing of looking at other people and comparing what we’ve got to what other people have.

I’m not immune to this.  I look at my set of gifts and sometimes feel decidedly underwhelmed because I didn’t get any of the, I’ll call them ‘super-spiritual’ gifts.  All mine are things that you might find in everyday life, they’re not things that have clearly come from God.  For example, the gift of prophecy – which is receiving a word from God – being able to speak into a situation, to highlight a particular scripture or feel that something has been laid on your heart about something or someone.  Then there’s the gift of tongues, which is being able to pray in the spirit using a language that isn’t of the earth.  It’s amazing and is absolutely nothing to be afraid of.  I’m surrounded by people who can pray in tongues but me, alas, I’m still struggling to string a prayer together in English.

We can get hung up on these ‘super-spiritual’ gifts and denigrate the others, such as admin or encouragement, but the Spirit doesn’t give all gifts to all people, he only gives you what you need to do the job you’ve been asked to do.

I’m pretty sure that with my weedy voice I’m never going to be a worship leader, but how many of them know about the importance of registering every song you sing in church with the CCLE, so that the people who wrote the songs will get paid for them?  It’s not just red tape,  because Matthew 10:10 and Romans 4:4 tell us that a worker deserves to be paid, and what is songwriting if not working for God?  I know about licensing and CCLE, that’s my Gift of Administration bit.  You sing it and I’ll make sure Matt Redman and his contemporaries get paid.

If we work together then the Body of Christ will work like a healthy body should.  It won’t if the eyes suddenly want to be the liver or the cylinder head gasket would rather be the exhaust.   As Christians, we need to do what we’ve been gifted to do and do it to the absolute best of our ability.  Because, as Colossians 3:23-24 tell us, we are working for our heavenly boss, Jesus Christ.  So get busy, he’s coming back soon…

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The Extra God Bit: Sunday 27th October

Blue ButterflyThere’s a bit more to today’s blog and I wanted to post about it before we moved on into a new week. But first a re-cap if you don’t fancy hacking your way through two blog posts:


  • Last Wednesday, I was challenged by a Life in the Spirit seminar to really examine why I didn’t trust God enough to give my life wholly to him.
  • I searched my soul and got it down to the crux of the issue.  It came down to experiences I’d had as a child.  This was the focus of Friday’s blog post.
  • By Sunday I’d had time to reflect and do some more thinking and praying and found that my focus had shifted.  They’d moved away from those experiences and why they were holding me back, to what I felt I could trust him with now.  Could I trust him with what I feel is the core of me – my creativity and my passion for writing?  I found that was a surprisingly easy thing to do – to trust God with my future.  Sunday’s God Bit.

So that’s what I did; I made that decision to trust him with my writing, wherever it may lead – even if that’s into oblivion.   I came away from my computer and jumped in the shower to get ready for church.  While I was in there a song started to play in my head and I thought about what its writer, Yvonne Lyon had said about it on Friday night when we saw her performing.  She said that it came out of wondering if it was worth writing yet more songs when there were a vast number of songs already out there, asking is creativity worth it?

She called her songs written to kick against that apathy ‘these small rebellions.’  We make our marks and refuse to go quietly.  I went to listen to the song again and really listen to the words she was singing.  I found – as Yvonne’s songs have a habit of doing – that it encapsulated everything I was worrying about.  She can do in fifty words what it takes me a thousand to articulate.  With apologies to Yvonne if I’ve got her lyrics wrong.

These marks we make with all of the strength that remains,
Drawing our shapes in the dust, breathing in life.
These fears we face with all of the doubts that we share,
Trembling our way to the edge, crossing the line.

These small rebellions are greater than anything,
Dreamers and lovers and friends.
Here in this moment forever is changing,
Let’s give all we have just to find the beginning of everything.

These hearts we hold, with all of the grace that sustains
Mending the seams and the tears, turning to life.

These small rebellions are greater than anything,
Dreamers and lovers and friends.
Here in this moment forever is changing,
Let’s give all we have just to find the beginning of everything.

In the river that runs, in the sunrise tomorrow may bring,
There are no guarantees, when we risk love.

These small rebellions are greater than anything,
Dreamers and lovers and friends.
Here in this moment forever is changing,
Let’s give all we have just to find the beginning of everything.

The Beginning of Everything – Yvonne Lyon
from the Album These Small Rebellions – 2013
You can listen to it and buy it via Bandcamp and iTunes

The words of this song spoke to me on such a profound level.  They told me that what I’m here to do for God, these marks that I make on paper or on a screen, are bigger than any hurt I’ve experienced in the past, or any person who I’ve felt has let me down.  The work I need to do is more important than being popular or judged by a world that doesn’t understand what I’m trying to do.  I’m here to give all that I have just to find who for me is the beginning of everything – God.

Yvonne Lyon and me - being rebellious!

Yvonne Lyon and me – being rebellious!

Tears ran down my cheeks listening to the words of the song.  They spoke to me and reassured me that what I’m called to do isn’t just blogging, isn’t just storytelling; it’s ministry, it’s mission, it’s what God has me here for.   I don’t know if Yvonne views her songs as little ministry opportunities, but this morning her song and her words were what I needed to hear, precisely when I needed to hear them.  A word in due season.   Trust God with your writing, Rachel.  Don’t dwell on the past, trust him with your future.  What you’re doing is valid because you’re doing this for God.

And then I went to church and the whole service was about trusting God!  Talk about getting it for all sides! 😀

There was another song-related ministry moment there too.  The chorus to the old hymn Trust and Obey was going through my head earlier this morning, but because I didn’t know the first line I couldn’t look it up in my copy of Complete Mission Praise.  We sang it at church – twice!  At the end, I went up to Mel the worship leader and told her it was a song that had particular resonance for me this morning.  In turn she said she didn’t want to sing it because she didn’t like it and had almost cut it, but ended up for some reason keeping it in.  So her detested song was a blessing to me!

You might look at all this and think it’s a bit far-fetched and I admit, writing it down makes it look a bit strange.   But the end result is that my head and heart are now a much more peaceful place than they were last Wednesday.  I have wrestled with God and I have searched my heart to discover why there was this sticking point.  Out of it I have committed my future to God and I’m going to trust that the pain of the past will one day be healed.   My path is not mapped out, I haven’t a clue where I’m going, but I’m just going to give my all to my writing and see where God takes me.

Thank you Yvonne  x

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The God Bit: Sunday 27th October

Blue ButterflyAll week I’ve been wrestling with a fundamental issue, that I’m still only playing at being a Christian.  I can do a lot of the externals, I know my Bible fairly well, I can give you the intellectual whys and wherefores, but I am holding one key thing back: My will – letting myself be used for God’s benefit, not mine.  I’m still in the driving seat and at the moment God’s got me parked on the hard shoulder of life.

I’ve really thought about it hard this week, worked out what are the sticking points, really asked myself why I’m not committing.  Is it that I don’t believe there’s a God?  No, I absolutely do because he’s shown up many times in my life.  Do I believe in Jesus?  Yes, it’s hard to argue with history.  Even if you can’t believe in God you can’t escape the fact that Jesus really existed – he’s named in the documents written at the time.  Whether you believe him when he said who he was, is the point where fact turns into faith.  Do I want the Holy Spirit in my life?  Yes, I do!  So what’s holding me back?  What’s stopping me from embracing this whole-heartedly and going all out for it.  It’s no lack of demonstration from God that he can be trusted –  he’s written an entire book demonstrating time and again that he is a faithful God to the faithful.   But, I’m struggling to trust him with little old me.  I get that he can be trusted to form universes and look after entire cohorts of people for thousands of years; but a small bag of bones in Bedfordshire is having trouble seeing that getting out of the car, swapping places and letting him be the driver, is the best option.

But 95% of myself is exasperated at this remaining stubborn 5%.  ‘Come on, you know this, you’ve seen it in action, in the Bible and in the lives of those people around you. What part of this is a good thing to do don’t you get?’  The stubborn 5% comes back with reasons… excuses, but the main ones are that past experience has told me that I fail at things.  That placing my trust in people usually results in me getting hurt.   My experience of love is of people holding me at arms length because I am a disappointment to them.  How can a remote and invisible Almighty God love me more than people who actually know me?  That just doesn’t compute.  If I let him in I will need to change and I know I am going to struggle with change that loses me friends.   And so the stubborn 5% still has the upper hand, holding out on high ground that’s surrounded on all sides with God’s love, God’s promises and God’s people wanting to demonstrate to me how placing their trust in God was the right thing to do, and it will be the right thing for me to do.

I know that if I do place my trust in him I’m not going to be on a plane to Africa tomorrow morning to try and sort out the starving millions, because I know that God meets us where we are, takes us on from where we are and I know I am never going to want to feed the world.

Or am I..?  I think I have this on the wrong scale.  Let’s dial it back down to something that is relevant to me and where I am right now.  Perhaps feeding the world will be done more subtly; in my love of taking the Bible, explaining it and making it relevant to the lives of women today.  In my love of telling stories that weave little nuggets of biblical truth into them.  The Devil’s Kitchen – the last piece of FanFiction I wrote was an interesting combination of Fifty Shades of Grey meets the Bible.  I didn’t compromise myself in my storytelling and it got the best reaction I’ve ever had to a piece of work.  If you know your Bible, you’ll see the references but if you don’t you’ll hopfully see only good storytelling.  I know that right now that’s where God has me.  I know it because it’s effortless and a honour to do it.  That is where the Spirit flows.  There is no bind to me in Bible study, there’s no reluctance to sit at my computer and allow the words in my head to flow out of my fingertips.  That, right there is the core of me, my soul – the point where I am most genuinely me.

And my reluctance to push myself out there commercially, to be a professional writer is likely indicative of my reluctance to become – for want of a better phrase – a professional Christian.  At the moment I’m still playing at it, I’m not signed up in either sphere 100% and so it doesn’t really matter if I get it wrong.  But it’s where I want to be.  I know I can write – hear that Peter Laws.  Shall I put that it capitals and stick it on a separate line? (He’s been on at me about this).


There we are, out there in capitals, bold and underlined.  You all know I can write – some of you have been yelling at me for years that I can do this and I haven’t believed you entirely.  Yes I can string a sentence together, but can I do it well enough?  It’s precisely the same in my Christian walk.  God can be trusted, but can I trust him with me?  In both cases it comes down to the same thing – who knows unless you try?

So can I trust God with what I write?  Can I let the high ground in me be overwhelmed in both cases and say yes, I’m going to allow my words and myself to be used for God.  No holding out, no little ah, but... moments, but 100% out there, on fire, spirit-filled, this is what you’re getting because it’s what I need to write because I get my directions from God? That will fuse the core of me to his will.  If the core’s fused then everything else will follow in time.

He meets me where I am and trusting him here, in the favourite teddy area of what I LOVE to do, will demonstrate practically to me – the spiritual bonehead that I am, that he can be trusted in every other sphere of my life.  I can’t really put it into my own words right now, so I’ll borrow from Matt and Beth Redman and add my own at the end.

You are God in heaven
And here I am on earth;
So I’ll let my words be few…

Let’s do this.

With God as my heavenly editor and agent then I could be in for one interesting ride.

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Trust Issues

Blue ButterflyFor the last few weeks I’ve been attending a series of Life in the Spirit seminars at our local Catholic church in Flitwick.  It’s not something I thought I’d ever do.  But I was invited, I felt it was a good thing to do, so I went along.  I should have known that God was on my case…

I’ll be honest with you, I have issues with the Roman Catholic church and they boil down to not having a clue about why they do what they do.  I’m a Baptist, my faith is a very plain and simple thing.  I have a Saviour, I have a Bible and that’s pretty much it.  There are no added extras; there’s no grace through the sacraments, there’s no (earthly) priest wanting to hear my confession, no purgatory, no rosary and no Pope.  At the crux of it both Baptist and Catholics have the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, prayer and communion and for the rest of it we take different paths.  A fear of what I don’t understand has kept me from engaging with the Roman Catholic way of doing things.  That would be why I was an ideal candidate to be pushed out of my comfort zone into an RC Church to a series of seminars about the Holy Spirit.

I’ve been spiritually wandering in the desert for a while.  Freewheeling, coasting, call it what you will.  I really haven’t engaged with it or allowed it much room in my life.  That latter point is the crux of the problem.  I’ve known it for a long time.  I was certainly aware of it back in February when I wrote about my difficulties with prayer, although I’ve not done anything about it.  I didn’t really know what to do about it, or understood why it was so important that I did do something about it.

The truth is that I have never given God all of myself.  I have never truly trusted him.  As a result, I’ve created a version of Christianity that I’m comfortable with and which fits with how I want to be.   Do you see the problem?  If you’re a Christian you’ll see it straight away in one letter.  II’m still in the driving seat of my life.  I’m still captain of the good ship Rachel Lewis.  Yes, she’s sinking, but hey… more wine anyone?

The thing that’s different now is that I want the Holy Spirit in my life.  I’ve begun to see that what I have and what other people have is a different measure.  I want what they’ve got, but if I don’t address some fundamental issues and open up to God then I’m never going to have what they have, because my issues will put blocks in the way of the Spirit getting through.

God is good and has given me some of it.  I’ve had a taste, a shot, a side-order of the Spirit if you like.  He’s given me as much as I have given him.  I’ve given him all the bits of myself that I’m quite happy to part with, but I haven’t given him everything.  In return he’s given me a portion, but not the entire banquet that more obedient people are feasting on.

I don’t trust God and I realise that it’s because I’m fearful of him making changes that would cause people to not like me.  If no one likes me then I will be back to being the lonely 8 year old girl that I was, wandering around in a school playground while everyone around her plays with their friends and has fun.

As a family we moved three times between me being 7 and 10 years old.  In that time I had four new schools and four new sets of people to get to know.  I struggled to make friends because, for a different reason, I’d lost my confidence and I didn’t think I was worth being friends with.  Every Friday during the academic year 1976-77, when I was 7, we’d have a maths test and every Friday I wouldn’t get a high-enough mark to go and do P.E. afterwards.  I would be sat in the classroom, on my own, repeating a maths test that I couldn’t do, while the rest of the class was in the hall having fun.  From where I sat in the classroom I could see them.  So, for a year I had it reinforced weekly that I wasn’t good enough to do the nice things that other people could do.  Try as I might I couldn’t do the maths, so let’s just extrapolate that and assume that if I try at anything I will fail.  Maths and I have had a lifelong battle ever since and that mindset has affected every other part of my life.  Don’t try Rachel, you’ll fail.  Success is for other people.  You’ll never be good at anything.  It’s a little voice that I have never managed to successfully kill off.  It’s why I can play around writing FanFiction where I am not judged, but struggle to get my writing in front of someone who matters – an editor or an agent – because I might be rejected.  Because I will fail.  You’re not good enough to do that, Rachel.  Save yourself even more pain, don’t even try. 

So here I am.  I don’t feel I deserve to have what other people have and I fear rejection if I try, so I hold back and I don’t achieve anything.  If I try with God, will he mark me down too?  Will I fail at the end because I didn’t do something well enough to make the grade?  I’ll be investing a lifetime here, it’s not just a maths test or a story.   I’m unwilling to trust God, to let him have control for that reason and also because I’m frightened that if I do, he’ll change me so much that I won’t have any friends left.  Friends are important to me (see the lonely 8 year old girl).  These days I’m a social chameleon, able to fit myself into pretty much anywhere.  I show people the pieces of me that I want them to see, so that I fit in and so they will like me.  But if I let the Holy Spirit in that will have to stop.  Perhaps they won’t like me anymore and I’ll be back to being the very lonely and unhappy little girl that I was.

And then last night in the car park as I was leaving the church, one of the people in my small group was loading his car.  I deliberately avoided him because he was a proper Christian, a worship leader, on fire for God and a scary Catholic to boot (see Rachel’s inferiority complex at work!).  Out of the blue he called out to me and said “Rachel, next week don’t hold back.  You don’t like yourself, do you?  But God likes you, he likes your purity,”  and and he gave me a scripture.

“For the Lord your God is living among you.  He is a mighty saviour.  He will take delight in you with gladness.  With his love, he will calm all your fears.  He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”  Zephaniah 3: 17

This man doesn’t really know me, but either he was perceptive enough to pick up in the space of 3 weeks that I don’t feel worthy of God and struggle with anyone saying anything nice about me, or God had prompted him to speak to me.  My purity? well ha!  But actually, no, he has a point.  All God sees when he sees me is Jesus and Jesus is wholly pure, without sin and is the only reason that I can come back to God at all, raging mess or not.

I have a huge challenge to find a way of pushing aside this block so the Holy Spirit can get into my life.  At the moment I don’t truly trust God so I don’t truly obey him.  Again my obedience is given to him in a small portion.  I obey the bits that I want to obey him in – the easy bits.  I’m scared of letting go, but if I do then I can sit at the banquet table with everyone else.  I will no longer be a little spiritual Oliver Twist, impoverished and holding up my meagre bowl saying ‘Please Sir, I want some more.’  God is no Mr Bumble.  There won’t be an imperious roar of “More?!”  There’ll simply be a guesture of ‘help yourself, Rachel.’ 

What upsets me is that I don’t know how to remove the block.  Is there a process?  Do I need specialist lifting equipment?  What do I need to say?  What do I need to do?  I fear prayer may be involved and you know how rubbish I am at that.  Help!

Can I do it?   Can I let the Holy Spirit in?  Can I bear to listen to God singing to me? (let’s hope he has a good voice!).  I was listening to someone else singing this morning.  A woman who has the capacity to reduce me to tears… good tears, on a regular basis.  These words of hers struck me today:

“Hearing means believing means accepting what we find.
Even when the truth is of a difficult kind.”

Yvonne Lyon, A Difficult Kind.
From the album More Than Mine.

Stay tuned to see if I manage it.

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In the distance

Blue SkyI was struck by something this morning and as I have fifteen minutes before I have to crack on with the rest of the day I wanted to write a little post about it because I think it’s an important point.

I think many of us are familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son.  It’s a familiar tale.  Son says ‘Dad, give me my inheritance.’ Dad complies and son goes off to a distant land, spends it all on wine, women and song and then, to make ends meet ends up slopping pigs.  He realises that his father’s servants have a better deal than he does and so he eats a mega slice of humble pie and goes home to apologise.  His father throws him a massive welcome back party and there are no recriminations; just a lot of feasting and celebration and it’s all good.

It’s widely acknowledged that this parable explains how God feels every time one of us gets to the point when our magnificent ‘sort out my life’ plans have come to naught, we’re stuck in a hole and humbly realise that God is the only way out.  He rejoices and welcomes us back into the fold without, you note, sitting us down and lecturing us on why living like we were was never going to be a great life strategy. All that’s needed from us is a sincere apology and we get a party thrown for us.

It’s fabulous, but that isn’t the thing that struck me this morning.  It’s the point in the story when Dad starts getting excited because PartyBoy or PartyGirl is coming home.  Dad, or God, doesn’t start the celebrations when he or she is right there knocking on the door.  They’re starting to leap about with excitement while they’re still a long way off.  You’re not there yet, in fact you’re still still far from home, but you’re on your way and that’s the important thing.

So understanding that you’re in need of God and starting off in the direction of home is all it takes for God to start cracking open the celestial champagne in your honour.  He doesn’t start when you arrive there in your best clothes, all scrubbed up and on your best behaviour.  This is when you’re still in your clothes from mucking about with the pigs – and you probably smell like a pig, too!  You can be the filthiest, grimiest thing on the face of the earth, but if you’ve got your face set for home with a heart that says ‘I’ve messed up and I need help’ then God is already killing the fatted calf in your honour – or knocking up a nut cutlet if you’re a vegetarian.

Let’s not get hung up about thinking that you have to be perfect before God will take any notice of you.  This parable tells you quite plainly that that isn’t the way God does business. You can’t see him, but he can see you and he’s excited that you’re coming.  He’s going to lavish you with kisses and the good stuff when you get there, but nevertheless, know that just setting off in the direction of home is all it takes for him to get the party started.

“In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” Luke 15:7

It’s the ultimate ‘come as you are’ party. And it’s in your honour.

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