Thursday, 24 November 2016

A Black Friday for Women

It's Black Friday. But while shops are full of bargain hunters and the introverts amongst us clog the online airwaves, the rest of the world are marking a day far more important than a good price for the latest X box.

Today, 25th November, is the UN's Elimination of Violence Against Women day.

It might come as a shock but the UN website tells us that across the globe, 1 in 3 women experience some form of violence in their lifetime. 

A recent report I read told me that 1 in 5 men in Cambodia admit to having raped a woman. (Cambodia Daily newspaper)

More than 700 million women alive today were married as children. Girls under the age of 18 who marry are far more likely to suffer violence from their husbands. (UN website)

30% of women in Bangladesh report that their first sexual experience was forced. (WHO)

As I read these statistics a few weeks ago for another piece I was writing, I put my head down in front of my laptop and wept. I wept for the women and girls who know no different. I wept at the injustice and I cried tears for the girls who have nobody else to weep for them. And these girls have haunted me ever since. 

These numbers not only alarm me, they make me angry. I find it difficult to understand how women and girls can still be treated as property to buy (not unlike the X boxes and televisions fought over today). I can't bear living in a world that causes so much pain.  Every time I read another statistic, I think of another girl facing yet more violence and injustice and I feel her fear, her pain and her helplessness.

I want to scoop all these women and girls up and give them the life they deserve. A life in which they are honoured, respected, cherished and loved. A life that offers them opportunities of education and careers. A life where they can be who they were made to be without simply having to survive the dangers around them. And, in my small
Worcestershire town, I feel helpless too.

Until I realise I am raising three young men who are world changers.

I'm not a mum of girls. I can't teach my daughters to fight for equality and justice for themselves.  But I can teach my sons.

As a mum of boys, I can teach them to treasure women and treat them with respect. 

I can teach my boys to honour the women and girls around them - giving them dignity and equal status.

I can't teach my daughters how to protect themselves, but I can teach my sons how to protect women. I can teach them to stand up for women when friends are making sexist, uncouth jokes. I can teach them to step in when they see a woman facing violence. 

I can teach them that women are more than their bodies. I can teach them to listen to women's ideas instead of guessing their bra sizes.

I can teach my boys that when we love someone, we don't hurt them. 

I can teach these young men, who will grow up to be husbands and fathers (I hope..) that sex isn't a weapon or a form of control.

I can teach them that, unlike the Black Friday deals of today which will be rubbish by next Christmas, women are to be loved and cherished for life and not simply thrown away when a newer model comes along. 

And so, I realise that there is so much I can do in my small world to eliminate violence for women. 

I'm determined because the consequences if I don't are too far reaching. My young men are reformers in a broken world and my job as their mum is to train them to be those who bring change. 

Black Friday will come and go. Violence against women is a reality every day for millions. And I'm committed to seeing this change. 




Thursday, 20 October 2016

Deep Calls to Deep

We went to visit a huge waterfall in the summer holidays.  The exciting thing about it was that we could walk behind it. Standing in the spray, unable to hear each other speak over the top of the powerful roar was thrilling.  I never knew how majestic and awe-inspiring (and actually quite scary) a waterfall could be.  I had always thought about gentle trickles but this was like something I had never experienced.




This morning I was bringing my many friends before God who are seriously struggling.  Pain, heartbreak, grief, exhaustion, depression and anxiety are high up on the list.  I am finding life tough myself with so many burdens to carry and feeling the pain of others so intensely.  And then I read these words of David in Psalm 42:

"Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me."


I've read them before but, if I'm honest, I always skipped over them.  I thought it was a bit weird to suddenly start writing about waterfalls.  This morning, however, was different.  I remembered the power of the waterfall we'd seen in the summer.  I remembered how it hit the water below with such a force that I was worried the boys would be swept away.  And I realised that it's with that power that God's goodness meets our depths.

It doesn't matter how deep we go.  It doesn't matter how low we sink.  The depth of God's riches, his faithfulness, his goodness, his grace, his sustaining power, his justice, his mercy, his love, his constancy is flooding down to meet the depth of our pain, our sorrow, our exhaustion, our confusion and our overwhelming brokenness.  He roars with power as his love and gentleness sweep over us.

His deep goodness calls to my deep pain.

Deep calls to deep.

Can you hear the roar of the waterfall?

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Wasting My Life?

I have some incredible friends.  They are teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, psychologists and other superhero type careers.  They amaze me with the way they manage to have such polite, fun children, clean houses AND demanding jobs.  I try my best to celebrate their successes with them and support them with life is tough.  I'm not jealous in any way.

BUT

Recently I have noticed Comparison tapping me on the shoulder more and more often.  While my awesome friends are putting on their capes and teaching classes of 30 noisy children, treating cancer patients, completing intelligent sounding training courses and racing around with their important busy lives, I am cleaning bathrooms, cooking meals, making myself available to our lodger and boys, hoovering, taking in odd pieces of writing and other such mundane tasks.

Comparison whispers in my ear, "Look at all of them!  They are doing important things.  You're not." Comparison tells me I should be doing more, earning more, training more and that unless I do, I am not worth much in our society.  I am purpose-less and unfulfilled.  I have no real ambition and am wasting my life.

Comparison doesn't realise that this is all lies.

This morning, I read the truth in 1 Peter 1 (paraphrase mine):

"You were chosen.... to be obedient to Jesus Christ."

Right there is my purpose.  Obedience.  If Jesus had asked me to be a teacher, a doctor or a lawyer, I would have said yes.  But he hasn't.  He's asked me to stay in my home pouring myself out over and over again to the people who he's given me to love.  This includes my boys but is also our lodgers who need to know the consistency and faithfulness of a love that won't give up on them.

No ambition?  I have a ton of the stuff.  My ambition is to see the people I love, who come to us so damaged they are almost beyond repair, find total and utter freedom.  I want to see them throw their heads back and laugh extravagantly.  I want to see them finding independence and a new life for themselves.  I want them to know how precious they are.  I want to see them find love for themselves and one day marriage and a family.  I want them to see the beauty in them that others see.  I want them to feel proud of who they are.  I want them to know they are worth an education.  I want to see in them an audacity that can only be found in those who have been through hell and come out the other side.  If that's not ambition, I don't know what is.

And so, Comparison, my friends are being obedient to Jesus by doing their incredible jobs whilst my purpose is obedience through staying home.  The races marked out for us are different ones.  As boring as it sounds (and, like all jobs, it IS pretty dull some days), I wouldn't give up what I am doing for anything else.

If I'm wasting my life on obedience and love, I'm happy to go with that one.  After all, that's what Jesus did.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Why We Haven't Bought A New Dishwasher

Several weeks ago our dishwasher died. Full of greasy bacon pans and plates from a Saturday morning men's prayer breakfast, it just gave up. I can understand this. I would've given up too. My heart sank. Yet another expense to pay out. It hadn't even occurred to me that washing up longer term might be an option. 

I spent the whole weekend washing up. This made me feel very cross. I had now become the dishwasher. 

So, I devised a rota. Everyone is on the rota at least twice - once for washing and once for drying. And, guess what? We've actually started to quite like this arrangement. 

Here's what we've learnt:

1. As the boys have grown older, they have started to slope off after mealtimes and we don't see them. If they're on the washing up rota, they have to hang around even longer than the meal which makes family time last longer.

2. Washing and drying up together gives us chance to chat. Time together is becoming more rare now they want to be with their mates instead of us boring and embarrassing parents, but this time working together gives a precious opportunity for one to one talking. Oh the revelations we've discovered in the last few weeks....!

3. Drying up whilst a particular child is washing gives us an excellent (and breath-holdingly uncomfortable) chance to learn patience as they leave the hot water running and squeeze half the bottle of washing up liquid into one plate. 

4. Our boys had no idea how to wash up. Seriously. I was shocked. They can do their own laundry, clean toilets, empty bins, cook meals and hoover but they couldn't wash up!  It was a sharp learning curve. 

5. My kitchen actually looks tidier. Instead of everything piling up ready for the dishwasher, it's washed, dried and put away and it leaves the kitchen clean.

6. It doesn't take as long as I expected. Ten minutes max (unless Max is washing up, and then it's slightly longer due to the   extra time added when he is surprised each time he is told he has to wash everything and 'no, you haven't finished yet'.).

7.  Glasses are really quite breakable in the slippery soaped-up but enthusiastic hands of an eight year old. 

8. Tea-towel whip fights can leave quite nasty marks.  The wetter the tea-towel, the redder the mark. Bet you didn't know that.


And so, we might not actually go back to having a dishwasher.  Rather than being another expense to pay, we've actually gained masses.

Will we ever have a dishwasher again?  Ask me in another few months... the novelty may have worn off and we may have no glasses left...

Monday, 11 July 2016

Say 'No' to Squandering (For my teenage friends)

Since joining some social media sites, I have had a growing horror in my insides at the photos that are posted online and over the last few weeks this has developed into a letter to not only my incredible and beautiful teenage friends but to a whole generation who holds no value for purity and who are being failed by adults who have not explained there is always an option to say 'no'. 

So, here's the letter:

To My Teenage Friends,

Imagine the scene.

You have a shiny new phone – the latest upgrade.  It’s your constant communication tool with friends and family.  There is no other way to be contacted and all your important information is stored in your phone.  Not to mention all your music.  It’s precious, so you treat it with care.  If you were to go to the London underground where there are big signs everywhere saying ‘Pick pockets in operation’ you would keep your phone safe.  You would not let a corner of your phone peek out of your bag, just to tempt the thieves.  You wouldn’t flash it around so they know you’ve got it.  Of course you wouldn’t!

Your virginity and purity is the same.  Except that phones are replaceable and your virginity is not.  Once it’s gone, it is gone forever. There are thieves in operation all around the world – in our nation and other nations.  Don’t throw this away when, for other women it is being violently stolen day after day and sometimes hour after hour. 

How do we know it is so precious?  Sit in a room with one of these women, as I have, and hear her sobbing as she speaks of her pain at this precious, most intimate part of her being stolen.  If it was easy to throw away, like an old crisp packet at the bottom of our handbags, then there would be no heartache.  There would be no need to be afraid of men.  There would be no need to feel anxious about going out of the house in case it happens again. You would not feel like a captive to your own past.  Your life would not be affected in any way by throwing away an old, useless object.

But this? 

This is to be prized.  This is to be kept sacred.  This is to be cherished and treasured, not wasted in the pursuit of ‘fitting in’ or wanting to grow up. 

The thieves are prowling, ready to steal your purity.  Don’t give them a sneak peek by posting naked selfies online.  Don’t give yourself away just for a laugh.  Don’t seek value in what others say about you.  You are worth more than that.  The women who’ve had their purity stolen know all about worth.  They feel worthless now that it’s been taken.  You can say no, they couldn’t.  You have a choice, they didn’t.

Value yourself.  Value your virginity.  Keep it safe as your treasure until it's the right time to give away to someone who adores you for the incredible person you are.  Stop squandering yourself.  You are loved.  Your life has value.  You are beautiful and courageous and clever.  There is more to you than pouting selfies.  There is more, so much more, to your life.  You are free to choose.

Say no to squandering. 

Say yes to freedom.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Loving children with holes in their buckets - Guest Post

My big sister is one of my real life heroes.  She is far more patient than me, far more kind and she is one of 'those' mums with a tidy house  calming environment.  She is mum to two boys, adopted into our extended family as babies and loved as our own.  As a family they have been on a journey over the last few years and her texts never fail to leave me open mouthed and speechless at her enduring, committed, compassionate love for her boys.  Today she has written a guest post which I know you will love as much as I do, so sit down, open your hearts and listen to her passionate wisdom.

We all know the song…

                There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
                There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
                Then mend it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
                Then mend it dear Henry, dear Henry, mend it.
                With what shall I mend it dear……… ?
    and so on!

Liza and Henry then go through a whole set of solutions only to find that the water still seeps through the holes.  In the end, the only answer is to buy a nice, shiny, new bucket.

Imagine that we have an invisible bucket above our heads.  Every time something goes well - a kind word spoken to us, a helping hand, something that makes us smile - our bucket, drip by drip, fills up. But when things go wrong - we have a bad day, we have an argument or cross words with someone we love - the buckets tips up and water drips out, leaving us with less. The important thing is to keep our bucket topped up, so we don’t run dry. Topping up our buckets can also happen when we show love and care to others around us. It is mutually beneficial. We top up others and that tops us up too. God enriches and satisfies us and others by this process.

However, imagine someone with a rusty, dented and full of holes bucket above their head.  No matter how much we love them by pouring praise and encouragement on them, protecting them, giving them security, having fun and laughing and giving endless amounts of time to them it all leaks through the holes instead of filling up their bucket.  It is an endless cycle that never stops. They are constantly running down to empty and always needing more. Whatever is poured in is never enough.

There are precious children who have these leaky buckets, simply because they were carried in their mother’s womb and born into a situation and environment that was beyond their control. A hostile, chaotic and sometimes dangerous place. They are born needing to fight or fly. It is in their hard wiring. They are born needing to be nurtured and loved but are removed from every familiar sight, sound, smell, touch and taste that they have known (albeit necessary for their survival and safety). They are separated and the bond is broken.  They feel abandoned. The holes were already forming in their bucket before they were born, whilst they were developing and growing. They are damaged and now abandoned. They are placed in an alien environment and fostered or adopted into another family.

As they grow, they are not aware of why they find things so hard, why life is challenging and difficult and why they feel different. They don’t understand why they can’t trust and feel safe even with the ones they love. They know about their adoption and history and why it has happened  but they have no conscious memory of what happened to them; only the deep, gut wrenching shame, pain and confusion that developed deep inside their baby brain and innermost being. All the good and positive love that is lavished and poured into them disappears through the holes and drains away. There is a residue that sticks to the side of the bucket. They know they are in a family who love them - their head knows this but their heart is unable to accept it.

Living with children whose buckets are full of holes is tough. They require unconditional and sacrificial love. Giving up everything for them and not expecting much in return. Knowing that the process will need to be repeated day after day.  It’s heart breaking, gut wrenching, painful to watch them.  It stirs up anger as to why this should have happened to them. We feel disappointment, despair and utter sadness to witness their pain and hurt. To put yourself in their shoes even for a moment is desperately painful  but knowing that they live and feel like that all the time, day and night, is truly mind boggling. Scared, anxious, confused, unsafe, unwanted, carrying huge fears, angry, suicidal, unvalued, insecure, shameful and sad.

BUT…… What a great word! There’s so much more that can come next. There is hope….

We have a super abundant Father God who is Father to the fatherless, who sets the lonely in families, whose idea of adoption into his family as sons and daughters gives us a picture of God’s heart. Adoption is a good thing! He will bind up the broken hearted, bring healing of the past, repair and renew and give a hope and a future. God is able to do MORE than we can ask or imagine. God’s story is already written.  He is the author and perfector. God’s plans are secure and steadfast. No-ones birth is an accident or a mistake. Even with the most difficult start, God’s plan was there. He knew, He works all things together for good. God is in the business of supplying wonderful, shiny, new buckets from his heavenly store. Buckets with no holes where truth, joy and peace cannot run out. Buckets that can be refilled without leaking. Buckets that are resilient enough to cope with life’s challenges. Buckets that can be topped up again and again. Full buckets that allow the person to be free to top up other’s buckets.

So, we look forward to the day when those buckets are complete.  Its drawing nearer and nearer. We see so many glimmers of hope, healing, restoration and brand new shiny buckets.

We don’t do this in our own strength - oh no!! Our strength would have run out a very long time ago. No, we do it in God’s strength, where all things are possible.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


He is more than enough.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Reformer

It was tucked away in the second hand shop with a pile of junk precariously balanced on the top. Nobody would have noticed it.  Nothing special, it reminded me of my Nana's flat - musty smelling and covered in dust.

But I saw it.  Beneath the brown veneer, I saw purpose.  I saw beauty and I saw something I needed.  So, I surprised the staff by asking for it to be dug out from underneath the pile, obviously not been moved for a long time.  And they very kindly deposited it into my car.

You see, I needed a particular sized cabinet for our television.  I wanted to create something that would be my 'statement of intent' for the way I wanted our new lounge decorated.  And I saw huge potential in this hidden gem.

Taking it home, I sanded it down, ripping off the veneer and taking it back to the bare wood.  Painting it again, I remembered my friend's words to me a few weeks ago.  Words I had doubted in the weeks following our mugs of camping coffee.

"You are a reformer." 

And as I painted over the bare wood, breathing life into dry bones, I realised that those words are true.

I AM a reformer.  I see things that others don't see, and I have chosen to spend my life bringing those things into being.

My heart has been wrecked for those who are invisible to others, cowering under the pile of their shame, hoping nobody sees them.  My prayers have become unutterable groans for those who, stripped back to nothing but their pain, are ignored by the rest of the world - a world who wants shiney and new.  I find myself sobbing at the extent of the death-stories that I read and hear. I weep in Nandos with my friend telling me about Yazidi women pleading to be killed because of the shame they feel. I weep in the local cafe thinking about my new friend so devastated by abuse.  I weep for terrorists and the terrorised.  I weep for the abused and the abusers.  And I have to pull over in the car because I can't see where I'm going anymore, my tears have become so violent and my stomach feels as though I have been kicked hard.

But where others see death and shame, I see hope and beauty.  When I feel the deep pain and mourning belonging to someone else, I also see the bright future that could be ahead of them.  When I hear about sadness that never goes away, I see a deep well of joy that can never be quenched.  When I see the pile of those dry bones, so strangely written about by the prophet Ezekiel, I see life and action.  When I see illness, I see healing.  Where others see something dirty which shouldn't be touched, I see treasure.  When I hear about people locked in their own prison, I see freedom flinging wide those prison doors.  When I listen to my friends' stories that cause me to so weep, I know without a doubt that there is hope.

So, I make my choices.

I choose to dig out the potential, the beauty, the joy, the purpose and see lives reformed.

I choose to treat the 'nothing special' like royalty.

I choose to take the pain I so violently feel and turn it into action.

I choose to speak life and truth over dry bones.

I choose to look for hope.

I choose to find the treasure.

I choose to do all I can to change the world.

I choose to be a reformer,