Saturday, 2 September 2017

Retreating and Encountering God

Saturday was a really special day for me and a day of great encounter with God. I travelled from sunny North Wales to Coventry for a retreat day with other women who are walking down the road of childlessness and infertility.

The devil had really tried to stop me going, so I knew it was going to be a good, God-centred day, but I never expected it to be such a beautiful day where I would feel so loved from the second I stepped through the door.

It was a day with a Myriad of emotions. Each one made me feel more accepted and taught me something of the character of God. I share them today in the hope that they may bless someone who may be feeling grief, loss or loneliness or may be searching for a community who understands, they are out there and God will lead you to them

It was amazing how in a room full of strangers I could feel such a community with those women. We weren’t all just sisters in Christ, but we were all fighting similar battles, with similar struggles and all looking for people who will help us feel understood. It was amazing to be told you are not alone, and know it to be true!

You see God made us for relationship. He wants us to do life with each other. That is why the early church proved to be successful. As acts 2:44 says
“All the believers were together and had everything in common.”
‭we are called to journey together, to share our ups and downs and walk the road alongside each other, and with every step we take, God will be right there with us, smiling as we support each other.

A surprising emotion for me was one of relief. As I listened to the story of Lizzie, she articulated some of the battles she faced so beautifully and I felt the relief of knowing that someone else has felt that too. In society, and even church, those who are journeying through infertility are so often alienated and feel alone, but there was a great relief in shared experiences.

That morning, as I sat in the chapel clinging to my holding cross, I was able to let go of feelings of guilt and failure that I had carried for some time, and I felt the love of Jesus wash over me as the music playing beckoned me to:

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling
O come to the altar
The Father's arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

There was time in the day where grief was discussed and shared. This was a beautiful tie. To understand what grief was and to be told that the grief we felt was ok.
It’s OK to grieve for the life that might have been, the things that never were and the loss that we feel.

We tasted the bitterness of saltwater and remembered the grief we all felt.  I felt God’s comfort and as I looked to the cross I was reminded he is no stranger to grief and I felt the assurance that he grieves with us all.

The day was surprisingly full of joy. As we shared together with people who ‘get it’ we shared in joy as we made connection, swapped stories and found people who could truly say ‘I’ve been there too!’ We were reminded of Romans 12:15

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”
After we had tasted the saltwater, we then tasted the sweetness of honey and thanked God for the joy and laughter that is also experienced along the way.

For me, another thing I experienced was an discomfort in my spirit as God spoke to me. As a minister in The Salvation Army, I have people in my church and in the wider denomination who are also experiencing the pain and grief of childlessness and infertility. I have been placed in a position where I can influence not only my church, but The Salvation Army as a whole. Over the past few months God has really been guiding me to consider what this may look like and has kept reminding me of that famous verse in Esther 4:14:

And who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this?”

As I ponder my beautiful day with such a gorgeous-inside-and-out women, my heart is full of gratitude, joy and excitement. Gratitude that I was able to share in such a special day, joy that I am not alone and excitement at what God is going to do in the days and months ahead.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Dream Big

Sometimes God wants us to hear a message from him so much that he will use people around us to hammer the message home, and this week, God has certainly been trying to talk to me as I have heard the same message four times from completely unrelated people!

Last week, a couple of the officers (ministers) from a Salvation Army church in South Wales came to spend the day with us. They came to see what takes place in the church my husband and I are officers at, and to discuss some of the ways we deal with the challenges we face. Our friend’s corps is very similar to ours and we had a lovely morning discussing how God is transforming lives and making messy situations clean again.

But what really struck me was their big God-inspired vision. Even though the vision was costly (both financially and personally they were making giant leaps of faith and God was honouring them. As I sat and listened to their passion and enthusiasm, I felt God say to me “Dream big.” This really challenged me, but as so often is the case, life got in the way and the message was forgotten.

A couple of days later, I was sat having a cuppa with a lovely, prophetic woman of God in our church, and she said that God had been speaking about vision and dreaming big! (I’m not sure if they were her exact words…but you get it…dream big!) I shared with her what God had told me days before and started to ponder what this may mean.

Over the weekend another member of the corps, over a cup of coffee, and in the middle of a completely irrelevant conversation, turned to me and said ‘Alice, you need to dream big, you never know how God will answer your prayers and make it happen.’

Then the very next day a key leader in our corps (church) turned to me in conversation and said ‘We need to start dreaming big’

In our church, this is something God is really challenging us about at the moment. Sometimes we can become so wound up in issues such as finance, numbers and manpower that we don’t dream big. We lose our faith in the fact God is bigger than it all as we try and work our our big dreams in earthly terms. There is a verse that I come back to so often when I find myself in this mind set:

For me, on a very personal note, this has become a huge challenge for me. As I considered this in my own personal and spiritual life I came to realise that there are big dreams that I have put in a jar and locked away. Dreams that I struggle to believe will come to fruition, dreams that are simply too painful to recall and dreams that the devil has told me that I will never see come to fruition, and foolishly I have believed him!

Today I am flinging the lids off those jars and I am placing my big dreams in the hands of the one who can make it all happen.

There are some exciting times ahead. God is leading me in some new direction in my ministry and I cannot wait. So friends, today I say dream big! Dust off those forgotten dreams and dare to dream them again...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Worrying in the waiting

Soon Paul (my hubby), Lucie (my youngest stepdaughter) and I are going on holiday. Now, I’m one of those strange people who love planning a trip away almost as much as going on the holiday itself! I know, I’m a control freak!!

I have loved finding the place to stay (complete with hot tub!), organising day trips, cleaning the house ready to go, packing for myself, the dogs and Paul, etc etc etc!


So quickly the joy of planning and preparing can become the ties of worry and the bonds of anxiety.
The fun I have had planning have given way to worries about worming the dogs (really!?!?!) panic about when and how we will pick up Lucie and anxiety about making the house tidy for mum and dad house sitting (even though I know my mum doesn’t care and will tidy up for me anyway!) and so many other little things that have brought me down and exhausted me.

Whilst pondering this, my mind turned to the road I am walking through infertility and once again I realised God’s goodness to me.

You see Paul and I have always been pretty laid back through it all, even though there have been tears, tantrums and duvet days. Also because of our situation of unexplained infertility without the possibility of any further investigation through the NHS (due to my three wonderful step children), God has taken away much of the planning and control that can easily become worry and anxiety.

Yes there are days when it does consume me and yes I can quickly become tempted to control the things I can control, but God’s word says he has got it sorted and that’s good enough for me!

I love the gospel writer of Matthew and the way he captures Jesus’ perspective on worry, and this week, in a moment of panic and anxiety, I was reminded of some of his words. I was walking the dogs along a cycle path in Chester, when I noticed a sparrow following us along the hedgerow. As the sun illuminated its feathers, I marvelled at its beauty and I felt God say “I love you even more than this.” I remembered the words in Matthew 10:29-31

So today, whatever you are waiting on, planning on or worrying about, remember he loves you so much more than the sparrow and he’s got it sorted! 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Fruitfully Barren

Recently I heard  lady talking about her own struggle with infertility and something of what she said really resounded in my soul. She talked about how she has chosen to be ‘Fruitfully Barren’

Fruitfully Barren

Is sounds a bit like a paradox doesn’t it?! How can someone barren; i.e.
  1.        not producing or incapable of producing offspring; sterile
  2.        unproductive; unfruitful:
  3.        without capacity to interest or attract:
  4.        mentally unproductive; dull; stupid.
  5.        not producing results; fruitless:
  6.       destitute; bereft; lacking (usually followed by of):

be fruitful; i.e.

  1.        producing good results; beneficial; profitable:fruitful investigations.
  2.        abounding in fruit, as trees or other plants; bearing fruit abundantly.
  3.        producing an abundant growth, as of fruit :fruitful soil; fruitful rain.

But as I considered this further I came to see the beauty in it and I realised that being fruitfully barren is exactly what I want to be until the day that I am either no longer barren or I get to party in heaven!

The bible is rich in imagery of what being fruitful looks like, and as I have started studying I found that a lot of the ‘fruitful verses’ talked about the need to be connected to the vine or sat by the river. At a recent Salvation Army event called the Big Sunday we looked at Ezekiel 47 and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. In it are some beautiful words about the living waters making life fruitful.

“Fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, for they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing”  V12

Our divisional commander spoke about vision both for our church but also us personally, and I have claimed this as a vision for my seemingly Barren circumstance. Verse 9 is the verse I will cling to in the search for what being fruitfully barren might mean:

“Life will flourish wherever this water flows.

So, Today, as I sit in the park and see a mum cuddling a newborn baby, and watch children playing on the slide. I do not feel sorrow, or jealousy or bitterness (Thank the Lord!) but I feel Joy! Joy because I choose (and it’s not easy!) to be fruitfully barren and rest by the streams of living water.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Ants and an encounter with God!

Our second stop of the day was the church that was built at the site where it was believed Caiaphus' house stood. It was here that Jesus was brought to on the night before his death and kept over night. It was also the place where it is believed Peter denied Christ three times. 

The church was a beautiful sanctury in the madness of the city and the church was full of beautiful pastel paintings on the walls and brightly coloured stained glass. One of the paintings that spoke to me was one that showed Jesus in ropes, stood before a crowed who are shouting and jeering at him. Above him, a number of of angels hold a cross, whilst God looks on the scene with sorrow and torment on his face. It reminded me of this famous verse: 

We went downstairs to the cellar where Jesus may have been kept. It was in this place Jesus would have waited feeling scared, exhausted and full of sorrow. We considered that Jesus did this, took our sin and died for each of us. As we stood in the presence of God we sang: 

"There is a redeemer, Jesus, God's own son
Precious lamb of God, Messiah, Holy one
Thank you oh my father, for giving us your son
and leaving your spirit till the work on earth is done.
When I stand in glory, I shall see his face,
There I'll serve my king, FOREVER
In that holy place"

We went outside and stood in a beautiful garden overlooking Jerusalem. There was an amazing statue depicting Peter's denial. We pondered how Peter must have felt, and the difference of experiences from that to the shores of Galilee.

As I sat, I watched a large group of ants going about their business, oblivious to what was happening for us in that moment. In my spirit, I sensed God saying to me that this is the danger for me as I go home. There have been many moments that I have shared with God and I must actively seek to keep them in my heart so God will continue to work in me. 

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Promises and protection

Today we traveled to the Dead Sea area and we started at Kumaran. Here we saw the place where the Dead sea scrolls were found. The area was amazing, there was cliff after cliff and the whole land seemed barren. However in a pretty non-descript place these life changing scrolls were found. 

Looking over the area, I marvelled at how God works. How the seemingly impossible, with him, becomes possible and how he works things together to make sure his plans come to pass. I decided, whenever I struggle to see God's plan, or whenever things seemed hopeless I would think of this place, because if he could ensure then 'needle in the haystack' was found, he can do the impossible things in my life. As Jeremiah 29:11 says: 

Our second stop was an amazing mountain palace built by Herod in Masada. It was the place of a showdown between revolting Jews in the palace and the Romans on the hillside. It was an astounding place. It was amazing that it had even been made in such an inhospitable place. Not only that, but it was such a place of luxury. 

The heat was pretty intense and as we wandered, we hopped from shady spot to shady spot, even these spots were few and far between. this trip has certainly made me consider more some of the imagery that there is in the bible. I came across Psalm 121:5

What a promise!

We then made our way to the dead shores of the dead sea where we spent some time floating around and enjoying the views. It was a bizarre feeling, a bit like a cork bobbing about, but it was a stunning place. 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Around temple mount

In the afternoon we spent some time at the Southern wall of Jerusalem. Here we looked at some of the ruins left from the period of the second temple. We stood on the steps where Jesus would have definitely walked when he came to Jerusalem for festivals. 

We sat and considered how the area may have looked when the temple was still standing and what it means for us. Helen set a picture of what the temple would have been like at feast days. The sights and sounds, the hustle and bustle, the mayhem of it all. She then said. "The temple doesn't sound or smell like the house of prayer we imagine today." This really challenged me. I expect a house of prayer to be calm and peaceful but that isn't always the case, God can also be in the hubub. 

I also considered that the bible says we are the temple of the holy spirit. Sometimes in church we can discount people because we don't believe they can become our vision of the temple, calm, ordered and compliant but God can be found in any heart that is given to him. I pondered, how many people am I discounting today? 

Helen also discussed that in John 1:14 it says "The word became flesh and dwelt amongst us." The Hebrew root for dwelt is also the same as Tabernacle. Jesus became our tabernacle/temple so we no longer need to be bound by law. Something I was so grateful for as we visited the western wall. 

After security checks and a bag search, we made our way to the plateau, here the wall towers high and the glittering gold of the dome of the rock can be seen. The wall is partitioned into men and women's sections so I left Paul to go and place my prayer. I had been really looking forward to this moment. I felt this would complete my pilgrimage to the holy city.

I stood at the wall and spent a few minutes trying to find a space to place my prayer. After I had done so, I took in the sight before me. People were rocking back and forth in prayer. Others were screaming, crying and wailing. I saw some backing out of the compound, not willing to turn their back on the prayer they had just made. 

I was reminded that through Jesus' death, the curtain of the temple was torn. I can now come before God and offer my prayer as Hebrews 10:22 says: 

Thank you Jesus that you have made a way.