God gives lonely people a family

Loneliness is a fear of mine. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my own company, I do enjoy my own company, I’m talking about feeling like you are unknown, unloved, and cast out from everyone. My childhood was awash with all those three things. I knew every dint and bevel in my bedroom walls, I knew exactly who was coming up the stairs just from the way the floor boards moved, I knew that as the sun faded from the sky, the darkness would creep into my room suffocating me into unsettled dreams.

It’s in those dark times that I found my best friend. God kept me company, he listened to my thoughts, he listened to my anxiety and bottled my tears from the bullies that ravaged my self worth. I look back and think about how on earth I managed to continue at school, how did I keep walking down those corridors towards whatever was going to come my way that day?

Things changed for me from year 10 onwards, I was filled with determination to not let anyone hurt me again. I got into a few fights, I stood my ground and I came out of it on top. But my loneliness was still my weak spot, no friends out of school, parents who worked, then something changed, I met my husband at my part time job. God healed my loneliness by providing someone who loved me, just the way that I was.

I came across this thought process during my first vocations advisor interview. The VA asked me what changed when I was clinging onto God and in the pit of loneliness, I answered easily, he gave me my husband. After reflecting on this I found in psalm 68 the verse: 

“God gives lonely people a family, he sets prisoners free, and they go out singing” (Psalm 68:6)

How true this piece of writing is from the psalmist!!!!! I had been set free and I had found my own voice.

I had a brush with loneliness again in the early days of my calling from God, here I was again feeling cut off and isolated, and once again God took my hand and held me close. Once again the psalmist articulately describes the desperation  of being set free from loneliness. Reading Psalm 25:16-21 set my heart on fire with love for our Lord. He is there with us when we feel such isolation, when we are cast out into the wilderness. Jesus through his human life felt all our emotions, he carries our hurt and isolation in his arms and spreads them wide to embrace us all in the darkest of times. I don’t fear loneliness like I used to, because I know and trust my God will always be there for me, he is my light in the darkness and the hope that runs deeply within my soul.

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you. Psalm 25:16-21

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Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road?

This post was written for St Paul’s and St Thomas’ church magazine.

I’m coming towards the end of my time here at St Paul’s and St Thomas’ church after being sent here for three months as part of my vocational journey. Three years ago God pulled me out of a very dark place in my life by a vivid dream that catapulted me from a life of private faith to a formal church setting over a short space of time. From the moment I put my foot through the church door I knew that the Church of England was the place I was meant to be. The missing piece in my life was church, and as I listened to God and asked him if was really sure about all of this, so began a rapid but exciting vocational journey to seek out if he is actually calling me to ordained ministry.

The one thing I’ve noticed so far in my journey, is that the word “journey” is used so often when it comes to talking about faith. Being part of the Christian faith is a journey, a journey in which we walk alongside others who share in the joy of the good news, and share in the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ that is given to us by his never ending grace. 

Walking together in faith means walking over lots of different terrain. Sometimes the road is as smooth as freshly laid tarmac, sometimes the ground is muddy and it’s easy to slip over and fall, other times the path seems so rocky that it takes a while to figure out a safe route through. I’ve experienced all three of those terrains in my vocational journey. However, in those peaks and troughs there is one constant, our Lord Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Constant prayer is the best equipment to take on this life long journey of faith that we are all on. Prayer helps to signpost our journey together as Christians and enables God to guide and care for us on our way. In prayer we unload our thoughts and deepest feelings to our Heavenly Father who is always there to listen. How lucky we are that no matter how often we raise up our problems, our worries, our wounds, Jesus carries our burdens all the way to the cross. It is there we meet with him in reverence and thanks as we are set free thanks to his ultimate sacrifice.

If I’ve learnt anything so far in my vocational journey, it is to embrace the rough roads with the smooth. Ups and downs are all part of living together as imperfect worshippers and those times of uncertainty and feeling unsteady are perfectly natural and normal. Jesus’ disciples themselves were not perfect, they grumbled with Jesus, fought over who was the greatest, and sometimes struggled to understand what Jesus was teaching them. Whilst walking on the road to Emmaus, Jesus appears and walks unnoticed with two disciples. This story is a great representation of our life long journey of faith. Jesus walks with us, sometimes unnoticed, but as said by the disciples “were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road?” He is here within us with every step, he walks slower with us in the rocky terrain and walks quickly as we sail through on the smooth path. Jesus is alive with us and no matter how our journey pans out, we can put all our faith in him.
 

A cloud rising in the west

I’m currently reading a book by the brilliant Bishop John Pritchard. In the first chapter he describes worship as  “The lightening conductor through which God’s life strikes the earth” ( Pritchard.2007). This sentence stopped my scanning eye in its tracks. What a vivid image I am left with after reading that sentence! In my mind I hear the crack of the lightening hitting the ground so close to where I am standing, the heat of its awesome power blasting over my face, the speed that it appears from seemingly nowhere, the realisation of what has just happened.

This visualisation is quite accurate to an experience of our almighty God, and worship creates the right atmosphere that is favourable for such a lightening strike in our church life. When there is a risk of lightening, the temperature changes which is felt by the winds that blow, the sky changes colour, the air is thick with anticipation. In the Gospel today Jesus speaks of us being able to interpret the weather to be able to see what the forecast is going to be,  “You see a cloud rising in the west. Right away you say, ‘It’s going to rain.’ And it does. The south wind blows. So you say, ‘It’s going to be hot.’ And it is (Luke 12:54-55). But he calls the crowds hypocrites! As intuitive as they are in predicting the weather they cannot see the lightening that Jesus channels from his almighty Father. The lightening that strikes, which has the power to not only electrify our love and excitement for our God, but to bring a divide, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you. I have come to separate people” (Luke 12:51 ).

The lightening which strikes through us travels straight down our mouths into our chests and sets our hearts ablaze with adoration. A feeling which is eloquently captured by the words of St Teresa of Avila as she describes her encounter with an angel, “In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails.” This is such an intrusive yet accurate description of being overwhelmed and touched by the awesome power of God’s love. God’s calling pulls at our very heart strings, in the depths of our bodies that we didn’t know could feel that way, a pulling and tugging of that golden spear, which as described by St Teresa “left me utterly consumed by the great love of God”.

This all consuming feeling that the power of worship sets the stage for is an exciting and humbling prospect. Every time we begin an act of worship we are creating the right conditions for experiences such as this to happen. We are envoking the passage of “God’s life on Earth” and how amazing is that! How amazing that each Sunday at the Eucharist we receive that lightening strike in the sharpness of the wafers and warmth of the wine that erupts in a glow of heat as it enters our body. When we pray and sit in adoration for our God we are creating the atmosphere, that weather which Jesus knows we can predict, ready for that lightening strike of God’s revelation of himself to us.

When touched by his glory and grace we follow Christ, we follow his call, his call for social justice, for neighbourly love, to stand up and be that lone voice that questions hatred, or ill treatment. Jesus knows that being touched by his Father’s awesome power transforms us, we are re-born, re-clothed in Christ. This is the division that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel, for once we are struck by that immense life changing bolt of lightening we are different, we are changed, and we belong to God for all eternity. 

Even at night my heart instructs me

I’ve not been sleeping well for two weeks. I go to sleep after my night time prayer and then a few hours later I wake up, wide awake brought to the coldness of consciousness quickly, ripped from my dreams without warning. I lie there wondering why I’ve been woken up, are the children awake? has the cats made a noise that has disturbed me? Is my husband hogging the bed and I’m squashed? It’s never any of those reasons. So I lie there in prayer and in thanks wondering if I am meant to be awake for a reason.

Yesterday my family and I went to an air show at an aviation museum that has been recreated to look like an original WW2 base. As my husband was busy taking photographs, I went for a wander inside the memorial chapel there. It was very sombre inside and on the wall on the way out was a prayer station. There was a framed prayer with copies of its lovely message to take home. 


I just love the wording in this prayer and the final paragraph was just so timely for how I’ve been sleeping recently. God does know our hearts and our thoughts so deeply . This message ever so cleverly delivered to me in that little chapel in East Kirkby might be my answer to my wakeful nights.

I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety. Psalm 16:7-9 

Dust

You showed me and I followed and there, as you had said, was my answer. 

You always keep to your word and in my moment of brokenness I was aglow in your grace.

Surely how can I mean that much to you that you spend your glory on a speck of dust like I.

Yet here you were wiping my tears again telling me I would be ok because you were there.

And in that moment I knew, I knew I could do anything you asked me to do, not because of my own strength but because of yours.

Those days of fearfulness are much less frequent as I know deep in my cracked and scared heart that you will not leave me. 

I have felt your provision, your grace landing on me like the softness of a butterfly’s wings.

Oh lord how do I deserve your time? Why did you call me from the pit? Am I but one of a million sparrows in your tree? But how grateful I am Lord to even feel your fire in my heart.

You saved me Lord, I am reborn and transformed by your grace.

You blow into my soul with tongues of flames, your word dances into my ears my skin awash with prickles.

Your calling awakens every sense and instinct that I have.

But with that strength comes trembling and fearfulness.

I have gazed on you from behind a stone in my dreams, how fearful I was to glance your way, such bright light, such radiance! 

Just a second I stole of your perfect image, how can I lift my face to your glory!

You have clothed me in my dreams, you have taken my hand. I have sat at your feet and clung to your robes like a child.

Every day I praise you Lord and I vow to serve you until the last breath in my body calls your name.

I was the dust at the bottom of the pit, but you stooped down and wrote in me, my sins were forgiven and I rose again, reborn in your eternal grace.