Defining success…

This week my Job title was altered to Principal Planner. The whole department had their titles changed (though sadly there wasn’t a pay increase along with it).

It’s nice to have a title upgrade. I am glad to have it. But does this, or putting my various letters after my title, change who I am? Where does my value lay? It’s sometimes easy to feel a bit insecure when reading LinkedIn and social media and everyone seems to be doing so well and you’re just plodding…

Walking by a hedgerow today I was looking at the flowers. It’s good to be reminded of what Jesus said about not worrying about our lifes because he looks after the flowers, which quickly fade. A reminder that my value is fundamentally in who I am, as a unique individual rather than my titles or label.

I always remember visiting a refugee camp in Kurdistan back in 2015. People had arrived in Erbil with literally nothing after fleeing Islamic State. University professors, engineers and farmers were all mingled together, each in the same basic shelters and dependant on aid. I have met refugees in this country too doing minimum wage jobs despite their previous much higher experience.

So what defines you? Your title or your character; interdependence or individual success? I don’t know about you but I have to keep reminding myself of what’s important.

Below is another reminder of what it’s like to be traumatised and to try and find a new identity

Bluebell woods…

Went to Cherry Orchard Country Park this afternoon. The bluebells are still out en masse in places and look beautiful. They transform the greens and browns.

It reminds of the power of the multitude. We saw a single flower in the trees which stood out in it’s own way. But when combined with thousands more of it’s species the effect is transformative. A similar analogy would be a single light or a hot coal. We play an important role individually but in community we can make a real difference.

There were one or two places where flowers of other species made there mark in the sea of lilac blue and made me look afresh. They stood out in their context, were different. What makes you stand out as different, in a positive way?

In many countries, Christians are a small minority. From Bhutan to the Maldives to Uzbekistan it is hard for Christians to stand out without that flower of faith being squeezed and sometimes crushed. “Being different” from the predominant culture is not acceptable. Open Doors works with believers in such places to help them “stand strong in the storm”.

https://opendoorsuk.org

Looking in, looking up, looking out…

It’s Mental Health month. My head is spinning a bit from doing a lot of inner searching over the last couple of weeks. How do I deal with a longing for closeness but a tendency to keep people at arm’s length; to hide? It’s easier to do tasks than to be vunerable as a person. As a book I read many years ago said “If I show you who I am, you may not like who I am and that’s all I’ve got”. Looking at linkedin and other social media, people can seem so successful but if getting ahead is all we are it can ultimately be quite shallow.

One of the things I remember from my first planning degree at Newcastle was a lecturer called Dave Higson enjoining us to “look up”. And indeed the upper floors of buildings can be much more interesting than what’s at ground level! Try it! But I am also reminded by Psalm 19 to look up at the skies and the stars. I need perspective when looking within to recognise that my mind is very finite and the universe and it’s maker are much vaster. I do matter despite my smallness in the cosmos and change is possible.

I also need to look out of myself to the needs of others. To love them as myself, to care about others with their own inner struggles which sometimes occur behind well constructed masks. Let’s be aware of those at work; in our neighbourhood who may need a listening ear. Those about me who fight inner battles behind smiling faces may not be who I expect.

I think too of the survivors bussed out from Mariopol today, able to look up again after many terrible days underground but whose whole inner world is in turmoil. And of those in Nigeria whose lifes are snuffed out so cheaply, so routinely. Do remember the forgotten victims of unspeakable horrors. Lord, help me make a difference, however small.

Giftedness..

It’s been good to have all of my girls together this week for the first time in ages. Dog-sitting too; it was a busy house! Good to see them interacting and having fun.

Each one is very different in their own way, bringing varied gifts and talents to the party. That’s like a workplace or a church-we are not cookie cutter duplicates but individuals. Each needs to be treated accordingly to flourish and to contribute to the whole.

One thing each of my girls have is creative skills. All are artists 🎨 in different ways. Nat did the Winnie the Pooh below while Emily is still working on the butterfly πŸ¦‹. Many hours of detailed work. She does commissions and prints if anyone is interested. Jen relishes colour.

May you have the courage to try out your own skills and appreciate those of others, at home and work.

Persecuted Christians, like us all, have their own skills and talents. They are part of our worldwide family. Let’s appreciate them for all they teach us; for what faith looks like in different contexts. It takes real courage for many women in particular who are looked down on and at risk.

Easter and graduation day…

This Wednesday was a special day and a rite of passage. Natalie, my youngest, had her graduation in Nottingham. It was a special occasion for her as it hadn’t looked like she would graduate at one stage. It was really tough going emotionally for her at times during her degree and she nearly gave up on a number of occasions but she stuck at it and that’s what I’m proudest of. And it will be one of those moments she can look back on and say “I did it”.

It is nearing the end of Good Friday. A special day for me and millions around the world where we remember the death of Jesus. Many people wear a cross around their neck-have you ever wondered why a symbol of execution is an acceptable item of jewellery? If so, why not an electric chair or a guillotine? Because the cross ✝️ is a symbol of ultimate love; Jesus on the cross forgave his executioners and a thief who had been cursing him. But more, it was for anyone who will accept His free gift of love and forgiveness. Equally, Christians believe that His death was not the end. I remember spending hours looking at the alternatives to the Resurrection and still coming to the conclusion it was true. Amazingly, God loves me-and His arms are reaching out to you too. John 3:16. It’s Friday but Sunday is coming.

Easter is a significant time for Christians around the world, giving hope that however great the darkness the light has not been extinguished. But it is also a time when persecuted are most vulnerable to their enemies. Do remember them.

Happy Easter!

Living History

This weekend I was treated to a trip to Ongar by a special friend. We first of all went on the Epping-Ongar Railway where we initially were pulled by a 95 year old steam engine then went onto a 60 year old diesel multiple unit. Both brought back memories. Living history.

After that we went on a walk to an old Saxon church. It is England’s oldest wood built church with the oak dated to around 835. It made me think of the men who made it and all who have worshipped there over the changing centuries. Living history.

Then there’s me. 61 years old and able to remember events, items and people long gone. Things now in museums and ways of doing things consigned to the past. In my own way I am living history.

As we approach Easter the Church in the middle east prepares. People were first called Christian in Antioch in Syria. Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt are also part of Jesus’s story. And the church has been there since the earliest days. It’s people and buildings are living history. But they are under tremendous pressure. Do remember them at this time as they seek to demonstrate a living future.

Facing failure…

Last week at this time I was watching Councillors in a neighbouring authority reject their Local Plan. Years in the making, approved by a Government Inspector yet turned down by the Members. Thrown out in the hope that something more palatable will come along. Highly unlikely given every plan ever produced for that Council in the last 20 years has been rejected.

That’s democracy but for those who put it together it was pretty soul destroying (a similar story for officers of another neighbouring authority whose Plan was withdrawn in the middle of examination).

Sometimes people make decisions that we think are wrong but, having given them all the relevant information, we have to leave it there. It’s their choice not ours. And it’s hard and feels personal; a rejection of something we have invested ourselves heavily in. But professionally, and in life, there are some things where we do our best but can’t control the outcome. We need open hands. Acceptance. To let go. Which reminds of a favourite song that was very real in an experience of letting go..

Persecuted Christians often run into metaphorical brick walls. They do their best to obey the authorities yet get arrested; to be good employees yet get sacked; to love their neighbours but get beaten. It can be incredibly discouraging and seem hopeless but they persevere.

A number of us tried to encourage our planning colleagues. Let’s do our best to support those who suffer for their faith too.

Repairing the damage

We all go through life and pick up knocks and bruises. These can be traumatic. Each of us find different ways of dealing with this. Some bury it; others deal with it and others let it define their lifes. I know that in my life it can be like trying to press down wrapping that then squidges up somewhere else.

I was privileged to go to Ellel Glyndley Manor in Sussex recently. It was great to be able to share and be prayed for on some issues in my life. It was a lovely place to be too. I am believing that God will bring about change in my life.

Beauty is such an important element of life. It is a salve to the soul, a balm to the bruised. An antidote to the utilitarian. It has been so lovely to enjoy the sunshine this week and to see the flowers coming through. My only regret is that I haven’t been able to enjoy it more.

As ever do remember the people of Ukraine. And those who are in difficult places around the world. Afghanistan πŸ‡¦πŸ‡« was today in the news as girls haven’t been able to go to Secondary School. That is why they still need our prayers and help. They face huge trauma. I am happy I can have counselling; it’s so hard for those who have little opportunity.

Time away…

I am late in posting this week but I have the excuse of having spent much of the week in remote Pembrokeshire with a variable signal and a dodgy phone.

I’ve never been west of Swansea before and I have to say it is a beautiful area. Well worth a visit (even if the weather was mixed)!

I was staying at the Ffald y Brenin retreat centre where some amazing things have happened over the years. As the Irish would say, it’s a “thin place”. It was good to spend some time seeking God and meeting some lovely people. I know that I need times out like this to re-connect with what’s truly important.

The cross is an interesting symbol. Why do we make an instrument of execution into an item of jewellery? After all, it would look strange to wear an electric chair or a hangman’s noose round our necks! The cross sets out what sacrificial love is about; of Jesus’s blood being shed so that I may be free. One sunset brought this out for me, the red of the sky the blood shed because he loved me. Love comes not with power but self-giving.

Back to work on Monday; ah well. But good things to remember.

Let’s keep remembering and praying for those in Ukraine πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦. So many lives lost or traumatised. Real people, real lives. Tragic. And remember those in forgotten conflicts like Myanmar where over third of a million are displaced in the North of the country by the armies actions.

Attachment styles..

What is normal? What does secure mean? I did a quiz on attachment styles in relationships following a recommendation from a colleague. It would have been great to be secure but I came back as anxious detached. Oh dear! I am glad that I am going on a healing retreat in a fortnight. And I shall have to do some digging too as it’s important to get to the core of why I am as I am. It’s awful to think my relational style hurts others and me as well. But change is possible!

But having said that, and owning it, I am more than a label. Do you ever feel like you are labelled and that’s only part of who you are? I’m reminded that Jesus was a specialist in changing the labels attached to people and He’s still doing it.

Persecuted Christians around the world often carry painful labels. Traitor; infidel; reject; enemy. Labels that hurt, that cause them huge problems. And unlike me, often not true. They are much more than that. But they know that Jesus is worth it and thats the case even if there situation doesn’t change.