Category Archives: hope

Testimony – the 2020 Edition

This is the text of my Going Deeper devotion for today.

It is so easy to sit in church and think everyone else has got it together or is having a great life, only when we start sharing our stories together do we realise that others may have been in a similar situation to us, or are in that place now.  By sharing our stories we can help support one another and strengthen our faith and the life of the church.

We all have a story to tell.  Our life and journey are unique, but will touch on common factors with other people.  Our faith story is no exception.

In his brilliant sermon to us on Sunday morning, Trey Hall encouraged us to tell our stories -so, here is (part of) mine.  I did share this in written form when we first came to here, but this is an updated version.

When I left school I worked for our local church as part admin part outreach worker which really developed my call.  Fast forward to when our children were born and I was very fortunate to be able to be at home with them and was perfectly content with doing that and volunteering through church – until God had a different idea…

Thus, I became a Circuit Minister in 1999.  Aside from raising our sons, I felt as if I was doing what I was always made to do.  I loved it.  I got to meet all kinds of interesting people of all ages and talk about God with them, I had the massive privilege of being with people at significant times in their lives, I got to work with great people with God and we were doing some new and exciting stuff.  We were happy and settled.  It was hard work, but the blessings were immense.

Then in March 2005 I got proper flu.  Although the flu symptoms went after a few weeks, I was left with an awful chronic cough that also caused hoarseness, which is not much help when your voice is your tool, and breathing problems. I was constantly exhausted and had various other symptoms, but the cause was never quite pinpointed.  I visited various consultants and no one could really offer me a diagnosis or a real prognosis – but it meant my life had turned upside down.

I had several trial returns to work, fully supported by my GP and the Circuit, but wasn’t able to sustain it.  Eventually it was concluded that I was going to have to retire on ill health.  At 41 and with two teenage sons, this wasn’t quite how we had envisaged life going.

I guess it should have been a scary time, but I didn’t feel it.  Partly I was focused on being ill and trying to find a way to live with this new reality, but I never lost a sense of “we do not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future”.  I felt such a strong sense of God holding me and holding whatever was to come, however unclear that seemed.

So we moved out of Circuit life.  I was left with the new reality of feeling that I no longer had a role.  I couldn’t do any of the things I used to love – not just work, but everyday life.  But still I felt that God had called me to something different, to be a Minister in a different way.

Unfortunately as the years went on my symptoms multiplied and it became clear that there was something very specific going on, not just post-viral problems.  I was able to do less and less.

Eventually I was given a diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome, which is basically effects every part of the body that produces fluid.  This is a brilliant illustration of where and how it effects the body,

but for me as well as the lung issues, it effects my joints, balance and concentration/processing (if I don’t give a sensible answer it’s because I’m trying to process the question and what the answer is), as well as giving me dry eyes (with vision issues), dry mouth (which gives difficulty in chewing and swallowing) and awful skin.  I find sitting or standing for long hard work and struggle with energy, everything is an effort and I struggle if I try to do anything for more than an hour. I have little spare energy for anything I might want to do, having to concentrate on what I really need to do.  I also have to be very careful what clothes I wear so they don’t cause me any problems.  As anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with me will have noticed I am constantly drinking and putting in eye drops – and I have an assortment of other medications I take that try and keep on top of the symptoms – though nothing can cure it.  That is my reality.

Over the last couple of years as my symptoms have increased and effected more parts of my body, it became clear that I was struggling to live in a house and I wasn’t very safe on the stairs.  We are very fortunate to be cared for so well and were able to find a bungalow to live in.  That has made our lives so much easier and we believe that God has brought us here with a purpose and a place. 

Well… that was up until COVID-19 arrived in our lives, and the church had to find a new way to be.  Although COVID has had its challenges, for me it has also been an opportunity to rediscover my voice and my ministry.  I am so grateful to Sean for inviting me to be a part of the team that creates these Going Deeper devotions.  By recording slots in my own time and my own space and with the ability to record in tiny chunks and put it all together, I have been able to do what I haven’t been able to do for 15 years and publicly lead God’s people in worship and prayer.

So, just when I was wondering what I can do, what role there is for me any more, how God is going to use me, something new came along – and I am as surprised as anyone else.  My ministry has been in some small way, which to me is a massive way, been given back to me, my life, faith and spirituality have found a new path

The last few years have not been easy, there have been times when I struggled with not being able to do what I enjoyed or even the basic tasks. There were times when church was the place I most needed to be – yet the hardest and most painful place to be.  There will no doubt continue to be those times and on bad days it can be heart-breaking.  But God, his arms, his love, his hope and his peace have the only thing that held me together. God wrapped his arms of love tightly round me and gently held me.  God is in the reality of where I am and continues to work in and through it – and me.

I hold tightly always to the words of Habakkuk 3:17-19:

Fig trees may no longer bloom,
or vineyards produce grapes;
olive trees may be fruitless,
and harvest time a failure;
sheep pens may be empty,
and cattle stalls vacant—
18 but I will still celebrate
because the Lord God
saves me.
19 The Lord gives me strength.
He makes my feet as sure
as those of a deer,
and he helps me stand
on the mountains

Life does not look like we anticipated it would and is a struggle every day.  Having a chronic illness that effects every part of your body is exhausting and frankly mostly sore, but God is with us and continues to work. I may not be able to much physically, but God still is God. God saves me, holds me gently and gives me strength for what he calls me for and to.  God still calls and still uses us.

May we each know that in our lives.

Longing For Dry Land

This is the transcript of my Going Deeper devotions for today. If you want to see the video it is here:

10+ Free Noah Ark & Noah Illustrations - Pixabay

God had not forgotten Noah and all the animals with him in the boat; he caused a wind to blow, and the water started going down. The outlets of the water beneath the earth and the floodgates of the sky were closed. The rain stopped, and the water gradually went down for 150 days. On the seventeenth day of the seventh month the boat came to rest on a mountain in the Ararat range. The water kept going down, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains appeared.

After forty days Noah opened a window and sent out a raven. It did not come back, but kept flying around until the water was completely gone. Meanwhile, Noah sent out a dove to see if the water had gone down, but since the water still covered all the land, the dove did not find a place to light. It flew back to the boat, and Noah reached out and took it in. 10 He waited another seven days and sent out the dove again. 11 It returned to him in the evening with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. So Noah knew that the water had gone down. 12 Then he waited another seven days and sent out the dove once more; this time it did not come back.

13 When Noah was 601 years old, on the first day of the first month, the water was gone. Noah removed the covering of the boat, looked around, and saw that the ground was getting dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 God said to Noah, 16 “Go out of the boat with your wife, your sons, and their wives. 17 Take all the birds and animals out with you, so that they may reproduce and spread over all the earth.” 18 So Noah went out of the boat with his wife, his sons, and their wives. 19 All the animals and birds went out of the boat in groups of their own kind.

Noah Offers a Sacrifice

20 Noah built an altar to the Lord; he took one of each kind of ritually clean animal and bird, and burned them whole as a sacrifice on the altar. 21 The odor of the sacrifice pleased the Lord, and he said to himself, “Never again will I put the earth under a curse because of what people do; I know that from the time they are young their thoughts are evil. Never again will I destroy all living beings, as I have done this time. 22 As long as the world exists, there will be a time for planting and a time for harvest. There will always be cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.”

Genesis 8:1-22

In theory I love boat trips.  I love any kind of water, and who wouldn’t want to be on it?.  The problem is I do not like rough water – and by rough water I include taking a ferry across the Mersey, the car ferry to the Isle of White or the short hop from Dover to Calais…  The Channel Tunnel was built especially for me so that I no longer had to brave the boat trip.  I can just about survive a harbour trip if it doesn’t go outside the harbour wall but much prefer a river or canal trip. 

We will not even speak of the night ferry to the Isle of Man in 1970 – it still haunts me to this day. And least said soonest mended about the time I made my family drive the entire length of the North France coast, past the port that we had a return crossing booked and paid for from, to the Channel Tunnel to pay the exorbitant drive-up price for a single ticket, and then drive back through Kent – because the outward trip was more than enough and I had seen the weather forecast for the journey home and was having none of it.

So, I think I would not have done well in the ark with Noah and his family.  I would have been desperate for journey’s end.  I would have been begging, “are we nearly there yet?”, please can I get off, or is there a non-boat alternative.

As I read this passage it occurred to me how much it could be a metaphor for where we are today, there are many parallels.  We are confined, if not physically at the moment as we were in the full lock down – and who knows when that might happen for anyone of us again? – then certainly by rules and restriction.  Where we can go, who with, and what we can do.  With my lungs I have made a personal choice to go to as few places as possible and mix with as few people as I can get away with.  Within reason, I am choosing to keep my risk to as low as possible. I am in a pretty small boat bobbing by itself.

We might feel that we are each confined in our own space – and we do not know when it will end.  Neither can we know what the landscape will be like when we eventually return to dry land.

So, some thoughts from this passage:

God had not forgotten them.  Noah, his family and the collection of animals – those in whom the future of the earth is held, may have been floating on the waters, confined in a boat, not able to get off – BUT they were not forgotten by God.  He sees them.  He is still with them.

The water didn’t stop going down until long after the rain had stopped. This feels so much the case.  Just as we thought life might be returning to some kind of normal, restrictions are tightened again.  The threat is not over.  It may take a very long time for the waters to go down.

Slowly the tops of the mountains appeared, but it was not time to get out of the boat.  Whatever their impatience, they had to wait until the land was completely dry. Even if we think we might be safe, others may not be.  It is our Christian call to love others, to be mindful of their care, and wait for them.  Just because me might be able to fly and sit in the tree or are ok with walking through the squelchy mud, not everyone is.  We have a collective responsibility.

Then, and only then, were they charged with leaving the boat and creating a new life – not recreating the old one, for that is what had got them in this situation – but trusted with a whole new world, and called to live in it with and for God.  That is where God is leading and calling.  We need to listen carefully to what that call is and will be.

Reminded me of that old hymn, Glad That I Live am I,  “after the rain the sun”.  However we feel, it will stop raining, the boat will come to rest and the earth will dry out – and for that day we wait and pray, whilst living faithfully on the boat.

Thank you Lord
that you are with us
in this storm,
in our vessel.

Thank you
that you have not forgotten us
but are here.

Thank you
that there will be a time to leave the boat,
that we will know.
That it will stop raining
and the sun will shine again.
That then
you will put us
on dry ground,
renewed by you.

That you will task us
to live there
for
and with you.
That you trust us
and call us
to find your way,
to be new.

We pray for that day Lord
as we continue to live
where we are now.

Opening Up

19 The angel of God, who had been in front of the army of Israel, moved and went to the rear. The pillar of cloud also moved until it was 20 between the Egyptians and the Israelites. The cloud made it dark for the Egyptians, but gave light to the people of Israel, and so the armies could not come near each other all night.

21 Moses held out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind. It blew all night and turned the sea into dry land. The water was divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on both sides. 23 The Egyptians pursued them and went after them into the sea with all their horses, chariots, and drivers. 24 Just before dawn the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw them into a panic. 

25 He made the wheels of their chariots get stuck, so that they moved with great difficulty. The Egyptians said, “The Lord is fighting for the Israelites against us. Let’s get out of here!”

26 The Lord said to Moses, “Hold out your hand over the sea, and the water will come back over the Egyptians and their chariots and drivers.” 27 So Moses held out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the water returned to its normal level. The Egyptians tried to escape from the water, but the Lord threw them into the sea. 

28 The water returned and covered the chariots, the drivers, and all the Egyptian army that had followed the Israelites into the sea; not one of them was left. 29 But the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on both sides.

30 On that day the Lord saved the people of Israel from the Egyptians, and the Israelites saw them lying dead on the seashore. 31 When the Israelites saw the great power with which the Lord had defeated the Egyptians, they stood in awe of the Lord; and they had faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Exodus 14:19-31

Caught in a hard place,
a place of terror.
A place where home
and the place of rescue
had become
a burden
and where we were enslaved.

God stood between God’s people
and their enemies,
giving protection,
shining God’s light
to see the way forward.

We had to step forward,
into the way we were shown,
without knowing how
or why.
But we went
only in God’s strength –
not our own.

Today, what is God opening up before us?  Where is God taking us?  From the fear and disorientation of the last sixth months, where might God be leading me and you?

May God bless us,
each on our journey with God
and other.

May you know God’s presence,
this day
       and always.