Wednesday, 9 December 2015

when they leave

It's been coming for a while,
and this week it happened.

She wants to leave.
Two and a half years and she's done, she feels ready, she doesn't need us anymore and she doesn't want to be here any longer.

Because of language we didn't even find out from her own lips,instead finding ourselves casually informed by a well meaning friend, in-front of other well meaning friends who could never possibly understand the pain of this. And you slide your face into neutral and say some inane but positive things because your toddler is climbing on you, and people are watching your reaction, and you carry on carrying on. Counting the seconds through the world's longest team meeting with your hands shaking as they hand out snacks. Meeting each other's gaze and having to look away because you're both too honest and everyone will see what you're choking down.
Look down, look away, and get out. Cry. Get Beth from preschool. Hold it together until she's fed and sleeping oblivious, buried in teddies, dreaming peaceful dreams and having no idea that her home is aching.

Why the melodrama?
Honestly, we're still working through all the feelings.
A Transition Home is meant to be a temporary measure, a place to impart love and life skills, a place to empower and equip, to embrace and release.

The embracing has sometimes felt impossible, but we've done it.
Now the releasing feels impossible, and we have to do it.

It's healthy. It's what we are supposed to be doing. She's the only girl in her graduating class to have not dropped out because of pregnancy. She's clothed better than her peers who would have sneered at an orphan. She's got her own style, and identity, and interests, and friends, and access to financial support which we had to fight for, she's going to church and she knows how to clean herself and her home (huge deal), she knows how to access healthcare and get out of situations that make her uncomfortable, she knows how to argue and how to go for what she wants.
She knows how to gaze into my son's eyes and adore him, as he adores her and chants her name like his favorite thing.
I think she has a voice now. 

The girl who couldn't speak or look up is now a stroppy young woman who wants what she wants, and you can't tell her that what she wants is wrong. She has a voice now.

This is not a fail. T
his is - and time will tell - potentially a win.

The problem is that family is not a temporary measure. Hearts are not temporary creatures. This hurts.
She's only going to be twenty minutes drive away but she's one tiny person in a world of dangers and this...hurts.

A lot of the melodrama is to do with out insecurities and overwhelming feels of failure.
To be honest, we have messed this up many a time. This year in particular has been far too stressful and we have not always been perfectly perfect. Oh if only we could have done things differently, would she have stuck with this house until she'd finished studying? Would she have made more progress in so many of the areas that still need healing? Could we have done better? Would she be more capable or whole or confident if we had tried harder? If we had been kinder, funnier, more patient, less lenient, more lenient (discipline is hard), more huggy, less huggy, more patient, stricter....? If we were better Christians? If we prayed more? If we cooked more Ukrainian food? If we didn't make her clean her bathroom (once in a blue moon)? If we'd bought her more stuff?
Because this is not a guaranteed success. So many things could go wrong now. So, so many things that are so easy to imagine.

I cannot, however, say that I would go back in time and try harder because I know that I have tried harder than I would have thought possible. Every single day doing this 'job' is an effort and we have pushed ourselves beyond our limits juggling babies and toddlers and culture and money and worries and health and new girls and I'm just grateful we're still here. Still standing.

If it's possible to still be standing if you're on your knees in the dust, holding so many questions in your shaking hands on the day when you realise that she's going to leave.

Oh my friends, I don't know how to explain to you the weight of this. The pathetic feelings of rejection. The worry over failure and other peoples' judgments. The responsibility to supporters and fundraisers and prayer people and everyone who has ever visited with suitcases of marmite.

So much pressure and so much worry.
Years of our love - for what? I know that this would seem silly but it's how we feel.
In my gut I don't think she's ready. In my heart I wish we had longer with her. I'm so worried for her.

And for my babies. Whenever I express worry about this everyone says 'oh it's fine, they'll be fine, because people move out when they're grownups, it's normal and fine fine FINE FINE until I want to take peoples' FINES and ram them back down the throat that chucked such empty reassurance at me.
How many three year olds have twenty year old sisters? Do yours? Did your kids journey through toddler hood with family members leaving because they're 18 years older? No?
So maybe this isn't your flippant version of fine?
Maybe try again and say something that isn't nonsense?
B has loved her since she was 18 months old. Sim has known her voice since he was a tiny person inside my tummy. She's the third person he asks for every day ('mummy, B, Alla, Daddy') so maybe instead of brushing me off with FINE how about you get on your face and intercede for my tiny, gorgeous people?

We will come back from Christmas holidays and she won't be here. She's the one who can perk up Sim when he's distraught, the one he runs to every day when she's home from college, the one he has always just instinctively and unconditionally adored.
Of course I know that kids are adaptable. That in many ways - that I won't write on a public blog - this is actually something that needed to happen for the good of my babies. That it could well be God rescuing us from having to initiate this ourselves. It actually, really is that.

I know that kids forget, that she will visit, that actually John and I are their home, that Svieta will now get a look-in with Sim, that it's going to be FINE.
But first, dignify my grief and tuck that lazy 'fine' away. Try a hug. Not a side hug. Side hugs are for idiots.

Because this is grief.
Our friends the ELOY project film makers just happened to instagram a picture of Alla yesterday. There is, of course, no random about this. God is amazing and likes to work all things together for our good, including social media.
It's a picture of her, so much younger, so much softer and hair longer and clothes so much less cool and oh I just broke. Floods. She's our one, for all our failures and hurts and struggles, she's ours and she's leaving.
And underneath they wrote this quote.
'A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car that I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.' Forest E. Witcraft

And with that, and some photo memories, I shall leave you.

I wish I took more photos. xxx

I waited a month or so before publishing this. Mainly because John asked me to, because all the feelings were so raw and he wasn't ready for me to share both of our hearts and souls quite so publicly.
We went home to England for Christmas, and by the time the plane landed in Gatwick we were actually fine! We did our grieving, had an wonderful time with family and friends, came back to Ukraine much blessed and now we're tackling the follow up care - which is a whole new challenge but a much less time consuming role. We're getting more time with Svieta and it's really lovely to see her blossom.
As for the smaller kids, they don't seem to really care that she's not around. I was imagining Sim wandering the house wailing inconsolably but it hasn't happened - he gets excited if he sees a photo but other than that I think that the kids are loved, busy and actually getting on fine. Please keep praying though, for I believe that children run deep and that the currents under the surface are the ones that only God can see. Thank you! 

Monday, 23 November 2015

first love (a letter to my former self)

Hello. I've gone a bit weird and written a letter to myself when I was at uni. 

These days, I'm so tired every day. I think everyone my age is constantly exhausted from dealing with babies and jobs and well mainly just the babies. I'm spiritually just....tired. 

I don't really get to listen to people talking about Jesus because I'm always with the kids at church. I'm the mum with the boy toddler who shrieks if he sees me even glance towards the door, especially if he can hear worship music in the other room. He knows. He knows I want to go, and he knows that I won't if he yells at me. Vexatious. So sermons, podcasts, worship sessions, even team prayer times are dominated by brrroooom cars and crackers and I can feel my brain powers being sucked out of my ears....

But I'm going to be ok, and this is why.

Dear former me,

hello from your future. Our next decade is a bit mental, in the best possible sense. You'll complete your first bucket list alarmingly quickly and then your life will get hijacked by some other stuff. Have fun with that. I know I did (this letter is weird).
The next decade after that one is shaping up to be a little bit intense - I'll let you know how it ends when I've got more of a clue.

You're so young! So casual and frivolous, you don't think you are but trust me honey, you're a tiny girl child playing at adulthood. I'm pretty proud of you but I know that you won't believe me. You've got so many wounds still and I know that life can feel really difficult sometimes, and here's some things that I wish you knew already....
- You're not fat. You never have been fat. Actually, you should think about wearing more slutty clothes. 

- People like you. They really do. They will continue to do so and those girls you're hanging out with? Do that more. They're brilliant.
- That boy you're hanging out with? Do that less.
- In fact, just forget about all the boys and all the silliness of why are all my friends engaged already angst etc (little clue: stop fancying people who don't also want to follow Jesus, it doesn't work and they know it even if you don't yet. Also stop toying with the notion of going out with boys who are absolutely terrified of your passion for God stuff and who basically want a kitchen wench.) Forget it, because in a few years you'll meet him and you'll be so, so grateful that nothing ever happened with the others. Oh, I know you don't believe me and I know you feel awkward and rejected, but just be a bit more patient and then....yum. Believe me. I know you don't believe me. Alright. Carry on. You'll see.

To the point. I'm writing to you to thank you. You're doing things that I am so grateful that you're doing. I know you're insecure and angry and you're going to have to work a lot of stuff out pretty soon but right now, keep doing what you're doing.
Keep falling in love with God.
Keep that anti religious thing you've got going on, 

that testing and searching,
keep praying in nightclubs and being the weirdo behind the bar (no, they will never let you serve drinks but that's ok because this will be a funny story in fifteen years) and slumping on the floor at the back in communion and challenging everything and making friends with everyone and oh, wow, yes. Just keep doing that.

Because - and don't be scared 'cos it's going to be ok - there's going to be some tough things in your future. When I'm writing this, one of the toughest things is how tired you are, how little of that passion you feel anymore. How little time you're going to have to read the Bible let alone go on theological retreats with your best friend. You're going to be giving out everything that you have to the people around you and you're not going to have time to refuel yourself.
Oh, and the religion. I'm so sorry that they're going to try to squish you.

Enjoy Brighton, my friend, because not everywhere is that scruffy or relaxed. Grownups will find you hard to handle and you will box yourself, squash yourself, please everyone but yourself in an effort to keep the damn boat still. Afloat.

You're going to work for fellow Christians for a really long time, paid and unpaid, and you're going to have to wear that badge too. Because you really are one but it's going to get a bit alien - conservatives and liberals and predestined free willed chosen random oh alllllll the labels. You will understand and empathise with so many different people, so much so that you will sometimes find it hard to know what you even think about the things headed 'theology'. Sometimes you're going to be a full time Christian with very little opportunity to hang out with Jesus.

But thank you.
Because you have no idea now, mainly because you're self involved (that's ok 'cos I am too) and spending most of your time prancing around thinking about boys and music....these years are beautiful. You're doing things, unintentionally and just for fun, that are the foundations of your ability to function later. I'm alright because of what you're up to. Thank you.
Do the 24/7 prayer week night shifts. Do the cell groups. Do the conversations and the dancing and the, of course, appalling poetry.
(Oh, and definitely go to Thailand with Ruth. You'll love her forever. God's gonna do some miracles as well, which is fun. Macedonia, too. The Meg girl is wearing the t-shirts with Christian slogans on them ironically, she's amazing and she'll be your first baby's Godmother and you're being an idiot.)

So when things get all heavy and boxed later on, you'll be ok. Because you'll know God as he is: Fun. Funny. Dynamic. Gentle. Honest. Kind. Relentless. Holy.
You'll have deep deep roots, an underground lake fathoms deep to draw on when you don't even know it because this falling in love with Jesus thing that's happening to you right now, it's huge and it's shaping who you're going to be. Keep going. He's doing ginormous stuff in your heart, real and solid. He's got you, He's drawing you in and I am so, so pleased that He is/ did.
There will be times when you will just need to remember the treasure of your past/ your now, and it will be enough to get you excited again. The people and ideas and beliefs that you're discovering now with bolster you, uphold you, keep you safe when you're doing some really hard things.
Now go and dance more. We should definitely dance more.

Love, most of the time, You. 



Monday, 16 November 2015

Noel Edmunds

Dearest lovely people.
Missions is difficult, as you well know, because I tell you all about it all the time until you most likely wish to never hear from me again.
And although the hard things are all so very terrible, blah blah blah, there are also many good and positive things to be gleaned from a life in YWAM Vinnitsa. I'm going to tell you about them - without too much backhanded complaining or sarcasm, just straight up nice things I hope - because I'm realizing that it's important to acknowledge the good stuff that God does for us, and to say thank you. I think positive is powerful. I'
m just like Noel Edmunds. Exactly like him. In no ways different from him.

So here's a list. Everybody loves lists. Or maybe Raymond?
List: Good things that happen to you and your family when you're a missionary. 

1- Gratitude becomes very normal. You get excited about things that you once so very much took for granted. You jump up and down and squeal over things like marmite, cumin, heating, running water, electricity, kids clothes from HandM, toilets with seats and lots of other stuff. Also things like buying food. And paying rent. Because every single thing we can purchase is a direct gift from God and our friends and it is amazing.

2- Our brains are constantly engaged because we have to try so hard to learn a new language. In our thirties. In your FACE, Alzheimer's.

3- We're completely out of the loop when it comes to pop culture. I have no clue who is cool, and I actually really like not having a clue about who is cool. Also for a really long time I didn't know that the Anaconda video exists. Or Donald Trump's views on....anything. Or that for some reason the Christmas Sherlock will be a period drama which is in my opinion taking the thing that made it fun and making it less fun. 

It was nicer not knowing these things. And i'm happy that I find out about them late, or not at all. No thank you, world, because you make a lot of awful things.

4- We're basically Bear Grylls. Our babies are bear cubs. We are tough as nails, mate. Blizzards, heatwaves, corruption, war, shortages, dead man on the road outside our house, burgled by people we tried to help, national economic chaos....three years in and we're pretty flippin' hardcore. I look back on past versions of Fritha and laugh at her for she is a pansy.
 And then I pick up my gun and go shoot dinner. 

5- We get to host lots of amazing people who are staying here for reasons like 'i'm adopting my third Ukrainian orphan person' or 'I'm touring Ukraine to pray for the people affected by the war' or 'I'm here to pay for, and work on, your attic being converted into a classroom and i'm using my two weeks of annual leave to do it'. Such people are gracious, giving and inspiring house guests and they do a lot of washing up. And they make me want to be like them when I grow up. I would never get to meet these people if I wasn't doing this 'job'.

6- Our kids are growing up aware of things. Yes, it's not great that B saw a very poorly old homeless man collapsed on the road (won't do details but it was much worse than anything i've seen in the UK), it's sad that she knows that 'this little girl doesn't have a mummy or a daddy' or that 'Svieta's mummy has cancer and is too poor to buy things'. But you knows what's absolutely brilliant? That she is engaged. Not afraid. She knows these things and she comes back with 'let's give Svieta's mummy some money and take her to hospital'. She says 'that man needs to know that God loves him' and 'we should take that little girl home and look after her!'. I kid you not. She says this stuff and she says it without pause or reservation and she looks me in the eye (usually when she's doing a poo and i'm NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE because it's talking time) and proclaims the ways in which we shall change the world. I could not be more proud of her, and more grateful that God is using our lifestyle to shape my daughter into a strong, kind and compassionate little woman. Just. Wow.

7- On a similar note, our kids don't get Sunday church. At this age church involves me sitting with them in a room while they go on a slide. For two and a half hours.
Instead, they're absorbing Christianity like sponges - playing with lego in the middle of the room while we intercede for refugees, dancing to the worship songs, helping package up the humanitarian aid, helping me teach orphans how to bake (eating their cookies, mainly), listening to us pray our lada back to life, saying Amen when they feel like it and saying nothing when they don't. Unforced, un-imposed, doing life with mummy and daddy because we don't have childcare so just along for the ride and learning so much about Jesus' love every day. Kingdom building full time is their normal. Again. Just. YES.

8- Kids again. They are third culture kids. They have no concepts of 'normal' or 'i'm wrong and other people are right'. You eat pig fat on bread? Yummy! You think please is the most important word in the world? Then i'll say please! You believe you can't open a window on a train in summer? Cool, let's get sweaty! You love the queen? Yeah, go Queenie!
Before we moved here I was so arrogant about my country, my culture and my perspective. My kids are growing up so flexible and open minded and I love that.

9- There were no pre packaged foodstuffs when we moved here. So I learnt to cook everything. All the things. I make naan. No kidding. My cookery genius level is set to MAXIMUM. 

10- We're much healthier here because we eat stuff from our garden, or the local markets, and we cook everything from scratch. We're even making our own wine! Ok that's not so healthy but I am going to be SO smug and middle class when I drink it and i'm going to instagram the crap out of that first glass.

11- When you do small things successfully you feel unbeatable. I managed to buy flea drops for the cat last week and I was high for a whole day. Language (mime) WIN!

12- Kids again. They are missions kids. By the time B was two she'd flown thirteen times and helped host over 150 people. Strangers are not scary. Hilarious flipside - strangers are also no big deal so if they don't feel like it they're not going to respond to your peekaboo nonsense. Cue socially awkward unblinking toddler death stare.

13- If Beth, hypothetically, shouted BOLLOCKS in a shop nobody would know that we're the worst parents ever. Hypothetically, you understand.

14- The big house that we live in has a sauna. John says that's a good thing. (Yuk)

15- Things you get to do in England become unspeakably exciting. Taking the kids to the doctors, for example. It's better than anything else. It's better than chocolate. Oh! The dentist in England! Oh! The optician! I'm getting giddy just thinking about these things...come on, December....

16- Finally, because Alla just ran into the door and Sim's going to wake up wondering what the almighty crashing noise was. Finally. People pray for us. If we're screwed then we send an email and people pray and then we're not screwed anymore. Thank You! 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Tyrant Kings

We can learn to love through the darkness and the light. 

I'm on your side.

I know that i'm not the first person in the world to be inspired by music. To essentially require music as part of any time I intentionally spend alone with God. To need to fill my head with words and sounds so I can settle back and hear some truths, some ideas, some lies, some hypotheticals and some emotions to sift through and to bounce away from. Skyward. Into the depths.

So this thing I wanted to blather on about today isn't even my thought. It's not my idea. You probably know it all already and I think that anybody who grew up in church land has heard this in a few ways, a few hundred times.

But I needed a Needtobreathe song to dump some revelation into my soul. So I pray, and I hope, that this silly me blog can dump some freedom into your self as well.

(The song is called Learn to Love. It's very pretty. Listen to it.)

Where to start?

Adrian Plass says a thing that I really like, that I wish I could fathom more, that gives me a taste of the kind of truth that can guide a person through a life. He says that 'In the heart of God there is deep sorrow and there is deep joy'.


Life isn't clear cut. Instagram wants me to think that it's all about happiness and that if I ate clean food, wore the rights skinnies, twerked for the right one/ few, had the best ombre (damn but I love ombre), managed my affairs correctly, vacationed cheaply but exquisitely, collected designer pieces for my capsule wardrobe, and a gazillion other aspirations...then, happiness will be achieved.
Green juices are what I need to stave off sorrow and achieve joy.
For maximum joy, apply one excellent job and if you feel sorrow creeping in, do some meditation because sadness is bad bad bad jump up and down and wave your arms around because you need to be happy happy happy. (But don't actually jump around because then you'll stand out and be not cool and that is NOT OK. Get back in your hole, weirdo).

This rant is all pretty current-craze specific but it's deeper, and it's been around longer, than that. We fear sadness. We construct our lives, building roads to happiness.

In England this might work a bit. If you're middle class, male or fully empowered and educated female, if you're youngish and if your family can look after themselves. If you stay healthy forever.
Do those people even exist in England?

Life is hard for so many people. At the moment I'm so aware that I'm not a refugee, that I'm not tending to my children out of a rucksack, that I'm not fleeing violence and terror. That i'm so, so, unspeakably lucky. Not trivial lucky. I would say blessed but it reeks of 'i'm blessed and you're not' and that makes me feel a bit sick. A better set of words would be: bewildered. grateful. cared for. content. and more grateful.

For so many people, life is hard. We've known hard! Even just in the last three years; y
ou all know that moving countries has been brutally tough. That we have struggled with loneliness, bitterness, depression, arguing a lot, bewilderment and the daily humiliation of not know a bally thing about how to be a British person in Ukraine. And you all know about the wringing out of our hearts over the girls we have glued into our family, who we're learning to love well despite - threaded through in gold - our sinful every day failings. 
But at the heart of God there is deep sorrow.
The anguish of his daddy's heart as we hurt ourselves, each other, and him. Every single sin. Nailing His hands.
This speaks to me when it's hard, when I can't muster up jolly jolly Christian jolly. Terrible at evangelism because I can't compress the truth into an appealing soundbyte. No it's not always happy and often I'm not happy, or people that I love aren't happy. But He gets it.

He gets it.
His heart knows sorrow. Deeply.
The whole Bible is crammed with His tears, His anguish, with His pleas, His hands outstretched, His grief and rage and pain.
God gets it.
We are never alone. There is always a tender friend who can sit next to us and take it. He can take it.

I think, however, that my English faith took this sorrow of God and made Him stroppy. Disapproving. Not 'God feels sad and angry' but instead 'God is angry! Stop doing the sins and then He won't send you to hell! '
Maybe we're more comfortable with an angry rage God than a sad, weeping Jesus, broken over the death of his friend and the pain of his friend's sisters, because we can't easily see the strength in vulnerability. Maybe.

The sorrow in the heart of God turned, somewhere in my walk, into cold disapproval.

So the flip side, the deep joy in the heart of God, is hard to find in the Bible, if you're expecting a mean God then you'll probably find what you're looking for.
But Jesus cooked for his mates, washed their stinky feet, cuddled them (does 'resting on his chest' mean anything else?), walked miles and miles and slept rough with them, jogged about on top of the sea and halted storms with a one sided conversation. Do we really think he did all of this joylessly? Dour and icy calm, stone faced never cracked by a grin?
When he said 'let the children come to me' did he intone it like an anglican reading? Precise and detached? Or was he scooping up the toddlers, covered in dirt and questions, for tickles and nose rubs? Kids don't usually approach boring or cross people. What was it about Him that enticed them? Could Jesus have been 

There is joy at the heart of God.
I see it in the friends gathered around Him. In the woman racing home to cry that 'He's here!', unjudged and seen for the first time. By a man. The first not to use her. The stories Jesus told - the father legging it down a road to hug the son who broke his heart and home, the woman leaping about her house because she found what she'd lost, the sheer kinetic energy smeared across the parables.
The Bible says that 'for the joy set before Him, he endured the cross'.
He stomped, limped and bled his way through his sorrow, the crucifixion, he looked the sorrow in the eye and now he has the joy.
You. Me. His kids come home, the kids he runs towards, the rocks he climbs back down, 'rejoicing', stupid sheep across his shoulders.
Every one of us redeemed. You are his joy.

It's when I'm sitting in our office trudging through hour three of language study and the song comes on and the lines blazes across my chest 'I'm on your side'.
love, God. xxx
(yes, God does kisses)

When God speaks that clearly it doesn't shake off quickly and it's stayed with me and if my mum would refrain from hernias i'd have tattooed it somewhere by now.
'I'm on your side'.

There is in life, and in the heart of God, deep sorrow and deep joy.
And through it all He is on our side. He is the positive, running, jumping, wine brewing, dancing, partying, healing, grabbing, mud writing, homeless, questing, hugging, listening, preaching on mountains and praying in boats and living completely fully...He's Himself. And he's on our side.

There is no sorrow that can repulse Him.
There is no joy that He won't share with you.

He's on your side.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

for the win

Hello and good day to you. You alright? 

Am I the only person who is confused by the Bible? I doubt it. There's a verse that says something like 'our fight isn't against people but against the spiritual powers of this world' and if I was a proper Christian I would go and look up the actual reference but Sim wakes up at five-ish everyday so I'm writing this as fast as my fingers can carry me so I can go to bed and I'm not about to go on a tangent because that would take too long and by the time I've finished this explanation I could have just gone and looked it up. Numpty. 

But yes. Fighting. Spiritual things and all that jazz.

Today I had one of those 'oh yeah!' moments where something makes sense, suddenly, something that everyone else has probably known for ages but it's still big news for my brain.
Can I tell you about it? If you already know then feel free to wander off. I won't mind. I won't actually know. Maybe don't tell me. That would be rude.

Do any of you have a struggle? A thing, a situation, a thorny wound that will not heal, will not resolve, that feels like every God moment or high or revelation or solution or resolution just promises a healing that doesn't actually deliver?
Do you have a friend for whom you have literally prayed the same prayers for years and never seen any change? 
'Please heal her. Please heal her. Please heal her. Are you ever going to heal her?'

I know so many people who have struggled for what feels like aeons with depression, anxiety, fear, sickness, financial burdens, isolation. And I know the brutal, relentless torture  of those struggles and I know still what it's like to stand weeping in the shower, shouting at a God who seems incapable of truly delivering on his promises. In any way that sticks. In any way that demonstrates this crucifixion resurrection victory that we pedal.
'Please heal me. Please heal me. Please heal me. Are you ever going to heal me?'

I have a thorn. It can't really be summed up in a blog post. It's nothing terrible, don't worry. It's just a suitcase I'm carrying through life and it's heavy and full of rubbish thoughts.

I don't think I'm the only one.
I don't think I'm the only person in the world who is often frustrated by my own lack of wholeness. I'm probably not alone in having had amazing breakthroughs with God only to find myself taken down again a week later by a stupid comment, an insecure friend, an online ad, a stranger's very much not there yet.

Breakthroughs have happened. I know progress, and I know seasons of amazing healing but it's not done yet and will it ever be done and this is just really pissing me off now.
I want to be done. I want the victory now. Aren't we promised the victory now? 

And here's my 'oh'.
It's a battle.
We're told to battle spiritual evil on a spiritual level and we're told that this is called 'praying'. Praying. Thumping the ground as we fall to our knees, weeping with God, railing with God, siding with God. Arguing with God. Climbing back up into His lap for a cuddle. Siding with God again. It's the sweat and the grit of intercession, it's the curling your fingers around the hilt He's offered you and it's standing on two feet, in the gap, for those lying wounded on the ground.
I love prayer.
But I hate repeating myself. I bore easily. I expect results.

Here's the bigger 'oh'. 
It's not one battle. One battle doesn't win a war. 
It's many many many battles, skirmishes, sorties, victories, advances and barrages. It's a war. An all out, world at stake, holding nothing back war.
And our enemy is horrific. He invented rape. And abuse. And poverty. And self harm. And despair. And addiction. And every suffering that ravages the lives of those God created just to love and be loved. We are assaulted on every side, we are hard pressed and beaten down and hurt hurt hurt because Satan is not ever kind. Dressed like sex and smelling like money but he wants to kill us all and he's made of lies.
Our enemy hates us. He hates love. He hates God.
He wants us wrecked and we must fight him, and his, battle after battle.
Prayer after prayer.
Breath after breath.
Prayer after prayer.
Step after step.
Prayer after prayer.
Breakthroughs will always be contested - if you break through the enemy line it attracts attention and then you get some missiles lobbed at you but the thing is that we are going to win.

We win.
It's already finished.
I believe this is referred to as the now and the not yet.

We don't fight a war to avoid losing.
We fight because we are destined for victory, because there is no hit we can take that could destroy us. There is literally nothing our enemy could do to win.
It's game over and we are taking back territory that was declared ours on Easter Sunday/ Pentecost/ Good Friday/ all of it. We're making the land safe again.

He did it. The cross has done it.
And this life is hard, it's battle after battle, it's step up and walk on and fall down and get bandaged up and pick up your sword again. It's battles. It's army.
It's a bit healed, and a bit wounded again, and a bit healed in a different area, and having to re break bones to set them better, and it's helping others get back up, and every little bit of healing is a win, a step towards the promised land. 

But it's also a sky full of stars that declare the strength and passion of God. It's an entire humanity redeemed, paid for, ransomed. It's a stand alone act of self sacrifice that carries across space and time and it carries us home. The banner over us is LOVE.

While I live this thorn may give me a limp from time to time. While I live I will have times of respite, I will see healing, and I will continue the struggle because I think I will always have to get back into the fray.

Until it's time to go abide in the victory.

To abide in the victory. Where those battles, these thorns, will be healed as if they never were. Healing forever. Wholeness forever.

Love wins.


Monday, 17 August 2015

feeling fruity


Having had a little re-read of the last few posts I must conclude that a)this has been a tough year and that b)I save all my rage for the page. Page rage.

This time I've saved my happiness.

Even my joy these days is a little cautious, a little wary, flighty and tip toes and riddled with caution.Too bruised to relax into things.
And still. And yet. I will extend my arms one at a time and look up, because 'the best thing you can do for God is embrace all that He is doing for you' (MSG).

Joy has crept up on me. Sneaky-like.

When John and I signed up to this - and it's YWAM so 'signed up' basically means turned up - we were idiots. Blind trusting fools who didn't know anything about fostering, adoption, engulfing, accepting, guarding....we hadn't even had one biological baby at that point and our experiences of love were snog based. Cupid enhanced. Love for your spouse is a choice blah blah blah but we've always liked each other a lot and when it's two of you there's time to date. To play. To fight. To make up. To dream. Obviously relationships can be really hard and never completely easy, but at this stage it's all about you and your other half and love is kind of the done thing.
Then we had Bethel and our concepts of love got exploded. Our identities changed. To feel love as a physical, genetic thing that suffuses all your sleepless nights. Love as a high. John bawled for twenty four hours, in a happy way. Love as something that wrecks you, that compels you to last place, urges you to prefer the needs of someone else. That warms you entirely with every milestone, smile, gurgle, unblinking gaze and so much joy. Love as a huge, huge trial where you die to yourself but it's natural and you have never known such happiness even as you stumble around bleary eyed wandering if you'll ever rest again. 

So far, so normal. Meet a person you love. Have babies. All the normal feelings, happy feels and sad feels and so on and so forth.
Then - over time - we added two teenagers and another baby.
We have not found much about this process to be straightforward. There are literally no books written on this. New country, new friends, new language, new culture (never underestimate this! It can destroy your brain and make you crazy paranoid like a stoned person driving home at night, but socially), and love has come to mean something different entirely.

This year has been about surviving and it's been exhausting. I actually have holes in my memory where apparently we did things but I have no clue that they happened. SO TIRED. Babies and blood loss and stress....too much to handle.
My heart has felt small and angry for a really long time.
My experiences of love didn't look like this. My ability to love wasn't big enough.
The love that our British culture preaches couldn't stand up to this so it ran and hid. There's no middle class boundaries here, no safety and pensions and nuclear units and charity starts at home and ten percent is enough. If we even give ten percent. Love as I have taught, as I have been taught, was not enough.
Not big enough.

He had more for me.
He is bigger than that.

So we began a new journey - love as an actual choice. Deeper. When there's no fluffy feels to feed on, there's no fruit to sweeten the deal, there's no reason to do this other than sheer bloody stubborn commitment to the Jesus you followed here.

Every rule broken, every grief, every sleepless night, every anxious thought, every humiliation, every hopeless panic, every time you let. it. go. Extend a clean rap sheet and start again in the morning, every time you decide that even though this feels like crap you will not let go. You will not be the one to give up on them. On this. On Him. There's so much at stake.

When you love like that, when your feet are trudging down a road that is not easy, when your love comes without incentive, when it makes no sense, you round the corner and suddenly you realise that....
love has become a feeling again.
Love fought for, love contested, love watered relentlessly in drought, this love does not give up. It does not return void. Lukewarm love could never stand up to these trials but love forged in fire, well, it starts to get a little bit Holy.

So now, when we've turned a corner and our family feels like a family, I know I am treading on Holy ground.
Every smile. Holy.
Every hug. Holy.
Every joke. Holy.
Every shy glance. Holy.
Every halting story told. Holy.
Every cooking lesson. Holy.
Every cheap present you'd never choose for yourself. Holy.
Every camping trip. Holy.
Every lift into town. Holy.
Every time Sim toddles into Svieta's arms laughing in sheer exultation and she can't even look up because she doesn't know where to look and the grin splits her face. Holy.
Every awkward skype conversation with teens bobbing in the background. Holy.
Every time they email John's mum photos of the kids. Holy.
Every time they mutter thank you as they flee the kitchen to get back onto facebook. Holy.

This house is Holy Ground.

And the love that I knew when I started this journey three years ago, my limited love, has become something different. Maybe it's not my own love that's changed, maybe I'm just abandoned and floating helplessly in a sea of His grace, His kindness to me, His every day miracles and blessings and kindnesses that surround me. Maybe I just depend on Him more because I'm rubbish at life and He's very good at it.
Maybe I had to get so stressed out that I'd fail, fall backwards and find Him standing right behind me solid as the rock that He is.
I've discovered that love is stretchy, it's strong and it wins. Add more people in and it just gets bigger. There's no limit to the size of Him so there is no limit to the love that is accessible within Him.

And that makes me happy. xxxx

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

to love (like) a fool

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. 1 Corinthians 3:19

I complain a lot on this blog (and even more in real life) and I know it's awful, but I need to offload somewhere and in the absence of counselors in Vinnitsa the internet will have to do. Seems a logical choice.
We seem to be in a season - Jesus Jargon that means 'phase' but Christians can't say phase because that sounds flippant and we're always trying to be deep. When I was a teenager I went through a season of rollerblading. See how much more profound that sounds? - of stupid, stupid, stupid life. SO STUPID.
Everything going wrong, from trivial stuff like the lada breaking down when I'm meant to be showing my friends the heady delights of Vinnitsa, of which there are none, and then B deciding she needed to wee herself and legging it through wind and rain around trying to source a toilet that would take pity on a three year old wailing for an opportunity to urinate. Small things like that. Getting home to find a teenager has broken curfew again despite the butt kicking you attempted, in your apparently ineffectual way, the night before. The night before. COME ON. Whilst posting pseudo sexual and disturbing photos of herself on instagram. Which you come across when you're meant to be participating in a team meeting but that's hard because the baby likes to chew your face and shriek for bananas if you're not permanently making eye contact and cooing softly whilst gently massaging his feet and proffering snacks. Little poppet (despot). 

Little things like that. Like never knowing where the sodding tin opener is because there are so many people in the house that isn't my house that we have never reached a consensus re the proper stowage of domestic items. I actually spend 33% of my time running about demanding that people tell me where the hell they PUT MY STUFF. While trying to cook dinner for eight people. With said little angel shouting at me for MILK and the toddler casually dismantling everything I thought I'd tidied earlier. 

Small things. Silly things. 

These things add up and don't get me wrong, they really do add up and I am currently a terrible and previously never seen version of myself - angry and tense and defensive and generally rancid with panic. 

But the stress and the running about trying to survive is normal mummy/ missionary/ working parent/ human being stuff. 

There's a bigger and a more hurty thing going on though that I'd like to process with you. It's a bit embarrassing. 
You see, I'm loving some people who don't love me back.
I'm giving my heart, my stupid soft heart, to some teenage girls who don't know what to do with it and if they ever put out their hands to receive it they'd still look at me blankly, bewildered, not knowing what they're supposed to do next. Just standing there holding my fears and hopes and time and tears and gifts and efforts, looking a bit confused, and then they'd drop it in a bin and wander off to take a selfie next to something shiny.  
Doing T Home hurts. 
Doing work with kids from orphanages hurts. 
It's probably no surprise to you that these young people are not entirely pleasant most of the time, that we spend all our emotional energy on frantically maintaining a positive family atmosphere, diffusing tensions and language barriers and culture clashes and maintaining house rules but as gently as possible and never, ever losing it like we want to. And sometimes we really, really want to. 
This week we had a situation where someone's behaviour had been so disrespectful and destructive that we had to do an ultimatum of 'if you can't stop such and such then you can't live with us'. Much more nicely worded because we want to avoid causing hurt as much as we possibly can. But still. Everything we've worked to build within a conversation's breath, the width of a biro line, of crashing down around us. The space of a sorry. Or of a screw you. The length of that pause, that choice, the suspense, the breath before the sorry that made it all ok and the cuddle and the gasp of oh thank you, oh thank you God.  

But to stare down the barrel of losing one of our girls? Of watching her jack it all in, choose stupid friends and stupid things and a car crash life because for these girls it really is that black and white - choose life or choose death, choose to try to absorb boundaries and family, to live like someone who can love and be loved, or to walk away and choose the destiny of your peers, the girls that can't find their way because they have never been shown how and you can follow them down that alley or you can stay here and run after a hope you don't even yet fully fathom but it looks better than suicide or drugs or crime or sex industry?
When you love someone and you have to stand back. When you have to take that stab to the gut of realizing that they're not going to listen to you. That your wisdom is stupidity to them. That you're the idiot bankrolling their folly. That you could give and give and give but you can never coerce them into an abundant life, that they will take all you can give and more and could still end up on the rubbish dump of life,alone and discarded and used and you can't ever stop that if that is where they choose to live. 

The next time somebody implies that what we do 'must be so rewarding' I may just weep on them in a puddle of NO. 
So this hurts.
In a massive way, in one of those fingernails gripping the cliff edge, chilled chest and dry eyes and all out through your shaky arms kind of way. That still moment in life where you realise that this will never be ok, that you will never be ok, because this is just too hard.

But then, in the moment, when the storm rages around your eerily numb self, there's this truth that flowers inside. A new understanding.
Someone has done this before.
This is nothing new.
I'm the ingrate. I'm the stupid idiot who takes and takes and still chooses the shack of my sin. I'm the one who holds God's heart in my hand, drops it and takes another selfie. I'm the one too broken to know what to do with the love that He has showered on me, He is the one who has never lost it, the one who has adopted me into His family, the one who has rescued me and clothed me in joy. I'm the one who doesn't listen, who heeds not the pain I cause Him with my every appalling choice. He is the one who wants an abundant life for His daughter, who waits for the sorry with baited breath and runs, relieved and exalting, to embrace His prodigal when she limps home starving and then does it all over again.

It's stupid. It's stupid of me to love these girls, we get so hurt and so rejected and so humiliated and if I was clever I would probably stop it.

But it's good enough for Him. He is revealing, through this season (phase!) of heartbreak, His own heartbreak over His children.

He yearns for, longs for us to know this amazing grace, this unfailing love. That He would take our place and lay down His life - a weirdly peaceful phrase to describe having one's flesh ripped from one's bones and the weight of all the pain of history's sins, all of them, laid on your own soul - in that love fueled, love filled attempt to win us, to catch us, to take us into a place where we can learn to be loved and to actually live with Him.

There aren't words for it. I'm learning that loving broken people is really hard.
But He did it first.


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

All that glitters is not gold, stoopid.

Hello. I'm sorry that I've not been updating this blog every week as promised. But thank you so much for being interested enough to come back and read this, and take my hand and meander with me through what I think that I think.
Not sure where this is going but I know that if I don't spill this stuff out of my brain it's going to fester. Ramble with me?

I want to talk about superficiality, about the rot inside the shiny outside.

I've never exactly been a beauty queen. My (well intentioned) mum once suggested that I undertake cosmetic surgery on my face. A common taunt at school was 'Fritha no chin'. I spent my whole life until I was twenty four single, loving boys who wanted to be best friends but not lovers. Rom Coms have informed me that this situation is bad, for girls should be sexy first, and funny/strong/loyal second. I have not, am not, and at this mum-of-two stage it looks unlikely that I will ever be, a swishy flouncy head turning hottie.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not asking for sympathy, or for affirmation, or for effusive compliments or hugs or 'you are so pretty'. Save your breath, for I do not need it.

I am not who I was  then, and if I could buy a time machine (or borrow one because lets face it, I'm on a missionary budget) I would tell my younger self to hold on, keep going, because in a decade or so you will be confident, loved, adored, cherished, partnered, happy to look in mirrors, happy to wear party frocks or pyjamas, happy to adorn yourself in whatever you fancy and every day what you fancy will be your husband. Not a super model but unlikely to frighten children with your face.

Speaking of children, John and I made a female one and she is three years old now. I currently want to put her in a bubble made of youth and oblivious joy, because the country in which I live wants her to be just like them. And I will not allow it. I will not allow it. I will scream at the wind until it changes, for I am mummy and you will keep your crap away from my daughter.
What am I talking about?
I'm talking about culture, about world view, about women starving themselves to please any man who might marry them or even just notice them, to inspire the envy of their peers, I'm talking about feeling judged judged judged and I'm talking about being a woman.

I don't want to cause hurt to my Ukrainian friends, and if I was in England I'm sure the same issues would come up they would just be in different forms. But it's tough here. I've had my weight, nails, hair, make up, clothes etc discussed relentlessly, baldly, as if it's acceptable to maintain in one's mind a running assessment of the appearance of your friends. Size ten girls are known as 'chubby' or 'fat', the medium size jeans are a UK size 6, if you have dirt on yourself someone will tell you, loudly, in public. If you go for a manicure the woman will inspect your hands and tut. TUT. As if cuticles matter (could we get some perspective, ladies?) The baby clinic is full of women who gave birth a month ago and today are wearing leather jeans and thigh high boots and sequins, I kid you not. I have never seen most of my friends without make up on. Oksana told me that girls starve themselves to afford dresses, eating bread and mayonnaise and shopping. I've been asked how I plan to lose the baby weight, when it's already gone. I've been told I need to lose the baby weight, when it's already gone. My friend tells me that 'oh yeah I judged women who didn't wear make up out of the house, every one does'. My other friend informs me that the reason you don't see tiny babies out and about is because the mums don't leave the house until they've deprived themselves thinner than you.
There is an assumption going on in all of this, and that assumption is this: You do not look good enough. Or maybe: You need to look good.

Is there anything less Holy?
To be obsessed with shiny on the outside, polishing and polishing and chiseling and carving and spending and starving and all the energy, all the focus, all the time, all the hope invested in something that is temporary. Fading. Fleeting. Rootless. Powerless.

And He is ignored.

You will never be thin enough, or pretty enough, or stylish enough to stop trying. And while you were trying you were obsessing over yourself. I have wasted so many thoughts on myself since moving here, on my waist or my make up or my dresses. So self obsessed.
So. Self. Obsessed.

And He is forgotten.

And we dress it up as if dressing up is harmless, as if it's just part of being a girl, as if we're celebrating instead of hating.
But we're not, we're comparing and fighting and competing. Hating ourselves, relentless in our criticisms.

And He is silenced.

I have spent too many years seeing the outside of people, seeing the outside of myself. I have spent so many years unsatisfied.
I want to be free of this, because I have a daughter and I want so much, so hard, for her to be free of this. So it starts with me. How to protect her from the world screaming at her to hate herself better looking, to lose focus on the beauty around her while loathing the beauty she thinks she lacks herself.
Oh, we are so very fallen, and we so very much need the love of God to help us, but my heart has big hopes and I believe that we can do this. If we stop undermining each other and start acting like sisters. Men aren't oppressing us half as effectively as we're oppressing each other.

I'm not a head turning hottie.
I've never been a beauty queen.

My prayers are turning into something different though, because I'm starting to realise how fun life would be if I didn't care. To be absolutely covered in dirt because I've been washing feet, to be smeared and sweaty from carrying those who can't walk by themselves. To be unfashionable because I've forgotten to pay attention, preoccupied by loving the people around me. Covered in cake batter from toddler hands, dancing like an idiot in the lounge, mismatched when I open my door to guests because I've been teaching my children the value of kindness shown in a please or a thank you. To bring my husband joy in my smiles, to cry with him in his hurts, to grin at him without shame or worry or insecurity. Baby vomit on my shoulder because yes I ran out of the door because yes I was lying on the carpet talking da-da-da instead of applying foundation, eye contact for hours because he's only going to be as small as he is today for the rest of today and every 24 hour cycle is precious and I will not waste it ironing my bras. And I will eat the cake. Because cake is yummy and there should be no shame in yummy. There should be no shame in being a woman - my hands that can hold, comfort, create, support, make miracles. My body that's changed post baby making but it needed to get bigger to hold all the new love. To wear a tonne of glittery eye liner if I feel like it, to wear a tonne of nothing if I don't.
To teach my girls not to care about what they look like, to wear whatever makes them feel powerful and free, to give them the walls against their judgy peers, to call out their confidence. Every selfie swapped for a kind word to a friend.

I'm so far from healed in this, and I wish I wasn't, I wish I was some amazing Jesus woman to write you an inspiring and uplifting tome on spiritual growth, but there's enough of them on the internet. Google 'Christian woman' and learn how to flower arrange/ diet/ dress up for Jesus.

'Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised'. Fearing the LORD has a lot more dirt and tears and dancing than I've been led to believe.

I'm not a beauty queen.
But I know the King.

Sunday, 11 January 2015


It's no secret that we've been having a tough time lately. Facebook's been my own pity party and everyone is invited, thanks to the beauty of a news feed. You're welcome.

Within all the complaining and bitterness there has, occasionally, been processing and prayer. On the good days. On the bad days and nights there has been a lot of effing, blinding and blaming. Poor John.
Perhaps before we talk about the glorious revelations and about how we're more than conquerors, before we start editing ourselves pretty, perhaps we could tell the truth. Perhaps you'd be helped if you knew the shoddy depths of my heart and the limping finish that will be my entrance to heaven.

I have hated this season, and I'm still hating it. There is nothing in me that thinks 'oh goody, trials to rejoice in'. All of me longs for comfort. I am heartily fed up with trying to be a good mum, a nice wife, a safe place for my teenagers in the midst of stress upon stress upon stress that just won't stop building. You think you're done? Have a generator fail. Had enough now? Be crippled for weeks. Want to give up? Your baby needs hospital. Exhausted? Have blackouts, have heating failure, have toddler meltdown, have constant sickness and and and and... my dreams have narrowed from saving orphans and faded into dreams of England, of my baby sleeping in a room that's not either furnace hot or arctic freezing. Or just of him sodding well sleeping. Of ease and support and of not living a life where every single day seems to bring new heartache and worry.

And I know the religious, utterly unhelpful advice, because we've been given it enough times. Be grateful for what you have. Other people have it worse.
Of course we are, and of course we do, we would never be so ridiculous as to claim the worse deal ever. But I will never look you in the eye, watch you weep, and say 'this doesn't hurt because other people have worse lives'. Compassion is not limited to the worst cases, it flows from beautiful hearts and minds, it should flow from Christians. If one more person says to me that 'there's power cuts all over Ukraine' I shall reply with a swift punch to the face because what that's actually saying  is 'I am judging you for struggling and I feel threatened by your honesty please shhh so I can carry on pretending to care without it costing me anything'.

So yup. It's been hard. I have been astounded by the relentlessness of our physical and emotional challenges. This morning the road to church was very icy and it was hard to walk on so I burst into tears, not because of the road but because the road was the last thing I could handle this week. So silly and so scary because of how much I am clearly not coping.

But, if I may fix our eyes on eternity for a second: This is beautiful.
This whole process is beautiful.

Even while I freak out and cry in the snow, I am aware that it's going to be ok.

A few months ago I asked God to humble me. And he did, in all my appalling reactions to every thing that has happened recently, I have seen my black black heart. My angry, selfish, middle of the night reactions. I have not walked through this time like the Jesus lady that I thought I was. I'm horrid when I'm stressed.
And when I prayed about it, when I finally owned my sinfulness and expected God to say 'yes you are terrible' he said instead 'I know you, and I love you'. Because this is our God, He is positive and for us, he knows our blackness and He doesn't back away. He is not afraid of the dark.

So if all of these things that we're going through have a purpose, they've already shown to me more of who God is, I have already experienced and understood more of his love. I have realised more than ever before that I am a dirty rotten sinner and that God is a Holy, loving God. Every time I snap at my kids or resent the teens or lose it at my husband because all I want to do is SLEEP, God is right there with me, forgiving me. It's phenomenal. I can't cock this up, I can't force Him away, I can't reject Him - He is constant and He doesn't run away. He's got me. To use my gorgeous daughter's best new word, it's 'incredible'.
I don't believe that this is just a time to keep our heads down and get to the end. It could be, and I hope it is going to be, a time to grow up. To be made different. If this is what it takes for my heart to soften then let's do it. Let's hold on to Him and roll with this day after day difficult-ness, letting our souls awaken.

One example: I don't love Ukraine. Missionaries bang on about loving their adopted countries and I don't love mine. I am homesick constantly, every day. The food is gross to me, the customs bizarre, the culture often offensive and the decisions of those in power bewilderingly incompetent. Judge all you want but I'm telling the truth because someone important said not to lie - I don't love Ukraine.
But tonight while we were driving home in the dark, skidding on stupid ice along stupid broken roads, God tore my guts out for this nation. You know when he grabs your insides and just....pulls, just lays down this huge heart/ pang/ pain/ beauty/ longing that's called intercession? When you aren't praying cos you're weeping but that's good enough, deep enough, more like prayer than any shallow words you could conjure?

It's taken living without warmth, without justice, without light, without certainty, without a voice, without rest and I'm finally able to let this in: God loves Ukraine. Enough to give me tears to shed, to put me through months of awfulness to make me more compassionate, more broken.
This nation has lived without justice, without light, without certainty for generations. Unobserved holocausts. Orphans hidden. Shadowed by nasty giants. Undefended. Alone.

Yes, when I get to the finish line I will be limping. I'm a dirty rotten sinner. But hopefully I will have given my life to defending something beautiful, even if it's just in the tears of a softened heart praying, watching the ground move underneath us as God says YES.

I will be the one scraping my way into heaven,
still sinning probably,
but my friend will hold me by my hand,
like He is now,
and if need be He will lift me across His shoulders,
like He did His cross,
like He is now,
and He will carry me home.

For now, my home is Ukraine. Let's watch the ground move. Let's change some lives. Amen. xxx