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Addiction, depression, eating disorders….and complete freedom

30 Aug

 

Addiction, depression, eating disorders… for some of you, one or more of those words will stand out, screaming at you from the screen. You know more about that word than you have let the world know – you know it inside out. It’s your secret.

These topics, these words, lie heavy on my heart today. Why? Because I believe God wants me to share this message with you –

COMPLETE freedom is attainable

Those first three words hold so much weight for me. Each of them is a part of my story, my testimony. I sit here today a different girl to the Anna everyone knew 18 months ago… or maybe more accurately – the Anna people didn’t know. I have been on a journey of freedom that at times I never thought possible. And you know what makes me sad? What breaks my heart? What breaks God’s heart? Is that the world says: manage it….. take this tablet, go on this course, read this book… and just learn how to manage it.

Take the tablet, read the book, do the course… but in doing that alone, we relinquish our responsibility in managing and guarding our thoughts. For we underestimate the power of our thoughts and where they can take us if we allow them to. We get into habits of negative thinking, which like a cancer can invade every aspect of our lives – making it a dark and negative place to be. God can easily get cut out of being the answer.

Eventually, after years, I got to a place where I gave up trying to do it on my own. I went to the GP, got help, got tablets…came home and had a revelation. I reached the end of myself and have never stood at such a clear crossroads before: Be ‘fixed’ by the world – or jump into my counsellor God’s arms – someone who knows and loves me intimately and who has paid for my freedom – total freedom. I put down the antidepressants and picked up the bible (disclaimer: please talk to your doctor and mentor before stopping any medication). I reached up, and I reached out. I said “God, I can’t do this day, this hour, this minute without your help”. And day by day, minute by minute, he faithfully saved me.

Man it’s a lot of work – changing thought patterns, learning what it means to truly be loved and love myself. It’s a lot easier to pop a pill. But – it’s worth it. To live in, to taste, to know true God ordained, God desired freedom.

And it’s there for you.

Freedom is a decision, it’s a process. You are loved into it. Freedom is about holding your thoughts captive and trusting God for the strength not to go down certain roads in your mind. Freedom is about clinging on to God and trusting his promises. It’s about community – letting others in on your struggles, letting people stand beside you in the fight against lies. Letting people pray for you and with you.

So, are you ready to let go? Are your ready to be loved into freedom?

Here are some verses for you:

– ‘Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ Romans 15:13 NKJV

– ‘Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead you live under the freedom of God’s grace’ Romans 6:14 NLT

– ‘For the Lord is the spirit, and wherever the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ 2 Corinthians 3:17

– ‘We have escaped like a bird out of the fowlers snare; the snare has been broken and we have escaped’ Psalm, 124:7

 

Decisions decisions

30 Aug

Every day we are faced with choices. Choices about our day, our outfit, what we will have for lunch, whether we turn up for work, whether we press snooze on the alarm for the 10th time….. and then there are the bigger choices. Choices that shape our future. What will we do? What course will we apply for – what do we do if we get accepted. Who will we follow, who will we worship?

You, sitting here now reading this blog… are a sum total of all the choices you’ve made so far. Some of them were totally unconscious, some decisions have come as easily to you breathing. Some of them – you wish you could time-machine yourself back to choose the other option. Yet some have caused great stress and anxiety as you have battled to weight up the pro’s and cons.

Let’s focus on John 5:30 (NIV) ‘By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgement is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me’. John is expressing his desire to please his God and not others in the decisions he makes. Decisions can be incredibly powerful things. They can set people free or oppress. They can abuse or love. They can forgive or grudge.

So how can we be more Godly in our decision making? How can we be more God led?

– Invest in your relationship with God. Decisions become so much easier when your desire to please God is more than your desire to please the world (Anso Coetzer).

– Pray about decisions. Seek accountability and be open with one another

– Explore what decisions you might not be taking the responsibility for. Choosing not to make a decision is also a choice! We an either accept things as they are or choose to take responsibility for making them

– When you have a big decision to make, question your motivations and the place from which you make them. Are the outcomes supportive of Christ-like values?

– Remember that whilst you can’t often choose your circumstance, you can always choose your attitude! We can let circumstances harden us, or we can let them change and be catalysts for growth

– Choose life and say no to slavery! Sometimes the choices in front of you are so hard to make because you find the wrong choice far more attractive than the right one. Ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to choose what will be life giving, rather than that which may pull you further into a mess – making it even harder the next time

Life will always be changing and you will find yourself in all sorts of circumstances. But growth – both spiritually and personally is optional. 

Just enough light for the step you are on

22 Aug

Isn’t it amazing when God gives you vision? When prophecies or dreams give you that peace that surpasses understanding, or things just seem to fit beautifully into place? Sometimes God works like that…. but what about when he doesn’t?

What about when you have a summer stretching ahead of you, no job and an overdraft to pay back? What about when you have left uni and the post-recession workplace offers little comfort for your career plans? What about when you face being at home for 3 months, and you don’t quite know how to navigate those tough family dynamics?

I was reminded of childhood afternoons of treasure hunting. Little pieces of paper would direct us to the next clue until eventually we reached the prize. Those little scrawled messages coupled with perseverance were all we had until we reached the next stage. Sometimes it was fun – the mystery, the searching… however sometimes it was frustrating and I yearned to bin the cryptic clues and just hunt for the prize.

Sometimes God gives us just enough light for the step that we are on

This statement keeps catching my eye from the spine of a book on my shelf at home. In a season filled with uncertainties about finance and jobs, it’s a reminder that although God doesn’t often reveal the big picture, he gives us what we need for the month, week or even just the day! This could be insight, money or a sense of peace over a decision you need to make. Matthew 6v34 (NLT) echoes just this: ‘So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today’.

In the Lord’s prayer, we pray ‘Give us today our daily bread’. Sometimes we skim over it without thinking, especially when we feel secure that the paycheck is coming, our friendships are ticking along nicely, we feel secure in love, and the fridge is full. But sometimes that line is said as a heartfelt prayer in itself, perhaps loaded with desperation.  So what do you do when life finds you scrabbling for clues as to what’s next? If you, like me, are in that place right now, try these tips for size (along with some verses to look at in your quiet time… or moments of panic:

– Take some time to think over your testimony, stories of forgiveness, moments of revelation and miracles of provision. Remind yourself that your God is faithful. Read 1 Corinthians 1:9

– Pray for peace that transcends circumstance. Not only will this quieten your heart, but what an amazing witness to others as they see you calm in the face of uncertainty and storm. Read Romans 15:13

– Share testimonies and stories of how God has worked in your life. It is inspiring and affirming. What a way to raise expectation. He’s done it before, he will do it again. Read Hebrews 2:4 

– Be expectant. Wait confidently in the assurance that God knows the complexities of your situation, he knows what you need best. Read Micah 7:7

– Don’t be afraid. You are hemmed in by God. He has gone before you and will be with you, no ground you tread on has been un-trodden on by your God. Read Deuteronomy 31:8

I want to finish with God’s words concerning the future in Revelation, the unknown, the mystery of what is to come are these:

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Rev 22:13 NLT). 

He is already in the future, and he is good.

 

Cheesy songs and sticky notes

18 Aug

I struggle to remember birthdays and dates. I’ve not got myself into serious trouble yet but there’s always time! Telephone numbers, pin codes and anniversaries – it’s good to be able to recall them at that exact moment you need them. Failure may result in finding yourself red faced at the end of the checkout queue or hurriedly Googling ‘fathers day’ dates (you just missed it by the way).

But what about bible verses? My childhood is filled with memories of Sunday school where we sang verses in the hopes that we would remember them for the next week – fueled by the promise of sweeties!

So that was then, but how about now? How often do we make a conscious note to remember a verse? Keeping them close to our hearts and ready to be accessed when we need it in a wobbly moment, in a text of encouragement to a friend or in prayer?

There are many verses that encourage us in memorising scripture, and emphasise the importance of doing so. In Colossians 3:16 (NIV), Paul tells the church to ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom’. He is promising that if we dwell on God’s word, the Holy Spirit will bring it to mind at the appropriate time. The more we know, the more we can recall!

God word was written for us, and we were made to require the insight and wisdom it offers. Romans 15:4 (NIV) says that ‘everything that was written in the past was written top teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope’. The bible is there to give us hope, guidance, counsel, renewal and joy. The more we read, meditate and know it, the closer we will be to God.

These are just two reasons among many as to why we should be memorising scripture. So, grab a bible, find a verse that jumps out at you and memorise it in whatever way is best for you – cheesy songs or bright pink sticky notes!

Here’s a good one to begin with

‘The Lord will keep you from all harm. He will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore’. Psalm 121:7-8

 

Daytime TV and trashy novels

16 Aug

 

Only 5 long days until the hubby & I step onto a plane and head towards the white sands of a Turkish beach. The hours of trawling for bargainous internet late-deals have served us well. I must admit, despite my excitement that I am a more than a little jealous of the super-sized summer holiday you have ahead of you.

‘You are what you eat’ shout the magazines from the stand, proclaiming miracle bikini diets and portraying pictures of celebrity bodies. I choose to ignore the pressures as I make a cheeky detour to the chocolate isle. Instead my mind wanders to planning my holiday reading and am hit by the challenge…

‘You are what you think’

I am so tempted to fill my suitcase with trashy novels. I want a bit of comfortable escapism from difficult family situations and the uncertainty of my future. I’m tired. What is your escapism route? Trashy daytime television? Hours of trawling Facebook… or the internet? Why? Because you can, because you are having a break from the daily routine, and frankly because that’s all that was on when you rolled out of bed at lunchtime!

So it is tempting to fill my mind with rubbish tales of endless pursuits of love and flashy lives…. but it would be about as spiritually nutritional as a deep-fried mars bar is healthy

As the months stretch ahead and we check out of our usual responsibilities, taking a little time away from tough relationships, pressures and stresses….are we going to check out of our minds too? As we step away from our home churches, are we going to step away from the discipleship and the challenge of accountability as well?

In Philippians 4:8 (NLT) Paul urges you to ‘Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise’

If we are products of where we let our mind wander in the quiet and in our down-time, then let’s be challenged by this verse. Of course, lie in, relax, indulge a little, party and holiday. But..make an effort to stay accountable and to keep in touch with your community, keep plugging into God – don’t leave him at uni along with the routines you had built. Here are some tips:

– Spend time asking God how he would like you to spend these months. Pray and think about the following ideas

– Make prayerful plans – pray for great conversations with family and friends

– Make financial plans – save for something or replenish that overdraft!

– Make physical plans – stay healthy

– Make spiritual plans – pray a little more, spend a little more time studying the bible

– Make active and restful plans (rest might be a spiritual discipline… but laziness isn’t!)

– Make creative plans – pick up old hobbies

So…. will this be a summer for checking in, changing, growing, challenging?

Or checking out?

When the rug is pulled from under your feet

14 Jun

“We aren’t going to be able to keep you on I’m afraid”. That sentence came from my boss last week as he explained that they wouldn’t be able to work around my new university placement. Part of me had braced myself to hear this – it was expected – I felt peaceful. The other part felt like the rug had been pulled from beneath my feet as I held back tears at the thought of losing a secure job that I loved. Questions flooded my mind – how will I afford my course fees? How will we pay the bills? How on earth will I find a job to fit around my clinic hours (I’m a trainee Psychotherapist)? Will we be able to stay in our flat?

We have all had moments like this. A phone call or an email that sharply changes the direction of our lives or our plans. I remember being told at the age of seven that my sister had a cancer –  in that moment life as I knew it was to change forever. Many of us have have been the receiver of a simple short sentence that feels like a punch in the stomach or instantly finds us asking huge questions about life and scrabbling for new coping mechanisms. They can find us running to God, or away from him in confusion. 

I have had five simple words in my mind for the past few weeks – I think God has been preparing my heart for the uncertainty of what is to come.  He does that sometimes – he paves the way, prepares us. I want to share them with you in the hopes that they too can be written on your heart – Nothing takes God by surprise

So what do we do in the face of uncertainty, unanswered questions, shaking foundations or circumstances that simply don’t make sense?

1- Know that God has not been taken by surprise. He has gone before you, he has paved the way, you are not walking on untrodden ground. I find such comfort in the Psalms 139 v 5 which says ‘You hem me in, behind and before. You have laid you hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty to attain’.

2 – Be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46v10). When you study the Hebrew translation of this verse, it translates to ’cause yourself to let-go, to become weak’. Let go of your own plans, your own desire for control on the circumstance, and ask God for the strength to trust in his all-sufficiency, his all-knowing, his love for the detail. What a testament to all those around you, when they see you calm in the face of a storm thanks to a peace that surpasses all earthly understanding.

3- Trust what you know of God. Reflect on the ways he has intervened in history (your own history and biblical history) and share faith boosting stories of when God has more than showed up.

So, I am trying to live this out right now. Oh I have moments of anxiety and fear – wondering how this awkward looking jigsaw is going to fit together. But a calm peace quietens them as I reflect on the fact that my God is able to move mountains, and he has faithfully got me this far!

It’s all testimony in the making.

Watch this space – he’s gonna pull it off… again!

 

Nutella and eternity

8 Jun

My love for good holiday books tend to result in a heart-stopping moment as I place my luggage on the check-in scales to be weighed. I hold my breath as the weight creeps dangerously close to the 10kg limit. I haven’t been fined yet, but I have had to do the awkward airport-floor suitcase reshuffle.

What’s more, I’m a naughty reader. With a good book I can’t help but sneak a glance ahead. I do it with the coyness of a child who knows they are doing something they shouldn’t – cautious not to be caught with their fingers in the Nutella jar. I look around to make sure nobody is watching as I jump a fistful of pages and chapters ahead, just to get a taste of what is to come.

It got me thinking…would we live differently if we really knew where we were going? Would we act, speak, pray, spend differently? With eternity written on our hearts, we often take forgranted the reality of heaven and what it means for us as Christians to spend forever in the presence of God. The book of Revelation provides us with that peek ahead. It is full of written glimpses of heaven offering descriptive metaphors, stunning imagery and strange descriptions of a reality that is incomprehensible to us in life.

What if we were to live with a more heavenly perspective? Paul often reminds us that the best is yet to come. He encourages us to see life through the lens of eternity. In Romans 8:8 he says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”

But how can we maintain a heavenly perspective when the world encourages us to live endlessly seeking the promises of pleasure? We enjoy the illusion of security, and desperately try to satiate a hunger for things we can’t always name or put our finger on?

With inspiration from Paul in Philippians 1:18-26, here are some tips for maintaining a heavenly perspective:

– Rejoice. Not a fluctuating happiness that depends on circumstance but praise that is offered throughout the seasons of our life. Pray for the gift of Joy and make decisions to worship even when it’s costly

– Ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and keep asking

– Pray and be prayed for

– Know what you are fighting! If it’s materialism, an addiction or a destructive relationship that battles for your attention – name it and seek accountability

– Get your hands dirty. Commit yourself to working for the Lord throughout your brief time on earth. We only get one chance, make it count

So…let’s live purposeful, heaven bound and heaven-focussed lives, creating echoes that bellow into eternity. Being driven by a spiritual urgency that acknowledges how short our time here is.