Thank you for your Grace

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Last week

At Willow Park, we have been through a long process of deciding whether or not women will be allowed on our Elders board. This discussion has included much prayer, unbiased and well-researched teaching videos presented by Phil, Q and A church meetings, many conversations…all culminating in the church membership making the decision by voting on Sunday.

Complementarian or Egalitarian?

Words that many had not heard or wrestled with until recently.

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I had a dream on Saturday night

I was on a hike walking alongside a cliff, on a relatively narrow, rugged pathway. There were lots of us, all heading in the same direction. I was struggling because I dragging a huge suitcase, challenging to navigate and very heavy.

We all reached a point on the walk where we had to step onto a large wooden platform area before climbing over to the next point of the journey. The wooded area was continually moving and difficult to pass, you had to concentrate on being able to get onto the moving platform and then climb over.

Thankfully, Brad (chair of our board) and Phil (pastor) stood at the top of the platform, they were helping everyone up and over. I was struggling, this was impossible with heavy luggage, so I hoisted the case up to Brad and Phil.

As I climbed on, I saw them put my suitcase to one side. It was empty.

Brad looked at me and said, ‘you don’t need that anymore, you can continue without it.’

Yesterday

I woke Sunday morning reassured and encouraged. That whatever the outcome and decision made on the members vote. That the women in our church would be traveling lighter because of it. I was reassured this journey has been a God-given process for this time, for our church, and I knew that God had us here for a purpose to bring us closer to His heart.

A decision was made that all members, male and female, can be nominated to become elders of Willow Park Church.  

Today

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We took a day off and walked Enderby Cliffs. 14 km of cliff edge walking while praying for our church. We thanked God that we have been able to offer answers to occasional questions of fallout and possible division. We have responded that we believe our church is healthy, that the heart of people is unity, and we will continue to walk well together with our different opinions and thoughts.

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Because the main thing is the main thing: Jesus. Salvation. His presence. Transformation.

The climb up the cliff was hard today. But alongside the increased heart rate and occasional trip-ups – we stopped and took in the views, the wildflowers, the beauty.

And enjoyed the reward of a spacious place.

Then I found the platform that I’d seen in my dream, but this time it wasn’t unstable or moving, but steady.

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We journey on – focused, lighter, anticipating all that God has for us.

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Thank you for your grace, Willow Park Church – well done.

Love, Michelle xo

Ps. All pics from our hike today 🙂

 

Please don’t hug me (your way)

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Dear Church,

I will start by saying. ‘His grace is enough.’

I enjoyed your Sunday morning service this week, thank you so much for your warm welcome.

You need to know it’s a big deal for anyone walking into a church for the first time – and for some more than others. I just wanted to point out a few things that might help you in understanding some of us who walk through your big glass doors.

Firstly, I realize why hugging is really important. You’re excitedly declaring, ‘welcome, come and be part of our church family.’

But you need to know…some of us can’t hug. Your way.

Touch repulses me and if you try and hug me my skin crawls. I actually want to vomit, often do, and my whole state becomes unbalanced. You might want to Google sensory processing disorder to understand more.

So maybe try not to presume everyone you meet is a hugger. When you get to know me, I’ll show you my sign for hugging, and we can do that as I walk into the foyer rather than…well…what happened.

I also really understand that eye contact is important; you show you are listening – you are giving your attention to me and no one else. The problem is, I can’t give you eye contact because my eyes sting and it feels like tiny hot needles are poking me. But please don’t think I’m rude. I’m happy that you talking to me, I just don’t like you looking into my eyes.

Finally, I know I got up and down a lot in the service. It’s not that I don’t like being there or I’m struggling with the message, or I’m that I’m demonised! Restlessness is a side effect of the medication I’m taking, so, I get up and wander around until my legs settle. Easy? Sort of, depending on the volume of the music is and how bright the lights are.

It can be tiring being me sometimes.

Thanks for reading  – I will come back next week. I know it’s about us understanding each other and I know you also have a lot of stuff going on that no one knows about. I can see that in you, it’s just that my stuff is more obvious…

I’ll close with my life verse from Psalm 139 that I like to encourage people with.

I will offer You my grateful heart,

for I am Your unique creation,

filled with wonder and awe.

You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;

Your works are wonderful;

I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.

I believe this. Do you?

Regards,

Hannah.

P.S. I also have Aspergers.  I forget to mention it sometimes…

(This is revamp/repost, for the five minute Friday prompt, ‘touch’ A letter worth reading again…)

 

You are invited into the story of the resurrected life!

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‘‘The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus Who was nailed to the cross. He is not here! He has risen from the dead as He said He would. Come and see the place where the Lord lay. Run fast and tell His followers that He is risen from the dead. He is going before you to the country of Galilee. You will see Him there as I have told you.” They went away from the grave in a hurry. They were afraid and yet had much joy. They ran to tell the news to His followers. As they went to tell the followers, Jesus met them and said hello to them. They came and held His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My followers to go to Galilee. They will see Me there.” Matthew 28:5

I love this piece, ‘the Disciples,’ by Eugène Burnand. 

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‘Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck.’

You can just imagine their feet were moving before Mary had finished talking, with the golden dawn lighting the sky, Peter and John, run, at this point, they are side by side and heading in one direction. Apprehension, amazement and resolve on their faces, hand over heart and clasped in prayer. Mike Frost wrote, ‘surely this is also the posture with which we should approach Easter. Leaning in, wringing our hands, clutching our chests, desperate for it to be true.’

Also described as the visual equivalent of Lectio Divina. “This Resurrection scene does not put us before still figures near a stagnant stone, or figures standing with stony faces in a contrived, plastic posture, pointing to an empty tomb. This scene is dynamic; we are in motion.”

‘The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed.’ John 20:4

Meditate upon their faces as Burnand intended you to do and through them discover the empty tomb.

On this day of celebration, you are invited into the story of the resurrected life.

But Michelle, it’s okay for you to talk of this resurrected life, but, is this story the answer to my wandering, my suffocating, my despair, my insignificance. My pain.

Yes! Invite Him in. I did.

Invite Jesus into your tomb and allow him to lead you out. HIs promise is life over your disappointments, your situations, your dreams, your promises.

His promise is resurrection over dormant destiny.

Then, if and when the betrayal of Maundy Thursday, the darkness of Good Friday, the confusion, questions, and doubt of Silent Saturday takes place. You can confidently face them from the place of resurrection – in the power, promise and the presence of Jesus.

He wants you to know how much you loved and created with purpose and a unique song in your soul for this world.

Happy Easter!

Love, Michelle xo

We are thankful today God. For the promise of the resurrection in every area of our lives. What a God we have and how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all life healed and whole. Amen

 

The Strangest Story of All

Black by day, Red by night

C.S Lewis calls it The Strangest Story of all
The Easter Story 

It’s all about stories.
Those ordinary ones who put Him on the cross that day, the same men who went home to their wives preparing dinner, to their playful kids. Pilate, Caiaphas, Soldiers – those who were doing their job.
A nameless carpenter who crafted the cross, doing his job.
These ordinaries remind me of the destructive darkness that lies deep – that we are all capable of. I am reminded that the cross dealt with that darkness and if I don’t deal with it then it deals with me.
Good Friday reminds us of that.
It’s all about stories.
His story
The blunt nails forced, His pierced side, impaled, broken, immersed in giving His life for you. Yet, while doing so, looking down and ensuring that his own mother was cared for. Yes, death on the cross for all of mankind, while caring for the details of his family.
Your story
Stare into the story of love, into the ending that will begin, into death that will bring life. And hear the truth declared over you, It is Finished.
What will you do with your story? Do you live it for yourself? Or do you occasionally allow God an appearance? Or do you take your story and fully immerse into God’s story?
This past week, I have been reminded of the fragility, beauty, and brutality of our broken world. Church leadership is not for faint-hearted, thankfully God calls us to be soft-hearted when situations scream otherwise. I have also heard some amazing stories of answered prayers. The deliverance of God declaring ENOUGH over what we perceived impossible and offering transformation and deliverance far beyond our best prayers.
Richard Rohr writes ‘most of human life is Holy Saturday, a few days of life are Good Friday, but there only needs to be one single Easter Sunday for us to know the final and eternal pattern. We now live inside of such cosmic hope. Jesus trusted enough to outstare the darkness, to outstare the void, to hold out for the resurrection of the forever-awaited third day, and not to try to manufacture His own. That is how God stretches and expands the soul, and makes it big enough to include God.’
I sit quietly on this Good Friday, eternally grateful, praying through the night allowing myself not speed by these final days of our Lent journey.
I’ll be back Sunday,
As my friend Gerard wrote today, let’s call it, GodisGood Friday,
Love, Michelle xo

This one dedicated to you Jake – my encourager.

What’s your word for 2019?

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Our life group gathered last night to celebrate the season and of course, share our word for the year ahead. An annual tradition that I have encouraged for many years.

FLOURISH is the word that I chose, meaning – to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.

There might have been a little mockery at the cheesiness of my word, mostly from myself but when the Spirit of God encourages a word in me – who am I to argue?!

I love the idea of a favorable environment where I can grow – I will be focusing on EVERY area – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually.

I remembered some thoughts I had written on this subject a while ago…

Are you languishing or flourishing? John Ortberg describes the two…

Languishing is recognized as the absence of mental or emotional vitality. This can result in isolation, discontentment, discouragement, feeling irritable, insignificant and troubled. A failure to thrive.

Flourishing is to grasp your purpose for living. To become God’s best version of you. Recognizing and understanding your own conditions that lead to your flourishing. When you flourish you cannot help but pour blessing into relationships. You listen to others. You are struck by their dreams. You bless. You are open. You forgive.

‘For us to reach that point of true flourishing you first need to know, grasp and believe the truth that you are God’s masterpiece. God’s Masterpiece!’

Faith flourishes when it finds its flow from the One true vine then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

As the year closes I encourage you to take time to ask God for YOUR word for the year ahead. He has plans and intentions for your life far beyond all you can ask or imagine. Ask Him to give you a glimpse of what that could look like with a simple word.

Happy New Year!

You are loved,

Michelle xo

PS. If a word doesn’t come to you… you can have mine 😉

 

Yes! Look how you’ve made all your lovers to flourish like palm trees, each one growing in victory, standing with strength!

You’ve transplanted them into your heavenly courtyard,

where they are thriving before you.

For in your presence they will still overflow and be anointed.

Even in their old age they will stay fresh, bearing luscious fruit and abiding faithfully.

Psalm 92 tpt

 

God saw what they were doing and listened in.

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I received my first Christmas present last week, a new kitchen table! As there are often more than six at our table we thought it was time to ‘officially’ seat more.  

Shauna Niequist writes “We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.”

We can find it far too easy to allow the hibernation of isolation to dictate our days. But as people created for community, doesn’t it work out best when we push down pride and let vulnerability rise.

Then those whose lives honored God got together and talked it over. God saw what they were doing and listened in. Malachi 3:16

Let us gather this season and tell stories of God’s goodness, of answered prayers. Let us speak of our Red Sea moments or finding courage for today.  

Let’s be honest about desperation, of numb grief, questions, and doubts

…and remind one another of the promise of His presence.

Let us gather around the fire of the spirit burning – our testimonies sparking a flame of faith. Testimonies of today miracles, our homes, classrooms, workspaces, and hearts filled with a declaration of ‘do it again Lord’. The power of testimony that will prophesy the possibility of God to others, waging war on darkness. The power of testimony that will reveal the reality of God and bring the spirit of celebration.

God is trusting us to have a testimony that will strengthen others, impact others, give hope to others, and comfort others.

From our family to yours, praying you know His love and presence wrapping every corner of your world this Christmas.

You are loved,

Michelle xo

O my soul, come, praise the Eternal

with all that is in me—body, emotions, mind, and will—every part of who I am— praise His holy name.

O my soul, come, praise the Eternal;

sing a song from a grateful heart;

sing and never forget all the good He has done. Psalm 103

Our Promise. Be.

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Thoughts from Isaiah 9…

 

Our Promise. Be.

Where words fail.

Faces pale.

Find us in groans of grief.

Our Promise.

Wonderful Counsellor. Be.

 

Wild fear, smothered in dark.

Tormented.

Too painful, just too hard.

Our promise.

Mighty God. Be.

 

In the empty, the void.

In the missing voice. No choice.

In loss like no other.

Our Promise.

 

Everlasting Father. Be.

Restless sunset.

A world making us wince.

Lost innocence.

Our promise.

Prince of Peace. Be.

 

O come, O come Emmanuel.

Be with us.

 

Praying this over you today,

Love, Michelle xo

 

 

Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this Advent​ time

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Advent begins…

The gospels are full of waiting people, waiting with promise. Waiting is active, which means we are fully present in the moment. Trusting that something is happening deep in our God-given promise.

Henri Nouwen writes ‘Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. We are always waiting, but it is waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps. Waiting for God is an active, alert – yes, joyful – waiting.’

The thrill of HOPE

I am reminded of the hope we have in Christ, who is HOPE, and how this sacred season is perfect for our hearts to awaken. Advent reminds me to stop, to breathe, to wait to wonder, to look, to yearn, to anticipate. Let us join in with the candle lighters, the life declarers, and the hope bringers – believing that God sent his only son as a babe and He made his home on earth and it all fell into place.

Advent is about a bigger picture. It’s about our eyes being opened spiritually, our ears hearing a new sound. To Emmanuel – God with us. How many of us are weary in the waiting, the wondering, and worrying? Advent is not the same old same old.  Advent is a time of change, let us spend time looking at the areas in our lives to be redeemed, recognizing what is holding us in its power

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maybe catching a tiny spark of wonder, the newest of realizations, or the joy of transformation.

“Advent, like its cousin Lent, is a season for prayer and reformation of our hearts. Since it comes at winter time, fire is a fitting sign to help us celebrate Advent…If Christ is to come more fully into our lives this Christmas, if God is to become really incarnate for us, then fire will have to be present in our prayer. Our worship and devotion will have to stoke the kind of fire in our souls that can truly change our hearts. Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this advent time” Fire of Advent. Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac, 

YOU are loved and I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Love, Michelle xo

 

 

A Call To The Curious Barefoot Life

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~Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God.

But only he who sees takes his shoes off;

the rest sit ’round and pluck blackberries~

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

While scrolling my instagram feed of Bella’s mission in Portland and Em, Jess and friends visit in Stourbridge, I came across an insta story which started this musing. My friend Dani (who I babysat for in Portugal and now lives in Texas with her husband) wrote that she’d heard her Mom, Nessa (my friend who lives in Florida and was preaching in Ecuador) preach on the challenge of surrender. Dani sent it to me on Whatsapp and here I am still musing on Nessa’s challenge. 

It starts with an inquisitive Moses and God in a blazing but not consumed bush, who asked of Moses, ‘Do not come any closer,…..Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Exodus 3:5

This was significant, as in the Old Testament removing your sandal and giving to another was a symbol of handing over, of giving up rights.

What did Jesus do at the Last Supper? He washed the disciples worn, dusty feet. We know that Peter, responded ‘No, I will not participate in this’ (Because he knew it was a degrading task) But Jesus, apparently committing a faux pas in His upside-down kingdom way responded ‘If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing’ Another symbol of shoes off, humility and surrender to a washing that can only be offered by the One. Not only that, the message of ‘the way down is the way up.’

Of course, we are not in the Old Testament custom of handing over shoes as redemption. It’s about our heart response to God almighty who lives in an everlasting fire and calls us to surrender – a life of serving Him and others.

Let’s journey on through on this barefoot pilgrimage – an older more poetic definition of pilgrim has its root in the Latin ‘through the field’. The ancient image suggests a curious soul who walks beyond known boundaries, crosses fields, touches the earth with a destination in mind and purpose in heart.

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My thoughts on the feet of the One who touched the earth with destination in mind and purpose in His heart

Feet of Jesus.

The womb of the chosen mother,

Trough hay in newborn toes,

Kicking.

Childhood Passover pilgrimage,

Into cold waters of Jordan,

Obeying.

The pinnacle of the temple,

Temptation to step,

Overcoming.

Fragrance fills the air,

Awash with tears,

Receiving.

Storm shakes the night,

Boat rocks as water holds,

Walking.

Dove feathers fly,

As tables overturn,

Stamping.

Fastened by nails to Cedar,

Splintered agony to death,

Loving.

Resurrected beach strolls,

With grains of sand known,

Living.

 

 

Let’s follow this example of humility and reverence of removal

Of shaking off the dust and dirt and saying yes the holy.  

And as we surrender,

God’s presence in us, promises that where we stand, is sacred, holy ground.

You are loved!

Michelle xo
PS. These feet belong to my friend Marnie and was taken during our trip to Africa a few years ago – you can read about that here  and the countryside pic was taken when Phil and I completed the Worcestershire way a few years ago which you can read about here 

I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things

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Aloha!  

I hope your summer is going well! I loved the message this weekend at Willow and thought I’d share a few thoughts from it (and merge them with a previous post) Our summer theme has been the minor prophets and this week we looked at the prophet Micah. Inevitably landing on Micah 6:8: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Let’s take our pick of the many areas to respond to globally with this verse, the injustice that we are made aware of daily. Phil brought the response to our own doorstep – to be conscious of the lonely, recognising that loneliness is a serious problem in our communities.

The bible says ‘God sets the lonely in families.’ (I’m sure that means via us?)  This is more than being alone, a state of being, in fact, being alone can be a gift (INFJ here) This is different, lonely is the emotion brought on by feelings of separation. Loneliness can be devastating, a riot in the brain that brings feelings of being uncared for, not celebrated, unloved.

Let’s backtrack to when loneliness entered – God created Adam and Eve and walked in the cool of the day with them. They were created for His presence, but as we know, sin entered the world and separated us from God. Shame, nakedness, and loneliness penetrated the heart, and we’ve struggled with this ever since, affecting many of our choices. Hurt and pain can isolate us, as we hide within the fear of rejection and misunderstanding. We deny ourselves grace, and we make unhealthy comparisons, enhancing loneliness on an island of echoes.

Good news.  

Loneliness does not exist within the Trinity – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in an adoring relationship. One does not function without the other. God is not alone, and God is not lonely. The trinity exalts one another, communing and honoring. It’s a sublime dance. Or as C.S. Lewis put it, ‘in Christianity God is not a static thing… but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you would not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.’

Let’s grasp this truth and let’s attempt the outworking of the dance… exalting, honoring, and working together and ‘as we limp toward transparency and community and friendship with our own fears and insecurities, we recognize that we aren’t alone. When we see that we are not alone, we can reach out to one another.’ Ann Voskamp.

Reach out.

As we all carry the blueprint of community, let’s find our place to belong, to find our people. For us, we have seen that in our church community – which we believe was God’s idea. We are better together! Eternity is written in our hearts while community is written on our front door, at our table, the coffee shops, where the people gather, wherever we choose to intentionally position ourselves with others. Our health could even improve, according to Caroline Leaf in her new book ‘Think, Learn, Succeed’ ‘Community involvement has been associated with mental health and cognitive resilience, reduction of chronic pain, lower blood pressure, and improved cardiovascular health. One recent study even indicates that social isolation and loneliness kill more people than obesity.’

Lord,

Help me to be aware that you are with me in every moment.

To know true community in you.

Help me grasp the truth that you desire to walk with me in the cool of the day.

In the valley and mountain. The confusion and fear. The celebration and hope.

Help us all to reach out and find our community.

Amen.

You are loved,  Michelle xo

‘I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things’ Mother Teresa