I haven’t blogged very much in the last few months, and the posts I've shared haven’t had the same style. Before lockdown was even on the cards, 2020 had been a difficult time personally. I was experiencing things that weren’t appropriate to share on a public platform. In fact, so much was happening that I couldn’t form it into anything tangible, consumable, real; not a blog post, not a painting, not even a page in my journal. Writing is a hobby, but I also feel it’s something God has given me. Writing is part of my identity, how I see myself, and I think people who know me see that too. So when I stopped writing, it felt like I was losing a bit of me, like my identity was shifting. Only on reflection I see that I was still creating things — essays and youth resources — but that was all my brain could put together at that time. There’s a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), and this season wasn’t a time for creating my usual style of writing.
And then lockdown happened.
I’m sure that in the last six weeks, you’ve seen many posts affirming how okay it is that productivity looks different at the moment. If you needed more of that, I’m about to affirm it even further.
The thing that is often overlooked is that we are all still carrying the struggles of pre-lockdown; they didn’t magically disappear when the announcement arrived. Personal difficulties are still bubbling under the surface of this new struggle that the whole world is dealing with. Whether it’s a small niggle that can be pushed to one side, or whether it’s a mountain of ferocious niggles, we all have things that we were dealing with before the pandemic. Before homeschooling, before self-isolation, before a life-threatening virus. It’s no wonder productivity, creativity, work, priorities, the way we do life, looks a little different at the moment.
I’ve hesitated posting this. I’ve thought ‘what’s the point? Who cares? Most of this stuff has been said before’. But maybe that’s what creating art, in any form, is. Maybe it’s about expression of experiences, observations, even make-beliefs. There’s no first-dibs system of creating. If an expression has already been formed into something, you’re allowed to form it into something of your own. Even if an expression has been formed into something before, and you’re just saying it louder for the people at the back, you’re just adding an ‘amen’ to add weight to the conversation, it’s no less art, it’s no less valid.
Whilst the anxious worrier cries and panics
The small whisper of optimism speaks up
Take it one day at a time
Treat yourself like a friend
Set a new rhythm of life,
for this is temporary.
Weave your days with intentionality
Becoming aware of what is worth your energy
And what will drain you
Dust off the book you said you’d read when you have more time
Create a zen space
immerse yourself in the story
walk with the characters
Feel their joy, feel their pain
shut out the world.
Bend and stretch
Skip and jump
Run and walk
Breathe in the air
Thank the body that is your house, your home
Meditate and pray
Create community in new ways
‘Knocking on the doors’ of those you love
Listen and be there
Effort is a reflection of interest
For when we are released
When surrealism is no longer our reality
perhaps we will all be more peaceful
Filled with gratitude for the things we lost
How blessed and beautiful will your first hug be
Returning to the arms of the Comforters
Gatherings will be full of joy and laughter
Even the tedious meetings will be light-giving
Together we will be again
But until then…
No doubt you've spent the last few days working out how to do remote, digital youth work in an engaging and accessible way, whilst still keeping to policy for everyone's safety. It's so important that we don't just leave our young people to it, and think that since we can't come together for our usual groups, we can't still connect with them, support them and grow them. I think that if we don't support our young people through this time, we'll certainly see the effects when we eventually reopen.
We're planning to live-stream our Sunday morning services, pre-record our Youth House Group and make it available on YouTube, and we'll be connecting with the young people on Google Hangouts once a week for chats and games.
I've also created an Isolation Survival Pack for our Children and Youth. This is a printable resource that can be adapted for your context. It's a workbook containing ideas for activities, games, crafts, writing prompts, ways to stay active, and a few Biblical devotions, that children and young people can get on with at home, either with siblings, on their own, or even via FaceTime with their friends!
I think that the workbook is suitable for your primary school children, right up to your secondary school youth group. We'll be printing the workbook and sending it to our Ignite groups (all children and young people). However, the youngest may need assistance on many of the activities, and the oldest may find some too suitable. I hope it is useful for you, and enjoyable for your children and young people. Please feel free to download it, adapt it, send it about.
Here's a link to the Isolation Survival Pack: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Vuq0oglVcV8xCpzZK1WTNNvSYjcoQ2Cm/view?usp=sharing
If I asked you to think of Christian missionaries, pioneers, founders of charities, game-changers, evangelists, and do-gooders, who would you name?
Maybe you’d tell me about George Muller, evangelist and worker of orphanages in Bristol.
Maybe you’d think of William Booth; Methodist Preacher and founder of the Salvation Army. Or maybe, you’d think of a different William; William Carey - the missionary in India who translated Bibles and founded the Baptist Missionary Society.
Perhaps your mind would jump to the well-known story of the God-Smuggler and founder of Open Doors, Brother Andrew.
Would you think of the great David Livingstone; congregationalist, physician, pioneer, missionary, explorer and anti-slavery crusader?
Who else springs to mind? William Tyndale, David Brainerd, John Wycliffe, Hudson Taylor, George Hoffman, Billy Graham?
I love aesthetically pleasing, hardback books; ones about hygge, limited edition children’s books, travel books. My weakness is that I don’t tend to read them, only leave them out on coffee tables on an aesthetically pleasing page. Two books I irregularly flick through, usually when I can’t sleep, are Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and Bad Girls Throughout History. Although they aren’t faith-based books, I hoped to find some Christian missionaries inside the beautifully illustrated page, but nobody popped out. I would assume that in looking deeper, and perhaps further research, a handful would be. But ‘faith’ ‘religion’ or ‘God’ (notice the ‘big G’) are absent words.
I am aware of Irene Howats, ’10 girls who…’ series, which includes book such as ’10 girls who used their talents’, ’10 girls who changed the world’ and ’10 girls who made history’. I think I may have read a couple of them when I was younger. I am pleased that these books are available for children (and of course adult too).
I’m also aware that, perhaps as part of Generation Z, I ‘shop with my eyes’. These books by Howats aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing, engaging or exciting. Perhaps I’m picking holes. It’s great to see these books on the shelves of Christian bookshops! And, to be fair, after further research I did find a book on Amazon that is more similar to the popular ‘Rebel Girls’ tales than a small, paperback, picture less book published over ten years ago. But what would be greater is if these books (or ones with slightly more colour and excitement) were available in the highstreet well known, chain shops , and if children, young people and adults were taught about Christian game-changing women, as well as game-changing men.
I wrote a thread of tweets and had many great responses from people suggesting great female missionaries. I had heard of approximately half of those mentioned, the other half were new to me and I enjoyed researching them. Even so, with all these new names, I still think I could name double, if not triple the amount of male missionaries. One of the replies was from my youth minister I had growing up who suggested that I “change the narrative”.
Here are just a couple of inspiring stories, but I really recommend you look further…
Gladys Aylward was born in 1902 in England. She worked through her teens as a housemaid, before being called to China. Although she completed a three-month course for aspiring missionaries, she was not offered further training by the China Inland Mission, as her Chinese language was not quite up to scratch.
In 1932, she spent her life-savings on a trip to Yangcheng, Shanxi Province, China. When she arrived, Aylward worked with an older missionary, Jeannie Lawson, to found The Inn of the Eight Happinesses, based on the eight virtues: Love, Virtue, Gentleness, Tolerance, Loyalty, Truth, Beauty and Devotion. There, she provided hospitality for travellers, as well as sharing stories of Jesus. For a time she served as an assistant to the Government of the Republic of China as a "foot inspector" by touring the countryside to enforce the new law against footbinding young Chinese girls. Later on, she took in orphans and adopted many. She intervened in a volatile prison riot and advocated for prison reform, risking her life many times to help those in need. In 1938, the region was invaded by Japanese forces and she led more than 100 orphans to safety over the mountains, despite being wounded, personally caring for them.
Lottie Moon was born in 1840 in Virginia to affluent parents. She was well educated and in 1861 she received one of the first Master of Arts degrees awarded to a woman by a southern institution.
In 1873, Lottie moved as a missionary to China. One year prior to this, her younger sister Edmonia became the first single woman to go to North China as a Baptist missionary.
She became frustrated that, although she had found her passion - evangelism and church-planting - she was not allowed to do this, being a woman. She wrote,
Can we wonder at the mortal weariness and disgust, the sense of wasted powers and the conviction that her life is a failure, that comes over a woman when, instead of the ever broadening activities that she had planned, she finds herself tied down to the petty work of teaching a few girls?
Lottie waged a slow but relentless campaign to give women missionaries the freedom to minister and have an equal voice in mission proceeding
She and her sister taught in a boys school, until Edmonia had to return due to bad health, and Lottie gave up to become a full-time evangelist.
Aware of burn-out and stress, she took time off in America in 1892 and again in 1902. The mindset at this time was “go to the mission field, die on the mission field”. Moon argued that regular rest every ten years would extend the lives and effectiveness of seasoned missionaries.
Throughout her time as a missionary, she experienced plague, famine, revolution and warm. She helped many out of her own pocket, as resources and finances weren’t available from the mission board.
Lottie Moon died as she returned home for another rest from mission in 1912, due to lack of finances (after helping so many others in need) which affected her physical and mental health.
Another great female, Christian game-changer is Amy Carmicheal, who served in India for over fifty years. She worked with girls and women, many of whom were saved from being sex-trafficked. During this time, many children in Hindu temples were dedicated to the gods and forced into prostitution. Amy Carmichael helped these girls escape and then provided them with shelter. Many called her “Amma” which means “mother” in the Tamil language.
Others that were suggested to me include Jackie Pulling, Corrie Ten Boom, Catherine Boothe, Katherine Bushnell, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Butler and Elisabeth Eliot.
This started with me doing a session plan about missionaries, and only being able to think of male missionaries. After research (if you can call a twitter-thread 'research') I've learnt about many incredible, fierce, inspirational, empowering women of faith.
The question still sits with me though, why could I only think of male missionaries? How many other people could name many more male missionaries (or expanding that phrase more generally to 'do-gooders/game-changers) than female? Is this a narrative that runs through our kids groups and youth groups, our sermons and seminars, our schools and homes? The narrative needs changing.
Who can you think of, past and present, that are Christian female missionaries, game-changers, pioneers, activists and founders?
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I seem to have lost my creative juices, not even picking up my journal in many weeks. I finished a painting that I had been working on for six months. I wrote two essays! But that is as far as my creativity has stretched.
Now that Christmas is over, I’m ready for routine to return. I’m ready to go back to things, continue things, grow things, make new things. If you haven’t yet noticed, I like to reflect. I reflect on things without noticing I’m doing it! The end of a year, the end of a decade, creates a perfect opportunity for reflection.
At the begging of this decade I was ten. During these ten years, I left primary school, started a new school, did my GCSEs and left, I got a part-time job as a newspaper deliverer, and then as a toy shop assistant, I did A-Level from home, I’ve had two placements, I started university, and got my current job, as a youth worker. I’ve visited eight countries, dyed my hair 6 colours, got two tattoos and three piercings.
It excites me to imagine what the next decade will hold; my twenties. What will I do, what will I be, what will I create, where will I go, who will come with me?
This year has been a year of staying, and what a joy that has been. It has not been with change or pain, but it has been somewhat peaceful to stay and settle in one place.
I didn’t go to college or sixth form, instead I did A-Level from home, and in the first year I volunteered for what was my home church, and in the second year I was with Youth For Christ as I volunteered in a different Church. I moved out of the family home, and have seen two different flat-mates come and go. That’s a lot of change!
I’ve enjoyed having the same job, the same church, the same course, the same home, through this year. I’ve loved getting to know the people I work with and for, the people who have become my cheerleaders, people who are in my circles, and growing in that, without having in the back of my mind that in a few months I’m going to have to leave again.
Into Next Year
I have created a small playlist of songs that I feel reflect 2019, and that are how I hope 2020 looks:
I Give You My Heart by Hillsong Worship
Highlands by Hillsong United
Waymaker by Leeland
Reckless Love by Cory Ashbury
What does you playlist look like?
It was the end of a day of lectures and I was about to make the 65 mile journey home, which usually takes around two hours, when Google Maps refused to work. No matter how many times I restarted the app, checked that my mobile data and location was on, it didn't know where I was, let alone how to take me home. Thankfully, after a year of going back and forth every fortnight, I was confident enough without Google Maps to direct me. There are one or two junctions that I'm never quite sure about, but it's usually the way I think it is, before I start second guessing myself. So, on I drove, for the first time since starting this degree course 13 months ago, without Google Maps. I could do it, and did do it, but the maps displayed on my phone provide somewhat of a security blanket.
I have two teddy bears, both called Looby. My parents tell me that I was given one when I was born, and because the once-pink teddy and I were so inseparable, my parents bought a look-alike. My parents used to wash one whilst I slept with the other. It was only when I was around 7 years old that I realised there were two Looby's! I'm now almost twenty, I don't need a teddy, let alone two, to sleep. However, like Google Maps on a motorway, a teddy acts as a security blanket; a sense of home, of comfort. My Loobys are well-travelled, and at least one has been to New Zealand, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, as well as many cities, towns and homes in England. Who knows how long they will continue to sit on my bed, or be packed away in suitcases on my travels. Not for long, I would think, since as you can see by the pictures, the Loobys are falling apart. I don't need them anymore, but they provide security.
I think that the disciples had something that brought them security too....
Matthew 4:18-2218 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
When Jesus called the disciples, they were fishing. Jesus told them to put their nets down and follow him. Put down your teddy, turn off your Google maps.
When Jesus had died and returned again, he found the disciples fishing (John 21:3-14). Once Jesus had gone from their everyday, thing they returned to was fishing, this sense of security, the thing they knew.
I'm not suggesting you never use a Sat-Nav again, and you throw away anything that makes you think of home, anything that brings you comfort and security. But it made me wonder what thing in life, in struggles, in chaos brings me comfort and security. Perhaps a habit, a possession, a thought pattern. If Jesus told me to put it down and follow him, what would my response be?
I wrote this poem in March but never widely shared it. I thought that World Mental Health Day was as good a time as any. It's okay to let the mask slip, to let the smile fade. It's okay to talk to a friend about it, and it's very very very okay to not be okay.
Sometimes my mind feels like it’s all tangled, and nobody can ever untangle it for me. It’s dark and it’s heavy and it’s hopeless.
But it always gets lighter, and it always untangles. Some days I can still do my to-do list with a tangled mind, and other days I really have to push myself. But some days I have coffee with a friend, or I go to counselling, and I can feel the knots being untangled. Or sometimes I go to the gym, and I can feel the knots untangling with every step on the treadmill. Sometimes I bake, sometimes I draw, some times I paint, sometimes I write, and I can feel the knots untangling with every whisk, with every line, with every stroke, with every word. But other times I self destruct and the knots get tighter. Or other times I close the door and say, “sorry, I can’t come tonight!” and the knots get tighter. But I’m learning, and that’s okay.
Today, World Mental Health Day, I want to tell you to look after yourself. Have coffee with a friend, go to counselling, run, bake, draw, paint, write, watch a feel-good film, eat well and drink plenty of water. Get the sleep your body needs. And if you’re still not okay, that’s still okay. Reach out.
They say that comparison is the thief of joy. Boy, are they right.
There are more people than I can count on my fingers that are making announcements recently, whether they’re close friends, mutual friends, or influencers I follow online. Announcements of pregnancies, engagements, new house, new job, book publication, or the launch of a massive conference or project fill my timeline. And in comes that small but mighty voice that says, “and what are you doing?”
“The same old” I reply
The voice needn’t reply; I’m already deep in the pool of comparison, thinking everybody is doing something new and exciting and I’m just watching it happen.
When I finally put my perspective goggles on, I see that actually I’ve already done a lot of traveling. I went on three mission trip before the age of 16, one of which was by myself. I’ve already done my GCSEs and A-Levels, and I’m already in Year 2 of Uni. I’ve already learnt to drive. I’ve already left home and I’ve already got a ‘new job’, which just so happens to be the one I’ve wanted since I was 15.
And I’m not yet twenty.
Without perspective goggles, being in a season of no announcements can be difficult, especially in a digital age. Nobody goes on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to say, “I have no news!” People post the highlights; the holidays, the productive work-meeting, the massive youth conference, the parties.
You very rarely see Christians who have a large online following tweet, “I led a small group tonight. Hardly anyone came and nothing happened. I’m not sure what message anyone went home with. Clearing up the mess left now, but God is still good”. No, what you see is, “I led a brilliant small group tonight! More people than we’ve ever had with such an inspiring, life-changing, powerful message. Can’t wait for next week!”
When I ask youth leaders how things are going, they often respond with statistics of how many young people came to faith at their last big gathering. I’m the same; when people ask how the drop-in youth cafe I lead is going, my answers are statistics, not adjectives. I tell them how many young people we have coming now and I tell them about how many are now coming to Church from this youth cafe.
I wonder whether Jesus would have social media, and if He would, what he would post. In many stories we read in The Bible, Jesus actually tells people not to share the story of what just happened (Luke 8:56, Matthew 16:20, Mark 7:36). I think that if He did post, his statuses would reflect the Father.
The Bible is full of great stories of breakthrough and miracles, that nowadays would make perfect Instagram captions. But the Bible doesn’t tell you every second of every day of the ‘big characters’. So much of Joseph’s life, and Moses’s and Elijah’s and even Jesus’s life is missing from the Bible. I don’t think every day was an announcement day. Perhaps there were some days that they or we would read as monotonous. Days of just walking, days of warning people of the same prophecy with no breakthrough, days of studying, days of fishing, days of manual work.
In a season of no announcements, God is no less powerful or at work.
A season of no announcements is not a signal to put down tools and find something else to do. A season of no announcements may actually be the opposite.
A friend sent me this quote recently, and I feel it sums up a season of no announcements perfectly.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
At the weekend, I was away with Church in beautiful Stafford. I was co-leading the children and youth meetings, whilst the adults had separate meetings each day. We played games, did colouring and drawing, created dramas and crafts, and we looked at how the Bible teaches hope, grace and what it means to be Christ-like. On Sunday, we taught the children a bible verse:
“We all show the Lord’s glory and we are changed to be like him” 2 Corinthians 3:18
To learn this verse, we decided to write a word on each of their hands. They then stood in order with their hands up and we repeated the verse together. Slowly, we asked the children to put a hand behind their back, until we were left with no more hand-prompts.
We had planned to show the adults our verse in the feedback all age service later that day. One of the youngest children had gone home before this service, so I stepped in to have the words “we all” on my hands. I went to grab a pen from a different room, and came back to where the other co-leader and I were standing. She asked if I wanted help, but I had already started writing. Once I was done and explained that I’m ambidextrous so can do it myself, she laughed and said that it would be backwards. It took me a few seconds of starring at my hands that said “we” on my left, and “all” on my right to work out how it was backwards. Then I thought, ‘if I’ve done mine backwards, does that mean I had done all the children’s backwards too?’ Once it clicked, I too laughed realising that Id have to cross over my hands to make it work, and said that this was the epitome of stubbornness.
This got me thinking about us being stubborn in our relationship with God. I wonder whether already you relate? Had I just slowed down and not begun writing until I was back to my colleague and friend, then perhaps she would have reminded me which way round the words go before I got dark blue ink on my hands. Had I accepted help when it was offered, it would have meant the sentence made sense without me crossing my hands over! Sometimes, God asks us “do you want help?” Or he puts people in place to help us, but we’ve already gone ahead and we get it so wrong that it doesn’t make sense.
Society has an image in its head of what a beautiful woman looks like. Although some advocates - Megan Crabbe, Hannah Witton, Asos and Nike to name a few- are beginning to change this, the majority of society and the media says that beautiful women have a flat belly and a thigh gap.
I joined the gym in January this year, as it seems many others did. Apparently, 12% of gym members join in January, and half of those quit within six months.
Whenever I mention to people that I go to the gym, it’s usually followed by a response along the line of, “but why? There’s nothing to you”.
I go to the gym not to lose weight, but to gain mental strength. Sure, some of routines in the studio are to make lifting and carrying things when setting up for Youth groups a little easier, but that’s as far as it goes. I go to the gym because when you exercise, you release endorphins (feel-good hormones). I go with the goal to run just 1K. So when I end up running, 2, 3, or even 6 last week, I come home feeling like I’ve achieved something. I don’t go to the gym to be a size smaller. There certainly is something to me; strength.
When I joined the gym, I told myself that I would only go a maximum of twice a week; one of those times could be using machines and doing classes, and the other time had to be swimming or using the steam room. Becoming a member of a gym was a risky choice because it was during a season that I was struggling with body confidence, and so I needed accountability. I told a friend my rule, and still nine months later she reminds me not to over-do it at the gym, and when I’m feeling low she suggests that I ‘run it off’.
A Person, Not a Piglet
That season was a bit of a blur. I had the image of Dakota Johnson and thought that she’s pretty-skinny, whereas I was ‘ugly-skinny’. When people said things like, “there’s nothing to you”, in my mind they were saying, “you’re ugly-skinny”. Of course nobody meant it in that way, they never do. So I was both wanting to put on weight and eat foods and exercise in ways that would help that, as well as being worried about changing the body I have, that society says is ‘right’. I began to be anxious when I ate around people I didn’t know well, because I thought they were thinking that I was eating too much or too fast or not the right things.
A couple of months ago I was sat at my soft-office (my bed) and I had a ‘stomach-flop’. Just because of the jeans I was wearing, the amount I had eaten, the way I was sitting, but nonetheless, my stomach was not flat. And for the first time in what felt like a lifetime, I was not upset, but I celebrated. This was growth. This was a sign of me looking after my body as if it was my friend. I wrote in my journal that day, “dear little stomach flop, you can stay. Dear world, swap ‘you look thin’ for ‘you look healthy’ if you mean it as a compliment. And please stop offering me the last biscuit to ‘fatten me up’, I’m a person, not a piglet’.
I’m a Tent Masterpiece
It look a lot of prayers, time, pushing past insecurity, going to a women’s curry night and a church bring and share lunch even when I didn’t want to, to realise that my body is a gift from God. It’s a masterpiece. It’s also a tent. In Corinthians, Paul says that “these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade”. They’re just the ‘thing’ to carry us through to the next life, yet so much thinking is put into making sure my ‘tent’ is ‘perfect’, whatever that means. Sure, there are still some days that I view the wrong thing on Instagram and compare myself. There are still some days that nothing fits me right, even after four wardrobe changes. There are still days when I hear there’s going to be another Church lunch and my immediate thought is, “urgh, how can I get out of this one?” But those days a lessening and lessening, because I’m growing and blooming.
Mental Health Taboo
I tell these stories to hopefully encourage you in some ways. The taboo of mental health is something I grapple with, probably more so since being involved in church ministry. A lot of the time I see it as a weakness, and so I cover it up. But imagine if every leader in whatever setting always hid their struggle. You’d think that you were the only one to ever battle anything, and that God only uses those who are strong and together. Sure, something I’ve battled with aren’t ready to be shared with the wider world just yet, and that’s okay. I share them with a small group of people that care for me and will journey with me, but not yet from a platform. And that’s okay. But what isn’t okay is thinking that those you look up to, those that lead you, those that you are around don’t struggle. I share this with you because I’m a student youth worker that is growing and blooming, but journeying and struggling along the way too.
Here are some links to statistics, phrases, quotes and people that I’ve mentioned:
Nike uses a ‘plus-size’ mannequin
Asos want to “give our customers the confidence to be whoever they want to be. So we take our responsibilities seriously when it comes to protecting their mental health, wellbeing and body confidence”
Exercise releases endorphins
Your body is a tent