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Dear Mum,

Just FYI - YOU'RE LIVING WITH A THIEF.

May have to come home early coz clearly all the locks I put on my bedroom door and all the Indiana Jones/Home Alone stylee traps have not been sufficient.

Love from Rachel

PS. Please inform the fam that I am now recruiting a new favourite sister. Interviews and auditions will be held in August. Extra points to anyone who makes me a cake and buys me all the books on my wish list.

So, yeh. 25 for 25 is over (almost, I mean I have a few left to go. Whatevs. There's just a few that required a bit more planning than I had time to actually get done.)

So now that I'm officially in my mid-twenties, or as I like to tell people, almost 30, I thought it high time I dispense some pearls of wisdom gathered from my 25 complete years on this here planet. In no particular order:

1. It's been said before and I'll say it again: your comfort zone is not where the magic happens.

2. Wear suncream, for real. You'll thank me in 20 years time, for sure.

3. On a night out nothing good happens after 2am. People drink too much, get into stupid fights, hook up with people they shouldn't and take drugs they shouldn't. Do yourself a favour and get on that Night Bus before the real crazy hits the fan and you have to run all the way home.

4. Love God. Love others. Repeat.

5. Go to Norway (you may need to sell a kidney in order to eat there but it'll be worth it. Trust me).

6. The people who have the most fun? They're the ones who really don't care what you or anyone else thinks about them. They're having too much fun to consider your judgement.

7. Sugar is crack. Just say no kids. Just. Say. No.

8. You can't outrun your problems (unless your're being chased by an angry mob) and it's exhausting to try. They don't leave if you ignore them either. Maybe you need to make the space to deal with them. Trust me, I went to Norway to avoid 25. Apparently you can turn 25 in Norway too - who knew?

9. Our actions have consequences (climate change haters take note).

10. Life is HD y'all. Turn off the TV and get outside. Breathe in the HD air, look at the HD sky and interact with the HD people.

11. Fairtrade. Fairtrade. Fairtrade.

12. Generosity is key.

13. Forgive. Grudges cost energy and give you frown lines. Not cool yo. Not cool.

14. Make peace with your fam - you never know when you might need a kidney.

15. The art of vulnerability is a balance. Too much = emotional wreck with friends rapidly running out of patience. Not enough = Buzz Lightyear before he knew he was a T.O.Y.

16. We need a community. Why go solo when you can take a friend?

17. Han shot first.

18. See the world - your world view is not normal for the whole wide world.

19. Adventures rarely come to those who sit around and wait for them to knock on the door (unless you happen to be Bilbo Baggins). You gotta atleast make an effort.

20. Caring about being cool is not cool yo.

21. Vote. You might not think it makes a difference. I know for sure where I live it doesn’t make a difference (surrounded by staunch conservatives). But stand up and be counted. Yeh, I agree, I don't trust any of them – lies, statistics and more lies. But some are worse than others.

22. I’ve said it at least once before and I'll say it again – put your phone away. For real. If you’re reading this on your mobile – put your phone down and don't even finish this sentence...

23. Spending your full time 9-5 being slowly drained of life is not ok.

24. There's a reason why old people are wise - they've already made that mistake you're about to make. So go see what they think.

25. Jesus > Dolly Parton > Beyonce.

Life is for living yo. So live it.

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I don’t know what to do about the pain

Not mine

Theirs

The mothers’ - daughters’ - sisters’ - aunts’ - cousins’ - nieces’ - grandmothers’ - friends’ - neighbours’.

I don’t know what to do about the pain

Not mine

Theirs’

The fathers’ - sons’ - brothers’ - uncles’ - cousins’ - nephews’ - grandfathers’ - friends’ - neighbours’.

Recent headlines: Over 400 Palestinians killed. Israeli soldiers who went to war and will never go home. 298 people whose bodies are on a train and belongings are strewn across fields somewhere in Ukraine. Syrian widows caring for their children in a refugee camp. Iraqi Christians fleeing their homes. Not forgetting  the thousands suffering in the CAR conflict, Girls stolen from their school...The list goes on

Senseless destruction. Lines drawn between Us and Them that ruthlessly ignores the thousands caught inbetween

I don’t know what to do about the pain

The cries. The grief. The blood soaked clothing

It is with them every minute. But I can’t even bare to read, talk or think about it.

The option to temporarily turn off the grief is a privilege.*

Israeli artist Amir Schiby's tribute to 4 boys killed on Gaza beach

Today in church we sang How Great Thou Art. And though my soul sang of your greatness, my heart ached for their pain, and my head asked You again why this has happened

We prayed for our daily bread. Yet I know that there are thousands who do not know where their next meal is coming from and have to console their hungry children.

Despite what the world says, I know You are still good

Despite what the world says, I know that Your heart grieves for every lost life and heart filled with pain

Despite what the world says, I know that you are not distantly watching but are with the brokenhearted

I know you are still Good. I know this is true

But I don't know what to do about the pain

 

World Peace. It sounds so Miss World.  Yet I have hope in the one named the Prince Of Peace. I have hope that one day he will bring healing and an end to conflict

So I will continue to pray for your good and perfect will of Love, Justice & Peace  to be done

I will continue to pray for our world leaders to make wise, compassionate and loving decisions

I will continue to pray for protection, healing and provision for the millions of refugees caught and trapped by fights they never asked for

I will continue to pray for comfort for those who mourn

I will continue to pray that we will love and forgive our neighbours

I will continue to ask why

Because I don’t know what to do about the pain.

Take heart for I have overcome the world. John 16v33

 

*thanks Twitter for the quote

It’s happening y’all. Just as I feared when I embarked on this not so exotic unadventure back to Suburbia.

Suburb values are starting to win me over. I think I’m being brainwashed by Waitrose, olive oil & balsamic vinegar and M&S Food. Don’t laugh. This is serious business.

The distinction between want and need grows ever hazier and harder to decipher. Don’t we all need an en suite, loft conversion, double driveway and two weeks lying on a beach somewhere with guaranteed sun? Surely that’s on the UN Convention of Human Rights. And if not I'm starting a petition - who's with me?

Life without a garden is unimaginable. I mean, a summer without The Washing vs. Rain Struggle is no summer at all (Is it gonna rain? Shall I put my washing out? It’s a bit cloudy but I’ll chance it...)

The Song of Suburbia wakes me up each morning and sings me to sleep with a Hymn to a Safe Life - Build a bigger barn, store more stuff, send your children to private school, go on nice holidays. For then you shall be safe. You shall be secure. Harm will not visit your doorstep.Build a bigger barn.

Not having a car or even being able to drive is quite a novelty - #world’smostboringpartytrick

And can you imagine – the council are doing such a shoddy job of maintaining the grass verges that if we actually want it to look decent we have to do it ourselves. One of my neighbours was so distressed that he even spent a Saturday afternoon, on one of the hottest days of the year so far, having to tackle the overgrown grass. What do we even pay council tax for?

Lowering the tone (and houseprices) of the neighbourhood
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Acceptable.

The Kingdom of Comfort is alive and flourishing.

Not that the suburbs is without pain – lost family members, lost jobs, lost health, lost life - but its just less obvious when everyone builds higher fences and bigger hedges.

But never fear – I’m fighting back. Starting with re-reading the Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claibourne (Holla at me all you other Ordinary Radicals. Read it if you have no idea what I'm talking about). Though I have to remember that I’m not Shane. And that’s ok. We can’t all be Shane. Because who would be Beyonce? Or McBusted? Or me?

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It's supposed to be simple right?...

Love God. Love people.

And then...

Serve refreshments after church. Live intentionally. Read your Bible more. Pray more. Seek first the kingdom. Don’t worry. Pray more. Youth group. Home group. Kids’ work. Be missional. Be a supportive friend. Be a supportive colleague. Honour your parents. Lead by example. Breathe & repeat. Love God. Love people. Serve refreshments after the service. Live intentionally. Read your Bible more. Pray more. Seek first the kingdom. Don’t worry. Pray more. Youth group. Home group. Kids’ work. Be missional. Be a supportive friend. Be a supportive colleague. Honour your parents. Lead by example. Oh yeah, spend time with Jesus.

Ever found that in-between all the things of life the yoke gets harder and the burden heavier? Ever felt like drowning someone in a sea of your to-do list when they ask you why you look tired?

No? Just me? Not likely.

I’ve heard the story of Mary and Martha a million times – literally, I’ve counted. But I’ve only just understood it.

As Jesus and his disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he taught. But Martha was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said “Lord doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her “My dear Martha you are upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it – and I won’t take it away from her.”

Hold. the. phone.

There was Martha, slaving away over the hot fire trying to prepare a feast for Jesus and the many many people in her home. As the fire gets hotter and there’s more and more to do she notices that the person who would usually help her is casually sitting round listening to Jesus. Of course she would be frustrated. She was trying to serve God. It's not every day the Son of God rocks up to your house.

Last Christmas I gave you my heart but the very next day my Sister & I took control of our kitchen to avoid the usual Holmes family dramatics over an oven that's simply too small to provide food for 15-20 people (you just can't be dealing with burnt stuffing and soggy roast potatoes on Christmas Day. It's not acceptable). We delegated all meat cooking to various family members to do at home, smiled and told everyone that we had it all under control when we didn't have a clue what we were doing but it was teamwork only that got our feast to the table before New Year 2015. If my Sister had been sitting around while I was running through the kitchen looking for the pastry knife I would have been all the names of purple furious. So I can feel Martha's pain - the oven's hot, people are getting hungry, it's an important meal and there's no-one to help.

But Jesus turns to Martha and says,

“You are upset over all these details. There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it – and I won’t take it away from her.”

Now I’m not sure Martha wouldn't have classed all her food prep as mere detail, but that's what it was.

So what was it that Mary has discovered?

Look back a few sentences - Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he taught.

Mary was spending time with Jesus. Listening to what he taught. Even though Martha was running around to serve Jesus - it was still just detail compared to spending actual time with him.

It's not that the cooking wasn't important. I'm not saying that we should stop serving God through activities at church, outside of church etc. But the main thing was spending time with Jesus.

So this week. In all the busyness of life I will try to remember that there is really only one thing worth being concerned about.

Because if the yoke isn’t easy and burden not light then surely we haven't received what Jesus offers.

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David is one of my fave members of the Bible crew. Because let’s face it, if even after he arranges to have his mistress’s husband killed in war he can still be in that Hebrews 11 Great Hall of Faith, then there’s definitely hope for the rest of us.

Ever wondered what kinda person David would be if he were a 2014 twenty-something?

The whole writing psalms thing instantly conjures up images of an anaemic looking hipster drinking flat whites in Peckham and typing his poetic laments into a macBook typewriter. But then writing songs and playing the harp for the king was more singer-songwriter right?

But let’s go back to the start, when we first hear of him David is a shepherd for the family business. He would have spent most of his time caring for and defending the sheep. Shepherds had to be tough, ever had face off a bear or lion? Me neither, but I’m pretty sure it requires guts that I don’t have. And let’s not forget that whole incident where he defeats a giant that had everyone else running scared. David was courageous.

He also spent a great deal of time on the run from King Saul hiding out in caves. Kinda like Edward Snowden but more rural.

David was a mighty warrior – decorated war vet?

In his moments most far from God he had a weakness for beautiful women and found abusing his power as an easy way to deal with any consequences.

Here was a man who understood music, battle, betrayal and life on the run. And then he was a king.

So if you put them all together you get a more poetic, slightly grungy, strong, fearless and Godly Marcus Mumford type Prince William?

But my favourite all time thing about David was that he was a man after God’s own heart. As demonstrated by his ability to throw kingly dignity out window and dance for joy before God. I mean, I love to dance. But it's usually up in da club when I no longer know if I'm Rachel or Beyonce.

There he is, leading the Arc of God back to Jerusalem with the people of Israel celebrating all around and he simply can’t contain it any longer. David is filled with the joy of bringing the Arc back and with the presence of God. Forget dignity; forget honour of the House of David, he starts to bust a move. Think Pharell’s Happy/Tom Cruise jumping over the sofa on Oprah/your dad and uncles at a family wedding after a few too many drinks mash up - but with more Holy Spirit. Could you ever imagine the Queen busting a move for sheer joy at the opening of parliament or whatever important national thing it is that she does?

When I was a teenager I refused to run for the bus. I decided that hitching up my school skirt to run up a hill whist juggling a PE kit, five text books and a clarinet was just too undignified. I preferred to watch the bus sail pass and wait 20 minutes for the next one – yeh, ridiculous I know; thankfully my teenage years are far behind me (despite the cashier in Sainsberry asking me for ID because he thought I was 16! Sixteen! He clearly shoulda gone to specsavers).

Rarely now in my adult life do I choose to be undignified (karaoke night in Nashville not withstanding - don't ask). But David embraced indignity. David’s joy was so much that he didn’t care what people thought about him – to the scorning sarcasm of one of his wives, “How glorious the king of Israel looked today! He exposed himself to the servant girls like any indecent person might do.” To which David replies “So I am willing to act like a fool in order to show my joy in the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this...”

I don't like looking foolish. Do you?

Guide us, O Lord,
When we have lost our way.
When we are stumbling from one path to another
Because we took our eyes from your lights on the path.
When we are no longer certain of our direction
Because we are confused about the purpose of our journey.
 
Guide us, O Lord,
When faced with an abundance of options
We are paralysed with the fear of failure.
Having fallen in love with holding out for the best opportunity
We have forgotten to be thankful for the freedom of choice.
And in our efforts to do your will
We have forgotten that burning bushes are not an everyday occurrence.
 
Guide us, O Lord
When we boldly dare
To renew our search for your lights on the pathway.
When in following your word
To the pathway of holiness
We shall find the gateway of the narrow path
 
We ask you to remind us of our identity with You;
And to guide us in re-imaging our future
In strength, courage, hope and love.
 
This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

Based on Disturb us, O Lord by Francis Drake. Part One: Comfort us, O Lord

Last last weekend I ventured into the wilds of Basingstoke-shire to see some of the East London crew.

It was a weekend full of the usuals and the unexpecteds:

The usual apprehension about trips to the country:  no street lights, axe murders hiding in the trees, no phone reception when being chased by said murderer, amazement at big open green spaces and seeing an actual live cow. A real cow. Not a burger.

Some of the unexpecteds: managing  to eat celery and mushrooms without crying, wifi,  & going for a walk by myself in the country without getting lost and/or murdered by a mad axe man (win win).

I was reminded of why I found leaving Bethnal Green so sad. I was reminded that my story, though important, is not the only one. Let me break it down for you...

Mary and Martha were friends of Jesus and their brother, Lazarus was dying. So they did the most logical thing when someone you love is seriously sick and you happen to have a friend who can heal - they sent Jesus a message to let him know. They probably hoped that Jesus would come right away and heal their brother – bringing an end to the pain and anxiety of Lazarus being on his literal death bed. (Read John 11 for the full story).

But Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus had died.

Four days late you could say. Four days of heart wrenching grief. Four days of pain and sorrow. Four days of so many tears you have none left. Four days of so many tears you think you have none left but somehow they appear from somewhere over the rainbow. Four days of wondering how Jesus could have stood by and let this happen to you. Four days of wondering why you even bothered to tell Jesus what was happening – because apparently it made no difference. Four days of wondering if Jesus didn't even care. Four days of people trying to say the right thing and making it worse. Four days of people saying the right thing and bringing some comfort. Four days of wondering what the future holds. Four days of wondering why it didn’t turn out as you hoped for with all your heart. Four days of unanswered questions. Four days of trying to remember that death is not the end. Four days of clinging to the hope of resurrection and heaven. Four days of heart wrenching grief.

Ever been there? Hope deferred and heartsick? Ever wondered why what you hoped for with all your heart is as dead as Lindsay Lohan's music career?

The thing about Mary and Martha was that God had a bigger plan than just healing their brother. God had a bigger plan than just restoring their family and ending their pain by bringing Lazarus’ back from the dead. Their story was not the only one.

Many people had come to mourn with Mary and Martha, and many of them were at the tomb when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. As a result of witnessing this miracle many of them believed in Jesus. They were still talking about it a few days later in Jerusalem.

So when Jesus first heard that Lazarus was sick he could have gone straight away and healed him. And maybe only a few people outside of their community would ever have known – and maybe few of those would have believed that it was true.

But God’s timing meant many people witnessed the miracle of life being brought back to a dead man. Many people outside of their community heard about it.

It was never just about Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They were part of a bigger story.

Ever been there? Hope deferred, heartsick and wondering why.

I would like to promise you that if you stick it out, just have a little patience, God will do the unexpected when you have lost all hope. Maybe He will. But maybe its just like my invite to Beyonce's next party - got lost in the post and never gonna happen.

Or just maybe you’re part of a bigger story that though painful will mean much to many others.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16v33

We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. Romans 6 (The Message)

The Stone Table
"...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards." The Lion, the witch and the Wardrobe

So, it’s been six months of Exile already. Time to stop collaborate and listen pause and reflect.

There is much to be learned in Exile.

I’m learning new ways to block out that annoying thing called light when you’re on your way to work.

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Using time wisely

I’m learning that celebrating International Womens' day by choosing to spring clean my bedroom and buying myself flowers is just as revolutionary as not shaving your legs (or armpits if you're Madonna) – because I am privileged enough to make my own decisions about how I live my life (thank you Destiny's Child and the Spice Girls for lessons in being an Independent Woman). But there are millions of women and girls who do not have that privilege, here's why its important...

I’m learning that one of the purposes of Exile is to show God’s provision. There can be new life, new meaning, new dreams, new routines and new community in Exile. There is life in the seemingly barren places.

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I’m learning that not everyone has a problem with clipping their nails on the DLR whilst on the way to work.

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Eww

I’m learning that in the same way that faith produces good works, Love Does. Love doesn't stop at thoughts and feelings. Love takes action. Love enriches others' lives. Love Does. Bob Goff has this down to a T.

I’m learning that life without risks where you have no option but to depend on God, is boring, stagnant and uncomfortably comfortable.

Shout out to Jessica Hagy for this creation.

I’m learning that revolution in the suburbs isn’t always that subtle – don’t like the fact that they’re digging up half the street to change the electrics or something? Simply don’t move your car.

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I’m learning that though the love of money can be the root of all kinds of evil, the joy of generosity can overcome it.

I'm learning that dancing in the hailstorm is so much easier after you've praised Jesus first.

I’m learning that streams in the desert and ways in the wasteland can be hard to find, but once found, following the path and drinking from the stream brings Life, in abundance. Hallelujah.