Happy Easter!

Well happy Easter everyone!

Lots of people rising to the challenge of making Easter happy and special in spite of this crazy head wrecking covid 19 season.

Already today I’ve felt every emotion possible. It’s like this virus has stripped us bare; cruelly removing all our carefully crafted protective armour and masks. Raw emotion lurking so close to the surface it takes very little to expose it. I find myself fighting back tears more times in a day than ever before. And the things that touch me feel like the smallest and silliest of things. I find myself just as quick to anger. The slightest offence , to put it crudely, just pisses me off as though someone had stolen my most prized possessions! Yet at the same time I have felt intense joy in things I’d previously taken for granted. Conversations with people who matter. Brief encounters with friends who have walked past our house or have passed us on the street. Birds seem to tweet louder. Family meals. The sunshine. Even the rain we had the other night.

These last few weeks I’ve felt both helpful and helpless. Hopeful and hopeless. Guilty and free. Anxious and at peace. Focussed and all over the place. Unsettled and contented. Resentment and forgiveness. Bitterness and grace. Lonely and surrounded. Unseen and seen. Unheard and heard. Known and forgotten.

I’m sure I’m not alone in all of the above.

Today is Easter Sunday. Ordinarily I’d be in church. Singing “O Happy Day” and declaring “He is risen”. And if I’m honest I’d have done that irrespective of what was happening in my life and irrespective of how I was truly feeling. Our circumstances don’t change the circumstances of the Easter story or the story behind the Easter story. The story being about love, hope, unity, freedom, goodness and life.

For those followers of Jesus from the accounts of the resurrection; the disciples and the Marys; this Easter Sunday was truly a good and happy day. A day when life overcame death; good overcame evil; hope overcame despair. This is as relevant and real and truth filled today as ever before. Maybe more so.

And yet…. life still went on for those happy people. There was still uncertainty. Still confusion. Still persecution. Still struggle. Life wasn’t suddenly rosy for Peter and his crew as we see when we read the book of Acts.

And so that’s how I can relate to the resurrection story on this weird, unprecedented (now there’s a word I never want to hear again when this is over!) Easter Sunday. It’s all about hope and perspective. It’s about acknowledging the present. The fear. The grief. The frustration. The loneliness. The anger. The sadness. Whilst at the same time noting and holding onto future hope; to those moments of joy; of contentment; of love; of grace.

This dark season will come to an end. The sun will eventually rise. The battle against this virus will be won. It won’t be a fairytale ending…. think we’ve learnt that no ones life is a fairy tale…. but it can and will be good again….. And it will be good because fundamentally we are good.We each have the capacity for goodness. That’s how we were made. Out of love and for love. And true love is always good.

So have a good and happy Easter everyone.

With loads of love ❤️🌈❤️

New Year ponderings

Happy New Year!

I think New Year’s Eve 2019 going into 2020 sums life up.

At this time of year we can’t help but reminisce on New Years past. Facebook memories is always there to remind us that once we were younger, more fun, had more energy and more friends! We have had some great New Years in the past! And even managed a few hangover fuelled New Year’s Day walks!!

This year I was on call. So no plans. No prosecco! No party poppers! Just an M&S ready meal (which was excellent!), my family and Billy Elliot!

At midnight I found myself in A&E on an assessment. Fireworks and singing in the background as 3 practitioners did our best to help someone who’s new year hadn’t turned out as planned either.

I came home in the early hours to my family drinking tea and eating bagels! Not a party popper in sight. And I honestly felt blessed and humbled.

As I reflect on years past the only conclusion I can draw is probably the same for us all. That life doesn’t always turn out as we hoped. We have no idea what 2020 will hold for us but without doubt there will be highs and lows; easy paths and steep uphills; unexpected turns; dead ends; huge curve balls; unexpected joys; gains and losses.

So for me today it’s about how I choose to navigate all of the above. And I choose to do it with hope. I choose to do it with faith. Hope and faith that I am here for a reason. That my life, however small and insignificant it may feel at times; counts for something. That I can do my bit for others and for our planet. That I can make a difference. That I am part of something way bigger and more complex than I know. That the people I connect with are equally worthy of that hope and the world I live in is worthy of my mercy.

Without doubt I will mess up. I’m a messy person and I live in a messy world. But I also believe in a God whom I don’t fully understand but who’s way is love. Who’s desire is for connection with us, between one another and with our planet. He will forgive my failings and will offer enough grace for me to carry on as best I can. And so I have enough faith and hope and peace and grace to pray the prayer below as I step into 2020.

My prayer for New Years Day 2020 is written I think by john Wesley or someone way more eloquent than me. Its a powerful yet truly humbling prayer.

i am no longer my own, but Yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with

whom You will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for You, or laid aside for You,
exalted for You, or brought low for You;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am Yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Waiting and Hoping

I was touched, this morning, by a prayer for advent written by Sarah Bessey, which I spotted on social media (and I’ve posted below). Sarah Bessey is a public speaker and author who speaks and writes mainly about her experiences of faith wrestling over the years in the context of suffering and grief. I can relate so much to the stuff she says…. if only I could say it with such eloquence!

Her prayer is about the inviting God into the waiting. Allowing hope to take root. Even when hope is but a glimmer….A shard of light in a very dark place…. a knowledge that dawn always follows even the longest of nights.

When Jesus (who happens to be a hero of mine) walked the earth He declared that God’s kingdom was near. That’s hope. But it’s hard to see this in today’s world. The world is a mess. And as hard as we try we all play our part in that.

Two other heroes of mine are Sir David Attenborough who has been a legend in my eyes for so many years; and Greta Thunberg who has dominated our social media pages for much of the year in her unique endeavour to bring to our attention the state of the planet. I think this year more than any other I have started to understand the enormity of the crisis our planet is in and that I have to play my part in doing something about it. Our family phrase for 2019 has been “what would Greta say?!?” (Even on subjects absolutely nothing to do with the state of the planet!!)

And yet…. no doubt this Christmas I will fill my bin with plastic; waste a load of paper and throw food out that I didn’t really need.

Ive also spent the year, as have many others, thinking more openly about mental well-being. Thinking about stress, work-life balance, rest and living a less hurried life.

And yet already I find myself getting caught up in the drama, expectation and competition that Christmas becomes. Every time someone asks “have you got your tree up yet?” Or “have you wrapped your presents yet?” Or “have you written your cards yet?”…. I find myself retreating into that all too familiar pre-Christmas dread!

So maybe hope in the wait of Advent seems almost impossible for many of us. Maybe hope is just a faint glimmer. But perhaps there’s another way of seeing hope that might actually be hope building instead of hope destroying.

What if waiting and hoping weren’t passive? What if we had to do our bit? When Jesus said His kingdom was near he was talking about love and peace and grace and mercy. But these weren’t abstract concepts; He lived them. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, befriended the unlovely, showed mercy to those living under shame.

What if we were to do the same? What if the way we wait and hope over advent was all about doing our bit to increase the love and peace and grace and mercy levels in our little bit of the world? What if we fed the hungry? Brought healing where there’s suffering; befriended those who need a friend? Showed mercy and kindness to those who are on their knees?

Could our glimmer of hope grow?

Maybe.

It’s worth a try surely.

So here’s the prayer. I pray it brings hope.

Creator, Saviour, Spirit, well, here we are.

Our hands and hearts are open. There is one candle flickering in the darkness here at our table. We come to You with a year’s worth of loss, of grief, of longing, of questions and doubts. It has felt like a dark night for many of us.

Would You meet us here in our waiting? Would You meet with those of us who have unanswered prayers and broken hearts? We remember the prophets and the ordinary ones who waited for You to come. We honour Mary, your servant, who waited for You over the months she carried You in her own body. And we draw near to You all of us who are still waiting for You to make Yourself known.

This is our act of faith, maybe all we have left, to be here tonight daring to believe in candlelit hopes. Would you bring us hope again tonight?

You’re the God of the waiting ones. Would you wait with us tonight?

Speaking out for colleagues

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I speak as a doctor. An ordinary doctor. Not an outstanding one. Not an exceptional one. And by no means a perfect one. But as a human one.

I speak as a doctor who works alongside many other doctors, nurses, and other clinicians. Some ordinary. Some extraordinary. All human.

I can honestly say that of all the clinical people I’ve ever worked with; not one of them deserves to be publicly labelled as murdering  scum…. or worse. 

I am appalled and utterly dismayed at the way local people have gathered and turned on staff at Alder Hey. I understand the need to support a cause. The need for belonging and solidarity. The need to be a part of something. ( I am not going to make comment on the cause itself. ) But displaying overt hostility and instilling fear into ordinary men and women as they travel to and from their place of work simply because their place of work happens to be Alder Hey is beyond appalling. This is a leading , internationally respected children’s hospital full of seriously sick and vulnerable kids and seriously worried and vulnerable parents.

I know that in my years as a doctor I’ve made mistakes. I’ve made wrong decisions. I may have caused harm instead of good on occasion. The benefit of hindsight, as they say, is wonderful thing. Believe me when I say; when I’ve known of the harm…I’ve worried, felt bad; not slept; reflected; ruminated and generally felt crap. Why? Because I’m a doctor and a human and I don’t want to cause harm. I want to do a good job. I want my patients to feel better. It’s a no brainer really. 

I’ve been in the coroners court. And I can honestly say it was one of the worst experiences of my career. Bring cross examined by an angry , broken, grieving family is something I will not forget in a hurry. I won’t forget it because I physically felt their grief and their anger and if I could have turned the clocks back and done something different then of course I would have done. I won’t forget it because just as the person who died was human; as are their family; so am I. I am not ashamed to say that I sat in my car and cried before I drove away from court that day. While I wasn’t in any way criticised by the coroner I still felt the weight of responsibility and the heaviness of the grief that the family still undoubtedly carry. It’s not about my feelings. Or the feelings of the Alder Hey staff. But the people shouting abuse at staff as they arrive at work need to understand that clinicians are human too irrespective of their job title and their salary.

As well as seeing patients (which I love doing and I try my best by each one of them!) I spend a lot of time with colleagues and managers working out how we can improve our service. How we can provide better care. The NHS is broken. It’s not really fit for purpose. Demand outstrips supply. Resources are stretched. We simply don’t have the capacity to deliver what we would like to deliver. The expectation on the service is huge. It’s the same everywhere. Alder hey included. All we can do is the best we can with what we’ve got. And against all odds more often than not our best is actually good enough.

Let’s not forget that we are so fortunate to have the NHS. And it’s free. Yes we pay our taxes but for some of us we will receive way more than we ever pay in. Let’s try and encourage our staff instead of pulling them apart and grinding them down. Staff morale is so important for good patient care. I see too many colleagues retiring early; going off on long term sick; regretting their career choices and counting down the days/weeks/months/ years until they can walk away for good. That’s tragic. It truly is. I love my job. Most days I don’t regret my career choice. But there have certainly been dark days  And the tide can so easily turn. 

As for the little boy at the centre of all this. My heart breaks for him and his parents. To lose a child is beyond horrific. But sadly, in spite of the protests, the court cases, the social media groups and all that has taken place over these last few days; they will lose him. His death from what I can see is inevitable. Nobody wins here ❤️

2017 a Year of Deconstruction, Reconstruction and Hope

Just a few thoughts as one year closes and another begins.

In some respects 2017 has been a good year. This time last year I started a new job and haven’t regretted the change. In spite of the doom and gloom that is the NHS mood at times; I love my job and still don’t dread Monday mornings!!! As the NHS becomes more like a struggling business and the services face huge cuts; I feel even more determined to ensure the people I come into contact with still get the best of me. I feel truly blessed to do the job I do and to work with such fantastic colleagues.

My kids are getting older and increasingly independent. There are changes ahead as one of them becomes 18 and will likely fly the nest in September. I have no doubt I won’t handle that well!! Change is never easy …. especially when it’s forced upon us.

I think the most profound change for me in 2017 (apart from my late discovery that my hair is curly and not straight!!!), though was with my faith. It feels like it’s been painstakingly deconstructed and then reconstructed over the course of the year. And that has, at times, been pretty painful. Through different circumstances I’ve found myself in this has been a year of asking some very basic questions about what I believe and why I believe it. What I’ve discovered though is that my faith is based on something very real. I can’t explain it. I don’t understand it. But I can’t deny God’s existence and His working in my life. It’s not a crutch. It doesn’t always make life easy. But I feel a hope and a peace and a joy and have a capacity to love that I wouldn’t have without it. It allows me to make more sense of things that just seem so senseless. And it causes me to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily have the will or strength to do.

And so I enter 2018 feeling stronger. Still with questions but Feeling more certain. With real hope. No resolutions as such (except I plan to learn to make a perfect hollandaise sauce). We none of us know what lies ahead and so I hope to make the best of today knowing that God has my tomorrow in hand, whatever that looks like.

Happy new year.

Much love to you all. ❤️ xx

Time To Listen

So it’s a while since I wrote a blog but thought I’d make a quick appearance as it’s Christmas!

Been reading the Nativity story as told by Luke. Found myself drawn to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, parents to John the Baptist.

We all know couples like them. Devout. Faithful. Humble. Quietly and diligently working and loving and serving and praying in the background. Never centre stage. But yet so crucial to any church that they belong to. And so often behind their genuine smiles are stories of pain. Zechariah and his wife were holy people. Yet their own personal experience of God was one of agonising unanswered prayer. A truly inspirational couple.

And today it’s Zechariah’s turn, as priest, to enter the temple to ensure the incense was burning. It was considered an honour to do that role and I’m sure Zechariah knew that.

But on this day the extraordinary happened. An angel appeared. Out of the blue. Luke’s gospel describes Zechariah as being “gripped with fear”. The angel broke the news that he and Elizabeth had been chosen to bear a son and that he was part of God’s great plan to redeem His people. This was big news in more ways than one!

To say that Zechariah was shocked would be a gross understatement. He clearly could not grasp what was being said. So much so that he questioned the authority of the angel and the detail of what had been spoken. As a consequence the angel took away Zechariah’s ability to speak until their son, John was born!

What a day!! How did he explain all that to Elizabeth?!?

When I first read it I felt a bit defensive of Zechariah and a bit frustrated at God for seemingly being so harsh. Surely it’s ok for us to ask questions of God? Im sure we can all relate to his startled response. I wondered how fair God had been. After all this man, Zechariah appears pretty unblemished up until this point and he had carried the burden of infertility so not the easiest of paths; yet so faithful. Surely he didn’t deserve to be punished like that?

But as I’ve reflected further I’ve started to see a man who perhaps was being truly faithful and diligent….. yet maybe he had lost his spark? Perhaps his priestly duties were now just routine. Perhaps he was still persevering in prayer for a child but maybe deep down he was simply going through the motions. If that was the case then perhaps it is less surprising that such a godly man wouldn’t actually recognise God or one of his messengers even face to face in that holiest of place?

I wonder if some of us are in that place? That place of expecting very little from God? Of going through the motions in our relationship with Him? Of persisting in prayer yet never really acknowledging that we don’t expect a response ? It’s easy to reach that place….. personally and even as a whole Church…..

As for being forced into silence…..was that punishment? Am sure it made life complicated and I’m sure Zechariah was less than impressed…… but I wonder if he ever came to see the blessings in the silence? I wonder whether, over time, he started to experience the depths listening can bring? And if that was the case I wonder whether that stale, lifeless relationship with God took on a whole new meaning ? Did he start to seek him again? Did He start to feel alive again? He certainly couldn’t question or meddle with God’s plans anymore… he could only listen.

I think there’s something in this story for those of us who are in that place of routine. That place of mundane. That stale place. That place of same old same old.

I’m not sure I’ve known many people rendered speechless in this way but I guess we can often find ourselves in situations that we don’t like or see as punishment or inconvenient. And they are tough places. But maybe they are also opportunities. Opportunities to take stock. To look around. To reassess. To listen and hear.

My prayer for anyone that reads this is not that you are dealt with such an inconveniently harsh card by God; but that you do find time over these next few weeks to stop and consider where you are. How you got here. And where you’re going…… and most importantly where is God in this? And that may mean taking time to listen. So that as you approach 2018, it’s not a case of same old same old; but of truly experiencing life in all its fullness as a relationship with God promises in the season ahead.

Happy Christmas ❤️

Sabbath Rest


Thank God it’s the weekend! A common exclamation on a Friday afternoon! The promise of some well deserved rest and relaxation after a busy week.
Of course the reality of weekends are that often they are as busy…. or maybe even busier than the weekdays themselves. Truth be told; I’ve sometimes landed on a Monday morning craving the serenity of work…..and believe me there is nothing serene at the moment about working in the NHS!
But I’m coming to realise that I’m entering a new season now. My kids are older. They don’t need entertaining. They don’t need trips to the park. They don’t need to accompany me to the supermarket. They can cook for themselves, entertain themselves, dress themselves and stay home alone…. I am free!
The problem with freedom, though, is that it feels alien. Freedom needs to be practised. Freedom can actually feel scary and unfamiliar.
I see lots of people in my work and in our church who find freedom; perhaps from addiction or from a life of crime; and yet their new found freedom brings a whole new list of issues. The familiarity of shackles being an easier somehow than freedom. Turns out our security is often in our chains.

So for me, this last week has been a challenge. Nothing catastrophic , just a challenge. A few different things have happened. Some within my control and some not. I’ve tried my best in most areas but have not always felt I’ve achieved or succeeded. So on Friday I exclaimed louder than most weeks “thank God it’s Friday”!
And the weekend has been lovely . Great night out with colleagues on Friday (the gin helped!) A chilled day with family on Saturday (the beers helped!) and a lovely lunch with friends yesterday (no gin or beer…. just lovely friends!) A perfect weekend…..
Yet every now and again I recognised this horrible lurch of anxiety. Like I needed to be doing something. Like I’d forgotten something important. Like I’d missed a deadline. Like I needed to be somewhere. I felt wired. Hypervigilant almost. And I had to remind myself this was the weekend and I was meant to feel relaxed!
Then I had a bit of a revelation (whilst sitting in the sun trying to read but thinking about what holiday stuff I need for a trip that’s not till August…). I found myself thinking of the creation story…..

God worked six solid days creating the earth ( I realise not everyone believes the detail of this but the principle remains!) and then he created the sabbath. The day of rest. The bible says that on the seventh day God rested and blessed the seventh day declaring it a holy day. 
He then goes on to encourage us to enjoy a sabbath too. Actually he commands us. We are told to take a break. 
So why is it so difficult for me to do this sabbath rest thing properly at the moment? Why am I struggling to enjoy this new freedom? Why is rushing around like a headless chicken easier than sitting in the garden reading a book?
This was the second part of my revelation….

When God created each day; he got to the end of a days work “and saw that it was good”. He was pleased with what He had made. Satisfied with what he had done. 

How often on a Friday night do I look back on the week and can honestly say “that was a good week”. Yes there are loads of things I can usually be satisfied with….but there are always those things that niggle. Those conversations that didn’t go well. Those decisions I’m  not sure about. Those unresolved issues that are still unresolved. Those things on my to do list that are still on my to do list…..and that’s why this weekend I didn’t always do sabbath rest well. Because I was too busy looking back over my week with a critical eye. And often this leads to  me looking forward into the next week with anxious anticipation. I haven’t been satisfied with what has gone and I’ve allowed myself to dwell in the past rather than enjoying the present. The risk being that the weekend passes and I enter Monday still feeling like it’s Friday!
I’m not God (ha ha another revelation!) …..so not everything I “create” will be good. But that’s ok. I can still enjoy a sabbath. I need to enjoy a sabbath…. for my own sanity and for the wellbeing of those around me! 
So…. today is actually Monday and by coincidence I’d booked a couple of days off work to catch up with home stuff. So I’m going to have an extended sabbath!!! And I’m going to make the most of it…..work phone off. Coffee on…..bit of sun would be nice but can’t have everything…..I will undoubtably end up doing loads of stuff because that stuff needs doing….but today I will practise focussing on today. Not dredging up last week. Not worrying about next week…..although I might make some nice plans for the weekend…. x

The pain of the cross

It’s Easter! 

Not sure how that happened…pretty sure we only took our Christmas tree down a few weeks ago!!!

I said to a friend yesterday that this Easter I planned to “do Easter properly”. By that I don’t mean that I am going to be unusually organised and avoid last minute frantic Easter egg buying! No; I mean I plan to go to church on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. As my lovely astute friend pointed out; that’s a lot of church!
At St. Andrews, the plan this year is to allow plenty of time and space to reflect. Time to pray. Time to seek God. And that’s what I need. 
Easter offers a focussed time to return to the fundamentals of our faith. And I need that. I need to go back to the cross. I need to revisit Jesus’ last days. I need to reflect again on this story of love and sacrifice and suffering and redemption. I need to revisit the empty tomb to remind myself of the miracle of what it is I believe and why I believe it. I need to readjust the perspective of my faith.

These last few months have been all about the painful realities of the here and now. Journeying with a family who have had their hearts ripped apart by grief has thrown up a whole load of questions that I’ve struggled to answer. Their “where was God” questions are absolutely valid and totally understandable. There is no room here for cliches and Christian niceties. It feels as though heaven has been silent. And that silence is excruciating. Where was the God of miracles for them?

And so I return to the bit of the Easter story that nobody notices. 

John 19 v25-27

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he lovedstanding nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

Think about that scene…
For that mother and son in that moment; the collision of the eternal heavenly kingdom purpose and the earthly here and now experience was absolutely devastating. Jesus, the Son of God, about to take on the punishment of separation from His Father; about to suffer hell in our place; suffering unbearable torture….noticed his mum. His mum, whom the angel had once referred to as being under God’s favour; watching her beloved son being taken before her eyes. The pain she must have felt can perhaps only be fully appreciated by those who have experienced such grief in their own lives. Unimaginable anguish. Heartbreaking.

The bible talks on a number of occasions of Mary pondering the things that she witnessed and experienced. I wonder what her ponderings looked like that day? Despair? Anger? Confusion? Lostness? Fear? Desolation? I wonder if she could see the bigger picture?
Life is messy. Trying to keep an eternal perspective on the here and now can feel impossible. But my instinct says we need to keep seeking. We need to seek out that eternal perspective. We need to try and see life through God’s lens and not just our own. If we don’t , the danger is we remain forever at the cross and never make it to the empty tomb. 
So I would encourage you to join me this Easter. Spend some time st the cross. Spend some time with the questions but seeking Him for the answers. Attempting to marry up the eternal with the here and now. And perhaps then the celebration of Easter Sunday will make more sense. Xx
https://open.spotify.com/track/7bQNc5PaDgv08uz6KX0Cp1

Listen to this song “God of Miracles” as you ponder at the cross. Hope it helps. X

What does God do when we pray?


I haven’t really set any New Years resolutions as such this year except perhaps to read more (I have a growing pile of half-read or unread books next to my bed…) Instead I have set out with a question….”what does God do when we pray?” And my plan is to discover the answer!

Of course there are loads of books written on this subject, in fact I am reading one with that very title , but I am aware that these books are always another person’s interpretation of what they find in scripture and that, in turn, forms their opinion. All very helpful but I kind of feel I need to form my own opinion and come to my own conclusions.

I’ve been a Christian a long time and have always had some kind of prayer life. I’m not a great intercessor. I don’t spend hours in prayer. I’m too restless and distractible for that. I like to think that I “think with God.” I do a lot of thinking / ruminating /  analysing / procrastinating and when I remember I try to invite God into that…after all, “the Lord is near…”

I’m at this point now, though, because my thoughts and prayers over Christmas have been dominated by a family who have come to mean a lot to me; who have been agonising daily over whether their little girl would live or die. I’ve been struck by the volume of prayer spoken and unspoken for this family yet the hurdles they’ve faced seem to have grown bigger rather than smaller. The family have struggled to find peace and the little girl has literally clung to life by her finger tips and is by no means out of the woods yet (but very very very thankful that she is still here and totally mindful that this in itself is an answer to prayer ) (and don’t get me wrong; I’m not doubting that God has answered prayers but we haven’t as yet seen the miraculous healing we’ve been pleading for)

And so I’ve asked that question….what does God do when we pray? At times, if I can be honest; I think I’ve been fearful that He actually does nothing. Other than hear us. I don’t think I’ve ever doubted His existence or presence or His ability to hear our prayers. I just wonder if I have really understood who God is and how how acts. 

I once had a conversation with someone who told me they didn’t bother to lock their front door because God would protect them. I recall two responses….my first was that they were naïve and somewhat stupid…..my second response was one of guilty reflection on my own lack of faith in Gods protection (we double lock our door and put the alarm on!!!)

Part of my journey of discovery into the point of prayer is to read the gospels. Today I am struck by the account of Jesus’ early years. Mary and Joseph had been called into something extraordinary. Their purpose was to bring the messiah into the world! They were THE chosen ones. Surely they would expect a relatively easy path, right? Yet….Putting aside the shame and prejudice of being unmarried and carrying someone else’s child; they find themselves giving birth in some kind of outbuilding…. wouldn’t you expect the God of detail to have at least prepared a decent birth place? Maybe someone with midwifery skills? Some clean towels maybe? But what really strikes me is what happens next. God speaks. ( God speaking is part of prayer…. it’s just that we are often too busy speaking ourselves to notice that He speaks too….) so He speaks to Joseph in a dream; warns him that Herod is planning to kill Jesus…… At which point In their shoes I would be thinking after all I’ve sacrificed I would hope that God would put some kind of supernatural protector over me so that I was invincible to the threats of a narcissistic dictator …..but no; this ordained family have to flee to another country effectively becoming refugees. Indeed when they are told again by God that it’s safe to come back it all goes awry again and they are forced to make another detour!

Their protection is very much reliant on their actions. Their obedience. Their submission. God spoke and they had to act. They had to trust God but by no means passively or blindly. 

I wonder how that felt? Is this any different to how we feel today when it seems God isn’t intervening? When we don’t see the miracle? When we are seeking the divine intervention that simply doesn’t come? When we are sick and have to rely on the interventions of others to get us better? When God doesn’t shrink the tumour? When He doesn’t fix the abnormality? Is this how God actually works at times? 

It’s hard because we assume God can do anything. All things are possible. And God is good, right? So when It all hits the fan and seems to keep on hitting the fan it’s hard understand what God is or isn’t doing? Don’t get me wrong. I believe in miracles and in my friends case I am still holding out for one (and possibly He is already working on one). But I also think that miracles are not the norm. Sometimes we have to hurdle the hurdles. Sometimes they are too high and we have to attempt again. Only sometimes does God swoop us up or around the hurdle so that we don’t require any effort ourselves. 

In Joseph and mary’s situation God is there in the midst. He is speaking. He is inviting them to follow. They clearly don’t doubt Him….but that’s not to take away the hurdles that they had to jump. 

The bigger story for mary and Joseph was that so much of what happened fulfilled prophesy. Now that’s a whole other issue. Gods will and purpose. The bigger picture that cuts across generations. A bigger picture with an eternal purpose that frankly we just can’t get our heads around! An eternal picture that I am a tiny (yet significant) part of.

So what does God do when we pray? I am not really sure exactly how it all works but I am convinced He hears us. I’m convinced he has a plan. I’m convinced he loves us. I’m convinced his plan goes way beyond our understanding. I’m convinced he can act and I’m convinced he does. I’m convinced it’s more about his being and his presence than anything else. I’m also convinced he speaks. I’m convinced he’s easily found if we want to find him. I’m convinced none of this is easy but it is all possible. I’m convinced there is always hope…. now and for eternity. 

I’m convinced God is near.

I Daniel Blake

Here are my thoughts….
This is a must see film. Sadly, I suspect the vast majority of people who would choose to see this film will be those who are already aware of the plight of all the Daniel Blakes and Kates out there. (I don’t want to get too political but I suspect the number of labour voters sat with me last night will far outstrip the number of Tory voters….)

The story is tragic because it’s real. The ridiculous bureaucracy that this country seems to love. The punitive undercurrent of the benefits system. The stark difference in levels of empathy and humanity between the benefits office staff and the foodbank volunteers. Yet all human beings. As Job says in the Old Testament …”naked I come from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart.” Yet one lady, Ann, in the benefits office who shows compassion for Daniel is reprimanded for her kindness. How many of us feel unable to show kindness in our place of work. We see it in the NHS, in schools, in social care….if we care too much we are weak and gullible …. or inefficient! How many of us started off our careers wanting to do good and have found themselves ground down by the system. I see it all the time and try daily, with God’s help, to fight against it personally. Cynicism is always knocking.

The foodbank scene…..utterly heartbreaking yet so real. The kindness of the volunteers. Beautiful. Surely that’s how God made us. Surely this is the way of Jesus. Treasure in the darkness. I am hugely proud of our North Liverpool foodbank. Yes we need to help people in the longer term but sometimes people just need that helping hand in a crisis. Sometimes needs are immediate and need to be met with mercy and dignity.

I received my own professional challenge in this. As a doctor I am frequently asked to fill in forms or write supportive letters for people regarding their benefits. These letters tend to drop to the bottom of my to do list as I need to prioritise clinical need. Yet in the case of Daniel Blake the word of his doctors would likely have won him his appeal and ended his misery. And so I need to find away to reprioritise these tasks even if I have to do them in my own time.
The story of Kate being shipped out of her own home city of London because of the lack of social housing is cruel. Away from family . No friends. No support. And consequently sanctioned because she missed her benefits appointment by minutes. So cruel. So punitive. Almost sadistic. And how does she cope…..shoplifting and prostitution. To feed and clothe her kids. To avert the schoolyard taunts towards the beautiful mixed race cockney new girl with the tatty shoes and no friends. Heartbreaking. Real. How many desperate mums have I met over the years who have been down similar roads.

This film is about human beings. All human beings deserve respect and dignity. All human beings should be respectful and dignified in their dealings with others.
Jesus of course always modelled this….touching the untouchables, listening to the dispossessed, loving the unloveables. Going the extra mile.

We sing a worship song in church….”break my heart for what breaks yours…” This broke me. I need to act.