New blog – heads up to my followers!

Hey guys and girls,

Just wanted to alert you to some (hopefully exciting) news – I’ve started a new blog to focus on more social/cultural topics, as opposed to the more personal stuff I usually post on here.

If you want to stay updated with these posts head on over to https://theaccessiblechristian.wordpress.com/ and make sure to subscribe.

I’ll probably keep this blog for the more personal posts though.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Understanding breakthrough (and receiving help)

Before you read any further, understand that I’m not posting this out of a desire for pity. This is more a testimony than anything else and my hope is that it will bring greater freedom to some of you.

This year has been called the ‘year of breakthrough’ by many Christians, which is in line with what the Lord said to me back in January.

But breakthrough is just as much about the stuff that keeps us in bondage internally, and let me tell you, I’m feeling freer right now than I’ve felt in ages.

It’s mid-November now and my year has been a pretty hard slog. I’m still waiting for breakthroughs and if I were only looking at the outward stuff, I’d be tempted to think this whole year was a giant disappointment.

After a rocky 2016, the start of 2017 plunged me into major battles with no let-up. With a toxic mix of intense spiritual oppression and emotional stress, for months my life was pretty much reduced to getting through each day. I sometimes had to drag myself to church, dreading the inevitable ‘how are you doing’ question, and when I did go, I was always ending up at the front during ministry time, asking for prayer. I sang on the worship team knowing it was only grace that kept me up there. I felt fragile, incapable. I couldn’t bring myself to go to any extra church events, and with that came a sort of guilt.

As the year progressed, I felt like my life was slipping further and further out of my control. I was on a treadmill, trying desperately to stay on top of my finances, my health, and my ability to properly function, and I was one misstep from falling off and crashing spectacularly.

Living in the tension between John 10:10 – the abundant life Jesus promises – and the cloud I was under, shook my faith. Though I knew I was just in a ‘wilderness’ season, I’d be lying if I said I never doubted that God was really who he said he was. I was praying and contending and singing through my pain and holding onto God’s Word and doing everything I knew to do – yet life seemed punctuated by more disappointments than victories.

By the time I left my job a couple of months ago, I had a major case of burnout. It took weeks to even get to a place where I could start looking for work.

Those who’ve been there will attest that unemployment is no joke. There’s nothing fun about the endless applications, or about going to the job centre, or the giant headache that is Universal Credit, or about not knowing how you are going to pay your rent next month.

But I needed to be brought to that point. It showed me that I’d relied on my working and earning and doing, rather than on God alone, for my needs and for my value. Being on benefits used to be one of my worst fears, yet once I had to face that reality, the fear no longer had any power over me.

And when you’re not in work you suddenly have a lot of time – which was good, because I had a lot of stuff I needed to deal with.

One day about a month ago I felt overwhelmed with hopelessness. As I cried out to God in desperation, I had a vision of Jesus reviving me and so clearly sensed his heart for me to stay in the fight; to not give in to despair.

The next morning, I was due to lead a couple of songs at church, so I got up. I showed up. And that morning my worship didn’t feel like sacrifice – I had the same joy and conviction as though I’d already seen the outward breakthroughs.

That’s when I knew something in me had changed. All those times I’d forced myself to sing through my hopelessness had actually broken its hold over my life.

Along with the return of hope came renewed strength to pursue the freedom I really wanted. I got vulnerable with the people around me; I admitted that I needed help both emotionally and practically.

The church I felt I could hardly serve this year has shown me outrageous love and support. That’s grace, isn’t it? Getting what you didn’t earn.

So no, this year has not been wasted time. The greatest intimacy I have ever known with God is the fruit of the wilderness. And I am so much freer now than I was a year ago because  my hope is in the One who brings the breakthrough, not the breakthrough itself.

My life has never and will never be truly within my control. It’s at the foot of the cross where it belongs.

Blank sheet

The blank white ‘sheet’ I’ve been staring at on my laptop screen, courtesy of Microsoft Word, is a pretty good metaphor for my life at the moment.

The cursor flashes persistently, prompting me to write something. I guess I must want to write something or I wouldn’t have opened the programme.

A few days ago I’d written something else, you see – a kind of past-to-present narrative which I actually found quite hard to read back. It probably needed to be written so that I could properly process the past twelve months and longer, but where was the hope in it?

It’s more exciting, I think, to start at the present and look forwards.

So, let’s jump right in – I just quit my job, with no job to walk into.

To be a bit pedantic, my contract was coming to an end and I chose, months ago, not to renew it. I guess that’s not quite the same as just quitting, but the result turned out to be the same – a blank sheet.

I like that the Bible uses writing symbolism to describe how God designs our lives – “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). I’m a ‘story’ person. I love the idea that God writes our stories, when we surrender our preconceptions of what we think our lives should look like. Or what other people think our lives should look like.

The joy and wonder that comes with walking out that story is accompanied by questioning and uncertainty and a lot of ‘Why, God?’ There’s definitely been a lot of that during the past two years since leaving university, but whilst I struggled and questioned and walked through various challenges, I was building something here in London; this city I love and loathe in fairly equal measure.

I’m not starting a new book; I’m not upending my life as I have in the past (and I’m thankful for that). It’s just, to fall back on that well-used cliché, a new chapter.

As much as I enjoy story metaphors, I’m also fond of arty ones. Like “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10).

Maybe it’s because this week I’ve had time to draw and paint again but I just love this. Our very lives are works of art.

Quitting my job was a risk but it gives God room to throw colour all over a blank canvas and lead me into the next chapter (yes, I’m mixing my metaphors now. I can mix if I want to. To my creative-leaning mind, I find it hard to separate words from colour and line).

Is it scary? Heck yes it is. Will I be able to pay my rent next month? That remains to be seen.

God spoke to me recently about throwing me out of the nest, so I’d learn to use the wings I was born with.

(Is this too many metaphors? I do feel a bit like a baby bird or something at the moment though, to be honest).

The point, though, is that if God promises you that you can fly, you’d better believe it.

So here’s to blank sheets.

‘The future of justice’ (or why you should go and see Wonder Woman)

19366262_10155641105202573_3077271469177923374_nSometimes my train to work is cancelled, and I have to get a bus to Brixton to catch the tube.

This happened a couple of weeks ago. As the bus neared my final stop and waited at the last set of traffic lights, I looked out of the window to see Brixton’s Ritzy cinema displaying its latest showing, Wonder Woman. The slogan read:

‘The future of justice begins with her. Wonder Woman is out now.’

I’d already heard someone say that this movie is significant for the body of Christ, so I was already curious. I wouldn’t normally expect a superhero movie to speak into my life, but I was willing to keep an open mind.

My naysayers will laugh, but the Lord has been speaking to me a lot through posters and adverts recently. Which makes my commute 10x more fun!

And if you don’t already know, justice is ‘my thing’. Nothing fuels me like the desire to see justice for the vulnerable, the oppressed, the forgotten and the mistreated. So this advert grabbed my attention.

If you’ve been reading my blog regularly you’ll know I’ve felt like I’ve been in a spiritual warzone for a while now. For about 12 months it seems like I’ve come up against every kind of trial and opposition (and seen others facing the same).

Many times breakthrough has seemed so close in one area or another, and then another hit has come out of left field. The Lord has been so faithful, giving me many words of encouragement and signs of hope. But like any battle, assurance of victory does not stop you from becoming tired.

Yesterday was another hard day and I almost felt like texting my housemate to ask if we could postpone our Wonder Woman date.

Thankfully I didn’t.

You might be thinking, ‘Hey, you’re an English graduate! You’re obviously going to find meaning that isn’t there.’

Well, I don’t care whether the symbolism in this film was intentional or not. The Lord certainly doesn’t care about that. He’s spoken to me through a poster for a rugby tournament before, so He can do exactly as He wants. And He definitely spoke to me through this movie.

There will be minor spoilers ahead but hopefully not enough to ruin the film for you!

The plot is simple – Diana, a goddess raised on an island of Amazon warrior women, encounters mankind one day by chance, and realises her destiny is to save them from a terrible war. As the story progresses she eventually realises that saving mankind is more complicated than she had anticipated, because man is intrinsically capable of evil.

Her adversary mocks her during one of the climactic scenes, telling her that these people don’t deserve saving. But she responds with the familiar message that love triumphs over evil. Grace.

The gospel message here would be hard for the least imaginative Christian not to grasp, yet this wasn’t what struck me most.

It was the warfare symbolism that jumped out at me. It was like Ephesians 6:10-20 brought to life.

As Diana is training for battle with her fellow Amazons at the start of the film, she loses her focus for a moment, is caught off guard and knocked to the ground.

Her trainer yells: ‘Never let your guard down! You expect the battle to be fair! The battle will never be fair!’

It almost felt like this Amazon queen was yelling at me. Tired from contending for the same things over and over, I’ve let my guard down at times, and it’s always when I do this that I get knocked down.

Then, to go into battle, Diana needs to be not only fully trained but fully armed. She is given a sword and told this is the weapon that will defeat the villain. I immediately thought of the ‘sword of the Spirit’ – the Word of God.

Diana also possesses a kind of whip, which when lassoed around any opponent will force them to tell the truth. Not far off from Ephesians 6:14’s ‘belt of truth’, right?

Later, a battle scene unfolds where Diana, helping the British in the fight against the Nazis, steps out onto ‘No Man’s Land.’ She is told that this ground is impossible to win; that for a year they have taken mere inches. They tell her it is futile to attempt it.

But fully dressed in armour, she steps confidently onto the battlefield. The gunfire begins immediately, and she runs forward, deflecting bullets from every side. Eventually the fire becomes so intense that she is forced to a halt, bullets raining on the shield that she is holding out in front of her. It is all she can do to stand her ground.

To me, this could not more clearly be the shield of faith, ‘with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one’ (Ephesians 6:16).

And as the enemy’s bullets finally run out and Diana’s comrades join her to take the territory so long unclaimed, Isaiah 54:17 rang loud and clear in my ears: ‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper’.

The ground was only taken because she pioneered, enduring the battle so others could be freed. I remembered a promise the Lord had made me; that the trials I and others had been walking through would result in a greater anointing to see other people set free.

I felt God’s presence so strongly watching that scene that I sat back in my seat almost in tears.

In another scene, Diana destroys a tower which is the stronghold of the town, and defeats the enemy inside. After the stronghold is demolished, the town is set free. 2 Corinthians 10:4 says: ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.’

And so the film went on.

I truly believe the messages in this film are needed right now. We live in times of increasing uncertainty. London, my city (and the city Diana travels to first), has for the past few months been a place of tragedy and terror.

We live in times of political instability. We live in times where proclaiming Christ will have you ridiculed and hounded out of public positions. If you don’t believe me, go and watch former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s resignation speech.

Women in the body of Christ (well, and men, if you’re reading this), you are needed right now. You have destiny and purpose. You are powerful because the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead lives inside of you.

You are born to bring hope and clarity to a despairing, directionless world.

You are born to overcome every battle and advance the Kingdom of God –  a Kingdom of justice and of grace.

You are born to love an undeserving world because Jesus loved you when you were undeserving.

Ask God for eyes to see and ears to hear, that you would know more fully who and whose you are.

And go and see the film! Be encouraged by it as I was.

(P.S, fun fact – Gal Gadot, the film’s star, is Israeli, and trained in the Israeli army for two years. I thought this was pretty cool too.)

I have no idea what I’m doing.

I was beginning to wonder whether I ought to go into a period of mourning, lamenting the death of my blogging life – but just when it seemed all inspiration had fled, it was salvaged, so while fresh in my mind I seized it. Carpe blog!
It occurred to me recently that I seem to spend a considerable amount of time in the middle of situations where, to my part-amusement and part-consternation, I feel like I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

It’s not entirely clear to me yet why this is. But it’s happened several times over the past few months. In February I attended the Church of England’s General Synod despite hardly ever setting foot inside an Anglican Church. I attended Prayers for Parliament in the House of Commons earlier this month, the very day Theresa May dropped the snap election bombshell, and somehow ended up signing a well-wishing card being passed around for her (if I ever forget that God has a sense of humour, He reminds me through utterly ridiculous scenarios like this).

A week later I wandered wide-eyed into the swanky Guardian offices for an online writing course, creeping in just before the start because I don’t like small talk or awkward conversations about what I do for a living. As I was ushered into the reception area with the other stragglers, looking for the wine table, a woman considerably older than me turned and remarked that it all looked quite intimidating. I made some passing response and smiled assurance at her.

Little did that lady know that I was truly the odd one out in that crowd; if anyone there had known the kinds of things I write about for a living, they probably would have given me the cold shoulder. As much as I enjoyed the evening (as though scripted, at least one person raised their hand to ask a question about Brexit), I couldn’t help but feel like an impostor somewhat out of my depth.

As I write this, I have just finished up some work for the volunteering role I agreed to take on at the start of this year – with an organisation that works with survivors of human trafficking, empowering them to move forward with their lives.

I was familiar with their work through contacts at my church, and for some reason I was thinking about them over Christmas, feeling a heart-tug towards what they do.

I remember when I first really became aware of human trafficking, maybe four or five years ago, and deep down dreamed of somehow, someday, doing something about it. I had pushed the thought away – it was too daunting. What could a girl like me do about something so huge?

Similarly, last Christmas, I pushed any thought of joining the Sophie Hayes Foundation away. I felt unqualified.

But one week later, they came to my church to present their work and called for new volunteers. (Yes, sometimes God really is that obvious. It was like He was saying ‘Camilla if you don’t go to them I’ll make sure they come to you!’) So I said yes.

The gnawing whispers of inadequacy persisted at first. Attending a couple of the training sessions for working alongside the rescued women, I struggled through almost debilitating feelings of anxiety and incompetence. It was only a deep conviction of truth that I did not feel, that propelled me forwards.

Looking back after only six weeks or so, those feelings are so alien to me but I know where they stemmed from. They stemmed from the lie that I am not good enough and that I don’t have much to offer.

Praise God that I recognised this quickly. When I joined the organisation I was feeling disempowered. The Sophie Hayes Foundation seeks to empower. I knew that to feel empowered again, I didn’t need a self-help manual or to browse some inspiring quotes on Instagram. I needed to trust God above my feelings, and I needed to go and empower other people.

As time passes I’m beginning to see how well-equipped I really am to take on these challenges; how things I have done before, my God-given empathy and big-picture thinking are gifts that I can bring to the table. And as I’m dreaming and planning with this amazing team, I’m feeling so alive!

There’s nothing like finding a place where you feel like a puzzle piece that not only fits but is harmonious with the rest of the puzzle. The team makes this easy, though. They are well-versed in bringing out the best in each individual; in seeing value. It’s what they do.
This has been a season of allowing God to show me who I am; to replace lies with truth and fear with joy.

I still don’t really know what I’m doing.

But I’m getting comfortable swimming out of my depth. Rather than feeling anxious, I can simply laugh at the strange situations I end up in, and appreciate the adventure God is taking me on. In every area of my life He’s been calling me higher and deeper.

I am more convinced than ever, as confirmation rings out everywhere I turn, that this is the year of incredible victory. (By the way, hasn’t this Spring been especially stunning? Maybe it’s just because I work in walking distance of Regent’s Park but my goodness the flowers this year… so much life and beauty and promise!)

The testimonies are going to be good! I can’t wait to report back.

Thanks for laughing with me.