When you stop trying to unravel it all

November 20, 2015
Gungor play at the Belong conference in London, Nov 2015

Today it’s a week since the terror attacks in Paris. I’ve spent the week trying to unravel the massive knot of thoughts in my head. And come to the conclusion there’s no unraveling to be done. Life is messy. Life is brutal and terrible. Life is incredible and beautiful. And if I’m trying to make sense of that in any logical way, I’ll only frustrate myself.


Last weekend, I was at the Belong conference here in London, a two day gathering organised by Michael Gungor and Science Mike. Together they run the podcast and liturgical space that is The Liturgists. They have these fascinating stories of being about as deeply inbedded in church life as is possible (one a deacon and Sunday school leader, one a famous worship leader) and going through a journey of deconstructing everything they thought they knew.

And now their shared passion is to create safe space for people walking that same (but unique to each person) path of deconstructing and reconstructing faith.

It was such a full and fascinating weekend and I am still reading over and over my notes, trying to piece together some thoughts that even make a little bit of sense.

But the only sense I have is what an incredible thing it was to be in such a safe space. We were so different, the 150 people gathered in a small church hall in Shoreditch. At lunch I sat with a scientist and worship leader, someone going through ordination into the Church of England, and someone who fled leadership in a megachurch and has started a small gathering in his living room to explore this whole faith thing again from the ground up.

If you’d gone through a creed line by line, I’m not sure which line we would all have agreed on entirely without ifs and buts. But here we were telling our stories and receiving only understanding, honest questions, space to not have the exact words for what we were trying to communicate. And it felt like holy ground.


Heaven taunts the hearts of men
We can feel it from within
The beauty of it all
The mystery
The swelling of a voice
A rising sea

Gungor, Vapor


A friend asked me for recommendations for political podcasts this week, because she wanted to understand the current world situation a bit better. I joked in reply that my response is generally to bury my head in the sand, because it feels so big and scary to try and contemplate it all. It’s not entirely untrue.

I do want to know. I do want to understand, as much as I can. But I also feel so small, so insignificant. I wonder what I can actually do.

I’ve looked up how I can help refugees in this area. The charities want volunteers but only those who can commit at least a whole day a week, and not with a toddler and probably not with a six month pregnant bump. They need supplies too but we cleared out so thoroughly before our move that I have nothing left to give and I am looking at our budget and despairing at how frikkin expensive it is to live in London and how desperately I wish I could give more.

I pray to bump into a refugee family living locally that I can befriend. It feels foolish but I don’t know where else to start and maybe repeating that prayer daily will keep my eyes firmly open to opportunities when they do come?

I have my voice. And it feels like so little to post something on facebook, to express my heartache and my frustration and my anger. But surely it is never in vain to declare that I still believe LOVE WINS and I will not be drawn into a war defined by fear and hatred?


Blessed are the poor
All the lonely broken lost and torn
See a kingdom comes to us
A war that’s fought with love
Our only war is love

We will not fight their wars
We will not fall in line
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
It’s us for them

Gungor, Us for Them


Mostly I just keep on going.

I wake up before the sun cracks open the sky and we read books in bed until wee girl forces us up with her enthusiasm to start the day. I make the online shopping order and try to feed her healthy food. We walk to the postbox and she makes passing strangers laugh at her crazy 1-2-3-go pattern every ten meters. I put her down to nap singing her songs as she settles and then I try to fit in all my adulting – figure out the utilities bill; book that appointment to make a will; send my nephew a birthday present on time. We play in the garden and I do the laundry and we take the train two stops to see a friend and Kaya points at her wee one exclaiming “baby!” and blowing kisses generously. As darkness rolls in we snuggle on the sofa under the blanket my friend made us as a wedding gift and read books and I try to ignore her requests for TV unless it’s been one of those days. And we eat fresh cheddar scones for dinner (with a side of brocilli) and watch for Far coming home. He cooks me dinner and we unpack the day on the sofa, stories so different but basically the same. And I try to go to bed early but usually fail.

Sarah Bessey wrote in her recent post,

“I show up here with intention and I try to notice my own life a bit more, I consecrate the ordinary work. I figure that if the world is being desecrated the least we can do is try to notice all of the sacredness that remains still around us and in us.”

If I believe that Love Wins, that all life is sacred, then it must start here. It must start with my own heart.

It must start with the way I treat myself and my work and value here and now, the way I extend grace and kindness to my own self.

It must start with the way I mother my daughter and teach her to be kind and to smile at strangers and to blow kisses to other babies, even the ones that look different from her.

It must start with the way I settle into this new and sometimes uncomfortable neighbourhood, the way I lean into the differences, push through the fear to recognise yet again, we have more in common than separates us. 

It must start with intentionally holding my heart and my hands open to all of it – the heartache and the confusion and the fear and the mystical beauty of every part. And keeping my eyes open to see when I am being called to be the answer to my own prayers for peace peace peace.


Longing for the day to come
I set my face, forsook my fears
I saw the city through my tears
The darkness soon will disappear
And be swallowed by the sun
I am coming home

Gungor, Land of the Living

Brave, faith, quotes

Big Magic – 5 themes that stood out in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book

November 10, 2015
Big Magic – 5 lessons I took from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book

BigMagicCoverOne of the joys of being back in my home country again after eight years overseas, is the libraries. There are two within a short walking distance of my house. TWO! The day I was there signing up for my library card, I didn’t actually intend to take anything out. I had a bunch of books at home to work through already. But that’s the magic of the library – it draws you in. And suddenly I spotted Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic sitting on the “New Arrivals” shelf. I snatched it up so fast.

Honestly? I was mostly driven by my FOMO. So many people are reading this book right now and I didn’t want to be left out. But I’d also loved loved her bestselling Eat Pray Love, and I was curious if I’d enjoy this one.

And I did. I took pages of notes, and her thoughts have inspired so many conversations these last couple of weeks (I have a toddler, reading happens slowly) and already a few actions. I’ve tried to distill it down to the five biggest themes that stood out to me as I’ve read, the ones that have had my thoughts twirling in fascination. (If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what your takeaways were). I’m just going to go ahead and call her Liz, coz that feels less weird than Gilbert…


1. You are creative. 

Yes, whoever you are. Because creativity is inherent to what it means to be human. Liz described it as the “hallmark of our species”.

“The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust – and those elements are universally accessible.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Liz defines creative living as, “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear”. With that definition, the field is suddenly wide open! And I love this because it fits right into my own theology, that we are made in the image of God Who Creates, with the divine purpose to become involved in co-creation with the very One who created us. Our lives are meant to be defined by creativity.

As the book continues, she does tend to focus more on creativity as it is traditionally understood (writing, art, performance arts), but holding this definition in mind throughout the book helped me to see how many of her ideas and concepts could be applied in a wide variety of places and roles in my own life.


2. Don’t try to rid yourself of fear. 

Sometimes fear is very necessary to keep you safe. Just don’t let fear make your decisions. Liz says she will often speak to her fear like this:

“You’re allowed to have a seat and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you’re not allowed to have a vote.”  – Elizabeth Gilbert

This is kinda radical for me. Since I first chose Brave as my one word to guide me through the year in 2012, I have been seeking to discover how I can overcome fear in my life. I’d seen the negative impact it was having on my relationships, my work, my self-esteem, my faith, and I wanted a change.

I’ve written so much along that journey (both here on the blog and privately) and I love that I can look at my life and see the change. I’m more positive, I’m braver in my work life, I’m more secure in my relationships, and I am learning to embrace the doubts and questions of my faith, see them as less threatening that I once did.

And yet fear still has a relatively loud voice in my head many days. That’s seemed a problem, and yet the way that Liz spins it, it doesn’t need to be. Fear can give its opinion; I don’t need to take it. I can chose to live and act and work and love and believe with courage, despite fear’s whispers. I’m curious to see if this perspective feels even more empowering as I try and live it out.


3. You don’t need to be original. 

You work doesn’t need to be original. Your writing doesn’t need to be original. Your ideas and beliefs don’t need to be original. They just need to be authentic.

“These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

This speaks directly into where I am right now. I think I might have stopped reading at this point just to take it in fully. (It’s not a revolutionary thought but sometimes someone says something right when you need to hear it). I think about some of the things I would love to work on, and then think, oh, but so-and-so is already doing that so well, I don’t want to look like I’m just copying.

The truth is, as Liz writes, it’s almost impossible to be original anyway. We’re all inspired and taught and influenced by the people and culture around us, all the time. What is more important, is whether the things I decide to do are an authentic expression of who I am, and what I believe. It won’t be original, but no one will ever do it quite like me, because there’s only one of me. That’s authenticity.


4. You’re allowed to enjoy what you do. 

There’s sometimes an idea that the more you struggle with your work – the harder you fight it to be just right, the more tears and sweat and preferably blood it requires – the better it will be. Liz calls bullshit on that concept:

“I have felt the way my self-pity slams the door on inspiration, making the room feel suddenly cold, small and empty… I started telling myself I enjoyed my work… I told the Universe (and anyone who would listen) that I was committed to living a creative life simply because I liked it.”  – Elizabeth Gilbert

“Far too many creative people have been taught to distrust pleasure and put their faith in struggle alone… My ultimate choice, then, is to always approach my work from a place of stubborn gladness.”

Ugh, am I the only one who forgets that I do actually enjoy the work I do?! Writing is one easy example, and Liz writes about that a lot. But she also tells the story of a Nun she met who worked day in day out with some of the most desperate people and situations. And yet she was not at all embarrassed to say that she enjoyed her work!

I’ve worked in NGOs for the last eight years ish (international development and local community volunteering) and I’ve definitely felt that sense that because this is serious work (life and death sometimes), I should not feel any sense of enjoyment. Like that would be inappropriate somehow.

But I believe that when we find that space where we are using our greatest gifts, our lifelong-honed skills, when we are bringing all our experience and interest to our work – it’s going to bring a deep sense of gladness (we might label it joy in the churchworld?) because we’re doing what we were made for.

And so of course life is not one big happiness-party – there is real struggle and even in that place of gladness you will often have to work damn hard – but I appreciated Liz’s emphasis on remembering to enjoy your creative work.


5. You can do all this and still not succeed. 

And that’s ok. Liz argues that the way in which we live and love and work and seek out that buried treasure within us, is more important than the final outcome.

“The rewards had to come from the joy of puzzling out the work itself, and from the private awareness that I had chosen a devotional path, and I was being true to it.”

“Fierce trust asks you to stand strong from within this truth: ‘you are worthy, dear one, regardless of the outcome.'”  – Elizabeth Gilbert

For me, the fear that whispers (sometimes yells), What if it doesn’t work out? is the biggest hindrance to my living that full creative life that Liz speaks of. What if no one reads my writing, or worse, they read it but dislike it? What if I try to organise that event, take that training, put myself forward – and it all goes horribly wrong?

Liz’s argument back to me is that living authentically is in fact a far greater reward in and of itself, than any worldly measure of success I might have in mind. She urges me to shush the ego a little more often and listen to my soul:

“My soul, when I tend to it, is a far more expansive and fascinating source of guidance than my ego will ever be, because my soul desires only one thing: wonder.”  – Elizabeth Gilbert

I want a little more wonder in my life. Seeking after wonder will guide me in a better direction than seeking after success. Even in those do-gooder worlds I have worked in. Seeking wonder looks, I think, like seeing glimpses of the divine in each person I meet. It looks like valuing authenticity above all. It looks like humility and generosity and stubborn gladness.

And it looks like holy ground.

“So you must keep trying. You must keep calling out in those dark woods for your own Big Magic. You must search tirelessly and faithfully, hoping against hope to someday experience that divine collision of creative communion.

…because when it all comes together, the only thing you can do is bow down in gratitude, as if you have been granted an audience with the divine.

Because you have.”  – Elizabeth Gilbert

faith, quotes

The Exhilarating Slippery Slope (an #OutofSortsbook synchroblog)

November 5, 2015
"May you be an explorer..." Sarah Bessey #outofsortsbook

I used to think the slippery slope was dangerous, now I think it’s the ride of a lifetime.

Growing up in the church, I heard frequent warnings from the pulpit, the youth conference stage, many of the adults in my life, about The Slippery Slope.

There was a right way to think and believe and live. And there was very definitely a wrong way. The wrong way included mostly premarital sex, drinking too much, and any support for LGBT people. There were other things in the “wrong” camp of course – universalism, praying to Mary, not reading your Bible every day, women in positions of leadership, abortion…

And the Slippery Slope was the little steps that you might take towards the wrong side. You might think they were entirely innocent, not-going-to-hurt-anybody steps, but all of a sudden you’d find your feet swept out from under you and you’d catapult into the wrong side – probably swearing all the way.

I was legitimately afraid of the slippery slope. I loved and needed this childhood faith of mine, and so the idea of losing it, of being sucked out onto the wrong side of the faith line, was truly scary. I loved Jesus, I didn’t want to lose him, didn’t want to lose his church I was a part of.

I’m also not one who can easily bury the questions. They came up slowly, I guess, but before long they would not keep quiet. I started wondering how exactly the Israelites heard God telling them to go commit genocide in the promised land – could they have misheard? I started wondering what was so wrong with a woman falling in love with another woman and committing themselves to honour, support and love each other for as long as they both shall live? I started wondering whether God might not be already speaking to and meeting with the loving and passionate Muslims and Buddhists and Jews that I met? I started swearing a bit more often…

But questions are dangerous. They take us too close to that slippery slope. And I was afraid to go there. Until I realised that I did not want a faith that was based on fear.

“We are afraid of our questions, afraid of finding new answers, afraid of a new way of thinking about or living with or relating to God. What if it changes us? What if we go the wrong way?… There are consequences for new answers and new understandings.” – Sarah Bessey

Jesus famously declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” And I am still wrestling with what on earth he meant by that. But if he holds out the truth to us, then no question is too scary, to risky to ask. There is nothing to be feared in bringing every doubt, every question, every thing that doesn’t seem to add up, dumping them there at his feet and saying, help me, how on earth does this fit in, I don’t understand. 

I’m learning how to lean into the questions. I haven’t found answers that satisfy for many of them yet. But that’s also OK. Because the truth about the slippery slope is, it’s kind of exhilarating. The wind in your face, so many new and utterly fascinating landscapes to take in as you go, a sense of such freedom.

“And there is usually rest waiting at the bottom. There is something wondrous about flinging open the door to the thing that scares you and saying, Bring it on. Let’s hop onto this toboggan and ride all the way to the bottom; let’s see what we find.” – Sarah Bessey

I’m learning how to release the fear and enjoy the ride. It’s rarely comfortable. I’ve wept many tears over every new question and doubt, I’ve ranted angrily to family and friends, I’ve gotten in trouble for voicing half-formed opinions that I’m in the middle of processing, I’ve sometimes felt like I’m in danger of losing everything if I keep asking, keep challenging.

But I’m finding more of God here, on the ride. It’s like I can feel the Spirit sitting behind me, arms wrapped tight around me – she’ll not let me fall – and whooping as we push off down the slope. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear (1 John 4:18).

“The Spirit is often breathing in the very changes or shifts that used to terrify us. Grace waits for us in the liminal space.” – Sarah Bessey

Reading Sarah Bessey’s new book, Out of Sorts, was like a massive tension release. Sarah telling me, through her own unique story, her own questions and faith shifts, that I’m not alone. We’re part of a long history of faith-filled people who have wrestled and questioned and doubted. The real danger is not that we’ll lose something valuable, for we can’t be lost. The Good Shepherd will come after his sheep if she ever gets too far away from his presence. There is room to explore, room to seek and to find a Kingdom that is truth and goodness and peace and love.

“Set out, pilgrim. Set out into the freedom and the wandering. Find your people. God is much bigger, wilder, more generous, and more wonderful than you imagined.” – Sarah Bessey

This is the heartbeat of my life now. Not to get everyone to think like me, because I’m not even sure what I think myself half the time. But I want to create space for the questions, create space to explore and discover, not with a foreboding sense that it might be about to implode at any moment, but with the joyous curiosity of a child.

Kaya and I set out each day on adventures in our new neighbourhood. We find parks and old cemeteries and quirky cafes and African shops spilling out fresh vegetables and fish. She embraces all of it with a beautiful fascination. She has this little frown that comes to her face every time something is strange to her. She’ll stare at people, study them. She’ll pick up sticks and leaves, chose to take a different path than I ever would have chosen. She looks back to me frequently, checking I’m still there. But she lives for this exploration, for getting out of the familiar safety of the house and discovering this brand new world. 

What might it be like to live with that same sense of impatient excitement to see what new things I am going to discover today? To get out of bed every day saying, God, be bigger today, be wilder, be more wonderful. Break open another box that I’ve tried to shut you up into. Don’t ever let me get comfortable. Challenge all my preconceptions of you and your people and your world. 

That’s the life, and the faith, that I want. And so I push off again, down the slippery slope.




This post is part of the synchroblog celebrating the release of Sarah Bessey’s new book, Out of Sorts. We were invited to write a post filling in the blanks, “I used to think _, now I think _.”

I received an advanced copy of Out of Sorts, which released in N.America on Tuesday and is already (whoop! we’re never first!) out in the UK (kindle edition here). She writes that “this is a book about making peace with the unanswered questions and being content to live into the answers as they come. It’s about being comfortable with where we land for now, while holding our hands open for where the Spirit leads us next.”

And it’s wonderful.

I underlined so much of this book. She writes her own story of the faith shifts, the doubts, the questions, and her crazy love for Jesus that lasted through it all. This is a book for anyone who feel alone in their wrestling, for those who are scared to start voicing the questions in their heart, for those who are embracing the free fall.