moonlight and the deer shelter

Once more, it is late and I am awake. Moonlight paves into my room through the unclosed window. My earlobes sting dully from new piercings(!), and my brain whirrs with thoughts and half-thoughts. I think about moonlight and the window –

– and my brain images a random, yet connected, memory. I’m fifteen, visiting the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on a GCSE art trip. I’m meant to be sketching all I can see, learning the beauty of forms through rough pencil strokes.

 

I earnestly sketch, after the heart and instruction of my teacher. Yet it’s my mind that’s captivated, rather than my hand: as I see these sculptures, words move into my head and pitch up tent, presenting themselves as more creative and compelling than my rudimentary and unlearned sketches. Words reflect truly my relationship with the art in front of me – even then I was a writer.

On this sketching trip, Turrell’s Deer Shelter caught my mind the most. It’s installed in a field with arresting simplicity: it is only a room with a square hole cut out of the ceiling. I sat on one of the benches around the edge of the room, and later I wrote these words:

Turrell’s work explores light and the sky and strives to create a space for thinking and contemplation. Sitting in the Deer Shelter, gazing at a square piece of sky made me feel good to be alive and to be able to enjoy earth and sky and art as they are. It was amazing to see the sky seemingly coming below the roof…coming into the room as you looked at it longer.

 

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These young words capture something for me, even today. I was amazed then to see the sky come below the roof, into the room – and I am amazed now, experiencing the quiet moonlight pouring in through my bedroom window.

I am amazed because, when the sky pours into the room, it shows that there is something more out there, beyond the window frame. In the Deer Shelter the sky was bright blue and fluffed over with woolly clouds, and beyond the small square of what I could see I knew that there was a whole skyscape to be seen.

In my room tonight, the moonlight paves its way through the dark. I know that if its silver pathway is followed it will lead to the moon itself and the stars, those strange and silent lights that comfort us as our globe spins through space.

You see, there is wonder beyond the window frame. The stars in all their glory; the hands of God holding them in place.

 

I imagine what it would be like to be Alice stepping through the looking glass. She walked with fear and curiosity, stepping into a new world and having her expectations and perceptions turned upside-down and inside-out. She found strangeness, newness and friends, and through her journey into the unfamiliar she learned so much more about herself and her world.

What if we too, metaphorically, stepped through the looking glass? Followed the moonlight path out of the window, or climbed through the square opening in the ceiling of the Deer Shelter? There is so much more than we immediately see; there is wonder beyond all that we could ask or imagine. And God delights to invite us into this wonder.

Madeleine L’Engle writes about one way of accepting this invitation in ‘Walking on Water’, her stunning book which I have been reading over this Christmas break. Her words are these:

When we are writing or painting or composing, we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions and opened to a wider world, where colours are brighter, sounds clearer and people more wondrously complex than we normally realise.

 

Her answer to the inviting wonder of God’s world – found in the complexity of people, and the sounds and colours of everything around us – is to explore it, through writing and creating. Through creating (which all of us can do), communicable form is given to the depths of wonder around us, the ‘something more’ in the sky beyond the window. Writing draws cosmos out of chaos; our creating somehow incarnates the hidden things of God which he has given us to make known to all people (Mark 16:15; Ephesians 3:1-13).

I find this to be true tonight as I gaze at the moonlight and imagine what is beyond. I find this to be true in the Bible, a lot in the Psalms, as it uses stories and poetry to reflect on the goodness and love of God. I hope to find this true in my own creating, as I write to incarnate; to imagine further; to explore the wonder of our God.

Soundtrack: Bethel’s ‘You Make Me Brave’

 

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incarnation: word for the year

The moonlight was bright last night. I was awake in the very early morning because I was too warm; I opened the window for some cool air and there was the moon, bright and clear and silver. I paused and gazed, glasses-less, at the many stars – they blurred and sparkled as, without glasses, I can’t really see.

This morning I awoke to the sky, this time red, gold and turquoise. An incredible sunrise poured in through the open window, the light transformative. The colours blurred and swirled into each other as I looked on sleepy-eyed, glasses-less.

With skies like these it’s easy to believe these verses from the Bible (Psalm 19):

‘the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they declare knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words, no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth; their words to the end of the world.’

The skies incarnate the truth of God, and his glory. The give form and vision to his character, showing us that he is the Creator and that he delights and loves so much that he makes the world not only habitable, but beautiful. The skies move and communicate a divine and beautiful story.

My word for this year, I think, is ‘incarnation’. It’s not a random word that I have chosen; rather, it’s a word that’s chosen me. I’ve listened and thought, and from stories of grace in 2017 and future promises for 2018, ‘incarnation’ has arisen.

The word itself means to en-flesh or embody; to represent a concept, quality or even God in concrete, fundamental or even human form. It’s a word that’s about fruit and communication: to incarnate something is to bring it to fruition and light, seeing the result of unseen hard work and labours of love. The incarnated form communicates that which it represents, revealing hidden, true things to the people who see it.

In 2018 I hope to grow in ‘incarnating’ – to grow in what I understand incarnation to be; to see God bring fruit to bear in my living, working and friendships; to increase in my ability to communicate his story and wonder to others. I hope to find my feet firmly grounded in heaven even as I walk the face of the earth, that I might become an empty-handed vessel through which the things of God can flow. I long to see my writing and my living shaped increasingly after the pattern of Christ as I tell and dwell in the stories God has already written for and in me.

And above all, I want 2018 to be a year of knowing Jesus more fully – the one who took on flesh to incarnate God himself, as we remind ourselves so much at Christmas. Jesus embodied God to us, revealing God: he is ‘the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation’ (Colossians 1:15). He walked the earth as fully human and fully divine, able to reconcile us completely and totally to God – he showed the fruit of God’s love and communicated the heart of God to us all.

It’s amazing and wonder-full to even begin to grasp this. This year, I hope to grow in this beginning, as I hold out empty hands to be held and led on by God – as I ask for my eyes to be opened so that I can see more clearly the once-hidden, now-revealed things of God.

I’ll finish with some of Jesus’ words, from Luke 8:16-18:

’No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.’

There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

lighting the Chapel candles

I have to stand on my toes to light the candles in Chapel. Otherwise, I’m too short.

These tip-toe moments make me feel like a child, as I carefully lift up the protective glass and raise the taper to touch the candle-wick (all whilst making sure that the sleeves of my College gown don’t catch fire and the wax doesn’t drip on the choir’s music). I’m like a child relishing the responsibility of being given a task to do, amazed by my Father God’s invitation to perform these small services in his presence. I’m invited to light the candles in the presence of the one who made the stars.

I stand on my toes and watch the wick catch and ignite, turning to flickering as I move to light the next candle. I have the wonder of a child: I get to do this; I am invited to be here; I am given the gift of seeing the illumination of the house of God.

This Cambridge term has opened my eyes to the joy of such simple, childlike faith not only in lighting candles but in many other moments too. I’ve seen it in God’s immense kindness as he’s strengthened me when I’ve been tired. When I have nothing left to give, God gives me the rest I need. He shows me when to take a break and encourages me to persevere when there’s no time to stop. He’s like a mum listening carefully to the tiredness of her child, sending them to bed when they need it and waking them up when they’re ready.

I’ve seen the joy of this childlike faith in singing songs at church, when God has released all of us to sing loud and in freedom. An amazing sound overflows as we lose ourselves in being with him and knowing him. It’s like a child lost in a moment of playing with their dad. They are amazed at his wealth of knowledge and they say simply and truly: ‘wow dad, you’re perfect at this. I love you.’

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I’ve seen this joy in prayer by myself, too. If you’ve spent any time with me this term there’s a good chance that you’ll have heard me (overexcitedly) speak about ‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’, a Bible adaptation for kids written by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Running from Genesis through to Revelation this book transforms Bible stories and their deep theology into the language of children, showing how each one of them points to the person of Jesus and the incredible love of God. Each morning I’ve read a story from this Bible – and every single day I’ve heard Jesus speak about who he is and how much he cares. God’s been showing me how to wonder and trust in the Bible with the heart of a child (and I’ve even used the Storybook Bible in a Greek supervision. Children’s books will get me through finals, right?!).

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Finally, I’ve seen this joy come to life in the midst of trying to answer that big question of what to do post-graduation. I take such encouragement in knowing that God is my Father and I’m invited to be his child and trust, to wonder at his love and follow his voice where he’s calling me. To follow with joy and with the seriousness that childlike faith (paradoxically?) is growing in me.

Be encouraged if you are also facing big questions and big days. Sometimes God leads us into the wilderness time of wrestling deeply with our faith – and sometimes he calls us to know him with deep simplicity. He can call us to know him just by lighting the Chapel candles, sleeping when we need to, singing loud songs in freedom, and reading picture books in the morning.

Ponder where God’s calling you now, and have a listen to this song, Bethel’s ‘Wonder’. This just captures it all, with such joy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

prayer and fire

You don’t draw close to the fire when you’re already warm; you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and you need to warm up.

Over a year ago, on a cold September night, the stars blazed silver and my fingers were chilled to the bone. I was camping with friends at Forum (a conference for University CU leaders), and it was night, and it was cold. There was a light drizzle dampening our clothes and faces. There was dew on the long grass and a sharp, sweet coolness to the air.

There was also a campfire roaring one field to the left – great orange flames sparkling and crackling against the dark sky, emitting grey and glorious-smelling smoke.

So, with the stars blazing silver and my fingers chilled to the bone, I headed over to the campfire to sit huddled on the ground, sing songs (as typically and wonderfully happens at CU campfires!) and get warm. Getting warm was my big aim; I stretched out my cold hands to the flames and felt the heat on my skin. My joints and muscles relaxed, and slowly the warmth reached the bones of my fingers. I didn’t have to keep my hands clenched up inside the sleeves of my jumper any more that night; I didn’t have to try desperately to hold on to or generate my own tiny warmth.

Instead, I could hold my hands out open and empty towards the crackling, smoky fire, letting the flames do the warming for me.

You see: you don’t draw close to the fire when you’re already warm; you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and you need to warm up.

My friend Katie shared this phrase with me a couple of weeks ago, having heard it at this year’s Forum conference in a seminar about prayer. The point made through it is this: when you don’t feel like praying, pray. Just as you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and need warming up, draw close to God when you’re ‘cold’ in your feeling towards him and you need ‘warming up’.

This resonates a lot with me. I know that prayer is the only thing that keeps me grounded. I know that without regular times of talking and listening to God I grow colder, more disconnected, and more insecure. I get more things wrong and feel a lot more on edge. Yet, despite knowing these things, I don’t always feel like praying.

I get distracted by Netflix or studying, or simply feel a complete lack of motivation and energy to talk to God. I sometimes don’t know where to start, or I sometimes think that I can do everything I need to without God. Often when I have a 9am lecture I find myself with less time to pray in the morning.

These are all examples of feeling ‘cold’. My hands clench up into fists, gathering around them the fabric of my jumper as they try to keep any warmth from escaping. I face a choice in these ‘cold’ moments: do I keep trying to generate and preserve my own warmth, or do I turn towards the fire?

I’ve found that it’s always been worth it when I’ve made the latter choice with prayer. The choice is sometimes hard, but the result is always wonderful – my clenched fists stretch out into open and empty hands, warmed by the fire of who God is and how much he loves.

You don’t draw close to the fire when you’re already warm; you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and you need to warm up.

 

 

wildflower, one year on

Last year I sat amongst the wildflowers of Jesus Green and considered their fragility. Those silk-thin petals and long stems were defined for me by fragility, inevitable transience in the face of the blue frost and dark nights of winter.

Yesterday I took a walk back to those wildflowers, treading the paths of countless memories, sweet and bittersweet, from last year at Cambridge. Yet this time, as I sat amongst the pink and gold light of early afternoon, I did not see the wildflowers as fragile.

Instead I saw life and life abounding: the awakening of colour and beauty just as winter begins to approach; the defiant show of newness and growth in the face of whatever else is out there. In those wildflowers I saw less of a fragility and more of a flourishing: a new thing is coming, and it is going to be good.

I think this new perspective comes from some verses that God’s caught my attention with over the past little while. Isaiah 43:19 proclaims:

See, I am doing a new thing!

Do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness

and streams in the wasteland.

This is the heartbeat of God: ‘See, I am doing a new thing!’ The story that he’s writing is one completely of renewal and restoration. His tendency is always towards life and life abounding.

You see, even through wildernesses and wastelands God is making a way. He is always carving out spaces for streams to run – his heartbeat always proclaims a new thing, a new thing, a new thing is coming.  As a final year student with no post-graduation plans this is wildly reassuring.

Through the change and shift of constant questioning – what next? and who do I want to be? and where do I want to go with my time, my study, my friendships, my ministry? – there is this steady heartbeat of a God who makes all things new. There is the heartbeat of a God who causes the fragile things to flourish, who shifts our perspective from the weight of questioning to the freedom of trusting his voice to direct us.

There is this heartbeat and this hope, and through it all God answers the questions of change with promises of his love, grace and new life – new life displayed in the flourishing of those wildflowers and the words of his Word, and in the lives of those who follow him. So at the start of this final university year, let’s make of this a prayer.

Father,

You steady me by answering my questions with your promise of a new thing, of fragile life made to flourish under your care. You lead me through the questions and the change and you make me new.

Can I draw near to you in this change? Can you use this year to cause me to follow you more deeply, more sacrificially, more distinctively? Will you bring your kingdom in my thoughts, my words, and my relationships? Will you speak to the hearts of my friends through the life you’re leading me to live? Will you give me wisdom and discernment as I follow? Will you make it clear to me where to go next?

I really know that you will, and that all will be well. Father, form in me your image and give me ears to hear your voice wherever I find myself. May I listen and trust: may I find myself steady in your hands, for a new thing is coming.

Amen

 

 

 

on being a narwhal!

Last week, I was a leader on a Ventures camp for eight to eleven year olds. We had a great time having fun, being kind and learning about God – as the motto for the week goes. With a theme of ‘Pole-to-Pole’ we traced the journey of Penny Guin, a lost penguin; the stories about Jesus from Luke’s Gospel accompanied us as we travelled from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from lost to found. We were in four dorms: penguins, polar bears, seals and (my dorm, clearly the best dorm) narwhals. Hence the title of this post.

The leaders on camp always end up doing a crazy variety of tasks throughout the week: waking the children up for breakfast; serving copious amounts of delicious food; slipping down water slides; dressing up as forest penguins; giving talks and having chats about Jesus.

One morning, before the rising bell, my job was to lead the morning leaders’ prayers. I shared a short Bible thought before we prayed for the busy day ahead – and I thought I’d post that Bible thought here, to encourage you in your summer adventures wherever they might be.

Psalm 84:5-7 says:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength until each appears before God in Zion.

Another leader had used the entirety of Psalm 84 in the leaders’ prayers the previous day. These verses had caught my attention, partly because of a verse I’d been praying through since I went to Madrid. This verse is Isaiah 43:19, which reads:

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

As we walk forwards with God, setting our hearts on pilgrimage, he weaves his grace into our work and walk and brings new life through it. He is doing a new thing; he is bringing streams of new life to the wastelands and wildernesses around us. We are his vessels: his life springs up around us as we go, as we go with him.

Whatever our role is on camp, whether that’s opening God’s Word with the kids, resolving conflicts between tired children, having fun doing crazy activities, cooking scrumptious food to keep us all going, dealing with injuries and sicknesses, looking after a child who can’t sleep because they’re scared – whatever our role is, God is bringing life through it.

Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? You are going from strength to strength with Jesus. The people and situations around you are experiencing new life as you follow him. God is making beautiful things grow up from out of the dust.

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So whatever you find yourself doing this summer, whether that’s moving to a new country for a year abroad, helping on a summer camp, staying at home with your family, serving with a mission team in the UK or further afield, going on holiday or a study trip with mates, teaching on a summer school, working a summer job, sleeping lots, moving house, doing homework – whatever you find yourself doing, God brings life through it as you walk with him.

Streams spring up in the wilderness and God’s kingdom surely comes.

tales from Madrid: strength in weakness

This is the third post of tales from Madrid – click here for the first and here for the second.

‘my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9)

An experience such as Escape and Pray tests you to your limits and shows up your weaknesses. We couldn’t have found accommodation, food and people to pray with without God’s power and kindness making the plans for us. We also couldn’t have kept working as a team without him there; we all experienced times when we were low, grumpy and wanting to go home, and it was in these moments that God helped us too.

He helped us by teaching us to listen to each other, often through Flora’s wisdom in choosing moments to ask us how we all felt about what was happening. Each of us in the team brought different strengths and gifts, and each person’s gifts were needed as we followed God to where he led us.

 

Another way in which God helped us was through the words of a man at the International Church. On the second day we went to a Bible study in his house on Ephesians 3:14-20. It was a very different Bible study to what we were used to – he spoke while everyone else listened, with no discussion breaks. We also couldn’t tell how much he actually wanted us to be there; he had invited us, but his manner was slightly impatient.

Yet despite these reservations, and despite being unsure of the relevance of what we were listening to, the words of that man’s Bible study kept returning to us and encouraging us throughout the weekend, showing us that God intended for us to meet and listen to this man.

 

A final example of God’s strength in our weakness is a story of a miracle (- something I really did not expect to see). Holly had experienced relatively bad heatstroke through our first night in Madrid; in the evening of the second day her throbbing headache returned. We were sitting in a near-empty metro station on the outskirts of the city with an hour’s journey ahead of us, and usually very talkative Holly felt like she just needed to be quiet and close her eyes.

In this moment of sickness and need, Flora placed her hands on Holly’s head and prayed for Jesus to heal her. Ten seconds later Holly’s headache had completely gone, she could see properly and she was back to normal for the rest of the weekend. Our God heals and he is kind, powerful and good – and we were amazed.

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Also at this time we realised something else about our Escape and Pray adventure. In those orange envelopes we had opened at Stansted, Fusion had included a map full of ideas of what we could do or pray for. We hadn’t really looked at the map much – but while we were waiting for the metro we opened it to have a look. As we traced the map’s route we realised that God had given us an opportunity to do each one of the suggestions without us realising; although this was not the point of the weekend, it gave us great joy to be surprised once more by God’s perfect planning, provision, power and kindness.

So as I end this trio of blog posts of tales from Madrid, here is a picture of the map! 🙂

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I hope you’ve been encouraged by reading these tales – our God is good. He makes us his children, is strong in our weakness and gives us immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine.

tales from Madrid: Romans 8

This is the second post of tales from Madrid – click here for the first.

‘those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God’ (Romans 8:14)

Romans 8 was a chapter we returned to throughout the weekend. It’s full of powerful truth, kindness and encouragement, and it emboldened us to keep pursuing God even in difficult moments.

The truth that we are God’s children (against whom nothing can therefore stand) gave us boldness to speak to and pray for people we’d never met, like an American woman on a school trip, and José the student who was the first person we met. On the second night Holly and Miriam boldly stood on a Red Box in Puerto de Sol, pretty much the centre of Madrid, and spoke to passersby about how God wanted to know each and every person through prayer and relationship with him; they confidently spoke despite nervousness.

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This ‘Red Box moment’ came about through going to a Red Box event (which began with prayer and worship led by Mexican missionaries!). Red Box is an evangelistic group who take (you’ve guessed it,) red boxes onto the streets of cities throughout the world, and stand on them to preach to anyone who is walking by. People with the Red Box group stand in the crowd and have conversations with passersby who appear interested; the night we were there, several conversations happened after people spoke about Jesus from the Box. Holly and Miriam were two of the people who stood and spoke – they spoke with clarity and truth, God giving them the words to say and the courage to say them.

The Romans 8 truth was also seen in the sense of peace we felt when we entered new places which we may otherwise have been nervous about. Staying with strangers in a foreign country with a day’s notice is not a normal thing to do – yet when we entered the flat of the woman on the first night we felt completely safe and at peace. Through the whole of the second day we felt peaceful about accommodation as well, even though we had nowhere to sleep until about 9pm. We felt the same sense of peace as we entered our home for the second night, and had a wonderful time with a couple who were the friends of a friend of a friend of Holly, Miriam and Flora. Only God could plan something like this and give us peace about it!

Finally, we knew God’s truth when the Spirit gave us words to pray for people. Romans 8:26 says

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

This was definitely the case when Flora prayed for a homeless woman who could only speak Spanish and Italian; when we tiredly prayer-walked some random streets having gone to the wrong church; when we sat in (the absolutely stunning) Roterio park and prayed with Bekah after lunch. This last time of prayer was amazing, God giving Flora encouraging and prophetically relevant words for Bekah, and giving Bekah encouraging and prophetic words for us.

The words she gave us were that we’d be like ‘streams in the desert’ (Isaiah 43:19) as we travelled on from Madrid, giving life to those around us wherever we’d find ourselves next – in Milan for Flora, Budapest for Holly, Kenya for Miriam and Assisi for me.

This prayer I think was answered for me in part even the day after returning from Madrid. I was going that evening to Clare May Ball – extravagant, expensive, Gatsby-esque and a complete contrast to life on mission in Madrid. Yet as I saw my sequinned dress hanging up in my room, I felt God say ‘pilgrims can wear these clothes too’ – and that night at the Ball I had some of the best conversations with friends about life, university, faith and God.

We are made God’s children not only when we’re intentionally and radically on mission, but also in every situation we find ourselves in. We can bring life to both Madrid and May Balls; streams run in every desert. So Escape and Pray, I’ve learnt, is not just for 48 hours but for a lifetime.

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Hydration is good for both Madrid and May Balls too. 😉 Yay hot weather!

(One more post to go of tales from Madrid!)

tales from Madrid: immeasurably more

A little over two weeks ago, I stood with Holly, Miriam and Flora outside Stansted airport. The sun was rising, the airport was busy…and we were about to discover which flight we would be catching. Our boarding passes were in bright orange envelopes given to us by Fusion, a Christian student organisation seeking to build a network of student-friendly churches across Europe. The part we played in this vision was to take part in ‘Escape and Pray’: 48 hours in a mystery location, relying on God to provide for us as we prayed for the city, its churches and its students.

It was both terrifying and exciting to stand there and open that envelope. Where would we be going? Would we find places to stay? Would people be welcoming? What if we’d packed for the wrong weather?! We could have ended up anywhere in Europe.

We opened the envelope to read: ‘you are going to Madrid!’

To Spain we therefore went – and this (and the following two blog posts over the next couple of days) tells some of the stories of what God held for us there.

‘immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine’ (Ephesians 3:20)

The night before travelling we sat in Holly’s garden to chat and pray about our expectations, fears and hopes for Escape and Pray. The matters of food, accommodation, and money were discussed; we’d each receive €20 from Fusion to use how we wanted (and we could use bank cards abroad if we needed to), but apart from that no plans or provision had been made.

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chatting in Holly’s garden

The matters of sleep and sustenance were therefore massive unknowns. They were worries which grew throughout the first very hot day we spent in Madrid.

Yet God, despite (or perhaps because of) these worries, gave us everything we needed. And not only that – he gave us more than everything we needed.

We stayed our first night in the beautiful flat of a woman we met at the International Church of Madrid. She lived three minutes’ walk from the church and was happy for us to sleep on the floor of her living room. Already this was beyond our expectations – booking a hostel had been our most likely option after six potential offers of accommodation had fallen through earlier in the day. But this was not all; when our host went out for the evening, she let us use her kitchen to cook food, completely trusting us even though we were strangers. We had a wonderful dinner (featuring ‘floopy zebras’) and a good night’s sleep, followed by breakfast with our host who we chatted to in a mixture of English, Spanish and Italian.

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floopy zebras! (chocolate-covered delicious donuts)

We knew that this was God’s provision for us not only because of the feeling of peace we felt throughout, but also because of a message from someone in the UK, saying that they had felt an urgent need to pray for our accommodation at the exact time we were offered somewhere to stay by the woman at the International Church.

God gave us more than we needed food-wise as well. On our second day we met with Bekah, a staff worker for GBU (the Spanish equivalent of UCCF). She very generously took us out for lunch at a lovely restaurant called La Rollerie – we had the most amazing food and conversation, and a welcome rest in a busy 48 hours.

In addition, people we met gave us money for food (without us asking at all); this amounted to €60. We didn’t need to use this money – in fact, the only money we used all weekend was the €20 given to each of us by Fusion. God gave to us abundantly, in measures immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine. We left Madrid with €60 which we are donating to GBU.

God also gave to us abundantly in that he let us be accidental tourists as well as intentional pilgrims. Despite not planning to at all, by the end of the weekend we had seen most of the super cool tourist sights in Madrid. God is a God of fun, too!

escape, pray, trust

As I’m writing this it’s ridiculous early in the morning and I’m feeling the massive lack of sleep. (Awake, nonetheless, and not sure why!) despite the tiredness I’m also full of excited joy and anticipation and knowing God – our God is great, and he’s sparking new things in my heart that are un-ignorable and good. New life.

All of this ahead of #escapeandpray this weekend, the crazy adventure that God’s hands completely hold. There is nothing I can do or worry about it; God has it. And there are two truths particularly that I want to remember as I stand at the airport; as I board the plane; as I arrive on foreign soil with my clothes on my back and God’s word directing my steps. It’s not my agenda that guides this, but his. The light to my path is his truth with us, shaping us, caring for us and lifting us.

Truth 1: God is strong in our weakness.

Last night I was with my friend Holly, who’s part of my #escapeandpray team, at Holy Trinity’s end-of-year student celebration night. We sung worship, prayed for leavers and stayers next year, and heard brave and beautiful stories from the front through which God’s powerful light refracted and shone.

A repeated theme through many of these stories is that God is strong in our weakness. When our knees hit the floor and we can’t see the wood for the trees; when our eyes don’t open for tiredness or fear; when we’re gazing completely into the unknown and feeling our lack of ability to go forwards – God is there.

God is there – he breaks the chains which bind us tight; he draws close to us as our Father who loves us deeply; he helps us to go forwards in the most caring and powerful ways. He is strong in our weakness, and invites us to surrender to him in faith.

Blessed is the one who has not seen these things but yet believes in the God who strengthens, and I am blessed to have seen and heard how God honours our desperate faith and is strong in each of our weaknesses.

These words I’ll carry with me on Friday morning – especially as, when I returned home after the celebration, Miriam, another #escapeandpray team member, sent this message on our group chat:

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Wow. Our God is with us.

Truth 2: God’s victory is certain, our hope secure and real, even in the face of deep darkness.

Another theme from the celebration was this, that God’s victory is certain, secure and real. I wrote about this earlier in the year, having experienced the death of my grandad and finding that in the grief God is there and gives us the strength to still sing ‘O death, where is your sting?’

Since then I have felt new grief. This year I (and we all, I am sure) have been confronted with darknesses both in personal and public life. Alongside whatever struggle or lament we each may be praying through for ourselves or for friends, we receive news every day of war, terror attacks, a country more divided than united. We read of immense suffering and it’s hard to sometimes hold on to what is good in the midst of so much that is difficult.

But God’s light shines in the darkness and darkness has not, does not and will not ever overcome it.

Therefore as we go into #escapeandpray this weekend, we can go knowing that whatever situations we face, whether they are fantastically fun or deeply difficult, God has given us certain victory and a light that shines with joy in the darkness. We can boldly go wherever darkness needs to be overcome, knowing that with God for us nothing can be against us (as a friend emphasised and reminded me last night). We can go with boldness, confidence, and most amazingly we can go with great joy – for he us with us and we travel with light.

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We can go with great joy: and this is what sustains me and what is making me so excited for this weekend. God sets fire in our hearts that is crackling with his grace, truth and compassion, fire that is sparking joy. This joy is our strength; the joy of the Lord is our strength. He is strong in our weakness. His victory is certain and our joy thus secure. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

This is the rhythm of truth that I will take with me, expectant of nothing but God’s voice directing us and his joy strengthening us to obey him in this adventure. Pray alongside us too as we journey, if you like – follow us from Friday at 5am on Twitter (@hannah_fytche) where we’ll be posting updates of where we go and the story that God writes.