Wednesday, 3 May 2017

From London to Bath, resilience and mental heath





From London to Bath, resilience and mental health

On Saturday I, along with 2 very beautiful people, cycled from London to Bath.  Including breaks, the 200 kilometres took us just over 12 hours.

I've been asked why quite a few times.  The answer is not simple, and I'm not convinced I know I know why. But I’ll pose a few of the reasons.

The Daily Mail tweeted the headline today: “£55,000-a week England footballer Aaron Lennon is detained under mental health act after stand-off police.”

While I’m grateful there was a strong public outcry at this statement, I’m also aware that papers like the Mail both influence people, and are influenced by what people think. This leads me to my first reason for riding to Bath.  Resilience.  

For too long we’ve been happy to link mental health issues with weakness.  I’m fed up with it. I think we can do so much better than blame and fear.  If someone’s leg snaps under pressure, we wouldn’t dream of saying they were weak.  Or if their leg breaks due to a weak bone, we wouldn’t dream of saying they should tough it out.  

The evidence points to people suffering with mental ill heath as the victim. The illness likely formed during traumatic events beyond our control, usually something that someone else did to us, when we were a child.  

The ride to Bath, for me, was for my own health and to help support Off the Record.  Off the Record provides therapy for young people experiencing problems with their mental health, and I like their approach.  As I write we’ve raised just over £800 (£900 with gift aid) and are just £100 short of our target. I would love to meet it and help as many youngsters as possible.

This ride was also for my own health.  Achievement and shared experiences all help build resilience.  Boy, do I need it.

As someone who manages a long-term health condition while at the same time running a mental health charity and business I recognise that my mental health is not always great. 3 years ago, I went through a particularly low period after being diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis. Fear marked out a period of my life and I was experiencing more than just physical pain.

This was a ride for health.  

I completed the ride with 2 very resilient people. Both are men that I’ve known through the years, adventured with in the past. Both have come through various and significant trials. This ride only added to that list of trials! A trial that we came through side by side, supported each other in and completed together.

I pray that Aaron Lennon’s team mates pull together to support him.  I’ve been around football my whole life, from Saturday church teams to National teams and I know the potential for support is there. But I also know the potential for isolation in that environment too. The shared experience, the camaraderie, the physical challenge and the leadership, it should lead to a good outcome for Aaron. 

But for now, I’m grateful to those around me, to my body for holding up, and to Ash and John for completing the ride with me.

If you'd like to sponsor our ride you have about one more day to do it!  Please go to:

https://localgiving.org/fundraising/londontobath/

Setting off at Wimbledon
First stop, first stretch!
Pub lunch and keeping warm by the fire




Finishing the really big climb in the Cotswalds




Made it!

Monday, 27 March 2017

Living through pain


Living through pain.

2 and a half years ago I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis. It is an evil disease that is debilitating and life-shortening. This made sense. As I lied in a bed, unable to walk and in excruciating pain, I thought back over the past 10 years and thought “this is it”. The disease was the reason I had not been able to play sport. It was the reason my toe twisted 6 years prior to the diagnosis, the reason my knees were always swollen and sore. This disease had caused the increasing fatigue I had been experiencing. Now, not only did I feel this pain and distress, I was permanently put on Methotrexate, a Chemotherapy that is pretty rough. I spent a few nights unable to sleep, a mixture of pain and fear keeping me awake. The consultant hadn’t given me much hope for recovery. I went over, and over, dying. How would my kids cope? What about Jo, would she re-marry? I want her to remarry. No I don’t. Yes, I do. As my joints loosened, and the pain went, I saw my knee caps for the first time in many years. I repeatedly visited the consultant, went for constant blood tests, regular steroid injections and regular joint aspirations. I also repeatedly heard the words “great progress” and a sense of hope sparked. And then, after countless “faith” prayers and countless “be healed” moments, someone, in amongst a rambling prayer, uttered the words “Thank you Jesus for interceding for Tom”. Something in me broke. Peace filled my heart. I’ve been in remission for 2 years now. I still take Methotrexate once a week, a toxic drug. My kidneys are stable, yet not functioning fully. It’s not always a nice experience. But according to the Consultant, I am on the minimum dose and it’s working almost miraculously.

 

Recovery

I thank God, for the healing process of course, but also for the opportunity. I’ve never felt so in love with Jesus. I still carry physical pain with me on a daily basis. My knees hurt, my jaw clicks and aches, my knuckles are tender and my toes sometimes swell. But I’ve found a sense of joy in life that was missing for a long time. Cycling was a huge step forward for me. 3 months post diagnosis I got an e-bike, followed by a road bike. I now enjoy riding with my kids, and also took part in my first “big ride” yesterday. A 65k timed ride with 4 monstrous hills. Another milestone achievement was climbing Bunda in Malawi a few weeks ago (with my children). I enjoy hill climbing, it runs in the family. But the last hill I had climbed was mount Sinai in Egypt on our honeymoon, 2005. It was agony, even back then. While these physical achievements have been big moments in my life, the biggest joy has been found in relationship. Firstly, my relationship with Father God is more intimate and real than ever. On the 65k bike ride, when my muscles felt like they would pop while going up a 300 feet incline at a 13% gradient, he was there cheering me on, and when we got to the top I felt him closer than ever. While climbing up Bunda I saw his creation and marvelled. I am in awe of him, his majesty, and I kneel before him as King. Yet we laughed and cried together through the pain and the achievement. This mixture of awe and intimacy is both majestic and comforting. There’s also the people who, maybe unbeknown to them, went through these tests with me. Uncle Humphreys bounded up Bunda with me and the children, and I’ll forever cherish sitting at the top, on the beacon, eating a pack of mini cheddars together. Then there’s Steve Gregson and Lee Andrew who took part in the 65k with me. Well, really we took part with Lee who finished 30 minutes ahead of us! Steve is a man I so admire, a man of integrity and grit. Cycling such a distance together will be forever something I treasure. In all of this, my family has come to mean so much more. My parents and my sister have shown deep concern and looked to support me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I feel closer to them than before. Just like I know Father God cheers for me, I know they do too. Some of the cycle rides I’ve completed, I’ve completed with my children. The climb up Bunda was also with my children. To be able to support them, encouraging them on, to stand at the top together, and to share the stories of our adventures with others is something I couldn’t have dreamed of 2 and half years ago. Then there’s my wife Jo. While the cycling, and the Bunda climb, were not tasks we completed together, we have approached this as a team. 2 and half years ago she had a husband who needed looking after (I still do!). Someone who’s ability to provide was in doubt. She was unwavering in her support for me. When I suggested cycling, she was my number 1 supporter, convinced I could do it. When I mentioned, rather casually, I want to ride to Bath (something I hope to do in one day on the 29th April) she, as ever, believes I can do it and sets out to support me. She is a rock, and as I came home on Sunday, after completing the 65k ride, it dawned on me how excited I was to see her and share the completion of this ride together. Unlike me, she doesn’t boast. Unless you’ve asked her, you won’t know she got a first for her first year of Midwifery. You won’t know she achieved this while being a mother of 2, supporting a husband who you’ve just been reading about and holding down bank shifts as a screening technician. This illness, and the subsequent physical challenges has brought me closer to Jo. They have revealed to me how great, how deep, how dedicated and how loyal she is.

 

Blessing

All this has led me to consider blessing. And I’ve really been considering it a lot.
Too often we hear that blessing is material. “Thank you God for blessing me with this car” etc. Too often we believe the lie that material blessing equates to Gods favour. This is a Western, cultural value and one that I believe is separate from the heart and values of God. Too often we hear that healing is somehow linked to our own actions, or possibly the actions of those who pray for us. The rhetoric in our churches is often in danger of dismissing the work of medical professionals. This, in turn, could mean dismissing the work of God himself. Jesus said blessed are those who mourn. BLESSED! Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure of heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted. But the thing that fascinates me most about Jesus’ take on blessing is not who he states as blessed, but WHY or WHAT they are blessed with. This is what real blessings are made of. Other “stuff” are just tools for life, or worse, they are curses. We have an arrogant cultural view of ourselves in the West and it’s one of superiority because we have “easier lives” than other cultures, and we even conclude that God blessed us as such. I’ve been reconsidering this view recently. I’ve been challenging myself to see things from other viewpoints.

So what’s real blessing? 

Jesus starts with receiving the Kingdom of heaven. Something you can’t receive until you realise you are spiritually bankrupt. Completely corrupted. So many times I’ve heard the phrase “we just need a good person, or a Godly person in office”. I’ve come to believe that we are all corruptible, that our hearts desires are not to be trusted. When we realise this, and instead of trusting ourselves or fellow humans for blessings or for saving, we begin to trust the work of Jesus on the cross – then we are blessed. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

We are blessed when we are comforted. But to truly know comfort, you must experience loss, death. This is a hard lesson. But what a wonderful promise, in the middle of our grief, when all is lost, Jesus promises that we will be comforted. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Next, Jesus talks about inheriting the earth as a blessing. I’m not claiming to understand this completely, but I do believe he was talking about people who bring their strength under control (meek), and therefore the earth will bless them. As a farmer I can relate to this one. You are blessed when your harvest produces great yields. This is perhaps the most material type blessing Jesus talks about, yet it relates to our work. Blessed with yields at work. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

You know that emptiness we sometimes feel? Or how about extreme anxiety? Or how about those physical lusts? Well you are blessed when you are satisfied, when you are filled up. When those fires that rage inside are quenched. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Mercy, seeing God, being called a child of God, and again receiving the Kingdom of Heaven. These are blessings. Fortunately for us, Jesus tells us about attitudes and circumstances that will lead us into these blessings. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

For me, this has been one of the biggest questions I’ve faced. I’ve been wrestling with it constantly. It seems almost every Christian preacher and teacher I’ve come across uses the common denominator of materials or physical healing as how God will bless us. It’s a dynamic and life changing shift to see blessing as Jesus does. To see blessing as being part of the Kingdom of heaven, as receiving comfort over loss, as seeing God, being called his children, when our work bears fruit, receiving mercy, and having our internal thirsts satisfied.

I have been blessed by God, and I pray I never forget it

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Joshua got his question wrong!

Sometimes we often ask ourselves the question: "Who's side is God on?" Or we make the statement: "God's on my/our side!"

I was struck yesterday, while reading Joshua 5 that his question to the Angel of the lord was wrong. He asked who's side was the angel on. Of course the answer was neither! Joshua needed to ask himself who's side he was on. We find Joshua falling on his face as the Angel gives his response, which includes telling him he's on holy, set apart, ground.

Joshua realized that even though he was the leader of a great army, he in fact needed to get in line. God is the boss and we need to make sure we are on his side, it's not about God joining our team, or backing us, or gaining his support. We join his team, we support what he's doing, WE BACK HIM! Even though God was not for either army, he delivered Jericho into the hands of Joshua's army.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

all the fun of the fair

I'm feeling kinda chuffed. I've managed to update our website which I run off our laptop. It only took me a few months and countless hours! And even though I've updated it it's still not perfect! But it looks totally new. It reminded me of the work God is doing in my life. It takes a long time. Every now and then you think you've got it, for another glitch to rear it's ugly head. But it's a labor of love, one which leaves you looking brand spanking new! Check it out, you can also find our delayed winter newsletter in the news section: www.tomandjo.org

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

It is not good to be alone!

When God said this, I've always taken it as his plan for marriage. However we find the apostle Paul living as a passionate single, but also very aware that it is not good for man to be alone. I wonder if that's why he shared his life with so many men, living together and working together.

Jo's been gone for a week and a half now, and John left a few days later leaving me on my own. At 1st I enjoyed it to some extent. I could walk around in the buff (something I've done with various room mates in the past!), eat when I wanted to eat, sleep when I wanted to sleep and generally do whatever I wanted to do. Recently I've found it harder to keep a rain on my thoughts, on my discipline, on what I watch on T.V or being intentional with my time. It's not good to be alone. I would encourage those of you that are single to share life with others by having good room mates, ones who have similar beliefs and values to you. And those of us who are married I encourage you to actually live with your spouse! It's incredible how we can end up living alone even when we share a house with someone.

I'm so grateful for my family, and looking back I'm so grateful for my various room mates. They are God given, they help breath life and purpose into my existence, they give me the intimacy we all long for and they remind me that life is about more than just me.

To check out our latest newsletter go to: www.tomandjo.org

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Moving on up


Hi!

What a few weeks! Wow! I hardly know where to start, and I’m sure I’m gonna miss something out.

The church is going places. Really going places. A few weeks back we spent a while as a leadership team working on our vision and values. Flood San Diego had some really helpful workshops for us to go through. Anyway we came up with :

Vision: To connect up & coming generations to the life-changing person of Jesus

Values: Compassionate Service, Multiplication, Raising Leaders, Lives of Worship, Authenticity, Creative Relevance, And Inclusive Community.

We still operate under the 3 environments: Encountering God, Growing in community & Impacting the world.

Tomorrow we have our regular vision night and it will be really exciting to share this with the church and look at how we can implement it. We are also launching Growth Group leaders training and I’ve been working hard along with Mafunase to come up with some really good material. We’ve written, re-written and adapted material and can’t wait to kick of the training. We regularly get 200 people worship with us on Sundays and have 70 people in Growth Groups as we speak.

Our home is as busy as ever, with 12 people at its peak all living under one roof! For us it really is the way to live and we feel it stretches and motivates us like nothing else! I thoroughly enjoy getting together with everyone we share life with to chat, pray and read the bible. I’m also so impressed with Jo how she copes. She stretches the budget in a way that no one else could, we always eat well and enjoy her food, and she organizes the cleaning and looks after everyone so well. At the same time she raises our little daughter magnificently!

Things in the village have been really fun recently. We were invited to stay with the chief a couple of weeks back, and it was a real privilege to sleep in his house/hut with his family and share a little in their life. Having said that it always makes me grateful for my bed as sleeping on a bamboo mat is not very comfortable! We are also going able to give Mosquito nets out to all the families in the village thanks to an artist who raised the money from San Diego, and have started educating on Malaria before we do so. On top of that we are able to give all the women bibles thanks to a Christian missionary who was passing through and got inspired by what we are doing. On top of even that we sent the women’s guild (40 of them) on a 4-day conference and helped them show a film outside the church building using our churches generator and projector. So you can see we’ve been really busy there!

So, things are really moving on and I’m so thankful to be a part of it. It feels like a dream sometimes. To be a part of something that is growing so organically – it’s not due to finance or strategy or anything except Jesus. It’s all about him and seeing him change lives is a humbling experience.

Tom

Monday, 2 August 2010

Summer Newsletter

Hi guys

Our latest newsletter is available:

newsletter

Welcome

You have found Tom's Blog!

I'm part of New Generation Church (www.newgen.org.uk) in the United Kingdom. I passionately believe in Church, love Jesus and am wondering about the various things I could write here. This used to be a blog for our updates from Malawi when Jo and I were missionaries to Flood Church.