why everyone should read ‘see you soon’

When my phone alerts me to a new text message I instinctively reach for it, unlock it and read the message. It’s now such an intuitive reaction that I do it whilst doing something else – with the consequence that I’m only half engaging with the content of the message.

Most of the time, this doesn’t matter too much. Most of my texts are pretty low-level communication – along the lines of “Are you free next Saturday?”. Occasionally, there’s exciting news: a new baby, or a friend’s engagement. Only once have I received sad news. When I reached for my phone that Wednesday evening five years ago, I was tidying the Music office after the kids had gone home…I couldn’t have been doing a more mundane task if I’d tried.

And I suppose that’s how tragedies work – they creep into our lives when we were least expecting them, when we were expecting our spouse to ask us when we’d be home, or a friend to make weekend plans. In one of these innocuous moments, our friends Philippa and Graeme Skinner had lost their 21-year-old son to a heroin overdose, whilst he was working for Jackie Pullinger’s organisation in Hong Kong. An innocuous moment – but one which could not be undone.

‘See you soon’ is Philippa’s story of Jim’s life and death, the effect it’s had on her, and what she’s learned through it. I make no apologies for the natural bias of this review – the Skinners are our friends and were our church and small group leaders back in Sale, so I know them to be ‘normal’ folk, but with much faith and integrity. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Philippa writes with beautiful, honest eloquence. You will warm to her family even if you’ve never met them. Jim had been working in Hong Kong for three years with St Stephen’s Society, which helps drug addicts and prostitutes break free from their addictions and come to faith in Jesus Christ.

God was so clearly moving in Jim’s life, and blessing others through his ministry, that the unanswered question of why God didn’t choose to heal him from his own addiction could have left Philippa and Graeme faith-less themselves. Then there was the shame and stigma of being the family of a drug-addict – not to mention the guilt – was it their fault? Could they have done things differently?

But, despite all the battles they had to face, they chose a different path. From my naive perspective, inexperienced reader of bereavement literature that I am, Philippa’s telling of their journey is brilliant. It doesn’t offer glib answers – an “everything’s OK now” sort of approach – but neither is it full of morbid fear and bleak hopelessness that a book of this nature might be.

Philippa draws on useful sources – Scripture passages, books, philosophers, poems, songs, charities – as well as articulating her own thoughts about suffering and bereavement. It is clear that God has used the last five difficult years to bear fruit in the lives of the Skinners.

It’s a book everyone should read because:

* it will give immense hope to anyone suffering a bereavement (especially a drugs-related one) or supporting someone who is

* any parent will relate to Philippa’s story of desperate love for Jim, and will feel a portion of her loss

* it will make you think about suffering and, in particular, the ongoing spiritual battle in new ways

* it will challenge your ideas of faith, grace, sin and salvation

* it bears incredible witness, through the awful tragedy contained in the pages, that our God is sovereign and asks us to trust Him, despite unanswered questions

If you’d like to win a copy of this amazing book, please leave a comment below. Next Monday, I’ll put all the names in a hat and pick one for the free book. Giveaway now closed. Order your copy here.

For loads more articles and related information on this book, please click here.

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parenthood and prayer

This is the first in what I hope will become a sort of mini-series of thoughts on…how the heck do I continue any sort of discipleship while I have small children in tow???

We’re kicking off with prayer – kicked off, in turn, by a fantastic sermon Al preached last night on the subject. Before you accuse me of bias, let me tell you that I am my husband’s biggest sermon critic and certainly don’t massage his ego without good reason, so if I’m relenting and telling you he preached well – I mean it. If you’re keen to listen, you can find it here (under 11/11/12 Al Rycroft) or here if you fancy the slightly longer version he preached at the next service.

I really don’t pray enough. Of course that is the world’s greatest understatement. There are many reasons why I don’t, but the top three which come to mind are:

* I like to feel in control. Prayer is the ultimate exercise in loss of self-control. My life is no longer being controlled the way I would like, but guided by the One who knows me better than I know myself.

* I am a task-oriented person. Prayer cannot be ticked off a ‘to-do’ list, usually has no immediate tangible results, and doesn’t result in a tidier house. I need to remember that it is a million times more important than things which seem more urgent and pressing.

* I am an activist. Prayer seeks the divine hand of God to impact situations in an infinitely more powerful way than our own intervention would ever do. Still, it is tempting to come up with solutions myself, to look for the ‘logical’ answer to a situation, and to set my own deadlines so that I’m not left waiting till the last moment for the answer.

I’m not keen to stay where I am, to merely shrug my shoulders and go “Oh well, that’s me, I’m just hopeless at prayer”. But is early parenthood really the right stage of life in which to try training myself into better prayer habits? Two recent thoughts make me say a resounding, if slightly nervous, “yes”.

1) Do less, pray more. This has been running through my head for several weeks. God is challenging me to see my weekly commitments as prayer-commitments too, whether they be family, church or finance-related. He’s not saying “Do this in a few years, when life’s calmed down a bit” – He’s saying do it NOW, before I squeeze Him out of those things I expect Him to automatically ‘bless’.

2) Recently I’ve been reading Jackie Pullinger’s Chasing the Dragon and, although I could go on all day about what a fantastic read this is, the story which held the most challenge for me was when she took a fellow Christian on a prayer walk through Hong Kong for a day. He was sceptical – but she prayed as she walked, on the buses, in the drug dens…just on that one day several people came to faith! Is this a way of life I could train myself to develop? Paul talks about ‘praying without ceasing’…for a young parent, with little time to stop and pray for hours at a time, this could be a godsend!

I have so far to go – and am grateful for God’s grace which allows me to fall, and even to never pray at all. But what incredible things might we see happening in York, in the North, in the UK, and all over the world, if we allowed ourselves to be changed through committed, passionate and sacrificial prayer? Am I opting out, just because I have young kids? As if! They’re part of it!