Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Swimming in the Ocean - a penny-drop moment

Well, January not yet done, so is it alright still to be mulling over New Year Resolutions, do you think?

My New Year Resolution, if you can call if that, is to love God more. I thought I'd go for something big this year. Specifically, to try to see what it means to love Him with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind. I suspect this is a life's work, if not more than that, but the last few years have led me here, and I think that everything that's important kind of stems from this, the first and greatest commandment.

Years ago, I read a book by Margaret Silf, called  'The Gift of Prayer: Embracing the Sacred in the Everyday'. I've no idea why but my eye was drawn to it again the other day. I had asked God what I could do to love Him more, and I think He began to answer me my reminding me of the wisdom in these pages.

The author talks about prayer as a belonging, a coming to stillness; it's about listening and learning to live reflectively. Each of the little sections is beautifully expressed but the one that stopped me in my tracks was the heading:

'Prayer is a Gift, not an Achievement'

Continued over at the Association of Christian Writers' blog, More Than Writers, where I post on 23rd of every month.  Come over and say hello? 

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Metaphor for life

Have you a picture of what life is like? A metaphor or an image? St Paul thought it a race; Ronan Keating a few years ago thought that life was a rollercoaster (just gotta ride it!). A friend thinks that life is a series of tests (interesting discussions there). It seems that so many of us think in metaphors. I do. 

This is my metaphor: life is like kicking a carpet.

Bear with me. 

Continued at The Association of Christian Writers' Blog, 'More Than Writers' where I post on the 23rd of each month. Come and say hello? 

Sunday, 29 October 2017

One for the To Read pile - 'Undivided Heart' by Lucy Mills

Today I'm delighted to let you know about a book written by my friend and fellow ACW member, Lucy Mills.  It's on my To Read pile.  Having enjoyed and been challenged by her first book, 'Forgetful Heart', I didn't hesitate to order myself a copy. 

Lucy has a wonderfully engaging style of writing and has an eye for finding little nuggets of truth that you may not have noticed in passages that you think you know well. And the best bit is that she's gentle, honest, wise - and most important, very readable.  

Here's what her publisher has to say about the book: 

Undivided Heart is a book about identity and what drives us to do the things we do. Lucy explores what motivates and inspires (and worries) us, what we really want in life, and what makes us who we are. Along the way, she discusses a wide range of topics, including fear and pain, doubt and trust, possessions and money, hope, suffering, encouragement and expectation, ideas of heaven, and the nature of love. 
She looks at helpful and unhelpful patterns of behaviour, the concept of fixed and growth mindsets, how ‘labels’ have the ability to make idols or prisons in our lives, and how the selfie culture and age of instant feedback brought about by social media can encourage us to project selective images of ourselves.

As someone who suffers from M.E. and chronic fatigue syndrome, Lucy knows the importance of pacing herself and taking life one day at a time – and realising that things don’t always turn out as you had expected or hoped. 

In this wonderfully honest and open book, she draws on her personal experience, alongside Bible passages, quotations from a wide range of writers and her own original poetry, inviting the reader to join her on the journey to ‘reassemble the far-flung pieces’ of our hearts. 

Here's a taster:

 'Undivided Heart'. 

Recognising the risen Jesus

Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).
John 20:15-16

The risen Jesus was both familiar and unfamiliar. He revealed himself with a word to Mary Magdalene; in the speaking of her name, she recognised the rabbi she loved.

On the Emmaus road, Jesus walked with two of his disciples. They didn’t realise who was speaking to them until he gave thanks and broke bread (Luke 24:13ff). It was an action he had made to feed thousands; one he made in the upper room, mere hours before his arrest; an action he had, presumably, performed with his disciples in a myriad of mundane, marvellous moments.

Was it that Jesus in his resurrection body was changed in appearance? Or was there something different going on – a kind of deliberate hiddenness and then unveiling, a picture of a journey from limited knowledge to full understanding?

Continuing in Luke’s account, after Cleopas and his companion rushed back to Jerusalem, Jesus then appeared to his gathered disciples. They thought he was a ghost, even though he had already ‘appeared to Simon’. In their worldview, a physical body could not just materialise. Jesus responded to their fear and disbelief by saying: ‘Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ His body was corporeal – it had substance. He then ate some fish to reassure them further (Luke 24:36-41).

In John’s gospel, we’re told of Thomas – poor, heartbroken Thomas – who wanted to follow Jesus anywhere, but had missed seeing his risen Lord. How would that feel? He was already living with the fact that he who had said he would die with Jesus (see John 11:16) had, instead, fled like all the others. So deep-set was his grief and incredulity that he refused to listen to the others proclaiming they had seen the Lord: ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

These are the words of a grieving man. I dislike the term ‘doubting Thomas’ – for he was not the only disciple to display doubt in Jesus. Jesus, all grace, met him on his terms, offering his wounds for Thomas to touch – but in that moment all Thomas can do is fall at Jesus’s feet, proclaiming: ‘my Lord and my God!’[1]

Such is the worship engendered by an encounter with the risen messiah. We remember Thomas by his doubt, but he has such a stunning line in the story – my Lord and my God.

No longer just his Lord. His God.

There is another account in John, a beachside encounter where, again, the disciples do not initially realise who it is they are seeing. Jesus is recognised in the act of provision – a catch of fish, where they had previously caught nothing. ‘It is the Lord!’ Peter yells, jumping out of the boat and splashing to shore – although he does pause to put some clothes on first![2]

We may grieve, like Mary, as we search for our living Christ, then find him standing next to us, calling our names. Like those on the road to Emmaus, we can have our eyes unveiled, our hearts set aflame, Jesus revealed to us.

We may not ‘see’ as Thomas did, but we are called to a deeper belief in our resurrected Lord. We learn from Jesus’ response to Thomas: ‘You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who believe but have not seen…’ (John 20:29, NIV)

We can splash through the waves as Peter did, delighted when we recognise our Lord. This Jesus – this crucified and risen Jesus – is the true definer and motivator of our lives, calling us from death into life.

[1] John 20:25- 28
[2] John 21:1-14

Amen to that.think this is going to be worth a read. 


To get your copy of 'Undivided Heart', check out Lucy's website:
You'll be able to find a copy of 'Forgetful Heart' there as well. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Butterfly wings and big jumpers

The other day I was surfing aimlessly - I mean, writing something profound - and I was distracted  by a ping from my inbox. As every writer knows, a ping from the inbox requires immediate attention, so I answered the call.

It was an alert to say that there had been a message from the child we sponsor in Uganda.

His name is Brian, he's ten years old and he likes football and animals. He's doing well in school, and passed his exam last year. He wants to be 'an army man' when he leaves school. Or maybe a doctor.


Continued over at The Association of Christian Writers' Blog, which is called 'More Than Writers' I contribute on the 23rd of each month. 

Come and say hello and have a look around. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

Dreams and dead things

I don't like autumn. I know, every time I say that (and I have mentioned it before) there's a collective groan from the autumn-lovers.  They speak of vibrant oranges and yellows and reds and the exhilaration of kicking their way through piles of gorgeousness on brisk, bright mornings and they eat pumpkin and make chutney and so on.

I don't do any of that. Today the rain keeps on coming down and it's mid-morning but still hasn't become properly light. It's dank and miserable. My world is getting darker. Death is all around me. The few leaves that weren't blasted into next week by yesterday's storms are swirling into brown drifts. The plants need cutting back to clear away the dead stalks, spent seed pods and rotting foliage, and I'm not tempted to go and do some gardening.

Autumn is a time of decay, shrinking, dying. 

I sit here with both hands round a cup of coffee and I listen to the rain on the roof and contemplate the long months until the days start to get longer. 

I know, it happens every year. You'd think I'd be used to it. Perhaps I should stare at a white screen for a while until I get my share of daylight. Alternatively perhaps I should shut up and look on the bright side. 

It'll soon be Christmas. 

Anyway, I think I'm growing up. I've realised something about autumn. 

Leaves are falling from the trees onto my flower beds. They will eventually make a blanket over all the sleeping shrubs and bulbs and the blanket will help keep moisture in and protect the ground from frosts until it slowly composts down into the soil. The drifts of fallen leaves will dissolve into leaf mould, leaving my heavy, clay-ey soil richer and conditioned. 

Underground, I imagine the roots and bulbs snuggling down for a winter sleep and taking on board the nourishment from the soil around them. Undisturbed by footballs and footsteps, the garden rests. Takes a deep breath and sighs. Relaxes before the brighter sun, warmer temperatures and longer days start to signal that it's wake-up time. Spring rise-and-shine time. 

But autumn is for snuggling down. Putting on the heating and digging out the woolly socks.

The tree lets the leaves fall to protect itself from the relative dryness of winter - it's a survival mechanism. The dead stuff that falls and decays and is so often the focus of my autumn grumpiness is essential to the cycle of the plants in the garden. 

Things fall and die. As a result of their death and decay, something new can grow.

And if that's not a life lesson, I don't know what is. 

I'm ready for the new growth, that moment in spring when you look around you as if you were seeing for the first time and suddenly there are bright, impossibly green shoots everywhere you look. I want that. 

Rapid growth, dramatic development, shoots and buds and blooms. Colour, not darkness. Not the leaf-mould, mulchy, sodden ground wait, wait... it's a slow process. 

Maybe it's all a slow process. Maybe there's a place where dreams go to die and as they fall, limp and lifeless, they start to enrich the soil around them. Perhaps God is saying that something has to die for something to be born. The dead thing isn't lost, wasted, useless; it's a catalyst for something new and beautiful. I didn't realise that my plans were the leaf-mould of the future and it has been no fun to watch them curl up and slowly turn to compost, but I believe His way is best. 

His dreams are bigger than mine. 

So the soil of my life is being forked over by the Gardener. He's digging in some of the leaf-mould as things die and decay. He's digging deep, and it's not comfortable. If I am the soil, then my instinct is to stay dense and full of clay, but things don't easily grow in soil like that. The good stuff needs to be worked in until the whole texture of the soil changes. Until it is transformed into something fertile. 

Who'd have thought that the good stuff turns out to be the stuff that gets thrown away? 

So I am soil, and I am in need of nourishment. I am claggy clay, but partially leaf-mould and I am waiting. I am changing, slowly, imperceptibly, into soil in which God will make something grow. 

All in His good time. 

It turns out that there's a reason for autumn.

This is an edited version of a post from 2014 but I was walking back from the post office a moment ago in horizontal rain and trying very hard to concentrate on the yellow and red leaves beneath my feet rather than the cold, the wet, the slippery pavement, the sluggish mornings, the dark evenings.... 

Still working on this. 

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