P for Pain. Hmm. People wiser than me have not got to the bottom of this one. Theologians and philosophers have mulled it over but I've not heard of anyone who has come to any conclusions that actually help the average, normal person who wants to understand why there is so much sadness around. On the road I live in (and it's small) in recent times there have been frightening diagnoses, bereavements, mental health issues, chronic illness, broken marriages, accidents, devastating family news, violence and loneliness. Should I attempt to explore why God lets this happen?
P for Prayer. Bit like the last one. Where is God when I need him? When I know that he CAN answer prayer, why doesn't he? Is there any point?
P for Purr. One cat post in an alphabet is probably enough for the average person, but I was tempted to mention once again what a delight and comfort my furry family members are. Bean is my special cat. Yes, I love all three, but Bean is the one who has chosen me, and when she curls up in the crook of my arm or on my chest and purrs (as she is right now), I purr back.
P for Progress. Should I ramble on into the ether about the fact that I am doing a bit better these days - getting out and about a bit more after the hermit-like retreat of the last few years?
P for Painting. In an effort to increase my creativity levels, I decided this year to do something creative every day. This could be writing, doodling, gardening, or indeed, painting. I got myself a water colour set and quickly became frustrated that I couldn't make things look how I wanted them to, and then bought a cheap set of acrylics that seem to be more my thing. I like painting pebbles. P for Pebbles!
There were more. P is a good letter for inspiration, it seems, and so my P was held up while I vacillated.
Until today. Today I went back to church, for the second time since pre-covid days. Steady on.
There are a number of reasons why I haven't been, not all of which I can go into, but suffice it to say that there have been times when I would not have been able to cope with lots of people asking me how I was, how things were, where I've been etc. Habits change, and one of my daughters is now away at university, the other took on a voluntary job teaching swimming on Sunday mornings and my husband works Sundays now to allow him to take time off in the week. Result - not been to church in years, and the longer I was away, the harder it felt to go back. I do want to say that I never thought I'd actually left church, still read the newsletters, felt as if it was my church; it was just the actual going on a Sunday morning that was problematic. P for problem.
I was quite nervous walking down the road this morning.
Would I still feel as if I belonged? Would I be left too far behind? Had I been forgotten? Would I still know anybody? This building that I used to feel was home, a safe place: would it still feel that way?
Oh, my word. What a gift God had for me this morning. Before I'd chosen a seat, a friend came over and invited me to sit with her. Someone on the row behind hugged me and told me how good it was to see me. We chatted as the band warmed up, at the start of the service. Someone waved extravagantly to attract my attention in the first song and gave me a huge smile. Another dear friend blew me a kiss as she came in late and walked past to a spare seat. Someone else winked, another did a double take when he saw me and grinned broadly.
The sermon was about the promises of God. P for Promises. About God's faithfulness when his people are unfaithful. About his nearness, his patience (P for Patience) and his unfailing love. His willingness to seek us out and bring us home, to bering about restoration. It was about hope. Exactly what I needed, having been lost in my own wilderness for what feels like a long time.
Afterwards, I had given myself the option of sneaking out during the final hymn so that I wouldn't have to make conversation (and negotiate those awkward questions) if I didn't want to. And then when it got to that point, it turned out that the final hymn was one that was very special to me, with words that have given me hope to hold onto in recent years. When it was over, some people sought me out for hugs and said some lovely things to me.
'How wonderful to see you!'
'I've been praying for you.'
'I'm so glad you came!'
For the first time in my life, I was one of the last few people to leave the church building. Never happened before. I even have plans! P for plans! I am meeting a friend for coffee on Tuesday, and another on Thursday, and next week another two for a catch up over a glass of wine one evening. You know that feeling where you see someone you haven't seen in years and it's exactly as if you've never been apart? That.
I walked home in the cold drizzle with a smile on my face, and smiles have been in short supply for quite a while.
So, this post is about people. P for People. It's also about prayer, about pain, about peace, about God's presence, about a sense of place, and about progress, but most of all it's about people.
The people of God, and my people.