Monday, 28 May 2012

Switch to full colour

Evening, Lord God.

I have been a Christian for twenty-five years. Technically, I have been a Christian for twenty-five years.

I'm not sure that I was much use to you for many of those years, but by the same token I know that you can work through us when we look least likely to be any use to you, so I won't rule it out.

The fire was lit in 1987 and I burned brightly for a year or two straight after I encountered you for the first time, and then my light sort of dimmed to a faint glow for a long, long time. You kindled it afresh in the years after I lost my Dad and my babies came along, but then about two years ago you fanned it into flame.

I am different.

Something happened. I woke up? I changed gear?  I grew up?  I don't know, but about two years ago, perhaps even three, or somewhere in between, things changed. It's the hardest thing to describe; perhaps its one of those hindsight things that you love so much where things shift subtly and incrementally and then one day I look over my shoulder and my eyes widen when I see how far I've come.

It feels like a long way. It might well be a long way, but I think it's nothing in comparison with how far there is to go. It's like a day's hike up against landing on the moon. But I have changed. The way I live has changed, the way I think, the way I behave (yes, I know, as I said, there's a long way to go).

Full colour.
It's as if my life changed from pastel shades and muted greys to full, glorious technicolour. It's vivid and vibrant and exciting. It still has ups and downs - indeed the ups are higher and the downs are lower than they used to be. Until the last two years I didn't really understand what it felt like to be so miserable that it's hard to breathe, or so filled with wonder and awe and joy that I found myself in tears.

The other night it was Pentecost and at church we invited the Holy Spirit to come afresh to our church. Some people saw pictures, some felt your presence, some people were overtaken by emotion. People were healed. People had messages to share with us all.

Me? I didn't feel anything. No shaking, no trembling, no warmth, no rush of laughter or sense of - well, anything. What I did feel was a distinct lack of disappointment. There was a time when I was desperate for a tangible sign of your presence. I would have felt upset and anxious that somehow I was missing out. Was there something wrong with me? Was I doing something wrong? Unconfessed sin? Something 'blocking' me from receiving the Spirit?  It would have been nice to have had an experience of you, Father, but these days, since the colouring-in of my life, I know that just because I don't see the flame or feel the rushing of the wind of your Spirit doesn't mean that you're not there.

I know that you're all around me. I know that you never forget about me, not even for a moment. I know that you have sent your Spirit to show me yourself in the world around me. In the wonder of a pine cone or the beauty of a sunset, or the love of a friend. I know that you love me. I know that I have felt the touch of your Spirit even if I didn't shake or fall over or start to laugh. Though speaking of laughing, there was that time during the solemn bit of the Maundy Thursday service when I began to laugh uncontrollably, but that was a different matter completely.

Or was it?  Ha! There's a thought.

Anyway.

It's hard, living a full-colour life. Not easy. It brings into play loads of stuff that I hadn't considered before. If I am walking more closely with you, stepping out in faith more, then I seem to attract other, less welcome attention. Things come along that threaten to derail me. Sometimes I fall for it and it does all go wrong, and sometimes I sidestep it, with your help. Sometimes it's downright difficult. I find myself wondering when things will get back to 'normal', but then at the edges of my mind comes this creeping suspicion that this is normal. It's a new sort of normal.

Better than normal. Harder than normal. More worthwhile than normal.

I could get the old normal back again; I could choose it, back off and get comfy on the sofa again instead of putting one foot in front of the other over and over again, but why would I?  I feel as if I'm living.

Time is rushing past so quickly. It's nearly the middle of another year, one that only feels as if it only started last week. It isn't five minutes since I was grumpily packing away the Christmas decorations for another year and waiting for the first shoots to appear where the snowdrops are and here I am planning for Elizabeth's birthday on the day before the longest day and wondering when someone will tell me how many shopping days there are until Christmas. Okay, maybe not that. Not yet. Got bonfire night first...
'...I came to give life - life in all its fullness.'
John 10:10

Full colour.
This is life, then. Is this what you meant when you said 'life in all it's fullness'? Full as in busy? Probably not. Life in all it's richness? Yes. In all it's moods and shades and experiences? Life with you. Life in you. It's hard, but I wouldn't change it.

The last two years have been more meaningful than so many of the others. I'm only sorry that I didn't share so much more with you as fully as you'd have liked. My wedding day, the birth of my children. I know that you were there for those events, but I wish you'd have been centre stage. I regret that.

Looking forward, though. What is to come? What have you in store for me? It's exciting, exhausting, challenging, wonderful. Rollercoaster indeed. A learning curve of monumental proportions. It's fun.

I started 2011 with an overwhelming sense of anticipation. I knew, somehow that the year was going to be different. I didn't know how, but as it unfolded it became clear that it was going to be eventful. Good things, bad things. A new experience of you. An understanding of your faithfulness, your humour, your compassion, your creativity. The vast wonder of you. A clearer concept of myself. A work in progress.

Loved. Right now, as I am, imperfect, overweight, short-tempered, confused. Special. Unique. Loved by the true and living God.

Full colour.
The colours are breathtaking. A kaleidoscope.

I blurted this idea out to someone the other day, the idea that a couple of years ago my life changed into colour, and she knew what I meant. It's not just me! My friend nodded and smiled in recognition of my description; she had the same experience. She could date it. She laughed in agreement when I said that it wasn't a fluffy sort of change; things got harder, not easier. Things weren't 'normal' any more.

It's a Big Thing.

I'm reflecting on it as yesterday was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the day I gave you my life, Father God. Our silver anniversary; me and you. Twenty-five years since I first heard your voice in my heart and twenty-five years since your Spirit first moved me to tears of awe and gratitude for what you've done for me.

Twenty-five years.

And then two years ago, you fitted me with a warp-drive and I've learned more in the last two than in the previous twenty-three.

Thankyou, Lord. Thankyou for the ride, and for holding my hand when the curves and inclines and steep drops get scary. Thankyou for the scenery and for the wind in my hair. For the music and the company and the colours and the promise of more to come.

I feel as if I'm really living.






Sunday, 27 May 2012

Twenty-five years: my story

God, you know all this.

I'm just feeling like telling my story, but feel free to interject if you'd like to add anything.  Clarify it, maybe, or if you just want to put in your four penneth.  There's a good chance that you have a different perspective from me.

This is my testimony.

I once heard somebody say that for some people, coming to faith in Christ would be a Damascus Road experience - a blinding flash, something that stops you in your tracks and convinces you, pooff! of the truth of the Gospel.  For other people the path to knowing Jesus is a series of links in a chain. For me it was sort of both.  There was a flash, then a fizzle, then a chain along which I groped my way back to the light.

In my teens I had a great friend; we were inseparable. We went to different schools at 11 years old and it didn't matter; and even now I haven't seen her for about three years but I know that when we do meet up, it will be easy to pick up where we left off.  I think friends of that nature don't come along that often, and in life you're blessed if you have one or two. Anyway, she used to go along to church CYFA group (Church Youth Fellowship Association) which took place after the 6.30pm service on a Sunday night. She invited me, and I went along.

St Thomas' Church
I can't remember exactly what my thought process was in agreeing to go but I seem to recall that at least part of it was a very good-looking boy who also went. I used to sit on the wall outside church swinging my legs and waiting for her to emerge before joining the gang on their way to the curate's house round the corner. This went on for some time. I was sixteen years old. I enjoyed the group, made some friends, (didn't get anywhere with Mr Gorgeous) but didn't really take in the reason they had for being there.

One day a group of the CYFA people were going to Cliff College, which is a Bible college not far from here that holds a big conference/festival type thing each summer with visiting speakers and so on.  I tagged along, and found myself sitting on a bench in the sun on a very very hot day in a huge outdoor space with thousands of other people.  People were using their programmes as fans. There was singing, about which I don't remember anything at all (but I have the programme, all bent out of shape, so I know that there was singing) and then a man called Eric Delve came onstage and started telling us about Jesus.  I don't have much recollection about what he said, though I have since heard him speak to a similar audience on similar occasions so I'm pretty sure I know what it must have been.

He was speaking just to me.

You know how in films, or on the news, when they want you to focus on one person in a crowd, and they sort of fade out everyone else, putting a clear circle around the subject, and everyone else goes grey? Well, Eric Delve was clear, and I was clear, but the crowd round me, including my friend and her parents in whose car we'd come, were grey and fuzzy. I have no idea of their reaction to what they were hearing. Of course, they'd heard it before, and understood it.

I hadn't.

Speaking just to me. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever heard.

Jesus Christ died for me.  You died for me. I know at one point Eric showed everyone a Roman nail - they type that they used for crucifixion. It was in a little perspex tube and he held it up to show us. It was huge. I knew about the crucifixion, of course I did - any self respecting teenager has a grasp of gory things - but on that day it was as if I was hearing the story as it happened to one of my dearest friends, or a family member.  It happened to someone that I love. How could you have done such a thing voluntarily,  for me?

Tears were streaming down my face and I didn't care.  I was then, and am now, one of the most self conscious people you'll meet, and yet when Eric asked for anyone who had been touched by the message he'd given to stand up and go to the front where the stage was, I got up straight away. I think my friend came with me; I'm not actually sure. But I squeezed past the knees of some folks on the bench and there I was, crying and crying, and standing with a small crowd of others while Eric prayed for me.  No idea what he said.

Someone came afterwards and gave me a copy of John's Gospel and a leaflet of some description. To be honest, nothing else is remotely memorable about that day.  I don't know if anyone else was on stage after Eric Delve, or how long it took my friend's parents' car to get out of the car park, or what I said to my Mum and Dad when I got home, or what I had for tea.

I just remember that it was the day that I gave my life to Christ. It was 27th May 1987.  Twenty five years ago. 

So hooray! That was the day I was saved!  So life must have turned around and become wonderful, now I was one of the flock. I must have had a special Ready Brek glow about me, didn't I?!

Not really.

Nothing much changed. I started going to the 6.30pm service at church instead of waiting outside.  I wanted to go, and I liked the people and the singing, but the sermons didn't mean that much to me. I went away on CYFA camps to the Lake District in the summer as a member, then a helper, then a leader. I finished school wearing a little dove 'Christian' badge and went to University where I was put in touch via contacts at CYFA with a good church that welcomed students.  I joined the Christian Union, but it wasn't very inspiring.

I went to work for the same church after I graduated and found it a very testing time for one reason and another, but I did learn a lot about church politics (the internal manoeuvrings of a very big and growing Evangelical Anglican church). It wasn't always a warm and fuzzy place to be.

I had a few ups and downs; well, largely downs, actually. I broke up with a longstanding boyfriend, the flat where I lived (alone) was broken into in the middle of the night and I met the three hammer-wielding burglars in the sitting room; a good friend of mine who'd stayed on after university moved away. I wasn't happy and to be honest, at that time, working for a church was turning me off church-related things. 

Then three things happened.

I hadn't been sleeping.  On the night of the burglary (which happened at 3.14am, I remember very clearly), I had colleagues from work coming round in the middle of the night, friends from up the road who I called in a panic, and a couple of police officers who eventually arrived 45 minutes after my 999 call and 15 minutes after the burglars had left.  When they had secured my broken door and done their paperwork, everyone left, and I started shaking.  I had assured them that I was alright, but I wasn't. It was so, so cold, and no amount of hot water bottles and blankets got me warm. I sat up all night. 

I went to work the next day and everyone was solicitous, the door was speedily replaced and people forgot about it. But I couldn't sleep.  I was alarmed at every tiny noise, and I started sleeping in the sitting room as my bedroom at the back of the house seemed particularly creepy. This went on for weeks, until one day I was desperate enough to go for prayer after a healing service at church.  I told a lady something of what had happened and she prayed for me.

That night, I climbed into my bed (well, sofa) and picked up the Bible in a Year that I'd been reading, day by day.  If the truth be known, I was about a month or more behind.  So I picked up the Bible in a Year and I opened it where the little ribbon was, which wasn't the correct day.

Psalm 4, verse 8. 'I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety'.

And I did, and You did.

It was the first good night's sleep I'd had since the break in. You had my attention.

The second thing also happened in that flat (I know, it probably wasn't the most sensible place for a girl on her own to live) was that one day I was standing washing up at the kitchen sink, and in front of me was a huge window. It opened onto a little road - an alley, almost, dividing two long rows of gracious four storey Victorian terraced houses. The window was about ten feet tall, with thick obscure glazing in a swirly sort of pattern. It was divided in two - you know, the sash window sort.  A friend of mine was in the sitting room, and we were talking and laughing about something. She said something, and I took a step backwards and sideways with my wet hands dripping on the floor to answer her. At that moment, a brick came through the window and the whole bottom pane smashed.  Five feet by three feet of thick glass. There was so much broken glass that six and eight inch shards of it were sticking out of the cupboards on the opposite wall of the kitchen.  

Not one bit touched me. I had stepped out of the way just in time. Thankyou God.

'Thing number three' was perhaps the last thing that happened before I left that job at the church.  There was a University Mission.  My job had not really been to work with students and neither was it my strength; my responsibilities were really to the Mums and Toddlers, baby groups and visiting teams and I didn't spend much time in the universities, but it was all hands on deck, so I was made an assistant missioner. I was responsible for encouraging and working with a CU small group as they planned and carried out Mission events at the University. I didn't enjoy it very much and I fear I wasn't that good at it.

Eric Delve was the Missioner; the primary speaker and leader of the whole shebang. It was good to see him again. I sort of felt the significance of it, even though I was mixed up and feeling very low about my faith. I knew I would leave my job as it didn't seem to be right for me, but listening and talking to Eric helped me separate a negative experience of church from my experience of God. He sort of changed the points so that my little engine wasn't derailed. Him again.

You weren't about to let me go. 

I went travelling, then went to a different university to study Occupational Therapy. I had a Christian boyfriend (for a while) and was excited about a new direction. This experience of university was veryf different. I had a whale of a time. I made some great friends, got involved in things in a way I didn't have the confidence to do at university the first time round, and in my first year met the lovely man who would eventually become my husband. We didn't start to see each other until my final year. Things went well for me.  I had fun. I had confidence. It was a great time.

I didn't join the Christian Union. I never even looked to see if there was one. I never found a church to go to, though somehow my flatmate and I wangled regular invitations to lunch with the vicar of our nearest church; though we only darkened the door of the church itself a handful of times. Mind you, I do have a memory of singing a song to the tune of 'Match of the Day' at one service.... funny, that. So my years there were pretty dry, spiritually.  Intermittently I kept a prayer diary, which I still have, and reading it back makes me cringe.

My boyfriend broke up with me, but I had pretty much got used to being without him as he couldn't visit very often.  I was much more resilient and managing pretty well on my own.  Bryan and I started seeing each other, I was captain of the archery club and I won a National Tournament, I loved my course, was doing well, life was good.

Somehow I learned that Eric Delve had moved to be vicar of a church on the other side of the city and I went out there one Sunday evening to a service because it seemed an incredible co-incidence that we both found ourselves in Liverpool. I can't say that a bright light shone on me that evening, or that he said something that struck me like a thunderbolt, but nevertheless I remember that evening clearly. I remember his inner-city church with metal grilles on the windows, and I remember it rained heavily and there was a cold, cold wind.  I remember that I couldn't find a bus back and ended up spending a fortune on a taxi, but I remember feeling that it had been worth the effort. This man seemed to crop up as a reminder to me that you were there. Still there. Unwilling to let me turn my back on you. 

Waiting. 

Fast forward a few years, and things had happened.  Bryan and I got married, we lived in London, I worked my way up the ladder in Occupational Therapy and Hand Therapy, moved house and had babies.

My first little girl, Elizabeth, was born nine days after my Dad died and two days after his funeral; we moved house back to Chesterfield to be near my Mum three months later and I was struggling. On top of the usual new baby exhaustion came depression and guilt and frustration and grief and a whole host of other, largely negative emotions; I hadn't managed to grieve for my Dad and I hadn't managed to celebrate the arrival of my daughter. I felt as if I'd messed up both events. I couldn't do anything properly. I wasn't able to be there for my Mum who needed me and I needed her in an unprecedented way. My little Lizzie was a terrible sleeper for the first six months (who am I kidding, for the first year) and when she was awake she insisted on being held all the time. I mean, all the time. I was at the end of my tether.

We were planning to get Elizabeth baptised, so we started going to the same church that I went to as a new Christian and where we'd got married.  Someone perceptive from the congregation saw a pale, desperate, struggling Mum and invited me to the Mums and Toddlers group on a Monday. Uncharacteristically, I plucked up some courage and started going. Another mum asked me if this was my church - did I come here regularly?  Embarrassed, I said no, not really. 

Things went slowly. We came to church occasionally, but it was hard work with a baby who wouldn't be quiet and demanded feeds at awkward times. Other people's babies lay sweetly asleep in their car seats but mine never did. I would jiggle and rock and cajole and whisper and snuggle and all to no avail - I'd end up going outside or attempt to feed self consciously at the back of church. 

To cut a long story shorter, over the next few months, Elizabeth was baptised, I started going to a home group that met weekly and I made some wonderful friends. Twenty-one months later my Katy came along and although life was hard getting to grips with two small people to look after, things got better.  Nothing dramatic, just things got better as they tend to do as your babies get a bit older.

My closest friend gave me a pile of 'Christianity' magazines to look at and I opened the top one at random. Before me was an article about Eric Delve. I'm sure you smile when you do little things like that, don't you, Lord?  All of a sudden the years disappeared and that afternoon from 1987 was back in my mind. The feeling that Jesus went through all that for me. He died for me. I was reminded of 1991 in Newcastle upon Tyne. I was reminded of 1997 in Liverpool. I have no idea why you chose this particular guy to reach out to me, but it seems as if you did. 

You weren't going to give up on me.

There was one day in particular when a new friend came to visit me, and conversationally she asked questions that are quite normal in a Mum to Mum sort of way. To my horror, out of the blue tears came and wouldn't stop for ages; it was quite embarrassing. But you were at work again and a sequence of events began that led to much more talking and healing and a wonderful display of wisdom and compassion from some special people.  It was a very precious experience for me of your tenderness and forgiveness that has freed me from the past and opened up a future that I thought could never happen for me.

You really do love me no matter what, don't you?

Over the last two years wonderful things have happened to me. Little incremental pieces of love and encouragement have built me up so that I can say now, at 41 years old, I feel happier being me than I ever have before.  I've had enough confidence to get involved in some things at church and those have given me a feeling of belonging. I have never felt part of anything before, really; I've always felt on the outside looking in, the first one too late, not in the popular crowd, not chosen for the netball team; but now I feel that I occupy a place that is valuable, because you value me.  I don't feel so apologetic for being me, like I used to.  This feeling sneaks back sometimes but it isn't the way I identify myself any more. I know deep down that it isn't true, whereas I used to believe it completely.

I have a large and wonderful church family on whom I can rely if I need to, and I'm sure that the year ahead has challenges that mean I'll probably need all the help I can get. I have several wonderful friends who love you, who care about me and we build each other up, come together to learn more about you and hope to become more like you.

I have one particular friend without whom I'd be absolutely lost; you introduced us at a life stage where we are going through the same things at the same time; from life events to celebrations to disasters and even tricky dental appointments.  I've never had such a friend before, Lord, and I really believe that you brought us together for a purpose.  She is a woman of God indeed.  I've learned so much, leaned so much, laughed and cried so much. What a blessing she is.

I am part of a team of people who work for you, Father God, and the job you have for me is one that only I can do. I don't really know what it is yet, in full, but I am looking, learning, trying to listen, and excited about the next chapter. I have such a long way to go but I do feel that I am for once on the right track.

I didn't think I had much of a story. I've listened to people whose testimony consists of something dramatic; rescued from gangsters or healed from addiction, saved from a life of crime... but reading this back I can see that through all the ups and downs there is You running through it all like a pattern with a thread of gold right from the beginning.

The very very best thing for me though is to see that you never left me through all those years when I wasn't paying attention to you at all, when I was steadfastly looking the other way, making my own plans. You were patient and compassionate and faithful. Even when I wasn't looking for you, you were looking out for me. You were loving enough to remind me periodically that you were still there, still waiting, still loving me. - I know now that you keep your promises. You never leave me.

My Lord and my God.

I know that you have a plan for me. You keep showing me the next step when I need to see it and there are days when I think I'm getting better at trusting. Better at handing my life over to you one day at a time. There are days when I think I've taken big strides backwards as well, but let's focus on the positive, hey? 

Lord, I know that you have a plan for me. It's a part to play in your magnificent screenplay for the whole of humanity, and only I can play me. Nobody else can do what I can do. Nobody else is meant to. If I don't play my part, then nobody else will. I am unique.

I am loved by the true and living God. His Spirit lives in me.

I don't know what you have in store for me, but I know that I will only be where I should be if I'm following you. I want to follow you. 

Bring it on.
***
I've got a postscript to add to this. It's a year later and I can add that a few months ago I was having a conversation and someone recommended a book to me. I looked for it on Amazon and the author was Eric Delve.

I decided to email the man himself with a (don't worry - heavily abbreviated) version of this narrative (really, I distilled it down to just a few lines) and I told him the story of one of the multitude of people whose lives you have touched through him.  To my delight, he mailed back. He said to me:
'I think that God's dream for you is only just beginning.'
Amen.



Friday, 25 May 2012

Rest in peace

Good morning, God.

Even though the sun is shining, it’s a sad, sad day.

A friend died yesterday. A friend and a neighbour. A real, honest-to-goodness gentleman for whom I had such respect and admiration. Always the same; warm, friendly, open and welcoming. He was a lovely man who carried you in his heart. Energetic, full of life. Full of fun. Creative, talented, humble and hard-working. Approachable. He always had time, even when he was busy.

Right up until his time was over.

He's gone, now. Gone to be with you. I imagine there was a party in Heaven last night. It's probably going on still. Were you there watching for him yesterday? Creator God, maker of heaven and earth. Were you looking out for him?  Twitching the curtains?  Restless in anticipation?

He'll be here soon. My lovely child is on his way. 
'Here he comes! Everyone! Here he is!  Come on in, my son. I’ve been waiting for you. 
Welcome home.'

You held him tight.  He's raising a glass with you right now. He's smiling. He is fit and happy. He can breathe again.   

He knew where he was going. Throughout his life he knew how to lean on you in sickness and health; he’d had to learn. He had no illusions about the fragility of life. He understood that he was seriously ill and he knew that you held his life in your hands, and that was alright with him. He knew that there is no safer place. He trusted you with all that he had. He had your Spirit in his life and your peace in his heart, and that could not be taken from him, even when he lay with nothing left but limited breath and looked at death with strength and dignity. 

He ended well. 

Lord God, I am in awe of such faith. It must have shone from his hospital bed. Father, shortly before he died he asked for prayer that he might be a witness for you in the hospital. I have no doubt that you answered that prayer, Lord. We might not see it or ever know about it, but lives will have been touched. It was your plan.

Thankyou for his life. Thankyou that I knew him. Thankyou that the world is a different place because he has been in it.

You know what? I am different because he has been here. I don't think that's an exaggeration. I don't know him as well as many other people; I have only known him for a few years, but he has been an inspiration to me. Never afraid to admit a mistake, always happy to share experiences and ready to listen, affirm, support and reach out to help. 

Lord, I'm sure he wasn't perfect. I'm sure that I never saw what those closer to him saw; the times when like everyone else he was angry or tired or irritable. I don't pretend to know him best, but what I do know is what he showed to me: kindness, patience, consideration, respect, the love of his Lord Jesus. 

He loved you. He preached you, he lived you and he died in you.  He has shared with me wisdom, pain and the joy of knowing you. And the manner in which he faced the end of his life will stay with me forever. I want to go that way too. His very last act on earth was to show the glory of his Father to the people around him. 

You must be proud of him. 

Rest in peace, my brother. 

And in joy. 

Lord, look after him. 

See you later. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

To do, or to be?

Morning, Father.

And what a beautiful morning. The sun is shining, the sky is a cloudless blue. There's a breeze to blow the washing and cool me down when I start to get too hot sitting on the bench with my coffee. 

I could sit there for hours. I don't have a problem being still.  I do it very well. I've even got a good book at the moment that I'm looking forward to getting back to. When I fell asleep last night the hero was in a tight spot and all was very tense. 

What to do. Hmm.

I have a few hours this morning before I need to be somewhere this afternoon. I am waiting for the washing machine to be finished on it's second load of the day (nice weather, so I'm catching up while I can) and so I have half an ear waiting for the pingpingping that tells me it's finished. 

This is Great Britain. Nice weather today doesn't mean nice weather tomorrow (or even this afternoon). There's a sense of urgency every sunny day; I need to make the most of it, because it may be rainy, frosty, windy or sleeting tomorrow. So I should be out in the garden, should I? Plenty needs doing in the garden. Dandelions are driving me mad, and I confess I became a little snippy with my daughters the other day when I saw them blowing dandelion clocks near the flowerbeds. Not that they're not already overgrown with weeds.

So gardening it is. But then I have some projects on my computer that need attention as soon as possible. Deadlines. I need to concentrate. Find somewhere peaceful to work. Get out my papers and notebooks and settle down. And then when I do sit down and open the lid of my faithful little machine, I find that I want to come and pass the time of day with you. So the project gets a bit sidelined while I come to chat. 

From where I'm sitting I can see a layer of dust on the bookshelf. I've just been in the bathroom and although I wiggled the toilet-brush round and squirted the squirty stuff where it needs squirting the job isn't done. The mirrors need polishing and the floor mopping. The bath has a bit of a ring round it if I look closely, so I do my best not to look. 

Priorities. I have no idea where they should be. I have tomato, cucumber and pepper seedlings on the kitchen window sill but if you walk about barefoot you'll probably step on a rice krispie or three.  I have fresh flowers in a vase but they will probably still be right where they are now when they're dead and dry.  The stair carpet is ageing prematurely because I don't vacuum it often enough, but it's so difficult with a heavy vacuum with a long bendy hose that's difficult to manoeuvre...and that sounds suspiciously like an excuse. 

I have two bathmats so that one can be in the wash while the other is on duty. Quite often the second bathmat is in dire need of a clean and the other is still curled up waiting for its turn in the machine. I have some beautiful pictures framed and in a pile waiting to be hung on the wall but they've been there a month and are likely to be there in another. 

There are many things in our house that don't have a place to live, and so they flock together to make piles in a few prime locations.  The kitchen table. The counter where the filing lurks. My bedside table. The little shelf under the coffee table. That's a good one. Out of sight, out of mind. Whole families of plastic animals have colonised that spot, unnoticed. Important paperwork has remained there until dates have expired and opportunities lost. The wings from Katy's fairy costume were there for months until one day she discovered them and fluttered away. I have no idea where they are now.

Look at Mr Gorgeous. 
There was a wonderful dragonfly on the wall basking in the sunshine in our front garden the other day. If I'd been in the house tidying I'd have missed him completely. 

I am not the sort of mother who spends the afternoons cooking amazing meals from scratch for their children's tea. I have no idea what we'll eat tonight. I need to survey the contents of the fridge and see what I can put together in a hurry. Since it's a nice day we might picnic in the garden. They love to have tea in a lunchbox and eat it sitting on cushions on the grass. If I throw together a carrot, some salami, some grapes, cucumber, apple, a bread roll and some blueberries they call it 'Bits and bobs' and it's among their favourite meals. They have it far too often as it's so easy. 

The beds need making. Some stay-at-home mums do a round of the house as soon as they return from the school run. They clean and they tweak and they straighten and they tidy.  Most often my girls climb into the same bed in the same state that they left it in that morning. I put clean clothes away each evening but discarded socks can roll around the floor like tumbleweed sometimes before I scoop them into the washing basket.

I clearly have my finger on the pulse of family life.

The clock in the hall died more than a year ago and tells the right time at 12.45 in the afternoon and then again in early morning. It needs repairing. The double glazing on the front window needs some attention as there's condensation between the panes. The gravel needs raking and weeding before we disappear behind a giant dandelion. I bought some beautiful heather plants from a garden centre about six weeks ago and they have yet to be planted. I think they've already flowered in their little pots. 

Sigh.

Lazy?  Yes, partly. I'm sure that's it. If I got more exercise I'd be more energetic. I don't get much exercise because I haven't got much energy. That's true.

It's not just that. The dust always seems ok to wait until another day. The plants need planting but before I can plant the soil needs preparing and the weeds are knee high in places, which is a totally different job and nowhere near as much fun. I love to see the children enjoying a meal I've cooked but I so often don't want to spend precious quiet time preparing it. I like seeing them eating a picnic too. 

Priorities. 

I like spending time with you. I come to you and start to chat and at the end of our conversation I feel different. Better. Sometimes challenged, sometimes convicted, but always better. I feel better able to take another step. 

In need of weeding.
Friend to wildlife. that's me.
I like to sit and look at what's around me. From where I'm sitting now I can see the blue sky and the clothes on the washing line dancing in the breeze. The birds are feeding on a net of sunflower seeds that mum has put out for them. Sparrows and blackbirds and starlings and collared doves and the odd thug jackdaw to scatter them all. The hawthorn tree is laden with white blossom and the cherry that we transplanted from our old house finally looks healthy at home after two and a half years. 

I love to sit with a coffee and let a ladybird wander over my finger. I love to see the bumble bees on the aubretia. The forget-me-nots are taking over. 

Elizabeth tied a ribbon to the clothes post and it gives us the wind direction like a weathervane. I like to potter in the greenhouse and see my little seedlings poke their heads above the parapet. I love to plan what to do in the garden; and at the time of planning (coffee in hand) I firmly believe that it will all come to pass...

Maybe I need to intersperse more 'should do' between all the 'like to do', do I, God? Does anyone do it all? Those mums with clean houses and sparkly children who fingerprint and don't seem to mind the mess, who eat home-cooked-from-fresh-organic-ingredients meals each day and have such a varied diet that trips to restaurants don't entail a nightmare or menu-scrutiny; do they have daily wrestles with themselves about how to spend a precious uncommitted morning? Or do they just get on with the bed making and dusting selflessly and without hesitation like the generation before us? 

I don't know the answer. I am not that house proud. Oh, don't get me wrong, when it's house group night my kitchen, living room and cloakroom are spotless. All other doors are closed. What a ridiculous thing to do. Maybe I do my bit also to perpetuate the myth that we can all do everything. Maybe I should let the vulnerable, dusty, untidy underbelly of my housekeeping show once in a while, just to make everyone feel better. But what if, horror of horrors, they don't need to feel better because their houses are spotless and their beds all made and children buffed and beautifully presented without toothpaste or marmalade on their school faces? 

My house isn't so filthy that we are likely to get ill from it. In any case, a bit of grubbiness is good for the immune system, isn't it?  If there's fruit and vegetables and carbohydrates and protein in their Bits and Bobs meals they are reasonably healthy, aren't they?  If there are wild areas of the garden it's nice for the butterflies and bees, isn't it? 

I like spending time with you. I like looking. I like noticing. I like telling you about it. 

To do, or to be?  Probably there's a balance to be found. Somewhere...

I could do with losing the guilt, but then perhaps nothing at all would get done. If I got that clock mended then maybe I wouldn't be late everywhere. 

Well, food for thought. Thankyou. 

I'm going to make a fresh cup of coffee because this one has gone cold. And then I'm going to go outside and sit down and close my eyes and turn my face up to the sun. 

Or maybe I'll look for ladybirds.
 

Monday, 21 May 2012

What would I do?

Hello, God.

As you know, underneath my glass of wine, there's a coaster that reads:

'What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?'

It made me think. I stood in the shop with it in my hand and wondered.  What would I do?

I decided to bring it home to sit next to me as I taptaptap at the computer. As I potter round the kitchen. Lord. 

It's my prayer.

It fills my head with ideas and, strangely, empties it at the same time. Part of me lights up with the thrill of enormous potential and another part of me pales at the idea that I might actually ever have the courage to do something big and dramatic. 

What would I do?  What would you like me to do?

What are you waiting for me to do? 

It's the 'playing small' thing again. What have you made me to do? What am I called to do? 

What could I do if I could open an instruction manual and find the chapter I'm on at this stage of my life, and then (for once) follow the Maker's instructions? What Plan do you have for me, that you're waiting to bless if only I were brave enough to trust and obey and do it? 

I fear failure to such a degree that often I don't try to do anything in case it goes wrong. Over the years I've had a go at things, established that I'm not very good at them and given up.  I have the desire either to do something perfectly, or not at all and that's sometimes a bit of a handicap.

 There are games I won't play because I hate coming last. I am quite sure that I'd never be any good at skiing; I have a strong suspicion that I'll go to my grave never having had a go. (And that's just fine). The idea of potholing fills me with terror, so I'm downright sure that I'll never give that a try. I doubt that you'd ask me to. Not even as a joke.

I don't think you want me to try to be an Olympic skier. Or an award winning potholer (do potholers compete? Is it a sport or a hobby? How little I know). 

What I do believe is that you have built me, programmed me and sent me out into this world with something in mind. To do something. I am your child, I live because of you and I live for you. So the thing you want me to do is for your glory.

That's ok by me.

I am ok if I am never famous. I'm ok if nobody ever knows it was me that did this thing. You will know. 

It doesn't bother me if it doesn't make me rich. I don't even care if nobody ever notices.

You'll notice. You will know. And the equation will be balanced. 

Me+the equipment you have given me= whatever it was that you wanted me to do.

The thing is that even at the simple things I keep trying and failing. Just to live the life you want me to live day to day often seems to be beyond me. It's a good job I don't have to reach a certain level of holiness before I can approach you; I know that this is why Jesus died for me.  I am not lost because of my failures - I can have a relationship with you instead of being so grubbily inferior that you can't allow me into your presence. What he did cleared the way and now I am your child.

Many days just putting one foot in front of the other is an enormous challenge. Doing something amazing? I can but dream.

But you ask me to dream. I'm supposed to. I'm created to dream. 

What would I attempt to do if I knew I could not fail? The same thing that I keep trying to do in my stumbling, trudging, limping sort of way.

I would do your will. 



Sunday, 20 May 2012

Rock of ages

'Hello again, Lord.

This morning I was feeling sad. Cross and sad. Hard done to. Unappreciated. You know the sort of thing. It was all people stuff. Hurt feelings and so on. It might all have been trivial but it was painful and I was sad. It felt very bad at the time.

I lay on my bed and had a little cry. I tried to read some of my devotional book but I wasn't really paying attention and had to keep starting the paragraph again. I was just feeling worse and worse. I decided to go off by myself for a little while.

I thought I'd find somewhere out in the countryside on my own and sit down and see if I could find you. As I drove off I wasn't sure where I was going and I had tears streaming down my face. I couldn't go anywhere in civilisation. I turned the worship music off because I didn't want to hear anything upbeat. 

Got where I was going. Parked the car. Bought a drink from the ice-cream van because I didn't have any change for the car park machine. Wondered if it was worth it as I only had half an hour. Placed ticket in window of car, locked up, trudged along path to find a place away from the myriad of hikers. 

Tear-stained and sniffly. Red-eyed and red-nosed, clutching a handkerchief. Everyone else there seemed to be kitted out with hiking boots and gaiters, rucksacks and walking poles. Those little transparent pockets with maps in. All organised and purposeful. 

Rock of ages, cleft for me
My favourite place. I left the path and began to meander among the rocks on the Edge. I kept stopping and looking about me for the right spot. I asked you to find me a place. It didn't take long. 

It was a hollow. A little rocky, grassy niche between a few mammoth boulders strewn there for centuries. I could sit on a smooth rock with my back against another and a few feet away more enormous stones sheltered me from the breeze and from anyone else. 

I could have been the only person in the world. 

I felt as if I was protected. Tucked away. Hidden. Surrounded on three sides. Enveloped. And not by rocks but by you. 

Safe. 

You know what came to mind?

This: 
'Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.'
I hid myself in you.  It wasn't for very long, because I had to get back, but for a short space of time this morning I left my little world and sat with you in yours. Apart from some hikers miles away in the valley there was no-one in sight but I was not alone. You were all around me. All around me, just as you always are, but I was aware of your presence in a wonderful way. You were with me. You showed things to me. You were tapping my shoulder and pointing and saying, 'Look. Use your imagination.'

I could hear the birds. Countless voices, different calls.  I must find out about birdsong so that I know whose voice is whose. Sweet twittering and chirruping and the low call of the wood-pigeon. Swifts swooped and danced in the air. A kestrel hovered. A couple of bees buzzed in front of me. The wind whispered in long grass. A bird flew past level with the rocky edge and I could hear its whistling wing-beats. Another came to land close to me but was surprised to find me there and took off in a flutter of feathers. A dog barked and I heard its owner's whistle.  

So beautiful but so easy to miss.
The rock I was leaning against had horizontal striations which might tell a geologist something about its history. Not me; it just said to me that it had been around an awful long time. Millstone Grit. Different shades of sandstones in layer upon layer. 

Roses of lichen in a palette of grey and white flowered across the surface and soft green moss on the sides in the damp and shade. Rabbit pellets by my feet, heather in white, brown, cream and the palest of pink. A tiny spider made its way across the rock face. 

Down in the valley where the road curled round and back on itself the odd car went past. The irregular shaped fields, marked out with Derbyshire dry stone walls, were home sheep or cows, or horses, or crops. I was high enough looking down that huge oak and beech trees seemed small, dwarfed by the landscape of ridge and rocks. In the distance a forest of birch. 

Occasionally there was a small break in the clouds and sunshine played on the greenness for a moment or two until it disappeared again. 

Immediately to my right was a deep crevice in the rock. Dark enough for me to prevent me from seeing how far it went back into the hillside. At such an angle that the light was dim. In this crack in the rock was growing a fern. A small plant, sturdy and healthy-looking, growing in a most inhospitable spot. Damp and  hidden from view unless you were sitting exactly where I was sitting. I would never have noticed it if I were just walking past. You knew it was there. You showed it to me. 

Look, in the darkest places, life. Not just surviving, but flourishing. 

The fern was thriving in the darkness of it's little crevice. Unfurling it's fronds in the space it had taken root. 
'Rock of ages, cleft for me.Let me hide myself in thee.'
It was beautiful. Bright, improbable green against the grey and brown of the rock.  You can bring life out of darkness. Hope out of despair. Beauty out of ugliness.

As I leaned back the rock was hard behind me and cold underneath me. Each side of me there was rock. In front of me opened out a vista to gaze at for hours. Openness and space.  Unyielding stone behind and yet in front, a vision of your glory.

When my back is against the wall, there you are in front of me. With beauty and majesty and glory spread out to breathe new life into my soul.

When I was suffocating, there you were with fresh air.

Deep breaths.

A safe place. A few moments of stillness. Solitude. A space where my lungs could fill. I thought I was finding a place to have a cry and lick my wounds; maybe tell you all about my hurt feelings and upset, but instead you took my hand and led me to a place where you could soothe me. A spacious place.
'You brought me out into a spacious place...'
2 Samuel 22:20

Rock of ages. From the beginning of time you have been unchanging. All else fades or evolves or shifts. I know that the seemingly permanent landscape of the countryside that I love so much would alter unrecognisably before you will change even a tiny bit. You are firm and solid, reliable and faithful. Everlasting. Eternal. A safe harbour. A place to run to.

My refuge.
'Oh Lord, my strength and my fortress
my refuge in times of distress.'
Jeremiah 16:19

My rocky fortress indeed. Hidden from view.

I was distressed and you took me away to a place I could breathe. You held my hand and showed me your treasures and you smiled on me. My refuge indeed.

I may have missed church this morning but I still visited your sanctuary. I met you and we sat together a while. It was a holy place where I could worship.

Thankyou, my God.

On the way home I turned up the worship music and sang.












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