Thursday, 29 November 2012

Sticky tape and crumpled paper

Hello, Father God.

I've had a line from a song in my head for a day or two now. This has happened enough times now to alert me to two things:
  1. You have something to say
  2. You're getting my attention in a way that I can understand, since I am always humming something. 
So here it is. I got Phil Wickham's 'Cannons' CD for my birthday in September and I've been listening to it ever since. I like the music. Some bits are immediately accessible and other songs take a while to work their way into my head. This is from the song, 'True Love':
'Search your heart, you know you can't deny it
Lose your life, just so you can find it....'
Lose your life, just so you can find it.

I have definite tendencies towards Control Freakery. I realised this a couple of years ago, and I'd like to say that I am a recovering Control Freak, but I suspect that although I am taking baby steps I'm not that different yet.

My affliction manifests itself in many and varied ways; from my inability to refrain from screeching at my children when they stomp across the kitchen floor in muddy wellies, to locking horns with them when they always choose a different coat from the one I hold out to them. Soon we will be decorating the house for Christmas and this year I am determined to squash my need for the tree decorations to be symmetrical.

So, I like things how I like them. I know that other people have likes too, and I am sensitive to their likes. Mostly. I know, I know - God, I know that you're smirking. I am a work in progress, remember?

I like to know what's going on and I like to plan. I like lists. I like schedules and timetables and I am thrown when things are unpredictable and chaotic. So I'm constantly asking you 'What's next?' and 'what should I do?' and 'What's the Plan?'

I know that your timing is perfect and mine less so. I know that if I'd had things my way so many things  would have gone totally pear-shaped over the years. If you'd said yes indiscriminately to all my prayers I'd have married the wrong man, been in the wrong job, the wrong church (or none at all) in the wrong place and missed the amazing things that you had in store for me instead of the stuff that I longed for.  So I completely know that You Know Best.

How come, then, it's so difficult to slide across to the passenger side and let you drive? Even when I'm not driving, supposedly taking life as it comes and enjoying the ride, I find myself leaning over and pointing.

'I think that was our turnoff.'  

'Are you sure that we shouldn't have gone down there?'

'Could you speed up a bit, please?'

'I know you say that you know the way but I'm sure there's a more direct route than this...'

I like things my way. Don't we all? But I know that you know best. I find it so, so hard to surrender control.

'Lose your life, just so you can find it.'

I know that it's only when I take my hot little hands off my life and place it in your gentle, trustworthy ones that I can be completely me. If I'm constantly struggling to make something of my own design, it will fall apart. I need to surrender it up to you, Lord.

I don't much like the word, 'surrender'. To me it sounds like defeat; a white flag. I have lost. I am crushed.

But it occurred to me the other day that my little Katy, who's five, was struggling to make a boat for Scruffy Barney (her special, very-favourite toy and constant companion) out of paper and sticky tape. She was frustrated that the tape kept sticking to her instead of the scraps of paper and the thin strip that she'd cut out for the mast wouldn't stay upwards.

I offered to help. She refused.

I offered again, and this time I reached over her shoulder and tried to assist.  She knocked my hand out of the way with a growl. 'Mummy, NO. I want to do it.'

I backed away and sipped my coffee and watched. Her angry frustration turned into miserable frustration and she slumped in her chair. Woebegone, she looked at me with big eyes. Cradling the bedraggled bundle of paper and sticky tape in her hands, she held it out and said, mournfully,

'I don't think I can do it, Mummy. Will you make it work?'

I straightened out the little boat, added some sticky tape in the right places and splinted the mast with a drinking straw. Scruffy climbed in and I swear I saw him grin.

Katy was made up.

For about twenty minutes, and then she moved onto something else, and I think the boat still lies discarded under the table, but my point is: she wouldn't let me help, but I knew what to do. It was only when she surrendered the little boat that I could fix it for her.

You are my Daddy. You patiently wait and watch until I hand over my life. You are pleased with the bits that I give you, and you're hoping each day that I will surrender more until the whole thing is in your capable hands instead of my frustrated ones. You can do a little with the parts that I've handed over but the whole new creation won't be complete until you get all the components from me.

CS Lewis said this:
'The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become - because he made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be...It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.'
I know that when I give you a little, you give me back so much. So what would happen if I gave you everything, not holding anything back? My imagination is too small. I know in my head that it's the only way forward, the only way that I will become the person you want me to be, do the things that you want me to do, but it's so hard. The voice in my had refuses to surrender because it sounds too passive, too much like losing, and I don't want to be a loser. I am programmed by society to keep on trying, keep on keeping on, if at first I don't succeed, try, try again. I'll get there in the end; it's all down to me.

That's the way to make a paper boat that won't stand up. It isn't down to me at all.

'Lose your life, just so you can find it.'

Phil Wickham sings this line with such conviction and passion that it jumped out at me from the CD player. St Paul said it first, though.
'...instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life.'
Romans 6:13

You gave me my life because you wanted me to have it, and have it to the full. You want to change my little life for a big one. You don't want to wrestle control away from me just to make me miserable; you just want me to let you be in charge, because you love me too much to leave me the way I am. Your plans are bigger and better if I'd only let you drive. Your map reading is perfect, your speed is appropriate and the scenery on your route is more beautiful than the way I would have gone.

Help me to open my hands, Father God. Help me to stop clutching my life so tightly that my knuckles are white, thinking that I know best. That my plan is better than yours.

Help me to surrender myself, so that you can make me more like your self. Take the old life and transform it more and more into the new one you have for me.

I want to lose this life, with it's anxiety and confusion and frustration and find a new one, full of hope and peace and satisfaction.

It's just a mess of sticky tape and crumpled paper at the moment, Father. I'm not getting anywhere with this.

I don't think I can do it, Daddy. Please will you make it work?






Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Blank page moment

I'm having a blank page moment. 

God, I want to fill this blank page with something that makes you smile. 

Something that says, 'Here he is: my God. And he's my Friend.'

What? 

Should I have something to say about how I would like to have a Thanksgiving Holiday like my friends in the US? How I imagine them over there with houses full of laughing family and friends, lit windows giving glimpses of warm, decorated rooms and people sitting round laden tables, hands held, eyes closed, giving thanks to the Provider?

Should I go where I usually go when I don't have words - the Psalms? Should I pick a psalm of praise and add my own contributions, lifting my heart to you in the sure knowledge that my heart will be lighter when you give it back to me than it was when I offered it to you in my hands?

Maybe I should make a list. Of worries to offload, anxieties that make that vertical line between my eyebrows ever deeper; things that I need to offer you once again, even though I've done so a million times, yet always crept back under cover of darkness and gathered them up again. Maybe I could someday leave them with you?

Should I come to you with armfuls of hopes and dreams and longings that I dust off, daily as I wait for your timing? Perhaps you would give me insight into your Plan, so that I can once and for all crumple my inferior, short-sighted one and throw it away, because at last I see, really see, that yours is better?

Perhaps I should describe what's in front of me, sitting here in my kitchen, the wind blowing so hard that the bird table is on its side and the neighbourhood cats all have their fur blown backwards. The leaves swirling in a fountain in the air. Or what I hear, which is the sound of the news on television. Someone lost his legs in Afghanistan. Someone raped on a towpath. Someone suing for libel. Someone sheltering their children from bombs. 

Should I ask you what it's all about? Should I give you my anger and frustration that you could stop these things, but you don't? 

Shall I write a diary entry? Shall I tell you what I've done so far today, what my thoughts and feelings have been? How I managed something this morning that I've been putting off for a fortnight but how long my To Do list still remains; how I finished a book that has inspired me and how I drank too much coffee and ate too many biscuits? 

Shall I try for a poem? 

Shall I search for an inspiring word from someone else and talk about it? 

Shall I write a stream-of-consciousness trundle down memory lane in the hope that I might make sense of things that happened to me many years ago? 

I could do any of those things. 

But what I want to do is just sit here and love you. I don't need words, much as I love them, and much as you indulge me. You are Almighty God. You don't need anything from me. 

There's nothing that I can do to make you love me more, and there's nothing that I can do to make you love me less. 

You don't want anything, you want everything. I want to give you all that I can.

Here's all of the above.

Here am I. 

I love you, Daddy. 

Saturday, 24 November 2012

How are you?

Morning, God.

I'm here and I'm hoping you and me can have a bit of a discussion.

I had this thought as I lay in bed last night. This thought sort of evolved in a series of jumps from a line in a book by Beth Redman that I'm reading on the subject of women in the church.

Nope, I'm not going to go off on one about female bishops at this point. I promise.

So Beth Redman said this: 
'As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. 
Proverbs 27:17
'The company we keep affects us, and the person that we are impacts on others. So if we want to sharpen, envision and challenge others, we need first to be iron and then find iron. ... iron is solid, unbendable - a force to be reckoned with.' *
 So, me being me, the first thing I did was unpick Beth's analogy, as I'm not so sure about the iron thing - unbending? I thought we were supposed to be yielding, compassionate, loving and giving; sort of squidgy but in a good Christian way? Solid I can do; I've always been solid when I wanted to be willowy and ethereal but that's another story. Anyway, I reminded myself that these are not Beth's words but yours.

Iron. Strong. Dependable. Purposeful. All those things. Blunts if it's not regularly sharpened.

I was thinking about church, and the relationships we have. Yes, there are a few iron people there and I love to spend time with them. They teach me, encourage me, and yes, challenge me. Sometimes I don't like it when they do the last bit, but I know that accountability and this sort of 'sharpening' is as you want it to be. I'm just wondering how much better we could get at these relationships so that we could all go so much deeper, more real, more use to each other.

Countless times I have walked into church, been met with a bright smiling face and the words, 'Hello! How are you?' and I smile brightly and I say, 'Fine, thanks!' with an exclamation mark in my voice just to be all the more convincing.

Actually, it's been hell on earth getting the children out of the door to church; one of them desperately doesn't want to come in any circumstances and the other has been bribed out of a tantrum with promises of cake after the service.

On the way down the road I've argued with my husband, stepped in something unsavoury and battled with one of my daughters who has forgotten her toy car and will thus moan throughout the opening hymns that she has nothing to play with.

I haven't had a good night's sleep since early May 2005, I have so many minor physical ailments that I have to prioritise when I visit the doctor, and I'm excruciatingly self-conscious in this top because I bought it when I was 2 stone thinner and I look very bulgy, especially from behind, but it was dark when I got dressed and I haven't had a chance to change.

Add to that the background worries of the week, misgivings about meeting an individual that I had a strained Facebook exchange with last Thursday, a painful tooth and a nagging anxiety that I left the gas on in the kitchen, and I am far from fine. Tears are prickling behind my eyes and I start to pray that the opening liturgy or songs would not be remotely moving, and I would not sense the presence of the Holy Spirit lest the floodgates open and my despair and self-pity might come gushing out.

'How are you?'
'I'm fine, thanks!'

So who's sharpening whom?

I am not iron. I am marshmallow. Or cheese, or something. I don't have many relationships where I get close enough to anyone to sharpen or be sharpened because I keep my distance, and so do they. On a day like this, I don't let anyone in. I have a horror of dissolving in front of people; and these are my brothers and sisters. I am in the House of my God and Friend, and I am pretending to be someone else. That can't be good, can it?

So, look from a different angle. I know that you can do that sort of thing much better than we can.

After the service, my husband takes the children for their promised piece of cake, and then they escape outside, because they have excess energy, and the children want to play together. I turn to the woman sitting behind me (maybe).

'How are you?
I'm fine, thanks!'

And what do I do?

I know this lady is struggling a bit. I know she works hard and doesn't see much of her children. I know that she has had health problems. I know that she is a worrier. She looks tired. She looks a bit worn and ragged at the edges. 

What do I do?

I smile, I compliment her on her haircut. I stand, pick up the discarded children's coats and their craft creations and I say something brightly about meeting up for coffee sometime, better go and find the children, got to get back, etc etc, you know how it is.

I know that she's not fine, but I can't keep my family waiting too long. I don't want to get into anything. I don't want to risk her floodgates opening either. If I ask, really ask, she might tell me. And that might not be convenient, and it might get messy.

I'm embarrassed to admit it. I'm not iron, I'm stone. I'm cold and unmoved and ungenerous.

We're just not real. We pretend all the time, until just now and again the dam really does burst and we have no choice. I'm not saying that we should walk into church and announce to everyone each minor domestic nightmare we've had since we last met, and I know that we come to church to worship, not offload. But what did you say?
'A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.'
John 13:34-35
Three short sentences, three times you said it; I think you probably meant it.

Love one another.

Rick Warren identified this problem.
'Authenticity is the exact opposite of what you find in many churches. Instead of an atmosphere of honesty and humility, there is pretending, role-playing, politicking, superficial politeness, and shallow conversation.' **
Do we love one another, then, if we're pretending and role-playing, all superficial and shallow? We have social activities where we have fun together, we talk about trivia on Facebook, we chat... but we dissemble and we hide who we are behind a mask of who we think other people think we should be , without knowing what they think at all.

You love me how I am.

Everyone thinks that I'm alright and sorted out because I smile and say, 'I'm fine, thanks!' regularly enough. Maybe we're all happier like that because if I was always honest they might feel obliged to be honest too. Or maybe I might just be seen as far too needy and too much hard work, and that would be terrible. And maybe it's more comfortable for us all to be like this.

People don't think that I shout at my children because I don't shout at them in church. You know the truth, don't you? People don't think that I can be so angry that I throw soft toys across the room (unless they talk to Katy. She hasn't forgiven me for that occasion in May 2011 when I came over all stampy and flung Barney at the wall...it was not my finest hour). People don't think that there are Big Things in my life that I struggle with day in day out because I don't tell them. I don't want anyone to know. I squash it all down and I do my best to present a picture of a woman who knows which way is up.

And when I do that, I project invulnerability. Who is going to open up to someone who is invulnerable? I certainly wouldn't admit that I'm struggling to someone who appears to sail through life on a sunny pond with no ripples. It's too risky. They'd be disgusted, horrified. They might make their excuses and back away, or at least look at me with pity.

If people don't think that I might now and again let rip at my small children, they're not going to reveal to me their problem with anger so that we can help each other. If people think that I'm completely at ease with the state of my life and my walk with you then they're never going to compare notes to see where we can support each other in the process of change, are they?

And so we hide our own problems from the vast majority of people and perpetuate the myth that we're all 'Fine, thanks!'

It's tidier that way, isn't it? Less messy. Deflecting is easier than allowing something to penetrate; it's safer to keep people at arm's length. I am a master at evading the personal question and laughing off the painful ones. We wound each other without knowing simply because we're not honest. We isolate ourselves, ironically by trying to fit in. Our camouflage weighs us down.

And so, we don't know each other. I have known some people for years and I don't know them at all. I'd like to - but it's hard and I'm fragile and it takes time and lots of things get in the way. Does that sound like an excuse? Don't answer that.

A friend said to me recently that when people ask in the church foyer, 'How are you?' she smiles brightly and answers, 'Do you want the short, medium or long answer?' I forgot to ask her what most people say, but I bet it isn't, 'Give me the long one. I want all the details.'

I know, there's a time and a place. I don't have any answers about what time, and what place; sometimes it's right now, or never. I sometimes can't control myself when something is lurking so close to the surface that a friendly word might set me off. But if I do come undone, it's much more likely that I'd excuse myself and dash to the ladies' with a hanky than start to offload the heap of inadequacy and anxiety and unworthiness and self-consciousness and disappointment and who knows what else that's cluttering up my head and my heart.

This time we're together, it should be a safe place to be ourselves. A place where we grow, upwards and downwards and closer together. No man is an island....

Lord, what, then? I am overwhelmed by how strongly I feel that we need to be honest. Not crudely so, perhaps, but honest. Not brandishing our hurts like a stick, but not hiding them so deep down beneath layers of pretence that we intimidate people.

I don't want to intimidate people. I want to reassure them. I want to encourage, not discourage. And if I can do that by admitting that I am a work in progress, then amen; let it be. I am a work in progress; we all are. I want to be able to share the triumphs and disasters and I'd like people to share theirs with me, I think.

Lord, I don't want to be fake. I don't want people only to see the facade, assume all is well, and not care about me, and I don't want to do that to other people. We should love one another, as you taught us to - somewhat emphatically - and that means sharing our lives on a deeper level than 'Fine, thanks'.

Rick Warren has something to say on this. He says that people connect when they are 'authentic':
'It happens when people get honest about who they are and what is happening in their lives. They share their hurts, reveal their feelings, confess their failures, disclose their doubts, admit their fears, acknowledge their weaknesses, and ask for help and prayer.'
Am I likely to do those things? Maybe with one or two. Largely, no, I'm not, because I'm scared of what people think. I'm afraid that they really are as perfectly sorted as they seem and they'll be shocked at my inadequacy. And because I don't open up, maybe other people don't. Could it be that we're all sitting there, rows of people battling feelings of anxiety and shame but assuming everyone else is more than up to the job?

Maybe there's someone I sit a few seats along from every Sunday who is struggling with the same thing as me, keeps messing up in the same way as me, is afraid of the same things as me and neither of us know that we could be so helpful to each other. Maybe if I was honest that sometimes, I find it hard work being a mum of small children and want my old life back, or that I read the whole of the Lent course book and didn't understand a word, maybe that would bring intense relief to someone riddled with guilt and inferiority who's thinking, 'I'm the only one...'

If it were the other way round and someone opened up like this to me relief would roll from me in waves. I'd be over there straight away. 'I thought I was the only one...!'

Lord, give me the courage and humility I need to be me. You made me like this; you don't want me to pretend to be someone else. You don't want me to dissemble and try to impress or give a false impression. You don't want me to walk into church with a rictus smile and announce that 'I'm fine, thanks!' when it isn't so. You want me to connect with other people. To grow into that iron-woman and sharpen other iron-women. You want so much more for your children.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could come clean? If we could support each other instead of scaring the pants off each other? We could be honest instead of wary. Straightforward, instead of complicated.

We could love one another.

We could do life together.

I'm not sure how to go about doing this, Father God. I don't think I should walk to the front of church next week and make a spectacular confession. (I definitely don't). I know that it takes a lot of time to change the dynamic of a relationship. But I can't help thinking that we should work towards it. We could be so much closer. So much more loyal, so much more supportive. We could do life together, and not just a superficial hour on Sunday; safety in numbers, company for each other. Sharpening each other.

Loving one another. And then by this, people would know that we are your disciples. Because we love one another.

Amen, Lord. Let it be.





* Beth Redman, 'I wanna be a Woman of God' 2005, Hodder & Stoughton, London
** Rick Warren, 'The Daily Hope' The Purpose Driven Connection email devotional









Tuesday, 20 November 2012

You're the business

Hello, Lord.

The supermarket calls, unless we're all going to share a small piece of pepperoni and wizened blueberries for tea, but I wanted to drop by for a few minutes to say hello. 

Hello. 

Something lovely happened the other day. Father God, and it was you. You know what I'm talking about. You were smiling all over your face.

Let me tell you how this looked from my angle. I know you were watching.

The other day I was waiting in the car outside school at about 3.15pm and I was feeling out of sorts. This was made worse because I'd forgotten my journal. You and me often have a little time together around then and I was a bit cross that I'd left it at home. I'm not quite sure why I was feeling unhappy, but I had a strange sense of unease, dissatisfaction, anxiety.

I was sitting behind the steering wheel and scowling, and staring at the bit in the middle where it says, 'Airbag'. For some reason I can't fathom, I even took a picture. I felt like I might need an 'airbag' illustration sometime. Hmm.

I put my head back on the headrest with a bit of a thump and a heavy sigh and I said out loud, 'Lord, I'm needing you.'

And what happened? A car drove slowly past with the number plate 'JOY'. 

Straight away it reminded me of the boat I saw when I was struggling with negative feelings while I was on holiday this summer. JOYFUL. (A boat called Joyful). Well, that thing that you did then? You did it again. 

It made me laugh. It made me think of you and it made me realise that you are right there with me. You are my Friend and you care about the trivia as well as the Big Things. I was sitting in my car, disgruntled, nothing special the matter, just a bit bleurgh, and you were kind and gentle enough to reach down and make me smile. And as I was smiling in amazement, and thinking of you, another car came from behind me and pulled over to the kerb in front of me. It's registration plate said, 'AWE'.

Ha! Oh God, there you were. You said, 'Cheer up, I'm here. Choose joy.' and then, as I was enjoying the message, you said, 'See? I am the business.'

I needed a cuddle and you sent me one. You sent me a smile and a hug. 

I choose joy. 

And I am in awe. 

 Yes, you are the business. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Norman's new growth

Morning, God.

Last week my husband and I dragged the Yucca plant into the greenhouse to be wrapped up cosy for the winter. As a result the front corner of the house looked a little bare. And there's a grubby circular mark on the paving that needed to be scrubbed or covered up - so covered up it was. I pulled Norman the Nordmann Fir Christmas tree over to fill the gap even though it was only early November. 

Norman has a special place in my heart, because we rescued him a year ago. Typically late to the game, we went shopping for a smallish (cheapish) Christmas tree in December last year for the Yucca-spot near the front door because Bruce the Spruce, the previous incumbent, had gone brown and crispy by May. Alas, the locusts had visited the garden centre before us and the enormous space where the flock of Christmas trees had been was a wasteland of broken branches, discarded labels and lots of pine needles. Huddled in a corner, askew in his tiny pot and looking ashamed of himself was Norman. Of course we had to bring him home. (Mostly because there weren't any more). 

So Norman joined the family. He held up his spindly arms to hold aloft the Christmas lights and only fell over a few times when someone tripped over the cable. He did his best. He gained in confidence as the festive season progressed and by early January he was reluctant to surrender the lights. When the Yucca reclaimed his spot in April when the frosts passed Norman retreated into a corner again but this time with his head held high. He had purpose in life. He was biding his time. 

Norman's glory
And now Norman reigns once again. And do you know, this year he's impressive. He's a good looking tree. He stands a bit taller, reaches out a bit further. He is bushy and lush-looking. And the thing that struck me powerfully is that the season's new growth is a vivid bright green and contrasts beautifully with the old Norman. You can see clearly where he's grown.

New Growth. 

I know that it's not the end of the year yet when we all get a bit maudlin and start reflecting on the past year and making resolutions for the new one. It's only November and not the traditional time for taking stock, but I'll be busy and flapping about Christmas in a few weeks and then I'll be moaning about how depressing January is after that so now seems a good a time as any, doesn't it?

Father God, I really think that I'm a bit like Norman. When I think about the 'me' of twelve months ago in comparison with today's 'me', I definitely have fresh new growth that contrasts dramatically with the dark foliage that I'm used to. Norman's new bits are bushy and vibrant and beautiful, but they're also softer and less prickly than his dark, last year's branches. As the new bright green bits were developing over the summer and autumn they were very fragile indeed and when I forgot to water him they'd droop, only to perk up quickly when I gave him a drink. Now they're firming up ready for the winter when it'll get icy cold and windy. He needs to hold those Christmas lights safely in the middle of whatever December throws at him, and his delicate new fronds will soon toughen up. 

I too have delicate bits. Little hopes and dreams that a year ago hadn't been born. They're vulnerable and I'm protective and a bit nervous about people seeing them, but they're part of me and they only grew because you caused them to grow. They emerged and drooped in dry weather and then lifted their heads again when they were nourished. They're meant to be there. They are alive and they're growing. Thankyou, Father. 

I have spent the last year alternately huddling close to you and then wandering off, distracted, only to come running back when the gale started. I have learned an awful lot about faithfulness in prayer and  about finding time to sit quietly with you and you have taken my pathetic little offerings and you have given me back riches that I couldn't have imagined. Why do I ever wander away, when being here with you is so wonderful? 

I've learned that I need to read more of your Word, even if it means reading less of other people's. I have a stack of books this high - yes, that high - to read; on a myriad of worthy subjects: prayer, prophecy, ministry to women, theology... but the small red book with the Cross on the front holds more wisdom than all of the others. 

My bright green bits are firmly attached to their older, darker, pricklier parts but the eye is drawn to the new bits. They're beautiful and they make me stand a little taller. They show that I've grown; that I've been there through the sun and the rain and I've soaked you up and let you feed me and shine on me. My branches reach out further for you. Norman has a little pot inside a bigger one and the bigger one is heavy and stable and keeps him upright when he rocks. That's exactly what you do for me. As long as my little pot is hidden inside you offer me your stability, your safety, your protection. I still have to stick my head above the parapet and I still sway in the wind and bend under the weight of heavy snow, but I can remain upright. 

I am in you. 

You make me grow. I can see that I am different. I am stronger.

Norman has his scars, too. At some point in the year he developed some infection or other and now his top spike sort of has a bite out of it. As if someone gnawed at it for a while until I sprayed him with something and it got better.  I don't think he'll ever be quite straight; near enough still to be gorgeous, but he's not perfectly perpendicular, thanks to his midsummer problem. I quite like his imperfections - they make him unique. 

Bushy and beautiful
The same holds true for me. I am scarred by knocks that have wounded me. I've been injured, but you have healed me. I am changed by these incidents, but not destroyed. I stand as straight as I can, but I am far from perfect. Only a broken jar lets the perfume run out. 

I've learned that I don't have to be the sum of my experiences; I have been wounded but I don't have to nurse those open hurts and accept that I will always limp because of them. You can heal. You want to heal, but I have to stop huddling over the injury and lift my head so that you can place your healing hand on it. I may always bear the scar but it no longer need hurt. I am not crippled by the deep wounds from long ago. I have learned this recently and I'm still processing what it means, but every day I am more and more sure that you are in the business of restoration. 

You want me to hold my head high, not to curl up in pain. 

I've learned about the value of friendship and I've realised how far short we fall in our relationships with each other. How often we ask, 'How are you?' and accept a bright, 'Fine!' when we know that it isn't true. How we offer each other 'I'm great, thanks!' when our lives are in tatters. I've seen the beauty of real love and companionship and accountability in a friendship. 

I'm taking baby steps in controlling my temper, especially at bedtime when the children are full of energy and mischief and I have run out of energy, of patience and tolerance. I'm learning how to flex the self-control muscle when I want to scream and shout and throw things in a tantrum of my own. Father, whatever else you have in store for me in the next twelve months, help me get on top of this one, will you?

Lord I have so far to go. When I learn a little I get an inkling of what there still is out there to learn. One day I find this discouraging, but there are times when I am skipping happily alongside my Shepherd and I just can't wait to see what he'll show me next. Will next year's new growth see me getting beyond my need to have everything perfect?  My problems with anxiety? My critical nature? You know how long the list is.

But I have done some growing. It shows - I'm sure it does. 

If Norman were back in the garden centre he wouldn't be cowering in a corner any more, the last rejected tree in the shop. No, someone organised and keen would snaffle him up in late November. We took him in when he was a bit bedraggled and sorry for himself and look at him now!

You must be proud.  

I've bought new lights to celebrate his newfound growth. A transformed tree needs new lights, and more of them. 

They're going to be brighter this year than ever before. 






Wednesday, 14 November 2012

L O V E

Hi, God.

My head is all over the place. One minute I'm in world-beating mode, full of I-can-do-this! and nothing's-going-to-stop-me! and the next I'm full of it's-not-happening and why-bother? Tigger to Eeyore in a matter of moments. And all this takes place while sitting in front of my computer with my fingers on the keys. To a casual observer, nothing is taking place at all, other than I'm intermittently chewing the skin down the side of my right ring finger and I keep shooting glances towards the kettle. 

Isn't it strange that my brain does this to me?  I have conversations with myself without ever saying a word. The voices in my head are not always my friend; sometimes I wonder if they're me at all. I need to sweep them all out and fill the vacuum quickly with you.

Sigh.

That's what I shall do. Where to start? Well, since you are who you are; since you are God, Lord of my life and you've given me so much, saying thankyou might be a good place. It's not really so bad, being me, you know. Yes, really. 

Right now, right here, things for which I'm thankful. 

Thankyou, my ever-generous Friend, for:
  • ...being here right now. Right here. 
  • ...toast. Nice thick seedy bread with butter. 
  • ...the last few bright yellow leaves on the apple trees as we slide into Winter
  • ...fluffy slippers.
  • ...my kitchen table. Right now it has on it: a small pile of coins (Katy emptied her moneybox to see how wealthy she was), a stuffed monkey (Elizabeth's) and a stuffed dachshund (Kate's), spelling sheets from school, a mugful of pens, a basket of colouring books, notebooks and craft items, a small bag of marbles, a pair of swimming goggles, and a small glass heart. 
This tells me so much. The first thing it says is that the place needs tidying, and that, sadly, is the voice that often shouts loudest. Not loudly enough for me to do much about it, granted, but I don't like mess. The sort of disarray caused by children often grates on my nerves, and I know this is not good. But if I stop and look properly while I drink my coffee there's more to see. 

Katy has a moneybox with coins in it. She is five years old. A five year old has enough money to buy a paperback book, or a big bagful of sweets, or enough food to feed a family of six in a place like Chad for two months. That needs some thinking about. 

Lizzie and Katy have roomfuls of stuffed toys. They cuddle them and play games with them, give them names and personalities and take them on adventures. My two girls are warm and loving and imaginative and energetic and full of ideas. 

The spelling sheets (one filled in, one not so filled in) tell me that they go to school, that they're making progress and they have good brains and they enjoy learning. 

Colouring books and pens and notebooks remind me that we are all made to create. There's a half-coloured picture in the book that's mine; I like to sit with the girls and colour things in. The only problem is that I come over all perfectionist about it and when Katy decides that she wants to help me on my picture rather than persevere with hers I become a bit too protective... oh dear...

Both girls love to write. They like to write little messages to each other and to me and Daddy and they are the most precious things to me. They both have little bags on the door handles outside their rooms with signs that say, 'Letters for Lizzie/Katy' and an arrow. I put notes and little special things in the bags last thing at night. In the morning they check their mail and reply with their own little bit of love (usually delivered by a small girl landing on my chest at the crack of dawn). 

We communicate. Thankyou for that. 

Last night Elizabeth arrived in my room after bedtime with a poem that she'd written. It was an acrostic. Down the side it had four letters: L O V E.

Love you Mummy
Over the hills the sun rises
Very bright the sky is!
East, west, north and south it shines and I think of you MUMMY!
 
I will keep that little note all my life. 

Marbles. Kids don't change, do they? Children have always given their teddies names and they still do. They still play imagination games, and I'm so glad they do. Who says they need all the computer games and electronic toys? They're nice, but I am so, so happy that my girls can play with a bag of marbles. Even if they do quite often play with them on the stairs. Hmm.

They both love swimming, and now that Katy can sort of swim underwater a bit, if the wind is in the right direction, with much encouragement, she's graduated to a pair of goggles. This has caused much excitement. They're bright pink and new and she's so proud that she wears them much of the time, especially in the bath. Thankyou God that they're healthy enough to swim, that we are in a position to take them to a pool and that they can learn in a safe and encouraging environment. We take so much for granted.
My girls.

A small glass heart. Oh, Father God. I love my daughters and they love me. I am blessed beyond measure, even when they're loud and squabbling and doing all those nerve-shredding things that children do. What more can I say? 

So, pushing on... thankyou for:
  • ...my two beautiful girls who trotted off to school happy this morning
  • ...lunch out with Mum - going in a bit. Bit of shopping and a bit of cafe-time. 
  • ...my husband and technical advisor who talked me through setting up the wifi again after a powercut in the night.
  • ...absolute quiet. Right now even the fridge isn't humming. (Why isn't the fridge humming?)
  • ...waking up with the words from the song, 'Blessing and honour, glory and power be unto the Ancient of Days' in my head.
  • ...waking up at all. I get another new day. No guarantees.
  • ...nice coffee in a nice mug
  • ...a pheasant in a field in the Derbyshire countryside even on a murky day like today.
  • ...your Word. This morning I found this:
'Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget his benefits.
Who forgives all your iniquity, 
who heals your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.'
Psalm 103:1-5
Thankyou for the reminder. You do so much for me and so much goes unnoticed. So often the things I do notice I don't thank you for.

Bless you, Lord.
I'm just getting into Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Today I read this on the subject of thanksgiving and it shot straight to whichever bit of my early morning brain that can process Things Of Note.
'We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the small (and yet not really so small) gifts we receive daily. How can God entrust great things to those who will not gratefully receive the little things from God's hand?'*
Yes. I am so often asking for the big. The dramatic. The breakthrough/turnaround moments, aren't I? I am always champing at the bit, wanting to move, to go somewhere. I say I want to be in your will but then I tell you what I think that will should be. 

Can I do it? Nope. But you can. If you want to. 

So I'm leaving it with you. Maybe when I petition you over and over to know the next thing, to find out where I'm going and maybe get there a bit quicker you're telling me not to worry about the next thing, why not focus on this one? This moment right now. 

Now, where were we?

Thankyou:
  • ...for pinecones.
  • ...for a beautiful bunch of green grapes in a green bowl looking all tempting.
  • ...for technology like smartphones and texting and mobile internet and social networking and also for OFF buttons and good old fashioned turn-the-pages books.
  • ...for the way that you are Almighty God but you bend down tenderly to speak to those who listen.
Lord, I don't want to miss a single thing. I want to see you, and I want to know that what I'm seeing is you. Open my eyes and my ears, Lord. 

Give me a heart of thanks that swells with gratitude when I see all that you have done for me, and all that you give to me. Don't let me walk around blind and deaf and missing all this glory. 

In the words of Dietrich B, once again:
'Lord, open my eyes so that I might see the giftedness of my life and let my life be a hymn of praise and thanksgiving.'*
Oh yes, Lord God. Yes please. 

Thankyou for your L O V E. 

Amen.





(* 40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Copyright 2007 Augsburg books, imprint of Augsburg Fortress)





Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The skater

Hello, God.

I want to run something past you. I asked you to show me something the other day and I think you did, but, you being you, it was sort of oblique and mysterious so I've been turning it over in my mind.  Days later, I think I get it, but I just want to check. 

I don't feel so bad about being a bit dense; the disciples used to nod knowingly when out and about and then ask, 'Lord, what were you on about?' when you were back at the camp, didn't they?

As I say, I've been pondering.

A group of us were praying about what sort of shape a ministry to women might take at our church. We all have a longing to do something to support and encourage and equip the ladies in our church - between us we seem to have more than our fair share of brokenness and sadness - but we're not sure what to do or where to start. Over the months it's become clear that you are with us, but until we can discern what direction you want us to take, we don't want to start going anywhere at all. Best just keep asking, and keep listening. 

So we sat in a room and we asked you to speak to us. Scripture, words, pictures, impressions, a glowing neon finger writing on the walls, anything. And speak you did. You confirmed in a lot of ways that our ideas were in accord with each other, and you seem to be saying 'Don't worry; it's all good'

One picture that came into my head continued to puzzle me for ages after the meeting, though. Suddenly, waiting for Elizabeth outside her school among a sea of Mums huddled in overcoats and scarves in the drizzle, it came to me. 

I saw an ice-skater. She had dark hair piled up on her head and she was wearing a bright pink gauzy skating dress that flowed around her in layers. The background was darkness, the ice bright white. She skated. She danced across the ice with grace and elegance and exuberance, leaping and dancing. Twirling and swooping. She was skilled and confident, her footwork deft and sure. She was happy and uninhibited and she was skating for the sheer joy of it. This was her thing and she knew that she was good at it. Full of energy, she danced lightly across the ice, beautiful and smiling, her vivid pink dress standing out against the pristine white of the ice. A spotlight followed her around the ice, never leaving her, anticipating her every move. She was comfortable in the spotlight, comfortable with herself; unafraid. 

Here it is. I think. 

The skater is one of your children; she's a woman who knows you

You hold the spotlight, and she dances for you. For you and for herself. She is happy to be in the spotlight; she knows that that light goes with her wherever she goes. She loves to skate for you and show you the new things she has learned and she's fearless in breaking new ground, knowing that you're always there when she falls. She loves to do her thing and you love to watch her. The two of you enjoy each other. 

I don't know whether there's an audience in the darkness surrounding the skating rink, but I don't think it matters. She dances for you only. People might watch, or they might not, but she doesn't care because she dances for you; your approval is all that she needs. If the audience is there, they see her doing her best, giving it her all. They may see her fall, but they'll see her get up again as well. She skates to a tune that only she can hear and the steps are choreographed by you; it's a dance that shows off the gifts you have given her.

This woman is free. She's full of potential and she grows every day; becomes more daring and more innovative. She's free to express herself and she knows how proud you are of her. You move the spotlight as she glides around the skating rink and you ensure that she is never in darkness; she is always illuminated by your light. The far side of the rink is in darkness but she knows that she will always have enough light for the move she's making. Your timing is perfect and the two of you are in synch. She might falter, but you never turn away and leave her in shadow. She wants to please you and she knows that to use the skill she has makes you smile. 

She brings you glory by celebrating all that she is. 

I think that this is what you want for your children. You want your people to reach for you, to enjoy you and enjoy the blessings you love to give us. You want us to be all that we can be. 

This woman, she knows who she is. She knows that she is yours and that you're pleased with her. She is light and free and not weighed down by anything. She carries nothing with her. She has all she needs. 

She is not limited by her own opinion of herself and is not afraid to step out in faith to try something new and difficult if you ask her to. She smiles; she dances for you, and that's enough. She doesn't care if anyone else is watching, or what they think of her body, her style, her ability, the way she expresses herself - she looks only to you, and she feels your pleasure. She doesn't compare herself with swimmers or artists or singers, because she was made to skate, not swim or sing or draw. She doesn't compare herself with other skaters because they all have a different style and a different routine, and in any case she has a spotlight all to herself. 

She has learned to listen to your voice above all others, even her own. She knows she is wonderfully made; that she is some of your best work, and that watching her skate makes you smile. 

She is not bound in by fear of failure, because you have taught her not to worry, only to do her best. She doesn't shrink from a difficult manoeuvre, tricky footwork or starting from scratch with a new routine because she trusts the teacher and she hears his voice, challenging and encouraging. 

I don't know what this lady looks like, but I know that she is beautiful. She glows. She is radiant. She has the look of a woman who is comfortable in her own skin; she knows who she is and she knows what she is for. She loves to dance across the ice because she was made to dance. She has all that she needs.  She is exhilarated and excited every time she glides on the ice. She has confidence and security. 

She is in love. She skates for her lover, knowing that he finds her captivating. She wants to please him. She dances for an audience of One.

This is what you want for us. 

I'd like that too. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Lessons in losing


Morning, Lord.

I don't have any deep insights this morning. I just want to get something off my chest.

The other week my two girls took part in a swimming tournament. They go to a swimming club that starts out with basic swimming lessons when they're very young and as they progress they are encouraged to become competitive swimmers at whatever level is appropriate. They both love swimming. I love it less as the lessons are not at particularly convenient times and there's an awful lot of sitting around waiting and finding parking places, but hey, that's what being a mum is all about, isn't it?

So. Last year Elizabeth was the best in a group of learners (immediately after the competition she was moved up two levels to a new group) and she flew in both her races, winning two gold medals. Last year Katy did pretty well in the youngest learner group; she came fourth on her front and fifth on her back using a float. She got medals too; everyone who took part got a medal. At the medal presentation night some days later they were both bursting with pride, and so was I. They took their medals to school to show to the class; their confidence grew and they were happy.

This year was a completely different story. A year older, Lizzie was among the youngest in her group. Her first race was the backstroke, which she likes, though she prefers the freestyle. She was just wonderful and she won her heat. She arrived at the end of the pool first and turned to grin at us in the stands. Her little sister was jumping up and down in delight and shouting 'Lizzie! Lizzie! That's my sister! Hooray for Lizzie!'

Then it all went wrong. Elizabeth climbed out of the pool. She didn't know about the etiquette of staying in the water until everyone had finished; nobody had mentioned it. The man allocated to her lane told her off. I don't know what he said, or the manner in which he said it, but her shoulders were sagging and her face fighting back tears as she rejoined her group on the side of the pool. She stood on her own until her next race, uncertain and self conscious and worrying about whether she should stay or go and get changed, and whether everyone knew that she'd broken the rules and what they would say when they found out. It turns out that the man had told her that she might be disqualified because of her error in the first race but she'd have to wait and see.

The next race was called and this time they were encouraged to dive in if they felt comfortable. The older ones dived, which gave them a headstart straight away. Elizabeth's group have only just started to dive (with varying success) and so she started in the water. She swam both the remaining races carefully and cautiously, leaving no room for criticism of her style or manners.

Subsequent heats of the backstroke told us that Lizzie hadn't won anything, and the news that she had transgressed one of the rules took away any pleasure she might have felt in her heat victory. Now, in her best race, she was so afraid that she might get it wrong again that swam with exaggerated care and cautiousness and came ninth. It was miles slower than her warm up lengths at which point she had felt invincible. In the car on the way home she cried. It took us ages to establish what had gone wrong because she thought she'd done something terrible and was reluctant to tell us.

Katy's tournament, the next day, was even more of a disaster. Her teacher had entered her in the 'unassisted' freestyle and backstroke races and Katy panicked without a float. She swam so, so bravely that it broke my heart, but she came last by a mile. So far behind that she got her own round of applause. She burst into tears as she got out of the pool and cried without stopping until the next race.

'Mummy, I'm not a winner. I never win anything. I'm a loser.'

She actually swam further than she had ever swum before without any assistance, but she was devastated by coming last. I told her over and over how proud I was of her, how wonderfully hard she'd tried but it made no difference. I even asked if she was sure that she wanted to take part in the backstroke race, half hoping that she'd say no so that I could whisk her away, but she wanted to swim again.

The same thing happened.

Oh, Lord. I know that they can't win all the time. I know that they need to learn to lose. I know that I can't save them from every defeat and humiliation and disappointment. I know that this is supposedly how character is built. But I don't like it. I just don't like it.

Both my girls cried on the way home from their swimming tournaments. Last year they were jubilant and encouraged, this year full of self doubt and misery.

So, what, Lord? Am I just an over-protective mother who wants to cushion her daughters through their lives? No doubt that's what I am. Katy was entered in the wrong races and Elizabeth fell foul of a rule she didn't know about. It wasn't fair but there's nothing I could do about it.

There was no joy.

Is your heart so closely linked with mine that yours breaks when mine does? When I watched my girls going through a tough time I longed to take it away for them. I wanted to pick them up in my arms and disappear off to cuddle and whisper them better. I wanted to fight for them; to tell the man with the rules that he might be right, but she's seven years old and she didn't know, and did he realise that he'd crushed her? To say to Katy's swimming teacher that she was out of her depth (in more ways than one) and if only he'd entered her for an easier race she'd have been on top of the world.

Lord, I'm struggling with lessons that need to be learned. My girls learned that life isn't fair, that honest mistakes have consequences and that people are not always kind. All that on top of the lesson that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Katy feels as if she always loses.

You know what? I was so proud of them too. Amid all the hurt and anxiety my heart swelled for both of them. Katy had the option to quit after her first disastrous race and she didn't. Through her tears she said yes, she wanted to try again. Elizabeth didn't run away and hide even though she felt terribly self-conscious and anxious for having broken the rules. She stayed to swim again not knowing if her name would be called or not.

I thought that was amazing. I was very proud. Do you feel like that when your children down here turn up for the next race even though all the fun has gone out of it? When we try something hard and fall flat on our faces, do the angels cheer when we still get up for the next race?

It was a hard weekend. I cried. I cried for Katy's dashed hopes of winning something at last and I cried for Lizzie's confusion and self-doubt as she stood and waited to see if she would be asked to leave the pool. She really thought that they might announce that she was disqualified. She's seven years old. Katy's just five. Oh dear.

Lord, it's hard work being a mummy, sometimes. I love them so much. Is it hard work being a heavenly Daddy? Do you wish you could save me the hard lessons but you know that I need to learn them? Do you wish you could protect me from life's rubbish when you know that it's only when I wade knee-deep through it all that I develop muscles and eventually get to the other side?  You know better than anyone what it's like to watch as your child is treated unfairly, hurt indescribably and rejected completely. Did you want to snatch him up and send a fireball to consume the rest of us?

I don't always think there's a greater good when our children suffer. When kids get ill and die, where's the lesson in that? Sometimes life is just unfair because this world is broken. Feelings get hurt not to build character but just because people don't take enough care. I know that disappointment at a swimming gala is a million miles removed from some of the injustices that life throws at children. I suppose I should be grateful that they only battled with defeat in a swimming race. Help me keep a bit of perspective on it.

Thankyou that you are a God who cares about the little things as well as the earth-shattering. You care if your little ones are crushed by something as everyday as a children's swimming gala and you care about your little ones whose little ones are hurt. Thankyou for not telling me to pull myself together.

Sigh.

So that was it, Lord. I don't know if there's a spiritual lesson embedded in here, but I want to ask you to hold my girls tight and heal any wounds that they carry round with them. Don't let there be damage done to delicate self-esteem. Don't let guilt and failure and defeat get a grip on their hearts. Help me to show them that doing the right thing is more precious than winning. That courage is better than quitting. That turning up when discouraged is brave, and you can't be brave if you're not afraid in the first place.

I'm going to stop rambling now. Patch my Mummy heart back up, Lord; I know that there are going to be plenty more bruises like this.

Your heart must be pretty battered.








Tuesday, 6 November 2012

It's not about me

Well, Lord, we've reached another round number.

I have been coming here and chatting to you as my fingers taptaptap on the computer keys for nearly two years, and I have pressed 'Publish' three hundred times.

Actually, many more than three hundred times as I quite often press 'publish' and then 'edit' and then 'publish' again. And then there've been the times when I've inadvertently pressed 'publish' and then had to scrabble about attempting to retrieve technologically a pageful of notes to myself...but what I'm getting at is: there are three hundred posts.

Three hundred conversations. Three hundred moans, giggles, rants, triumphs or sobs. And every hundred I remind myself that it isn't about me.

It's Not About Me. No, it isn't.

I love to write, Father God; you put the longing in me. All my life I've written things, from diaries (can't bring myself to destroy them but their existence makes me cringe) to poems and short stories to lengthy and self-conscious attempts at novels that didn't go anywhere. I always wanted to write but could never quite get anywhere with my writing. Teachers encouraged, friends were kind, but the purpose was just never there. Ideas never translated into anything real; it never felt sustainable. And then about three years ago someone from church told me that they enjoyed the prayers that I wrote for the family service intercession and maybe I should write them down.

After that some other people said the same, and someone suggested I should start a blog. I had to google 'blog'. Being me, I thought about that for a few months, started one in September that year and didn't write a word in it until January the following year. And then I found that I couldn't stop.

That was three hundred posts ago, and I know that the words don't come from me. I'm not suggesting that I speak with your voice, or have any sort of inspired wisdom or anything, but I do know that this is a place that you and I come to chat and you are the wind in my sails, so to speak. I know that you sit next to me as I write and I know that you help me get the mess that's in my head down onto paper (so to speak). Time and time again I find that I start out feeling one way and by the time I finish chatting to you I feel different. I ask a question only to find the answer. I have a cry, and I find your comfort. I complain and you point out blessings.  I praise you, and I feel your pleasure.

I think that you like to meet me here just as much (if not more) than I like to come. I suspect that in many other ways you struggle to get my attention. But this... I want to communicate with people. I want to encourage and inspire. I want to notice you around me every day, in the extraordinary and the ordinary. I don't want to miss a single thing.

You have given me a brain that thinks in pictures and likes to play with ideas. You've given me the ability to witter on endlessly and arrange and rearrange words and I have a computer and a little place perched in the kitchen where I can come and chat to you while the children rollerskate round me, or while the kettle boils, or the chilli bubbles and becomes spot-welded to the bottom of the pan.

I have everything that I need.

It's not about me.

Lord God, it's about you. It's all about you. About knowing you better, about showing where you are to people who don't know where to find you, about bringing you glory. It's about using the gifts that you've given me so that they grow and develop and don't just sit there gathering dust. It's about doing as I'm told.

It's a hard thing to say, 'I think I'm good at this' because I leave myself open to people who might say, 'I think you flatter yourself.'  Some days I think I can do it, some days I wonder why I bother. Some days I think I'm one of the servants with a whole bagful of talents - the world is my lobster! -  and the next I'm convinced that I should run away and bury what little pathetic thing I have because I don't want to show it to anyone for fear of ridicule or contempt.

When I look to left and right at all the wonderfully skilled and talented people there are out there with God-given inspiration and ability I become distracted and discouraged. If it's all been said before and so much better than I could say it, where's the point? But you tell me not to compare myself.

'So what if they have a prodigious talent and a million followers? You do your thing. Let them do theirs'.  There are many different jobs in your Kingdom. Nobody does the same as anyone else.

It's when I keep my eyes focused on you that it all works best. When I do that it all flows. It's the most natural, effortless thing in the world. It's a source of joy and relief and comfort for which I can never, ever thank you.

I write because it helps me come into your presence and not to get sidetracked. I write because it helps me think and work through the muddle that's in my head. I write because I want to tell the world that you are my God and I love you. I write because you showed me how and because you want me to.

It's not about me. It's all about you.

Forgive me, Father, for the times that I get that the wrong way round. When I get self-indulgent and self-absorbed. For the times when you can't get a word in edgeways and you're just waiting for me to stop banging on long enough to tell me 'It's alright', or 'It's not like that', or 'Will you just pull yourself together?'

Forgive me for the times when I get a little bit too pleased with myself, or a bit too absorbed with the statistics. For the times when I focus too much on what other people think and long for approval from them rather than you. I play to an audience of One.

This place is a part of me, now. I would miss it immeasurably if I couldn't come here any more. I realise that it's become something so special to me; a place to talk and, yes, to listen; to explore and learn and grow.

It's all for you, Father. It always will be.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Two in your name

Here I am with another one of those events in my life where a penny finally drops. The head-knowledge finds its way to the heart. The head nods but at long last the eyes light up as well.

You know what I mean.
'Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.'
Matthew 18:20
I went to a conference in London a while ago and there were 4,300 women in one room. It's the first conference of this type that I've ever been to and the only one where 4,300 people all sang to you with the help of two worship leaders whose music I play in my car. What a sound it was. A sea of hands lifted in praise of the living God. Eyes closed, tears on cheeks, hearts offered to you. The Holy Spirit was there in power and it was amazing.

I just loved it. If it was on again this weekend I'd be there like a shot. Actually, it's not that simple, as just to be there at all was a bit of a miracle for my friend and I, taking into account illness and childcare and car troubles, but that's another story, and one you're familiar with already, Lord. You were onto it.

What a great day. The atmosphere was wonderful and there was a tangible sense of you as we worshiped, prayed and listened to inspiring teaching. So many things, so many ideas, so much to try to hold onto as the excitement receded afterwards.

On the drive home in the car we tried to hang onto it. We discussed the things we'd heard and we tried out our new ideas. We bounced things back and forth. We had worship music playing and now and again we turned it up loud and sang along. We talked about you; about how much you love us and how much we love you. We talked about our imperfect lives and the difference you were making.

Lord, we met in your name, the two of us, and you were there. Just as present as when there were 4,300 singing their hearts out in your name. It was an amazing few hours' journey up the motorway. We sang, we talked, we listened and we prayed (in my case not the eyes closed hands together sort of prayer at 70mph, obviously), but we talked to you nonetheless. And you joined in the conversation.

We felt your presence in a number of ways. The worship that we gave you while travelling up the M1 from London to Derbyshire was just as special as in the huge auditorium with musicians and a big, big screen. It was a really precious time. We discussed ideas that made the hair rise on the back of our necks and sent a chill down our spines that we know is because of you. We talked about scripture and shared insights that occurred to us as we drove along. We shared very personal things about your Plan for our lives and how not to be discouraged or derailed by other people, by circumstances or by perfectionism. We talked about a ministry for women at our church, and we dreamed dreams that I believe you inspired us to dream. You were there.

'Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.'

And you were.

It made me want to pray for all the people in all the other cars on the motorway. We queued in traffic; people in a sea of cars. What music are they playing? Anyone else thinking of you? Someone overtakes and I glance sideways and get a brief glimpse of someone in the driving seat, someone looking out of the passenger window. Are you invited into their car as well? I see someone on a bridge over the motorway walking their dog; who are they? Do they know you? I found myself smiling even as we passed some miles in silence.

I don't really know the difference between the way that you are with me always, wherever I am, whatever I do, even when alone, and the way you're with those who meet in your name. I wasn't surprised that we felt your presence so strongly; I've felt that same assurance of you now and again when there's just been me.

I don't think that you are only present when two or three are together, but I wanted to say thankyou for that special sense of you. For the feeling that you were right there. That you were enjoying the conversation; that you gave us your blessing. In your endlessly gentle way I realised halfway up the motorway that you were showing me something in my life that wasn't what you wanted it to be and I knew without a doubt that you had pointed it out.

Thankyou for gentleness and for laughter, for music and friendship and goosebumps in the presence of the Holy Spirit. For encouragement and inspiration and conviction.

It leaves me awestruck that the God of Creation joined us in my battered Citroen with a backseat covered in crumbs for a trip up the motorway on an overcast and drizzly day in October.

How amazing is that?




Saturday, 3 November 2012

Hard hats and the Holy Spirit

Morning, Lord.

You know that bit in the Bible where it says, 
'...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.'
Philippians 1:6 NIV
Of course you do. Well, I'm wanting to tell you a couple of things this morning.
  1. You've started something.
  2. I'm looking forward to the finished article. I think. 
Katy and I tidied her bedroom some weeks ago.  Well, I tidied Katy's room and she sort of followed me around complaining, removing items that I put in a black bin bag and disagreeing with me in my definition of 'rubbish'. The point I am making, however, is that the room was dreadful. It was a mess, and needed work. About an hour into the job, it looked much, much worse than it did to start with. No choice but to push on. Can't leave it like this.

And that's a bit how I feel. 
I am a work in progress.

I know that you are at work. I know it beyond any doubt; I know that things are considerably different from the way they were three years ago, two years, one year. I know that you're working in different areas of my life and I accept that work is needed. Many bits of me are as messy as Katy's bedroom floor. And yes, I'm the one who follows you round reinstating the bits that you want me to throw away. 

It came to me a few days ago that your Holy Spirit lives in me. I have known that in a brain sort of way, but the other day it just clicked into place in my heart. I know the Holy Spirit is there not because I prophesy or speak in tongues (The Tongues of Men and Angels) but because of this:
'...no-one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit. 
1 Cor 12:3 
And you know what? I can say Jesus is Lord. Oh yes, I can. And I know it in my heart more every day. Thankyou Holy Spirit.

I love it when the first words in my head in a morning are in praise of you. I love it when I have a line of a song going round in my head all day and it's a worship song. I like filling my head with things like this. A few days ago I woke up with a line from Matt Redman's song, 'Once again' in my head:
'Thankyou for the cross, thankyou for the cross, thankyou for the cross, my Friend'
Today it was from Phil Wickham's 'Cannons':
'All glory, honour, power to you, Amen...' 
It makes me smile. I think it makes you smile too, and that's good. I want to make you smile.

I woke in the middle of the night a few days ago and glanced at the clock. It was 3:16am.
'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.' 
John 3:16
3:16. A few years ago would I have made a connection like this? I don't think so. Is it a bit cheesy? Are there Christians out there that would roll their eyes if I shared this little nocturnal nugget? Maybe so, but I like it. It's only since I've been spending more time with you and learning to listen as well as rabbit on that I've started seeing so much more. I see you all around me, when you give me eyes to see and I manage to keep them open. I see you in the rain droplets on a scarlet Autumn leaf. I see you in a man on a train reading a book about prayer. I see you in the double rainbow above my daughter's school at pick-up time. I see you in the low, orangey shafts of sunlight against a dark, purpley stormy sky right now.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he lives in me.

I am a work in progress. I come complete with notices advising steel toecapped boots and a hard hat. Danger lurks within; I am not finished yet. Authorised access only; all visitors please check in with the site manager before coming any further. And what I thought was a small renovation project turns out to be a fairly sizeable building site. I read this from CS Lewis and there was more than a small spark of recognition:
'Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.'
CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

I don't know if I'm going to be a palace or a block of flats but the 'knocked about abominably' bit rings some bells. I think it's because I'm pretty sure you're working on lots of different bits all at the same time. My temper, the things I say and how I say them, what I think; things that I dwell on, the priority I set on spending time with you, learning how to concentrate on your Plan for my life and not get sidetracked by everything else, tackling my need for approval and desire to please other people... and so much more. Then, of course, there's patience (blimey, asking you for patience isn't quite what I'd hoped it would be. I wanted to wake up one morning effortlessly unruffled and serene, not find that my life is littered with opportunities to develop blessed patience).

For your own safety...
You're not just ripping out the fireplace, you're digging deep and you're rewiring, re-plastering, knocking down and rebuilding, re-roofing and landscaping simultaneously.

I'm looking forward to the furnishing. Cushions. Lamps. Decor. Maybe that'll be a bit more comfortable?

The only thing that I disagree with CS Lewis about is the last line of the quote above. You're not waiting until it's all finished before you move in; you're here already. You must have a sleeping bag on the dusty living room floor, I think. It's certainly not a house fit for a King just yet, but that's the wonderful thing about my God. You're not waiting for the throne room and the chapel to be gilded and frescoed. You're happy to step over the threshold while the roof is still leaking. You're happy to walk around touching the walls affectionately and reassuring and making plans, making yourself at home even when it's grubby and draughty and you get your hands dirty.

Why? Because you love this little house. Even in its neglected state, you love it. You looked at it and took in all the many inadequacies and problems and you still thought immediately that it was worth saving. You could see which walls to knock down to let in more light. As soon as I opened the little battered door, you sent in your best team.

So, Father God. As Project Manager, how's it going? No, don't tell me. I'm not really that keen on knowing that we're only on Phase One of a lifetime's worth of construction. Come and build. Find the locked doors in secret corridors and help me to open them up so that you can renovate those rooms too. Even when it's painful - because I want to be a palace fit for the King of Kings.

I don't want to aim small. I want to be all that I can be, and for your glory. I want everyone to know that you are the architect and designer and the builder. I want people to look at me and see you.

Let's just take it one day at a time.

This might take a while.




Pictures used:

hardhat0001.jpg by MConnors
constructionsite.jog by wallyir

both from Morguefile.com 
Used with permission






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