Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Healer

Matthew 9:18-22 and Luke 8:40-48
"...a ruler came and knelt before him (Jesus) and said, 'My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.' Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.
Just then, a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak."

That was me. Oh, that day. I think my life began that day. 

That was the day that Jesus raised that man's little girl from the dead - it was a day that everyone in our town talked about for months. She was dead! She had been ill for a while and she got worse and worse and then she passed away. I didn't know them well but word spreads quickly and that morning as I lurked by the roadside waiting for him to pass by I heard that she had finally died. Nobody told me, but I overheard. Of course, nobody would come and talk to me. Not for a long time. Far too much hassle to talk with or touch someone like me. Unclean and had been for ages. If you spent time with me you had to go and be purified afterwards. 

I think they thought that I deserved it, though nobody came out and said that. At first people had been sympathetic but then it just went on and on and nothing changed and here was I, the woman who couldn't be purified. Surely I'd done something to deserve this outcast label. It was my comeuppance for some crime. Some act, some words that condemned me to constant, draining illness. That's what they thought, I'm sure. And if they associated with me too much, it might be catching.

I thought it would kill me, to be honest. You can't bleed incessantly for so long, can you, and still live? I felt so ill. Always weak, no energy. Even fetching water was a struggle and there were days when I could barely function, but I had to keep going. It was a half-life, physically and emotionally. I longed for company and acceptance and affection just as much as I longed for health.

Maybe I had done something wrong. I'd tried everything but nothing helped. Night after night I went to bed hoping that maybe the morning would not come for me, but it did. 

And then I heard rumours of this man, who was doing amazing things. Things that made people marvel and wonder. The stories arrived in our village way before he did and that's why the road was busy that morning. Everyone wanted to see him, this miracle worker. 

The women were talking about the little girl who had died. Far away in the crowd someone was wailing and the word was that the girl's father was too late; the healer was busy with the living. I saw his face, this grieving daddy, and it was set with determination. He had pain in his eyes but not despair. He believed in this man, Jesus. He thought that it wasn't too late at all.

I was amazed. I couldn't take my eyes from him. He followed the slow progress of Jesus through the throng. Jesus wasn't coming quickly enough, and the man pushed through. A few people knew who he was and stood back to let him past, while a few others pulled at him and told him not to be so stupid - it was too late for his daughter; he teacher had better things to do; but he was not having it. 

He fell in front of Jesus and opened his arms wide. Looking up at him, the father laid it out. 

'My daughter is dead, but I know that you can still help. Touch her, and bring her back to life?'

A hush fell as the crowd waited to see what the healer would say. He looked into the man's eyes for a moment and smiled. He turned to go with the man, who rose to his feet. 

In that moment I knew. I knew that the little girl would be fine, I knew that her daddy would be celebrating this afternoon. I knew that the stories were true. I knew that I needed Jesus to help me too. 

I don't think I really had any idea what I was going to do, at that pivotal moment in my life. I just lurched into the crowd towards the healer. Me, the one who is unclean, supposed to keep my distance for everyone's protection - I pushed my way through the throng. I used my elbows and my shoulders and with my head down, I weaved my way towards Jesus before he disappeared. 

There he was. He was saying something to the man whose little girl lay dead. It's a good job the crowd was so thick that they made slow progress, for I was so weak that I could not have kept up my pursuit for long. I reached out. I reached for him, and my fingers closed around a corner of his cloak as it fell in folds over his shoulder. I didn't mean to pull at him, I wouldn't have dared. I just needed to touch him. I just needed to be near. If he could raise a child from the dead then he could give my life back to me too.

The moment I grasped the rough fabric, he stopped. I let go immediately and shrank back. It wasn't difficult to disappear as the crowd was a living thing that swelled around the healer and straight away I was consumed. He turned.

Jesus turned and looked around him. His friends were close by and he asked them, 'Who touched me?
The big guy with the beard laughed. He gestured to the crowd.
'You've got to be kidding. They all touched you!' 

But Jesus knew something. I don't know if he felt something, or sensed something, or he just felt the little brush of my fingers against his clothes. I stood, frozen. 

'I know someone touched me. Who touched me?' 

The crowd slowed and quieted. The teacher was doing something else. People shook their heads and looked around. Nobody deliberately touched him. What did he mean? 

Oh no. Oh no. It was me. What on earth should I do? At that moment my head was full of noise. What would this man think when he found out who had touched him? I shouldn't even have been there, let alone in the middle of a crowd. Let alone brazen enough to touch this man that they were calling holy. 

Not me, approach the holy one?

My knees gave way and I fell down. The couple in front of me stepped aside and there he was, standing by me. The tears came, then. They started to fall and I couldn't stop them. I covered my face with my hands in shame and humiliation and I sobbed. There was nothing else I could do.

I told him who I was and what was happening to me. Ill for so many years, ostracised and shunned by family and friends and people at the synagogue. Pushed away, weak and lonely and unwanted. I told him that I'd seen him and known that he was my only hope. I confessed that I'd pushed my way through the crowd because I selfishly wanted to touch him. I told him that I was sorry, that I was undeserving. It all came out; the hopelessness, the shame. My nose was running and I could barely speak for sobs. I was aware of the gaze of the people around me. A few recognised me and I saw disapproval in their eyes.

I finally raised my anguished face to the healer.  He was gentleness. He looked intensely into my eyes, and I knew at that moment, I knew. I'm not sure what I knew, but it all seemed to come together; it was alright. Time stopped. I held my breath. For a second it was as if he and I were the only people in the world. I saw honesty and compassion and pain in his eyes. There was recognition - he knew me; he saw me. He knew what I'd been through and he felt for me. He understood me, he forgave me, he loved me... 

He had healed me. 

I felt something, or the lack of something. My hand flew to my stomach and my eyes widened as I stared at the One who had made me whole again. Suddenly there was no ache, no dragging, no burning - no pain. I felt a surge of strength and hope. I knew that it was over, after all this time; that life could perhaps be worth living after all. 

'Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.'

I will remember those words all my life. I treasure them. I will never forget his low, clear voice. The intimacy of that moment. I can remember the kindness of his eyes as they crinkled at the corners with his smile. He gave hope to a hopeless woman. 

You know that peace? The peace in his blessing? It never went away. I have it still. 

I looked into his face and I knew who he was. I will tell my story to anyone who will listen. I will never stop praising the One who healed me.

That day he healed me; he saved me. 

Jesus. My Saviour. 

'Heal me and I will be healed. Save me and I will be saved, for you are the One I praise.'
Jeremiah 17:14



Image DEC_10_2005_196.jpg from Morguefile.com
by mercucio2
Used with permission.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Collar up, chin down

Alright, God.

So there's a howling gale blowing outside. It's whistling around the corner of the house and the silver birch is bending, bending and whipping its bare branches back and forward.

The sun is shining for now but the sky is that purply black that says rain is on its way. And when it comes it'll be heavy. Combined with the wind, that means the rain will be horizontal right about the time I'm leaving to collect my girls from school. 

Oh joy.

Today is one of those days that an umbrella is no good whatsoever. They haven't invented a brolly that will deal with the high-wind-and-precipitation combo. Certainly not the handbag size miraculously opening out one like mine that wobbles about on a stick that's hard to hold and flips inside out at the drop of a hat. 

Great. 

There are days when all I can do is pull my collar up a bit higher, tuck my chin a bit lower and resign myself that I will be the woman with no hairstyle by the time I arrive at the playground. Even more so than usual, that is. Might even plug in a set of earphones and crank up the volume on a bit of something inspiring as I trudge along. 

I have days like this. Sometimes life feels like this on days where the sun shines, the air is still and the sky a peaceable blue. Sometimes it's a collar up/chin down day even then. 

I've been having a few of them lately. To the outside observer there's nothing particularly wrong; only the usual low-key day-to-day stuff like aches and pains, over-thinking and not enough sleep, a handful of children's problems ranging from mysterious repetitive throat clearing and rashes to playground friendship issues and then there's demise of my favourite pair of boots. Sigh. 

Still, nothing earth-shattering. All in a day's work. 

So that's not it. 

Something in my head says it's hard at the moment, that's what it is. I'm just collar up/chin down instead of chin up and defences down. I'm trudging rather than dancing. My hands are holding my coat close rather than swinging by my sides. 

So here it is. When the wind is whistling around my ears in a little while, this is what I'm hanging on to:

'Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.' 
Luke 12:6

I am not forgotten. When life is grim and bleak and it all comes crashing down, you are there. 
When life is wonderful and exhilarating, you are there. 
And when life is humdrum and monotonous and I feel like a hamster on a wheel, there you are still. 

"'For I know the plans I have for you', declares the Lord, 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.'
Jeremiah 29:11

There is a Plan. Whether I sense it or not, whether I'm on board or not, whether I have the energy or not, there is a Plan which is best for me, which is what you want for my life.

'For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.' 
Psalm 57:10

I am loved. Even when I feel all alone and solitary, I am loved. When I feel unlovable, I am loved. When I bow my head because I don't want to meet anyone's eye, I am loved. When those skies are full of rain, my hair is plastered to my face and my nose is running, I am loved. When I'm the size of a house in my winter coat and jumpers and I know the diet must start before spring, I am loved. 

'I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.' 
Isaiah 42:6

You think I'm great. Even when I'm more inclined to dwell on all that I'm not than all that I am, you see all that I could be. You think I'm worth working on. You will take hold of my hand and lead me. 

'...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

You are at work. I have come a long way, following you. There is a way to go, but you have promised to carry on changing me into the person you want me to be.

'Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.' 
Joshua 1:9

You will never leave me. When my hands are thrust in my pockets, and my head down against the wind and rain, eyes focused only on putting one foot in front of the other, you are there, right with me, waiting for me to lift my eyes to you. 

You are the God of all weathers. The God who calmed the storm, the God of the still, small voice. You are in the rain and the wind and the sunshine. The rainbow and the thunder. You walk with me on the school run as I bend into the gale and you smile when a small hand slips into mine and asks if there's any chance of nipping to the sweet shop. 

I'm walking with you, Lord. 

Collar up and chin down, maybe, but my heart is whole, for you're holding it in your hands. 

There's no safer place.




Picture used:
kr015118_034.JPG by Krosseel
From Morguefile.com withpermission

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Magnets and vegetables

Hello, Father God.

Katy is learning about magnets at school. This weekend she's been creeping round the house with a large magnet stabbing it at random metal items to see if they'll stick. Radiator, yes. Teaspoon, yes. Grandma's glasses, no. Thankfully.

This thing happened, and you were right there.

My husband got out a very sensitive set of kitchen scales. He placed a key on the scales and then slowly lowered the magnet over the key from above.

The key weighed 17g. As the magnet got closer, closer, the key weighed less and less.

14g...11g... 9.25g... 5.67g...

At 4.3g, the key jumped up to meet the magnet. Whoof. Just like that.

He kept the magnet and key hovering over the scales and the weight registering on the scales started showing minus numbers.

-0.3g... -2g... -3.55g...

The metal plate on top of the scales was being pulled upwards by the magnet.

There was a force acting on the metal key and the metal scales that we couldn't see. Completely invisible, but it was there nonetheless and its effects were obvious. Electromagnetism.

We don't know what electromagnetism is, but we know that it IS. We know what it does, but not really how or why. Apparently people think that it has something to do with spinning electrons but we're not sure. Personally if I've ever known what an electron was, I've forgotten. All I know is that a magnet pulls things towards it. I can see it doing its thing.

It made me think of you. I see you even when you don't come and sit on the end of my bed and chat with me. I can see you in the force of a magnet. Irresistible, subtle, powerful, insistent, inexplicable. I can see you in the uniqueness of snowflakes and in the joy of a five year old making brand new footsteps in freshly fallen drifts of snow. I see you in dew on a spider's web and in orange evening sun on a bare tree. I see you all around, even when I can't see you at all.

You know what I mean because I'm supposed to see you in all these things. I see you pulling like a magnet. I see the power of you, pulling. I am drawn towards you.

 We had this vegetable on Sunday. Part of lunch. It was called Romanesco Broccoli. Sort of like a bright green cross between a cauliflower and broccoli, and as vegetables go, it was the most beautiful vegetable I've ever seen. It's a natural approximation of a fractal.

A fractal is a geometric shape that has symmetry of scale, which means that it's a shape that keeps doing the same thing over and over again. If you were to zoom in on a part of it, it would still look the same. I'm told this is called, 'self-similarity', but I fear I might get sucked into something equation-like and quite complicated if I go much deeper. I am a bear of very little brain when it comes to this stuff. Perhaps that's why I'm so easily astonished?

But look at this breathtaking vegetable and tell me, who wouldn't be impressed?

The romanesco broccoli swirls round in an intricate pattern repeated over and over again, smaller and smaller. A vivid, surprisingly bright green. Beautiful. And when cooked, rather tasty on my plate with some roast chicken, mash and gravy. It wasn't easy to cut into it and serve it up. Such a shame to spoil it.

I contemplated the swirly vegetable and I wondered at a God who would make a vegetable fascinatingly intricate, geometrically beautiful. Why? Because you could.

For the same reason that it pleased you to make a metal key jump three inches towards a lowered magnet. For the same reason that you decided that every snowflake should be different. Just Because You Could.

I see you all around. I'm looking at the flames of the fire. The way they dance, give out heat and light and comfort. In the rainbow picture that my daughter made for me and slipped inside my laptop for me to find. She knows that I love rainbows - and I love them because they remind me of you.

As I glance down from the screen to see my own fingers taptaptapping at the keyboard I get a glimpse of the wonder of you. An observation turns to a thought and forms an idea which translates to words which make their way via synapses and ganglia to bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, fingernails, skin until they are constructed using learned knowledge of a keyboard layout to transfer to a sentence on a virtual page.

Blows my mind.

Take a drop of water.

As if there were not enough magic in a drop of water - essential, life-giving, beautiful, refracting light, beading on a leaf after rain, cleaning and refreshing - when you drop a single drop of water onto more water a crown appears. A crown! A crown made by a King.

Makes me smile.

And here's another thing that takes my breath away. All these miracles and magical tricks were just waiting for us to find them. Hidden away until such a time that we invented or discovered the means to see. We didn't know that a water droplet makes a crown splash until we invented high speed photography. We didn't know about magnetism until someone discovered it.

As Louis Giglio points out in his 'Indescribable' *talk it wasn't until we had telescopes powerful enough to see that we found out that in the outer reaches of space is found the Whirlpool Galaxy and in the very centre of that is the shape of a cross. Just waiting for us to find it and stop still in awe.

A crown, by the King.
A vegetable fractal, just because you could.
A key jumping to meet a magnet, pulled by an invisible force.

You created these things because you're the Creator and you added in all the hidden wonder that astonishes us just because it pleased you to do it. The equation is much simpler than the fractal geometry one that I was baffled by earlier.

You are beauty, and so the things you make will be beautiful.
You are infinitely complex and creative and beyond understanding, and so your Creation will be just like you.

We think we're getting there, don't we? We think that we are so clever with ever scientific breakthrough and discovery but the truth is that there is so much that we don't know. So much undiscovered wonder out there. We don't even know how much there is that we don't know.

You must be there watching us and waiting with a big smile, impatient for the day when we can see further, beyond the limits of our technology and our imaginations.

Microscopes that can see smaller.
Telescopes that can see further.
Human minds that need to be so much more open.

You're not remotely concerned that we will find you, guess all your secrets, become threatening in our growing knowledge and understanding - there is always more; we will never catch up. Always more treasure to find, delights to uncover. It goes on forever.

Beauty is evidence of you. You are Goodness in its purest form and I see you when big sister comforts little sister when she drops her ice cream. The force for good is from you, just like the force that pulls metal to a magnet. Invisible, but we can see it.

It seems easy to me. You are there. I see you. I can see you at work; I can see the things that you have done. You speak to me as clearly as a little note left on my keyboard, a message spelled out painstakingly on the other side.

I love you.





*Check this out: Louis Giglio 'Indescribable' 


Photographs all mine except:
Water crown image 114345352538.jpg by stuartjessop
From Morguefile.com. Used with permission.








Thursday, 24 January 2013

Pink cheeks and shifting shadows

So here's the verse for the day.
'Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.' (New International Version)
James 1:17
Every good gift is a gift from you, my God. 

Even on a day which started perishing cold because the boiler took a morning off, I am surrounded by presents from you.

Evidence of your love is everywhere. I miss so much more than I notice, I am sure, but today I have been aware of your presence.
  • Waking a sleepy daughter this morning, only the top of her head visible from under the duvet. 'Mummy, you smell nice. You smell sweet, like flowers and ice cream.' 
  • Ice crystals on the metal of the gate at the side of the house. 
  • Foxes in the garden before school, playing in the snow, unafraid.
  • The first miniature daffodil bud on a pot of bulbs given to me by a friend who knew that I needed a little piece of spring in my kitchen. 
  • Small children bundled up in hats and scarves and mittens and ski-suits so puffy that they can't bend in the middle. Wellies so tiny that the feet inside can barely be walking.
  • Pink cheeks and holding hands tightly on the icy pavements. 
  • Another daughter, on the way to school, 'Mummy, when can we get the paddling pool out?' and we laughed. 
  • Bright berries in a world of white.
  • A fieldfare in the garden this morning for more than an hour eating his way hungrily through the rotten orange apples still on the trees. Beautiful bird. 
You give gifts for the sheer delight in giving; in seeing your children delighted. You shower us with blessings that we don't even notice. You leave us love-notes to remind and reassure us. 

Thankyou.

The Father of heavenly lights. 

The source of all light. The author of light. Creator of the sun and the stars. Origin of all that is good. Banisher of darkness. 

The dark is only the absence of light, and where you are, there can be no dark. no shadow. Black is an absence of colour, and you are the source of colour. 

You are the rainbow, the blue of the sky and the green in the chlorophyll. 

You are the red of the rose and the yellow of the corn, the purple of the thundercloud and the silver of the spray of the sea. 

You are the sunrise and the sunset, the eclipse and the full moon.
You are the blanket of snow making the mundane beautiful. 

Oh, God. 

You are present everywhere; you are the Presence of light and colour, where darkness is the absence. When you arrive, everything is illuminated, darkness is banished. Dark and light cannot co-exist, and you will always prevail.

You do not change like shifting shadows...

Shifting shadows. I'm sitting underneath a tree at the height of summer, grass thick and soft and lush. There's a feat of imagination. It's -4 degrees outside, snow is still lying thick on the windowsill, the roads are treacherous and I'm here wearing three jumpers and a throw around my shoulders, hunched over the steam from my coffee. 

Anyway, where was I? 

Ah yes. Under a tree on a hot day. In the shade, lying back looking at the deep blue of the sky through the green leaves, the sound of a gentle breeze stirring the branches. The light is dappled, shadows of the countless leaves dancing and flickering. Ever-changing. Nothing the same from one moment to the next. Shifting shadows, impossible to pin down and capture. 

Not like you. You are constant. You are steady. You are eternal. 

So much in life is like shifting shadows. So much that I think is secure is really just momentary light through leaves. 
  • I lean on people and they are bound to let me down, because they are human too. 
  • I lean on things, only to find them eroded, destroyed, unstable, stolen. 
  • I find comfort in food, only to find that the reassurance I was looking for is too elusive and I am more damaged than ever. 
  • I try to build myself up with roles that I play; committees I sit on, rotas, jobs - but then I miss a meeting because of illness and I find that nobody is indispensable after all. 
  • I retreat under the bedclothes and go to sleep to escape my anxieties, but I wake up again, and they are unresolved. 
Nothing is safe, but you. Nothing constant, but you. Nothing eternal, unshifting, solid, reliable, dependable. Nothing heals, but you.

Older translations of the Bible say, '...there is no shadow of turning with thee.' (King James Version) 
I'm not sure why, but this makes me think of a huge ocean liner slowly changing course so that the sun behind it slowly casts a different shadow on the waves of the sea as the boat moves round. You don't change course. You know the way - the only way. There will be no re-plotting of co-ordinates and reversing of the propellors with you. 

Alternatively it could mean that there is no suggestion of turning; that there is not even an illusion of change. You never give the impression that you might. You are unshifting, constant.

You do not change. Everything else does - I just have to look in the mirror to see that everything changes. The whole of life is simply a montage of shifting shadows, but you are the Sun. The world might spin, slowly alternating who feels the warmth of the sun, but you shine without stopping. Where the sun shines, things that are frozen melt.

Teach me to depend on you, Lord Jesus, and not cast about for things down here to prop me up. Not to look for meaning or satisfaction from any other source than you. To fix my eyes on what is steady, not shifting.

When I try to balance I need to focus on something that doesn't move, something unwavering. That's you. When I try to steady myself by gazing at something that wobbles, I fall over.

Thankyou for the gifts. For the beauty and whimsy and humour and majesty. For the little things and the big things. For health and family and laughter and snowflakes. 


Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Though changest not, Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been, though forever shalt be.

Amen. 


Lyrics: Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866 -1960)
Music: William Marion Runyan (1870 - 1957)

How's that for a couple of good middle names? 



Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Mud pies and me too

Morning, Lord.

***

...and that's where I left it. Nearly two weeks ago.

Struggling to come here and struggling to talk to you and then clearly it's no surprise that I've got nothing to say. So, because I have nothing, I don't come here and I don't talk to you and the whole thing goes over and over and gets bigger and bigger. I become more and more self-conscious and more and more inhibited and I wonder if it's worth it at all.

Lord, I've got myself in a mess.

I know that you're with me always. I know that you're with me through thick and thin and I know that any progress I make comes from you. I know that you have given me gifts, and that you want me to use them. I know that you have a Plan for me and I know that your timing is perfect.

So, I reckon that you're used to me panicking when things go wrong; I moan and I complain and I cling onto you harder. I am there every time you turn round and when you do, you trip over me, I'm so clingy. I need you and I know it. But what's surprised me recently is how I panic when things go right.

It's only a little thing. Only small, and for some people I know who are way past where I am in this little journey of ours, it must seem tiny. Here it is (and I'm cringing as I write it):

I come and spend time with you, and for a couple of years now it's been my habit to have a waffle with you and then press a small orange button that says 'publish' and let other people in on my meanderings. Sometimes people tell me they liked what I shared. Sometimes there's a deafening silence. Sometimes it makes my heart swell when people tell me that you moved them to tears or to laughter through the words I tapped out. The best thing of all is when someone says, 'Oh, me too!' Then - that's when I know that you are smiling. There's nothing you like more than to see your children reach for each other in encouragement and love. That's when I know that there is nothing else that I want to do, other than this.

So over the last few months I've known that you were smiling. I've felt it, and so have others. People are joining in our conversations and maybe - who knows but you? - my dream is starting to come true and they are seeing you, hearing you, and joining their voices with mine, their prayer and praise with mine. It's wonderful.

People are so kind with words of encouragement, and then occasionally someone is unkind because the things I say about you make them angry and offended and they hit back with hurtful criticism. You don't leave me alone to handle it; you're there when they're mean as well as when they're nice. I have read it, worried about it, debated what to do with it and moved on past it a few times now. I know full well that not everyone will agree with me. I know that not everyone accepts what I know about you. Some people might some day; some never will.

It's the way it works.

But what I'm not used to is a growing audience. I'm not used to writing guest posts for other people's websites and then seeing visits here from a whole new set of people; family from around the world.

Chicken.
I know where you are when I'm in trouble, but these last few weeks I've lost sight of you when things go well.

I don't mean that I'm off doing my thing, basking in the sweetness of success, thinking that I can do it all alone; no. It's not that. It's as if it was so much easier when there were only a few people listening, and I knew almost all of them. I remember when I pressed the 'publish' button for the very first time. I wrote in my journal, 'Will anyone read what I've written? Why should anyone care?' and it was such a quiet, intimate thing. It was just me and you.

Nothing has changed. No, nothing. It's still just me and you. But in my head, I'm all self-conscious again. What on earth do people think?

In that first post-publish journal entry I said that it was up to you, Lord. Up to you whether anyone came by or not. Up to you whatever happened.

Nothing has changed.

I once had a friend who was always there for me when my life was in a mess. Broken up with a boyfriend? There she was with tissues and a bottle of wine. Struggling with exams or poorly or lamenting about the failure of the latest diet? She was there with sympathy and a listening ear and a bag of marshmallows.

But when things were going right? Nowhere to be seen.

She was my rainy-weather-friend and she didn't like to see me when I was happy. She didn't like things to be going well. I never really got to the bottom of why, as we drifted apart during a phase of my life when I was doing ok. She didn't return my calls and didn't come to drink coffee when there were no tears involved.

I feel as if I'm a bit like that right now. When it's you and me against the world (or when it feels like that) I am here all the time and I stay close, but when things start to go right; when you start to give me a little of what I've so badly wanted - I am off like a rat up a drainpipe. Off. Maybe it's safer to stay where things are familiar, anonymous.

What do I want, if not for people to read what I write? I firmly believe that if you have given me a gift, I should use it. If you want me to write, then you must want people to read what I write. So I should be pleased when people do, shouldn't I? Instead of panicking and going into a flat spin before running off and hiding. I should be happy instead of filled with anxiety. Encouraged and enthused instead of oppressed by it.

I have often wondered where I'm heading with all this, and I've chafed at what I perceive to be slow progress. I think I now understand why the brakes have been on - when you take them off, even for a moment, it rattles me so much that I stop in my tracks and start to sabotage the whole thing by standing in the road like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.

People come to see what you and I talk about. So... if I don't talk to you, then they won't come any longer.  All subconscious, you know, but horribly effective. If there's nothing to see, they don't come. Why would they?

I've tried to work out what to do about this, and the only thing I can do is the same as I've always done. I lay it all in front of you.

Here it is. Here am I, with all my strange neuroses and unpredictable panics. It would be funny, if it wasn't so discouraging. I am used to failure, but give me something that goes right instead and I don't know what to do with it.

The amazing thing is that I laid this all in front of you and you smiled that slightly amused, indulgent smile that you smiled and you said, 'It's alright'. You found a handful of your best encouragers and you placed them where I'd find them. You linked me up with a few people that I may never meet in this life, who have become friends in the most meaningful sense of the word. Wise people whose words lift up, not destroy. People who are open and honest about the ups and downs of life and don't try to preach but just tell it like it is.

The Internet is a strange place. Some people criticise it for being shallow and trivial but I have found it exactly the reverse. There are people around the world who have helped me when I needed helping in just the right way. Other people who write who know how insecure it can make you feel. People who know that a word or two of encouragement - even when limited to 140 characters or a comments box - can change someone's day. Stop someone from giving up. Assure someone that they're not alone. Raise a smile when tears have been the order of the day.

I've said, 'I'm struggling,' and people said, 'Me too.'
I've said, 'This is hard,' and people said, 'It is. But you can do it.'
I've said, 'I don't know if I can do this,' and people said, 'Me neither, but He helped me, and He'll help you too'.
I've said, 'I worry that I'm not good enough,' and people said, 'We're not, but He is.'

Who'd have thought it? I've learned that if I stick my head above the parapet, the things that have hit and hurt the most haven't been thrown by anyone else but me.  I can talk myself out of the wonder and pleasure of any experience and find that it's easier to stay crouched down low, hiding, than risk going somewhere where the air might be cleaner and the view so much better.

CS Lewis once said:
'It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about ... when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased.'
Maybe I'm too easily pleased. I told you that it was alright if only half a dozen people read what I write, and it was ok if lots of people read it. Then when you move me away from a) towards b) I scuttle off back to my mud pies. I know where I am with mud pies. What do you mean, the seaside? That sounds very open and exposed to me...think I'll stay where I am...if you don't mind...

But no. That's not how it's going to be.

I just want to say, once again, that I am along for the ride. I just want to keep doing what we do together, Lord, you and me.

I want to notice you in my life, I want to tell people about what you're doing and I want to encourage and inspire.

I want people to see you and see how wonderful you are.

I want to be honest enough that people say, 'Me too,' because that connection is invaluable. I don't feel anywhere near such a failure when someone says, 'I feel that way too,' and I have such hope when someone says, 'I felt that way - and things are better now'. That's the power of connecting with people. Little words on a screen can pack such a punch.

I'm sorry that I've been all over the place lately. I'm sorry for the uncertainty and doubt and anxiety when you have always looked after me and you have always been the one who gives me words and there's no reason for that to change now.

It isn't about me. It isn't about me.

Thank you, Father, for your gentleness and compassion in this latest strange lesson in my life. Thank you for the honesty and vulnerability of those people whose struggles they've shared with me this past week. Thank you that you have introduced me to family scattered all over the world who are so different and yet all love you and are willing to reach out and be reached by brothers and sisters who need encouragement.

Thank you that you are a God who has no problem moving with the times and working  as powerfully through twenty-first century social media as you do through the pulpit and the printing press.

Thank you for every person who visits here and reads about you and about my limping, imperfect journey. Thank you (gulp) for stats and comments and guest blogs and 'Me too,' moments.

And, Lord, thank you for the words.

Thank you.





Saturday, 19 January 2013

Psalm 139: my version

Hello, Lord God.


You have taken a good long look at me, haven't you? 
You know me inside and out and back to front.
Whether I'm feet up with a glass of wine or reluctantly doing the vacuuming, 
you know what I'm thinking.
You know when I'm off out for coffee with a friend 
and when I finally climb under the duvet;
Nothing gets past you.
Before I've even decided what to say
You know what it's going to be (even when I shouldn't say anything at all).
You surround me on all sides.
You have touched me with mercy.
I can't get my head around it;
It's far too big for me.

There's nowhere I can go that you aren't already there.
How can I get away from you?
Why would I want to? - and yet there are times when I do...
If I'm having a great day where everything goes my way;
If I can't do anything right and I feel like giving up, you're there too.
Even if I drag myself out of bed to see the sunrise,
Or if I fly to the other side of the world,
Wherever I go, you'll show me the way.
If I say, 'That's it - it's all gone wrong
There's no point in trying any more,'
you can bring hope in the darkest of days
and turn trouble into triumph.


Because you made the very heart of me;
You put me together just the way you wanted me.
Just look at me - I'm a masterpiece!
Yes, me, even me.
Even when I don't feel like one, I know that you don't make mistakes.
Your creation is flawless.
From before I was born you were watching me
As I grew from the tiniest of cells, you took care of me.
From the earliest moments of my existence, you were full of love for me.
You had a plan for me from the very beginning;
You hold my life in the palm of your hand.

Oh, Father, if only I could grasp who you are;
you are so far beyond my imagination.
If I could get a glimpse of your glory
It would blow my mind.
Awake or asleep, you are right here next to me.
...
Lord, check out every last bit of me. 
Look at my heart - at what I believe and what I feel, 
and in my head, at what I think. 
You know what I'm like.
If there is any part of me that you would change, 
Show me and help me put it right
so that I can be all I can be -
so that you can use me for all that you can -
so that I will be yours for eternity.

Amen


That's my Psalm 139, Father. With apologies for missing out the bit about annihilating bloodthirsty folks. Still not sure what to make of that bit. 

My Lord and my God. 

Here I am.



(Edited and reposted from last year. I come back to this psalm over and over again. You see, it was written for me.)

Friday, 11 January 2013

Carpet diem

Dear God,

Here's this thing that I thought up when I was little, way before I read that bit about life being a tapestry with light and dark threads. I think that you gave it to me, and it was a lovely thing that I returned to time after time in my head; I still love it today. It comes to mind so often that I've had chance to colour it in and embroider it many times over the years.

I find that with people who know me well I can describe myself using this image: 'Feeling a bit threadbare today,' or 'I need to Hoover....' 

Ha. 

Some time ago at home group we discussed how we saw life in terms of an image; a rollercoaster, a journey, a test...and so on. I wasn't sure I had a picture of what life is like, but I was fascinated by other people's ideas. It seems that so many of us think in metaphors. It came to me much later yesterday evening when we'd changed subject that I did have an idea, and it was the one that'd been with me since I was small. I didn't immediately realise it because it's been part of the texture of my life for so long.

It's this: life is like kicking a carpet.

Bear with me. 

There's this roll of carpet - only about two or three feet wide, sort of like a stair carpet, that I unroll ahead of me as I walk along. Everyone has one. There's some artistic licence here as the carpet never gets any smaller and doesn't start out that big, it sort of magically unrolls in front of me in a CGI sort of way. I do have to put some effort in but it's not actually as hard as actually kicking an actual carpet, if you see what I mean. How hard it is seems to vary a bit. I've had a go at unrolling carpet in my house once or twice and it's not like that. This comes naturally.

It's living. 

I know, you're smiling down at me with that indulgent smile.  Still, I shall press on...

So this carpet has a pattern and everyone's pattern is different - my own is very familiar, even when the pattern changes as it regularly does.  Sometimes it's a brightly coloured, cheerful, intricate pattern, and at other times it's dull, muted, made of dark colours or plain with blocks of different shades.  Sometimes it even has strands of gold and silver in it, shining threads. Sometimes the pattern has a symmetry, sometimes it's muddled up and abstract.

Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't.

Likewise the weave of the carpet varies - for a time it's thick, lush and rich in it's pile, and then later worn, threadbare, sparse.  Smooth and then knobbly.  Silky and bristly. Sometimes my toes luxuriate in the softness and warmth and other times it hurts my feet. As I go through life the carpet changes from day to day, hour to hour, and yet I keep going, kicking it along in front of me without breaking stride.

There are times when I'm running, even dancing along, full of songs and laughter, and the carpet is unrolling effortlessly.

Other times when I'm plodding, trudging with my head down watching the way the tears make little dark marks as I walk, and those times keeping it moving in front of me seems almost impossible, but I carry on.

I can never see where I'm going; it's as if I'm unrolling my carpet through space - three dimensional space, where there are ups and downs - uphills and downhills.  Bits of the journey are brightly lit and other bits so shadowy that I can barely make out the shape of my feet taking one step at a time, one step at a time. 

The destination is unknown but I keep walking towards it. There's no stopping; there's no choice. Keep going. Got to keep going. 

It will be worth it when I get there.

The interesting thing is that I'm not alone during this walk - I can see other people unrolling their carpets, too. Everyone in the world has a carpet.

Some are in the distance - a long long way away, and they're obscured, blurry - I can't see much of their carpet so I don't know what colours or patterns they have; I just get a glimpse.  These are the people who I might encounter for a brief moment.

Sitting on a train whooshing past and then I glimpse someone walking their dog in a field beside the track.

Driving past someone in a window of a house.

They're the people who come in to view for a second and then they're out of sight.  I see a stranger and wonder about their life - who are they? What are they worried about? Are they happy?  Their carpet comes near mine just for a moment and then they're gone and I never know.

Other people come alongside for a while - they walk alongside me for a time, or we meet and we overlap, and then they're gone in a different direction. Sometimes I see the same person back again. Sometimes I know that I've seen them before but can't place where...

Then in this journey I'm on, one or two people kick their carpets along with me. They're alongside, and they stay there.  Their carpet is so close that the edges of theirs and mine touch - sometimes they're so close that the edges wrinkle up against each other making a ridge.  But there might be a special person whose carpet fits mine perfectly. You're pretty much in step.  The weave and pattern on the carpets side by side are synchronised with each other. Sometimes you can't tell where your carpet ends and theirs starts, and sometimes they look very different. Sometimes they leave me behind and I struggle to catch up, and sometimes they're dawdling when I want to skip. But they're parallel with me.

There's a special sort of blessing in a carpet buddy.

Because their carpet looks and feels so much like mine communication is easy. There's an understanding. They look down and see what I see. The world is seen from almost the same perspective. They know when the going is heavy and when I'm flying. It's as if they can reach across to me and help me with the weight of my carpet as I unroll it. They can point out the finest of bright threads in the weave when I can see only darkness. Sometimes their presence alongside me brings light to show me there's beauty in the pattern when I've been unable to see.

A carpet buddy is a very special gift. Thankyou so much for mine.

Occasionally it seems as if someone's carpet is nicer than mine.  They seem to have an easier time getting theirs to unroll. Their pattern seems brighter, prettier, more interesting. It seems thicker, nicer to walk on. Likewise, sometimes other people's carpets appear inferior to mine; I'm glad I'm on my carpet and not theirs. I can't swap - I can't even step off mine onto theirs - so I can never really tell what it's like on their carpet, and they can't possibly know what it feels like to be on mine. 

Now and again I notice that someone I was used to travelling with isn't there any more. I'm so used to seeing them there but one day I realise that they're gone. Their carpet has run out. I know it has gone but I still can't tell what's at the end. I look back and crane my neck but I can never see.

I don't know what happens to the person kicking it along as I never seem to witness the exact moment it ends, I just see that it is no longer unravelling. What happened to the person whose carpet it was? Did they realise that it was going to end when it did? Maybe they noticed that the carpet was finally getting smaller?  Maybe it just vanished.  Then what?  I don't know.  Haven't got this bit figured out in my little fantasy. Neither do I know what's at the end of mine - or when it might end.  It seems to me that there's plenty of carpet left at the moment... who knows, but you?

But I imagine. 

I think the end of the carpet might be quite ornate - like something fantastic and awe inspiring from a  Renaissance tapestry.  Or maybe just a bit of brocade and a tassle.  Or perhaps it slowly gets thinner and thinner until it's no longer there?  

But it's what happens when I finally step off the carpet that I want to know about. I know it's not thin air - there'll be ground beneath my feet that is more solid than it has ever been when I've been unrolling my carpet through space. Maybe I'll no longer walk but jump and fly...maybe I'll have a grace that I never had in my life... maybe there'll be a pattern that is so beautiful that it defies description.   

My imagination isn't big enough.

So that's life. It's a journey, yes.  It goes up and down like a rollercoaster, yes.  I sometimes feel I'm in a race, yes. But it's a carpet, unrolling, unrolling. Inexorably leading me somewhere. 

A beautiful, unique carpet that only I can walk on. I've got to keep it going. Can't stop, got to keep going.

Till one day it will stop.

In a heartbeat.

Done. 

But I won't stop, and neither will you. We go on, and on, you and me.

That's when I'll know what's beyond the carpet.  It's going to be amazing.



(Edited and reposted from January 2011)

Images:

TheFlyingCarpet.jpg by Clarita
DSC005231.jpg by dhester
motiveGuilaneNachez.jpg by Guilane Nachez

From Morguefile.com. Used with permission.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Lord bless you and keep you...

Morning, Lord.

I'm quoting Moses:
'The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.'
This is from Numbers 6:24-26.

I didn't know where that beautiful couple of verses was from but I am entirely familiar with it as quite often our church services close with those very words. I like the sound of it. I like the blessing. The other day for some reason when I came upon it in its natural habitat in the early bit of the Bible (I can't remember why I was poking around in Numbers) it suddenly became three dimensional instead of a stock phrase to send us on our way just after midday on a Sunday (in the name of Christ - Amen).

You know what? Moses was talking to me. I'm going to ask him about this when I track him down in Heaven. I'm going to ask him if he had any vague idea of the momentousness of these words. If he suspected at the back of his mind that we would bow our heads as they were spoken over us centuries later.

The Lord bless you and keep you...

Yes, you do, don't you? I am blessed in more ways than I know. I am blessed to be your child, I am blessed materially beyond the dreams of most of the world. I am blessed with health, with family, with ideas, with clean water and eyes to see the way the low winter sun glows orange on the tree branches outside my daughter's school.

I am blessed with every new day that I wake up once more and blessed with opportunities to do something new for you. I am blessed with choices, freedom, the ability to think and speak and the permission and safety to do it knowing that no-one is going to come knocking at my door to take me away for saying that I love you, Jesus.

Blessed? I am.

You keep me. I firmly believe that if you forgot about me for a moment I would cease to be. I am because you made me and you look after me. You know me inside out and you knew the course my life would take from the moment two cells joined together. You know exactly what I'm going to say before I say it and you know the efforts I make to please you and the times when I don't. You keep me safe. You keep me close. You keep me under your wing. You don't miss a single thing.

The Lord make his face shine upon you...

I love this. I love that light shines from you, because you are the origin of light. I love that to see you face to face will be the day when there is no longer any darkness, because there can be none when there is light. I love that with your light is warmth and life; you are the Sun. When I turn towards you, I am lit up, but I will always have a dark and cold side so long as there is part of me that faces away. Too often I turn away from you, hiding, retreating, recoiling.

You are beautiful. Transcending male or female, beyond my imagination, beyond handsome or pretty or anything that I can get my head round; you are the source of all that is beautiful.
Psalm 50:2
'From Mount Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines in perfect radiance.'
Your face, it shines radiant. You are the source of all life-giving light. I want to bask in that light, soak it up so that my bones are warmed through.

...and be gracious to you...

You are endlessly gracious. In the words of Ann Voskamp* 'All is grace.'  Every new day, every ray of sunlight, every shower.
'But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.'  Psalm 86:15
Every time I hear the birds sing, the children laugh, the congregation lift its collective voice with the angels. Every snowflake, ice crystal, drop of dew on a spider's web.
'The Lord has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.'  Psalm 111:4
Each time my little girl slips her small hand into mine, every little love note that she writes, every time my head sinks into a soft pillow.
'The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.' Psalm 116:5
Every time you forgive me for some laziness, selfishness, meanness; a raised voice, some critical remark, a hurtful act.
'The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.'  Psalm 103:7
All is grace. You cannot but be gracious.

The Lord turn his face towards you...

Sometimes when I'm concentrating on something and my daughters want me they grasp my face with their two hands and turn my head towards them. Since my eyes face forwards, my gaze is torn away from whatever it was that I was intent upon and rests on them. They have my attention. I don't need to do that with you; you're never distracted, never focused somewhere else at my expense. You are always there, always noticing.  Your face is always turned towards me, loving, forgiving, expectant.

Like a smiling Daddy when his children want to tell him something, I see you stooping low to hear. Down on one knee, beckoning. Looking intently, listening carefully, encouraging, caring. Your face is towards me. I feel your gaze. I can't live without it.

...and give you peace.

Ah. Peace. Elusive peace. I do have your peace, sometimes. I love that feeling; it's the best thing in the world - beyond the world. Sometimes I get a glimpse of what life might be like if I could somehow stop worrying completely and rest in your arms. I sense that there is a whole new way to live out there beyond the anxiety and self-consciousness and need to be accepted. Peace. Rest.
'My peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.'  John 14:27
You give it to me and what on earth do I do with it? I let it slip through my fingers as I reach for the familiar; 'what if...?' and 'if only..'. I long for peace and then walk past it because I don't stop long enough to find it, or I don't recognise it because I'm so used to stress and anxiety.

You would have me live quite differently, wouldn't you?  You encourage me to leave my problems with you, to take each day as it comes, to live right here and right now instead of regretting yesterday and worrying about tomorrow. You would infuse me with peace instead of striving, peace instead of fear, peace instead of apprehension.

There's an endless supply of peace for me. Every time I let it slip away, you are there to give me more if I could just learn how to accept it. If I could just trust you more, take you at your word instead judging you by the standards of the world, if I could just open my clenched fists and drop all things of no value that I clutch so tightly so that you could give me this most precious of gifts - then I would have peace.

I hear the blessing and I whisper 'Amen' and I turn and leave church, shouldering my hassles at the door. How perverse am I?

I have a long way to go. At times like this I realise that although I am making progress, I have so much to learn. I am an adolescent in when it comes to spiritual maturity, but I can say this:

You are my God. I am your child.

The Lord blesses me and keeps me.
He makes his face shine upon me and he is gracious to me; the Lord turns his face towards me and gives me peace.

Yes he does.



* One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp 2011, Zondervan

Monday, 7 January 2013

Answers that nobody asked for

So, in Heaven there's a big warehouse.

A storage facility freely open to the public, but rarely visited. Dust gathers. Now and again a freak draught makes a breeze that blows dust bunnies along the floor and they collect in corners. It's silent, deserted.

This is the storehouse for answers to prayers that nobody asked for.

Billy Graham said:  'Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no-one bothered to ask.'

Some time in the future (only you know when) I am quite sure that I won't be able to resist coming to have a look round this place. Do you remember the old game shows on telly in the seventies where the compere at the end used to say, 'And here's what you could have won!' I imagine it'll be a bit like that.

In this vast place there are heavy duty racks that stretch up far overhead. There are boxes and files and packages and more boxes. They are all labelled with contents inventoried. It's very organised.

There's a shelf with my name on it, and to my horror this shelf stretches into the distance before there's another name tag.

It turns out that there were a lot of answers to prayers that I never prayed.

Lord God, you had so much for me that I never asked for. Problems that I never laid before you; either because I thought I could manage on my own (how did that work for me? I guess I'll know by then) and also things that I just didn't trust you with. Prayers unprayed. Solutions to difficulties that I chose by default to struggle through on my own.

Unnecessary pain that I went through? Suffering that might have been avoided? Uncertainty that could have been turned to confidence?

Times in my life when things could have been so much better with your input, but I left you out.

How does that make you feel? Do you shrug your shoulders and marvel at my shortsightedness? I made my bed and then I tossed and turned on it? Do you watch with interest as I collapse beneath the weight of a burden that you were waiting to help me bear?

Or do you grieve for the opportunities that I ignore, for the chances that pass me by, whispering, 'Poor child. Ask me. Ask me.'
'You do not have, because you do not ask God.' 
James 4:2
I am learning so much about prayer. I think it might be a lifetime's course of study and at the moment there are parts of the course that are just too hard for me and chapters that I skim over without really taking them in.

I recognise that sometimes I start to pray and I'm so preoccupied with my agenda that I start out giving it all to you and then get distracted into trying to work out what to do about something that I turn away and walk off. Alternatively, the more I pray, the more I see the need to pray. There's an endless list; the need for you stretches as far as the eye can see. There is so much worry, so much pain, so much fear, grief, hatred, confusion; it's everywhere. There's so much that I get overwhelmed; not even in a selfless  sort of way - I get overwhelmed just by my own neediness. I'm not sure where to start. So I stop.

I know, it makes no sense. But there it is.

No wonder there's a warehouse in heaven with a shelf that's all mine.

I really, really don't want to get to heaven and find that I might have been so much more; made a real difference, but I didn't ask, and so you never gave me what I needed.

What if everyone is like me, to some degree? (perish the thought). What if we could be so much more powerful than we are, but we don't ask for the power. We don't ask for the wisdom, the courage, the discernment, the insight, the words? Would we be in a completely different place if we only asked you?  Would the world be a better place if we consulted the Maker's instructions more often?

I reckon it would. And I'm starting to realise that maybe it's not all down to the Archbishops and the church leaders and visionaries and clergy. Maybe among those boxes of unasked-for answers there might be some things that might have made a real difference to me, to my family, to my church, to my town, my country, my world...? They were tools for me, ME - but I never picked them up or learned how to use them.

Perhaps I'm over-simplifying this whole thing. It could well be that my metaphor doesn't stand up to such scrutiny... but I think I might be onto something, am I?

What do you have for me that I don't have because I don't ask?

What could you do through me that you can't do because I don't give you the chance?

What should I pray for that I'm not?

What should I bring before you that I'm hiding away, thinking that I have it under control?

In 'Jesus Lives' * Sarah Young writes that you warn us:
'Beware of dividing up your life into things that you can do and things that require my help.'
This is exactly what I'm talking about. The truth is that I compartmentalise my life and only let you into bits of it. How much better, richer, more satisfying, more successful might it be if only I laid it all in front of you? Because without you I can do nothing. Any ideas I might have to the contrary are just illusions.

Lord, help me be faithful in prayer. Persistent, like the lady in the Bible who knocked and knocked and got the guy out of bed to answer her just to stop the knocking. Help me keep asking and not lose heart, or start to take over myself. Help me to pray instead of just saying that I'll pray about something. Help me to pray from the heart instead of just with my lips.

Inspire me to pray.

Give me wisdom to pray.

Lead me to pray with your Holy Spirit.

Show me what I could change if only I would pray.

More faith, please, Lord. I want those boxes of answers to prayer to be delivered, not just languishing in dust. I don't want to miss all the opportunities you have for me.
'So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.'
Luke 11:9
Father God, let's start at the beginning.

I'm asking you to help me pray, and to develop my prayer life into something effective that you can work through.

I am seeking you, and I know that you have promised that you'll be found.

Lord, I'm knocking. I want that door to be wide, wide open.

Amen.




*Jesus Lives by Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson 2009

Images:

DCF3500.JPG by ronnieb
BOXES.JPG by hoodsie

From Morguefile.com. Used with permission.







Friday, 4 January 2013

Seek ye first...

Thankyou for your help with the New Year thing, God.

I've been reading bits and pieces that people are writing about New Year resolutions and I've been getting increasingly bewildered. Other years I've leaped with confidence into the new year and this year I feel as if I'm hanging back. Actually, that's an exaggeration. I don't generally tend to leap with confidence anywhere, let alone into the unknown. But still. You get my drift. 

What does a New Year mean to you, Father God? Years after all are our construct; you're outside time. Our blocks of 365 days, while meaningful to us, are just blinks to you. You are eternal. I don't even know what eternity means. 

Do you look at our New Year ponderings and resolutions and smile? Do you laugh at the gap between aspiration and reality? Do you poke about amid the selfishness and ambition, 'This year I will only care about people who care for me,' and 'This is the year that I will be promoted,' and hunt for grains of truth? 

When you unearth a flicker of self-awareness: 'This year I plan to spend more time with God,' or 'I need to stop being critical and seeking perfection in all that I do,' do you and the angels celebrate the honesty? 

On New Year's Eve several people asked me if I had any New Year Resolutions and I was floored each time. Had I got any resolutions? Nope, not really. I didn't know what I should focus on. 
I had many areas to choose from. 

Should I restart a fitness regime? (definitely)
Should I cut out all carbohydrates? (possibly)
Alcohol? (probably)
Always go to bed before 11pm? (maybe)
Get up earlier? (please - no)

Or perhaps I should focus on being more patient with the children. 
No more shouting. 
Tolerate mess with better grace. 
Play more games. 

Clean the house more often and more thoroughly? 
File paperwork more regularly? 
Do more weeding? 
Clean the car occasionally? 

Should I try to be more disciplined with my writing? 
Choose a project and stick to it and see what happens instead of jumping about doing so many things? Should I aim to achieve something (what?) this year instead of bimbling aimlessly on my keyboard? 

Spiritual goals. What of them? I know that my devotional habits leave much to be desired. Maybe I should commit to a midweek group. Get the idea for a women's ministry off the ground. Write more for the church magazine? Volunteer more, do more, pray more, join in more?

See what I mean?  There are simply so many areas that I need to get sorted that I can't get them in any kind of order at all. I have so many New Year's Resolutions that I don't have any at all. 

So along came 1 January and I was woefully unprepared. And for someone like me, not being prepared is unnerving. I felt as if I'd missed a deadline; Not Got It Right. 

For Christmas I got a page a day calendar. One of those desk ones with a quotation from the Bible and an inspiring picture for each day of the year (and the weekends share a page - always wondered why don't they get their own page - do you know?). Anyway, my calendar uses the King James Version, which I rarely look at, being a fan of the NIV and the NLT, with an occasional look at the CEB and The Message. I'm out of practice with the KJV and it's going to be a lovely year rummaging around in it. 

The first verse of the year, 1st January 2013, and here it was:
'But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.'
Matthew 6:33
It sort of crystallised in my head. So many things need doing that I don't know where to start. I don't know how to prioritise. Everything seems worthwhile and I don't know what's important. Then the King James let me into the secret.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God.

Not anything else. I need to seek you where you are.

New Year Resolution 2013:  Look for God.

After that?  Who knows? I think it might be a lifetime's resolution - but I have my first step into the New Year.

The funny thing was that once I got this, it all began to fall into place. I sat propped up with pillows on the evening of the first of January and I read the entry for the day in Sarah Young's 'Jesus Calling'.* You must have been smiling, God.
'Come to me with a teachable spirit, eager to be changed... Do not cling to old ways as you step into a new year. Instead, seek my face with an open mind, knowing that your journey with me involves being transformed by the renewing of your mind.'
Haha! A teachable spirit. I'm doing my best, Lord. I had so many plans for this year that I had none, and I asked you what I should do about new year resolutions. You told me.

  1. Seek you first
  2. Have an open mind; a teachable spirit
  3. Be transformed by the renewing of my mind
Lord, there's so much about my mind that I would like renewed. My ability to talk myself out of the good things and into the bad things. The way the voice in my head is so often discouraged and defeated. How I tend to dwell on yesterday ('If only...') or tomorrow ('What if...?') instead of getting on with the day I've been given. The way I constantly allow the sparks of you that should ignite and blaze away to be dampened down by the constant drizzle of me-me-me.

The renewing of my mind. Transformed. Oh yes, please. 

And then, slightly lower on the pillows, I flicked to a devotional on my phone. Today's verse? Guess what. You hammered it home:
'Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.'
Romans 12:2
  1. Seek you first
  2. Have an open mind; a teachable spirit
  3. Be transformed by the renewing of my mind
  4. Then I will know your will. 
Yes, Lord. I'm saying yes, please. Give me a teachable spirit. Transform me and renew my mind. Give me wisdom and discernment that I might recognise your will in my life, and courage to act on what I discover. 

I was made to seek you, Lord. I believe that you made me to get to know you, to enjoy you and to bring you glory. 

That is what I am for. 

Lord God, my New Year's Resolution this year is to seek you, and seek you with all my heart. You have promised that when I do this, I will find you. 
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, ' declares the Lord."
Jeremiah 29:11-14a

So - here's to this year. Father God, help me with this, because there's no way I can do it on my own. May I sit propped up on pillows this time next year and look back and say, wow, this was the year that I looked for you and found you.
'But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.'
Amen.




*Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. Thomas Nelson, 2004

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Re-post: Another Blank Page

So, the beginning of a New Year.

Full of potential, hope, possibilities. 

A little bit oppressive, like a blank page. I used to do a lot of drawing, years ago, and I stopped because I didn't enjoy it that much.  I used to like that I had drawn a picture, I just didn't like drawing it very much. I was always a bit overwhelmed by a large sheet of white paper and afraid to begin because I might mess it up and waste it. After a while, when the picture was going well, I'd become nervous to carry on lest I make a mistake and spoil it. 

A New Year feels a bit like that. At the moment I'm staring at a large sheet of pristine white paper and I'm not sure where to start.

The only thing that's different is that this year my perspective has changed just a bit. About as much as the difference in the point of view of the person next to me at the theatre - not as much as the person sitting eight rows away, or in the stalls if I'm in the circle; not as much as that. But still, I am closer to acknowledging the following:
  1. I can make a mark on the white sheet of paper and you're proud of me just for making it.
  2. I can make a mistake and all is not lost.
  3. Because of you and your forgiveness there is always another sheet of paper.
  4. If I can learn from the Artist, I might become better at drawing.
  5. If I can learn to let you guide my hand, the marks I make might become more confident.
The thing that sums it up for me I think is that am always, invariably delighted when one of my daughters brings me a drawing that they have done for me. Sometimes they are masterpieces, sometimes not masterpieces, but always done with love and enthusiasm and presented to me as precious. If I can do that for you, this year, Lord God, my Father, then I know that you will pin up my attempts at art on your heavenly noticeboard with the pride of a Daddy whose child is wanting to please them.

Because I do want to please you, God. I want to step out in faith this New Year. I want to make bold marks, make drawings with a steady hand and my eyes fixed on you. I want to create something. I want to leave the world a different place from the way it was before I existed (and in a good way). I want to grow and change. I want to carry on learning how to listen to you, to spend more time in your company and to make more space for you in my heart. 

I want to be more like you.

I know that you don't have only one plan for me; one course of action that is the Right Direction and if I miss a turn, I've blown it forever. I need reminding of this on a regular basis.

I know that there are many junctions in life where you honestly don't mind which direction I take.

I know that you've equipped me with a brain and feelings and an instruction manual and common sense (sometimes) so that I can make wise choices about my direction in life.

But by the same token I also know that I am indecisive and poor at map-reading and not so good at taking directions so I'm asking you to hold my hand and show me the route that might make the most difference. 

I think we can do it together.

So here's to the New Year. 

I trust you, Lord. 





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