Monday, 31 January 2011

Just the cover and the title page

Here I go again, Lord. 

The other day two things happened that made me worry about something I've never thought to worry about before (and that's saying something; at some time or other I reckon I've seen the potential for anxiety lurking round practically every corner).

So I heard that someone I was at school with is doing well in her career; she's flying high and likely to get a promotion sometime soon.  Also, on the radio women were talking about how they had babies late in their thirties so that they could get their career to a stage where they could ‘take a break’ and then pick up where they left off.  The idea was that by concentrating solely on their career and postponing motherhood, by the time they did have children they were materially better off, with success and status in their career.

Hmm. My girls were born when I was in my late thirties, but I don't have a fabulous career that I spent years nurturing and developing with the intention of picking up the reins again at some point.  It didn’t cross my mind.  In fact by the time I had my girls, my job was pretty specialized – probably to the degree that with five or more years away I’d find it very difficult to get back to where I was.  I’d have to start pretty much from the bottom again.

There we go. Instant anxiety.

What have I done with my life?  I didn't have children late because I was building up a wonderful career.   I just…sort of had children late.  I did other stuff. I had a few changes of direction. I didn’t start my ‘career’ till I was 28 and so by the time my beautiful babies came along I hadn’t had time to climb to the top of the tree. I did love my job, but I didn’t think twice about leaving it behind to be a Mum.

I’m sure you remember Lord that there was a point when we didn’t know if we were going to be able to have a family, and that was a bleak time. I looked at my life then and I remember being appalled at the idea that my career might be the focal point of my life. That’s not because I was unambitious, just that in the work/life balance, work seemed sort of insignificant in comparison. 

But I had never thought to question what I was doing with my life.

What am I for? 

I am so much more comfortable in my skin right now, being who I am, who you have made me, than I think I’ve ever been in my life before, and yet everything I know to be true was rocked in one morning, by a bit of gossip and a radio programme. That’s not good, is it?

All of a sudden I felt as if I should have more to show from my life. I’ve always liked that I took a circuitous route to get where I am, and that I did things and went places, while I had chance. I never worried about the fact that while I was trying things out, or travelling, or working for a church for next to nothing, or being a student, other more focused folks were laying the foundations of a supercareer that would make them rich and admired and give them status that I would never have.

So I spent much of that morning with a furrowed brow and it spoilt my lunch, actually. Hmmph. 

But then it came to me. Or you did.

It doesn’t matter. Just that.

It doesn't matter.

" '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

I was looking in the wrong direction.   Just because everyone in this world rates things like status and title and rank and achievement and money doesn’t mean that you do. Quite the opposite – you’re always telling us that these things don’t matter at all.  My worth comes from you, from being your child, from being who you want me to be.

My self esteem shouldn’t be linked to what other people think of me, but what you think of me.  There’s going to come a day when I stand in front of you and give an account of how I lived my life, and you won’t care if I was a high flyer or never had a decent job or a pay rise. It’s the other stuff that you’ll be interested in.

I have no idea why on that day, I suddenly became insecure about my life, when in the last couple of years you’ve been building me up so much that I am so much more secure in your love for me than I have ever been. You have done wonderful wonderful things for me these last two years and yet suddenly I wanted other people to tell me I’d done well, other people to recognise that I had worth. I wanted approval from a world that rates success and achievement in a completely different way. I am amazed that this thing that I know so well, accept so completely and have over the years been so comforted by was for a time so easily derailed.

At the end of ‘The Last Battle’, the final book in CS Lewis’ ‘Narnia’ series, the narrator says:
“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
I love this.  I love the idea that this life is just a beginning of what there is for us, and it’s going to get better and better. Why would anyone want to fill up on the starter when there’s a spectacular banquet ahead?

So, knowing this, why was I all worked up about not being seen to be a success in the world’s eyes?  I would rather crash and burn here on earth and then stand in front of my God and have you say,

‘I’m proud of you’.

I’d rather make you smile than than write a Booker Prize winning novel that makes me rich and famous. (Though, of course, if that’s what you have down for me, I’m sure I’d cope…)

The truth is, I have no idea what the rest of my life holds.  My two girls are small and need me a lot at the moment. They’ll leave home when they’re grown up (and at this rate that’ll happen in the blink of an eye, I reckon) and then what for me?  What do you have in store?

Do I go back to the profession I was in?  Something else?  Will I even be here? Whoa. There’s a thought. What do you have in mind?  I really don’t know. And for someone who likes things clear and mapped out it’s a bit scary at times, this not knowing.  I guess that you’ll let me in on the secret when you’re ready, Lord.

What I do know is that whether it’s easy or hard, familiar or new, I will only be happy if I’m walking alongside you, and I will only make you happy if I trust that you will walk with me.

I want to be who you want me to be. 

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Heavy is the opposite of light

Oh Lord.

Sometimes I wish we were nearly there. I wish the end was in sight and the answers to all the problems and the worry and anxiety and uncertainty and unease and difficulty and fear were all just a formality away. I wish it didn't matter any more or I couldn't remember, or all the anxiety had evaporated, or whatever the state will be when it's finally all over.

Nothing bad gets into Heaven, does it? Nothing that is not of You. So all those things - that feeling that I sometimes get when I wake up that there's something wrong but for a second or two I don't know what it is - those things won't be with us in Heaven. 

I know that You don't want us to be weighed down with them here, either, do you Lord? I know that every time I lay in front of you this enormous pile of worries, you smile and assure me that it's OK, it's all taken care of, if only I would trust you.  It's what you do, isn't it?  You cast out darkness and bring Light. You take away heavy burdens and make them light.

And I smile and thank you and say the right things and then just before I leave I pick them up again and take them off with me.  Sometimes I even leave them with you for a while before I sneak in under cover of darkness and grab them back. 

I just can't do it. 

I just don't know how to be the free person you want me to be. I know that I would be so much more use to you if I could stop all the fretting, I know that I would be a happier, more lighthearted soul; I know that I'm not doing as you tell me to do. I know what a witness I would be if I were the sort of person who didn't worry about things and I could say that there's nothing to worry about because I have a God who takes care of me. 

I know how arrogant it sounds to be unable to leave my worries with you as it implies that I don't trust you to take care of them. And if I can't trust you, who can I trust? I know how selfish and spoiled it sounds to have so much and yet still be complaining. There are people out there with Real Problems after all.

But all these things that I know don't seem to make the jump from my head to my heart and so although I know them, they don't change the way I feel.

I worry. 

Some days I feel relatively OK, and I can hold it all at a distance and concentrate on something else, and be happy, content, lighthearted; but without fail the things I'm anxious about catch up and climb back on board and half the time they bring friends too. Some days I feel so heavy. I've lost weight recently but on days like today I feel that I've just replaced it with 'stuff' that I carry round. 

Help me, will You? I'd love to get this sorted while there's still some life left to enjoy. I'd love to get a glimpse of the life you have planned for me without all the rubbish that I lug around in my head. Why can't I get it cracked? I know people who seem to have it sorted; what are they doing that I'm not?


Why do I feel vaguely uneasy at the possibility of an answer to that question? Do I really want to know? Do they spend so much more time with You than I do? How much time do we really spend together? Is that it?

Would more of You brush off on me if I spent more time in your presence? 

That sounds like a no brainer, doesn't it? That was a rhetorical question, by the way. No need for wise nodding with a wry expression, Lord. 
There's been a long pause here. I've been sitting here uncomfortably contemplating that I spend so little time listening to You that you could be waiting to tell me all the answers to my problems and I haven't been around to hear. Is this what it's all about, Lord? 

I do trust you, I do. I suppose I'm just going to have to keep trying.

I'm needing some help, here, please.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Too busy to...

H:     How can I fit in a quiet time with you, God, with so much going on?
I'm a mum to two small girls, I've got lots of other things going on in my life, I'm trying to fit in get fit time so that I can take better care of this body you gave me and last thing at night it's all I can do to stay awake until the children are in bed. When can I fit it in?

G:     How about first thing in a morning?

H:     You've got to be joking. I hate the mornings. (No offence, I mean I hate getting up early, rather than mornings per nothing against the sunrise, or anything) No, can't do mornings. I'm so tired that I leave getting up to the very last minute and then it's a dash to get the children up, dressed, teeth brushed, hair brushed, breakfast eaten (ish), snacks packed and so on to get them ready for school. No time in the mornings. I am a blur.

G:     So you don't do anything else in the morning apart from get the children ready for school?

H:     Well, I manage a quick look at the headlines, and a quick check of the email - and a look on Facebook on my iPhone, but that's just to check in with what's happening...makes me feel connected...

G:     So what about after the school run?

H:     Well there's the washing machine to empty, and the kitchen to tidy up, more email to check, and then I'm usually off out.

G:     Where? Down to Church for the morning prayer?

H:     Ah. No, I go swimming, or to the gym, because if I want to get an hour's swim in I need to be there quite early as I need to shower and dry my hair and get back in time to get Katy from nursery, and I can't be late for that as she'll feel abandoned if she's the last one there....

G:     You go to the gym and swim every day?

H:     Well, no, but on the days I don't, I'm either off to the supermarket or now and then I see a friend for coffee. It's good to have friends isn't it? Support one another and so on... and it's such a treat to have a grown up conversation after all the years of having a small person in tow all the time, really cheers me up.  And then the house needs cleaning, and I do occasionally make time for that, especially if I'm having a meeting here...or home group.  That sort of makes me hoover now and again. And I do baking, too, sometimes; my banana cake goes down very well, if I do say so myself...

H:     So what about after lunch?

G:     Well, most days I have Katy with me, and so we're either going somewhere or doing something, and then it's school time and Elizabeth comes home, and then the house isn't remotely quiet until their bedtime, and there's tea to get, and clear up after, and the washing to sort and put away, and bedrooms to tidy...makes me tired just thinking about it.

G:     What about weekends?

H:     Well, on a Saturday it's the children's swimming lessons, and then we sort of all spend time together before I'm out with Mum in the afternoon, and a Sunday, well, that's the day when I sometimes get to have a little lie in before Church and of course it's all a rush when I do get up because I've left it till the last minute again...and then the rest of the day is family time, I suppose you'd say.  Sunday lunch and then something with the children. Family time is important, isn't it?

G:     OK, what about evenings?

H:     Well the girls' bedtime really takes it out of me; after they've had baths and stories and teeth cleaned and so on...

G:     No, I meant after that.

H:     Well, then it's our teatime - I cook something, or warm something up, or on a Saturday more often than not we order something, and put the telly on, or eat in the kitchen, and...there doesn't seem to be much evening left after I've relaxed a bit and caught up on the programmes we've recorded in the week. Good Norwegian drama on BBC4 at the moment - or was it Danish...?

G:     So your evenings are all about food and telly?

H:     Of course not! Sometimes we open a bottle of wine.  Ahem.  That was a joke.  Sorry. No, not always. I hardly watch telly in the week as Bryan is working, and I do things.

G:     What sort of things?

H:     Well, DCC, Home Group, planning meetings, and soon there'll be another course at Church. They're all great things, Lord. All things that need doing...oh and last week I had a wonderful time at the new singing group on a Thursday! Then there's the School Governor's thing that has it's first meeting next week.  That's a bit scary, actually, been meaning to talk to you about that...

G:     I'm sure we'll get round to that another time. We're trying to sort out when you'll have your quiet time. So every evening is busy with a meeting?

H:     No, not every evening. There are some evenings when I don't do anything at all.

G:     Oh good! So what about those?

H:     Well, that's when I catch up on emails, or paying bills, or surfing the internet, or writing stuff, or putting things in my scrapbook, or putting my photos on the computer, or reading, or filing paperwork.

G:     Filing paperwork?

H:     Yes, well, OK. That sort of goes in a pile in the kitchen. But I do keep meaning to file the paperwork. I do have a 'To Do' list, you know. I'm a busy woman.

G:     Am I on your To Do list?

H:     Oh no!  I mean, yes. I mean, no. You're sort of on my mental To Do list.  All the time.  Oh dear, that sounded a bit lame, didn't it?

G:     Yes.

H:     Sorry.

G:     So last thing before you go to bed...I suppose there's no point in asking?

H:     I've usually nodded off on the sofa or I'm very bleary at bedtime.  That's when I do try to fit in a bit of a chat with you, God, but I sort of get comfy, close my eyes.... and... that's about it till morning.

G:     Yes, I've noticed that you rarely get to 'Amen'.

H:     Mmm. Sorry about that. Anyway, that's when I do as much sleeping as I can, and then it's morning and it all starts again.

G:     Oh.

H:     So when do you think I could fit in my quiet time, God?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

He was lost but now is found...

Lord, you knew that Scruffy Barney was hiding underneath the little step that the children use to reach the washbowl in the downstairs cloakroom, didn't you?  You knew all along because you are All Knowing. I'm just wondering, after an hour and a half of turning the house upside down, whether there might have been a tiny chance that you might just have let me know before Katy was beside herself with grief, devastated at the prospect of a night without her favourite cuddly.

Can't say I was that excited at the idea that Kate would wake up repeatedly in the night wanting him either, and it would be my job to remind her that the search would resume with dogs at first light, but nothing could be done in the hours of darkness... I could do with some sleep tonight after a couple of nights of other miscellaneous nocturnal palaver.  

Scruffy Barney. King of the soft toys
So could you not have tipped me the wink an hour earlier?


How often do we lift that stupid step up?  Why would anyone think that there was anything nestling underneath?  We just sort of skate it around with a foot. Barney would have skated imperceptibly with it. Why would anyone put anything under there, except a three year old?

Grant me, O Lord, just a minute inside her beautiful, complex, infuriating, endlessly fascinating little head.  Less than that. I'm sure that just a glimpse would help me understand a bit more what it's like to be three.  Why on earth you'd put your favourite thing in all the world underneath a plastic Ikea step in the downstairs loo and then forget about him.

So, was it character-building, then?  An exercise in self control? Persistence?

Seek and ye shall find? 

Katy was so happy to see the scruffy little object back that she hugged him tight and wouldn't stop kissing him, tears still wet on her cheeks from the previous hour and a half which had been peppered with Mummy and Daddy's dire pronouncements, such as, 'We can't think of anywhere else to look, Katy', and 'You'll have to manage tonight with Posh Barney, Scruffy has a really good hiding place this time'. 


(A note for the uninitiated: Barney is Katy's favourite toy and constant companion. He came from a nearly new sale and had already been, shall we say, loved. He was once lost (you won't be surprised to hear) for about five months, during which time he was replaced, by another, identical Barney shipped in from the States specially. Then he was found (this occasion behind Grandma's chest of drawers) and he looked so bedraggled next to Pristine Barney that they were christened 'Posh Barney' and 'Scruffy Barney'.  Since then Scruffy has got scruffier, and Posh is pretty much as he was then, because he just gets to lounge around on Katy's bed all day.)

Other places Scruffy Barney has been lost:

Chatsworth Garden Centre (overnight)
Morrisons supermarket (so many times they know me on Customer Services)
Sainsbury's supermarket (finally located in frozen foods)
On top of a very high display of rolled carpets in a flooring shop. (Required a ladder and game shop assistant to retrieve him)
In the library (retrieved eventually from the outsize section)
Marks and Spencer cafe (for about half an hour, by which time we'd walked back to the car park)
In the garden (found in the playhouse, in a bucket of sand, in the greenhouse underneath a tomato plant, in a welly, in a forsythia bush, in the gutter on the back of the house...need I go on?)

I love the idea that each time he was lost, you knew where he was. I do know that for many of the crises listed above, brief but heartfelt arrow prayers have been offered your way, and the fact that Scruffy is around to be lost again is testament to those answered prayers.

Do you love him too?

So, I'm reaching for a spiritual parallel here. I'm wondering if there's some Life Application that leaves me able to go to bed having learned something profound from the lost hour and a half of my life that I spent scouring the place for Scruffy.  I'm going to have a moment's silence right now so that you could gently suggest one, if you feel so moved, Lord...


Nope. Aside from the obvious, which is that I love my daughters so much that I would turn over the house to get back their best thing for them so that they could sleep - self interest aside. Poor little Katy thought she'd lost her Scruffy. That must have been awful from her perspective. My little love. Maybe that's it.  And she went so quiet so quickly I think she must have worn herself out. 

I know I did.

Have a good sleep, my little Kate.

Scruffy Barney is back.  Hallelujah.


So, it's the following day, and I have the following insights:

1.  Allegory:  Barney is The Pearl of Great Price, and the fact that an exhausted Mummy and Daddy turned the house upside down to find him demonstrates how precious he is (to Kate). Hmm.

2.  Parallel: Barney is the Lost Sheep -  we love Katy so much that we didn't rest until we had found Barney so that she wouldn't be bereft at bedtime.  I love Katy (and Lizzie) so much that at times it feels as if my heart will explode, so to reflect that you love me so much more than that is something so enormous that I can't get my head round it.

3.  Conviction:  Gentle reminder that I need to work more on my stores of patience, calm, perseverance, self control, etc etc.

4.  There is no particular Message From Above:  Barney got lost, Barney got found. Barney is a stuffed toy beloved by a small girl. I am a parent.  These things happen. Quite often, actually.

Whichever it is, or isn't, thankyou Lord that Katy and Scruffy have been reunited. For now.

Here's to next time.  

Sunday, 23 January 2011

You complete me

You complete me, You make me whole
You fulfil me, You make me feel like new
When I’m with You, I know that I can carry on
There’s nothing I can’t do when You are here.

I can see You, Your glory shines
I can feel You, You fill me with Your peace
When I seek You, my heart is filled up with Your love
I know that I am special in Your sight.

You’re my Father, my Saviour and my Friend
You’re the Maker, the source of everything
You’re forever, Your light will never ever die
And yet You’ve chosen me to be Your child.

I will praise You, I’ll lift Your name up high
I will worship, for You have set me free
And I love You, I’ll live for You and You alone
For You’re the truest friend there’ll ever be.

You are faithful, You’ll never let me down
Never changing, You hold me in Your hand
Always holy, You’re truth and life and grace and peace
My God and I will love You till I die.

Friday, 21 January 2011

The glory of the Lord

Hey, God.

Days like today your glory is easy to see. I was out in the countryside today and it was glorious.  It was a bright, sunny, oh-so-cold but glorious day (there it is again). Crisp and fresh, the frost and ice were doing wonderful things on each blade of grass (and again) and I spent Grown Up time with two very special friends of mine. 

So all these good things happened to me today. And apple cake happened as well, a slice as big as my head, actually, and a nice latte, good company, beautiful surroundings....

Thankyou that you're not a distant, inscrutable God who never gives us any clues as to who you are - it's written all around us.

A few weeks ago there was more snow than you could shake a stick at but no two flakes were the same. No two. Thanks that even when it's cold enough to have frost on the inside of the windows, the crystals are unique and beautiful and with the sun behind them, they take your breath away.

Why?  I'm sure that nobody would have objected if you'd made all snowflakes the same; it probably wouldn't have crossed anyone's mind to think, 'Crikey, these snowflakes are all the same. That's a bit dull'. 

But you made each one different yet still beautiful just because you could. Just for fun.  You put the stars up there, the planets and the supernovas and the comets and you made them beautiful, just because it pleased you to do it that way. Creator indeed.

The source of Creativity.

What a heart you must have to give so freely all those gifts of loveliness just in a day's work. Does it please you when we notice? When we don't just walk on by? When we pause to examine the ice on the windscreen before we scrape it off and put the demister on? Or do you watch, mildly disappointed, when we don't turn to look at the rainbow, or we're too busy being grumpy with other drivers to notice the way the sun comes through the trees?

Anyway, there's more. On Wednesday this week I sacrificed a trip to the gym (ha!) to help out at Katy's nursery because they were having a visit from Bob the Owl Man. He brought in four of his owls to meet the children (nerves of steel these owls) and to teach the little ones a bit about owls. Rocky the Barn Owl flew silently from one end of the gym to the other, so silently that all the children were fooled when Bob asked them if they could tell where he was with eyes closed. I knew they were quiet, but it amazed me.

Later Katy and I had a turn to go close to one of the owls (a White Faced Scops Owl, name of Gizmo) and Bob gave Katy a special glove and waved some food so that Gizmo landed on her arm. At less than arms length (her arms aren't very long) he was just spectacular.  Enormous bright orange eyes, sharp, sharp claws, such fabulous feathers.

I was so glad that Kate didn't want to go to the front on her own (though I did try to encourage her to, honestly!) because it meant that I had an opportunity to see Gizmo from close quarters as well. I love birds, generally, but this creature was a masterpiece. Got to hand it to you.  And Gizmo's relatives in the wild come out at night, when they rarely get seen! It's not as if you show off your works of art for us to admire. You did it just because.

I suppose I could leave it there, just letting you know that I'm full of praise and admiration for a job more than well done.  That would be enough.

But those things - the scenery, the frost, the stars, even the owl - it doesn't end there.  Anyone can see that they're beautiful and I bet many many people who don't know you might suspect that you're there when they stop to look and think and marvel.

It occurred to me that you show yourself to me in much more subtle ways as well.  Take my friends, for instance.  Today I sat in a cafe and chatted and drank coffee and my friends showed me you. How blessed am I in life with one or two special people who love me, who are consistent and caring and reliable and honest. Friends who listen and to whom I can listen, with whom I seem to fit together. They're not related to me, and the commitment they make and honour isn't a formal one in any sense, but they're there, and I can count on them. They support me, advise me, laugh and cry with me and bring the best out of me.

That's a little piece of your glory too.

Last night I went singing at church - a group of about twelve of us, largely made up of the Worship Group, semi professional musicians and serious singers with decades of music experience and buckets of talent, and then me. I had a great time, thanks to the patience and humour of those I was standing near.

I just loved it; in that group was a lovely feeling that we were there just to lift to you our voices and some well chosen words; to please you. We had fun worshipping you. For your glory. And you were there. I think you must have been smiling. Even if it was only at the way I couldn't follow the right melody line and kept swapping inadvertently between alto and tenor.

It happens so often, if only we see it. The way Katy or Lizzie puts their hand in mine, or spontaneously reaches for a hug, somebody doing something incredibly brave that you hear about on the news, that ache I get in my jaw when I first take a sip of a full bodied cabernet sauvignon on a Friday night after a long week.

Little moments that you send for me for no other reason than to make me happy - moments that show me a glimpse of the glory of your spirit.  Earth is far from perfect but there still can be found the reflection of your glory when my eyes are really open. And not just when we're singing together on Sunday and it feels as if the angels have lifted off the church roof so that I can hear their voices too. Though that's pretty good.

Help me to see it, to have my eyes open, instead of going through my days asleep or focused on things too close up that I can't see far enough into the distance.

Thankyou for today, the way you came to my mind in so many ways.

Lord, you are beautiful indeed.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.


Thursday, 20 January 2011

Carpet diem

Here's this thing that I thought up when I was little, and 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.

Last night at home group we discussed how we saw life; 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 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.

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 you unroll ahead of you as you walk along. 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 you. You 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. 

I suppose you think I'm off my rocker.  Still, I shall press on...

So this carpet has a pattern and everyone's pattern is different - your own is very familiar, even when the pattern changes as it does at different times in life.  Sometimes it's brightly coloured, cheerful, intricate pattern, and at other times dull, muted or dark colours or plain with blocks of different shades.  Sometimes it even had strands of gold and silver in it, like shining threads. Sometimes the pattern has a symmetry, sometimes it's muddled up and abstract. Sometimes you like it, sometimes you 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. As you go through life the carpet changes from day to day, hour to hour, and yet you keep going, kicking it along in front of you. You can do this without breaking stride.  (There's that licence again).

There are times when you're running, dancing along, and the carpet is unrolling effortlessly, times when you're plodding, trudging with head down, and those times keeping it moving in front of you seems almost impossible, but you carry on. You can never see where you're going; it's as if you're unrolling your 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 you can barely make out the shape of your feet on the your carpet. 

The destination is unknown but you keep walking towards it. It will be worth it when you get there.

The interesting thing is that you're not alone during this walk - you 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 - you can't see much of their carpet so you don't know what colours or patterns they have; you just get a glimpse.  These are the people who you might encounter for a brief moment.  Have you ever sat on a train and seen someone walking their dog in a field alongside the track? Or driven past someone in a window of a house? They're the people who come in to view for a second.  You see a stranger and wonder about their life - who are they? What are they worried about? Are they happy?  Their carpet comes near yours just for a moment and then they're gone and you never know. Other people come alongside for a while - they walk alongside you for a time, or they meet you and overlap, and then they're gone in a different direction.   (The analogy sort of comes unstuck in places as in this flight of fancy you can turn corners more easily than you'd be able to if you actually were unrolling a carpet).  Sometimes you see the same person back again. 

Then in this journey you're on, one or two people kick their carpets along with you. They're alongside, and they stay there.  Their carpet is so close that the edges of theirs and yours 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 yours 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 you behind and you struggle to catch up, and sometimes they're dawdling when you want to skip. But they're parallel with you.

Occasionally it seems as if someone's carpet is nicer than yours.  They seem to have an easier time getting theirs to unroll. The pattern is brighter or more to your taste. It seems thicker, nicer to walk on. Likewise, sometimes other people's carpets appear inferior to yours; you're glad you're on your carpet and not theirs. You can't swap - you can't even step off yours onto theirs - so you can never really tell what it's like on their carpet, and they can't know what it feels like to be on yours. 

Now and again you notice that someone you were used to travelling with isn't there any more. You're so used to seeing them there but one day you realise that they're gone. Their carpet has run out. You know it has gone but you still can't tell what's at the end. You look back and the carpet just ends in space. I don't know what happens to the person kicking it along as you never seem to witness the exact moment it ends, you 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...

But 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 it gets thinner and thinner until it's no longer there.  But it's what happens when you 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 there'll be a pattern that is so beautiful that it defies description; or maybe I'll no longer walk but jump and fly!  

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. A beautiful, unique carpet that only I can walk on. I've got to keep it going. 

Till one day it will stop. In a heartbeat. Done. 

And then I'll know what's beyond the carpet.  It's going to be amazing. 

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Control Freakery and so on

Lord, I don't like not being in control.

I don't like that you want me to get used to it either. I don't like that my Plans might not be Your Plans, and the constant battle that we have sometimes gets me down.  You're in control, I'm in control, you're in control, I'm in control.... it always comes back to you. I have a nagging suspicion that in the 'I'm in control' periods I might have been kidding myself.  You've got it covered, haven't you? I just can't seem to let it go.

It's like this: I'm not built to take things as they come - I don't do spontaneity very well. You made me like this - it's hardly news to you, is it?!  I like to plan. I like to know what's happening, and there are those members of my family who would add that I like to call the shots, too.  The words 'Control Freak' have been used more than once in my hearing but I think that's a little unfair, don't you?

So when I can't plan, because I don't know what's happening, and I can't predict or control events, then it irritates like a bit of grit under my contact lens and then I get frustrated and cross and stressed. So why do you do this?  I'm not a 'fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants' sort of girl, and you made me that way.

Aha.  I can feel the sermon coming on.  Grr.  I know that your way is best. I do. I DO.

Didn't mean to shout. I just wish that your ideas and mine might co-incide a bit more often. It would make things easier. Less scary.
"'But my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways', declares the Lord."
Isaiah 55:8

I'm guessing you know what you're doing, don't you.

I hate situations that I can't do anything about.  I hate that impotent, helpless feeling, like a rabbit in the headlights.  I hate it when I don't know what's happening with Bryan's job. I hate it when another child at Lizzie's school is being horrible to her and yet common sense tells me it wouldn't be sensible to charge in and try to sort it out. I hate it when friends of mine are going through a hard time and it doesn't seem fair but I can't change things.  I hate it when I'm forced to throw out a plan. I hate it when I don't have a plan at all. But you do.
'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

So you have a plan. You won't let me down. I believe that. It's just that in my perverse, childish way of thinking, it seems sometimes that my insurance policy for the ridiculous possibility that you might let me down is to think it all through myself, obsess over it, worry about it, and lay down plans and hopes of my own.  How can I believe in your love, your care, your Plan, and at the same time think I can do it better myself? I'd better sort out my life (and everyone else's) just in case you slip up and get it wrong?

But I do believe in you, that you are my Lord and my Saviour and no-one wants Good for me more than you. How can I do it all myself?  From my tiny viewpoint of being me, on the somethingth of January 2011, from this address, this computer, with the view of the kitchen and the back garden, the view of my little life and my little experiences - when you have the overview of all of history, all that's happened and will happen, the back-story and the subplot.....

I need more faith. Always more faith.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Getting a grip

It's not working, today, God.

It's sunny and bright and the washing is blowing on the line and that's usually likely to cheer me up but it's not happening today. I'm feeling as if I have my head above the water but it's lapping at my chin and I'm scrabbling madly to stay afloat. I know I should now draw a clever analogy to something uplifting and Biblical but I don't feel like it.


That was very dramatic.

I'm not kidding myself that anything desperately awful has happened; I know that all over the world are people having a much worse day than me. I saw a funeral procession going somewhere this morning and thought to myself that there, in that car (not that one, the one behind it) are some people who are having an awful day.  I'm just feeling sorry for myself.

Complicated, that's what it is. It's been a complicated week. Lots of awkward phone calls that require thinking on my feet (not my strong point), making decisions (likewise), unexpected things happening, things breaking that shouldn't break, things leaking that shouldn't leak, workmen, appointments, situations with people that intimidate me, tired children with more tantrums than usual, a headache that won't go away; mithering stuff that makes my brain work overtime so I can't sleep. My house hasn't been washed away in a flood, we're all reasonably healthy, (wow, even in these days when I'm supposed to have shaken off superstitions that's hard to say), the fridge has some food in it and we can pay the gas bill.  So that makes me fortunate. Lucky, blessed, whatever.

But I'm feeling out of sorts and unhappy nonetheless.

I need to get a grip, don't I? I want to thank you that you do care about the small stuff - you care about the phone calls and the middle-of-the-night list making, don't you?  Thankyou that I'm not alone, that you don't subscribe to the 'Pull Yourself Together' school of mental health, but that you care enough to listen.

Even when I'm whining like a small child when Mummy has bought the wrong biscuits. Been there this week too.

I'm sorry.  I have so much to be grateful for. The stuff I've listed above (there I go, lists again), and so much more.  You died for me. You love me.  My life is built on that, so it can never collapse completely. It can't.

I'm sorry I take so much for granted and I'm sorry that I focus on the negative.  Wasn't it just a few days ago when I was buoyed up and promising that it didn't matter if if rained at 4pm when it was sunny at twelve?  So soon I forget. New Year Resolutions indeed.

Must try harder.

I haven't got anything startling or profound to say. It's another day in my life where I realise that at 40, with two kids of my own, I still need to grow up. Life is hard; no-one said it wouldn't be - especially not you, Lord. Your life down here wasn't a piece of cake, was it?  But there are people's lives much harder than mine, who no doubt would swap their problems for mine. Sorry for being so self absorbed.

Going to make a coffee now. Catch you later.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Sunshine and no down side

Morning, Lord.

It's a beautiful day. Well, I'm sort of taking a snapshot of it right now, looking out of the window, and it's a beautiful day, right now, at this moment, weather forecasts for this afternoon notwithstanding.  The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the trees are blowing in the breeze so I might even put out some washing.  I know that I should learn to be content in any situation, but it's so much easier to feel lighthearted when the sun shines, Lord. It's days like this where I find myself scrutinising the garden for signs of the spring bulbs coming up - months too early!  The bare branches of the trees are blowing in the wind and on a day like today it's not hard to imagine that Spring might one day be here.

This year I've decided to Think Positive. I've heard loads of times that we get more of what we dwell on - and I'm such a worrier, I tend to go over and over things that make me anxious and let them grow in my head until any lurking optimism feels out of place and hides, never to be found again. That's no good, is it? This year I'm going to try to seize moments like this, right now, when the children are playing nicely together instead of shouting or hitting each other. When the sun shines, when I've got a nice cup of coffee and there's a bit of peace.  I want to take note of them instead of letting them disappear unmarked.  It doesn't matter if in a moment or two it all changes and the storms start (indoors or out) because right now I've noticed, and I've said thankyou.  I'll need a bit of help with this, Lord, as I don't think it comes naturally to me.

Someone once told me of a man who saw the bad in everything:
'It's the weekend tomorrow - hooray!'
'Two more days and it's Monday again.'
'Look at that beautiful ivy!'
'Makes a real mess of your brickwork.'
I want to be the sort of person who notices the beauty of the ivy, and relishes the weekend, without looking for the downside.  I should practice, I think, don't you?

It's a beautiful morning, and who cares if it rains later?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Abba, Father, my Daddy

Hello, God. Remember this?

Here's something that happened to me a couple of years ago.  Well, maybe three and a bit years ago; I can date it pretty well as I was deep in the throes of exhaustion and despair that happen when you're a newish Mum; Elizabeth was around two years old and Katy was a matter of months  - and I remember very clearly the desperate tiredness and misery that accompanies this sort of time.  Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of loveliness about it but, perhaps the Eeyore streak in me remembers the pain of it more clearly...

Anyway, Bryan was in London at work, it was about half eleven or midnight or somewhere way past my bedtime and I was staring in the face the diminishing hours before the next night time feed, but I couldn't get to sleep.  I was feeling very sorry for myself.  The girls were both asleep (and in those first few months after Kate came along that in itself was a bit of a miracle) and I needed to sleep as quickly as I could as I was far too well acquainted with 3am and knew that we would be meeting up again in a few short hours. I couldn't get to sleep and I was crying. It's so clear to me as a memory, and that's strange in itself as much of that time is a blur. I was lying on my right side, my preferred 'go-to-sleep' side, and sniffing into the pillow.

I was having a hard time praying, round about then; quiet times were simply opportunities to nod off, and I was so tired that stringing a coherent sentence together was an impossibility anyway, so my communication with you was kind of monosyllabic.  That night it consisted of, 'Help me, God' and lots of sobbing.

Then I had the clearest picture I've ever had; I wish that I was a brilliant artist because I can see your face in my mind still.  My heavenly Father, you reached out and put your arms round me. Your expression was one I understand now I'm a mother - it was a combination of sympathy and kindness and amusement too.  You were looking at me as I do at one of the children when they're distraught over something minor and self inflicted - a sort of 'my poor little love, come for a cuddle' sort of look.

I felt so sleepy it was strange.  I tried to stay awake to hang on to the feeling but I went straight to sleep and that was that.  Wouldn't it be nice to say, 'And that was the first night that both children slept through!' but the truth is I don't remember. No idea when I next got up to feed, or how long I slept that night. I will never forget your face, though.

The thing is, Lord, since I've become a mummy I'm much more aware of you as my Daddy. I know there are so many sides to you that I need to understand more; the intimacy of the Father relationship is only one facet of many, but it's wonderful to me as I struggle with being a parent, and after all my own Dad has been dead more than five years and perhaps he wasn't the cuddling kind of Dad.

It's the wonder of loving someone so so much - how my girls make me so happy and proud when they achieve something, and how disappointed I am when I see them being mean and selfish. How proud I am when they share, when they do something new, and how sad and fiercely protective I am when they get hurt.  Why should it be any different with You?  I'm sure that You smile when I finally learn something you've been trying to teach me for ages, when the penny finally drops. I hurt you so often.  And yet you came to me that night those years ago and comforted me just because you love me.  I needed you, and you came.

That's a wonderful thing.


Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Just a glimpse

Hello, God.

Today's not been a great day; not that anything has really gone wrong, but I've been feeling a bit low and lethargic anyway.  First day back on the hamster wheel after Christmas; I hate this time of year. I love Christmas, I love having everyone here; I love the excitement, the brightness, the fairy lights (not especially taking them down) and all the happiness and fun. Then comes New Year which is inevitably a big anti-climax and then what?  January stretches on, cold and dark, treacherous and dank.

Sorry.  I know you had a reason for January. I know the plants are resting, I know that the hedgehogs are hibernating...but I'm struggling to think of many other Good Things to do with January. I'm open to suggestions though, if you feel so moved?

But anyway.  I digress.  Today Bryan went back to London, Lizzie back to school, and me back to the normal routine which involves getting up too early, waking up the children (that's unnatural, if you ask me. I devote plenty of time to getting them to sleep, and so it pains me to reverse the process) and getting on with the day.

Like I say, not a bad day.  Played games with Katy, did a jigsaw of the British Isles (actually Kate had long since left the room but I hadn't noticed, so engrossed was I in locating the missing piece - Hull) and then wrapped myself up in fleeces and scarves to go and pick up Elizabeth from school.

I plugged in my ipod and selected my 'gospel and worship' playlist and the song that came on was, 'Praise the Mighty Name of Jesus'. (2001 Robert Critchley. Kingsway/Thankyou Music)

My troubled soul,
Why so weighed down?

I walked down the road and hadn't got far before you had my complete attention. As I listened and walked I got a glimpse of how Great you are. How enormous and all-encompassing, and vast and mighty and wonderful.  It was as if a door opened a crack and I saw what lay behind it and then it closed again, but it left me with a sense of wonder.

(I will) Praise the mighty name of Jesus

Me, just me, walking down the road, looking at the sky (grey, January sky) with my scarf up round my ears and my music playing in my ears. I felt how small I was, and yet how special, as the Lord of the Universe cares about me.

And trust again, in the promise of His love.

Why do I forget about the promise of Your love?  Even as I write this (with the children pestering about their tea, and a pile of paperwork to sort out, and things that need doing that I'm putting off...) I can feel that sense of connectedness fading and the heaviness setting in again.

And all your worrying won’t help you make it through

I worry so much about the children, about Bryan in London, about his work, our finances, how I look, what people think... I am a worrier, I'm good at it and I give myself lots of practice. I've decided that I'm going to work on this.

But today, the Lord, the lifter of my head, You smiled at me this afternoon.  Thankyou.

I Will Praise the Mighty Name of Jesus

My troubled soul,
Why so weighed down?
You were not made to bear this heavy load
Cast all your burdens, upon the Lord
Jesus cares, He cares for you.

Jesus cares, He cares for you
And all your worrying won’t help you make it through
Cast all your burdens, upon the Lord
And trust again, in the promise of His love.

(I will) Praise that mighty name of Jesus
Praise the Lord, the Lifter of my head
Praise the Rock of my Salvation
All my days are in His faithful hands.

My anxious heart
Why so upset?
When trials come, how you so easily forget
To cast your burdens, upon the Lord
Jesus cares, He cares for you.

Jesus cares. He cares for you
And all your worrying won’t help you make it through
Cast all your burdens, upon the Lord
And trust again, in the promise of His love.

(I will) Praise that mighty name of Jesus
Praise the Lord, the Lifter of my head
Praise the Rock of my Salvation
All my days are in His faithful hands.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Christmas trees and crossness

Well, as you know Lord that's not some clever play on words, I mean crossness as in crabbiness, narkiness, bad temperedness.  That was me this afternoon when I started to dismantle the Christmas decorations with 'help' from the children. I'm not particularly proud of my performance.  At one point I was thinking to myself, 'The fruit of the spirit is love, PATIENCE, thingy, whatsit, SELF CONTROL and lots of other things...' and then straight away I'd be snapping at the girls for dropping precious decorations or pulling at the fairy lights. (Sorry for not remembering all the fruits of the spirit.  Will look it up, promise).

It was chaos.  Tinsel everywhere, strings of beads all tangled up, the floor covered in tissue paper. Why do I get so bad tempered whenever there's a mess?  Why am I so ill equipped to cope with chaos in my house?  You'd think that with two small children I'd be used to it, but all that happens is I run round with armfuls of stuff, trying to put things away and letting one job lead to another before the first one is finished in a vain effort to stem the tide of untidiness while glowering at everyone who gets in my way and letting cups of tea go cold as I can't seem to stop for five minutes.

Here's the thing, Lord. I've got a book on my bedside table waiting to be read and it's about Mary and Martha. I'm pretty sure that I am a Martha. At least, the busyness bit. Though quite often I'm busy doing nothing - busy surfing the internet, busy looking through seed catalogues, busy sleeping. But I'm Martha-ing my life as a Mum as well, and I can see myself doing it but seem powerless to stop. I know I need to let the mess accumulate long enough to let the kids have fun, and I know I need to stop so that I can have fun with them.  They won't always want to play with playdough (ugh. Hate the smell of it, the feel of it...) and they won't always want me to play with them will they?

So here's the thing. Please, Lord, show me how to stop dashing and tidying and being obsessive about things and how to enjoy my little girls while they're young. Help me to take more time to notice and not get so wound up. Help me to let them help and not bother if things aren't done as neatly or efficiently as I would do them.

There's a New Year Resolution for you. I've spent 40 years being perfectionist and wanting to have everything under control so I know I have no chance of doing it on my own.  But with your help next time I take down the Christmas decorations maybe I won't be so cross.  I'll let you know.


Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year, God.

Dear God,

I feel as if I've just done something brave.

I opened another tab on my little white computer and logged in to my blog, then started a new one, just for you.  I just want to talk to you more, and since I spend more time at this computer than perhaps anywhere else, I thought that maybe you wouldn't mind me embracing the digital age and you'd join me at the keyboard.

Well, here I am, Lord.  First of January 2011.  Full of plans and hopes and excited by the possibilities of the year which stretches ahead of me. Will this be the year I get thin? Will this be the year that I spend more time with you?  Will this be the year that I learn think before I make a facetious comment on someone's Facebook page and then spend days explaining what I meant?

This last year has been an amazing one, for me, spiritually, Lord, and that's because you've done something, not me.  When I compare where I was this time last year with where I am  now, I feel that this has been a good year where I've inched a bit closer to you.

How hard it is to say that! I can imagine you shaking your head and smiling wryly and saying,
'Really?! but you're still light years away from knowing who I am.'
Maybe that's true.  But 2010 was the year that I started talking about you more with my family, the year where I understood just a little bit more about prayer, and how wonderful it can be to be part of a very special church family. I can't remember feeling part of something before.

So this is what these ramblings are about. I write so much about nothing -  ideas, stories, letters, emails, little one liners on Facebook - and it struck me that the only person I don't communicate with this way is You. And that's not right. So here we are.  Welcome to my blog, God. Please be part of it.

Shall I press 'publish' now.....?

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