Monday, 28 February 2011

The Spiritual MOT

Hello, God.

I am determined not to start this with the word 'Well'.

I have in front of me a piece of paper.  You know which piece of paper, God.  It's been in front of me a few times already and I bet you're wondering when I'm actually going to start working on it. It's a Spiritual MOT.  Some perceptive, insightful person has put together a questionnaire that probes deep into my current state of spiritual health (or otherwise) and is supposed to elicit perceptive and insightful responses.  After phase one, and with the help of a friend who has an immense stash of patience and wisdom to help me make sense of my musings, I might emerge with a greater awareness of who I am, where I am, spiritually, and perhaps have an inkling of where I'm going. Hooray!

Or that's the idea. As it is, I have perused the questions on several occasions already (on the second occasion I even had a pen in my hand) and then tucked it safely back with the other papers in an imaginary file marked, 'To Do: Later. Too hard for right now'.

What if I don't know the answers?  What if I get it wrong?

I suspect I'm over-thinking this one.

What are the positive factors in your relationship with God?

That's straightforward.  You are the positive factor.

What is hampering your relationship with God?


What do you think might help?

Hmm.  A retreat?  More sleep?  More hours in the day?  Trying harder?

Do you see what I mean?  I get to this time of day and I'm too tired and I get flippant.  I want to do this justice; I want to learn what I can. Part of it comes back to the old thing that I don't know where I'm going; I'm trusting you to show me. If I don't know where I am right now, then how can I work out which direction to take to get to a destination which is, as I keep mentioning, unknown?  I feel a bit like the time I was reading a map and directed us to take the second exit off a huge roundabout, only to discover that it wasn't a roundabout, it was an 'O' in a place name and actually I had no idea where we were even though the means to finding out was right in front of me.  Funnily enough, since then I tend to drive and Bryan tends to do most of the navigating.

What if I'm sitting here, excitedly proclaiming how this year feels special; I'm looking forward to finding out what you have in store for me, there's something new coming - and all the time you're saying, 'This is it; you're here now'.  Shouldn't I be living for now, not for the future?  I'm getting a bit better at not living in the past, but I have this feeling of anticipation that I've talked to you about and I've been sure that you're telling me that it's OK, all will be revealed in your good time, but what if I'm wrong?

What if you just want me here, doing what I do, looking after the girls, writing what I write, doing the shopping, the cleaning (ahem), the cooking, the church things... but maybe you're trying to give me the freedom to legitimise what I do because I am where you want me?  This is it?  I don't want to miss it!  I don't want to have my eyes fixed on the horizon, waiting for something special to come into view, if what you have for me is right here.

Or are we back to 'all in good time'?

Wish I knew the answers.  If I knew the answers this little booklet would be a doddle.

Looking ahead five years, are there aspects of your life that you would like to be different?

Oh my goodness.  I'm finding it hard to look beyond the end of the week, let alone five years.  And I suspect that you're not looking for answers like 'I'll be a size 10 with glossy hair and nicer nails'.

Sometimes I feel as if there are so very many aspects of my life that I'd like to change. I'd like Bryan to work somewhere round here so that he can come home each night.  I'd like to worry less. I'd like my children to be better behaved. I'd like to stop people I love getting old. I'd like to feel I had a purpose to what I do each day; a purpose that I can get my head round, not just knowing that I do have a purpose because you've told me that I do and I trust you, though that'll do for now. I suppose.

Other times I wouldn't change a thing. I'd put a pause on my life and just look at the freeze frame for ever.  My children are growing up and I can't stop them. Elizabeth is so grown up now in so many ways, and not just because now she can read we can no longer spell out words we don't want her to understand.   She's notices things, amazes us.  Katy is wanting to be more like Lizzie so she'll grow up quicker than ever and I honestly have no idea how I'll manage when Katy no longer tells me that a Mummy cuddle is her favourite thing. I know this isn't what the Spiritual MOT is about either.  It just made me think about the future.

What would be the hardest thing you can imagine God asking you to do?

Well.  This is an awkward question.  I don't really want to answer it, but it's hard to know why.  It's almost as if I think that if I tell you what the hardest thing might be, you might just decide to ask me to do that very thing.  As if you don't already know...

So I'm actually thinking that by avoiding telling you the truth I might keep something from you, am I? Yeah, right.

Why, if there's a crossroads in my life, a 'shall I do A or B' moment,  do I automatically assume that you'll ask me to do the most difficult, unpleasant thing?  The thing I don't want to do - that's sometimes how I think.  I believe that you made me how I am, with my desires and longings and gifts and talents, and so you've created in me an inbuilt leaning towards some things, and away from others.

Potholing, for instance.  I'm never going to be a potholer because I can't imagine anything worse than all that wriggling around underground in narrow spaces with a torch stuck to your forehead. I knew I wanted to be a Mum because the look of my life without children was hollow and empty and appalled me.  It's an instinctive thing. Emotional.  In Rick Warren's 'The Purpose Driven Life' and also in Erik Rees' 'SHAPE', we read that we are unique, and for each of us is a natural niche in which we find we can be fully ourselves.  We'll fulfil our potential; we'll be happy if we're in the right place, doing what you designed us to do. If we try to fit ourselves into a slot that isn't made for us, we'll find it difficult and unfulfilling.

So I trust that you won't ask me to embark on a Ministry to the Potholing Community.  If that's ok with you.

So this MOT is another step on this voyage I've embarked on, is it?  I'm wondering if I'm writing this now and then months from now I can look back on this soul searching and laugh and explain it all. Or if I'll be just as confused. Maybe years from now?

Enough angst.  I'm going to fill it in.


Actually, I'm going to make a cup of coffee first, and check on the children. And put the bin out as it's collection day tomorrow. And maybe have a quick bath, but then I'm going to fill it in. Actually, it'll be probably be tomorrow as it's getting late and I want to make sure I've got my wits about me. No point doing it half heartedly.

A spiritual MOT.  I hope I turn out to be roadworthy.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Dinosaurs and Big Trees

Well, God.

What a few days it's been. We've been to London and we took the children to the Natural History Museum, which is a place that inspires awe immediately you clap eyes on it as you emerge into the drizzle from the Tube station.

A wonderful building full of wonderful things. It's just a shame that nowhere does it say that it's all by you - like in the National Gallery all the works are attributed with a little square of information underneath telling you something about the artist - in the Natural History Museum it should say somewhere, 'All exhibits courtesy of the the Maker of Heaven and Earth'.  That would put the cat among the pigeons, wouldn't it?


The high point of the day has to be when Katy got cross with the life size model of the Tyrannasaurus Rex in the dinosaur section of the museum.  T Rex. The King of the Dinosaurs. We'd been telling her all about the dinosaurs and saying that Barney the Dinosaur was based on the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the last and most exciting part of the dinosaur exhibition was the life size moving model of the T Rex.  She could hardly contain herself; I genuinely think that she thought she was going to meet Barney, poor little love.  I think we over-sold it just a smidge.  This T Rex model was very big and very loud, and rather scary if you're small. Elizabeth shrank back, enjoying the thrill of being frightened as it swung it's head towards us, but not our Kate. Katy was cross that some jumped up Barney predecessor was trying to scare her and so, hands on hips, she roared back. And then, when it didn't stop, she roared louder. It was lovely.

As she stalked off she decided with disgust that Barney wasn't a bit like that Tyrannosaurus Rex and she was glad. Who's to say they weren't purple, anyway?  It definitely said somewhere in all the information that we charged past that no-one has ever actually seen a dinosaur. Good point.

Were they? I'm not quite sure how I feel about the possibility that Barney the Dinosaur is an accurate representation of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Your sense of humour, again? 

I don't know if it's just that I'm not intellectual enough (a distinct possibility), but the creation/evolution discussion doesn't really matter much to me.  It certainly isn't something that affects my faith in any way. Maybe I should be engaging more with it; keen to defend you when others are keen to discredit you? But the thing is, it proves nothing to me if someone gives me a bucketload of evidence in favour of a primordial soup or something - I don't know how you chose to bring about the world and everything in it; you Just Did. Likewise, it doesn't worry me that people point to the dinosaurs as proof that the world is much older than other people say. You're older than the dinosaurs, aren't you?  You were here at the beginning, and in the middle, and you'll be the last one standing at the end, won't you?

They were amazing creatures, though, weren't they?  What were you thinking when you made a dinosaur, Lord?  What do you think of the scientists' ideas and conclusions about them?  Does it make you sad that we don't understand and we try to explain things every which way but the way that points to you? 

And while we're on the subject, why did the dinosaurs end up extinct?  Not that I'd like to see some of them walking down my road any time soon, but I'd be interested to have the answer to that one. I understand that it's kept us guessing for a while now.


There's a tree in the Natural History Museum. Well, a slice of a tree. A giant sequoia, to be more specific.  Here we go from the King of Dinosaurs to a tree they call the Monarch of the Forest. Nice bit of symmetry, don't you think?  Ha. 


I stared at this cross section of tree for ages.  It was vast - sixteen feet in diameter, and it had dates on its rings to bring home to us the incredible age of this tree. 

The sequioa was a seedling, minding its own business in what was later to be America, when St Columba landed on Iona in 557AD.  It was growing as Christianity spread in Europe in the 700s and it was getting bigger and bigger during the Crusades.  When Chaucer died in 1400 it was nowhere near as big as it was going to get, and it was standing firm when Columbus climbed into his boat. When Shakespeare was born, this tree was about a thousand years old.  Galileo came and did his thing, Darwin came, wrote a few books and stirred things up, and in 1892 this wonderful 300 foot tree was felled.  

It was 1335 years old. 

And they cut it down. 

Usually, history sort of leaves me cold, Lord.  Nothing personal, but looking at a pile of stones can't recreate ancient Rome for me.  I can read a manuscript dating from centuries ago and fail to be moved by its age.  I can look at artefacts from archeological excavations and not manage to imagine them in some ancient hand. I can hear about the exploits of conquerers and governments from long gone ages but not appreciate the fact that these things actually happened.  It's as if I can't separate fiction from non-fiction. I can't 'feel' history.  Friends and relatives alike have marvelled at my ambivalence to it.

I must take this up with you properly sometime, God. I watch Bryan amazed and thrilled by historical bits and bobs and I wonder at it - I envy it a bit.  If we went to see the pyramids I suspect I'd just be wondering where my next coffee was coming from; why is this bit of me missing?  Why?)

The funny thing is, this tree moved me. I looked at this bit of wood and thought about you. How you watch and love and weep and cheer and frown and laugh and watch some more as history unfolds.  You intervene, you refrain from intervening. You grieve with us and celebrate with us.  Sometimes we make you proud; more often I suspect we make you sad. But you watch and you love.

You looked after this tree when it was just a seed and you made sure that it had enough water and sunlight and you watched the birds sit in it and the leaves grow and fall and grow again; and you watched us cut it down.


Maybe you liked that we then put it in such a majestic spot at the top of the stairs in the Great Hall of the beautiful Natural History Museum.  And then one day I come along and look at it, and think about you.

I had to go and find Bryan and the girls as they'd moved on without me (you know what short work small children make of a museum) and I caught up with them somewhere near the monkeys.

I wonder if, at some point since this precious bit of sequoia came to live at the Natural History Museum, someone else looked at it and thought of you. I hope so. 

If so, it didn't die in vain, did it? 

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

You are now running on reserve battery power

Well.  I know you have a sense of humour, God, but you've just made me laugh out loud.

It was a 'LOL' moment. Though as you know I'm not one for hip and trendy acronyms.

Alternatively, it was nothing to do with you, just a normal technological occurrence, but since you were in my mind at the time, it made me think of you.  And that's alright too.

As you know, I am somewhat under the weather at the moment, and I'm sure you're admiring the way I'm bravely soldiering on without complaint. As you'll also know, last night I spent most of the night coughing.  I counted the church bells at twelve, one, two, four and five and tossed and turned and drank water and took paracetamol and coughed some more.  I can't believe I was actually asleep at 3am so I must have missed the bells while I was coughing. That must have been it.

Anyway, to add insult to injury, the girls didn't wake up this morning until 8.50am. Now that is a miracle of such immense proportions for which I have to thank you wholeheartedly, but sadly I was unable to take full advantage of such a luxurious lie in as I was awake from 5.50am with a fairly persistent cough that's made my ribs ache and my throat sore.

See what I mean about soldiering on? You know that healing thing that you do? Well, any time you feel like it....

So, I got the girls their breakfast and turned on the computer, as I tend to. I must have been too ill to remember to plug it in last night and the first thing that flashed up on the screen was
'You are now running on reserve battery power'.
Tell me about it.

Well, I'm relying on you to be my Reserve Battery Power, please, God.  Got a lot to do today. I promised the children that I'd take them swimming and they don't accept serious illness as a reason to break a promise.  Tomorrow I'm driving us all down to London to see Bryan and do some half term holiday things with a few million other tourists and I need to get the tyres checked on the car before we go as I think the driver's side front one seems a bit odd-looking.

So I'm now running on reserve battery power. Amen to that. It means you'd better take the driving seat.

I don't suppose I can have a snooze in the back, does it?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Two types of co-incidence

Lord, I'm thinking about co-incidences.  

How they seem to happen more when I pray.  Is that just a co-incidence, God?  Ha ha. 

Now, I want to run something past you.

It strikes me that there are two kinds of co-incidence. 

One.  This is the co-incidence that happens when I pray; when I read my Bible, when I talk to you, when I talk to other people about you, when I read books about you.  When you're on my mind more, when I feel as if I'm taking steps towards you, when I think that I can tell that you're smiling; when I feel your Holy Spirit in my life. That's when things happen.  Co-incidences!  Answered prayers, amazing things, good things.  It's as if more You brings about More You. 

And then there's:

Two.  This also happens when I pray, when I read my Bible, read about you, learn about you and the place that I have in your family - all those things above, only this co-incidence is when things crash down around me and I find myself struggling with bad things, new anxieties, things going wrong.  It's been happening this week.  How come?

Now, I'm wary about mentioning The Devil. I reckon people start to turn off when you mention the devil, even if you sneak him into the conversation by using a different name - I don't mean Beelzebub or Wormwood or Lucifer or something from CS Lewis' book, 'The Screwtape Letters' - people refer to him as The Enemy, The Evil One, The Deceiver; and those names always sounds sort of dramatic.  Feels like there should be spooky music in the background when you're having a conversation like that. To be honest I'm never that comfortable when I find myself in a conversation about the devil.  I don't really know why.

It's not as if I don't believe he exists; you've told me that he does and I believe you.  I can read about him in many many places in the Bible. It's clear that you know him and although he might prevail in the odd battle, you have won the war. I just need to clear up one or two things, I suppose. I don't want to be one of those Christian folks who puts every bad thing down to the work of the devil. I don't believe that every loose paving stone I trip over is down to him, or every sore throat that I get just before I want to go to the church acapella group is an attempt by the evil one to scupper my worship. 

Or is it?

On the other hand I don't want to be someone who falls into the trap of discounting him entirely. You've warned us not to. In 'The Screwtape Letters' (I know it was written for children but it's about my level) the devil gloats that one of his best plans is to make people believe that he doesn't exist; that's when he has lots of power. You say we need to fight him, to be on our guard.  So I'd best be, because Co-incidence Type 2 seems to be happening a lot at the moment.

It took a friend to point it out to me, actually.  I'd had a terrible day on Sunday with this and that going wrong, and as I walked to church I knew that I was feeling emotional.  I arrived five minutes late (nothing new there) and so I really took my seat just as people were standing up for the worship bit. Imagine my horror (if not surprise) when the tears just came and wouldn't stop even before the introduction to the first song was done.  I did one of those dramatic and, dare I say it, feminine, dashes out of church while fumbling for a handkerchief, and went for a sob in the ladies'.  I missed the whole worship section and I know it included some of my very favourite songs. Grr. Several people have been very kind and thoughtful and it's wonderful to feel so cared about.

But to get back to the point, it took someone else to say to me, 'Read Ephesians 6, because it sounds as if you need to put on the armour of God'. So I did.

Ephesians 6: 10-18
'Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.'

So there it is. St Paul wasn't backwards in coming forwards on the subject of the devil, so maybe I should be a bit more switched on. He's pretty dramatic; 'the authorities...the powers of this dark world...the spiritual forces of evil'.  Whoa. It also seems as though the 'armour' he's talking about is pretty heavyweight too. Truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, the Spirit. Are they really for me?

I'm looking at this passage and thinking that there must be many a sermon there.  There's enough material for books and books I imagine. All I want to know is, how do I go about putting that lot on, so that I'm not completely knocked over and sent flying next time it happens to me? (note slightly squeamish about mentioning the devil just then). 

Here's my take on it, and I'm more than game if you want to put me right, Lord.

1. The belt of Truth.  I know the Truth.  You are the Truth.  You are the way, the truth and the life, and when I confess my faith, I am speaking the Truth.  You died in my place so that I could be forgiven and have eternal life. Blows my mind every time I write it. I love writing it. Thankyou Lord. Why a belt? Well, lots of metaphors available, but I reckon simply put, a belt holds my trousers up and without one, if my trousers fall down I'm not going anywhere, let alone being ready to fight an enemy. Anyway, moving on. 

2.  The breastplate of Righteousness.  Bit more difficult.  I struggle to see myself as righteous in any way because I mess everything up on a regular basis.  From what I understand, however it's the same as above; you bought my righteousness for me - I didn't deserve it but because I am in you, I am righteous. And also I think it's an ongoing thing - as I try to be more like you, I learn to be righteous. So it's two fold. Must be important if this is the bit that protects my heart.

3.  The Readiness that comes from the Gospel of Peace. Hmm.  Readiness? being in tune with you? Ready to spread the word of God? Ready to follow where I'm led? I'm going to google this in a minute and see what I can find out. I know it refers to the feet, and I can understand an analogy about needing decent footwear to go anywhere but I'm not getting to grips with this bit. 

4.  The shield of Faith. Easier. I have faith.  I believe in you more every day. As you show me new things, as you challenge me to go deeper and wider and higher and look for you in different places, I find you. You've given me faith as a gift and I have planted it and I want to see it grow and grow. I need to learn how to use it as a shield, maybe... I need to hold it high and let everyone see it. I need to hold it firmly, so that I don't drop it. It will stop things from hitting me. 

5.  The helmet of Salvation. Wey hey! I am saved. Simple as that. It's a single, completed action; I am your child. When it's all done, and the dust is settling I'm going to get to come and see you face to face, and the only thing left undecided is how much use I am to you in the meantime.  The helmet protects my head. My brain. My mind. My thoughts. This is a prime area for attack. If I think I can't do it, I probably won't. If my mind is not on the job, then the job isn't getting done. And I need to protect that knowledge that I have of my salvation because the other guy is going to try and convince me that I'm mistaken.

6.  The sword of the Spirit. Now here's a discussion for another time. Is there anyone who really gets to grip with the Spirit?  I mean, Jesus, who came to earth as a man, is a concept we can easily get our heads round.  God, even, is an idea that we're familiar with from an early age. The Spirit is more difficult to get a handle on. I know how often I say that I want to be filled with the Spirit, or I ask that you send your Spirit...when I stand up for what I believe; stand up for you, or write this, or pray or worship, is it the Spirit that enables me?  The power behind the button, so to speak?  

Well.  Here's me thinking I'd have ten minutes waffling with you and then get an early night. So much for that. I'd better stop now or I'll be Snappy Mummy when the little ones pounce on me at silly o'clock tomorrow. 

Let me draw it all together.  Lord, give me all those things.  I want them all, so that not one bit of me is left unprotected. Show me where to find them, the right way to put them on, how to use them.  And help me to see when to leap into action, too.  

You've told me that the closer I walk with you, the more likely it is that stuff will happen. I'm not prepared to back away from you, my Lord, because I've come too far and it's taken me too long and I've had one too many glimpses of your glory. So you'd better show me how to be ready to defend myself.  I really don't want to spend too many more worship sessions sniffling in the toilets if that's ok with you.


Monday, 21 February 2011

You hem me in

Lord, right now is one of those times that I don't want a promise.

I don't want a piece of scripture to reassure me, even though you've given me a book full of them.  I don't want to have to hang onto my faith and endure and battle with things and put up with other things and just hold on to the good things in the middle of the bad things.

I want you to change things. I want you to answer a prayer, not sometime in the future, and not in a mysterious way, and not in a way that requires hindsight when I look back ten years from now.  I just want you to change things, right now.  Make things better.

Don't stop me from worrying, just take away the things I'm worried about, will you?

I know that sounds incredibly ungrateful. I know about the promises and I know that you love me.  It's just that sometimes (like now) I feel like my small girls (3 and 5) when they just want me to make it better. They won't be reasoned with, or fobbed off with distant promises about things being better in the long run; they want it sorted NOW please.  Or maybe not even please. But the point I'm making is that I know that you can turn things round in an instant if you wanted to; and to add emphasis I shall draw your attention to what I heard in a sermon in church last night - You could change the way that the earth spun on its axis if it pleased you to do it. 

So why don't you, very often? I know, I know. It's all about knowing what's best for me. Just as I don't give in to my girls' many requests for sweets when we're about to have dinner, maybe it wouldn't be good for me to have what I want right now.  But can't you just make it good for me, so that I don't have to be so anxious and sad and uncomfortable, rather than teaching me to get used to discomfort and conquer the anxiety?

I don't want to be worried all the time.  I don't want to have to try so hard.  I reckon that if you took away half the things that worry me, I'd be much better equipped to shoulder the other half.  Is it a deal?

I sometimes feel like screaming.  I feel like being totally selfish and not search for the higher meaning at all.  I don't feel like looking up your promises to me and meditating on them.  I don't want to be worshiping you when I don't feel like it.  I don't feel like looking on the bright side or counting my blessings.


I take that back.  I know how blessed I am.   I even know that the things that worry me aren't anywhere near on the scale of the troubles that some people have.  Even people I know. In fact, the bit of the last paragraph that is nearest the truth is the bit about 'totally selfish'.  But what's wrong with that every now and again?  Sorry for shouting.

It's just that (doesn't that sound a bit whiny) I want to know who's looking after me. From time to time it seems as if I run about trying to please everyone - and I have a long list of people to please - and yet it doesn't seem as if anyone else's list includes me. Who's out there pleasing me?

Oh blimey, that's not true either.  I have a loving husband and a wonderful Mum and two gorgeous daughters and some good friends and lots of supportive people on Facebook.  I should just shut up.

Are you nodding?  There's no need for that.

I'm in such a bad mood.  Can you tell?

From being a tiny child I have heard grown ups tell me on a regular basis that life isn't fair. Why is it never unfair in my favour?  If there were a dozen people in a queue in front of a cashpoint that was handing out fifties instead of tens when it got to my turn it would probably snaffle my card. I don't feel lucky, sometimes, I feel weighed down.

The rollercoaster isn't going to stop any time soon, is it, God?  I know I should just learn to enjoy the view from the top before it plummets off the edge again, but today I feel as if I've got my eyes screwed tight shut and I'm clinging on as hard as I can just to keep going.


I'm going to stop moaning, for several reasons.

Reason one is that I've read all this back and I'm not coming across like a mature, loving, insightful Child Of God, more a spoiled toddler who's up too late.
Reason two is that I'm feeling a bit better just for having had a rant. Are you OK with that? I'm thinking it's a bit too late, really, as it's Out There whether I delete it or not - I could erase this whole screen and no other mortal would be any the wiser but you'd still know. I don't even have to write it down for you to see the darkest, most narky, self absorbed parts of me, do I?

The fact that you love me even though you can see all that is an amazing thing to me.

Reason three, and the most compelling, is that I don't really believe you're ignoring me.  I trust you.  I know that it'll come down to you knowing best. I know that in hindsight the chances are I'll see what this period of my life was all about.  I know that you sometimes don't bring about change without knocking off a few corners.  I know that you love me unconditionally and even when I whine like a child. I know that you want what's best for me, and if you don't want to stop the world spinning and set it going the other way then there's a pretty good reason why not.

So you win again, Lord.  As David said in a psalm somewhere, 'You hem me in'.  Wait a minute, I think that might have been psalm 139.

Oh my goodness it is:
'Before a word is on my tongue    you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before,    and you lay your hand upon me.' 
That's just what I was saying! You knew, didn't you?  You knew how special that psalm is to me. You know it all.  

Ah, Lord, when do you think I'll grow up? 

Thankyou for laying your hand upon me.  I needed that, today.

End of tantrum.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

My Testimony

God, you know all this.

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

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

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

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

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

He was speaking just to me.

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

I hadn't.

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

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

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

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

I just remember that it was the day that I gave my life to Christ.

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

Not really.

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

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

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

I hadn't been sleeping.  On the night of the burglary (which happened at 3.14am, I remember very clearly), I had colleagues from work coming round in the middle of the night, friends from up the road, and a couple of police officers who eventually arrived 45 minutes after my 999 call and 15 minutes after the burglars had left.  When they had secured my broken door and done their paperwork, everyone left, and I started shaking. I was so, so cold, and no amount of hot water bottles and blankets got me warm. I went to work the next day and everyone was solicitous, the door was speedily replaced and people forgot about it. But I couldn't sleep.  I was alarmed at every tiny noise, and I started sleeping in the sitting room as my bedroom at the back of the house seemed particularly creepy. This went on for weeks, until one day I went for prayer after a healing service at church.  I told a lady something of what had happened and she prayed for me.

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

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

And I did, and You did.

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

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

'Thing number three' was perhaps the last thing that happened before I left that job at the church.  There was a University Mission.  My job had not really been to work with students; my responsibilities were really to the Mums and Toddlers, baby groups and visiting teams and I didn't spend much time in the universities, but it was all hands on deck, so I was made an assistant missioner. I was responsible for encouraging and working with a CU small group as they planned and carried out Mission events at the University.

Eric Delve was the Missioner; the primary speaker and leader of the whole shebang. I knew I would leave my job as it didn't seem to be right for me, but Eric helped me separate a negative experience of Church from my experience of God. He sort of changed the points so that my little engine wasn't derailed. Him again.

I went travelling, then went to a different university to study Occupational Therapy. I had a Christian boyfriend (for a while) and was excited about a new direction. I had a whale of a time. I made some great friends, got involved in things in a way I didn't have the confidence to do at university the first time round, and in my first year actually met the lovely man who would eventually become my husband. Was a great time.

I never found a church to go to, though somehow my flatmate and I wangled regular invitations to lunch with the vicar of our nearest church; though we only darkened the door of the church itself a handful of times. Mind you, I do have a memory of singing a song to the tune of 'Match of the Day' at one service.... funny, that. So my years there were pretty dry, spiritually.  Intermittently I kept a prayer diary, which I still have, and reading it back makes me cringe.

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

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

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

My first little girl, Elizabeth, was born nine days after my Dad died and two days after his funeral; we moved house back to Chesterfield to be near my Mum three months later and I was struggling. On top of the usual new baby exhaustion came depression and guilt and frustration and grief and a whole host of other, largely negative emotions; I hadn't managed to grieve for my Dad and I hadn't managed to celebrate the arrival of my daughter. I wasn't able to be there for my Mum and I needed her in an unprecedented way. Lizzie was a terrible sleeper for the first six months (who am I kidding, for the first year) and when she was awake she wouldn't be put down. I was at the end of my tether.

We were planning to get Elizabeth baptised, so we started going to the same church that I went to as a new Christian and where we'd got married.  Someone perceptive from the congregation saw a desperate, struggling Mum and invited me to the Mums and Toddlers group on a Monday. Uncharacteristically, I plucked up some courage and started going.

Things went slowly. We came to church occasionally, but it was hard work with a baby who wouldn't be quiet and demanded feeds at awkward times. Other people's babies lay sweetly asleep in their car seats but mine never did. I would jiggle and rock and cajole and whisper and snuggle and all to no avail - I'd end up going outside or attempt to feed self consciously at the back of church. Elizabeth was baptised, I started going to a home group that met weekly and made some wonderful friends. Katy came along and although life was hard getting to grips with two small people to look after, things got better.  Nothing dramatic, just things got better as they tend to do as your babies get a bit older.

My closest friend gave me a pile of 'Christianity' magazines to look at and I opened the top one at random. Before me was an article about Eric Delve. I'm sure you smile when you do little things like that, don't you, Lord?  All of a sudden the years disappeared and that afternoon from 1997 was back in my mind. The feeling that Jesus went through all that for me. He died for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The very very best thing for me though is to see that if you never left me through all those years when I wasn't paying attention to you at all, when I was steadfastly looking the other way, making my own plans - then you're not going to leave me now, when I am looking to you to know what happens next, when I want to  follow where you lead me.

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

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

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Words words words

I regularly make promises that I can't keep, don't I?

I don't mean with the children, because I am, despite my early intentions, a firm believer in, 'We'll see...' and 'Mummy is going to have a think about it and decide later.' and things like that when petitioned on a subject that I haven't thought through. I've learned the hard way that small children have memories like elephants when it comes to, 'But you said we could...' and so now I'm cagey about what I say we can.

But that's just by the way.  What I mean is I'm forever promising you things and then not delivering. Or delivering half heartedly. I've been brought up to believe that saying you'll do something is the same as promising, and so I can't wriggle off the hook by claiming that 'I didn't promise.' 

It strikes me there are two ways I do this.  

First of all those sleepy prayers when I tell you that tomorrow will be different from today; that tomorrow I will be more *** (insert adjective of choice - eg positive, patient, energetic, prayerful, helpful, sensitive etc etc).  I do it so often.  I confess that today has been a washout in the prayer department and tell you earnestly that tomorrow will be better. 

I look at my beautiful sleeping children and wonder at the fact that an hour previously I might have sold them to a passing Ishmaelite at the drop of a hat, and then I promise that tomorrow I will be more attentive, less 'park 'em in front of the telly' oriented and less snappy. And then? Tomorrow comes and I either forget the promise or make excuses or just pick up where I left off without even making an effort. That's different from trying hard and inevitably failing.

The second way that I find to fall short in this area is all the times in church and out where I sing along to a worship song without paying attention to the words that I'm singing, or worse still, I don't mean them.

Rick Warren, very wise man, in his book, 'The Purpose Driven Life', says:
'"God is pleased when our worship is authentic....When Jesus said, 'You must love God with all your heart and soul' he meant that worship must be genuine and heartfelt. It's not just a matter of saying the right words; you must mean what you say. Heartless praise is not praise at all! It is worthless, an insult to God. 'When we worship, God looks past our words to see the attitude of our hearts. The Bible says, 'Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'."

It's all too easy to get swept up in a beautiful song and fail to register exactly what I'm singing, or indeed to think, 'Ooer, that sounds a bit scary, not keen on that' yet carry on singing. Everyone else in the congregation might think I'm the most devout person on earth but you can see what's in my heart.  


It's also true to say that some songs make pretty bold claims, don't they?  I always think that whoever wrote them must be particularly holy to be able to make promises the way they do. Or they were having a real Moment while sitting at the piano with a pen behind their ear. It's all very well blaming the songwriter, though - maybe we should carefully select worship songs and hymns that don't commit us to anything we're not comfortable with.  That doesn't sound right.  

Anyway, take this for example - this afternoon on the way to pick up Katy from nursery they were playing something awful on the radio so I switched to CD and it was 'The Potter's Hand':

'Beautiful Lord, Wonderful Saviour
I know for sure, all of my days are held in your hands, crafted 
into your perfect plan
You gently call me into your presence guiding me by Your Holy Spirit
Teach me dear Lord to live all of my life through Your eyes
I'm captured by Your holy calling
Set me apart, I know you're drawing me to yourself
Lead me Lord I pray

Take me, mould me, use me, fill me
I give my life to the Potter's hand
Call me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me
I give my life to the Potter's hand'

Darlene Zschech

Lovely lovely song.  I love the tune, and the words are beautiful. A real prayer.

'Beautiful Lord, wonderful Saviour'

So far so good.  Absolutely agree with this, no problems.

'I know for sure, all of my days are held in your hands, crafted 
into your perfect plan'

Yep, I'm growing into this bit too. I understand what this means more every day and it fills me with wonder.

'You gently call me into your presence guiding me by Your Holy Spirit'

Well, yes, maybe - sometimes I feel your Holy Spirit, sometimes I don't. Are feelings reliable? Does your Holy Spirit always call me into your presence? Is this an occasional thing, or a daily thing?  Am I not in your presence all the time?  Are there special times when I sort of 'officially' enter your presence? Or am I reading far too much into it... I'm leaning towards the idea that I'm reading too much into it. Move on.

'Teach me dear Lord to live all of my life through Your eyes'

Whoa. This bit is scary if you think about it too much. How much of my life would I like the look of if I saw it through your eyes?  It sounds to me as if there'd be quite a lot of changes if I saw my life through your eyes.  The thing is:  Is it enough to want to live my life through your eyes? How about if you do honestly, mostly, much of the time, perhaps not always, but almost wholeheartedly want to live all of my life through your eyes?  Is that OK?  I mean, I know it's not ideal, but do you know what I mean?  

Or is it better not to sing it if you're not one hundred per cent on board?

But if you're not one hundred percent behind it, then how many of these lovely songs would you actually sing?  If we all waited till we had it sorted, then church would be a bit quiet at worship time, I reckon.  Surely you do want us to sing?

'I'm captured by Your holy calling
Set me apart, I know you're drawing me to yourself
Lead me Lord I pray'

I like this bit, but not entirely sure what it means...I know I'm definitely called for something: as your child you trust me to do a specific job that you have set aside for me and I know that it's a job made for me alone. So I guess that's the 'holy calling' bit. 

And I do feel that you're drawing me to yourself over these last few months/years, but from what I know of you there hasn't been a time when you didn't want me to be close to you, just times when I wasn't listening, or determinedly looking the other way.  Years, in fact; a good proportion of my life so far has been spent ignoring your efforts to draw me to yourself.  

So thankyou that I've got to the age I'm at now, and finally understanding and recognising that it's me who's moved, not you. If I feel you drawing me to you at this time in my life it'll be because at last I'm starting to tune into the right wavelength.  At least I'm facing you now, not standing with back turned and arms folded.  Though I do dig my heels in sometimes.

Which brings me to:

'Lead me Lord I pray'

Hmm.  I'm a reluctant follower, sometimes. I do want you to lead me. I do. But sometimes I'm afraid of where you might lead me. I imagine that as you hear me standing in church singing 'Lead me, Lord, I pray!' you might be saying, 'I'm trying! What do you think I'm doing?!  But you won't budge!' 

'Take me, mould me, use me, fill me
I give my life to the Potter's hand
Call me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me
I give my life to the Potter's hand'

Yes please, Lord.  As I write this I'm overwhelmed by a desire to be useful to you. I do want you to use me. Without any doubts I want you to fill me with your Spirit. I need you to guide me, to walk beside me. I don't know how I could function if I thought you weren't there.  The 'mould me' bit sounds as if it might be uncomfortable at times... I could sort of steel myself...

Here comes the punchline. 

'I give my life to the Potter's hand'

Do I?  

Does anyone?  Are we built to do that?  Is it just that I'm over-literal and a perfectionist and far too analytical that I think that to sing that with true conviction is beyond me? I do give you my life - I did in 1997 when I became a Christian at a big meeting at Cliff College and I have on several occasions since, including recently. 

It's just that I keep taking it back, bit by bit.

Some parts of my life are yours and always will be; they're earmarked 'God' and you hold them and I can leave them with you. But as you know, there are lots of bits that I keep for myself. I don't like the idea of your input in those areas as it might not fit in with my plans.  It might make life difficult.  So I sort of nudge them in your direction, occasionally, reluctantly, then snatch them back.  It's hard to leave the whole of my life at your feet.

But you can see into my heart.  I keep forgetting that.  And you're a loving God who isn't trying to catch me out, to find ways to slap me down, to make me feel inadequate.  As you can see, I'm great at that already. You want to hunt out the sparks, the little bits of light that you've planted in me and occasionally grow into something lovely. 

So if you can see my heart you can see that I love you. You can see all the selfishness and laziness and wordliness too, but I know that you can look past it to the glimmer of righteousness deep down there that I hold close because it's a gift from you. You can see my soul reaching for yours when the music stirs me. 

You know that you're in my mind each day, don't you? Even if nowhere near enough? 

Take what pleases you from my worship, Lord, whether it's at the acapella group on a Thursday night, church on Sunday, or me warbling along in the car or on my iPod. Take what pleases you and help me work on the rest.

Is it enough, do you think, to have the mindset 'right now, at the moment I'm singing, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I think that this is true for me - I can't guarantee what I'll feel in twenty minutes, but right now, I do offer you my life'

How do you feel about that? 

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