Saturday, 30 April 2011

You rolled the stone away

I'm hurt and I want to hurt back
I am wounded and I lick my wounds
I am bitter and resentful
and full of anger.

How hard it is to forgive
Even though I am forgiven
I find that I don't want to let go
Of all the bitterness inside.

It's somehow easier to hold the hatred
in my hand and examine it closely
Each day to take it out again 
and turn it over and over

To think and reframe and analyse
To plan the nasty retorts
and counter attacks and volleys
of putdowns and missiles of my own.

But you tell me to lay it down
to put it at your feet 
to give it all to you and back away
leaving it there in front of you.

You want me to be free of the hardness
and hurting and scowling -
the darkness and hatefulness and spite
to let the breeze of your spirit blow through me.

To stop clenching and holding the hurt
to stop brooding and probing
but open my fists and allow you 
to take it from the palm of my hand.

So I lay my anger at your throne
take doubtful steps backwards
but I itch to take it up again
to snatch it back so that I can plot revenge

In words or deeds or thoughts
Just to be even, to stick up for myself
Not to be a victim, hurt, defeated - 
Why do I care so much?

You tell me I am different
I don't need to win.
Leave it with you
The battle is not mine but yours

So here it is.
The hurt and the anger and the resentment
I lay it before you
Have it. Take it away

I don't want it any more
I don't want my hands to be so full of rubbish
that I can't hold the gift you want to give me;
my forgiveness. 

For I need to forgive
as you have forgiven me
and suddenly it is clear
I need to find a way to let it go.

Because you forgave me. 
You died for me when I didn't care
I hurt you far more than I am hurt
Yet you go on forgiving.

So I give up my rage
and you take it from me
I say 'I forgive'
and you help me keep my word.

It turns out I don't miss the hatred
and the bitterness I was gripping
so tightly that my knuckles were white
I don't miss it at all.

Where it was is light and open and bright
in red and orange and yellow and green and blue
instead of black and grey and brown
There's warmth and sun instead of hard and cold.

A small transaction 
And they will never know it
Not that they would understand if they did
Or care the slightest bit.

But for me it is a gift
Another blessing from my God
who teaches me to live my life

Thankyou for helping me forgive.
It was a big thing for me.
I had no idea how big
but you knew.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Unless the sun explodes

I'm very tired today. Feeling lethargic and sleepy.  Possibly some of this is down to a day out with Bryan and the girls and a long drive, but mostly I'm sure I could just do with a Good Night's Sleep.  The elusive aspiration of parenthood.  Every Mum or Dad longs for one, some more than others, depending on the way that their little ones are made. The fact that Elizabeth is an early bird is something for which I blame you, by the way. I'm just waiting until my girls hit their teenage years and then with any luck they'll be in bed till lunchtime and I can catch up on some of the sleep deficit that their preschool years have left me. Please don't let me down here.

I remember when I used to go to bed when I felt tired; if there was a late film it didn't put me off that it continued after nine o'clock and quite frequently the time changed till tomorrow and there I was on the sofa, alert and still able to follow a plot. Secure, indeed complacent in my knowledge that I could sleep till I woke up in the morning. Now it gets to half nine and I start to calculate how many hours are left until I need to get up, taking into account getting ready for bed, time taken to nod off, nocturnal visits to the bathroom and the likelihood of disturbances from small people in the small hours. Rarely does that equation reassure me.

So here I am writing this with an eye on the clock and knowing that I am so tired I could sleep for a week, but I haven't brushed my teeth yet, Katy is still whimpering in bed (we went to the National Space Centre today and although we all had a lovely time Kate is now lying awake afraid that the sun will explode) and I am in no doubt that I'll need to go and see her again before Sleep time.


I wish I were designed to be cheery, energetic and function smoothly on 5 or 6 hours a night.  I'm not. I reckon I need about nine to be ok, more to be feeling in great form. I seem to remember the last time I took this for granted was around the end of May 2005.  I might have had difficulty getting comfy being nearly nine months pregnant but once I had myself surrounded with pillows and dosed up with indigestion remedies I could stay in bed till lunchtime if I felt the need.


Funny how black everything looks when I'm tired.  I know that right now I'm bad tempered and cross.  I know that I'm scowling even as I type this.  I'm just feeling irritable and I thought I'd mention it to you. In the mood I'm in right now, it feels as if nothing's going my way, I can't see an answer to any problem I think about and there isn't anything that's going to cheer me up. And if you were having a good day so far then you can stop because if I'm not, you can't either.

Well, I didn't mean that exactly how it sounded, Lord.  Well, I did, but it was just an expression of frustration, really, not meant to offend. I don't suppose you have good days and bad days, do you?  Only good days?  From what I know about you it seems unlikely that occasionally you get out of bed the wrong side - it's just a human thing.  When you were here as a man, Jesus, did you have bad days?  Cross at the world days?  Days when you couldn't be bothered?  No, I thought not.  Or if you did, you must have risen above them in a way that I rarely find myself capable.  I snap at my family, I contradict everyone, I refuse to be cheered up, I pick holes in everyone's plans and criticise and generally spread gloom and dissatisfaction.  What a lovely person I can be sometimes.

Sigh.  Here's where you could interject with something reassuring and helpful, if you wanted.

Now I'm feeling guilty.  I should apologise to everyone, really, but everyone's asleep.  Even Katy. It's hard comforting a four year old who has been spooked by news that the sun will explode in several billion years when she doesn't understand what a billion is.  Could you give me the inside word on that one, please, God?  Then I can tell her definitively.  The scientists just have an idea that it will one day explode but you know exactly what your plans are for the sun. Perhaps it wouldn't put her mind at rest if I told her that there was a chance the sun and the earth and everything in it (including us) might end much sooner than a billion years.  Maybe I'd best not go there. We said a little prayer, Katy and I, and we asked Jesus to come and help her feel happy and sleepy and give her lovely dreams, and so I'm sure you will.  Take away from her little head the fears that she's found. It's so strange the things they find to latch onto. You can never predict what will capture their imagination.  I sort of thought the section on how astronauts use a toilet in space might have been the most memorable part of the day for my two little girls but it seems not.

I pray that you would take away her fears and worries. And from me, take away all the rubbish that I'm hanging onto right now. Help me, too, to stop poking at hurts and irritations and worries, step away from the computer and get some much needed sleep.  Help me to leave with you the minor annoyances of this evening and not store them up.  Help me to sleep till morning and start tomorrow fresh and bright, not hung over from a night's worth of analysis and over-thinking.  Take away my self pity and self absorption and selfishness and give me self control and self awareness.  Help me to look outwards instead of inwards; to look after other people and not so much myself. Help me to love more and unconditionally. I haven't been the person you want me to be tonight, Lord.  I'm sorry.

Well, time to go to sleep.

Tomorrow's another day. Well, it is unless the sun explodes.

Over to you, Lord.


Wednesday, 27 April 2011

My Lord and my God and my Friend

There's this thing that's been going round and round in my head for a while now and I want to ask you what you think about it.

It was suggested to me that my way of talking to you, God, is a bit irreverent.  Not reverent enough. Requiring more reverence.  Hmm.

I've said before that since I've become a parent, I can see the 'Father' side of you with much more clarity; the Abba, Daddy bit, and I suppose it's with that in mind that I come to chat to you and I just lay before you what's in my head, muddled or annoyed or happy or sad.  I've always thought that it's better out than in, that you're always more than capable of coping with my confusion and bewilderment, and I've always believed that you'll make allowances for my clumsiness if I step out of line. Maybe that's a bit presumptuous. What do you think?

I know that you are so much more than my Heavenly Father; I know that you are my Saviour and my Light and my King and my God. I do get the awe thing - indeed over Easter I've been floored by it at times. I don't think I diminish you with my familiarity, do I?  

AW Tozer said:

'We do God more honour in believing what he has said about himself and coming boldly to his throne of grace than by hiding in a self conscious humility!  Those unlikely men chosen by the Lord as his closest disciples might well have hesitated to claim friendship with Christ. But Jesus said to them, 'You are my friends!'

And you are mine. You are my friend.  I can't explain why; it's underserved and unthinkable that the Lord of the Heavens should want me for a friend, but you do.  I know that you love me, I know that you died so that I could be friends with you. I don't want to wrap up my words in language that doesn't come instinctively - it makes no sense to me to do that because you know what's in my mind, and how I would speak if you were right here, now; so where's the point in translating my thoughts and ideas into something more deferential, when you can see the before as well as the after?

One day I shall see you face to face and I have no doubt that I shall fall down on the floor in front of you. I know you are the Lord of the Universe. I know that you are the Creator God and in comparison I am insignificant - but you have made me significant.  You have invited me to come before you with confidence as a member of your family. I'm not going to turn away from an invitation like that - I want to grab it with both hands. You know me inside and out.  You know when I'm being disingenuous and you know when I'm being honest. You know when I struggle to find words and you know when I have so many that I can't get them down fast enough.

You also know when I lose sight of what I'm saying because I get wrapped up in the process of writing. Sometimes I like what I write and forget who I'm talking to, and I think that's more of an issue than the tone of voice in which I talk.  I know that I like to create; I know that I love words, and sometimes, just occasionally, I get pleased with what I've written. I start to think, 'Ooh, that sounded good,' and become more self conscious about it all. It starts to be too much about the process and not about you. More about how I say it and less about what I say. I don't want to do that, either, I really don't. I've tried for years to write something that's 'good' and I've never managed it. Just trying has been hard work and no fun and I've always given up. This is different for the very reason that it's not dressed up or over-thought. Sometimes that might mean that it's raw or poorly thought out, or ungrammatical (hope not) but I have come to the point where I think it's better just to be me, in front of you, and tell you what's on my mind.  And I do want to hear from you. I'm trying to learn to be expectant. If you wanted to use the 'comments' bit underneath here, that'd be fine; but any response in any form makes my day. If there's something you want me to change, let me know.

I want to reflect you.  To notice what you're doing in my head, my heart and my life; to notice what you're doing around me in my family, my church, my world.  I want to show these things to people and I want to honour you by noticing and marking and remembering so that not one thing that you do for me goes unnoticed.  I can't even take a breath without your will so I know that I miss many many more things than I see, but I'm learning. This last few months has been eye opening to the point at which so much of life seems a distraction.

So I'm coming boldly to the throne. I'm taking you at your word and I trust you to show me if there's something I should do differently. I am learning so much.  I'm learning how to match my stride with yours for a second or two, though I'm not so good at it yet and I soon fall behind. I'm learning about priorities, though that still needs so much work too.  Everything needs a lot of work, but I know that you won't leave me and I know that when you start something that you finish it.  So here I am. On a journey and you're at the wheel.  I know I'm a back seat driver and I keep leaning forward with helpful suggestions and duff map reading, but I do know that you're in charge and that's the best way to get where I'm going. I want to make sure that I don't miss a thing en route.

I'm loving it.  I love you, my generous, creative, loving, inspiring, beautiful, patient Daddy. My Lord and my God, and my Friend.

Monday, 25 April 2011

How marvellous, how wonderful

I haven't really got the words to say what I want to say today on this Easter Sunday, 2011.  Here's where I just find I want to give you what's in my head and what's in my heart; I am so overwhelmed by what you did those two thousand years ago.  All that you went through isn't the end of the story and that's why I am so blessed. You rose from the dead. 

In the end there was nothing that could beat you; nothing, even the hatred and wickedness and filth of mankind, the evil power of Satan and hell and the darkness and emptiness of death could triumph over you, because you are God, and you had a Plan, and you did it.  You said you would and you did.  You knew what it would take to save your people; you knew what it would take to make us free. You did it for me. I wasn't born for centuries and yet you knew that when I came along, me, I would need you in the same way that the lost people at the foot of your cross needed you.

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.

How marvellous!  How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvellous! How wonderful!
Is my Saviour's love for me!

So after the muted, inward and upward-looking weeks of Lent, and the dreadful appreciation of what happened on Good Friday, then the uncertain pause of the Easter Saturday comes the colour and jubilation and joy and celebration of Easter.  You rose from the dead!  You died and were buried and then you came back to life!  There can be nothing more amazing than that. 

He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.

He rolled the stone away
And yet I find that as I'm talking to you now I don't feel lighthearted or jubilant or enthusiastically happy; I don't feel like skipping and jumping about.  I don't feel full of exclamation marks. I'm still back where I was on Friday when I was struck with an appreciation of what it's all about, this Easter thing.  I got a glimpse of the magnitude of it. The hugeness of what you did.  The enormity of my need and the vastness of your love and forgiveness.  The horror of Good Friday and the confusion and fear that the disciples must have felt.  So when it comes to Sunday, the day you rose from the grave, I find I'm not filled with an urge to jump and sing, rather to stay on my knees, overwhelmed with gratitude and awe.

I want to praise you forever.  I want to give you back a tiny, faulty, human fractional measure of the love that you deserve - the love that you showed me at that first Easter.  At times like this the idea that there is one day an eternity to be spent at the foot of your throne singing songs and hymns in perpetual worship and basking in the light that surrounds you sounds to me like Heaven indeed.  

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

And I will sing. I am on such a journey this year. I still don't know where I'm going but I know now that I wouldn't stop this for the world. I want to go where you'll take me next, and I say that in full knowledge that I might not like it and I might be back here in a day or a week or a month saying stop this, let me get off; but you have blessed me so much recently that I want to want more.  

I want to be more open handed, waiting to receive all that you want to give me, so that I don't miss anything that you had planned because I was turned the other way and didn't notice it, or because my hands were too full of something inconsequential to grasp your gift fully.  

I want my eyes to be more fully open; I don't want to miss anything that you want to show me because I was asleep or looking in the wrong direction. I want to notice, to really see, not the general but the detail.  The minutiae, the fine brush strokes. As much of the picture as you want me to see. I want it to be like one of those strange abstract patterns that were all the rage a few years ago where you look at a picture that seems to be of nothing but suddenly you see what is hidden and when it's properly in focus, only then can you move your eyes around and explore what is a hidden world.

I want my heart to be open to anything you want to plant in it. Please sow seeds and water them and shine on them so that I can grow into something of use to you. I don't want to hold grudges and hang onto bad memories or let things fester, un-dealt with. Show me how to let you into the darkest corners of me.

I want my mind to be completely open to new ideas or to your clarification of old ones.  I want you to teach me, fill my head with the things that you would have me think about. I want you to show me the things that I need to deal with, to get rid of, to let go of. And I need your help as well because I know that these things won't be easy. 

I want my ears to be tuned into your frequency and not listening to the static that surrounds me all the time.  I want to learn to listen, to hear you. To understand and note and reflect on it. I want to shut up long enough for you to get a word in. 

I imagine you want that too, Lord? 

Well, that's my little reflection on Easter.  Not very Eastery I suppose.  I haven't said Alleluia at all yet. But here's my offering and it comes from the heart.

How marvellous!  How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvellous! How wonderful!
Is my Saviour's love for me!

It is marvellous and it is wonderful.  Thankyou Lord. 

Alleluia. He is risen. 

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Coming back from exile

So, it's nearly Easter, and Lent finishes at Easter, doesn't it? Indeed, Easter Day marks the end of Lent, I believe, and all the fasting and abstinence and so on that we have been observing since Ash Wednesday back a month and a half ago.  Easter means feasting, celebrating, joy!  So the denial of Lent is over because on the third day, all those centuries ago, you rose from the dead.

This all seems a bit trivial, really. 

Still, I will push on.

All those who have given up chocolate for Lent will soon be tucking into their Easter Eggs, and those who gave up coffee will be brewing up and inhaling deeply.  No doubt those who gave up wine will be getting the corkscrew out, and those who didn't give up anything but instead did something positive for Lent will, they hope, be keeping up the good work. 

Which brings me to Facebook. Seems an age since I agonised and reluctantly decided to give it up for Lent.  (See 'Logging off for Lent'). Seems a long long time ago when it seemed that everyone had something to say about it, when I was wavering and wondering and hoping that there was something else I could give up that wasn't so precious to me - and now I'm on the brink of being back in the picture.  I decided that the proof of the pudding would be in the eating, and so now it's time to decide what's been going on over the last forty-five days. 

So what has it all been about?  To recap:  I was spending too much time on Facebook.  Quite often, I'm embarrassed to say, I was picking up my mobile to turn off the alarm in the morning and not putting it down until I'd checked in on Facebook.  Any time I was in a queue, waiting for the girls, killing the odd minute or ten, trying not to make eye contact with any of the intimidating mums outside school, there I'd be, checking to see who was doing what, who had said what, and adding my three penneth to conversations all over the place.  Last thing at night I'd be here at my computer and I'd look again to find out what was going on on Facebook, refreshing the page one last time, then again, to see if any pearls of wisdom would appear before I went to bed.  And then in bed chances were I'd check it again before I set the alarm.  And if it pinged again after I'd switched off the light, it wouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility that I might just have a last last quick glance and then reset the alarm. Of course, you know all this. It was definitely you who wanted me to take a look at my FB habit and see if anything needed doing. It did. 

So I was in the habit of looking at Facebook in a morning before I looked at my Bible, and I sometimes had the same in mind when I went to sleep. Of course, I have to qualify this by saying that Facebook itself is not at all bad.  I have many wonderful friends with whom staying in touch is easy and fun because of this means of communication.  I can see pictures of my friends' families even though they live in New Zealand, Australia, Senegal, Malaysia. I've got to know people better by sharing the minutiae of everyday life and given and received love and support because it's so easy to reach out in this way. I've laughed and cried in front of my computer because of Facebook and I have deepened existing relationships and cemented others.  I have shared my faith via Facebook. I've told people about this blog via Facebook. It's creative, simple, honest (if you make it so) and loving. It's a wonderful twenty first century invention and no wonder that millions of the world's population have a Facebook account. 

So why do I feel a bit ambivalent about my Grand Return to the world of social networking in the next few days?  

You and I have spent some special time together over the last few weeks, haven't we, Lord? I think that I have had a more meaningful Lent than I ever have before. Usually I give up something fairly meaningless (if I give up anything at all) and as you know, I've never really put myself out to keep it up, either. This time I was determined to fill my new found minutes with something positive so I've been reading the Bible and commentary excerpts from Martin Luther, AW Tozer, CS Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, Bill Hybels and a whole host of people who write and publish daily devotionals in bite size form for people like me. Some of the greatest minds in Christian history sharing their observations and insights with me

Some mornings something has captured my imagination and stayed in my head all day. At times when I'd probably have checked Facebook I've revisited what I read earlier and thought about it some more.  Other days I've emailed a reading to a friend because there's something there that I want to share.  True, there has been the odd day where I've rushed through, or the girls have jumped on me before I've had a chance to read what I want to read, but for the most part I have spent the first twenty minutes of every day with you, my Lord. That's new for me. As you know, I'm not a morning person.

What I have read has inspired me to write, to pray (I know, I know, this needs much more work) and I have felt distinctly different with words from the Bible, or from wise, learned and godly people in my head as I start the day. I've learned more about myself, and about you, and about you and me and how we relate to each other.  There's been space in my head because I removed something that was occupying a large part of it and created a void which you have filled with your spirit.  It has been amazing. It has been precious time. I don't want it to end. 

It has made an enormous difference to me and I don't want that to change. I have no intention of letting  that change.  I do, however, want to rejoin my Facebook family and so I need to sort out a way of accommodating it without letting it take over and demand the crown again.  I think I should definitely stick to my new found morning routine, so that's not negotiable.  Over and above that, however, I'm a bit in the dark as yet.  I have no plan.  Should I take FB off my phone, so that I can only access it when I'm in front of the computer?  Should I just say that a certain length of time per day is enough?  Half an hour?  An hour?  How should I measure that?  

So I'm going to have to find some willpower.  After the experiences I've had this Lent, I am motivated to maintain the habits that I've got into since I left Facebook behind for a while because it has been too good to lose.  I am sure that some people will be amused that it's still an issue with me, just as they were interested in my motivation for giving it up in the first place. You know me; I can analyse stuff and discuss it and dissect it until the cows come home so it will be no surprise to you, God, that I'm still wittering on about it with twenty four hours to go.

So I shall be back on Facebook soon, though not as much.  My morning offerings in the world of social networking will be more limited from now on; though I only ever used to moan about getting out of bed anyway, so not much loss to the world there.  I hope I can find a balance.  I pray that you'll let me know.

Thankyou for your patience with me.  Thankyou that you can work through modern technology as effortlessly as you work in more traditional ways.  Thankyou that you were so gentle in nudging me towards a few weeks where I thought a bit more, read a bit more, prayed a bit more, spent more time with you.  As we come up to Easter this year, it means more to me. 

And so, it was worth doing. 

Friday, 22 April 2011

The weight of the world

Good Friday. Wasn't such a good day for you, was it? I think the 'Good' bit is dependent on hindsight, because I can't imagine there were many people there who thought that what was going on was good.  There might have been some, perhaps, who thought they'd got rid of you, but when it came down to it even the soldiers who had wielded the hammer and nails looked and listened to you on the cross and concluded that you were something special.

What must you have gone through?  The agony of rejection, the agony of crucifixion, the agony of the moment that God the Father had to turn away from you. How is it possible that you went through with it at all?

Gasping for breath.  Pushing up on the nails in your feet to relieve the dislocating pressure on the shoulders and hands before sinking down again when your muscles betrayed you. Blinking blood and sweat out of your eyes, lifting your head a moment and feeling again the thorns pressing into your scalp. the torn and raw skin and muscles of your back against the splintered wood of the cross.  The exhaustion and loneliness. The humiliation of nakedness in front of your mother, your friends, your enemies. And then the dark, dark emotional anguish when your isolation became complete; the Father, with whom you had always been completely in tune, was nowhere to be found. 

You had the weight of the world on your shoulders at that moment and I cannot begin to imagine the desolation.

Everything that was bad, corrupt, evil or rotten was laid upon you when you became the perfect sacrifice; the sacrifice to end them all.  You did all that.  You hung there and asked forgiveness for those that did that to you.  You asked the Father to forgive us all because I did it to you too.  I smiled and praised you then betrayed you and denied you and crucified you and you allowed it all to happen so that I could be free. You were afraid; in Gethsemane you came before the Father and asked if there was another way - and yet you went through with the Plan because you knew that there could be no other way. 

What can I say?  There's nothing I can do that is enough to thank you, and you know that. You did it anyway. There's no way that I can repay you - and you know that. You died for me anyway. I am forever in your debt. 

Lord Jesus Christ, thankyou for that Good Friday. 

Every Easter I make a point of watching a version of the Easter Story on the television and there are quite a few interpretations. This year we have just finished watching 'Jesus of Nazareth', with Robert Powell playing you. Last year it was the Mel Gibson film 'The Passion of the Christ' and the year before was the BBC's 'The Passion'.  The films are very different. Different interpretations - the words from the Holy Bible have different emphases and the actors deliver them in their own way.  The one thing that they all have in common is that when I come to see the part where they crucify you I find it a terrible thing to watch. It's new every time. I see that the Lord of my heart was put to death for me, and my eyes fill with tears, because they are murdering someone that I love.

Even if I watch these films over and over, Lord Jesus - and I'm sure I will because there aren't that many of them - never let me get to the point where those scenes don't move me. I never want to feel that it is not the momentous thing that it is. I never want it to be too familiar, routine.  I want to hold this feeling of awe and wonder forever.  I want to remember the horror that I was responsible for what happened to you so that I can never forget the magnitude of the forgiveness that you have given me. If I no longer feel the awfulness then I can no longer feel the astonishment. If I don't perceive the depths of my need for forgiveness then I can't appreciate the vastness of your love. 

You died for me. You loved me so much that before I even turned to you and held your gaze, you thought me worthwhile enough to die for.

'Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget
I will not forget you.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands'.

(Isaiah 49:15-16)

My name is on the palms of your hands.

I give you my tears and my wonder and my awe and my love. My guilt I don't have to give you because you lifted it from me on the day that you died. It was heavy, I know, but you are strong. 

My God, you did that for me. 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

So much to thank you for

I have so much to thank you for.

This list is in no particular order and is certainly not exhaustive:

Thankyou that the sun is shining and the girls didn't make too much fuss when I lathered them in sun cream.

Thankyou that we've just been to the hairdresser and both Elizabeth and Katy sat beautifully still so that their fringes are straight and then they got a lolly to eat as a reward.  Katy did not, on this occasion, get her lolly tangled up in another lady's hair.

Thankyou that Bryan is on holiday and has just built us a new seat to sit on in the garden and very comfy it is too.

Thankyou that my beautiful girls are happy and healthy and as I speak are playing nicely together.

Thankyou that over the past two weeks we've had visits from both sides of the family and it has been so lovely to see the children playing together and catch up with brothers and sisters and sisters in law.

Thankyou that Katy was not traumatised by her hospital appointment yesterday. Thankyou that although the doctors don't yet know what her lump is all about, they have ruled out some nasty things that it might have been.

Thankyou that you hear my prayers.

Thankyou that we live in a country where we are free to think for ourselves, to say what we think and have ideas that might be different from other people's.

Thankyou that we are free to worship you openly without threat of persecution.

Thankyou that I am loved.

Thankyou that the blossom is out, the birds are singing and the neighbours cats have not left any obvious presents anywhere in the garden.

Thankyou that we have a lovely house, food in the fridge and enough money to pay the bills.

Thankyou that the local coffee shop does an amazing latte and croque monsieur.

Thankyou that we have doctors to make us better when we are ill.

Thankyou that I have some lovely supportive, perceptive and encouraging friends and a wonderful church family.

Thankyou that I have all my senses and I'm learning to use them better to perceive you.

Thankyou that I have a brain and can think clearly. Most of the time.

Thankyou that I have the ability and means to express myself so that I can write down some of the wonderful things that you say to me so that I won't ever forget.

Thankyou that in the greenhouse my seedlings are sprouting and there's a chance to start getting the garden organised (when I'm not sitting on the new bench).

Thankyou that I live in a climate where it's sunny and it rains and the plants are able to grow so that we can eat tomatoes and cucumbers and beans and lettuces and radishes and carrots and beetroot and blueberries and gooseberries and rhubarb and strawberries and whatever is produced by the mystery plant that Elizabeth and Katy planted at the last Messy Church.

Thankyou that I have so much to look forward to.

Thankyou that I have a gracious God who gives me wonderful gifts.

Thankyou that tomorrow is Good Friday; the day that we remember your most awesome gift; that of your perfect Son Jesus Christ.

Thankyou that you died for me.

Thankyou that you died for me.

Thankyou that you died for me.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Learning to fly

I have so much to thank you for. 

Family.  The last two weekends we've had visits from family; brother, sisters in law, nephews... the girls have loved it, having exciting people to play with in the garden, and we've had barbecues, takeaways and bottles of wine so it's been pretty good for the grown ups too.  It's lovely to see people that you love that live a distance away and therefore don't see much of.  Texts and emails and phone calls and, dare I say it, Facebook - are not a decent substitute for sitting in the garden together with a coffee, chatting and watching the children play together. 

I'm so tired. I've been staying up late and getting up early (ish) and the children have been so excited that they've slept poorly and got up at silly-o'clock the last few mornings.  Today our guests went home and I took the girls to the park to work off any remaining energy in the hope that they might let me sleep a bit tonight.  We met up with some friends and although our intention to have a natter didn't work out exactly as we'd planned (with five children between us they always managed to want to do different things requiring adult attention, so in an hour and a half our talking time was approximately fifteen fractured minutes); it was a good afternoon. 

My Elizabeth can ride a bicycle!  Not just a faltering few yards before an emergency landing - she can ride and ride and ride.  Her own bike was donated some months ago and suffers from a chronically flat tyre (can't find the puncture no matter how hard we try) and a broken spoke.  Another bike we were given has two dodgy tyres and one broken brake handle thingy, so her delight in finding that her older friend had a beautiful, sleek new machine was lovely to behold.  With permission, she was away. Well, you know all this; you were there. I was so proud. I imagine you were too. 

I watched her sail around the playing field with a look of intense concentration on her beautiful little face.  Did you see her, Father God?  Fast and slow, straight and cornering, wobbling occasionally but righting herself, until she came to a stop where we were, flushed and triumphant.  My little Lizzie is five, and she can ride a bike! What a star. 

Elizabeth has always been quick to learn things physical.  You've given her gifts in that department. She is tall and lean, well muscled, streamlined and athletic, with the figure of a swimmer or a gymnast. (She certainly didn't inherit all that from me!)  She took her first steps at eleven months and walked confidently within days.  She took to swimming and loves her lessons at the pool.  She is never still.  She runs, jumps, climbs, dances and swings.  Physical things come easily to Elizabeth.  I have no idea where she gets that from, either. Not my genes, and I might be doing him a disservice, but I don't think they were in Bryan's, either.  I think you must have seen what was necessary there and intervened, Lord. 

Today she was so pleased with herself.  Her little face was glowing, and earlier on she came downstairs after bedtime and overheard me telling Bryan on the phone how wonderful she'd been; I was so glad.  There are many things a child can overhear but I was so glad that she listened to me telling him that she was great, impressive, fabulous before I realised she was there. Fortunately I sensed a little shadow behind me before I suggested that perhaps a new bike might be in order for her birthday in a few weeks time... 

At teatime today we regaled Grandma with stories of expert bicycle-riding and my generous little Katy nodded solemnly when asked if she thought her big sister was amazing. My Lizzie. She felt good today. A while later she sidled over to me and asked me if I liked the poems she brought home before the holiday - they'd been in the workbook that I was shown on parents evening.  Her teacher was most impressed and so was I.  She really can write little poems. She can paint a little word picture. I'm so glad. 

We've encouraged her and made much of her efforts and I liked that tonight, in the light of her bike triumph, she was thinking of another recent success. I long for my daughters to see that they are special, talented, gifted, full of potential.  I want them to be comfortable in their own skins, happy to be who they are. I want them to understand that they cannot be good at everything, but that they have been blessed with a unique arrangement of skills and attributes that no-one else has in quite the same way. Also that they don't have to be the best to earn our love or approval; that trying hard is what we value, not always being a winner. 

I want them to feel confident. Not arrogant, not superior, but assured.  Clear in the knowledge that they are loved, by their family and especially by you, their Heavenly Father. I don't want them to doubt themselves, to fear failure or ridicule and so not to try. I want them to have faith in themselves, because you don't make rubbish, and if you think they are of immeasurable value, then what the world thinks is immaterial. When they are older I hope that they will come to realise that you sent your Son to die for them - and there is no greater legitimacy than that. 

You've been trying to teach me that little lot for decades, Lord, haven't you?  

Funny how motherhood has taught me so much about you. Just as I want it for my girls, you want these things for me, don't you?  You want me to have faith in myself because you don't make mistakes, and I am me for a reason.  I am built this way, with these talents, these flaws, these hopes, these dreams, these fears.  You want me to fly, and yet in adulthood I am only just peering over the side of the nest. I pray that it doesn't take my daughters as long to stretch their wings, because I am beginning to learn that you won't let us fall to the ground. 

I give my little fledgelings to you, Father. My brave, clever Elizabeth who can ride her bike, and my sweet, fiesty Katy who is going to hospital on Wednesday. Father, hold them close right now as they sleep and protect them. 

And thank you.  For family, for friends, for sunshine, for good food and laughter and bicycles. 

Riding on a donkey

Palm Sunday.  I always find it a bit melancholy, actually; the celebrations don't feel right to me. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfil prophecy, and the crowd went wild.  They cheered and waved and praised and sang.  He must have looked around and seen the happy, welcoming faces of the crowd and marvelled at their fickleness.  Less than a week later they would be screaming in hatred and baying for his blood. 

My Lord, what did you feel?  I want to say that if I'd been there, I wouldn't have been like that.  I would have cheered you and welcomed you and then stayed faithful even when things went bad in a few days time.  I want to assure you that my love would have been more constant than that. I would have stood by you. 

But we both know that isn't the case, don't we?  No doubt I would have been scared and fearful and the instinct for self preservation would probably have kicked in for me just as it did for the others. I would have smiled and cheered and praised you that day and then turned away and cowered and hid when the going got tough. There's no way that I would have spoken up for you. I would have been as bad as all the rest. Perhaps that's why I feel so uneasy on Palm Sunday.  Perhaps it's too close to home.  The ease with which 'Hosanna!' turned to 'Crucify!'  I feel bad that you had to go through it all.  You looked about you with a smile on your face and accepted praise with grace and mercy and at the same time you knew how shallow it all was.  We didn't understand. We're good at not understanding.

It can't have been easy; you were a man after all.  Your humanity must have loved the celebrations, the recognition, the welcome. There must have been an element of enjoyment in it for you. Who doesn't love being loved? But then you are God as well.  You saw beyond the shouts of praise and saw the emptiness of the hearts and the fear and the betrayal. It makes me weep for you. I'm sorry that we did that to you. You, who are honesty, truth, beauty, mercy, forgiveness, grace, peace, straightforwardness, love. You were clean and bright and sinless and you were lauded by those who were dark with hypocrisy. You loved them anyway, because these were the people you came to save. 

How amazing is that. 

Next time, you won't be riding on a donkey, will you? There will be no subtlety about your Triumphal Entry next time round. It won't be open to interpretation.  You will leave us in no doubt.  People will not ask, 'Who is this?' because they will know. You will come in all the majesty and dignity that you chose to set aside on Palm Sunday. 

Every knee will bow.  

Thursday, 14 April 2011

I am a tree

I think that I might grow into a tree.  

That's what I think.  With your help, and lots of time (because my sort of tree doesn't grow quickly - I'm not a conifer hedge),  I think I might be a tree. 

I'm trying to write a Life Mission Statement.  What I'm about.  What I'm for.  Now you might think that this is a bit of a laugh, Lord, as I've been bothering you repeatedly with that very question, but along comes this opportunity to try to pin down the answer and I'm thinking that rather than sit here tap tapping away and waiting for an angel to appear at the door with a letter from you containing the answer, I might try and sort it out myself.  Give you the chance to help me work it out, I should say. I'm pretty sure you're the one with the plan, not me. 

Hence the tree.  A book I'm reading, called 'The Path: Creating your Mission Statement for Work and Life' by Laurie Beth Jones, has lots of exercises in it to try to tune into the way I'm made. One of them is to think of a thing that I identify with.  When a picture comes to mind of a thing, be it a banana or a daffodil or a sponge, I go with it and think about characteristics. 

I thought of a tree. A big tree. 

There are a few characteristics here that I think I have, some that I'm working on, and many more that I would like, please. Maybe your list is different from mine; and maybe there are some on one list that you think belong on another; that's up to you. It's a bit mixed up, to be honest. But this is why I like the tree thing.

The tree I have in mind is strong.  It stands tall and does not cower or try to hide. It's happy being a tree, unapologetic for the things it is not, and proud of what it is. It is unique.  There is not another tree like it in the world. It spreads its branches wide like welcoming arms.  It sways in the wind and occasionally loses a branch to gales but does not bend and does not fall over. It can be wounded and it heals. It is beautiful, firmly rooted - in fact the roots of this majestic tree reach out unseen underground as far as the canopy does above ground. A little further, even, so that those roots might collect and take in the rain as it falls to earth. It is self sufficient - it doesn't depend on someone to come and give it plant food; it simply trusts in the sun and the rain to keep it going. It is mighty, secure, beautiful.

Rooted in you.
This tree is maternal - it embraces and reassures. It offers refuge to a host of different creatures; whole eco-systems thrive in the environment it creates. It sustains, protects, nurtures, feeds.  It is deciduous; it goes through a cycle of growth and rest. It sleeps, it wakes, it buds and produces new green leaves which flourish, mature and fall, just as it is supposed to. It is steadfast, contemplative.  Such a tree stands and looks, observes, misses nothing.  Not a thing goes unnoticed. It inches closer to the heavens every year but does not shoot up dramatically.  All change is considered, controlled, incremental, studied. It is not a static thing, unmoving; it is constantly moving on, reaching, developing, but it does so imperceptibly, with dignity and understated power. 

There is something eternal about this tree. It is wise. It is reliable. It will be where it was last time you saw it, familiar and recognisable and yet it will be different in some undefinable way. It creates a striking silhouette against the sunset and you can find shelter under it when it rains and shade when the sun is hot. It makes subtle yet glorious music when the wind stirs the leaves, and if you lie on your back beneath it and look up at a summer sky the shifting colours are breathtakingly beautiful.  

I make no claims to breathtaking beauty, Lord, but day by day I pray that on the inside the seeds of beauty that you yourself have sown in me might be watered and grown into something that pleases you; something that flourishes.  I want to be that tree with all its attributes.

If I need pruning, prune me.  If I need feeding, feed me.  If I am so young a sapling that I need support, let me lean on you. I want to grow into something mighty and majestic with the brand name of your nature clearly visible on me.  I want to spread my branches and sustain those around me. I want to thrive, cared for by you. Guide and secure my roots, shine your life-giving warmth on me and water me so that I can one day tower and protect and stand firm and be eternal.

I want to be what you made me to be.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Snakes and ladders

Bear with me here, Lord.  I know it might seem as if I'm overdoing the CS Lewis thing at the moment, but things keep jumping out at me. 

I'm sitting here waiting for three eggs to hard boil as Elizabeth has to take a hard boiled egg into school tomorrow for her Easter Egg Rolling competition, and I forgot to boil one till now.  I'm wanting to be in bed but as I watch the pan I thought I'd check in with you. Not that I'm just filling time; you know what I mean. 

I'm mulling over the fact that I just snapped at Lizzie as she tiptoed into the kitchen earlier when I was on the phone to remind me of the need for hard boiled eggs and I scolded her for being out of bed and assured her it was in hand when actually it's a good job she came down as otherwise I'd have been hard-boiling eggs at the crack of dawn tomorrow and she'd be rolling a hot one. Poor Lizzie. I'm feeling bad for not admitting that I'd forgotten. I've been reading recently about the need for absolute honesty and the ease with which I assured her that I was onto the hard boiled egg thing is somewhat startling... still, that conversation is for another day. Today it's CS Lewis again.

I'm perilously close to a full bar of Galaxy chocolate, too, so I need to keep my hands occupied.  Bryan brought it into the house at the weekend and then was inconsiderate enough to leave it there when he went back to London.  What can you do? I can't even get up to make a coffee because if I open the fridge for the milk, there it is, looking at me. 

Anyway, CS Lewis. 

He said:

"Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done."
 (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer)

Ain't that the truth.  I feel I'm getting somewhere and then I do the two steps forward, one step back thing.  So much is happening at the moment that I am excited and full of anticipation, then along comes a juggernaut and knocks me flying.  I'm shaking sixes and climbing ladders only to land on whopping snakes that take me back to the beginning.  I look at the children at my bedtime and I sit on the edge of the bed (or on their foot, as I did inadvertently last night with Lizzie which sort of ruined the moment) and I put my hand on them and I pray and I kiss them and I wonder at their beauty and innocence and smallness.  I invariably think to myself, 'How could I possibly have been so cross with you earlier on today?' and I promise, I promise that I'll do better tomorrow.  Tomorrow comes and I've usually mucked it up by breakfast time. 

I'm hard boiling three eggs in case they crack.  I've just looked at them and two of them have cracked.  Lord, look after the third one.  I do want to get to bed this side of midnight.

So I try and I fail.  Or I don't try very hard, and I fail. Each morning I need to start again.  No matter what insights I have on one day, no matter how uplifting the worship on a Sunday, no matter how powerful the sermon, how loving the friendship, how outstandingly patient I am at the children's bathtime (ha!); I need to begin again every morning.  A new page. 

How wonderful is it that you allow that.  That you don't say, 'Well, you've really blown it this time. You were impatient/crabby/hurtful/distant/mendacious enough to ruin it completely.  It'll be a while before I'm helping you again.'

Thankyou that you don't pick up your ball and go home with it every time I don't play nicely.  Thankyou that you give me a clean page each day even though you just know I'm going to make a mess of it. Thankyou that your shoulder is there for me to lean on, your hand to hold and your footsteps to follow each new day. 

Today's coming to an end and tomorrow will start all too soon. I'm going to give it to you; I'm going to lay tomorrow before you and rely on you all over again. No matter what has happened today, I shall be here tomorrow night agonising about the same things, no doubt. Help me to change that, bit by bit, over time, will you, God.  Help me stop thinking I can do it, and teach me to let you do it instead. 

Let there be more ladders than snakes. 

Monday, 11 April 2011

It's only in your will that I am free

My head is spinning. So much is happening at the moment and I am coming to believe that your journey for me at the moment is not so much travelling on the way to somewhere else, but an internal exploration; insight into who I am, where I am, what I am and why I am...what I am for.  Months ago I asked the question, 'What next?' and wondered what I should do when my littlest girl goes to school in September; how my roles in life were shifting slightly.  A wise friend advised me that I am simply 'waking up' after the early years with babies and young children where a woman tends by necessity to retreat from the world to a degree to concentrate on being a mother.  'Waking up' and re-engaging with the world after a 'sleepy' period of inward looking to build a family and take care of it. 

So at the beginning of this year I asked, 'Who am I?' if I'm no longer an occupational therapist, soon to be no longer required as a full time Mum.  I started this year with a keen sense of anticipation, excitement and promise.  I knew you were doing something, leading somewhere, but I had no clue what or where or how. 

Three months down the line and in many respects I'm no wiser, but in a few areas I am sensing what you are about.  It's about me, isn't it?  I have so far to go to be the me that you planned for me.  I am becoming more aware of the distance yet to travel, the work to be done, the heights and depths to be explored, but at the same time I am starting to grasp that you think I'm worth the effort.  I have always doubted that I'm as good as the next person; always felt vaguely apologetic, always taken criticism to heart and deflected compliments, unable to let them land.  Then when I get to this stage of my life, suddenly you take me gently on one side and tell me that you love me, that I'm great, that now's the time to sort it all out - that you have a Plan and before you tell me your Plan you want to make sure that I understand the truth about myself.

So that truth - I don't know what it is yet.  But I am learning that I am unique, that I have something to offer.  Something to offer by being me.  Nobody else can occupy the space that I occupy, and while I'm here, I need to learn to do what it is that only I can do. No point in apologising; no reason to apologise.  I have gifts and talents that are designed for just the job that you have in mind for me.  A quiver of arrows! An arsenal of weapons.  I need to learn what they are and how I can use them, and then I have no doubt that you'll send me out on my mission.

As part of the course I'm doing I'm trying to write my Life Statement.  A Mission Statement, if you like. A sentence or so that sums up what I am about.  Why I Am Here.  It will give direction to my footsteps and guide my every decision.  I can't remember which song it's from but the words:

'For it's only in your will that I am free'

keep going through my mind. The only way I can fulfil my potential is to follow the instructions, and it's taken me this long to rummage in the packet and find them, unfold the booklet and have a look exactly how I'm supposed to work and how to get the best out of me. 

And you're not letting me down. I've had insight after insight; idea after idea and whispers and chuckles and shouts and songs from you. I'm in turn amazed, taken aback, overwhelmed, comforted, challenged and excited. I can't wait for the next thing. I want to be all I can be, and then I want to show those I love how to do the same.  I want to be the person you made me to be and not some distortion of that person, or some pale, faded, listless version.  I want to shine for you; to reflect you.  I want to know, deep in my soul; to understand, to delight in what I see around me and in me, and in other people.  I want the wisdom to see, properly see what you have given me to see, and I want to notice it, to express it, to mark it so that it cannot be overlooked or forgotten, so that I can always remember and other people will see as well. 

What a journey. I can't believe I've even set out. So unlike me to have this courage or determination. So much easier to take the line of least resistance and opt out of any struggling.  So much easier to be flippant and say that my mission in life is simply to get through the week in one piece. I feel as if you're spending time with me, drawing my attention to things, reassuring me, equipping me, loving me.  And when you're all done you'll pat me on the shoulder and say, 'Ok then, off you go.'  And off I'll go, because then I'll be sure of the direction, and I know that there's nowhere you can send me that you haven't been, and won't go again at my side.


I've remembered which song that line came from. It's 'All For Jesus'.  How perfect is that?  What a sense of humour you have, my gracious Lord. 

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.

For it's only in Your will that I am free,
For it's only in Your will that I am free,
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be. 

It's all for you, Lord Jesus. All that I am, all that I'm discovering about myself, you can have it all.  It's all yours already.  All I ever hope to be is the person you want me to be. All of my ambitions, hopes and plans don't mean a thing unless you are in them; they will matter for nothing unless you breathe life into them. It's all for you. 

Fancy you doing all this for me. For me. My God, that you have such patience with me as I faff and hesitate and make excuses.  I'm so thick sometimes that you need to teach me the same things over and over, and yet you never run out of innovation to get your point across. It leaves me reeling. And so thankful. 

Onwards, inwards, upwards, forwards!  What's next?!  I want the next thing. I am champing at the bit. I want to know what you have for me next.

What a day. 

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