Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Tantrums and tiredness. And bats.

Ugh. Today has been one of those days that leaves me feeling as if I've been chewed up and spat out and it's not over yet. Still got the children's bathtime and bedtime to get through.

I'm tired and crabby.  I'm not quite at the end of my tether but I can see it from here. 

The day started far far too early when the time still had a 4: at the beginning of it and Katy notified me in her inimitable manner that she was Awake. It took me an age to get her back settled again only for Elizabeth to join the party just before six. Bryan went back to London after some palaver because his cab didn't turn up at 7.15am (possibly because he didn't book one as it's a Tuesday following a Bank Holiday and his regular taxi comes on a Monday). Elizabeth accidentally snapped a kitchen cupboard door off it's hinges with much splintering of wood, Katy had had enough by 10am and it's been one tantrum after another all day long. 

Mum, worth twice her weight in chocolate, has helped out all day (I think I would be in a much worse state if she hadn't - and she was the emergency lift to the station this morning too) and has had enough. I planned on the day going quite differently, said I could do things and so I'm having to let down people that I said I'd help this afternoon as I simply can't leave a whiny five year old and a screamy four year old with an exhausted eighty year old and so we have a frustrated, tired and resentful forty year old moaning to you right now.

What's gone wrong? Apart from Daddy's return to London, expensive accidents, not enough sleep (by far) and a houseful of very tired women of various ages?  Would it be possible, please, for something to go right today, at some point soon? 

Bryan's train broke down somewhere south of Luton and he had to disembark outside a station and thus got to London very late. We've had a call to say that Katy's surgery on Friday has been pushed back to the afternoon list rather than the morning one, thus lessening her remote chance of coming home as a day case. Everyone I know is rather pleased that they appear to have been allocated some tickets for the Olympics but nothing has been debited from our account. I've forgotten to send a present for a friend's daughter's birthday tomorrow despite having had it for a few days waiting to parcel up and send. 

I don't know where my head is at the moment. I don't normally make arrangements and then let people down yet I've done it twice in the last few weeks (and to the same person!). I hate it when people are unreliable and at the moment it's me. I'm forgetting things, failing to write things down, not taking things in properly and sleeping poorly. The last one probably explains all the others I guess. 

I'm sorry. What a self absorbed and self pitying moan this is. 

Bat. By Lizzie, age 5
Let me tell you about the bats the other night. 

The other night I was on my way to bed when I noticed that it was still light at 9.45pm. I love the light nights and I love the mild weather so I went outside and Bryan joined me. The clouds were beautiful, sort of lit from beneath and silvery and shiny so we lay on the grass to look at them for a bit as the last bit of light faded. We saw the patterns made by the clouds, the lovely half-light and, just before the first stars came out, there came a pair of bats dancing in the dusk over our heads. Silently, playfully, as if  choreographed, they danced and swooped and dived and just seemed to enjoy themselves.  Neither of us are bat experts but we'd both heard of Pipistrelles, so we decided that they were probably Pipistrelle bats.  They were beautiful. 

It was a special twenty minutes. I'm sure it wasn't the only good twenty minutes of the weekend but it's the bit that sticks in my mind right now as the weekend recedes and this week starts walking all over me. I never thought that bats would feature in any nostalgic memory of mine, but it turns out that they do.


Well, this is destined to tail off I think into a grumpy bathtime and then I'll feel guilty when I look at my girls at bedtime and remember how impatient I was this evening. Just day to day living wears me out sometimes. 

We've had dramas recently and quite serious things to contend with; and Katy's op is still ahead on Friday assuming that her cold clears up in time. The last few weeks have held a lot for me to cope with and we've plodded through it with some tears and some worrying and an awful lot of over-thinking, but largely managed alright. I haven't gone under and stayed in bed and wept. And then here I am on a relatively normal day where the worst that happens can be easily rectified, where the frustrations are merely tantrums and thrown toys and uneaten meals and people being grumpy, and yet today has been the day where I've come closest to losing the plot completely. I'm just so tired, Lord. I feel as if I've been tired for ages. Can't it just stop for a little while? 

I'm sure it's no co-incidence that I feel far from you at the moment and I feel my reserves are low and I could do with something to lift my spirit. I'm sure that I only feel so low and empty because I'm in need of a Good Night's Sleep.

Be with me, Lord, on this beautiful evening in which I can't seem to find any joy. Be close to me as I go to bed and please sleep next to both my lovely girls so that you're on hand if they wake. Be with Bryan as he works late while tired to make up the hours lost by his broken train. Be with my Mum as she falls asleep in front of her favourite TV programme because her daughter and grand-daughters have worn her out. 

Lord, bring peace on this house and make tomorrow a better day. 

Saturday, 28 May 2011

My little streaky friend

Hello God.

Someone said something the other day that made me think. It's only a little thing, but for someone who loves words and symbolism and metaphors and often thinks in images, it's a lovely little nugget of a thing.

I was talking about my little blackbird friend who comes so close in the garden (when the neighbours sixteen cats are not around) and who sits on the topmost branch of a conifer near our bench and sings his heart out to me as I sit with my coffee.  He's not even put off by the children, sometimes, so happy is he to sing and sing. He's close enough for me to see his little beak opening and closing and the feathers of his throat ruffle in the breeze as he lifts his head to sing. I said that I thought that I heard you in the bird's song, and it was suggested to me that perhaps this little blackbird was you.

This isn't our blackbird, but it looks a bit like him.
Now this might sound like a distinction without a difference, but it isn't, I don't think. It was a new idea to me. I was enjoying the idea that the bird sings and through him, I can see a glimpse of the beauty of you in your creation. You made the blackbird, and you put a song in his heart, and he is doing as he was made to do. He sings because he was made to sing. And by sitting on the bench with a smile, holding my coffee and watching and listening to him sing, I am loving you. 

So the idea is that it was you. You were there in the blackbird. Now I know that you were there anyway, because you are everywhere; you can't not be there.  And I know that you are with me wherever I go and whatever I do. But you were that blackbird? 

Oh even I've lost the thread of this little daydream now. I know how to make things complicated, don't I? You know what I mean. As I type this I can hear my friend the blackbird, or at least I fancy that it's him. He does do an end of day turn in the tree and he's not discouraged even on a damp evening like this. 

When I see him I can tell him from the other blackbirds because he has a white streak down his tummy - as if some of his feathers have rubbed up against some chalk or something (but it's still there when he's had a bath in the birdbath, because I've watched him). It's funny, years ago when my Dad was still alive there was a blackbird with a grey streak that used to be quite tame and would come and join us when we sat out in the garden; I wonder if they're related. Generations of smudgy blackbirds coming to the same garden to sing and be happy.

I love that little bird.  We fill the bird table with him in mind these days, and we flap at the cats in case they put him off too much and he decides that he'd better go somewhere else to sing his songs. He lifts my spirits when he comes and sits alongside me and puts so much energy in his singing and not only me. He delights us all.  We talk about him and watch out for him and speak to him when he appears. 

He is yours and so am I.  You care about him and you care about me. He is part of your creation, so whether he was singing to you, or you were singing to me through him, or whether you came yourself in the form of a little streaky blackbird to say 'I love you' the other morning or to redirect my thoughts to my loving Father in heaven, then it matters very little. I saw him and I heard him and I heard you and I saw your beauty. And through him, or because of him, or because of you, I praise you.


Friday, 27 May 2011

Trusting your holy name

The children are in bed, dinner is cooking and I have a glass of Pinot Noir to hand. It's Friday night, Bryan's home, there are no immediate hospital appointments, the fridge is full, there's another bottle in the wine rack and it's nearly eight o'clock and still light. 

How can I worry with all that going for me?

Today I listened to a worship CD in the car on the way to the supermarket and although I didn't feel lifted to a higher place, you were there with me. I had a sing to a couple of songs and I felt so much better by the time I got there. I got out of the car at Sainsbury's and had a little smile. I just had a feeling that everything was going to be alright.

Psalm 33: 21
'In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust His holy name.'

I trust you, whether I get the emotional response to your love or not. I will praise you, whether I feel I can sense you nearby or not. I love it when you reach out and touch me but I know that you don't love me any less when you just stay where you are and care for me.

I suppose it isn't you that has moved away from me, anyway. I don't know why some days I feel close to you and others I don't. I just want to learn not to rely on my feelings, not to falter and wonder and look about me anxiously like a child does when he loses sight of Mummy for a moment. I want to trust that I am rooted in you and despite the wind blowing I will stand firm. I want to trust that even though I don't feel transported to another place or basking in a glimpse of you. Those moments are wonderful but I know that they can't be there all the time.

I know that they're gifts and they're precious.

Help me to keep walking, Lord. When things are good and when they're bad, help me to keep walking. Mature my faith, I pray, so I don't fall into the trap of wanting things to be spectacular and personal and emotional all the time. I know that you will never leave me.

So cheers, here's to you, my Lord and my God and my Friend. I'm rejoicing in you because I trust your holy name. Thankyou for family and nice food and a glass or two of wine. You've given me so much.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Rabbit in the headlights

I still can't find you through the fog, Lord. I feel as if I'm just going through the motions at the moment. I could do with a bit of encouragement, to be honest. Just give me a smile?

I feel as if things are piling up again and I'm about to be buried in an avalanche of stuff that need doing and I'm frozen like a rabbit in the headlights longing for a cup of coffee and a nice peaceful sunny day instead of getting them done. 

It's mostly trivia. 

Take this morning, for instance. The alarm went off (as in: the children) at about the right time for getting up, and had I got up at that point I could have washed my hair and felt better about how I look today. Instead I lay in bed with my eyes screwed shut hoping that there'd been some dreadful mistake and it wasn't morning. Entirely because of me the three of us went downstairs for breakfast late which meant trying to speed up the children's breakfast and dressing which is, as you know, a recipe for disaster. Even if mornings go smoothly they are a frustrating time in our house. So I was cross with Katy for refusing to try to get herself dressed, and cross with Elizabeth for being silly and making Katy laugh instead of getting dressed herself. So we left for school/nursery late and Elizabeth forgot her skipping rope which made her cross with me, and Katy forgot her aardvark for the Teddy Bear's Picnic at nursery which made her cross with me. 

By the time I'd left them both I felt worn out. 

On Tuesday this week Katy was supposed to take flowers in to nursery and I forgot that too, so we're doing well at being cross with Mummy this week. At least it wasn't as bad as the time that I forgot to send in a couple of cans of food for the Harvest collection at Kate's nursery. On that day as part of her Harvest assembly they were standing on the stage singing songs and thanking you for all the good things we have. Suddenly Katy announced accusingly at the top of her voice in front of the assembled parents, 'Mummy, you didn't send me with anything!'  Nothing like a bit of public shame.  You'd think I'd learn, wouldn't you?

So now I need to drop off an aardvark to nursery before lunchtime, and I think Lizzie could manage without her skipping rope as it's raining and they'll probably miss their playtime anyway. One or two KindMummy points would be gratefully appreciated.  Then I need to go to the supermarket and shop as I've been managing from the freezer and local shop for a couple of weeks so the cupboard is indeed bare. Meals have been getting a little eccentric as it is.

I started helping a friend with a few jobs that needed doing and when it all went pear shaped for me last week I stopped helping. I need to get onto organising a party for Elizabeth who'll be six in a few weeks. I need to buy her birthday present soon. I need to send cards and gifts to some other friends' children who are having important birthdays in the next few days. I need to send apologetic notes to friends who've had important birthdays that I've missed in the last few days. I need to make several calls, arrange a few repairs, hang a few pictures and repot Mum's yucca (yukka?) so that it doesn't blow over again. I need to clean the bathroom and the kitchen floor and peel Space Putty off the dining room carpet and do some baking as the bananas are squidgy. I need to buy new socks for the girls as they're too small and too holey. I need to write a letter to an old friend who asked if all was well in February and I haven't replied yet. I need to send a letter to the little girl in El Salvador that we sponsor who wrote to us and is surely wondering if we care at all. And I could do with a Good Night's Sleep. 

Did you get that? Mostly trivia, I know.

Arnie the Aardvark is the orange one.
I'm really not looking forward to this afternoon. I have to take Katy to the hospital for her pre-op assessment and tour of the children's ward. She now knows that she's going to have to sleep at the hospital for a night and that a doctor will give her some medicine to make her go to sleep and then when she wakes up her bump will be gone.  She said it was ok, she didn't mind her bump much and it could stay where it was.  Her eyes went all big and she said she didn't like the hospital any more. My poor little love. Could this lump not just disappear, Lord? Save all this scary stuff (for her and for us). 

I don't really know what it's all about but I haven't got the energy to go there at the moment, Father God. And I know that understanding why might not help much. I just don't want to have to take my daughter and allow someone else, skilled or unskilled, to make her unconscious so that they can rummage around in her neck. I'm going to buy her some new pyjamas to wear, and probably spoil her silly with little treats, but I am quite sure that it will be terrible to walk away from my sleeping baby when I know that someone's going to hurt her. Every night I look at them both as they sleep and my heart overflows with love even on the days when a few short hours earlier they've been little horrors. I love my children so much. I do, really. Even when I'm snapping at them for being silly or spilling milk or losing shoes or forgetting things, I love them so, so much.

Help me today, Lord, because I'm feeling ill equipped to cope with it all and I need to be on top of my game this afternoon. Katy's having nightmares (which is unsurprising)  so I'm not sleeping very well. I've got tonsillitis again, I'm so tired and headachey and I need a haircut . And a hairwash, actually, but I'm hoping you haven't noticed that. Ha! If I'd got up earlier...

Help me be what Katy needs today. Help me be loving and supportive and honest without being patronising or scary. Help me soften what needs softening and explain what needs explaining. And I'm hoping that there'll be an opportunity with Katy not listening for me to find out about the administration of anaesthetics and other specific stuff that I need to know to be prepared and calm down a bit. 

I know you're there, Lord, even if I can't feel you. I know you're there even if I can't hear you. I feel a bit as if I'm floundering round with little direction at the moment, but I'm trusting you to point out the signposts if you don't mind. Give me some energy and more patience and wisdom and ...and... everything else I'll need. 

And if you can make the sun shine that would help a bit too. 

Got to go now. It's nearly aardvark time.

PS.  Thankyou my Friend. I pressed 'publish post' and the sun came out. Bless you. 
PPS. As I came out of the house I could hear the children at Lizzie's school in the playground for playtime since the sun was out so I went that way and handed over her skipping rope at the gate. The joy on her face was worth it. It was another little gift. Thankyou. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The tongues of men and angels

Right, God. There's something I want to say.

I've always wanted to speak in tongues. I have no idea why you haven't given me this gift.

Wow, that sounded arrogant, didn't it? As if you need a reason for not giving me a particular spiritual gift and I require you to explain yourself.


I know that there are many spiritual gifts and I know that you have blessed me with some of them. As I get older I am recognising your hand in my life in this department but the gift of tongues I have prayed about and asked for so many times and it has never come.  I have other gifts that I love and try to use, but this one is one that I have longed for.

I would love to experience such evidence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I would love to be able to praise and worship and cry out and intercede on those occasions when I have no words.  There have been times in my life when I've felt so miserable or distressed that all I could do was sob to you and in times like that I have felt it would be such a comfort to speak through the Spirit. I would love to transcend the confines of vocabulary and grammar and inspiration when I lift your Name high. I would love to be able to draw closer to you by allowing your Spirit to speak through me.

But it seems it's not to be. Or at least, it hasn't been yet.

I used to wonder if there was something wrong with me and that was why other people had this gift but not me. I thought that maybe my walk with you was faulty in some way (and perhaps it was; still is!) and that the only reason you weren't gifting me in the way I wanted was that you were waiting for me to have some spiritual breakthrough. Speaking in tongues seemed to be some sort of evidence of having 'made it' spiritually and I never got there. Perhaps it was unconfessed sin, or an inadequacy on my part. I clearly wasn't spiritual enough. Not clean enough. Not holy enough. Not mature enough - in faith or experience.

I don't believe these things any more; or at least I mostly don't.  I have moments of doubt where I wonder if there is still something blocking the flow of you into my life, but for the most part I can see so much of your grace in my life that it doesn't make sense that this particular area is a problem between you and me. Tell me if I'm wrong!

Nearly everyone I know can speak in tongues and every last one of them values this gift so highly. Whether it's praying for someone else, praying when words are absent or difficult or worshipping you in a sublime way, they all say that it is a wonderful experience. Why not me?

See? I'm forty and I can whine like I did when I was a teenager. I think we had this conversation then a time or two. If there is a lurking reason why it's not happening, let me know, Lord God. Let me put it right, so that your grace and your gifts can flow through me freely. I suppose just saying that I show that there is still a little tiny part of me that wonders if it's my fault.

I even bought books on how to receive the gift of the spirit. This was at the time when every Tom Dick or Harry was being 'slain in the spirit' and experience was everything. At one church I attended for a while as a student if you weren't crying or falling over or laughing uncontrollably during a service then you were 'spiritually dead' and required serious prayer (usually in the Spirit). I think I even remember being prayed for once, but I'm not quite sure that it was all it should have been.

So it's all very well when we have sermons on desiring spiritual gifts and allowing God to bestow them on you. I've been desiring for many years, and in this specific area, you aren't feeling in a bestowing mood, are you?

Don't get me wrong, I know that I have gifts that I can use for your glory. I find it hard to talk about them lest someone pipe up, 'What?! You think you're good at that?!' but I have some ideas. Kind and wise people have spoken to me to draw my attention to things that I can do, and talking to you like this is one of them. Maybe I have a gift of prayer - I certainly have the gift of going on a bit. Perhaps that's why you don't want me to speak in tongues. Perhaps if I could, I'd spend my prayer life doing that and not so much this. (I'd like to reassure you that if that's the reason you are withholding this gift, I would definitely make sure that I didn't neglect other means of praying. Honestly. And if you were to double up the gift of tongues with the gift of wisdom and discernment then you could be sure that I would use it according to the Maker's instructions).

Some people say that they were determined to receive the gift of tongues, and so they deliberately started speaking in a gibberish sort of way until they 'found their voice'. This doesn't work for me. Am I too self conscious? I can imagine you looking down at me with amusement on your face as I try to utter streams of nonsense in the hope that at some point you might take over and give me words.

Nope, it seems that it isn't for me. I feel a bit sad about this, Lord, but I'm coming to terms with it. There are other gifts that have a wider application, perhaps. I would love to be wise. I would love to have wisdom and insight and perception and discernment. I would like to see people and see them with your eyes. I would like to be able to tell when you are speaking and when you are not with complete confidence. I would love to have more of your heart.

So if you are happy (in principle; I know it could be so much better) with my level of worship when I am talking to you in a language that I have learned and do understand, then it's up to you, isn't it? You're the only One I want to worship. It isn't for me, much as I love it. My joy in worship comes from pleasing you, and if you are pleased then I should be satisfied. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I'm going to leave this one with you, God. That sounded magnanimous, didn't it? What I mean is I'm going to try to stop probing this area like a missing tooth and just be happy with what I have. Or start pestering you about something else.

Thankyou for all that you have given me. The stuff that I've known about for years and the stuff I'm discovering each day. Thankyou for people around me to reassure and advise and nudge me back from envy or confusion or frustration or self doubt.

Thankyou that you are a God who loves to give gifts. I know that you haven't left me out.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Love, hard work and squidgy bananas

Why are people such hard work?

I bet you ask yourself that every few minutes, don't you?

Hmm.  Now I've thought that, it's sort of taken the wind out of my sails. 

Am I hard work? I suppose I am.  There's a good chance that somewhere in the locality someone at some point has thought that I am hard work. Perhaps  indeed several people; certainly including my husband, daughters, mother, brother and extended family, friends, neighbours, church family, milkman, hairdresser etc. That's certainly put the brakes on what was about to be an extended whinge about the difficulty of caring about other people, especially people who are different from me.

But I'll push on. You knew I would, didn't you?

Some people are easy to be with, and some aren't. Some people seem to fit my shape, and some seem to chafe. Some people offend my idea about how a person should behave, or appear, or talk, or smell.  My instinct is to turn towards the comfortable people and avoid the ones I find harder to deal with but that's not how it should be, I know. I read a Bible reading/devotional thingy a while ago that was based on this idea - that you are not giving enough unless you are giving sacrificially. If it's easy, then you're not working hard enough. 

Hmm.  Don't like the sound of that.

It was about loving being more closely related to work than to play. I am having this experience. Some people are easier to love than others, and I mean people you meet for the first time and instantly form ideas about; and I mean family and friends and church family too. Some people we're quickly drawn to and loving is easy, and others we're not and the feeling never gets any better. Sometimes we get back as much or more than we give and the transaction is a lovely one, and other times it's so hard. It's hard because you don't want to do it, it's not comfortable to do it, and you can think of a million reasons why it would be completely reasonable that you don't do it at all. Keep walking. Someone else will do it. 

It costs; time, or energy, or something else that you'd rather do, but can't do because you're doing this thing. It costs in terms of weight on your mind - the 'I ought to' thing. As a Mum of young children there are so many ways in which my day has to be modified in order to meet someone else's needs before my own that quite often I am reluctant to look outside the basic day-to-day running of this family and expend energy elsewhere so things end up being prioritised. Sometimes I am just so tired that I feel there's nothing left to give. Sometimes it's the church things that I do that get in the way - I have meetings, I need to prepare things, I need to be somewhere else so the time I do have I need to devote to things closer to home. None of that is wrong, I'm sure; but I am uneasy about how I can sometimes brandish those things as a defence against the creeping feeling that I am not doing enough.

Banana cake in the raw

Some people work full or part time and find time for other people in a way I fear I don't. Some people manage to do an extra batch of delicious cakes and give them away while I struggle just to knock up a banana cake for the girls to use up my squidgy bananas. Some people don't seem to have any family quirks or politics that means that inviting people into your home on spec requires careful planning rather than blissful spontaneity. Or maybe this is all obfuscation and my selfishness is the real reason.

There's always a reason, isn't there?

This little devotional challenged me to ask you to show me where in my life I could show sacrificial love, and then pray for the courage to do it. I am reluctant to pray such a prayer.  You might answer it. As the author said, 'Tell me how to show love without spending time, energy or money and I will gladly sign up. Tell me that love means sacrifice, however, and I become reluctant to commit myself.'

How can I fit anything more in, Lord? Should I? Excuses, excuses... OK, then, what should go to make room?  It reminds me again that although I don't doubt that you want what's best for me, I worry about how much it's going to hurt. Why am I always so sure that you'll ask me to do something way out of my comfort zone? 

It's all a bit much at the moment, Lord God.  I'm feeling a bit pathetic. As if I'm busy licking my wounds and need to be left alone for a bit. I feel a bit as if a fortnight on holiday on my own somewhere warm and remote is more in order than energy spent looking around for other people to care for. 

So don't ask. I don't want to say no. 

Or if you really feel you must ask, give me a bit of a break and then do it gently, will you? 

Start me on something easy.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


I've been sitting here for a couple of minutes with my fingers on the home keys, waiting for inspiration. In the absence of inspiration, I've started anyway. 

I don't know what to say. The last week has been a rollercoaster of anxiety, joy, fear, relief, worry, happiness, insecurity and reassurance. 

The doctor said he thought things looked bad, I went away on a beautiful weekend by the sea for Mum's birthday and had a lovely celebration, I came back and sank into a bit of a swamp of worry, I rallied for Katy's appointments then was disappointed and apprehensive as the doctors stuck to their guns regarding the need for surgery. I braced myself for my breast clinic appointment, felt sick with anxiety and then lightheaded with relief. Friday was our wedding anniversary so we had a really nice day together that we wouldn't have had if Bryan hadn't had to come home to be with me at the hospital the previous day. Then Friday night I went for 24 hours away as part of the course I'm doing, spent Saturday inspired by you to explore the idea of vision in Christian ministry - then came home to find a friend ill and needing help. 

Today I'm tired. I feel as if I'm insulated from everything. Nothing is really penetrating; maybe I just need a Good Night's Sleep. Ha. But I thought on Thursday night that when I had the good news about my non-life threatening lump that I would feel euphoric and close to you and full of life and praise and positive emotions. Instead I feel as if I'm reaching for you through a fog. 

I know you're there, because you don't go away. I know that you were there on Thursday because I felt your presence with me. I know you were with me yesterday because there are aspects of the discussions about vision and your purpose for my life that have stayed with me, but this morning in church I felt sort of deadened; cheerful enough, not depressed, not over-emotional in any direction, but as if I'm outside myself watching and removed from the songs, the talk, the baptism, the prayers. 

Maybe it's what my Grandma would have referred to as 'Reaction'. The week has been pretty stressful and I've waded through it because I had no option, and so now I've stopped for a bit, things are catching up with me. Maybe I'm just tired. Maybe I have things that I thought about for the first time last week to do with illness and death - my death - and family that I need to process or something. It was indeed a heavy week. Or, I don't know, maybe something else is going on.

Where are you, Lord? I want to see you. I want that excitement back that I had a few weeks ago when I was on fire with anticipation and learning new things every day. I want to be like that again. I don't want all the stuff that happened last week to blunt it all. It feels blurred. That crisp, fresh revelatory experience seems to have disappeared behind and instead I feel numbed a bit. My prayer life is still in the staccato, abridged phase it was last week when all I could do was send up pleas and worries to you. I'm thinking, praying, singing, worshipping through a fog. Walking through treacle. How many metaphors do you need? The energy is gone. The electricity. The experience. 

Here's where all that stuff comes in about being able to worship and pray and lean on you whether we perceive you to be there or not. About experiences being unreliable barometers of your presence. I do know you're there, but I do like it when you make yourself known to me. It's nice to feel you. To get a glimpse of you, to catch a few bars of your music. I like it. It thrills me, feeds me, lifts me. Without it I am here, you are there, but there could be inches or miles between us. I know that you can reach out to touch me no matter how far away you are, but my arms are only short. 

Come back. I mean, pull me back closer to you. Or show me how to throw off the blanket and see things clearly again.  I like it better that way.

But here's the thing. You know what you're doing. There have been times in my life where you have shown up and changed everything, or nudged me in the right direction, or even picked me up and run with me, and never once did you do it to order. There have been times in my life when I've just got on with it and you've been as close to me then as you were when I was in your arms, except I didn't know it. You hold all the cards, I don't really know how to play without your help. Just give me enough light to show me the next step, Lord God. Even if it's a bit dim.

I keep wanting to know why all the time. Why, and when, and for what purpose. I love the experience of you, but I know that life isn't all high colour and exhilarating movement and cinematic widescreen. Maybe this bit is in black and white.  Maybe you've backed away for a bit to see what I'll do. Well, help me to do what you would have me do. Don't let laziness set in now that I'm not wide awake with experience. Don't let me grind to a halt and find somewhere to sit down just because the momentum has gone. I'm trusting that you are as much in charge as you were when I could see you ahead of me in the driving seat when I was clinging on tightly and laughing with delight. This ship is still moving, even though the wind has dropped.

CS Lewis, wise man, has this to say:

'Remember, He is the artist and you are only the picture.  You can't see it. So quietly submit to be painted - ie keep fulfilling the obvious duties of your station (you know quite well enough what they are!) asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk - don't keep on looking at it.'

I'll keep plodding. 

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Thankyou thankyou thankyou

Oh thankyou thankyou thankyou.  You made it alright. You did, didn't you?

It turns out that the lump was nothing to worry about. I might be imagining it but I think I can hear you shaking your head with fatherly amusement and saying, 'I told you so!' - is that right? 

It was nothing. I don't have breast cancer. I don't need chemotherapy or surgery and my hopes of living to see my girls grow up are alive again. We're opening a celebratory bottle and cooking the very fine looking dish that was given me last night and there's a large Toblerone in the fridge that might not be there later. 

I am so relieved that I am exhausted. Katy's appointment went as well as can be expected with a four year old who doesn't trust doctors who propose to poke her bump any more; the consultant suggested trying to aspirate her bump again, Katy politely declined (or something like that) and so surgery is scheduled for 3 June, as it was. I still feel that there's time for the bump to disappear in a miraculous manner, though, if you're up for it, but after this afternoon's get out of jail free card I feel awkward about trying to guilt you into anything else.  

Oh, my God, you were there with me today. When I was being poked and prodded and squashed and manipulated and examined you were right there next to me. I felt a bit nauseous, scared, but not overwhelmed. The doctor I saw, the technicians and nurses and even the reception staff were just lovely. Welcoming, reassuring, kind, respectful (and I found myself in some pretty undignified situations) and when the doctor told us the news at the end they seemed genuinely happy that they were giving us good news. 

I don't really have the words to say thankyou. Especially not after a couple of glasses of wine. All I can say is that I've spent the last couple of days contemplating the worst that could happen and it hasn't. It's alright. I don't know what this experience means; does it mean anything? Is there something profound?  If there is, please show me because I want it to mean something; something that I can take with me.  If there's anything about my life that I should change in the light of this last week which has been spent  wondering if I'm seriously ill, then I want to make sure that I notice it. I don't want to wake up tomorrow feeling so much better and pick up the trivia again and forget the soul searching and the deep, deep emotions that I've been grappling with this last week.

I don't want to forget that you were there when it was grim, just as you are there when the birds are singing and the sun is shining. Maybe next time I'll be quicker to turn to you; to trust you. Oh, I don't know. I'm too tired. I can hardly keep my eyes open.  Today I've spent nearly five hours in the hospital and wondered if things would ever be right again. I went from fear to euphoria, from depression to elation. It was a Big Thing for me. Help me to grow and not to just turn my back on this. Give me more wisdom, Father God. 

Thankyou for loving me, Jesus. Thankyou that you never let me down. Thankyou that you surrounded me with warmth and love from my family and friends. Thankyou for a wonderful husband who loves me so much. Thankyou for my gorgeous children. Thankyou for a sunny day and doctors and sonographers and a health service that takes care of us in an emergency. Thankyou for my health and my life. May I never take it for granted. 

Thankyou for wine and pasta and meatballs and chocolate. 

Thankyou my Friend.  

'Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good
His love endures forever.

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; 
he brought me into a spacious place
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.'

Psalm 118; 1, 5-6

Holding your hand

I think I've been asking all the wrong questions.  I don't suppose there's any reason to expect that I would understand why things are happening as they are, really, is there? From experience you don't announce something, then wait for questions and explain yourself before proceeding. If understanding comes, which it often doesn't, then it evolves over time and doesn't dawn on me like a light going on.

So I should stop wasting your time and mine in trying to work it all out. Katy has a lump on her neck and surgery seems likely. I have a lump in my breast and I don't know what it is or if anything needs doing about it. So today, as I wait for Katy's appointment time to arrive, and mine in a few hours, I am going to concentrate on not dwelling on the 'why?' and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  I don't think you want me to do anything more than that. 

I spent yesterday evening with two of the loveliest friends a person could have. Another wise and kind and perceptive person came round to drop off a meal for tonight because she thought that when I got in from the two hour breast clinic appointment I probably wouldn't fancy cooking.  Bryan arrived home late last night having caught a train from London to be with me and Katy today. Mum has been quietly helping out and doing what needs to be done to keep things running smoothly. This morning already I have had a host of text messages from friends who are remembering what today holds for me. I feel blessed indeed to be surrounded by such wonderful warm, kind people. Thankyou Lord. Your family is an amazing thing. I feel as if I have loving people all round me and if my legs go wobbly they'll help to hold me up. 

I'm holding your hand today. I'm holding it tight and letting you lead me just as I hold onto Katy and steer her across a road. I'm not going to let go because I don't want to lose you, and I know that you have no intention of letting go of me. I won't slip out of your grasp. I know that sometimes just like Katy, I lean back and dig my heels in and you can feel me resist as you pull me along, complaining and whining. Even at those times I don't want to let go. 

I don't feel like a grown up today. I know that when I have Katy on my knee and the doctor is telling me what needs to be done to make her better I will be in parent mode, and I know I will look after her and be calm and reassuring and everything she needs me to be, but today, underneath, I feel as if I want to sit on your lap and just be held and have you stroke my hair and whisper that it's alright, there's no need to be afraid, because you will look after me. You'll make it alright.

My feelings are all over the place. One minute I am resolute and strong, the next crumbling with fear of the unknown. To be honest it's not fear of the unknown at all, it's fear of what I perceive to be the worst case scenario this afternoon or whenever I get the results of whatever tests they do. Fear that I'm going to have to learn to live with the shadow of something hanging over me, forever wondering if some day soon it's all going to be over for me in a few months of misery and illness.

That was a little wallow, wasn't it? I'm sorry. I'm sitting here looking out of the window at the sun on newly cut grass, and sparrows and blackbirds on the bird table, some beautiful poppies just opening out. From here I can't quite see all the weeding that needs doing or the annoying bird poo on the new bench. In a bowl in front of me are the pebbles I brought home from our exquisite weekend at the beach, including all the smiley ones.  We found so many, and I didn't have the heart to discard any. I've got a cup of coffee; another couple of encouraging texts have arrived since I have been writing this.  I have so much to be thankful for. 

I have you. I have a God who loves me. I have a God who has defeated the worst that this world can do to me, so that no matter what, I will not be crushed. I am afraid, but you are not, and a tiny part of me hears you when you tell me that I don't need to be afraid either. I can hold onto you and shelter behind you and you will take care of me. I don't know what form that will take, and though I keep trying to persuade you to do it my way, I know in my heart that you know best, and I have chosen your way.  In my small, weak, faulty way, I know that it is the only true way.

Here's today, Lord. Thankyou that I'm not alone. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Make it alright

"We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be." 
 C.S. Lewis

I like this little quote, and for the most part it's true for me, but I could do with some explanation as to how stuff that's going on at the moment is exactly the best for me. Or for Katy, or for Bryan or Elizabeth or my Mum. It doesn't seem to make sense to me at all. I don't want it to be painful. Why does it have to be painful?  Does it have to be? Why is it, sometimes?

We went to the hospital for a scan, Katy and I, this morning, and the consultant sonographer, if that's his title, pored over the grainy little image of her bump and declared that it was smaller (hooray!) but still needed removing, in his opinion (hmmph). It has changed shape and now might have a fistula which heads somewhere deeper in her neck, but looks as if it might be an abscess, now, not a lymph node or a gland or a cyst. The truth is they still don't know, and despite it's slightly shrunken appearance they're taking no chances.  We see the consultant maxillofacial surgeon tomorrow and she has the final say. The surgery date is booked for June 3.

What will be the state of play with other things by June 3, Lord?  Will all be well, and all we have to concentrate on is little Katy and her operation? Or is life going to come crashing down again tomorrow? How many worries am I going to have to cope with all at once?

What is it all about?  Character building?  I know that you can bring good out of any situation but I just don't see why we have to have so much crap for you to bring good out of. I know that you can manage it from a standing start so you don't have to allow all this to go so wrong just to bring about something good. To be honest I thought that this year was trundling along just fine and I was making progress without the necessity for adversity to toughen me (or my family) up. There's been so much that's gone wrong this year and I've done so well so far, haven't I? I thought I had, anyway. But it's just getting a bit much for me now.

You know that bit in the Bible about sharing in your suffering? Of course you do, you wrote it. How can anyone want to share in your suffering?  I don't understand.  I don't want to suffer.  If I have to, I will, as I have no choice, and I'll go through it clinging as tightly to you as I can, but to stand up and say, 'I want to share with you in your suffering,' - I don't understand it. I am considering the possibility of impending suffering right now and I want no part of it. I want you to sort it out; take it away. Does this show you how inadequate I am as a Christian? Isn't it normal? I am apprehensive, pessimistic, anxious. I might have something wrong with the body in which I live and I'm afraid. I'm not embracing it with any enthusiasm. Surely that's not possible. 

I know that you are my friend and that you love me. I know that you love Katy even more than I do, and you want the best for us all. I just don't like it very much right now. I've just run into my two lovely ceramic penguins with the vacuum cleaner and smashed them into several bits and it felt like the last straw. 

While we were away it was easy to put all this on a back burner because life in a hotel near the sparkly sea with the sun shining and all the family around isn't real life in so many ways.  I knew as we drove away and left the sea behind that coming back was going to be a bit difficult but these three days since we got back have been interminable.  And now it's Wednesday night and tomorrow is Katy's appointment and then mine and I don't know what happens after that and the fact that I don't know leads me to explore the possible outcomes far too much for comfort. 

I met up with an old, old friend for coffee yesterday; someone I hadn't chatted with in maybe twenty-five years; and before then when we were both at school we had a somewhat stormy friendship at times.  We had a lovely time talking and found experiences in common over the last few years, and she told me that she, too had had scans for breast lumps and also had one removed.  And both had been fine. You work in mysterious ways, Lord God. To bring someone like this back into my life and for me to receive some comfort from that source particularly is a wonderful thing. Healing. 

It brings me back to the 80% of breast lumps are benign thing. That leaves one in five that are not benign. The likelihood is that it's nothing. I'm even starting to bore myself.

I'm tired and snappy and I've just broken a couple of ornaments that were special to me. My youngest daughter is going to see a doctor tomorrow who stuck a needle in her last time and may well do it again, before making arrangements for her to be anaesthetised while they operate on her. And then me - tomorrow has the potential to be a reason for great celebration, deepening anxiety, or who knows what?  Forgive me for being cross and argumentative.

I don't think that this is my finest hour. I'm not accepting my lot with stoicism and grace, am I? I know the 'Why me?' thing could just as easily be 'Why not me?' but I don't like it. I'm not having a good time. 

Take it away, Lord, will you?  Make Katy better so she doesn't need surgery and when they see this lump of mine tomorrow just make it clear that it's nothing to worry about. Then I can get on. I can go away this weekend with Ruth and everyone and concentrate on you. I won't let you down. Well, I probably will, but I'll try not to. Oh dear, I'm bargaining now.

I give you all my anxiety and worry and sleeplessness and fear and uncertainty and melodrama and patheticness.  I give it all to you because you know what's coming and you will be at my side when I find out for myself. Father, please hold me up and give me your peace; the sort of deep, deep peace that isn't shattered to smithereens if someone tells me something devastating. Hold Katy close as the doctor prods and pokes and talks about her over her head to me. I know she understands so much more than we think; she must be anxious and worried and frightened too. She doesn't know what's coming, and neither do I. We're in the same boat, my Kate and me. So walk alongside just as you always do and I might dare to say it'll be alright. Let us feel you with us, please. I'm Katy's mummy but I'm your little girl too.

Because I do trust you. I know that you love me and my daughters. I know that you love my Mum and Bryan and my family altogether. I know that there's nothing I could go through that you haven't been through. You did it without doubting and without whimpering. Help me to do that too. 

You know, if its alright tomorrow, Lord, don't let me forget this. Don't let me forget this feeling of uncertainty and helplessness; I don't just want to throw off my reliance on you because I feel in some mistaken way that I'm back in control. I want to continue to hand it all over to you when the day is sunny as well as when it's raining. I want to be what you want me to be. 

I just want to be well and take care of my children and get us through all this so we can move on to the next thing. 

Lord, here's Thursday. Make it alright.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Let's not do it yet, please

Oh God. It's probably going to be alright.

I know that statistically it's more likely to be alright than not alright, but I'm anxious nonetheless. Who wouldn't be?

I went to the GP last week with a lump in my breast and he examined it and told me that he was unable to reassure me.  I haven't detected any reassurance from you either, unless you count the warmth and concern and love of several wonderful people that you have put round me; so I suppose you have indeed reassured me, but you haven't said anything clear about whether or not this lump is cancer.

I feel like I might come out in a cold sweat just talking about it. My Grandma, if ever she needed to say the word 'cancer' in conversation, used to mouth it silently as if speaking the word might bring about something horrific.  Grandma was very superstitious. I'm not, but I still find that I don't want to talk about it very much. Still, I talk about everything else, so why choose right now to shut up, hey?

It's probably going to be alright, isn't it?  80% of breast lumps turn out to be non-life-threatening. The other 20% turn out to be life-threatening. Of those 20% of unfortunate people, I've read statistics about one, five and ten year survival rates, but I can't take it in. Why are there no statistics stretching further than ten years from diagnosis and treatment? I don't want to think that I might have ten years left; that's nowhere near enough. I was expecting thirty or forty more. 

I'm frightened. Last week I saw the doctor, did a load of errands, fetched the girls from school and nursery, spoke to people, wrapped presents and packed for our lovely weekend away and generally got on with things, but there was one evening where I sat at my computer where I'd been googling 'breast lumps' and 'biopsy' and so on and suddenly I was engulfed in a wave of fear. It was fear, not anxiety, not sadness - I was terrified.  It lasted about twenty minutes and I was cold and I cried and I trembled. I planned my funeral (and saved it as a Word document). Over and over in my head I kept hearing that I might not see my precious girls grow up. It was awful. And all unnecessary if next Thursday goes fine and the doctor sees straight away that this lump is nothing sinister. Of course, it's probably going to be alright, isn't it?

We went to Southwold for a weekend by the sea to celebrate my Mum's 80th birthday and it was lovely. We met up with the other half of the family there and we all paddled together and skimmed stones and drank coffee and ate fish and chips and walked and laughed in the sun and it was so easy to put all my worries on one side because it was a weekend away from reality. It really felt unreal. Coming home has been a crash landing and I'm bruised and hurting and I can't think straight. I can't be sensible. My imagination is in overdrive.

I feel as if I'm sinking. When I was away I slept fine (when the children let me) and last night after we got back I spent most of the night awake. All I can think about is this lump; I keep touching it, or sitting with my arms crossed in front of me as if I'm trying to protect myself. I'm finding it hard to hold a thought in my head; they sort of slither away and my conversation is more distracted than ever. The end of a sentence seems to slip out of reach while I'm still trying to concentrate on the beginning. And all because the doctor said he couldn't reassure me.

'It is a worry,' he said.
'I'm going to refer you as a matter of urgency,' he said.
'I have referred people before when it looked bad and it turned out to be nothing...'

I didn't hear the 'turned out to be nothing' bit, just the 'when it looked bad' bit. So it looks bad, then?

But you know that, you were there.  I know you are close to me because you've said you will be and you don't break promises.  Forgive me, Lord, if I'm finding it hard to formulate prayers. I'm not thinking very straight. Not that my prayers are usually particularly eloquent, but at the moment they are very staccato and consist largely of, 'Let it be alright, please'. 

I keep looking it up on the internet or in books. I keep googling different words and seeing what the statistics say. I always do this; it's how you made me. I need to learn all I can about everything. You've seen my bookshelves. Books on getting pregnant, books on pregnancy, books on birth, books on babies, books on feeding, books on childhood, books on behaviour, books on schools, books on everything I've ever needed to learn about. As if knowledge and understanding can stop bad things from happening or make them better when they do happen.  Ha.

Does it help? Yes.
Does it solve the problem? No.
Am I more prepared? Yes.
Am I reassured? No

I've said on several occasions that sometimes I get a glimpse of the wonder of heaven; and I know that an eternity with you is going to be amazing. Part of me longs for that; and those times when I do find my eyes opened to see and taste it for a moment, my soul sings. But not yet. I thought I would look after my girls, and be the best wife I can be, and take care of my Mum, and turn more into who you want me to be, to do something for you here, first.  I haven't even got to the bottom of what's going on with Katy's lump yet! I've got to get my littlest girl through surgery first, please, Lord. This is a bad time for me, Lord. There's too much. I don't want to do it now. 

I don't want to do it at all, please. Early on this year when I became so aware of your working in my life I wondered exactly what it was you were preparing me for - to begin with I thought there was something specific - a job, a role, a mission.  More recently I thought maybe you were healing me, changing me, developing me to be all I could be. I didn't really think that I might die any time soon.

But it might be nothing. Probably it will be alright. Won't it?

I have a two hour appointment at the hospital on Thursday. A biopsy and a scan or two. I don't know when I'll get results. I'm hoping I won't have to wait over the weekend. I'd like whoever does the scan to take one look and say, 'Ah, this is nothing! Don't you be worrying about it one little bit,' if that's ok. Something so obviously not sinister that I am reassured and all is well.

Lord, please take this away. Don't leave it hanging over me. For someone with a chronic anxiety problem the spectre of cancer is looming very large. I don't want to be ill. What will happen if I do have something serious?  How can Bryan do his work if I am sick enough to be unable to take care of Elizabeth and Katy? Mum can't do it all. How can I keep getting up in the night and keep going all the time if I'm having horrible treatment for something? Even if it all turns out alright and they cut the lump out and it hasn't spread and they discharge me from hospital, there's always the possibility that it might come back to finish the job. For someone like me, how do I live like that? Is it some way of getting my attention? Is this some lesson in coping with worry? If I have to live my life under the shadow of recurrent terminal illness, I will need to learn to deal with it, won't I? 

But you don't work like that, do you? You don't send misery to teach people lessons. So can I speculate that you might not choose to take it away so that I can prevail against the odds and turn more closely to you? Is that you bringing good out of a bad situation? If so, I'm not liking that set up, if you don't mind. If it's all the same to you I'd rather bring glory to you by a miraculous healing, or by means other than life-threatening illness. I can do something with my life without cancer, please.

It'll probably be alright, won't it?  Everyone has a story of someone they know who had a biopsy and it turned out to be nothing bad. So it probably will be the same for me, won't it? 

I have plans, Lord. I know you have a plan for me, too, but I thought we were sort of thinking the same way on this one. My little girls are four and five, Father God. I have a long way to go with them. Please don't take them away from me. Don't take me away from them. Don't hurt them. Don't allow them to be hurt. I know I'd be ok; I'd be with you and there would be no more tears, but I don't right now understand how heaven could be so much better than cuddling my girls so close that we disappear into each other, their arms round my neck, inhaling their beautiful scent and hearing them say 'I love you Mummy'.

The idea that I might miss decades of that breaks my heart. I can't leave them. I can't. Please don't make me. I can't watch from on high as they grow up and do exams and go to university and get married and be happy and sad and afraid and celebrate and grieve and work and have children of their own without me. Please please don't let that happen. I love them so much. 

And Bryan? My Mum? My friends? I showed my funeral plan to a friend today and she read it and said something like, 'Yeah, it's good, but let's not do it yet, hey?' That's about it. 

I'm sure it'll be nothing, won't it?  Please let this lump be benign. Please don't let it be cancer. I don't want to have to come to terms with serious illness. I don't want to choose treatments and make arrangements to step out of life for a while because the medicine is worse than the disease. I don't want to lose my hair. I don't want to lose part of me. I don't want to get a season ticket for the hospital.  I don't want to be a statistic. I don't want to die. One day, I want to be with you. I do. 

But Lord, let's not do it yet, hey? 

Friday, 13 May 2011

Music in the waves

I love the sea. Here we are at the seaside in Suffolk for Mum's 80th birthday weekend and I can see the sea from the hotel window. We've walked along the beach, had fish and chips on the seafront and it's just lovely.  There can be nothing finer in this life, I think, than sitting on a bench at the seaside with your family in the sun eating fish and chips with one of those pointless little wooden forks and throwing bits to the seagulls who can catch a chip in mid air!  How clever is that.

It's been a beautiful day. The roads have been pretty clear, we stopped somewhere lovely for lunch, the children have been patient and good natured in the car (mostly) and the rooms are amazing. You've looked after us today. Thankyou. 

Charles Spurgeon said:

'The old saying is, 'Go from nature up to Nature's God'; but it is hard working up hill.  The best thing is to go from nature's God down to nature; and if you once get to nature's God, and believe Him, and love Him, it is surprising how easy it is to hear music in the waves, and songs in the wild whisperings of the winds; to see God everywhere, in the stones, in the rocks, in the rippling brooks, and hear him everywere in the lowing of cattle, in the rolling of thunder and the fury of tempests.' 

I love the sea, and as I stood there looking at it earlier today I thought of this passage. I always look at the sea and see you, Lord. Maybe it's the vastness, the majesty, the breadth of it; or maybe the depth, the power and the beauty of it.  The way it's ever changing, never the same. Nothing can contain it. It has always been since the day you brought it about, and always will be. It cannot be destroyed, cannot be controlled. It nurtures and it destroys.  It is frightening and beautiful, stirring and soothing. The way it reflects the sunset is a symphony of nature that shows us here on earth a tiny hint of the awe-inspiring wonder of you. Another glimpse.

I love the clearness of the air by the sea, the sound of the waves and the smell of it all.  I love the sea birds and sand and pebbles. I love the way the breakwaters recede into the sea and the beautiful silver texture of the weathered wood. I love the shelving of the sand to the water's edge and I love rockpools full of treasure.  I love sandcastles and buckets and spades and those tiny little flags that you stick in the top. I love the joy on my girls' faces as they find a 'special' pebble or a shell or some small wary creature.

There you are in the stones and rocks on the beach, in the music and rhythm of the waves, in the calling of the birds. It is easy to see you indeed. I love it by the sea. It wakes up a part of me that is sleepy most of the time - the bit of me that fills my lungs with you, breathing in your spirit in long breaths.  The part of me that feasts my senses on you, that can't find words so just smiles and gazes and inhales and listens intently.

This is just what I need. You knew that. I was wondering if I could possibly put aside the rubbish of the last few days and enjoy this weekend at all but I feel blessed to be here, and so grateful that you gave us all these things to enjoy. I'm seeing them all again. It's a breath of fresh air indeed.  You know everything that I have on my plate, Father, because I've laid it all in front of you; I can't process it or analyse it or make any sense of it. So I've just dumped it with you - Katy's lump and hospital appointments and mine as well. You hold all things in your hand. You know me inside and out and have done since before I came to be. You know every word on my tongue before I say it. I cannot hide from you. No point in trying.

As it says in one of my favourite songs:

'I will praise the rock of my salvation
 - all my days are in his faithful hands.'

So I leave it all with you, faithful Lord. Thankyou for this weekend by the sea. You know what the week ahead has in store but I don't want to know right now. Maybe it's nothing and this time next week my mind will be on trivia again; or maybe it's something, and then who knows how I'll be but you? Either way, for now, I'm looking out of the window at the beautiful mysterious dark band of the sea at the end of the street, listening to the quiet as the children have finally settled down and looking forward to  the morning when we'll go looking for 'special' pebbles again.

I have a tradition that whenever we come to the seaside as a family, I find a pebble from the beach that has markings on it that make it look as if it's smiling. Then I draw eyes and a nose on it and label it with the place and the year, and it sits on the bookcase at home to remind me. I don't think I'll have a problem finding one this weekend as all the pebbles are smiling.  And so am I.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Dark things. Ephesians 6:12

Where to start?  My head is spinning a bit today. It comes down to this:

'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.'

Ephesians 6:12

In the Bible, you tell us that the devil exists.  So why, when I believe in you, in your word, do I shy away from discussion about the devil?  I sort of cringe a bit when I find myself in a conversation about the devil, as if there's something melodramatic about it, or a bit fanciful. It feels a bit far-fetched. I am embarrassed. Why? You've told me the truth in so many areas of my life. Perhaps it's the devil himself who doesn't want me to focus on him too closely.  Perhaps it suits him to have me uncomfortable with discussions that directly confront the issue of his existence or activity. It must work in his favour when I undermine myself by pulling a face when I speak of Satan. 

There's something egocentric about asserting that something that has happened to thwart me when I'm trying to do something for you must be from the devil. Or at least, that's how I feel, that's how I have felt. I've been unsure about how many of life's obstacles I can legitimately put down to infernal interference because I don't want to be one of those people who claim that if the rain comes when their umbrella is still in the car it must be the devil's work.

You know what it is? I've just had a rush of insight.  If I claim that the devil is at work in my life, I feel as if I'm claiming that what I'm doing is so good that it attracts his attention and he feels threatened enough to try to wreck it. I must be such a wonderfully good person, and I am not. The problem is that I am uncomfortable making the assertion that I am doing good things. 

Here's what I know:

I love you, Lord.
I believe that you died for my sins and rose again and that you love me and one day I will be with you.
You are at work in my life.
In these last few months you have been obviously, dramatically and undeniably at work in my life.
In these last few months an inordinate number of things have gone wrong in my life.
In these last few months you have supported and loved and encouraged me so thoroughly that the things that have gone wrong have not sunk me as they might have done.
I know that you have plans for me that we have only just begun to explore.
I love this. 
I am having the time of my life.

So there, you see, in a nutshell. I can, with confidence, not arrogance, not presumptuousness, assert that I am a threat to the devil. So it is likely that he will try to undermine me. I need to hold fast to this, because I struggle with it. I feel as if I need to protest that I am not an important player in this battle, so surely there is no need for Satan to be targeting me. There must be another explanation. 

But it may be just like that. No it is just like that. 

I'm going to say it again. Tell me if I'm right. 

'I am a threat to the devil so it is likely that he will try to undermine me.'

That time I did it with less of a squirm.

The thing is, I want to be a threat to the devil.  I don't embrace the idea of difficulty or hardship or accident or diabolical involvement in my life but I want to be so unequivocably on your team, not his, that he is narked by it.  I don't want to be a wishy washy backbench observer who the devil thinks of as neutral, pointless, no threat. In saying that I am a threat I am not boasting of my own goodness, or my own ideas, or even my own ability to fight him; I am boasting about your goodness, your ideas, your fight. I am a soldier in your army and I wear your armour. He may still be fighting but you have won the war, and there's nothing he would like me to believe more than that I am worthless in battle. 

I am not worthless. I am the child of the living God. How can I get that conviction to stick, Lord? How can I stop myself from reverting to the 'not good enough' feeling? I'm not throwing your gifts back in your face but sometimes my confidence gets eroded and the old feelings creep back in. Is that the devil's voice, then? 'You're not good enough for this.' 'Someone else could do this a whole lot better than you.' 'Everyone is wondering why you're here.' 'What could someone like you offer?' 'They're all going to see through you in a minute.' 

I know these are not true. I am less bothered by stuff like this these days; I'm learning! But sometimes the self-esteem leaks out and is replaced by anxiety and doubt. Not doubt about you, doubt about me. 

I suspect there will be more on this.  I feel that I am very young in my understanding of this whole spiritual warfare thingy and I have some books to read. No doubt I will soon be quoting bits to you and asking you what you think. 

Anyway, for now I want to thank you for wise friends who know more than me and can lend me books, for a brain to think about things and for a giving to me a Team Captain who is never going to lose. 

Please hide me under your wing when I need to hide, and stand with me when it's time to fight. 

'For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
Romans 8: 38 - 39

That'll do for me.

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