Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Your righteous right hand

Today I am going to do better. I will not give in to the fear or the excessive bouts of worrying. I won't. 

Today is bright and sunny. I have some seedlings to plant out now that they are grown up enough to leave the safety of the wonderful greenhouse compost and their comfy little individual 3" pots to fend for themselves in the harsh world of our clay soil where slugs and beetles and cats lurk and other perils await them. When they're out they'll be exposed to all weathers and extremes of temperature and they'll have to work hard to put down roots in the hard soil of the garden but if I don't plant them out they'll never grow much bigger as the pots are only for when they're little and need protecting in a controlled environment. They'll be rootbound soon and then they might not flower. So - it's the wilds of my garden border for them.

I'm sure there's a metaphor there somewhere but I'm not going to probe too closely.

I have to take Katy to the hospital tomorrow. I phoned up to find out where our new appointment might be and was told tomorrow. The results are back. Poor little Katy will come back from a nursery day trip out to find herself whisked away to be prodded and discussed (and, please God, nothing more invasive than that).  She'll be tired and short of patience so please make it straightforward. Please let the results be something non-scary and easy to treat. Whatever it is, please let there be no further need for blood tests. Please help them to diagnose what's wrong and make it better quickly with no lasting problems. Please?

I am pulling myself back from the brink of a maudlin little outburst there. 

That wasn't too bad, was it?

Today, for once, unless anything crops up, I have some time. Wow.

I am going to finish my coffee and do a little gardening. From our garden I can hear the children at playtime in the school playground and I love the happy sound. I wonder if my little Lizzie is shouting or laughing or squealing as she chases round or skips with her skipping rope. (Oh no, she won't be doing that, she's left it at home; I can see it). 

I am going to take my longsuffering Mum out for lunch. 

I am going to finish organising the 'Thankyou' cards that Elizabeth sighs over and then in which she laboriously writes her little message. 

I am going to sort out the box of coathangers that has been hanging around since we moved in here eighteen months ago. 

I am going to watch a little bit of the tennis at Wimbledon. 

I am going to clean the bathroom. 


Well, if anything gets pushed off the end of the day and postponed until another time, that'll be it. 

I haven't got much to say, Lord. I just wanted to check in with you while I was feeling purposeful and positive because these days it could change in an instant. The sun goes in, so to speak, and the rest of my day turns rainy or stormy or just gloomy and deep down I don't always want to give you the grumbles and whinges and tears.

Isaiah 41:10
'So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.'

I trust you, Father God. You've never let me down. I am leaning on you. I feel very flimsy, very unstable and vulnerable. A good gust of wind might blow me over and it's hard to get up again sometimes. I want to claim the promise that you will uphold me with your righteous right hand. I want to shelter from it all by leaning into you like a child with their big, strong Daddy. 

I will not fear because you are with me. I will not be dismayed, for you are my God. With your strength I can do all things. 

Take this right now, Lord, because who knows what this afternoon, or tonight, or tomorrow might bring. Right now I am standing firm and fearless because you are beside me. 

I'm off to plant my little plants now. I'll be gentle. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A crowd of witnesses

Today is only half over and yet I feel as if I've lived a week. I've not done much, particularly, but I'm ready for bedtime. 

I've been so down and lately I feel as if I'm sinking lower. All that boasting I did a month or two ago about the bad things in life not getting me down - well I don't think that's true any more. Today I feel completely defeated. I keep asserting what I know to be true; that you will never leave me because you are faithful. That I am a child of God and although that doesn't guarantee me a life free of trouble or pain, it does guarantee me a Friend who is closer than a brother who loves me and has a plan for me. It's just that I can't feel it; it's not helping at the moment.

This morning I battled with the girls at breakfast and manhandled them out of the house in time to do the school run (did you see Elizabeth so excited to go on a school trip and looking so grown up with her backpack? She is so beautiful and innocent) and then on to nursery. Katy went happily into her classroom and once again I had to make arrangements to bring her home early, only this time for a nice reason. It was Katy's lunch at her new school today. Elizabeth was disappointed that she wouldn't be there to show Kate what's what in the lunch queue but I think it was for the best. This is Katy's show.

Anyway, I'm getting out of sequence. 

I drove home after nursery listening to a song from my worship album, 'You are the Voice of Hope', sung by Lara Martin. I've heard it loads of times but today the words jumped out at me.

As high as the heavens are above the earth
So high are your ways to mine
Ways so perfect they never fail me
I know you are good all the time

And through the storm -  yet I will praise you
Despite it all - yet I will sing
Through good and bad - yet I will worship
For you remain the same, the King of Kings

Oh Lord I've been trying so hard. I've been trying to keep on praising you when I can't even find you. I've looked and listened and waited and I think I've been faithful but I've just about had enough. I'm tired and worried and things are still going wrong and it's getting harder and harder to find the glimmers of good things because most of the time they feel swallowed up by the avalanche of bad things happening at the moment. I just don't want to bother any more. I don't want to have to find the energy to make the effort. 

I'm worried about Katy. I'm worried at the speed the bump on her neck is coming back and the way that it looks and I'm worried that the doctors seem more worried about it than they were. I'm worried at some of the conditions and diseases they're testing her for and the implications they have for her long term health and development; worried about more surgery, long term intervention and treatment, stigma, scarring, how this will impact on her last nursery weeks and the start of school. I'm worried about the impact that it already has on her - she's in the room when the doctors discuss her and she's so distressed with the blood tests, dressing changes, poking and prodding. She can't go swimming and we've only washed her hair once in a month because of getting the lump/dressing/wound/lump wet. 

I'm afraid that something bad is happening to my little girl and I can't stop it. You can, but you don't. I'm afraid that this thing will have long term effects on her physically and psychologically. I'm afraid that she'll be self conscious because of a lump or self conscious because of a scar. I'm afraid that she'll have to have more blood tests and cannulae and anaesthetics and hospital stays. I'm afraid that I don't have the resources to keep on the way we have been. I just haven't the energy. I don't get enough sleep. I thought the end was in sight and all we had to discuss was whether the dressing was necessary any longer but no, the histology results were back and there were two consultants, not one, and they were much more concerned than in other appointments. The end doesn't seem to be in sight, yet over my shoulder I can't see the beginning any more either.

As high as the heavens are above the earth
So high are your ways to mine
Ways so perfect they never fail me
I know you are good all the time

You are good. Are you weeping with me when I cry about this? Does it hurt you too that your little girl(s) are hurting? Or are you trying to tell me to be faithful because good will come of this and it's all in hand? Your ways are not my ways indeed. You are a mystery. Why don't you say, 'Ah, look, she's one of mine. I won't let her baby get ill. I'll make it alright.'

You are the voice of hope
The anchor of my soul
Where there seems to be no way
You make it possible
You are the prince of peace
Amidst adversity my lips will shout for joy
To the most high

Without you as my anchor I'd be adrift indeed. I'm starting to feel annoyed that this is going on as long as it is. I don't understand why plaguing Katy can be good for me. I don't understand what harm it could do to cure her completely. Just like that. 

I dropped Kate at nursery this morning and drove past church, looked at my watch and realised that morning prayers would just be starting. I briefly considered going to join in and then drove past. Then I took the next right and turned round and drove back down, parked outside. I fiddled with my phone for a minute then went to the door. It was locked. I scuttled back down the path and got in the car again. Put the key in the ignition then noticed someone else going up to the church. So I got out and followed them in case they had inside knowledge of which door might be open. The minute someone greeted me in church I started to cry.

I didn't see it coming at all. I've been feeling miserable and last night I lay in bed with fear washing over me. I kept saying your name and then slept through a thunderstorm, it turns out. I was feeling low and tired and defeated but I didn't anticipate dissolving totally when I came into church. I thought that maybe joining in prayers (or just being there, actually) might just change the way my day was going. I thought that it might perk me up a bit. Might refocus me. I didn't intend to turn up for a counselling session or a cathartic cry.

Some wise and lovely people prayed with me today, offered practical help and listened as I offloaded a lot of speculation and anxiety, some of it warranted and some of it based entirely on ill-advised internet searches and long-buried fears. 

I came out feeling not much better but sniffing a lot more. Blew my nose. Came home and reapplied make-up. Picked Katy up from nursery and took her to her new school for lunch, which was lovely. I even had a long and constructive conversation with someone with whom I've definitely had my differences and usually avoid like the plague. It was strange to receive encouragement and reassurance from such an unlikely source. 

Katy loved her visit to school. She recognised a little girl in the playground and they ran around hand in hand and called goodbye to each other as they left. I am so hopeful that she won't be as lost as little Lizzie was when she started school. Different class, different teachers, different personalities. Same neurotic mother...

I came home and sank, again. I could feel the pessimism and fear setting in fresh. I switched on the computer and my daily devotional email was waiting for me.  

'What do you do when you feel like giving up? Everyone has that moment where they've been struggling with something - maybe a health issue, a broken relationship, financial problems, or depression - and they start to wonder if they have the strength to keep going because they just can't see any light at the end of the tunnel.'

Rick Warren: The Daily Hope

I suppose if I were cynical I could point out that with a readership of many many thousands it would be a dead cert that at least a few of those who received that email would indeed have been feeling just as you describe. So it might not be that you were speaking directly to me. Co-incidence. On the other hand...

Rick Warren goes on to speak about the part in Hebrews where Paul speaks of the great men of faith in the Bible; Abraham, Moses, David. And then the first verse of the next chapter begins:

RW:  'Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith ...'
What Paul is saying is that you don't want to give up because heaven is watching and cheering for you. That's encouraging news!'

Hebrews 12:1

The exclamation marks are Mr Warren's, by the way. I can't feel that animated about anything right now, let alone excited. But I concede that it interested me. At least I read it and didn't flick straight to Facebook. That's something, right?

So the Big Guns of the old testament are rooting for me. Really? Does everyone in heaven see what's going on with us stragglers back here on earth then? 

RW:  'Jesus tells us, 'Every hair on your head has been counted.' (Luke 12:7). God knows every detail of your life. He watches every breath you take; there are no secrets in your life. 
And it's not just God who's watching. Abraham, Jacob, Moses and all the other saints are there as well.'

Apparently so. Or at least, so thinks Rick Warren, a man who is clearly never wrong. Sorry, that was a bit facetious. But still, you used him to poke me today to wake me up and so he must have something to say that I should listen to.

A crowd of witnesses? Are they all looking down on me now and muttering to themselves and each other, 'She's whinging again. Lord - she's at it again.' They had much more to cope with than I do. You gave them huge scary jobs to do and their lives were downright difficult. Of all the saints that might be watching and listening to me now, my troubles are pretty minor I think. Is that it? I should be keeping on keeping on because they had it worse?

RW:  'How is this encouraging?'

Yes, I was wondering.

RW:  'When you feel like giving up, remember that people who have gone through much worse circumstances than you are watching to see how you are enduring.'

Great.  Give me a break.

RW:  'When you feel like giving up, remember that people are watching you and offering encouragement through their life stories of faith.'

I'm not convinced that that's encouraging. I am no Abraham. And now I'm even more paranoid about what people think.

It's no use. I'm not going to be taught anything in this state of mind, Lord, though I appreciate your word about feeling miserable. I'm determined to get an early night so try again tomorrow?

Elizabeth's home from school and she's shattered after a day building shelters in a forest and hunting for bugs. She found a centipede and an angry bee. She banged her head on a climbing frame and ate all her lunch. She was cross that I didn't put crisps in her lunchbox. She had a good time, especially when the bus driver took a wrong turn. She says that she didn't learn anything but then it wasn't about learning, it was about having fun, and then she sort of learns things by accident. I must tell her teachers that. They'll love it. 

Lord, I am too tired. Thanks for the people you put round me today, for the wise words, the prayers and the unexpected encouragement from unexpected sources. Thanks for the email, for my smiley girls and the cup of tea my Mum has just put down in front of me. I know that I am blessed beyond measure, but I just can't lift my own head at the moment. 

You were the one before time began
There's nothing beyond your control
My confidence, my assurance
Rest in your unchanging world

And through the storm - yet I will praise you
Despite it all - yet I will sing
Through good and bad - yet I will worship
For you remain the same
King of kings

I'm trying, Lord. How much longer? I can't sing much but I am offering you what I can. You still hold my heart in your hands and I give you my poorly little girl who is more precious to me than that. I am relying on you; that she is precious to you too. I'm so tired of keeping on. 

There's nothing beyond your control. Why aren't I comforted by that?

You are the King of Kings. I'm doing my best to worship anyway. 

Saturday, 25 June 2011

You delight in me?

Do you delight in me?

I know that you love me, I believe that, but delight?

I think I'm not really grasping this yet. Three times in the last few weeks have I come across the idea that you delight in me. Once in a sermon and once on my daily reading, and once somewhere else that I can't call to mind. Not just love, not just care for, but delight.

It's made me think. So much so that I am aware that I've used the word 'delight' five times in eight sentences and the first four were in italics.

I delight in my children. I delight in the way they laugh, the way they astonish me with their perception, their development, their wit. They delight me with their smiles, their fragrance, the softness of their skin. They delight me with little 'I love you' cards, with ideas, with funny ways of saying things and sometimes even with their behaviour. This delight is a mixture of love, pride, surprise, more love, admiration, happiness.

When I feel delighted with my children I am enjoying them. They make me happy. They give me pleasure.

I know that you love me, and I know that I am your child, but I'm sorry to say that it's a fairly new idea to me that I can make you happy to that degree.  I know that you love me and I've always understood the idea that you want what's best for me - but I let you down. All the time. I know that you forgive me and lavish more love on me but that I've always felt that I can't really give you anything back.  What do you need? You're God. Surely there isn't anything that I can give you?  When my children smile and hug me and tell me they love me, I am delighted. Do you really feel like that?


I heard someone say the other week that if God had a photo of me in his wallet he'd be showing everyone and saying, 'This is my daughter! Look! She's wonderful and I love her. Look! Isn't she great? My daughter!'  Now that's what I do with my daughters - do you really feel that way about me?


Can you be so proud of me despite my obvious flaws? Can  you really revel in me, get pleasure from me - delight in me - in the same way that I am enchanted by my girls? Maybe the answer lies in the fact that quite often my girls frustrate me, annoy me and make me mad, but I always always return to the heart-swelling love that I see when they're asleep.  I always see the best, the potential, the loveliness when they're asleep.

Somewhere I read that you look on me as I sleep and smile in that way too. When I'm not saying something I shouldn't, or doing something I shouldn't, or thinking something I shouldn't. I'm asleep and not dissembling or scheming or shouting or worrying; I'm just asleep. You look on me with delight. I love that idea. I love the idea that my heavenly Daddy comes and strokes my face and bends to kiss me as I sleep. Sometimes as a 'grown-up' in this world I still want someone to come and take care of me. When I have to be so strong for my children and strong for my Mum and strong for my husband I sometimes feel that I am pathetically weak and vulnerable and it's all a mirage. Up close I'm still just a child. That's when it would be wonderful to think that someone looks down on me and loves me as protectively and forgivingly and full of wonder and pride as I do with Elizabeth and Katy.

Another thing was in a daily reading by Bill Hybels:

'My children are an absolute priority to me. Now multiply a father's love exponentially and you'll know how your heavenly father feels about you. No-one's voice sounds sweeter to God than yours.'

Can I really be that important to you? You love me so much? You delight in me? Not just tolerate me, or love me in a 'Well, I made her, she's alright when she tries her best' sort of way? Does my voice sounds sweet to you? Do you love it when I want to talk with you, be with you? Do you long for me to hang around with you more often and for longer?

Help me to grasp this, Lord. I am in awe that my God is also my Daddy. I don't know what to make of the news that the King of Kings who holds the Universe in his hands can also look at me with any sort of enthusiasm, let alone joy. I am amazed.

It makes me want to love you more. If my children make me laugh with delight when they smile and when they come to snuggle up to me or when they talk to me or tell me they love me then I want to make you laugh with delight when I do those things too. I must stop looking down and in at myself and start looking up at you with the love that I feel. Tell you about it, not just come to you half asleep with a shopping list of things I want from you.

I'm sitting here and smiling.

I love you, my Daddy. Thankyou for loving me so much.

Friday, 24 June 2011

One hundred: It's all for you

I don't know if you're counting, Lord God, but this is my hundredth post. You've listened to me whinge and whine and grumble and sing and dance and laugh a hundred times as I've been sitting at my computer. For me it's flown by - maybe now you'll tell me that it feels like the two hundredth! 


I thought I'd take this opportunity to give it back to you again. This has been my emotional outlet, a sounding board, a platform for getting things off my chest and a way of exploring what I really think, and what you really think. That perhaps should have been the other way round, but you know what I mean. But I suspect that it's changed into something else and I just want to check that it's ok, or get back on the right track. I love this blog. I love that I so often start out feeling one way, and end up feeling something completely different. So often I've started out angry and hurt and worried and finished up more peaceful, and that's entirely because of you. Sometimes you speak to me through what I write - sometimes I'm quite sure I don't give you a chance. I write and run.

On the first of January I said that I wanted you to sit with me as I did this, and I want to thank you that you have never left my side. I want to thank you that you're here now. I'm writing this waiting for dinner to cook and I know that you are here; you can smell the garlic and you can hear the pans bubbling and you can taste the wine. I know that you have your hand on my shoulder and that you care what I say. I know that it's only because of you that I am able to do this; indeed anything.

If at any point I have started to think that it's me that writes this, I give it back to you, Lord. I know that what I do I do through you, who gives me strength. I know that I have no inspiration, no way of understanding even the little things, no way of working things out unless your Holy Spirit shows me how. I know that I would have no faith to lean on or talk about or investigate if you had not given me this most precious of gifts. I know that I would not be able to express myself and share my ideas and worries and wonderings if you didn't enable me to do it.

I want to give you the glory, Lord. I don't want to be the one who writes the blog, I want to be the one who points to you and says, 'He does it.'  It's all for you, Lord Jesus. It's all for you.

Lord, forgive me for my vanity and my selfishness and my pride. Let me reflect your light and beauty so that people see me and see you. Let my words be your words. Guide me and teach me so that I can sit here and notice, and understand, and reflect, and worship. Give me wisdom so that I can write wise things. Give me perception so that I can notice. Give me discernment so I can tell the difference between your voice and the voice of my own ego. Give me faithfulness to write what is true. And again, give me wisdom so that I can recognise truth when I see it.

I'm asking you to show me the way forward, Lord. Show me if you want me to do something different or if this pleases you as I'm stumbling along. Show me when I get too self-conscious or too inward-looking. Show me when I'm going on too much. Give me the words, Lord.

I want to do what you want me to do.

So I'm off to see if there's another glass of wine in the bottle, Lord. I'm going to raise a glass to you, my Lord and my God and my Friend. And then I'm going to press 'publish' for the hundredth time.

Here's to you, Lord Jesus Christ. Thankyou for so much. May my little offering be pleasing to you.


Leaning on my own understanding

Well you were reading between the lines alright, weren't you, Lord? 

I suppose that's not strictly accurate, is it, as you are the One from whom no secrets are hidden... so one can never be oblique with you. Yesterday I said that I wasn't going to ask why my life continues to be strewn with large boulders to climb over, but you know me better than that. You know me so well that you understand the subtext for all those times when I answer the 'how are you's with 'fine'. You know me so well that you know the agenda when I scowl and say 'Alright then'

You made me. 

So yesterday I don't ask 'Why?' and today you explain to me.

My daily devotional email today was on the text:

'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.'

Proverbs 3:5-6

Rick Warren, he of 'The Purpose Driven Life' which we're working through in our home group if I could only keep up with the reading, goes on to say:

'...understanding is not a requirement for you to start down the path (that God sets before you).'

So it's not surprising that I don't know where I am, let alone where I'm going. Your timing is just perfect, isn't it? I needed to hear these very words today

'The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining brighter till the full light of day.'

Proverbs 4:18

Maybe one day I'll see the full picture. Maybe one day I'll see the other side of the tapestry and not just the messy ends of the threads. Maybe one day I'll understand why the pattern on my carpet is one of unrelieved gloom at the moment. (See 'Carpet Diem', 20.1.2011)

I love the 'gleam of dawn'. Like the first time I notice that the days are getting longer in Spring and it feels as if winter is finally receding. Like being exhausted and lonely in the night when you're awake for hours with a newborn baby and suddenly you notice that it's dawn and morning is coming. It's the spark of hope.

Rick tells me to be patient. I need to have patience. You know what you're doing. I know you know what you're doing. It just frustrates me sometimes that I don't know what you're doing. I know that you want what's best for me, and I know that you want what's best for my family too. I know that you have a Plan. I know that you can see the end from the beginning where I can only look backwards and see how far I've come - the path in front only seems to appear after I've taken a step into nothing.

I'm trying to trust you. I'm trying, honestly. It's just that those steps take it out of me. I find myself groping in the darkness and reaching for a handrail; sometimes I find that I grab hold of your hand and sometimes I can't feel it there. Sometimes my steps feel safe and sometimes it's as if the ground crumbles under me.  I believe that you'll catch me when I fall. I do.

'...all the things that make you ask 'why?' - one day all will be clear in the light of God's love.'

says Rick. So because I'm the sort of person who likes to have things sewn up - I am thinking that sometime there'll come a day when I'll understand. All will become clear. I just have to learn to live without that clarity now. I need to live with the murk. To put one foot in front of the other not knowing what I might tread in, so to speak.  For you're there too.

I'm finding it hard, Lord. Even when I don't ask why I'm wondering why. I'm also wondering what, whether, how much, for how long, and when will it end. When things are going my way I don't wonder those things half so much, do I?

'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.'

Well, leaning on my understanding is like leaning on an open door. I fall over. Or I spin around grabbing for things and finding nothing to hold onto and so I make a big fuss.  Submit? Sigh. Do I have an alternative?

Thought not. 

Tell you what, I'll do my best to submit, and you come across with the straight path. Does that work for you? 

You said so, so I guess it does.

It's a deal. 

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Needing my Friend

It feels like we're back to square one, Lord. 

This morning I made a real effort to start to look on the bright side, to stop grouching round the place with a 'someone is out to get me' frame of mind. I even started to believe it for a while.  When Katy's dressing fell off all by itself I almost convinced myself that it was going to be a Good Day. Then we get to the hospital, we're seen in clinic dead on time for once, and then it all goes pear shaped. 

Why is Katy's lump coming back? Why aren't the surgery and the pain and misery and difficulty and tears enough? They even say that they might have to do it all over again and take away a bit more of her neck. They're bandying about long names of diseases and infections and conditions and I have only heard of a few of them but the truth is that they still don't know what is causing it, only that it is still causing it. It hasn't stopped. It isn't gone. 

They ruled out cancer, which is a good thing. To be honest I thought they'd ruled it out weeks ago but it turns out they hadn't, it was still a possibility. The fact that I thought it had already been rejected as a diagnosis and thus haven't been worrying myself sick about it all these weeks I can only count as a blessing indeed. Thankyou for that at least. 

So, thankyou that we lived through today. Thankyou that Katy doesn't have cancer. Thankyou that she perked up a bit by teatime. Thankyou that...I'm sure there are more things to thank you for but I'm running a bit dry.

I'm not going to rant on about why this is happening, though I still don't know and I'd like to register once again that I don't think it's fair. I'm not going to get angry and shake my fist at you because somehow I don't feel angry. I just feel bewildered. Tired. Confused. Worn down. Tearful. Did I mention tired? I'm going to bed soon and please please please don't let me lie awake for ages wondering which of the nasty sounding possibilities this lump might be and extrapolating from a ridiculously small understanding of any of it and ending up worrying myself even sillier. My mind is sometimes not my friend.

Lord God, who made the world and holds each one of us in the palm of your hand, please stop this. Tell the doctors what it is that's hurting my little girl and show them how to stop it. No more operations, please. Please. Lord God, heal my Katy and take away the distress of blood tests, dressing changes, needles, medicines and all this poking and prodding. I know that there are wonderfully brave children in hospital wards the country over who are much sicker than Katy, with much worse prognoses, and for whose parents life is infinitely worse. I know that we are blessed in many ways. She's strong enough to fight and struggle, that's something. She's robust enough to bounce back and eat her tea after a day of horrors like today, even if she couldn't eat her dinner. She's asleep in her bed right now (as far as I know) rather than languishing in a High Dependency Unit with a desperate Mummy at her side. 

But...she's my little girl and this is horrible. We're not having a good time. Please heal her. Please don't let this thing make her poorly. Please don't let the treatment be as upsetting as the problem. Please don't let this leave a scar on her, physically, mentally, emotionally or in any other way. Please take it away, Lord. 

Be with my Mum who has to be tired from taking up the slack for me. Be with Bryan, who finds it so hard to be away from home. Be with Elizabeth, who must be tired of making allowances for her little sister, and being babysat while we go to appointments and then usher her out of the room while we discuss things. 

Help me, too. I've been feeling depleted and desperate and today found out that it isn't over. The light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be an oncoming train. I need to find a new reserve and I don't know where to get it from and I'm not sure where to look other than you. Help me sleep, help me wake up, help me think. Help me pray, please, because I can't seem to do it. Will you be there, please? And maybe show me that you're there? I've been finding it so hard to find you lately.

Don't leave it open to interpretation, Lord. Don't just send the little streaky blackbird, no matter how lovely he is. Don't just send me some new shoots in the greenhouse. I want you, my God, and I want you now, please. Let me feel your arms round me and let me see you hold my daughters and rock them to sleep. 

My Friend, I'm needing you. I'm not going to fall apart. I'm not going to stop managing, but I am so tired. I'm needing you. 

I can't find you. Come and find me, please?

Rain clouds and apple trees

It still feels dark to me. This morning the sun was streaming through the window as I opened the curtains with eyes half open but it's been a while since it's felt sunny to me.

Right now it looks like rain, and that's more like it. At the moment I'm waking up every day and going to bed every night feeling heavy, weighed down. The looks like rain feeling. I know you're there but I can't find you. I know you haven't left me but I can't feel you. I'm holding on to what I know of you, and I know that you love me, and you are faithful.

I don't know why all of a sudden I feel so defeated; so much has happened this year that hasn't knocked my duck off (as they say in this neck of the woods) that it's sort of taken me by surprise that all of a sudden I feel so low when in some ways the mists are starting to clear. Today is another appointment with Katy's consultant and I'm hoping that she'll discharge her, or at least leave the next appointment a few months. I'm hoping that the biopsy results will be nothing to worry about as it's been three weeks since Katy's surgery so I assume that if it had been urgent we'd have been told by now. Her wound is finally healing well and dressings might not be necessary any more. Indeed, I'm sure that there's been a tiny bit of divine intervention (thankyou) as her current dressing almost came off in the night so the removal won't have to be such a performance. Here's hoping.

I'm tired. I am in need of A Good Night's Sleep. I could do without the living room radiator dramatically exploding at the valve last night and belching out torrents of filthy water onto my carpet. I could do without waiting this afternoon for the plumber to come and put it right. I could have done without having lost my contact lens this morning and I could have done without Katy headbutting me in the cheekbone about half an hour ago.

I'm definitely in danger of only seeing the bad things. At home group last night one of my good friends prayed that we would not only start to notice the things that go wrong but to see the blessings too. I know that I'm in a frame of mind where I've been wondering why things keep going wrong for so long that I just associate the next thing with the preceding disasters and assume that it's all in the same pattern. I need to watch out for the little glimmers of light in the dreariness as well.

Last night good friends came round for home group and we had a good time. Enjoyed each other's company and had a good talk. People spoke of answered prayers, finding blessings in unexpected places. I'm not sure that I was particularly positive and at prayer time I couldn't find any words. All I can do at the moment is hold it all out to you.

I had a picture last night of sitting at a table and laying out my worries and anxieties and fears and problems and unease in front of me as if I was dealing cards for a game of patience. I was holding them tightly in one hand and laying them one by one at the table. Someone prayed the words, 'Lord, draw our prayers together, those said and unsaid,' and suddenly my angle on the scene swivelled round to the other side of the table and I saw myself, hunched over the 'cards' on the table. I still held the pack in my right hand and I was looking down at the array of things on the table. If I was at that side of the table I must have been looking at the scene from your perspective.

I am laying my rubbish in front of you as if they are cards in a hand I've been dealt. I know that I need to give them to you. I am holding them tight and slowly, painfully, arranging them on the table for you. I don't take my eyes off them. I look at them with my head bent low. I hunch. I clench my fist around the rest of the pack of cards in my hand.

Why on earth aren't I throwing them down with abandon and pushing the whole pile of jumbled rubbish over to you? How blessed am I to have someone who says, 'Don't worry about it. Give it to me. I'll take care of it.'?  It makes no sense to me that I fuss so much over my troubles and seem reluctant to give them up.

If someone said to me, 'I have this injury. It hurts, and it makes life difficult in so many ways. I wish I didn't have it. The doctor has told me that it's easy to sort out, and he can cure it completely so that it won't bother me a bit if I'll only go and see him and let him treat me but I haven't managed to get to the surgery yet.'

I'd think 'Whyever not?' Why would you not take up an offer like that and stop walking bent over in pain?!

So why can't I find the way to the surgery? What's stopping me?


Life has it's ups and downs, doesn't it?

'If the clouds are full of water, they pour rain down on the earth.'

Ecclesiastes 11:3

They certainly do. There seem to have been some pretty big rainclouds evacuating their contents on me recently.

'Our troubles have always brought us blessings, and they always will. They are the black chariots of bright grace. These clouds will empty themselves before long, and every tender herb will be the gladder for the shower.'

Unless it rains, the plants won't grow. So says Charles Spurgeon, who seems to have something to say on most subjects.  A man after my own heart... I've read many times recently that unless we go through tough times, we won't grow either. 'God wants you to grow up' said Rick Warren, in my chapter of 'The Purpose Driven Life' last night. I'm quite sure you do. So what am I learning in this season of rain (and hail and high winds)?

I know that you are with me no matter what.
I know that I can, with the help of friends and neighbours, sort out a torrent of dirty water issuing forth from my living room radiator and arrange to get it fixed.
I know that I have good friends who care for me.
I know that nothing is forever, except for you.
I know that after it's rained, the sun might come out.
I know that my contact lens may well turn up later, dried out and stuck to my foot at bedtime.

I know that I am loved. And the fact that I am loved by the Creator of the universe, the Lord of everything, the Saviour of the world is a wonderful thing.

Will my troubles bring me blessings? Will something special come out of these months that I can't yet see?  I know you, a bit, and I think this is probably something you might do. I just can't see the full picture from my side of the card table. I'm too busy looking down.

I know that you have a plan for me and that I am not finished yet. I know that you are moulding me into something better so that your plan might come to fruition. I know that I want you to make me more like you; but how naive I am when I say that and expect that it won't hurt. Why should I think it would be easy?

My little apple trees
I need to cheer up. Buck up. Get my pecker up again. Start looking on the bright side. Find joy in my blackbird, in the seedlings in the greenhouse.

Did you know that a week or two ago Elizabeth ate an apple while watching me plant seeds in the greenhouse and then gave me four seeds from her apple and said, 'Can we grow an apple tree?'  Well, three of those four seeds are little brave seedlings now with their second and third pair of leaves sprouting. I just wish I could remember if I bought Braeburn that week or Royal Gala. But a little tree or three have sprouted in my greenhouse.  We found seeds in the middle of an apple, we put them in compost, watered them (generously!) and left them in the warmth and the light. And lo and behold, we have three little trees.

I'll start with that. Got to go to the hospital in ten minutes to see the consultant. I think I might just go and say hello to my baby trees first.

I'll tell them you said hi.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Dance like there's nobody watching

'Dance like there's nobody watching
Love like you'll never be hurt
Sing like there's nobody listening
And live like it's heaven on earth'.

William W Purkey

I'm not sure why I like this little poem as much as I do, though I suspect that it might be because I am so self conscious that I can't dance like there's nobody watching, unless I have a small child to dance with, and I can't sing like there's nobody listening because I can't really sing well at all and it would certainly spoil someone's musical experience to have me hooting away next to them.  How I would love to dance as if no-one were watching. To lose myself in singing no matter what the sound that's produced. To be so free... sigh. I'm so far from all that with my narrow, ordered, constrained little life.

As for loving like you'll never be hurt; with regard to romantic love I think that having been hurt in the past makes you more able to recognise when someone is giving you freely all the things that you once tried to wrench from the wrong person and when you can see that, loving with abandon is much easier. Or perhaps I'm just in a loving mood. Perhaps there are those around me who might beg to differ.

I have to confess that loving my children is a different matter. It's the easiest thing in the world and the hardest. Every day I find myself offering love in so many ways; time, so much time, in words, in smiles, in cuddles, in practical tasks, in little offerings - and being forced to rally and give again when it's met with a childish lack of comprehension or understanding. Children can really hurt your feelings, can't they? I guess you know that better than anyone, Lord.

Enough of that for now. Here's a good thing.

On Sunday we took Elizabeth to a soft play centre near Sheffield for her birthday party. I work on the principle that while I can get away with a party for fifteen small children that's organised, hosted and orchestrated by someone else, then I will. At least until the children are old enough to come to a party unaccompanied fifteen Mums who might be assessing me, my house and my party food provision and finding me wanting on all fronts - but that is clearly my own lack of self-confidence speaking.

Lord, did you see Lizzie dancing? She so wanted a disco party, and she had on her new pretty dress that flies out when she spun, she had ribbons in her hair and she felt beautiful. She was beautiful. She shone. She danced and wiggled her hips and jumped and gyrated and waved and sashayed and it was a joy to behold. Afterwards she said to Daddy, 'Daddy, I danced in public, didn't I?' and he told her how wonderful she was. She smiled and accepted his admiration as her due. I loved loved loved seeing her enjoying herself so much. The joy on her face was such a special thing. For a child who is usually so self conscious she was just fabulous. She danced as if no-one was looking. Either that or she danced in a room surrounded by her friends and their parents and she just didn't care. I can't thank you enough.

When all her friends sang Happy Birthday to her at teatime she blushed and smiled and looked proud and embarrassed and overwhelmed but most of all she looked happy. I thought my heart would explode. It helped that her little sister was so generous in her attention all day, singing 'Happy Birthday dear Lizzie!' over and over. It was lovely.  Even worth the overtiredness and party-food-fuelled hyperactivity at bedtime...

I love my girls so much. Sometimes it's so hard to find a way through the maze; to treat them or to spoil them. To give them gifts to make them happy or to give them too much so that they take things for granted. To teach them how lucky/fortunate/blessed they are without robbing them of the joy of being children. I desperately want my girls to value their toys and it breaks my heart and sets my teeth on edge to see them play with a toy then carelessly discard it to reach for something else. I don't know at what age they learn to dissemble, and whether that's a good thing, but I now know to my chagrin that a six year old shows disappointment clearly on their face when unwrapping the wrong present from a distant friend.

How do you teach them all these things, Lord? Sensitivity, gratitude, manners? Sometimes I despair, and those are the times when I inadvertently teach them impatience, criticism and bad-temperedness.

It's a minefield. With every year that passes - no - with every day that passes I realise again that I can't do this parenthood thing on my own. If I were on my own my children would have no hope at all I don't think. I am inadequate in so many ways. I soothe and I nurse and I cuddle and I encourage and I advise and I love and I guide...and I scold and I criticise and I badger and I nag and I shout and I ignore.

My little girl growing up. The pride and the pain.
Lord God, heavenly Father and source of all patience. Source of all that is good. You who forgive me countless times a day, help me to forgive my children for being children. Help me to forgive myself for being less than they need as a Mummy. Make up the shortfall, please, Lord. You and me, how about it? If you sort me out and show me what to do I might be able to hold up my side of the bargain. Without your help, I can't do this. It's too big a job.

Today Elizabeth's first tooth came out. It's been wobbly for - ooh, an eternity, but she's been squeamish about wobbling it and has been most anxious about the day when it falls out. No amount of encouragement or offering to do it for her would get her to give it more than the most gentle of wiggles, but today she forgot and bit into a big bit of birthday cake. Her face went pale, her eyes enormous and her mouth full of chocolate and blood as she held out this tiny, tiny little tooth. Of course, I got out the marching band and swooped in with hugs and congratulations and glasses of water and after a few minutes of panic and dismay and confusion we arrived at a state of pride and world weariness which melted my heart and impressed Katy no end.

Lord, have I done a bad thing in bringing in the Tooth Fairy? I sort of dithered and of course, he who hesitates is lost.  Are you cross with me? Elizabeth is convinced of his/her existence because several friends at school testify to the disappearance of a tooth and the appearance of a shiny coin (£1! A pound! Can you believe that? The going rate when my teeth fell out was a ten pence if I was particularly lucky.) So I've sort of let it go. She's told me a number of times that her tooth is in a small box on her bedside table in case the TF couldn't locate it amongst the stuffed toys and other treasures that lurk beneath her pillow and she wants to know if she can choose what to spend her coin on, rather than never seeing it again as it disappears inside her money box. I hesitated and then gave in and ran with it  because I couldn't handle crestfallen. Not after she was such a brave soldier with a bloody mouth and eyes full of tears.

I just want to make them happy, Lord. I want my children to know you, and know what true joy is. I bring them to church and I read to them and I pray with them sometimes - not as often as I should, I know. I tell them about you, and they hear me singing my worship songs in the car. I could do so much more, I know. And then along comes the Tooth Fairy and steals some of your thunder and I just let him. Oops.

Lord God, I know that you love my children more than I do, which is something that I can't quite get my head round. I know that you want me to be the best Mum I can be and I know that you want to be involved in their upbringing too. Lord I need you, so do they, and not just so the Tooth Fairy doesn't get all the best lines. I need you because so often I am swamped by the demands on me, by the unrelenting day to day routine, by the frustrations and the decisions and the anxieties.

I love my girls, Lord. They are such a huge part of me. My Father, I give them to you, now, all over again. Teach them your ways, Lord. Teach  me to teach them. Give us more of the joy of dancing as if no-one is watching and singing as if no-one is listening. You are always watching and you are always listening, but you alone can delight in an awkward dance and a tuneless song if it is lifted to you by your child. Help me to love my children as if they will never hurt me, when I am hurt daily by them, and when I hurt them so often too.

Help me to live each day as if heaven were here on earth, because it might be. Heaven might be right here and I know this because in Elizabeth's face as she danced, and in her eyes as she realised the enormity of this milestone, of her first missing tooth, I glimpsed a little piece of heaven.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Be still and know that I am God

I've been reading about silence. I've been reading articles about silence in books, there's been a daily devotional series about silence, and the subject of silence has cropped up numerous times in our house over the last few months, and I don't just mean references to blessed peace and quiet after the children are finally asleep.

I'm talking about silence before you; silence that allows my brain (theoretically) to still, and the busyness of life to stall for a little while, long enough for me to learn to hear you speak. All the writing I've been looking at has one thing in common and that is that it tells me that you are able to communicate with us in a myriad of different ways, but the way that you use most often is to speak into silence when we just sit with you and give you space.

Why is this so hard?!  I can write, I can talk, I can read, I can sing - and yet sitting still and just being is immensely difficult for me. I itch for my keyboard, or my iPhone, or my book, or my notebook. Or even a song. 

I've often longed for space, for peace and solitude; with two small children I find that I rarely get to be on my own. I used to like my own company, and I didn't always destroy the silence with music. I remember some very happy times sitting in the sun near a window with a book and a coffee, or my computer, or falling asleep. In those days silence wasn't so precious or so rare. I didn't know that I should somehow be making the most of it. You think you know what life will be life when babies arrive but nothing can really prepare you.

So back to the present, and these days I long for peace. Solitude. Quietness. On the odd occasion I actually achieve these things. But somehow I can't achieve the remaining dimension, which is stillness. My mind has to be occupied; I want to write or read. Or sleep. I can't just switch off and be.

'Be still and know that I am God.'
Psalm 46:10 

Is that a command? In which case I should probably start to try a bit harder to crack this one. No doubt I'll start getting anxious because I'm letting you down in some way; that I'm not doing as I'm told.  Or is it a piece of advice? If we are still then we can know that you are God. If we are still then you will come and meet us somehow and enrich our experience of you. 

So why am I so bad at it? Well, to be honest, one reason is that I'm not trying very hard. In my reading I've been challenged to set aside time to be still, and to commit to practice stillness, and yet I haven't. I'm not sure why I'm so reluctant, but something is stopping me. I feel a bit afraid of it. Like the silent retreat idea; when I watched a documentary about it on television my initial reaction was one of enthusiasm and the desire to run away somewhere and have all that luxurious time to be quiet. I even sent off for details of somewhere I could go to do just that. Then the more I think about it, the more scary it sounds. I suspect that the attraction of a silent retreat for me might be more based on the desire to escape temporarily from my hectic, noisy, busy, unrelenting, exhausting daily routine.  To stop the hamster wheel and get off and look around rather than indulge a desire to leave the world behind to meet with you.

Does it come down to personality type? Or can/should everyone be able to find you in silence? I see you around me in nature, in kindness, in beauty, in other people. I find you in things I read and sermons I hear. I find you in music and the words of songs. I find you in the Bible and in devotional writings. You have spoken to me through songs, through my reading, and through other people. You have spoken to me directly on occasion, through pictures or words in my head. You speak to me often by directing my thoughts as I sit here and talk to you like this. So is silence not for me, since I find it so hard, since I'm reluctant and hesitant to try it?

Or is it just a matter of practice and perseverance? Is there something huge and meaningful that I'm missing? I wonder if that's the case.

It seems likely to me that I don't often leave you a space to get a word in edgeways, as they say round here. I talk and I talk and I shout and I cry and I talk some more and then I'm finished and whoosh, I'm off. Doing something else. Loading the washing machine, making coffee, sorting washing, cleaning, writing something else, surfing the internet, playing on Facebook, watching TV, reading something. Sleeping, even. The few occasions I've tried to be still in your presence it's gone something like this:

Ah. Deep breath.  

Sigh.  Yawn. 

Here I am, Lord.

Deep breath. Sit down, lean back, close eyes.

Turn palms up, try to relax shoulders. 

Here I am, Lord. 

I'm listening.

Try to banish thought that creeps in unbidden that the washing machine has just finished and the clothes need hanging out now as it's going to rain this afternoon and they could be drying in this sun.

Got to make sure I send a birthday card later. What day is it today?

Short attack of anxiety that I can't remember which day it is.

Deep breath. Back on track. 

Open eyes. 

Notice button on window sill from Lizzie's school cardigan. Resist temptation to go and put it somewhere where it won't get lost. Make mental note to remember where it is.

Look out of window. Notice clematis needs fastening to fence. Start to make mental list of other jobs in the garden. Thank you for the beauty of nature, Lord. 

Count minutes until school run.

Running short of time.

Refocus. Deep breath. 

Here I am, Lord. 

Think about cup of coffee. Consider going to make one then returning to attempt at silence. Banish the thought as I've only just had one.

Deep breath. Lord, I'm listening. 

Speak to me. 

Any time now would be good. Got to go soon.

Phone beeps with text message. Try to resist urge to check it immediately. Fail. Read it, type quick reply. 

Now thinking about someone else or a job that needs doing.


Give up. Well, there I was, Lord. For all of five minutes. 

Catch you later?

See what I mean? And I can count on the fingers of one hand the occasions where I've even got that far. The other day I went and sat in a graveyard in the beautiful countryside with the sun on my back and a coffee in my hand and it was lovely, but I actually sat still for less than ten minutes, I reckon. Then I was walking round reading the stones, taking photos, thinking my thoughts and throwing the odd one your way. 

It's the head-space I can't seem to find. 

So help me, will you, Lord? The people I know who can do this seem to get so much from it. If it would please you, I'd like to do it for you too, if I could, not just for what I could get out of it. I'm just not sure how to do it, and there's always something else I could be doing.

I've definitely found that since I've been reading my little devotional pieces and verses of the Bible every morning, that my thoughts are with you much more often in my day. I find myself saying the odd thing to you, lifting my problems, or those of other people to you all through the day in a series of little conversational arrow-type prayers, but sustained prayer and silence isn't my strong suit. I know how much you bless the small hesitant baby steps I make towards deepening my relationship with you, so I have no doubt that you would meet me halfway (or closer) if I grow in this direction. 

I give you something so small it's pretty insignificant, and in exchange you shower me with blessings. 

Silence. Stillness. Be still and know you are God.

So, show me how. Show me when. Show me more of you, will you? 

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The passage of time, girls and boys...

I'm here and I want to talk to you but I don't really know what to say. I'm tired and I've been impatient with the kids, and there's a pile of things that I should do this evening but I'm sitting here staring at the computer and I can't be bothered. I'm so tired. I should go to bed. I will go to bed. As soon as I can find the energy to get up.

Bryan went to his Uncle's funeral today. I've just seen part of a programme on TV where an elderly man strokes his wife's hand as the doctors tell him that there's nothing they can do. This afternoon I was reading an anecdote from Tony Campolo where a couple love each other so much that they both want the other to die first. I've been thinking about death quite a bit recently. My little piece of peace the other morning was in a graveyard. 

I'm not a morbid person. Yes, I worry about death, but more about the people I love who don't know you, Lord; I worry about their death. Mine, I suppose I worry that it might hurt. That it might be lingering, painful, undignified. Or that I might be a burden to those that love me. But I don't worry about dying, because then I'll see you. I'll get to be with you because I am your child. I will sit at your feet for eternity and sing to you and I won't sing out of tune and I won't have to read music or try to remember the words. 

I've been thinking about death more in terms of the fragility of life, I think. How short it is. How it's all we have and we value it above everything and yet in your terms it's over in an instant. 'Just the cover and the title page,' CS Lewis described our earthly life. The rest of the Story takes place after that. 

I want to make sure that I live my life before I die. I don't mean swim with dolphins or see the Taj Mahal or whatever, I mean I don't waste it. I don't want to waste my life living only for weekends, or waiting until the children grow up and become less frustrating. So many days of my life I find myself thinking, ''It'll be easier when...' or 'I'll be happy when...' and that day never comes. 

I'll be OK when this hurdle is over. When that essay is handed in. When I get my exams. When I get married. When this injury heals. When I get pregnant. When the children are self sufficient and I have more time. When Bryan gets home. When this, when that. 

The day never comes. Or when it does, there's another 'When...'.  How do I live in the present more? I often wish that my life had a 'rewind' button, or a 'fast forward button. Occasionally a 'pause'. Even once or twice a 'stop/eject' but rarely do I seem to want to press 'play'. I'm either worrying about the future or longing for the past, or hanging onto a moment. My autocue seems faulty. 

My headmaster at school used to stand on the stage at assembly and exhort us not to let the years slip between our fingers, 'The passage of time, girls and boys...' he would say, and we'd mimic him as we walked to the next class. 'The passage of time!'  I know what he meant, now. Those days were thirty years ago. Thirty!  He's now retired, his two deputy heads are dead. Sometimes it hits me that if the last thirty years have gone in a flash, so will the next thirty, or sixty. 

This is cheerful isn't it? 

I can't live my life any faster, or any slower. I can't make it pause just because I want longer to process something or I've temporarily had enough and need a break. I can't do anything very much because I am not in control. I am sitting on a conveyor belt just being carried along at a pre-ordained pace and all I can do is make sure that I don't waste the ride. It'll stop before I know it. 

I just find that hard, Lord. I am full of worries. I want my children to grow up and I want them to stay just as they are because they are perfect in all their imperfections. I want to learn and yet I am so bad at listening. I want to know you but quite often my eyes are looking down, not up.  

That poor man on the telly is losing the wife that he loves. He has tears in his eyes. She is unconscious. His face is lined and blemished and his eyebrows are bushy and his brow furrowed. His eyes are pale and full of tears. His mouth is trembling. I wonder if he said what he wanted to say before she had her stroke. I wonder if he took it for granted that she knew he loved her. Maybe she did. Maybe they both wanted to be the survivor just so that the other would not have to bear the grief. 

I don't know what I'm trying to say. I so often don't. As I lie in bed tonight it will probably occur to me, but right now I feel for that man and it seems important to tell people that I love that I love them. I want my loved ones to know you because there will be a day when it's too late. I want to live each day as you want me to live it because I don't know what you have down for me - whether my final breath will be this very night or in another fifty years, or somewhere in between. I don't know that, so I need to make sure that... that... I don't know. 

Today all day I've felt uneasy. There's been more bad news today and, worryingly, an absence of any news about a friend of mine who is seriously ill. I'd hoped to hear that her surgery went well and she was stable. No news is just no news, though, I guess. 

I'm tired. Things look worse when I'm tired, don't they. The sun'll come out tomorrow, as the song goes. Lord, help me to wake up tomorrow with a sense of purpose and a new energy to face the next thing in this never ending heap of rubbish that I'm wading through. Help me to hand over the worries to you and not hoard them as if they were treasure. Help me not to be weighed down by all the things but to care about people without stumbling beneath the burden of it all. 

Lord Jesus, be with Bryan's family as they grieve his Uncle. Heal those who are ill and suffering now. Give surgeons skill. Those who need divine help to get their life on track, may they find the help they need in you, the Lord of Compassion, the Healer, the Comforter. May the people I love who haven't found you yet please, please open their eyes. 

Please be with Katy and I as we go for yet another dressing change tomorrow. Be with Bryan as he goes back to London when he'd rather be with us. Be with Elizabeth as she wobbles her first wobbly tooth and worries so much about when/how/if it'll fall out. Lord she is so like me in the way she frets about things. That's not a legacy I want for her.

Show me what you want me to do, Lord. Show me the next step. Give me an appreciation of time and your plan for my life. I don't want to waste it. Help me to ride my little conveyor belt with confidence instead of desperately running to stand still and missing so much. 

A Good Night's Sleep wouldn't go amiss either. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A life well-lived


'If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.'
James 1:5

Good old Charles Spurgeon once again summed this up for me:

"'If any of you lack wisdom.' There is no "if" in the matter, for I am sure I lack it ... for I know I may do very stupid things, even in plain matters, unless Thou dost keep me out of mischief'.

I know that feeling. I have a knack of saying the wrong thing, saying nothing when I should say something (not as often, that one) and putting my foot in it in a dramatic manner on some occasions by doing or saying something stupid.

I want to be wise. Here am I asking you to give me wisdom. The only thing is, I'm not really sure what it is I'm asking for, so I'm not really sure when I'll know if you've given it to me.

What is wisdom then. Here is what I know about wisdom:
The dictionary definition is 'the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or wise coupled with just judgement as to action; sagacity, discernment or insight'. Sense, understanding. The opposite is stupidity or ignorance.

Sounds good, then. I'll take all you have of that, please.

It isn't that simple, though. Is wisdom a lifetime thing? Can a middle aged person who has a long way to go in the Spiritual Maturity stakes be wise? Is wisdom a constant thing, as in 'so-and-so is a wise person', or is it something that comes and goes? Do you equip people with wisdom for a specific situation, and then take it away again? That doesn't sound likely. Is it a gift that you give that requires exercising and thus grows?

Is wisdom a combination of spiritual gift and intellect? I know that you've given me a brain to use, and words to express myself, and the ability to consider things rationally, or else I wouldn't be here now wittering on. Can one achieve wisdom by thinking enough?

Surely not, or it wouldn't be a gift. Can people who don't ask you for wisdom not be wise, then? Or is there a sort of spiritual wisdom that is the hallmark of a child of yours, who has been blessed with wisdom of a different nature?

I think wisdom is something that helps with life. I would like to be able to make good choices. I would like to be able to advise people who ask for advice (and refrain from advising those who don't ask for it) and advise them well. I would like to trust myself, insofar as I am sure as I can be that what I am doing is what you would have me do in a given situation. And yes, if I'm honest, I would like people to think, 'Oh, Helen Murray? She's a wise lady'.

Why do I want all that? Oh, I don't know. Loads of reasons. I want a measure of confidence that I can cope with what life throws at me. I want not to feel baffled by life's dilemmas. I want to be more decisive. I want to make good decisions. I want to be sensible. I want to worry less. I want to help more. I want to offer something to my family and also my church family. I want to be in tune with you. I want to understand. I want deeper knowledge and perception and discernment. All those things.

Hmm. Some of those reasons sound like reasons not to give it to me. When I say I want to trust myself, to be confident, secure, decisive, that sounds a bit like my need to be self sufficient sneaking into the equation again. That's not what I meant. Or I didn't think it was. But if I were wise...

Michael Card says: 'Wisdom is not the ability to be correct all the time. Genuine wisdom is concerned with a life well-lived. Wisdom isn't something we know as much as something we become'.
Joy in the Journey

So that bursts my bubble. I would quite like to be right all the time. Just ask my husband. Even with the children I find myself on occasion correcting them and arguing over a ridiculous point of inconsequential trivia because they are wrong and require to be put right. At this point I have to remember something I read once, 'Excuse me, who's the grown up?'

Genuine wisdom is concerned with a life well-lived. I like that idea very much. I only have one of these life-things. I want to do it right.


The penny drops.

That's it. I want to be wise because I want to do it right. Being right is one thing, but getting it right is what I long to do. I am desperate not to waste what I have; what I am. This year is an amazing journey into who I am and who you would have me be and I want to get somewhere with it. I want to understand you as much as my limited little human brain can. I want to be what you want me to be, do what you want me to do, achieve what you want me to achieve and live as you want me to live. I know that I can't do any of that without something extra; something from you. I need you to guide me. Make me wise, Lord God, so that I can see with your eyes.

I want to get it right.

I'm actually afraid to get it wrong. I so often feel defeated by life and I know that I would be utterly so if you were not with me. The closer I walk in step with you the closer I know I will get to living my life as you want me to. I guess I'm always going to get it wrong because I am only me, but with you leading me along, I can get through, can't I?

I'm afraid of so many things, and many of them come down to the fear of getting it wrong. I fear being out of control. I fear not reacting the right way when I need to react quickly. I fear trying something and failing. I fear humiliation and embarrassment, and people seeing my inadequacy. There are things I know I don't do well so I don't do them at all. This is why I long to be wise. I sort of hope it might protect me from some of this. Is that wrong? Is my motivation all wrong, then?

But you don't say that I have to be all sorted out and clear about why I want wisdom before I can ask for it; indeed you're probably sitting up there right now smiling to yourself at the heavy weather I'm making about it, aren't you?  Oh alright then.

Yesterday I had half an hour and I sat in a beautiful churchyard on a hillside and drank a cup of coffee (that I just happened to have) and the sun was shining and it was peaceful and quiet. It was a little oasis of calm. I sat with you, Lord, and although I didn't hear you in any clear sort of way - thunderous or still and small - I asked you about wisdom. I asked you what it was about, and whether I could have it. I looked at the graves all around me, old and new and read the names of so many people who have been and gone. I saw the grief of those who inscribed the headstones: 'in loving memory', 'much missed', 'dearly departed'. It made me think about life and death.  And in typical manner it made me realise how much I want to get it right.

Time is short. I don't want to coast through life and realise I wasted it. Spiritually speaking I've already done enough of that. I want my life to mean something and the only way I can make that happen is by listening to you and doing as you tell me. So I need wisdom. More of it. Every day. Because like my friend Spurgeon says, without it I get into so much trouble.

Please, Lord, give me wisdom. Whether I deserve it or not. You are wise. You are the fount of all wisdom, and you have said that you will come to live in me, and so you have. Let the seed of wisdom that you planted grow into something, Lord, so that I can stand in front of you one day and you will say that I have led a life well-lived. Make me grow wise as I grow up in you. I want you to be proud of me.

'If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.'

Amen. Thankyou. 

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