Thursday, 29 September 2011

Halfway to the peak

Evening, Lord.

I'm thinking about something that A W Tozer said. I'm reading bits and pieces of what he wrote as one of the daily devotional readings that I use and I must read more because he seems to talk a lot of sense. Not always sense that fills me full of good cheer, but sense nonetheless.  Stuff that needs thinking about. 

Like this:

"The word 'mediocre' comes from two Latin words and literally means 'halfway to the peak'.  This makes it an apt description of the progress of many Christians. They are halfway up the peak. They are not halfway to heaven but halfway to where they ought to be, halfway between the valley and the peak...  

AW Tozer: Mornings with Tozer 

I think I know that feeling. I have been wondering for a while if I'm not wandering round the mountain a bit like the Israelites who set out on a journey that should have taken a couple of weeks and ended up still there forty years later...

Tozer goes on: 

"Many have settled down right there, and the tragedy is that years ago some of you said, 'I am not going to fail God. I am going to push my way up the mountain until I am at the top of the peak, at the highest possible point of experience with God in this mortal life!'"

Ah. I suppose I've been guilty of making wild claims like that. I have said on several occasions that I want to be all that I can be. I want to be all that God wants me to be: I want to take hold of everything he wants to give me, to do all that he has for me to do, to be some use to him. Not to fail God. In terms of mountain climbing, I've set my sights on the summit and said so. To God and to other people. Then...well, just as physically I am no mountain climber but set out grimly with determination and stoicism, it wears off when the going gets tough and I need to sit down and rest my legs. Take in the view. Wait for the pain from aching muscles to wear off. Grumble a lot. 

Ben Nevis. What a day that was. 
This mountain climbing analogy is an uncomfortable one for me. I used to go out with a keen mountain climber and we once went to Scotland where I was dragged in various moods ranging from indulgent and obliging but weary to openly hostile up a series of mountains known as The Monroes (mountains over 3000ft in the Scottish Highlands). I have never climbed a mountain and enjoyed it, and the view from the top (usually bathed in cloud or torrential rain) was never, not once, worth the special sort of agony that I endured to get there. 

But back to the 'I'm not going to fail God!' claim:

"But you have done nothing about it. If anything, you have lost spiritual ground since that day. You are now a halfway Christian! You are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. You are halfway up to the peak, halfway to where you could have been if you had pressed on.

A halfway Christian. Sitting down looking at the view because the going got tough and my legs hurt. That's not a comfy thought. I don't really like to dwell on where I might have been if I'd pressed on, because for me, someone who made a Christian commitment aged 16, burned brightly for a few years, then went a bit dim in the heat and light department for a period of, well, let's say quite a while - perhaps I could have been much higher up on this mountain of mine.

I'm not going to let him down!

(I let him down)

No, I'm really not going to let him down!

(I let him down)

And so on. 

Tozer concludes:

"Do we really think that this halfway Christian life is the best that Christ offers - the best that we can know? In the face of what Christ offers us, how can we settle for so little?"

Lord, I don't want to be lukewarm. I don't want to be halfhearted. I don't want to be mediocre. I do want to push on - or at least my spirit does; but in so many ways I'm weak. I so often run out of strength, and will, and determination. Sometimes I start out aiming to please, just as I did with that old boyfriend, but after the gentle slopes turn into steep ones I start to think that it's too hard, too much trouble, too painful and then I want to sit down and get out the picnic. 

I don't want to write cheques that I can't cash. With your help I can cash them, because you've said that you'll walk alongside me and I'm hoping that means that you'll tow me a bit now and again, or at least keep talking to me as I'm struggling. Pull me up. On my own it seems likely that I'll let you down again no matter how insistent my protestations of sincerity this time...I can only do it with you. 

Mt Everest. Highest mountain on earth.
Will the view be better than this?  Really?

So show me this bloody mountain then. Ah. I'm standing on it.

How far up am I? Only there? Really?! But I've been plodding for ages. And my legs ache.

How much more to go? 

I can't even see the top from here. 

Are you promising me a decent view from the top? Really? Not shrouded in damp and mist? 

Like nothing I've ever seen, you tell me. 


So this time it will be worth it? 

I'm getting up. I'm trying to get the rucksack back on. I've put a plaster on my blister. 

I'm going to go a bit further because you've said you'll go with me. You know the way. I can't see past the next big rock.

And you've said you'll carry the rucksack if it really gets too heavy. 

I want to get to the top. You'll know what an achievement that'll be for grumbly, unfit old me.

Let's go then. 

After you. 

I'm following.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Living stones and cappucinos


Lord God, you have rained down blessings on us just recently, haven't you?  I don't mean to say that it's only recently, you understand, but these last few days have really been amazing. You have given us so much.

St Thomas' Centre
We've just opened our new Church Centre. It's been a long time coming; plans drawn up decades ago and things just never seemed to get moving, but now it's here, it's built, it's beautiful and finally, the doors are open. And who opened them? None other than the Archbishop of Canterbury his very self.  Dr Rowan Williams. And I got to make him a pot of tea. Ha!

Last Saturday the sense of your presence was really strong. It was a wonderful, joyful day where the sun shone despite the previous week's rain and gales and the crowds came and enjoyed themselves and drank coffee in our new coffee shop.

Which is really what I wanted to talk to you about. 

I didn't see much of the celebrations on Saturday because I was working in the coffee shop, and it has to be said that about a million people came in to the coffee shop for cake and a drink and so we were flat out all day. I made coffee after coffee and filled tray after tray and was for the most part completely unaware of who the coffee was for. It was hot and crowded and noisy. Old friends came by and I only had a chance to wave. My family came in and the girls told me excitedly what they'd been doing outside but there was no time for me to go and see for myself or watch them bounce on the bouncy castle. The queue seemed endless and there was real pressure to get people's orders to them as quickly as possible even though it was only the second day that we'd been open for business. It was hard work. By the end of the day I was shattered. My back was aching, my feet were aching and somehow I'd taken a lump out of my right thumb which is still a bit sore.

But none of that mattered. 

It was fantastic. The group of us that were working in the coffee shop did an amazing thing. We had been open for a few hours the previous day and only tinkered with the big espresso machine a couple of times. None of us had become acquainted with the till, and yet people came all day with vouchers for special offers on coffee and cake. We'd never worked with each other before Friday afternoon and didn't have any previous experience in cafes.

But none of that mattered. 

There he is.
With a cuppa and a date slice.
It was really great to be part of a team. We each had a job to do and we depended on each other.  If something went wrong we helped each other. I loved the way we fitted together to get all the component parts of the service done and for the most part it went beautifully. I am sure that we'll get better; the coffee will get better and the service too, but to serve up more than 250 hot drinks in a four and a half hour window with the pressure of the Archbishop of Canterbury and hundreds of expectant punters checking out the new place was a pretty special achievement.  Thankyou that I am now intimately acquainted with the coffee machine. We are friends. Thankyou that I got to be part of it all, Father God. 

Thankyou that you gave us a job to do and then equipped us with all that we needed to get it done.  Thankyou that when we asked for crowds you heard our prayers. And they were all in the coffee shop! Thankyou that we worked together so well and you gave us joy of each other as we helped and contributed and fitted ourselves together to make something happen. It was uplifting and inspiring. I went home with a real buzz. 

Snip. Open! 
I listened to the Archbishop making his speech as he blessed our centre and cut the ribbon at the door. He spoke of welcome, and of community, and of service. The church should be at the heart of the local community, not separate from it. We want to invite everyone into our centre and we want them to come. To meet us, and to meet you. And you were there on Saturday. You really were. I could feel you. I felt your blessing. 

I've been back in the coffee shop a few times since Saturday and each time my sense of blessing grows. Today was a quieter day; brisk business this morning and quiet this afternoon. People from church dropped in for a coffee and a cake and found friends to chat. A group of Mums with small children pulled some tables together and talked while their little ones played. For a long time I've had a vision of a place where you could come if you had half an hour to spare and the chances were there'd be someone to talk to. Do you watch the soaps, Lord? Well, you know in Coronation Street or Emmerdale or Eastenders people turn up at the local pub and there's always someone to sit next to? Well, our coffee shop could be like that. Only with less fighting and scandal, maybe. 

Just imagine. If you feel lonely or if you have news to share, if you fancy a chat, you can pop down to the coffee shop and find someone. I know that this is inward-looking but the value to the church I think might be huge. This sort of sense of community could nourish us so much. But what if we could extend that sense to all who come in - that we could create the sort of atmosphere where people feel noticed and cared for? That the feeling of belonging might not depend on existing relationships but on the warmth of the welcome. We are a church coffee shop and we might not have a Michelin starred chef but we do have the Holy Spirit. We might not have an endless budget but we do have our eyes fixed on something more valuable than profit. Please help us make it so. Not just the staff and volunteers in the cafe but everyone who drops in. 

This afternoon when it was quiet I saw how wonderful this place could be to come and sit and be quiet. We have a wonderful outdoor space with trees and grass and fresh air. I could imagine myself sitting with coffee and a book and just being. A place away from the hurry for a little while. A place to stop and get off just for a bit. 

Of course, the new cafe is only part of the Church Centre and the cafe is only going to be open certain hours. Many, many groups are going to be using the different meeting rooms and the hall and the kitchen and lots of different activities will be taking place. People will come for many reasons. So much potential for opening our arms and reaching out to bring people in to meet you. 

Inspiring stuff.  It helps that today has been warm and sunny and the doors have been open and the breeze gentle. It's just been wonderful. So much potential. So many possibilities. We've been entrusted with something; please don't let us waste it. Thankyou that the last few days have been so busy that I've had little time to think about me. I've been far too inward-looking lately and I know that you want me to concentrate on looking out much more. Looking up to you I'm still working on; why do I find it so hard to get my daily prayer life in order?  More on that soon I'm quite sure. 

I just wanted to say thankyou. Thankyou for this place, for being with us on Saturday and for making your presence felt as you did. Thankyou for the sunshine, for the archbishop, for cake and coffee. Thankyou for trusting us with these resources, Father. Help us to enjoy them but not hold them tight in our fists but bring people to taste and see how good you are. 

And I wanted to say that I get it. In my small and naive and limited way, I get it. I get that we have something special. I get that we have been given much, and from those who have much, much is expected. Help us rise to the occasion, Lord God. Years ago you drew our attention to a passage in 1 Peter and now the physical bricks and mortar are in place. Our house is built. What about us?

' also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.'

1 Peter 2:5

Amen, Lord. 

Now, do you fancy a cappucino?  Or would you rather have tea, like the Archbishop?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Psalm 42 and the blues

Hello God.

I suppose I've been keeping my distance lately. I'm not sure what to say. I'm definitely struggling to pray at the moment; I keep planning to find quiet time; to sit down with my Bible and my books and maybe my computer and to find some time to think. To write down what I want to say because I can't seem to pin down my thoughts when I just try to pray in my head. I start and then within seconds I'm distracted. I can't seem to focus or find words unless I'm formulating sentences to write. 

So I guess I'd better write. 

Lord, it's Autumn. It's raining, and the trees are shedding leaves and the flowers are dead or dying and the ground is soggy and it's dank and dark and miserable. So am I. I don't like this time of year. I know you have your reasons; I know about the cycle of nature and I know about hibernation (yes please - can I just hole up till Spring? Will everyone leave me alone for a few months?) and I know about the need for energy preservation and dormant periods and so on but it still doesn't convince me that you couldn't have found a more cheerful way of doing it all.  Why can't we have blue skies and sunny days that lift our spirits? Why does it have to be a long, slow, depressing slide into Winter? 

I'm really in need of something. I think I'm properly depressed and I can't seem to get myself out of it. I'm alright on one level, getting up in the morning and going about my business, but then someone asks me how I am and I go to pieces. As long as I don't have to cope with anything - rise to the occasion, so to speak - I'm fine. But if something happens, then the poise that I've spent years mastering disappears in an instant and I dissolve.

Earlier this year I was really going well. I was excited and expectant and I felt you close by and I was loving it. Things went wrong but I bounced back and I knew you were with me, teaching me, showing me things, leading me forwards. It was great. I was on top of the world and I had an amazing sense of anticipation. I thought that you had something in store and I felt ready. That's all gone. 

I've been reading Psalm 42 and it really strikes a chord with me.

'As the deer pants for streams of water,
So my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?'

It's ok for David to speak like this in the Psalms, in the Bible, Lord, but I suppose I feel a bit daft comparing myself to a deer. And the panting thing...not sure...but I just feel as if I'm longing for the closeness that I felt only a few months ago. I was in a place where I thought I could hear you. I was full of ideas, so much so that sometimes my head was so full that I couldn't scribble on scraps of paper fast enough. I was full of enthusiasm and optimism and plans for the future. Plans that I thought were your plans. I thought anything was possible. I want that back.

'My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"'

There are lots of tears here at the moment. It sounds like David was weeping rather than eating but you know that it's not how it works with me, God. I do the eating as well as the weeping. I lost a lot of weight earlier on this year and it's creeping back on - so that doesn't help morale any either. Where are you when I need you?

'These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.'

Yep, exactly. At Easter this year I went to church at every opportunity. Well, that might not strictly be true and I know that there's no fooling you - but I was there loads. I was involved in lots of things, I contributed, I went to pray, I went to praise and I went to be with my church family. Right now I feel like running away. I can't pray, when I try to worship I start to cry and I am avoiding people because I can't make conversation without appearing unhinged and pathetic. I started to cry in a meeting the other week and I can't be doing that. People will think I'm nuts. 

'Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?'

I could give you a dozen reasons why I'm downcast and then I could think of a dozen more. Life is hard. I didn't want to come back from our wonderful holiday because I knew that reality would hit back and it has; being prepared didn't help. I've spent the last few months coping with breast lumps, financial problems, employment issues, business difficulties and illnesses of members of my family; Katy's surgery (twice) and now the children are struggling with school. My littlest girl who has been through so much this year has started school and she's sad every morning and hangs onto me and it's just the final straw. 

Take this morning.  Lizzie has been separated from her friends in her new class.  The other girls on her table were together before in the other class and today they were exchanging party invitations. Each of them ended up with three and Lizzie watched as they laughed and compared notes but there was no invitation for her. My heart broke and I just wanted to say, 'Come on my little love. Let's go home.' 

Onward to Katy's class and she clung to me like a baby monkey. Her eyes were big and tear filled and her chin was trembling. Her teacher wanted a word (because she was upset yesterday at lunchtime) and Katy's little shoulders heaved even though she didn't make a sound. I was steered towards the door and as I turned to wave bye bye she beckoned me with a small movement of her hand, tears rolling down her face. The classroom assistant moved over to comfort her and her teacher told me to go. I walked away from my little girl and I so wanted to scoop her up and tell her it was alright, she doesn't need to stay if she doesn't like it. 

That's why my soul is downcast. My soul is all over the place. I don't know how to cope with my worries and I'm having nightmares that disturb me too. 

'Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?'

Everything is going wrong, that's why. I need you and I can't find you.

'Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
My saviour and my God.'

Oh Lord I do hope in you. I keep hoping that I'll stumble upon you sometime soon; that you'll tell me the answer to some of these problems. That you'll show me what you want me to do about all the uncertainties and difficulties that I'm in the middle of at the moment. Things that need sorting out quickly and things that are more long term. I do trust you. It's just that I need to act on some of this stuff and I don't know which way to turn. 

I do sometimes get a glimpse of how life might be if I did manage to hand over these things to you. If I did actually manage to give you my worries and not take them back. Even now, I know that what I'm struggling with is the sense that I can't feel your presence; I do know that you are there. I really don't know what I'd do if I thought that you weren't there at all. How much worse life could be if there was a genuine absence of you in my life. If there were no God? I believe; I just have so many questions and I don't know how to wring an answer out of you.

'I say to God my Rock,
Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?'
My bones suffer mortal agony 
as my foes taunt me..'

You are my Rock. I am holding on to you as if the tide will wash me away. I know that you haven't forgotten me. I'm sure David did, too; and I am aware that the stakes for him were higher than mine are now. He was King of Israel - Big Guy from the Bible; I'm just a stay at home mum who's got the blues. I am going about mourning. I keep trying to focus on positives because I know that what I dwell on will increase in size and all I'm doing is compounding my depression by analysing it. Someone yesterday asked if there was nothing positive I could tell him and I honestly couldn't think of anything at all. 

A wise friend told me yesterday that maybe I just have to stand at the moment. Not move on, not do anything, just stand. As the waves break over me, just stand. I can see the sense in this; the poetry, even, but what I don't see is how I go forward with all the stuff that I need to sort out at the moment. Phone calls that need making, letters that need writing, decisions that need making. So I can stand, difficult though that might be at times, but I can't just do nothing indefinitely.

'My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me...'

I don't suppose my bones suffer mortal agony; I think I might have arthritis in my left thumb and my hips are often stiff, but I suppose I should be thankful that my bones are not in mortal agony. Thankyou for that. My foes aren't exactly taunting me, either. I do worry that in my own home my current defeatism doesn't exactly help your light to shine in my life. If I could bounce back again from this latest onslaught I'd be a much better witness to you than I am in my current miserable state. 

'Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
My saviour and my God.'

Amen, Lord. I don't have many options really but to keep on keeping on and to trust that you have it under control. I know that you hold the universe in your hand and I know that you love me. You know what you're doing; it's just that I don't, and I'm hurting at the moment. I'm like Katy with tears rolling down my face and I feel as if you're walking away out of the classroom door and I don't know what to do. It doesn't seem fair that I'm on my own. I want you to pick me up and carry me. Just give me an idea of how to go forward, Lord and I will. If you want me to step out in faith, Lord, just tell me which direction?

I will praise you because I know that whether I feel you there or not, you are there. I will put my hope in you because I know that you haven't yet let me down and you won't let me down now. I will praise you because you deserve praise - you are my saviour and my God. 

I don't understand but you have told me that I don't need to understand, only to believe. 

Come soon, will you?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Will you be my friend?

Hello God.

It's me again. Going over old ground again, I think. 

New school year and new emotions for me as I say goodbye to both my daughters in a morning and leave them in their classrooms instead of bringing one back home with me, or dropping her at a warm and fuzzy nursery for a couple of hours now and then. It's different. I'm still acclimatising. I'm still hesitating and turning round at the door and waving (again) and blowing kisses and looking for any glimmer of tears in those big eyes that might trigger a quandary - should I scuttle back for more hugs and kisses or should I set my shoulders and walk away...

I miss them. 

Actually Katy is doing pretty well. I'm doing magnificently, all things considered (and by that I mean that I'm doing OK within certain parameters, namely that my youngest daughter has just started school and in the last two weeks I have been a strange and unpredictable hormonal mess that snaps and cries a lot. Aside from that I'm doing just fine.) 

It's Elizabeth who's struggling and I'm asking you to make it better. Please, Lord, make it better. 

As I'm sure you'll remember, not least because I've moaned on about it before, the Powers That Be split Lizzie's class in two last year and her friends were all in the other class. Elizabeth now sees them at playtimes but lunchtime is different as each class is called in to eat at a different time and the anxiety of not having anyone to sit with to eat her dinner and play with after they've eaten is keeping my six year old daughter awake at night and reducing her to tears on several occasions. 

Father God, find a friend for my little girl. Find her a girlfriend who is kind and encouraging and makes her feel happy; at least most of the time. Not a friend who criticises the clothes she wears or makes her self conscious about her height, or calls her names, or throws her woolly hat in a puddle. We did all that last year. Please find her a friend who makes her more herself, not less. Someone with whom she flourishes and grows and becomes more sure of her worth and uniqueness. As term started I knelt down with Lizzie and told her that she was never ever on her own, because you were with her all the time. She later told me that she'd remembered what I said, and it helped, but she needs someone she can skip with and whisper with and run with and eat with as well as a heavenly Friend that she's learning to trust. Don't we all?

'Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour
If either of them fall down, one can help the other up.'
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Lord, in my life you have surrounded me with some very special people; and I consider myself blessed beyond measure by your gift of one wonderful friend in particular. I know someone who loves me, understands me and accepts me as I am, even when I'm not nice, or when I'm irrational or angry. Someone who has cried with me and laughed with me, prayed with me, held me in her arms as I've fallen apart and then helped to rebuild me. She walks alongside me with faithfulness and honesty and inspiration and we help each other. 

'A friend loves at all times, and a brother was born for adversity.'
Proverbs 17:17

That'll be sisters too, I imagine. She is not afraid to tell me when I'm wrong and yet does so with gentleness and love. She is there when I need help even if she is weighed down herself. She is full of your Spirit and I learn so much from her. She makes me want to be better than I am; she inspires me, encourages me and shows me another way to think when I've reached a dead end. Our lives are not easy and we cling to each other but we have fun as well.  She brings colour to my world when I'm seeing life in black and white. We have often remarked on how sure we are that our friendship was a gift from you because our lives have so often reflected each other's; the pattern of my unfolding world is quite often so similar as to be indistinguishable from hers. It's amazing, uplifting, reassuring, comforting and a source of great joy to me. I would love to see my girls blessed like this.

As I was growing up I made mistake after mistake with friendships around me. I had some good friends throughout all those years, some of which are still active and valuable to me now; but there are some terrible memories of times when I misplaced trust, when people were just plain mean; when I tried to be someone I wasn't in order to hang onto a friendship that was doing me no good at all, and when I was wounded repeatedly but didn't have the perception or courage to walk away. It's taken me until my forties to understand the damage that early non-friendships did to my confidence and self esteem and to start to tear down the strongholds of wrong beliefs that resulted from some of these experiences. 

Please don't let that happen to my girls. 

I see Lizzie so needy and desperate to be liked. I see her longing to be accepted and it breaks my heart that she isn't comfortable in her own skin. Have I done that to her because of my own beliefs or behaviour? I tell her that she's special and loved and beautiful... but then criticise too much? Are my standards too high? Do I expect perfection? I don't know. 

Maybe you'll help me with these demons, Lord, and soon. But today I'm asking you, please, find a friend for my little one. For both of them. 
My Kate

On her open day before the summer Katy recognised another girl that she'd met at a nursery she attended briefly when she was tiny. Let's call her Annie, though I know that you know who she is. For two visits the two of them ran round hand in hand and it was wonderful to see. All summer Annie was in Katy's mind and she was anxious to see her on her first day. Then...nothing. She wasn't mentioned at all. Today I asked if she got to play with Annie at all and Katy said, 'It's very sad,  Mummy. Annie has another friend and doesn't want me.'

That one hurt my heart. She was pretty matter of fact; indeed she told me about another two friends, both little boys, that she had fun with. It was just that she'd been so sure that she and Annie would be inseparable and it had not happened. She was disappointed. I said all the right things, that people could have lots of friends, not just one, that she could play with different people, that she was lovely...

So Lizzie cries at night and worries about who to sit with. Although I don't know the circumstances it seems that Katy has already taken her first knock. Father of all, hedge them in with your protection. Protect them against all the hurts that might take root in their heads and hearts and grow into damaging perceptions of themselves. Every night I pray for them as I watch them sleep - I pray that anything that has happened today that might become A Thing for them would melt away and be forgotten. If they are hurt or worried or frightened that you would take care of it. Please keep them intact. Show my wonderful girls how gorgeous they are, how special, how unique, how they are designed to be themselves and no-one else.

Lovely Liz
Help me to show them those things and not just show them their flaws (as perceived by an impatient and overtired mother with perfectionist tendencies).

Send them a friend, Lord. A little girl who will make them happy, who can be made happy by them. Teach the two of them how to be a friend, so that they can give as well as receive.  They're warm little creatures, Father; you know how charming and funny and innovative and exciting and imaginative and creative they can be. Please please let there be someone in each of their classes who might come to meet them. Sit next to them in the dinner hall. Run next to them in the playground. Share with them. Build them up. Have fun with them. Someone that they can face life alongside. 

I know they all have their fallings-out - I know quite well how little girls can be. Make them resilient and secure so that the knocks don't flatten them. Help them bounce back. But please don't make them wait until they're grown up before they experience true friendship. It is so special and I so want it for them. Life is so much more beautiful with a friend. Family is one thing - a wonderful thing - but friendship is different. Friendship is a different colour and the most beautiful tapestry is lacking without this shade. A husband - well, I'm sure I'll come to that in time, but they're six and four. Before they find their men they need to find their friends. Please, Lord. A friend for Lizzie and one for Katy. Maybe two - but I mustn't be greedy. 

Here are my daughters, Lord. I love them so, so much. I want so much for them. I have this special thing and I know what it's worth and nothing can buy it for them. It's a blessing and I pray that you'll give it to my girls. I can't protect them the pain of rejection and other stuff like this but I would if I could. I'd give out application forms and hold interviews and do research and select the best friends I could find for them out of the ranks of small girls available but I'd probably get it wrong. You know who might fit, Lord. I trust you.

Don't let them be lonely at playtime, Father. Be there, yes. But will you stand in the playground and introduce them to another small person who might say, 'Will you be my friend?'


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What really matters

Hello God.

It has been ten years since two planes were flown into the World Trade Centre towers in New York and exploded, causing them to collapse, and planes hijacked and crashed in Washington killed nearly three thousand people in total. I imagine you remember.

A New York couple had recently got back from their honeymoon. The husband got up early for work that day and wrote a note for his new wife, who was still sleeping as he left the house. The note said:

'I love you more than I can say. Already looking forward to coming home.'

Of course, he never did, did he? He worked somewhere high up in one of the World Trade Centre towers and he died that day. There are so many stories like this that break your heart over and over. Hundreds of people knew that they were trapped and many, many of them used their phones to call someone that they loved to say goodbye and 'I love you' one more time. There are so many stories about the last conversations, missed calls, voices on answering machines. When faced with a situation like this, it seems that people wanted to connect with their loved ones before it was too late. It focused the mind on what was important and it turned out that what was important was other people.

I've no idea if people prayed, or if they turned their panicked attention to thoughts of what happens after death; I've no idea how many of those who died already knew you. I'm sure that just as it is said that there are no atheists on the battlefield, there were probably few on the upper floors of the North Tower as they watched the South Tower collapse as their own structure burned beneath them. I hope so. I hope that in extremis those people fell to their knees and acknowledged you. You would have been quick to respond.

I can't imagine how those people felt as they went through all that. I can't imagine the terror and the confusion. I can't imagine how awful it must have been to take a call from my husband both knowing that he was going to die. Perhaps worse than that might be to have missed a call from him and play the voicemail later. To know that someone you loved was trapped and terrified and minutes from death. It must have been more than we are built to cope with.

What words would be enough for a fleeting call like that? What could I say? And if there is something that needs to be said urgently in a situation like that then I am sure that that thing should be said anyway. Perhaps many times over. My God, if anyone I love goes out one day and doesn't come back, or goes to sleep one night and doesn't wake up in the morning I so much want to be sure that they would know what I would say if I'd had that phone call.

What made me think most was that those dreadful minutes crystallised to those unfortunate people exactly what was important. They wanted to connect with someone. How much they earned didn't matter, and what they were wearing didn't matter, how fat or thin they were didn't matter, and their job title didn't matter. Nothing did, except whatever thoughts of death and beyond they had, and the need to reach out to family.

I do not compare my experiences with those I've just described, but on the same continuum is what happened to me as I waited for Katy to come back from surgery some weeks ago. I left her in the anaesthetic room and cried for a while, had something to eat and then settled in a little courtyard in the hospital to wait for the call to say that she was in recovery. Bryan paced back and forth and I sat and tried to read, tried to pray, tried to relax my shoulders. There had been a few issues about jobs and finances and so on hanging over us for a week or two and we hadn't addressed them because we were already pretty stressed out about Katy's impending surgery and some hassles we'd had with operation dates and so on. As we waited I suggested we talk about what we were going to do to sort things out.

I sat, Bryan paced, we waited. 
It might have seemed a funny time to initiate a difficult conversation but actually it was the perfect time for us. The reason it was a good time was because at that very moment, it didn't matter at all. All that mattered was how Katy's surgery was going. How long it would be before she was back. Whether she was alright. Income and job security and pension plans didn't seem remotely significant in comparison with our lovely, small, vulnerable four year old daughter and surgery to her neck.

We didn't solve any problems that day but we worked out a plan. The funny thing (not funny ha ha, funny peculiar) is since that day a month ago Katy regained consciousness, was discharged from hospital, recovered beautifully and has now started school, and as the concern over her receded, other worries then crept back into my head. My in extremis prioritisation has become muddled again. All of a sudden the things that seemed trifling have assumed a magnitude that oppresses me again. I can see it and it makes no sense.

You are important. You are most important. My family are important. Other people are important.

That's about it. You'll take care of it all, won't you?

'Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.'

Matthew 6:33 (Good News Translation)

The clue is in that verse. Be concerned above everything else. Seek ye first.

You come first. Then there are important things and there are less important things. You can take care of them all. I suppose if I were more mature, walking so closely with you, if perhaps I had the mindset of St Paul, I might have been able to write today about how Katy's surgery did not alarm me in the slightest because I had such faith that you were in control. That there was you, and no other important things. That on that day her situation was just as supremely insignificantly not-worrying as our (lack of) financial stability. If smaller worries took a back seat then perhaps one day I can learn to push my larger worries behind me as well. Did St Paul have a poorly four year old daughter who needed surgery? Surely some things are still important and worthy of worry? Aha. I'm coming unstuck.

That's too much for now. I'll come back to it.

I suppose all I'm telling you about today was a little re-ordering that went on in my head back on that day outside the children's ward. It's no more than a step in the right direction, I guess. Maybe I've even regressed from that little revelation in the last weeks as life has taken on a more normal pattern.

As I talk to you now I realise how far I have to go. I feel as if I was an excited child who came bursting into her Daddy to say, 'Look! Look what I've learned!' and you're saying, 'That's great! But there's more! So much more...' 

Thankyou that you are a God who cares about our little steps forward and forgives our steps in the other direction. Thankyou that you can rummage through the mess in my head, find a nugget of Good Intention and hold it aloft in celebration even if it's covered in filth.

Thankyou that you love me no matter what.

Help me to get my priorities straight. And then keep them there.

Friday, 9 September 2011

My God is present

Lord, you said:

"Jerusalem will be told: 'Don't be afraid. Dear Zion, don't despair. Your God is present among you, a strong Warrior there to save you. Happy to have you back, he'll calm you with his love and delight you with his songs. 'The accumulated sorrows of your exile will dissipate. I, your God, will get rid of them for you. You've carried these burdens long enough.'"

Zephaniah 3:16-18 (The Message Bible)

Thankyou for the friend that sent this to me today. Thankyou for sending it. 

I believe this is what you're telling me today - us, today - as well as to the Israelites who wandered round and round for years instead of getting where they were going. Just like them, I'm going round in circles with the same old problems and worries and falling into the same old traps of anxiety and getting it wrong. 

Just like them I find myself looking for you and hiding behind you when things are going badly and then wandering off on my own when things seem more manageable only to have my life go badly wrong all over again. Just like the Israelites I keep thinking I know better and I don't. You do. Just like them I grumble and complain and stamp my foot. Just like them I concentrate on what I had, what I want, instead of what I have. 

Just like them, you love me and you'll always have your arms open when I turn back to you. Just like them, I know that you have a plan for me and just like them, I know that you will bring me safely home.

Help me not to keep on carrying my burdens but instead to leave them with you. Help me to show who I am as your child by managing my worries in a way that is different from the way all those around me manage, who don't know you. Help me to trust in your never-ending love instead of saying that I trust and yet acting as if I am on my own. How can I claim to be saved if I am miserable with worry instead of joyful? Clearly being saved doesn't make me very happy - but it does. The most important thing of all is my eternity and I know that I am going to be with you; what can be any more compelling than that? Yet what I say to the world is, 'I know that God loves me and he died to save me, yet that pales into insignificance in comparison to the fact that I have no pension. I know that he loves me but it's down to me to solve all my problems or I am lost.'

Makes no sense, does it?

So how come these two beliefs run concurrently in my life? How come I can believe one thing - You, and yet that belief doesn't cause the other things to evaporate like mist when the sun comes up? I really don't know. I don't want it to be this way. 

More faith. More trust. More courage. 

Thankyou that I am dear to you. 
Thankyou that you are present. 
Thankyou that you will always have me back. 
Thankyou that you are a great warrior and that you promise to save me.
Thankyou that you calm me and cover me with your love. 
Thankyou that you will delight me! 
Thankyou that you promise to take away my sorrows.

Please take my burdens for I've been carrying them a while, now.


Thursday, 8 September 2011

Where did my babies go?

Oh God, What an emotional day it's been.

My little girls.
Not so little as it turns out.
An emotional week, to be honest, but at least today I have an excuse for being emotional as it's my youngest daughter's first morning at school. The rest of the week has seen me all over the place for a whole variety of reasons but today it's because I took both my daughters to school and instead of coming away again with one of them I left them both behind. They both have coat pegs with their names above them, places in the classrooms with their names on and book bags with their names on with new reading books. 

That reminds me, I forgot to write Katy's name in her coat. How did the world keep turning today...?

Pause. Right. All done.

My baby is now at school. Her eyes were so big this morning and just starting to fill with tears when I left her in the classroom and she was having a worry that she wouldn't be able to run fast enough at playtime. She expertly dealt with a dot to dot boat and was setting about colouring it when we left and she didn't watch us leave. I looked back enough times. Two minutes later when I dashed back to check with her teacher what time I was to pick her up (only mornings this week) she was concentrating on her colouring and looked perfectly peaceful and collected. 

Unlike me. There's other stuff going on at the moment that is overwhelming me but I am quite sure that it's the emotional milestone of Katy's start at school that has left me in bits. This morning I felt as if I was falling apart. 

Thankyou, Father, for the delight on Katy's face when she came running over to me at lunchtime with her eyes shining and her new book bag flying. Thankyou that she had a good morning and she has mastered the simple few words in her story books straight away. She was dancing round the living room shouting, 'I can read! I can read!' and just couldn't wait for Lizzie to come home so that she could demonstrate her new literary prowess.  Just now (after school) the two of them have been sitting heads together reading their books (of course, Katy's took minutes to complete but Lizzie's books are much more involved and Kate struggled to stay attentive despite the increasingly dramatic narration). I am so proud of my girls and I want to thank you, Lord God, from the bottom of my heart that you seem to have given them both a love of reading. 

Reading is something that is so precious to me. I don't know what I would do if I could no longer read. I read to learn - every stage of my life is charted by my bookshelves; books about everything I've ever needed to understand and many more. I read for entertainment and I read to escape. I've been brought up in a house full of books and my house is just the same. I love it. I love books. My Mum was a librarian and she met my Dad at the library. 

Mum and Dad always used to tell me that once I could read I need never be bored, and I've found it to be true.  Long journeys, waiting rooms, bedtime, when unable to sleep, whenever I get a minute I always turn to reading. I have a pile of books on the go at any one time and a shelf full waiting to be read. Now I can read on my iPhone, on the computer - Bryan has a Kindle so he can carry round an immense library without needing to turn a page.  I'm not sure I'm ready to grasp such technology yet but I can see that it might be the way forward as we're running out of shelf space.

Lord, thankyou for books. Thankyou for wise people who wrote down their wisdom so that I can read it centuries later. The Bible. Thankyou for people who wrote down stories just to take me out of my life for a time so that I can be someone else and experience things in my imagination that make the world a bigger place. Thankyou for the teachers who taught me this most valuable of skills and thankyou for parents that encouraged me and made me understand the value of it. Please help me to do the same for my daughters and not be impatient or too perfectionist with their attempts. 

So Katy started school today and Lizzie is in Top Class and on Monday for the first time I shall have both my girls at school full time. I shall walk them to school, settle Elizabeth in Red class then take Katy to the other end of the corridor to Purple class and settle her there. Then I shall leave them both behind and have no babies to go home to. 

People keep asking me what I'm going to do with my time and the answer is that I don't know. Not 'I don't know' in a lost and worried sort of way, as I feel very positive about having some time. I know how blessed I am to be in the position of having some time, and I know how fragile this blessing is at the moment for us. When I say that I don't know, I mean that I really don't know. I don't know whether I should get a job, try to write something, volunteer somewhere, learn DIY (which in the current financial climate in our house has to stop meaning, 'Delegate It Yourself' and get a bit more traditional: alas at the moment neither of us could put up a shelf to save our lives)  or catch up on six and a half years of inadequate sleep and shirked housework and so on. The sleep bit sounds really attractive...

I can go to the supermarket on my own and not have to push around a small child in the trolley or be prevailed upon to buy small cars or too much salami.

Whoa. The mind boggles. 

No, the truth is that I really don't know. I've been asking for a while, Lord God, and either you're keeping shtum or I'm not tuned into the right wavelength because I still don't know. If you're waiting for me to step out in faith somehow I'd dearly love to know which direction. I'm trying to listen, if you're trying to tell me something? 

My littlest girl is off to school and I can't help but think that an era is over. How did it get to this stage so fast? It's not five minutes since I was breastfeeding round the clock and exhausted. Next I was holding the hand of a toddler and exhausted. Then they were preschoolers and the clue was in the title at that stage but still it shocks me that the time has come. 

I should have made more of the time while I had it. I should have played with the girls more while I had the chance before they were at school all the time. I should have been more creative, more energetic, more dynamic. At the very least I should have sat and snuggled on the sofa more while they watched children's telly. Now they're at school and those days are gone. No more chances. I feel as if I've spent years wishing time away and now I want it back. My little girls are so grown up these days and the time is flying. Help me make the most of it all. They'll be leaving home before I know it and will they come back? Will I get the chance to help them with their babies or will they live miles away and only visit occasionally? 

That is the worst bit of long range worrying I've done for a while. Sorry. 

So Kate starts school. She came home today having loved her day and was so excited. She read, she coloured, she played, she didn't have any problems running around the playground. She saw Big Sister who was doing something with a parachute in the hall and Big Sister waved to her which made her day. She has a peg with her name on and a place at a table with her name on and a book bag with her name on and she doesn't seem to mind that they all say 'Katherine' instead of Katy - her Best Name, as she calls it. 

My little girls. Big School. The next step in growing up. 

What's my next step, Lord?  Is there a peg with my name on it in a new place? 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A martyr, a sinner, a saint

Hello God.

The other week you introduced me to St Bartholomew the martyr and this week it was St Edmund. He appears to be next in line in my whistle stop tour of the saints... There are some big guns up in heaven, aren't there?

Some people who gave their lives because of you. St Edmund (so the story goes; only your good self will know the truth of it) was tied to a tree and a group of narky Danish bowmen shot arrows at him until he was dead. And all because he wouldn't renounce you.


Once again I say it; what an easy little life I have. I can pretty much guarantee that no-one is going to tie me to a tree and shoot arrows at me. As far as I know.

Of course, little is known about St Edmund other than that he was the King of East Anglia for a time and his demise was probably around 870AD. He loved you. He is now known as Edmund the Martyr and when I was on holiday on the Suffolk coast last week we went to the Parish Church of St Edmund, Southwold to have a look round.

What a lovely church it is. Huge and airy with a beautiful vaulted ceiling and treasures. There would have been more treasures but for a very unpleasant man who was known as William 'Basher' Dowsing in 1644. Mr Dowsing turns out to have been an iconoclast; a man whose job it was to remove all 'Monuments of Superstition or Idolatry' as specified in some ordinance or other by people who weren't on your list of friends.

I'm no historian.  I just checked that on Google but I imagine you remember it well.

How did it go down with you when some thug came in and smashed all the stained glass and snapped little statuettes off the pillars and scribbled on the faces of the saints with a knife? Were you tempted to do something horrible to him?  Lightning? Plague? Maybe you did? she says, hopefully...)  I can't imagine how awful to watch the church that I love being vandalised. It must have been terrible. Alternatively, does it not bother you half so much to watch the glass and stone and paintings and things being desecrated as it does to watch people turn away from you?  Perhaps you grieved less over the destruction than the man who was the destroyer.

There's only one surviving stained glass window thanks to the aforementioned and from the outside it gives the church a slightly strange, blank look, but on the positive side when you get in it's a gloriously light and airy space. Even with pillars down both sides the nave is wide and spacious-feeling and the sun lights it up beautifully. Every cloud...

As we went in the building a nice lady handed me a laminated sheet of paper that told me about the church and gave me a bit of a guided tour. They even had a table with games and puzzles for the children as well, for which I blessed them more than they'll know. We've looked round enough churches and monuments with the girls cantering round with shouts and squeals to know that it doesn't always make us particularly welcome visitors and my musings are usually cut short because of the lack of games and puzzles.

I love looking round other churches. I always sit somewhere and imagine what it would be like to sing here; to listen to a sermon and to meet with you; because you are there as well as with us in our church and in the market place and on the beach.  I imagine the sun behind the stained glass on a rainy day and I look at the inscriptions on the walls. Here was a memorial to a Mr Thomas Nunn. For some reason it really moved me. It said, 'Thomas Nunn, gentleman'.

To the memory of Thomas Nunn, Gentleman; 
who lived in Hope 
and died with the glorious Expectation 
of a joyfull Resurrection 
through JESUS CHRIST. 
He was an affectionate Husband, 
a tender Parent, a sincere Friend 
and a good Man. 
And exchanged this mortal 
for an Immortal Life
 on 27th September 1762, 
aged 76 years.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, give or take a few months, Mr Nunn passed away and someone engraved this for him. Last week I stood at the very front of the church and looked to my left and there Mr Nunn's memorial was high on the wall. There was a little connection between me and a man who lived long ago and maybe one day when we're all with you I'll be able to find him and say to Mr Nunn; I loved your memorial. What a way to live and what a way to die. Can there be a better epitaph than this? An affectionate husband, a tender parent, a sincere friend, a good man. Changed this duff life for a far, far better one on 27 September 1762 and there he is with you now where he wanted to be, singing your praises and feeling the warmth of your presence still in the very beginning of his eternity. Waiting for us all to join you.

Your family stretches down through the ages.  I love knowing that in this church on a Sunday in the morning and the evening a group of people I don't know are meeting to sing praises to you and to learn about you and who live for you just as we are doing the same at our church here at home. A family even though we are miles apart and don't know each other. I love it that a man who lived and died miles away, years away, touched my life for a few minutes last week.

I'm talking about Thomas Nunn, not so much William Dowsing.

I don't know what old Basher Dowsing did with his life and how he faced whatever sort of death he had but I wonder if he ever stopped to consider what it was that inspired people to kneel before the cross before he ripped it down and smashed it? I wonder if he ever doubted himself. Did he? Did you ever ask him what he thought he was doing?  You did something amazing with St Paul on the road to Damascus - did you send a vision to Mr D as well?  Or maybe we'd have heard about it if you had. There's nothing on Google.

Well, that's it for now.

I just wanted to pass on my appreciation for another lovely church and the kind ladies that thought to put out some entertainment for the children so that we could have a wander round and soak up a little bit of your presence while on holiday. Thankyou for the bit of history that I learned about, thankyou that some beautiful objects did survive William Dowsing's rampage and thankyou for Thomas Nunn, whose faith is still making an impression two hundred and fifty years after his death.

Rest in peace with Jesus, Mr Nunn.  See you one day.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Finding a spacious place

Morning, Lord. 

And a miserable rainy one it is too, if  you don't mind me saying. I have heard it said that there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing, but I disagree. My mood seems to be closely linked with the weather and the time of year and today it's windy and rainy and dark and it feels as if summer is over and here comes the slow, grumpy slide into winter. Hmmph.

I need to get past this as it's September now and a long way till spring; I can't be harping on about dark nights and dark mornings and the cold and the wet and the leaves falling off the trees for the next six months. If I have to shut up about it I'd just as soon find a way to feel better about it, if it's all the same to you. I need to find joy every day whether the sun is out or if it's hidden behind impenetrable banks of cloud.

On holiday I saw the sunrise a couple of times. It involved getting up before dawn and making my way to the beach (less than two minutes walk) and then walking along or sitting and waiting for the sun to come up. 

Yes, me. I bet you were surprised to see me up and about at that time of day, weren't you? This is the 'me' who is constantly complaining about lack of sleep or interrupted sleep or the necessity of getting up too early. Funny what holidays can do to me. The chance of seeing something special and taking a few good pictures and there I was climbing out of bed at 5am.

You didn't let me down. It was a special time. Nobody else about. Seagulls and rabbits on the green and on the beach. Only the sound of the waves and the shingle and the slow majestic emergence of the sun. The light before the sun rose was beautiful. Soft and  pinkish; turning each everyday object into a thing of beauty. There was a moment when the first rays shot forwards towards me across the sea in a glittering orange stripe before becoming more diffuse as the sun climbed over the horizon. It almost could have been accompanied by music, it was such a startling moment. 

As every minute passed everything changed. The sky, the light, the reflections, the atmosphere. From the muted half-light to the glow on the horizon to the bold splash of orange and gold and red to the yellow and white and silver. 

On the second time out I met another human being; a man with a camera. I said good morning and made to walk past and as I did he commented that he had thought that this morning would be an amazing sunrise, but it failed to materialise and he was disappointed. I smiled politely as I lifted my own camera again and I marvelled that it was possible to look on the spectacle and be disappointed. I don't get to see enough sunrises to make many comparisons - until this week my experiences of dawn have consisted of desperate wishes for day to arrive as I've sat up all night with a newborn baby. This was quite different. 

It was very very beautiful. Words are too small to try and capture the hugeness of your sunrise over the ocean. I'm quite sure that many and more articulate people than I have tried to pin it down but when it comes to it there's nothing to do but watch. Even staring at it through a camera lens doesn't do it justice, although I had a good try! 

It made me think about my Dad. He was a photographer; it's what he did. He loved taking photographs and he was never seen without a camera over his shoulder. I used to take my photographs to him when they were developed and if he admired one then I felt a particular sense of achievement. A compliment from my Dad about the composition of a photograph was high praise indeed. I wanted to be as good as he was at spotting the good angle, composing an exceptional shot. I have a long way to go, but as I was crouching on the beach to put a sea groyne in silhouette in the fore ground of a photo or changing the focus to make the picture different he was in my mind and I wished that he could look at my photos and tell me where they could be better. He would have loved it. 

I found on both mornings that I went out early that I walked along the seafront taking pictures and then took the same ones on the way back because things looked so different in the new light. If I'd been there an hour previously when it was dark I guess they would all have looked different again. I'm sure there is a metaphor for life in there - darkness and murkiness and shadows and the scene looks one way, then the promise of light casts a much warmer more positive glow; a sense of anticipation before the grand event where light breaks forth and makes everything shine and sparkle - blasts away the shadows and shows us the beauty and truth of what we have only half seen in the pre-dawn half-light. 

I'm living somewhere between the murk and the half-light. Definitely some point after dawn has dispelled the darkness but the full glory of the sun hasn't lit everything up yet. Sometimes I can see the glow on the horizon and even a dramatic, attention-grabbing streak of gold across the sky heralding some wonder to come but mostly I am walking in the soft light of promise, beyond blackness but not quite at the point of sunrise. sunrise just when we get to Heaven? Or can I somehow grow up out of the haze (subtly beautiful though it is and well worth a few photos) and find myself bathed in sunlight in this life? I don't know. 

Maybe that analogy was a load of rubbish. What do you think? Are you listening to me with an indulgent smile as I fiddle about with words and ideas? Do I ever get closeish to the mark or are you planning to nudge me back into the fold at some point?

The sunrises were beautiful. Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. Simply inspiring. Spirit lifting. Our holiday was so good - I had numerous opportunities to feed off your wonder-full creation and let it nourish my soul. Thankyou. And thanks that I have a good camera and a decent eye and that my Dad taught me enough to capture tiny parts of it to gaze at when I need to refill. 

Lord, I need to find a way to let my spirit dance as it did watching the sun come up over the expanse of the sea when a) I'm not on holiday, b) I'm not in a relaxed and optimistic frame of mind already and c) when I'm not near the sea. I love the sea and when I drive to the coast my heart lifts when I can see it. Coming home was a problem for me as I felt as if my world was shrinking again. I watched the ocean in the rear view mirror for longer than I should have done. 

So here I am in Derbyshire and I love the scenery. I love the hills and the rocks and the moors and I love that it's my home. I'm not complaining. Maybe I love the sea so much because you can't get much further inland than Derbyshire and so all my life a trip to the seaside was a treat, but I do know how blessed I am to live in a county so rich in beauty of its own. I need to get out more, don't I?

I need to find a way of finding the space in my head as I did watching the sunrise on the beach. To find the spacious place. To find room to breathe and focus on you. Not to get so bogged down again in everyday life that there's no elbow room. Things get too claustrophobic. I only had a week at the seaside and after it took me a couple of days to unwind and relax I only had a few to enjoy the relaxation - it would be a shame to throw that away so soon.  

Please would you teach me how to find that peace without requiring a vast seascape and a 4.45am start? 

'He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
He drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.

He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.'

Psalm 18:16-19


Monday, 5 September 2011

R and R and awe

Well, I think that my shoulders have relaxed.

This holiday has been just what the doctor ordered. It took a few days to get going; to get me to chill out a bit and stop thinking too much, but we just have one day to go and I’m loving it. I don't want it to end.

It helps that the sun has been shining (my nose is definitely pinkish) and it helps that the sea is sparkly. It helps that the children are having a whale of a time (though not so much sleeping in their exciting bunk beds!) and it helps that this is a beautiful place with loads to do and my extensive research and meticulous (some would say pedantic) eye for detail has paid off, even if I do say so myself. None of the traditional holiday vacillating and time wasting for us - we've had trips out and days on the beach and it's all gone beautifully. 

Not remotely control-freakish. Honest. Clearly the success of this holiday is all down to me. Ahem. 

Thankyou for the outstanding beauty of this little planet that you’ve put us on. Today we went on a speedboat ride out in the bay and the sky was blue, the sea was blue and the sun sparkled off the waves as they broke. The driver of the motorboat drove us in concentric circles to make a whirlpool effect and then pulled up so that the boat jumped and splashed and the spray glittered like diamonds in the sun. I could taste it. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and Elizabeth was sitting between Bryan and I and she was laughing with exhilaration and excitement. We all were. I can’t remember the last time that I laughed for joy but today speeding round the bay I was shouting to you and praising your name. In my head. Still a little bit too uptight to do that out loud, mind you.
When you were on this earth, Lord Jesus, did you have moments of exhilaration that took your breath away?  You experienced the whole range of human emotions – what did you enjoy so much that you laughed with happiness? I suspect it wasn’t a speedboat on a sunny day. I'd love to know what it wast that you did that made you shout with joy.

113 steps to the top 
I started the week crying uncontrollably and begging you to save our holiday when on Sunday things seemed to be going so wrong. Today I closed my eyes and loved you for the blessings you rained down on me and my family. Thankyou.

We have spent time on the traditional hunt for pebbles with smiles (got a few contenders for this annual holiday title) and we’ve made sandcastles with varying degrees of success. We’ve paddled and splashed and eaten far too much, from fish and chips to barbecues to cream teas. We’ve negotiated an eight acre maize maze and climbed to the top of a lighthouse. We’ve explored the enormous church built in fourteen hundred and something and we’ve bought postcards. 

Maize maze. Amazing.
We’ve seen sunrises and sunsets and a myriad of stars and taken hundreds of photographs. We’ve caught crabs, been on a rowing boat ferry and walked for miles. It has been wonderful and to be honest I’m not that bothered about going home and picking up the reins again – the inevitable attention to the problems that await me. They came with me on holiday to start with but after a day or two I persuaded them to head off home early but I know that they’re waiting for me.

How can I take this lighthearted feeling with me and not become weighed down with it all again? On holiday I don’t have the same responsibilities. We concentrate on enjoying ourselves. We indulge. We don’t work (any more than cooking and shopping and looking after the children and so on is work – but even that seems less of a grind.)

Well, that’s for another day. We have one more day here and we’ve decided to do again some of the best bits of the week. I was up before 5am this morning to watch the sunrise over the bay and so I’m having an early night so that I’ll be bright eyed and bushy tailed tomorrow.

All my own work.
I’m going to enjoy tomorrow and not think about the drive home. I’m going to soak up the sun and listen to the waves and watch the sparkling sea and not contemplate money or pensions or the future. I’m going to postpone thinking about the diet for another day and have an ice cream and a hot chocolate. I’m going to absorb the joy on my children’s faces as they run with their buckets and spades and hunt for shells. I’m going to be a child myself as I locate the perfect pebble with a smiley face and shake sand out of my shoes.  

And I am going to thank my God in Heaven for giving it all to me.

Lord God, I can never thank you enough. Help me to notice the beauty of your world and remember it so that I can fetch out those memories when it’s raining next week and I’m worrying about Katy’s first day at school, or her next clinic appointment, or Elizabeth in her new class away from her friends. Help me to look at my smiley face pebble and think back to the blessings of this week when I start to fret about life and the future. Help me to remember how close I felt to you today.  

Lord of the sun and the sea and the sky, how generous you are with good things. 

I've had a nice holiday.


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