Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The twelve trolleys of Christmas

So, Lord, Christmas is a-coming.

Ask me how I know? Well, it's partly the feeding frenzy that's going on at the supermarket; a cashier was telling me ten days ago that it was getting busier and busier and likely to be unrelenting elbow-brandishing, trolley barging, turkey-grabbing mayhem from now until the New Year. (On reflection I'm not sure that you can brandish your elbows but you know what I mean).

Ooh. Spoiled for choice.
So people start stocking up for Christmas in November. Why? Perhaps we think that the supermarkets will run out of food before 25 December and so we'd better stockpile the essentials ahead of time. By 'essentials' I mean vast tubs of chocolates, biscuits for cheese that we only buy in bulk at Christmas, every last variety of alcohol known to man just in case someone asks for an exotic drink over the festive season and we only have red wine or half a bottle of leftover rum destined for the Christmas Pudding. Perish the thought that we might have some comestible unavailable to us in the Closed Shop period, which is, after all, smaller every year and set to be only an hour and a half on Christmas afternoon before long. 

On 26 December there we'll be back with the car boot open loading in more festive multipacks in time for the New Year's Orgy of Eating. 

That sounded very scathing, didn't it?  Sorry about that.  I'm as bad as the next person. We have family to stay over Christmas and I love to have lots of treats to eat. I am very much a fan of eating. I like to have things to nibble, nice meals to linger over, good wine to celebrate with. I just need to remember that there are only so many meals we can eat; only so much that we are physically able to consume. Common sense. I've bought my Christmas Pudding already, and have to brag about a (rare) moment of insight where I realised that we don't actually like Christmas Pudding that much, so we bought a small mid-range one, rather than a Best/Finest/Superior/Luxury whopper that we've had (and kept on reheating) in previous years. It's enough to set fire to and then have a token mouthful of. Does that count as great restraint?

Now. Where to start...
Not really. As I sit here my kitchen stool will testify that I am heavier than I was in the middle of the year and as I gaze at the oncoming juggernaut of Christmas in the same way as a small rabbit, wide eyed and immobile in the middle of the road, I realise how bad I am at self-control. On many levels. 

This year things are likely to be leaner than previous years for everyone because everyone is short of money, or so we're hearing on the news anyway. Doesn't seem to be any sign of that in the supermarket. All that's going to happen is that we spend too much, eat too much, then whinge too much in the New Year when we step on the scales and open the credit card bills. It's not very impressive, really, is it? It doesn't honour you that much, does it?  I imagine you look at us and wonder how far from a stable in Bethlehem it's possible to get. 

You came to earth with nothing. You gave us the best, most breathtakingly generous, priceless gift we will ever have, and Christmas is about celebrating your Birthday. The day when the Word became Flesh. The God With Us day. The day when heaven and earth met. You didn't split the sky with explosive magnificence and announce your presence in glory and majesty as you will one day, you were born in the usual way with blood and amniotic fluid in a smelly old stable and you lay surrounded with scratchy straw and grubby animals. 

Don't mind if I do...
How does that translate itself over the centuries into a few days of excessive eating and drinking? How come we now thrust presents at each other that we've bought with money we don't have? We wander the shops grabbing inconsequential items that'll do for someone's present - we don't often shop with love and consideration because there's just too much of it. Too much spending. Too much giving of token gifts. We give with one hand and collect with the other and sometimes we're delighted and sometimes we pretend (and if you're a small child of the kind we have in this house, sometimes you discard with obvious disappointment) and this year for me it just seems silly. More than silly, it seems somehow obscene. 

No doubt I'll still do it. No doubt I'll drown my qualms in a glass or three of mulled wine and comfort myself with a mince pie with brandy cream. I haven't made my Christmas shopping list yet but my cards are ready to write and the cupboard is filling with items towards an extravagant Christmas menu. I am very good at eating and drinking and I like a nice present to unwrap as much as the next person (unless the next person is either of my two girls, who just go crazy at present time. More on that no doubt later). 

I'm not about to announce a Christmas of Austerity where we don't decorate the house, we don't eat until we need antacids and we don't end up with a bin bag full of wrapping paper, so I suppose there's an element of hypocrisy in any conversation that I start on this subject. Just now and again, I stop in a sea of consumerism and I think about you and the people and trolleys and elbows swirl round me and I stop - and then I start again. Like a mackerel swimming with the shoal.

Oh go on then. Maybe just one.
Or two.
Sigh. What can I say, Lord?  I'm sorry we've made your birthday something different from that you intended it to be. If we offer you heartfelt carol-singing and an honestly meaningful church service or two, does it make up for the selfishness and madness and conspicuous consumption? We have so much and yet we insist on even more. When I think about the immense tracts of the planet who won't be celebrating Christmas with food and drink and gifts and then turn back to our shopping centres it makes me feel a bit sick. But if I'm honest, I squash that feeling and go back to making lists and flexing the plastic, don't I?

I love Christmas. I love the decorations, I love the lights, I love the joy and the fun and the family and the laughter and preparing the food and sharing silly jokes in crackers and watching someone I love open a present from me. I love the children's faces when they see their stockings and I love carols and I love that you actually laid aside your majesty, as the song goes, and came to meet us here on this beautiful, broken planet. I love all this. I just wonder if we can't have all that and still not miss the point?

Show me, this Christmas, the meaning of it, Father God. Help me curb the worst of my excesses because it's not good and it's not going to be a happy January if I make my weighing scales situation any worse than it is already. 

Show me Jesus in Christmas. All that 'the reason for the season' stuff.  We've even managed to make a cliche out of that, haven't we?

Show me the angels singing, and the star shining and the shepherds realising that the tiny baby in front of them is the Son of God. Show me Mary, cradling her newborn baby with some realisation of who he is but no idea of the magnitude of what lies ahead. Show me the baby in the manger who is somehow helpless and totally dependent but God as well. Show me the wonder and the beauty and the truth of Christmas and help me keep my eyes on you to see it, rather than just focusing on the bit that says, 'Please enter PIN now'.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The one that came back

God, I've had a nice day today. 

Despite a heavy cold (though far be it from me to complain) I have been out for coffee with friends, and been out with some special people for a birthday lunch. I am full of food and coffee and had a lovely time chatting. Not quite sure why such an indulgent sort of day should leave me feeling exhausted and in need of a good sit down and forty winks, but maybe that's just the particularly bad cold that I have (not that I'm complaining, you understand).

I have so much to be grateful for. I have been reading about gratitude lately, and I definitely believe in counting my blessings - they are indeed too numerous to number. I have been learning that a healthy dose of gratitude is essential to happiness; grateful people are happy people. Ungrateful people will never be happy because they are never satisfied. Gratitude is a Good Thing. 

Thankyou for this...
The other thing I've been reflecting on, recently, is that gratitude doesn't mean much unless it's expressed. 

In Luke 17 Jesus heals ten lepers. He sends them off to show themselves to the priests to get themselves accepted back into society. This is a big thing. Ten are healed, but only one (and a Samaritan at that) comes back to say thank you. Jesus looks at the one ex-leper who throws himself to the ground in front of him and asks:

'Didn't I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no-one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?'
Luke 17:17-18

Jesus sounds so disappointed. Only one of the ten thought to say thank you. This immense, life-changing thing happened to them and only one came back to say thank you. 

Can it be that in failing to notice your blessings, I can disappoint you like this? Or worse still, by noticing but not saying thank you, I could hurt your feelings?  The 'ingrate' side of gratitude? Or alternatively, the myriad of times that I am truly grateful, but through laziness I don't get round to expressing my gratitude?

Today I gave my friend a birthday present. I hoped she'd like it, I thought she'd like it, and when she unwrapped it, I knew she liked it. She said thank you to me with real warmth. I felt appreciated. But if she'd opened it at home, where I couldn't see, she might still have liked it, but I would never have been sure. She might have felt grateful for the gift but unless she got in touch with me to say thank you, I'd never know. Now, I know that it isn't the same for you, because you know everything, but still I need to be so much better with the thankyous.  If my friend today had unwrapped her present, smiled in pleasure but never said thank you, perhaps I would have smiled back cheerfully but been a little bit hurt that she hadn't spoken her appreciation. I don't know. What I do know is that if you cured me of leprosy today, I feel as if I'd never get up from the floor in front of you for gratitude. 

...and this...
So what leprosies have you healed me from? What have you done for me? What gifts have you given me today? What do you go on giving me day after day after day?  

I don't know where to start, but that's not good enough. A blanket, 'Oh, and thank you for everything, Lord,' doesn't do the trick just like blanket confessions don't do the trick. 'Sorry about everything, Father. You know all that I did wrong, so forgive me all of it without me going into detail, will you?' It's thoughtless and lazy and it won't do. 

But that's so much easier said than done; I know that I need to pay closer attention to this. I really don't want your love and your help and your blessings to pass me by, and I certainly don't want to soak them up, sponge-like and hurt your feelings by not saying thank you. While I've been writing this my friend sent me a text message to thank me again for her present. It's given me a warm feeling and I've been able to say how welcome she is and it's another little blessing on our friendship. 

Is that what it's like with you and me, Lord? When I say thank you, and mean it, does it make you smile? Does it make you think, 'Well, if you're going to respond like that, I'll do it again!' like it does when my little daughters' faces light up when I do something for them and then they run and hug me and shout 'Thankyou Mummy!' How much better do I feel when that happens than when they fail to notice my gesture or my gift? And how bad do I feel when I buy them a new blue jumper and they complain that they wanted the red one? 

I don't want to be ungrateful, either actively or passively. I want to notice, absorb and remember all that you do for me. That might well be beyond my ability or imagination, but I want to try. I want to reflect the blessings that you give me and not just soak them up and hoard them. I want to be the leper that came back and made Jesus smile, and not one of the nine that made him feel sad and unappreciated. If I'd been Jesus I might have had the leprosy come back with a vengeance for their ingratitude  - 'Whoof! Check that out. Now they'll be sorry!' - but I don't suppose he did. And I suppose on reflection I'm glad that he didn't, since I've been the ingrate so many times myself. 
...and these...

Thankyou Lord: for my friends, for good cups of coffee, for the encouragement and laughter and companionship and for the opportunity to eat nice food and chat with people that I care about, who care about me. Thankyou for lovely food prepared by someone else, for mayonnaise, for apple crumble (yes, we had dessert too, what a treat was that?), for the beautiful bright, low sun on the remaining Autumn leaves. For blue skies, lovely Derbyshire countryside, for my car and independence, for my girls running out of school with smiles. For hugs. For music in the car. For my Mum welcoming me home and making me a cup of tea, for the fact that Bryan is on his way back from London. For our little blackbird eating berries only three feet away as we watched him. For a warm house on a cold day and for paracetamol and handkerchiefs for this particularly virulent cold that I am enduring with such stoicism...

There's so much more. 

Lord, I am forever in your debt. I can never give you enough thanks. But please, help me to notice and not just go running off. 

I want to be the one that came back to give glory to you. 

I want to be the one that came back.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The sacred that surrounds us

Morning, Lord.

It's quiet. I can hear the clock ticking, some birds chirping in the garden, the sound of my fingers on the keys and the odd sniff as my nose is runny today. 

I had some music on earlier while I did some baking but I've turned it off. The kettle is uncharacteristically silent as I have a fresh cup of coffee in front of me and the washing machine has finished it's load and the washing is hanging on the line thanks to my Mum, who is always much more efficient than I am first thing in a morning, and she has now gone out.

It's just me and you. 

I want to tell you about something special. Last night I was reading more of 'The Call To Intimacy: Finding rest in the love of God' by Tony Horsfall. I was sleepy and a bit ragged after several calls from the children who were both afflicted with colds and so unable to settle without various medications, vapours to inhale, cuddly toys that required locating, stories on CD players and much reassurance. I wanted five minutes of peace before I nodded off so that the day wouldn't end with the grinding of teeth. 

And there you were. Words on the page leapt out at me. 

'The reflective life makes us aware of the sacred that surrounds us, but which we often do not see. In order to live more reflectively, we need to slow down. To truly benefit from what God is saying to us, or doing in our lives, we need to stop and pause. Only then will we recognise and respond to those God-given moments that come to each of us in the course of our daily lives.'

For ages I have wittered on about You around me. About seeing you in blackbirds, in flowers, in the weather, in the sea, the stars, in my relationship with my girls, in the quiet and the music. Lots of times I've looked at something and thought of you, even been led to look something up in the Bible, or gone off on a tangent thinking about a parallel with life; wondering how my seedlings will fare planted out in the wild of the Big Garden or the way that the sun comes out around a purply-black cloud after a storm.  I see it, I go off on one and then I come and tell you about it in detail and then, on occasion, I wonder if I'm being silly. 

I have, in the past, told people about something like this and seen the indulgent scepticism on their faces. The way that I can see you, but they see a co-incidence. I see you and they see the commonplace. But last night, the gentleman who wrote that lovely book reassured me that I am right - you are there. All around, everywhere. And you love to speak to us in that way. Those moments are indeed God-given. That I can no more see the beauty and majesty of you in the sunrise by myself, by some feat of imagination, than I can bring the sun over the horizon myself.  It is a gift from the Creator to get an insight into creation. A gift from you

It's given me a new confidence that you do speak to me in the things and people that are around me. In a line from a book, the song of my little blackbird (we think he's back, with some new feathers. He's only Partially Streaky now), or in a song on a CD in the car. Lord, you are here. You are right here with me and constantly interacting. Waiting for us to notice.

Sometimes I wish so very much that I could hear your voice as I hear human voices. I wish that you would write on the sky in large letters and then point at them with a neon finger, 'HELEN, THIS IS GOD. HERE IS THE ANSWER TO YOUR DILEMMA...' and I still believe that you could do that if you wanted to, but, hey, there is another way. I thought there was, and then I doubted myself, and now I know.

Tony Horsfall says, 'Nature is full of parables if only we are aware what is there.'

Amen, Lord.
For my birthday in September, Mum gave me a beautiful giant cyclamen which lives on the windowsill right in front of the sink. It has large red flowers that are like butterflies and luxuriant dark green variegated foliage. Every day I gently lift its leaves and water it, trying not to drown it but keep the soil moist. It hasn't stopped flowering. At no point since it arrived on 15 September has it had less then four or five luxuriant flowers on it. Since my track record with houseplants is far from illustrious, it can only be that it likes it's position and I'm meeting its needs. I turn it every other day so that it doesn't grow to the light too much, I keep it watered. I trim off the fading flowers. It keeps giving me more. 

It's made me think of you and me. I give you so little; a drop of water now and again, and you reward me with flowers. On the occasions where I am more faithful with my quiet time and prayer the flowers multiply to produce something lovely. I give you so little and you give me back so very much. A drop of water and a bit of attention and this beautiful, graceful, allegorical thing happens in my kitchen.

It goes further than that, though. It's happening in the hall too. I realise that because I water my cyclamen, I remember to water the peace lily in the hall. Now, that plant has a tale to tell. It was given me a few years ago and despite periods of complete neglect and woeful mistakes made in its care (it looked a bit sorry for itself so I put it in the greenhouse for some TLC, not knowing that peace lilies don't like bright sunlight. It nearly passed away) it's still with me. And since the arrival of it's showier friend the cyclamen, it's looking better than ever. Might even flower again one day, who knows? That faithful little plant has carried on despite me, not because of me. I walk past it many times every day and often don't notice it but it does it's thing. Just like you. I often walk on by and I don't give you a glance but you don't give up on me. You wait for me, you do your thing. You are unchanging and faithful and consistent. Lately I am rewarded with brighter, larger new leaves because it's being watered more regularly and not allowed to get so that it's drooping over the bookcase before I come to its rescue. I give you so little but in exchange you shower me with blessings. 

Enough about houseplants. 

Mr Horsfall quotes Ken Gire, in his book, 'The Reflective Life':

'Gire speaks of what he calls three 'habits of the heart' which help us to nurture a reflective life and heighten our awareness of the sacred: 
  1. Reading the moment - using what is going on around us.
  2. Reflecting on the moment - engaging our mind to look beneath the surface, and to consider its significance.
  3. Responding to the moment - allowing what we have seen or felt to have a place in our heart, and allowing it to grow there, upward to God and outward towards other people.
Using these three simple steps, we can benefit from any God-given moment that occurs in our life - whether it be a chance conversation with another person, something that catches our attention in a book....God is continually planting the seeds of his Word into our lives in countless different ways every day.'
This has just been wonderful for me, Lord. I've been doing this for so long and yet doubting whether it was you I heard, or just a fanciful version of me. I want to notice things, to mark them so that I don't forget, to lift them to you with wonder and awe and thanks and to show them to other people for the miracles and messages that they are. 

Some time ago I was asked to write a mission statement for my life and it's been the hardest thing to do. The truth is that I'm still floundering a bit with this, but I have made progress. The latest thing I wrote down was only a week or two ago, before I read this book:
  • I want to notice and appreciate God in my life - in people, in situations, and in the world around me.
  • I want to grow in wisdom and deepen my relationship with God by learning to listen and hear your voice.
  • I want to express what God is doing for me and in me and share my experiences with others to inspire and encourage. 
I give you a little and you give me back such a lot. 

Yes, I could be so much better at sitting in your presence, at being still, at listening. I certainly need to pray more, be more consistent. I need to be more disciplined in worship, in confession, in thanksgiving and intercession. But one thing that I can see that you have given me is to begin to see what I'm looking at. It's like a bud that's beginning to flower. The petals are still furled but it's there and it's opening and it's going to be beautiful. I know that I don't always get it because there is so much more to see than the glimpses that I can take in, but I know you are there, open handed, and I am so longing for more. 


More please. 

Saturday, 19 November 2011

I'm not going to sort this out

Hello Lord.

A wise person pointed out to me recently that when I struggle with something in my spiritual life and then say, 'I'm going to sort this out', I'm not. I can't. I never will.

It will never be me that sorts it out. I can do nothing without you. Every little half-formed desire I have to please you comes from you initially. Every time I take a step forward it's because you have hold of my hand and you're not only leading me and showing me where to put my feet but you're giving me the power to walk in the first place. 

Just as, 'I can do all things through him who gives me strength' (Philippians 4:13), without that strength, I can do nothing. I didn't even find you by myself:

'For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God...'
Ephesians 2:8

It's so easy to fall into thinking that I can do it. Any of it. From the smallest little breakthrough to life-changing things. So easy to imagine that me making an effort might actually bring me a step or a leap closer to you; a few feet higher on the mountain. I can do nothing without you. I thought there was somewhere in the Bible that St Paul says this but I can't find it at the moment so I'll just say it myself.

I can't do this without you.

I can try; I can try my hardest. I can read and think and listen to sermons and learn from other people and from experience and I can pray (now there's an idea - why didn't I think of that?) and that's about the limit of it for me. Only you can supply the power, the faith, whatever it takes to get anywhere. Without that vital ingredient I stay where I am. Static. A seed without the water and the sunlight.

We know more and more about our universe, and we know more and more about ourselves - how our bodies work. We can do amazing things these days in medicine but we cannot bring to life something that is dead. We cannot create, animate. We can try, but we fail. Only you can do that. In the same way nothing that I want to learn, unlearn, do, make, change or understand can come to life and bear fruit unless you breathe life into it. Someone once said to me that if you forgot about me for one millisecond, then I would cease to be. Maybe that's true, I don't know. But I do know that I am here because you made me, I live because you want me to, I am not lost because you came to find me and I know you because you made yourself known.

It was never me and it never can be.

So I ask you for wisdom, and understanding. For insight that will help me not make the same mistakes over and over. For forgiveness for all the times when I start to believe that it's in my control after all and I can manage. Even with the best of intentions, when I tell you earnestly that I will do better. That I will learn from things. I can't do any of it without you. I can't even hold on while the waves wash over me without you. Without you I'd have nothing to hold on to - and no strength to hold on anyway.

Lord, I'm sorry that I make it all about me.

'Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?'
Galatians 3:3

Yes. Over and over again, I think. I'm sorry. It sounds as if this is a well-worn path.

Thankyou for the wise person who reminded me about this.
Thankyou that you care enough to set me straight.
Thankyou that you don't hold it against me when I take my eyes off you and start looking inward too much.
Thankyou that there's always another chance.

As Paul says, I began with the Spirit and I want to carry on that way. And the reason I want to carry on with the Spirit is because I want to get somewhere. Not just round in circles.

Come, Holy Spirit. Sort me out, will you?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Every knee shall bow

'Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.'

Philippians 2:9-12 NIV


I'm not sure that there's anything else worth saying. 

But still, I have more to say. Why are you not surprised?

This morning I had a tune in my head and it was the tune to the famous hymn written around these words. I identified the tune, hummed it, brought to mind which words I could remember and had a little sing to myself in the shower and it grew and grew in my head. 

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him king of glory now;
'Tis the Father's pleasure we should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

I'm looking forward to that day. When every knee bows at your name, Lord Jesus. In heaven, where the angels bow down already; what a day that'll be up there. Down here on this troubled, tired and fearful world, and in the other place as well where I'm guessing that there won't be much celebrating when you come back. Oh Jesus, oh for that day when the whole of creation acknowledges you. What a day that will be.

That day the tension between your Kingdom and this world will be gone. I know that you won't come back as a helpless baby in a stable; there won't be any doubt about who you are or why you've come or any room for interpretation. You will be magnificent. You will come in all your glory. It will be beyond our imagination and it will be unmistakably you. The whole world will know that you are the Lord. 

Lord, when will that be?  There are a lot of times that I am completely at home here; quite possibly too much so. It's often comfortable and easy and complacent and I sit tight in my familiar little world being very much at home. And then...just sometimes... I feel out of place. I find it very hard being here and believing in you and looking around me at all the people who wave you away as irrelevant, or even worse than irrelevant. At all the rubbish that's happening in the world and trying to fathom why you sometimes intervene and sometimes you don't. Looking at the pain and misery and fear and evil and trying in my small, mostly ineffectual way to combat the things close to home. Trying to get it right. Trying to be tactful and understanding and tolerant and loving while standing firm for you; not being shaken by what I don't understand, by other people's challenges or scepticism. Knowing what I know with all my heart and so often failing to communicate that when I should.

I can't wait for the day when I can just sit at your feet and look at you. For the day when it's all out in the open, all there for all to see - that you are the name above all names and there is no-one like you. 

That you are God. The beginning and the end. That all the other things are irrelevances. Nothing else matters.  

Down here other things do matter, Father, and sometimes I find myself bogged down in trivia and unable to separate the real from the imaginary. Worrying, lying awake, trying to get my prayers to express what I want to say to you, giving up and focusing on myself instead - every day falling short of what I would give you if I could. But here's the thing - you love me anyway. My little half-buried sparks of longing to do the right thing - you dig them out and brush them off and treat them as treasure. I take little baby steps and you are delighted in them. You take my life and you hold it in your hands and you love me, imperfect as I am. One day I will be what you want me to be; I will be transformed. The useless stuff hindering me will fall away and all that will be left is the person you created me to be.

Me and an endless sea of perfect creations without any pain or dissatisfaction or unease or self consciousness or worry or tension. Triumphant and full of joy.  

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. I know that this day will come. In this world or the next? Only you know the answer to that one. I don't know if it will only be when I am with you in Heaven and I am surrounded by all the people who have ever loved you. I shall do as they do. I shall find St Paul and ask him about so many things. I shall find doubting Thomas and thank him for making me feel so much better about myself.  I shall find Peter and tell him what an inspiration he's been. I shall find Martha and tell her I find it hard to sit and listen as well. I shall find Moses and David and Abraham and Joshua and Solomon and James and Mary and all the others and I shall probably not have the courage to talk to them. Or maybe I will. Maybe I'll be one of them. 

But I'm starting to ramble. 

...and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.'

You are Lord. You are the glorious Lord and one day the whole of creation will see your glory and fall at your feet and that's how it should be. 

Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
With his Father's glory, with his angel train;
For all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,
And our hearts confess him King of glory now.

Let your kingdom come, Lord Jesus. 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

We will remember them

Morning, Lord.

I've been watching the Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph in London and we went to the Remembrance Day service at church this morning. 

I wore my poppy and stood in silence by the war memorial at church. The children behaved themselves beautifully and the quiet and stillness gave me time to think.

So many people have died.

It's a dank, dark day today. In London it's bright and crisp and autumnal which makes for good television and nice camera angles with a few remaining orange and red leaves in the corner of the picture, but up here it's misty and damp. Light drizzle. I always think its appropriate when Remembrance Sunday falls on this sort of day, where we huddle in black overcoats and the mood is sombre and reflective. 

Hundreds of servicemen and women have marched today and laid wreaths at war memorials all over the country and abroad. This is the first year that there are no veterans from World War I alive to remember their fallen comrades. If so many were there this morning in London, and so many others were standing in silence in all the other towns and cities and villages - and so many were watching on the television, and so many are away fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq or all the many other places where the military has a presence - and so many are hospitalised or incapacitated and unable to attend, and so many have died over the years... then there are an awful lot of people who have fought for this country. Add to that vast number of the wives and husbands and parents and sons and daughters and friends of those who have been killed and the numbers of those whose lives have been affected by war astonishes me.

The scale of the damage is breathtaking. The commentator described the different regiments and gave an account of their contributions in the war; their numbers and losses. I can't pretend to have any real awareness of it as my history is rubbish and my grasp of large numbers is also limited, but I sat with my coffee and watched the men and women march with pride and place their wreaths reverently at the Cenotaph and I had a glimpse of the enormity of the pain and grief that has been caused and absorbed over the years. The injured and infirm were pushed past in wheelchairs and some walked with jacket sleeves pinned where their arms used to be. Many of them had medals displayed on their chests and to a man (and woman) they had their heads held high. 

I wonder what they thought about as they marched today. I wonder if their thoughts were occupied with the occasion and the effort of marching in time, or if they had in mind their memories; the experiences of war, the colleagues who didn't make it home. Some of them were frail and struggled to keep the pace of the march. Some were supported by someone walking next to them. Old men with white hair and shaking hands; once full of youth and strength and courage. With tales to tell that people like me can only marvel at. I wonder if they still find their sleep disturbed with their recollections. 

What do we think of these people, Lord? Do we think of them at all? Why do we treat our elderly so badly in our culture? In some parts of the world those with grey hair are revered and respected for their advancing years. Here, as we get older we seem to decrease in value in inverse proportion to the wrinkles we have on our faces. Old people say that they feel invisible and unwanted and are often lonely and isolated. They were all young, once. They were strong and vital and beautiful and handsome and decisive and and they went to war to fight on our behalf.

We need to teach our children to see beyond a frail body or a wandering mind and appreciate people properly. My girls watched five minutes of the Remembrance parade on television and they lost interest because all they saw was a column of older people walking past a statue. How can we get it across to them? The courage and the determination and the loyalty and triumph and the despair and the pain and the loss?

Maybe that's for another day. They're only little. They don't know anything about war or killing or bombs and guns and long may it stay that way. I think it's only as I get older I appreciate more and more what is going on and Remembrance Day moves me more every year. 

What do you make of it all, Father God? It must grieve you immeasurably to see the devastation that we bring on ourselves. Surely you must look at the death and destruction and the terror and the maiming and the bereavement and loss and be filled with sadness at how far we have drifted from what you had planned for us. Do the acts of heroism and bravery that inspire us down here on earth and give us hope shine as brightly in Heaven or are they swallowed up by the darkness of what we have created here with our greed and intolerance and hatred?

I don't understand it. At school I learned about 'The Just War' and we were given a set of criteria that might indicate that it was alright to go to war. Are there some occasions when it is right to invade and kill and others when it isn't? Who gets to decide - and are they equipped to make such a decision? I watch the news and I see injustices and atrocities and conflicts and I don't understand when it's right to go to war and when it's right to do nothing. I am glad that it isn't my job to decide. I just watch these people marching in their smart uniforms with their medals and memories and hear their stories of horror and fear and courage and grief and I wonder what you think of it all. 

The First World War, the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iran/Iraq, the Sudanese civil war, Angola, India/Pakistan, Rwanda...I find that each of these conflicts killed more than a million people; World War II fifty-five million people. Fifty-five million. Just a little bit of research has left me reeling. More than one hundred and sixty million people have been killed in wars in the twentieth century.

They will not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them or the years condemn
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen, 1914

I know that you don't need statistics. You loved every single one of those men and women, didn't you? You don't love the victors any more than you love the defeated, do you? You grieve at each death, each injury, each bereavement. You don't distinguish between nationalities, language or political opinion. You don't care about colour of skin and your love is so generous that it transcends religious affiliation.

You wept with each widow as she received news that her husband was dead. You still do. Only last week I read of another life lost in Afghanistan. A young soldier trod on a mine and was blown to bits.  He had a wife and a baby son. How it must hurt you that we don't seem to learn.

You came to bring us peace and we fight.
You came to bring us life and we kill.
You came to unite and we war with each other.
You came to share and we are selfish.
You came to give and we take.
You came to love and we are filled with hatred. 

When will it stop? Only you know that one. 

So I wear my poppy and I stand in silence for a moment or two and I remember our dead soldiers and I watch those who were there march and salute and bend to lay a wreath and they understand so much better than I do what it is we are remembering. 

And then I go about my day.

Your kingdom come, Lord Jesus. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Pumpkin Party

Hello, God.

A couple of things have happened recently that have made me really thankful for my church family; and this is a good thing I think, as a couple of things have happened lately that have made me less than thankful for it as well.  I suppose that's the thing with families. Sometimes you fit together beautifully, all neat and kentucky, as they say, and other times you sort of rub up against each other like grit under a contact lens. 

I am going to focus on the good things. Probably for the best.

Take the Halloween party. As you know, Halloween is the 31st October and a friend and I decided that it was important that our church organised an 'alternative' Halloween event so that people who don't like the scary or negative connotations of the day, or those who don't want their children going Trick or Treating have a place to go so that the little ones don't miss out on fun.

Now, I'm not really sure where I should stand on this. I don't think that there's anything intrinsically evil about pumpkins (they're only a vegetable, after all) or about dressing up, for that matter. My children like being scary on occasion the whole year round; they don't need an excuse to pull faces and leap out from behind the sofa.

The date itself isn't necessarily any different from any other day; I am quite sure that the devil doesn't wait all year for the end of October in order to do mischief. He can sort that out any night of the year. In the UK we seem to have imported from America the practice of trick or treating without the friendliness they seem to enjoy over there. A few years ago my elderly parents were left considerably unnerved because they declined to open their door after dark to unknown people and as a result had their front windows pelted with eggs. I don't know why it has to get nasty. But this is going off the point. If we don't want our children celebrating all that's dark and creepy and distasteful then we need to provide them with an alternative.

I don't like to fill the girls' minds with monsters and zombies and ghosts and so on. Some of the costumes and masks in the supermarkets are really nasty-looking. The assistants in Sainsbury's on 31 October had make up on to make them look as if they were decaying corpses and many of them had painted on cut throats and were covered in blood. I am not against fun but I think you can take the harmless thrill thing a bit far. On the other hand, there is a growing tradition whether I like it or not, so I don't want them to feel that they miss out on enjoying themselves.

But then maybe I worry too much.

We have you, Jesus, the Light of the World. You came to bring peace and joy and love and all that's positive, didn't you? You have the victory over all that is evil. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Halloween, let's celebrate the good and not the scary. Let's lift you high and not flirt with the other guy, not even for a bit of fun.

I think that's what I think. I'm open to advice, though, if you feel so moved?

Anyway, in the true spirit of 'It seemed like a good idea at the time', I put my hand up at a planning meeting and said I'd sort it out. Weeks later it felt overwhelming and what had begun as a little get together for church family members threatened to become a monstrous juggernaut that we needed to keep on track for fear of derailing and causing untold problems. Still, onward. Fish and chips for about ninety, games, drinks, music, fun and carving pumpkins. 

People were just wonderful. Helpers emerged as if from nowhere, the evening went beautifully with just the right level of chaos. People were generous with their time and energy. Games went with a swing, fish and chips distributed seamlessly, rubbish spirited away effortlessly. I have no idea how long the aroma of chips and vinegar took to dissipate from the church! Some people sat and with a drink and a slice of pumpkin pie and watched and others joined in with gusto or stood and encouraged and laughed. And at the end the pumpkin prayer was explained stage by stage and the pumpkins were created.

Each group had a pumpkin that was ready prepared but with all its bits still in place.

Dear Lord Jesus, open my mind so that I can learn about you. 
Someone from each group took the lid off the pumpkin.

Please take away everything that makes me do things that are wrong...
The insides were scooped out of the pumpkin.

Thankyou for what you did for me on the cross, so that I could be forgiven.
The cross-shaped nose was pushed out.

Open my eyes to see your love all around me...
Two heart-shapes were removed to make eyes.

Please open my ears to hear your Word...
Rectangular ears pushed out at either side of the pumpkin.

Help me to tell other people about you.
A mouth-shape was removed to make a big smiley mouth.

Please let your light shine through all that I do.
Finally a battery operated tea-light was placed in each one.

The lights were dimmed, the pumpkins lined up and switched on and we gave out glowsticks before the band played 'Shine from the inside out' and 'The greatest day in history' and the children jumped and danced and the grown ups lifted their hands and we all sang and it was just wonderful. Maybe the strangeness of the event helped; it's not every day that you get to dance in the dark in church and wave a luminous stick and sing as loud as you can, off-key or not, in a disinhibited manner while surrounded all the time by the same folks that stand with dignity and solemnity on a Sunday morning and do it by the book. It's for the children, right?

My friend said to me afterwards, 'Now that's how we teach our children to worship.'  She's right. They had fun. They were joyful. The message was simple and positive and Biblical and they understood. The music was loud and they had glow-in-the-dark things and a big open space was cleared and they were given permission to be energetic and to have fun. They were given permission to be children in your house and they praised you while dancing and waving their glowsticks and revelling in the specialness of it. We were all given permission to be children and it felt really good. 

I am quite sure that the angels were laughing as we were. It must have made you happy, Lord, didn't it? For a minute or two it just felt as if we'd got it right. 

It was a lovely evening. People pulled together, had fun, praised you - and clearing up seemed to happen all on its own. Everyone was smiley, people left with a handful of sweets and young and old seemed to like it. I haven't heard that anyone didn't, anyway.  It was a family event, and Abba, you were there. I could feel you.

Thankyou so much for giving that evening to me, Lord, because I needed it. I needed a little something to restore my faith in my Family. We'd wondered if it was all worth it beforehand and I'd made mental notes not to do it all over again in a year's time, but on the night it was great. It was reassuring. It was a happy time. 

You were there; it was good, wasn't it?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Restore my soul

Evening, Lord.

I found this:

Not Psalm 23

The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest,
It maketh me lie down only when exhausted.
It leads me to deep depression,
it hounds my soul.
It leads me in circles of frenzy
for activity's sake.
Even though I run frantically from task to task,
I will never get it all done.
For my 'ideal' is with me,
Deadlines and my need for approval,
they drive me.
They demand performance from me,
beyond the limits of my schedule.
they anoint my head with migraines,
and my in-tray overfloweth.
Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me all 
the days, hours and minutes of my life,
And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration 

Marcia K Hornok

I think that either Ms Hornok knew that one day I would read this, or you did. How reassuring to realise that I'm not on my own. If I'd had the words I could have put this together myself. Not because I am constantly active, always on the move - on the contrary, I can laze around with the best of them - but I just don't seem to be able to manage stillness.  Silence.  Rest. I can sleep (oh yes, I am very good at it, given the chance) but rest in you, Lord; I seem to find it so hard. I am always doing. My To Do list runs to several pages and some things have been on there for years. When I do stop, I seem to fill every quiet moment with noise, even just the noise of my own mind. 

I don't know why I seem to resist that stillness, the silence - the other week when I had a day's silent retreat it turned out to be a wonderful, rich, relaxing day that fed my soul. I must learn to find that focus on my own.

I have so many things started but not finished. So many projects 'on the back burner', so many things that I'm involved with because I didn't say no, and I thought that something was expected of me. I worried what people thought of me. I'm getting better at that. I am better than I was six months ago. I know that I want to be needed and I want to be liked. I want people to approve of me and I get in terrible trouble by letting this motivate me rather than what I suspect is the right, appropriate, sensible thing to do. 

I am tired all the time. Physically tired, yes, but this goes with the territory if you have two small children; I would like to have this go away but I know that I might have to wait a few years. I'm mentally tired from the internal gymnastics I do so regularly to keep people happy, to do the things I've said I'll do, to try to fit it all in without ever taking time to recharge; lie down in my green pasture and soak up your presence. 

I am going to sort this out. It might be in baby steps, and I might climb ladders and slip down snakes, but I am going to sort this out. It's taken me oh so very long to identify the problem, but hey, I am going to overlook the fact that I'm late to this party and embrace the fact that I got here at all. 

Lord, you are my Shepherd. I want to lie down in the green pastures, by the still waters, looking up at the blue sky and white clouds, feel the gentle breeze in my hair and hear the whisper of the tall grass. I want to lie down and inhale you; lean against you and feel your strength and warmth and life.  

Restore my soul.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Standing on your promises

Well, Lord, I'm here gazing at the church tower from out of my bedroom window once again; repeat performance of whatever bug made me ill last week. 

It's not much fun. I am becoming a connoisseur of indigestion remedies. At the moment I am swaying in favour of fruit flavour ones as the mint ones have a bit of an unpalatable aftertaste. The best are cherry, I think, followed by orange. The lemon ones seem to have more calories than the others, believe it or not. I've read the information leaflet and the back of the packet. 

Ah, calcium carbonate. Do your thing with my dicky tummy, would you?

Yesterday I was driving somewhere and I put on my worship CD.  Because Katy is now at school, and the school is only walking distance away I find I'm driving less, and though this is good from a petrol cost/environmental point of view sadly it does mean that I listen less to my worship CDs. But yesterday it was on and a song jumped out at me.

It was Stuart Townend's 'Every Promise' and it made me think. 
From the breaking
of the dawn...

'From the breaking of the dawn to the setting of the sun,
I will stand on every promise of your word.
Words of power, strong to save, that will never pass away,
I will stand on every promise of your word.
For your covenant is sure,
And on this I am secure - 
I can stand on every promise of your word.'

The truth of this struck me. The Bible is full of promises and you keep your word. 

'...I'll faithfully do all that I solemnly promised.' 
Psalm 89:34 The Message

If you say that you'll do something, then you'll do it. 

Which means, for people like me who find living life a tiring, confusing, sometimes hazardous and nearly always a troublesome proposition, that we can count on you. That we can indeed find strength and safety and power by hanging onto your Word. Something to hold onto.

And I do need something to hold onto.

I worry. You know how I worry. I actually think that I'm better than I used to be, but I still have problems with anxiety. Sometimes I wake up in a morning and there's a moment when I can't quite place the anxious feeling and then whatever the particular day's troubles might be come crashing in. I give my worries to you and I take them back again. I've been trying to break the cycle for a while now and it's a 'two steps forward, one step back' sort of process. 

You tell me not to worry about things. Don't worry about what I will eat (how much money there is in the bank) or what I'll wear (what people think when they look at my clothes or the things I have). The Bible tells me that you know what I need. In your word, you promise:

'Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.'

Matthew 6, 33

I can stand on your promises. I must remember this when I have a panic about the mortgage, or the pension plan...

To the setting of the sun...
I sometimes feel as if I am the only person who has ever felt like I do. Quite often I cast about looking for someone to talk to and I feel desperate to find someone who understands so that I don't feel so lost. Sometimes I can be in a crowd of people in church and feel like the loneliest person in the world.  I have felt on occasion that I might be going mad because I am so emotionally mixed up and confused and I don't know how to express how I feel or what to do to feel better.

You know me and you are with me.

You made me. You know every thought that I have and you alone understand the way my mind works. The amazing thing is that you know all that and still, you love me.

'If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me;
even there your right hand will hold me fast.'

Psalm 139:8-10

There is nowhere I can go that you won't come with me. You will hold me fast. You will be there when no-one else is. You will never leave me.

'...and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'

Matthew 28:20

Lord Jesus Christ, you are with me. You said you will never leave me and you won't let me down.

'I will stand on every promise of your word.'

So often I know what I should do and I don't do it. I amaze myself that I can know what the right thing to do is, and then choose to do something else. There are things in my life that I know are wrong and I've brought them before you time and time again and made such promises that I won't do it again...and then I do it again. It sometimes feels as if it's too much to ask, to expect me to get it right all the time. Trying is such hard work and I blow it over and over again. Can it really be that you don't hold it against me? That somehow, even though I know that you died to save me, my constant failure to live up to my family name doesn't mark me out as a bit of a waste of space?

'If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.'

1 John 1:9

You keep on forgiving. You said you will, and you don't break promises. And it also says in the Bible that you don't keep a secret tally...

'Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord doesn't count against him...'

Psalm 32:1,2

This year has been a roller coaster of good things and bad things. Insights and dead ends. Exhilaration and disappointment. Hope and despair. Excitement and depression. I knew that you were taking me somewhere this year and I climbed on board enthusiastically and I suspect that I'll be ending the year feeling a little bit travel sick, a little bit bruised, a little bit wary. One thing that I do know, though, more than ever, is that you have a Plan for me and that you want the best for me.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

Jeremiah 29:10-12

I wish that you'd send me an email with your plan on it, Lord. Sometimes even though I know it's there I haven't a clue which way to go. I can't work it out. It'd be so much easier if there was a map. I know that you just want me to depend on you each step of the way. It's just not easy. I feel a bit as if I'm wandering about in the dark. I've set off somewhere because you held out your hand and asked me to come with you and now I'm out of my depth and I couldn't find my way back if I wanted to.

You said that you won't abandon me halfway there, though. You promised. If you start something, you finish it.

'...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.'

Philippians 1:6

I am loved, I am forgiven, I am not alone, I am part of a plan and I am a work in progress.

It is enormously reassuring that in a world where the sand under our feet is endlessly shifting; where everyone inevitably lets each other down and nothing seems safe or reliable that you never change. You are certain when everything seems uncertain. You are eternal. You are my Rock.

I will stand on every promise of your word.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Swimsuits and candyfloss

Afternoon, Lord. 

I am here right now to tell you how wonderful my girls are. A few things have happened over the last few weeks and I've noticed that there's a theme developing, and that theme is How Wonderful My Girls Are. 

I guess you knew that, because you made them that way. I'm not saying that they can't be incredibly annoying at times (and I'm sure you know that as well; and how frustrated I can get as well) but they have such a capacity to delight me that I wanted to say thank you. 

A few weeks ago they entered a swimming gala. They are both still learning to swim and they're in different classes on a Saturday morning but with the same teacher. Katy has her lesson from 9.30 until 10.00 and then Elizabeth from 10.30-11.00 which means (including getting changed and back again) nearly two hours in the swimming pool each week; a headache-inducing prospect and no mistake). They both love their lessons and they love going to the pool with me as well. Elizabeth has an athletic build and takes to any new physical challenge instantly and Katy is a tad less co-ordinated and is more cautious when it comes to sports, but they both love swimming. The swimming club annual gala has some races for the Learner groups and they were both encouraged to enter. To start with we thought that it was alright for Lizzie, who is a confident swimmer and loves competitions, but perhaps it wasn't right for Kate. Her teacher thought otherwise and it was with considerable reservations that we entered her. And then only for one race instead of two.

It was just lovely. 

Elizabeth, fiercely competitive and remembering everything she'd been taught, won both her front-stroke and backstroke races and got better times than the winners of the older groups (and the boys, which went down pretty well). Katy came fourth in her front-stroke race and loved it so much that she threatened a meltdown if we didn't beseech the organiser to enter her belatedly into another race as well. We did, he did, and she (ahem) brought up the rear in her backstroke, but she reached the side with a broad grin and wanted to keep on going. The ladies doing the time-keeping commented on how smiley she was. She just enjoyed the swimming. Yes, she understood that she came last but she had the wonderful, enviable ability to enjoy just taking part.  It was great to watch. Both of them will get medals for being part of the event, which is nice. I was so proud of them. 

The other day we took the girls to a Garden of Light evening at a park in town; lots of fairy lights and a lantern parade, a miniature train-ride and a funfair and all the bits that go with it. Candy floss, light sabres with flashing colours, luminous this and that and then at the end of the evening, fireworks. The girls were so excited that for the preceding four hours they had been literally clock watching and by the time we arrived they were jumping around all over. We went on the little train, we watched the band lead the parade, we saw the fire-eaters and we ate candy floss. The best bit of the night was watching my lovely girls on a tiny train on the fairground ringing a bell as they passed us each time round. Ding ding. Big, big smiles. Also, we got to accompany them on the big, grown-up carousel which was very special as I got to cuddle Katy on my horse while Bryan held on tight to Elizabeth on his; just so they didn't fall off, you understand. Jolly music. Big, big smiles. 

Just fun. Being up later than their bedtime, bright lights, sugar and rides. No worries about safety, finances, ill health or what anybody thinks. Just fun for fun's sake. And when we got home they went straight to sleep, which was a mammoth bonus. 

I look at my children and things seem much more simple. I know that life is much simpler for them, and that we must all grow up, but I wonder how often we complicate things that don't need complicating. How often I do, at least. Some things are just simple.  It's nice to see bright, pretty lights in the darkness.  It's nice to hear a band playing a happy tune. It's nice to have a ride on a beautifully lit vintage-style carousel just to go up and down and round and round and laugh and cuddle up to your small daughters. It's nice to forget the tooth decay and eat candy floss once in a while. 

It would be nice to take part in something without the worry of coming last. I wonder if Katy could possible explain to me how she does that. It would be great to be able to focus on the joy of the moment without wondering about possible implications; what people think. What conclusions might be drawn by my actions. To celebrate, enjoy, experience something without the complications. 

I think I can learn a lot from my children. I should learn a lot from them. The things that come naturally to them are so alien to me these days. I am so self-conscious, so inhibited. Everything has strings attached for me. 

I must think about this some more. But I wanted to say thank you, Lord. Thanks for the beauty of the park lit with coloured lights, the funfair, the music, the candy floss and the pure joy on my girls' faces on the rides. Thankyou that it mattered not a tiny bit to Katy that she was last in the swimming contest but she just loved being a part of it. Thankyou that Elizabeth tried her best and did so well at something that she loves and works hard at. 

And most of all thank you that you've given these beautiful, complicated, straightforward little creatures to me to look after. I love them so much that I feel as if I might explode. Thankyou that raising children is the hardest, most frustrating, time consuming, challenging, annoying, most wonderful, heart-warming, rewarding, joyful job that anyone could have. 

And I'm going to finish this now before I go ahead and try to get them in and out of the bath, in pyjamas and in bed without screeching at them in a little while. 

I'm going to hold that thought. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The peace of the Lord

Lord Jesus I wish for one minute I could see myself as you see me. 

Just as I sometimes long to get a glimpse inside my children's heads so that I could perhaps for a microsecond fathom how they think, I wish that I could see the bigger picture. 

Am I a child who is dashing about bumping into walls and wailing over the bruises when all that is needed is to slow down and stop?  Am I well-intentioned, but doing the wrong thing? Or am I so far off the mark that I need to change direction?  When I come to you as I am now, full of anxiety and weighed down by things that I'm struggling with and can't control do you shake your head with sorrow and love because it needn't be this way?  Are you willing me to go a step further, to do whatever it is I'm on the brink of doing? Are you saying, 'You're so close! You're doing alright!' or are you hoping that I'll wait and rest and listen and be?

'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.'

John 14:27 NIV

Lord, where was I when you gave out peace? I feel as if I'm the least peaceful person in the world, though surely that's not the case. There must be people out there who are more chewed up than I am, one would think, but I suspect that hunting for someone worse off than me isn't particularly helpful right now.  I want peace. I want to be peaceful. I want to sail along unruffled, unhassled.  I know that life won't leave me alone, untouched and untroubled, but I want so very much to learn how to cope with the difficulties without being sunk by them. I want to be the one who says, 'Yes, life is hard, but I can cope because God helps me.'  

...and I want it to be so. I want to learn how to leave my troubles with you, because you care for me. 

'Cast all your anxiety on him, for he cares for you.'

1 Peter 5:7 NIV

It's not that I don't believe that you care for me, it's just that I can't seem to let go of things. Or I do for a while but then I pick them all up again. 

I know that some people can compartmentalise their lives much better than I can. Some people can have a troublesome area of their lives and they box it away and get on with the rest without allowing the problems to spill over. My life is much more of a sandwich. If there are layers of bread and butter and ham and salad and the ham is off then the whole sarnie becomes inedible. I can't move on with anything if something is wrong. And if more than one area of my life is in turmoil at the same time then it gets worse and worse. 

Peace. I love the idea that I might have your peace. Peace, calm, stillness. Composure. All of those things and also an absence of turmoil. An absence of thoughts that go round and round in my head, of things that wake me in the night and prevent me from getting back to sleep. 'What if's that form the basis for nightmares. A burden of worry that some days feels physically heavy to carry round. I would like such a peace. How wonderful that would be. 

So, when I know where to get it from, and I know that you keep your promises, so if I ask, I will receive it, what's going wrong?  Are my hands too full of other stuff to grasp the peace that you offer? Am I never still enough to let your peace drip into my soul?  Or something else?

I wish I could see myself as you see me for a minute. Then I'd know what to do differently. 

I think that I plan to spend time with you and then sort of run out of time. Of all the things that need doing in a day for some reason the thing that falls off the bottom of the list is spending time with you. It seems so ridiculous to say that sending an email or watching TV is a higher priority than spending time with the Creator of the Universe, but on a daily basis that's what seems to happen.  I felt peaceful when I went on my Quiet Day the other week  (The Unforced Rhythms of Grace) but how quickly that stillness evaporated when I plugged back into real life. 

How can I make it into real life? How can I amalgamate the two so that it isn't either one thing or the other? Surely it doesn't have to be either peace or chaos? I need to find a way to top up the tank before I'm running on empty. When I was learning to drive my Dad told me that it wasn't good for the car to let the petrol tank get right to the bottom as all the impurities and sludge (is that a technical term?) would cause problems for the car. I can't be any more specific as I don't really understand how a car works but I have an image of a load of thick, lumpy, dirty sludge being sucked into the mechanism of the engine and clogging it up.  I feel a bit as if my life is like that. I'm choking on sludge. 

Maybe I need a week of Quiet Days. Or a month. Ha!

So I need to incorporate a little bit of quiet into each day. This is hardly news, since I've been bleating on about it for so long. I'm going to make a real effort because life without peace is getting harder and harder. 

'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.'

I want your peace, Lord Jesus. I don't like what the world is giving me at the moment - it seems full of uncertainty and confusion and stress and fear. I would rather have your peace. I don't want my heart to be troubled and I am tired of being afraid. It sounds from this quote that you think I have some control over whether my heart is troubled or not; 'Do not let your heart be troubled..' and so the answer must be to draw closer to you. If I were truly sheltering under your wing then I would not be afraid of anything, would I? 

Take me somewhere where I can find your peace. Help me to find time and space to be with you so that the rest and peace I felt in the quiet can be a regular thing and not just something that happens when I can escape to a different place. 

Show me how to grasp the peace that you're holding out to me.

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