Saturday, 28 April 2012

Best person for the job. Yes, really.

Well. That was a week that ended so much better than it started, Father God. 

I'm pretty sure you had a hand in it. The latest half of it at least. 

It's been a week of sulks, tantrums and challenging behaviour. And the children have been a handful as well, ha ha. 

Seriously, it was shaping up to be a bad week and I was in full-throttle moan and whinge mode. At one point I would rather have stayed at home in bed with my head under the covers than go and work in the cafe where I volunteer but as it turned out, you had other plans. As it turned out I did more hours than usual in the cafe and it was exactly what I needed. Funny that. I rarely know what I need, do I? 

I found myself surrounded by friends. Old established friends and new friends and people I didn't know so well. An amazing thing happened. I found myself talking about the week and some of the things that had happened in our house and I found people nodding, smiling and reaching out to hug me. I'm not on my own.

Coffee and cake.
Usually helps.
Other people's children have said hurtful things. Other people's children have kicked them in the shins. Other people's children have let them down in public. 

It's not just me.

Of course I've known this. I didn't for one minute think that I was alone in my struggles and I by no means think that my girls are the world's worst behaved children. I know that they're normal. I know that our ups and downs are not unique. But somehow I've felt that other people handle it better than I do. I've been convinced that there's something embarrassing and shameful about admitting that I find being Mummy hard sometimes. 

I read a book by Rob Parsons recently (The Sixty Minute Mother) and a strange thing happened. I opened the book (that had been recommended to me) and started to read in a small window of opportunity while the children were otherwise occupied. I wasn't even sitting comfortably but standing in the middle of a room at the time. I wasn't settled with a coffee and a couple of cushions. I was just flicking through it. I started to read at the beginning and by page three tears were running down my face. 

All it said was, 'You're not on your own.'

Other women look back on their pre-children days with nostalgia and occasionally a touch of regret. Other women love their children with a fierce devotion but at the same time would now and then like life to be different. Other women feel like screaming. Or packing a small bag with essentials and disappearing into the sunset once in a while. Not. Just. Me.

This week reminded me of the strangely emotional experience of those first few pages. I went to the cafe to work and I answered many polite enquiries as to how I was with a bright and (I think) convincing 'Fine, thanks.'  Then someone else asked and it just came out. It's not fine, actually. Cue nodding, smiling, reaching, comforting, reassuring. 

Wonderful, unexpected stuff. 

Lord God, thank you for women. Thankyou for women with children who are honest and not pretending that everything is hunky dory all the time. People who are open enough to share with me their disasters and also the fact that things move on, children grow up, wounds heal and mistakes are not necessarily terminal. 

Thankyou particularly for that last one. I so worry that mistakes that I make now might have repercussions for the children. That somehow my short temper or intolerance or over-criticism might change them somehow or scar them irrevocably. That their precious lives might lack something important because I failed to provide it. I know that it might sound overly dramatic, and perhaps it is. I suspect that my generation is much more analytical and inward-looking than those that have gone before; all our self-help books and get-it-right manuals might well do us more harm than good. I want to get it right. I worry about not being perfect. If a job is worth doing it's worth making sure that it all goes to plan and I don't do so well when it all goes pear shaped instead. 

Other people know from experience that perfectionism and motherhood are mutually exclusive. I keep trying to make them get along with each other and it's just not going to happen. 

I am so grateful for friends. For support and understanding and people with the grace to say that they've been there too and got the T shirt and no, theirs doesn't fit any better than mine does. 

I came away not realising how much better I felt. It was only when we had another potentially explosive bath time where we were all tired and ready for bed that I recognised with some surprise that I was doing alright. I think people were praying for me. My friends who had understood knew that they didn't have answers, only experiences. They knew that it was hard and they couldn't make it any easier, and they knew that they knew someone who could.

You. How amazingly wonderful it is to have wise and generous friends who care about me and know you as well, and who have a word in your ear on my behalf. I'm not sure that there's anything more wonderful than this. You surround me with special people. I needed them and they were there.

Thankyou. Thankyou for bringing us together, giving us chance to talk in all the busyness of the day, and for their faithfulness. And for answering their prayer and giving me peace after a week of stress.

Part of me.
I am truly grateful.  Nothing has changed; my girls are still maddening and gorgeous in equal measure and I am still the same person I was, but I'm doing alright. I'm learning.

Someone said to me that they realised when their children were small that you had decided that she was the best person to be their mother, even if she sometimes thought that anyone pulled in off the street could do a better job than she was doing. I've never thought of it that way before. 

I am the best person to be Mummy to my daughters. Me.

You chose me for them. Not the woman at the school gates who seems so much more together than me, or the lady at church whose children are always immaculately behaved and polite. Me. They are part of me. You gave them to me to look after because you love me and wanted to bless me with the children that I longed for but also because you love them and you thought I was the best person for the job. You think I am the best person for the job. Even now. Even when I mess up. Even when I could do better. 

Wow. Thankyou. 

I'm still praying the same things, Lord. I still need deeper mines of patience and love and peace and I still need self control enough to pause before I explode. I still need to feel your calming hand on my arm when I'm tensing up and clenching my fists. I still need to choose more often to see the beauty and creativity and inspiration instead of mess and disobedience and silliness. I have a long way to go, but I am so grateful for the gifts you've given me this week; the friendship and love and comfort and a new way of looking at things. If I can do the same for someone else I will feel truly blessed. It makes a big difference.

I love my daughters so, so much. I would do anything for them. I don't want to let them down. I make a lot of mistakes, but you knew that and you still think I'm the best person for the job. 

I'm going to take your word for that. You're not in the habit of getting things wrong, so that means that you must be right. 


Thursday, 26 April 2012

It's not fair

Morning, Father.

I am having a bad week. This morning when I went to wake up my youngest daughter her first words were 'It's not fair.'  Her first action was to straighten her leg rapidly under the bedclothes so that she kicked me as I leaned over to give her a kiss. 

After the rough ride of last week sometimes it's hard to keep smiling warmly at my older daughter, who is in an 'I want Daddy, not you' frame of mind. Between them they have bruised me physically and emotionally and I've started wishing that I could just leave home for a while. My husband has done nothing wrong except be a great Daddy but when he gets home on Friday night I quite fancy meeting him at the door with my coat on and telling him they're all his for a few weeks   sorry, days. 

I won't do that. Sadly. 

I won't. My job is to carry on being Mummy. To keep on being the same and trying my best and to keep on loving them no matter what they say or what they do. 

We have this thing, where I say:
'Does your Mummy love you?'
How much does she love you?'
'Round the world and back again.'
'More than that!' (discuss ever-increasing amounts of love involving galaxies and universes)
Why does she love you?'
'Because I'm Elizabeth/Katy'
'When will Mummy stop loving you?'
'Never, never, never, not ever, not anyhow.'

We haven't done it for a while. I suppose that's significant. I used to say that to Katy every time I dropped her off at nursery as we walked from the car and to Elizabeth as we walked to school, but now we all walk together we don't seem to do it. I must get back into the habit, because it seems now that they frequently doubt whether I do love them (or they say they do) and they feel that my love has its limits. 

In my darkest moments, I worry about that too. I do have limits. I have had the sort of week that leaves me exhausted and hurt and sorry for myself.  I find myself nearly in tears before 8am when Katy starts the day like she did this morning. I want to give up. I want to tell them to get their own breakfast because Mummy's had enough and whatever cereal I've got they'll say they want something else anyway. 

They are only little. They're six (nearly seven) and five. I am the grown up. Get a grip.

I love my children more than I can say but it's been a hard week. I'm a bit fragile. That love sometimes gets buried in a mountain of negativity. Selfishness crowds in and a little voice keeps saying, 'What about me?' If I'm honest, that little voice isn't so little. It's a deafening roar, sometimes. 

I go to look at them at night and I marvel at their beauty. How delicate they are. How small. How innocent. I kiss them and inhale the wonderful fragrance of them. I would stay like that forever if I could. I hold us all before you each night, Father, and I whisper 'I love you' and 'God bless you' and just occasionally one of them might stir and mutter 'I love you, Mummy' back, but that hasn't happened for a while. 

I know that I need to be a Mummy to my daughters and not their friend. I know that this is relatively easy when they're little because I am automatically everything to them, so if I'm finding it hard now, how on earth am I going to manage when they are teenagers? The idea fills me with dread. Already we have the eye-rolling and the exaggerated sighs. I love their cuddles and their kisses and their stories and their little notes and messages. What will I do when they no longer want me to lie down in bed with them, when they no longer come to be picked up when they're hurt?  They're part of me. It hurts so much when they pull away.

I know that it's not about me. My job is not to focus on what I get from them, but what they need from me. They need me to keep on going. To keep on loving whether or not I get love back. A bit like you, Father God. You keep on loving me whether or not I love you back. You don't snap at me sarcastically when I do finally remember you and toss you the odd five minutes of my time; you are simply delighted that I came at all. You don't withhold your love because I hurt you. You don't look at me with narrowed eyes and make yourself hard in case I hurt you again. 

Your love is perfect and mine is a pathetic shadow of it, but I have a job to do that requires every ounce that I've got. You gave me two beautiful, interesting, intensely frustrating, challenging and complex little creatures to nurture to adulthood and I so, so want to do a decent job. I don't want Elizabeth to grow up and remember these years as ones where Mummy was impatient and unloving. I don't want Katy to look back and only remember the times when I dump her mid-tantrum onto her bed and walk away from her. Every day I say I'll do better and then sometimes it feels as if I've blown it before breakfast. 

Sigh.  In another context the other day I was remembering Max Lucado's words that those you call, you equip. I believe that to bring up children is a pretty important job and so I don't doubt that you will give me what I need to do it. I think I need some pretty heavy duty equipment. And I need some maintenance myself because I'm not running like a well-oiled machine. Bits of me are seizing up, and it's starting to show. 

Lord, equip me all over again to be Mummy to my two gorgeous girls who have brought me endless blessings in the seven and a half years I've known them. Help me to dig deep for reserves of patience that only you can help me find. Show me the bright, beautiful light shining from my girls instead of the sulkiness and uncooperative side that is just as prevalent in me. Help me to smile when I feel like scowling and to rejoice in their lovely relationship with Daddy instead of being jealous of it. 


Lord, as I am loved by you, help me to give love and keep on giving it. I don't feel like giving it, sometimes. I don't feel like they deserve it, but then neither do I deserve it, and yet your hands are always open. I want to be more like you, perfect Father God. Abba, my Daddy. 

Oh, Daddy, hold me in your arms a little while and let me have a cry and tell you how unjust it is. Hold me while I kick and whimper, 'It's not fair.' After the sobs have subsided, gently stand me up and load me up with supplies of forgiveness and generosity and warmth and grace and love so that I can start all over again. I'll be back for more pretty soon.

Please, Lord, take away any hurts that my girls carry round with them. Don't let any seeds of damage grow in their little hearts or minds. Don't allow me to cause them pain that will linger. Please, Father, help me do this job as you would have me do it. 

I want to show you to my girls, not turn them away from you. I'm asking you to be right in the middle of our family, Father. Be with us - at the school gates, as we walk past the sweet shop, at teatime, bath time, and at my own particular favourite - teeth-brushing time, at bedtime, in the night and when we wake up. And into a new day.

There isn't anything more important. 

I can't do this on my own. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

In the shadow of your wings

Evening, God.

Just listen to that wind. There's a gale blowing and rain is being hurled at the window as I write this. Sometimes I feel cosy being inside when it's like this but today it feels different. It's what my English teacher used to refer to as 'sympathetic background'. I feel as if I'm right out there in the rain because the rain is right here in my head.

There's a gale blowing in my mind blasting rational thoughts along until they stick to the walls, soggy and disintegrating. I'm swaying each and every way and it's keeping me off balance. On the wrong foot. The rain - well, apart from the obvious analogy with tears - I am soaked through. Weighed down. Cold and miserable. 

We need the rain. The reservoirs are empty, I'm told, and there will likely be a hosepipe ban this summer so I'll be trudging back and forth from the water butt to water my plants. I remember 1976 when we bucketed bathwater down the garden to the vegetable path across a brown and frazzled lawn; right now this must be the wettest drought on record. Still, my grass likes the rain. It's luxuriant at the moment. Pity it won't stop for long enough so that the kids can play on it.

My grass. Liking the rain.
Relentless beating of the rain on the windows. Drumming on the roof. Gusting in the eves. I might make a coffee. It's distracting me.

I am having a really bad week. The children are being awful and I, no doubt, am being awful back. I'm trying so hard but Elizabeth keeps telling me how much better Daddy is than me, and Katy has taken up the mantle of Tantrum Queen once again. I thought we'd hung it up at the back of the wardrobe but no, it's dusted off and donned and she's come over all stampy and shouty again. We've had the mummy and daddy of screaming fits today because she didn't want a jacket potato, and then I cut it up wrongly, and then there wasn't enough butter on it. Today at bath time she wouldn't get in the bath, then she wouldn't get out. If I ask Lizzie to do anything she just sighs heavily and asks when will Daddy be home? 

I am out of favour. I am the least-liked-parent. I can't deny that it hurts. I want my daughters to like me. There's a temptation to try and win favour but I know that it's a dangerous game. I know that Daddy is here at weekends when he has the energy and enthusiasm to be Fun-time-Daddy whereas I'm here all the time and I have to get them up, dressed, teeth brushed, breakfasted and to school every morning with book bags, maths games, money for school trips on the right days and plastic bottles so they can make whatever it is they're making out of plastic bottles in the craft lesson. I have to take them places and try to think up meals that they'll eat and scrape the plates when they won't and then bath them and brush tangles out of their hair and try to limit their time on computer games and TV and so on. 

Dull-time-Mummy. Nagging Mummy. Tired Mummy. 

Tearful Mummy. Hurt Mummy. 

It surprised me what a punch it packed when Lizzie told me that she was sorry if it upset me, but she loves Daddy more than me. She later qualified this by saying that it wasn't really about love, but Daddy was her special friend and she liked being with him more than being with me.  


She's six years old. Nearly seven. Honest? Manipulative? I don't know. A few weeks ago Lizzie and I had a run in where I definitely came off the worst.  This time I tried not to react. She shrugged and said that she was sorry, that was how it was. Now could she have a chocolate biscuit or should she go and ask Grandma?

I have moments where I think I can do this Mummy-thing and most of the time I blunder through it all trying not to be too shouty. Trying to pick my battles and let the niggles go. Trying to catch them being adorable and lay it on thick rather than only looking up when war breaks out. Trying to find the energy to play or allow mess to develop and clear up without heavy sighing. I don't think I'm very good at it. 

It's raining. Who wrote that song, 'Raining in my heart'? Cliche, yes. Feeling a little rained on? Yes. 

I'm doing my best. I'm not perfect (and neither are my two girls). I love them to the end of the world and back and I would lay down my life for them. I get so cross with them. I get cross with myself for getting cross. I'm doing my best but just as I crack one developmental stage another comes hurtling at me like a juggernaut and I haven't got any instructions to consult. What do you do when your six year old tells you she thinks that Daddy is the better parent?

Jealous Mummy. 

Yes, I am jealous. And if the truth be known more needy than I'd like to admit. My daughters need a mother but I need them as well. I need to be loved. I want to be liked, but I can't do everything they'd like me to do or allow everything that they'd like to get away with, can I? Katy told me today that everyone always bosses her about and it makes her sad (for sad, read stampy). She's five years old and arguably the bottom of the pecking order. We do all boss her about. No wonder she says NO NO NO NO NO sometimes, and says it loudly.  If the only thing she can control is whether she gets out of the bath then from time to time she'll bloody well stay in there, won't she? 

Poor little love.

Hard to be five. Hard to be six. Hard to be forty-one. After yesterday evening I bet my long-suffering mum would say it's hard to be eighty as well. I'm quite sure I'm more trouble to her now than I ever was when I was young. 

So what then?

Lord, I'm tired. I'm hurt. I'm soaked to the skin and cold and shivering. I'm out here in a gale and it's getting dark.

'I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."' 
Psalm 91: 2

My Lord, you are my refuge. I am looking for shelter from the storm. Let me in?

'O Lord, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in the day of affliction.'
Jeremiah 16:19

I am afflicted. Not like Job, afflicted, I suppose (though I must say I reckon I've had more than my fair share of health problems lately. Dentist tomorrow, follow up hospital appointment next week...but you know all that). Problems are coming thick and fast. Anxieties, disappointments, unpleasant surprises. I feel like all my raw places are being poked with a sharp stick at the moment. 

I haven't much strength left. I need yours, please. And a fortress - that's where you go when there's a battle on, I think. Sounds good to me. Somewhere safe. Somewhere I can hide. 

'The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.'
Proverbs 18:10

I don't know about righteous. I don't feel very righteous. A bit of a failure, really. Today I have tried my best but the children have tested my patience and I had to leave the room earlier rather than stay to be kicked by my youngest daughter. I might have kicked back. 

Righteous? If righteousness is knowing that I have reached the end of me and I need you to drive for a while then I am running into your tower and I'm looking for safety right now. 

And then this. Leaped off the page. Actually, off the screen, in this day of A word from you, to me. 

'How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.'
Psalm 36:7

Under the shadow of your wings.
Oh my God. My Daddy. Unfailing love. I love my girls so, so much, but it's so hard and then that love falters and wobbles and I need topping up so often. I empty myself out for them and they hurl it back at me and my instinct is to withdraw and not offer anything more. Even to hurt back, and yet it makes no sense because they're only little. Your love never fails. It never grows dim no matter how frequent my tantrums and how often I tell you that I love something else more than you. And then, like Lizzie, I qualify it, saying that maybe it's not about love, but I just enjoy spending time with something else more than with you. Does that make it any better? 


Do I hurt you like Lizzie hurt me? 

This morning I came and sat with you for a little while. I didn't feel you there; I didn't get a word, or a feeling, or a sense of you - I just know you were there because you said you'd be there. I came because I wanted peace. I don't come very often, do I? And when I do it's because I want something. I am more like my small daughters than I'll ever know. 

I know that you love it when I do drop by. Why don't I come to be with you more often? Because I have other things that I choose to do. Is that hurtful? 

I'm sorry. I'm just the same as my daughters. We are all your children, aren't we? Five, six, forty-one. All flawed and selfish and full of complaints. And yet... how priceless is your unfailing love, O God. 

You offer me a safe place. 

Under the shadow of your wings. Like a baby duck snuggled up to mummy duck. Or daddy duck, if he's more fun. 

Ahem. Sorry about that. 

Lord I am crawling under your wing. I can feel the warmth of your body and the strength of the muscle in your powerful wing. You cover me with your feathers and the predators can't see me. I'm feeling bruised (physically - after all that kicking) and emotionally. I'm feeling inadequate and overwhelmed and its still pelting down with rain and I never feel very cheerful when the days are dark and cold and wet. 

In here I feel warm and safe. Loved. Protected.

How priceless is your unfailing love. People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

I don't want to come out again until the rain stops, please. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Playing small

Hello, God.

I was talking the other day. Talking to my husband, to my friend, to you.

It strikes me that I probably did that in the wrong order. But anyway.

I was talking about hopes and dreams and what stops me from doing anything. What stops me from going out on a limb. What inhibits me, stops me from going for it, as they say.

I've been reading a lot lately about stepping out in faith and following the path you have chosen for us. Not dawdling along and collapsing on the nearest bench, but actually going where the path goes. Walking with you, trusting that there is always more path even though I can't see it. Believing that if you started me down this path then you know where it leads and you do want me to get there.
'For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.'
Ephesians 2:10

You made me. You made me to do something with my life and you have a plan. You didn't intend for me to sit comfortably and admire the view.

I am pretty sure that the plan is not for me to sit here drinking coffee and waiting for something to drop into my lap. Treading water. Killing time. I need to find some get-up-and-go, and for someone low on confidence and energy, whose inclination is towards excessive napping and whose default position is procrastination, get-up-and-go takes a bit of finding.

I do think that recently you have been prompting me. Not in any subtle sort of way, either. It's become impossible to ignore, and so here I am. Trying to work out what comes next.

Max Lucado (Again. I am a big fan) said this:
'What about you? As God calls, he equips. Our maker gives assignments to people. What have you done well? What have you loved to do? Stand at the intersection of your affections and successes and find your uniqueness. You have one. An uncommon call to an uncommon life.'
(Cure for the Common Life, 2006, Thomas Nelson)

I want to live an uncommon life. I don't want to be run of the mill. I don't want to meet you on the Big Day and feel that I let you down. I don't want for you to ask me with disappointment in your eyes what I did with the gifts you gave me. I don't want to look back and see how wonderful the tapestry of my life could have been if only I'd had more...what?  Courage? Faith? Get-up-and-go?

I was talking about this and a quote was nagging at me. Something someone said that I read a long, long time ago and although most of it I'd forgotten, a few words came back to me. I googled the bit that I knew and this is what it was.
'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. it's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.'
Marianne Williamson, 'A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of 'A Course in Miracles'

My playing small doesn't serve the world. If I bury my talents in the ground and eventually give them back to you unused and muddy then you've said that you won't be best pleased. If I plant the seeds that I have, then who knows what might grow? From tiny acorns grow towering oak trees.

From tiny acorns...
But it's easier to play small. Less scary to curl up in a ball and hope nobody notices me if the alternative is to stick my head above the parapet. I'm not good at boldness and I live in fear of failure. I hate being laughed at. I worry about what people think. No wonder I don't get much done. On the one hand I know who you are and I know what you're like and I love you and I trust you and I know that you have a job for me to do with this life and I know that you won't let me down. On the other hand I doubt myself and I worry about things going wrong and the result is paralysis.

Rabbit in the headlights.

My playing small doesn't serve the world. Who am I to hide my light under a bushel? The world is my oyster!


This is hard. I feel as if I'll set myself up for disaster. If I claim to be good at something, to have Big Plans, then people will laugh at me. It will all go wrong.

Mr L again:
'The fire of your heart is the light of your path. Disregard it at your own expense! Blow it. Stir it. Nourish it. Cynics will doubt it. Those without it will mock it. Those who know it, those who know Him, will understand it.'
Max Lucado Daily Devotional, 19 April 2012

Who cares what the cynics say? (Little voice in my head says, 'I do') Who cares who mocks (and again). But maybe it's worth the hassle and the ridicule to look in the eyes of those people who know you and understand. I'm working through this in my mind. I have no idea what plan you have for my life, but I do know that you have one. I know that you've made me just the way I am for a reason. There's something that you want me to do with this short time I have down here that nobody else can do. If I don't do it, then that tiny but significant part of your Plan goes undone. I could have made a difference and I chose not to.

Do I want to try to explain that when I meet you face to face?

But I don't want to live my life as you would have me live it just because I'm afraid of the consequences if I don't. I want to please you. I want you to be proud of me. I want to achieve something for your sake. To wrap up my life's work with a bow and present it to you as an offering. To leave this place a little bit different ( and in a good way) from the way it would have been without me.

Good and faithful servant, as the story goes. I want to be one of those.

So I don't want to play small. I want to think big, because my big, even my BIG is only the tip of the iceberg of your big.
'Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Chris Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!'
Ephesians 3:20

So my small is insignificant to you. I have found over and over again in the last couple of years that if I give you a little, you give me back something huge. You take my tiny, imperfect offering and magnify it until it becomes something wonderful. Immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Think of that. My wildest dreams are nowhere near wild enough.

You can do it. I can't, but you can. And you don't wait for me to be ready, you ask me to step out in faith, relying on you, not myself. If I waited until I was ready then I would still be sitting here contemplating a coffee and a packet of biscuits in a decade's time.
'If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.'
CS Lewis

See? I'm getting the message. You know what I'm thinking and you keep nudging me. I tell myself, I can't do anything much at the moment - maybe there'll be a better opportunity in the future. You send a morning devotional with CS Lewis to tell me that a better time will never come. I convince myself that I don't have what it takes and you send Max Lucado to tell me:
'God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called! Don't let Satan convince you otherwise. He'll try. He'll tell you God has an IQ requirement or an entry fee. He'll tell you God only employs specialists and experts. '
You keep on going. Am I listening yet?

Another morning devotional sent to my phone in the last two weeks:
'Jesus said: 'What are you producing with your life for the Kingdom of God?'
(Robert Boyd Munger, 'My Heart - Christ's Home Through the Year, 2004, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

And I have my hands over my ears and I'm just wanting to go to sleep. It seems too hard to look into the future and try to take control. Easier to take each day as it comes, in my routine, in my rut. Trundling along, not pedalling particularly hard. Not taking any risks. Not upsetting the applecart.

But you didn't call us to live ordinary lives. You told us that we were chosen, special, extraordinary. Your Holy Spirit lives in me; how can I be run of the mill? If you ask me to do something for you with my life, who am I to argue with you? If you tell me that I'm good enough, who am I to say, no, I think you're wrong?

My playing small doesn't serve the world.

Help me not to play small, Father. At times I feel very small indeed. I feel powerless and afraid and inadequate. But you said:
'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'
2 Corinthians 12:9

Well, I am weak. Pathetic, even. An emotional wreck, these past few days. Nothing going right, distractions here, there and everywhere. I feel as if I have a million reasons why nothing I try would ever amount to much. I feel as if there's no way I could ever accomplish anything for you. As if everything I touch just turns to dust. But you keep nudging. With infinite patience you keep on smiling and then sending something else to throw light on the seed you planted a couple of years ago. You have a plan for me and the time is right. Not my time; that will never be right. Your time.

Give me courage to take another step, Father God. Give me wisdom and patience and always more faith.

I don't want to play small with my life. I want to show your glory to people; to shine as a child of God as Ms Williamson said in her oft-quoted passage. I want to be all that I can be; do what you made me to do.

I want to live an uncommon life.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Carpet diem: back again

Dear God,

Hello. I wrote this more than a year ago but it's been in my head since I was nobbut a bairn. Recently it's been very real to me; in fact I start taking a metaphor further and further and I've started describing how I feel to a friend in terms of carpets - threadbare, or deep pile, and so on...this is what I mean:

Updated from 20 January 2011

Here's this thing that I thought up when I was little, and I still love it today. It comes to mind so often that I've had chance to colour it in and embroider it many times over the years.

Last night at home group we discussed how we saw life; a rollercoaster, a journey, a test...and so on. I wasn't sure I had a picture of what life is like, but I was fascinated by other people's ideas. It seems that so many of us think in metaphors. It came to me much later yesterday evening when we'd changed subject that I did have an idea, and it was the one that'd been with me since I was small. I didn't immediately realise it because it's been part of the texture of life for so long.

It's this: life is like kicking a carpet.  Bear with me. 

There's this roll of carpet - only about two or three feet wide, sort of like a stair carpet, that I unroll ahead of me as I walk along. Everyone has one. There's some artistic licence here as the carpet never gets any smaller and doesn't start out that big, it sort of magically unrolls in front of me in a CGI sort of way. I do have to put some effort in but it's not actually as hard as actually kicking an actual carpet, if you see what I mean. How hard it is seems to vary a bit. I've had a go at unrolling carpet in my house once or twice and it's not like that. It comes naturally. It's living. 

I suppose you think I'm off my rocker.  Still, I shall press on...

Life is a carpet
Just got to unroll it
So this carpet has a pattern and everyone's pattern is different - my own is very familiar, even when the pattern changes as it does at different times in life.  Sometimes it's a brightly coloured, cheerful, intricate pattern, and at other times it's dull, muted, made of dark colours or plain with blocks of different shades.  Sometimes it even has strands of gold and silver in it, like shining threads. Sometimes the pattern has a symmetry, sometimes it's muddled up and abstract. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't.  Likewise the weave of the carpet varies - for a time it's thick, lush and rich in it's pile, and then later worn, threadbare, sparse.  Smooth and then knobbly.  Silky and bristly. Sometimes my toes luxuriate in the softness and warmth and other times it hurts my feet. As I go through life the carpet changes from day to day, hour to hour, and yet I keep going, kicking it along in front of me. I can do this without breaking stride.  

There are times when I'm running, even dancing along, full of songs and laughter, and the carpet is unrolling effortlessly. Other times when I'm plodding, trudging with my head down watching the way the tears make little dark marks as I walk, and those times keeping it moving in front of me seems almost impossible, but I carry on. I can never see where I'm going; it's as if I'm unrolling my carpet through space - three dimensional space, where there are ups and downs - uphills and downhills.  Bits of the journey are brightly lit and other bits so shadowy that I can barely make out the shape of my feet on my carpet. 

The destination is unknown but I keep walking towards it. There's no stopping; there's no choice. Keep going, keep going. 

It will be worth it when I get there.

The interesting thing is that I'm not alone during this walk - I can see other people unrolling their carpets, too. Everyone in the world has a carpet. Some are in the distance - a long long way away, and they're obscured, blurry - I can't see much of their carpet so I don't know what colours or patterns they have; I just get a glimpse.  These are the people who I might encounter for a brief moment.  Sitting on a train whooshing past and then I glimpse someone walking their dog in a field beside the track. Driving past someone in a window of a house. They're the people who come in to view for a second and then they're out of sight.  I see a stranger and wonder about their life - who are they? What are they worried about? Are they happy?  Their carpet comes near mine just for a moment and then they're gone and I never know. Other people come alongside for a while - they walk alongside me for a time, or we meet and we overlap, and then they're gone in a different direction. Sometimes I see the same person back again. Sometimes I know that I've seen them before but can't place where...

Then in this journey I'm on, one or two people kick their carpets along with me. They're alongside, and they stay there.  Their carpet is so close that the edges of theirs and mine touch - sometimes they're so close that the edges wrinkle up against each other making a ridge.  But there might be a special person whose carpet fits mine perfectly. You're pretty much in step.  The weave and pattern on the carpets side by side are synchronised with each other. Sometimes you can't tell where your carpet ends and theirs starts, and sometimes they look very different. Sometimes they leave me behind and I struggle to catch up, and sometimes they're dawdling when I want to skip. But they're parallel with me. 

There's a special sort of blessing in a carpet buddy. Because their carpet looks and feels so much like mine communication is easy. There's an understanding. They look down and see what I see. They know when the going is heavy and when I'm flying. It's as if they can reach across to me and help me with the weight of my carpet as I unroll it. They can point out the finest of bright threads in the weave when I can see only darkness. Sometimes their presence alongside me brings light to show me there's beauty in the pattern when I've been unable to see. A carpet buddy is a very special gift. Thankyou so much for mine.

Occasionally it seems as if someone's carpet is nicer than mine.  They seem to have an easier time getting theirs to unroll. Their pattern seems brighter, prettier, more interesting. It seems thicker, nicer to walk on. Likewise, sometimes other people's carpets appear inferior to mine; I'm glad I'm on my carpet and not theirs. I can't swap - I can't even step off mine onto theirs - so I can never really tell what it's like on their carpet, and they can't possibly know what it feels like to be on mine. 

Now and again I notice that someone I was used to travelling with isn't there any more. I'm so used to seeing them there but one day I realise that they're gone. Their carpet has run out. I know it has gone but I still can't tell what's at the end. I look back and crane my neck but the carpet just ends in space. I don't know what happens to the person kicking it along as I never seem to witness the exact moment it ends, I just see that it is no longer unravelling. What happened to the person whose carpet it was? Did they realise that it was going to end when it did? Maybe they noticed that the carpet was finally getting smaller?  Maybe it just vanished.  Then what?  I don't know.  Haven't got this bit figured out in my little fantasy. Neither do I know what's at the end of mine - or when it might end.  It seems to me that there's plenty of carpet left at the moment... who knows, but you?

But I imagine. 

I think the end of the carpet might be quite ornate - like something fantastic and awe inspiring from a  Renaissance tapestry.  Or maybe just a bit of brocade and a tassle.  Or it gets thinner and thinner until it's no longer there.  

But it's what happens when I finally step off the carpet that I want to know about. I know it's not thin air - there'll be ground beneath my feet that is more solid than it has ever been when I've been unrolling my carpet through space. Maybe I'll no longer walk but jump and fly...maybe I'll have a grace that I never had in my life... maybe there'll be a pattern that is so beautiful that it defies description.   

My imagination isn't big enough.

So that's life. It's a journey, yes.  It goes up and down like a rollercoaster, yes.  I sometimes feel I'm in a race, yes. But it's a carpet, unrolling, unrolling. Inexorably leading me somewhere. 

A beautiful, unique carpet that only I can walk on. I've got to keep it going. 

Till one day it will stop. In a heartbeat. Done. 

And then I'll know what's beyond the carpet.  It's going to be amazing. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

No understudy

'Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.' 
1 Corinthians 12:12

I'm familiar with this passage in the Bible.  When I was much younger we had all the jokes about who was the armpit and who was the spleen and so on, and now I'm older I'm still not too sure how far the analogy can be taken, but I take the point.

We all have different spiritual gifts. We are all unique, no-one less valuable than any other. A huge diversity of skills, personalities, abilities and talents. Together we make up the Body of Christ, with Jesus at the Head. Together, Paul says, we make up the whole. We are one through the Holy Spirit. If someone is missing, nobody else can do his job, because it is a job made for him alone. Each part needs the others to function and when we are all in concert we make a beautiful sound. 

It's the 'all-working-together' thing that's the problem. We all interlock and if one cog gets jammed then sometimes the machine comes shuddering to a halt. I know well that if I have a sore thumb then I can't use the hand properly. If my knee hurts and I limp for too long, my hip starts to hurt too. If I put my back out, there's very little I can do with my day.

Quite often we bicker and squabble and and think we are more important than we are. We think we deserve more than our allocated part and try to be something else. We get resentful or critical and think that we could do a better job than someone else. Why are we never satisfied? 

I find it quite reassuring that the disciples had the same problem. They wanted to know who was the best and brightest. They wanted to know who would be sitting to the right and left of Jesus in Heaven. 

John 21:21
'Peter asked...'Lord, what about him?'Jesus answered, '...what is that to you? You must follow me.' (my emphasis)
What is it to me what someone else does? Why do I jostle for position and wonder if somehow I'm short changed? Why do I worry about what people think of me, of what I do, when I know that I am occupying the place that only I can occupy? Lord, I so want to do with my life what you would have me do. Sometimes I am full of purpose and sometimes I feel as if I'm treading water. Marking time. Vacillating.

Fibrillating. Like the heart does when it gets out of rhythm. Paramedics come crashing in and slap on two paddles and shout 'Charging!' and 'Clear!' and then whoof! the heart gets shocked back into a sinus rhythm (whatever one of those is, but I watched ER for a while). And then all is well again, but it was a close call.

Sometimes I feel as if I'm fibrillating. Immobile. Rabbit in the headlights.

But I have an important job to do because there isn't a redundant bit of the Body of Christ.
(I don't know about the appendix.  But that's probably being facetious.)

Charles Spurgeon took this idea of a collective whole to another level for me the other day. A beautiful level. An eye-opener:
'Each of God's saints is sent into the world to prove some part of the divine character.'
(Charles Spurgeon, The Daily Help devotional for iPhone, 43rd

Somehow, just by being me, here, in my little corner of the earth, day by day, I reflect something of your character. Some little tiny aspect of your personality is me. Not somebody else. How amazing is that? 

He goes on:
'In heaven we shall read the great book of the experience of all the saints, and gather from that book the whole manifestation and display of some position or other of God; a different part may belong to each of us, but when the whole shall be combined, when all the rays of evidence shall be brought, as it were, into one great sun, and shine forth with meridian splendour, we shall see in Christian experience a beautiful revelation of our God.'
Can that be possible?  That one day I might have a contribution to make in this awe-inspiring spectacle?  This is going to be an enormous canvas. I can't wait to see it. 

The other day I got a glimpse of the sheer scale of you, God; the vastness and the majesty and glory of you who holds the universe in your hand. Creator of billions of stars in billions of galaxies. If I think of all the people who have known you from the very beginning to the end of time - from Adam and Eve through to all the people who are alive today and love you the world over, beyond and into the future, all those not yet born, until the end of time  - that's a lot of people. 

And we are all unique. If Spurgeon is right (and I so hope that he is) each one of all these children of yours reflects a unique part of you. We each have a little facet completely our own. It needs a glimpse of the enormity of you in order to understand how such a thing might be true. How complex you are. How many different aspects there are to you. 

So I am intensely significant. Not only do I have a role to fulfil down here, now, in my life, but I have a part in this extravagant art project in Heaven too. I have a ray of light to add to the 'great sun' which will shine for eternity and make you smile.

So why do I wish I were someone else? I am made to be me. 
Why do I think that other people matter more than me?  You made me to be me
There's no understudy.

What is it to me what they do?  I must follow you.
'Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.'
1 Corinthians 12:27

Lord, help me to believe not in myself, but in the wisdom of you, who made me. Help me to see the honour that it is to do the job in this life that you have made me to do and not gaze about me wishing that I were an elbow instead of an ankle. Show me what to do. Give me enough light for the step I'm on and the courage to stride into the darkness, knowing that you won't let me fall. 

Give me a glimpse of that spectacular revelation that one day I'll be part of. It's going to be beautiful because it's You.

I'm working on my contribution right now.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Blessed on a Monday

I want to say something.

I like pine cones. I have two of them sitting in my fruit bowl (don't ask me why) and over the past week they've gone from fully closed to fully open with a beautiful symmetry,

I saw a bird of prey today. A big buzzard-like bird with a sharp looking curved beak and hooded yellow eyes and  big, strong looking wings. No idea what it was. I was driving at the time and didn't want to risk veering into a ditch or through a hedge so only got a fleeting glimpse. A glimpse is good, though.
Apples and pine cones
Today the clouds were huge and while and fluffy and lit from behind so that the edges were gilt and the sun's rays shone around them like a fan.

I had a cup of tea today in a teapot with an old fashioned knitted tea cosy on it. Kept it warm beautifully. I like tea cosies. The old ways are the best...

It was the first day back at school today after the Easter Holidays and both my girls skipped into school happily, full of tales of things we had done for their morning work books. I like it when they're happy. 

Elizabeth had a home made coloured wool hair slide entwined in her hair today and she felt pretty.  She looked so lovely. A boy-friend had brought her a present back from his holiday and she was in raptures. Her face was lit up. 

Katy's hair shone beautifully as she bent over her work in the classroom this morning. I waved goodbye through the window as I passed and she blew me a kiss. I like blowing kisses.

The sun shone today over the Derbyshire Dales as I drove on little country lanes past dry-stone walls and hedgerows in bud.

Good chats with a friend who understands me and shares so much of the ups and downs of life with me. Today I took some good advice and feel better for it. 

Late last night I remembered that I'd forgotten to water the seedlings in my greenhouse. Nipped out in the dark to water them in my dressing gown, flip-flops and woolly hat, accompanied by similarly attired husband to protect me from any aggressive badgers in the garden. Laughed a lot. 

Drove through Matlock and admired the silhouette of Riber Castle up on the edge above. I'm so glad it's still there and it's profile hasn't been changed by the developers.

St John's Church,
Ashbourne, Derbyshire
During our country drive I saw several magnificent pheasants and managed to avoid squashing any of them even though they did saunter across the road carelessly in a manner asking for trouble.

This afternoon I was shown a beautiful drawing by my proud five year old daughter. I admired it extravagantly only to be told, 'It's not for you. It's for Auntie Rachel'. Katy then patted me on the arm consolingly and gave me a small chocolate egg left over from Easter and said, 'Here, Mummy. You can have this instead.' I like chocolate.

A lady opened a church specially for us today so that we could look round inside. It was kind of her.

A book I ordered arrived today. It's about the 23rd Psalm. I read the first few pages as I waited for the girls' tea to cook and I'm looking forward to the rest of it. 

As I write this the children are laughing and laughing and laughing. I haven't a clue why and as a grown up who doesn't speak their language that well I probably wouldn't understand if I did but it's a good sound. I like it.

All this and most of the week still ahead of me.

I am blessed indeed. 

Thankyou, Father God.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

More than words

Here's a thing. 

Its a bit hard to concentrate right now as the children are playing some game that involves the playing of a rather irritating little electronic tune over and over again. I am rising above it, but I just thought I'd mention it in case you think I'm a bit distracted. 

My head is full of things. I'm reading several books at the moment and I'm running out of bookmarks to remind me of interesting things that I am pondering. I have hit a vein reading books by Max Lucado; he writes in a wonderfully simple way and yet manages to surprise me. Bless him, Father God. Whatever he's doing, right now, reach down and touch him and make him smile, will you?  Because someone on the other side of the world is able to draw closer to you because of the gifts you gave him that he faithfully exercises. 

I am still finishing 'In the Eye of the Storm' by Mr L, but I've just been rootling on Amazon's second hand shelves and another of his books arrived yesterday. I flipped through it at random as I climbed the stairs to put it on my 'To Read' shelf and a sentence jumped out at me.
'Pray all the time. If necessary, use words.'
(Max Lucado, 'Fearless' 2009, Thomas Nelson)

My heart leaped. That's no exaggeration. This has made a big difference to me.

I've been thinking about prayer a lot recently. Thinking about it, you'll note, not so much doing it... I've been trying to work out why I find it so difficult. Things have been flying about in my mind; lack of discipline, the idea of getting up early in the morning (No! No! No! Please?), how to come to you more often, for longer, without trying to make lists, quiet time, silent retreats, using objects to help meditation, falling asleep before I get to 'Amen' (sorry about this. Happens all the time).

So, the implication that prayer doesn't have to be formal, doesn't have to be in words - that's freedom. 

Freedom to come to you without my vocabulary. To come to you without knowing how to say what I want to say, or even what I want to say in the first place. The other day I was telling you that I sometimes can't find any words when I'm having a panic about Katy and the lumps on her neck and I sit on the edge of her bed at night and just lift to you all the stuff that wells up in my heart that I can't find words for.  Hope and fear and love and praise to you, the God that made my girls and made knowing them possible.

Made knowing you possible. Who am I to make that more difficult than it needs to be?

I have been thinking that prayer was words. Written words, read words, words in my head. Prayers written by me, prayers written by other people. Prayers had form and shape and meaning. I know that prayer should contain worship and confession and thanksgiving and supplication but sometimes it's hard to structure my prayers in that way. Sometimes they're coming at me too fast to tick all the boxes. Sometimes it feels like I don't have the building blocks to make a prayer. And on those times instead of staying silent with eyes averted, those are the times when I can offer you the spontaneous, the undefined. The things that won't fit into a sentence.

A while ago little Katy said to me, 'I want to make a prayer but I don't know how,' and I told her that if she said what she wanted to God then that was a prayer. What happens if you don't know what you want to say or how to say it? If I can pray without words then that's the answer.

Tears can be prayers. Sighs and groans can be prayers. Stillness can be a prayer. Longings and thrills and exhilaration and shock. Undefined feelings of gratitude, or awe, or wonder. The way my heart responds to beauty or sadness or compassion.

I don't know for certain because I'm not a theologian or a priest or someone who knows these things, but I wonder where the line is between prayer and praise. If we should give our lives as a daily offering to you then what we do can surely be worship. What we offer to you can be prayer, or praise... you decide. Suddenly I feel freer and less obliged. Less stressed out by the prospect of 'getting it right'.

In telling the story of the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:29-32) with regard to worship, Max Lucado says that after Jesus had healed many, 'They praised the God of Israel.'

He goes on:
'I wonder how they did that? I feel more certain of what they didn't do rather than what they did do. I feel confident that they didn't form a praise committee. I feel confident that they didn't make any robes. I feel confident that they didn't sit in rows and stare at the back of each other's heads.
I doubt seriously if they wrote a creed on how they were to praise this God they had never before worshipped. I can't picture them getting into an argument about technicalities. I doubt if they felt that it had to be done indoors.
And I know they didn't wait until the Sabbath to do it.'
(Max Lucado, 'In the Eye of the Storm', 1991, Zondervan)

How wonderful. He states the obvious but how trapped I sometimes feel when I think I have to get it right. How many times do I 'fail' at prayer because it's too hard to do it properly. So often I leave it until the end of the day when I have nothing left and then offer you the dregs of my consciousness before I slip off into sleep.

Yesterday in the garden, when Katy was singing to you and I was potting plants I smiled and my heart swelled and I felt you near me. Things were vivid and beautiful and I registered that a blossom of happiness was spreading through me. Could that have been a prayer, Lord? My soul was reaching for yours. Surely we connected. I'm not sure that I can ever do any better than that.

When I go to see my children last thing at night and they look so innocent, so small, so young in their sleep and the frustrations and raised voices and irritations of the day are smoothed away like a wave on the sand - that's when I offer you the love that I have in my heart for my little girls. My hopes for them, my fears, my dreams and my gratitude.

Even when I'm lying in bed just sliding into drowsiness and I feel the softness of my bed, the warmth of the bedclothes, the quiet of the house and it's such a feeling of comfort - physical and emotional - I lift to you the relief of relaxing the muscles of a weary body in safety. Is it a prayer? Or am I going to far in trying to make my love of my bed into a holy thing?

The wonderful Mr Lucado continues, speaking still of the crowds who worshipped you, Jesus:
'In all probability, they just did it. Each one - in his or her own way, with his or her own heart - just praised Jesus. Perhaps some people came and fell at Jesus' feet. Perhaps some shouted his name. Maybe a few just went up on the hillside, looked into the sky, and smiled.'
Now, I know that looking into the sky and smiling isn't adequate if my entire prayer life consisted of it, but I am thrilled to read that it might be part of it. I think often I miss the point. Often I get bogged down in routine and in form and in expectation. I like words and I like using them, but when I run out of the ability to do that, I've been floundering.

And now I have something else.

Praise to you, Lord. You're not a hard taskmaster. You're looking for ways to communicate. Not that you find it hard, but because I do.

Thankyou, thank you, thank you.
'Worship is when you're aware that what you've been given is far greater than what you can give. Worship is the awareness that were it not for his touch, you'd still be hobbling and hurting, bitter and broken.'
I'd like to think I'd have been there when I heard that this man they call Jesus was healing people. I'd like to think that I'd have recognised my need to be mended and gone along to have a look. I expect it might have depended on whether anyone I knew was going - I can be a proper sheep like that. But I hope I'd have been there. I hope that when your eyes met mine and I knew that I was healed, I hope that I might have fallen down in front of you. I might have thanked you from the bottom of my heart. I might have called your name to heaven in amazement. I might have gone home and told people what you had done for me.

I know that what I've been given is far greater than what I can give. I'm so sorry that even what I can give I sometimes hang onto for myself.
'We have tried to make a science out of worship. We can't do that.'
No, we can't. And I wonder if, in trying to pin down exactly what worship is, or prayer, then I miss the point, and miss it spectacularly. I wonder if prayer and worship are so much bigger than I have realised? A huge bracket term that encompasses so many different ways of meeting with you.

I think that you never meant it to become as small and prescribed as it has. I'm sure that you never meant well-meaning people who long to know you to feel that unless they can do it right, they'll do it wrong, and so perhaps it's better not to try.

If I can pray to you by lifting my heart to you, or reaching out with my very soul to offer you...something...something that I need to tell you, then perhaps that's ok with you?  If I can see a glimpse of you in the wonder of your creation, or in the funny words of my children, or in a tender moment in my marriage, or in a hairy caterpillar going about its business, and that glimpse causes me to close my eyes tight and feel the beauty of your Spirit within me, then maybe that's ok with you too.

I think there's a place for sung worship with a guitar or an organ in church - I'm not saying anything particularly revolutionary - and I need to get better at talking and listening to you. Giving you the last few bleary minutes of my day isn't the best way to show you that I love you. But I wanted to share with you the little epiphany that I had today.

I think you're closer than I thought. I think you love me, and want me to come to you more often. I think you like it when I see you and you love it when I turn to you with delight and recognition in my eyes. I don't think that you need me to be able to report what's happened in my heart; you see it clearly already. You are the master of my heart. You know me intimately. I can't fake my moments with you; the most genuine gifts I could give you come straight from the heart without the need for words.

I feel liberated.

I need to pray all the time. Sometimes I will need to use words, but hey, sometimes it's still alright if I don't.


Friday, 13 April 2012

Blessed be your glorious name

Afternoon, Lord God.

I'm feeling smiley. It's been a good day. Actually, a succession of good days. I found when I was a teenager and I kept a diary daily for years and years that when I had a bad day, I wrote pages and pages reporting what had happened, analysing it from every angle and moaning excessively, yet when I had a good day, I would write. 'Had a good day.'

Why the need to wallow in misery and negative emotions, but to gloss over good ones? Does picking apart the scab make something heal quickly, and by the same token examining happiness diminish it somehow? 

Maybe I'm just a pessimist at heart. Perhaps I just notice the duff things and not so much the things to celebrate. 

Well, no more. 

My good day(s) have been full of children, laughter, family, food, wine-and-sofa-time, gardening, countryside, smiles and time to relax. 

Lizzie laughing
Take yesterday. My sister in law and a couple of nephews were visiting and the children were so excited to see their cousins. The boys were so lovely; playing with my girls despite being much older and they were patience personified. Elizabeth and Katy were enraptured by this big grown up boy who lifted them high, acted silly and let them teach him their playground games with incomprehensible rules - and then let them win. At one point they were tearing round and all I could hear was laughter.  Elizabeth was laughing so hard I thought she might be sick, and the big boy cousins were laughing too. It made me laugh.

I got to spend some time in the greenhouse potting up a big tray of baby begonias and watching the children as I bedded the seedlings down into small pots to grow a bit bigger before I fill the troughs by the front door. It was warm and sunny and everything felt happy. You were there too - I know you were smiling. You must have been sitting on a bench at the bottom of the garden and watching; feeling the sun on your face, legs stretched out in front of you watching the joy of your children. Listening to the happy sounds. I felt content deep down. 

My tiny begonias could have sighed with pleasure as I planted them with more room to spread out their roots and I love seeing them in their little rows of pots on the bench in the warmth. You know each seedling. You made it. From the tiny, brown seed, through the first pair of leaves to the flourishing of a sturdy little flowering plant that soldiers on all summer long, none of it happens without your breath of life. 

You are all around me.

Michael Card writes this:
'A young Chinese woman told me of the spiritual struggle of growing up in the shadow of communism, where official doctrine dictated against any belief in god. She said that ever since she was a little girl, her heart had resonated with the beauty of nature. First a sunset caused a deep stirring in her soul that she could not put into words. Then the beauty of the flowers in her mother's garden spoke to her of a simplicity for which her heart yearned. By observing the beauty in nature she became convinced of the existence of not simply a benign god, but a loving, caring Father.
With tender, moist eyes and a brilliant smile she said, 'Imagine the joy I experienced when I learned that he had a name and it was Jesus.' 
(Michael Card, iPhone app: 'Joy in the Journey through the year'.

I know your name. I know you. I don't always notice you, but you're always there. I have days when my eyes seem to see and days when they seem to be out of focus, but that's me, not you. 

Baby begonias.
Destined for great things
You are there in my tiny green seedlings and you are there in the sun warm on my shoulders. You are there in the companionship of my husband and his sister, and in the kindness of a nineteen year old youth for his small, adoring nieces. You are there in the joy of their laughter and in way that the sunlight made Elizabeth's long hair into spun gold. You are there in the ladybirds and in the huge, beautiful bumble bees that seem to abound this year. You are there in the grace of the neighbours cats, and in the variety of birds that visit our bird table. Though it has to be said that the presence of all of us in the garden yesterday afternoon meant that most wildlife wisely made itself scarce. 

You are there in the countless resurrections that remind me of you at this time of year: things that seemed dead and twig-like a few weeks ago are bursting into life in bright greens and yellows. You are there in the Spring rain that sends us dashing for the washing and yet is over before we've collected it in. You're there in breeze that blows the clothes dry (again) and you're there in the bolts that hold the swing safe to the crossbeam so that my little girls can close their eyes and swing up the sky in safety. 

You are in my heart. You have opened my eyes, and keep doing so even though I close them. You are endlessly patient, forgiving, full of humour and love. 

Yesterday the children were playing some sort of game that involved dashing around and the girls were squealing and shouting. Suddenly something made me look up from my seedlings and it was my Katy, singing. She was singing:
'Blessed be the name of the Lord! Blessed be your name!
Blessed be the name of the Lord! Blessed be your glorious name!'
My heart was so full that I thought it might just rupture. I glanced at the other grown ups but I don't know if they heard, they were deep in conversation. I'm not sure what their reaction might have been. The children were running around and Katy kept singing, 'Blessed be the name of the Lord!'

The angels must have been smiling, weren't they, Lord? From your vantage point (for I know that you miss nothing) you must have blown a kiss in her direction, did you?  Blessed be your glorious name, Lord God, and bless her heart.

Father, I am so blessed as well.  I am blessed that like that lady from China who knew who you were before she knew your name; I am privileged to know you. To see you in the sunset, in nature, in the song of a five year old who was happy and that happiness burst forth in unconscious praise of you. Or maybe it was conscious; I don't know what she was thinking (you do) but I do know that you would have accepted that bit of worship with joy. Honest, open, uncomplicated, unpretentious, uninhibited praise. I can only aspire to that. 

Later that day Bryan and I sat with our feet up on the coffee table and a glass of wine each and we watched a film on the television after the small girls had crashed out into bed after their exciting and energetic day. I think you were there as well. I reflected on how much I like sitting with my husband and feeling relaxed and at ease. You were there in the wine and in the good humour and in the bond that we have. 

You are the best of me.
'The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.'
Psalm 19:1

And so does the earth. So does the greenhouse. So does my living room when all is right with our family.

I want to as well. I want to declare the glory of you.  

I go on so much about the times when things are not right. I bemoan my lack of patience and my troubles and my worries and I come running to you when someone hurts me. I wallow in my guilt and my shortcomings and that of other people, but there are snapshots of my life when the sun is out and the birds are singing and those times need remarking on as well. At length.

You are beautiful and glorious and you allow us to be part of that. You gave Bryan and I a part to play in the creation and nurturing of our wonderful girls. You let me plant out those tiny seedlings so that they'll fulfil their potential. You give me words and the ability to express myself. You give me so very much. 

You give me beauty in the darkest corners if only I look.

Thankyou Father God. 

You are good. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Turning to you

My eyes are open
Looking, searching, gazing
But not seeing
Not realising
I have already found you.

My ears are open
Listening closely
To an internal melody
Turned up loud
With a beat of me, me, me.

My mind is closed
Knowing everything 
All the answers
Narrow, oblivious
To the vast glory of you.
My mouth is open
Always saying something
Convinced I'm right
Not thinking first
Imparting my wisdom.

My fists are closed
Holding tightly
To the rubbish
Worry and fear and regret
Preoccupied with misery.

Blow your Spirit through me
Fling wide the doors
Closed and cobwebbed
Clear out the rubbish
Stacked in corners.

My heart is open
Deep down - I know
I long for you
Feeling my need
I turn to you, my Father.

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