Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Halloween guest post: the other guy


Got you. 

Once again. Your people - your bunch of stupid sheep - the ones you're so proud of. It doesn't take much, does it? Heh heh heh.

There aren't many opportunities as good as this, you know. You've closed so many of them down, but not this, not yet, it seems. What is it? Too much for you? Is it some sort of test for the sheep? If so, you must be shaking your head in disappointment. 

Me?  Ha. I love it.

Halloween. You know, it's only a bit of fun. It's all for the children. They say that about Christmas too, don't they? It's for the children really... oh, it makes me smile. Let them think that Halloween is just a bit of fun for the children; nothing sinister at all. You know what? If they're offering the children, I'll take them. Sounds good to me.

What was it that guy said, one of the Big Guns, wasn't he?  CS Lewis? Something about believing that I don't exist? Oh yes, so many people believe that. They're the ones who think that it's all just fun and games. While they go about thinking that it doesn't matter, I am free to do just as I want. 

I love the stuff they can buy from the supermarket these days. Some of it is really gruesome. I've known  small kids start to cry when they see the masks and costumes and decorations. Kids see me, sometimes, you know, they see things as they are, but by the time they're old enough to explain why they're so spooked, the adults have talked them into thinking it's all just a bit of fun. The Halloween merchandising seems to get more and more explicit and it's just lovely. The dead and decaying, evil, nasty,'s beautifully dark; and then there are pumpkins. Admit I'm a bit baffled about pumpkins; nothing inherently evil about pumpkins - but I'm working on it. I like it when they take a pumpkin and cut a nice aggressive face on it. Something that gives the littlest ones nightmares. 

They dress their kids up, you know. They put witches' costumes on them, or disguise them as demons or murderers or corpses and douse them in red food colouring. They have nooses and knives and missing eyes and all that lovely disturbing stuff. They make them look as if they've been dismembered or as if they're one of my very own. Why on earth would they do that? The rest of the year we struggle to get them to take us seriously and then, on This Day each October they come to us, ready and willing. They just invite us in. 

And we never refuse an invitation. It'd be rude, wouldn't it?

I don't think they know where it all came from, do they? The Druids and their human sacrifices, all the blood and pain and fear. They thought that on this night each year the demons roamed free and in order to keep themselves safe they sacrificed their children to appease us. The Night of the Dead. Love it. 

Nothing changes. They think they're sophisticated but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

They think it's about sweets and chocolate and orange and black and so on, but they're commemorating evil. They're lifting me high and I love it. I don't often get to see the view from up here. I have the time of my life. If they knew, would it still be a bit of fun? Yeah, I know, probably. They don't have much common sense, do they? I'm so glad that they don't. If one day it turned out that they saw it all for exactly what it is they probably wouldn't be so quick to dress up their little darlings as demons. 

But while they do... heh heh heh. This is my time. This is the night when it's ok to dwell on all that's evil and nasty and corrupt and unhealthy, even in polite society. When I become socially acceptable. Most of the time they don't think about me much but tonight I am the guest of honour. Not you! You know that bit in your Bible where you tell them to contemplate all the good and wholesome things? All the 'pure and noble and honest and whatever...' you know that bit? Ha! Not tonight, my friend. Tonight they think about all the other stuff. I positively encourage it. 

And you know what? So much angst. So many Christians feel uneasy about Halloween but don't really know what to do about it. Can it really do any harm? And all their little friends are having Halloween Parties and the little souls so want to dress up and witches don't exist really, do they? Any more than ghosts? So surely it wouldn't do any harm, as long as we don't frighten the neighbours? 

Oh I love it. 

On the subject of neighbours, that's just an added bonus. I hadn't really thought much beyond human sacrifice and scaring the pants of small kids, but then they thought up the Trick or Treat thing! Oh, beautiful. Dress their children up as death or despair or destruction and send 'em round to the old people. Ask them for sweets or throw eggs at the window. Demand money or chocolate or squirt shaving foam through the letterbox. And as for the teenagers who don't have shivering, indulgent mummies at the end of the drive... they get up to Real Mischief. And the icing on the cake is that so many people are so afraid of visitors that they sit in the dark pretending to be out and they're nervous in case the doorbell goes and their houses are full of unease and apprehension and anxiety. Right up my street, and I didn't have to do a thing.

Such fun. I really have fun on 31 October. It's the best bit of the year. All of a sudden I'm legitimate. I'm the One they want to be with. I'm the Main Man. Not you. Oh no, not you. You're the party-pooper.

I am Darkness, and for one night, darkness is where it's at. They like the thrill. They're deceived into thinking that it's all about fun - and I am the Deceiver. It may be only a small opening but I'm in there quicker than you can say 'resist the devil and he will flee from you'. Tonight - they don't resist me. They open the door and offer me chocolate. Chocolate shaped like little demons. I eat it all up. 

I know - don't start. There are some that belong to you and they know the power they have, but most of them don't. They don't have the first clue. They don't realise they need power, I don't think. While they think it's all harmless fun, I'm doing fine.

Trouble comes when they know the dark for what it is - that's when I come unstuck. When the light penetrates the darkness, then it gets uncomfortable. When every dark and cobwebbed corner is lit up like a Christmas tree -yes, I know what I said - that's when I'd rather just creep back under my stone. 

I like easy prey. It's like the car with the immobiliser to a car thief. Struggle to take that one, or the one in front, with the door unlocked and the keys in the ignition? Easy all the way. That house, they love you, sadly, I'll give it a miss; this one here there's a rotting corpse by the door and 'blood' on the driveway and they're just waiting with open arms to welcome me home.

Do I really get a chance to find a way in, you know, a real way into their lives where I get to stay after Halloween? Well, don't underestimate me. You'd be surprised. Well, you wouldn't, but they would. Give me an inch and I'll take a mile. I'll take whatever I can get.

Don't send the light. Please? Let them have their little games. Leave them alone for once, will you? Give me a break. It's all just harmless fun. I don't like it when you have them carve a pumpkin with little hearts for eyes and one of your crosses for a nose and big smiles. I don't like it when they pray at these parties. When they look upwards instead of downwards. I don't like it when they keep their kids close to them and sign them with your blessed sign instead of dripping blood. 

In the name of all that's holy.
I like it dark and I like mess. I like fear and screams and trembling. They think it's just a thrill but I Am Right There. 

And when they point at the Christians who complain about the bodies in Tesco and Sainsbury? When they say they're over-reacting and they should just chill out and have a bit of fun? Oh yes. Love it. 

It's getting dark. It'll soon be time. Just stay out of it, will you? 

The battle of good and evil continues, and tonight... 

It's the Night of the Dead. For the lost. It's time for Me. I shall make the most of it.

Come on in. We've got witches in the kitchen, zombies in the hall, demons in the living room and all manner of depravity in the conservatory. All this and nibbles too!

Heh heh heh. I know, they're only kids. It's just a bit of fun. Don't the adults know better?

I hope not. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

I am your sheep

God, I am a sheep.

For many reasons. Because I am quite often not very bright, because I have a tendency to want to follow the flock without thinking for myself, because when I do think for myself I am likely to wander off and get myself into trouble, because I often bleat on about things and because I am cuddly and built for comfort rather than for speed. And because I do a good line in sheepish, haha.

Also, because you are my Shepherd.

I am glad you're my Shepherd. I want to be looked after. I'm feeling a bit pathetic tonight, Lord, and I want to cuddle up and be safe and not have to make much of an effort. I'm tired; it's been a long day and I haven't got much left. I'm not sure which way to take and it's getting dark early. Come and find me, will you? Gather me up, Lord God, put me on your shoulders and take care of me.

'The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.'
Psalm 23:1

Oh, Lord, there are so many things that I'm convinced that I need. Things that I want, things that I think I'm entitled to, things that I long for. I want a new pillow because I wake up every day with a crick in my neck. I want some peace and quiet and solitude in the middle of the half-term school holiday. Ha. I want to be a patient, creative, energetic mother to my little girls. Ha. I want to be thin. Ha. I want inspiration. I want a packet of biscuits. I want to go to sleep.

Help me to remember that I have all I need already. I do know that, deep down. You don't say that you'll love me when I'm a better mummy, or when I lose a few pounds (or more) or when I write something profound that people want to read. You take me as I am, right now, and you love me. Even though I am a sheep, you love me. I am precious to you. I am worth protecting and you go out of your way to keep me safe. Even though my legs are short and my undercarriage often gets muddy. Even though I nibble things that I shouldn't and make myself ill. Even though I am woolly and stupid and get stuck on things and need rescuing. You always come for me.

'He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.'

Psalm 23:2-3

Green pastures.
Green pastures. Lush, grassy meadows. Grassland for the express purpose of grazing. A field full of good stuff to eat. You know the way to my heart, Father. A sheep would like that. And me... I lie in the pastureland and I can feel the softness of the grass under my back. The sky above me is blue and there's a gentle, refreshing breeze in my hair. I can see the tall grass waving and the sun warms me. I can hear the sound of water nearby and birds singing and all is calm, peace. I know that you are close by and I need fear nothing. I am completely relaxed. I am safe, knowing that I can drift and dream and find space to recharge. There is rest in your presence.

'He guides me along the right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; 
your rod and staff, they comfort me.'

Psalm 23: 3-4

I'm glad you guide me, Father God, because I can't fathom the right way to go on my own; I just can't do it. So many signposts, so many people to persuade me that I should go this way, do this, stop doing that. I need your voice, not that of the satnav, however clever it is. I need to learn to hear you more clearly, and I need to learn to stop and listen more often rather than pushing on regardless with my own ideas, my own plans.

Lord, I've been in some scary places and I know with complete confidence that you have never left me. You are there in the tough times as well as in the green pasture.
You keep me close, you never falter.
You are endlessly patient.
You reassure me and you comfort me.
I am never lost in the cold. I want to stay by your side, Lord Jesus. I'm not wanting to do this on my own.

'You prepare a table before me 
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.'

Psalm 23:5

You promise that if I stand by you, then you'll stand by me. I'm on the winning team. If you are for me, who can be against? The God of creation is happy to tell the world that I am his child. You won't disown me; instead you'll make it clear that I am yours. You and me, Lord Jesus. We'll eat together. I'll be your guest at the table. Me. How amazing is that? I'll be your honoured guest. We'll open a bottle. It's all too much; you are more than generous - so very much more than I deserve.

'Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.'

Psalm 23:5-6

This part always touches me on some deep level that takes me by surprise. These days, Father, I'm coming to understand that it is the Holy Spirit in me that enables a reaction like this; I am incapable of it on my own. I realise that when my soul reaches for you as it does when I read these words, it is because you have planted eternity in my heart. Lord Jesus, my Saviour, your goodness and love are wrapped around me. I feel it. I am trying to dwell in you now, in this busy, crazy world with its beauty and cruelty and its wonder and despair, but I know that one day the struggle will be over.

Father, you've never let me down. I have let you down more times than I can count, but you - never once. You have stood by me when you could have disowned me. You have stood up for me when I was indefensible. You have blessed me more than I will ever know and I have been so far short of grateful.

You are good and you are love. You are always there. You have said that you will never forsake me or abandon me and you never break a promise.

You hold my life in your hand, Lord God, and I know that there is no safer place.

In this world I find that I'm constantly looking for glimpses of your kingdom; a shaft of light from your doorway, but I know that one day I will dwell there for ever. Sometimes in this world I see you for a fraction of a second; I see the work of your hand, I see the little notes of love that you leave for me. For every one that I see and snatch up and hold close to me I'm sure that I miss a hundred, for I know how much you love me.

Lord, I want to notice. I don't want to miss a single thing when the God of Heaven reaches down to speak to me. Whether it's a sunset or a rainbow or a flower or a flame, Lord, I want to see; really see. Give me eyes to see, Lord Jesus, and ears to hear. Don't let me be too busy wandering off in my own little world bleating discontentedly, to see your glory.

One day, Lord, I'll see, won't I? I'll be right there. There'll be no more predators to stalk me and no more cliffs to fall down. No more distractions from the main event. No more confusion or frustration or inability to hear.

I will dwell in your house forever. 

There'll be a party and the wine will flow.

Yes please. But in the meantime, I'm your sheep. I am a sheep in your flock. I want people to look at me and see how well looked after I am; to see that I live my life with confidence in my Shepherd, not in fear of the wolves. That I am cared for. I am safe and I have peace.

I have peace even when the storms come; that's what I want, Lord. I think that sometimes I'm no different from sheep in other flocks who mill about in a panic when the thunder rolls and the lightning flashes. I run about wildly and risk getting lost or hurt when all I need do is nestle close and sink into the warmth of your protection.

I am a sheep of your flock and I'm proud to tell the world that I am.

I am a child of God. I carry your mark and I know to whom I belong. I know that I am loved.

There is no safer place but in your pasture with my brothers and sisters. I know the sound of your voice and I know that you will never let me down.

'The Lord is my Shepherd'.

I am your sheep.

'Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will praise you for ever;
from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.'

Psalm 79: 13

Oh yes. Amen.


Friday, 26 October 2012

Water into wine

Morning, Lord God. 

I have in front of me the remains of the finest cup of coffee ever made. It isn't a Costa bucket of vanilla latte, or a sophisticated restaurant's after dinner dark and splendid filter something or other with bite size dark chocolate mint. Not even one of those wonderful hot hot coffees with a generous dash of Amaretto and half an inch of cream floating on top that give you a comedy moustache. 


It's made with a simple domestic kettle, circa 2009, (Breville, to be precise). Jar of instant, dash of granulated, splash of semi-skimmed. Yet somehow, this morning, sitting on this same stool, in front of the same computer, from the same mug, this particular cuppa is transcendental. I know that if I make another straight away, as I will be compelled to, because this mug is nearly finished, the second will be sadly inadequate in comparison.

Still. Carpe diem. Seize the moment. This coffee is just what I needed. Mm. 

Thankyou. For kettles, coffee and tastebuds. 

I'm going to put the kettle on again now. It's bound to be a triumph of hope over experience but I shall do it anyway.

That's just by the way. I wanted to share a little moment's joy with you; you share so many with me. 

Well, my thought for the day is about that bit in the Bible where you turn water into wine, Lord. Remember that? I wonder if you're smiling at the memory. Their faces must have been a picture. But I get ahead of myself. 

Your Mum knew you, didn't she? She saw. Well, that's obvious - from before you came along she knew she wasn't having Joe Average as a baby boy, but this story of the wedding in Cana makes me smile. 

I like that she knew the hosts were going to run out of wine, and she wanted to fix it. She wanted to save them the embarrassment of an early end to the party and she knew just the way to do it. I might have nipped down to the Off-licence for a bottle or three but she knew a better way. 

She knew you.
'When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, 'They have no more wine.'
Jesus said, 'Woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.'

John 2:3,4
I like that you put up a bit of token resistance. Keep me out of it, Mum. I don't want the limelight just yet... oh alright then. She went ahead anyway. Do as he tells you. My boy will sort it out. 
'His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.'
John 2:5
And you did. How you did. I love that you didn't let your Mum look daft by sticking to your guns, and most of all I love that your first miracle was turning water into wine so that people could party. Why did you do it? So that they could have fun. So that the party could go on. So you could dance and drink and laugh and celebrate. My God, why on earth do people think that you are a spoilsport god who wants to drain the fun out of life?  You were anything but subdued. I like to think of you dancing and mingling and throwing back your head laughing, loading your plate from the buffet and enjoying a glass or two of the finest wine ever produced. 
'Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from eighty to a hundred and twenty litres.
Jesus said to the servants, 'Fill the jars with water,' and so they filled them to the brim.

John 2:6,7
Here's what struck me. You told the servants to fill the big stone jars to the brim with water. They did. You changed the water into wine. Job done. 

If they'd filled them half-full with water, you'd have changed that water to wine, but there would have been less of it. 

You ask us to give you what we have, and what we give you, you transform. If I give you a bit of my life, then that's what you have to work with. If I give you all of it, full to the brim, every last drop, then you will take all of it and make it all into something wonderful that brings glory to you. 

If those servants had been disobedient or held back, maybe because the huge stone jars were too heavy, or they couldn't be bothered, couldn't see the point - then there would have been no wine, or only a little. They did as they were asked and they were witnesses to something dramatic. 
'Then he told them, 'Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.'
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He didn't realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.'

John 2:8,9
You, your mother and the servants were the only people at that party that knew what you'd done (as far as we know; maybe word got round, because the disciples found out) but those servants must have been wide-eyed with awe. They were honoured with the first glimpse that the carpenter from Galilee had something special. Did you smile? Did you wink? Did you take them aside and introduce yourself? Or did you just leave them mystified but impressed? 
'Everyone brings out the choice wine first and the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink, but you have saved the best till now.'
John 2:10
Lord God, I want to give you my life brim full. I want to make sure that you have every opportunity to change it into something wonderful that I could never achieve on my own. The problem is that the jars are heavy and I am weak, and I am also lazy and doubtful and although I know in my head that you want nothing but good for me, sometimes I think I know best. I find myself thinking that this particular bit of my life, that sensitive issue, that thing that I know is wrong but I sort of like it the way it is; those bits I hang on to. I admit that my jar isn't full. 

Help me, Lord. I don't want to be half-hearted. I don't want to be half-full-half-empty. The wine you made was better than the stuff that the family had bought in for the wedding. It was good wine. Why would I hang onto my half-empty jar of water instead of bringing it to you?

So, here I am. I'm standing by the empty jars. That's me, watching you, worrying about the wine, wondering what to do, wishing I dared. Come over and smile gently and show me which bits of me I'm holding back. The bits that I, in my self-absorption, think that I can take care of better than you. Then let me fill those jars to the brim, so that you can perform the miracle you promise for me; to transform me into the person you always intended me to be. 

Yes, please, Lord.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Love notes in the rain

Afternoon, God.

Yesterday I was lying in bed doing that thing I do where I play with my phone rather than go to sleep. Sometimes I find myself picking it up even when the light is off (no matter, phone backlit) and plugged in for the night (no matter, long cord). I might pick it up ostensibly to check that the alarm(s) are set, but actually it's to faff. I love sleeping, but because I am the Queen of Procrastination I even put that off too.

Quick check of the news headlines (do I think that's going to lull me to sleep? Unlikely) and a quick game of Bejeweled Blitz (can that trigger adrenalin? Surely not. Possibly). Maybe there'll be a browse of my daily devotionals if I haven't explored them in the course of the day, but more often than not it's a quick check on Facebook.

Ha! That old chestnut. Habit firmly under control these days, but still a mighty pull when a spot of timewasting called for.

So, someone's done this, someone's done that, someone's posted a great picture, someone's having a birthday - oops, it was yesterday - someone's painting their toenails. You know the score. Then, my scrolling finger stopped and hung in the air. Joyce Meyer had something to say.

Joyce has lots of things to say, and most of them speak sense to me, but this one stopped me in my tracks. My eyes stopped moving from left to right quite abruptly.

She said, 'God is not mad at you.'


I know you're not mad at me.  Are you?  Why did that short sequence of six words pull me up short?

You know, I think I've been feeling that you are mad at me. Not for any specific thing (though there are many, many reasons why you might be justified) but something deep down in my heart, or in my brain, or somewhere long buried, is a feeling that somehow you're not a kind, loving, accepting, forgiving God at all, but a hard taskmaster who likes to pounce on mistakes and transgressions and make a Big Deal of them. Tally them up. Roll your eyes and frown at all the shortcomings.

Hold it all against me.

Really? Do I think that? Maybe I've had this idea that you're hard to please. That nothing I do will be good enough. As you know, I've felt that way for much of my life; always trying, striving, proving, attempting to win approval in a whole host of ways and feeling constantly bad about myself when it doesn't work. Maybe I feel as if I need to perform in order to win your approval; reach a certain standard. Do I?

I think somewhere deep inside I've been frightened of you. Not in a respectful, 'fear-of-the-Lord' awestruck way, either, but in a you're-angry-and-I'd-better-make-myself-scarce sort of way. I don't know where that comes from, but I sense that it's there.

Images of God: Angry.

I'm sorry about that. It must hurt your feelings to be so misrepresented, even if it's on some buried level. These days I know you, and it couldn't be further from the truth. You are Love.

I wax lyrical about your love, your forgiveness, and I believe it. I don't have any remote problem in accepting that you are compassion itself. You are the source of peace and hope, not criticism and despair. I do not have to shrink from your presence; quite the reverse. You invite me to come in.
'Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus... let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.'
Hebrews 10:19-22
Lord, I want to thank you that I can approach you with boldness and confidence. Show me today what an amazing thing this is, because it seems as if I sometimes don't understand the magnitude of it. I am forgiven! I am thoroughly cleansed from al the wrong and all the grubbiness of my life. I don't have to be ashamed. I don't have to be full of regrets. I don't have to be weighed down by guilt any more... but quite often you wouldn't know it to look at me.

You are not mad at me. You are actually quite pleased with me.
'For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.'

Psalm 139: 13,14
You made me and you're pleased with your creation. You've known me since long before I was thought of and you will be there with me, loving me, long after I've turned up my toes down here. You don't make mistakes, so I conclude that I am just as you planned me. You wanted me this way. You knew what you were getting when you organised those groups of chromosomes and cells to get together. You don't look at me as I am and feel disappointed.
'I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.'
Jeremiah 31:3
You don't stop loving me when I mess up. Because of Jesus, I am forgiven. More than that, I am holy. When you look at me, you see Jesus - and he's perfect. My little brain struggles to hold onto this, but I know that it's true.

You're not mad at me.
'As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.'Psalm 103:13
If we parents are kind to our children; me with my impatience and over-critical nature, and my irritability and perfectionism, if I can look after my children with compassion, how much more will you look after me? You are tender, gentle, ever-patient.

You are not mad at me.
'The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!'Isaiah 30:18
My God. God of grace. Compassion. Justice - but not the sort of justice that serves me right. No, no. Blessings.

You are not mad at me.

Father, there's a lesson for me here, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's about what lurks deep down in me - the misapprehensions and long-abandoned beliefs that rise to the surface when I least expect them. If so, take them and wipe them away, Lord. Heal the little raw place that they came from, will you? I know you. You love me just as I am.

All day I've had a line from an old song in my mind. I woke up with it. It was in my head when I brushed my teeth this morning and it's still there. It's your word to me for today. It's your comfort; it's you holding me close because you knew I'd have a moment when I saw that post by Joyce Meyer. It goes like this:

'I'm accepted, I'm forgiven
I am fathered by the true and living God
I'm accepted, no condemnation
I am loved by the true and living God
There's no guilt or fear as I draw near
To the Saviour and Creator of the world
There is joy and peace as I release
My worship to you, O Lord' *

You love me enough to send me presents. Things that can only come from you, for no other purpose than to let me know that you are there, right now, right here, and you love me. You pursue me. You remind me.

Yesterday I walked home from school with Elizabeth in the drizzle and the world was grey and dreary. Leaves on the ground in puddles, all sticky and squashed. Hoods up, umbrellas up, heads down. And suddenly, there, a vivid orange flower between someone's garden fence and the wall.  A lone flower in Autumn, startlingly bright in the rain.

I stopped and called Elizabeth.

'Lizzie, look!' She looked. Briefly.

'Yeah. Pretty.'

I handed her her book bag and water bottle to hold. She rolled her eyes.

'Mum, take a photograph and let's go.'

She didn't get it, but I did. It was a little love note from you to me.

You made me smile.

You're not mad at me.

You love me.

*Rob Hayward 1985 Kingsway/Thankyou music

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A prayer for bloggers

Ah. Hello God. 

I think this might be called facing a demon or two. 

I have just been reading a post by Ann Voskamp. 

Lord, you know how I feel about Ann Voskamp. You know that I follow her blog and you know that I devoured 'A Thousand Gifts' and even made notes on little sticky bits of paper (I can't ever bring myself to write in a book) and you also know how long it took me to actually open the book and start to read it. 

It sat on my bookshelf for months before I opened it, and before that my copy sat lonely on a shelf in Amazon before I brought myself to order it. You know why, and now I'm admitting it. I wasn't sure that I wanted to read it. 

I wish I could write like Ann Voskamp. 

I wish I had her wisdom, her insights, her hotline to you. I wish I had her eyes to see and her ears to hear. I wish I had her way with words, her lyricism, her skill with a camera, and yes, her success. 

I just said it, didn't I? 

I know that I shouldn't compare myself with other people. You made me me, you made her her. You have different plans for the two of us and your plan for me wouldn't fit Ann and vice versa. can a farmer's wife and homeschooling mother of six write so prolifically, so beautifully, with such incisive wisdom and inspiration? How come she attends conferences and speaking engagements and makes TV programmes and keeps it all ticking over? I have two children who go to school, my house is not very clean, I don't have farm duties and I don't go out to work and the days are not long enough.

I so, so admire what she's done. When I read her blog quite often she tells me things I didn't know. She makes me see the world in a new way. She inspires me - and yet I sometimes come away feeling discouraged and I'm quite sure that is entirely the reverse of her intentions. 

If it has been said before, and so much better, then why should I bother even trying? 

I keep plodding on. I remind myself that it matters not the slightest bit what other people do. You don't look to me to point to anyone other than yourself. I can only use my voice to speak your words, no-one else's. I do what I do for you, not for anyone else.

Not for anyone else. Honestly.


So, then, Ann wrote this. Actually this is an excerpt from today's blog, which is a transcript of an address she gave at a conference for bloggers in America. And when I read it, I knew that it was for me. 

A Prayer for Bloggers 
by Ann Voskamp

I am no longer my own blogger, but Yours.
Refine me with each post how You will, rank me how You will.
Put me to service, put me to suffering.
Let me be a follower - instead of seeking followers

Lord, you and I meet up and come here most days, at some point. I don't know what I'd do without it these days. I remember the days a couple of years ago when I didn't come and chat with you this way and I wonder what I did instead (cleaning the bathroom? Surely not). Lord, it's all for you. It has always been for you, but sometimes it becomes about me, and I'm sorry. Sometimes the words try and run ahead of me and I need to slow down and listen, make sure that it's you I'm hearing, and not my own ego.
Let me post for You - or be put aside for You,
Lifted high, only for You, or brought low, all for You.
Do with me and each post whatever You will, because You alone know best.

I'm not feeling that comfortable with the 'put aside' and 'brought low' part, to be honest. Ann has more humility than I do, I think. I'm not over-sure about asking you to teach me humility, either; I'm not sure I like the sound of learning humility.... 

Getting myself a bit tangled up here. I can completely agree with the last bit though. You know best. Whenever I think I know best I invariably come unstuck. I'm learning.

Let me not strive but submit
Let me not compete but care
Let me not desire hits but holiness

Can't I have holiness and hits? I know, I'm sorry. I'm being flippant.

Lord, I just want to be with you. I want to be more like you. I want to speak you and point to you. I want people to hear you, through me. I want to be a part of your Plan. I want the world to be a different place because I've been in it and I've done as you asked me to. It isn't about me, though you know my heart and the longings you have placed there. Dreams and hopes are there and fears too. 

I trust you, Lord. 

And if I have to choose hits or holiness, let it be holiness. 

Let my blog be full of You, and let it be empty of me.
Let me crave all things of You, let me care nothing of this world.
Let my words be focus only on the greatest of audiences: You.
And you are enough.
My I write not for subscribers...but only for Your smile.

You are enough. Over and over again you have been enough. I don't doubt it. The world creeps in and steals my attention and I compare myself with others and never, ever, does any good come from that. I want to make you smile. 

May my daily affirmation be in the surety of my atonement not the size of my audience.
May my identity be in the innumerable graces of Christ, never, God forbid, the numbers of my comments.
May the only words that matter in my life not be the ones I write on a screen - but the ones I live with my skin.
I freely and heartily yield every sentence, every title, every post, every comment...or no comments...
all to Your pleasure and perfect will.

The words don't come from me. I know that. I ask you every time to give me words, to show me what you want me to say. Sometimes I know that you answered my prayer, sometimes I'm not so sure. I am a work in progress; I know that I get it wrong. 

Lord, it's all for you. I'm laying it right in front of you. 

My only fame is that I bear Your name
My only glory is the gift of Your Grace
My only readership, Your eyes that seek to and fro to find
Make this so. Lord...

Oh, Lord God, make it so. Help me get past the enormous and all-encompassing desire to please other people. I so want people to want me, to understand, to see, to tell me it's alright, that I've done alright. That I'm not a failure. I worry so much about what people think, and I dread failure and humiliation and the death of my dreams. 

And yet... I play to an audience of One. The only One that matters. Help me to learn this lesson deep in my heart and not just in my head.

Yawhew, you alone are my God, not Google
Jesus, you alone are my Comforter, not comments
So be it, today, yesterday, and every post to come.

Amen and Amen. Oh yes. You know my heart, Father God. You are enough.

O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 
thou art mine, and I am thine.
This is my prayer I have made on earth, over this keyboard...
let it be ratified in heaven.
In Jesus' name,

You know, if I'd been at that conference I'd have had my eyes closed in prayer and the tears would have squeezed their way through. 

Sometimes it's hard, you know. 

I know that you know. I sit here and chat with you and I pour out my heart and I ask and I wait and I moan and I confide and I laugh and I hope - and I taptaptap and I press 'Publish' on the little orange button and it all feels very intimate and private. There are days when I can't find any words and there are days when I have so much in my head that I can't get it down fast enough and precious ideas dissolve and disappear because I can't pin them down. 

Then, just now and again, someone says to me, 'I know just how you feel' or, 'I thought it was only me' and it makes my day, because I know that you have spoken. Not me, but you. 

And I praise you because you could get your message across in a multitude of ways, any way you choose, and yet you chose me, and it blows me away. 

You are enough. Nothing else matters. 

Lord, bless this wise lady in all the different ways that you can bless her. Her words are reaching millions and every last one of them points to her Saviour. Help me to listen without comparing. To have a heart ready to learn and to pray this prayer every time I open the lid of my computer. 


Monday, 22 October 2012

Keeping my eyes on you

'Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.'
1 Peter 5:8 (NIV 1984)
Lord, there was a bird in the garden.

A blackbird. And you know how much I like blackbirds. He was on the bird table, pecking at crumbs from the stale ginger cake that I put out earlier that the jackdaws had in minutes. He bimbled around for a little bit and then started examining the floor around the base of the tree. I thought he was after more crumbs but it turned out he was fancying a bit of protein. He was peckish. Ha ha. 

It's a dank, damp sort of day today and the ground is wet. Particularly down there at the bottom of the garden where it tends to be sort of boggy. The turf must be soft and Blackbird must have had an inkling.

He stood very still with his head on one side. Then he started pecking the ground with his little orange beak. He got one. It wasn't about to give up easily - if worms have claws (which I know they don't) then it had dug them in properly. The worm had other plans from those of Blackbird; he didn't want to be someone's lunch. He was holding on with his bottom half. He stretched and he stretched but he wasn't coming out of the floor without a fight. 

Meanwhile, behind the lilac sat one of the neighbour's cats. A beautiful pale grey tabby with a white front; a feminine little feline, but lethal nonetheless. She sat with her chin low to the ground as Blackbird struggled with his reluctant snack. Tabby watched, and shifted position slightly. Never took her eyes from Blackbird. 

Also featuring in this debacle was Stumpy. Stumpy is also one of the neighbour's cats, so called because he has only half a tail. He's a big, muscular dark grey cat who lumbers around the place where the other cats stalk, or tiptoe or dart. Don't get me wrong, Stumpy can move quickly when he wants to, but he seems to think that as the Alpha Male he is more entitled to strut nonchalantly. He has battle scars; a damaged ear as well as the amputated tail - he is not to be messed with. Today Stumpy was behind the lavender, also with a beady eye on hungry Blackbird.

Still struggling with his worm, Blackbird was oblivious to the onlookers. He pulled and he twisted and he stopped for a better grip on his squirming prey. He was concentrating hard. This meal was not going to get away. Tabby shifted again and the lowest leaves on the lilac shook a little. Blackbird carried on hauling at his worm. All the other birds in the garden had fled, and indeed someone else was squawking that repeated, insistent bird-squawk to try to warn everyone away. There are cats. Watch out, there are cats.

Blackbird took no notice. I approached the kitchen window to look. Tabby seemed to be limbering up for a sprint/pounce/capture sequence but Stumpy was closer. Closer and heavier and, to my mind, more sinister. He was biding his time. My hand was on the door knob. I like blackbirds.

Blackbird: tug, tug.
Tabby: back end wiggling from side to side, preparing to strike.
Stumpy: unblinking stare.

Double jeopardy. The tension...

Out of the blue it happened. So quickly that I nearly missed it. GT came from nowhere. An orange streak.

GT (Ginger Tom) shot onto the scene from the side of the house where he must have been lurking near the forsythia. Whoosh. With the lithe athleticism of a young cat he covered the distance between the flowerbed and the bottom of the apple tree in a nanosecond.

Blackbird fluttered upwards in a flurry of panicked feathers, clipping branches as he ascended to relative safety. GT pretended he hadn't been aiming for Blackbird at all and darted off in a straight line under the conifers. Tabby turned tail and fled backwards through the lilac under the fence. Stumpy just rolled his eyes.

And here's what I thought: Blackbird nearly died. Well, I don't know if he nearly died or not, but it seemed a close thing to me. He took a big risk. He was so intent on what he was doing, what he wanted, that he overlooked lurking danger. I assume he didn't see the three cats, or if he did he is either braver or more stupid than I gave him credit for, so I conclude that he was concentrating so hard on his stomach that he didn't notice Death crouching in the undergrowth in three different directions.

I am often so absorbed with what I want - what I'm doing - what I'm set on achieving - that I miss so much that's around me. Good things and bad things. I am often so intent on My Thing that my hands are full and occupied when you are trying to give me good things. That's one way to look at it. The other thing that occurred to me is that it's the times when I am concentrating so completely on the wrong thing that I get blindsided by life. I want my worm so badly that I don't notice the predators. And if they get me, not only will I lose my worm, but quite possibly everything that matters.
'Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like the neighbour's cat looking for someone to devour.'1 Peter 5:8 (slightly adapted by me)
I thought the main dangers to Blackbird were Tabby and Stumpy, but it was GT, completely invisible to me that posed the biggest threat. I didn't even know he was there. He was the youngest, fastest and boldest of the trio. And, to the others' annoyance, the first to make his move. Quite often danger lurks where I don't expect it. It might pounce, it might stealthily creep up on me,  or it might career across the lawn like a ginger torpedo, but it's there and it's waiting for me to make a mistake. Waiting for me to be focused on the wrong thing. Waiting for me to take my eye off the ball. And then, like a cat with it's prey, it'll toy with me mercilessly for a while and then eat me.

Lord God, help me focus on you and not get bogged down with distractions. Help me to stay constant and not allow myself to get engrossed the irrelevant or indulgent when I need to keep my eyes on you.
'...and let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.'
Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT
It seems to me that it's all about being faithful. Keeping my eyes fixed on you so that those same eyes don't go roaming all over the place looking for something better, easier, quicker, less effort, painless. Once my gaze rests on one of those things then I tend to wander away from the safety that is where you are and enter into the dangerous territory of the neighbourhood cats, or the roaring lions, or the other guy. You know, him. The Enemy. He would have me far away from you. He would quite like it if I was so intent on one thing that I didn't see the trouble I was in. I don't think he even minds what it is, because such is the breadth of your generosity, if I focus exclusively on one thing in my life I would certainly be missing out on more of your blessings. He'd be delighted if I held still, determined to prevail with my own idea that I fail to look around me.

Blackbird was just doing what birds do. They catch worms and they sometimes fall prey to neighbourhood cats. It's not his fault, more his misfortune. Perhaps I've stretched this analogy further than it could be stretched (like the worm, hey?), but as I watched the scene unfold from my kitchen my head went on a little trip. I sympathised with Blackbird (all he wanted was a spot of lunch) but he should have kept his wits about him; been more alert. Then he could have avoided that monumental adrenalin rush to avoid being a meal himself.

(Do birds get adrenalin rushes? I must google it). *


Lord, help me keep my eyes on you. I don't want to be someone else's meal. I don't want to wander away from you and find myself struggling. I want to run with endurance the race that you have for me, not one of my own invention. Give me wisdom to know your mind. Give me discernment so that I can learn to tell the difference between your voice and that of my own ego. Give me patience to wait on your perfect timing instead of taking matters into my own hands and putting on the blinkers.

Thankyou for birds and cats and worms. Be close to Blackbird tonight, Lord. He'll be feeling a bit jittery.

*Yes, apparently they do. Their nervous system is built in a similar way to that of other vertebrates. Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Making a habit of it

Lord, they say it takes three weeks to make a habit. 

In other places, they say two weeks, or a month, but you get my drift. 

I am a creature of habit. I like routine, predictability, planning. If something comes at me from the side, unexpectedly, I fibrillate until I can get myself back into my groove. I think, I write lists, I plan. I timetable. I want to get it right. Perfectionism? Control Freakery?  


But anyway. I am meeting with you in the mornings. I've been talking about it for a long long time and flatly refused to make the effort on more than one occasion. I've felt convicted to set up a morning time with you and I've ignored the feeling. Me? Get up earlier? Yeah, right. 

But I have started setting the alarm a bit earlier - not much, but a bit - and pressing snooze a bit less. Last week when I needed to get up earlier for a school trip I set my alarm the corresponding bit earlier to include you too. 

I'd have missed all this
I don't want congratulations (though if you feel like smiling, I'd like that). 

I am enjoying it. I've noticed that my day goes better when I do this. I am nicer to the children (and since I am most definitely not a morning person, every little helps) and I feel more stable as I go into the day. Calmer. I can tell a definite difference when my morning check-in gets cancelled or eroded. 

This is a Good Thing. The penny has finally dropped. Thankyou, Lord. 

So I want to ask for your help, because despite my love of the routine, my track record at maintaining long-term plans is not very good. I've lost lots of weight three times in my life and three times has it found me again. I've started exercise regimes that include three hours of swimming a week, kept it up for a year - note way past the three-week-habit mark - and then stopped. In the past half-term I was cheerfully walking Elizabeth to school every morning, enjoying the chats, the scenery, the fresh air and the Good For Me feeling, and then suddenly the weather worsens, the routine changes, a meteorite hits and I am nipping her there in the car. 

I can't seem to make a new habit part of my life. I can keep it up for quite a while (alright, not the school-morning jog) but completely assimilating it seems beyond me. I don't want it to happen this time. I want this to be a keeper. 

So help me. I know that I need you in my head before anyone or anything has a chance to settle down in there. I know that the first thing to get into my mind in a morning sort of sets the scene. Not that anything's irreversible, but I know the value of the Word of the Lord in my head as opposed to a quick check on Facebook (risky; who knows what I might find) or (far worse) a check of the day's news headlines (chance of a positive start to the day after that? Nil.)

Make this a habit that lasts a lifetime. You know, early morning isn't always bad, and that's been a bit of a revelation to me. I've seen some sunrises that I'd have missed if I'd gone for the snooze button just one more time, let alone four more times. I've relished the quiet of the house before the explosive arrival of my daughters on more than one occasion and even with my sleep-bleary eyes I can smile a little smile that they are still asleep and I am awake. One day I might try and creep downstairs for a coffee to make my early morning snuggle with you just complete, but I risk waking them up and so that's just too much to hope for at the moment. 

But back the point. 

Wanted to thank you. For not giving up on me and for giving me the gift of a new discovery after all these years of thinking that I knew best. I don't, you know. 

You do. 

So I have my journal, and my little book of devotions, and when the wifi works I have some email thoughts for the day. Most mornings, however, I find that I write, 'Morning, Lord' and then I pause. I just like being with you. I run my day through my mind and ask that you come with me in the things that I have to do. I read your word and sometimes you read it to me. Sometimes I write loads, sometimes barely anything after, 'Morning, Lord' but you never let me down. 

You are always there waiting. 

And I'm always glad that I came. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Autumn heart

I struggle with this time of year, God.

I suspect that's not news to you. I've been banging on about Autumn and how much I prefer Spring for quite a while now. I am surrounded by people who love the autumnal colours in the trees and have a great affection for Halloween and just see the dark nights and dark mornings as an excuse to cosy up in front of the fire with home made pumpkin pie and so on, but I don't get it.

Thumbs up to Autumn like this
I see piles of soggy leaves that I drag the children out of because we don't know what lies beneath them. I see dark mornings which make getting out of bed a million times harder than it usually is (and usually it's pretty hard) and I don't like pumpkin. 

I quite fancy a huge pot or two of copper-coloured crysanthemums outside the front door but alas I forgot to plant any and they're going for about £16 each in the garden centres so it'll be make do with the straggly begonias a bit longer I think. 
I am, this morning, what my Mum refers to as 'a cross-patch'. 

So, I am persuaded that autumn leaves (heavy sigh) do look quite nice against a blue sky. Yes, I quite like walking the girls to school amid a shower of orange and red leaves on a sunny day. But why does it have to be dark by 4pm so that we have to draw the curtains and crank up the heating so early? And anyway, I can't always have a blue sky, can I?
Kick through this at your peril

So this morning, I lay in bed at silly-o'clock just before the alarm went off and listened to the sound of rain hammering on the windows. I was warm and snuggly and my pillows were just right (how come they refuse to settle into that perfection at bedtime?) and I did not want to get out of bed. I rarely do, as you know, but the sort of day that entices me to the window is the type where there is a brightness from outside creeping around the curtains. A little sparkle on the ceiling that promises sun. My bedroom faces east-ish and if there's a sunrise the ceiling above me glows pink or orange. That's worth opening my eyes for.

This morning, nope. Dark. It could have been 2am or 4am or 6am. Time for eye-shut. 

I'm having a little complain, Lord. 

As I type this the sky is blue, the sunshine is making the few apples that we can't reach shine yellowy orange at the top of the appletrees. The japanese maples are red, gold, orange, pink. The tree-with-the-name-that-I-always-forget is a deep, rich red. 

Ok, it looks pretty. I'll give you that.

This is the day that the Lord has made...
Here's the thing. I've been trying to start my day more positively. I was reading that starting a brand new day with a heavy sigh, multiple jabs at the snooze button and the thought, 'This is going to be a bad day,' is probably a self-fulfilling prophecy. ('What a faithful God have I' Sept 2012) 

I've been trying to start the day with a word or two from you, and when my mind is struggling to shake off sleep and I'm dragging myself upright with bad grace, the line of scripture that comes to mind is:

'This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.'
Psalm 118:24
Oft said through clenched teeth, too early in the morning.

Today I found rejoicing beyond me. I was thinking about the school run in heavy rain. I was thinking that today was the day that the children were having school photographs taken, and they would likely be somewhat bedraggled on arrival at school. I was thinking about how warm and comfy my bed was and how cold and wet it sounded outside. I was thinking about how nice it would be not to have to pull back the curtains. Today is cancelled through lack of interest.

And yet....

There are two words I find myself saying quite often when you and me get together, Lord God.

By the time we actually left for the dash to school, the rain had stopped and the clouds were drifting apart. By the time the photographs had been taken and my two girls were deposited at respective schools with hair gleaming and toothpaste smears spitwashed off their cheeks, the sun was sending bright rays out from behind the chimneys of the houses opposite the playground. By the time I was putting the key in the front door, the sky was blue, the sunshine dazzlingly bright and the reds and oranges and golds of the falling leaves looking, yes, alright, quite pretty.

I didn't think I'd get a picture like this today

This is the day that the Lord has made. Now, I'll rejoice and be glad in it.

Before it was a bit of a struggle.


The thing is, each new day that I wake up is a gift you've given me. I'm sorry that sometimes I unwrap my present and drop it again with a scowl. Every day that you have made is a masterpiece even if it's not to my taste. I know quite well that a bit of gratitude wouldn't go amiss. I'm sorry that I'm just like a child who puts in an order for a birthday present and then gets something else from Aunt whatever who's sent something that they need instead of something that they want.

It's that time of year that everything seems to be dying. All the plants seem to be shrivelling, dropping, retreating. Even the ones that I expect to see next year are curling up and starting to hibernate. There's a finishing feeling about it all that I find hard. In the Spring I love to see the signs of new life; the bright, vivid greens that on a painter's palette might even seem unnatural. The shoots and buds and little cheerful heads pushing up through the claggy soil. Spring seems full of hope and life and Autumn is death and a shaking of the head.

But without death there can't be rebirth, I guess. You know what the cycle of the seasons is all about; I only have a rudimentary knowledge that the plants die back for a season in order to conserve energy until the new growth is triggered by the thaw and the warmth of a Spring sun.

Do I die back for a season in order to grow afresh at a later date?

This is just how it is. To live a life with my Lord God as my Saviour I have to let the me-me-me parts of me die. To come alive in this world right now I need to change the way I think and the way I behave, which is to put to death a big part of me. To come to be with you and enter into the Life that will last forever, I'm going to have to die. Without death there is no life.

In the Book of Common Prayer it says, 'In the midst of life we are in death,' but also in the midst of death we are in life. Without Autumn and Winter there'd be no Spring.

Loving you loving me
So bring on the Autumn, Father God. You know what you're doing. Let the leaves fall, let the birds eat the berries and let the hedgehogs hibernate. Can I hibernate too?

That was just a joke.

If I left Britain for sunnier climes I think I might miss the seasons. It's no wonder we British are obsessed with the weather when there are days like today. Heavy rain, strong wind, bright sunshine in the space of an hour. Frosts in the mornings already and the occasional mild afternoon where people wait outside school in a Tshirt (not me). Golden Autumn, snowy, icy Winter, bright, bitter Spring and, well,  damp and unpredictable Summer. That's what you do well in this neck of the woods.

It's the work of your hand, and it's good. It's always good, not only now and again. I'm sorry I'm ungrateful. I've just been admiring a wall not far from here with Virginia Creeper all over it. The new leaves are shaped like hearts; beautiful strings of red and orange hearts. Almost as if you were telling me something.

'This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.'


Next time I'll try to say it without a pillow over my head.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The world's claws

Good morning, God.

I read this:
'I was not created to marry, have children, work a good job, and be comfortable financially, but I was created to be with God for all eternity... A good way to determine if the world has its claws in you is to ask yourself whether or not you would want to die today... Today I am working on true faith in God, knowing if God took me to be with Him that He would take care of my wife and my boys because he loves them more than I do.
It made me think. 

It made me uncomfortable. It made me defensive. What's wrong with marrying? Having children? Working and being comfortable financially? All these things are not inherently bad... Can't I be what I was created to be while still being those things? And then...

Last summer I found a lump in my breast and the doctor thought that a biopsy would reveal bad news. He told me so. I came home and planned my funeral. It's saved in the 'documents' file on my computer. That night I sat alone in the kitchen after the children had gone to bed and I cried and cried and cried. I trembled and I yelled out to you in my heart not to take me home just yet. Running through my head were devastating thoughts that I wouldn't see my daughters grow up, marry, have children. I wouldn't be writing them letters at university. I wouldn't be going on holidays with my husband when the children were all grown up. I would never do the things that I wanted to do with my life; things I thought that you wanted me to do. It was all coming to an end. 

And I was devastated. How would my girls manage without a mummy? How would my husband cope with working and caring for them?

At no point did I find peace and comfort in thinking that if you took me to be with you, then you would take care of my husband and the girls because you love them more than I do. In fact, I didn't think much about coming to be with you at all. I was completely focused on what I perceived that I was leaving behind. This must have told you an awful lot about where my focus is. 


So the world has its claws in me, does it? How does a person really manage to be in this world but not of it?  Does the guy who wrote that little quote honestly have such an open handed grip on his life that he could genuinely step away from the things he holds most dear without a backward glance? 

I love you, Lord. You know I do. There are times when I know that I don't belong here; when it's blatantly obvious that I don't fit in. I know that there is a place where I won't be plagued by anxiety, frustration, confusion and fear. I know that when I come to be with you then I will be more alive than I am right now. I know that where you are is a place of perfect peace where self consciousness and grief and loneliness don't exist. When I sing in church and the angels join in, when I read something and I hear you loud and clear, when I see a special sunrise or a rainbow or ice crystals or a dragonfly my soul swells and reaches out for you. But when it came to the crunch last year I hung onto the world with both hands. It wasn't a decision, it was an instinct.

Let your light shine
So the world has its claws in me. Is this a spiritual maturity sort of thing? Will I grow into a person who holds life so lightly?  Life is so full; so many people need me (do they? Would they manage without me?); so many things need doing (but must they be done by me?); there are so many things that I have yet to do with my life (are there? Surely that's up to you...) Surely I haven't finished yet. Maybe that's why I'm not ready. 

Now I know that I'm being hard on myself. Anyone would tell me that. I don't know of anyone who has their eyes so focused on you that they can live fully in this world while being totally wholehearted about the next. But then, I don't know, do I? I don't know people's private griefs, or the state of their hearts. I don't ask questions like that. But you know the state of my heart and I want it to please you.

A few months ago a friend and neighbour of mine died. He knew he was going to die, and he had peace. The magnitude of that struck me powerfully at the time, and still does. The defensive voice in my head tells me that maybe it all looks different from a hospital bed with a prognosis like my friend's - I don't know. So much I don't know. But he had peace. He had a lifetime of knowing you and loving you and when he arrived at the threshold of your Kingdom, it seems to me that he stepped over it without a backward glance. 

Lord, I don't have anything as valuable as you, but knowing that doesn't stop me looking around me longingly. I can do nothing for you at all that you need, and yet I long to do something with my life that honours you. I know full well, in my head, that all the things that I hold tightly clenched in my fists here in this life are small and transitory and trivial in comparison with the treasure that you offer me. I know. I am surrounded by people to whom I turn for help or advice before I turn to you. I am surrounded by stuff that pleases me more than it should. I have plans that are definitely my plans. I don't hear you as much as I might because I haven't learned to listen that well. 

I have some way to go, don't I? 

I want my priorities to be in the right order. I want you to come first, but it's a constant battle. You know the state of my heart, don't you? I don't want to be so hung up on my motivation for everything that I can't get anything done or decided or considered without wading through a load of angst. I over-think and I over-analyse.

So my conclusion is that you know me. You know me through and through and still you love me. I am sure that there are times when you are pleased with the progress I'm making; sometimes I can feel your pleasure. There are times when you are not so pleased and you want me to pick myself up and try again instead of lying beating the floor with my heels and wailing about how unfair everything is. There are times when you nudge me back into line in no uncertain terms. I know that you love me for who I am, not what I will be, what I do or what I think. I know that you care about me right now, imperfect and anxious and tying myself in knots. 

So that's what I give you. All I can do is lay it down as it is now and invite you to come and change what you want changing.

I'm going to come home to be with you one day. Maybe this afternoon, maybe in forty years time, maybe somewhere in between. You know when and where and how. In the meantime, you have a Plan for me and I pray for wisdom and discernment so that I can fathom the next step. The next step. The next step. I trust that you're going to change my heart day by day, moment by moment, so that all fits into place as I grow into the person you want me to be. My timing would have you do it all today, right now, but you know best. Little voice in my head whispering 'but...but...but...', shut up. He does know best. 

So give me more faith, Lord. What the author above refers to as 'True Faith'.  The sort that shows you to the people around me; so that when they look at me they see you. Build on the foundations that you've established, God. Make them strong enough to withstand the gales and the storms. Build tall and beautiful so that people can see. Show me how to unhook the world's claws while still appreciating the wonders and blessings with which you've filled that same world.

I'm a work in progress. I'm not finished, am I? Help me to take each day as it comes and fight each battle as it arises instead of looking ahead to where someone else says I should be and feeling defeated. I am so, so blessed with all that I have around me - my family, my friends, my home, food and drink and warmth and a Bible and a pen and a computer and a little fluffy ladybird thing in which my phone sits that makes me smile. What about that? 

I don't want to be dissatisfied and discontented, but nor do I want to live as though this is all there is. I know that it isn't the case. 

There is so much more. As they say these days: So. Much. More. 

Lord, make my heart more like yours. Give me your vision, your words. 

Let your light shine. 

Travis Verge, Walking in Shadows 2008, Anomalos Publishing

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Peace please

Afternoon, God.

I have half an hour with a cup of tea. This is not going to be a long, exploratory conversation. It's more of a quick check in because I'm feeling all over the place. 

I need some peace. The world isn't giving me any; you were right there. I need your peace. As your child I'm supposed to be equipped with it all the time but there seems to be something wrong. It's going wrong.

There's so much I need to learn. I know your method of getting me to learn is to give me many opportunities to learn a particular lesson and I'd just like you to know that I'm not enjoying it much. I'd really appreciate it if I could just wake up one morning (tomorrow? Please?) and it's all been assimilated and I am a New Person. 

I need to learn that I can't do everything. That my attempts to please everyone are inevitably going to fail. That in wanting people's approval so badly I'm relying on them much more than is healthy, or necessary. It ain't going to work. 

I need to stop looking to other people to shore up my confidence. Only you can do that. If someone disapproves of me, but you don't, then who cares? (Little voice says, 'Me'.) If I disappoint someone who had unrealistic expectations of me, or expectations that are different from yours - but you're not disappointed, then what does it matter? (Little voice: ...but it does seem to matter.)

I need to stop looking to other people to dictate my mood. If someone else has a black cloud following them round, then nowhere does it say that I have to climb under it as well. I don't have to adopt someone else's attitude. That's so, so hard. I can be absolutely fine first thing in a morning if the circumstances are right, and as soon as I lock horns with any other member of the household who may have got out of bed the wrong side, my sense of wellbeing sort of crumbles. How can I keep my own equilibrium when people around me are spoiling for a fight, or flopping about miserably, or looking for reasons to complain? It's fine when I can soak up their sunshine, or bask in their rainbow, but I'd rather have my own little peaceful microclimate, please. This might sound trivial but it's getting me down.

I need to stand firm whatever the season. When it's sunny and when it's raining. When the gales blow and my leaves are blown off, I need to stand vertically, looking only up at you. When skies are blue and when they're grey and lowering. Lord, I feel as if my roots are not strong enough and I'm not sucking up enough of you to keep me steady. I feel frail and wishy washy. I so want to be strong. 

I need to learn to lean on you and you only. I'm not self-sufficient. People say that the only person you can trust is yourself, but I know that I come to grief when I do that - I can't rely on me any more than I can rely on someone else. Other people are great, but there are times when they're not there. Friends aren't on the end of the phone. People have their own worries and troubles and sometimes, with the best will in the world, they're not there. They might be right there, but not there.

You know what I mean.

So I need you. The only One who'll never let me down. The only One who is always there. The only One totally, completely, wonderfully, powerfully on my side. Father, I have a knot in my stomach. 
John 16:33
'I have told you these things so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!'
Thankyou God that you've overcome the world. I can't imagine that this is how it's supposed to be. What was it like before Adam and Eve messed it up, Lord?  Because right now the world that I live in is indeed in trouble. On a big scale and a small one. My life sometimes seems to be a mess of human relationships which have sparks of absolute wonder and joy and troughs of confusion and misunderstanding and hurt feelings and resentment. I'm tired.

I'm needing that peace you told me about. The peace that I've tasted before, but in my struggling and failing and falling I keep letting go of it. Thankyou that you are endlessly merciful. You keep on loving and forgiving and topping me up.

I will take heart because you have overcome the world.
Romans 15:13
'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.'
Yes, please. Peace, please. So that my stomach doesn't get knotted up and so that my heart doesn't feel heavy in my chest. Joy - that would be wonderful. Sometimes just keeping on keeping on seems to take up so much of my energy that joy seems too much to hope for.  And hope too? I have a hope. A hope of a day when all the rubbish is a thing of the past.

I'll take all you have of that.

My God of hope, joy, peace. I trust you. 

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