Sunday, 31 March 2013

It's going to be alright

Someone told me that they had come for him.

You know how people love to pass on bad news? Someone rushed to my lodgings to tell me the worst news there could be, and close behind them my daughters pushed past to kneel in front of me. They would have been more gentle with their choice of words but the news was the same, no matter how it was imparted. 

They had him. There would be no walking away this time. They meant to kill him.

I have no words to describe the agony of that moment. I know that I have no right to speak of agony having witnessed what they did to my beautiful boy, but I was torn apart right then. There was a stillness in the room as time stopped and my heart began to bleed. I couldn't take a breath. 

It was over. 

I had never understood my boy Jesus. To be honest I longed for him to live a quiet life, to take over the business, to stay with us and find a nice girl to marry and bring me my first grandchildren as befits my eldest son, but I always knew that it wouldn't happen like that. That there would be no easy life, no perfecting the carpentry skills that his father taught him. Joseph always said he was a good woodworker - had a feel for the wood in his hands - and with practice he could be great, but Jesus always smiled said nothing. He knew that his hands were made for something other than sanding wood. 

As he grew up I knew that he was not like the other children, even though in many ways he was just the same. He had a sense of fun, a ready wit, a boy's curiosity. He had something about him... he was such a good boy. No pushover, don't get me wrong, he was no goody-goody. I used to say that he was stubborn, but Joseph always laughed at my exasperation and told me that it was determination. The other children looked up to him. They deferred to him; he had presence, even as a small boy. And as he grew up and Joseph took him to the temple, we were soon in awe of his understanding. It was as if he were from another world.  Ha. 

I knew. I think I always knew. I knew that day at the wedding when he did the thing with the wine; I knew when I heard reports of amazing things that he was doing. I knew he was born for something greater than staying at home with his mother. If only.

As I wept and rocked back and forth that awful night and wished for a husband to hold me, and a strong carpenter son to walk through the door to tell me that it would be alright, just as he always had - that's when it came back to me.

Thirty three years ago. 

I was in a room not dissimilar to this one, and I was sleepy. 

'Don't be afraid, Mary. You're going to have a baby, and you'll call him Jesus. He will be great - he will be the Most High - his kingdom will never end.'

That's what the angel said to me. Have you ever had an angel speak to you? I remember the turmoil in my head that night, and then the strange, unnatural calm that came over me. It would be alright. I've looked for that same calm many times since then but it doesn't come from inside me. No, it comes from God. When I was with my eldest son I usually felt calm; he had that effect on people. I saw it over and over again as he was growing up. 

These last few years it's been different, somehow. He still inspired, still comforted, still reassured, but I saw a few people narrow their eyes when he talked to them; some people didn't get it. They didn't open their minds to his message. And this is what got him into such trouble. His determination - that stubbornness - to get the message across made him his enemies. He spoke out more and more. Yes, he did his wonderful things, he healed people, he taught people, but he challenged them too. He didn't pull his punches, and some people don't like to be told.

But I digress. There was something else. Quite apart from the circumstances around his conception and cousin Elizabeth's response, apart from the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, as if those things weren't enough!

Something else. 

Back from the early days when I still didn't know what being a mother was all about. I was so, so tired that day that I could barely put one foot in front of the other but it was time to take him to the temple for purification, and so we did. Joseph was so proud. You should have seen his face; and when I think how hard it must have been for him... he was the proud daddy of that baby boy that day, let there be no mistake. He was a good man, my Joseph. I miss him so much. 

So - at the temple. We presented Jesus and they all crowded round. An old man called Simeon came up to me. He looked at me with urgency in his eyes and tears on his cheeks and he told me that my baby was special. He would save people. He said that he could die in peace now because he had seen the Holy One of Israel.

Joseph and I wondered at it. Simeon gazed at Jesus for a long time. I wasn't sure what to do as he was due another feed and I really didn't want him to make a scene in the temple. I should have known better. There was nowhere that he was more content than at the temple. Before Simeon turned to go, he put a hand on my arm and spoke in a low voice. His eyes filled with something I didn't recognise, but I now know it to be pity. 

He said, 'A sword will pierce your heart.'

I told Joseph about it when we got home and he didn't get it either. He dismissed it as just something else that we didn't understand about our baby son. He put his arm around me and told me 'It will be alright,' and my heart settled. I believed him. God has had his hand on this boy's life since the beginning. Why would it not turn out alright? Great things were in store.

That day, when they told me that he'd been taken, the old man's words came back to me. It's exactly what happened. I sat there, my daughters' faces buried in my skirts, and I wailed as if I had been stabbed in the heart. I thought I might die, it hurt so much. 

The thing is, I have had to be strong. From the day that I found out I was pregnant, life has had moments where I've needed to be strong above anything else, and this was one of those moments. I was no use to anyone if I crumbled and refused to get up off the floor. I brought my beloved son into the world and I nursed him, and I taught him everything I knew, and then listened as he taught me.

I would not fail him.

I cannot talk about the next hours. I saw it all. I saw him endure more than a man can endure and I must confess that I shook my fist at God as I watched my eldest son, my perfect boy, suffer so completely. They did unspeakable things to him and they left him on that hillside to die. I saw it all. My throat was hoarse from sobbing and my eyes ran out of tears and became so dry and sore from the dust and...from seeing things that no mother should have to see. 

My boy. My beautiful son. He knew I was there, you know; he spoke to me as I leaned on John and watched him bleed. I take some comfort that he knew I was there. I didn't run away as some did; I didn't fear the Romans. What could they do to me that they hadn't already done? They took my firstborn son and they killed him. They broke my heart.

I watched that kind man Joseph take his body down and I kissed his bloody forehead as they wrapped him in his grave-clothes. Even in death he was not diminished, you know. He was still so beautiful to me. They couldn't hurt him any more. I took the thorns from his head and I smoothed his hair as I used to when he was small. They had to pull me away as they laid him in the tomb. I would have stayed there with him. They could have buried me too.

They took me home and the girls sat with me late into the night. 

I have nothing more to say, because you know what happened on Sunday. You know that this wasn't the end, even though it seemed like it. 

I don't know what the eleven did that night but I didn't see them. They would have known that I'd have words to say to them - where were they when my boy needed them? They stayed away from me. I imagine they hid, and I suppose I don't really blame them. Who knew if the soldiers would come for them too?

But I sat and I wept some more, and I berated God who had asked me to bring his child into the world in the first place. I wanted him to take the pain away. To bring back my son. To make it alright. But surely nothing would ever be right again.

I didn't move all night and all day Saturday. The girls brought me something to eat, but there was no way that I could feel hunger. I prayed. I gave him all my tears and my pain and my pierced soul. I laid it down. I had nothing left.

And then things changed. Everything changed.

I knew before they came bursting through the door for the second time in three days. I knew before Mary took my hands in hers and stammered out her tale of joy and wonder.

It came to me in the night as I sat, lost in my pain. That strange, unworldly feeling of calm. God spoke words of peace once again; this time not to a naive young girl with an unplanned pregnancy - this time to a mother whose soul was torn apart from watching her perfect son crucified. He didn't leave me in my agony.

I knew that they would go to the tomb to take care of the body.

I knew that they wouldn't find him there.

It's all going to be alright. 

Picture credit: 1. Cenetaph003.jpg (sic) by LittleJack 
Courtesy of
Used with permission.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Empty day

It's Saturday morning but it doesn't feel like a normal Saturday.

It feels like we're in suspense. 

Waiting. A friend asked me earlier what we were doing today and I said I didn't know; it was a sort of 'limbo day'. She described it as 'an empty day', which I took to mean that she had no plans, but it might just as well have been a sense that something is missing.

There's a void. A void of activity at church after the past week of services to remember Holy Week.

Yesterday we went to the Hot Cross Bun service and looked again at the cross. Tomorrow we'll celebrate your resurrection, but today we wait. We feel the lack of something. Emptiness. A hole. 

We miss you. 

This was the day-in-between. I wonder what the disciples did that day. It was their Sabbath - did they go to the Temple and go through the motions? Did they stay in a room together and weep and try and work it out? Did they blame each other? Did they realise that they abandoned their Lord when it came to the end?  Did they go their separate ways? Merge into a crowd? 

They missed you. 

Max Lucado points out in his book 'He Chose the Nails' that you told the disciples three times that you would be executed and then on the third day you would rise from the grave.

Three times.

How many of them were waiting at the graveside that first Easter to see it happen?  None. Did they believe it? Did they not hear? Would I? Something so amazing? Even if I'd seen Lazarus peel off his own grave-clothes?

But hey, they were only human. They were scared. That first middle Saturday they must have been beside themselves with grief. You were their friend. You gave them purpose. You changed their lives. You showed them what to do and you had gone.

They missed you. 

So I'm sitting here with a cup of tea and it feels a bit like marking time. I, of course, know what happens tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it. I love Easter day. Even so, today is a forgotten day. A lost day. I had a little smile of satisfaction when I learned earlier on that historically this middle day of the three is considered a limbo-sort of day. 

A friend from church sent me an email all about today. 

I learned that 'Holy Saturday' (in Latin, Sabbatum Sanctum) is known as 'the day of the entombed Christ'. It is 'the Lord's day of rest' as this was the day that you were lying in your tomb. (Or were you? Were you getting your breath back? Were you off dealing with the devil on that day? Wiping the smirk off his face? Raising up the saints who had been waiting and waiting for you to arrive? I wonder what you were doing.) 

It goes on, 'We recall the Apostle's Creed, which says 'He descended to the dead.' It is a day of suspense between two worlds, that of darkness, sin and death, and that of the Resurrection and the restoration of the Light of the World.'

Suspense indeed. A no-man's-land. Christ has died, but Christ has not yet risen. We wait. We are holding our breath. 

And also, I didn't know that, '...for this reason no divine services are held until after the Easter vigil begins that night.'

Funny, that. I had only commented this morning that there should be something at church today to fill the gap. To save me from the feeling of blankness. Empty day. Limbo-day. Since that very first Easter people who love you have felt the oddness of today. The emptiness. 

There's something more powerful, though. Tomorrow you rise again, all over again. We celebrate and we sing and we lift our hands in praise and worship to the Risen Lord. We celebrate your resurrection. Back from the dead. But it's also the beginning of something totally new. 

'This day between Good Friday and Easter Day makes present to us the end of one world and the complete newness of the era of salvation inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ.'

You changed things.

Nothing was the same any more.

You cleared the way so that we could approach your Father. You redeemed us. You paid the price so that we were not held responsible for all the rubbish that had piled up and blocked the way from us to you. That first Easter Day was the first day of the new order. The first day that things were different.

The Era of Salvation. 

So something momentous happened yesterday. Something momentous happens tomorrow.

Today we wait. We feel the absence of you. Today we hold our breath in suspense. We get ready. 

Come, Lord Jesus. We're waiting at the tomb.  

Edited and reposted from 2011

Friday, 29 March 2013

The weight of the world

Good Friday.
Wasn't such a good day for you, was it? I think the 'Good' bit is dependent on hindsight, because I can't imagine there were many people there who thought that what was going on was good.  There might have been some, perhaps, who thought they'd got rid of you, but when it came down to it even the soldiers who had wielded the hammer and nails looked and listened to you on the cross and concluded that you were something special.
What must you have gone through?  The agony of rejection, the agony of crucifixion, the agony of the moment that God the Father had to turn away from you. How is it possible that you went through with it at all?
Gasping for breath.  Pushing up on the nails in your feet to relieve the dislocating pressure on the shoulders and hands before sinking down again when your muscles betrayed you. Blinking blood and sweat out of your eyes, lifting your head a moment and feeling again the thorns pressing into your scalp; the torn and raw skin and muscles of your back against the splintered wood of the cross. Bracing shaking legs to take a breath - sinking down as weakness overtakes you and taking the agonising weight once again on nails through flesh, every suffocating breath a struggle.
The exhaustion and loneliness. The humiliation of nakedness in front of your mother, your friends, your enemies. And then the dark, dark emotional anguish when your isolation became complete; the Father, with whom you had always been completely in tune, was nowhere to be found.
 You had the weight of the world on your shoulders at that moment and I cannot begin to imagine the desolation.
Everything that was bad, corrupt, evil or rotten was laid upon you when you became the perfect sacrifice; the sacrifice to end them all.  You did all that.  You hung there and asked forgiveness for those that did that to you.
You asked the Father to forgive us all because did it to you too.  I smiled and praised you then betrayed you and denied you and crucified you and you allowed it all to happen so that I could be free.
You were afraid; in Gethsemane you came before the Father and asked if there was another way - and yet you went through with the Plan because you knew that there could be no other way.
What can I say?  There's nothing I can do that is enough to thank you, and you know that. You did it anyway. There's no way that I can repay you - and you know that. You died for me anyway.
I am forever in your debt.
Lord Jesus Christ, thankyou for that Good Friday.
I have seen films in which an actor portrays your Passion. They all do it differently; some are more true to the Bible than others and some are more sanitised for the squeamish viewer than others.  The one thing that they all have in common for me is that when I come to the part where they crucify you I find it a terrible thing to watch. It's new every time.
I see that the Lord of my heart was put to death for me, and my eyes fill with tears, because they are murdering someone that I love.
Even if I watch these films over and over, Lord Jesus, never let me get to the point where those scenes don't move me. I never want to feel that it is not the momentous thing that it is. I never want it to be too familiar, routine.  I want to hold this feeling of shocked awe and wonder forever.
I want to remember the horror that I was responsible for what happened to you so that I can never forget the magnitude of the forgiveness that you have given me. If I no longer feel the awfulness then I can no longer feel the astonishment. If I don't perceive the depths of my need for forgiveness then I can't appreciate the vastness of your love.
You died for me. You loved me so much that before I even turned to you and held your gaze, you thought me worthwhile enough to die for.
'Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget
I will not forget you.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands'.
(Isaiah 49:15-16)

My name is on the palms of your hands.
I give you my tears and my wonder and my awe and my love. My guilt I don't have to give you because you lifted it from me on the day that you died.
It was heavy, I know, but you are strong.
My God, you did that for me.

(Picture OL9.jpg by edouardo
Courtesy of
used with permission.)

Edited and reposted from 2012

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The meaning of loneliness

Maundy Thursday.

Tonight at church we will remember the Last Supper and the events that followed in Gethemane. It will be quite a sombre affair as we listen to the account of your betrayal. 

That night in Gethsemane. My heart breaks for you. Nobody kept you company as you prayed and waited for the inevitable. They fell asleep. They didn't understand what was happening. I can't imagine  that they would have nodded off if they'd known what was about to happen. You asked them to stay with you, to be there, but they couldn't.

You were truly on your own; lonely in a way that no-one else before or since could possibly understand. My heart goes out to you. 

It must have been terrifying. You knew what was coming. You knew what had to happen. You were waiting for the start of a chain of events that would result in agonies for you - physical, emotional and spiritual, but the loneliness must have started right here.

You asked the Father if there was another way. Oh, Lord Jesus, how I thank you for that moment of - what? fear? weakness? doubt? I don't know, but my heart hurts for your humanity just then. You put yourself aside and chose the necessary path.

Minutes and hours ticked by while you waited. 

And then, one of your chosen friends betrayed you with a kiss.

Those same men who had sworn that they would never leave your side - they fled. Peter was aghast at the thought that he might disown you but he ran away and denied he ever knew you.

They were afraid for their lives and despite their claims that they would stand by you and even die for you they made themselves scarce in case it might be their turn next. 

You were alone. 

God, what was it like to watch your Son that night? To hear him ask if there was another way, and shake your head? To watch his sweat fall like blood, to see him on his face on the ground with anguish and fear?  To see these weak men who were his friends run away and deny him? 

Were you proud? Were you tempted to abandon the Plan?

Were you torn apart by grief?  Did you, even for a second, wonder if saving us was worth it? 

He did it all that scripture might be fulfilled. It had to happen this way. There was only One who was good enough. 

Tonight we will share bread and wine and we will watch as the altar in church is stripped.

It always moves me, to see the front of church bare and unadorned. No candles, no altar-cloth, no crucifix.

It doesn't seem right. Where you are there should be majesty and glory and richness and beauty but tonight there is just a wooden table. A cloud in front of the sun. Shadows instead of streaming, golden light. 

They took you away and you knew what was to come.You were human enough to pale in the face of this last horrible chapter but God enough to go ahead with it. You asked for company and support and the comfort of friends and nobody gave it.

You were totally alone.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, led away like a criminal as your friends abandoned you.

But here's the thing; I know the end of the story. I know that it doesn't end with your death. From my little vantage point in history I know about the agonising death and I know about the resurrection. I know that your team is still the only team to be on even though right at this moment in Gethsemane it looked totally defeated. You are victorious. It all works out alright in the end. 

I have an advantage over the disciples. And yet...

Would I have run away? I'm sure that I would. 

Would I run away now if they came for me, because of you?  Oh, Lord, I hope not. 

I am like Simon Peter. I don't flatter myself that I am any more loyal, brave, steadfast than the Rock upon which you built your church. I love you, but I am easily frightened. Easily cowed. 

And yet you did all this for me. 

Even without the adornments, you are beautiful. Without the gold and the tapestry and the candles, you are still the Lord of Light. 

Walking away with your captors, allies nowhere to be seen, you are not diminished. 

I am in awe. 

You are here.
Your spirit is with me.
I lift up my heart. 
I give thanks to the Lord my God. 
It is right to give Him thanks and praise.

Thankyou, Jesus.

Edited and reposted from 2012

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Riding on a donkey

Palm Sunday.

I always find it a bit melancholy; the celebrations don't feel right to me. You rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfil prophecy, and the crowd went wild.
'Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'
Zechariah 9:9
They cheered and waved and praised and sang.  You must have looked around and seen the happy, welcoming faces of the crowd and marvelled at their fickleness.  Less than a week later they would be screaming in hatred and baying for your blood.

Lord Jesus, how did that feel?

I want to say that if I'd been there, I wouldn't have been like that.  I would have cheered you and welcomed you and then stayed faithful even when things went bad in a few days time.  I want to assure you that my love would have been more constant than that.

I would have stood by you.

But we both know that isn't the case, don't we?

No doubt I would have been scared and fearful and the instinct for self preservation would probably have kicked in for me just as it did for the others. I would have smiled and cheered and praised you that day and then turned away and cowered and hid when the going got tough.

Would I have had the courage to speak up for you?

To say 'No. I'm with him...' 

'He really is the King.'


I would have been as bad as all the rest. Perhaps that's why I feel so uneasy on Palm Sunday.  Perhaps it's too close to home.  The ease with which 'Hosanna!' turned to 'Crucify!'  The way the welcome turned to rejection.

I feel bad that you had to go through it all.  You looked about you with a smile on your face and accepted praise with grace and mercy and at the same time you saw how shallow it all was.  We didn't understand. We're good at not understanding.

It can't have been easy; you were a man after all.  Your humanity must have loved the celebrations, the recognition, the welcome. There must have been an element of enjoyment in it for you. Who doesn't love being loved?

But then you are God as well.

You saw beyond the shouts of praise and understood the emptiness of the hearts and the fear and the betrayal. It makes me weep for you. I'm sorry that we did that to you. You, who are honesty, truth, beauty, mercy, forgiveness, grace, peace, straightforwardness, love. You were clean and bright and sinless and you were lauded by those dark with hypocrisy. You loved them anyway, because these were the people you came to save. 

How amazing is that.

Physical pain - you went through plenty of that, but the emotional stuff as well, stab after stab of hypocrisy and rejection. Did you see faces in the crowd that you knew? That you'd healed? All singing to you, praising you, then nowhere to be seen when you needed a friend. And still, you loved us.

You went on loving. You could have turned to your Father in heaven and said, 'You must be joking. You want me to do what?  To save these?'  and shaken your head, because we're not worth your sweat, let alone your blood.

But you so loved us that you smiled and blessed and walked on towards the cross. 

Next time, you won't be riding on a donkey, will you? There will be no subtlety about your Triumphal Entry next time.

You will leave us in no doubt.  People will not ask, 'Who is this?' because they will know. Everyone will know.

You will come in all the majesty and dignity that you chose to set aside on Palm Sunday.

Every knee will bow.

Edited, from 2011

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Washing my spirit clean

Good morning, Lord.

I have a diary. You see, there are all these days and I need to keep track of them. No sooner one finishes than another starts and I hate just letting them slip away without being marked. 

Actually, I have several diaries. I have a calendar in the kitchen for dates and arrangements; one of those with four columns so that I can keep track of the children's social lives as well as my own. On the whole, they're doing better than me, but since any event in their column also has to go in mine, I look pretty busy. 

That calendar isn't very portable, so I have a little diary that I transfer from handbag to handbag which has a copy of the important stuff so that I can flip efficiently through it when scheduling something and say, 'Sorry, can't do Wednesday, I'm at Little Monkeys Play Centre from four till six...' and so on. The problem with this is that I found that appointments from the calendar didn't make it into the diary and vice versa, which just made life even more complicated than it was before. So the small diary languishes redundant.

And then there are other diaries. Electronic ones that I can never be bothered to programme. My prayer journal where I chat with you about my day, flap about what might be and work through what might have been. There's my 'Happy Book' where I write down anecdotes, answered prayers, good things that happen and funny things the kids say. There's my lovely desk calendar with a picture and a scriptural quotation for me to take into the day. 

And then there's my Beautiful Diary. 

I'm not sure what to call this one. It's a gorgeous thing to behold; a large square thing full of wonderful full page photographs so beautiful is perhaps the best word. 

It's from the John Muir Trust, promoting its work in wild land conservation. The photos are by some of the best wildlife and landscape photographers in the country and they are honestly amazing. 

From the preface, by John Beatty:
'In March 1867 John Muir suffered a serious accident that caused him to be completely blind for several months, believing he may never recover his sight. The subsequent return of his sight was an epiphany in his life that led to a lifelong commitment to experience the natural world. 
He wandered for years in the wilds absorbing the richness of all life forms, seeing the world with increased intensity, reflecting its wonders through the written word.' 
I stood with this beautiful book in my hands in the shop and read about John Muir and his appreciation of the natural world and I thought, 'Yes.' 

I want to do that. I want to notice, and record, and give thanks. 

I decided to buy this diary and write in it every day, but not use it for appointments at all. Each day I make a note of a glimpse of you that happened that day. Some days I see you everywhere and I have lots to write and there are other days when I'm so wrapped up and inward looking that I've missed you completely. I know that you were no less there all around me on those days, and I'm starting to see the correlation between my 'What can I write today?' days and my prevailing mood. 

One day there was a buzzard in the garden; a big majestic looking bird with a bright yellow eye and big claws. Another day it was the way the low morning sun shone golden on the church clock as we walked past on the way to school. Early this year we saw tiny shiny ice crystals on the car roof, and the other evening the sunset between storm clouds lit the world up in orange and purple. 

Other days it's different; it might be me on my own in the car with the music turned up so, so loud, singing along to Phil Wickham:
'I give you all my life, I'm letting it go
A living sacrifice, no longer my own
All I am is yours, all I am is yours...
It might be a special hour over coffee with a friend, but you're right there with us, because we meet in your name. It might be holding hands with my daughter on the way to school, holding hands with my husband on the sofa in front of a film or holding hands with you as I realise all over again that I can't do any of it without you.

Ann Voskamp wrote down A Thousand Gifts and people all over the world are inspired and making their lists. I know that if I write one thing a day I'll only have 365 in a year, but it's a start. I'm adding between the pages little things that I want to remember; a note from one of the children or a page from the desk calendar with a scripture that jumped at me. I'm making a year of Thank Yous.

John Muir wrote:
'...keep close to nature's heart...and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.'
I would so love to disappear off into the wilderness once in a while. I used to be afraid of silence but now I long for it. To stop the hamster-wheel and find a remote little windswept cottage on an island in the Hebrides, perhaps, just me and a kettle and my journal and some custard creams. And my computer. (And an internet connection...ha!... alright, just a notebook!) But to find solitude. No noise but the wind and the birds. Peace, quiet. Undisturbed nature. Sky and landscape and freedom and air to breathe. To wash my spirit clean.

Not so fussed about climbing a mountain.

So in the absence of such an opportunity I want to make a note of the moments that allow my soul to breathe, even if only for a moment. 

I want to see them, appreciate them, savour them and store them up for the times when I can't remember how it feels. Because I can't just disappear into the wilderness for years like Mr Muir, I want to pin down and bottle the bits of you that come my way so that I can take off the lid and inhale when the walls seem to close and claustrophobic. 

Waking up to the sound of birdsong.

Mist and sunshine on the moors.

Photograph memories of my girls as babies.

Two planes vapour trails crossing in the sky like a heavenly kiss.

Vanilla latte and a good friend. 

A sky full of stars.

Wonder on my daughter's face as we watch the sunset.

So this is my project, Lord. 

Give me eyes to see and ears to hear the wonders that you place in my path just because you are a God who delights to delight. 

Don't let me walk past the gifts that you give me. 

Please don't ever let my eyes be so focused on the dirt under my feet that I don't see the vastness and beauty of your creation. 

John Muir again:
'Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul.'

The John Muir Wild Nature Diary 2013, published by the John Muir Trust:

Monday, 18 March 2013

Blunders and absurdities

Afternoon, Jesus.

I'm talking about cushions. 

I got a cushion for Christmas. 

I am a sucker for inspiring quotes and messages and the like and this cushion fits that category. It also just nicely fits the small of your back as you're slouching on the sofa. It has a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson, for whom I have a soft spot, and I like it. 

This cushion says:
Finish each day and be done with it
You have done what you could
Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in
Forget them as soon as you can

Tomorrow is a new day

Begin it well and serenely and with too high 
a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense

Now isn't that the way to live?

I have never really arrived at a conclusion through reading Emerson as to whether his faith was real or not, whether he changed his mind in the later part of his life and embraced atheism or indeed embraced Christianity, but I think that this piece of sound common sense is completely in accord with the Bible.

I need to take notice of my cushion.

That's one of those sentences that you don't really think you'll ever say.

I am not one of those people who breezes through life, shrugging at mistake or disaster and moving on.

I'm more of a brooder. An analyser. A worrier. The sort of person who lies in bed in the dark wide awake and frowning, chewing my lip and dwelling on things.

Last night I lay in bed and went over some conversations I'd had yesterday. It had been Elizabeth's parents' evening at school and I had gone with quite a lot of baggage. 

Elizabeth is doing really well at school academically but emotionally not brilliantly because of recurrent friendship issues of the sort that small girls do so well. Sigh. Small girls can be so mean.

I expected her teacher to make reference to these things, as well as to undone homework and lapsed attention in spellings and perhaps my daughter's tendency to clam up rather than contribute when she's feeling uneasy. I was defensive. I was all prepared and knew exactly what I wanted to say. And then none of this happened and I quickly found myself on the back foot. In a good way. 

Her teacher praised Lizzie's enthusiasm, attentiveness and manners and spoke very highly of her academic ability. She was surprised that I thought Elizabeth was withdrawn for she works well as part of a team and is confident enough to put forward ideas of her own. 

I was relieved, to say the least. Reassured and pleased. But lying in bed last night of course I went back over what I'd said, what she said. A conversation that I was sure would go one way went completely differently and I was unprepared and vulnerable. I didn't manage to say what I wanted to say and I wondered what she must have thought about me.

The wisdom of the cushion: finish each day and be done with it. 

What could I change? Nothing. As Lady Macbeth said, in a completely different scenario, 'What's done cannot be undone.'

What does it matter what opinion Elizabeth's teacher has of me? It matters what she thinks of Lizzie, and she thinks that Lizzie is great. Whose opinion of me matters? Yours. Only yours.

Parents evening? Not my finest hour, but not my worst. My little girl's doing fine.

Done with that. Leave it behind. 

Yep, blunders and absurdities crept in alright. They always do. Not a day goes by without me putting my foot in it some way or other. Whether it's an ill-thought-out status update on Facebook which requires extensive explanation or a letter put through the wrong door, a phone call that I forgot to return or inadvertently gluing my finger to a jar of Colombian blend instant coffee (don't ask), absurdities pepper my days.

Misunderstandings, dilemmas and misinterpretations. My brain is quite often not my friend. 

Forget them as soon as you can.

Be gone, blunders and absurdities. Be gone, endless replaying of events. Be gone, desperate wishing that I had a 'rewind' button. Or a 'mute', for that matter. 

I think it must be a good discipline to finish the day like this. A quick scan of the major landmarks of the day and a turning over of the rubbish and the accidental and the bizarre to the One who cares about the big and the little alike and cares about me. You, Lord God, who watched me get it wrong and saw my confusion and uncertainty, who chuckled when I made coffee with a sticky digit and helps me get over my embarrassment and self consciousness any number of times in the average day.

All yours. Success, triumph, blunder, absurdity. I know that you're always there, just waiting for me to put it down at your feet and walk away without it. To leave you all the mistakes and messes and debris of a day of being me. 

You don't want me to accumulate stuff like that. 
'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.'Matthew 11:28
You want me to leave it with you and move on.

Tomorrow is a new day. 

A brand new day, God willing. If I wake up tomorrow it's a gift, because nobody guarantees me another day to do it all over again. Today is a pristine sheet of paper, a blank page ready to write on. 

I came across this: 

So far today, Lord, I'm doing alright.
I haven't gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or self-indulgent.
I haven't whined, complained, cursed or eaten any chocolate.
I have charged nothing to my credit card. 

I'll be getting out of bed in a minute, and I think that I'll need some more help then.

Being a bit of an over-thinker who rarely takes anything at face value, I would add that I quite often blow it before I even get out of bed, depending on whether I'm woken by a small person landing on my chest or the outbreak of war over a Barbie doll in the bathroom. Assuming I get to come round in my own time (haha! that'd be lunchtime, then) I might make it to the leg-out-of-bed stage without serious incident. But just as the witty bit of writing says, each new day, I'm needing a lot of help. 

Tomorrow is a new day. Forget the disasters and cringeworthy moments of yesterday. They accumulate far too quickly. 

Tomorrow is a new day. 
Begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.

It's a new day, not yet lived. Not lived before; I don't have to make all the same mistakes that I made yesterday. I don't have to do what I've always done because change is possible, indeed, encouraged. I know that you help me to learn from my cock-ups while not dwelling on them. You don't roll your eyes in exasperation when I take my time to understand the lesson I'm learning. You are always there with a clean sheet, a new page, another chance. 

Forget the old. Let's try again. Lord, give me that serenity that I hear so much about. I wouldn't describe myself as serene, really. Enough people have told me that I sometimes give the impression of calm when actually I'm far from it, and that's nice to know as I'd hate to have the world witness my flapping. 

The last bit really struck a chord with me. '...too high a spirit to be encumbered with all your old nonsense.'

We've established that I have plenty of old nonsense and am likely to generate an endless supply of new stuff.

We've established that you have no desire to see me encumbered and that you're more than happy to lift off the weight of all the rubbish that I carry around with me. 

So that just leaves the high spirit. How often do I start the day with a high spirit? More often I am groaning at the alarm clock, squinting between the curtains to see if it's a one-jumper-or-two day and irritably calling the children and chivvying them to clean teeth, brush hair, collect belongings, eat breakfast.  

I have so much to be in high spirits about. A wonderful family, nice house, a full fridge and clean running water not the least of my blessings, but it's more than that. It's all trivia in comparison with the fact that I have you.

I am free. I am saved. I am loved by Almighty God. You have my name engraved on the palm of your hands. 
'See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.' Isaiah 49:16
Even if the whole world full  of people turn their back on me, you never will. 

No matter how many blunders and absurdities creep into my day, you are there, loving me. Forgiving me. Washing me whiter than snow. 

That's enough to lift anyone's spirits. 


Friday, 15 March 2013

A channel of your peace

So, Lord God.

We have a new Pope. 

I say 'we' and I mean we down here on earth, because being non-Catholic I'm not technically one of his flock, but I watched with great anticipation yesterday as the world's eyes were riveted on the chimney at the Sistine Chapel in Rome waiting for white smoke rather than black. Never has a small seagull sitting on a chimney in the rain received so much global media attention. 

As it happened I had to nip out for ten minutes to pick up my daughter from a birthday party and so I missed all the excitement but hey, that's life. 

White smoke came, the bells rang and the crowds cheered and danced and cried.

We wondered who it would be, which of the Cardinals was the chosen one, and even when it was announced, to be honest we still didn't get it. We were listening out for the Latin name of one of the candidates that we'd been expecting and he wasn't among them. The man that they - you - have chosen wasn't the one the 'experts' predicted.

I love it that you are a God of surprises. And I love it that you appear to have made a wonderfully inspiring choice for the Pontiff. He seemed different from the others. He came out on to the balcony and made a joke. He asked for prayers from the people that you would bless him so that he in turn could bless them. He bowed his head deeply and humbly and led millions across the world in prayer.

It's just such a shame that the BBC translator didn't know the Lord's Prayer when he heard it and gave such an awkward translation, but I guess that's a sad sign of the times. 

He didn't raise his hands in triumph, he didn't hold them out in aloof benediction and he didn't make intellectual or oratorial pronouncements as he faced the immense crowds in St Peter's Square in Rome. He stood with his hands by his sides and looked around at the sea of faces, and prayed. His breathing was fast; he must have been overwhelmed, but he simply looked - and prayed. When finally he spoke, it was down to earth; he came across as approachable, gentle and humble. I liked him. 

And he calls himself Francis. Pope Francis I. 

This seems loaded with meaning to me, and I admit that I know very little about the history of the Catholic Church, the Jesuits or indeed St Francis of Assisi.  All I know is that since about eight o'clock last night I have had the well-known hymn going round and round in my head. 

Make me a channel of your peace...

What better time could there possibly be for a Pope to bring peace?  It seems to me that people who don't believe anything are attacking those who believe, those who do believe are antagonistic towards those who believe something different and those who believe the same thing are squabbling about how they go about practicing their faith. A channel of your peace? Yes, please. 

What a huge and impossible job he has. But he has you, and for you the impossible is possible. 

May he sow love where there's hatred.
May he bring reconciliation where there's been injury.
May he inspire those who don't know you to reach out and find you.
May he bring hope to the despairing and shine Jesus' light into the darkness.
May he spread joy instead of sadness.

May we all do those things, Lord God. May I do them, because I know that you don't have to be a church leader with a billion people following you to show Jesus to the person standing next to you. But what a job he has. 

I'm hoping that Pope Francis I might be a calming, unifying presence in the Church in all its forms. Maybe we can start to consider our similarities instead of our differences? Start to look to you, Creator and Saviour of the world, instead of nitpicking and criticising? Shouldn't the Christian Churches stand shoulder to shoulder in days like these, even if we have our differences and peculiarities? To reach out to those who need you, instead of walking past on our self-righteous way, insisting that our way is the right way? 

Lord, grant that we might not seek so much to have our own needs met, but to look to those of others.
That your church might reach out to love and serve those who need you above everything else, and not just shout louder and louder to have our own agenda heard.

Give us a supply of love that doesn't run out even when times are hard, people don't want to know and say harsh and hurtful things. When people we trust let us down and when people who should know better bring your Name into disrepute, let us keep on loving. Never pulling up the drawbridge and looking inward and licking our wounds and saying, 'To hell with you...' 

Jesus, you loved until the last breath of your life, and then beyond. 

May we as your body on earth learn to love like you did. Forgive just as we are forgiven ourselves, and go on loving even when the whole of the world seems to be full of hatred. 

I don't think one man can do any of this, no matter how much ceremony there is, how much of a show is put on, or how pristine the robes. It seems to me from what I hear, what I read, and my brief and distant glimpse of the man of God that stood on the balcony yesterday and looked steadily and prayerfully in the face of a surely overwhelming job that perhaps you were at work. 

As CS Lewis said in Narnia somewhere, 'Aslan is on the move.'

Oh God, let it be so. Move in power. 

Let all who lift the name of Jesus Christ high come together. There are plenty of us really, even if the other guy would have us believe that we're few and weak and divided. 

We are on your team, and you never lose. 

The prayer attributed to St Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.



IMG_8912.jpg by ecerroni
stpesq.jpg by delboysafa
both used from with permission

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Grown up but still cute

So, God, my little Katy is six. 

Six, and very proud of her sixness. On the morning of her birthday she announced that she did indeed feel different. She had been concerned, she went on, that it might turn out slightly disappointing, like her fifth birthday last year when she realised that she didn't feel any different at all. I hadn't realised that she'd had a disappointing fifth birthday; her disappointment on the day manifested itself as excitement and delight, and so I am not going to worry about it. 

Daddy and I had festooned the house with Happy Birthday banners and her presents were arrayed on the kitchen table next to a house-sized helium balloon in the shape of a number 6. She'd picked out her birthday clothes, and mercifully her school decided not to celebrate World Book Day by insisting on dressing up as a favourite character because her chosen look was Grown Up But Still Cute. Her words.

She sported a badge telling the world that she was six, had on her lovely red and blue knitted dress with a big flower  and she went off to school the proudest, smiliest little girl in the world. My heart swelled as she waved bye bye, secure in the knowledge that the world was waiting to celebrate with her, and that she was indeed, grown up but still cute. 

As an extra-special treat, Bryan and I spent the morning tidying her desperately chaotic bedroom. For a child who is careful and painstaking in so many ways, she has a mental block when it comes to putting things away.

Around this age big sister Elizabeth decided that a tidy room was essential to her emotional wellbeing and these days is obsessive about a place for everything and everything in its place. She takes this to the extent that any new toys bought for them to share are quickly allocated a spot on Katy's floor, rather than upset the status quo in Lizzie's. So, when I go in to kiss Katy goodnight I sort of have to feel along the floor with my feet to avoid snapping antennae off aliens (now on Daddy's gluing pile) or setting off the siren on a fire engine (she didn't even wake up). 

It looked lovely. The sort of room that I would have loved when I was little. Bright, child-friendly accessories were rediscovered and colours that weren't invented when I was five. Katy came home from school and declared it her best present. She's played up there in her room ever since.


Meanwhile, back at party HQ, I shopped for party food. It always makes me wince, this twice-yearly trip to the supermarket in March and then again in June, where I approach the check out with a too-full basket full of treats and party-fare that has no nutritional value whatsoever. Still, there were grapes.  And cucumber. Ahem.

Party tea for family, more presents and cake and candles. Sausage rolls and chicken nuggets and popcorn and crisps and hula hoops on fingers and chocolate crispies and choruses of Happy Birthday. Oh, and grapes and cucumber. 

Lovely, lovely. It just was lovely. Katy went to bed saying that it was her best birthday ever, and she still had the party with her friends to look forward to on Saturday. I breathed a sigh of relief that today was Thursday and Friday stood like a blessed oasis of calm between today and Saturday. 

Saturday dawned bright and sunny in all the Enid Blyton books I've ever read, but this one was breathtakingly cold and wintry. Frosty morning, moving through drizzle into steady sleet by mid afternoon. I have never been to the bowling alley when it's not been raining, you know. How weird is that?  Is it some sort of sign?

Party morning was not my finest hour. Tired and overwhelmed at the prospect of all that needed doing. I still needed to shop for ingredients and bake buns for the Happy Birthday slot, put together twelve all important party bags while making a curry from scratch with my older daughter for a school project and chauffeuring Katy to swimming lessons. I found myself limping tearfully to the church coffee shop for vanilla lattes and a quick panicky offload and snivel to a friend who understood. It helped. Reassured and armed with coffee I went back into the fray.

It all got done.  I was ready. 

Ready as I'd ever be.

Twelve small children for a bowling party. Lots of background noise, a million kids' shoes to exchange for natty bowling shoes (what proportion of five year olds know their own shoe size?) and orders for party meal to be taken. Bowling screens to be programmed by our party helper who kept misplacing the list of names and panicking more than I was.

A has to be on the same team as B because they're best friends, but C can't be because she used to be best friends with A and isn't any more. D is from a different class so had better be with Katy so he feels involved but then that leaves E as the only boy on team Lizzie so best rethink that one. A to G have all bowled before, except C, who only watched her big brother. J has a poorly finger but hooray! It turned out to be on her non-dominant hand! Crisis averted. Turns out that all the kids who could bowl ended up on one team and all the delicate feminine young things were on the other. Hmm.

Elizabeth inadvertently took someone else's turn and scored a strike which was a reason for great delight until she discovered her mistake and then there was great gnashing of seven-year old teeth when the strike was recorded in someone else's column. I accidentally mixed up the names of two similarly solemn five year old girls and got them in the wrong order but no matter - they both scored six and so I breathed a sigh of relief.  We had highs and lows and now and again even managed to miss all ten pins despite the bumpers at the sides of the lane. 

I spent an hour cheering, high-fiving, feeling slightly embarrassed at having my high-five proposal ignored by disgruntled bowler (alright, it was a score of two, but still...) and perfecting the lunge onto one knee to be on a level with a small person. Almost without exception they found it hard to put three fingers in the bowling balls and instead tended to heft it two-handed down the lane with an almighty thump where it moved at a glacial pace towards the pins. I perfected the art of encouraging commentary:

'Great! It'll get there eventually!'

'Good shot. I think that ball might bounce off this side...then that side...yep, there it goes... then it might just glance off that bit and... look! You knocked one over!'

'Well.  Look at that. Would you believe it? Unlucky. Let's try again! We've got plenty of pins left!'

...and so on. My thighs were screaming at me by the end of that session from kneeling down and getting up again. I am not a lightweight person and a million lunges in the space of an hour without any training meant that when it came to the exodus to the cafe for tea my knees wobbled.

The following day I could barely stand and I still can't walk down a flight of steps without wincing. Of course, Katy is full of her new Wii 'Just Dance' game and trying to boogie away rhythmically to Boney M or Bob Marley without bending one's legs is quite a challenge, I'll tell you. Ever tried it?

So, food for twelve at a long table with balloons. Minor catastrophe when children found themselves seated next to the wrong person and Best Friends Forever were inadvertently placed adjacent to Previous Best Friends Forever. Some minor adjustments were necessary before chips could comfortably be consumed. Tomato ketchup was squirted on plates, juice distributed and mopped up. Coffee was drunk by some but I was already on to the next thing; I hastily arranged the slightly smudged buns (icing hadn't had time to dry) onto a plate and stabbed them with six candles. 

K-A-T-Y-6 spelled out in those little pink edible ball bearings that you can break a tooth on. Made a mental note to select one of the naked ones from the bottom row, should any survive. None did.

Happy birthday, dear Kay-teee, happy birthday to you.

She looked so made up at being the centre of attention. So delighted with her friends, with the ten-pin bowling (she got a strike! 'So. Did. I.' spat big sister, only Katy's strike counted towards her own score...). Delighted with her pile of freshly baked buns, with blowing out her candles for the second time - even if the little girl next to her did blow out the nearest three before she'd taken a breath. There's my little girl. All grown up and six. 

And then we were quickly into party bag and goodbye mode. Each bag painstakingly packed with cheap craft activities, sweets and small bun with icing unset. Lots of sweet prompted thank yous and goodbyes. And then it was just us. 

In the car on the way home, little sister smiled out of the window, cheeks bulging, with cake in one hand and chewy sweet in the other. Big sister negotiated the exchange of chewy sweets for the Kinder egg (don't do it, Katy! - ah, but how magnanimous...)  Mummy and Daddy planned feet up, takeaway and the early opening of a bottle of wine. 

So much to thank you for. So much.

That the children were so, so tired that night that they were asleep before our takeaway arrived.

For my gorgeous girls and the inexplicable fact that they're already six and seven years old.

That they are bright, funny and beautiful. That twelve children can come together in a noisy place and throw heavy objects down a runway and nobody was hurt. That it's been a day of generosity and fun and laughter, even if hard work.

That you have given me a love for my children that is so out-of-proportion huge that I will tidy rooms, buy balloons, wrap presents into the night, place little flowers in bud vases, bake last minute buns, put together dubious curries and over-use my long-forgotten quads just to make them smile.

Thank you that we can celebrate. We should celebrate! Just look at all we are blessed with. Thank you for all that we have, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. Thank you for bowling balls and chicken nuggets (I think). Thank you for high fives and delicate little girls hopping from one leg to another in excitement. For Batman birthday cakes and candles.

Lord, most of all thank you for being there. For watching the bowling balls hit the pins and cheering or commiserating along with us. Thank you that you and the angels sang happy birthday to my little angel and smiled down at her with an infinite love that leaves mine standing, no matter how hard that is for me to understand.

Thank you that you're a God who likes parties. Who turned water into wine just because you didn't want to see the party finish prematurely. A God of joy and celebration. And what's not to celebrate?

Whether we're six, seven, forty, sixty, eighty. Life's to celebrate whenever we get the chance, and usually there's an opportunity if we open our eyes to it. How often I forget that and dwell on the difficulties and disasters when the banners are there to get out and pin up and Spring is on its way even if there's a cold, cold wind today. Katy comes home with a Clean Plate sticker from the lunchtime supervisor (that's a dinner lady to you and me) or Lizzie gets a Star of the Day award - we should celebrate! If I survive another children's party without my head exploding, we should celebrate!

We should blow up balloons just for the sake of letting them zoom round the room with a farting noise.

There's always the possibility of opening a bottle and raising a toast. There's always a reason somewhere.  Laughter and family and fun are worth celebrating as well as good school reports and the first daffodils and a pound or two less on the scales.

I'll let you know when we can do that last one. Don't hold your breath.

Until then, remind me often. When the helium balloon has drooped and Bryan has done the silly voice thing and the Happy Birthday banners are back in the cupboard, help me to celebrate the children, the weather, the fact that I get to wake up another day.

Celebrate that I know and am known by the God who placed the stars in their places, the One who calmed the storm.

Known by the God who knew me when I was just two cells on their way to meet each other.

The One who watches over me, loves me, forgives me, loves me some more.

The One who died for me.

Thank you for my six year old daughter who delights me.

Grown up but still cute. She makes me smile.

Thank you. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Infinite love

God, I've found something.

Charles Spurgeon said this:

'Did you ever think of the love which Christ will manifest to you when he shall present you without spot or blemish, or any such thing, before his Father's throne?  Well, pause and remember, that he loves you at this hour as much as he will love you then; for he will be the same forever as he is today and he is the same today as he will be forever.  'As the Father hath loved me, even so have I loved you;' and a higher degree of love we cannot imagine.  The Father loves his Son infinitely, and even so today, believer, doth the Son of God love thee."CW Spurgeon, Daily Help, iPhone app
Lord, this has amazed me.  

You know when you think about something for the first time - I mean that it's something that you know, that you've accepted, but then something happens that makes you think about it properly for the first time, to concentrate on it and appreciate it fully, dwell on it?  No I suppose you don't.  You're all knowing.  There are no new ideas for you, are there?  

Well, you know how that happens to me? It did this morning when I read this bit from Mr Spurgeon.

As you love Jesus, you love me.  

That Father/Son thing, the way you, the Creator of the universe love your only Son, that's how you love us.  

That's how you love me.  That perfect love, that all encompassing, unconditional, infinite love. 

How can that be?  I've known that you love me, and I've sung all the songs, 'How deep the Father's love for me...da di da di da'  etc, but today I read this little passage from Charles Spurgeon and it jumped out at me that you love me as you love your Son

My God.

Why?  Loving your Holy Son is one thing.  Loving Jesus, who never sinned, who did this breathtakingly amazing thing, who lived a perfect human life, who understands you completely, who is one with you, that's one thing.  But I'm a creature that you made, who does her own thing and barely acknowledges you, and yet you love me like that.  I suppose that's unconditional love.

Infinite love.  Love that never ends.  

There's nothing I can do to make you love me more, and there's nothing I can do to make you love me less.  

It's true.  Your love goes on and on and keeps steady even when I pick it up and crumple it and throw it away. I have no idea how that's possible.

Unchanging love. From age to age the same. You are the same God that spoke to Adam and Noah and Moses and David and Job and Isaiah and Mary Magdalene and Paul and Charles Spurgeon and you speak to me. Me

You're the same yesterday, today and forever.  And what's more, you loved me before I was born, all those years where I didn't give you a thought, now, when I'm trying, failing, trying, failing - and you'll love me when I arrive in front of you with nothing but my little paltry bit of love to offer you like a child with a little treasure in their pocket wrapped in a hanky and covered with pocket fluff.  

Some days I can't see past my life, Lord.  I can't imagine that one day it will end; what then?  I can only concentrate on now, or worry about the future, or rehash the past.  

Other days, like right now, I get a glimpse of the day when it will all be over and I can see you and I'll be enveloped in that profound love and I'll never have to leave and there'll be no more struggling, no more frustration, no more failure. 

It sounds great. Infinite love. 

I praise you, Lord. 

Thankyou for loving me. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

The dress

At the back of my wardrobe is a dress. It’s dark green and it’s perfect for my skin tone and makes my eyes seem deep, deep blue.  It’s silk and it has a flattering neckline with just the right amount of cleavage. It has cap sleeves and a full skirt to ankle length and it’s the sort of dress that floats around your legs as you move and makes you feel elegant and beautiful.

I wore it years ago to a ball at university and afterwards I kissed the man who is now my husband for the first time.

My flatmates and I, we got ready with loud music and giggles and a cloud of perfume. I have a photograph of us all together and my hand is behind my back, holding spare fabric in a bunch to show off my waist. The beautiful dress was a little too big.

I was something else that night. My make-up was right, my hair was right, and even after a hot and happy night dancing and talking and flirting and smiling up at him under my eyelashes and over a glass of wine I was still gorgeous. Pink cheeks and the sheen of perspiration and the tendrils of hair at the nape of my neck making ringlets.  In the restroom with my girlfriends comparing notes and ruling the world.

And the dress, back on its hanger with a reverent stroke of it’s softness.

It’s years later. Another ball, another university, the same dress. Plastic cover lifted off, skirt shaken loose to float around my legs again. This time, a little bit more of me. The neckline still flattering but a little more cleavage. The cap sleeves a little tight on the arms. The bodice – there’s no gentle way of putting it – straining at the seams.  Girls in the restrooms together and this time, standing sideways, sucking in my breath, not eating dinner because there’s no room in my beautiful dress. Wondering if anyone notices the way the fabric strains across my midriff. The way the green of the silk turns slightly darker where sweat trickles down my back. Self-consciousness.

Still, a glass or two of wine, the dance floor beckons. Good friends and goodnight kisses.

Years later. I take the dress in its plastic to a lady who makes wedding dresses. Can we do it in white?  On my Big Day I want it to float around my legs and make me feel special. I want the neckline to plunge and flatter but not boast. I want the sleeves longer, this time, to cover the tops of my arms.

We search and search for fabric and I settle for something a little different. The pattern changes incrementally and I settle for something a little different. The lady lines the silk with another inferior fabric and it hangs stiff, no longer floats. I settle for something a little different. It’s a gown, not a dress, she tells me. For your wedding you must have a gown.

I do.

Years later. A wedding invitation. An evening reception.  I lift the cellophane and smooth out the silk. The seams a little strained. The sleeves a little short. The skirt so full and swirly. The fabric so very soft and just my colour.

I slip it over my head and pull up the sleeves. Flesh overlaps at the upper arms and my bra strap shows at the shoulder in a way it never did. I twist and I turn but the zip won’t come to the top. The fabric strains across my middle. The skirt still swirls soft against my legs.

The dress is doing its best but the body inside isn’t the body that took to the dance floor at university with flushed cheeks and fabric to spare.

That wedding reception, the evening one – we didn’t go. We stayed at home on the sofa with our glass of wine. 

I couldn’t face the dress, the shopping, the size on the hangers. I couldn’t face the dance floor.

Lord, this body that I’m in; I know that it only tells a small part of the story. This is the body that nurtured and birthed two beautiful girls and the ribcage that spread out to accommodate them. This is the heart that moved upwards and sideways to make room for the little growing bodies that it still beats for.

The bust that strains the fabric of my green silk dress is the same that suckled two hungry babies until they no longer wanted mummy milk. The arms that won’t fit the little cap sleeves carried my 8lb, 9lb, 10lb babies everywhere and rocked them for long hours praying for sleep. The hips that sashayed on the dance floor swayed with swaddled newborns on shoulders late at night and padded themselves to seat toddlers.

I know all this and I believe it and I salute the body that did it all and still I long for the green dress days. When I look at the photographs and know that I was self conscious and diffident then, and yet look at me now. I know that my value isn’t related to my dress size. I know that my beauty isn’t found in necklines or cleavages or the ability to wear cap sleeves and swirly skirts.

Father God, somehow will you take that knowledge from my head to my heart? Make it real to me? Make it make a difference?

Give me a glimpse of myself through your eyes. I am your child and you love me, just as I am. I am a princess and I am made for your kingdom. I am spotless, stainless, glowing perfect because your Son, Jesus Christ, valued me so highly that he died for me. He doesn’t care about green dresses or stretched seams.

Give the green dress to a charity shop. Someone might love it; someone with toned arms and without a spare tyre. They might make it swirl again instead of hanging in cellophane collecting dust. I am a mother, I am a wife, I am a completely different shape from the body for which the green dress was designed.

Forget the green dress. Life is not about green dresses.

Lord, I’m not ready. I’m not ready to say goodbye to my green dress and the dance floor days and the naïve beauty that comes from being young and unselfconscious. I long for those days and there's a part of me that still hopes that I might feel those soft skirts swirl around my legs one day even now. I so want to feel beautiful again.


My head hears your words of love and acceptance and nods in understanding, in faith. It does. My heart still beats inside the bodice of a beautiful floaty silk dress that made me feel special.

I know there is freedom in you. Free me, Lord God. 

Free me from myself. 

Linking today with Tanya Marlow at Concrete Words:
Expressing the abstract through the concrete.

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