Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Lord is near

Afternoon, God.

Did you know, one of my favourite bits of the Bible is the book of Philippians. Upbeat, encouraging, reassuring, even though Paul was languishing in prison when he wrote it. How amazing is that?

The other day I was moseying through Philippians and I had one of those moments where the penny dropped. One of those moments that must make the angels giggle where I stop in my tracks and stare into space for a while until the new idea finds a place to live in my head.

It's all about living as a Christian in a non-Christian world. I like that Paul isn't very deep or theological in this book, but Paul knows that the Philippians are finding things hard and he wants to lift them up. One of my favourite bits is the bit about not worrying. As you are well aware, Lord, this bit could have been written just for me; indeed I think it probably was.

You had me in mind when you had Paul write it down. 
'Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.'Philippians 4: 6-7
I like it. I'm not very good at it, but I think that because of you, I'm better at it than I was. Not as good as I will be - with your help I'm getting better and better. Maybe. But that's not the point. 

The point is that I need not be anxious because you are for me.  On my side. You are looking after me. You know what I need, and you want me to trust you with all my anxieties. You want me to come to you and talk to you. Offload, if necessary. Communicate. And in exchange for me dumping my worries on you, you'll give me peace; a peace that the world doesn't know about, something that we can't imagine or understand.

You will wrap me in this peace and keep me safe. 

Sounds like I get the best of that deal. I give you the rubbish, you give me peace. Why don't I have peace? Because I don't give you the rubbish? I just cart it round myself, now and again show it to you, maybe even push it your way, but I fail to leave it with you. As a result, I am not particularly peaceful.

Would people describe me as a peaceful sort of person? Me, with my chewed fingers and frown lines?

I'm thinking no.  But I'd like to be a peaceful person. I'd like people to see the way I live, not weighed down with worry even in a recession, even in ill health; peaceful even at those times when life throws messy stuff at me. 

So right now, here it is. My bag of anxieties. The stuff you know about. The stuff that's in my head, worrying me, dragging me down, making me feel heavy of heart and furrowed of brow. You know how all these situations turn out, Father God, don't you? Sometimes things appear to be my control and I need you to help me sort them out, but more often than not the stuff that wakes me in the night are things that I have no control over at all.

I cannot be responsible for other people's decisions and how they affect others. I cannot make people do what I want. 
'Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.'Philippians 4:6
So I present my requests to you. I try to be thankful. I am getting better at noticing you in my life - in each day you are there; I get glimpses. I know that you don't come and go - nipping down to say hello in this morning's spectacular rainbow and then disappearing off for an appointment elsewhere. I know that you're there all the time - here right now - I just need the eyes to see.

If my eyes are always focused on my problems, my troubles, the sackful of anxiety that I lug around with me, then I miss you so often; I miss you so much. 

If I could see you as much in the recycling and cooking and shopping and laundry as I see you in the rainbow and the dew on a spider's web and the golden sunrise, I might be freer, less anxious. More Saint-Paul-content-whatever-life-throws-at-me. Sorry if that sounded a bit flippant. 

The Lord is near.
So this is where the stop in my tracks moment came in. Philippians 4:6 is everywhere, isn't it? Don't worry. Pray. And God will give you his peace. Good advice. The best. I have it on a bookmark and it's in my journal and I have it on a little prayer card in my Bible. But you know what I found out about this? It's always been there but unobservant me missed it. 

The verse right before this wonderful passage is:
'The Lord is near.' Philippians 4:5b
The Lord is near. Then, 'Don't be anxious...' 

I've often wondered how amazing it was to be one of your followers, Lord Jesus. How it seems to me, with the benefit of hindsight and a million explanatory works of literature and a local church and so on, that it must have been so much easier to understand what you said, so much easier to look to you as an example, when you were Right Here. If you were sitting next to me right now I'd have so many questions for you. After you help me up off the floor, and after we'd made a coffee, I would love a long, long chat.

And if you'd then come with me all the places I need to go, the phone calls I need to make, the people I need to see, the daily stuff that I have to do - then how much easier would it be? How much more confident I'd be! How empowered would I be if you were right next to me? People wouldn't intimidate me if you were standing by my side all the time. If every time I falter or start to get anxious you whisper in my ear?

I'm here. Don't worry.

I've always thought I'd love to have been with you for those three years when you did your thing. I like to think I'd have poured my perfume on your feet. I'd like to think I'd have baked a cake for you and sat and listened to what you had to say as well. I'd be Mary and Martha and the woman at the well and the one who touched your cloak and the one who was devoted enough to find your tomb at first light to take care of you, only to find you risen.  I'd like to think you'd have had my heart in that way. In reality, I don't know. It must have been pretty scary back then. 

So, suddenly, it struck me. The 'don't be anxious about anything' is one of the hardest battles I fight in my life and you've reminded me that you are right here. You're walking alongside me. You're there. You're near. And in that context, don't be anxious. 

'I'm here. Don't worry.'

When my daughters wake in the night with a bad dream and shout for Mummy. I gather them up and I hold them close and I say, 'It's alright. I'm here.'
'The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything...'
It's alright. You're here. 

I want you to be here. I don't want to be strong. I don't want to have to have to do this life thing on my own. I don't want to be brave and independent and all those things. And here you tell me that I don't have to do any of it by myself. You're near. And that's why I shouldn't worry.

Always near. Even then. 
It makes a difference to me. It makes a difference to how I read this incredibly familiar passage. I know that there are other ways of thinking about these two sentences; that 'The Lord is near' might be a reminder to the Philippians that they should behave well towards others because you are soon to return, but I'm not going into all the theology.

I don't know very much.

What I do know is that something has changed for me.

If you are here, near, then it's easier not to be anxious. If you were sitting next to me right now, I'd be in the safest place in the world. 

And you are. 

The Lord is near. 

You're never far away, no matter where I am or what I'm doing. The rainbow, the vase of lilies in front of me, the joy of my little girl as she danced down the road this morning with her Winnie-the-Pooh umbrella. You're in all those things, but you're in the empty room and the sound of the rain on the window as well. 

Thank you for the rain and the sun and the rainbows. Thankyou for coffee and words from friends that you use so powerfully. Thank you for my Bible and the freedom to read it, where St Paul and the Philippians were being persecuted for living as Christians and so many still are, today.

Most of all, thank you for being right here, right now. 

Let's swap, as you suggest. Here's my worry. No, really, here it is

The peace of the Lord.

Edited and reposted from last year.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Do what you do

Dear God.

Everyone has something to say about what's happened in Oklahoma. The way a tornado flattened an area miles wide with so little warning that some people didn't have time to find a safe place, not that there were any if  The way some were safe in a vault at the bank, customers huddling with staff. The way a lovely old lady wept in thanksgiving when her little dog scrambled out of the wreckage of her home. 

The way schools was destroyed and children were trapped and crushed and drowned. 

In the world of social media everyone has something to say. I suppose I do, too, because I sort out my feelings when I write them down, and after half an hour reading about this disaster on the internet news I'm a bit of a mess of feelings. I haven't got anything to say that is helpful, or wise; I wonder if there's anything that anyone can say that helps. 

Nobody told me when I was expecting my first baby that I would one day only have to think of another mother an ocean away one day and find tears running down my face. Nobody told me that a picture of a mother desperately waiting for news would break my heart. 

I've always been a bit of a softie, and I know that even before my babies came along I'd have watched this footage with horror and shock, but when I went into a hospital as somebody's daughter and came out somebody's mother, something shifted. Suddenly there was a little life - and nineteen months later another little life - more precious to me than mine. 

There were mothers and fathers standing in rubble as the emergency services lifted debris, waiting to know if their child would come home that night. Someone with a megaphone started shouting the names of the kids who were alright, who still had breath in their body to say who they were. Imagine waiting to hear your baby's name, waiting and waiting as people around knelt in relief and scooped up their battered, wounded but living-and-breathing child and your little just didn't come out?  

They must have been so frightened, those little boys and girls. They must have cried and shouted for their mummy or their daddy and they didn't come. 

Oh, God. 

The other night my little girl Katy was so tired that she thought of something that upset her and she thought of it so much that she dissolved into tears and she couldn't get herself right again until we'd cuddled and snuggled for a long time. Other people's mummies were to go on a school trip with them next month but I wouldn't be going. Lots of reasons for this, (the main one being that I didn't want to go; I didn't sign up to go) but Katy suddenly, surprisingly, decided that the most important thing in the world was that I would be with her when she went on the school trip. Alas, too late. The class teacher had been inundated with offers of parent helpers (why? I don't understand it) and so it was too late. Katy, for reasons that escape me, inconsolable. She so, so wanted me to be there. 

And this is only a school trip. I felt so guilty. Guilt that I wouldn't be with her on a lovely school visit. That I should be there for her. That in not being there I was letting her down. 

How much more could a heart take - not to be there when your little one is terrified in the midst of a hugely powerful hurricane? When the winds are blowing at over two hundred miles an hour and the roof is torn off and the walls are collapsing and cars are flying through the air? When they're lying contorted and hurt under the rubble of a collapsed building?  Gasping for air before unconsciousness and suffocation?

Nobody told me the all-consuming love that I have for my children. Yes, they get me down sometimes. Yes, I find the job of being their mummy relentless and frustrating and overwhelming sometimes - much of the time. But not to be there when they needed me?  

Far away there are mummies and daddies who will somehow have to find out if peace is possible again the other side of something like this. Like the time a man walked into a school and carelessly took the lives of all those small children and their brave teachers. Like the time a huge factory collapsed in Bangladesh and more than a thousand people lost their lives, some of them barely old enough to operate a sewing machine. The time that we saw on our televisions scenes of skeletal mothers and babies in Somalia in the last stages of malnourishment sitting on the parched ground, waiting for death. 

Why do we think that those mothers love their children less than we love ours? 

I breastfed my babies and I had excess milk that I froze for convenience. I eat so many calories that my hips are well padded for carrying my well-fed children. What must it be like to have a baby knowing that you have no way to feed it, to keep it alive?

What must it be like to send my little one to school with a lunchbox with a cheese and ham sandwich (Elizabeth's favourite) and a bag of raisins and a chocolate biscuit. To put a little 'I love you' note in the lunchbox - or that morning was I too busy to write one? - and then to find out that today was the day she wasn't going to come home? 

What must it be like to wait in the twisted remains of a building for news of my whole family and then the building starts to burn?

It's all misplaced, of course, the guilt, but it goes with the territory of motherhood. To protect and nurture and kiss it all better. To be there to make things right when knees are grazed or bullies say the mean things. It's so deeply ingrained in me that to deny me that need to respond is to rob me of something fundamental. I can't imagine the pain that those mothers must be going through. 

Where were you, Lord? I think you must have been there; surely you couldn't have stayed away. I pray that you were there with those little ones as the roof was ripped off. There when the teacher shielded their little bodies from the bullets. There when the factory collapsed like a house of cards. 

There as every mother cradles her baby and feels the raw power of the new love in her heart.

You must be. It comes from you.

Oh, God, what's it all about? I've read blog posts about comfort and about your tears falling as rain. I've read articles about why there's suffering in this broken, dysfunctional, terminal world. I've seen people railing against your injustice and hard-heartedness and others thanking you for your mercy and never-ending love. 

I just can't get the images out of my head. The mothers waiting for news. The sure knowledge that I would a million times rather die with my daughters in my arms than live knowing that they needed me and I wasn't there. 

I haven't anything to say. It makes no sense to me.

Well, I have one thing. I don't understand it one bit, but from the very deepest part of me, all I can say is that I know you, Lord Jesus. 

I know that you are love. You are compassion. You are the healer.  I know that you loved those children of yours in Oklahoma, in Connecticut, in Bangladesh and in Somalia. I know that you loved the five little souls who died in Derby in a house fire set by their own father and the little girl murdered in Wales whose body they have never found...and so on, and so on. 

I know that you care. 

I know that we are not lost. Somehow, and don't ask me how, as we stand in the middle of grief and horror in this beautiful and terrifying world, we aren't consumed, for you stand with us. 

You won't be defeated by evil in any of its forms. 

You say that you can bring good out of the most desperate circumstances, but I'm guessing those mothers don't want to hear that right now. There isn't any good, surely. 

When they wake up tomorrow morning and the next day and the days after that and for just a fraction of a moment they can't remember what immense, towering grief it is that looms over them - Lord, do what you do. Comfort, soothe, protect, heal. 

Loving Lord, do what you do.  

Image credits:
IMGP3231.JPG by spiroll
Katrina_LynnMeadows_2.jpg by msand39
downedtree.jpg by taliesin
all from Used with permission.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Hands together and eyes closed

So, God.

At church we had a Thousand Days of Prayer. Now, this is not to say that our church was devoid of prayer or pray-ers before we began, or that it was all over and done with when we finished, but it was a specific focus for a specific length of time. We did things a bit differently. There were new initiatives and people have said over and over again that during this time they found new direction, or new depth, or new insight into prayer.

So what has changed?

Me?  Are you asking me

Ah. Well.  I still don't really know what prayer is. I have more books on my shelves about it than I had before; indeed I'm reading one right now. Two actually.

I know that prayer is a way of meeting with you. If I could only learn to do it right I think that I would find that many things slipped into place. I think cultivating a consistent and faithful prayer life is a way of tuning in to your heart - the more time I spend with you in prayer, the more likely I am to recognise your voice in my life, and to discern the course you would have me take. Therefore, I am more likely to walk closely by your side, and more likely to fulfil my potential. Live fully.

So why is it so hard?  To draw close to you and listen as well as rabbit on. To be still.  I have time to read, plant seeds (even if I then forget to water them),  to have coffee with friends and surf the internet - why are you, the Creator of the Universe, Almighty God, so often bottom of the list? 

Coffee with Jesus, then.  Right now. Caf or decaf? Fancy a custard cream?

Prayer is a privilege. An honour to have your ear. I'm sorry that so often I bend it with my selfish little woes and worries and then dash off before you get to chip in with anything that you want to say. 

So here is what I have learned during our Thousand Days of Prayer.

I have learned that when I give you a little, you give me back so much. I pick a daisy before it's squashed by the lawnmower and I hand it to you with a shy smile. In return you beam at me with delight and joy and you bring me a breathtaking wildflower meadow that stretches as far as the eye can see, complete with stream and vivid kingfishers, wonderful oak trees, deep blue sky and warm sun. I give you a tiny, common little flower and you invite me to sit and enjoy with you with the grass soft underneath me and the sun warm on my back and a fantastic view to the hills. 

I glance at you momentarily and you are so pleased with me that you bathe me in the beauty and light of your steady gaze. 

We make eye contact, you and me. I always look away first. 

I've learned that whatever prayer is, it is many things. I've learned that I can spend a day with a special friend and we talk about you. We talk about our hopes, our dreams, our plans and our troubles and we constantly dip back into you as we talk. We're getting better at it, these days. We are starting to know when to say, 'No, that's not how it is. That isn't the truth.'

We sit at a table, my friend and I, and you sit there with us, as sure as eggs are eggs. Those mornings you are there too and we have come to recognise your presence. We sigh and we cry and yes, we complain and we lament - we could write our own psalms, and sometimes we do. But we laugh and we build and we cheer and we hope. 

That's prayer. It's an offering to you. Imperfect, yes. But it's full of your Spirit too. Whether we walk or sit, eat cake or do our best to abstain, you bless us. It's praise and worship and prayer.

I've learned that you love me so much and that you love to hear me talk to you and that you don't become angry and exasperated every time my attention wanders. That all isn't lost if I fall asleep mid-prayer. That you are a God of infinite forgiveness and that you honour my efforts, small as they are. You know where my heart is.  You're patient with my baby steps and you are happy to take my hand and lead me to the next thing when I'm ready.

You don't rush me. You don't get irritable. You smile and you comfort and help me to follow. 

I've learned that I pray best when I write down what I want to say. Whether it's here, or in my journal, or in my Happy Book where I write down answered prayers and anecdotes and wonderful things that I've noticed, I have a need to record what's in my head. It keeps me focused. (Well, more focused. Facebook and YouTube are only a click away).  

I've learned that I don't have to try to be someone I'm not when I'm with you. I don't have to dress up my language to speak in a way that seems holier or more appropriate for a conversation with God. How amazing is that? You made me how I am. If I have something to say, you know it before I've said it, so where's the point in translating it into lofty language as if somehow that's more what you want? You see the raw me, there's no hiding. Better just to say it. I've learned that you're generous enough not to worry when I don't express myself particularly well.

You're all-knowing, after all. You get the gist easily enough. 
Cake. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't.
Usually we do.

I've noticed that when I do talk to you like this, time after time I start my prayer in one frame of mind and finish it in another. Whether it's a childish rant about the unfairness of life, or a prayer of overwhelmed worship, you draw me to you and I cannot help but heal a little bit. 

Your grace is beyond my imagination. 

I'm beginning to learn to hear your voice in my life. To pay attention to the little things that appear in my head each day. To be faithful to those little nudges and suggestions - call this person, send a text to someone, ask a question. Tell them they look beautiful, don't just think it. It's amazing that when I do as I'm told in this respect I then find that the co-incidences pile up. They were just thinking about me!  At that very moment they needed something very specific, and here it is!  I'm starting to recognise that look of recognition and astonishment, and I'm realising more and more how you use people to get my attention this way, too.  

Funny how there are more co-incidences when I pray. 

I've learned that I don't have to be on my knees to pray, though I'm certain there are times when that's the way I should be. I've learned that I can walk down the street with my iPod playing music in my ears, and you and me can have a wonderful time together. I've learned that I can sit in the garden and watch a bumble bee and offer the delight in my heart to you, and that's prayer just as surely as standing at the lectern in church with written intercession is prayer.

That I can sit on the edge of my daughter's bed at night and kiss her forehead, inhale their warm fragrance and offer you the intensity of the emotion in my heart - the scale of my love for them, the guilt when I let them down, the hopes I have for them, the need to protect them, the overwhelming size of the job of being a mother. All that is prayer. 

You're there in the washing up too.
I've learned that I don't need to have my hands together to pray. They can be full of dishes or shopping bags or busy tap-tapping at my computer. They can be full of small girls or compost and seedlings or cradling a cup of coffee, and still they can be open - to you.

When my hands are tightly clenched in fists, that's when I'm struggling. When they're balled up in rage, or when I'm holding onto something so tightly that my knuckles are white, that's when I need to open my hands. That's when, if I let you, you gently peel each finger back until my hands are open wide enough to receive the gifts that you want to give me. 

And what gifts they are. Nothing I could grasp in this world compares, and yet so often I find my hands so full of trivial things that I don't have room for the treasures you are holding out. 

I've learned that I don't need my eyes closed to pray. Quite often I find that it's a positive disadvantage to close my eyes, as sleep is constantly on the agenda and a nap is far too tempting. I find over and over that if my eyes are open, properly open, then I see you close by.  From ladybirds to lightning, rainbows and toothpasty smiles from my little girls, my eyes see your glory. The more I see, the more I pray. 

It's more than a shopping list of requests. Prayer is thanksgiving, worship, confession, amazement and recognition. It's about falling on my face, shouting, scowling, crying and howling. Laughing with you, listening to you, accepting when I'm wrong. It's about restoration, relaxation, a chat with a friend. Being stirred, challenged, comforted. It's all those things and I'm not very good at it.

But I'm learning.

Lord God, thank you that there is no one way to pray, because we are all unique.  The shape of my relationship with you is different from anyone else's. Thankyou that you delight in our individuality and you don't want us to mould ourselves to be all the same. Thankyou for liturgy and formality and for prayer where we lift our hands in the air and call out to you. Thankyou for silence and singing. For shouts and groans and tears and laughter, all of which you accept if we offer them to you as our prayer. 

Thankyou for this thousand days of prayer. May it be only a beginning, because I suspect that a lifetime of thousand days won't be enough to unravel it. We've just begun to dig below the surface and I know that this soil is so fertile that it's worth going deeper and deeper.

Thankyou again that you take what little we give and you give us back so much.

Edited and reposted from July 2012

Linking with Tania Vaughan's Monday Ministry. This week the subject is prayer.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Fuzzy Felt and chainsaws

Evening, Lord God. 

You know how you tell me things, and I don't get it? Well, I want to understand. I don't want to miss the point. It seems important. 

The other day, I was in a prayer meeting praying for the ministry among women at our church. There is already a women's ministry at our church; lots of things are already going on, but it has felt for a while now that a time was coming to bring all the strands together somehow. To become a team, maybe.

I'm not really sure why, or how - I'm just sure that it's what we're supposed to do. 

So anyway, a group of us, praying. Over the months there have been a surprising number of words and pictures given to us that seem to be relevant to women in church, and women in general.
  • We have had pictures of climbing a mountain enveloped in fog, clinging to each other, and getting to a high place where the view is clear and beautiful. 
  • An oasis in a desert, ladies laughing and having fun together, uninhibited and unselfconscious. 
  • A lion confined in a cage, pacing back and forth as we eat a picnic from a red and white checked cloth, perfectly safe. 
  • A tree, firmly rooted in you, stretching tall and strong, bearing fruit of every type. People coming from far and wide to choose and pick fruit from the beautiful tree. 
So, there I was. Trying to make my mind blank like a black Fuzzy Felt board so that you could draw me a picture.

Sometimes I think I try too hard, and I know that you're not dependent on me creating the perfect environment for communication; you are just as capable of grabbing my attention in the supermarket frozen foods aisle with a six year old in my trolley as when I am trying to empty my mind of everything.

So, suddenly on my Fuzzy Felt mind was an aerial picture of a church. Not from straight above, but the sort of view you'd get from a hot air balloon looking sideways over a town. Neither was it our church, for this one had a tall steeple. Indeed, all I could see of this church was the roof and the steeple, because all around it were trees. Big, mature trees. So close that the walls of the church were obscured. It must have been very dark inside. I couldn't see a door in the church, or any ground around it. It was a church totally crowded with trees.

I knew that there were people in the church. I don't know what they were doing, but they were in a huddle in the middle of the building. There weren't many.And then, I suddenly became aware that the trees need to go.

They need to be chopped down.

There was to be a row of tree-stumps around the church, allowing light to stream in through the windows. 

So people could find it. Anyone passing by on the nearby road might have missed the church, unless they glanced up high and saw the spire pointing heavenwards out from the canopy of trees. Surely this church was hidden. 


The church needed to breathe again. The people inside needed light and air. They were going to come out of the church doors and rejoice at the sense of space. They could see the sun. They could look into the distance where before they could only see the trees.They would be able to see the area around the church too. They could see the passers-by, the people who hurried by without even knowing that the church was there. 

What does it mean, Father?  Is this some sort of sign? What can I learn from this? 

There's a bit more. 

Another day I was sitting quietly in the garden and a neighbour began to cut down a tree in his garden. This tree is on his side of the fence, completely his to cut down, but I wish he hadn't. I liked it there. And because he's cut that one down, we'll probably have to cut down one of ours, as the missing tree had enveloped it so completely that it's unsightly and stunted.

I began by having an internal moan about the noise of his chainsaw, which shattered my peace and destroyed concentration. I don't like that he's cut down the tree because now we have less privacy in our garden - it feels much more open now.

I also went on to develop my grumpy feelings by reflecting that the tree in question has been there all my life; and so no wonder I liked it where it was. I am very used to it.

I scowled for quite some time. 

It got me thinking back to the church choked with trees. I love trees, and I've never really thought of them as being restrictive, or unwanted, but in this picture the trees were suffocating. Pressing in. Swamping. 

They need cutting down to enable the people inside to breathe, and the people outside to take notice. They might even come in and say hello, if they could see the way in.

Quite separately, someone who isn't involved with the women's ministry at church passed on a picture she had to my friend, because she thought it was relevant. She said that it was an axe, at the base of a tree.


I'm forever asking you for clarity, Lord, and I think the message loud and clear has to do with trees and the cutting down of trees. Correct me if I'm wrong...

I've started noticing trees being cut down all over the neighbourhood. I came across a clearing in a wood not far from my house the other day and in it was a huge pile of logs and tree trunks. A patch of dense woodland had been cleared and the sunlight streamed in  - it was a beautiful, peaceful place. 

 It's not the first time that I've had a picture from you about trees being cut down.

There's a special place in my mind that we go, sometimes, Jesus and me, and one day a long while ago you showed me a formal garden there, and a row of what had been large trees, now just a row of stumps. I knew that these trees had been hard to cut down.

It had taken a lot of work, a lot of emotional effort and had taken a long time. I knew that the clear view from that garden had been hard won. 

But what a view. Now, from that lawn, I could see across an expanse of cliff-top to the glittering sea. The sunlight sparkled on the waves and the sea birds soared above. Endless sky, vast ocean.

Openness, light, air. I could breathe.

This is my spacious place.

You cut down the trees - or you are in process of cutting them down, so that I could see further and not have my view limited by the leaves and branches.  By anything standing in my way.

The tree that the neighbour cut down today definitely enables me to see further, but I feel more vulnerable too. The trees in the church picture clearly need to come down - they're oppressive. The trees in my cliff top place are gone and that's a source of joy. 

Are trees things that block a clear view of you? 

Things that maybe have been there a long time, like the one in my neighbour's garden, or the ones on the cliff top, which had left stumps wide enough to sit on?

Do the trees represent stuff that is deeply rooted and obscuring the truth? Things that get in the way?

Things that choke and suffocate, and need to be removed so that light can flood in and illuminate the shadows?

So that people can breathe again and find a way out, and people can see the beauty of the building and the people inside and find their way to the door?

Will you cut them down? Do we? 

Oh, God, I'm trying to make sense of all this, but I can't seem to see the wood for the trees. Ha ha. 

I need a bit of help. A wise person, someone skilled in interpreting Fuzzy Felt creations from the Creator. Or a bit of insight.

A nudge. 

Thank you so much for talking to me. So often I wonder that other people seem to know what you want but I am still in the dark; and then you talk to me and I look puzzled and ask you if you'd mind repeating that, more slowly this time? 

The funny thing, Lord (not funny to you, I'm sure, and I mean funny remarkable rather than funny haha) is that ladies from every different corner of our church are coming together and contributing words of scripture, things that they've prayed about or pictures that have come from you. The number of times someone has said, 'I'm not the type of person who gets things like pictures, but...' 

It has to be from you. 

So, Lord, I have no agenda. I want to hear clearly. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see and a mind that doesn't add two and two and come up with eleven. This is about you, not me.

What's with the trees?

Image credit:  axe pic (plumb axe.jpg) by taliesin.  Courtesy of  Used with permission.
Other images mine. 

Linking with Tania Vaughan's Monday Ministry (better late than never?)
Also with Jennifer Dukes Lee on Tell His Story

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Frame

My Dad was a photographer. Everywhere he went he took at least one camera and all family events are documented with pictures. He loved photography and commemorating our lives with careful images was a joy to him. 

He taught me to take photographs too. Photography appeals to my sentimental side; I'd rather have an occasion fixed and permanent. Memories can be so slippery. Camera phones are a godsend as I can whip out my phone and snap anything with a flick of thumb on touchscreen rather than use the bulky old kit that hangs heavy round the neck with zips and buttons and lens caps to negotiate. In Dad's day there were light-meters and exposures to select and all manner of variables that we don't have to worry about now. 

Swipe, click. Plug in and print. 

We used to have to wait a week to get back the pictures and see if there were any good ones. When they came back from the developers I would short through them excitedly and then show Dad my photos and he would offer advice, either in terms of composition or technical detail.  A compliment from Dad was high praise indeed. Even today, eight years after he died, when I look at my photos I try to see them through Dad's eyes. And when I stop in my tracks on the walk to school in a morning because there's something worth photographing, and my daughter rolls her eyes at the delay, I have a little smile because I used to do just the same.

Dad taught me to frame my pictures. Don't just press the button, he'd say. Look through the viewfinder.  Take a bit of time to try things out and see what works; what improves the composition.

Landscape or portrait? To zoom or not to zoom? Find a tree to frame one side of the image, or a silhouette to bring a sunset to life. Make sure there's some colour. Don't overlook the foreground; it can add depth.

Not too much sky, try not to put the horizon right in the middle.

A change of perspective can make a dull photo into a great one.

A frame makes all the difference. 

A frame can change the nature of the picture completely. A simple sketch can be transformed by the frame that it's mounted in.  It can change the whole nature of the scene. If you only see part of a picture you can misinterpret the whole thing.

With so much in life I just snap the photo without looking for a frame. I rush to interpret things as they appear to me in the heat of the moment. I am prone to anxiety and I am not by nature an optimist, so if I'm faced with troubles, then the picture I inevitably take is one of worry and negativity. I see what I think I see; I press the shutter before I've explored if there is more to the photograph than I initially thought. I am quick to assume the worst.

I don't bother looking for a frame because I'm not planning on hanging that picture on the wall. With hindsight, I might have realised that the situation was not as bad as I thought. What I feared didn't happen; and even if it did, then something better might have come out of it. 

I see a tiny part of the picture, but you see all of it, Father God. I see a fraction of an image; a piece of a vast mosaic, and I'm quite sure that taking a series of close-ups of my muddled-up life doesn't add up to the whole thing any more than a beautiful set of snowflake images can reveal the grandeur of a mountain range. 

Help me to remember that what I see as the whole picture is just a tiny part. I work in three dimensions but you hold the whole of history in your hand. 

You knew me since before the world began and you understand my place in it completely, when I am so small that the mood I'm in when I climb out of bed can affect the way I view my life. 

I can only see the horizon - you know what there is beyond.

My whole life is framed by your love for me, Lord Jesus. It changes who I am; or it would if I let it. If I only pause for a moment as I peer through the viewfinder, I might see a better picture than the obvious one. If I move the camera to the left or right, there might be things to see that change the way I view things. If I shift from telephoto to wide angle there might be something else that I should be seeing.

When I see things through the frame of who you are - who I am - things change. Suddenly that oppressive scene is not as stark or fearsome.  There is distance, mid-ground and foreground. It's not black and white any more. There is colour and detail.  Somehow the frame transforms the picture.

I can change what I see by remembering the frame. 

So next time I look at what's happening in my life, I'm going to try and remember that when bad things seem to be threatening, I am loved by the King. When the storm clouds are gathering and things are dark, that I am precious to you and you will take care of me. When I feel lost and lonely, you have promised that you will never leave me. And when things do go wrong, you have promised that you can bring good out of anything.

Even the worst picture can be improved with a frame.

The camera never lies; but it doesn't tell the whole story. 

Linking up with Nacole at Sixinthesticks for #concrete words again. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The road less travelled

Lost again. Where am I?

Father God, I am always asking you for directions. 

I keep asking you where I'm going and when will I get there? 

I'm asking you to show me the next step, which path to take, to show me which door should I push.

Which way should I go? What route would you like me to take?

Where will you lead me if only I am willing to be led?

I should stop asking, and just wait for you to show me. Maybe in the waiting there's more to see than there is in the chase, concentrating only on the road in front of me, pounding footsteps, breath coming in gasps.

Maybe I could sit here for a while, by this crossroads, and feel the sun on my back, and the breeze in my hair, listening to the birds and noticing the small things. The ladybird that lands on my arm, the wild flowers that grow at the roadside. The way the leaves on the trees look so breathtakingly beautiful against the bluest of skies.


Maybe that's better than tearing down the road without glancing left and right, backtracking when I realise I'm lost, only to set off at a gallop in another direction. Running, running, not stopping to drink in the view or notice that you're there, waiting for me to sit down next to you. Waiting to show me something.


I want to take the road less travelled. 

The road that is hardly noticed because the entrance is narrow; the one that's just for me, not for anyone else; the one that you're waiting patiently to take me down. My path.

You know this road so well - you know every bump and camber, every hill and valley. You know that there are place where the road leads perilously close to a sheer drop, and you know secret places where there are still waters and lush meadows. You know when to stop to admire the view from the best angle and you know when how to guide me through the steep and treacherous parts where I'm scared to go alone and it's easy to lose my footing.

You want to walk this road with me, not just wave me off on my own. You want to point out the spectacular sights and you want to be there when I stumble.

You just want me to put down my maps and SatNav gadgetry and stop trying to do it myself.

Stop peering off down roads I'm not supposed to investigate. Those roads might lead someone else exactly where they're supposed to be going, but they're not for me. Those other roads sometimes look easier than mine - prettier, more exciting; but you're waiting for me to stop looking longingly at the signposts or at other people's receding backs and look into your eyes. 

I'm going to sit here for a bit because I'm tired. So, so tired.

I'm going to lean against this tree and notice the insects on the flowers and the sunlight filtering through green leaves and dappling the ground. I'm going to feel how soft the grass and the moss and I'm going to breathe in and breathe out slowly and deeply. Clean, cool, unpolluted air. I'm going to wait until the muscles of my shoulders relax and stop aching with tension and the noise in my head grows quieter and quieter. 

And I'll rest. I'll wait. 

And, Lord, when you're ready; when you think I'm ready, and not before, I'm going to take the hand that you offer me and let you pull me to my feet. And then you'll show me where to go, and I'll match my stride with yours.

We'll go somewhere, me and you.

Linking up today with Jennifer Dukes Lee at Tell His Story

Linking up also with Concrete Words at Sixinthesticks in a better-late-than-never sort of way. Monday's prompt was 'The Road' and this was in my head: perfect.

Thank you, people, for letting me link up. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Order and chaos

Oh, Lord.

It's been ages since I've been here. I'm not really sure why. Since I last wrote anything I've been on a wonderfully inspiring writer's weekend where lovely people who are real writers were very encouraging. You'd think I'd have come back all enthusiastic and full of ideas, but it's not worked that way.

My head is full of things. Loads of things. Messy things like worries and annoyances and jumbled half-formed things that lurk.  Even as I sit here my neighbour is cutting down an old tree that is technically on his side of the fence but it's been there all my life and I'm disproportionately upset about it. 

My head gets clogged up, Lord. That's what happens. It gets stuck on something and sort of backs up like a blocked drain and then nothing can get through. 

It's chaos in there. 

Now, I'm a person who likes order. I plan. I like to know what I'm doing. When I'm disorganised I get in a flap and I can't think straight and the thinking-through-a-fog thing makes me miserable. And it gets worse. 

I don't like it. 

You know that peace that you promised us, the kind that passes understanding? Well, I'd really like some, please. Peace beyond the clutter inside my head, beyond the noise in my ear that won't seem to go away, beyond the noise of the power-saw on the trunk of the tree. 

Help me to clear my head, will you, Father, so that I can concentrate on things? There are some really important things coming up and all the time I'm sitting here with my engine idling but no gear selected feels like precious time wasted. I've got some really good opportunities that I need to take advantage of before they disappear, but I need to do lots of work.  

There are exciting things happening at church; I know that you are moving and I am so looking forward to seeing what you have in mind, but I need to be alert and active because there's lots of opposition. You know that old phrase, 'We must be doing something right because everything is going wrong'? 

Well, this is no time for me to be fibrillating, jelly-like.

And then I realise that I've been praying like this for a while and I'm still the same. Some mornings I wake up with a noise in my head and a disconnected, disorientated feeling and I know that the day is going to be a washout. On those days I can't think, let alone read or write. Some days I have lots of ideas but can't seem to carve out any time to concentrate. Some days I just don't have the energy for anything and it doesn't seem worth trying.

So, what am I doing wrong? Why won't you help me? What is there for me to learn from the fog? 

A friend said something to me the other day about the idea of order and chaos. About how it was In The Beginning. It goes like this:
''In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."
Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV)
You were there before there was anything. Before anything went Bang, before anything was, you were. How long were you there before you decided to come over all creative and make the galaxies and the planets and the earth and the trees? (One less, now. Unhappy face here.) How long were you hovering? 

The Message bible has a wonderfully rich translation:
"First this: God created the Heavens and Earth - all you see, all you don't see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.'
Genesis 1:1-2 (Message)
You brooded.  My dictionary indicates a couple of uses of the word; to cover, loom, fill an atmosphere or scene -  well, that seems likely. Back then there was only you. You were everything, everywhere. You were God then, you always were. Nothing else was. 

But also it suggests that you were thinking. Pondering. Dwelling on something. Mulling something over. You had a Plan. 

And then you acted. You said 'Let there be light.' and there was light. You made the land and the sea and the sun and the moon and the animals and birds and plants and trees. (Sniff). And then you made man. 

I have always thought that you brought order out of chaos. You created neat sets of twenty-four hours with a sun for the day and a moon for the night. You made the seashore with tides rhythmically rising and falling. You made mountains for beauty and tiny blossoms just because you could. Even in the wilderness we find geometric patterns; evidence of order and intent. 

I have always thought chaos = bad, order = good.

But my friend suggested to me that you were there in the chaos, and always had been. Chaos doesn't upset you - nothing bothers you at all. You weren't oppressed by the lack of order, you were more than it. You didn't need to change the chaos into something else; you decided to. You hovered over the formlessness and emptiness, the 'soup' and you decided to create something not because what there was already was displeasing, but because you wanted people. You had it in mind to love us. To love even me. 

You thought of me even as you brooded over the emptiness. 

So you were in the chaos. Are you in my chaos, my little, selfish, confused head? Are you there just as you are everywhere else? Is it possible for me to trust you even when I can't see what lies ahead? When I'm in a flap because I don't feel well and I don't know from day to day what I'll be capable of? When I so, so want to be full-steam-ahead but I'm only trundling along with many stops and starts? 

Is it possible for me, a planner, an analyser, a careful, methodical sort of person to just let go and trust you when things are messy? I wonder if I could just stop trying to be in control of a situation that is (for me) uncontrollable, would I find that peace? An inner peace even when the noise in my ear won't go away and the power-saw is now working on another tree?

Even when my To Do list is getting longer and more forbidding and deadlines loom closer and things that might happen in the future seem worryingly likely?

Oh, Lord. Is chaos not bad at all if it drives me to run to you and duck under the shelter of your wings? A wise lady recently told me that I needed to know that you are my strong tower. I can run and hide in you until things feel safer, until I'm ready to come out again. Will that day ever come? I just want to hide and stay hidden. 

I know that for some people chaos isn't scary; they welcome spontaneity where I sidestep it and they relish the new and surprising where I need time and space to get used to things.  Do I use my personality type as an excuse for liking things howI like them? Do I lean heavily on routine and order and make them into idols, valuing them far too highly? 

Is that why the fog won't lift; so that I can't apply the usual stuff and organise myself content again?

Do I have to make an adjustment?  Depend less on my own ability to make things happen and rely more on you? Stop searching for predictability and be content with this moment, right now, even if it seems chaotic and I can't make sense of it? 

Put like that it seems a) obvious and b) simple. It might be a) but for me it's far from b). 

Lord, you made me the way I am. You designed me with an in-built desire to have things neat and tidy, both physically and emotionally. Help me cope with disorder without clamping my hands over my ears and going back to bed. Help me to keep my eyes steady on you instead of endlessly looking about me for the right direction. At the moment the path seems overgrown and very difficult to find. Instead of beating about in the wilderness trying to find it maybe I need to sit down somewhere and wait for the next instruction. 

Lord Jesus, help me to turn down the static so that I can hear what you're saying. Help me to relax into the chaos until you want me to negotiate my way out of it. Help me to stop panicking when my head is full. I don't need to be in perpetual motion on a hamster wheel running, running to get nowhere.

I'm thinking that this is what you want me to learn.

What I do is so much less important than what I am.

Planning, striving, achieving; so much less important than my relationship with you.

Deadlines matter not one bit when I'm following your Plan and not mine. Timing that seems so urgent and inflexible in my little life is irrelevant to you. You are the master builder, not me. My Lego houses are insignificant in comparison to the eternal mansions and palaces of yours.

And the tree was not mine to begin with. It's just as out of my control as the weather and my tomorrow. So the skyline of the garden will change from the way it's been for more than forty years. Something that was there is now missing. 

Help me to see past it.  

Linking up with Tania Vaughan's Monday Ministry.

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