Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A letter to tuck in your pocket

One and a half more weeks of holiday and school starts again. You can tell that my two girls' minds are beginning to turn to the new term because sometimes out of nowhere comes a little remark that reveals a hidden iceberg of thoughts and worries.

Katy is going back into year two, her last year at the little local infant school just around the corner. Her year one class has been split into two and she isn't with any of her friends. I held my breath as she handed me the paper, waiting for anguish and gnashing of teeth, but she was philosophical. 

'Mummy, there'll be all those new friends to make.'

What about that. 

I can't tell you how much I admire her. Six years old and fearless in the face of a daunting situation. Of course, she has her insecurities, but in the playground she's relaxed and confident of her own welcome and as a result the other kids want to play with her. How wonderful that is. I would love to be more like that. 

Her big sister, on the other hand, has moments of excitement about going back into year four, but mostly she's apprehensive and as September draws closer I can feel her happy holiday mood slipping a little. Last term didn't go particularly well and the troubles and tears multiplied until we were just nursing her through the last days before the long holiday. It's all been on the back burner but now it's time to turn up the heat again...

I encourage and reassure and comfort and advise, but the bottom line is that they both need to work out what to do to get through school and friendships and so on for themselves. What works for Katy might not work for Elizabeth, and what has worked all along might not always go so well. They are unique little bodies and personalities and neither of them is me. They're not going to handle it as I did (and that's probably a good thing; I made a complete hash of friendships for much of my school career). 

So, I will walk them to school and I'll buoy them up with words of encouragement. I shall tell them that they are warm, kind, beautiful, clever, interesting and fun to be with. I shall advise them on letting others go first, winning and losing with grace and happily playing games suggested by other children even if they feel they have a better idea.  

They have new school uniforms, (rats, socks. Forgot socks) and shiny new shoes. They'll have new haircuts and pencil cases. They'll be as ready as I can make them, but when I've waved goodbye, they'll pretty much have to sort it out for themselves.

Here's what I'd like them to remember:

Beautiful daughter of mine,

You are loved. 

More than you know, you are loved. You are loved by all your family back here at home; by me, watching the clock for school pick up time and anxiously searching out your face in the exodus of children passing through the school doors, and you are loved beyond imagination by your heavenly Father. 

He made you just as you are. He made you deliberately, not accidentally. You were designed by a Master craftsman who never, ever makes mistakes. When He finished making you, my little one, He sat back and smiled, delighted with the little girl He had made. He knows every hair on your head and He sees every breath that you take. He promised a long, long time ago that He would never leave you, and He is always at your side. Even when Mummy goes back home, He walks through those doors right next to you. He sits by you and cheers you on, and He puts His arms around you when things are tough. 

He is so proud of you. We all are, my lovely, but your heavenly Daddy knows the things that we can't know. He knows how fearful you are of new situations and He sees how difficult you find school, sometimes. He understands that now and again things go wrong and He smiles with pride when you don't give up; when you say sorry, when you try again.

You are loved. Let that sink in really deep, my darling, so that you can find that knowledge quickly when you need it. Try to understand those three little words so that they build you up. Things knock you down, sometimes, and I know that you feel fragile and vulnerable at school. It hasn't been easy so far and I know that you're sometimes overwhelmed and uncertain how to handle things. When you're feeling left out or insignificant, remember those three words: you are loved. Remember that you are loved just for who you are, not for anything you can do. That love doesn't falter when things go wrong, or you make a mistake. 

You are loved, all the time, no matter what. Just think: the Creator of the world loves you. He loves you so much that he smiles as He thinks of you. He is delighted with you, just as I am. 

I want to say it again, because I know how easy it is to listen to things but not to really hear them.

Those other girls? The ones that say mean things and hurt your feelings?  Oh, my love, there will always be girls like that. I'm forty-two and still they're around, only now they're at the school gates instead of whispering at the back of the classroom. It's not going to change because you're a year older. It's something that has always been, will always be.

Don't be one of them. I know there will be times when you'll be tempted to try to fit in by laughing with the mean girls; how membership of their circle seems a coveted prize, but don't do it. Friendship acquired at someone else's expense isn't friendship at all, and all too soon it'll be you on the outside again, for truth and companionship aren't built on secrets and sneering, but on compassion and honesty. 

And when you've been rejected or hurt and you want to lash out and hit back; don't. Close your eyes and count to ten, or breathe deeply and walk away, but don't play their game. Jesus taught us to love those that are not our friends. It's hard - even for grown ups - but He told us that we must be kind to those who aren't kind to us. And that means her, my lovely girl. Yes, you know who I mean. The one that you don't see to eye to eye with, and yet part of you longs to be part of her crowd.

Time and time again you've left school with her spiteful words ringing in your ears and before we've even walked home you've had tears on your cheeks because of this girl and her friends. Don't return meanness with meanness, because the momentary satisfaction that it brings quickly evaporates and leaves a guilty residue that only damages you. Better to return spite with kindness. Then you keep your integrity and the whole of heaven rejoices, because it's not an easy thing to do. 

I'm doing my best with that one myself, love, because I hate to see you hurt. Forgiving those that hurt you, even if they're only little themselves - well, I'm doing my best with that too. And one day, when you have children of your own and you know the fierceness of the love that you feel for your baby, you'll know how hard it is.  

Be brave, my little one; the world has plenty of people like her, but more that are not. Don't judge the whole world by the standards of the mean kids.

Seek out the children who are kind to you, who make you laugh, who make you feel happy, and do the same for them. Be a good friend, and you'll find good friends. I pray every day that you will find someone lovely to do life with; a girl who will link arms with you in good times and bad, who'll encourage and comfort and cheer you on. But until you find her, sweetheart, don't give up. Don't give up on friendship, or on the other girls, or on yourself. When you find that precious girlfriend who understands you, who accepts you and loves you it will be worth all the troubles. 

Remember, you are loveable. You are precious and unique and special. You are beautiful, inside and out, and you are loved. 

There is no-one like you. Don't compare yourself with anyone, because you don't know what it feels like to be them. Just be yourself. You were created to be you, just where you are right now, surrounded by the people you're with. There is no mistake. It's all in His hands. He's watching over you so, so carefully, and He will keep you safe. 

And I'll help. I'll be there in the morning, waiting by the gates in case you turn around for another wave. I'll be there when you come out, negotiating my own way among the grown up girls who chat and gossip in groups just as they did in this same playground when I was in your shoes. All day my mind will return to you, my lovely, and I'll wonder who you're sitting with in class, whether there'll be anything you like for lunch, who you're playing with in the playground. 

I'll be talking to Jesus about you and asking Him to hold you close, to help you, and He'll be saying to me, 'Don't worry. I've got her.' 

He's got you.  

With love


 Linking up with Sabrina and Ruth at 'Letters To...' 
This time we're at Learning (one day at a time) and the prompt was: 'A letter to tuck in your pocket'. 


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Letter to the one who noticed

Hello, my child.

I just wanted you to know that you're doing alright. You're so hard on yourself and you still hold fast to that tendency of yours to assume that if something isn't perfect, then it's not good enough. Well, I alone am perfect. Try and remember that, will you?

I see how hard you're trying. I've noticed. I've noticed that you whisper my name under your breath when faced with a situation that upsets you; whether you're anxious, angry or confused. I hear it when you scream it in your head or exhale it in a sigh. I hear, and I am there. Think, now, you have noticed me too, haven't you?  You're learning that it really does make a difference. 

All your life, I've been leaving you little notes, now and again. Little things that you'll understand. You're getting better at noticing and interpreting them and it delights me when you do. I see your pleasure and it pleases me.

I understand that you see me more easily in some things than others - I know that lions remind you of Aslan from CS Lewis and you think straight away of me. I know that when you see a rainbow you think of my promise not to flood the world again. When you see a sunset, a mountain range or lightning you are awed and you reflect on my glory.

I hear your overwhelmed words of gratitude when you gaze at your children (particularly when they're asleep!) and it makes me smile. You're recognising more and more that the things you have are blessings from me.

I saw you on your stomach on the lawn the other day taking a photograph of a butterfly in the grass, and I saw you stop to point out a tiny flower growing between the pavers on the road. I love it that your daughters know now that their Mummy wants to stop and notice and take pictures of those little messages that I leave in your path.

I hope that one day they too will understand they are gifts from me. Make sure that you tell them.

I don't miss a single thing, my love, and to see you appreciate those little tokens of beauty and love that I leave for you makes my heart swell.

It's good to notice. 

You're doing well, but I want you to notice much more. 

There is so much more. I am visible in subtleties as well as grandeur. And this is a hard one: I am there in the clouds as well as the sunlight. Anyone can smile when all around them is warm and happy; I want you to learn to notice my presence in the darkness as well as the light. 

I am there when you're at the end of your tether after a day when you have been unable to find a moment to yourself. I am there when you sit and chew your fingers regretting the thing that you've just said or done. I am there when you feel at odds with the world, when you feel that you spend your life trying to make others happy, and when you complain who is caring for you?  I am there, too, and I'm caring.

I want you to learn to find me in those situations as well as the moments of tranquility and joy. It's a real sign of maturity when you choose to trust me in the middle of pain or confusion or depression, and it's time for you to learn to be better at it. There are still things to be thankful for in the most miserable of circumstances. 

Try to find those things. Look carefully, and I promise you that you will find them. I will help you if necessary, until you get the hang of it.

The thing is, something special happens when you reach for me at times like that. I am right there to be found, just as I am when you're on your mountain top, breathing in the vista with a smile on your face. I am always there, close by, arms outstretched. 

Feelings are deceptive, you know. Sometimes you need to make a decision to act even when you don't feel like it. I know that you don't particularly want to hear that as you are led by your feelings, but I know that you understand the truth of it. It's a hard thing to learn, but you can do it.

When you take hold of me in faith when you don't feel any positive emotion at all - that gives me an opportunity to pull you closer. When you find it in you to lift your praises when you feel more like cursing, or when you thank me when you don't feel thankful, those are the times when I see how much more like me you are growing. 

Don't get hung up on this. I know that you'll read these words over and over and berate yourself for not being able to do it, bringing up every occasion you can think of where you failed. I don't keep a track of those times. I see every effort you make; every time you lift your eyes or your hands and every time you take a step forward you make me smile. There's a long way to go, and there's more to see than you can imagine.

I have so much for you, but if I gave it to you all at once, you wouldn't cope. Take it one step at a time. I'm walking with you, remember, and I never get tired. 

I am proud of you, little one.

You're doing fine.  

With my love


Linking up with Sabrina Fowles and Ruth Povey at 'Letters To...'
This fortnight we're at Sabrina's place and the prompt was: 'Letter to the one who noticed'.

Popular posts: Getting a word in edgeways

Revisiting some popular posts:

Afternoon, God.

Someone asked me last night when the last time was that I asked you how you were feeling.

Have I ever asked you how you were feeling?  Ever said, 'What's on your mind?'

I am so full of words that I fill our space, don't I? Every time, I fill our space with taptaptap and yapyapyap and you don't get a word in edgeways. This place that I come to be with you - it may be filled with you, because you are everything, but it's me that provides the soundtrack.

It made me stop in my tracks, the idea that I should ask you how you were. I have no idea why the idea should take me by surprise, exactly, since I know full well that you are a sentient being who loves, hates, sings with joy and weeps with sadness; it says so in the Bible. I know that you care. I know that you interact; I know that you speak. I don't have to fill every gap with Me. I'm just good at it.

It's no wonder that when you want my attention you use song lyrics, or someone else's words, or a sermon, or a book, because those are the times when I'm listening, rather than talking, filling the space with noise. I wonder if, given the chance, you'd use the silence.

 What would you say, if I asked you how you were? Would you smile and say, 'Fine, thanks'? Then I'd go back to talking about me?

Would you say, 'Well, since you asked...' and tell me how the world grieves you, embarrasses you, hurts you? Would you lay your heart next to mine for a brief moment so that I might see what you see, and understand the urgency?

Would you just let me sit for a while and fill me with peace?

It's odd, really. If a friend came round for a chat, one or other of us would start the conversation off by asking how things were, and at some point the other would definitely get a turn, but not so with you. I'm sorry that I don't extend you the same courtesy.

I come at you with a list of woes and hopes and anxieties and regrets and sometimes I might remember to insert a bit of confession or praise... but rarely do I leave you an opening. I know that you don't need anything from me - it's not as if you need to unburden yourself as I do, but you never stop listening to me. You listen and you listen and you never lose patience with me. What sort of friendship never asks in return, never wants to know?

What would you tell me, if I listened to you?

I'm not very good at listening. I think I'm getting better at noticing, and so you, ever gracious, show me things. I'm getting better at laying down my worries in front of you and you are infinitely compassionate and you take care of them. But I forget to ask about you.

I'd love to know how you are. I'd love to know what you have on your heart.

Or at least I think I would. Something deep within me felt a bit uneasy as I said that. Blimey, what might  you lay on me if I asked you what was on your mind, and you took me at your word? What would I do if you gave me the tiniest glimpse of the heart of Almighty God about something?

There are any number of things that you might say to me, if I asked you. You might show me the depth of your grief at the state we're in. You might fill me with your frustration that we live in a world that allows people to starve while we order Christmas turkeys that won't fit in the fridge. You might give me a burden for the lost or homeless or persecuted. I'm a bit nervous about burdens. I might never be the same again.

If my daughter slid onto the stool next to me right now and asked me, 'Mummy, how are you?' what would I say?

'Well, darling, apart from being tired and full of cold, I'm disappointed with the way you said you wanted baked beans tonight and then left them all on your plate. I don't like the way you stamp when you don't get your own way, and you're not working hard enough at your handwriting. And your room is a terrible mess, do I have to keep on telling you and telling you?'

Hardly. So why do I assume that you'd lay something awful on me?

You're not in the business of guilt. You know how fragile I am, and you don't bear a grudge. You would never crush me like that; you love me too much. If one of my daughters came to me that way I'd pull her close to me and I'd say, 'Thankyou for asking. I'm happy that you're here next to me.'

Or possibly right now I wouldn't, because I've been working hard at putting them to bed, but you know what I mean.

You might sit companionably by my side and tell me that you're pleased. Pleased with my baby steps in the right direction and that little bright bit of my heart that does, genuinely and honestly, does want to make you happy. You might overlook the great hulking dark portions that are selfish and mean and bitter and you might stick a 'Great Work!' sticker on my chest to reinforce the good things.

You might share something of your dreams with me. The Plan. Your vision. You might blow my mind with possibilities. I might be so inspired that it changes my life direction. You might reveal something to me that I need to share with other people. You might trust me with a message to pass on.

It's a big question, I'm thinking. If I ask you how you are feeling, do I want to know?

You would adjust your answer to fit, wouldn't you? Just as my husband doesn't go on about thermonuclear physics when our five year old asks why the sun is warm, You're not going to overwhelm me. You know how small and weak I am, and you love me just the same.

I am your child, and you are my Father. I want you to be happy. I want you to know that I care. If you want to talk to me, I want to listen. Or if you want to share a little bit of silence, then I'd like to learn how to do that too.

You are El Roi. You see me.

Lord God, how are you?

Friday, 2 August 2013

Popular posts: With butterfly wings

Well, there I was just about to put this post up again because it's one of my most popular posts, and as I read it, I realised how little has changed. I find it both depressing and comforting that a year ago during the summer school holidays I was struggling to find time to spend with you, Lord God, and struggling generally with day to day trivia of life.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, hey.

I was flat on my tummy yesterday in the garden photographing a butterfly.

For all these reasons it seems apt to repost this:

Evening, God.

It's been a while, hasn't it? Busy busy busy, you know; school holidays, packing for trips, the odd tummy bug. I'm wanting to catch up. 

Today we went to a Butterfly Centre. We went in bright sunshine, came home in torrential rain and picnicked in a howling gale, but we had a wonderful time. 

What a fantastic place. 

Birds of prey, fabulous peacocks, ancient tortoises, snakes and spiders and butterflies. Amazing, delicate, extravagantly beautiful butterflies. They lived in a recreation of a tropical rainforest complete with pools and tropical flowers, creepy crawlies, bats and birds. Everywhere things scuttled and crept and fluttered and slithered. The air was hot and humid and the sun shone through the transparent roof and transported us to another place. A large scaly lizard like thing as long as my arm perched up in the roof and a display of tiny, jewel-like poison dart frogs kept Katy occupied for ages. Elizabeth was mesmerised by a large snake slowly consuming a white rat and I was transfixed by the beauty of the butterflies. 

In our garden we often get butterflies. We have buddleia and cornflowers and marigolds and lots of (ahem) 'wilderness' areas and we're used to seeing what I've always thought of as cabbage whites and something that looks a bit like a red admiral (but probably isn't, I realise). I don't know much about butterflies and I confess that even today I was more interested in gazing at them and trying to take a decent photograph than I was in reading the educational material available. 

Fragile, but strong enough to do what it's meant to do.
Stunning colours, so fragile. Amazingly detailed; some of the butterflies looked as if they'd been coloured by hand. Elusive - they landed on a leaf at eye level but before I'd raised my camera they were off again, flitting between luscious blooms from petal to petal, weightless. They've been described as 'living flowers' and I like that. 

Apparently the average lifespan of a butterfly is about a month. They don't live very long, but while they live they are spectacular. They are pupae, then caterpillars, then they snuggle into their chrysalis for a while and then they hatch into gorgeous creatures that flutter and dance and sit on flowers waiting to have their picture taken, if any huge and clumsy human being stumbles near. 

Each of these tiny insects is unique. You made each one different. You chose their colours, the design on their wings, their size and shape and habits and flight pattern. You watch over each chrysalis as they sleep and you count very wing beat. What a Creator you are, to take such joy in the tiny and helpless. Even the fleeting life of a butterfly has meaning in the fragile eco-system of the rainforest, just as it does in my back garden. 

You made them beautiful just because you could. Your attention to detail never fails to amaze me. You could just have made a red one and a blue one and a yellow one, but the intricacy and detail are breathtaking. Today we even saw transparent butterflies. How cool is that? 

You know what captured my imagination today, though? It was when I came to the cabinet where the butterflies emerge fully formed from a chrysalis spun by a crawling caterpillar.  Ranks of chrysalises (is that the plural of chrysalis?) hung in rows - bright green, dark green, yellow, red, russet, even shiny gold. Some butterflies were in process of struggling slowly out of their cocoon and this is where it got to me. 

A butterfly has to battle to leave the chrysalis. It's not easy. It works hard to tear its way out and it has to fight, then rest. 

Fight, then rest. 

It is in the action of pushing its way into the world that the butterfly gains enough strength in its brand new and breathtakingly beautiful wings to fly. If I were to help a butterfly out of it's chrysalis, it would die. It would never fly. It would never become what it was meant to become, because it had never built up its muscles. If butterflies have muscles. I'm not sure about that, but you get the drift. 


Maybe I'm like a butterfly. I know that I live longer, but that's nonsense really because I know that my lifespan is only a tiny wingbeat in eternity. A blink. I know that I'm not as wonderfully beautiful as a butterfly, but then you tell me in the Bible that I am just those things; wonderful and beautiful. As I peered at those tiny insects today, feeling enormous and substantial in contrast with their delicate fragility, it made me think of the way you look at me. I am as vulnerable and ephemeral as a butterfly. 

I am nothing without you, my Creator.

Struggle, then rest, then struggle...
I too have a purpose, and I need muscles to fulfil it. If you helped me out of my chrysalis every time I tired and moaned and cried out to you to do it for me, then maybe I would never fly. 

So often I don't like how life is hard. I don't like that it takes so much effort and that even the good things, even the blessings, are hard work. We went to the Olympics last week and we visited family and we did wonderful things that are good gifts from you, opportunities that are rare and to be cherished, and yet I found myself exhausted simply with the daily job of negotiating life with two small energetic children who are programmed to get up early, stay up late and make much noise in between. 

I keep asking you, Father, why is it so hard? Is it just me? The generations before me just got on with things, why do I struggle so much? I want you to take the difficulty away and give me a break. But maybe, I wonder, if you did, then I might never have the strength to fly.

'Mummy, it's you with butterfly wings.'
Is that it? Do I need to push my way out, struggle, rest, struggle, rest, until I emerge into the light and open out my beautiful wings? Only then I'll be strong enough to take off and do what I was made to do. Fulfil my purpose in life. 

A few days ago my little girl, Lizzie, gave me a picture she'd drawn on a bit of notepaper. She handed it to me as a present. 

She said, 'Mummy, it's you. It's you with butterfly wings.'


So here it is. 

I'm as unique and beautiful as a butterfly, and my life is just as fleeting.

If you created and painted the butterflies with such painstaking love, then what a work of art am I?

A butterfly is just a tiny insect but has a vital, God-given role to play in the world, and so do I... 

Fragile as they are, they need strength to do what they were created to do. They struggle, and rest, and then one day they spread their beautiful wings and fly.

And you smile.

That's good enough for me. 

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