Friday, 29 September 2017

Dreams and dead things

I don't like autumn. I know, every time I say that (and I have mentioned it before) there's a collective groan from the autumn-lovers.  They speak of vibrant oranges and yellows and reds and the exhilaration of kicking their way through piles of gorgeousness on brisk, bright mornings and they eat pumpkin and make chutney and so on.

I don't do any of that. Today the rain keeps on coming down and it's mid-morning but still hasn't become properly light. It's dank and miserable. My world is getting darker. Death is all around me. The few leaves that weren't blasted into next week by yesterday's storms are swirling into brown drifts. The plants need cutting back to clear away the dead stalks, spent seed pods and rotting foliage, and I'm not tempted to go and do some gardening.

Autumn is a time of decay, shrinking, dying. 

I sit here with both hands round a cup of coffee and I listen to the rain on the roof and contemplate the long months until the days start to get longer. 

I know, it happens every year. You'd think I'd be used to it. Perhaps I should stare at a white screen for a while until I get my share of daylight. Alternatively perhaps I should shut up and look on the bright side. 

It'll soon be Christmas. 

Anyway, I think I'm growing up. I've realised something about autumn. 

Leaves are falling from the trees onto my flower beds. They will eventually make a blanket over all the sleeping shrubs and bulbs and the blanket will help keep moisture in and protect the ground from frosts until it slowly composts down into the soil. The drifts of fallen leaves will dissolve into leaf mould, leaving my heavy, clay-ey soil richer and conditioned. 

Underground, I imagine the roots and bulbs snuggling down for a winter sleep and taking on board the nourishment from the soil around them. Undisturbed by footballs and footsteps, the garden rests. Takes a deep breath and sighs. Relaxes before the brighter sun, warmer temperatures and longer days start to signal that it's wake-up time. Spring rise-and-shine time. 

But autumn is for snuggling down. Putting on the heating and digging out the woolly socks.

The tree lets the leaves fall to protect itself from the relative dryness of winter - it's a survival mechanism. The dead stuff that falls and decays and is so often the focus of my autumn grumpiness is essential to the cycle of the plants in the garden. 

Things fall and die. As a result of their death and decay, something new can grow.

And if that's not a life lesson, I don't know what is. 

I'm ready for the new growth, that moment in spring when you look around you as if you were seeing for the first time and suddenly there are bright, impossibly green shoots everywhere you look. I want that. 

Rapid growth, dramatic development, shoots and buds and blooms. Colour, not darkness. Not the leaf-mould, mulchy, sodden ground wait, wait... it's a slow process. 

Maybe it's all a slow process. Maybe there's a place where dreams go to die and as they fall, limp and lifeless, they start to enrich the soil around them. Perhaps God is saying that something has to die for something to be born. The dead thing isn't lost, wasted, useless; it's a catalyst for something new and beautiful. I didn't realise that my plans were the leaf-mould of the future and it has been no fun to watch them curl up and slowly turn to compost, but I believe His way is best. 

His dreams are bigger than mine. 

So the soil of my life is being forked over by the Gardener. He's digging in some of the leaf-mould as things die and decay. He's digging deep, and it's not comfortable. If I am the soil, then my instinct is to stay dense and full of clay, but things don't easily grow in soil like that. The good stuff needs to be worked in until the whole texture of the soil changes. Until it is transformed into something fertile. 

Who'd have thought that the good stuff turns out to be the stuff that gets thrown away? 

So I am soil, and I am in need of nourishment. I am claggy clay, but partially leaf-mould and I am waiting. I am changing, slowly, imperceptibly, into soil in which God will make something grow. 

All in His good time. 

It turns out that there's a reason for autumn.




This is an edited version of a post from 2014 but I was walking back from the post office a moment ago in horizontal rain and trying very hard to concentrate on the yellow and red leaves beneath my feet rather than the cold, the wet, the slippery pavement, the sluggish mornings, the dark evenings.... 

Still working on this. 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Me Too Moment

Earlier this month, a fellow ACW member reached into a hole, took hold of my hand and gently pulled me out. I'm quite sure she didn't know that she'd done it, and it's possible that she'll be amazed when she finds out. When God takes our words and uses them for something unforeseen his creativity quite often astonishes us.

In her post, Deborah Jenkins speaks of her desire for her writing to touch people. To offer them comfort and encouragement as they navigate the ups and downs of life; to point them to God. The day I read her words was definitely a down kind of day. I can't remember the weather but let's say it was dark and cold and rainy. I was cross and miserable, feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Through that post, Deborah noticed me in my hole, stopped and spoke to me and offered me a hand.



Friday, 23 June 2017

Unappetising sandwiches and thin places

Forrest Gump's life was famously like a box of chocolates. Mine's more like a sandwich.


All the bits of my life are like layers: family, friends, health, work, church, and so on. It's a good sandwich. A well-filled, appetising one, most of the time. It's when something is off that it all goes wrong. 

My problem is my inability to compartmentalise. When something is wrong - a sandwich component is bad or absent - whether it's a touch of blue mould on the bread or a tang of rancid butter - the whole thing is inedible. No matter that the cheese is my favourite, and there's just the right amount of pickle, or the perfect crispy bit of lettuce, I can't enjoy the sandwich because part of it is not right. 

In times of stress or confusion, it's as if I've dropped the sandwich and it's landed on the floor in a heap of component parts. In accordance with the five-second-rule I scramble to pick it up, hastily reassembling it on my plate, but it doesn't really work. Now there are bits of carpet fluff and nothing is where it should be. It's not appetising any more. (And perhaps the metaphor is stretched a bit thin).

So, I find myself reflecting on what has gone wrong with my sandwich in recent months, or even years. 


Continued over at the Association of Christian Writers' blog, More Than Writers

Come over and say hello and have a look round. We're a talented bunch and no mistake. 















Sunday, 23 April 2017

God keeps his promises

This is something I wrote nearly five years ago, and I stumbled upon it a few days ago. Well, I say that I wrote it, but reading it back after all these years I have quite another idea where those words came from. I read it again with a sense of awe and amazement. My heavenly Father was there then, and He is here now.

God keeps His promises. He does what He says He will do. If you've ever doubted it, please listen to me: I know He does. 

He keeps His promises.



Dear Helen

Did you think I didn't see? 

I gave you a glimpse of your future self and I watched as you gazed with such longing at the woman that I showed you.   It was to encourage you; to give you hope. To reassure you that we have business, you and I, and I will not let you down. There will be a day when you look back and realise how far you have come.

*****


Continued over at The Association Of Christian Writers' blog, More Than Writers, where I contribute on the 23rd of each month.  

Come and say hello? 



Friday, 14 April 2017

The weight of the world

Good Friday.

Good because we know the wonder that happened on that lonely hill outside Jerusalem, but 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, solved a problem, but when it came down to it even the soldiers holding 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?

Nobody has ever surpassed the Romans for devising a more excruciating manner of execution; indeed, that's where the word comes from. What a thing to be renowned for: straight roads, plumbing, torture.

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 the thorns pressing into your scalp. the torn and raw skin and muscles of your back against the splintered wood of the cross.  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 you must have been desolate.

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 hung there and asked forgiveness for the people that did that to you even as you suffered.

You were afraid - you were human. In Gethsemane you came before the Father and asked if there was another way, could there be another way? - and yet you went through with the Plan because you knew that there wasn't.

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. 

When I see a film or read a book that tells of your passion I am moved to tears. I can't stand to watch because they are torturing and murdering someone I love. And what adds another layer of awfulness is when I realise that you allowed it to happen, for my sake. You didn't have to do it; at any time you could have called in an army of angels who would have lifted you back to your throne and struck down those who hurt you. You could have called down fire and hail and razed Jerusalem to the ground but you let them drive nails through your hands and feet before they lifted you up and mocked you. You chose to go through with it.

Lord, never let me reach a place where those scenes don't move me. I never want to feel that it is not the world-changing thing that it is. I never want it to be familiar, routine.  I want to hold this feeling of awe and wonder - and horror - in my heart forever.

I want to remember 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 long before I even turned to you, 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. They were pierced by nails and bled because of it.

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. 




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