Friday, 26 August 2011

Still on the mountain

Well, Lord, I haven't covered myself in glory today, have I?

Here I sit slouched on the sofa after a glass of wine on a week night (I know, but it felt like a Friday night so we gave it honorary weekend status and opened a bottle. And very good it was too) and I'm so tired that my eyes are all squinty. I've had a pretty crap day and I've not been very nice to be around.

You know what? I have just realised that I'm scowling. I'm staring at the computer and I'm actually scowling. I have just made a conscious effort to relax my forehead and let my shoulders drop a couple of inches. Sigh.

It's raining, too.

We're going on holiday tomorrow and I'm at that point where I wonder if a week at the seaside is actually worth the monumental hassle of organising people, clothes, toys, toiletries, food, bedlinen etc to take away, pack the car, drive all the way there, unpack, do everything that I normally do in a week but without the benefit of a routine or familiar surroundings or home comforts then do it all again in reverse arriving home with three days of unpacking and a dozen loads of washing.

There's ingratitude if you like.

Lots of people don't have holidays. I know. In the current financial climate I suppose even fewer will be treating themselves. Indeed, if we'd known then what we know now regarding finances I suspect we wouldn't have booked this one. So a lot is riding on us Having a Really Good Time on this holiday. I have packed buckets and spades; cold weather gear, hot weather gear, in-between weather gear, rainy weather gear and miscellaneous other items of clothing and we will be paddling and eating fish and chips on the pier whatever the circumstances.

Pause here while I retrieved the girls' wellies, which I realised I hadn't packed. Was that a divine revelation?

Am I still feeling under the weather following the stress of Katy's surgery, or do I have to come to terms with the fact that this grumpiness and intolerance and short-temperedness is my default position? Do I just need a holiday? And if so, will a week on the Suffolk coast with two small but demanding children count as a holiday? I remember with nostalgia those days when Bryan and I used to take a fortnight's leave from work and go away on holiday, just the two of us, doing what we wanted...getting enough sleep, going to films or the theatre or just driving until we saw something we liked then stopping and walking. Now I need to pack entertainment for the car to try to keep the girls occupied so we've at least got to the end of the road before they ask if we're there yet.

I'm just getting it off my chest, Lord. Is that ok?

Look, I'm tired. I've spent all day today organising things and my head is full of lists. Katy has just had a tantrum over something she needed more than anything else in the world which has already been packed and is in the car (a matchbox car among scores of the things but it had to be this very one) and as I type is refusing to settle down. I have a list of things that I still need to think about and an early start tomorrow (never something that fills me with joy).

I love the sea. I'm really looking forward to seeing the sea. I am hoping for some fine weather so I can walk along the beach and skim stones with the girls and make sandcastles and wander on the pier and gaze at the vastness and majesty of the ocean in front of me. I always feel close to you at the seaside and, Lord, I really feel in need of that now.

Where are you? I know you're there but I can't feel you. I feel consumed by my own self-pity and bad temper at the moment.  Earlier on I was struggling with a duvet and duvet cover upstairs and it was all twisted and I had hold of the wrong corners (I know you know what I mean) and no-one offered to help me and I felt temper rising up just as I imagine Katy does when she doesn't get what she wants and then stamps and screams with frustration. I could have done the same. I stood in the middle of the room and thought, 'Self control. Self control.'  And then I hurled the duvet to the floor, which, as I'm sure you witnessed, didn't help much as you can't make a satisfying crash with a duvet. Still, the rest of my family remained unaware that I'd just thrown a small muffled wobbly in the bedroom and that can only be good news. You saw it, though. Self control? Yeah, right.

So the Fruit of the Spirit then. I think I'm catching on. I ask for patience, and you give me opportunities to be patient. I ask for self-control and you offer me tangled duvets and screaming children. I ask for peace, and you give me turmoil - but the opportunity to find you?  I feel as if I'm going round and round on this one. No wonder the Israelites wandered around the desert for forty years if they were doing this. I read somewhere recently that their journey should only have taken a couple of weeks but they went round and round in circles because they didn't learn... and then you said:

'You have stayed too long on this mountain.'

Deuteronomy 1:6

It was time to move on. To enter the promised land.

Lord, don't let me go round in circles for years before I can take the next step on this journey I'm on. Even though I'm thick and lazy and slow to learn help me so that I can get to the promised land.

Give me a break, Lord. Please speak to me so that I can hear you. When you're with me tomorrow as I drive to the seaside with two excited children help me be patient and self-controlled. When I see the sea please fill me with a sense of your presence. Keep me going, Lord. I need your Holy Spirit; I need a top-up. I need energy and inspiration and fun and a bit of joy, if you could see your way clear, Father God. I'm tired and in need of a pick-me-up. Let the sun come out.

Thankyou for families and holidays and the seaside. For cars and picnic lunches and duvets and small toy cars. Thankyou for opportunities and second chances. And third chances. And so on.

I'm going to bed now, Lord. Tomorrow I'm going to look at the sea and breathe you in. I'm going to stand on the beach, whatever the weather, and praise you for the wonder of your world.

See you in the morning.











Wednesday, 24 August 2011

St Bartholomew

Good Evening, Lord.

I have just found out that St Bartholomew was flayed and beheaded for telling people about you and I have to say that it's upset me a bit. 

Really - flayed? I mean, the beheading bit is one thing, but flaying?  Sounds completely uncalled for if you ask me, and I speak as someone who has in my time watched plenty of gory films and unflinchingly read the most horrible of horror stories. I hasten to add that in the recent clearing out of my head I have realised that I no longer choose to fill my mind with nasty things, and so a consideration of things gruesome has been consigned to the past. But this is different.

It really happened, and it happened to someone that I have read about in the Bible and it happened because this person preached the Gospel. People didn't like what he said and so they killed him and made it particularly unpleasant for him as well. That's what they did to you, isn't it? And St Peter, who if tradition is to be believed, was crucified upside down - unspeakable things have happened to people who have stood up for you.

How easy it is for me to be a Christian. Here, in a safe place, surrounded by civilised people (I know, that's a whole other discussion) and in a country where my right to believe what I want and say what I want are protected by law. I suppose the ins and outs of that statement could also form the basis of a whole other conversation as well, but it's pedantry to argue that we are not free when you compare our lot to some of our brothers and sisters in other countries who love you just as much or more than I do, and yet if they were to go out in the street and say so they might be arrested or imprisoned or worse.

So do I often take advantage of my cushy number to go out and tell people in the street about you? I think you and I both know the answer to that. I wear a cross round my neck. I go to church on Sundays. I write this blog. I tell my children about you and I try (and quite often fail) to live in a way that shows you to other people but my track record in passing on the Good News is pretty pathetic.

St Bartholomew by Michaelangelo.
Holding his skin. Blimey. 
So Bartholomew met a nasty end because he travelled around preaching your Gospel and showing people the way to you.  When I meet him in Heaven I shall be in awe. I won't have a word to say to someone with such courage. In comparison with such technicolour faith mine is faded and monochrome. Of course, he knew you - he met you and he looked in your face and he heard your voice. That might have been a small advantage, don't you think? You saw him for the first time and knew who he was. You chose him for something special and he did what you asked. Even to his death. Amazing.

People do such wonderful things in your name even today. Of course, that's not to say that people haven't done some pretty awful things in your name as well, but when I hear of stories where someone has died for another in the name of Jesus Christ, in Auschwitz or in the trenches or even in Afghanistan or China I see that your Holy Spirit is still doing his thing just as he did in Peter or Paul or Bartholomew. People through history have done amazing things motivated by the desire to do what you want them to do. Do you ask any less of us now? Any less of those of us who trundle along day to day living a fairly pedestrian Christian life, all wrapped up in our own sorrows and anxieties and triumphs and concerns? Expecting you to answer our prayers about life's comforts or trivialities? And yet you do, such is your love for us.

I don't flatter myself that you have a Great Role for me to play in the history of Christianity. I don't imagine that I am so special that my name would have a particular place in history, except that I am your child and my significance lies entirely in the fact that I am yours and you love me. I know that I am unique and you have a job for me that only I can do. I have no aspirations to be a St Paul or a St Bartholomew and to be honest, the idea frightens the life out of me, but I know that the hairs on my head are numbered and you are proud of me. I know that you have hopes for me. I know that you want me to be all I can be. When I read about your people who knew you and loved you so much that they gave you everything it makes me realise how miserly I am with my energy and my time and every other thing I have. How half hearted. How easily distracted.

I'm sorry that I ask you what it is you want me to do and then qualify my wanting to know with my own restrictions and provisos. I'm sorry that I so often don't hear you because the voice of my own hopes and fears is too loud and drowns you out. I'm trying to learn how to listen to you, Lord. I want to do my individual little job for you and I want to do it well. As long as I don't have to die, or step outside my comfort zone, I mean.

See? I am afraid of what you might ask me to do. I know that you love me and want the best for me - you are for me - so why do I always expect it to hurt?  Why do I assume that the thing you ask me to do will be alien to me and difficult and unpleasant? To the best of my knowledge and understanding I don't think of you as a hard, cruel taskmaster. I can't explain it.

All I can do is give you what I have right now. All I have right now I lay down in front of you. Fearful and anxious and full of reservations but with a little part of my heart that wants to do your will. A little part of my heart that wants to be bigger.  I want to be what you want me to be because I know that I cannot be properly fulfilled any other way. I want to do what you want me to do because anything else is meaningless if it doesn't make you happy. I want my life to have meaning and reason and I want my life to have significance in your eyes. I want to fall in front of you one day and hear you say that I was a good and faithful servant. That I did my best.

That's what I tell my daughters - that if they do their best Mummy and Daddy will be proud of them no matter if they win or lose. If they do their best there is nothing more that I can ask of them. Most of the time I know that I'm not doing my best, Lord, and I'm sorry. I take the line of least resistance and I take the easy route and it's because the hard way scares me. I know that you love me. I know that you won't ask me to do anything that you haven't equipped me for. I'm just a bit of a coward.

Please, take what I have and make it better. Bigger. Braver. More receptive and wiser. More discerning and more intuitive. Take the faith I have and make it bigger.

What's next, Lord God?






Monday, 22 August 2011

(My) nature abhors a vacuum

Hello God. It's me again and I'm in a funny mood.

Sunday afternoon and I've just spent an hour sorting through the girls' underwear drawers and marvelling at how much larger their feet are than I think they are. I pick up a pair of socks, think to myself, 'Those will still fit' only to find that they are way too small when it comes to comparing size with an actual four or six year old foot.  Likewise pants. Children get taller, feet get bigger and bottoms grow too, it seems. I don't think I've sorted out their underwear drawers since underwear became appropriate for them so it's no wonder that they've outgrown so much.

I'm sitting here looking at the sunny afternoon outside and any minute now I hope to locate a burst of energy and go and repot Mum's yucca plant that keeps blowing over in its current pot.  I shall then plant out forty-four poppy plants that I've grown from seed that are now big and strong enough to go and live in the garden ready to flower next year. I've done so little in the garden this summer that I think I'll do well to find enough weed-free areas to plant them out but we're away for a week soon and anything left in the greenhouse will have to fend for itself for a week so best evacuate while I can. 

I'm rambling, aren't I?  

Truth is, I'm not feeling very switched on today. I didn't get up early, it's been a pretty relaxing day so far but I'm still feeling tired and unmotivated to do anything. Except perhaps eat. That tells me a lot about my state of mind as eating is inextricably linked for me with emotions so if I'm eating too much or too much 'comfort food' then I know that all is not well in my head. 

I think that deep down I should be feeling joyful and exhilarated following Katy's surgery; she is happy and bouncing back in the way that only small children can.  As I type she's ricocheting round the house with an armful of teddies (all of whom are sporting a pair of pants that have been rescued from the 'too small' pile). She is smiley and her shoulder works and her wound is healing well and she's sleeping ok and she is as bright and affectionate as ever. Good job, then? Of course. 

So how come that the enormous space occupied by the worry I felt about Katy's operation seems still to be occupied by things that weigh me down?  It's as if the vacuum created by the relief of one sizeable worry was immediately filled by others, before I even had a chance to stretch out and feel the cool of an empty space. Nature abhors a vacuum, I'm told. Well, I can vouch for that. My nature certainly does. One worry to strike off the list?  Great! Let's find another one right now, before I get used to having the space in my head.

I suppose that's down to me then. Never satisfied.  One of my teachers once told me that I wouldn't be happy if I didn't have something to worry about. Maybe that's it. 

But I thought that I've been doing so much better, lately, haven't I, Lord?  I've really felt as if my anxiety levels are lower than they used to be. I've felt as if I've been better at leaving them with you. I'm reading my Bible more, reflecting on daily readings more, talking to you more. A bit. Admittedly there's a long way to go. 

Maybe I'm just tired. That old chestnut. I do feel as if I could sleep for a month at the moment. Everything seems an effort. I need to clean and bake and I need to stock up the freezer with cooked meals again and I need to start washing and packing for our holiday next week but it's all I can do to flop out of bed into the shower and get everybody fed. Whinge, whinge.

Pause here while I made coffee, ate several ginger snaps (I'm not even a great fan of ginger snaps) and repotted a yucca, feeling very grumpy.

Then you showed up again and stuck in your three-penneth. I realise that I do a good line in complaining, don't I? You've just done a wonderful thing for me in keeping my little girl safe and bringing her through an operation that seems to have gone well, and I have my family about me and all the good things that you've given me and exciting times ahead but all I can do is focus on me. Me, tired. Me, worried. Me, confused. Me, self-absorbed.

Sorry.

I'm reading things at the moment that are sticking in my mind but I need to think some more. I need to complain less, because I can't imagine that you're going to shower me with more blessings until I learn to appreciate the ones I already have, are you? That's how it works with my daughters. They play with a toy for five minutes, discard it and then badger for something new; I respond with irritation at their lack of gratitude. That sounds a lot like me. In the role of petulant child, I mean.

Also, I need to stop going on about how hard life is, don't I?  People have lives much harder than mine. People find out that their children have terminal illnesses and face a future full of illness and surgery and uncertainty. People have so much less than I do and yet perhaps are more satisfied than I am. I am starting to feel very bad about this. No-one said life was going to be easy, and no-one (particularly not my Mum and Dad) told me that life would be fair, so I should stop complaining about it being hard. As I did some reading tonight you told me:

'Now what I am commanding you today is not difficult or beyond your reach...'

Deuteronomy 30:11

So I should stop making heavy weather of things and get on with them. But before I turn over my new leaf, just got a bone to pick. I've often wrestled with Jesus' words:

'Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.'

Matthew 11:29-30

How come I find it such hard going then? How does the 'yoke is easy' bit sit with the other bits of the gospels where you tell us that we will have trouble in this world because of you? That we should put on our armour and fight? That we will meet much opposition and so on? I need to think about these things. I don't understand. And until I have thought about them and gained some considerable wisdom I need to stop complaining about life being hard. I think I make it so much harder than it need be sometimes because my brain is not my friend.

You have done marvellous things for me. You have saved me and you have blessed me and you have answered prayers. You never leave me. I'm so sorry, Lord.

As you can tell, I'm all mixed up at the moment. I'm not thinking straight. Do I ever? I need to find some peace, Lord. I need to focus again. Please help me to calm down and pick up life again after the hiatus of the last few months where I've been focussed on Katy and her lump and the surgery. I have things on my mind, yes, but it doesn't help that I can't seem to get my thoughts in order at the moment.

I would really like to get into a habit of spending quiet time with you. To find space to think clearly, to read and learn and write.

I would really like to learn how to listen to you. To hear you. To let you get a word in edgeways.

I would really like to hand over my troubles and leave them with you instead of picking them up again as I leave. Is this a life's work?

I would really like to be wise. I would like to get it right. I would like to be the person you would like me to be.

I need some help, please.












Friday, 19 August 2011

My brave girl II

Thankyou God.

For so much. But specifically:

That my Katy is back home safe and sound.
That she is still my Katy.
For the surgeon's skill in taking away the tumour in her neck but leaving the bits that mattered.
That Katy can move her shoulder which means that her muscles are working which means that her nerve is working.
That only one nerve was affected and it wasn't the one that might have been life-threatening.
My brave Katy
That she is cheerful and not in too much pain.
That she doesn't seem traumatised by her experiences.
That she doesn't have to have endless dressings and that her wound is healing really well.
That the stitches are dissolvable and so she doesn't have to have them taken out.
For the kindness of the anaesthetist who told me that he has three small girls under 6 years himself and he can imagine how hard it must be to walk away from your little one before an operation.
For the same anaesthetist who touched me on the shoulder as I left Katy in the anaesthetic room and said to me, 'I'll take care of her.'
For the nurse who handed me tissues as I left the theatre suite.
For the wonderful, awe-inspiring courage that you gave to my little girl as they put her to sleep. She was so frightened and yet so brave. She didn't cry once. Just like last time.
That she was still excited at the prospect of a ride on a bed from the ward to the theatre.
For the chocolate and other items of junk food that I consumed while waiting for surgery to be over.
In recovery
That it was possible to learn from last time; that this time they took off the sticky ECG pads from her chest before she woke up; that she was horribly sick last time from the anaesthetic and from morphine so this time they gave her an anti-emetic in her theatre drip.
That this time she didn't feel sick at all.
For the kindness and gentleness of the staff on the children's ward at the hospital.
For cold drinks with ice cubes on a hot ward.
For medicine and treatment and surgery and hospitals available to us for nothing.
For lemon squash with ice and buttered toast that were to Katy nectar and ambrosia after she woke up.
That she was able to eat and drink within hours of a 2hr 40min operation on her neck.
For a private room with a bed for me so that I could stay with my daughter while she recovered.
That she felt that staying up late and eating toast 'in the middle of the night' was a special treat.
For innocence and joy in the smallest of things.
That I got to hold my precious daughter as she fell asleep in my arms. I stayed there for ages. 
That she said to me, 'Mummy, I'm glad I got to sleep in a room with you. Are you glad that you slept together with me?'  Oh yes, my little love. It was very special.
That you made me in such a way that the wonderful fragrance of my two girls is so special to me; I could inhale them all night long.
For Big Sister who made Get Well cards and missed Katy terribly.
Big Sister reading to Little Sister
For Little Sister who missed Big Sister terribly and for the smile on her face when Elizabeth came to visit.
For clever Big Sister who read stories to Little Sister when she didn't have the energy to play in the playroom.
For the play therapists who organised painting, games, craft activities and lego for the girls.
For the sunshine over the last few days - rain would just have been so much more depressing.
For Grandma who brought biscuits and milk for coffee and looked after Lizzie at home.
For a church family who wrapped us up in prayer.
For friends and neighbours who worried and supported us.
For a sea of stuffed toys surrounding my small girl and making her feel better.
For Hospital Teddy, Arnie the Aardvark and Scruffy Barney who looked after Kate in hospital.
Arnie the Aardvark recovering
from surgery.
For Posh Barney who was inadvertently left behind in hospital and remains there until we can go to pick him up.
For the nurse that phoned us urgently because she thought that Katy had left her precious Barney behind and realised what a disaster that would be.
For the nurses who were so impressed with Katy that they didn't believe that she was only four.
For Mozart, who composed a piece of music that Katy loves (Fur Elise) and for the stuffed dog that plays Mozart tunes when you press his paw. Kate played this every time she woke the first night after her operation.  I will forever associate that tune with hospitals now.
For the miracle of healing.
For your never ending love and constant company.
That you were so close to me as I waited for the operation to finish and that you let me feel your presence.
For the generosity and humour of theatre staff who put an oxygen mask on Arnie the Aardvark and bandaged him up so that when Katy woke up she would think that he'd had an operation too.
For the resilience of children.
That lunch the next day was Katy's favourite meal (sausages and chips).
That you protected us. I called on your name and you hid us under your wing. You said that you would keep us from harm and you did.
So small
That Katy understood what I meant when I whispered 'Circle Katy, Lord' in her ear in the anaesthetic room.
For painkillers.
For technology that allows doctors to do such amazing things to mend us when something goes wrong
For disposable contact lenses.
For ginger biscuits.
For children's television.
For good friends who have called or texted or come round to see how we're doing.
For bubble mixture.
For the moment when Katy woke up confused and disorientated and saw her Mummy and Daddy and smiled. And for the relief that I felt when she woke up again.
For the enormous overwhelming powerful love that you put inside me for my daughters. 
That you love me (and them) even more than I am capable of loving.
That you did all this for us.
For your compassion and humour and patience.
For your generosity in giving me so much when I give you so little.

For so, so much else. 

Thankyou.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Lord is my refuge

Hello again, Lord.

You're round and about today, I can tell. It's nice to have you here. I know that you're always here, but what I mean is that it's nice to feel you here. Nice to feel you close. 

Why is it that sometimes I don't realise how I'm feeling until I come into church? It's as if the Holy Spirit sees beyond the front that I put up, the 'How are you?' 'Oh I'm fine, thanks!' thing that we all do and says, 'No, I'm not having that. That's not how you are.'

Today I was fine. A bit mithered, perhaps, this morning having been allowed a small lie-in (I never refuse a lie-in, being chronically sleep deprived; any hour to catch up and I'm in) and so getting ready for church was a bit of a rush. For one reason and another by the time I arrived at church I had a head full of things and I was doing the prayers this morning too, which always makes me a bit preoccupied. So it wasn't until the first song that I stopped and thought and that was when I choked up. 

Here I am to worship. It's as if I finally look away from the things I'm juggling, or away from the detail of my anxiety and preoccupation and I lift my eyes to you, and when I do, I'm overwhelmed by you. Just lifting my words and my voice to you, just saying 'Here I am' was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Even when I hadn't realised that I was feeling tearful. 

It stands to reason that I should be a bit wobbly, I suppose. Tomorrow Katy goes in to hospital for her operation and I know that deep down I am dreading it. I've had a taste of what it's like to leave the child that you love defenceless in the hands of someone else and I didn't like it. I bet you didn't, either, did you, Lord? You knew what we were going to do to your beloved son and it was for our good, not his, that you sent him. For me, here I am trusting my lovely little girl to an experienced surgeon, and it's for her own good. Clearly the analogy breaks down here, but you know what I mean. I'm not keen on doing this again and the stakes are higher this time. So I come into church this morning thinking I'm fine, thankyou, and I'm not fine. 

Good talk, this morning. All about being rooted in Christ. 

'So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.'

Colossians 2:6-7

It reminded me of a picture I had long, long ago in a period of spiritual joy and celebration, maybe as far back as April this year, or roundabout then. Certainly before things started to go wrong.  I saw myself as a tree. A big, solid oak tree with spreading branches. Sturdy and strong. With deep roots. I read somewhere that a tree's roots are as big as the branches and the tips of the roots reach out further than the canopy of the tree so that they can soak up rain as it falls. If the roots were shorter, they wouldn't reach out far enough and the tree's own canopy would stop them from getting any moisture. So roots have to reach a long way. They have to anchor the tree so that it doesn't blow over, no matter how big and heavy the tree or how strong the wind. 

How I want to be that big tree. I want to be eternal, secure, reliable, standing tall and reaching wide. Always the same, yet ever-changing. Growing. Living. Flourishing. How easily I am knocked over when the wind blows. I am rooted in you but quite often my roots aren't hanging on tightly enough. They don't go deep enough to stop me from swaying dangerously. I look for other people to hold me up instead of reaching into you and letting you plant me firmly. I am fed by what I surround myself with, by what I read and what I do and some of these things are good, worthy, and they keep me going but they don't nourish me as you would, if only I reached my roots out beyond the canopy to suck up your moisture. 

I was singing and I found myself praising you and saying, 'You can do this, Lord. You can do this for me, can't you?'  And the tears came because I know that it's true. You'll help me through the next few days. You'll take care of my little girl and you'll take care of me. Because you're faithful. You never fail.

Faithful one, so unchanging
Ageless one, you're my rock of peace
Lord of all I depend on you
I call out to you, again and again
I call out to you, again and again

You are my rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm
Your love is the anchor
My hope is in you alone.

Brian Doerksen

So then you spoke to me in this song, as you tend to do, presumably because you can't get me to hear in many other ways, but you know that I like to sing, so I'd probably be paying attention.

You are my rock, Father God. In times of trouble indeed; and in any other time. I'm holding onto you in these times when life is difficult and I'm feeling overwhelmed and you don't move. You're steady. You don't change. Without you as an anchor I'd be swept right out to sea and I'd sink beneath the waves. My hope is in you, Lord God. 

I managed the prayers with only a few wavery moments and I got myself back together in time to smile brightly and leave without a meltdown. I was moved that you had met me and spoken to me. 

My hope is in you. You can do this for me.

On the way out of church a wise friend caught me and said that the Lord had given her a word; Psalm 91 was for me. She didn't know why, but that you wanted me to read Psalm 91. I said thankyou, a little bewildered, and carried on home. 

Psalm 91

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, 
my God, in whom I trust.'

Well, I did. I do. You are my Rock. My hope is in you. I know that you can do this for me.

Surely he will save you 
from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge; 
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

I love the idea that I can hide under your wings like a baby duck. I love the image that it gives of safety and comfort and trust. I want to wriggle under your feathers and snuggle up close to the warmth and safety of your body so that I can feel your heartbeat. I can shut out the world and know that I am protected.

You will not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness
nor the plague that destroys at midday.

Why would I fear anything if I am protected by you? You only can make promises like this. I feel that ill health is all around me at the moment - I'm going to be spending the better part of this week in hospital with my little girl and we've been fighting the illness that's troubling her for nearly six months. I know that there are so many people who are much more seriously ill but I am drawn to the idea that we need not fear illness. I don't know if I'm reading too much into this but, hey, I feel better because of it.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Ah. Not sure what to say about this bit. I just like the 'It won't come near you' bit. 

If you say, 'The Lord is my refuge,'
and you make the most high your dwelling,
no harm with overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.

Oh my Lord I say 'You are my refuge'. Where will I go if not to you? I want to live in you, and I want you to live in me. I want you to make me into a place fit for a King to live. I want to be part of you. 

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

Amen. Thankyou Lord. Thankyou for your loving care and your protection. I've been fighting battles for ages, it seems, and I can carry on because I know that you stand with me. Thankyou.

You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample on the great lion and the serpent.
'Because he loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

I do love you. You are the Lord. The Holy One. You are the Creator of Heaven and Earth. You are my God.

He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver and honour him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.'

I called on you and you did answer me. I can't do anything but you can. You hold my days in your hand, and those of my four year old daughter. I can't tell you how much this has comforted me and shored me up today. Well, I don't suppose that really matters, because you already know. 

Well. 

You meant that for me? You are speaking those words to me? I am amazed. To say that I read those words and was blown away is a bit of an understatement. Lord God, you'd do that for me? I can understand that you spoke like that to David or Moses, or whoever wrote this powerful psalm, and that these Heroes of the Bible were probably used to hearing you like this. But me? I'm a Mum and I do the school run and I can't hang a picture and I talk too much and I struggle with my quiet time and I like church but I have family politics and a short temper and I'm very bad at being consistent and prayerful. Yet you would bless me with huge words like these?

I am humbled indeed. 

You are my refuge and I want to dwell in you. I'm just not good at staying there; I keep running to you and hiding under your wings and then when the rain stops and the weather clears I creep off out again and think I can manage on my own, just me. Then it starts again and there I am, clamouring for help. And sometimes I turn to you only after I've looked everywhere else, and yet still you are loving and forgiving enough to send a message to me to say 'Don't be afraid, you're safe. I'll keep you safe.'

I am humbled indeed. 








 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The circle prayer

Hey.
God Almighty. Loving Lord. 

Just before I go to bed I've got to tell you this. 

Not that you don't already know. After all, you were there.

You were very much there. 

Tonight Katy had a hard time settling at bedtime. She wasn't being naughty, or even shouting a lot, she was just awake. At bedtime I lay down next to her and we snuggled and I just love the way she cuddles into me and I love the way she smells, and I love the way she adopts a quiet little confidential voice as she tells me what Barney has been up to and so on. Tonight she wanted me to tell her something. 

There's this thing we do. I do it with both girls. It goes like this:

Me:     Katy Murray, does your Mummy love you?
Katy:  Yes.
Me:     How much does she love you?
Katy:  All round the world and back again.
Me:     More than that. 
(insert bit where we exaggerate more and more until we move on)
Me:     Why does she love you?
Katy:   Because I'm Katy.
Me:     That's right.  When will she stop loving you?
Katy:   Never. Not ever. Not never nohow.
Me:      That's right. I love you very much and I always will.

Then tonight:

Katy:   Like Jesus.  And God. 
Me:     That's right. God loves you even more than me, if that's possible.
(Katy is drawing a circle on the palm of her hand with the other index finger)
Katy:   Will you do the circle prayer?

Now, as you'll remember, the last time Katy went into hospital a good friend of mine loaned us Hospital Teddy to come with us. Hospital Teddy's job is to accompany children on trips to hospital, and he was at Katy's side for her last operation. He's with us and packing his overnight bag for another trip. (Actually, he never went home owing to having been temporarily assimilated into Katy's stuffed toy collection.)

Hospital Teddy's owner said a special prayer for Kate on the morning she went into hospital back at the beginning of June.

Circle Katy, Lord
Keep comfort near
and discouragement afar.
Keep peace within
and turmoil out.

Circle Katy, Lord.
Keep protection near
and danger afar.

Circle Katy, Lord.
Keep hope within
and despair without.

Circle Katy, Lord.
Keep light near
and darkness afar.

Circle Katy, Lord
Keep peace within
and anxiety without.

The eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit
shield Katy on every side.
Amen.

Katy had remembered the prayer and the circles drawn on her hand as it was read. She made the connection between one operation and another and she made the association between the love of her Mummy and the love of God. 

Can you really love her more than I do?
I was in awe. I bet the angels were singing. 

Disaster.

I couldn't find the prayer. I have a copy somewhere but I couldn't find it. I made up something from what I could remember but it wasn't the same. She snuggled down to sleep but she didn't get off. 

I sent a message to my friend asking if she'd send over the circle prayer for Katy. She did, straight away.

A while later she was still awake. I took the prayer up to her and she had me say it twice, while drawing little circles on the palm of her hand. She smiled and when I said, 'Amen' she nodded with a big smile. Then she snuggled down into her pillows and mountain of soft toys and as I got to the door she said to me:

'Mummy, when you're sad, I'm going to ask Daddy to read you the circle prayer, and then you'll feel better too."

And she closed her eyes and put her thumb in her mouth and held Scruffy Barney close to her cheek.

Ah.

Loving Lord, there are so many things about this that blow my mind. She remembered the prayer and she associates it not only with going into hospital but with feeling better.  She must be thinking about her hospital visit on Monday and she must be worrying.  Tonight the prayer helped. You helped my baby girl.  She's only four, but she knew what she wanted to help her and when I found it for her she was comforted. 

So much more.  She knows that you love her. She knows that you will never stop loving her and she knows that there's nothing she can do to make you love her less and there's nothing she can do to make you love her more. Praise you, my wonderful Lord. You have given her the gift of faith. 

She wants me to find the same comfort that she found on the occasions that I'm upset or worried. She wants me to hear the circle prayer and then I'll feel better. Thankyou Lord for her faith and for her love for me. 

Who says that ministry to small children is all one way? Tonight she was the one with the wisdom; I was humbled. She was troubled and she knew what would help. She asked for it and it was as she believed it would be. She was comforted. She told me that it would help me too. I can learn from that. 

Amen Amen Amen. 

Lord, thankyou for the wonderful thing that happened tonight.
Thankyou for wise and perceptive friends who gave us this little prayer when it was needed.
Thankyou that this friend picked up my message and responded immediately, that Katy was still awake and that she felt better.

May she know your presence more every day. May the little fire of faith that is clearly in her heart burn ever brighter. 

Thankyou. From the bottom of my heart. 







Anaesthetics and answered prayers

Morning, Lord. 

So here we are again.

Two days from now my little girl will be going into hospital again and she'll be having another operation. A different surgeon, this time, and a different operation involving the dissection of the posterior triangle of her neck (it says on the consent form) and the excision of a tumour which is wrapped around one nerve, right next to another and possibly involved with a third. Not the third one, please, Father God. The third one is the Phrenic nerve and it controls movement of the diaphragm, which means her breathing, and makes it a more serious proposition to go near it with a sharp scalpel. We'd just as soon opt out of any complications in that direction if that's all the same to you.

I can feel the knot in my stomach again. Recently I've been thinking I've not been doing too badly this time; less anxiety maybe. Perhaps all the stuff that's happened since the last operation has taught me something; or maybe my head is in a slightly better place this time. 

Or not.

Today I'm feeling heavy and weighed down by it all.  Yesterday we went to the pre-op appointment at Nightingale ward and so Katy had to find out about the new operation. Strangely out of the blue the other day she started talking about how sad she'd been when she'd needed all the dressing changes and Elizabeth piped up, 'Well, Katy, that's all over and you won't need to go to the hospital again, will she, Mummy?'  I replied that she did need to visit the hospital again and we had an appointment on Thursday, and Lizzie said, 'Never mind Katy, at least you won't have to have another operation.'

Oh dear. 

I couldn't think what to say and the moment passed as they saw something out of the car window that distracted them. I thought that another couple of days without the weight of it on her mind was a good thing. Later on in the week when we had to go for her pre-op ti was time to tell her and never has she looked so small and her eyes so big and welling up with tears.

I know how she feels. This time round I know how awful it is to walk away from her in the anaesthetic room. I know how awful it is to see her eyes roll back in her head as she goes to sleep. I know how awful the wait is until they tell us we can go and see her in the recovery room and this time it will potentially be five times as long.

Oh Lord, take care of my daughter because I love her so much. Please give her back to me healed of this illness and still the same little girl as she is now. Please protect her from anything harmful; accidents, mistakes, miscalculations or problems. Please wrap her in your Holy Spirit like the Ready Brek man so that nothing can harm her physically, emotionally, developmentally or spiritually. Or any other way.


It was funny, the things that she immediately thought about when she learned she was going to have another operation. It wasn't the anaesthetic, or even the being sick afterwards that scared her, it was the sticky electrodes on her chest that were hard to remove. It was the plaster on her hand to keep the anaesthetic cream in place so they could put in the cannula, not the cannula itself. On the plus side, she is still liking the idea of a ride on a bed (to theatre - only a child could appreciate the journey and block out the destination. We so often do the opposite, don't we?) and bizarrely, she still likes the idea of hospital toast.

As the Americans say, go figure.

It's hard that as a parent you can't make all the bad go away. It's hard when you want to say that you won't let anyone hurt them that all you can promise is to be there with them when it does hurt. Do you find it that way? Is this the whole life-thing? That it's in our interests for life to hurt us and while you can't (don't) stop it, you promise to be there with us? There are masses of analogies available to me as I think about my lovely daughters and the turns life takes; probably more than I care to explore at the moment. The only thing I want at the moment is for Katy to be well again and free from this thing that's been plaguing us since we found it in March.

I'm trying to block out the voices that tell me what might go wrong with this operation. I'm trying to drown them out with positives. You love Katy more than I do (so that's going some) and you don't want her to be hurt either. It's like sitting on a plane at 37,000ft and experiencing turbulence, having a panic and then thinking that the pilot has a vested interest in getting us there safely too. The surgeon doesn't want anything bad to happen to Katy, even if it is for a different set of reasons.

Other stuff is happening, Father. Financial worries, health worries, those unanswered questions about the future that I started the year with are still unanswered. I suppose you want it that way. I suppose there's a reason for it all.  I know that there hasn't been another year in my life where I've learned so much, been through so much, heard from you so much and longed for so much. Emotionally and spiritually I've been in high places and low places. Please slow it down for a little while Lord, and let me get my breath back, hey?

Keep talking, Father, and help me to listen. Keep reminding me of your Word when I need it most. This morning I woke up worrying and asking questions about the future and a friend sent me a text:

'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on  your own understanding.'

Proverbs 3:5

I can't work it out myself. I don't have the answers and no amount of reading books or surfing the internet or indeed talking to people who are wiser than me will ultimately help. I need to learn to give it to you.

The other day I had a call from Katy's consultant to tell me that he needed to move the operation from the planned date (Tuesday) because of two urgent cases that needed doing. He offered me either a date that would mean we'd have to cancel our much-looked-forward-to holiday in a couple of weeks or Katy would miss her first two weeks at Big School.  I didn't like either of these two options and had a panic.  I told him that I understood the need to move Kate's surgery, but was there not a third option? He said he would find one. I heard him riffling through his diary pages as he hung up.

I spent that evening tearful and worried casting gloom everywhere and panicking myself and everyone round me. I rang Bryan in London and it was a far from positive conversation as we didn't agree on the best course of action. I unloaded to my Mum, then made some phone calls, then a friend came round to talk me down and discuss the situation with me.  Just before bedtime, I sent an email asking the church family to pray about it, and then, last of all, as I lay in bed with the light off, I gave it to you.

Why didn't I do that earlier? I need to learn from this, I really do, because in the morning I took a phone call from the doctor's secretary to say that the op had been moved forward by one day only. Was that alright?

Or course it was. It was the third option. A bed had been found for Katy where supposedly there was no bed available. You sorted it out. And I could have saved myself a whole evening's tears and arguments and worry and heartache if only I had cut to the chase and trusted you first, before I shared my anxiety with a whole host of people. I cast around for someone to support me and comfort me and you were last on the list. I'm sorry.

Even so, you answered my prayer. Even though I tried everything I could think of before I tried you, you still answered my prayer. It might not have huge repercussions if you hadn't answered it; indeed I know that there are thousands of families facing more awful dilemmas than a lost holiday or missed start of school, but you are loving and merciful and you answered my prayer.

You are trustworthy and you are good. You love me. You love Katy. You love Elizabeth who is worried about her little sister and you love Bryan who is trying to take care of all of us and be responsible for so much more besides.

Help me to trust you. And in exchange for trusting you, then I will know your peace. When I lean on my own understanding, all I find is anxiety and confusion. I'd rather have the peace, but being human and perverse, even though I know the way to peace I still take a detour through chaos. I'd like to change this, please.

Hold my hand as I hold Katy's little hand, Father God. I know you won't let me down.



Thursday, 11 August 2011

Our black and white stripey friends

Hello God.

What were you thinking when you created badgers?

Had it been a long day? I imagine that you'd been creating the animals for several hours and by the time you got to the badgers, you moved to a new level of creativity and decided that unusual was the order of the day. You were bored of ordinary. Bored of the average. A long black and white stripey nose was the very thing for this new type of creature. Let's distinguish him from all the normal-looking animals. Let's give him a touch of the comical. Let's call him 'Badger'. Or did you name them all in Latin? 'Let him be known as Meles meles.' And, behold, it was so.

The other night there were two badgers in our garden snuffling about and digging up divots of turf, and I had the chance to watch them for a good half hour. They had triggered the outside lights and so they were beautifully floodlit but they didn't care. They snuffled and sniffed and dug and probed (they must have tough noses as they were using them to dig bits of garden baked hard by the sun). I watched them for a long time. As luck would have it I even happened to have a cup of coffee in my hand when I discovered them so I had refreshment as well as a ringside seat.

Beautiful, strange, surprisingly large creatures. I'd always thought of a badger as a smallish, cutish sort of animal, but Mr and Mrs B from the other night were by no means dainty. Big dog sized, though with short stumpy legs. They could get a move on when they wanted, though, their little flappy tails waggling as they shambled off to destroy another area of my lawn. I'm not going to go into the downside of badger occupation; suffice it to say that I'm quite glad that they're just visiting rather than setting up home in my garden; I suspect that being permanently embadgered might bring about certain inconveniences, but to sit in your kitchen for one night with a coffee and watch them being badgers (and then going away again) was just wonderful.

It was a special, enchanting half hour. I tried to take a photograph as they were so close but my camera couldn't focus in the dim light, or at least I imagine it might have, if I'd known which setting to use, but I didn't, and I didn't want to risk the flash going off and cutting the show short.  So all I could do was sit with my coffee and watch the badgers.

I want to notice things. I don't want to miss anything that you want to show me. I spent time the other night trying to get the camera to work, but I think that you just wanted me to sit and watch and simply have it in my head rather than on the computer. I said to you some time ago that I wanted to notice, and understand and communicate the things that I'm learning. The wonder of you, whether the beauty of your creation or something that you say, something that I read, or hear or realise. Something surprising, or confusing, or wonderful or interesting.

There have been a lot of things so far this year and Mr and Mrs Badger doing their thing not ten feet away from me the other night was one of your little marvels.

Thankyou.


Sunday, 7 August 2011

Finding space in my head

Hello, Father God.

As I'm sure you're aware, right now my mind is a jumble of things. Opposing things. Church this morning was great - the children were reasonably well behaved (given that we were sitting on the front row!) and the talk was excellent. Has made me want to go and read the rest of the book of Colossians as soon as I can get some peace and quiet. The music was uplifting; so good that at the end of the final hymn there was a spontaneous ripple of applause. I love that. Sometimes it feels so natural to clap in appreciation; of the music, of the sound, in appreciation of you and the way we can celebrate together. I chatted with some very wise people afterwards and came home to a Sunday roast lunch cooked by Grandma. 

Those are all the positives. 

This afternoon I desperately wanted a nap. I had a job to do on the computer and it went horribly wrong so I needed to sit patiently while my computer-expert husband sorted it out for me and I'm never very good at that. Very ungracious, I suspect. Bryan and I tried to put up a picture on the wall this afternoon only to find that our nails are not masonry nails and so now we have no picture, a number of bent nails and a hole in the wall that requires covering with a picture...and also two disgruntled people who hate to admit that they can mess up something as simple as putting up a picture. 

The children have no doubt felt my disgruntlement and have been cross and argumentative all afternoon and Bryan is back to London full time this week (as he's taking so much time off for Katy's op next week), so no doubt that has cast a shadow over today as well. Started out so well...

That's the superficial dimension.  So much else is going on in my head as well on different levels. I am reading several books at the moment on subjects ranging from listening to you, prayer, spiritual warfare and the gifts of the spirit.  Believe it or not, they're fitting together quite nicely and I'm amazed at the number of overlaps and the same Bible references.  I am frustrated with how little time I can spend reading at the moment; and I'm also feeling that I should try a journal. I write this, and I have a book where I write down answered prayers, good things that happen, things I want to remember, meaningful conversations etc - I call it my Happy Book; but it's not a journal. I want to try to write more of what I want to pray about in a way that I can read back and see progress. I want to try to listen to you more. For the first time in my entire life, Christian and not, I find myself longing to learn how to listen to you. Not just talk at you - listen to you and hear you. 

It's the school summer holidays and quiet time to read or write or reflect (or even think) is almost non-existant. Only those ten minutes between climbing into bed and nodding off...most frustrating. I'm waiting, waiting...

I read in the Bible that you spoke to your people in the Old and the New Testaments; you appeared to them, you sent angels, you spoke aloud to them and in dreams and visions. You inspired them to do great things. I look at characters like Abraham, Noah, Moses, Elijah, Paul, Peter and I find myself believing that they existed, but that they were a different sort of creature. They were people, but they were special people. Not like me. They were Your Chosen Ones. 

Now, here's the bit that doesn't add up: 

I believe that the Bible is true.
I believe that the promises in the Bible are not just for the folks that were alive right then.
I believe that you can take an ordinary person and help them do extraordinary things. 
I believe that Moses and Elijah and the others were ordinary people (because the Bible tells me they were) and that you helped them do extraordinary things.
I believe that you are the same God of the Bible and you have not changed.
I believe that you are still able and willing to do amazing things just as you were then.
I believe that I am an ordinary person.

But...

I find it hard to believe that you would help me to do extraordinary things. 

Why?  According to your word, Heaven is full of normal people who did extraordinary things. One day I might be able to have a chat with Abraham and ask what was in his mind as he prepared to sacrifice his son. I might be able to ask Elijah how come he did all those courageous things then ran away from Jezebel when she was narked with him. I don't have a problem believing that I will be there. I just have a problem in believing that you might have something big for me. 

So here I am feeling as if I need to qualify that by saying that of course I don't imagine that I'd be likely to go and part the Red Sea or command armies or even stand up in front of a hall full of people and preach your gospel.  I feel presumptuous to even equate myself with these Biblical Greats. But there it is.

If no-one ever believes it and shies away; if everyone smiles wryly and shrugs and leaves it to someone else, if everyone makes it a joke, who will do your thing?  If nobody ever...let's stop with the everyone thing... if I never believe that I can do anything, then I'll never try. If I assume that you'd pass over me in an instant when you want something done, then I might miss out on my chance to do it. If I always assume that you'd be asking someone else, someone Chosen, I wouldn't be listening if you did come and tap on my shoulder. And I do want to be of use to you.

So here's what I want to do. Please feel free to change this as you will. I'm hoping that you'll put me on the right track because I'm sort of working on enthusiasm and little else at the moment.

I need to work on emptying my mind of all the rubbish that has accumulated over the years. I've been working on this and made a start but there's lots left.  Then there's my need always to try to work things out myself instead of letting go and letting you handle it. Then I need some help still with the mental and emotional energy I spend worrying and being anxious about things - I need to learn to trust you more. I need to understand more about spiritual battles and how to protect myself. I need you to show me my spiritual gifts and I need to learn how to use them. I need to find a time and a space that I can know is special and dedicated to you and I need the discipline to visit and stay a while. I need to learn to listen and hear. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

If I make space in my head I reckon that there would be more room for you. If my head were less chaotic and more peaceful, then I might actually be able to hear you. At the moment the background noise level is so loud that you could be standing right next to me and cupping your hand round my ear to shout and I don't even realise it. 

Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree. Am I? I have a feeling that I'm not. I have a feeling that I can't possibly do any harm by working on these things and I might even do something right. It's a huge thing; a lifetime's thing, maybe, or maybe it's not; maybe it's a revelation from you and you can help me with it all. I don't know. I admit, I don't know. 

There's so much I don't know. It's a good job that I can't grasp it how far away I am because I'm sure it would depress me. What doesn't depress me though is that you know, and it doesn't stop you from loving me. It doesn't stop you from having a plan for me. 

I feel excited. I feel a sense of anticipation. I have felt this since this year began and although it's occasionally been swamped by other things, I still feel it. I don't expect to be Moses or David or St Paul, but I'm excited about being me, for once. I'm excited because I am your daughter and you are pleased with me. You have a plan. I want to be all I can be. 

Amen.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Two cathedrals

Hello God.

I want to say thankyou for the beautiful day it's been today. The sun has shone, we found a lovely little picnic spot in spectacular scenery, we went to two places that are testament to your glory and ate scones with clotted cream and jam and good coffee. My cup runneth over. 

I love living in Derbyshire. I love that I can drive for just five minutes to find beautiful countryside. Rolling hills, heather moorland, peaks, cliffs, limestone gorges, viaducts, caverns, rivers, streams and enough open sky to make me feel I am indeed in a spacious place. Even a short drive on the tops can lift my spirits. I love discovering new roads, little villages that I've never visited before, new views and new tea-shops and little shops with interesting things. I love that I can visit the quaint and pretty and the fierce and majestic in one afternoon; experience nature as calm and friendly and also powerful and raw. Today we've done all that and it's been wonderful.

So, what are your views on the christening of one of the caverns near Castleton, 'The Devil's Arse'? Apparently this has a wonderful story behind it (ha ha) in that the cave-dwellers who lived and made ropes in the enormous Peak Cavern in Victorian times used to hear the water in a narrow underground passage being sucked back and forth by changes in air pressure and it made a loud and somewhat rude sound, and so the little opening (about six feet by three feet) became known as The Devil's Arse. I wonder if they all sniggered when they first heard it, or whether it was too scary?  Lots of sniggering going on during our guided tour, it has to be said. Now, here's the thing. You are all-knowing, right? So you knew that this particular bit of the cave would make a farting noise and that generations of people after the ones who found it scary would find it amusing and still you left it in the plans. Who says that you're a dour old God who wants to spoil our fun?  I know different. 

When Queen Victoria visited she made them change it back to 'Peak Cavern' as she didn't think it appropriate that she should grace The Devil's Arse with her presence. Quite right too.  OK for us though...we all sniggered. Except Elizabeth and Katy who didn't get the joke. That made me love them even more.

So this cave, then. What were you doing? Did you just think, 'Here we go. In this bit of hillside, how about a vast, impressive cavern graduating to a series of smaller caverns with breathtaking rock formations, the odd stalactite and mysterious underground streams...and just enough little openings to make daft people like potholers want to squeeze themselves through small spaces. And when they do I'll reward them with huge and majestic caverns just to reward their efforts.' Hmm?

I can't see why you did it, except to be wonderful. Look what you can do. Is that it? And why not.  If I were the Creator of the world I'd have a little fun sometimes soon. But you made such extravagant beauty and set it in places that nobody might ever see. Only in 1999 a couple of cavers swam through a narrow, water-filled passage way and emerged to find a cavern so large that it could swallow up St Paul's cathedral with veins of shining minerals and rock formations that took their breath away. And you did it. You are amazing. Not that I'll ever see that; the idea of going underwater with only rock above me fills me with a special sort of horror. 

You know what I liked? I liked that in the vast face of the rock in which this fantastic opening is set, trees have grown out of cracks. Whole trees. Flowers. Tiny purple and white flowers were flourishing hundreds of feet up and seemingly out of sheer rock. Devil's Arse or not, the angels were smiling too. 

You are awe-inspiring. I can look around my county and I see you everywhere. I see you in the enormous rocks in the middle of nowhere and people theorise that they were left there in the last ice age, or when the land in this country was just a giant reef, or something. I'm not big on history and science and things but I must say it doesn't matter much to me how you did it; just that you did. Just to be glorious. So that people like me could scramble through shoulder high ferns and then climb onto a rock the size of a small house and gaze at the vastness of the scenery. A spacious place. 

We went to the church at Tideswell today as well. 'The Cathedral of the Peak'. Another monument to your glory - this time a man made one and not on the same scale as your canvas, but nevertheless it's a place that feels full of you. Beautiful windows. I'm starting to realise that I love stained glass. I was lifting my camera to capture a lovely window in the church when I heard my two girls giggling and running up and down the central aisle of the church, feet slapping on the stone. Other people were in the church too, and the atmosphere was one of quiet, calm contemplation. I hurried over to them and told them urgently that they needed to stop running and calm down because this was a place that people came to be quiet. They assured me that they would before thundering towards the back once more, and with an anxious glance I returned to my window. The words on the stained glass were part of this:

'Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.'

Mark 10:14 King James Bible

Two little children in question were having lots of fun crawling around in the pews (each pew has a door at each side, so they could hide from each other very easily) and coming up with the odd squeal and giggle and walking with footsteps that echoed around the hallowed walls like a herd of bison. I hope that my girls made you smile this afternoon, Lord Jesus, because I don't think that the other couple of people in the church were that impressed with their exuberance. I'm not sure where we stand on this; I know that you had and have a special place in your heart for small children but I also know that I need to teach them respect and reverence. Help me out, Lord, because it's hard to tell sometimes what is childish enthusiasm and joy and what is inappropriate. Happens most Sundays, to tell the truth, but in my own congregation I feel that we are a church family, and families include the tiny ones who can't be quiet all the time, and who want to visit the toilet at inopportune moments, and who ask questions like, 'When can I have my cake?'  or 'If I say 'Amen' will it finish?' in the middle of the prayers.

Elizabeth in the pulpit.
Help us to be tolerant. Help those who long for silence to find it and not to come head to head with the noise of children as they worship. Help those who can't concentrate for long to feel your presence just as much as those who can meditate for hours. Help those who try to keep the small ones quiet and still to get a look in at the worship from time to time. And help those who do the childrens' work during the services to understand that they are loved and admired and have the immense gratitude those of us who have a chance to listen without juggling for a little while during the Sunday School times.

So, the cathedral of nature and the Cathedral of the Peak. Both awe-inspiring places that made me think of you with a smile on my face. I love that you are endlessly creative. Endlessly imaginative. You are full of surprises and I don't want to miss a single one. In my life, Lord, please help me to notice every flower that grows from a rock face, every stained glass window that speaks to me when my children are making me feel embarrassed. Every blossom and unique snowflake and miraculous word out of nowhere. I want to see it and hear it and notice it and remark upon it and remember it and communicate it. Just show me how, my magnificent Lord.

Today was lovely. A picnic and a cream tea and a drive through this county that I love so much. A day full of blessings. Beauty and awe and laughter and food and family and your inspiration around me. 

Thankyou thankyou thankyou. 


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Thinking about thinking

Hello God.

Today I'm thinking about thinking. I've been having thoughts about thoughts for a little while now, and I don't mean that I'm contemplating having a go at thinking, but rather that I am turning my attention to my thoughts. What they're like, instead of just taking them at face value as if they happened to me, rather than me doing anything actively.

So much has happened lately to point me in this direction. I have read books about thinking and I have stumbled upon passages in the Bible about thinking. I'm starting to think that it's important. 

I know, I know. The penny drops. Ha. Lord God, I'm just assuming that after you've rolled your eyes you'll look back at me with an indulgent expression. 

The thing is, I've come to believe that my thoughts are important. What I think and how I think. And how I react to what I think.  What my thoughts do to me. 

I am not an optimist. And I think it can also be said that I have plenty of baggage that I've been trying to deal with recently. Whether I have made progress in that department isn't the issue here, but there are many things about me that need work, and one of the bigger ones has been my perception of myself. I have for a long time had little confidence and assumed that people would assess me and find me wanting in many ways. I have for thirty out of my forty years wished that I was thinner, more beautiful and more graceful. More attractive, wittier, cleverer and more sure of myself.  I am a critical sort of person and I am fairly even-handed in the way that I share out my critical thoughts - just as I am quick to find fault with those around me I do it to myself. If things are not done perfectly then they were a disaster. If I didn't succeed completely, then I failed. 

So I set myself up for frequent failure. You'd think I'd be used to it, resigned even, but I fear it. The fact that I am not perfect sort of sets me up for inevitable disappointment in this area, but still I dread failing. I dread the embarrassment of it, the humiliation, the sense of inadequacy, the feeling of vulnerability and being exposed as inferior for other people to see. Sometimes I don't try because I might fail. Sometimes I try but I wonder if I've done all I could to make it work since at the back of my mind not getting it right seems unavoidable. Sometimes I do try, and I get it right, and it works, but on those occasions my mind tells me it was a fluke, it was someone else's intervention or assistance that made it work, and it was despite me, not because of me. 

Lord, you must have been watching my life for so long and seeing this unhappy cycle go from bad to worse. Has it made you sad? It must have made you sad because I know that you love me and I have been trapped in an endless round of anxiety and tension and misery because of it. I haven't done things I should have done and I have done things that I shouldn't have done because of it. Because of what? Because of the way I think.

Not much can be done about that, is there? I didn't think so; indeed as an Occupational Therapist I came across Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) where psychologists and counsellors try to train people to think in a different way to break out of damaging thought patterns and reprogramme themselves to think in a healthier manner. In my mind, the jury is still out on the success or failure of CBT as a therapy programme but for me? Never considered it. Never thought it necessary. Never even noticed that my own thoughts were stamping all over me and leaving me bruised. 

So I think 'I can't do it' and 'It's all going to go wrong', and a million other little undermining thoughts. Maybe the devil puts them in my head because he knows my weaknesses (he's been cultivating them for years), or maybe it's just me sabotaging my own life because I'm broken. Who knows, but you? But still, these things come to my head. I hear them, I believe them, I act on them. I bring about what I fear the most.

'For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.'
Proverbs 23:7

What you think about gets bigger. 

So I'm learning that I can do something about it. Well, to be more accurate, I can invite you to do something about it; to co-operate with you.  Not to lie down and let the negativity and defeatism and self-criticism wash over me and bury me. I can say, 'No, this is not true. I am a child of God and the devil cannot touch me.'

Is this what you meant by 'taking every thought captive?' I identify the lie, grab hold of it and shout over it's whispering voice that I am your child and because of that I am accepted, secure and significant. I don't let it have my attention. I don't let it put down roots any more.

I am your child.

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..."
John 1:12

I am no longer guilty.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Romans 8:1

You are working to make me perfect.

"...being confident of this; that he who began a good work in you will carry it through to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Philippians 1:6

I am not going mad.

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love and self-discipline."
2 Timothy 1:7

You chose me to do something special for you.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last."
John 15:16

I can do it, because you can do it.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Philippians 4:13

So this is my thinking. I don't have to believe the thoughts that enter my head. Just because they crowd in and drown out the little weary hopeful part of me doesn't mean that they're right.  Those thoughts have made me what I am today; the apologetic part of me that assumes that the space I occupy is wasted. That somehow other people have more right to occupy that space than I do. Those thoughts have diminished me and they have compromised what I can do for you in my life. It's time to sort it out because I want to be all I can be.

All year I've been asking you what your plan is. What do you want me to do?  How can I be more like you, more use to you?  I think that this is a big step in the right direction. If I can stop thinking this way then there might be more space in my head to hear you.

I must have had an inkling about this in recent years; my ideas have changed definitely over time. A bit. I remember when I used to watch scary films - sometimes the more frightening the better. Gory, violent, graphic  - I watched them all. More recently I've realised that I don't want this sort of thing in my head, so I don't watch any more. I don't like excessive bad language and I don't like those stand up comedians who are vicious and offer unrelieved negativity in their satire. It tires me and makes me uncomfortable. I don't really like watching those programmes that aim to make you laugh by showing you people at weddings falling over on the dance floor. They must have hurt themselves, mustn't they?

I also realised fairly late in the day that listening to worship music in the car meant that for some of my day I am hearing truths about you and singing your praise. Quite often the song in my head is one in which you are lifted up and I like that.

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."
Philippians 4:8

So these are the things I should think about. You. What is right. What is good. What is uplifting and true and affirming and positive. NOT the thoughts that circle round and pull me down like a hyena tugging at a buffalo. (Not sure I'm liking that analogy but it just came into my mind). Not the critical and the defeatist and the frightening and unnerving and desperate.

I have so much to learn, Father. Better late than never, I suppose, but still - how many wasted years spent believing the rubbish that's in my heads and giving it permission to stick around. It's time to go to work.

Please come and fill me with your Holy Spirit, Lord God. Send your Helper to help me with this because these patterns of thought and behaviour are deeply ingrained in me. It's not a quick fix, I don't think. I'm not going to shake it overnight. But I'm onto it.

Blow through my mind my God and clear it of the negativity and destructive thoughts. Blow them away. Cleanse my mind.

My God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thankyou for keeping working on me. Thankyou that you would have me whole, not broken. Thankyou that you will never give up on me. Help me to open the doors in my mind to you and not to the other guy. He's been making himself comfortable in the corners of my head for too long and it's time to spring clean.

Amen.









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