Just had a horrible bedtime with my two girls who were so worked up and hysterical that it all went wrong and they ended up in bed early with no story. I've been up and tucked them in and we're finally all friends again but I feel like a chewed piece of string.
That noise was the sound of a glass of wine being poured. I'm hoping it'll help.
I'm going to think about other things. I'm going to tell you about that day last week. You know the one I meant. The one with the sea and the boats and the seals and the crabs and the sunshine. That one. Are you smiling?
I woke up that morning when Bryan brought me a cup of coffee in bed. That automatically gets the day off to a decent start, but what clinched it was that while I drank the coffee, I had time to read a couple of devotional posts on my email and also to write in my journal. I have noticed such a vast, enormous difference in my day when I can meet with you first thing, before I have to encounter anyone (especially the children) and before I have to start on the daily round of things-that-drive-me-crazy. Life doesn't necessarily work like that, mind you, but when it does, it's precious.
I remember that I chatted with you for a while that morning, Lord. It was the last day of our holiday and I was anxious that it went well. I have an over-developed sense of responsibility for stuff like that and I was a bit on edge feeling that it was all down to me to make sure that the sun shone and everything should go tickety-boo and everyone should be happy. I was pleased to have a chance to spend some time with you at the start of the day.
This is what I wrote:
'Lord - it's your day. You made it. Help me to see all the things that you put in it. Today, Father, I want to notice you. To really see you, and give you my thanks and praise. For you are my Lord and my God.'
You know what? You answered my prayer. Father I have no idea how many more gifts you left in my path that day that I missed but I saw enough of them to marvel at your mercy and to praise you for your generosity to me.
We went to a seaside village up the coast from where we were staying and we went on a boat trip to see some seals. Our timing was perfect in terms of not having to queue on the jetty when we got to the landing stage for the boat, but in terms of picking good seats, it wasn't so good. We were just in time, and the last people onto the boat. Now, as you know, and for the life of me I don't know why you made me this way, but I get anxious about things like this. We got the last spaces. To begin with we weren't even sitting together at all and needed to do some seat-exchanging with another family as we left the dock, and then the children couldn't see, so some more jiggery pokery was required, and finally, I ended up in the middle of the boat sitting on a cross-piece rather than a seat, with a rivet right underneath me, my view obstructed by the girls' heads.
Now, what would be the thing to do in such circumstances? Ideally, not notice that I was in such a duff position, because my girls were happy, the sun was shining, we'd managed to get on a boat in the first place and we were heading off on a little adventure. And I've seen seals before, after all. Of course that would be the thing to do. After all, I'm a grown up. Aren't I?
I wasn't very happy. I wanted to take photographs not only of the seals, but also of the light on the waves, the other boats, the sky, the horizon, whatever came up. I wanted to bring back some shots to enlarge and perhaps put on the wall. I sat and scowled. I told the children to sit down, not to speak as loudly, not to lean out of the boat, to stop complaining.
As we made our way to the island where the seals were basking, I chilled out a bit. Bryan took my hand. The girls were laughing as we whizzed along. The sun was shining down on us, the water was sparkling and the wind in my hair was massaging the grumpiness out of me. I started to enjoy myself. I was hoping to take some pictures of the beautiful sailing boats in the marina to one side but realised that we were on the wrong side of the boat. I decided that it didn't matter, since we'd be coming back the same way.
We saw seals. We saw a lone seal pup on a sandy beach and we all enthusiastically took photographs of him, before rounding a bend and seeing a million seals of all shapes and sizes on another beach including huge bull seals and tiny babies. They swam close to our boat, they popped their heads up to say hello and they waved their flippers at us from the shore. It was lovely. I managed my photos without incident and even steadied the camera for long range shots by leaning on Lizzie's shoulder. So it was quite helpful to sit behind her after all. I thought of you and thanked you for the glimpse of wildlife so rarely seen and for the opportunity to ride in a boat and feel the sun and wind on our faces as we sailed. I saw your creativity and inspiration and the wonder and variety of your handiwork.
We to-ed and fro-ed for a while to make sure everyone had their fill of the seals and we set off back.
The sun was dancing on the waves and they sparkled like diamonds. Now and again the boat kicked up spray and we laughed with exhilaration.
As we approached the marina, with all the beautifully photogenic boats with sails billowing in the breeze, beautiful little white caps on the waves, blue sea, blue sky... the sun went in. And as everyone knows, the pictures aren't anywhere near as nice without the sun. I put the lens cap on.
I was just lowering the camera after replacing the lens cap, feeling disappointed and a bit cheesed off when we passed by a lovely little white boat with a bright red sail. Painted on the front of the boat was its name.
A boat called Joyful.
Lord God, I saw you face to face at that moment. You caught my mood in your hands as it sank and you buoyed it up again. You said, 'No. Don't do that. Don't do what you're doing. This is no time for dissatisfaction. Look at my world. And look at the gifts I give you.'
'...yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.'Habbakkuk 3:18
Too late to take a picture of the boat called Joyful. Moments after, while I was still craning my neck to look at the little red and white boat as it receded into the distance, the sun came back out. I got some pictures. Nothing breathtaking, but some photos that capture the sparkle and shine of that morning. But the one I remember is the picture I didn't take.
'...but may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.'
So much to rejoice about. In that few minutes, the vastness and power of the sea, the beauty of the sunlight on waves, the exhilaration of spray on my face as we danced along in a boat, the laughter of the children, the privilege of seeing the seals close up, the skill of those sailing boats in and out of buoys, sails billowing in the breeze, the deep blue of the sky, the seabirds wheeling around above and diving for fish, the fact that the God of Heaven reached down and communicated with me.
'...and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light.'Colossians 1:12
The Kingdom of Light! Oh my goodness. I spend my holiday marvelling at the special sort of light by the sea and trying to take the perfect photograph that will somehow capture forever the essence of the seaside and I find that one day beyond this life I will find myself with you in your Kingdom of Light?
That wasn't all, Father, was it? I wonder how many blessings I missed that day, but I know there were more. The joy on my girls' faces when they caught lots of crabs and the wonderful pride on little Kate's face when she managed to land the largest crustacean of them all that morning. The finest bacon sandwich in the world sitting on a bench watching them with their crablines and soaking up the sun, camera cradled in my lap.
Later on that afternoon we were at the beach, strolling along in the surf, and towards us came a man wearing a T-shirt that said, 'Keep Psalm and Carry On'. At the moment that old 1939 Government Poster seems to be incredibly popular with no end of spin-offs but I've never seen this before. We passed by on the beach and exchanged greetings but my smile was wide because I know that my unknown brother there was carrying a message from you, for me. You were there.
'Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.'Psalm 100:2
Lord, I was glad. Every holiday I make sure that I find a pebble with a smile on it - I bring it home and draw on eyes and a nose and mark it with the year and destination of our holiday and that afternoon I found the perfect pebble. A broad smile.
A joyful smile.
Lord, I want to thank you for the sun and the waves, for the man on the beach and his T-shirt.
For crabs and crab-lines and bacon butties.
For weathered wood on the beach, for the sound of waves breaking on the shoreline and for family and holding hands and clifftop cottages and fresh air.
For the way that the standing on the promenade looking down at my children on the beach I noticed the breakwater was in the form of a cross.
And when I looked at my feet, there was another one, in the stone of the path.
Thanks too for a boat called Joyful. Bless all who sail in her. I pray that they see what I saw.
Most of all, for being my Lord and my Saviour and my Friend who answers prayers. Teach me to see you more and more. Each day that I live may I miss less of your open-handed goodness and capture more of it in my heart. Don't let the moments slip through my fingers because I see the clouds.
'They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.'Psalm 145:7
Oh yes. You are good. You are good in ways beyond my imagination. You are righteous and I want to sing a song that people will hear.
Lord God, thankyou for answering my prayer.