Thursday, 25 April 2013

An audience of one

Are you listening, Lord?

Are you watching? 

Are you there, right there, as I sit in front of my computer with my fingers on the keys?  Because I'm feeling vulnerable and exposed and I'm needing you to be here please. 

It's something about who I am and why I am that I want to get off my chest today; I've said it before and there are some days when I think that you're at work in this troublesome area of my life and then I have weeks like this and I realise that I'm right back where I started. 

So here I am. Are you? 

You've said you are, and so you must be. 

Waiting. Watching. Listening. Waiting with a smile, encouraging. Expectant, because you know what I'm going to say before I do.

'Before a word is on my tongue, you, O Lord, you know it completely.'

Psalm 139:4

I spend my life trying to please people.

There we go. Said it.

I'm not sure why, but I worry so much about what people think. Always have. I find myself frustratingly preoccupied by people's opinion of me far too much of the time. 

I'm the sort of person who stops in the supermarket to exchange a spontaneous few words with an acquaintance and then plays the conversation back in my mind over and over wishing that I'd said something else, or not said anything; considering and fretting over what the other person thought, what impression they must have of me. After such an inconsequential exchange I am quite sure that the other person is thinking of nothing but the frozen food or special offers but I go over it and over it in my head.

You'll know that it's not unusual for me to make a phone call and then put down the phone afterwards and stand where I am chewing a finger, deep in thought, and I'm rehashing it in my mind. Usually there's something I'd have done differently.

Sometimes, like this last week, I make a complete mess of something out there in public and then on those occasions I have so much material to work with when I rehash and revisit and agonise that I am just knocked over by it all. And this is why I'm here, now. 

You know what a minefield of potential gaffes the average day is for me even without the occasional total wipe-out. And it's not only what I say - it's how I look (what do people think?) and decisions I make (do people approve?) and how I act (how do people see me?). 

I know what it is that I want people to see when they look at me; I know what I would have people think, most of the time; it's just that I always fall short of my own idea of what I should be, and so I'm convinced that I fall short in other people's assessment of me as well. I'm constantly assessing and regretting and wincing at my perceived mistakes. Sometimes I'm crippled by it.

Immobile.

I assume that the thing people notice is the bit I'd hide if I could. I assume that other people are always assessing too and yet I know this isn't true. Most people are much more peaceful and accepting than I give them credit for. But then again...maybe they're not...

You see how I tie myself up in knots? 

A friend reminded me of something yesterday.

I am playing to an audience of one. 

Of One. 

It doesn't matter what other people think. The only opinion that matters is yours,  Lord God.

I have to take a deep breath and say that again, Lord.

It doesn't matter what other people think.

Of course, I have many years' programming that needs to be undone; I seem to have become wired to assess and worry and this has given rise to self consciousness and diffidence and indecision. I rarely have confidence in my own decision making; if I decide something and immediately someone questions me I am invariably shaken. I wonder if I was right after all, should I perhaps have thought differently... and the process cycles once again. 

Why am I like this? I don't know. That's a whole other Thing. Maybe one day I'll luxuriate in someone's deconstruction and come out understanding myself in a whole new way; or maybe one day I'll just learn to let go of it and be transformed into a complete new person. Maybe I can climb the mountain to a higher level where the air is different and I can be freer. Who knows, but you? 

An audience of one. 

Recently I've had to make several decisions involving different people with different expectations of me. Each time I've been in the position where I couldn't please everyone. Each time I've agonised about it and worried about it and the truth is that there is only one opinion that really matters. I still have some tricky decisions coming up and I need to be sure that I am doing what pleases you. Not pleasing other people so that they will have a high opinion of me. Not pleasing other people so that I can gain a sense of self-worth because they depend on me.

Not doing something so that I look good/busy/godly/committed/needed/competent/efficient/any other adjective I can insert to prop up my frail ego.

What other people think is of dramatically lower importance than what you think.

'Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of God.'

Galatians 1:10

An audience of one. 

Oh, God, that's easier said than done. I often feel obliged to do things - I find saying no very hard. I worry that people will be disappointed or disapproving. But I find that when I take on something for the wrong reasons it becomes stressful and oppressive and overwhelming; indeed I've just extricated myself very painfully from one commitment that has been nothing but anxiety from day one and I am still not sure why I said I'd do it in the first place, other than that people expected me to. Not good enough. 

It all comes down to being close to you. Walking close enough to hear your voice. Holding on tight enough so that I feel your presence. Stopping long enough to look and see the real picture. If I don't do that then I dash past knocking things flying and getting it wrong and having to go back and pick up the broken pieces. 

So I have lots of claims on my time. Since Katy has started school I have more time and I don't know where it's going. I'm busier than ever and the only, only thing I'm sure of is that you are waiting for me to dedicate some of that time to you. There are worthy things out there; enjoyable and less so, things that are productive and undoubtedly need doing - but I need to stop, wait and discern which of those things are for me because you want me to do them, and you have equipped me for them, and which I would do only because someone else wants me to do them. 

What do people think of me?

What do you think of me?

An audience of one.

I want you to approve of me.

I want you to be pleased with me. I want to be less concerned with the opinion of others. I don't mean that I want to be careless of it - but not desperate for it.

I just want to learn how to walk with confidence in the steps you have carved for me, secure in the knowledge that I am doing all I can to be your servant, and my significance comes from that. Not from the ideas that another person has of me. Of course I want to be thought of highly, and I should, because I carry your family name and I should look after it.  I mustn't pursue others' approval at all costs. 

'Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for his people. Remember that the Lord will give you as a reward what he has kept for his people. For Christ is the real Master you serve.'

Colossians 3:23,24

Amen. Help me to remember that, Lord. I keep forgetting.

My need to get things right has sort of gone askew and I need to ask myself who is marking the scoresheet? Who says if it's right or not? Every person in my life thinks that I'm someone different; only you know me, all the sides of me. You know me inside out. Every strength, weakness, hope, dream, fear, insecurity and foible. Many people would not love me so much if they knew what you know.  People would reassess their opinion of me dramatically if they knew all that.

But you love me anyway. More than that - you delight in me. 

You accept me because you made me and the angels celebrate when I get something right that pleases you. With everyone around me I have to play a part - even with people that I love who love me. Only with you can I lay my whole being down and be assured of perfect love however badly I get it wrong. However many times I have to ask your forgiveness.

Why would I close my eyes and walk past that wonder in pursuit of another human being's flawed opinion that isn't based on all the facts? 

You are my Father and I am your child and I want to light up your face with pleasure because your opinion of me is the one that matters. I want to remember at those moments when I could go one way or another that you are my real Master. I serve the God of the Universe. Please give me wisdom and discernment and integrity. And courage.

And when the curtain comes down there's only you, waiting backstage.

There is only you.

There has only ever been you.

Lord God, help me to remember that I play for an audience of one.





(Images theatre2.JPG and theatre_c.JPG by hotblack courtesy of Morguefile.com. Used with permission)










Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Sisterhood and suspicion

Morning, God.

Someone wrote something, and I read it.

It was a blog post about women and friendship. It was a beautiful post celebrating sisterhood and the support and encouragement and the sort of connection that only women can have. About the special bond that is found in a group of female friends.

You know what came into my head? 

'That's not true.'

Emphatically. The voice in my head was loud, angry. Maybe a bit shrill.

I flinched. Where did that come from? 

God. Help me a bit, will you? Because it came from somewhere deep inside me, back through the years and comes from somewhere that I thought I'd sorted out, even if not forgotten about. I read the article with narrowed eyes and looked at the pictures of smiling women with their arms around each other and you know what? I don't believe it. All that perfect-friendship stuff. I looked at those pictures with a suspicion and cynicism that shocked me.
Sisters.

Until the last few years, I've never had a close female friend. As I was growing up, I had a few female 'friends', but those friendships weren't what they should have been. They were full of hurt and betrayal and unhappiness and they took from me a lot of confidence. In later years I've had some friends who I still value, but they've somehow stopped short of true intimacy. There's been a holding back; a superficiality. I think it comes from them, but maybe it's been me. I don't know. 

This is a minefield. God, I don't know what you're doing here. This is a big thing for me. Here are some things that are flooding through my mind at the moment: 

I've always said, 'It takes me a long time to get to know someone.' That's because I'm so wary. 

I've always said, 'Men are more straightforward than women.'  I've always done better with boyfriends than girlfriends.  From late teens onwards I usually had a boyfriend, but after a few very painful friendships, no special friend of my own sex.

I worry for my small daughters about friendships in the playground. I so want them to find a true and trustworthy friend to do life with, and I long for them to find it way, way before I did.  Already, at the ripe old age of seven, Elizabeth's experienced girls who've said they were her friend and then hurt her badly, and it presses all my buttons. Makes me anxious. Makes me want to scoop her up and tell her not to worry, it'll be OK. I wonder if that's why she plays with the boys more than the girls? 

Oh dear. 

The thing is, I do know what friendship is, now. It's taken me this long. I'm in my early forties and I have a friend who is a true and beautiful gift from God. She is a woman the author of that article had in mind as she celebrated friendship.  She accepts me as I am.  I don't have to tidy my house when she comes round. I don't worry if my mascara smudges when I'm talking to her. I trust her implicitly. She keeps my secrets, she holds me when I cry and eats cheesecake with me until we both feel sick. She knows me. She comforts me, inspires me, encourages me and talks sense to me when I don't have any of my own. I don't have to put up barriers. She sees me as I am and she still wants to be with me.

We do this for each other. It's not all one way. She accepts my friendship; she values it. She doesn't throw it back at me or look at it with contempt. 

She is my friend. The friend I didn't have when I was seven, or eleven, or twenty, or thirty. I've never been solitary, don't get me wrong, but I've never trusted as I do now. I've never received so much, or given so much. 

So I read the article about the miracle of women and the power that we have to build each other up and until recently I have only seen the power we have to bring each other down. When I walk into a roomful of women I am immediately intimidated. I assume that they're looking at me and criticising what I'm wearing, my make up, my face, my words. They're noticing every flaw that I've tried so hard to hide, physical and emotional. My bad hair day, the spot on my chin, the fact that my jeans are a bit tighter than they were last month, my confusion and diffidence. They look at me when I walk in and they talk about me when I leave. I don't think about it any more, because I realise that I've come to expect it. Something inside me is programmed to believe that other women do this to me. To each other. 

I am afraid of women. Women can destroy each other's confidence with a look, a remark, an expression. Sometimes, the wounds go very deep indeed. 

One day, she'd be my friend, the next, she wouldn't talk to me. On the way to school I would never know which today would be. On the off days she'd tell other girls mean things about me. On the good days, she'd link arms with me and all would be well. I just let it happen. It doesn't do much for my self esteem that I just let it happen. 

She would tell me that I was fat and ungainly and she'd tell me who I should avoid standing next to as they were so much slimmer/prettier than me that it made me look worse. She told me I'd never get anywhere, be anyone. She criticised the way I walked and the way I laughed. She chose a seat at lunchtime at a table without space for me, so I'd be standing there with my tray of food, but nowhere to sit. She laughed at me. 

Another she, a grown-up she, my tutor at university years later, told me that someone had said things about me but wouldn't tell me who, or what, but it wasn't nice, and it wasn't true either. I looked around at the people I shared the lecture room with in a different way because of her. I didn't trust anyone, and until then I'd been having a nice time. I thought I had friends. She told me that I had no integrity, that there was something wrong with my character. That there was something wrong with me

My beautiful girl
Other shes weren't there when I needed them, let me down at key moments, didn't turn up, drifted away, moved away.

I could name names, Lord, but there's no reason to; you know the people I mean. From my childhood and adulthood. I'm sure they didn't know the impact they were having. I'm glad that they didn't. 

So we women do have power indeed. Oh, we do. A fearsome power. We can crush. We may not do it with our muscles but the devastation is complete.

A group of girls in the playground; is there anything more lethal than that? A couple of girls took my daughter's woolly hat on a cold day and threw it in a puddle. A girl told her that her new coat made her look silly. A girl told her that she was too tall to be a girl so she must be a boy.

The girls that are friends one day and the next they won't let her play.

She went to play with the boys. More straightforward, see? Only now at seven the boys start to do that thing where they don't want to play with girls, even tall ones. She must try again with the girls, like it or not.

Oh God, hold her close. It's so complicated and I don't have the skills to help her. I'm terrified that the only stuff I can impart won't help at all but will make things worse. Keep the mean girls away from her, will you? Don't let them wound her. And don't, please don't, let her insecurities grow and overflow so that she becomes a mean girl. Bring her a friend, or (is it too much to ask?) a couple of friends that she can trust, have fun with, grow up with, will you? Please, please, don't have her wait until she's forty to find a woman who is a soulmate. 

Someone who will bring out the best in her, not diminish her.

My beautiful girl
I realise that even though I'm supposed to have dealt with all this, there's still a gaping wound that needs healing. I can feel tears behind my eyes even as I'm talking to you, now.

Today I was reading of the bond that a woman can have with another woman and finally, I know what that's about. I assumed that such friendships were for other people - not for me, but now I know that it's not true. I can trust someone who is trustworthy. I know that she wants what is good for me. We're not in competition. She lifts me up. She prays for me. She isn't afraid to tell me that I'm wrong, that I need to think differently. She's right there with me.

She loves me. She loves you

God, I bet there are so many people out there like me. Who haven't experienced the joyful, wonderful feminine sisterhood, but the darker side of women. The cold and hurting side. The bit that chips away and undermines and leaves you defensive and wary. 

Lord, I know that it's not too late. I know that you can heal and make new. Father, will you reach down into the depths of me and mend the bits that are broken? Is that what you're doing? And maybe one day I can help someone else. Women should stick together, shouldn't they?

Not pull each other apart and walk on the pieces. 

Thankyou for my friends, Lord God. For soulmates and sisters to celebrate and grieve with. Who walk alongside, accepting and supporting, passing tissues and eating cheesecake. 

Father, for the girls that are now women whose names we both know; may their lives now be so much happier that the bitterness and nastiness that spilled over and soaked me through is no more. I'm supposed to pray for them, aren't I? It's hard to hand them over to you, Lord, but I know that they are your daughters too. Bless them. Next time I say that I'll try to do it without the gritted teeth.

Help me to open my hands and drop the memories that I realise that I've never thrown away. The remembered misery and fear and the knot in my stomach. The loneliness and mistrust. The wariness. The feeling that other women are not potential friends, but threats. Help me to leave it with you. 

To forgive. Even if I have to keep on forgiving. I didn't realise until this morning that I hadn't.

As the healing power of a God-given friendship starts to seep into my consciousness, help me to let it go to all those places where the cynicism and suspicion still linger. Melt the parts of me that are cold and wake me up to the miracle of restoration that you are doing in me. I don't have to accept that part of me was damaged when I was a child. I don't have to tell the story of the bullies and the spiralling self-esteem and finish it with a shrug, and a 'That's how I am.'  I don't have to settle for wounds that won't heal.

I've only just realised that. Only just. And I'm supposed to be all grown up. 

So, Father. I know that we women do indeed have power. Power to change the lives of those around us. Lord, let me only bless other women and not harm them. How many women, like me, assume that they are nothing more than the sum of their negative experiences? How many women lick the wounds inflicted when friendships hurt and fail and then hide them away without realising that healing is possible?

Help me to reach out, to touch, to support and encourage, not discourage, undermine or damage. I want to make a positive difference. 

I've been hurt and you're putting me back together. 

Thankyou.

..........

Oh. Lord, I've got a postscript. School run, this evening. I was walking to school and I slipped in my headphones (as I do; it's not too far, about two-and-a-half songs) and pressed 'shuffle'. You chose a song for me.

'Rise up women of the Truth
Stand and sing to broken hearts
Who can know the healing power
Of our awesome King of Love?' *

Lord, I've been hurt and you're putting me back together again.

I know the healing power of our awesome King of Love. And I shall sing.
'Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.' Jeremiah 17:14
Amen. Yes, please, Lord.




*(Shout to the North and the South, Martin Smith, 1995 Curious? Music UK)


(Edited and reposted from last year. Some things have happened recently that make me realise how far I have to go with this one.)

Friday, 19 April 2013

Leaning on my own understanding

Well you were reading between the lines, weren't you, Lord?

I suppose that's not strictly accurate, is it, as you are the One from whom no secrets are hidden... so I can never be oblique with you. Yesterday I said that I wasn't going to ask why my life continues to be strewn with large boulders to climb over, but you know me better than that. You know me so well that you understand the subtext for all those times when I answer 'How are you?' with a grumpy, 'Fine'. You know me so well that you know the agenda when I scowl and say 'Alright then'

You made me. 

So yesterday I don't ask 'Why?' and today you explain to me.

My daily devotional email today was on the text:
'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.'
Proverbs 3:5-6
Rick Warren, he of 'The Purpose Driven Life' said this:
'...understanding is not a requirement for you to start down the path (that God sets before you).'
So it's not surprising that I don't know where I am, let alone where I'm going. Your timing is just perfect, isn't it? I needed to hear these very words today
'The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining brighter till the full light of day.'
Proverbs 4:18
Maybe one day I'll see the full picture. Maybe one day I'll see the other side of the tapestry and not just the messy ends of the threads. Maybe one day I'll understand why the pattern on my carpet is one of anxiety and confusion at the moment.

I'm waiting for my 'gleam of dawn'. Like the first time I notice that the days are getting longer in Spring and it feels as if a long, long, winter is finally receding. Like being exhausted and lonely in the night when you're awake for hours with a newborn baby and suddenly you notice that it's dawn and morning is coming. It's the spark of hope.

Rick tells me to be patient. I need to have patience. You know what you're doing. I know you know what you're doing. It just frustrates me sometimes that I don't know what you're doing. I know that you want what's best for me, and I know that you want what's best for my family too, and family at Church as well as we struggle to grow and plan for the future.

I know that you have a Plan. I know that you are Almighty God and you can see the end from the beginning where I can only look backwards and see how far I've come - the path in front only seems to appear after I've taken a scary step into nothing.

I'm trying to trust you. I'm trying, honestly. It's just that those steps take it out of me. I find myself groping in the darkness and reaching for a handrail; sometimes I find that I grab hold of your hand and sometimes I can't feel it there. Sometimes my steps feel safe and sometimes it's as if the ground crumbles under me.  I believe that you'll catch me when I fall. I do.
'...all the things that make you ask 'why?' - one day all will be clear in the light of God's love.'
says Rick. So because I'm the sort of person who likes to have things sewn up - I am thinking that sometime there'll come a day when I'll understand. All will become clear. I just have to learn to live without that clarity now.

I need to live with the murk. To put one foot in front of the other not knowing what I might tread in, so to speak.  For you're there too.

I'm finding it hard, Lord. Even when I don't ask why I'm wondering why. I'm also wondering what, whether, how much, for how long, and when will it end. When things are going my way I don't wonder those things half so much, do I?
'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.'Proverbs 3:5-6
Well, leaning on my understanding is like leaning on an open door. I fall over. Or I spin around grabbing for things and finding nothing to hold onto and I'm all off balance so I make a big fuss.

Submit? Sigh. Do I have an alternative?

Thought not. 

Tell you what, I'll do my best to submit, and you come across with the straight path. Does that work for you? 

You said so, so I guess it does.

It's a deal.

I trust you.





(Edited and reposted from June 2011. The more things change, the more they stay the same, hey?)







Monday, 15 April 2013

From a daughter who loves you

A talk on prayer, some time ago.

The talk was based on the prayer that you taught your disciples, Lord Jesus, and my attention was drawn to the fact that you didn't tell us that this was what we must pray, but this was how we should pray. We shouldn't just chant the Lord's Prayer and not think about the words because it's so familiar.

We shouldn't say the Lord's Prayer, we should pray it.

We should think our prayers. We should be personal. We should talk to you as if you are right next to us, because you are just that.

So I've written my own. I'm hoping that you don't think this incredibly presumptuous or irreverent, and I must tell you that I believe very deeply that you did it best. Your version sort of draws things together in a way that can't be improved upon.

Your version is much snappier than mine. I'm not exactly known for being concise and I do have a tendency to go on. The 'Lord's Prayer' has such a beautiful simplicity.

Well, here it is.

This came from the heart, Father. I haven't written it and rewritten it and tinkered with it and rephrased it; I offer it to you now just as it came out of my head.

Please accept this prayer from a daughter who loves you.


God Almighty, 
I bow before you now and give you my praise because you are my Lord, my Daddy and my Friend
You reign on high.
All of creation sings praise to your holy name.
I long for the day when the whole earth joins the angels in beautiful worship. 
I rely on you for every breath and every heartbeat; please give me what I need to live each day for you.
I'm so sorry for all the times that I let you down and wound you in so many ways; forgive me.
Help me, please, to forgive those that hurt me. Yes, even them.
Show me how to keep my eyes fixed on you and not go my own way as I so often do.
I know you have won the war but the battle is raging round me and I ask that you would protect me from the Enemy because I am your child, and I'm often frightened.
You are the One who made the universe and everything in it. 
You are great.
You are the beginning and the end.
You are my God.
Everything that is belongs to you and I give you all the glory, my beautiful Lord; now, as long as I live, and for all eternity as I kneel at your throne.
Amen 




Linking up today with Tania Vaughan's Monday Ministry. Making sure that we don't leave Jesus behind in Church on Sunday.

Also for Concretewords, hosted by Nacole at sixinthesticks; finding inspiration for the abstract from something concrete.

And at Tell His Story at Jennifer Dukes Lee.


edited and reposted from 2011

Friday, 12 April 2013

Here


Well, let's forget that I'm a little late to the party, but embrace the fact that I'm here at all. 

Today is Friday, which means that many, many people all over the world are tap-tapping away at their keyboards to join in Lisa-Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday party. Each week she posts a prompt word and then anyone who fancies joining in, and can work out how to cut-and-paste the FMF button onto their blog sets a timer for five minutes and just writes whatever profound and inspiring words occur to them. 

My luck, I'll run out of time mid sentence. 

So I'm giving it a go. 

Here

I am not a 'here' person. I'm a 'yesterday' person, and a 'tomorrow' person but rarely here, right now. 

(Oh blimey, that clock is oppressing me).

I am one of those people who often wish for a 'fast-forward' button in life. Things will be better when..... Frequently I need a 'rewind' so I could try something over again, or do it a different way. Sometimes a 'pause',  because I don't want something to slip away from me; occasionally a 'Stop/Eject'  when it all gets just to much. Rarely just 'play'.

Oh, God. I need your help. 

I don't like living life full of regrets and anxieties - I look down the street behind me and littered right and left are things that weren't perfect, mistakes and messes.  Up ahead of me are obstacles and fears lurking in dark alleys and around corners. I watch my two daughters sleep and I worry that I've done and said things that have damaged them; contributed towards the anxious and fearful women they might one day turn into, chips off the old block. 

I want to be a 'here' person. Lord Jesus, I want to see those same two children and take in every detail of the wonder and glory of you, reflected in them. The expressions on their faces, their funny stories, their endless questions. I want to savour the feel of their small hands in mine while they still want to hold my hand. I want to have the energy and confidence to laugh and make things and not worry about the mess. I don't want to be haunted any longer with what might have been, and what still might be.

I want to feel free to be me, right here, right now.

I want to leave behind the debris on the road and walk onwards, swinging my arms. I want to see the flowers by the path ahead and the sunlight streaming through the clouds and not try to see around corners that I might not be called upon to walk round anyway. I want to feel the warm breeze on my back. 

I want to give up the replay and fast forward and just press 'play'. 

And let life unfold, knowing that you are at the controls, not me. 

And you are always here.

*


Alright, five minutes and eleven seconds. And then I did a bit of a tidy of the typos. Is that allowed? 

Five Minute Friday

Here are the rules of Five Minute Friday, for anyone who's inspired to have a go:


Check Lisa-Jo Baker's page for her weekly prompt (this week was 'Here').
Write for five minutes on your own blog and link up with hers using the tool underneath her FMF entry. If I can do it, anyone can, seriously. 
Visit the person before you and pass on a little encouragement, because we all just love to have someone say something nice.
So that's the plan. 









Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Playing small

Hello, God.

I was talking the other day. Talking to my husband, to my friend, to you.

It strikes me that I probably did that in the wrong order. But anyway.

I was talking about hopes and dreams and what stops me from doing anything. What stops me from going out on a limb. What inhibits me, stops me from going for it, as they say.

I've been reading a lot lately about stepping out in faith and following the path you have chosen for us. Not dawdling along and collapsing on the nearest bench, but actually going where the path goes, whether or not I'm out of breath. Walking with you, trusting that there is always more path even though I can't see it. Believing that if you started me down this path then you know where it leads and you do want me to get there.
'For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.'
Ephesians 2:10

You made me. You made me to do something with my life and you have a plan. You didn't intend for me to sit comfortably and admire the view.

I am pretty sure that the plan is not for me to sit here drinking coffee, eating too many biscuits and waiting for something to drop into my lap. Treading water. Killing time. I need to find some get-up-and-go, and for someone low on confidence and energy, whose inclination is towards excessive napping and whose default position is procrastination, get-up-and-go takes a bit of finding.

I do think that recently you have been prompting me. Not in any subtle sort of way, either. It's become impossible to ignore, and so here I am. Trying to work out what comes next.

Max Lucado (Again. I am a big fan) said this:
'What about you? As God calls, he equips. Our maker gives assignments to people. What have you done well? What have you loved to do? Stand at the intersection of your affections and successes and find your uniqueness. You have one. An uncommon call to an uncommon life.'
(Cure for the Common Life, 2006, Thomas Nelson)

I want to live an uncommon life. I don't want to be run of the mill. I don't want to meet you on the Big Day and feel that I let you down. I don't want for you to ask me with disappointment in your eyes what I did with the gifts you gave me. I don't want to look back and see how wonderful the tapestry of my life could have been if only I'd had more...what?  Courage? Faith? Get-up-and-go?

I was talking about this and a quote was nagging at me. Something someone said that I read a long, long time ago and although most of it I'd forgotten, a few words came back to me. I googled the bit that I knew and this is what it was.
'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.'
Marianne Williamson, 'A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of 'A Course in Miracles' (often attributed to Nelson Mandela).

My playing small doesn't serve the world. If I bury my talents in the ground and eventually give them back to you unused and muddy then you've said that you won't be best pleased. If I plant the seeds that I have, then who knows what might grow?

From tiny acorns grow towering oak trees.

From tiny acorns...
But it's easier to play small. Less scary to curl up in a ball and hope nobody notices me if the alternative is to stick my head above the parapet.

I'm not good at boldness and I live in fear of failure. I hate being laughed at. I worry about what people think. No wonder I don't get much done.

On the one hand I know who you are and I know what you're like and I love you and I trust you and I know that you have a job for me to do with this life and I know that you won't let me down. On the other hand I doubt myself and I worry about things going wrong and the result is paralysis.

Rabbit in the headlights.

My playing small doesn't serve the world. Who am I to hide my light under a bushel? The world is my oyster!

Ahem.

This is hard. I feel as if I'll set myself up for disaster. If I claim to be good at something, to have Big Plans, then people will laugh at me. It will all go wrong.

Mr L again:
'The fire of your heart is the light of your path. Disregard it at your own expense! Blow it. Stir it. Nourish it. Cynics will doubt it. Those without it will mock it. Those who know it, those who know Him, will understand it.'
Max Lucado Daily Devotional, 19 April 2012

Who cares what the cynics say? (Little voice in my head says, 'I do') Who cares who mocks (and again). But maybe it's worth the hassle and the ridicule to look in the eyes of those people who know you and understand. I'm working through this in my mind. I have no idea what plan you have for my life, but I do know that you have one. I know that you've made me just the way I am for a reason. There's something that you want me to do with this short time I have down here that nobody else can do. If I don't do it, then that tiny but significant part of your Plan goes undone.

I could have made a difference and I chose not to.

Do I want to try to explain that when I meet you face to face?

But I don't want to live my life as you would have me live it just because I'm afraid of the consequences if I don't. I want to please you. I want you to be proud of me. I want to achieve something for your sake. To wrap up my life's work with a bow and present it to you as an offering. To leave this place a little bit different (and in a good way) from the way it would have been without me.

Good and faithful servant, as the story goes. I want to be one of those.

So I don't want to play small. I want to think big, because my big, even my BIG is only the tip of the iceberg of your Big.
'Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Chris Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!'
Ephesians 3:20

So is my small insignificant? I have found over and over again in the last couple of years that if I give you a little, you give me back something huge. You take my tiny, imperfect offering and magnify it until it becomes something wonderful. Immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Think of that.

My wildest dreams are nowhere near wild enough.

You can do it. I can't, but you can. And you don't wait for me to be ready, you ask me to step out in faith, relying on you, not myself. If I waited until I was ready then I would still be sitting here contemplating a coffee and a packet of biscuits in a decade's time.
'If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.'
CS Lewis

See? I'm getting the message. You know what I'm thinking and you keep nudging me. I tell myself, I can't do anything much at the moment - maybe there'll be a better opportunity in the future. You send a morning devotional with CS Lewis to tell me that a better time will never come. I convince myself that I don't have what it takes and you send Max Lucado to tell me:
'God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called! Don't let Satan convince you otherwise. He'll try. He'll tell you God has an IQ requirement or an entry fee. He'll tell you God only employs specialists and experts. '
You keep on going. Am I listening yet?

Another morning devotional sent to my phone in the last two weeks:
'Jesus said: 'What are you producing with your life for the Kingdom of God?'
(Robert Boyd Munger, 'My Heart - Christ's Home Through the Year, 2004, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

And I have my hands over my ears and I'm just wanting to go to sleep. It seems too hard to look into the future and try to take control. Easier to take each day as it comes, in my routine, in my rut. Trundling along, not pedalling particularly hard. Not taking any risks. Not upsetting the applecart.

But you didn't call us to live ordinary lives. You told us that we were chosen, special, extraordinary. Your Holy Spirit lives in me; how can I be run of the mill? If you ask me to do something for you with my life, who am I to argue with you? If you tell me that I'm good enough, who am I to say, no, I think you're wrong?

My playing small doesn't serve the world.

Help me not to play small, Father. At times I feel very small indeed. I feel powerless and afraid and inadequate. But you said:
'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'
2 Corinthians 12:9

Well, I am weak.

Pathetic, even. An emotional wreck, these past few days. Nothing going right, distractions here, there and everywhere. I feel as if I have a million reasons why nothing I try would ever amount to much. I feel as if there's no way I could ever accomplish anything for you. As if everything I touch just turns to dust. But you keep nudging. With infinite patience you keep on smiling and then sending something else to throw light on the seed you planted a couple of years ago. You have a plan for me and the time is right. Not my time; that will never be right. Your time.

Give me courage to take another step, Father God. Give me wisdom and patience and always more faith.

I don't want to play small with my life. I want to show your glory to people; to shine as a child of God, because that is what I am. I want to be all that I can be; do what you made me to do.

I want to live an uncommon life.





Edited and reposted from April 2012, because guess what? Nothing has changed very much..... still working on this.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Moonlit night

Dear God,

I am like the moon.

I am the light of the world - but all my light comes from you. I glow only because you shine on me. When I was younger I thought that I was all the light that I needed, just me, just as I was, but as I've grown older I realise that I don't have any light of my own at all.  I sit and spin and soak up reflections and warmth from the source of all light.

You're the only light.

Sometimes, occasionally, people see and comment on my unique beauty - but my beauty too comes from you; it's all because of you. Most often I don't shine brightly enough for people to notice. Without you to illuminate me I'd be completely dark; the world wouldn't know that I was there. Now and then when there's nothing between you and me to get in the way, that's when I'm best; reflecting your brightest light. On those occasions I shine. Your light bounces from me - I am even a source of inspiration, but always I fade and give way at sunrise.

When I can't see you I am in darkness. The side of me upon which you don't shine is pitch black. No light there at all. I keep this side of me angled away from you all the time. I don't show it to you but I know that you can see it. I can hide nothing from you. Sometimes I long for your light to penetrate through the whole of me and I spin around trying to find illumination through and through but I find so many parts of me are still in need of your light.

I can't do it on my own.

Sometimes, strangely, we're found in the sky at the same time, but if you're there and the sky is blue and you're shining in all your glory I'm hardly noticeable. All eyes are drawn to you, not to me.

That's as it should be.

I look faint and fragile. A close examination reveals scars and craters where things have hit me and hurt me, but you have to look carefully.  I have wounds. Feet have left footprints. My injuries made marks that won't go away, and yet it makes me more interesting. Intriguing. The contours of my scars; my imperfections - they tell a story. I can only tell it when I am lit by you.

In the daytime the sun shines and the shadows are banished. There's no darkness when you're there. At night, just sometimes, when I'm big enough and when it's clear and your light finds me just as you intend it to, when conditions are perfect and it all comes together - my light penetrates the darkness too. It does! It illuminates the gloom and brings a subtle, silvery beauty of its own. Nothing like the indescribable golden brightness and majesty of you, but maybe enough to see by.

A reflection of you.

Enough light to travel by.

Enough to see the way forward.

I have a job to do and you enable me to do it. When people look at me, they see you; or that's the idea. Even when the world is in darkness, the light reflected from the moon shows the world that you are still there. You never disappear. You might be just over the horizon but you are always there.

And then, at the end of the night, I will give way to the true radiant Light which floods the world over the horizon with splendour and glory.

That's you.

Amen.



Linking here with Nacole at sixinthesticks for this week's #concretewords.
Writing abstract thoughts and ideas inspired by a concrete word. This week was 'The moon'.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Toenails

Oh, Lord.

I'm writing this and I don't know if I'll ever press the little orange 'Publish' button because I'd rather we kept it just between you and me, but then it's already between you and me, so why write it down at all?

It's because this is how I sort out my thoughts. I don't know what I think until I write, and then I find out. Sometimes I get from A to B via P, Q R and Z, but I get there eventually. Usually. 

Last week it was Maundy Thursday. Usually at church we have a simple meal together, a subdued Communion service and then we watch the altar in church being stripped. The golden cross and candlesticks removed, the beautiful embroidered cloths folded up and taken away. It always touches me and it's a very thoughtful way of getting ready for the bleakness of Good Friday, the emptiness of Saturday and the celebration of Sunday. I love Easter.

Anyway, much easier to talk about how I love Easter than what happened last Thursday. I planned to go to the Maundy Thursday service at church and I checked the time in the Church notice sheet as evening stuff is always a bit awkward to manage around the children's bedtime. It was as I was checking the notice sheet that I noticed something. It was to be a service of Holy Communion with foot washing.

Now, I have always been moved and intrigued by the way you washed the disciples' feet at the Last Supper. I've tried to put myself into your position, and into theirs. The twelve, who sat mute as their Lord knelt before them with a towel around his waist and washed their dusty, crusty, sweaty feet. Poured water over the filthy toes and patted them dry, and moved on to the next.

Peter, who indignantly pulled his feet away saying that it wasn't right, it wasn't happening that the one he knew was the Son of God should go near his hard skin and fungal big toenail.

But you explained why and Peter opened his heart and lifted his feet one at a time to welcome you. Wash the whole of me, Lord, because you are the only thing that matters to me.

Foot washing. At church. I wondered how it would be managed; who would be washing and who being washed, and I started to feel just the slightest bit anxious about it. Not enough to change my mind about going, but still, a little worry set in.

Getting my feet out in public?

As I dried my toes after the shower that morning I realised that my feet were not particularly presentable. I made a mental note to trim my toenails and give them a new coat of polish. As you know, I'm not the sort of woman who has regular pedicures and while in the summer I try to keep my toes looking reasonable because they poke out of sandals, over the winter the nail polish has more chance of growing out than being removed and reapplied. Indeed, the big toenail one each foot had a patch of leftover purple varnish but the rest were bare.

I bent low to my toes and gave them a quick once over with the nail clippers. Is this too much information? Surely you're not squeamish about all things toenail-related like some people? There is nothing inherently distasteful about toenail clippings, in my opinion, if disposed of correctly. But let's not get into that.

Pushing on. I tidied them up rapidly, taking care not to clip down the sides and trigger anything ingrowing, and then I assessed the nail polish situation. Being too idle to locate the nail polish remover, I sort of scratched at the patch of purple with my thumbnail. Some of it came off. I rubbed at it and it became quite a bit smaller. Decided - never mind, no-one will notice.

So I reached into my bedside table drawer and found the first bottle of polish that I came across. Not particularly bothered what colour it was. Slapped it on. Indeed, the pink hid the scrappy bits of purple. It was almost as if the new polish dissolved the old and it even went on smoothly. One, two, three, four, five, change feet and repeat.

Waft toes in the air for a few seconds to dry.

Do it again.

There. Much better.

Cosmetic improvement left and right. All ready for foot washing later in the day. Made mental note to change socks and give feet a quick squirt of something fragrant just before leaving for church.

This is where my mind started working.

It didn't feel right.

As I pulled on my slippers, I began to ponder the superficiality of it all. It just about sums me up.

I'm fine on the outside. Nobody would ever suspect what I'm like. The new nail polish glided over the broken and tatty remains of the last application and hid the damage beneath a shiny new layer. No-one could see that underneath the pink there was worn out patchy purple. Two coats of gloss and it took the eye completely away from the uneven trimming and the weeks of neglect.

Washed my feet in the shower and the grime and sweat from yesterday was gone. It wouldn't take long to accumulate again.

With a fresh coat of pink, they looked like butter-wouldn't-melt-feet. Without close examination no-one would notice the small patch of low-grade athlete's foot that has been a problem on and off for (ahem) quite a while now. I could clear it up with a consistent routine application of cream but I don't tend to bother.

See? That's the thing. I don't bother. My feet are rarely on show so I don't bother to make them presentable until it seems likely that someone might come into close contact. And when I do, I do a quick cosmetic job that will just about get me through.

That's me.

To the untrained eye I'm pretty presentable. (I'm not talking appearance, here; that's a whole other story). A nice enough person. Glossy, in some respects. More or less socially adept, superficially cheerful, often remembering to ask after people, making a generally good impression, messing up occasionally. Those who know me well might now and then notice a chip in the nail polish, so to speak, or suspect that all is not fragrant all the time, but there's only one person who still sees the buried remains of previous varnish, the callouses and the infections and the tough bits prone to cracking.

That's you.

You don't care about the nail polish, do you? You don't care whether I'm buffed up on the surface and looking good, sounding good, smelling good. You can see what's on the inside. The deep-down stuff that can't be hidden from the One who knew me from the beginning and knows my most secret thoughts, worries, fears.

And when it comes down to it, whose opinion matters, but yours?

'You have searched me, Lord, and you know me
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a words is on my tongue,
You know it completely, Lord.'
Psalm 139:23

Lord, you know me.

Nobody sees me but you; you are El Roi, you are the God who sees. There's nothing I can hide from you. The jealousy when I feel that someone is doing better than me, the pride when I think I'm doing better than someone else. The selfishness, the spite, the cruel and critical thoughts that spill over into my speech sometimes. You know what I'm going to say before I say it and I suspect that sometimes the angels wince at the sound of my voice.

The times when I don't trust you, don't believe you or don't listen to you. When I say one thing and quite consciously, deliberately do another. When doing the right thing is too much trouble; much easier to look the other way, pass by on the other side of the street. The times when I'm sorry for what I've done and the times when I absolutely am not. The times that I hang on for dear life to the wrong things and let the right things pass me by.

I don't want to be polished smart on the outside and rotten on the inside.

What I am in my heart is what eventually will rise to the surface, and that frightens me a bit. I know that there's much that isn't right, isn't as you want me to be. And if I, flawed and blinkered, am capable of detecting the rubbish that lurks within, when half the time I don't even grasp the extent of my failure, then how much more is there that you can see that I can't?
'Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.'
Psalm 139:23-24
Thank you, Lord, that you love me too much to leave me like this. Thank you that you have a plan that is just for me. Thank you that I can see your hand in my life; I know that you're at work. Thank you that sometimes even when I feel like I'm stuck, stalled and going nowhere, I know that you are there, never abandoning me, never giving up on me.

I am a work in progress.

'Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.'
Psalm 51:7

Thank you that you have washed me clean indeed. 

Jesus, you died so that I might be forgiven - that I might not be held to account for all that rubbish that's buried below the surface. Keep on working in the hidden depths of me so that the bits that do see light of day are suitable for a Child of God. I want to shine as your light in the world. I want to reflect your glory. 

My feet are never going to be that much to look at, I don't think, but that doesn't bother me too much. I can always put on another coat of nail polish. And who looks closely at them anyway? Even me, I'm five feet nine inches away from them, and they're mine. They go where I go. I might leave footprints as I walk but you can't tell what sort of person left a footprint.

My heart? That's another matter. It affects everything that I do, everything that I say. I leave bits of it behind when I interact with people, and from those pieces they see who I am deep down - I can't help it. It might not be immediately obvious, but it's the part of me that makes me who I am. I am what I am on the inside.

Who am I? I am your daughter. What I am reflects on my Father. Don't let me sell you short, Lord God. Wash my feet, and like Peter I say wash my head and my hands too. 

Welcome, Lord Jesus. 

Come, Holy Spirit. Do your thing. 





PS. As it was, I didn't get to the Maundy Thursday footwashing service. I was all geared up for writing a meaningful, insightful piece about how it went, but as it was the children didn't settle down at bedtime and so I gave it a miss rather than draw even more attention to myself by being very late.

Perhaps it was for the best.

Or perhaps I didn't need to get my feet out in public for you to give me food for thought.

Thank you.






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