Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Glad tidings we bring...

It was our church carol singing night tonight. I wasn't really enthusiastic about going, though if you asked me why not, I would have found it hard to come up with a reason. I think it is just general laziness on my part! I don't like cold, dark nights and the idea of being out in one when I could be at home, warm and cosy, didn't help.

I am aware that being enthusiastic about anything right now is hard. I think it is most likely because it is the end of term and I am worn out with fourth year reports writing. After all my hysterics earlier on, I managed to get them done well before the deadline.

I have been aware of a creeping lethargy spiritually. I have not wanted to do more than just keep the batteries ticking over. I am not throbbing with spiritual vitality and that bothers me.

In the back of my mind, I think that I will wait until the holiday begins and then I will get myself straightened out and back on track. I am not a New Year resolution maker. In the past I have made them and broken them, just like anyone else. I googled "Christian New Year resolutions" and got informed by one site that resolutions have to be birthed in God and not in human effort.

Then I found Jonathan Edwards' resolutions. At the age of 17 he began writing resolutions, which he added to over the years, read every week and put into practice. I think that as I read through them, I was convicted about how lazy I am about my faith. If it happens, it happens, but I don't appear to be doing much to make it happen! I haven't become lazier over the years, I think I have always been lazy!

One of them which really struck home was "Resolved, never, henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God's." It is because I act as if I were my own that I inwardly complain about having to go out and sing carols! As I read his words, I was reminded that I do not belong to myself any longer, but to God. If He has said to go and sing carols, then I should not complain, but gladly go and do what He says.

I found myself experiencing a real turnabout in my attitude and spent a good half hour praying about the response we would get, about the words of the carols speaking to the hearers, about worshipping and not just singing. I was reminded about the angels declaring to the shepherds the message of Jesus' birth, and how the song has never stopped being sung. It was amazing.

Once out there, I felt we were singing not just to the people who lived in the Raigmore estate, but to God and his angels. We sang well!

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Lion, the Witch...etc -

I figured that I ought to do my own film review of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". I went to see it yesterday. First of all, just an observation - those people who arrive just as the film's opening credits are running, and there were lots of them last night, and who manage, despite the fact that the cinema is in almost pitch black darkness, to see the two seats in the middle of the row where you are sitting, and who step on your toes, trip over your bag, to get to said seat, while carrying the large sized popcorn box, and giggling - yeah, those people - they should…they should…well, I don't know what they should do with them! There should be some rule that stops them coming in after a certain time! Me - I like to be there ON TIME!

Back to the film! I read the books - the whole series - when I was about fifteen or so. I thoroughly enjoyed the books. My favourite one has always been "The Horse and the Boy". I wasn't a Christian at the time, and what I can remember was that I wanted to meet Aslan. I think at the time I was going through teenage angst and needed someone to even like me a little! The film brought all that back to me! It made me want to dig out the books and read them all again!

I thought it was a very good film, but definitely for children. From what I can remember, it didn't stray from the book. I thought the beavers were just wonderful! Joe keeps quoting things that Mr Beaver said, in his best "Mr Beaver" voice! The queen was disappointing. She wasn't scary enough, or mean enough to match up to my imagination. When I think about it, I read "The Magician's Nephew" first, the very first one chronologically, so I knew where she came from and had all that built in to my impression of her.

The children were OK. I wanted to adopt Lucy and bring her home. I liked the practical nature of Susan. I liked the title given her by Alsan when she got her crown - Queen Susan the Gentle. I can remember once when Joe and I were discussing kindness, I asked Joe if he thought I was kind. He answered very gently, "You try to be." Kindness is Joe's middle name - he doesn't need to try to be, but me - well, I am a thick skinned teacher - I shall gladly take "You try to be."

Alsan was excellent! The voice was very awesome and majestic. His gentleness, and power, and strength and his love really came out. I am trying to think whether I found the animation convincing - I am not sure. When I watched the Lord of the Rings, I never thought for a moment that Gollum wasn't real - but then I know what lions are supposed to look like and do. In the book there was a very "scary" side to Aslan, particularly in his dealings with the queen, which didn't really some across as that scary.

Is the film a witnessing tool? I don't know. I probably spoiled it for myself by reading someone's web-log that got too theological about it. He did a spiritual autopsy, dissecting it, and stuff. If you stick to the basic principle - someone dying on my behalf, and not when I am a quite nice person anyway and worth saving, but when I am a traitor. Is that not what the gospel is - that when I was a sinner, Christ died for me?

Monday, December 12, 2005

What are you looking at?

Yesterday, while at church, I was looking outside and some vandal or other had covered the walls of the schoolyard in big black graffiti. I have to admit to always reading the stuff as most of the time, the people named tend to be familiar – they have been in my schoolroom at some time or other. It just looked so ugly – and obvious… and destructive.

I suppose, part of it is just my usual winter blues, but it felt depressing to look at wall. This is the world we live in where people are destructive and do ugly things. Sometimes, rather than it being physical writing on a real wall, it is the things people say that cause the damage to the heart. Sometimes, the way people speak to one another, it is like taking a can of black paint and spraying graffiti on the inside of someone. Just like the black paint on the school wall will take an effort to remove, and perhaps leave a mark behind – so too with our hearts. Harsh words are not easily wiped away from our memories.

However, after thinking dark thoughts, God directed my attention to a tree just in front of the wall. Hanging down from the tree, were twenty or more little white plastic cups. They hung upside down from bits of string and were packed with nuts and scraps for the birds. Obviously they were the work of one of the primary school classes. Dozens of birds in the branches, or flying up from the ground, were pecking away at the food. They were all shapes and sizes and all enjoying a meal.

Just as there are people that are destructive, there are also people who are not. Some people display extraordinary kindness and look after the needs of the forgotten and neglected.

God said to me that morning that I have a choice – to look at the graffiti and get downhearted, or to look at the tree and be encouraged. Too often we focus on the bad stuff that people do, and everyone becomes the enemy, and we talk of things going downhill. How much better to focus on the tree, and on those who seek to be kind and to help even in such small ways, and follow their example.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Songs of Praise

I don’t confess to watching “Songs of Praise” often. It is not something that it is “cool” to be found watching, particularly if you have a charismatic bent. All those hymns can be off putting, although I think that the doctrine contained in them put most modern songs and choruses to shame. I once remember going away for a weekend at Bridlington during my university years. One of my friends lived there, so we all piled on a train to visit. Our weekend happened to coincide with a “Songs of Praise” practice session. The church was bursting at the seams. They sang the songs through until we were volume perfect, and advised us to keep looking to the front. It was just a practice, so there were no cameras that week. Our little group discussed whether we wanted to come back for the real thing a couple of weeks later, but being poverty stricken students, the budget just didn’t allow for such extravagances!

So yes, that gets us back to yesterday! Songs of Praise came from Narnia! It was based on the life and work of C S Lewis to coincide with the opening week of the film, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” There were hymns liberally sprinkled throughout, many of which I had sung long, long ago. Part of the theme for the programme was “advent”, so lots of the hymns had Christmas carol overtones.

One of the great themes of the book is about the triumph of good over evil. The guest boy band, Libera – a boy’s choir (not Westlife) sang a hymn “When A Knight Won His Spurs.” That brought back some very strong primary school memories for me! They also sang a Latin hymn. From the video, rather than the words, it was all about liberating the world and people.

One of the interviews was with a man who had supplied illustrations for a particular edition of the books. He admitted that he had found it hard to draw the scene of Aslan’s death on the stone table.

A comment made by him was about the whole story being one of “a whole world being liberated”. Is that not what Christianity is all about? It is not just about holy huddle in churches, singing hymns and Bible readings. That is just the starting point. There is a whole world out there that needs to be liberated. In the story, it is the presence of Alsan, who brings about the liberation. In our world, it is the presence of God.

There are some people who will see the film “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and they will just see a rattling good yarn. Others will see beyond that, I hope!

Monday, November 28, 2005

The revealing nature of storms

At the weekend, I treated myself to a writer's magazine. I suppose that deep within there is a desire to not just improve my skills, but also to widen my horizons. I am conscious that most of my work tends to have a spiritual bias. There are very few things I have written over the last couple of years that I would label as secular!

One of the tasks that one of the writers set was to look at a newspaper and find an article that could inspire you to write something. There was a lovely little story about a disappearing scarecrow. It had gone missing from its usual place, only for the farmer to find it scaring crows in a field a few miles away. I like that and I will have to sit on that particular egg and see what hatches!

The other article that caught my eye was about recent storms unearthing the remains of ancient skeletons on a island in the Outer Hebrides. Hurricane force storms tore across the Isle of Barra revealing an infant and an adult skeleton. It made me think about the revealing nature of storms! Storms have a tendency to strip away things that are not firmly rooted, or nailed down - whether that be soil or trees or the shed roof. I know I said I would try to be more secular - but this just lends itself to a spiritual point!

It was the storms, the wind and the rain beating upon the two houses in Jesus' parable that revealed the nature of the two houses. Had there been just sunshine and gentle breezes, the house that was built on sand would never have fallen over. The poor quality of the foundations would never have been revealed. The house that was built on the rock would not have fallen over either - not that it did anyway - but the builder would never have known the strength of his foundation. It is in the storms of life - and I have been through a few - that the quality of the building is revealed. The quality of my walk with Jesus is clearly demonstrated when I go through difficult times. As much as we don't like trials, they are good for us, as they test and prove our faith to be strong.

It was the storms, the wind and rain beating upon the fishing boat, that caused the disciples to wake Jesus up and ask him to save them. Had there been sunshine and gentle breezes, the boat would never have been in danger of sinking. There is a tendency to think we can manage all by ourselves, that we are experts in certain areas of life and that we don't need help. It took a violent storm for the disciples, some of them seasoned fisherman, to realize that they were out of their depth and in need. Without the storm, the disciples would never have known that Jesus was stronger than the storm they faced.

As I look back over some of the "storms" that I have faced, I am not always sure I like what they reveal about me. The foundation is solid, but I think a few of my windows get broken, and one or two slates fall of my roof!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Footprints in the snow

I woke up this morning to a world of snow! It is much colder than I would like it to be. I am also much colder than I would like to be! I remember one year of snow needing to walk to the shop to get milk or bread or something. Either it was the days before we had a car, or the days when the snow was so deeply settled, and my confidence not so. Not being so tall, it can be a real trial ploughing your way through snow. Someone esle had been that way, and I thought that rather than forge my own path, I would just step where he stepped. He didn't take the mincing little steps that I do - no ambling for him. I found myself really stretching from print to print. It was an abnormal stride for me. Quick as a flurry of snow, the Holy Spirit said how much he longed for me to stop my mincing little steps of faith, and my ambling and start striding out in my Christian walk. What was an abnormal stride to me, was his natural pace. If I maintained it, it might also become my normal pace too!

Faithwriters topic this week was "Winter". That incident came to mind and I wrote a poem.


Footprints in the Snow


Winter snow, a crisp cold blanket
Covers all in glistening white
Trees bow low with branches heavy
Bathed in yellow morning light

All is silent, sound is smothered
Still the air, with peaceful calm
Here I walk with careful measure
Captured by the winter charm

Someone else has walked before me
Steps like stains upon the snow
Dark and deep, they mark his passing
On the path, his route they show

I begin to fill his footprints
Treading out to walk his way
Step by step, my pace is stretching
Matching stride I aim to stay

Tall this man with legs extended
In his steps I move so slow
Always striving pushing forward
His, the way I choose to go

Picture this, my walk with Jesus
His own steps I make my own
Onward pressing, forward slowly
As he makes my pathway known

In step with him, always trusting
Faith so small will surely grow
As my walk grows ever closer
Joy complete I’ll come to know

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The West Coast of the Periodic Table

I am not one who sees magic in the Periodic table like chemists and physicists do. To me they are just letters and numbers.

Last night, on my way home from work, I was listening to a radio programme about the periodic table. The presenter likened it to a map and talked about the “west coast”, the line of elements that are on the left hand column of the table. He talked about potassium being just south of sodium.

Then he told an interesting tale about the two elements. Apparently they look very similar and they have about the same atomic weight. It could be easy to mistake the one for the other with quite disastrous results.

Apparently someone had been carrying a sample of potassium in a bottle. After transferring it, or using it – I might have been negotiating a tricky corner in the car at this point as I don’t remember what he did with it – he bought the empty bottle back to the lab. Thinking to clean out the bottle, he turned the tap on and filled the bottle with water.

The bottle exploded, fire shot up from the sink and set the curtain alight. Clouds of black stinking smoke filled the room.

He thought the bottle was empty. It certainly looked empty, but apparently wasn’t empty at all. Just the tiniest sliver of potassium had reacted with the water and exploded. It seems that potassium reacts to quite a few things, and reacts explosively! I think that it is one of the ingredients in fireworks! It is also in bananas – which will make me treat them with a bit more respect!

Has the sample been sodium – which looks very similar and has a similar atomic weight – no amount of water would have caused a reaction.

To the untrained eye, sodium and potassium may look alike, but they behave in very different ways.

Christians and not-yet Christians may look remarkably alike! They may live in similar houses, have similar jobs and incomes, or similar hobbies and interests. Both may take an equal concern in current affairs and be into voting at elections, buying organic produce and recycling empty bottles and cans. They may even both be earnest church members and give generously.

I like to think that genuine Christians, those with a vibrant relationship with God, are like the potassium – reacting negatively to the presence of sin, and positively to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Touched by the presence of God they blaze with purity and passion! The not-yet Christians are perhaps like the sodium. They dwell in the presence of sin and perhaps even accommodate it, giving little sign of the awareness of the presence of God.

Sadly, sometimes Christians forget how to blaze. Maybe they loose a few essential spiritual atoms and protons, and end up as something less potent, less reactive, more accommodating – less like who and what God has called them to be.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Shallow poetry

Do you ever write something, post it off, and then look back at it later and cringe with embarrassment? If it had been a blog entry there is a delete option that is always available, but in this case, it is non-deletable!

I have been a member of Fathwriters.com, a Christian writers internet web-site and discussion forum. Every week they set a writing challenge. They have a panel of judges that read all the entries and the top ten submissions are published. The stimulus is usually just one word - in this case "Rain"- and they leave it up to you to interpret the word in a poem, short story, devotion or whatever. Poems rarely win. Good poems may be somewhere in the top ten, but rarely hit the top spot. Bad poems don't get anywhere.

I wrote a poem based on the story of Elijah and Ahab racing each other back to the city in the rain that fell just after the victory on Mount Carmel. The rhythm and meter were just about perfect and the rhyming scheme was spot on, and I was delighted with the whole thing and posted it off, confident that it would not be ignored.

After last night's "soaking" and being inspired to write the poem about encountering God, I looked back at my Elijah poem. The only words that came to mind were "empty" and "meaningless". It might have been a master class in rhythmic meter and rhyming schemes, but it was cold, calculated and too precisely put together. It didn't stir anything within. It didn't light my fire. It was an incredibly shallow poem and I would really like to delete it.

I thought that I didn't do shallow - it is kind of a shock to acknowledge that I do!

Having said that, I also know that I do deep! I had an email from a friend who edits a Christian newsletter called Cross Times. He wrote to confess that he had used a poem of mine, "The cool of the day", in the November issue and was writing to check that I didn't mind! I have a following in some parts of Illinois and Nebraska!

The cool of the day

Once I waited
In keen anticipation
For the sound of His footsteps
In the cool of the day
As the sun at dusk
Stole colours
From the sky
And hid
Behind the horizon
Far away

Now I hide
In dreadful fear
At the sound of His footsteps
In the cool of the day
The taste of fruit on my lips
Steals peace
From my heart
And sin separates me
From God
Far away

So I wait
And I listen
And I hear
His Voice
Calling
But my shame
Binds me
Forbids me
To answer

He knows
That I know

Too much

Friday, October 28, 2005

Connecting

Our church is introducing a variety of mid week meetings with the idea that while some might not appeal or be what you are looking for to strengthen your relationship with God, others will just hit the right spot.

For want of a better word, the Friday meeting was called "Soaking". It is a word bandied about lately with the notion of being in the presence of God without any agenda and connecting.

It didn't sound like my kind of meeting, and it took a lot of spiritual arm wrestling to get me there. Part of it was the fear of not connecting! What if everyone was having some deep spiritual experience while I was just not connecting at all? The times that I make significant connections with God tend to come through studying the word. My mind engages in meditation and my spirit warms up. I thrive on activity and to be so almost passive does not sit squarely on my shoulders.

I hate missing out on things. I was consumed with the idea that I might miss out on a spiritual outpouring of some kind. Inevitably there was also a tinge of guilt about not turning up too - that's the Roman Catholic in me.

One thing that became very apparent to me was that although I might be quiet, my thoughts are not. It was like chasing rabbits down holes!

Joe had been watching a program earlier on in the week. It was a "what if" scenario. In this case it was "what if" a person living a hundred years ago was born today. Would they be able to cope with modern day technology and the pace of life. The picture that stuck in Joe's mind was of the person standing with their hands over their ears trying to block out the noise! There are cars and truck trundling up the roads, aeroplanes taking off, thumping music blasting out of shop doors and mobile phones pressed to people's ears. It seemed to him, to make sense to find time to come away from all the noise, and in the silence, to listen for a small still voice.

What occurred to me as I tried to be silent and connect was just how often I did make the connection to God throughout my working day. Muslims pray five times a day, at specific times outlined on a calendar, with the notion that they connect with Allah regularly throughout the day. I love making the connection with God, but I can't switch it on at certain times. Throughout the evening I was aware that to some extent I was failing miserably. It has to be something of a learned habit, something that comes with practice - and I will continue to practice, though, maybe not on Friday evenings. Even so, I was prompted to try to express my encounters with God in a poem.

Sometimes we touch
A brief encounter
Soft as a whisper
And a tender smile
An easy glance
Or a gentle touch
Gossamer threads of contact
Like commas and pauses
Punctuating the day

Sometimes we dance
Hands resting lightly
Spinning and twirling
Matching steps and strides
In perfect synchronicity
Rising and dipping
Enjoying closeness
Moving as one
Together in harmony

Sometimes we stand
Arms enfolding
Embracing and holding
Supporting and steadying
Strengthening
Shoulders damp
Soaking up tears
Reassuring
Restoring peace

Never abandoned
Never alone
Always
With You

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lifting my gaze


Autumn is not really a season where I take notice of things. I just tend to focus on the day when the clocks move back and then anxiously endure the next few months until spring arrives. The first leaf that falls from the tree is something I don't look forward to. I am looking for the leaves on the ground rather than at the leaves on the trees, and I miss the changing colours.

Yesterday I saw colours! We went for a drive over to the West Coast of Scotland. There are times when I wish I could paint and yesterday was one of them. The colours were just magnificent. I don't know enough colours to adequately describe the variety of shades of brown, and yellow and red. For a writer that is an appalling confession!

At certain points along the way I became a dangerous driver, more concerned with the beauty of the scenery than with the twists and turns in the road. It was awesome! For long stretches there was just acres and acres of bracken in a million shades of brown ending at the base of granite mountains. We didn't discover that we had the camera in the car until late on in the afternoon, so the breath taking scenery went unrecorded.

We stopped off a Loch Marie. The water was so still that Mountain behind was perfectly reflected on the surface. We both lamented that we didn't have proper walking boots as there were a number of walks around the woods and along the loch side.

Then there was this perfect rainbow. (That is when we discovered the camera in the car!) The colours were very crisp and defined.

I am amazed that I live in a country with such awesome scenery to be enjoyed now and yet here I am ticking off the days until spring comes! I am appalled that I can live my life looking for the dead leaves on the ground and not lift my eyes to see something more spectacular. I think yesterday was a wake-up call to stop living my life gazing down at the ground, and lift my gaze upwards.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A leap of faith


There we stood, half a dozen people, leaning over a rail, watching the water, waiting patiently. It wasn't a big waterfall by anyone standards, but there again it wasn't the water that interested us, not even what was in the water, but just for a moment what hung above it, hurling itself upwards. Salmon leaping has just got to be one of the most awesome sights of nature.

Something inside compels them to head back to the water where they were born. An irresistible urge, a suicide gene, draws them on to swim against the tide. No hurdles are too high, no foes are too fierce, to stop them.

Did you know that they listen to the water? Before they attempt to jump, they wait for just the right amount of water to flow at just the right temperature. They gather just enough oxygen, and with one spectacular burst of energy they make their jump. If they fail that first time to hurtle over the obstacle, they have to wait another six or seven hours to replenish their strength. And then they try again, and again, and again.

How often do we look at obstacles in our way and see them as too big? Heaven is birthed in our hearts and yet we are earth bound. We don't listen to the Spirit, we don't wait for His timing, we don't gather His resources, and then with a burst of our own strength we make our move. When we don't hurtle over our obstacle, do we try again?

Just as we watched the salmon, urging it to make the leap and willing them to clear the waterfall, angels watch us, urging us to make our leaps of faith, willing us to soar above our obstacles!

Friday, October 14, 2005

The next eleven years

I received an email from one of my nieces the other day. It took the form of a chain letter that you were encouraged to copy and paste and send on to hundreds of other contacts. Like most chain letters it played on people's fears. The content was about the Jamie Bulgar murder done by two ten-year-old boys. After having spent eleven years in a young offender's institute they are about to be released, being granted anonymity for the rest of their lives.

I was told in the letter that "We cannot let this happen" and "They are getting away with their crime" and warned that "if Robert and Jon could be so evil at 10 years old, imagine what they could do as adults!"

The people we were at ten years old are not the same people we become at twenty-one or twenty two. I am not the same person I was at ten years old. I can't believe that the two boys have been sitting in their young offender's institute planning their next murder as soon as they get out. I don't believe they have got away with their crimes either - they have lost their freedom and most of their childhood. Yes, they took away someone else's childhood too, and the rest of that person's life, but I don't think that there haven't been times where they have regretted it. Regret doesn't bring someone back. Executing the criminal doesn't bring someone back either. Keeping them in prison merely makes it three wasted lives instead of one.

I am perhaps naïve in thinking that they wouldn't be released if a group of people didn't think that they were no longer a threat to people. If they have to be granted anonymity, they are the ones being threatened.

What is the alternative to release? As I see it, they are becoming too old to remain in a young offender's institute. That means a transfer to "grown up" prison. Leave them there for the rest of their sentence - another eleven years. Each day they rub shoulders with grown up criminals, not children or youth, but the real hard cases. What are they going to learn in that environment? I think they might possibly learn how to become better criminals with any lack of respect for authority being totally eroded away. At twenty one, outside in the world, going to university, getting a job, earning money and contributing to society, rubbing shoulders with people who love others and are capable of demonstrating compassion - they are not so old that they are fixed in their ways. Leave them in prison for another eleven years with people who for the most part do not know how to show compassion, who hate, and then release them when their attitudes and opinions are fixed in place - that is dangerous. Let's face it - they are going to be released one day. I refuse to see the next eleven years as chances and opportunities for them to kill more people, but chances and opportunities for us to show them why life is sacred and must be respected.

The gospel, the Good News, is about the possibility of change, to be new creations. God doesn't write off anyone, and I don't think we should either.

I am not copying and pasting the letter.

Put a staple in it!

Yeah, well - they did! The Daily Record put a staple in it - two staples in fact. This might seem a very insignificant point. I am sure that lost of people would welcome people putting staples in newspapers, but not me.

This morning, quite spontaneously, Joe and I went out for breakfast. We have a thing where we split the paper. He gets the outside pages that contain all the sports articles and I get the middle bit - mostly pages of advertisements I have to admit! We chomp away at our bacon butties in relative harmony.

Today, we encountered the staples. There was no division of the newspaper. There was supplement in the middle devoted to cars which didn't hold my interest, and one or two single sheet adverts. One was for life insurance for the over fifties - maybe in a few years I might start reading those. The other was for Sky TV for half price. I thought for a moment whether it was worth cancelling our subscription, and re-subscribing to get three months for half price. I wish that some company would do the same deal for existing customers and not just to entice the new ones.

I am glad that God doesn't do that. We all get the same deal whether we have been a Christian for thirty years, or for just the last thirty minutes.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

This is the Place

I was inspired by the phrase that ends Isaiah 18:7 "the place where his name dwells." For the Jews in the Old Testament, that place where God dwelt was Jerusalem. For me that place can be anywhere. It is not so much a physical place as a in a church building, or beside a river. Where I am with God is that place. I got inspired to write a song.

This is the Place

This is the place, Your quiet place
Here there is rest for my soul
This is the place, Your holy place
Here I'm restored, I'm made whole

This is Your sanctuary
This is Your throne
This is Your dwelling place
I make it my own
My place of surrender
And worship to you
The place where your glory
Fills all - all that I do

OK - is a song without music just a poem? Is it a poem because it rhymes? There was music in my spirit as I wrote it and it kind of just flowed. I had read as article from Christianity Today about worship and, not what is wrong with it in our churches today, but more what could be more right! He mentioned about the need for churches to write their own songs. The experience of our church, our testimony as a body, is not going to be the same as another church. When you try to express that experience of God, you can end up leafing through the hymn book and not find just what you are looking for.

I can remember years ago expressing the view that we should be writing our own stuff and getting shot down on flames by the music group at the time. They said that there were lots songs and songwriters, more than enough for our needs. I don't think there can ever be enough songs. I don't know whether because you are a talented musician, or singer, that inevitably leads you into writing your own songs, or whether that is a specific gift. It just seems to me that song-writing should be the fruit of a heart of worship.

Having said that I wrote a song - I don't really do tunes. I am not a musician. If I hear a sequence of chords and a rhythm I can sometimes catch a melody. Left to my own devices what I come out with always sounds like something else. The last time I tried to come up with a tune, my husband said, "I've heard that before-…Ah yes, it Bali Hi from South Pacific!" So last night I took my song to music practice and explained that I couldn't do tunes. What happened next was just awesome! Our guitarist on hearing the words a couple of times strummed out a rhythm, sang a verse, declared the it "fitted" and we all got down to fine tuning the melody. It was amazing. Between us we created a beautiful worship song, that was ours, and not Matt Redman's. It still needs work done on it but it was amazing. We were all tremendously encouraged and felt that we had grown up and matured in some way.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Just dreaming

I have a writers’ inspirational book at home which I picked up from a second hand book stall at the Marymass Fair in August. The author sets little exercises every so often with the aim of provoking the creative juices. One of them was about writing down your dreams. Writers should be writing and she suggested that one source of inspiration can be your dream life. It is not with the aim of digging out a dictionary and analysing them, just describing them, to practice your writing skills.

I confess to being a dreamer – a very vivid dreamer. Sometimes I can trace the source of the dream, other times it is a mystery!

Last night I was dreaming about a memorial or a monument. It was built beside a church. I didn’t recognise the church. Along the side of the wall of the church was like a series of neon tubes, various sizes and thickness, much like a church organ that cast a gentle white glow over the sculpture below. The sculpture was a table. It was rectangular, and one end had an empty seat. The other seats were filled with children. I got the impression that they were from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. They were all laughing and smiling. I once knew a wee boy, Peter Petra, about two years old, who had not yet mastered the art of talking properly. He used to tell these awesome stories in gobble-de-gook complete with wild hand gestures! These children reminded me of him. It was very lively and full of fun, open and inviting. I don’t remember seeing any food on the table but there were words carved into the table – love, justice, peace, joy – those kind of words. The light spilled down from the neon tubes.

I knew that the empty seat was about providing a space for the presence of Jesus, but was also aware that other people had come up with their own reason why it was there. Some said that the empty seat was a reminder that some children had died in needless wars and the seat was empty because that shouldn’t happen. Other people said that the empty seat was to remind us that there should always be space for more. We should always be ready to invite new people into our friendship groups and never exclude anyone.

I wish I was an artist – I would draw a picture of it. I wish I was a sculptor. I know I can try to paint a picture with words -–but words fail to convey the mood that the monument evoked.

The world we leave behind, is the world that the next generation of people will have to inherit. A world where people laugh and smile, and where peace and love are carved into people’s hearts – only Jesus can create that kind of world.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Called, Cleansed and Commissioned

I brought the word in church this morning. The pastor has loaded it on the internet. Here is a link if you have a spare half hour to listen!

  • Called, Cleansed and Commissioned
  • Boar burgers and peanut butter icecream

    Joe and I spent the afternoon at an event organised by the Highland Food festival. All this week there are special events on in different towns. The idea is to make use of local produce to cooking up unique mouth watering recipes.

    At Nairn, some fifteen miles away, there was an afternoon of food tasting and a cookery demonstration extravaganza. The weather held up just for the couple of hours we were there, and then the skies emptied in torrents as we drove home.

    Maybe I will just list all the goodies I had a taste of, plus any little anecdotes that come to mind. Tasters of most of the things were free, but you could pay for a proper portion if you wanted one.

    Glenmorangie whisky kicked off the taste buds. I am partial to a wee dram - not watered down, or on the rocks, just neat. Malt whiskies are my thing. When I went home this summer for a week to see my family, I stayed with my niece. Her husband to be is also fond of a wee dram - and as he says, "Ye canny drink alone." What could I do? He has an interesting collection of whiskies.

    The other drinks on offer - a few tables along was locally brewed beer. I had a taste of a light coloured beer while Joe went for the stout. Very nice, but I didn't really want to wash the taste of the whisky from my lips, so Joe drank most of my wee cup.

    Then there were fruit and veggie juices freshly made. I had a small cup of something that had spiced apple, banana and carrot in it - interesting, but quite sludgy when all was said and done. Much later on we tracked down a highland roast coffee company and their coffee was nice - that is praise from a mostly preferred tea drinker.

    The eats - I remember mueseli in a plastic cup with a tad of milk swirling around. I have a packet of mueseli in the cupboard at home. I am aware that it is probably a very good source of fibre and stuff, but it usually only comes out when the Rice Krispies box is empty. This mueseli was nice. It had blueberries in it.

    Wild boar sausage was another thing. Joe knows the man. He was looking for funding from the Crofter's Commission to buy a boar. He had a boar called Caesar and lots of sows - a harem of Caesar's wives. As long as Caesar was around, the wives respected each other, but when he died, the sows turned on each other. The man was looking for another boar to replace Caesar and bring order and stability to the harem. Later on in the afternoon we had boar burgers and boar sausages which were quite tasty. They are low in fat apparently.

    Oh yes, haggis pakora! Not content with a taster I brought a whole portion! The Caledonian Curry Company produces some really great chutney's and chilli sauces. The first time we met up with them was at the Muir of Ord Agricultural Show. The man had just cooked up haggis samosas. He had added his own peculiar mix of curry spices to a traditional haggis, wrapped it up in triangles of pastry and cooked them - delicious. The haggis pakora was superb.

    There were lots of jars of preserves. I am not really a jam person. Joe bought a jar of mustard. I tried an apple and ginger jelly which was very sweet.

    Peanut butter ice-cream has got to be the most disgusting stuff ever! There was also Irn Bru flavoured ice cream too which I left well alone.

    Yes, it was an interesting collection of nibbles. In one of the other tents they had cookery demonstrations, and in another tent they had children under the supervision of chefs, making pizzas. It was very participatory! There were fishy things too, but I don't like fish so I kept my distance.

    I never knew there were so many nice and interesting local things to eat!

    Sunday, September 25, 2005

    What does God see in me?

    Despite not needing to be at church early today, I still managed to wake up early and after a few minutes of trying to induce myself to fall back to sleep, I decided to get up and have my usual Sunday morning soak in the word. I had read about a paragraph before the Holy Spirit pulled me up, for just not preparing my heart properly! This wasn't some page-turning novel that I had just picked up, but something that was life changing and I needed to be alert and responsive! So I prayed and then went back to reading.

    Song of Songs was probably one of the most disputed books of the bible when it came to establishing which books made it into the Bible and which didn't. It doesn't mention God, but it does mention intimacy between a young man and a young woman. I am sure that Christian marriage counsellors can dig deep in the book and come up with a millions things that as Christian couples we need to be doing to make our relationship with our spouse deep and fulfilling.

    What really struck me though was the picture it painted of the intimacy that God wants with his people. How many times does the man simply describe the woman? I counted at least three times. The man just reels off a list of her virtues - her eyes, her hair, he neck, her throat, he just works his way down her body! Think of the things he doesn't say. He doesn't say that her grey roots are showing and she needs to visit the hairdresser. He doesn't say that she has bags under her eyes, or a maze of wrinkles, or hairs poking out of her chin. He doesn't say that she is overweight and sagging. If I had a husband that said that and nothing else to me, I would not be happy. Yet how many times when we are spending time in God's presence do we brace ourselves for the inevitable conviction about some aspect of our character or behaviour that we expect God to point out that in his strength we can overcome or deal with? If the man can say nice things about the woman, and this is a picture of God and his people, then surely we ought to be listening to nice things that God says about us!

    We seem to be consumed with our faults - whether that is as the Body of Christ, world wide, or our local expression of it, or our own individual walk with Jesus - we seem to be forever nit picking. I am not saying that there are not areas where we cannot improve - we are not perfect, but there are areas where we get it right and we totally overlook them.

    When I thought about that this morning, that I am not a miserable failure that gets it wrong time after time, but someone that actually succeeds and triumphs time after time - I have to admit that I cried!

    When God spoke to Gideon, he called him a "strong warrior" or something similar. He didn't say, "Hey, Gideon, you pathetic coward, skulking around in a winepress cutting corn." God saw what Gideon had the potential to be and chose to focus on that, not what he was right now. God sees what we will become, not just what we are right now.

    I think we all need to tune into God's positive description of us!

    Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    Rats and hedgehogs

    I was listening this morning to the radio. One of the items concerned one of the Western Isles, being over-run by rats. The rats were not lurking in the corners of people’s houses or anything. They were decimating the local bird population, by raiding nests and eating eggs. One particular species of bird was on the brink of extinction. Traps were being laid all over the place that even involved some people absailing down the sides of cliffs. No details were given of the kind of traps being set, but they didn’t sound rat-friendly.

    Not so long ago, on another island, the same decimation of the bird population was taking place. This time the culprits were hedgehogs. They were committing exactly the same crime as the rats – eating the birds’ eggs and reducing certain species of birds to near extinction. Talk of “culling” the hedgehogs was enough to rouse the animal right campaigners out of their chairs. It is not as if they are a species that are endangered, but all of a sudden people were being called on to rescue the hedgehogs and have them packed off to the mainland where they could be re-homed.

    I don’t see anyone crying out on behalf of the rats! What makes us fight for the hedgehogs, but ignore the rats? Neither species is close to extinction! I know that rats can carry disease, but hedgehogs probably carry their fair share of stuff, including fleas.

    I collect hedgehogs – not real ones – fluffy ones, ceramic ones, glass ones – I have all sorts of hedgehogs. Birthday cards and Christmas cards that friends send are littered with hedgehogs! I like hedgehogs and I like the idea of rescuing them. I once encouraged a fourth year pupil to rescue a hedgehog that was being picked on by an ugly big seagull!

    Why don’t I have the same passion for rats?

    It speaks to me of the value that we assign things. Rats are not assigned value, hedgehogs are. You don’t protect things that have no value to you. You don’t fight for things that have no value to you.

    God values people. He values ALL people. It is not just the good people He values, but the bad people too. It is not the rich people He values, but the poor ones too. It is not just the Christians he values, but the Muslims, the Hindus, the Sikhs and people of every philosophical stance you can come up with. God assigns equal value to people. He doesn’t have his favorites!

    Until we see people the way that God sees them – as infinitely precious – and value them the way that He does, we will not fight for them the way that God intends us to!

    Monday, September 19, 2005

    Servants of the King

    Remember that I was down for leading worship, knowing there were no musical instruments. A couple of years ago, I had had piano lessons for a short time. I wondered whether, with excessive practice, I might manage a tune or two. Yeah right! As if that was ever going to happen! In the end we just opted for singing. There was just the one tune that I pitched too low! It was not bad!

    Another lady had been asked to bring the word, but she had not been well during the week, and meeting together on Friday, to plan strategy, we both decided that we would be more relaxed and laid back. The meeting would become a time of sharing, testimony and encouragement. That makes it sound as if all of our Sunday meetings are not like that – but they are.

    God had said to me on Sunday morning, as I was preparing my heart, that we had a unique opportunity presented to us. There were no barriers and nothing to hide behind and we could explore for ourselves how we wanted to worship God that morning. We had a special kind of freedom that morning to make the time intimately personal and real and relevant – so we moved in that freedom and shared with one another.

    People that are usually quiet took the opportunity to share situations and feelings they were facing. It was amazing how many of us were facing the same kinds of feelings.

    The meeting highlighted two areas that I think I need to think about more closely. One was how I worry about silence. I suppose part of it is about how long silences should be. How long is a piece of string? When does silence become uncomfortable? I admit that I have a tendency to step in and fill a silence to prevent it becoming uncomfortable for me! Silence can be as long as it likes when I am alone – but with other people?

    The answer to that question is my second area. I recognise that I don’t know people as well as I should. I don’t know people well enough because I don’t spend enough time with them! Outside of formal meetings, I don’t often just “pop over” to visit folk. I am not sure if I want to be in and out of other people’s homes all the time. I don’t think that I should know everything about everyone. I am challenged about how much time I spend in fellowship with folk. The more I know about the issues people are facing the more I am able to pray more effectively for them! Too often we wait for people to take the first step in sharing, or asking for help when we should be on the look out to “see” what help is needed and be swift to offer.

    There is a story in the book of Jeremiah, when he is lowered in to a pit of mud because he keeps speaking God’s truth and the leaders don’t want to hear it. A man called Ebed-Melech, whose name means “the servant of the King”, has his ear to the ground, finds out about it and petitions the King to release Jeremiah. We are all servants of the King, with access to Him. How many of us have our ears to the ground, know about the needs of other people and petition the King to help them?

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Sing a joyful song!

    When given a choice between leading worship or preaching a sermon, my inclination is to lead worship. Please don't get the wrong impression if I say that leading worship is easier. I spend time with God and listen to what he is saying and try to pick out songs that reflect that. I wouldn't class myself as a singer. I sing, but I am not trained in anyway and over the years I have been told that I have improved!

    Preaching stretches me far more than leading worship. At the end of the day there are no song words or music to hide behind and everybody is listening and taking notes! I probably work harder to bring a word than I do to lead worship.

    Given that - if I had a choice this week of what I would prefer - I would opt for preaching! In a small church we have a select number of musicians and next Sunday, all but the drummer are away for one reason or another. That kind of makes things quite challenging! Even with a keyboard player I don't always hit the right notes! Quite how things will go without one I really don't know!

    Some twenty or so years ago I used to attend a Plymouth Brethren Church. The evening service included the use of a piano, but the morning meetings were music absent. There was a selection of a dozen or so tunes and each of the hymns in the book could be sung to at least one of them. There were moments when we sounded nice. I think there are also moments when the angels just joined in! There were other times when it was dire. Whoever started would begin at a nice cracking pace and then things would begin to slow down.

    I googled "worship without music" just to see if anyone could give me any hints about how to handle Sunday. The first up was an article "Ten Ways to Worship Without Music - Building worship into your daily life." We all know, but tend to forget, that worship as in singing and music is just one facet of worship. To quote the article "Worship is the process of surrendering your entire life into God's hands. Everything you do can—and should—be an act of worship." Prayer is an act of worship, as is obedience to his word. Sharing your faith and serving others are also demonstrations of worship. This is nothing that I don't know already - doing it is another matter!

    Another quote that is worth repeating - "Fellowship without the spirit of worship is just "hanging out." Discipleship without worship is nothing but a fruitless mental exercise. Ministry without worship is called "spinning your wheels." Evangelism without worship is a misplaced sales pitch. Worship isn't simply one area of your life; it is your life."

    Excellent stuff, but not what I was looking for. What I was looking for was "How to lead worship when all the musicians, bar the drummer, are away!"

    Another article focussed on the whole idea of having musical instruments in church as being unscriptural - sounds like my Plymouth Brethren Sunday mornings. Musical instruments may feature in the Old Testament but, according to this article, "Christ never authorised mechanical instruments of music in the New Testament to be used in worship of the church," and "It is a historical fact according to early church history, no mechanical instruments of music were ever used in church worship until about the year 670 A.D."

    Spurgeon once said "Sing unto him. This is the sweetest and best music. No instrument like the human voice." Wesley's words on the matter - 'I have no objection to instruments of music in our worship, provided they are neither seen nor heard."

    We do rely so very much on the music to set the mood and draw us into the presence of God. The times when we have deliberately set aside the instruments have been awkward and uncomfortable. When I think about the times at home when I break into song - and I often do - I don't pick up a musical instrument before I do so - I just sing. If I can do it at home on a Monday or a Wednesday, I should be able to do it at church on a Sunday! Right?

    Maybe we will be joined by a few angels - keeping the time and the key for us!

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    Birthday Bhoys

    It was Joe's birthday on Saturday, so it was treats all the way, including a weekend away in Glasgow, clutching our tickets to the football match between Celtic and Aberdeen.

    Two dates cropped up in the programme. On September 10th 1960 - the day Joe was born - Celtic lost to Rangers 5-1 at home! I don't know whether Joe's dad was pacing up and down the corridor of the maternity ward at the time, or there at the match!

    The other date was September 10th 1985 - the death of Jock Stein who at one time was the Celtic manager. Through his leadership Celtic brought home the European Cup. They were the first British football club to do so. He died of a heart attack.

    Just before the beginning of the game, there was a memorial to him. Some of the players from his era walked onto the pitch. Rather than have a minute's silence to honour Jock Stein, they had opted for a minute of cheering. With a silence, you always get a few people ignoring the silence and demonstrating disrespect - and it is noticeable. It was very atmospheric - people waving scarves and cheering. It was very uplifting and fitted the mood well. It was a really wise move!

    The game itself was good. Although we were way up with the birds in the rafters of the stadium, we had a view of the one of the goals. There was a pillar in the way that restricted some of the viewing.

    I am never quite sure if I like going to football matches. I miss the commentary you get if you watch the match on TV, or listen on the radio. Being so far up, the game is a like a step up from watching ant milling around below. Even with my new glasses and their vari-focal lenses I had a hard time identifying players. I kept having to ask Joe questions about who had done what.

    I relied heavily on the commentary of the surrounding supporters. I had to filter out the expletives that came thick and fast when Alan Thompson or John Hartson, in particular missed an important pass.

    I was very impressed with the Aberdeen supporters - the small corner of red jerseys in one corner of the stadium. They made a lot of noise and looked as if they were enjoying themselves, even though they eventually lost.

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005

    Jesus your'e my superhero



    The kids in our church, and many of the adults, are bouncing around to a song about super heroes - "Jesus You’re my Superhero…" It has a catchy tune, and enthusiastic actions.

    I was watching a programme a few nights ago about the ultimate top twenty super heroes. They basically fall into two categories. There are the ones like Superman, Spiderman and the Fantastic Four who all have some kind of super strength. They are not normal people. The other group of super heroes are normal people. They have gadgets that make them super - like James Bond and Batman. They don't have any super abilities beyond what the technology they have allows them to do. Incidentally one of the most bizarre super heroes on the list was someone called the Tick. He was dressed in blue and had two feelers. I am not quite sure what he does.

    So which category does Jesus fit into? He didn't get a mention on the programme! I suppose that like Superman, Jesus is not of this earth, but unlike Superman, Jesus didn't wield super abilities. Jesus had gadgets!

    Joe and I were singing last night a golden oldie song - "You laid aside your majesty…" Jesus when he left heaven to come to earth, left all his glory behind. He took on human form, with all of its frailty. What made him a superhero, for want of a better word, was his openness to allowing God to demonstrate his power through him. Jesus had access to all of God's resources and took a hold of them through prayer and wielded them to bring down the enemy strongholds - death and sin.

    I have access to all those resources Jesus had access to - so that makes me a potential super hero - or heroine.

    Monday, August 29, 2005

    Let's blame the chillies!

    I have got, and have had for 48 hours now, a really sore stomach. If I was pregnant, which I can assure you I am not, I might be thinking in terms of baby on its way. I am working my way through a box of Alka Seltzer tablets I bought this morning and have had some respite, but the symptoms persist.

    I had been thinking it was the chillies I ate on Saturday night. I have long suspected that I may be developing curious allergies to things, but decided that I am not giving up the things I like. I can put up with a few hours of discomfort - a plate of chilli con carne is worth it! Not 48 hours of it though.

    I am beginning to think that the culprit may be something else. This is the chilli defence layer talking:-

    "So let's blame the chillies, shall we? It couldn't possibly be the unhygienic state of your kitchen. No, it is not the unwashed pan from a week ago, is it? It is not the grimy scourer you insist of using! Have you actually used any of those anti-bacterial wipes on the surfaces or is that tea stain part of the pattern? Or the fridge - is it possible that something deadly lurks in the re-used margarine tub? It couldn't possibly be those yoghurts that are well out of date. What about the decomposing veggies in the box? It couldn't possible be them! The pedal bin lid - when did that last see a dash of disinfectant? And let's not talk about the floor, shall we? Your kitchen is a dose of Legionnaires Disease just waiting to happen!

    No, let's blame the chillies shall we?"

    My home economics teacher, who may well be dead, may well be turning in her grave. My sore belly compelled me to get cleaning! Just the kitchen floor and the fridge to go.

    Saturday, August 27, 2005

    "The bones of our enemies!"

    I am a participator. I just can't stop myself getting involved in things. Way back, when we went on holiday to Ireland, the last morning before we had to return the hired car and head to the airport, we drove lazily back to Dublin. Along the route we visited a living history display. I can't quite remember what era of history, but it involved a man-made island in a small lake, with a walkway and mud huts, animal skins stretched on frames, smoky fires and people dressed up. The people were re-enacting life from those times, telling stories and preparing for an invasion from another "settlement" from the other side of the lake. It was all very atmospheric!

    I get involved. If people want volunteers, my hand shoots up almost automatically. It is the exhibitionist in me! I can remember the man, dressed in his costume, was trying hard to get a response from the audience. Someone had asked a fairly mundane question about whether the island was a natural one. It turned out that the island wasn't natural, but built by tree branches and things, thrown into the water. The "things" included the "bones of our enemies" and was said with relish. Before I could help myself, I was up on my feet, punching the air and hissing, "Yeah, the bones of our enemies!"

    Well, the man relaxed. He had found his soul mate for the morning, and directed most of the information in my direction - getting a very verbal response.

    I don't know why I do it. I get involved in films too. On Thursday, Joe and I went to see the film "Crash". It is basically about how a number of people's lives are linked through a car crash, but explores attitudes people that I suppose you would have to say are racist. It is very painful to watch, like a roller coaster of images and scenarios, shifting direction suddenly. Someone else wrote in a review of the film "it compels you to want to shout in warning, gasp in shock, cry in sorrow, and hold in comfort." I did all those things, in abundance. I don't think I am even aware that I do it. My husband thinks it is funny.

    I think that God like participators. He himself is a participator, not standing aloof on the sidelines or watching from the cheap seats. He is involved.

    I guess I am one of the lucky ones. My "lets-get-involved-in-this" gene is activated. In the cinema, the warnings, the gasps and the crying do not affect the film - but in real life? There is no limit to how I can affect the lives of other people.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2005

    SSPT

    Before we were married, Joe and I attended a course at our church about marriage. The speaker focussed on the letters SSPT - Skin to Skin Prime Time. He wasn't talking about sex, but just about intimacy. There is a need for husbands and wives to be naked before each other, not necessarily in the literal sense, but the symbolic! We need to stand before each other without the need for defences. It is a time when you show how vulnerable you are, confident that you are not going to be stamped upon!

    For us, I would have to confess that Joe finds it easier to do, late a night and after a few drinks - his defences are well down and he opens up! When I was young I shared a bedroom with four sisters and we used to talk until the early hours, often punctuated by mum yelling at us from downstairs to go to sleep! Now that I am much older, I am less inclined to speak and my involvement in late night chats tends to be limited to grunts, in the hope that Joe will get the message that I am tired.

    I guess I am learning to try to wake myself up and be alert. There is a quality of vulnerability that Joe displays at these times that I don't want to miss. Well, last night, it wasn't Joe that was for talking, but me. Something had happened at music practice. I had taken a particularly bad reaction to something that happened, and although I knew I was being totally unreasonable, I just could not stop myself. I was reacting way out of proportion and had build a mole hill into a mountain, and it made me think that the march of the menopause with its erratic hormones is partly to blame, but other stuff too.

    Talking things over with Joe helps to bring things into perspective. I sing, but I am not a singer and very much aware of my limitations. I lead worship and as long as I am selective with the songs I sing - the key of C, for example doesn't flatter my voice at all - I get by. I can't do complicated stuff and lots of the more recent worship stuff coming out flits from one octave to another which is beyond me. Inside me there is this wish that we were a bigger church so someone else could do it instead. When you are a small church, any activity that you opt out of leaves a hole that someone else has to fill. God told me a few weeks ago that I was a hole filler. It was not meant to be derogatory, but based on a line in Ezekiel - confronting the leaders of Israel for failing to fill the holes in the walls around the city in the days of battle. I guess my trouble is I want to choose which holes to fill, and I want to fill them my way! As Mark, out pastor reminded us - we are servants, we serve.

    I think that because I am in a small church that I am lacking something. I have shared that with friends, and then when I talk about the church and our close friendships and intimacy, they tell me that I am the lucky one. To be known as well as I am known is a blessing. I am not able to loose myself in the crowd.

    God knows that if I was in a big church I wouldn't be given the chances that I have now, because there would be other, more talented people, who were well able to sing in the key of C and flit from one octave to another! I wouldn't be invited to join the worship team, or preach, or lead a housegroup - all the things that I do that stretch me and make me depend on Jesus. Being me, I would try to get involved, and be rejected, and get hurt - just like I had been in the past, and I wouldn't flourish like I do now.

    With the heart attitude in our church I cannot imagine that we will always be small!

    Sunday, August 21, 2005

    The magic word "Hello"

    What is it about weekends that they go so fast, and then suddenly you are thinking about Monday morning? We couldn't have had more opposite kind of days either. Saturday was hot and glorious, probably the last sunny day of the year! Sunday was wet - very wet.

    Curiously enough, despite it being hot and glorious on the Saturday, I spent most of the day indoors, trying to entice myself to pick up and iron and do something useful with it. Sunday, however, despite the rain, we headed to the beach!

    One of our church members is counting down to returning to university and wants to spend as much time as she can with her church family. It was her idea to head to the beach. I guess the hot and glorious Saturday deceived us into thinking that Sunday would be the same.

    It didn't stop us from buying ice creams and playing various games on the beach and making the usual sandcastles, but I got to the stage when I was too wet and not really enjoying myself. We played rounders, a game vaguely similar to baseball. It reminded me of summer days when I was younger. My mother would organise games of rounders that the whole street would join in. In school, I couldn't hit a ball to save my life. On an evening, or a weekend, with my mum shouting encouragement, I lobbed the balls far and wide!

    The late afternoon was spent at the birthday party of a friend. It reminded me of the feats from "Record breakers". How many people can you jam into a three-bed-roomed terraced house? Quite a lot apparently! I am not good in crowds. Joe chats so easily with people, but I clam up. Earlier on in the week, in one of my quiet times, I was reading the book of Romans, the last chapter. Paul lists all the people he wants to say hello to, and to commend and encourage. My circle of friends is so small. I can remember praying to increase that circle a bit. It doesn't instantly happen - suddenly hoards of people rush over wanting to be my friend. I think it starts with me saying, "Hello!" So here I was, in a room full of people I didn't know - except for a few. The perfect chance to put into practice that magic word, "Hello!" They were Christians from another church, so we had a common bond already. I managed to talk to four or five people and hold conversations! I am impressed with myself! It is a start, small perhaps, but a start never the less.

    In the book of Psalms, the late 90's and early 100's I was very struck by how God wants a people, but what he gets is individuals - Joseph, Moses, Phineas - isolated individuals who God does things through. We seem to be quite good at the individual level of our Christian life. The corporate level - the people bit - I think we struggle with. We do not have enough of a body mentality. Challenging, isn't it?

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    Roots and shoots

    I did half an hour of gardening after school. Half an hour of tugging and pulling at knee high grass in the flower borders was my limit today. It beats going to the gym and costs less too! Sweat poured in rivers down my face. Spiders and beetles scattered to every point of the compass. I found things I thought I had lost, that I had used to wedge open the bedroom window, that had obviously not been big enough for the job, and had fallen into the flower border below!

    I seem to remember a few years ago, a friend of mine tackling the front border. Her attention to detail is to be admired, and no weed survived her blitz and no weed root either. She very carefully traced back the root of a dandelion. It took her ages to uncover it, endless amounts of determination and patience. Laid on the ground afterwards it was a good six feet in length with a number of shoots off in various directions. How much easier her task would have been if it had not been given permission over the previous four months to grow unhindered!

    Why do I do it to myself? I ignore the weeds when they are little and then burst a blood vessel trying to get them out when they are big! I just don't find the time, or the inclination to garden. Suddenly it's so overrun I don't know where to begin to start to tidy it up! The size of the job is overwhelming!

    Help is just a phone call away! We have the number of a gardener! He knows what he is doing and has all the right tools!

    There is a spiritual lesson to be learned here. The spiritual weeds like envy and pride are much easier to deal with when they are just tiny shoots. Once they are well established with deep roots and shedding seeds all over the place they are not easy top pull up. Praise God that help is just a prayer away! Jesus knows what is he doing and has all the resources of heaven to help.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    There's no going backwards - literally!

    Is it possible, just maybe, for someone to steal the reverse gear in your car? I have had windscreen wipers taken before, and I have heard of kids walking away with the wheels, leaving your car resting on four bricks, but yesterday, I seriously considered the idea that someone had stolen my reverse gear!

    The problem was that I had been away for a week, driving around in a hired car. It was a small nippy little thing, with a flat back end, a boot too small to take hold my suitcase and a reverse gear in a different place from my own car. I had zipped all over the Warwickshire countryside and in that short week I had got used to it.

    Once back at home, we thought we would do an emergency shop for bread and milk, just to tide us over. Could I find the reverse gear on my car? According to the diagram on my gear stick it was on the far left, but no matter what I did, we just went forwards. I tried pushing the gear stick downwards and then shifting it over - still we inched forwards. We must had tried every combination possible, but still we inched forward. I have been driving that car for three years and I could not find the reverse gear! I was well and truly defeated and almost at the stage of taking off the brake and physically pushing it backwards.

    I took a toilet break. Is it possible, I challenged myself to still drive my car, but never need to use the reverse gear? Mentally, I was adding up the money in the savings account and leafing through the yellow pages to get a garage to come collect the car and mend my obviously broken gear-box!

    My husband, not the driver in our family, while I had been away playing out a million scenarios in my head, took out the manufacturer's handbook from the glove compartment. As I approached the car, he was leaning on the roof, grinning like the Cheshire cat. There in black and white, complete with a diagram, was the simple manoeuvre I had been putting into practice, without thinking about it, for the last three years - lift the gear stick and shift to the left!

    How is it possible to forget something like that? What state of "mush" must my brain be in? The hired car has to take some of the blame, surely, but as for the rest..?

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005

    Broken

    It has been a while since I posted anything. It is not that life has been boring and uninteresting, just that I have not felt like writing! That is a serious confession from someone who consider themsleves a writer!


    Broken

    A passion burns within my heart
    That words fail to describe
    I yearn to find a better way
    To show you what's inside

    A priceless jar, with precious oil
    Held in my trembling hand
    I break and empty at your feet
    And know you'll understand

    As fragments fall, I'm broken too
    And what's inside spills out
    That you accept this worship act
    I have no cause to doubt

    The jar cannot be mended or
    What was inside restored
    I cannot claim the treasure back
    Upon your feet I poured

    A sweet and fragrant perfume now
    Pervades this holy place
    And You, the source of my delight
    Will meet me face to face

    Saturday, July 09, 2005

    Reach Out - I'll be There

    Now if you feel that you can't go on
    Because all of your hope is gone
    And your life is filled with much confusion
    Until happiness is just an illusion
    And your world around is tumbling down
    Reach out, reach out

    Chorus:
    I'll be there
    With a love that will shelter you
    I'll be there
    With a love that will see you through

    When you feel lost and about to give up
    'cause your best just ain't good enough
    And you feel that the world has grown cold
    And you're stepping out - out on your own
    And you need a hand - a hand to hold
    Reach out, reach out

    I'll be there
    To love and comfort you
    I'll be there
    To cherish and care for you
    I'll be there
    To always see you through
    I'll be there
    To love and comfort you

    I can tell the way you hang your head
    You're without love and now you're afraid
    And through your tears you look around
    But there's no peace of mind to be found
    I know what you're thinking, you're alone
    No love of your own
    Reach out, reach out

    I'll be there
    With a love that will shelter you
    I'll be there
    With a love that will see you through
    I'll be there
    To give you all the love you need
    I'll be there
    You can always depend on me
    I'll be there
    With a love that will shelter you
    I'll be there
    With a love that will see you through



    Nice words! I just think of God singing them to me and I feel better!

    I will be better tomorrow

    I have been telling myself every day that I will be better tomorrow but it is not happening! I have to admit that I like the voice I have right now - it is very gravelly and sexy, two octaves lower than normal and unable to operate much above a whisper! If I could have that without the rest of it I would be fine. The rest of it includes episodes of coughing so severe that not only have the contents of my stomach made an appearance, but the stomach itself has almost popped out. I shall probably have to try to wean myself of Strepsils Extra one day too.

    "I will be better by tomorrow" - I just wish that between now and tomorrow there wasn't a night to get through. Nights are not good. I am catching fleeting moments of sleep between grunts! Every so often I have to just sit up to let the coughing bouts subside!

    Simon Goodall and I are spending nights together! The healing power of music - well, more the soothing power of music - is helping me through. On Simon's "Stay with Me" album after the very last song "Anchor Me" if you just leave it playing, after about three minutes another song kicks in - "Reach Out - I'll be There". It is a pop song and I guess Simon and the band are just playing with sounds and techniques, but as much as I love the rest of the album, I love that track in particular.

    Ok let's get to the nitty gritty - why am I putting up with this rotten whatever it is and not praying for healing? Well, firstly I am - me with my sexy gravelly voice is asking for help. I like to pray out loud, but it hurts, and I know that you can pray on the inside too, I like the idea of lifting my voice to God, not my thoughts. Secondly, it feels kind of petty and selfish to pray for healing of a sore throat when the death count in London because of the bombs is rising and there are still people unaccounted for, and some people have really life threatening injuries. My sore throat is at worst an inconvenience. Thirdly, I have been reading Job - perhaps not the best thing to be reading when one is not well - and Job 35 has an excellent little verse tucked in there v14 "Your case is before Him and you must wait for Him."

    The very first croaks I managed to throw before the throne of heaven were heard. Just because I didn't straight away receive what I asked for doesn't mean that God didn't hear. He heard the first time and the case is before God and I just need to wait.

    And while I wait - don't try to get between me and my box of Strepsils!

    Wednesday, July 06, 2005

    Falling Apart - painfully!

    You would think I would know the routine by now. The first week of the holidays begins with a total wipe out of all my defences and all the bugs and virus's I have held at bay throughout the school term invade. Like the walls of Jericho, all it takes is a shout - "School's out for summer" - and the body just falls apart.

    My skin hurts. It hurts to have anything touch it, which makes wearing clothes rather uncomfortable. Maybe I should spend my first week in a naturist community! My elbows and knees ache and even my hair - which was coloured, cut and blow dried yesterday for some grossly over the top price - that hurts too.

    My head aches too but that could be just a caffeine deficiency since I don't have the energy to lift the kettle and boil water for a cup of tea.

    I could put up with it all but for the grunting! Just as I am falling asleep, I grunt loud enough to wake myself up. Maybe it is me trying to clear my clogged throat, but it is not something I make a decision to do - I just grunt loudly. I get to the stage where I don't really want to go to bed because I know that I am going to grunt my way through the night.

    You get the message? I am not feeling at my best. Pathetic!

    Saturday, July 02, 2005

    Mud thrown is ground lost

    I got into an argument today. It was actually none of my business, but I stuck my nose in. I was walking along the road, minding my own business when I noticed two people arguing.

    One of them, since he was standing behing a table adorned with tracts, was a Reformed Baptist. I don't like the word "reformed" as it makes me think of reformed ham, something that isn't a naturally occuring substance, but made from bits of something else - like Frankenstein's Monster. I digress! The other person was from one of the bands playing at the Jesus Fest in Falcon Square.

    They were arguing about the music. I was actually too far away from them to hear the content of the argument, but I am sure it was about the music. The volume of it was loud and that prevented the RB's from talking to people. It was also indistiguishable from any other kind of rock music and was not...Christian? All I knew was that two people who were part of the body of Christ were not showing the world any kind of unity, but very visible and audible division. I wanted to go over to the Jesus Fest man and say something. There is a sense in that he is here for one big bang of an event and then he is gone, but these folk turn up week in week out with their stall and they will be around long after he has left Inverness. But I decided to give myself some time to think before I spoke and disappeared into M & S to buy odds and ends.

    By the time I got out, the Jesus Fest man had gone but the three RB's by the table were in animated discussion about who was judging who, and who had said what to who, and who was in the right and who was in the wrong. It was petty and picky and not honouring to God.

    So that is what I said. I reminded them that we were all part of the same body of Christ. We were all on the same side. I said that the Jesus Fest man loved God too and this was his way of witnessing.

    Well, that was me opening a can of worms! There was no way they were going to concede that his music was godly, although they acknowledged that he might have been. They talked about young people that got lead astray by that kind of music. I replied that there was more than just the music, that the music was a way fo catching the attention of young people, but that it was a way into something much deeper. They went on to say that the only way of really catching people was through the word of God - which I don't dispute. Personally loud music does not do it for either, but it does for some.

    I go to thinking later that when Jesus talked to people he caught their interest by talking about familiar things - sheep and shepherds, fishing and nets, seeds and sowers. People related to that becuase it was a part of their experiences. Talk to young people today about sheep and shepherds, or fishing and nets and you alienate yourself from them. What is familiar to them is loud music with a heavy beat.

    I also go to thinking that young people view loud music differently to what I do. To me it is noise and I can't make out the words. Becuase they hear it all the time, they can tell what the words are. They don't see it the way that I do. Not everyone thinks the way I do about things at all.

    Hey, way back at the turn of the century, the hymns we so revere as the right kind of Christian music were scorned by the church at the time as being out straight of the music hall.

    I did come out with Paul saying that he was all things to all people to win the few. I got told that I was twisting scripture! Seems to me we can all the accused of twisting scripture to fit our own agendas.

    How hard it is to lay aside our own small, unimportant and petty prejudices and let God do things His way.

    Thursday, June 30, 2005

    The Outsider

    I am on a count down - not just a school count down, but a Faithwriters countdown! I have three entries in the "Best of the Best" challenge. All the winners of each of the weeks during the last year go through another stage to find the best entry overall. There is a money prize, but I guess the kudos and cred as a writer is what we are all looking for! Some of the folks are proper published writers! I have had three winning entries over the year, so that shortens the odds for me. My personal favourite among my three is my first winner - "Them Gates of Hades."

    The Final Step

    The Laughter Thief

    Them Gates of Hades

    July 1st is the red letter day!

    PS Can I do links or can I do links? I am the links queen!

    Is this really the end?

    There’s just one and a half days to go till the holidays. Our plans are still rather fluid, not on account of whether we do or whether we don’t have the children with us, but just where we fancy heading off to. Shona is being released on Friday. “Released” sounds like she has been in prison, though I suppose to some extent it has been like that for her, not imprisonment of the body so much as the mind. The children return home tomorrow.

    Joe saw Shona earlier this week, and I have seen her twice this week. We both agree that she doesn’t look capable of dealing with the children. I know that she is desperate to be home and have them, but it is the beginning of the school holiday. Under normal circumstances school holidays are tough for parents and Shona doesn’t live under normal circumstances.

    Much as we both hate to admit it, we think the children will be back in our care. Joe gives Shona 36 hours to discover she is not coping. I am a little more optimistic but not settling on a time-scale!

    What we are both agreed on is the appalling lack of involvement by the social services while we have had them. Nine weeks and they have visited twice. The first time was because we made jokes over the phone about chopping the children up and putting them into pies and them being none the wiser, or them discovering bones under the patio ten years down the line belonging to Patrick and Shannon. They came racing round then to check us out. The next time was seven weeks later to tell us that there would be an assessment towards the end of the “fourth week” of looking after them! Private agreements for looking after children were limited to four weeks! She definitely went pale when we told her we were into week seven! Her promised visit of the supervisor in the next couple of days didn’t happen! The only word that readily comes to mind is incompetent.

    Maybe we just live in a society where you need to phone someone. You need to show that you are struggling in some way before they call out the lifeboat. If you don’t call, they assume you don’t need help, that things are fine. They don’t seem to take the initiative and come around. That is appalling when real abuse is going on and the social work should have known and didn’t. I assume that Patrick and Shannon are on an “at risk” register because of Shona’s mental health, but if they are they have done very little to check that the children are not at risk with us.

    We are also both appalled that the social work have not talked to us about what we think about the children returning home, or shared with us a Plan B if things go pear-shaped in the 36 hours. Do we assume that they are assuming that they come back to us? There is no “What if?” in place where a “What if?” looks inevitable.

    We both need a break. Nine weeks was hard work. We need to be looking after ourselves too or we will be no use looking after anyone else. Where is the line drawn between what is selfish and what is sensible?

    Friday, June 24, 2005

    Going Bananas

    The list of things that I won’t buy from the supermarket is getting longer! Living in a politically aware household is challenging! Being married to the chairman of a branch of the union is also challenging! When we employed someone to do the cleaning, she was not paid according to the going rate but according to what my union husband considered to be a minimum wage!

    For years we have not bought any Nestle products – although Kit-Kats seem to have got through the nestle net! It is truly sad that they just happen to make the best breakfast cereals! If someone tells me that Kellogs is part of their consortium I don’t know what I shall do. I shall stick to boiled eggs I suppose – free range of course – and toast.

    A few months ago, the Coco Cola company got added to the banned list! Allegations were made that they had arranged for hit men to target union officials in developing countries. The conditions under which some people have to work border on the obscene.

    Yesterday, bananas joined the hit list! (Not all bananas – Chiquitos for sure, and Del Monte products too! Developing a unit on global solidarity and looking at trade issues I am suddenly aware that the stuff that I buy comes at a price. There is the price label that the super-market stick on obviously, but beneath all of that there are a whole load of human rights issues! Small family farmers are not able to compete on the same level as the big businesses. Supermarkets demand “pretty” bananas that are just the right shade of yellow and have a perfect 10 degree curve to the left. To get that farmers need to use pesticides that can be harmful to both people and land. We eat what is inside the banana not the skin.

    The big multinational companies are determined to carve out of the market a very big slice of the pie. They will carve up the opposition if they happen to get in the way. Free trade is not free at all, except if you think in terms of the fat cats having the freedom to make all the rules. These greedy corporations seem to want to take every inch of the market away from the little people and use their governments to pile on the pressure.

    Does it matter? A banana is just a banana after all! I think it does matter. We pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Being a Christian is not just about having a ticket to heaven with life as a waiting room. God’s will done on earth is about justice now.

    The world is designed with some countries having so many resources while other countries have so few. It may be a matter of geography if I happen to live in a land of lush green fields, regular rainfall and fluffy sheep grazing on hillsides. It is equally a matter of geography if someone else has to walk four miles to get to water, and drought ravages fields of crops. It is an altogether different matter if I build my bigger barns to store my abundance while someone else has nothing.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2005

    A friend at midnight

    Things don’t always pan out the way that we expect! I knew that when Joe and I took on the responsibility of looking after Patrick and Shannon while their mum was in hospital that it would be longer than just the 28 days she had been sectioned for. The last time, last summer, turned out to be 32 days. This time was have reached day 50 and they are still with us, and mum at times seems no closer to going home. Lights at the end of the tunnel seem to get snuffed out and everyone gets emotional and weepy. There is a definite “I wish I had not got involved..” thought inside my head, but the fact is I am involved and becoming uninvolved, by piling the children on to the social workers and into the foster care system, is not an option.

    I was feeling distinctly sorry for myself this morning and God simply said to me, “You are the friend at midnight.” Luke’s gospel illustrates Jesus’ teaching on prayer by an example of a man turning up on the doorstep of a friend looking for bread to feed unexpected visitors. The New Living Translation has a couple of words added to the end of a sentence that other versions don’t have. The friend is in bed, the house is locked up, everyone is asleep and he says that he can’t help “this time”. It made me think that the friend had been in this position before and had come up with the goods the last time round. He had given the loaves of bread the last time, and perhaps the time before that, and the time before that.

    There are just some people that come back time and again in need, sometimes with the same need. They haven’t learnt to keep the extra loaf or two in the freezer for such a time. Other people become their friend at midnight because they have the resources and they have met the need in the past.

    As that “friend at midnight”, I don’t want to help on the basis that I am being worn down by someone’s persistent knocking. I don’t want to shout out of the window that I am sleeping and the house is locked up and I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I don’t want to remind someone that I helped last time and this time they should get their act together and if their visitor went hungry that would teach them a lesson about being prepared.

    I want to help because I am their friend. I want to help because I have the resources they obviously don’t have. I want to help because they trusted me to ask. I want to help because I care.

    Life throws unexpected challenges into the paths of us all. We don’t always have the resources to cope. Things happen that are unexpected and catch us unprepared. God never said that loving one another was convenient and happened during office hours.

    More than that, if, in trying to meet the needs of others, we run out of resources, we know that God will always be for us that friend at midnight. If God does it for us, and we are made in his image, then we should be doing it for others!

    Saturday, June 18, 2005

    Keep on Dancing

    I was reading Acts chapter 3 last night. I wrote a poem last year based on the story. I dug out the poem and had a look through.

    A hop, a Skip and a Jump

    Step right up, my friend
    And see what I can do
    For I can hop, and I can jump
    And I can skip like you
    I can walk around in circles
    And I can run so fast
    I can leap into the air
    I can dance, at last
    This might seem nothing clever
    Nothing special you might say
    For someone born a cripple
    It blows your mind away.
    I lay outside the Temple
    Beside the Beautiful Gate
    Two men walked right up to me
    And saw my wretched state.
    One stared at me intently
    His gaze peaceful and calm
    Hoping for some money
    I stretched out my empty palm
    “I have no gold or silver,
    What I have I give to you.”
    And he pulled me to my feet
    As God’s power flooded through
    My knees, my calves, my ankles
    In a moment became strong
    I was on my feet and walking
    It didn’t take me long
    A joy so deep, so wondrous
    Exploded from inside
    The delight at being healed
    I knew I could not hide
    Since then I’ve not stopped dancing
    I’m not keen on sitting down
    I love to feel beneath my feet
    The firmness of the ground.
    I shout my praise to heaven
    Some wish that I’d be still
    They wish that I’d stop leaping
    But I know I never will

    My favourite lines are :- "Since then I’ve not stopped dancing...I’m not keen on sitting down...I love to feel beneath my feet...The firmness of the ground."

    I got to thinking, around about this time next year I will have been a Christian for thirty years! I wondered whether I have got to the stage of preferring to sit down and loosing the excitement of seeing what God can do through me and with me.

    For so many years the man's life had been predictable and Peter and John changed all of that. I am challenged that after nearly thirty years, my life might just be taking on a predictable pattern again.

    I wonder if the man came to a stage where he stopped jumping and leaping and praising God. We do sometimes, don't we?

    Thursday, June 09, 2005

    Inspired to write a poem

    One of Peter Howson's pictures really cuaght my eye. I didn't read the sentence that went with it, but what it looked like to me was an angel whispering into Jesus' ear. Jesus was drawn very clear and sharp, but the other face turned towards him was much paler and less substantial. Now that I have read the comment - I know it is not and angel speaking to Jesus.

    What came to my mind was the garden of Gethsemane. The angel only ministered to Jesus after he had made his decison and surrendered his will. I tried to capture the moment before - the angel longing to draw near but recognising that this was a decison that Jesus had to make alone.

    I aslo thought that perhaps this angel was one of those angels singing to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. Perhaps it was time for the angel to sing a new song of freedom.


    Gethsemane

    I know you think you are alone
    But I am standing near
    I long to ease your troubled mind
    And take away your fear

    This single moment must be yours
    For you must choose the road
    To tread the path to Calvary
    And bear sin’s heavy load

    Your sweat like blood falls to the ground
    I count each precious drop
    The scene that must start to unfold
    I wish that I could stop

    Another hill, another time
    To mark your wondrous birth
    I sang a sweet melodious song
    Of heaven touching earth

    Now heaven touches one more time
    To strike the fatal blow
    To heal a rift and lift a curse
    Inflicted long ago

    “If possible,” I hear you say
    “Let this dark hour pass by
    I’ll take this cup and drink its brew
    Your will, not mine,” you sigh

    At last, my help, I now can give
    And strength to you impart
    As I draw close, I pour my love
    Into your willing heart

    The freedom song that’s rising up
    Demands I sing this day
    For sin which binds and torments men
    Will soon be washed away

    Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    A weekend of Passion (or lack of it)

    Joe and I managed to get away for a weekend! Joe had been down in Edinburgh at a Trade Union Conference and decided pop over to Glasgow for the weekend and visit his mum. I joined him in Glasgow.

    While doing the rounds of the shops on the way to the Barras we came across a new art gallery called "The Third Step"“. It is a charity based gallery, the proceeds going towards helping recovering alcoholics. What drew my attention was they were showing paintings by Peter Howson. He was featured in an Easter documentary. As a recovering alcoholic he has discovered faith in Jesus and paints pictures of the Passion. He paints lots of pictures of the passion – lots!

    When I write a poem I tend to write just one poem on one topic and then move on to another. The thinking is that “I’ve done it.” Peter Howson never says, “I’ve done it.” because the story of the passion of Christ never stops being an inspiration to him. I like that and I am challenged by it.

    The pictures are very flesh and blood and not pretty. They are vibrant pictures, painted with passion. There were a series of pencil or charcoal drawings on the “Stations of the Cross”. Joe was very taken with them. Had we a spare couple of thousands of pounds I am sure we would have purchased them!

    In the afternoon we visited Joe’s mum in her new nursing home. I have to admit to being very shocked by her appearance. I think, even just seeing Alice wearing trousers was a shock. She had lost a lot or weight, but she had lost much more than that. She had always been a very vibrant woman, involved in life and interested in people. This was not that woman. She looked lost and alone and unconnected to real life. I know that there are different levels of care when it comes to elderly people. I suppose it must be a challenge to stimulate people who have lost their connection to real life.

    Joe and I talked for a while. Because of where I was sitting, in her line of vision, she looked at me often, but mostly without recognition. The times that she smiled at me almost broke my heart – very child like. It was only just before we left that she spoke like the old Alice to Joe, “How long have you been here?”

    Alice’s sister, Betty, visited her a few weeks ago travelling all the way from Canada!

    The deterioration in Alice has been swift. Eighteen months ago she was fine. How fragile life seems. Sometimes all that is left is just a shadow of what used to be. Scripture says that we are like grass, here one day and gone the next. I guess you need to learn to make the most of every opportunity. How often have I thought that I will wait until I retire to do something like writing a book, thinking I will have time and no distractions then? Leaving things for the future assumes that there is a future, when there might not be.