Thursday, November 30, 2006

Missing Abdul

Didn’t I say that I was car illiterate? I called out the AA yet again. This time I was the required quarter of a mile from home, so they came to get me. What I thought was a flat battery turned out to be a little more serious.

Work is being done on the new school building – just preliminaries. The builders have fenced off a bit of the school car park. Although the builders are not supposed to park there, they do. This morning, one person had parked his car skew-whiff, abandoning his car in such a way to make four of the parking bays unusable. I thought maybe I had been too busy muttering about it this morning to check my lights!

The AA man recognised the car, and me – he has changed the tyre once and jump started me twice! This time, however, it was bad news. It was something to do with a cracked gasket and he explained perfectly what has been happening to the disappearing water. The dryness I mentioned weeks ago was nothing to with neglect from me. That’s kind of comforting!

The AA man went through all the little things that might have been happening over the last few weeks – curious smells, smoke coming out of things, disappearing water, white residue on the top of the water cap. These little things that you maybe notice but don’t really register all add up to one big thing that costs a lot of time and money to fix.

You see, this is where being car illiterate, or a mechanical numpty, really gets you into trouble. I could be driving a death trap and not know about it. When I moved back to live with my parents after coming back from Cyprus, I owned a mini. It was red and it was wonderful and I loved it dearly. The man across the road, a Sikh gentleman, called Abdul, loved my mini too. He used to spend hours tinkering under the bonnet and he knew everything about cars and stuff.

Right now I miss Abdul! I don’t have an Abdul. No one tinkers under the bonnet of my cars anymore. Abdul would have known what all the little clues added up to. I would have been warned about a huge repair bill looming over the horizon.

Well, the conclusion of it all, apart from cancelling Christmas, is that a mechanic from a garage is coming to collect the car tomorrow, have a look at it and start ordering bits. Yet again, Cinderella’s carriage becomes a pumpkin and I get to walk. There is an upside – I should loose some serious weight with all the exercise!

I am pretty much feeling like drowning my sorrows with an Indian takeaway – it memory of Abdul.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's just a phase

I can remember when, at the exciting age of eighteen, I gave my life to Jesus, I was so enthusiastic – not that I am not still enthusiastic! My enthusiasm demonstrated itself in picking fault with everything everyone was doing. Their actions just didn’t match up with what Jesus expected of them and I was bold enough to tell them so.

My mother retreated behind a mantra – “It’s just a phase she’s going through.” The phase has lasted quite a while now and I would like to think that I have softened a little since those early days!

I think my body has been repeating that same mantra since I began attending Weight Watchers – “It’s just a phase she’s going through”. It may well be right! Up till now I have always lost something, even just the half pound – but yesterday I stayed the same. I had not put on any weight, not taken any off.

A part of me would like to blame the jumper I was wearing! It was a winter jumper of thick wool and cables! I had dressed for walking to work in the morning, and after school I walked around to Weight Watchers. The truthful bit of me would blame the curry and nan bread at the weekend, and the slice of chocolate cake to celebrate someone’s birthday!

I think I may just have hit the part of the diet where the body doesn’t like it anymore. The novelty of counting points and eating Nimble bread has worn off and it craves chocolate! It is not about to be pawned off with a drink of Options low-calorie hot chocolate. That is a poor substitute. It wants to old Mel back! It was at this point in my previous attempts to lose weight that I gave up as it all seemed too hard to keep going.

I can’t think of a time in my walk with Jesus that I have ever some to a point of really thinking about giving up. I have thought about giving up with churches, or with individual people – but my faith? No. I love the person that Jesus reveals me to be through our relationship – I see what I am becoming and what I am leaving behind, and there is no comparison.

I suppose weight-wise I also like the person I am becoming – the one that does not need to head for the “Plus” rail in the dress shop! Which is why I will fight on!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Dry days

Not so long ago we got labelled as a health promoting school. It wasn’t just about introducing healthy options in the school canteen but also raising health awareness among the staff. There was a rash of things for staff including a lady that came to do various massages, classes for yoga and meditation, and a million leaflets scattered about the place about diets and dealing with stress.

A friend was leafing through one of the leaflets to compare her eating habits with the “ideal”. She decided that she was probably eating too much protein, enough fruit and vegetables, and possibly not enough of the complex carbohydrates! She was pretty much convinced that she was not drinking enough water.

When I first joined Weight Watchers, I did try to increase my water intake. It seriously disrupted my carefully timed toilet breaks! In any other environment, toilet attendance is probably not so strictly worked out – but my life is directed by bells. In my pre-weight watching existence, toilet breaks coincided with break time and lunchtime. After trying to drink more water, things went a little awry! There are some classes where I need to be in the room when they arrive. If they are allowed access to the snibs on the door – they will lock themselves in and grin at you as you helplessly knock and wait to be let in. I could afford to allow a first year class to wait for me, but not a fourth year class. My bladder did not seem to be able to make the distinction so I returned to my old water drinking habits!

I still try to drink more but recognise that my body is probably in a permanent state of dehydration! I am not sure that my body would know what to do with the excess!

It came as quite a shock to discover yesterday that my car engine was seriously dehydrated too! The plan yesterday was to join some friends for a friendly quiz night at King’s Fellowship in Culloden. Driving to pick up Joe on the way, I noticed the temperature gauge in the car was not just steadily rising but overheating at a tremendous rate. It was well into the red bit, which I assume is not good. In a panic I drove home. I wasn’t sure what the car might do, but I envisioned that it would involve lots of smoke and a huge garage bill.

A friend told us that it sounded like the water in the radiator needed topping up, and at the end of the evening, at half past ten at night, bonnet up, in the torch light, checked out his theory. He was right – extremely right. Bone-dry so it was.

You see I am not mechanically literate. I had hoped long ago that my wonderful husband would learn to drive, pass his test and take on the mantle of car maintenance. It’s a boy thing – along with “slugs and snails and puppy dog tails”. Car oil levels, spark plugs and radiators – it’s boy stuff. I can do the air freshener that hangs from the mirror, and keep the glove compartment relatively tidy – but underneath the bonnet, all those tubes and stuff – that is boy stuff! And yet as the driver of the family I have the responsibility thrust upon me!

May be it is time to enrol in the car maintenance class and not just think about doing it!

There is a refrain from a worship song that is running through my head “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, Your Spirit like water to my soul.” In the body water flushes out toxins and joins the blood in transporting red blood cells and oxygen around the body, in my car the water keeps everything cool and prevents the engine from overheating.

The water of the Holy Spirit does a similar job – taking the oxygen teaching of Jesus and transporting it to nurture my spirit. He flushes out the toxins – attitudes and thoughts that if left unchallenged would prove harmful. He prevents me from overheating, by being the small still voice of faith and reason that keeps me from loosing it!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Silence is golden

My friend and I, in our weekly bible studies are working our way through women in the New Testament. This week it was the turn of the woman who gate-crashes Simon the Pharisee’s meal to weep before Jesus and anoint his feet with perfume.

In the middle of the story is the parable about two people who owe money. One owes just a little, the other owes a great amount. Both have their debts cancelled. (Actually, that is kind of relevant for my third year classes – we are looking at the Debt Crisis and the Drop the Debt campaign – cancelling debts!). Neither could pay their debt – so it did not matter who owed the most. If you owe someone ten pounds and you don’t have the money, you might as well owe them a hundred pounds – you still don’t have the money.

What really struck me about the woman’s encounter with Jesus is her silence. She never said a word. Simon did not say much either come to think about it. The woman never confessed her sins to Jesus. She never tried to defend her lifestyle or the choices that she had made. She never blamed anyone or society for the way things had turned out. She never spoke at all, and yet through her actions she spoke volumes!

Her silence challenges me. She doesn’t list the individual crimes or give details about when they happened or who was there. To stand in front of someone knowing that they do not need to know the details – they know how bad it is, and you know how bad it is – and that is enough, is something so humble.

Words put limits on things. The minute you begin to use words to describe something, you set up boundaries. No words – no boundaries. The bad state of things is just too bad to put into words. We are so careful that people don’t think the worst of us that we are careful to describe exactly what we have or haven’t done.

She is allowing him to think the worst of her. I know that God knows everything about me, but deep down I also want him not to think badly of me. Her silence says – “Think what you will. I can offer no excuses. I simply come before you. Do what you must.”

Jesus accepts everything – the silence and all that it means. His grace reaches out and embraces her.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The dog ate my homework

I managed to shave off just a half a pound last week on the diet! I am sure I heard somewhere that the older you get, the less easy it gets to loose weight and that is true for me. I have just a half a pound left to reach my first stone gone!

Jo, the class leader, was talking yesterday about making excuses for ourselves. We can justify why we are as overweight as we are – it’s the medication that we are on, or we are just big boned people, or it’s in the genes or …. you know how it goes! These things are just excuses and they don’t really hold up under scrutiny.

I was praying this morning. I spoke on Sunday about asking for help. The basis of the word was the story in Acts 3 where Peter and John are God’s instruments in healing a lame man. I made the point that they had passed the man on a number of occasions and never noticed him. Indeed, it was the man himself that initiated the encounter by asking for help. Peter and John were just walking by. Why did they not see him? Why did the Spirit not provoke them into action?

I think too some extent that beggars around the Temple were so common place that people accepted their presence without thinking. It was just normal life and just the way things were, so they didn’t question whether there was an alternative. The beggars were part of the scenery and almost invisible.

I was challenged about what things have become so acceptable to me they have become invisible and unquestioned. We have a family where the mother and her children are part of the church family, but the father isn’t. I accept his absence when I shouldn’t. Just as it grieves God that this is an incomplete family in the church, it should grieve me too. There is a history – an unpleasant history – of his encounter with the church in earlier years that wasn’t good. It left wounds and scars which have not really healed.

This morning as I was praying for the family, I was focussing on what we as a church had done wrong so many years ago, and apologising to God for making His job that much harder. God spoke clearly about the problem no longer being about us. We were not the same bunch of people. The problem was that what had happened long ago had been made an excuse not to become involved.

It is far easier to maintain what you think to be the truth about a group of people, or an individual, rather than to seek a fresh view. To think that the person you knew five years, or ten years ago, has never changed is unrealistic. People change – but we hold on to who we think they are from our past experience. We make it an excuse to polish the grudge, or sharpen the hatchet.

We have a choice. We can forgive and move forward, or hold resentment in our heart and stay stuck in the mud of stubbornness.

I am learning to forgive.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What are you doing this weekend?

The school staffroom is becoming a very interesting place to be. For a while there was not a nice atmosphere as staff griped and grumbled about how hard life was and how heavy the workload was getting. It really was unpleasant! Since then we have had a influx of four new staff – all young folk who have lives outside of school! They talk about what they are going to do at the weekend – and the M word (marking) doesn’t get a mention!

When they are discussing weekend plans they ask around. My answer to the question of what I was going to do at the weekend was “I have a sermon to prepare as I am preaching on Sunday.” I wouldn’t say that I am a closet Christian by any means, but no one had ever asked me before about my weekend plans, and it just so happened to be me preaching. They were fascinated – what was I going to talk about? How many people would be listening? Did anyone have any problems with a woman preaching? How often did I preach? What was my church like? It was an open door to a flood of questions.

It was also an open door to a flood of comments about their own church experiences. One of the new teachers had a father who was or had been a lay preacher. Another teacher had attended a Plymouth Brethren church for a short while. It was interesting and very animated.

My sermon is all ready! Our church leader, Mark, has introduced a new structure for people involved in preaching and worship. The preacher needs to pass on the topic a week in advance so that if the worship leader wants to link in songs they can do.

My first inclination was to think the structure left no space for my usual last minute preparation and wasn’t it all stifling to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit answered quite promptly, “I can fit in with a weeks notice. Don’t you worry about me, Mel!” So out went the “What if God doesn’t talk to me a week in advance?” misgivings, and in came a confident declaration that, yes, the Holy Spirit can fit in with the week in advance! The topic flowed from a (phone) conversation I had with my mum and the bible context and verses came from another (cyberspace) conversation. It has all been pretty painless, but rather exciting too. I guess I am learning to simply listen and not agonise.

And to top it all – I don’t have five pages of notes with a million Bible references. I did a mind map! One single side of A4 paper with colour coded boxes and lots of arrows! Cool or what? I have preached the sermon a dozen times to an invisible audience in my head and there were no hecklers! See how flexible I can be if I try?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is Something Wrong?

This is something that I read on FW. Glen is a good friend of mine and I hope will not mind me posting it here. I found it very thought provoking.

Is Something Wrong?

by Glenn A. Hascall

What if we’ve created an illusion of what Christianity is supposed to be?

What if we’ve convinced ourselves that grace doesn’t mind intentional sin?

What if we’ve convinced ourselves the filthy rags we wear are something grand and glorious?

What if we’re wrong?

Have we been so busy fashioning a world that caters to our needs that we’ve forgotten we are warriors in a strange land?

Have we forgotten we’re on a journey while we set up a paradise on earth?

Have we forgotten our Captain while we crown other sheep?

What have we done?

The church today provides a coffee shop and cafĂ© while the world outside the doors thinks we’ve dedicated a country club to ‘our kind’.

The church today makes youth group so cool that even non-Christians can come and still miss out on their need for something more.

Christian radio is so cool the whole family can enjoy it.

We wield political power – we lobby for our cause – we mobilize those who should be sharing their faith into a force for political change.

We gather with God’s people by satellite feed and miss face-to-face interaction.

We relegate those gatherings to one event a week.

Yet

We

Know

Something

Is

WRONG.

We are NOT strangers in a strange land anymore. We have forgotten how to read our maps so we’ve settled for a second rate hotel in the low rent district – never sharing good news – never weeping for the lost – never longing for home.

What draws us deep into a relationship with Jesus? A four-minute song, a five-minute devotional, or a two-minute radio thought or a touching video?

How much is enough?

Have we found it too much?

Do we yearn for more?

Do we?

Can we?

Will we?

Flat batteries

Apparently I have done it again – left the car lights on and drained the battery. However, because the car is parked outside the house, and not a quarter of a mile away, the AA can’t help me. I did consider whether it was feasible to push the car for a quarter of a mile just so it qualified for assistance – but getting myself, let alone the car, a quarter of a mile away from the house is a challenge!

Actually I am not sure who has the flattest battery – me or the car! Joe spent the latter part of the week coughing and spluttering everywhere. Doing my Florence Nightingale impersonation was enough for me to catch the cold. I am a bit bunged up and my brain is slowly turning to mush. I admit that I don’t fight these things off, or put up much resistance. I pretty much roll over and surrender. One or two days off school has its attractions.

The trouble is that all the nice things I think I will do during those two days – like catch up with some writing, or reading a book or making in-roads into the ironing pile just don’t happen because I feel too unwell!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pulling the red chord

I was talking to my mum this afternoon on the phone. My sister Carla was around visiting, with granddaughter, Kira, but it wasn’t until they had both left that my mum began to share some really personal issues that she felt she couldn’t say while my sister was there.

On thing that underlined the whole thing was the issue of asking for help. My mum had been so independent for so long. Even with failing sight and hearing, she refuses to give in and admit weaknesses.

She moved into sheltered housing a number of years ago, and with all the government’s penny pinching and cost effectiveness, there is no longer a warden for the scheme. There are still red triangles on strings around the flat that my mum can pull on and help arrives eventually, but she because she doesn’t know the people who respond, she doesn’t want to be a bother. She will have her bad moments when she needs help but does not ask. I was trying to tell her that only by pulling the red chord as often as she needs to will the authorities realise that she needs the care.

Part of the problem is that she does not want to enter into a deeper level of the care system. She always said that once she lost her sight completely, then she would go into a proper nursing home. There are so many other areas in her life that she is not coping with and I think she is beginning to think that perhaps the time has come to evaluate where she is at.

My family are marvellous in their support, particularly Carla’s family. They take her shopping once a week, clean the flat for her once a week and pop around every so often. My mum knows that she can phone them anytime and, for the most part, they will come. My brother, Richard, is also close by and contactable.

I think what is really eating my mum up is that she feels that she is becoming a burden to them. I know that when I came back from Cyprus, I lived with my parents for a couple of years, and much as my mum loved having me around, she wanted me to have my own life and not end up looking after them both. She wants us to live our lives without worrying about her.

We had a good chat about different agencies that could take some of the pressure off. Between visits, my mum is pretty much housebound. She is shaky on her feet and very anxious about moving among people. I don’t know what level of service something like Shopmobility can provide. She also has money worries. She gets a care allowance that she doesn’t make the best use of, and the bank would like her not to keep so much of it in an easily accessible account.

My mum is a courageous lady, but her courage is just leaking out. She is becoming afraid of different aspects of life.

We also talked about church. Different people in churches have different gifts, and I thought maybe someone with money sense could help her make the best of her money, and just watch her account. I know that Joe’s brother, John does that for my mother-in-law. Again this idea of asking cropped up. My mum thought she would burst into tears is she had to talk it over with someone. If you can’t cry in front of your church family – where else is there?

I got to thinking about whether I feel comfortable crying in front of my church family. No one feel comfortable crying, let’s admit it, but there has to be somewhere you can just take off the amour, put down the sword and rest from the battle. I have a wonderful church – and, yes, I can and often do burst into tears when things get a little too much. But why wait until things get too much? Why wait until the burden is unbearable? Why do we keep things hidden for long? Why don’t we pull the red chord more often?

Is it a pride thing? Or a trust thing? Or a message that the church is giving out that it shouldn’t be?

I thought about whether it was time to perhaps think about moving back to Warwickshire. I don’t think for a moment that I can offer anything more than Carla and Richard do, but I really feel powerless to help. Maybe the best help I can be is to give her a chance to simply off-load the issues that are building up, much like a pressure cooker valve. A book I am reading at the moment suggests that women when they talk about their problems are not always looking for solutions, they just want to talk and have someone listen.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pure, honest and blameless

I was reading 1 Thessalonians 2:10 yesterday morning. “You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers.” The version that I read it in used the words pure, honest and blameless. I found it very challenging that Paul could use those terms so confidently.

I have no problems with thinking myself honest. Pure and blameless, however, are much harder words to use. Because of the redemptive work of Christ God considers us to be pure and blameless, but in the world we do not always behave in a manner that is pure and blameless.

What came to mind when I was reading that Paul was careful about his behaviour. He thought about the effects his actions might have on other people and acted wisely. Wise behaviour doesn’t come naturally. Too often we act without thinking about the effects of our actions and then have to deal with the mess afterwards!

How much heartache we would save ourselves if we took careful thought of the things we did and avoid having to deal with the consequences of thoughtless actions all the time.