Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Last Straw and the Camel’s Back

I am looking at straw.  Not the real stuff, the yellow, prickly stuff that cows eat and guinea pigs sleep in, but the metaphorical stuff.  I look not upon a pile of it but just one single strand.  Yes, I am faced with the piece of straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

So what do I do? Surrender to it and comfort myself that I held it together for a good long time? Mop up my tears with a bath towel?

I confess a pity party appealed.  I entertained the notion for a while.  I thought about robbing the Peter resources in me to pay the Paul problems I was encountering only to discover I’d already done that weeks ago. Peter was empty and Paul was demanding to be paid.

So what did I do?

I’d written a poem earlier on in the day – before Paul appeared.  If the truth in the poem was genuine truth and not just pretty words that rhymed, there was only one response.

I let Jesus see my struggle.  I let Him know my pain.  I listened with my heart and my spirit…and I heard His victory song in my ear.

God is no use to me if I keep Him locked up in words in the book – even if that book is the world’s best seller.  Faith opens the book and releases the words inside.  Faith invites me to take God at His word and grab hold of His promises.

Paul makes his threats.  Peter cannot help.  But God?  He has given me everything I need for life and godliness – in abundance.

The last straw that would seek break the camel’s back – I pick it up and toss it harmlessly away.

Incarnation

The Ageless and Eternal One
Beyond all time and space
He folds away divinity
To mortal flesh embrace

He comes to keep a promise
An ugly curse to break
He steps into our darkness, calls
This sleeping world to wake

He sees us in our struggles
And knows us in our pain
And sings o’er us a victory song
A powerful refrain

The sin that binds and bites and burns
He comes to wash away
And opens wide a brighter path
A new and living way

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not Looking Sideways

It was a snatch of a dream, not a whole story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It was just a brief scene of me sitting somewhere in a hotel lobby perhaps. A friend passed by and touched me on the shoulder.  She commented about my hair.

In real life a couple of weeks ago I had visited her salon.  My hair was getting too long and chopping at the fringe was doing nothing to make me feel better.  The man that does my hair was on holiday and I just needed a cut.  It wasn’t all about the fringe or the hair getting too long.  It was about the pampering – the being at the centre of someone’s attention for an hour or two – and coming out of the experience feeling better.

In my dream I think I might have growled at her. What the stylist had done in her salon with all of her years of cutting hair and her access to the best of shampoos and stuff – I couldn’t recreate at home.  It was, I told myself, her fault that my hair was awful. The new style had looked sexy and sassy when I left the salon. A week later it was an impossible mess of sticking-out-in-all-directions-disorder.  I should have listened to my gut and not been talked into a new style.

In real life it was nothing to do with her.  I was the one who put the picture in front of the hairdresser – not my usual bob.  I asked if I had enough hair to make it happen.  I wasn’t that niave to think I would look like the girl in the picture.  She had neat eyebrows and a heart shaped face.

So the stylist chopped away and my usual bob was transformed into something other than my usual bob. It was nice.  I wasn’t raving about it.  Give it a few weeks to settle let grow a bit and I would begin to like it more.  The ladies at the salon agreed between themselves that it was a transformation.

I cannot recreate the style at home.  I have “first day hair” – freshly washed and dried and just a shy short of how it looked in the salon.  Then I have “second day hair” which is an unwashed impossible mess.  Nothing works except a wet brush that flattens everything down to one step away from a paper bag. I don’t want to wash my hair every day.

Of course, these dream things are never about the dream in it literal state.  There is always a layer or two underneath.  My friend looks amazing all the time.  She brims over with confidence. She owns her own business, has a lovely home and a family.  She is flourishing. 

I on the other hand have “second day hair” sticking out in all directions. I rarely brim with confidence.  To say that I am struggling with myself is an understatement.  My home will never grace the pages of an Ideal Home magazine. The garden is looking nice thanks to J Fields and Sons Landscaping.  But, apart from a neat garden, flourishing is not the word that describes my life at the moment.

“Mel-World” isn’t an ordered place at the best of times.  There are bits of Mel-World that I love – my relationship with Jesus, my prayer life and a clean bathroom.  There are lots of bits that I simply put up with because I am too lazy to do anything about it – the messy corners, the ironing pile and the paper confetti next to the paper shredder. 

Sometimes I look at “Marion-World” or “Angela-World” and line them up along “Mel-World” and theirs look so much nicer than mine.  Most of the time I don’t do this but just sometimes I do. In the horse racing world my world has fallen at the first hurdle as they gloriously cross the finish line.

I was reading John 21 this morning.  Peter was just licking his fingers after the fish breakfast as Jesus struck up a conversation.  Peter takes out another contract with Jesus to look after the flock under the difficult years of the coming persecution.  His long term future in the club looks bleak with the possibility of crucifixion.

Peter looked over at John and asked about his future.  Was John going to get the better deal?  Did Jesus have a soft spot for John and was giving him an easier ride?

I look over at Marion’s world or at Angela’s and ask the same kind of questions.  From where I am standing it looks like they have the better deal.  They don’t seem to struggle like I do.  I know Jesus doesn’t have favourites but from where I am standing…it looks like He does.

Jesus basically told Peter that what happened to John was none of his business.  Peter had his own Jesus-appointed destiny just as John had his own story to live. Looking sideways at John meant that Peter was not looking forwards at his own challenges.  Looking sideways at John meant that he was not looking at Jesus.

Jesus is telling me, too, to stop living my life looking sideways at other people.  I have my own Jesus-appointed destiny.  It’s not a vague mystery to me.  If I need to look anyway other than on the road ahead I should be looking, not at Marion or Angela, but at Jesus.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Leper

I am the filthy leper
I stumble and I kneel
Before the man of power and
Ask for words that heal

Too long have I have inhabited
This damaged, broken shell
The locust years eroding
All hope that I’d be well

His touch so unexpected
I yield to His embrace
I'm lifted from my mire
To gaze upon His face

My shroud of sickness loosens
And from my shoulder slips
The heart once dead within me
It stirs, it leaps, it skips

Gone are the red raw blisters
And gone the weeping sores
He speaks and heaven answers
My fractured frame restores

I’ve never known such wholeness
A new life has begun
And I will ever sing my praise
For all this man has done

My sin I wore as leprosy with
Wounds upon my skin
Yours perhaps not visible but
Hidden deep within

It’s time to stop your stumbling
And at His feet to fall
The wholeness He bestowed on me -
His touch is there for all

Saturday, November 15, 2014

In Good Hands

In Good Hands

Whenever night falls
The earth is always
There to catch it

(by Roger McGough)

In Good Hands

Whenever I fall
The Father is always
There to catch me

(by Melanie Kerr)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Anonymous From Scotland

My husband, in the passenger seat of the car, on the way to work this morning, turned his head to look at me.
 
“It’s you, isn’t it?  You have re-mortgaged the house, haven’t you?”

We were listening to Chris Evans on Radio 2.  It was the final ten minutes of the “Children in Need” auction “8 Go Mad in Monaco”.  The top spot was “Anonymous From Scotland” pledging some obscene amount of money that I am never likely to see in my lifetime.  His or her place seemed secure.  It was the ones at the bottom of the list that were losing their grip and falling off the auction cliff as other, richer pledgees scrambled over them.

Four lucky couples will head to next year’s famous Monaco Grand Prix as very special guests. A private jet will fly them to the Cote D’ Azur. A Sunseeker motor yacht will sail them around the bay. Then there will be ‘Access All Areas’ passes for the Grand Prix weekend and brunch with one of the racing teams.  There will even be a personal invitation to Prince Albert’s palace for his exclusive Saturday night cocktail party.

Just what part of that deal sounds like anything I would want to do? Besides, the dates, Thurs 23rd to Sun 26th May 2013, are not good for me.

I could do the private jet thing and the motor yacht things but the racing car thing is not my cup of tea. I would feel incredibly out of place in Prince Albert’s Palace and I don’t possess anything that would pass as a cocktail dress.

I’m not sure whether part of the treat involves driving any of the race cars but it reminds me that I almost came third in the Snowman Rally.

The Snowman’s Rally

A bright and sunny February day
We pack up the car and drive away

Heading out to see Loch Ness
Away from all the week day stress

The roads seem empty to my eye
One cannot help but wonder why

Vroom! A race car overtakes
A loud and roaring sound it makes

It swings the corner out of sight
And gives us both a massive fright

Another race car roars behind
We hear its engine loudly grind

And then it slowly dawns on us
The local paper – all the fuss

The Snowman’s Rally is on today
And us in our mini are in the way

The race begins on normal roads
Then into forest trails explodes

A sober thought has just occurred
With two gone by, that makes us third!

A café on the road ahead
We park and drink some tea instead

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Eating Rudolph

The first date my husband and I went on was a very posh meal.  I have not had many first dates so this one was special, not just because it was the first step in a romance that has lasted twenty three years, but also because it was a rare event for me.  I have never regarded myself as being pretty and I suppose I had settled into what I saw as a permanent place on "the shelf".

The restaurant was expensive.  When faced with the menu I chose the most expensive thing – not because I thought I better make it worth my while since it might be the only date, or that Joseph looked like he possessed a bulging wallet.  The venison dish was the only thing on the menu that I could eat.  Everything else had a fish connection and I was never big on fish. I am glad to say that I have since lifted the ban on fish. 

The other thing that sticks in my memory about the date is the coffee.  For a very expensive restaurant one might have expected a jug of milk but resting beside the cup, on the edge of the saucer was a plastic portion of milk. I spent quite a while trying to pull the foil lid off.  I was listening to what Joe was saying with less than my full attention.  I eventually worked out that that if I snapped the little triangle of plastic on the edge of wee pot I could get to the milk.  The trouble was the little triangle of plastic broke and fell into my coffee.  There might have been a spoon, but I was loath to try to retrieve the little plastic triangle.  I didn’t want to draw attention to what had happened. I assumed that if I sipped very slowly and left an inch or two of coffee at the bottom of the cup I would be fine.  I forgot about leaving the inch or two of coffee. The cup was drained and the little plastic triangle was not there.  I had swallowed it.

Joseph confessed much later that the plan had never been to go to a posh restaurant at all.  It was only when I turned up on his doorstep dressed up that he felt obligated to take me somewhere posh.

Giving the girls the lowdown on the date afterwards one of my friends wailed, “You ate Bambi!”

It was our twenty second anniversary not so long ago.  The posh restaurant was intentional this time. Yet again I was faced with a fish menu with venison buried in the middle of it.  Braised venison and pheasant sausage, something apparently associated with Winston Churchill.

It wasn’t a comfortable meal for me.

The venue was the Atholl Arms Hotel in Blair Atholl.  There was the usual mixture of all things Scottish - tartan carpets, roaring log fires and around the room, mounted on the walls, the skulls of a couple of dozen or more deer heads complete with antlers.

Every empty eye socket was turned in my direction.  The antlers took on a menacing air. Not only was I eating Bambi, but I had an audience of his long gone relatives watching me do so. And the pheasant sausage was disgusting.

I read last week in one of the newspapers about David Cameron in some Scandinavian country sealing an agreement of some kind with a meal of braised reindeer.

“You ate Rudolph!” I wailed to no one at all since the front room was empty. I am not sure who committed the greatest crime – me eating Bambi or him eating Rudolph. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Cowardly Wuss in Me

Yesterday my husband and I had a three and a hour journey from Glasgow to Inverness.  The previous day we had waded our way through puddles and been drenched by relentless rain.  The day had begun bright and sunny and we saw no need to pick up the brolly. It seemed somewhat unfair that the train journey happened under blue skies and sun blazing through the train windows.

We had an array of books and newspapers to keep us occupied.  My husband had been at a training course for work and lectured me for a while on how to run a good business and how to spot a bad one! He also insisted that I complete the questionnaire he had done – “What makes me tick?” It is entirely possible that if I did the same questionnaire today I might have chosen different answers.  All these things are supposed to be about the first gut reaction, not carefully considered or dissected.  I wasn’t supposed to think too much about my answers.

Did I set myself reasonable challenges and meet them? Reasonable challenges? Yes!  Meeting them? Not always.  I have a lazy gene that pops up every so often.

Did I enjoy starting conversations with strangers? Seriously?  I find it challenging to start conversations with people I know well!  I also have a shy gene that I constantly battle with.

Was I a risk taker? I am reminded of the verse in the book of Proverbs about the man who won’t leave his house because there might be a bear or a lion walking down the road.  I am not that bad but I cannot condemn the man.

Do I avoid confrontation and conflict? I would like to avoid it, yes.  Most times it is not avoidable.  I would say that I wind myself up to deal with these things.  The conversation in my head as I approach the situation sounds very reasonable and balanced but like all the conversations I have with myself I forget that I’m not dealing with me.  The other person doesn’t follow my script. Emotions get whipped up to hurricane force and, reason, like age-old trees in a tropical storm, gets knocked over.  Carefully-rehearsed words trip out of the mouth in the wrong order.

Do I fear silence? No. I don’t feel the need to fill a silence with words.  I recognise and appreciate silence. 

Do I handle criticism well? Does anyone? In my early years of writing I was devastated when someone picked fault in things I had written.  It was as if they had pulled a limb from my baby and quite callously too.

After I had finished the list of questions with agree or disagree – no maybes on offer – my husband did the adding up.  It turns out that yesterday, on a train from Inverness to Glasgow, after a very wet and squelchy day in the city centre and after a passing passenger, with a large rucksack on their back, had knocked a plastic cup of orange juice over my kindle, and the sun was cooking me slowly through the train window – I rated really high on security and affiliation and very poorly on achievement and influence! I need to feel safe AND that someone liked me.

As I was answering the questions I was aware that the end result didn’t look good.  I was turning out to be a cowardly wuss.  I felt like a train heading for a cliff and despite pulling on the brakes it was still relentlessly steaming ahead.

I am convinced that on another day the answers would have been different.  The questionnaire caught me at the wrong time and wrong place!

I am equally convinced that regardless of wrong times and wrong places there is always a better response open to me.

I was wondering how the apostle Paul might have answered the questionnaire faced with prison bars and chains.  On a Wednesday perhaps when the stink of the place was overwhelming and his feet or hands chaffed from the heavy cuffs he might have given one set of answers. On a Friday perhaps after seeing Luke or John Mark the previous day or holding a letter in his hand from one of the churches he might have given a different set of answers.  I can’t believe Paul didn’t have his own cowardly wuss moments. 

But that’s it – they were just moments, perhaps even whole days or weeks, maybe a month of two of cowardly wuss – but they were passing and they did not define who he was or how he behaved. And they were far outweighed by the courageous warrior moments.

Sitting with God this morning I confessed I was a cowardly wuss.  He didn’t disagree but reminded me that I didn’t have to always be a cowardly wuss.  My need to feel safe? – He would always meet that.  My need to know that someone liked me? – He loves me unconditionally!