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 It couldn't possibly be those yoghurts that are well out of date.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


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..?