Saturday, February 25, 2006

The family of God

I had a dream last night. Actually I had a number of dreams and the one just before I woke up featured a red blob that swallowed people up - but we will leave that one aside!

In my dream I had three children - girl and two boys. The house was a wreck because Joe was doing some DIY. He had taken out the shower cabinet in the bathroom. The wee girl was the youngest in the family and every time she came into a room where I was my heart just filled with love. I just delighted in her presence - she didn't have to do anything - but just be there for this overwhelming love to flow through me. I don't remember much about my oldest son, but the youngest son - I had a parent's evening to attend. He was seven. I was extremely angry with his teacher. At seven years of age she had already decided what he was capable of doing and what he couldn't do- she had labelled him, boxed him in and limited the things he was allowed to do. I can remember being so angry that I couldn't speak. My tongue was stuck in my mouth. The teacher bristled in front of me and said, "If you have anything to say to me, then just say it." I remember my tone of voice being very soft and of very little volume, but incredibly frightening. I don't remember the words I said, but just knew that it came for the heart of a mother who was standing up for her child.

In real life, I don't have any children. All through the dream, I knew it was a dream. There was a voice inside telling me all along, "But, Mel, you don't have any children."
For some people not having children is a choice. Maybe a married couple look at the state of the world and think that it is wrong to bring yet another person into a world where the resources are already stretched, and the world is not a pleasant place to be with threats of terror and war.

For Joe and I, that wasn't the case. We married fairly late in life - our mid thirties - discovered that natural means of child birth were not possible- endured a few years of fertility treatment - and a few miscarriages. The treatment seemed to become more difficult each month, and the emotional rollercoaster we found ourselves on seemed always to come close to derailing. I wanted to be a parent so much. I had so many people praying for me. One couple went up to the front of a big church meeting that Joe and I didn't get to, to be prayed for on our behalf. People brought words of prophecy that one day I would hold a child in my arms, and that they could see Joe pushing a baby around in a pram. I look back from where I am now and it was heart-breaking. In the middle of it all I held down a job, led worship and participated in the everyday life.

At the age of 40 I decided to draw a line and stop treatment. I don't believe that any woman had a right to motherhood. It happens to most, but not to all - but there comes a time when it all becomes selfish. I didn't want a child to have to grow up to have her parents collect their pension before they had time to stretch their wings. Joe and I are young at heart, and loving and just as much as those things are essential, I think the generation gap can get too wide.

For a number of years afterwards I just lived with the anticipation that God would do it anyway - that He would intervene anyway and that all those words and prophecies would come to pass.

People's hearts are not made to ride that kind of rollercoaster of feelings, and there just came a time when another line was drawn. To feel that there is no fruitfulness in your life apart from having children and grandchildren is to severely limit what God has in store for us. God opened up a different creative avenue for me - writing.

When I woke up, I mourned the loss of my "dream" family. There is no daughter who walks into a room and my heart thrills. I don't have a son to defend against a narrow minded teacher. All those things that parents do with their children - making sure that they brush their teeth, reading the same bedtime story for the millionth time, parent's evenings - I have none of that. Sometimes when I am standing in a shop queue, and listening to a mother shout at her child for some small and insignificant crime - I want to tell her what a privilege she has, that she shouldn't abuse. I don't say anything though.

Where is all this heading? On Sunday, after church we had a bring-and-share pot luck lunch at our house. Most times I don't need to worry whether I can find enough forks or mugs that are not chipped to go around! I was surrounded by generations of people. Two girls sat on my sofa in the front room and wove scoubies into elaborate patterns while a handful of men worked together to put a flat-packed bookcase together and it was so good.

I guess that being without children, I worry one day that I will be alone. There are no generations of family to "visit grannie". If Sunday did anything for me, it was to show me a picture of my future. I have a wonderful church family that surrounds me and involves me the vibrant life of the church. That is something to be nurtured and protected.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The smell of ink

I really thought the publishing world had caught up with me today. Every writer gets exited when they read an email from someone who introduces themselves as "publishers of fiction and nonfiction works by new and established authors today" and go on to say, "Recently, I had the pleasure of reading the poetry that you have had published in the United States." I think they may be referring to my profile of poems and articles at Faithwriters, although other internet sites also have some of my poems. I have also made it into one or two anthologies published by Faithwriters. They were asking permission to publish a poem in anthology called "Songs of Honour". The letter went on to tell me about the quality of the paper, the size and style of the font and the fact that I had a page all to myself in the anthology and there was room for some author's notes about the poem.

The book itself would be over 200 pages, hard backed, and cost me £26.18. I have had offers like this before and in one book, which I did not buy, there is one of my poems called "The Fly" submitted many years ago.

Some of my friends from Faithwriters tend to keep their distance from these kinds of offers. I think it is partly due to not knowing what other kinds of poems will appear in the anthology. When it comes to the Faithwriters anthologies, I have read many of the other articles and poems on line. I want to be associated with the high quality, not just of the standards of grammar, but the inspirational subject matter.

I am not sure I have the same confidence with other publishers. Do they really think my work is that good or do they have a few pages they would like to fill, and the chance of another customer buying the book? They don't want to pay me for my poem and I don't receive any royalties.

But then I also think about the chance to witness. Many of my poems are a response of faith. That someone might read the poem, in amongst a whole lot of other kinds of poems, and be encouraged, or read my author's notes and be built up would be a good thing. I don't loose copyright of the poem, and it costs me nothing.

Can offers like this do more harm than good? The jury is out at the moment!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Four times a day

There used to be a time when I attended four meetings on a Sunday! I think that is a bit over the top for anyone!

It was when I lived in Cyprus. I had moved there in 1982 and stayed for five years. I moved because of a promise of a job teaching the junior department of an English speaking church based school in Limmasol. It turned out that there was not an opening for me teaching juniors, so I joined the senior school staff teaching RE, English and Drama.

The school was funded by the Brethren Church, and as a member of staff I was expected to attend services at the Brethren Church on Sunday - morning and evening. My first year there was quite a struggle. They took the command in the Bible for women to be silent in church quite literally, and I found that quite difficult! I probably didn't want to say anything anyway, but being forbidden to speak made me want to talk! It is like the old "Keep off the Grass" signs - had the sign never been there, the idea of stepping on the grass might not have occurred, but knowing that you couldn't do it, made you want to!

Limmasol was a base for the head quarters of a number of missionary organisations working throughout the Middle East, one of which was Operation Mobilisation. One of the OM families was a member of the Brethren Church, but they also had a meeting later on in the morning at about eleven. It was billed as a time of fellowship and worship. They invited me along to join in.

Remembering those meetings, I think they were times that came closest to the way Paul describes worship meetings in 1 Corinthians. Everyone brought something - a song, a testimony, sometimes a prophecy or a word. Everyone just contributed. The numbers grew steadily and there was a tangible presence of God that I felt was lacking from the Brethren Church. Not being able to contribute anything there, and having the freedom to bring words of encouragement at the OM meetings - it was chalk and cheese. My heart thrived on these meetings.

We got to the stage where we suddenly needed to decide just what exactly we were. If we were a church then we should be a church, and become committed to each other. But if we weren't a church, then perhaps we aught to stop pretending we were, and channel our gifts into the "real" churches that we were members of. I suppose it is like having an affair - not that I have had one. Our own churches should have been meeting our spiritual needs. The fact that we were getting our needs met outside of our own churches felt like we were committing spiritual adultery. Maybe it was that we recognised that did not have a spiritual covering of an apostle, and that no one was willing to take on the role of being an elder or a pastor. The meetings stopped.

My heart was still inclined towards something free and less restricting than the Brethren Church. What was inside was leaking out in the brethren meetings, and although I was supposed to be silent, I couldn't be. There was no place to safely let off steam.

After the evening meeting at the Brethren Church, I began to go along to another meeting. A charismatic church had started up in one of the down town hotels, and I began to attend regularly.

After a few months I was convicted that I was tearing myself in two, that I couldn't have a foot in both camps and that I needed to decide one way or the other. Either I needed to be fully committed to the Brethren Church or to the charismatic church, but not both. It was not an easy decision. Breaking with the Brethren Church also meant that I gave up my teaching post at the school - but that is what I chose to do.

I don't know how Christians can grow the way that God wants if they are not planted in a local church body. My 100% commitment to a specific group of God's children is part and parcel of being a Christian. I don't exist as a Christian just with a network of Christians from various churches, but not joined to one local church body. I don't think it is biblical. That does not men to say that I don't have friends from other churches, who speak into my life because I do.

Church is bigger that the denominations we insist on boxing ourselves into. I think we need to be more flexible and allow movement across the borders that separate us. I sometimes wish that we could borrow a couple of musicians from another church when ours go away for the weekend.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Spikey Boy

This article is commissioned! My husband didn't exactly ask me to write it, so I suppose it is not commissioned exactly, but we had a conversation yesterday when he came home from work. The previous night he had been reading through my blog and expects something to appear in the blog!

Joe is a dog man. Some people are cat people. Joe's sister Margaret had a cat called Snoops and he would probably rate as the only cat in the entire world that Joe liked. He was a nice cat. But Joe's heart is for dogs. Throughout much of his life, his family have always had a dog. Laddie dog 1, Laddie dog 2, Laddie dog 3 - if you like the name - why change it? I think there was also a Lady dog in there somewhere. We had a cat, a tabby cat called Tabitha and a series of dogs, budgies and hamsters. The most memorable budgie was called Marti, (alias Houdini), who marvelled us with his cage escaping exploits. However, I think there is one day when he rued escaping. He landed on the carpet, feathers bustling with pride that he had yet eluded us when, from underneath the sofa, that cat jumped on him and bit his head off - in full view of the family!

I digress. This is not about any of the Laddie dogs, the cat or the headless budgie. With Joe and I both being in full time work, we just don't have time for a dog. It is Joe's ambition in life to talk me into agreeing that he takes early retirement, so while I am at school whipping my third year rebels into some semblance of order, he and the dog (which we will then be able to have), will meander slowly down to the paper shop and along to the betting shop to place a small wager on a horse in the 2.50 race at Cheltenham. Sounds good?

Well, knowing that I will hold out on the early retirement thing, when a man knocked at my door looking for dog sponsorship, I was all picked up ears and wagging tail. The charity is called "Dog's Trust" and our dog who lives in Ilfracombe is called Spike (or Spikey Boy to his friends). He is a terrier. We don't know much about his background only that his owners were so bad to him that he can't live with people anymore.

Spikey Boy sends us letters - hey, who else has a dog that can write?? His latest missive was a valentine card, telling us that he loved us very much for sponsoring him. He also told us a little about what he gets up to in the day - playing with a ball on the beach!

Joe is over the moon with the card. He took it into work yesterday to show the girls. Joe is one of the nicest people ever and is liked by everyone. (Mostly everyone - his work with the union in fighting for the little people against the big bosses is not always looked on with fondness by some members of the management team). Well, the girls in his department liked the valentine card so much that they wouldn't let him bring it home.

This is where my small-mindedness comes into play. I am aware that this might seem petty and ungracious, but I think I have a point to make here. Spikey Boy's sponsorship is coming out of my bank account. It seems to me that if they - the girls - want to hold on to Spikey Boy's card then they ought to contribute to his sponsorship. It just doesn't seem fair that they get to keep the card in the office, where I don't go very often, and I am the one paying the sponsorship. Yes, Mel, written down like that, in black and white, that really does sound petty and ungracious!

I do feel very strongly about this! I also feel incredibly foolish too - when you compare it to issues like third world poverty and global warming, it is a very small issue!

The picture above is of Spikey Boy, copyright belongs to the Dog's Trust.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Prodigal's Father Explained

I am aware that I just slapped up a poem without any explanation of where it came from. I am the author and I wrote it on Wednesday. I am due to preach this Sunday and the theme is about the Father heart of God.

My father died of cancer when I was quite young, so for me the whole theme of "father" was just somewhat outside my experience. My views of fathers came from watching "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Waltons". I recognised that the fathers portrayed were not real, though for some people that might be exactly what they experienced - but for me, fathers were people who were just not there. I wouldn't say that I felt abandoned or anything. I don't feel "angry that my dad died and left me" - it was something that happened and my mum stepped in to be both parents. "Dads" to me were irrelevant. I had a mother who was wonderful to me, who provided for my needs, assured me of her love - all those things that dads also do.

I often wonder what my dad would have thought about how I turned out. Would he be proud that I am a teacher? Would he be proud of my marriage to Joe? Would he be pleased that I left the Roman Catholic Church and headed in a different spiritual journey? Would I be the same person that I am now had he been around to exert an influence?

The only idea I had when I thought about God's father heart was the prodigal son. I have read and re-read, and meditated on the story in Luke. In times past I have preached the story from the point of view of the younger son (the whole repentance thing) and from the point of view of the older son (the whole non-judgemental and acceptance thing), but at the end of day, the story is about the father (the whole love thing!).

I am trying to get to grips with the generosity of the father, and the cost of his letting go. I am not a parent, but I recognise that we want to protect out children from the harm that life inflicts. To step away and allow the child to fall has got to be hard. The father is wise enough to know that some things can only be learned from the pigsty. Too often we want to cushion the fall - but in doing so we deny our child the chance to "come to his senses". God is no different.

What the father had to trust was that all the learning that had gone on in the home, before the child left, would be there for that moment.

So that is where the poem came from!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Prodigal's Father

My son, I watched you walk away
My heart began to grieve
I prayed that you might stay with me
But then I let you leave

I knew the path that you would take
And where that road would end
I knew the hurt, the emptiness
You couldn't comprehend

The world so bright and colourful
With sweetest siren song
Lured you with beguiling words
It's cloying fragrance strong

I cannot catch you as you fall
Or wipe away your tears
I cannot smooth the path ahead
Or soothe your troubled fears

Your freedom bids I leave alone
And watch the scene play out
The downward spiral to the end
That's sure to come about

I trust the word I've birthed in you
I trust the love I've shown
To bring you to your senses soon
And light your pathway home

For now, dear son, I search the road
I watch so patiently
I know one day that I will see
You coming home to me