Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Paul's chains

Reading the end chapter of the book of Romans, it is hard to remember that Paul is in chains. There is a freedom that he exudes that seems to be at odds with the fact that he isn’t free.

I look at my own life and see that there are no chains. I am not shackled to a wall in a prison. However, the absence of visible chains does not mean that I live free. It seems that there are invisible chains – chains of people’s expectations of me, my own expectations too, fear of what others might think, or my perception of my own limitations, or my lack of faith. So many chains!

It frustrated Paul that he couldn’t go anywhere physically. He wanted to be with the people he was writing to, physically – but he couldn’t. If he couldn’t be there in body, then he made sure that he was there in spirit – through his letters and through his prayers. He found ways of getting around the barriers that could have prevented him from speaking into the lives of the people he held dear.

What would Paul do with the freedom that I have? Would he let it slip through his fingers or would he embrace each and every moment and use it?

Paul didn’t have the freedom that I have – I do! How do I ensure that I do not let it slip through my fingers? How do I embrace each and every moment and use it?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Attempt number five

I think this is my fifth attempt at weight loss – official attempts that is, through attending a weight loss class. Attempts one and two were successful – I lost the desired amount of weight. Attempts three and four were not successful – I gave up after the first stone or so. I suppose that to some extent none of the attempts were truly successful in that the weight went back on. I might have lost weight but I never really changed my eating habits – I just put them on hold for a while!

Attempts one and two were sensible eating combined with aerobic exercises – my leotard and leggings are in the wardrobe. I look at them occasionally and remember the days when I was bounced around on an exercise mat! I started at a lighter weight and had fewer pounds to shift in those days. I hovered between a size ten and a size twelve.

Attempt number three was never going to be successful. Every week the leader of the class showed up without a hair out of place and with make-up flawlessly applied. It was like the old Charlie’s Angels series – battling the bad guys without breaking a nail. This woman was dainty, power-dressed to the nines and I really couldn’t imagine that she ever battled with her weight. She encouraged us to take our Weight Watchers mayonnaise on holiday with us and keep counting the points. How real is that? I didn’t feel that she was in my corner fighting alongside of me.

Attempt number four I can’t remember that much about. It sprang out of a challenge from the pulpit to join a club, make friends with people and share Jesus with them. I joined WW, but never quite got around to evangelism!

Attempt number five is turning out to be a marathon, but I love the leader! She confessed this evening that over the last year she has put on a stone in weight. As she says, she didn’t just wake up one morning and there it was – an extra stone that wasn’t there the day before! It was not keeping track of the points, not measuring the quantities and looking out on the cold and cloudy days and deciding not to go for the walk! This is a woman that speaks my language!

She is like me! She is real! She is not dainty and power dressed with every hair in place and make-up flawless. She does not tell me the take my low fat mayonnaise on holiday with me! She knows that birthdays happen, that Indian curries taste divine and that you can’t be good all the time! Most of all she fights along side me! She is flawed!

There is nothing more soul destroying than feeling that the leader you are following is so far in front of you that you have absolutely no hope of ever catching them up. They are so far divorced from the reality that you face that they have nothing to say to you. They live on a different planet!

Jesus is quite unique in his leadership – He isn’t flawed and he doesn’t require me to catch up with Him. He slips back to walk beside me and never makes me feel that I am failing because I don’t get it right first time. He doesn’t tell me either to take my low fat mayonnaise on holiday with me!

Incidentally I lost a pound this week!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Billy Graham's Crowning Achievement!

A friend emailed this to me – I was telling someone about it last night, but here it the account.

Billy Graham's Crowning Achievement!

In what might prove to be the crowning achievement of an illustrious career in ministry, the 87-year-old evangelist, Billy Graham shocked The 16,300 in attendance at the Celebration of Hope crusade in New Orleans Arena on Sunday Night. Touted in advance as possibly his last Evangelistic crusade, Graham invited the packed house of evangelical Christians and the hundreds of new converts to join him on the one mile walk from the arena to New Orleans' infamous Bourbon Street.

"While we have seen God do tremendous things here the past couple of evenings. Yes, it is true that a great healing and a great many salvations have occurred within the confines of this auditorium. Still yet, there lies a great mountain in this city which needs to be

Then taking from the Biblical Book of Joshua Chapter 14 he read, "I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the Lord spoke in that day," his voice suddenly sounding more forceful than during his 22 minute sermon.

"I last preached in the City of New Orleans in 1954 and I felt then that there was some unfinished business. Tonight, in what very well might be my last evangelistic service, I aim to finish that business and lead as many of you that would follow me to the multitude of lost souls that fill Bourbon Street tonight. That is my mountain!

That is where we shall see the harvest!" said Graham as the stadium erupted in cheers that lasted the next several minutes.

Utilizing a waiting mobility scooter, the elder Graham joined his son Franklin across the Arena floor and through the opened doors leading towards the French Quarter. In a show of solidarity and determination reminiscent of civil rights marches of the 1960's, nearly the entire capacity crowd joined in the 20 minute trek while singing, "When the Saints Go Marching In".

As the march crossed Canal Street and headed nor! toward towards Bourbon Street, many onlookers stood in stunned silence as the massive crowd Of people began singing in unison the Christian hymn, Amazing Grace.

Upon entering the west end of Bourbon Street, Billy Graham was soon recognized by partiers.

Soon those joining in the march began to approach those partying on Bourbon Street with the Gospel message that they had heard preached just a half hour before. Graham himself joined with a group of local street evangelist in ministering to a man who had survived Hurricane Katrina in the lower 9th Ward.

Within 30 minutes the entirety of Bourbon Street was packed with Christians and the once blaring music of nightclubs and strip joints had been replaced by weeping and worship as people poured out their drinks and sought prayer from the Christians who were now reaching out to them.

"I have never seen anything like this in my life," said 20 years New Orleans Police Department veteran, Tom Phillips. "This is unbelievable! We thought a riot was going to break out, but this looks more like a Revival than a riot!"

Two hours later, a glowing Graham sat back down on his scooter and smiled. "Now I know how the Apostle Paul must have felt at the end of his ministry. Do the work of an evangelist; make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."

Hours later hundreds of Christians remained on the street ministering to the many people eagerly waiting to receive prayer and ministry. New Orleans will never be the same.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Feet of clay

Joe asked me earlier on this week if I knew what was wrong with Jonathan Edwards. He was stepping down from his commitment to “Songs of Praise.” He didn’t know whether it was a problem with the “Songs of Praise” set-up or whether it was a faith issue.

Years ago, Songs of praise did a Jonathan Edwards special. He was such a big name – an Olympic hero – and a Christian too. He talked about his family, his achievements and how God had been with him.

I knew nothing, but made it my business to find out. It is a faith issue. He is not convinced anymore that God exists!

How does that happen to a person – shining brightly one moment and snuffed out the next? Except that it never happens that way at all – the light dims gradually over time, until there is no light. You don’t go to bed one night believing in the reality of God and wake up next day not believing. It is a process. There is a beginning, a middle and an end.

I think the beginning it is about who you perhaps spend your time with, and who you don’t, or about what you spend your time doing and what you neglect to do. The world of work, the people that you meet every day in the work place, can erode away at your faith, ever so slowly. In the Song of Songs it mentions the little foxes that eat away at the vines. The times when I feel most fragile are times when I have started to listen to the cynicism around me, and poke holes in the things I know to be true! What stops me from progressing too far down that road is making sure that I have fellowship with people who will build me up and repair the damage done.

Other times when I feel fragile it has been down to being too busy and not spending enough time with God. I know that I can get so immersed in writing that all else gets put to one side. I don’t soak in God’s presence because I see a deadline looming over the horizon. I do my mathematics and don’t think I have enough time to do what I need to and have the quiet times with God.

I think that for Jonathan it must have been an added pressure to be a Christian hero to many. Why do we need to do that people – put them up on a pedestal like that? We all need to be heroes of the faith in what ever walk in life we find ourselves, so that people like Jonathan Edwards don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility.

I taught for a while in a private school in Cyprus. Some of the pupils were boarders, and I lived in the same building. The school was a Christian school and many of the boarders were not Christians. It would appear to be an ideal situation – a real Christian living among them. A living advertisement as it were before their eyes! It didn’t work out that way. I was immature in the faith, and not really sure of what I believed.

I can remember saying, “Don’t look at me. Read the New Testament and see how Jesus lived his life!”

How sad! It was so the opposite of what God wants to say, “Look at her! Then you will see me.”

We seem to be so busy pointing to someone else and saying “Follow him – he’s got it right.” That we don’t say, like Paul confidently said, “Imitate me, because I am imitating the Father.”

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Third in the Snowman's Rally

We have workmen coming on Tuesday to do something with the ceiling by the back door. For a long time we had a bath that leaked, and the water dribbled through to the hall downstairs. It is quite scary watching as the light bulb on the ceiling used to fill up with water.

Well when we finally got around to replacing the bath, someone suggested that we might be able to claim on the insurance to get the downstairs ceiling repaired. A survey revealed that there is asbestos lurking, so we have people coming in to dismantle the thing safely and build us a new ceiling. The insurance will also cover replacing the wallpaper.

All of this is just one huge introduction to something entirely unrelated to all of that! Having to clear out the back end of the hall of all the rubbish we have hoarded, we took a couple of boxes of stuff down to the recycling centre. Much of it may not be worth recycling, but it is someone else’s problem now.

On the way back home, we went by way of the Caledonian Thistle Football ground. I thought it would be a quiet road and an easy roundabout to negotiate on the way home. I was wrong. The car park was full, and at first Joe thought maybe Calley were playing at home, but that was not the case. The car park was full of lorries and racing cars. It was the starting point for the Snowman’s Rally. The route takes in the road to Loch Ness and surrounding forest trails and things.

We have very fond memories of the Snowman’s Rally – Joe likes to think that we came third one year! We must have been married at the time and it being near to the Valentine weekend, we had booked a hotel on the edge of Loch Ness. I think we hired a car. On the way out towards Loch Ness, we noticed that at every lay-by along the road there were hulking great lorries with men rolling tyres down ramps. It was all very curious.

Suddenly from behind us there was a whooshing sound and a race car shot past us at very high speed. I think we blinked, not quite able to believe it. This was closely followed by another whoosh as another race car sped by.

The local paper warns people long in advance about the race and the course. They don’t close the roads or anything, you just take your chances. We were on the middle of the Snowman’s Rally – currently third, according to Joe.

My first instinct was to get off the road quick, but all the lay-bys were taken over by the lorries. I drove to the next village, Drumnadrochit, and took a right, assuming I would be off the route and safe. Whoosh, another racing car sped by – the race route also took a right at the village and we were still in the race – currently fourth!

We finally managed to get off the road, when the route took a left into a forest track, but our troubles were not entirely over. Spectators had parked along the road – both sides of the road, and coming towards us was one of the big lorries. Remember, I was in a hire car at the time. I had hysterics! Somewhere in that moment I just lost it! I was all for abandoning the car and walking back to the village to find a bus stop. I hauled my nerves together, and I might have closed my eyes too, as our car and the big lorry passed within millimetres of each other.

So, yes, the Snowman’s Rally! I wanted something stronger than a cup of tea when we found a cafĂ© a mile or two down the road.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Kay Carver and Melanie Morrison

Last night as part of our Valentine celebrations, Joe and I went to the cinema to see “Music and Lyrics”. It was labeled as a romantic comedy and I thoroughly enjoyed it. For an hour or so after wards Joe and I were humming the song the two main characters had composed. It was very romantic and very sing-able and if they bring out a record, I will buy it! Hugh Grant has a very nice voice, although in an interview he put it all down to the sound equipment. Just as computer packages can airbrush models so they look slimmer, or have perfect skin tone, you can do the same with voices! I prefer to think that Hugh is just being his usual self-effacing self.

I enjoyed the movie because it struck a chord with me. You have probably never heard of a couple of song writers before – Kay Carver and Melanie Morrison. This goes way, way back in time.

Kay Grant was one of my best friends at school. She was visually impaired and used to wear plastic glasses with very thick lenses. I think that she was virtually blind in one eye, and not so far off blind in the other eye. She was very tall and gangly and not at all graceful. She was good at sports – she always won the cross country races. She was kind of person that just kept running.

The love of her life was music. She played the piano and taught herself to play the guitar. She really was a genius on the piano – after one lesson she composed a tune.

She discovered Jesus a short while after I did and she began writing songs. She would come up with a melody and then wait for a while for the lyrics to come together. It is a long time ago so I don’t remember any of the songs, but they were her heart to Jesus.

The Christians that I hung around with then were guitar players and singers, so I have always had a soft spot for music, although I don’t play. I had guitar lessons, kay tried to teach me, but I never got beyond the pain. I didn’t like sore finger tips!

I can remember one time Kay playing a melody and saying she didn’t have any words yet. I asked if I could write the lyrics. I am not even sure if I asked. My interest in writing was just in the bulb beneath the ground stage, no shoots as yet, but I thought I could string a few words together, and she was too nice to tell me to back off and let her do it. The words that I came up with, yet again it is too long ago to remember them, they were nice words. They were beautiful words and the song sounded great – but they were not “heart” words. They were “head” words, strung together because they fitted well, but they lacked soul. Looking back I cringe at my audacity. I am sure that if Kay had been allowed to do her waiting thing, the lyrics she would have settled on would have been so much better.

As it was, years later, she got married to a man called David Carver (hence Kay Carver). When we met up we tried to remember the song lyrics, but because there was no heart and soul to it, the words had been forgotten. She could still remember every word of the songs she had written!

Where does Melanie Morrison fit into all of this? I had been away living in Cyprus for five years, returned home to live with my parents for a while and started attending their church. I was single at the time, and there was a wonderful man who I thought I was in love with and thought I might marry – Michael Morrison. It never happened but Kay Carver and Melanie Morrison had such a good ring about it! I imagined the two of us, Kay and myself, getting back together to revive our songwriting partnership. It didn’t happen.

I watched the film and I remembered those days. I am so different now. Today my lyrics would have heart and soul, but I wouldn’t but in and invade someone else’s melody the way I did then.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love to..

I felt that Valentine's Day could not go unremarked! I wrote this peom a couple of years ago. I am just reminded of how often I used to write poems to my husband, Joe. There are recipe books at home, and cards kept from previous anniversaries and celebration days with Mel's poems scrawled on the inside cover - a pastime worth reviving!

Love to hold you
Love to touch you
Gently, softly
Love to love you

Love to feel you
Warm beside me
Every contour
Love to love you

Love to hear you
Sharing whispers
Wholly tender
Love to love you

Love to taste you
Lips caressing
Lightly stirring
Love to love you

Love to watch you
Still and sleeping
Quietly dreaming
Love to love you

To be near you
To be with you
Ever always
Love to love you

Friday, February 02, 2007

My road

There are times when I really feel like the church in the book of Revelation that is accused of being luke-warm. I don’t particularly feel far from God, I just don’t feel so on the ball and I don’t beat myself up about it either! So when one of the churches in Inverness was hosting a “soaking school” I signed up for the meeting tonight and for the day tomorrow.

I spent quite a bit of time in preparation for the evening. I admit to being a tad worried at times that everyone else will get touched by God and I will be left stone cold! I sent some time praying about that. The big issue though for me is about feeling manipulated. I have been to many meetings where it is not necessarily the Spirit that is doing the stirring. Because of that I kind of go into these things with my guard up and keep a distance from what is happening. I am vaguely cynical at times, but repented and asked God to increase my expectation.

However, God gave me two words. The first was “Step forward” – be prepared to embrace what is said. Along with that was this idea of being unrestrained – not putting up barriers and allowing God access in whatever way He wanted to move.

The second word, which could sound like an opposite was “Step back”. This is a curious one. Because I am so wanting to join in and feel something, I often try too hard to make it happen. God was saying “Step back” – not to wind myself up, make myself feel something, when in reality there was nothing of substance happening. God said, He wanted to do it all, without my help. He would do the touching, if there was to be any.

It came right out of the blue. The speaker was talking about forgiveness. I recognized that it is something that I don’t do enough of. Her list of people that she hadn’t forgiven was thirteen or fourteen – mine was a lot longer. I have whole classes that hurt me and I carry the hurt like a badge. She talked about forgiveness bringing release and freedom – that you are no longer tied to the person by your anger.

Then she went on to talk about forgiving God. I had never thought about forgiving God – that I would ever need to forgive God. Bad things happen and, yes, God could have prevented them from happening but chose not to, and, yes, I suppose you do get angry with God – but I always thought that you focused on the fact that all things work out for good, so you just get on with it. The whole idea that you could hold a grudge against God surprised me. God is good, he has paid the price for my sins, adopted me in his family – so many really wonderful things that the things that don’t turn out so good, are nothing in comparison.

And yet, sometimes all you have really done is suppressed it. Even if you talk it through and feel better, it is not necessarily dealt with.

After she had finished talking, she asked for people to come forward if they felt they needed to forgive anyone. My millions of third year pupils that give me grief came to mind and knowing I was to “Step forward”, I went to the front.

Once I was there the word 6to “Step back” came and I decided to allow God His space and not try to direct His gaze. I soon discovered that the real issue was not the millions of third years giving me grief. My issue was with God.

When I married Joe, I thought I had stepped onto a path of motherhood. It was part of the plan – children. And a break from teaching while I reared them. The path I found myself on was barrenness, infertility treatment, miscarriages and no children at all. I never had the break from teaching. There are so many things – not reading to them at night, no tucking them in, no homework to supervise, no parents evening, no being the mother of the bride at the weddings, not grandchildren. People that have children just have no idea of the hundreds of ways that childless couples miss out. I know they miss out on the wet beds and the nit combs – but there is so much I don’t get to do.

Suddenly what I have never allowed myself to really say was that it was God’s fault. I was robbed of my motherhood!

I am three years into the menopause, so my biological clock has just about stopped ticking.

When one of the helpers came to minister to me, we stood for a while holding hands, and then embraced. Maybe God didn’t say anything to the woman, but to me He said “Mourn the loss of your motherhood.” That is kind of a depressing thing – not the uplifting thing I was looking for! I cried. It wasn’t unrestrained weeping and wailing – just heart wrenching sobs.

God talked to me about putting me on my path and not to yearn to be on someone else’s. I was almost wasting time wishing that I was somewhere else in life and not being the “me” that I could be. Motherhood was not my road, my road was better! My road was just as full of challenges, just as full of joy, just as fulfilling. My road was a good road and it wasn’t a single track with passing places and potholes!

A verse came to mind about weeping enduring for a night but joy coming in the morning. “Why wait till morning?” said the Spirit. I don’t know whether I can say that I feel joyful right now – I feel contentment. I feel the right path beneath my feet and an explorer’s anticipation.