Saturday, March 31, 2007

Just hand me a black bin liner

I can’t remember the last time I wore a full length coat. To be honest, full length coats probably means an inch or two off the floor for someone my height, but I just couldn’t resist the bargain – reduced from £100 to £30 in the sale. Having just dropped a dress size on the diet, I dared to try it on. Dark grey wool with a light grey scarf, it fitted to perfection. I fell in love with it, and despite being on the cusp of spring, and this being a very winter coat, I bought it! I’m sorted for next year!

There are some people in the world that can wear bin bags and look terrific. I am not one of those people. I can wear something that looks terrific on the coat hanger, but on me – well, I might as well be wearing a bin bag! I just don’t have that thing called style!

I remember many years ago asking a friend of mine who worked in “Dash” or “Miss Selfridges” to come shopping with me. I can’t remember where I had got the money from, but it was, for me at least, a huge amount. I needed new clothes and I didn’t possess dress sense. She expertly glided around the displays, filling up my arms with things that I would never have contemplated – the colours, the styles were alien to me, but she knew her stuff and made me look good. I even bought a colourful floral hat! However, I spotted a brown skirt and fell in love with it. I insisted on trying it on. I liked it, and although she argued vehemently that it was not the right style for my height, or my figure, I bought it. She was so disgusted that I did not listen to her advice that she refused to go shopping with me ever again.

Incidentally, I was looking for a blue jacket – when I bought the black coat. I needed the blue jacket to complete a wedding outfit. Despite being two stone lighter than I was at my niece’s wedding last summer, I found that the outfit still fitted. It was a little loose – but not “two stone lighter” loose surely? I hate to think how tight it must have been on me last year! I don’t think I will get another wedding wear out of it if the weight keeps shifting – but that is kind of encouraging, isn’t it?

Becoming Jane

I am not really a social body, but I am trying to nurture a circle of friends beyond the holy huddle, so when the ladies at Joe's office invited me to join them at the cinema to see "Becoming Jane" I took them up on the offer. Going to see a film is not exactly something that encourages great conversation and relationship building – what else is there to say but, “No thanks,” when the bag of liquorice allsorts passes by for the umpteenth time?

Although I have read “Pride and Prejudice” and drooled at a dripping Colin Firth rising from the lake at Pemberly in the BBC adaptation, I don’t really know that much about Jane Austin.

Having seen the film, and assuming that it is based on fact, she has joined my heroines list. Agent Scully from the X-Files has long been number one in the list – for always being the first to go into scary dark places! She doesn’t do the shivering wreck thing that many women do. Judi Dench is also in the list somewhere. I remember watching a programme about her life and deciding that she was living the life that I wanted! Jo Brand hit the list earlier on by learning to play the organ and playing some complicated piece in the Albert Hall in front of thousands of people. Marg Simpson is also on the list because she loves Homer and I would find him very hard to love – although at times he reminds me of Joe!

At the time when Jane lived women were very much encouraged to marry – and marry well if they could - and have children. She had the chance to marry well but turned it down because she was looking for love. When she found love, although she had a chance to elope with the young man, she chose not to – not because she minded losing her reputation, but because she didn’t want him to lose his. As one of the characters said to her at the end of the film, “It appears that you won’t marry for money…and you won’t marry for love either.”

I found it challenging that didn’t choose the safe option. She never married at all in the end although she was in a position to do so. She was not prepared to take the second best option. She was not prepared to compromise to make life easier for herself. She did not live her life to fit in with other people’s expectations. Even choosing to become a writer and get her books published was not the done thing, but she did it. I admire her courage and commitment to principles that she wasn’t prepared to brush aside when they became inconvenient.

Where is the balance between pursuing you own plans so doggedly and fulfilling family obligations and duties? Her independence came at a price and it wasn’t just Jane who was paying but her family too.

There are things that I know I would like to do, but I often feel the pressure of responsibilities. The tutor at the creative writing course shared with us that she was retiring from her teaching post so that she could pursue her writing full time. She had written a novel that had never been printed, had begun a second novel and wanted to see it come to something. She could afford to do that and there was always supply teaching to fall back on.

I guess that Jane considered the price of things she really wanted. Some things, like marrying the lawyer, came at too high a price and would have brought more suffering than joy. Other things – the suffering would have come through not doing it and she was willing to pay the price.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

God's carefully planned days

There as a whole verse in one of the worship songs on Sunday that described my Saturday to a tee - “Lord, You have searched me and Know me, You’re familiar with all of my ways, Such is Your knowledge about me, that You carefully plan all my days.”

When God plans the day, He adds in interesting little challenges! The first challenge was a flat battery! I had left the lights on overnight. There was a time when my neighbours would knock on the door and tell me! I phoned a friend who kindly came out to jump start my car. It was kind of an emergency as I had booked myself on a creative writing course and offered people a lift down. I was already running ten minutes late!

Once I had picked up my passengers the car stalled. I put my head down on the steering wheel and prayed that it would start up fine. I suppose in the course of everyday life many people say “Dear Lord” or “Oh God please…” and they are not actually praying but just expressing frustration that things are not going to plan. Mine was a genuine prayer and led to an interesting conversation on the way down. There were lots of questions about my faith – about whether I believed God could do anything, whether I ever felt abandoned by God, whether I was really sure that God loved me and if I believed he did – why did bad things happen?

It was an unexpected conversation and there were plenty of opportunities to testify to God’s faithfulness and share scripture.

It also led to one of the ladies asking me to pray for her. She was going through a difficult time, having just broken up with her boyfriend. She was feeling emotionally fragile, but she had also hurt her arm. We found a quiet corner of the room and prayed together!

I had my own plans for the day – to spend the day writing! God had his own plans and neatly wove them into the day! It was not a church setting, and not on a Sunday, but just as every day life was being lived. It was a natural, unforced and fruitful encounter with God.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Natural evironments

I caught the last half hour of “The March of the Penguins” on TV last night. Had they let Johnny Morrison loose on the narrative, one could have imagined the penguins saying all sorts of interesting things – about the cold weather, the eggs the male penguins had balanced on their feet, the absence of the females who had gone on a sixty mile hike to find water and food and so on. As it was Morgan Freeman did an excellent job!

There was so much that spoke volumes to me on many levels. Watching the march of the female penguins on their hike to reach the shore you couldn’t help but notice how cumbersome and slow the whole thing was. They are not built for walking. Often they fell onto the bellies and slid along for a while, but it was once they were in water that they really looked at home. They were eager to get into the water, and there were no orderly queues. Once in the water they were more like fish than birds. Did you know they can hold their breath for fifteen minutes? They were darting here, there and everywhere snapping up fish and skilfully evading the seals that wanted to eat them. Outside the water they were lumbering and clumsy. In the water they were mermaids. The difference of environments was amazing!

Come Saturday, that’s tomorrow, I get to be in my natural environment for the day! I have signed up for a creative writing day course in Aviemore. Some people may prefer to have all their finger and toe nails ripped out before they would ever put pen to paper and be creative, but not me!

I have always been of a writing bent – the written word just does it for me in a way that any other media doesn’t. Writing, as opposed to reading, is so my natural environment. A number of years ago I was exploring the world of college evening classes. The head bit of me said that I ought to sign up to do a counselling training course. It would have been so useful as at the time I was thinking about trying to get into the guidance role in teaching. It would also have been useful in terms of Christian counselling. I stood there, at the desk, with my money in my hand, ready to sign away the next twelve Thursday evenings. My eyes saw the words “Creative Writing”. Instead of following the head, I followed the heart. I was like that penguin who dived into the water! Home! I have rarely felt so comfortable in any other environment as I do with a pen and piece of paper, or a computer and a word processing package – and a topic of course!

Penguins spend very little of their time in the water. They delight in being in the water, but they are not there all the time. Nature demands that the reproducing and the rearing of the young happens outside, on dry land. It looks very inhospitable – with driving snow, dark days, biting wind and gnawing hunger. But when they are in the water, it is like all of that is cast aside. The chains of responsible parenthood fall off, although they are eating so that they can feed their young when they get back.

Some people live their whole lives never finding their natural environment. We were all created to live in fellowship with God, but if you look at statistics, very few people find that fellowship. Things happen, the devil happens with his lies, that force people to live somewhere that is hostile and inhospitable, where God never intended them to be.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Sense of Wonder

This is just a snatch from my dream last night – not the whole thing. I am not sure that I remember much of the whole thing but this one scene caught my interest.

It was one of those rare dreams in the third person. It was like watching a movie rather than being personally involved – although if you are anything like me, you do get involved in movies!

The scene was a furniture shop. Around the walls there were cupboards – the kind that you would build into the walls of the home. One of them was made to look like something you would find in a Victorian home, perhaps in a sewing room. There were lots of drawers of various sizes. In some of the drawers, for display purposes, there were rolls of material for making dresses, and there were smaller drawers with ribbons in, and buttons of various kinds. One drawer contained a pair of scissors on a pile of lace.

The shop assistant called over a young girl and showed her the drawer with the scissors in it and told her it was a magic drawer. Things put in this drawer would sometimes disappear. To demonstrate what he meant, he opened the drawer to show the girl the scissors, and then shut it. Maybe he tapped lightly on the drawer, or blew on it like magicians do. When he opened the drawer, the lace was still there but the scissors had gone. The little girl looked really wide eyed.

The main character in my dream was a very pushy woman. She marched over to the cupboard and told the assistant not to be so silly. It wasn’t a magic drawer and there was a very simple explanation. She opened the drawer to reveal the scissors, and then pushed her finger down the side of the drawer. There was a small hook, or button, and a small eye on the side of the drawer. She hooked the eye on the button, closed the drawer, and when she opened the drawer, the scissors had disappeared. It wasn’t magic, just a clever devise to hide the drawer.

Suddenly, the woman’s face changed and she burst into tears. She was distraught – not about finding that the drawer worked by a clever devise, but on realising how determined she had been to find the devise. She had dismissed outright the idea that it could be magic and sought straight away to find the “truth”. She realised that she had lost her sense of wonder. Everything, it seemed, could and should be explained away.

I woke up with tears on my face! How sad that there are some people – not even grown ups – that need to have everything explained. There is no sense of the miraculous. What they can’t see doesn’t exist. I sometimes wonder if my own sense of wonder is being eroded away by the science and reason of the world I inhabit. Then I spend time in worship before God, and it is restored!

Many years ago, when I was attending a creative writing course at college, one of the assignments was to re-write the lyrics to “Raindrops on Roses”….”My Favourite Things” from “The Sound of Music” I thought I would do the opposite – and write about the things that I really didn’t ‘like. Here is one of the verses that came to mind this morning.

Science unlocking the secrets around me
Mysteries solved nothing left to astound me
Looking at stars and not being impressed
These are some things that I really detest.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


My ultimate creative miracle
So unlike what has gone before
All else was just the frame

Is not spoken into being
Commanded to be
By a single potent word

Is no huge expanse
No firmament above the waters
No separation of water and sky

Is not a mountain or a valley
Robed in swaying grasses
Clothed in forests of mighty oaks

Is no flaming sun
Glorious in heat and radiance
Or cold and remote like the moon

Is no eagle soaring on high
No sparrow skipping on a sun speckled branch
And nothing that twists and turns in the dark waters

Is not a beast
Lumbering and clambering
Empty of soul

I have held in my hand
Clay from the ground
Fashioned and crafted

I have breathed upon
Touched by my Spirit
Ignited and stirred to life

Vessel of My image
In his being
I see Myself

Fragile bone and flesh
Small in the immensity of the universe
Endowed with significance

Free to choose
To love or reject
To draw near or to walk away

Is man

I love

Thursday, March 08, 2007

If only I was Dorcas

The FW topic last week was "sewing". This was my entry and it came second in the Editor's Choice. That means that it will be published in one of their anthologies! I am somewhat delighted and over the moon!

If only I was Dorcas

Let’s suppose I died today.

It wasn’t a long drawn out affair of gasping breaths and whispered words. It wasn’t so swift and surprising like a car accident, that I had no time to prepare. I just became ill and didn’t get better. At the end it was like turning off the lights and gently closing the door to this life and falling to sleep. It was a good death.

Let’s suppose that I am tucked in my coffin.

One would hope that I am wearing my best blue dress. It brings out the blue flecks in my eyes, not that you can tell. I was never one for wearing much make-up so I hope that it is a natural look, not too heavy on the lip stick. I had hoped to touch up the roots on my hair, but never mind.

I hope that the conversation isn’t too solemn and hushed. I don’t mind a few jokes or some carefully chosen cheerful anecdotes of the things I had done. By all means, wear black if you feel you have to, but try to smile even just a little. I have gone to a better place remember!

Let’s suppose that in the next town, not too many miles away, is a church leader.

He had been given the keys to the kingdom. The Spirit of God rests upon him powerfully. He reaches down to the lame, pulls them to their feet and dances with them into the church. When he is arrested for preaching the gospel, an angel is dispatched to unlock the doors and sent him on his way. Some say that this man, this church leader, has even walked on water.

Do you send for the man?

If my name was Dorcas, you would have gone to the nearby town to urge him to come at once. She was a disciple who was always doing good and helping the poor.

If I was Dorcas, you would have taken him up to the room where I lay and shown him the clothes that I had made. There might have been a wonderful wedding dress that I had carefully sewn together. As I worked in the light of a candle, I would have been praying for the bride-to-be. I would have prayed for a fruitful married life, for fulfilment and harmony, for children and for laughter. Perhaps you show him a simple strong shirt of a working man. It’s nothing dainty or fragile, but fit for the fields and fighting against thistles. As I sewed the seams I would pray that he would be strong to fight the thorns of injustice in the village where he lived.

When you sent for the man, did you expect a noble tribute spoken at my graveside? Did you entertain the possibility of his turning you out of the room, taking me by the hand and commanding me to awaken?

You see, the community could not function without Dorcas. She had an essential contribution to make that they just couldn’t do without her. There was no understudy waiting in the wings to say her lines, no one to pick up the mantle she dropped. She was irreplaceable so God restored her to her church.

I am not Dorcas. I am not dead yet, but if I was, and if there was such a man in the nearby town, would you call him? Is there anything you could show him about what I have done that was good and helped the poor? There are no wedding dresses, no simple strong shirts that I have made and given away. What can you show him, what evidence can you provide that I have an essential contribution to make? Can you persuade him that I am irreplaceable?

I cannot be Dorcas. I can only be me. Is it enough?

Inspired by Acts 9:36-42

"And He made the stars"

Last night, in an attempt to generate a WW point, I walked into town last night. On a Wednesday evening I help out as an English language speaking class. It is nice to be a just helper encouraging the students to say the words and phrases correctly.

The numbers of the class fluctuate quite a bit from week t week. Many of the men who attend are from Poland. They are also football supporters. I don’t think Poland has a team in the Champion’s League Cup, but Celtic has a Polish goal keeper. There were a number of big games on last night. Sometimes there are more helpers than there are students, and sometimes I can excuse myself.

Walking home last night, the stars were just magnificent. Living fairly near to the edge of the town, the light pollution is not so bad.

Part of my route home takes me through a playing field. In the summer months, in the evening lots of the young players’ leagues uses the pitches. There are always dog walkers. It backs on to the row of houses where I live.

Last night I had an overwhelming urge to lie on the grass and just look up at the stars. I had my MP3 player plugged in and was listening to worship music. It just seemed appropriate to look up at the stars and remind myself that I serve an awesome God.

I found a spot far enough away from the path, and just patted the grass. It was wet!

Suddenly there were a million reasons why it was not a good idea to lie down!

The grass was wet.

With all the dog walkers and the darkness, there was a good chance I would settle down on a pile of doggy do. Just because there are notices reminding dog owners to make use of pooper scoopers – it doesn’t mean to say that they do.

And not to forget the dogs. I can imagine me, lying on my back looking at the stars and then being pounced upon by a large furry object. I could then have taken the opportunity to witness to the dog owner, I suppose, about God making the stars and stuff.

In the end, I contented myself with staring up at the stars and then going home for a cup of tea.

Spontaneity is not what it used to be! I wish I didn’t talk myself out of doing things that would probably encourage my faith!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

In it together

I almost thought I had come to the wrong meeting last night! A lot of what our Weight Watchers leader said could almost apply to a vibrant and growing church!

Every week, we get given an inspirational article and this week it was “Perfect weight loss partners”. It was looking at the support we need that will help our weight loss the most. It is all about weight loss, but the principles apply to anything really.

“Many successful WW members find that losing weight is easier when they have the right people, information and encouragement around them.” It seems to me that if you apply this to developing your relationship with God, the same things apply. You need to have the right people, the right information and encouragement to grow as a Christian.

“Encouragement – someone to celebrate my small achievements.” The scales at WW measure half pounds too. Sometimes it is not even the weight loss that is celebrated – but a habit broken, or a good practice taken on board. Sometimes, in church, we wait for the big achievements before we testify about the goodness of God.

“Accountability – someone who’ll expect me to step on the scales each week.” I know from trying to loose weigh on my own that if I don’t feel like I have lost weight, I will just not step on the scales. Why bother having it confirmed that you have had a bad week and eaten far too much – much better to wait until you “feel” slimmer! Backsliding as a Christian does not happen over night – it is gradual and slow and relatively unnoticed. Being built into a body, someone notices and hopefully says something.

“Understanding – someone who knows what it takes to lose weight.” It is important to remember our roots and where we have come from. Our leader has a very unflattering picture of herself posted on the entrance board. She has lost masses of weight. Inevitably I look at the picture and I think that if she could do it, so can I. I know that she has been through what I am going through. In a church setting this has to be true. If we feel that no-one can relate to our situation, then we take the next step of believing that they cannot help us. Maybe we need to be prepared to paste the unflattering picture of ourselves for people to see!

“Motivation – someone to keep me inspired.” It says in scripture that we are to spur one another on to love and good works. I can remember preaching a long time ago from a few verses in Ecclesiastes – the bit about why two are better than one. There was a line about two keeping warm, while one person on their own gets cold. I saw this in terms of passion – on your own it is easy to let you passions cool down. Another person can remind you, and poke and prod you to pursue the passion.

“An exercise buddy – someone to exercise with.” Our walk with God is our own walk, we are accountable for our own spiritual temperature. But other people can have an input into that. I enjoy a bible study with a friend every week. We don’t just exercise our minds over what a verse means, but we allow the word we look at to throw light and convict us and challenge us. I could do a good job on my own – but my friend sees things I don’t see, and she sets me challenges that I would never reach for.

“Day to day support – someone who supports the small changes I make on a daily basis.” I have people, WW people, who I can phone if I wish. I haven’t phoned them as yet! I have been on weight loss programmes so often that I am an expert at knowing what I ought to do. I don’t have many questions. When it comes to my Christian life – I have experience, but I am not an expert. It is sad that our day to day support has become for many of us our week to week, Sunday to Sunday, support. We can phone people mid week, but we rarely do, so in the end we struggle. The equipping that God longs to give is in people – but we don’t ask, and we don’t offer, so we struggle. We may triumph in the end, but only after a prolonged battle that we need not have fought.

Well, I am certainly challenged to play a more effective part in building God’s living temple – His church. I am running through names in my head and thinking of how I can help and support people.