Monday, February 20, 2017

Hand on the Plough - Eyes Looking Backward

“Listen, if your hand is on the plough but your eyes are looking backward, then you’re not fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:63)

I have had very few up close encounters with ploughed fields. I remember a cross country run. It was a real cross country run with fields and hedges and everything. The school I attended was a rural village school with all but a village’s worth of pupils being bussed in every morning. We had something like seventy minutes to complete the route but how many miles I have no idea. A ploughed field was part of the route. We didn’t run across it by any means but the plough had gone right up to the edge. It sticks out in my memory because somewhere in that field my trainer fell off. They were called plimsolls in those days. The plimsoll turned upside down and with the mud on the sole the same colour as the rest of the field I couldn’t find it. I limped the rest of the way home coming in a long way last. I limped alone.

The word yesterday in church was very challenging. It was about the excuses we come up with not to do the things God us given us to do. It was about putting things off to a more convenient time.  For me, tomorrow is the day when I will be busy doing things for God and “when I retire”. We have no sense of urgency and think there will always be another day.  We don’t live as if this day, today, might be our last day.

We think we are too busy. If we are too busy to do the things God asks us to do then, yes, we are too busy. We need to start shaving off a few things from the to-do list. There is always something that we allow to get in the way. The things we really want to do we make the time to do – it’s just that some of those things are not the things that God wants us to really do.

My top excuse is that there is probably someone out there who could do the job better. I expressed such a view to God once. His answer was, “Yes, there are a hundred people that could do the job better.” Before I moved on to suggesting He talk to one of those hundreds, God continued, “Yes, they could do the job better BUT they won’t do it the way you would do it and that’s the way I want it done.”

My second top excuse is “if I do this…I’m going to have to keep doing this…my life is going to change and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.” I love my comfort zone. It’s not that comfortable really but I fool myself. The boat in the storm wasn’t that comfortable, but the disciples fooled themselves that it was safer than the sea, where Jesus was.  I should know that it’s not really about me at all and what I can or can’t do, and how many times I have to do it or not.  It’s about what God can do through me.

My third top excuse is “If I do this and it all goes horribly wrong – then what?” The fear of failure is deeply ingrained. Better, it seems, not to have tried at all than to have tried and failed. We can swap stories about how many lightbulbs it took before Thomas Edison got it right – but such stories don’t always mean that we will chance it.  But if there are mistakes – they’re to be learned from and the mistake is never that big that God didn’t see it coming and He doesn’t have a plan to deal with it.

We rob ourselves when we find something other than the God-things to do. It is in the doing that the learning and the growing happens – not in the talking-about or the making-notes about. What did Peter learn about Jesus when he stepped out of the boat? What did he learn that the other disciples didn’t learn? What do we miss out on learning when we cling, white-knuckled, to the side of the boat instead of answering the call to walk on water? We squander the opportunity to learn a truth we never knew before – that truth we could have learned that would have set us up for the next challenge.

Together in the storm

Will you follow me
And walk on water?
Will you leave the security of the boat
Cast aside your comfort
And join me in the storm?
Will you believe
As you commit yourself
To the first step,
That I have called you
To walk beside me,
That the wind and the waves
Won’t swallow you?
Will you keep your eyes
Fixed on my face alone,
Not allowing your gaze to wander
And leave the boat behind?
For I will hold you
Firm as a rock
On the shifting waves
And I will steady you
Strong and confident
In the whistling winds
I have made the impossible possible
And as You and I
Walk together in the storm
You will demonstrate my glory
And the invisible God
Will be made visible in you
Walk on water
With me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Pastel Shaded Words

I admit that I am not an artist.

I took “O” level art to be with a best friend but the Van Gough in me refused to surface. At the end of the year our best pieces took up residence on the walls of the art corridor. My friend’s art work was gazed at in awe. People reached out hands to grab an apple from the bowl of fruit.  They gazed into the eyes of a portrait and thought they could see the person’s soul.

My part of the wall? Averted eyes and low mumbles – yes, they really could have done better, blind-folded with both arms tied behind their backs and wielding the paintbrush between their toes. I make no bones about my apparent lack of talent.

And yet…

Yesterday the Poetry in Motion folk were at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Katy Dove’s art was on display – animations, paintings, drawings, prints and music.  Her art is modern.

What makes her art art? My coloured blobs and lines back then wouldn’t have been out of place next to hers. My art was scorned and hers are shown in an exhibition! Why is that? What makes her an artist? And me…not an artist?

I can understand the animation thing and the music thing – I can’t do those things. The blobs and the lines – that’s my style. I’m not jealous of her notoriety.  I am just genuinely curious about what makes one picture art and another not art.

Katy studied psychology. Part of her art work was about how colour and shape affect the conscious mind. Dulux worked that one out – rooms painted blue make us shiver.  One room I once inhabited was painted yellow.  I dare you not to smile in a yellow room. Mood and colour, mood and music – I can see where the psychology comes in. Her inspiration for music came from nature and natural sound – a bicycle wheel turning, a bird chirping and the water-tumble of a brook.

The task was to write something inspired by the exhibits.

The first half dozen pictures contained the words “Yes”, “Look”, “Listen” and “Welcome”. The letters fell down the page accompanied by swirls of colour.  The shades were mostly pastel colours.  Some of the brushstrokes were very light, some of the a little heavier. None of the shapes seemed to have a definite shape or form. Sometimes it seemed as if water had been dropped onto some colours and the shapes blurred at the edges. I don’t think there was ever an “I don’t like that” moment for me, but neither was there a “Gosh, that’s incredible!” moment either. It was all too pastel coloured.

The phrase “pastel shaded words” came to mind and a poem was born.

Pastel Shaded Words

we speak to one another
with pastel shaded words
light and insubstantial
that tumble and drift
whispered, then blown away
we grant each other permission
to cut and colour
bold, intense, anaemic, pale
to fashion and shape
what’s agreeable to the ears
absolutes watered down and smudged
not dark enough to offend
not crisp enough to compel
and so one day we
wake to silence

After a little time spent writing, we shared our poems. Even in their first draft form the poems were amazing. My response each time was “I wish I’d written that.”

To step out of the busyness of life, to find space to look, to gaze, to dream a little – we need that. And to respond, to acknowledge that we were there and we saw – that’s what poetry is all about.

Friday, February 10, 2017

May I Introduce You to a Friend?

Last night I witnessed someone being born into the Kingdom of God. I presumed that since he was at a church prayer meeting he knew God.  He admitted that he knew about God, facts and information, but he didn’t know God himself.

I was like that once – knowing a lot about God.  I had worked my way through Sunday School, First Confession, First Communion and all the rituals of church attendance.  For the most part the facts and the information that I gleaned about God were wrong.

Let me be very clear – God doesn’t possess a black book.  He doesn’t observe your life and make notes on everything you do.  There are not two columns of good stuff and bad stuff.  He doesn’t possess a big stick that leans against the throne ready to be snatched up at a moment’s notice to beat you about the head with. That’s not God.  That’s what the enemy tells you about God and what most people believe.

I was born into the Kingdom a long time ago. I wasn’t born in a prayer meeting but possibly the following day because of what I had heard in a prayer meeting. It was not so much the words as the approach of a group of young people into the throne room of God that affected me. They didn’t keep God at arm’s length or seem aware of the black book I thought was there. They came as children excited to be with their Father. There wasn’t a different vocabulary or a different “holy” voice. It was as if they had crawled up onto his lap and were filling Him in with the details of their days.

This was the God I had been looking for.

Two of my friends were guitar-wielding, harmony-singing, fresh-scrubbed, make-up-absent, beaming-for-Jesus teenagers. I suppose it was a friendship-once-removed – they were friends of a friend. They were there when I was born into the Kingdom. They had been singing a song for a long as I had known them (about a week). I was born into the kingdom to a backing track. The lyrics and snatches of the melody have stayed with me over the years.

May I Introduce You to a Friend?
By Jamie Owens-Collins

May I introduce you to a friend?
He’s been waiting patiently to meet you
A friend on whom you can depend
His love will comfort and complete you

How long have you been searching
Groping aimlessly for something
To fill the emptiness inside
Someone in whom you can confide
Well, he’s here, waiting for you
He’s waiting

When you’re troubled filled with fear
Simply reach out and he’ll guide you
When all others disappear
Oh he will still be there beside you

How long have you been searching
Groping aimlessly for something
To fill the emptiness inside
Someone in whom you can confide
Well, he’s right here, he’s waiting for you
He’s waiting … Meet Jesus

Can I tell you – it’s true? Jesus really is waiting and He is everything the song says He is.

Thursday, February 02, 2017


Here's something to make us think. Thanks to my sister, Sharon, for her guest post:-

It’s always nice to hear from people who have used the services at Horses for Causes. One autistic boy came for therapeutic riding. Niall (not his real name) was not very confident.  As with most people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, he came with a long catalogue of problems, issues and difficulties. The team at Horses for Causes became firm friends with Niall’s parents and siblings.  We’ve always kept in touch.

Recently Niall returned not for therapeutic riding but for another equine assisted activity.  This time he was working from the ground. His mum told me that Niall had become upset over an incident at school. He had become quiet and withdrawn because he could not understand or process what had happened.

Two of his best friends at school had been fighting.  They lied to a dinner lady to get out of trouble. One of the boys later confessed to his dad that he had lied. The father told him not to worry and that it was ok.  Niall’s world is black and white. Social stories don’t cut it. There’s no acceptance of “sometimes people lie”. His mum tried to explain this to her son but Niall became upset. He didn’t know if he could trust his friends. Perhaps they would lie to him too. Perhaps as they got older they would get into serious trouble. A parent shouldn’t say it’s ok to lie.

I spoke to a co facilitator and discussed ways in which we could help Niall. It was a complex situation but, as ever, we managed to pull something out of the bag.

The incident had happened before Christmas 2016. We were now in the middle of January 2017. To go over the event was meaningless. Although I am not from a mental health training background I am aware of cognitive behavioural therapy. We decided to look at thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Why do events have such an impact on our feelings and why we react to them as we do?

In the session we laid a triangle of poles on the ground in a small exercise pen. Our equine aid was Dusty, a pony with lots of character. Our other visual aids were a handful of facial icons, similar to those smileys on i-phones. We printed off colourful smiles, sad faces and angry expressions on A4 paper and laminated them.

We asked Niall if he could recall a happy memory and asked him to choose some faces that reflected how he felt at that particular time.  He placed the faces on the sides of the triangle. Each side of the triangle represented thoughts, feelings and behaviour. All went well.  Then we asked about a sad moment. Niall found it difficult to explain.  He wanted mum to talk for him. I suggested to my co facilitator and Niall’s mum that we all come up with a sad or not so happy scenario. In turn we spoke to Niall and each other, sharing our “sad” stories.  We talked about our feelings - how it made us feel and what we did with that feeling. We were careful about our “sad” stuff choices. We avoided some issues like bereavement. After each person had spoken, Niall hugged the person perhaps assuming it would make things better.

While all this was happening we noticed Dusty was trying to eat a holly bush. Niall decided that it wasn’t very nice and Dusty should not eat.  He went over, tapped him on his side and told him not to eat it. Surprisingly, Dusty stopped eating and followed Niall away from the holly bush. In any equine assisted learning session we are always looking at what the horse does and we think about how it relates to our own observations. Dusty looked at the triangle. The smile icon caught his attention. He walked around the triangle, then walked through it and trampled over some of the laminated sheets. Niall laughed and we joined in.

“Dusty has just walked all over my thoughts and feelings,” said Niall.

Dusty returned to the holly bush and I had a light bulb moment!!!!

You know, we can guide our friends away from trouble but what they choose to do is entirely up to up to them. As much as we would like to we cannot stop them doing harmful things. It was a simple message and you didn’t have to be a young boy with autism to understand it.

“He’s a bit like my friend.”

Thank you, Dusty.