Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Preaching to my Soul

I eat tears for breakfast
And sorrow for lunch
Grief slow cooks my evening meal
The enemy adds lies to the pot
God seems silent
And the lights have gone out

I preach to the downcast soul in me
This soul tethered to the floor
Half rebuke, half encouragement
I declare
That God is my shelter
That I lean on Him

I will open my eyes wide
And seek Him out
I will go to His house
And I will serenade Him there
All of my dreams I have placed
In the basket of His hope

Life may look bleak today
Yet I know He saves
He is my life, my joy, my rapture

So I will keep singing

(Psalm 43 paraphrased)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Things I Did Not Say

I was trying to think how many times I have given my testimony to a group of people rather than just sharing my faith walk on a one to one basis. I definitely spoke at my baptism and I was invited once to talk to the Scripture Union in school. Yesterday I shared my testimony in church at our monthly feast day. What could be said in five minutes you can guarantee I will spin out to half an hour! You can also guarantee that what could be quite a boring story I can make a good tale out of. I added in a few poems to keep people entertained. That said there were so many things I didn’t say…

I have always believed in God. What I believe about God has changed over the years. As I talked about my experiences growing up in a Roman Catholic household and the way church I attended created the distance and the black book mentality, I looked across the room at little Mia Crossley. Did I envy her just a little bit? She is growing up with parents and an extended family of aunties, uncles and grandparents that have really vibrant relationships with God. She will never pick up the idea that there is a black book, that God doesn’t like children and that, yes, although she can never measure up to God’s standards, someone will tell her that Jesus is there to bridge the gap.

Eric Von Daniken might have been an interesting rabbit hole for a while but he never scuppered my belief in God. It is all too easy to avoid the Erics in life. As Christians we need to know not just what we believe, but also why we don’t believe the other stuff. If we don’t know the flaws in other philosophies and ways of believing, because we have never looked for them, we deprive ourselves of ammunition to fight the enemy.

I talked about coming to Jesus when I was eighteen at a house party in Wales. It was one of the hottest summers on record, still spoken about by weather people, 1976. We talk about making decisions to follow Jesus but I think it’s Jesus that does all the deciding to claim us as His. Something that important shouldn’t really be left to us. There was no hallelujah chorus, no sense of planets aligning, peace flooding in – I felt no different, but, you know what, it didn’t matter. I knew, without all of that, that something had happened. God is a God of His word – if I cry to Him, He responds. Maybe it was those memory verses from Sunday School spilling truth inside.

I wasn’t birthed into or nurtured by a church. I fell into the Plymouth Brethren, but they didn’t know what to do with an eighteen year old, new born, spiritual baby. They presumed a church history and experience that wasn’t there. It’s a long time ago now. Maybe they did things and I can’t remember. Not being mothered or fathered made me very independent and self-sufficient. I grew up solving my own problems and not needing people which was never God’s plan. And that has been one of my biggest struggles – to allow other people to come alongside and help. I don’t trust the knowledge that someone else might have, that I haven’t found out all by myself. I do rejoice when I hear testimonies about people spoken to, healing that happen and people coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus, but I go into worry mode. Wil they be like I was – new spiritual babies left without the planting in a church that needs to be there? Will they become self-sufficient and think they can go it alone?

When I was introduced to things like singing in the Spirit and the obviously supernatural side of faith, it wasn’t common stuff at the time – not in my church. The Toronto Blessing was a long way off. It was at the very edge of mainstream churches, perhaps it still is. People talk about the fear of God and swapping words around and calling it respect. What I felt that night at Spring Harvest, in that marquee with thousands of Spirit-singing people, was fear – scary fear. It was Isaiah chapter 6 encounter-with-God fear. It was trembling, pushed-down-to-my-knees fear. It was nothing diluted down to respect. There were other things that I was running away from at the time when I headed to Cyprus – but running from such a tangible experience of God was at the top of the list. I was also running to something. The school offered me an opportunity to teach in a primary school – which it never delivered!

Mum’s letter, or rather her church pastor’s letter following hot on its heels, was a life turner. The Brethren church in Limassol has been bitten badly by the charismatic movement and left with scars. They were deeply suspicious of any movement by the Spirit – which didn’t stop the Spirit moving, just made it that much harder. I was living on a battlefield of what the Spirit seemed to be saying and what was allowed. I was stamping on sparks, trying to toe the party line, but the fire of the Spirit wouldn’t let up.

When I finally left the church, and the job, seeing as I couldn’t have one without the other, it broke my heart. Leaving is not part of my DNA. I have purposely left two churches to date and neither decision to leave was an easy one. It was never down to personality clashes, arguments that I would not resolve or perhaps even doctrinal differences. There were no bitter divorces, just a recognition that our paths were going in different directions. There was a letting go on both sides with a blessing. There was never a gap between one church left and another one entered. I didn’t “church-hunt” and I didn’t take a break from church. I just happened on the next church family and joined in. 

There’s no truth whatsoever in the notion that you can be a Christian and not be planted in a church. God chooses not to make Himself enough in that situation. As much as there is a God shaped hole, there’s a people shaped one too. The body of Christ is so called for a purpose. Maybe the reason why I have not fallen by the spiritual wayside is because of the church families I have been a part of over the years. I don’t claim that they are easy people to live with. No one is easy to live with.

Do I really want to add to anything I said about infertility and barrenness? As a church we don’t do childlessness at all. We fling prayers at it, and prophecies and pictures of mothers and prams, and expectation, and accusations of a lack of faith, and a heavy sense of failure, and compassion, and helplessness, and embarrassment in the end – but very rarely acceptance and a good path forward. Yes, it still hurts but I have found my peace in it all. God is not some heavenly vending machine where we push His buttons and the right stuff comes to us. Sometimes the wrong stuff comes – the rain that falls on the righteous and the wicked alike. How can we come alongside a suffering world and speak to their afflictions if we have been shielded from it all? God wants real life in His people, not the Disney endings we think we are entitled to.

I don’t know how to thank God enough for leading me into the writing world. I confess that I don’t write enough and perhaps I only focus on the Disney endings when I do write. There is a writing journey that I have yet to take.

I love my walk with God. Maybe the road hasn’t always been to my liking. Sometimes the company stinks. Sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s a road I don’t want to leave, don’t want to be lured away from, because it heads to the one place I want to go – to the embrace of my Father.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Stranger

I forgot to be the stranger
And made the world my friend
I let it plant its seeds in me
Its ways within me wend

Another home I used to have
A somewhere-else to be
A longing buried deep inside
That used to call to me

Another path I used to walk
Secure beneath my feet
Another song was on my lips
A melody so sweet

Times past the world had nothing
That I would want to claim
Nothing that would slake my thirst
No zeal to stir my flame

Yet I have laid foundations here
I’ve built a solid home
Forgot that I’m a sojourner
That I was born to roam

My shelter should be just a tent
Not solid walls and floor
And You are all that I should need
Not trinkets, toys and more

Remind me I’m a vapour
A mist that’s breathed and spent
Only in Your presence can
I ever be content

Fix my ears to hear Your voice
My eyes to seek Your face
Cause my heart to beat like Yours
Eternal God of Grace

(Psalm 39:4-7)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Fat Soul

For a while, a long time ago, the pastor of my then church encouraged us all to learn verses off by heart. It seems to be something we do well with our children, but not something we do well with our grown-up members. I remembered the verses because I made up little tunes and sang them. One such verse was Psalm 27:8 in the New Living Translation:

“My heart has heard You say, “Come and talk with Me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Any verse learned by heart is useless if you don’t make use of it. When I woke this morning after an unpleasant dream my heart heard the invitation to “come and talk with Me”.

Yesterday I had read a newspaper article in the “I” about Teresa May. Someone had apparently interviewed her and asked not the usual political questions of Brexit and balancing the books but about how being childless affected her. The implication seemed to be that being childless hindered her ability to govern. I’m not a fan of Teresa May, not on the basis of whether she has children or not. I’m not a fan of austerity and the way it’s seen as the only solution to dealing with the deficit. I don’t like the injuries inflicted on the-already-struggling and the labels stuck on people.

The article went on to talk about the long history of the childless woman being an object of suspicion – there must be something wrong with a woman who does not have, or want to have, offspring, Too many old wounds were ripped open. I have to admit that sometimes it is the Christian faith that does the ripping open – as if the only relevant role for a woman in any sphere is child bearing, and anything else a woman chooses to do, or has thrust upon her by nature, is something much less that what she was created to do. The article went on to talk about it not so much the childless woman we are suspicious of, but the woman who wields power.

Words read sometimes have a habit of burying deep. For some that simply proves that not reading newspapers is a good thing. There’s so much bad news out there - why open the door and invite it in? I’m not in favour of silencing the voice I don’t agree with, but addressing it and speaking my truth to it.

The whole atmosphere of my dream was one of “being something less”. The house I lived in, particularly the kitchen, wasn’t tidy – I should have done something about it. I had a cow in a barn and a sheep in a sheep pen – they had no reason for being there. I had no children running about the place – it was just wrong not to have children. I had a husband who loved his life, his house the way it was, his cow and his sheep, who was entirely happy – but he didn’t fit the mould because he wasn’t a father, or a successful business man, and he didn't mow the lawn on a sunny afternoon. It was a dream that picked holes in us and the life we had chosen to live. I woke up unhappy.

I sat down with a cup of tea, an open Bible, a notebook and a pen – and a heavy heart. I wasn’t even sure if God could say anything to make it better. Then I read Psalm 36.

“Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:5-9)

The phrase God’s “river of delight” struck a chord. We all need the taste of something other than drudgery, and something other than battle-tainted water – we need to be truly refreshed. The commentary I was reading talked about feasting on the abundance of God’s house, and drinking from His river of delights as nurturing a “fat Soul”. We seem to live in a world characterised by leanness. Efficiency has replaced abundance. Fatness of soul stands out – big soul, big heart, plenty. I may live in a land of famine at times, but in God’s house there’s no ration book! I get a fat soul not by just one morning sitting with God and reading His word – but with a lifetime of coming into His presence, reading His word and making best use of what I learn.

I thought about how often we take little sips from God’s river of delight – enough to take the edge of our spiritual thirst, but never enough to make spiritual dehydration a thing of the past. I had a picture of God offering us the cup of His delights and gulping down the water, having it run not just down the throat, but down the chin too – dripping. What a lovely image. God is not just the sunshine on my face but He is the taste of refreshing water on my tongue.

 I wrote my own little poetic response to the dream, the talking to God, the listening to His word and the letting it soak into my soul.

I woke up this morning under a cloud.
Bad dreams and troubles my spirit had ploughed
Head down and hurting I called to the Lord
All that was in me before Him I poured
He spoke to me gently truth to my soul
Tending to bruises and making me whole
I place in His hands the wounds and the blows
He’s been there before me, my injury knows

Sunday, May 07, 2017

I confess...

“I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Psalm 32:5b

I read these words this morning. It put me in mind of a confession box in the Roman Catholic Church. I grew up in a Roman Catholic household although we weren’t strict about our faith. I progressed through all the rites of passage necessary – first confession and first communion. The communion bit was fine.  The confession bit less so. My confessions were very superficial and quite often fictional. I racked my brain to come up with things to confess, things that would satisfy the priest, but never really touched on the real stuff. The real stuff at the time featured doubts about God’s existence and, after having read Eric Von Daniken’s book, “Chariot of the Gods”, my growing obsession that God was really an alien visitor to the planet. There were other things – impure thoughts about Gary Hyman, the gorgeous boy in my class, and what I would really like to do to the bullies that made my life hell. I kept those things under wraps. They were too beautiful, too painful, too unformed or too ugly to share.
Doing the washing up this morning God asked, “What would you confess to right now if you were in that confessional box? What would you say? Would you parade the superficial stuff or the fictional stuff today? Or would you confess the truth?”

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” Psalm 32:3-4

Keeping silent is never a good thing.  Things ignored don’t often go away the way we would like them to. Maybe just the speaking things out to another human being is enough to defuse the bomb that builds up inside.

I have to confess to being angry.  

Yesterday afternoon – this is stupid, I know, but it touched a raw spot. We’ve had some wonderfully dry weather and the garden is breaking out in growing thing, weeds mostly and grass. It’s not knee high. Every neighbour was out there mowing, weeding and painting gates. Even the wee boy next door was doing his bit with a bright yellow plastic gardening fork. I was reading a book. Later that afternoon I noticed that someone had cast a pair of gardening gloves on to my unmown front lawn. They weren’t new. They didn’t come with a price tag still attached but I read a message in them – sort your garden out, woman!

In my more reasonable moments I think I believe it’s not a deliberate action. It’s the kid next door, the kid with the yellow plastic gardening fork throwing things, more like. I’m not always that reasonable. I confess to being angry. I’m not quite sure who I’m directing my anger towards = probably myself. We don’t possess a working lawn mower so there are practical issues involved. I think Joe and I must live in a “Bermuda Triangle” kind of place – lawn mowers just stop working for no reason at all once they come through the garden gate. I am angry with myself that I like reading books more than I like doing my garden. I like reading books more than I like doing a lot of other thigs too – housework for instance. If we were a hotel we would have been closed down long ago.

So, yes, I confess to being angry. Angry about the lazy streak in me. Angry, perhaps, about other people pointing it out! 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Early Days

I had planned a half hour walk around a nearby wood.  We’ve had a few nice sunny days so I didn’t think I would need to do the gymnastics involved in avoiding the usual muddy puddles. I missed the turning on the right – they are building houses out that way - and climbed higher on a single track road. I encountered riders of bikes and of horses, a runner and a few cars. There’s a lot of open sky up above the city, and fields, forests and lochs.

I snarled at a raven, it could have been a crow, sitting on the fence. I’d read an article in the local paper of ravens forming unruly mobs to attack lambs. They peck out the eyes and the tongue and abandon the dead body. It had nothing to do with hunger, just mean-ness. Ravens are the Einstein of bird world. I wondered if they had picked up the habit of ganging up and tormenting the vulnerable from watching people, particularly the politicians.

Then I saw it – a path leading off the road, a style to climb over and a loch in the distance. I wasn’t quite sure it was a public path, not then, not the first time I had walked along the path many years ago. There were notices that it was a site of scientific interest.

I parked the car. There was a perfectly decent gate and I’m probably not as fit as I used to be. Climbing over the style would have landed me in a gorse bush anyway. The road seemed a little more substantial. The notices were still there along with a few others closer to the water warning people that drowning in lochs was always a possibility.  Throwing sticks into the water for dogs to fetch was also discouraged. This water, apparently, was our drinking water so best to keep it as clean as possible.

All those years ago I’d written a short story inspired by the scenery and the “Beware” notice. I was reminded of it as I walked.

Early days

The rattle of stones along the path stirred me from my thoughts. The man was tall and stringy, legs burnt deep brown by the sun, his feet lost in heavy black boots with thick laces. A green jacket bulged in a dozen places with pockets almost spilling out their contents. As he folded himself down beside me, he removed a wide brimmed hat, skimming his hand through short spiky grey hair.

"It's a rare gift you have there, Ma'am." I couldn't place the accent but knew it wasn't the local Highland burr.

"Gift?" Curiously I lifted my face, hastily wiping a finger under a red rimmed eye, rubbing away the last trace of tears.

"To sit so still for so long." He grinned, "Not something I have ever managed to master." There was an awkward pause, "I bet you didn't even see the deer that just ambled across the path there."

He was wrong. I had watched the deer delicately picking its way through the bracken, turning a well-shaped head in my direction, before bounding off in tidy hops into a tangle of thick trees.

Suddenly there was a crackle of static and a tinny voice coming from one of the pockets in his jacket. The actual words were indistinguishable and muffled.

"Ah…that 's my boss. He sent me out here to tell you that you were trespassing." He sounded apologetic. "This place has been designated as an area of scientific importance." He pointed towards a surveillance camera, currently aimed at where we sat.

"Do you think I have stepped on the last surviving member of a rare species of beetle or something? There was a stile back there, just near the fence and there were no notices." My words were sharp and cutting, and I could feel the tears pricking at the corner of my eyes. It seemed as if the peace I had managed to catch hold of, like an elusive fragrance, was gone. "I am sorry, I've had a hard day. I…shouldn't be so rude. I am picking up bad habits from the kids I teach."

"Rude school children? We had a bunch of them on a school visit last week," he said sympathetically. He unwound his legs and stood up, holding out his hand to help me to my feet. He stood for a while, chewing his bottom lip, his finger playing with a loose green button on his jacket.

"Can I show you something?" His eyes twinkled with anticipation. Without waiting for an answer, he took my hand and began to walk further along the path. We veered off towards the left. The ground beneath my feet was soft. Tufts of prickly heather sank down beneath our weight like a sponge, springing back up behind us.

"It's not far." His stride was confident and sure, as I stumbled beside him. I was beginning to feel a cold wetness seeping through my shoes, and heard a soft squelching noise as I walked.

We stopped. Lifting my head I could see a blue stretch of water from a loch that had been hidden by the trees. There were birds soaring in erratic circles high in the air. The man wasn't looking up at the sky, but down beside his feet. Gently, he knelt down, his fingers separating a cluster of light green leaves.

"See?" Nestled beside his finger was a tiny orange flower. Four petals stood upright like sentinels, overlapping at the base. Very gently, he teased the petals apart. A small red tipped rod stood in the middle.

"Not beetles...this is our baby. Doesn't have a name yet. See this tiny bit here in the middle? This is awesome. Squeezed very gently this gives off a tiny amount of really foul smelling liquid. We have yet to discover all the properties of the substance, but early tests show that it has medicinal qualities. We think that it has the ability to repair cells…it's just amazing. It's still early days…but this could be the breakthrough in the treatment of so many illnesses. And there are a hundred other unique species of flowers in this reserve."

I found myself grinning at his enthusiasm, feeling somewhat repaired in my spirit. I reminded myself that for me, in my new teaching job, it was early days too and I had my own breakthroughs to look forward too.