Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Embracing the Ouch

The time has arrived to rise from the couch
To put on the trainers and embrace that “ouch”
The heart that is beating? It yearns for fresh air
Abandon the TV, forsake the armchair

It’s not the Olympics, no medals to claim
But the passion for chocolate we need to tame
Our fifty-mile challenge across thirty days -
And how do we get there? In hundreds of ways

So, pull on the lycra and sparkly pink top
We’re going to get fit, we’re not going to stop
Begin with a warm up, and then off we go
Run, walk or skip – take care to start slow!

If water’s our forte and swimming’s our thing
Breaststroke or butterfly - arms and legs fling
A length, then another, we swim on and on
Those muffin top hips? They’re history! Gone!

There’s apps for the phone to keep us on track
To tell us the miles we walked there and back
They measure the heartbeat, at work and at rest
And being so active means we’re not so stressed

The brain is a miracle inside our heads
When we are active, good vibes the brain spreads
We walk tall and confident, smile on our face
And all this occurs when that “ouch” we embrace

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Sindy Faces

“A face is nothing without its history. Features on the face are earned not given – age lines, wrinkles, the curve of the mouth, the light or darkness in the eyes are consequences of lived lives, not just DNA. Hurt, pain and joy are all etched there.” Angus Peter Campbell

I rarely go to the book club that I joined. I say “rarely” – I have been once. Sometimes it’s down to not buying or reading the book because I googled it and didn’t like the sound of it. Sometimes it’s down to buying and reading the book and not understanding what it’s about and choosing not to show my ignorance. Sometimes it’s about buying and reading and absolutely detesting the book and not wishing to poke a pin in someone else’s happiness bubb
le. I might go this time – the book was bought, read and, enjoyed? Bits of it.

The book is “Memory and Straw” by Angus Peter Campbell. It has been bought and read and thought about. If you don’t want the book spoiled for you, skip the next couple of paragraphs.

A man works in the robotics industry. There is a recognition that there’s an older generation that will one day need to be looked after. People-carers need to be trained and paid. Robots could do the job better. Rather than have blank faced constructions of plastic and metal the plan was to give them human faces – non-scary, relatable faces. What is it that makes a face a face? The man does his research into his own family history and most of the book is anecdotal, following through the generations. The man’s bosses take his research, make their robot faces and introduce them to the world. There is applause, naturally, but not from the man. He’s looking at the faces of robot faces of his grandma and grandpa. It’s them – but it’s not them. The faces are soulless. He hands in his resignation and leaves.

I rarely look at my face. Mostly, it’s because I can see it without my glasses. I have a mirror that has an ordinary lens on one side and a magnifying one on the other. It’s for putting on make-up which I rarely wear. I prefer the picture I have in my head which has none of the blemishes of real life. I think most of us live life that way – not always facing up to reality.

Somewhere in my thinking, though, is a notion that if you put the real face next to the imagined face I might prefer the real one. Only Sindy dolls have perfect complexions before kids get hold of a wax crayon and add “make-up”. My real face is the lived in one with the age lines and wrinkles – and somewhere in it all is a gentleness and kindness that shows.

I came across “the shield of patience” a week or two ago. It was in the writings of St Thomas a Kempis. Patience, he says, allows suffering, glad suffering, of sorrows and temptations, sickness and injuries. These things are not to be avoided, or even swiftly delivered from, but allowed to shape us. I am aware that for some people the shaping might be a negative rather than a positive – but that is because they are not allowing God to use the suffering to shape them. God gives us all that is necessary to weather the storms. He doesn’t want the enemy to chase us from the battlefield but to claim our victories there.

No one likes to suffer. Jesus stepped in with miracles to bring people out of their suffering. It’s in the next life that all tears are wiped away. I think it may not always be the best move to insist on the healing miracle, to drag people to have hands laid on them and rebuke the affliction. I’m not sure that God wants the pen that draws the lines on people’s faces, the life-lived lines, pulled away so quickly, before it has done its job. He knows the right time to lift the pen away.

God wants people with lived lives, not sheltered ones. We must allow pain and sorrow to shape the face we show to the world – the face that tells them we, as Christians, are not inoculated from life’s up and downs. We live in a real world and have to be real people with lived lives.

God uses all that happens to me to make me who I am, who He wants me to be, who He can use.

God can’t use Sindy’s face to show His compassion.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Let Me Be Me

Don’t ask me to smooth out the wrinkles on my face
Let me own my years and my history embrace

Don’t ask me to tone down the accent in my voice
Let my words and how I say them always be my choice

Don’t ask me to be pretty, to be slim or to be fit
Let me eat cake, drink wine, and sag a little bit

Don’t ask me to turn vegan and cook only tofu
Let me enjoy bacon, eggs and sausages too

Don’t ask me to wear only smart skirts and high heels
Let me fill up my wardrobe with what to me appeals

Don’t ask me to be fluid in my gender, tastes and views
Let me be trusted to respect life in all its hues

Don’t ask me to be courageous, or keep a stiff upper lip
Let me get up in my own time when I fall or when I trip

Don’t ask me to think that science holds every truth
Let me keep my faith that I’ve lived since my youth

Don’t ask me to abandon all that make me so unique
Let me tread my own path and my own destiny seek

Friday, July 19, 2019

If God Created the World the Way that I Knit

Someone donated a carrier bag full of knitting patterns to the Knitter Natters this morning. There were one or two magazines, but it was mostly single patterns and most of those might have been from the turn of last century, never mind this one. The hairstyles, the poses and knitting needle sizes were dated. Someone thought they might have, once upon a time, knitted that cardigan or that baby jumper.

The conversation moved on to things we started to knit but never finished. I felt smug that my oldest project, unfinished, was not much more than a year old. Some ladies had things decades old, hiding in bags at the back of a wardrobe. One of the ladies thought she might dig through the unfinished garments to see if they could be salvaged.

I thought about the various things I had on the go. I’m not counting. Deliberately not counting.

“If I had created the world the way that you knit…” said God. He chose not to finish the thought. An interesting rabbit hole to fall into, don’t you think?

The first thing that comes to mind is that nothing would happen in one single day. There would be no “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day”. The creation of light and dark would span a few weeks if not months. There would be no talk of science and evolution either – jiggle a ball of wool and two knitting needles in a bag and there will never be a jumper.

Next, there would be no finishing one thing off first before beginning the next thing. Light and dark would be consigned to a bag with all the right needles and the row markers, while He moved on to sky. You see, He would have seen just the perfect blue to make the sky with. He would be half way to finishing off the sky when He finds the perfect pattern for a bird.

He is always going to say whatever He creates is good. And do you know what? It is. There’s always a warm glow – that sense of accomplishment.

Then, there would be the occasional hole. A dropped stitch – in a tree, perhaps.  He’d think about taking it all back to retrieve it, but trees are complicated things. He might have a word with Jesus or the Holy Spirit to see if they were willing to take it all out.  He’d wish He spotted it earlier – but never mind. He’d make a flower to put over the hole. You see, He might have an over-optimistic view of his skill level. He has managed to decipher all the instructions that He needs to follow, but that doesn’t mean He can do it. Perhaps He has to consult a Youtube clip or two. For sure, He doesn’t get it right first time, or maybe even the second time. Perhaps He has a practice go first on a spare pair of needles.

He wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone. He cannot Knitter and Natter at the same time and He keeps a notebook and pen handy for those time He is called away. He writes down what row He is on. Sometimes He finds that wearing His reading glasses helps.

Of course, He doesn’t enjoy the whole sewing up part of creation. He marks things with pins and takes it slow. There’s always the threat of a loose thread. He warns creation not the pull anything, just in case. Creation doesn’t always listen and things unravel.

Because a lot of people love God, they would smile and be delighted with whatever He made. They’d not want to discourage Him. They’d gaze at a sunrise or a sunset and comment on the lovely colours He used. They might not say anything about the black hole lurking in the corner.

No, when God created the world He got it right – first time, no dropped stitches and never a need to consult a Youtube clip. He is still in the business of creating and what He creates is beautiful – always.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Divine Whisperer

“Blessed are the ears that hear the pulse of the divine whisperer and give no heed to the many whisperings of the world.” – Thomas a Kempis

I was sitting in a waiting room at the hospital. It was the ophthalmology unit. It was a little after 9.30 am. God whispered.

I have been wearing glasses since I was three years old. I used to put my glasses under the pillow at night.  Maybe there was some deep-down wish that the tooth fairy, who hadn’t done a great job collecting my teeth, might show pity and take the glasses instead. One morning I woke to broken glasses.  I was at that age when image was all that mattered. I wasn’t a pretty girl and glasses added to my un-prettiness. It took me a decade to replace them. Pretty or not, I was fed up bumping into magazine racks and apologising. The NHS had come a long way from thick pink plastic frames.

Over the years the lenses got thicker as the vision got poorer. Even the ultra-thin lenses that became available were on thick side of thin. I became eligible for various discounts as my sight worsened and bigger discounts when I reached sixty. It didn’t make buying glasses cheap – just cheaper than they would have been without the discounts. Glasses were essential, expensive and added onto the home and contents insurance list.

There was nothing I could do about being short sighted and there was nothing I could do about year after year deterioration. I replaced the glasses every two years, moved on to varifocals and discovered that watching films in 3D was not something my eyes could do. They didn’t work as a team. The right eye didn’t really do much at all.

This morning’s meeting was all about cataracts. I have them in both eyes, ripening nicely and not quite ready for harvesting. Three months earlier, in an eye test the day after the police discovered I couldn’t read a number plate at twenty metres and took my driving licence off me, there has been a “maybe” glimpse of a cataract. It would explain why my glasses, less than a year old, were not working properly. Three months and the “maybe” glimpse was fully there strutting its stuff across the lens.

What has this to do with divine whispers?

Years and years ago I was on a gospel outreach team. It was all living by faith and I suppose my faith fell short of some requirements. I was too poor to buy a new pair of glasses. The one’s I had were loose and tied around my head with an elastic band. I can remember clearly standing on bridges and choosing not to look down into the water for fear that the glasses would slip off.

There were different outreach teams all over the country. The nearest team to us in Inverness was in Glasgow. There was a boy on the team who wore glasses. Someone prayed for him and his sight improved. He didn’t need to wear glasses any longer. I coveted his miracle. I prayed for my own, and nothing happened. I never understood then, nor do I now, why some people get healed and others don’t. I suppose I came to the conclusion that being short sighted wasn’t a life or death situation – I could live with it. It wasn’t cancer.

This morning I was listening to children in another waiting room down the corridor. I vaguely remember visits to the hospital when I was a child. I remember it was a long walk down a steep hill. There was a field that belonged to Rugby School and railings and boys playing cricket sometimes.

“Wearing glasses,” came the whisper, “you’re right. It’s not life threatening. People rarely die from being short sighted. But, it is quality-of-life threatening. It’s not a life or death situation – but it is a “life” one.  You are promised “life in all its fullness.”

The whisperings of the world had been telling me something was bound to go wrong. One in a thousand were not successful. I was jinxed or something.

I didn’t have any kind of revelation that I should cancel my appointment, throw away my glasses, claim back my driving licence and head off into the sunset. It was more like an assurance that the cataract operation would be successful, my vision would be improved, I would get my licence back – and I shouldn’t fret about it. And if it all came about through a fifteen minute operation, that didn’t male it any less a miracle.

I have a fifteen week wait for my miracle – but if God chooses a swifter time frame and less medical intervention I will complain.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

His Power and His Glory

“I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.” Psalm 63:2

I am reading my way through a series of devotions based on the life of St Francis of Assis. Some days I find myself almost irritated. He ranks alongside of those Bible heroes that don’t seem to make mistakes and set a very high bar when it comes to walking a good testimony. God reminds me that He is not looking for another Francis, just a Mel. I would add “doing the best she can” but I think I fall woefully short of that description. I am aware that there is a gap between “doing the best she can” and “just doing”.

Yesterday, I felt that Francis was almost in reach. He loved scripture and found joy in chewing it over. If you want to know God better and live a life that is pleasing to Him, the best start is reading the Bible. Reading, for Francis, was not about following a reading plan that got you through the Bible in a year. It wasn’t about ticking off the chapters every day.

“How” you read scripture was more important that how much you read.

Read it like a lover’s note. 
Read it and read it 
Over and over
Trace each letter with a finger
Taste each word on your tongue
Catch the scent it
Fold it up
Put it in a pocket
Take it out two minutes later
Unfold it and read it again
And again and again
When the paper gets creased and smudged
When the ink fades
Don't fret
The words are there in your memory and
Lodged in you heart

There is no casual read and an almost forgetting when it comes the what God has written – or there shouldn’t be.

This morning I caught myself just casually reading Psalm 63. I closed the Bible after reading it through just the once. Of course, I had read it before. I assumed I had, at some point, sucked all the goodness out of it in a Bible study, but not particularly recently.

“Is that you done?” asked God. He suggested I read the psalm again and again and again. Not skim reading as I often do, but slow and paying attention.

I stopped at verse two in the last of the read throughs.

“Did you?” asked God. “Did you see Me in My sanctuary and gaze upon My power and glory? Perhaps not, “did you?” but “will you?” as you are going to church this morning. Will you look for Me in worship, in prayer, in testimony or in the Word? Will you, as Francis did, “hear nothing in Vain”? (those were the words I had thought about yesterday from the devotional)

The songs were not familiar. The melodies were not easy to sing. The words on the overhead projector were not keeping up. See – don’t we fall into a trap sometimes when it comes to the singing part of worship?

“Don’t sing,” said God, “just listen. Lift your hands. Kneel if you want to (God knows I have a dodgy left knee – getting down is slow and ponderous. Getting up might require the use of a crane.) Close your eyes if you like.” I have a problem with songs that have endlessly repeating lines. Sometimes though we need to be reminded about truth over and over again, or it slips through one ear and out the other.

There was an opportunity to share what God had been doing or saying and there was a queue. I usually have a poem to hand, but not this time.

One man spoke of a conversation he had had with a woman sitting on a bench. She was a little worse for wear, struggling with alcohol. God picks his servant well. I would have had nothing to say, at least not from my own struggles. This man had, with Jesus help, crawled out of an alcoholic hole and knew what she needed to hear, from one who had been there. God’s power and glory were there to see.

Another man spoke of an evangelistic crusade he had organised as part of a Bible college course. It was well out of his comfort zone but a course requirement. The young people came, not out of any urgency to be saved. They wanted the free crisps and fizzy drinks on offer. In the coming, and the staying and the eating of crisps, they listened and all but one made a commitment to Jesus. God’s power and glory were there to see.

An invitation was given out to join with other churches in Inverness in a week’s outreach at the last week in August. Prayer meetings in the morning would be followed by city centre outreach – conversations, prayers for healing and challenge issued.

“The last week in August”. God had that dreamy smile on His face. “Remember 1976 and the last week in August? That’s when we found each other. There is almost a symmetry to it, don’t you think? Someone else being found in the last week in August.” God’s power and glory will be there to see.

I heard nothing in vain.

I heard of God’s power and glory.

I lived Psalm 63:2.

I will again tomorrow.