Re-entry

We’ve just moved back into our house. It’s wonderful. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t spent some time this week rocking and moaning tunelessly to myself among the towers of boxes and jumbles of bags. I realise I hadn’t really given the physical reality of homecoming a single thought. At some level I think I had simply expected to walk in, put the kettle on and rearrange some furniture. If only.

I have instead been struck by inertia. Held down and held back by the sorrow and fatigue of 8 months lived in borrowed spaces. I grieve for what has happened, even though I am immensely grateful for the experience and I know that it has equipped our family in ways we will unpack for years to come. That kind of unpacking I can handle. The physical kind is making me want to weep.

But that’s just today.

Most of our boxes contain useless old rubbish we no longer need but have carted around with us for years because of some misplaced sense of obligation to the people or the era they came from. Pointless sentimentality has literally landed us with unwanted baggage. And when I get my second wind I’m ordering a skip so I can throw it all away.

My feelings may slow my progress but they are not in charge.

I thank God for the realities of my life, whether they feel good or not, because of what they teach me about Him. That He’s been with us every day of this strange nomadic year, and He’s come home with us too. I know with even greater certainty that his love is an unchanging fact of His nature, not mine. It’s neither a product of my wishful thinking nor a reward for my good behaviour. God is love. He loves me no matter what.

And He loves you no matter what.

Right. Back to the boxes.

 

Failure. A sign of progress.

Whoever conceals his sins does not prosper but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Proverbs 28 v 13

It’s the school holidays. The second of two weeks, unplanned (first mistake) and organic. After our sixth move in six months I lacked the energy to ring round and sort out activities for the small people, and have just had to live with their disinclination to anything more than drag themselves and their bedding in front of the TV in lounge no. 6 and settle in for extended sessions of what passes for kids cartoons nowadays.

Today is the day I go to a prayer meeting which has been going for about two months. This new, small gathering is developing its own God rhythm. There’s no programme as such, just a long session of uninhibited unselfconscious worship followed by, well, whatever follows. Sometimes that’s watching a teaching podcast, sometimes it’s praying for each other. Always it’s  inviting God to lead events, and not worry about how it should be.

I have been in such meetings before. But not for years. And I am drawn to it each week like a dry sponge to water. I am learning so much, drawing deep from this well, drawing closer. I feel myself waking up as if from a deep sleep, noticing my surroundings more, the expressions on the faces I pass in the street,. The wallpaper, if you like. And in these meetings God is speaking to me, to all of us. Confirming through others what He’s been saying all week. His whispers and hints are getting louder. I am hearing him more clearly. I am enjoying His love, and my life, more.

But it wasn’t until today that I realised how far I had come.

I left the meeting later than planned to get the kids to the movies. Instead of being ready to go when I finally arrived back home, they were all spread out on the floor in front of the TV. To their credit, they got moving pretty fast. Traffic wasn’t too bad, but the hunt for the parking space was. When we finally found one, one of them started yelling about how unimpressed he was with the whole deal and I LOST IT.

WHY CAN’T YOU JUST STOP YELLING FOR ONE MINUTE! I yelled. I’M SICK OF IT, YOU HEAR ME? or words to that effect.

Fail.

I looked up and saw another mother across the carpark who had stopped mid-way through gettting her own kids in or out of her car. I couldn’t read her expression but she was locking her eyes onto mine. I just kept walking.

All this took almost twenty minutes.  This meant the kids had missed all the trailers and were now missing actual movie. When we got to the ticket desk, it was manned by one man who was providing excellent, detailed advice to each of the four customers ahead of us. Add another ten minutes.

I used that time to apologise to each child about five times. I decided not to listen to my inner running commentary until they were safely stowed in the cinema.

Once back in my car (after the ticket machine ate my change), I told God I was sorry. And then I turned up the volume on the internal commentary. Call Yourself A Christian When You Can’t Even Keep Your Temper? It said, predictably.

Unpredictably, I felt myself reply. Yes. Yes I Do. Because I Am A Child Of God. Jesus Christ has paid the price for all my sin, and If I Confess My Sin, God Is Faithful and Just to Forgive My Sin And Cleanse Me From All Unrighteousness. So Back Off.

And I got on with the rest of my day. That, for me, is progress.

 

 

 

 

New day. Yay!

Lamentations 3: 22 – 23

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.

It’s about 5 am. I’m sitting at the kitchen table wrapped in three blankets, the third one over my head. Yes, it’s cold in here. No heating in a house on stilts halfway up a hill. My children, husband and dog are all asleep. Just me and the fridge buzzing away in this chilly room, keeping each other company. Well, me the fridge and God. And the distractions from things popping up on my screen every few seconds to remind me that I’m connected to the world outside.

Ahead of me today the normal weekday routine, marshalling the kids from sleep to school with the right lunches/uniform/money/permission slips, organising dinner, and helping in the school canteen. Sigh. Would have loved a day to get myself together, but I’ve committed. I haven’t been using my time very efficiently for a good few weeks now. It’s taken me a while to identify the problem, and it’s really very simple. I have no plan. And it’s time to get one.

From the kitchen window I can see the lights on the other side of the river and a thin sliver of the underside of the moon. It still feels like night. It still feels like night inside me too. I can’t yet see the way through this, but I now know that there is one. Can’t live by feelings. Too unreliable. I need to live by what I know.

I know what I want to do – mostly. Blog, write and possibly podcast towards the end of the year. There is no set path, which is fine, as I’m not too good at sticking to those anyway, but what plans I had at the end of last year were derailed and since then, with each house move, my vision has blurred a little more. The simple everyday stuff that was so hard immediately after the fire, and took a lot of energy, has been quickly settling into routine for months now, but my mind has not kept pace. I have noticed that I have been going the long way around everything, taking longer, making less sense to myself and others. I’ll be honest, it’s been getting me down.

I also know that this is a new day. This is the day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it. Whatever yesterday was like, today is full of possibility. Including the possibility of snatching another hour’s sleep before sunrise.

Goodnight.

Always there

The fire destroyed little of our house, but it caused a huge rupture in the life of our family since we had to move out last December. Once the family were safely out of the house that day, the whole thing could have burned to the ground as far as I was concerned.

So much of our existence is spent papering over the flimsyness of our lives. As if our buildings and our soft furnishings and our decorations and stuff really matter. As if it isn’t all  just going to end up on someone’s bonfire someday. It’s hardly worth chasing, but a lot of energy goes into getting it or envying those who have it.

Five months on, the builders have started repairs ( the wheels turn slowly in this part of the world) and the end of the road is in sight.

I’m thankful.  Genuinely thankful.

That probably sounds pious. I don’t really care. It’s the truth. I’m grateful that I know who God is. That I know I am loved and cared for and provided for and that this is not all there is. I am thankful that I have family and friends through whom God has shown me what love looks like in practical and impractical ways.

I’m grateful for God’s word which tells me I can talk to God and through which, when I slow down and get quiet enough to listen, He actually talks to me. To me!

I’m delighted that I can share my victories, the days I get it all together, and my failures, when I fail altogether, with someone who knows me intimately and loves me the same always.

I am staggered that the same God who I read about in my Bible is  present in this little life of mine, my Source and my companion.

No matter what’s going on.

 

 

 

Relocation, relocation, relocation

The sand has been running in this year for nearly a month now and here I am, just climbing into my blogging seat. Why the delay? Late nights? Late mornings? Too much fun? Not enough?

All of the above, really.

A fire broke out at our house just after Christmas. No injuries, thanks to a cracking team of firefighters who got to our old wooden house just in time. The worst damage was a couple of holes burnt through the floor, an exploded bath and a house that smells like my first barbecue. I had no idea smoke could reach into so many places.

We are now in our third relocation in four weeks. God has kindly provided, and house-hopping has given me great insights into how other people organise their homes (some great ideas), their cutlery drawers and their laundries. We are surrounded by kindness and compassion from friend and stranger alike in a land where our flesh and blood number a total of six, four of them children.

It is humbling and difficult to receive help, even in circumstances like ours. Our sense of ourselves as self-sufficient and generous has had to sit down and shut up while we accept the help and share the space of others, sleep in their bedding and wear their clothes.

It’s not easy to maintain some kind of equilibrium because the children need to see Mum strong and smiling, not foetal and wailing. It’s hard to wait for the wheels of the insurance machine to grind forward. You get the feeling they don’t turn that willingly ;). The shock of it hits us afresh every couple of days. If only I had asked for a time machine for Christmas…

But the emotional and physical toll of our temporary displacement is nothing compared to that on the millions of homeless families who rely on the goodwill of strangers, some victims of bushfires here in Australia, others further afield victims of conflict and political upheaval, all suddenly forced out of permanence, out of stability, out of home. What must that be like?

Next week our school year begins and we have to create a new normality out of the random collection of things we’ve brought from our smoky house. I don’t know how long this stage will last, but I know what I must do in order to keep my balance, which is to tell God (occasionally foetal and wailing, yes) how I feel about it all and then trust him to get on with the clearup operations.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered

I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel and afterwards you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and heart may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73 vs 25 – 26

Puzzle. Part 3

So after two fantastic, chilled-out weeks, I finally came to the end of the big cat puzzle. I put the last piece in the box next to the leopard’s ear and sighed. Partly in satisfaction and partly in regret. Firstly, because it was over. Like all good experiences, they have to end. Secondly because after the last piece went in, there was still a hole in the puzzle. It may have been the 5 year old’s fault, or the dog’s, or mine, but 999 pieces do not complete a 1000-piece puzzle. Sigh.

As my eyes travelled over the puzzle, they kept coming to rest on that tiny spot where the tablecloth showed through.

I’m finding that in life, as in puzzles, you can have plenty, but what gets your attention is that-one-thing-that-will-make-it-all-complete. Where your fulfilment will be. It’s really obvious in children, who can forget about everything they got for Christmas or birthday and focus on the one thing they hoped for but didn’t receive. Or the one toy that got broken. Or the one party they’ve had to miss this year. And we adults are often not much better. We tend to over-inflate what wasn’t and forget what was. What we don’t have, rather than what we do. We get our long-desired thing and after a frighteningly short time it fades into the picture of our lives as if it’s always been there.

I finally got a fantastic stove about two months ago, after years of (sometimes) patient, (mostly) quiet waiting. It looked new and shiny and gorgeous and out of place in our kitchen, which is none of the above. Eight or so short weeks on it is becoming part of the new normal. I can barely remember what the old one was like any more. And yet I remember the feeling of longing for it.

No sooner do you plug one gap then another one opens up. I suspect that’s what all marketing taps into, leading our eyes to the one-more-thing we need to buy or study or do to complete our ideal pictures. Recently I had to prepare a sermon about the cross. Possibly the worst marketing tool ever. As one atheist friend explained, a much harder symbol to deal with than the blissed-out fat man. What you need is for someone to be executed on your behalf! Gosh, of course. Where do I sign?

And what has this to do with puzzles? Well, I couldn’t not work the puzzle into my sermon, given that it had taken over my life over the previous two weeks. Here’s how.

The cross is the bit that looks like it has no place, like it isn’t related to anything we might like to think about ourselves or God, and yet, without it, my Christian faith is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

The God I believe in connected with us through Jesus, who, in some way I won’t even try to explain even if I understood it, is both God and man. Divine and human. In his humanity he taught us a lot about ourselves, not all of it comfortable. He upset the religious elites and confounded the political powers. He didn’t rouse the oppressed Jews into an insurgency, but told them stories about something called the Kingdom of God and healed them and did miracles and spoke about forgiveness. Then he was betrayed by one of his followers and let himself be executed by the Romans. The End. No messiah, no king, no new leader of Israel. Just another deluded failure.

But within the week, his followers are out claiming that he is in fact alive. They do healings and miracles and teach as he did, with his power and with his authority. The cross now looks less like an end and more like a beginning. It is said that on the cross Jesus took on the punishment for all the world’s evil. So when I read or hear about the violence mankind does to itself, I look at the cross and know that God hates it too and does not leave it unpunished. When I feel bad about my behaviour or my lack of integrity, I look at the cross and see the lengths God went to to show me his forgiveness.

For me at least, the cross, this sobering execution symbol, is proof of my loving and just God. And when I lock onto that, I connect with God. And I am complete. Even if it’s not always visible. ( Especially to my family this last week. Er, sorry guys…)

Puzzle. Part 2

I’ve noticed that it takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the patterns and shades in this puzzle each time I come back to it after a pause for something unimportant, like food or sleep. I need time to tune in again, slow my thoughts down. No wonder they use these things in therapeutic settings. My mother was a psychiatric nurse and I remember doing jigsaw puzzles on the ward with the patients. I was only young then, maybe six or seven, but I remember the sense of calm around the low tables where the puzzles were laid out.

For me it was a mysterious place where the grownups sometimes said strange things or would walk off suddenly or start singing or dancing. The ward was busy, with the occasional alarming outburst from behind a curtain or a bed somewhere. Conversation was scant, it was too disjointed for me to follow, so I remember I didn’t say very much. The patients and I came together around the puzzle, scenes with horses or rose-covered cottages or ships in full sail.

At that age, and in that place, seventies South London, I was used to seeing the brewery dray horses that still pulled the beer wagons around to the pubs, but the rest, rose-covered cottages and ships in sail, was the stuff of stories and a world I did not know. I loved working on these huge puzzles, just letting my mind wander to the places and the lives that slowly materialised out of all the disparate pieces.

The satisfaction I got as a child from fitting the pieces has not gone with the passage of years, the bearing of children or any of the other things that happen over the course of growing up. It is perhaps one of the deepest pleasures, understanding where, how and why things fit together.

Fast-forward exty years to my big cat puzzle. I find the piece of the right shade, pattern and shape for the bit of the picture I’m working on. It doesn’t fit. So I try to force it in. It’s slightly too wide or too high. The pattern is close to the pieces around it but not quite the same. I put it aside in frustration. It can’t fit anywhere else. Maybe it’s in the wrong puzzle. Can’t trust these manufacturers any more. After all, imagine how many they must produce. It must happen, right. Many pieces later, the ‘wrong piece’ fits in elsewhere and another unlikely piece slots into that earlier space. I stare at it. It shouldn’t have worked but it did. It looked like it didn’t belong and had nothing to do with the rest, but it fits. And now that it’s in place, in that way of jigsaw pieces, it’s disappeared. It’s become part of the whole. Without the whole picture that one piece is meaningless. Without that one piece the picture is incomplete.

So here’s today’s insight from the world of puzzles. We all fit.

I know, you don’t look/sound/think like anyone else. You like different music, films, styles of clothes. Or you were born to a family of musicians but you’re tone deaf. You are the curvy one in a tribe of wands. Or you would rather eat your own arm than go swimming and your Dad’s a swim instructor. You’re short not tall. Or practical not academic. Whatever it is, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Not here by accident but design. And even if you appear to look, sound and think like everyone else, there’ll be at least one difference that makes you you and no-one else. If the makers of jigsaw puzzles can turn the sky into hundreds of individually shaped and shaded pieces, how much more could the maker of all that is, seen and unseen, closely documented and yet-to-be discovered, make you just s-l-i-g-h-t-l-y different from everyone else around you?

You do fit. You do belong. You may find your place easily, it may be clear. Or you may have to wait awhile, until the support of other pieces, people, are in place. But be assured. Be encouraged. You do fit.

Psalm 139 v 13 – 16

For you created my inmost being;

You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

When I was made in the secret place,

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

Your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me

Were written in your book

Before one of them came to be.