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.

 

 

 

 

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No prizes for busy

No, really. There are no prizes for being busy. No matter how many jobs you pack into your day, how many errands you run, tasks you complete, people you help, or laundry you get done. Sorry to burst your bubble, but there it is. We don’t get kudos for all this. We just get to do it all again tomorrow.

That said, there are blessings in it all, for all the times we moan and feel sorry for ourselves. For those of us who have families, people to care for who in turn care for us (though this may not always be obvious), there are many, many for whom this is not only not true, but seems impossible. A dream, even.

But I’m not just thinking about thankfulness, powerful as that is. I’m thinking about slowing down. Changing pace. Being in the moment. Being aware of the gift of now. Dare I say it? Relaxing. Enjoying what God has given you.

This doesn’t come easily. It has taken time and a shock to show me I had taken on more than I could reasonably achieve. I could hardly admit that to myself, because it felt wrong somehow to withdraw.

In the end, the pressure became too much. I went POP! And ended up in the emergency room.

Since then, God has kindly been reminding me of the following invitation from Jesus.

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11 vs 28 – 30

In humility I admit I am not superwoman, and Jesus does not ask that of me. So I’ve been handing back some responsibilities, and letting myself take a breath now and then.

Would-be Superheroes, there are no prizes for busy. So take some stuff off your to-do list.

Breathe out, focus.

Here I am, coming up for air (read the last post if you don’t understand why) and relieved that today is the last day of the school year. From tomorrow, no more routines, no more deadlines, no more school lunches to make and shop for, no more getting kids out ready for school ‘til early 2015. Congratulations to all parents for making it to the end of term. I salute you.

All this time off (for the kids at least) sounds great. And for me it is too, at least for the first couple of days. Before the kids start to fight and the house collapses into a chaos of abandoned clothes, toys, crockery and lolly wrappers. At this stage even I begin to crave order. Understanding dawns about parents who schedule their kids’ holidays as tightly as term time. I’m torn between admiration for them and sympathy for their children, knowing that I would have hated to have to go anywhere or do anything much in my summer holidays.

Those were different times. My parents, like many, simply didn’t think that way. The only commitment I had was a Christian youth camp which ate up a week of real time, two weeks of anticipation and at least another fortnight of coming down again. Happy days. At least one of my tribe will be going to a similar camp again this year, and is there in spirit already. Apart from that, a weekly date in a park with some other harassed mums is probably the most planning I’ll achieve.

We haven’t really thought much in our family about how to do this Christmas. Last year was one of the best for me since I was a little girl. I had been worrying about my parents’ first Christmas since my brother’s death and toying with the idea of going back to the UK to be with them. With a week to go I finally broached the subject with Mum. They had made plans to go away. (Very sensible of them. And they had a great time, btw.) Relief lifted me instantly. We had a quiet day at home and then went to the beach for the late afternoon sun. It was glorious. Beautiful.

That Christmas spoiled me. Now I want the same again. I want the peace that came from the inside out and had nothing to do with how amazing, or big, lunch was, or how fantastic the presents were. It was a peace more poignant somehow after a difficult year. We need that this time around, after another loss. We need the peace that is beyond understanding, peace that is for me an almost physical sensation of relief and wellbeing. The angels in the Christmas story proclaim peace on earth and goodwill towards men. I find I need to cut through the false gaiety of this season to get to anything like that.

Doing the nativity play this year has helped. Having to focus on the story made me, well, focus on the story. Not on what I disapprove of or think is too commercialised and shallow. Not on how spiritual I am failing to be in imparting to my children what this time is really about. Not on what gifts would delight them without spoiling them. None of that. It made me focus on the story. Jesus’ birth in such basic and precarious conditions, moved me again, touched my heart again. It made me think more about those who live under the threat of oppression, with no home to go to. It made me think of the poor, the vulnerable. The director picked a great Third Day song which told the story from the nativity all the way to the resurrection. Despite my ridiculous dreams of the night before, no one forgot anything, the dancing angels managed not to collide and the set remained in place throughout. They’ve even asked us to do it again.

You may not have had a nativity to plan, but unless you live in a cave you’ve probably seen your fair share of Christmas tat by now, from gift catalogues to food porn convincing you that your festivities need some or other special recipe or product to really make it special. I invite you to simply focus on the story as I did and see what happens. What happened to me was that instead of being very grudging about the whole thing, I find I am excited to celebrate the greatest event in human history and I’m actually looking forward to Christmas. Quite a novelty.

Enjoying the ride

Enjoying the ride

My last post was about living small, taking away the unnecessary clutter and keeping it really simple. In a funny way this is what I want to do with Christmas. Make it smaller, simpler, less so it can mean more. By now, like me you may already be strapped into that roller coaster called Christmas. In my house, with my kids, it looks and sounds a little like this.

‘…No you can’t put up the decorations til after your sister’s birthday at the beginning of the month and then we can start thinking about it. No we won’t get a real tree because remember the last one shed all over the place and your sister was allergic. Yes by all means write a Christmas list but remember it’s for guidance only. Maybe you will get (insert whatever it is everyone allegedly has already) but not if you keep pestering me. I don’t know how Santa will get down our blocked chimney. Your work Christmas drinks is tonight? No I don’t know what exactly we’ll be having for dinner on Christmas day. Your Christmas concert is WHEN? And you need antlers for your play? No I did not give Santa a spare key. What school breakfast? You forgot to give me the letter…?’

For me Christmas is easily the most pressured and stressful season. But this year I have had to get involved with the church nativity play. Gulp. All the usual suspects have somehow dodged this task and it has fallen to three of us not-so-usual ones to round up those children not absent due to sickness or overcommitment elsewhere. I was less than thrilled about it until I saw an article in Christianity today called Christmas Scandals which gives fascinating context to the spare biblical account in Luke Chapter 2. It was just what I needed to get fired up again. ( I tried linking to it but it didn’t work, so if you’re interested, go to http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2014/December-2014/Christmas-Scandals)

God himself chose to enter his own creation. Not on a flaming chariot (that’s how I might have done it), but from a womb. Down a birth canal. Into the fetid air of a stable. Amongst animals, into the immediate care of a teenage girl and her brave, brave husband.

I want to give God the respect due, not least for being willing to humble himself in ways we would find unimaginable. I want to make space to contemplate that. I want to find positive ways to escape the tidal wave of nonsense that threatens to inundate us in the lead up to Christmas. I haven’t been sure how to do this but ironically, it seems to have started with this nativity play. The project that was more or less forced into my hands has made me think again about what an extraordinary event it was.

Swivelhead

That’s a nickname given a character in a book I’ve been reading about a pious little girl from a strict religious community. Whenever her sister said something outrageously sinful her head would swivel towards her mother for reassurance. It never came. Her mother was staging her own form of mutiny, as it turned out.

I have been too of late. Tuning into other voices, clever words that have chipped at my foundations, causing me to stop and blink at what I thought I knew and assumed I believed. I haven’t even bothered swivelling my head for reassurance, just listened and wondered and listened some more. It has been compelling in its own hypnotic way, of course, and at times strangely beautiful. But this soundtrack has led me back to a sad, damp and narrow place I used to know well called Deep Rest. (Also known as Deep Ression).

Devil’s advocate is interesting for a while. But dangerous. Like playing too close to the railway line. Or the riverbank. I remember my mother telling me to be careful around water. You can drown in just a few inches of it, she used to say.

Another book I read as a youngish teenager came to mind this last week. A ghost story about a pair of young lovers who made a suicide pact at a remote beauty spot, it featured a haunting refrain from a poem, internalised by a young girl visiting centuries later. This young girl is drawn into the old love story and ultimately tempted to jump to her own death. That story has hung around in my mind for years. How easy, compelling and attractive it seemed to simply step off the edge.

In my mind I’ve revisited that cliff top, peered over the edge and inched forward, imagining a tide of oblivion carrying away painful memories, disappointments with myself present past and future. Picturing how it could all be washed away by the suck and roar of white water. Yep. That’s where I’ve been. Terrified and drawn at the same time. And then I remembered something else I had read years ago.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. ( 2 Corinthians 7 v 10)

In context, Paul is writing to a church he’s had to discipline, pleased that they’ve taken his words to heart, changed course and are sorting themselves out. He’s relieved that his strongly-worded rebuke has been received in the right spirit.

We don’t live in a time that honours correction. We hate it. I know I do. But I know I need it. Those words jarred when I heard them. They didn’t allow for my picturesque misery. I could no longer lose myself in my perceived unhappiness after recalling those words because I knew where that would lead. I had to choose between salvation, or healing, and death.

I realised I had forgotten, again, who God is. The one who first loved me, who experienced life here just as I do, who was tempted in every way as I am but did not give in. Perhaps he was even tempted by the delicious pain of melancholy. A staggering thought which itself snapped me out of my own nonsense and revealed how shallow the water really was down there in my pretty image. White water is where the rocks are close to the surface. Not to mention the fact that the thing I was being drawn to, the closing of the painful chapters of my life, has already been done. I have, through my faith in Jesus Christ, already died. I have already been separated from the mistakes and disappointments and all the rest because in Christ I am a new creation.

Slow, yes. But learning.

He is risen. Indeed.

A lot can happen in 7 days. (Okay, 8, since I’m a day late). It’s just over a week since Good Friday, the annual remembrance of Jesus’ death. After this the biblical account of Jesus’ life becomes bizarre and improbable, reporting that the so very publicly executed young rabbi has been seen alive, and convincingly enough to transform his frightened followers into bold public preachers willing to face arrest.

I would like to say that my belief in the events of this week in history has been similarly life-changing, but the truth is more banal and frightening. I am still not the fired-up evangelist I imagine I should be. I haven’t, for example, given away my possessions and become a missionary in some inhospitable part of the world that hasn’t heard of Jesus.

I suspect that the years I’ve spent hand-wringing about this may be a cover for the fact that my mission field lies somewhat closer to home, in a culture where Jesus Christ is unknown, superseded by the knit-your-own-if-you-must approach to matters of faith. It would be easier for me to assume a mask of piety as a stranger in a foreign land than to keep the show on the road and show some ongoing integrity with my peers.

A week ago, as I re-imagined the horror of the disciples at the sudden, shocking death of Jesus, I felt a new edge to my sadness, a different kind of despair I suppose about the effects and scope of damage and pain caused by sin, by our rejection of God. But then three days after this bleak disappointment came the commemoration of Easter Sunday with its apparently ridiculous reports of resurrection. The gospels report that Jesus appeared a number of times to those first followers. Sorrow became joy. Fear became courage. A new religion was born.

There are times when contemplating the suffering, dying Christ has a certain passive nobility which fixes us in the agony at the expense of the glory. It can be easier to deal with the suffering since we are all familiar with that to some degree in our own lives. But it all goes a bit quiet for most of us after Easter morning. Once the chocolate’s been eaten and church goes back to normal, we get on with our lives, finding it easier to forget that He is still living His. It’s uncomfortable to deal with the living Christ because he doesn’t lie still and keep quiet, like some illicit lover hiding under the bed; he requires us to declare his presence, tip out all other competitors for our devotion, and allow him free reign over our lives. Dead deities are easier.

As the apostle Paul writes to the early church, I am, like all Christians, an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. A kingdom whose ruler is very much alive, well and active in the lives of his subjects. At this stage, a great part of my mission may simply be to live free of the anxieties, hang-ups and neuroses that have dogged me since I was a child, to embrace my life and my Source without fear. That may be groundbreaking in its own way, as the power which is enabling me to do what I cannot do for myself is the same power which raised Christ from death and proved that all things are indeed possible.

 

Christ

Well I should have kept my powder dry with this one as I still have J to come (no prizes for guessing what J was going to cover) but I’m sticking, come what may, to the words that first came when I brainstormed through the alphabet, attaching a word to each letter to form the titles in my alphabet faith series.

So Christ was my C word. The one people don’t say much, unless they’re swearing, perhaps. A close relative of mine went through a phase where he punctuated his speech with it, and was visiting us overseas at a time when I was perhaps in one of my more spiritually touchy states. Bad combination, clearly. I kept hearing him use the word Christ as an expletive. It really bothered me and after a few days, I took a deep breath and privately asked him to stop. His response was to question my tolerance. And, because I’m not as mature as I should be sometimes, my answer to that was to question his tolerance. As he was a guest in our house he blinked first and backed down. It was a first for me on more than one front, the most important being my willingness to reveal that I hold this name, or strictly speaking, this title, in high esteem.

I read recently that the world divides into republicans, who think they are in charge, and just need to work out how to solve the world’s problems, and monarchists, who know they’re not in charge, and that God is. It’s one way of looking at things, and useful as far as it goes, but there are many differing views along the way, including that perhaps more vocal in our time, that no-one is in charge and we shouldn’t worry about it. The word Christ comes from a Greek word meaning the anointed one. In ancient Israel, anointing with holy oil was only for the highest office under God himself: the high priest or the king. The words Christ and King could be interchanged. Christ is to Jesus like Queen is to Elizabeth. He is the Christ. King Jesus, so to speak. And some hymns particularly more contemporary ones, call him exactly that. King Jesus. A paradox. Some might say we believers are more foolish now than the ones who followed Jesus when he was on earth, when, at his most popular he looked at least capable of leading a popular revolt against the occupying Romans. What possible reason could there be for seeing as king a man who lived and died in a public execution over two millennia ago? Are we believers all nuts?

Possibly. But Christ Jesus is the one who I want to direct my life, even if I may more often than not ignore his direction, or not follow it completely. It is because of my allegiance to the Christ that I will go against my own self-will and do the right thing rather than the easy thing, tell the truth rather than lie, basically do my part whether in an occasional grand gesture or daily acts of service. Not for applause or a good reputation from people, or because I’m a nice person, (though I am sometimes) but out of love and reverence for Christ Jesus. Sometimes it’s an awe-struck obedience, mostly if I’m honest it’s a capitulation, a ceding to authority. Just as you might when a policeman pulls you over, whether you’ve been doing anything wrong or not, you would accept his or her authority to pull you over. It’s a teeny bit like that.