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.

Evangelism the party game

Last night I went to a Christmas dinner with an amazing diverse group of women with a shared interest in Italian language and culture. The group has been meeting over nearly twenty years to have Italian conversation, eat wonderful antipasti and generally have a nice time.

It was my first Christmas dinner and so I was unaware of the traditional activity, which varies each year, but usually involves some kind of party game. Last year they all had to wear hats with a word they couldn’t see and they had to guess it from the clues others gave them.

This year we all had phrases taped underneath our chairs. These were random, mostly surreal statements that we had to slip into conversation without detection. Once we’d all had our first go at the munchies and got settled, we were allowed to read our slips of paper. Mine said ‘I love Italian cheese but I prefer Kraft singles’. I couldn’t say it with a straight face, not between mouthfuls of delicious Italian nibbles, so I gave the game away instantly. My partner worked hers into an otherwise perfectly normal chat about holiday destinations. Mind you her sentence was much easier than mine: ‘if I won the lottery I’d buy a house in Tuscany’.

It was a great game, and funny to see people leading conversations off in weird directions so they could work their phrase in undetected. It was a lot of fun but for a while I was silent, paralysed by the need to fit this unfamiliar set of words into my conversation. My phrase felt like a burden I had to get rid of. Others had the same problem, to the point where they couldn’t play the game at all.

And it made me think of the formulaic evangelism that I was taught growing up, the three- or five-point scripts intended to show people their need for God, His work in Christ and the great plan of salvation. I never used any of them because they felt a bit like a set of random sentences inserted into a completely different context. Like this party game.

I dislike scripts. They feel manipulative and inflexible. But I know they work for some. For those who, like in this game, spend the time to bring the conversation round, set the context and then gently introduce the script. For a long time I felt that there must be something wrong with me because I have always found it so hard to even set the scene for prepackaged words about God. For me it simply doesn’t work. It feels awkward and false. Not because God is false, but precisely because He is real.

Yikes! I just preached!

Yes way. This last Sunday. I stood up and preached from Romans 12 1 – 2. And the sky did not fall in. Nobody got up and left. Or threw anything, or shouted heretic.

They were all quite nice about it actually.

And despite the sleepless nights and the 8 or 9 versions that I wrote before it was delivered, I really REALLY enjoyed it. Even writing that down seems like a big deal. I have learned to censor myself too much. I sound like a Jane Austen character. One of the demure, boring sisters. Maybe because sometimes that’s what I still think I’m meant to be. It’s hard to shake the idea that that’s what Godly looks like. Like a Victorian child, seen and not heard.

I said in a previous post this was my year of saying Yes. And no. No doubt I’ve got it mixed up a bit along the way but it was with a sense of daring bordering on recklessness that I said yes when asked if I would preach while one of our ministers was on paternity leave. It was like an out-of-body experience. I watched myself say yes quickly without agonising and then, having said yes, I watched myself not agonise about having said yes to such a stand-up-the-front-and-make-everyone-listen-to-you-for-twenty-minutes thing. I just went on with my life until it was time to prepare. Who was this strange relaxed woman who had invaded my body?

I figured she’d taken the night before the service off because I was very much back in charge then. I spent a while letting all kinds of weird scenarios process through my head like some kind of carnival parade. My insecurities were jumping up in my face like our overexcited dog. Then this question cut through the noise: how did you get here and how do you really feel? Deep down, out of sight of the pointing fingers and turned backs in your imagination. That was God. I have no doubt. As I pondered the question, I realised that deep down, I felt neither stress nor anxiety, but excitement. I was buzzing, but feeling somehow wrong about it. A blog I’ve found recently by Jory Micah may have helped me knock the last few nails in the coffin of why girls can’t preach, but it was still hard to shake the feeling that I was having altogether too much fun even thinking about doing it.

When I was a child our vicar, a lovely man called Graham Hayles, would describe how God would give him bits and pieces to add to his sermon as the week went on, in events and unexpected conversations with people as he went about his pastoral work, or shopping or gardening or whatever. He would talk about insights that came as he observed things around him. I remember that I loved hearing about that, thinking how cool it must be. Just to think about and observe the world and see what God is saying today to reinforce and explain the ancient texts of scripture for us today. Strange thing for a young girl to enjoy, but there you are.

Now fast forward exty-ex years to last Saturday. Here I was about to do just that. To preach God’s word, illustrated by my own insights, coincidences and random events, which had been accumulating for weeks like the dustbunnies under my bed. My fears and anxieties melted away as I realised that God had orchestrated this whole event. I did not ask to speak but was asked. I only had to do my part and leave the rest up to him. It went well. I felt calm. Very, very calm. They even laughed at my jokes.

It was only after I sat down that I began to shake.

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.

Daily dose

New day. Open eyes, touch cold floor with warm feet, push upright. Consider what lies ahead. Sigh or smile, depending.

And deliberately remind myself that God is here, in my excitement or apprehension or boredom or sorrow. He’s here. More faithful to me than I’ve been to myself. Or anyone else. Needing nothing from me, offering nonetheless his companionship, his guidance, his love. His delight, even.

I am held, nourished and nurtured by the love I cannot see or touch.
I am stubborn and slow to appreciate the steadfast love which never ceases, the endless, endless mercies.

I am held, nourished and nurtured by the love I cannot prove or locate.
I am fickle and quick to dismiss the insistent riff from beneath, from beyond, Limitless.

Love