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.

 

Foghorn

It would have been early, 5 am or thereabouts, when our sleep was interrupted by a long, loud blast on a ship’s horn. My other half was not impressed, saying it was a bit antisocial. It blasted again a few times more and then stopped. Later when we got up we couldn’t see the water or the bank opposite. It looked as though a cloud had parked in front of us. The blast was probably a cruise liner or cargo ship moving out along a stretch of river also used by small boats and rowers. So the foghorn may have woken the folks along the shore, but those on the water needed it.

One of the more ridiculous lies I have wrapped my scaredy-cat self in over the years goes like this: offence is worse than warning. So the best thing to do is to say nothing and hope that by being a really super-nice person others might be intrigued enough to give me opportunities to share the hope I have in Jesus. If I was really serious about that I should have got myself one of those badges pyramid sellers used to wear. ‘I’m a Christian. Ask me how.’

But I didn’t. Because for one thing, I was not nice enough consistently enough to arouse much curiosity. Truth. For another, I didn’t really have much to tell people in response to any question they might ask me. Thinking about talking to anyone about my faith made my palms sweaty. Still does at times. But I saw a cartoon that gave me pause. It showed the devil leading a man off to hell and an angel leading another off to heaven. The condemned man is looking at the other with disbelief. The caption reads: Bob! You never told me you were a Christian!

If you’re in the dark and you’re in danger you need someone to warn you. If you choose not to believe them that’s your choice. If I see the danger but am too shy/scared to tell you, that makes me not at all nice. That makes me something else entirely. As Penn Jillette, not shy about his atheism, puts it so well here.

Don’t say this in church

A few weeks ago I stood up in church at the end of the service and proposed that the women take a few hours out for a break at a local spa. I didn’t notice I had used the word ‘pamper’ until I was questioned nervously about it afterwards.

I made a mental note not to say pamper in church again. It freaks people out.

Perhaps it’s because we women, daughters of that naughty Eve, well, we’re not meant to be pampered, we’re meant to work. To serve others continuously. To give and not to get. It is, after all, more blessed to give than to receive. We know how well we’re doing by how much we’re doing.

Anyway, pampering is worldly, right? Advertising assures us ‘we’re worth it’, and wallpapers our magazines and screens with luxury holidays and homes and lives.

The church should be steering clear of all that, surely. A good church woman cares, provides, supports, helps, prays, teaches, visits, organises and bakes, with endless patience, good humour, creativity and calm. Definitely no pampering.

Then again, maybe not.

Maybe when Jesus told his disciples to come aside and rest awhile, as he did in Mark 6 v 31 he meant it.

The disciples had been busy. The crowds were continuous. The demands were many. The disciples were, as we are, finite and human. Exhausted. Jesus told them to rest. And he tells us to rest too.

When I stood up at the end of the service I saw some very tired women and men. But the discomfort over the idea of pampering made me wonder how much we think God loves us. Call me crazy, but I believe He loves us enough to let us have some time to relax once in a while. He even mandated it, in fact. Rest was part of God’s design. In fact, as Joyce Meyer pointed out recently, Adam’s first day on earth after he was created was a day of rest.

In rest we drop our cares for a while, we relax, we enjoy the blessing of leisure. We take a break from the routine, we remember who we are and what it is to simply be, without the weight of responsibility. It keeps our minds healthy. It keeps us humble, not puffed up with the conceit that we can keep going without a break. It connects us back to the joy of simply being alive. It refreshes us, reinvigorates us. Makes us feel good.

So I’m off to the spa.

Hallelujah.

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

Wandering off

A story about Jesus. Been a while, eh.

Jesus and his parents have been down to the temple in Jerusalem for Passover. They set off for home, and after a day or so realise that Jesus isn’t with them. They check amongst their friends and relatives, part of the group they were travelling with, but he’s not there. It takes them three days to find him, and when they do he’s at the temple, sitting with the scholars, listening and asking questions beyond his years. When Mary and Joseph challenge him, Jesus asks them ‘Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my father’s house?’

It’s a well-known story. The absent-minded parents, the big crowds, the slightly odd discovery of a twelve-year old boy holding his own with the theologians…It’s cute and quaint and why am I mentioning it?

Because I do it all the time. I leave Jesus behind while I get stuck in my tiny dramas and forget that he’s the main attraction, not me. Invariably it takes a while to notice. Like Mary and Joseph I might wander round asking my believing friends when they last saw him. Unlike M and J, this would just be stalling. I know that I’ll find him in contact with God’s word, where the conversation is still very much alive, as He is. And that is where I tend to look last.

Once my kids are too old to have their hands held, we have a rule never to go out of sight when we’re out together. They mostly remember. Perhaps that’s the kind of distance I am most comfortable with, allowing me to check I’m still walking in the same direction as Jesus is but doing it independently. I know it’s not nearly close enough. Hard to hear the still small voice if I’m only in visual contact.

When my own children realise they’ve wandered too far by themselves and come back for guidance and reassurance, it is good to see them again, even better to walk with them for a while before they inevitably wander off once more. In the spirit of assuming the best, I am going to assume that Jesus takes the same delight in us when we come back to find Him.

Assuming the best

Integrity is when the reality matches the impression. When the inside matches the outside.

I need some of that.

I need the impression I mysteriously give to others of being calm, sorted and sure of myself to match how I feel on the inside. Let me correct that. I don’t need it to match how I feel, because that puppy is all over the place. What I need is for the outward impression I give of serenity to match real serenity on the inside. The kind of tranquillity that isn’t dependent on mere feeling.

Ducks and swans glide along but their legs paddle like mad beneath the surface. That’s me, dealing with an endless number of anxieties with no basis in fact. It’s a gift that just keeps on giving, operating across time and space, reaching forward into what could go wrong and back into what did go wrong, what may have gone wrong and what may have actually gone wrong but I didn’t notice. Sometimes I’m tired before I even get out of bed.

However. It does not honour God, or anyone else, to always assume the worst. It ignores and dishonours every good outcome, blessing and peaceful encounter of my life, which I can honestly say is made up more of positives than negatives. I have no right to pessimism or disaster planning. Nothing has ever been prevented by my worrying about it. On the other hand, I have wasted precious mental energy creating scenarios worthy of Hollywood.

Time for some new basic assumptions:

Things are probably okay right now.

Things will probably be okay, if not now, then in the end.

If things are not okay, I will probably be able to deal with it.

If an important thing is not okay and it’s my fault but I didn’t realise or notice at the time, I will discover it and then I will probably be able to deal with it.

And then it will be okay.

Sounds simple to the point of stupid, but perhaps it needs to be. It is possible that the point of believing in a loving God is that I need to actually, erm, believe that He is God, and that He loves me. That if I stop trying to fix things myself, He will help me recognise what’s real, where I’ve messed up and hurt people, and show me how to make things right. He will also help me to recognise and ignore the nonsense, the stuff that just messes with my head and makes me afraid.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 Jn 4 v 18

I know this is more than possible because he’s already done it for me countless times. I just need to remember. And adjust my assumptions.