Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sackcloth and ashes for lent?

It's all about the 'giving up'. People are giving up chocolate, social media, sugar and anything else they think is a bad addition to their lives.  

I've always struggled a bit with lent. Apart from the fact that giving up chocolate would not work for me (or my family), I've always wondered just what the point of it is. I know it's about stripping back and preparing our hearts for Easter. It's about making room and repenting.

But I wonder why I need to do this only in the 40 days run up to Easter. My heart is pretty ugly most of the year round. And I am constantly in need of God's mercy. It all seems a bit 'woe is me' and in our individualistic society it feels like we are being told that if we give up Facebook for 40 days then God can forgive us.  Maybe it's the new sackcloth and ashes.

Surely that defeats the whole point of Easter.  The truth is that we can't do anything to earn God's forgiveness. Even giving up sugar - and that is hard! Jesus died so WE DON'T HAVE TO. There is nothing we can give up for lent that will change this.

And so as I ponder lent this year, my heart is drawn to the type of fasting that God himself recommends. You'll find it in Isaiah 58. This kind of fasting isn't centred on one person giving stuff up. This kind of fasting requires action on our parts to think about the world around us. It involves a heart response that leads us to actively loving those around us. And,
amazingly, it comes with awesome promises.

So, this lent I'm going to enjoy my chocolate knowing that God doesn't mind. He's more interested in my heart.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Dog Attack!

Apologies to all you dog lovers out there, but I am not one of you.  I do not like dogs and I find the fascination with them completely unfathomable.  I'm also a teensie bit scared.

Walking to school a few weeks ago I was leapt upon and viciously attacked by a fearsome wolf.  Ok, it was an Alsatian who jumped at me and bit my coat.  Had I not used my well practised super-ninja-mother-of-boys-moves, those sharp teeth would have sunk their way into my leg.  I was shaken up and arrived home to have a good sob on Toby's shoulders.  (It was one of those rare moments when you see a glimpse of the man they are becoming.  It was a good glimpse.)

Time travel forwards a few weeks (you mean you don't time travel?) and you will find a puffed out me half running behind Jonah on his new bike.  Just beyond us on our path is another Alsatian.  

Jonah looks at me as I wonder how to navigate this drooling obstacle.  I decide to be brave and keep walking.

But my sweet and thoughtful boy surprises me by climbing off his bike and pushing it so that he is between me and the dog.

"I'm protecting you, Mum." He explains as my heart melts just a little bit more.
"Well thank you," I reply. "But really I should be protecting you."
"Oh no," he smiles at me, "if the dog is going to bite someone's leg off then I would rather it was mine than yours."
"I don't think it is going to bite anyone's leg off, but if it does then really I would rather it was mine." I know I'm right - that's what a good mother should do.
"Yes but if your leg is bitten off then you won't be able to cook my tea or make me snacks or do my washing or any of the other jobs you do."

Ah.  Now we get to the crux of the matter.  He wasn't protecting me, after all!  

Eight year old boy logic at it's very best.

And this, dear readers, is one of the many reasons I love boys.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Food and Friends - A Story of Hope


This sign hangs over our new (ok, we've been here 6 months but it's still new to us) dining room.


And last night the room was full of 15 people, eating and celebrating.  Friends who have known each other for years and some brand new ones too.  

We had a reason to celebrate too (although this isn't always necessary, as those of you who have been in my kitchen when one of my 'tunes' comes on will know).  Last night we were celebrating the journey of two friends who have been on an incredible journey of finding beauty in ashes and hope in the midst of despair.  We'll call my friends Beauty and The Chef.  Oh yes, food is important!  

And to tell their story, I need to start with a confession of my own.  I used to be scared of Beauty and The Chef.  I often saw them walking to school at the same time as me.  Their children were in the same school as mine.  I didn't know them.  I didn't know how thoughtful, generous and downright fun they were.  So I was scared.  Too scared to even say hello.

But one day they arrived with their five children at our church gathering, having been invited by someone else.  And slowly but surely I overcame my fear and got to know them.  What a treat I had been missing!

This last year has been a tough one for our friends.  Drugs, fear, financial difficulties and anxiety have threatened to overcome them.  Last August, after the drugs had attempted one last kick of death, The Chef made the incredibly brave decision to go into rehab.  It would mean leaving Beauty and all the children for up to one year,  sometimes with no contact at all.  It was a now or never moment and I had enormous admiration for them both at the courage they displayed.  

Five months later, The Chef is not only drug free but is also off all his medication.  Beauty has had her own triumphs in single handedly parenting the children.  And we have watched them blossom.  We have witnessed their love for one another grow and have stood to the side cheering them on as they have claimed each small victory.  We have seen their hearts soften and watched God bring immeasurable healing as he has gently loved them, spoken to them and treasured them.  We have watched their eyes being opened to how awesome their Father God really is.  We have seen them become part of our family.  And we will continue to walk with them as they carry on the long road ahead.  

The Chef now comes home at weekends and sometimes even stays overnight.  So, last night, we filled our home with people who love Beauty and The Chef.  We ate  We laughed.  We told stories.  We celebrated.

And I looked around, at my dining room full of friends and food, standing in awe of our God who truly redeems situations, transforms lives and gives beauty instead of ashes.  Beauty and The Chef are trophies of God's grace and the privilege was all ours to host a celebration of changed hearts and lives.

Hope House was full to the brim of hope.  And it gave me shivers for what is to come.

Friday, 1 January 2016

The Nitty Gritty of Faith

I'm not a big fan of the New Year celebrations.  Despite the never ending unknowns in our family life and the resulting excitement when the next step is (finally) made clear, I happen to dislike not knowing what is going to happen next.  I'm a planner and when I don't know the plan it makes me feel uncomfortable which occasionally edges it's way into panic.  This year the unanswered questions (these are my worst kind of 'unknowns' - the ones where you know there has to be an answer but you have no idea what it will be) have dragged at my heels, threatening to floor me.

What will happen to my job once the funding runs out in March? 
How will I find a new job which fits in with our family?
Am I even meant to find a new job or am I supposed to be more available for other things?
How are we going to afford to fix the many things that need fixing in this house?
What have we let ourselves in for with this house?
How are we going to find a model that works and is replicable with all that we want to do in this house?
How on earth did we think this was going to actually work with a family to think about?
How will we even pay the mortgage if I don't have a job?
When are we going to have our first lodger?
How will our family adjust to said lodger?
Have we made a massive mistake?

You see.  My mind is unkind to me sometimes.  Especially in the middle of the night.

But last night, I woke up and looked at my clock.  The time was 3:33am.  And in our house, we have a saying about those numbers.  '333 is God's phone number' because in Jeremiah 33:3 it says this:

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

And there are so many things I do not know.  I have no answers.  But I used that phone number in the middle of the night and I called out to the One who has all the answers.  He knows all the things I don't know.

This is where faith gets down and dirty.  It's easy to have faith when everything drops in your lap.  It's easy to believe when you can see how it's all going to pan out.  But what about when you can't see and you don't know the answers or even have the resources?  That's the nitty gritty of faith.  A faith which can't see but trusts the One who can.  A faith that battles to keep it's gaze on the One who holds the resources in his hands instead of on the water leaking through the ceiling.  A faith that gives the little of what we have and trusts for it to be multiplied.  

The questions aren't silenced.  The nights are still the battleground of anxiety.  The unknowns are still looming somewhere ahead.  But faith chooses to keep walking forwards when all I can see is fog.  Faith chooses to remember all that has gone before.  Faith chooses to fight the anxiety with truth.

Faith is never an easy option.  Faith is a choice and, this year, it's what I'm choosing.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Why I'm praying for Isis.

I've got to write because writing helps me process my thoughts.  I guess I don't have to actually publish this.  But, weirdly, knowing my thoughts are out there helps me too.

I'm a feeler.  I can't help it.  I feel stuff deeply and sometimes this paralyses my thoughts and actions.  Today, I feel paralysed. Not by fear (although there is a certain amount of anxiety whispering what-ifs into my ears).  Not by disappointment (although, again, I am extremely disappointed with our government's rush to air strikes).  I'm not even paralysed by the crushing despair that wraps around me whenever I think about the ugly and beautiful state of humanity.

Today I'm paralysed by this phrase:

"Love your enemies and pray for the ones who persecute you."

I follow the one who said it.  I don't just follow him on twitter or Facebook.  I have given my whole life over to him.  It means I want to be like him.  It means that I want to live my life for him and find my whole purpose of existence in him.  It's not a 'liking his posts and moving along quickly' kind of following.  It's a life changing kind of following.

And this guy died because he loved his enemies.  He came as a baby, giving up all his glory and honour, to live like us.  In skin like ours.  He sacrificed everything for his enemies.

Eh?  This is hard to swallow.  Surely he doesn't expect me to follow that bit.  Surely that's a bit extreme.  An enemy is an enemy.  I don't even know if I can like an enemy who chops heads off children, rapes and imprisons women, brainwashes and radicalises young people and shoots and kills innocents.  

But, to Isis, those innocents are the enemy.

So this is where the rubber hits the road.  Jesus was counter-cultural in his day.  Oh yes.  And he certainly continues to be the same today.  The terrorists hate their enemies.  They hate them so much they have made it their mission to kill them.  Jesus loves his enemies.  He loves them so much that he made it his mission to die in their place so they could know him.  Jesus isn't a terrorist-sympathiser.  He hates what they do.  But he's a terrorist-lover.  He loves them.

Woah.  

If I follow Jesus, then I have to work out how to love them too.  Does this come naturally?  No.  Does this make me a terrorist-sympathiser?  No.  It makes me a Jesus-follower.

So, I pray for Isis.  I pray that (like the Christian-slaughterer, Paul, in the New Testament), the leaders of Isis would find Jesus.  I pray they would be led to conviction and repentance.  I pray for them to know the love of a God who dies for his enemies instead of killing them.  

And I trust in a God whose rule and reign over the earth will never, ever end.  And I wait for the return of the King, who will bring justice to our on-it's-knees (in so many ways) world.

Come, Lord Jesus.



NB: Before anyone berates me, I am praying with equal fervour for the innocent people across the world whose lives are being torn apart by Isis (and other terrorist groups) too.


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Giving

"Have you written your Christmas list yet, Jonah?" Our lovely hairdresser (who puts up with wriggling boys, complicated hairstyle requests and the occasional dirty ears) asks my boy.
"Ooh yes!" He replies enthusiastically, "I've bought everyone's presents except for Dad's!"  
The hairdresser looked surprised as Jonah didn't list off expensive item after expensive item that he wanted for himself.

And this is how this Christmas has been so far in our family this year.  It's come as a pleasant shock.

Rather than constantly asking us for extravagant and expensive presents, my boys have seemed to focus more on what they are giving other people.  In fact, two of them haven't even asked us for anything at all!

And unfortunately I don't think I can take any credit for it!

This year, for the first time ever, we have no TV aerial and so they are not watching the brainwashing adverts which tell them what they need in order to be happy.  This isn't by choice but simply because the aerial needs fixing and we've had other priorities (like damp walls and broken ovens) to spend the money on.  Having no live TV (we can still watch catch up TV) has transformed our family life and has made an enormous difference so far to the requests for Christmas presents.  And in such a fast paced culture which constantly tells us we need more and more and more, my boys seem to be content with what they have.  It's such a relief.  

So, this morning when we began our Bible Society Advent challenge (we love a good challenge, as you know!) and read the verse that says 'it is better to give than to receive', my boys just got it.  They simply love giving.  They've spent hours making and buying presents for other people.  They love watching them open presents they have carefully chosen.  

I wish I could explain in three easy steps how this has happened, but I can't.  It just has.  And I'm making the most of it.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Dirty Treasures

Jonah went to school with a pocket full of 'important stuff' this morning.  Those of you with little boys will know that this oh so vital 'stuff' consists of elastic bands, fossils, cool looking stones, marbles, football cards and even occasionally dried out worms.  It is always in their pockets (and now in my pockets and bag too) and they love to impress their friends with it.  

I love this about little boys.  His 'stuff' now spreads across his bedroom in various little pots and bags.  All important but none of it looks like much to our untrained eye.

Cycling to school this morning (whilst I was half running behind him), he spotted yet another item for pocket-filling.

A dirty, almost squished ball-bearing.



I hadn't even seen it but as we crossed a busy road, he wanted to stop and pick it up.  

'Mum! Stop!' He shouted at me.
'We can't stop here, it's too busy.' I shouted back (I wasn't cross, honest, the traffic was loud.)
'But there's something really special down there, didn't you see it?'
'No, I was actually concentrating on crossing the road.'

But it was important to him.  So important that he couldn't simply leave it there.  He excitedly talked of the treasure all the way to school and, using his incredible powers of negotiation, persuaded me to collect it on my way home, giving me detailed instructions.

'I don't think it was dog poo, mum, but touch it before you pick it up. If it's squishy, then it's dog poo so don't pick it up.'

As if I I would.

I hoped against hope that I wouldn't be able to find this treasure as I walked home again but sure enough, there it lay on the side of the road, covered in gunk and oil.  It was barely glistening.  The roads were busy and I tried to look normal as I picked up this tiny treasure from the gutter and quickly deposited it into my pocket before anyone called the police on this weirdo mother.

Jonah thought about this treasure all day, wondering if I had found it.  And when he arrived home he took time to clean and polish it.

And I realised something as I looked at this dirty treasure from the gutter.  There is a boy who stopped in the middle of the road and, had I not been there, would have got down onto his hands and knees into the dirt to pick up this precious item that others hadn't even noticed.  He would have covered himself in the oil and grit from the road, just to hold it in his hands.  It didn't matter that it was filthy.  He saw past the grime and saw what was underneath - a bright, strong, shining ball-bearing.  It had purpose.  It wasn't meant to be left on the side of the road.

We need to stop for each other.  We all have grime.  We all make mistakes, shout at our kids (who, me?!), get relationships wrong, judge others wrongly, speak untruths and idolise other things instead of God.  We need to look behind the dirt and call out the best in each other.  

Just like Jonah (and most other eight year old boys) saw the slimy ball-bearing as a treasure, so we need to see the treasures in each other.  Let's not leave each other on the side of the road to rot away.  Let's encourage each other and 'polish' each other so that we can be the best we were meant to be.

Let's fill our friendship pockets with encouragements, faithful friendship, seeing the best in each other and treasuring our relationships with one another.