Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Tidings

Happy Christmas!

Those who know us well, will be well aware that 2012 could easily be called our Annus Horribilis,
And other rude words which I won't mention here.

This Christmas we will be aware of those who are absent for the first time,
Chris's Mum and Dad, Charles and Irene.
My Grandad Fred.
And my Dad, John.
We miss, and will miss them dreadfully
But we will remember them with love and thanks
Not only for the people they were
But for the way they loved us so well.

So bearing all that in mind
I asked Chris and the boys for one positive thing that had happened in 2012.

Chris - West Ham got back into the Premiership and recently beat Chelsea.
Ryan - His first lads' holiday in Malia
Joel   - Grew 5 inches in 2 months
Nathan - Got his grade 1 piano

And me?
I abseiled 70ft off Black Rock in Derbyshire. I know!

We also had a good holiday in Tenerife.
Wall-to-wall sunshine was just what the Dr ordered.
And it gave us some much-needed rest and recuperation.

We hope you've had a better year than we have.
But we are still standing as a family unit.
Together we know that God will not fail us.
We trust Him.

Thank you for your love and prayers.
Happy Christmas!
May Immanuel be a reality for you
And may you know the peace and joy of Christ in 2013.


Me and my boys



On Mount Teide


Thursday, 20 December 2012

In search of joy.

I set out at the end of November with clenched teeth, and a face set towards my destination
I was determined.
I was going to find it, no matter what.

It would be easy, after all I love this time of year.
But decoration after decoration
Christmas card after Christmas card
Ornament after ornament
Nativity scene after nativity scene
Light after light
Seemed to make no difference.

I was in search of joy.
But candle after candle still left me floundering in the darkness.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I told one of my dearest friends,
"I'm looking for joy. But I can't find it in any of the usual places."

She held me close and said
Maybe I just need to go with the flow.
Stop trying so hard.
Let God surprise you.

So I did.

And He has.

Kind of.....

I'm not rolling in the aisles but I have found blessings.

In the two nights in the row where we've sat as a family
and laughed and sang as we watched Christmas films.

In the Carol Service at the church we left in 1991 to enter full-time ministry.
In a strange way it felt like we'd gone home.

In the Garden of Lights at a local National Trust Property.
And afterwards, giggling in McDonald's with my friend,her daughter, and my son
over nothing in particular.

In friends who have dropped in unannounced because they've missed us around the place.

In a lovely dinner of Roast Lamb with rosemary that my sons pronounced to be 'banging'
(That means good....)

And finally in a verse of scripture that I've read a hundred times but never really seen.

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
Those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way,
one foot at a time,
down the path of peace

Luke 1:78-79

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Broken Nativity

Today I opened one of our Nativity Sets to discover that Joseph had lost his head.
One of our other sets has a king with a repaired head.
Our eldest son was a bit over-enthusiastic about helping me put it out when he was two....

When I mentioned my headless Joseph on facebook this afternoon,
I discovered friends had a headless shepherd, and an earless donkey.
Oh and an armless Jesus.

Which brings me to a point that is very relevant to me at the moment.
We come to God as people who long to be made whole.
In our humanity we are broken.
But that's ok because God loves broken things.

Each individual involved in the Nativity was broken.
Some were more aware of it than others.
But God used them in their brokenness.

This Advent season may be different to past ones.
But God meets us in our brokenness.
He loves us back to healing and wholeness.
Grace is everything.

Check out the song 'Broken Hallelujah' by Mandisa
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=QuuJDs2X4GE

With my love and my sadness
I come before You Lord
My heart's in a thousand pieces
Maybe even more
Yet I trust in this moment
You're with me somehow
And You've always been faithful
So Lord even now

When all that I can sing
Is a broken hallelujah
When my only offering
Is shattered praise
Still a song of adoration
Will rise up from these ruins
I will worship You and give You thanks
Even when my only praise
Is a broken hallelujah

Oh Father, You have given
Much more than I deserve
And I have felt Your hand of blessing
On me at every turn
How could I doubt Your goodness
Your wisdom, Your grace
So Lord hear my heart
In this painful place

Allelujah
I lift my voice
Your Spirit moves
I raise my hands
I reach for You

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Elizabeth

We've just got back from a friend's.
We went there for lunch.
Roast lamb with all the trimmings
followed by sticky toffee pudding.
It was hard to resist the invitation.
She's a great cook.
But more than that she's a great friend.

You know the type of person who always makes you smile?
When you spend time with them you know there'll be
fun
laughter
debate
more laughter.

But for me, it goes deeper than that.
She asks how I am and the tears spring to my eyes
Because she knows....

She knows that life is tough.
She knows the isolation I feel.
She knows that in loving me, she is bringing a little bit of heaven to earth.

In Luke 1, Mary finds out she's pregnant and goes straight to her cousin Elizabeth.
Was it to escape the clamour?
To make sense of it in her head?
To get used to the idea?

Or did she go because she knew that in Elizabeth she had
A friend
A confidante
A kindred spirit?

I like to think God led her to a place of safety where she would be loved and understood.

General John Gowans died yesterday.
He left behind a treasury of poetry.
One poem says

'Do you sometimes feel that no one truly knows you,
And that no one understands or really cares?
Through his people, God himself is close beside you,
And through them he plans to answer all your prayers.


Someone cares, someone cares,
Someone knows your deepest need, your burden shares;
Someone cares, someone cares,
God himself will hear the whisper of your prayers.


Ours is not a distant God, remote, unfeeling,
Who is careless of our loneliness and pain,
Through the ministry of men he gives his healing,
In their dedicated hands brings hope again.'


God places people in our lives to be for us what Elizabeth was for Mary.
He knows...

Sometimes we can be the 'Elizabeth' for others in their times of need too.
A place of safety that provides love and understanding.
A little bit of heaven on earth.

Friday, 7 December 2012

STOP! Look and listen.

I helped at Nathan's Christmas Fair yesterday.
It was packed with excited children and exhausted parents,
so pretty much business as usual.

Do you ever want to scream STOP at this time of year?
Enough.
Too much already.

Mum, my sister and I sorted out Dad's things on Tuesday.
As we filled the car with bags for the charity shop
it felt so final.
A person's life contained in a car-load.

STOP.
Enough.
Too much already.

Today has been a better day.
The sun has shone.
The sky turned a brilliant blue after the snow showers.
And I had a lovely coffee with Chris at the Garden Centre.

As we were driving back I remembered the Advent challenge I gave our congregation a few years back.
It came from the carol, 'It came upon the midnight clear',
And the challenge was to

'Hush the noise, ye men (and women) of strife
And hear the angels sing.'

Or, STOP.
Look for the reality of His presence in the madness of Christmas.
Listen for Him.
His angels may come from unexpected places.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Nothing will ever be the same again

It's been a Christmassy few days.
Saturday night was the Golf Club Dinner and Dance.
We go every year with a group of friends.
It's always a good night.

Yesterday we went to the Dickens Christmas Fayre in Rochester.
And today we walked along the South Bank from London Bridge.
It was lovely to see the sights and sounds of the Christmas Market Stalls.


Photo
Our purchase from The Christmas Market!

The trouble is it all feels different.
In my mind I hear the words 'Nothing will be the same again.'
Of course it won't.
Our family looks very different this Christmas to last.
But does different have to mean worse?
Can we still know Christmas Joy in our grief?

Graham Kendrick wrote about the birth of Jesus.
'And nothing will ever be the same again
This night has changed everything.'

The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.
John 1:9

Jesus' birth changed the world.
He can change our darkness into light.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Christmas cake

I made my Christmas cake this morning.
Well actually, the mixture is ready to go in the oven.
No greaseproof paper to line the tin....schoolgirl error!

I love this time of year.
I love Advent, I think even more than Christmas itself.
I love the anticipation...
the wonder...
the excitement...

In a way it's a relief for us as a family to have something normal happening in our lives for a change.
The loss of Chris's parents, my Grandad, and my Dad this year has left us reeling.
Nothing is as it usually is,
So the normality of Advent is very welcome.

Anyway, back to the Christmas cake.


                                                                My kitchen this morning
Photo
                                                          I'm not the most ordered cook!


It's an ancient Marguerite Patten recipe I use.
I've tried others but keep coming back to this one.
I had everything ready and prepared.
The fruit, the nuts, the cherries, the brandy.
I was merrily mixing it all together in my very old,
very large, mixing bowl, that is only used for this purpose.
But I could see something wasn't quite right.

And then I remembered.....I'd forgotten the flour!
The lovely ingredients needed the flour to bind them together.
It's not rocket science, but domestic science.

Advent is often full to the brim.
Busy with the whirl of everything we call 'Christmas'.

Jesus is the one who holds it, and us, all together.
He is the one.
The one who 'shall be called Emmanuel, God with us' (Matthew 1:23)
The one who offers rest
And peace
And hope
And life

Long after Christmas is past
And the Christmas cake is eaten.




Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The shepherd

It's confession time!
Psalm 23 was never a favourite of mine.
I'd learnt it at school.
Sang countless arrangements of it.
Heard it read over and over again.
But somehow it never really filtered through.
 
Until about a year ago.
'Certainties' in my life have become less and less,
so I have come to cry out more and more to the shepherd who supplies all I need.
 
The Shepherd who
Leads...
Guides...
Restores...
Protects...
Provides...
 
A friend shared this with me today.
It spoke to my heart and brought a tear to my eye.
Be blessed x
 
The Lord is my constant companion.
There is no need that He cannot fulfill.
Whether His course for me points
to the mountaintops of glorious joy
or to the valleys of human suffering,
He is by my side.
He is ever present with me,
He is close beside me
when I tread the dark streets of danger,
and even when I flirt with death itself,
...
 
He will not leave me.
When the pain is severe,
He is near to comfort.
When the burden is heavy,
He is there to lean upon.
When depression darkens my soul,
He touches me with eternal joy.
When I feel empty and alone,
He fills the aching vacuum with His power.
My security is in His promise
to be near me always
and in the knowledge
that He will never let me go.

Psalm 23 - Psalms Now Leslie F. Brandt

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Stir up Sunday

Today is Stir Up Sunday.
The last Sunday before Advent is traditionally the day to make your Christmas Puddings.
But if that idea doesn't fill you with joy, then maybe take a moment to think about this.
'Stir up O Lord, the wills of your faithful people.'
It's from the Book of Common Prayer, and it's where this Sunday gets it name from.

My circumstances are very different this year.
I have choices about how I spend this Advent Season.

What about you?
Before we get caught up in the whirlwind of Christmas, how about being stirred up a bit?
Not to make us more frantic, but to look at things differently.
Perhaps even to really see Jesus this Christmas.
'And he shall be called Immanuel.... God with us.' Matthew 1:23

Happy Stir Up Sunday.
Enjoy your pud!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Upstairs Downstairs

I am trapped upstairs for a few hours.
It's ok.
In fact it's infinitely preferable to the prospect of being downstairs.

Upstairs I have space, warmth, books, magazines, and a cup of tea.
Downstairs there are two rooms piled high with furniture and stuff, and a floor I can't walk on until it dries.

Upstairs, I am content.
Downstairs, before I completed the necessary gymnastic feat to get my foot on the stairs, I was miserable.

Who was it that said, "I'm in my own little world. It's ok, they know me here."?

Psalm 91:4 says
"He will cover you with his feathers, He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armour and protection."

Under His feathers I am safe.
I may be here a while.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Peace like a River

I got a surprise in the post today.
My friend Julie, who I know prays for me a lot, sent me a peace lily.
The instructions made me smile
Your Peace Lily will tell you when it hasn't been watered as its leaves will droop (but try to avoid it reaching that stage)!
That sounds familiar....


Last week I had a line of a song going through my head.
Something about a soft robe wrapping me up in his love.

He gives you peace like a river, washing away all your fears.
He gives you light, like a new day, glowing through all your tears.
He gives you joy, like a soft robe wrapping you up in His love.
He gives you strength, like an eagle, hovering high above.

He came hoping to show you the way to be free.
He came dying to love you, so you could see how to see.
He gives you hope, like fresh laughter bubbling out of a child.
He gives you life that’s unending, loving you all the while.


Why not pray it for you and your family, as I pray it over mine.

May the peace of God, which transcends all human understanding,
guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)


Monday, 12 November 2012

All I once held dear

In some ways I feel as if I'm losing everything I once held dear at the moment. Nothing is as it was. But this is what I cling on to. God loves me. I trust Him.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Life in The Shadow

It's just over 6 months since I worked publicly.
The depression that knocked me off my feet yet again, is lifting.
Some powerful prayer over the last few weeks has reminded me that I am God's princess,
and he wants me whole. Some healing has taken place.

I've also been trying to take better care of myself.
Those who know me well know that I'm more blessed by chocolate than carrots.
However eating better, walking a lot, and resting when I need to has helped me in my recovery.

The grief at the losses we have suffered over the past 6 months hits us like a freak wave in a calm sea at times, but we go with it, and I'm sensing that's a good thing.

At the end of April, I couldn't see that I would ever work again.
This life as God's co-worker was too hard.
But as I heard His voice responding to my cries say, "I know..."
And his answer to my questions was just, "Trust Me..."
Somehow we have made it through to today.

Today I know that God, my Father does know. I trust Him.
And His word to me over these past few weeks has been
"She that dwells within the secret place of the most High,
shall find rest in the shadow of the Almighty....
He will cover you with his feathers,
He will shelter you with his wings,
His faithful promises are your armour and protection"
Psalm 91:1-4

These are now the words on the post-its around my house.
The boys humour me, but I've put them in strategic places where I hope they'll read and remember them too. (I recued the one that fell down the toilet...)

Thank you for those who are hanging in there with us.
Thank you to those who have taken on our responsibilities as neither of us are able to work at the moment.
Thank you to those who are praying, and those that give us verses and pictures that you feel God is saying to you for us.
Please carry on praying, especially for the boys.
You are a blessing to all of us.
And as we thank God for you, we pray that you too will find rest in His shadow.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Treasures

This was the view as I perched on our decking yesterday
to drink my coffee.

Photo
And then I looked closer...

I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel,
who summons you by name.
Isaiah 45:3

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

God on the M25

God came close on the M25 yesterday.
Not for the usual reasons of oaths sworn by drivers,
people going too fast,
or even those who think they own the road.

Instead, God used a very old CD.
It's title of 'New worship songs' is 12 years old,
but I put it on because I was on my own in the car and fancied a sing.
Some of them were familiar songs,
but as I sang I noticed a phrase kept on coming through.
"The Father's Embrace."

One song particularly gripped me as I sang.
Next thing I knew I was smiling,
as the God who makes himself real in my circumstances,
surprised me yet again.

You see, for a girl who's recently lost her Dad,
and is missing his big bear hugs,
it's great to know that my heavenly father 'embraces' me.
He doesn't hug, smooch or cuddle,
but He embraces me.
He lifts me in His big strong arms, and holds me securely.

Here's the song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N6tihSBZow
It's based on Psalm 27, which is also worth a read.
Let Him embrace you today.

You are my anchor,
My light and my salvation.
You are my refuge,
My heart will not fear.
Though my foes surround me on every hand,
They will stumble and fall
While in grace I stand.
In my day of trouble
You hide me and set me above
To sing this song of love.

One thing I will ask of You, this will I pray:
To dwell in Your house, O Lord, every day,
To gaze upon Your lovely face,
And rest in the Father’s embrace.


Teach me Your way, Lord,
Make straight the path before me.
Do not forsake me, my hope is in You.
As I walk through life, I am confident
I will see Your goodness with every step,
And my heart directs me to seek You
In all that I do,
So I will wait for You.


Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Thankyou Music



Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A sacrifice of praise.

I used to think of the term 'Sacrifice of praise' as an offering of praise. Sacrifices on the altar were traditionally gifts, or offerings that someone brought to God. It was often the best they had to bring.

But I've recently been thinking of it in terms of praise to God being costly.
I've never been a "It's all good!" type of person.
Or even a, dare I say it, "God is good all the time" kind of person either.
I know He is. Of course He is.
But to try to express it at times when my world has been falling apart is unhelpful at best, and impossible at worst.

Yesterday, however, I had a message from a lovely Christian gentleman. He's very well known in Salvation Army circles, but we'd only recently had direct contact from him, following our losses. He'd written a poem about grace. It was beautiful. But as I read it, it got harder and harder to read and accept. When I mentioned this to him, he wrote this...

"If I don't say this well, please forgive me but, just make gratitude part of your grief. Be glad of the pain because the pain is the result of your loss of a most precious and unique relationship. Without that quality of relationship you would be much less than you are... Try and let your grief and gladness walk with you into the days ahead... Without any shallow sentimentality or gauche unnaturalness, your lovely Dad is part of who you are. A healthy, God-honouring influence, helping you to a maturity of faith that is a reward of exceeding value..."

The truth is I am so, so grateful for the love of my parents. I have taken it for granted, but I do know how fortunate I have been to grow up in a family where love is so freely expressed. The pain of loss is the price we pay on earth for loving and being loved so much.In turn I am able to share the love I have known, in my relationships with my husband and my sons. Our family is not perfect, but we know how to love.

So that's my sacrifice of praise for now.
I thank God for the gift of love... The love of our family and friends, that is totally encompassed by the love He has for us.

My prayer is found in an old hymn:
Finish, then, Thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

I believe that Dad is now lost in wonder, love and praise.
I long for the day that we all are too.
But in the meantime I'll rest in God's arms as he shows me how to make my sacrifice of praise.

Friday, 21 September 2012

No voice

It's 5 o'clock on a Saturday sang Billy Joel. Well it's actually 5 o'clock on a Thursday but that doesn't have the same ring to it.
I'm awake because I have laryngitis and can't stop coughing so I thought I'd do something useful like create this blog.
Welcome to my world!
At the moment I'm banned from speaking. It's day 5 and my voice hasn't improved. It's frustrating to have to write everything down. I choose my words more carefully though as they take so long.
Last night I went to Hastings, and was reminded of the poem that gave me my blog title.
"Earth is crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees takes off their shoes..."
As I spend more time in enforced silence I hope to see....
Shame my husband and boys haven't got it too!

Mum's the Word 3

Calling all Salvation Army Singing Company (choir) members from the 70’s and 80’s! Remember this one? “What blest provision of thy grace, that I should find a secret place? Within thy presence there to dwell and silently my need to tell.” New Songs for YP May’74. I was in Liverpool Walton Singing Company, when I sang this for the first time. At the tender age of 9, it captured my imagination, and even more so now. Tell me any busy Mum who doesn’t occasionally long for a secret place of their own! So imagine my joy over the last few years as it dawned on me that a “devotional time” (pious face optional) with God, wasn’t necessarily going to be a set time or place in my schedule. Instead, the ever-present God refused to be compartmentalised, and I could find him wherever I chose to look. When returning home after a busy day, and finding a whole host of mundane tasks still to do, I realized that I could just take off my shoes, and remind myself that I was on ‘holy ground’ (Exodus 3:5) Margaret Silf writes in ‘Close to the Heart’, “There is more prayer in the scrap yards of our hearts than we imagine. If we look for signs in the heavens, we may easily overlook God’s footprints in the sidewalk. The true vine is on the greengrocer’s shelf. The pearl of great price lies hidden in the cracks of our city sidewalks. And the salt of the earth is what we sprinkle on our own potatoes.” It never ceases to amaze me that the majestic, awesome God is an everyday reality in my life. There are moments of reverence and awe, when I am reminded of how amazing he is. But as I work out my faith in the every day, God reveals himself through the little details, and reminders of his presence in my life. During Lent I took part in the 60/60 experiment. www.soulrevolution.net. The challenge was to remind myself moment by moment that I was in God’s presence. Alarms were set on phones and post-it notes were put up in strategic places around the house with 60/60 on them. (One bright spark added, “don’t forget to flush” to one of them.) But the challenge was not to pray more, but a minute-by-minute communication with the Creator. It was great - I became aware that I often spent much of my day ignoring God, apart from those moments I remembered to pray or was doing something specific for him. God of the everyday is a reality, not a pipe-dream. So what else do I do to try and sustain some kind of meaningful relationship with Him? I try and spend a few moments each day somewhere green. It calms me, and reminds me that those birds singing their hearts out are just being what God created them to be. I need to do the same. I play a CD or playlist on shuffle, and ask God to speak to me through the music. It’s strange how listening to things in a different order can give a real sense of what God is saying to me. I try to remember to commit each day to God, asking him to use me for him. I have a note on the mirror, “When we wake up in the morning and turn our soul toward You. You are there first.” Soren Kierkegaard I pray. Wherever I am, and whatever I’m doing, I often find myself praying, almost without realizing it. I read God’s word. Not as often as I would like to, or even should probably. And I often find myself saying with Jacob in Genesis 28:16, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.! I love being a Mum (some of you may remember….!) I love being a wife. And I love being a Salvation Army officer (minister). Most of the time anyway… But underneath it all I am someone who loves being the child that God created me to be. I need to regularly work out what that means as I live out my faith day by day. It hasn’t changed much since I was 9yrs old in the Singing Company. “Within the secret place of prayer I bring to Thee my daily care, and kneel before thy gracious throne. With thee my Lord, my God alone.”

Monday, 17 September 2012

So here it is.

So this is it. My Dad's funeral is today. I can't sleep. So these are my thoughts: I'm glad we've got some good songs planned.. Our family and friends sing well, And as we sing Feed me now and evermore we'll exchange a smile at Dad belting out the bass notes. I'm looking forward to hearing all the tributes. I've been reminded in recent Weeks that Dad was well Loved and had an impact on many people. I'm dreading the final farewell, but will leave Dad in faith that God has wiped every tear from his eye, And he no longer knows suffering or pain (Rev21) So here we go. May today be a fitting tribute to my earthly Dad And bring glory to my heavenly Father. Oh and may I get through my tribute without blubbing!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The tracks of my tears

Dad died suddenly on a sunny August morning.
There had been no warning.
He’d been ill for years but we weren’t expecting to lose him.
As we left the place where he’d drawn his final breaths, the blue sky and sunshine seemed to mock us. We wanted to scream what had happened to the people passing, going about their business. And the tears started. Sometimes it feels as if they’ll never stop.

You see this wasn’t the first death that had occurred in our family. In fact it was the fourth in four months. We had lost key figures in our lives. A dearly loved Grandad, and three parents. These weren’t minor losses they were huge.

And as I looked at our family, especially our children, just last week, as we sat in the garden having a barbecue, I thought, “It’s too much sadness for one family.”
How much can one family take? How much can I take if it comes to that?

We know where our loved ones are now. We believe that Jesus has taken them Home to rest. But the pain of parting feels like a weight in my chest. Sometimes I cry so hard I can’t breathe. And my mind struggles to process the fact that I won’t see them again in this life.

I picked up my Bible a few days ago. This isn’t a rare occurrence, but it was a deliberate action as I wanted something, anything from God. I couldn’t feel Him. I struggled to hear His voice. I trusted Him, but I was a bit cross with Him as well.

I started at Psalm 62 and worked backwards.
They were comforting words and they helped a little.
These however, stopped me in my tracks,
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

God, my Father, traces the tracks of my tears. He collects my tears in a bottle.
Who knows? Maybe he uses them to put the sparkle in a new-born baby’s eyes.
Nothing is ever wasted.
He knows.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Mirror Mirror

This was published in Salvationist 8.9.12

“Twist me and turn me and show me the elf, I looked in the water and there saw……”

Anyone who has been a brownie, will probably know the story those words come from. It’s about a little girl and her brother who wanted to find a brownie to help their Mum at home. They went to the Wise Old Owl who told them the brownie could be found in the pool in the woods. The little girl had to turn around on the edge of the pool, say the rhyme above and look to see the brownie in the water. Of course the missing word was ‘myself’, and the girl was encouraged to be the one that fulfilled the role of brownie and helped her mother at home

 I remembered that rhyme when I was stood at the edge of a lake last week. We’d escaped for a few hours, to get a change of scenery, and a new perspective. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was cold, and Chris wasn’t as thrilled at the prospect of sitting under a tree staring into the water as I was. “I looked in the water, and there saw myself….”

I wonder what we see when we look at ourselves, more often in a mirror, than in a lake? At the moment, I see a woman who looks every one of her 44 yrs. I see the hair that’s often too frizzy, the legs that are too short, and the wrinkles that have appeared seemingly overnight, around my eyes. But I’m certain that’s not what God sees when he looks at us.

 Last year, I discovered the work of Mandisa, a Christian Singer in America. She became famous when she came ninth in the fifth season of American Idol. But it wasn’t just Mandisa’s singing that made a statement when she appeared on the fifth season of the hit show.
Simon Cowell commented on her size as she left the room, “Do we have a bigger stage this year?” “It was my worst fear come true,” says Mandisa, “because it’s been the biggest struggle of my life and because it’s something I feel so vulnerable about.”
At the next round of auditions, the producers encouraged her to tell Simon how she felt when she discovered what he’d said. It wasn’t what they were expecting. “You hurt me,” she said to Simon on that show. “It was painful. It really was. But I want you to know that I have forgiven you. You don’t need someone to apologize in order to forgive somebody. I figured that if Jesus could die so that all of my sins could be forgiven, I could certainly extend that same grace to you.”
 When I bought Mandisa’s CD last year, the song that really spoke to me, and indeed made me cry, was the song, “The truth about me.” Perhaps it was inspired by her experience on the TV show. The first lines say, “If only I could see me as You see me, and understand the way that I am loved….”
I spend my life and ministry telling people God loves them. He sees our sins and our flaws, but still we are God's precious children and he delights in us, as adults delight in toddlers taking their first steps or saying their first words. But when I look at myself, it’s a different story, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Whoever we are, male or female, I think we all struggle with the people we are at times. Not just the way we look, but perhaps even the people who we truly are, when no-one else sees.
Too often I forget that God created every part of me. He put the pieces together in my mother’s womb. He knows every thought that crosses my mind, and every word that comes out of my mouth, even before I do (Psalm 139)  Mandisa goes on in her song, “We both know it would change everything, if only I believed the truth about me.”

"The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you.
He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
Zephaniah 3:17

I’m reminded that instead of lamenting all that we’re not, we need to rejoice at all God has done for us. Take a moment to see ourselves as he sees us.
Let him quieten our hearts and our minds with his love, even as we protest at our imperfections. Let's listen for his voice singing and rejoicing over us. What would his song choice be?
Today, for me, it’s the immortal words of Billy Joel, “I love you just the way you are!”

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The cry of a broken heart.

It's two weeks today since our Dad left this world.
It's been a tough time for all of us.
Everywhere I go I see something that reminds me of him, and the tears come.
If I'm honest, even though I was with him as he took his last breaths, I still can't believe he's gone.
I've felt numb most of the time, and though I believe God is with me right now, I've longed to feel His presence in a greater way.

Yesterday in the car I listened to a very old cd of The Salvation Army International Staff Songsters. I needed inspiration for Dad's funeral.
'Share my Yoke' came on. Not the best of titles. I've heard all the egg jokes. But the most amazing words and music, written by Joy Webb, a Salvation Army officer who has the gift of getting right to the heart of things.

They spoke to my broken heart. How did God know, about 25yrs ago when Joy wrote it, that they would be the very words I needed to hear yesterday?

Here they are. I believe that 'God is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.' Psalm 34:18 I share them with you in my brokenness, and pray that God will speak as you read them.

When I'm tired and nothing's going right for me;
When things I've counted on just do not come my way;
When in my mind the thick grey folds of doubt arise,
It's then I seem to hear him say....

Share my yoke and find that I am joined with you.
Your slightest movement I shall feel and be there too!
Share my yoke and come the way that I must go!
In our "togetherness" my peace you'll know;
The world beholding us will see it's so!
When I'm perplexed and no one's understanding me;
When even safest thoughts collapse in disarray;
When I've lost the things that always seemed so sure,
It's then I need to hear him say...

Share my yoke and find that I am joined with you.
Your slightest movement I shall feel and be there too!
Share my yoke and come the way that I must go!
In our "togetherness" my peace you'll know;
The world beholding us will see it's so!


When I'm alone and nothing's getting through to me;
An isolation that increases day by day;
When closest friends can seem a thousand miles away,
It's then I long to hear him say...

Share my yoke and find that I am joined with you.
Your slightest movement I shall feel and be there too!
Share my yoke and come the way that I must go!
In our "togetherness" my peace you'll know;
The world beholding us will see it's so!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The trouble with being a preacher....

The trouble with being a preacher is you have to practice what you preach, or you're just insincere, untrustworthy and irrelevant.

Earlier this week I blogged this
'Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble..... BUT TAKE HEART....I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD" John 16:33

We have been warned. We may like Mrs Johnson in Blood Brothers wish to be "Away from the dirt and the muck and the bloody trouble." But we are where God is.

Join me in wrapping his presence around us right now.
Tell the devil where to go, he has no place here.
It's August, but September (ie. normality) is coming.
God is already there.
Trust Him.'

Less than 48hrs later I was in Medway Hospital A & E with my Mum, my sister, and my brother on the phone from Australia, as my Dad took his final breaths.

Jeremiah 29:11, 'I alone know the plans I have for you...' was never more real than it is now.
In fact my sister said through her tears as we stood in a huddle with my Mum,
"He's got to have a plan. He must have."

I believe that. I honestly do. But I wish he'd share a bit of it with me.
4 months ago Chris and I had all our parents, and one grandparent.
Today we have my Mum.

The shock is incredible.
The pain cuts like a knife.
The tears are like an ever-flowing river.

I believe God loves me with all of my being.
I know he's here.
I trust him.
But....

Pray for our family please (The Phillips, The Sandfords and The Hooks).
Particularly the children Ryan, Joel, Matthew, Sian, Nathan, Kieran, Bethany, Abigail, Hannah and Hayden.

(To be continued....)

Monday, 20 August 2012

It's August, but September's coming....

We plugged the phone in for the first time today after 3 weeks holiday.
We've had a lovely two weeks in Tenerife followed by a week at home, doing whatever took our fancy.
My reason for writing is that our personal history shows that the devil loves days like today.
Days when God's children return to normality after a time of relaxing, and hopefully refreshing.
He rubs his hand in glee and the phone rings, or the text arrives, or the email pings, or something is posted on fb and twitter, and he does his worst.

So God's children beware over the next few days.
We've already had a call that sent me into panic-mode, and fear that it's all happening again.
The moment has passed but it left a little bruise.

Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble..... BUT TAKE HEART....I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD" John 16:33

We have been warned. We may like Mrs Johnson in Blood Brothers wish to be "Away from the dirt and the muck and the bloody trouble." But we are where God is.

Join me in wrapping his presence around us right now.
Tell the devil where to go, he has no place here.
It's August, but September (ie. normality) is coming.
God is already there.
Trust Him.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

There's a place for us.

Last night I went to my first ever amateur music and dance show. As Mum to 3 boys I'm more accustomed to standing in the cold and wet of a muddy football pich, but my nieces aged 5 and 8 had asked us to go.
I'll be honest, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it. I was worried it would be stage school at it's worst with cheesy fixed grins and singing in American accents. But Nathan and I went along to support the girls who were very excited.

It was incredible! Entitled 'Showtime!' it included songs and dances from many of the West End musicals I loved. Beth was great as Oliver, while The Artful Dodger sang 'Consider yourself'. Abbie was really cute in her ballerina outfit and dressed as a little pig while they sang 'I'm a believer' (Shrek), and they were both lovely in school uniform as they sang, "When I grow up." from Matilda. My favourite line from that show was  "We're told we have to do what we're told, but surely sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty."!

But the moment that gave me goosebumps, made my sister blub, and when I found myself praying was during the section from West Side story. The sight of my girls, and many others singing "There's a place for us, somewhere a place for us," brought a tear to my eye and a prayer to my heart. A whole range of ages from teenies to young adults were expressing what is arguably one of humanity's greatest need, to find a place where they belong, and are accepted.

As Christians we live in the 'now and not yet'. We know God has placed us on this earth for a time, but we live with the eternal hope of heaven. I suppose my prayer would be that today, we may find for ourselves security in the love of God, even though our day/week/month or even year may not be working out quite as we hoped. May we know that there truly is a 'place for us', in the loving arms of our heavenly Father.

And remember, 'Sometimes we have to be a little bit naughty....' Go on. I dare you!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Digging deep.

I should be a great gardener. My Grandad was a gardener all his life, and kept a beautiful garden into his 90's. My Mum, my Aunty, and my sister are all good in the garden. Friends give me plants, and cuttings to plant. But no. Nothing much happens.

The truth is that I like the idea of a nice garden and growing my own vegetables, but once the seeds or plants are in the ground I forget about them. Until a few weeks or months later when I notice they've shrivelled up.

Today I decided it was high time I did something with the plants a friend brought round about a month ago. I needed to clear some pots of weeds first, and while I was there decided to clear last years potato plants that were sat in proper potato sacks near the patio. As I pulled them up I spotted a potato. So I dug a bit deeper. It was like digging for treasure as I brought out about a dozen good sized new potatoes. Guess what we're having over the weekend?

Life has been tough lately. There seems to have been a lot of darkness through illness and injuries and bereavement. You know when life feels as if you're just lurching from one crisis to the next?
I struggle sometimes to hear God in the darkness. But I believe that God loves me, and will make something beautiful from this time, even if I have no glimpse of it at the moment.

A friend posted this on Facebook yesterday
You Can Because He Can.
You can ask the Lord because He will not give you a wrong answer.
You can wait upon the Lord because His timing is always perfect.
You can trust in the Lord because He makes no mistakes.
You can hope in the Lord because He holds your future.
You can rest in the Lord because He is in control of your life.
You can lean upon the Lord because He is completely faithful.
(Roy Lessin)

In the meantime, I shall enjoy eating today's 'treasure'. Where's that butter?

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Owl Babies (The Mother's Tale)

I have three boys,
and when they were little I used to love reading them the story Owl Babies.
For those who don't know it I've posted it here.
If you know it, skip down to Owl Mothers (An alternative ending).
It's my response to someone who asked what depression feels like.

Once there were three baby owls
Sarah and Percy and Bill
They lived in a hole in the trunk of the tree with their owl mother.
The hole had leaves and sticks and bits of feathers in it.
It was their home.

One day they woke up and their owl mother was gone
Where’s Mummy? Said Sarah
Oh my goodness said Percy
I want my Mummy said Bill

The baby owls thought (All owls think a lot)
I expect she’s gone hunting said Sarah
To get us our food said Percy
I want my Mummy said Bill

Suppose she got lost? said Sarah
Or the fox got her? said Percy
I want my Mummy said Bill

The baby owls sat on their branches
A big branch for Sarah
A small branch for Percy
And a bit of Ivy for Bill

The baby owls thought (All owls think a lot)
I think we should all sit on my branch said Sarah
I suppose so said Percy
I want my Mummy said Bill

So they all huddled together,
closed their eyes,
and wished their owl mother would come.

AND SHE CAME
Soft and silent, she swooped through the trees to Sarah, and Percy and Bill.

Mummy! They cried
And they laughed and they danced and they jumped up and down on their branch.
What’s all the fuss? Asked their Mother.
You knew I’d come back.
The baby owls thought (All owls think a lot)
I knew it said Sarah And I knew it said Bill I love my Mummy said Percy

Owl Mothers (An alternative ending)
And the Owl Mother held her owl babies tightly to her as a tear ran un-checked and unnoticed from her eye and slowly down her beak. She couldn’t let her owl babies see how she felt, but she was so tired…
Tired of doing the right thing all the time.
 Tired of being the wise old owl for all the animals in the wood, even though she loved them and part of her knew that was what she was born to do.
Tired of holding it all together.
Tired of feeling she was all alone even though she had plenty of friends in the wood.
So tired she had no energy to explain to the other animals how she truly felt inside.
Tired of feeling as empty as the hollow in the tree.
Tired of not knowing how she would feel from one sunrise to the next.
Tired of being unable to plan forays into the wood, in case her wings were too frail on that day.
Tired of seeing the Father Owl getting more and more exhausted as he tried to help her.

She longed with every feather for things to be different
Longed to be tucked up on one of the branches so she could rest and be looked after and not have to think about anything.
Longed to be the baby owl tucked under her mother’s wing where it’s safe and warm.
Longing for someone to make it all right.
Longing for a saviour, but one with feathers on.
Longing to feel that she is precious and loved and that the work she does in the wood won’t go unnoticed

And sometimes…. Longing to fly on and on and on Never to return from her hunting trips.
As she held her baby owls under her wing, she loved them so much she thought she’d burst.
She felt the breeze ruffle her feathers.
As the leaves of the trees began to stir she heard them say “I know. I’m here. I love you. Trust me.”
It was just a whisper. She wondered if she’d imagined it.
But as she looked down from the tree she saw her reflection in the pool. It was a bit muddled and muddied and she couldn’t see it clearly.
But somehow she knew that today was not the end.
She may not have the energy in that moment to fight another day, but it would be ok.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Mum's the Word 2

This is the second of my series in Salvationist.
It is specifically about my role as a Salvation Army Officer and a mum, so any references to 'Army' are about that!

Mum’s the Word 2

 Tina Turner sang, “When I was a little girl, I had a rag doll”. My song would be similar, but mine was an Army doll. She was dressed in full old-style uniform including a bonnet and she had officer’s trimmings. She had lovely brown hair and I loved her, because I thought she looked like my Mum. As a little girl growing up I used to sit on my Mum’s knee, put my hand up and touch the pips (stars) on her epaulettes, and feel safe. When it comes to being an officer and a Mum, I learnt from the best.

 My story of the challenge of being an officer and a Mum is a very different one now to the start of my officership in 1993. The years tend to give you perspective and the things that used to cause me grief, wouldn’t cause me the same kind of stress any more.

However my main aim was that I never wanted my children to be able to say, “You were always there for everyone else, but not for me.” I also wanted my officer-ship to be an extension of who I am as a woman, a wife, and a mother. Not a separate entity. Psalm 139 speaks of us as being fearfully and wonderfully made. So it makes sense to me that the Creator-God, fashioned me for a reason. I can’t compartmentalise my life. I need to be who God has made me to be wherever I am, and whoever I’m with.

 Adrian Plass wrote “The Real Problem,” after a conversation where his son asked him why it would be like World War 1 in their house on a Sunday morning, then they’d go to church and everything would be sweetness and light, then they’d come home to World War 2.

“But when we get to church at last, it’s really very strange.
‘Cos Mum and Dad stop arguing and suddenly they change.
At church my Mum and Dad are friends, they get on very well.
And no-one knows they’ve had a row, and I’m not going to tell!”

 Sound familiar? The Commodores sang ‘Easy like Sunday morning,’ well they’ve obviously never lived in my house! I suppose the point is not that we’re different when we go to the corps or to the church, because we’re pretending or want to deceive anyone. More that we feel we have responsibilities, or a job to do, so we need to maintain a semblance of normality.

 But what message does that send out to my children if I’m different at home with them, than I am out in the world? Jesus calls us to be salt and light (Matthew 5). Light shows up our own flaws, as well as those who we’re trying to influence. I want to love other people in Jesus’ name, in the same way that I love my husband and children. “Being real” matters to me. I have no desire to be a ‘resounding gong or a clanging cymbal’ (1 Corinthians 13:1).

 I was thinking recently about success. And I decided that I would rather be known for loving people than have the most prestigious appointment in the world. As Father Brian D’Arcy said recently, “I can’t do everything, I can’t be everywhere. I can’t solve every problem in every life for every person who contacts me. I’m not God and I don’t have to pretend I’m some sort of saviour.” I believe that I am who I am, with the family I have, ministering to the people who cross my path, because that’s the way God wants it. And that’s just fine with me.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Mum's the Word 1

I was asked to write a series for Salvationist(the weekly magazine for The Salvation Army in the UK), about my life with my boys.

Here's the first one:

I love being a Mum. I love our times together. But just yesterday, speaking to a friend she said, “Why do we have kids?” She was joking. She loves her daughter. But a crisis had arisen that was causing major hassles for the family. It was taking up time that was already stretched to the limit.

Chris and I have three boys. Ryan is 17, Joel 14 and Nathan 10. Let’s get the sympathy vote over with now. I get it all the time. Yes, I am outnumbered. Yes, I do live with the background of sport constantly on. Yes, a girl would have been lovely. But these three boys/men are the precious gifts that God has given me. And I love it!

I actually like football now. If you can’t beat them, join them. We are a family forever blowing bubbles. We learn a lot about faithfulness and loyalty in our support of West Ham United! (Apart from Ryan who supports Manchester United. We excuse him because he was born in Manchester.)

But the best thing in the world is standing on the sidelines while my sons are on the football pitch. Who knew that shouting encouragement from the side could be so therapeutic? I share the joys of goals scored, and the frustrations of near misses and referees who “don’t know what they’re doing”. I’ve participated in those moments when their head goes down in disappointment, and it’s hard for them to keep going. I witness the agony when injury means they can’t play for months on end, and the elation when they re-join their team for the last game of the season.

And as I stand well behind the white line (Football Association ruling for spectators), I have the privilege of ministry. I believe God sent us to the community of Caterham, not to the existing corps alone. As the parents of the teams my sons play in, we form our own community. We share in the joys of birth, the pain of divorce, and the utter desolation of grief. We laugh, we cry, we pray. If we weren’t the parents of these three amazing boys, we wouldn’t have these God-given opportunities.

I have hopes and dreams for my children that they will be happy, secure and know they are always loved. I pray that God will be a living reality throughout their lives. But my role in their life is very similar to that of a spectator cheering them from the sidelines.

I’ve roared with delight at their successes, bragging rights all mine! I’ve held them when they’ve been disappointed, and shared their sense of injustice when they’re treated poorly. I’ve prayed desperately for the situations they’ve faced. I’ve spurred them on when they’ve felt that everything was against them. I’ve stalked around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, when someone has hurt them.

And yes, when chronic illness has prevented them from being able to go to school, and participate in anything that required any energy at all, let alone sport, I’ve been alongside them; and I’ve shed many a tear when I thought they weren’t looking. We’ve prayed. Even though they’ve looked at me awkwardly when I’ve suggested it… And I’ve thanked God with all my heart every time they achieved something new, as I remember what they were. My life isn’t all that different to most Mums on the planet.

Kate Duthie writes about motherhood, “No-one told me I should prepare for the most profound love affair of my life. A love that would feel as though my ribs had been cracked open, exposing my heart to every hurt my child felt.”

I love being a Mum, but I’m a Mum who battles with the conflicts every Mum faces. However, in the moments when I don’t know what to do next, I can read Jeremiah 29:11 knowing that the promise is for my husband and my sons as well as for me. “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.”

When Chris and I dedicated our sons to God we didn’t know what the future held. We still don’t thankfully. But we know that the fierce love we have for our children is only a fraction of the love God has for us, and indeed for them. We live in the depth of that love.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

She's a model......

Today I spent the morning doing some modelling.
It's not as exciting as it sounds, just a cheap way of getting my hair highlighted at a top salon.
I also get as much coffee as I can drink, and a few hours peace to browse through magazines and read my book, while the stylist works her magic.

The downside is that I have to sit in front of a mirror for 2 and a half hours.
Some of the time I choose to avert my gaze, but I did look for a while today, and wasn't entirely happy with what I saw.
Rosy cheeks,more lines than I'd like, and unmistakable dark circles under my eyes.

Yes I know I need to make some changes in my life.
I'm not very healthy at the moment. I'm carrying excess weight, and feeling every one of my 43 years.

However, I spend my life and ministry telling people God loves them.
He sees our sins and our flaws, but still we are God's precious children and he delights in us,
as adults delight in toddlers taking their first steps or saying their first words.
So why can't I extend that same grace and compassion to myself when I look in the mirror?

"The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you.
He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
Zephaniah 3:17

Look in the mirror with me and read those words.
Rejoice at all God has done for us. Take a moment to see ourselves as he sees us.
Let him quieten our hearts and our minds with his love, even as we protest at our imperfections.
Let's listen for his voice singing and rejoicing over us.
What's his song choice for me for today?

Sorry I'm a child of the 80's so it could only be....

"She's a model, and she's looking goooooood!"