Monday, 26 August 2013

A Modern Pilgrimage? The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Although confused at first by quite what the author intended for Harold (was he really going to walk to Berwick-Upon-Tweed in his yachting shoes?!) I quickly grew to love his character and connected with so many of the themes in this book. It really does seem to be a book that asks many questions without giving many answers - which is what Harold seems to do throughout his walk as he ponders the twists and turns his life and relationships have taken. He is a stoical, composed character who does something completely unexpected when faced with the death of someone who played an important part in his past life.

His walk to Berwick on Tweed to keep Queenie alive takes on both moral and spiritual significance as he struggles with the reality of loss and death in life. His broken relationships with his son and wife show how despair and loneliness have pervaded his character until he no longer really relates to anyone. His memory of Queenie pushes him forward to Berwick -of how she was interested in him and used to talk to him during car journeys, how they connected over a similar feeling of 'not belonging' in the office, how she sacrificed her job and career to cover for him. His walk is certainly an awakening for him as he ponders and remembers memories from his own childhood, of how he met Maureen, of their marriage and his relationship with his son. I cried with him as he called out for his son. I cried with him over his desperation and despair as he finally gets to Berwick and realises he can't stop Queenie dying.

The author touches heavily on themes we don't really talk about in our society - death, guilt, blame. Perhaps it is because we feel as despairing as Harold on these issues that we don't approach them. It is easier not to think about them at all if we have no answers. Harold's reconciliation with Maureen was a very welcome last section to the book - giving some hope that his life (and hers) might hold some happiness for them  - but still uncertainty about how long that would last. As there is for all of us.

There is a rawness to Harold's emotion that can't be hidden or resolved. Because death - of his son, of Queenie - and broken relationships  - with his Mum and with Maureen, although ever present with us, were not meant to be. We are angry, scared and hurt by death, guilt and blame because these are not things that we were meant to experience. As a Christian I can't pretend to not be terrified of dying and of others around me dying, but I can trust and remind myself constantly that God has planned through history to restore life to what it should be  - without death or tears or mourning - and that He did this through Jesus. I think that if I read this book without this hope I would despair - but with Jesus I can celebrate each day of life as a gift and look forward to a future without these things that I fear so much.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Chicken pox and control.

So last week we had chicken pox in our household. I have been dreading the day when spots appeared on my children and to be honest, every dot and rash that has been on their body ever - I always wonder if it is chicken pox. Well, this time it was! And the week that Ben was away as well!

It was only really bad for each twin for two days (and so far Athol has not caught it.....), but for those days it was bad. Enough to watch a lot of back to back television and for me to allow them to sleep in my bed! The night seemed to be the worse time. For several late evenings I helplessly tried to placate and medicate Hope as she danced around the lounge semi-clothed, hysterical with itching. She would fall asleep, exhausted in my arms, only to twitch herself awake minutes later. I tried to put her back to bed  - but the only place she would sleep at all was next to me (which is rather nice as it makes one feel wanted!).

Laying next to a sleeping, but constantly twitching, child  reminded me of Psalm 131 -

God, I’m not trying to rule the roost,

    I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
    or fantasized grandiose plans.

I’ve kept my feet on the ground,

    I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms,
    my soul is a baby content.

Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope.

    Hope now; hope always!

Our culture is all about becoming independent, self sufficient, in control. In fact most of our lives are spent striving for this, or trying to create a picture of ourselves for other people that we are in fact doing these things. I constantly try and be in control of situations or relationships  - with chicken pox I convinced myself that the correct combination of amusement, medication and patient soothing would be what was needed. In fact this only went so far, in the end, what Hope wanted was to lay beside me, even though she was still itching, and this quieted her.

We try every solution before we talk to God about our problems. We plan every step before we commit our future into His hands. What God actually wants is for us to be resting on Him like a baby or child. Content to talk to Him, wait on Him, be quiet before Him. He's teaching me to be a resting (perhaps twitching with the cares of life!) child, praying through the chaos of life.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

What my kids have shown me

Usually I think about me teaching my kids to do stuff or know stuff. The major one in the past year has been how to use the toilet for my twins - the jury's still out if this will be completely successful, but as I don't see twenty year olds in nappies, I'm sure they'll make it! Athol's working on walking, he's getting good at standing, but the first wobbly step is still eluding him  - but it won't be long:)

My twins seem to drink in information  - sometimes they just tell me things and I wonder how they have found that out. Or they ask questions like, "Mummy, how do I grow?" out of  nowhere, which make me think that somewhere along the line I have just lost that wonderful inquisitiveness that the young have. I don't really think of learning things from them - but recently, when it's come to my own heart, my kids have been teaching me stuff that I've never really fully understood before.

My twins can both paddy like nobody else (if you're the parent of a 3 year old, then you'll probably be saying......'ah no.....not like my....'!). I have recently had several long drawn out battles about putting on clothes in the morning with them. It goes something along the lines of.....'You need to put your clothes on so we can go out'. One (or both, but thankfully usually one!) refuses because the colour isn't quite right, or she wanted to wear a different item or because she can't manage to put them on herself (- but accepting help from  her Mum would just not be right). Then comes the long drawn out battle where I place her on the step until she's ready to get dressed and join me and her brother and sister.After a while she repents of being so stubborn and goes upstairs to get dressed. Until......the same problem happens again, it's not the right colour (although it is now the colour she wanted previously!), the trousers are too tight, or too loose, the pants just won't go on right........

I intervene to suggest (within reason) another item to wear, or to offer help, or as it becomes more prolonged, to explain we haven't got food for lunch, so we have to go to the shops - but on one occasion the cycle became more and more heated until I think she had said sorry and then fallen into hysterics at least 5 times.

I am thankful that after a few of these run ins the girls seem to have got the idea that getting dressed means the day can be more fun, that we can go out and do stuff, that actually Mum's idea of putting clothes on is a good one - but as I watched my daughter say sorry for shouting and screaming about clothes......and then 5 minutes later be doing just the same thing - I realised that this pattern of behaviour is exactly what happens between me and my Heavenly Father.

I've never seen it so clearly before - until it was modelled for me by a three year old! I want my own way in so many things in life, and when I don't get it I have a paddy with God. I mean, not shouting and screaming, I have been far too socialised for that - but I'm angry with Him for giving me certain challenges  - or I question how He can ask me to love certain people - because it's just too hard. Again and again God shows me through His word, or through His people that my main problem is selfishness and pride and that I need Jesus to forgive me and bring me back into a relationship with him. Like me with my kids, he forgives me again and again, even though He knows that I will most definitely rebel again.

I do hate paddies, they're the worst. But they have taught me that my own heart is rebellious, that I over and over ask forgiveness for something from God and then go back and do it again. That picture of God loving me, sending Jesus to die for me - when He knew I would forget so easily what He did humbles me. He gives me new strength to face paddies with patience and love.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Extending my house

We have recently had an amazing extension on my house, which has given us a third again on the space in our property. I'm not sure if it is just the effect that having order and routine again has had on us as a family, or if it is just having a place and space to put things, but I really feel it has transformed our lives in the brief two weeks we have enjoyed it!

I did not enjoy at all the dust, dirt and grime that came with the demolition and rebuild. I did not enjoy at all the uncertainty that came with changing completion dates (although I did very much enjoy and am very grateful for the amazing hospitality and generosity that our families and church family offered us in the difficult swop over period!)

I have also enjoyed very much the process of getting our new rooms ready for habitation and deciding what is going where; organising storage and working out the best way to fill (or not fill!) space. I have enjoyed watching and benefitting from my father in law's ability to put up shelves and see where things would fit best.   However, in all this, I wonder if I have started to think - "what on earth did we do before?" "I can never live again without the space and the things I have arranged as they are". After over a month of frantic and constant activity of trying to create a perfect (although often in my mind I just say 'liveable in'!) house I fear my eyes and heart have been removed from where I will find fullness of joy. I have been reading Psalm 16 and realising that verse 6 'the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, indeed I have a beautiful inheritance',
have become in my mind about the things God has given me, rather than about Jesus, God given to me himself. 

It has been easy for me to find (or think I will find when everything is finished!) the fullness of joy in the completion of and the space in my house, rather than in God himself. The boundaries for me have fallen in pleasant places - I am constantly grateful  for the family and stuff that God has given to me. But fullness of joy is not to be found in these things (as soon as my rooms are painted, they become scraped; as soon as I have found a place to store everything, there will be something new that doesn't have a home) - it is in God's presence that fullness of joy is to be found. 

There is nothing wrong with me being excited, grateful and joyful about my new extension. God has given me good things - but they should lead me back to worshipping and falling in love again with the Jesus who has given me life and freedom - rather than becoming in themselves what I take refuge in (v 1) or where I can find the path of life (v 11). They should lead me to thinking about how I can use these things to worship God and serve and love others - for indeed without Him I have no good thing!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Things that go bump in the night

When things go bump in the night in our house now I don't immediately wake up Ben and get him to go downstairs brandishing a torch in the dark. I usually just roll over  - I know it's my twins getting up for their regular middle of the night play session. When they started this (back when they first got out of their cots and went into beds) I was appalled. My twin girls had always slept amazingly well and I think I thought I had got it sussed. Well, how wrong I was!

At first I was strict, I sat outside the door of their room and put them back into bed every time they got out  of bed. Sometimes this would be when they first went to bed, but soon it was just when they woke in the middle of the night - I would hear "Hope, wake up it's time to play!" and Anna would be in Hope's bed ready for whatever they decided to do! Then I tried being cross (when I say tried, I didn't need to try  - I was cross, and angry, after sitting outside a door for several hours in the middle of the night). This just resulted in their tears and my own tears and their utter rebellion against me making them stay in their bed (which actually became impossible - I couldn't keep two of them in bed!)

I asked other parents of twins I knew if they remembered this. So desperate was I that I asked total random parents of twins I saw in the park if they experienced this. I trawled internet sites trying to find what other parents of twins had done to solve this problem - and in all these cases, found virtually nothing! In some cases it seems parents were strict for a few nights and soon (within a week or two) their twins got out of the habit. But still nearly 9 months on now, my girls play (sometimes up to 5 nights week) for at least several hours in the middle of the night. So in the end I have given up and chosen to ignore it.

They seem to be having a lovely time most nights. It has changed from being completely wild abandon at first - being able to do whatever they wanted in their bedroom without adults around (one night I went in and they had taken everything out of every drawer and storage box and made a huge pile in the middle of the room, "we've tidied up Mummy!" they proudly announced) - to now being creating 'tents' on beds with the curtains and playing boats or camping with teddies. Usually they go to sleep in the same bed when they get tired, which is between 5 and 6 o'clock and then they have a few more hours sleep until 9 or 10 am. So I quite often get a quiet morning, just me and Athol eating breakfast alone! I like to think that they are learning self control (when they know they are tired early in the morning they will go back to sleep) and that they are problem solving (when they both want to play different games) and that all these things will create more rounded individuals. But often I wonder if it is just a pragmatic "I need more sleep" kind of decision.

Whatever it is has made me realise - I was full of pride that my kids slept well  - well, that's definitely been taken away! I don't want to find my identity in being a Mum to kids who sleep well  - how fickle that turned out to be! I want to find my identity in Jesus who forgives my anger, pride and need for control  - and who looks on me with grace and love despite my failings in this area!

And to all other parents of twins out there..........I don't think I can say for sure it gets better (although people assure me it will!), but I have learnt some hard lessons through this - and have (usually in hindsight!) been able to laugh a lot about the crazy stuff Anna and Hope do in the middle of the night.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Change from the Inside

I've been reading 'Centre Church' by Tim Keller and (after the initial slight shock of realising that I hadn't read anything that required me to concentrate and think quite hard for a bit!) have been challenged and inspired by his perceptive understanding of our human hearts. He talks a lot in the first section about how our sinful hearts have tainted how we understand the gospel. We can be legalists whereby we scold ourselves (but usually others!) for where we fail God's standards (or our perception of what this is) and live life by a rigid routine of works and trying to build up self righteousness. Or we can be relativists - we can claim God isn't bothered about sin and have very loose terms for what the Bible says is right and wrong.

Keller says: "In the end, legalism and relativism in churches are not just equally wrong, they are basically the same thing. They are just different strategies of self salvation built on human effort"
In fact Keller argues that 'self salvation' is our default mode.

This led me to do some soul searching about where I stand. A line in a song I've been listening to has been making me think - "I could hold on, I could hold on to who I am and never let you change me from the inside. I could be safe, I could be safe here in your arms and never leave home, never let these walls down". (All Sons and Daughters. Call Me Higher)

Do I want to spend my life trying to change myself by my own effort? Do I want to spend my life trying to impress others by changing outwardly what they see of me? Do I want to spend my life striving for God's blessing by the stuff I do?

Or do I really want God to change me from the inside?

Outwardly, people in churches can look much the same. The outward appearance of someone's life who is being transformed by God's grace from the inside and the outward appearance of someone who is striving for self salvation can be virtually impossible to separate. I don't want to make myself just look right from the outside  - I want the Holy Spirit to transform me from the inside out.

This will mean some scary stuff. It will mean giving over my need for respect, control and power over to God. I don't want my needs to overwhelm me and drive my behaviour. It will mean letting the gospel, the grace of Jesus drive down deep in my life, the gospel must train and discipline my life - I want it to destroy my pride and fearfulness which drives me to self-salvation. In short I want my actions to be motivated by Jesus' grace for me. I want everything I do to be from a desire to "know, resemble, please and love the One who saved me" (Centre Church)

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Life is best done with other people

As a teacher I definitely always used to tell kids, 'learning is best done in a group, with another person' - and saw over and over again that this was true. My kids always have more fun when they are together with other kids (or even, when their not tired!, together with each other). I'm sure my twins have taught each other loads of stuff and they give each other support and encouragement when they find things hard (although they can also be horrid to each other!) Children from families who talk and do things together invariably are more likely to flourish in life. But then it seems when we get to be adults we reject the obvious  - that relationships help us flourish, grow and learn. Perhaps there are too many opportunities to be vulnerable and hurt when we 'do' relationships. They take time, they can be tricky and confusing.

Why do relationships seem to be the key to so many things? The Bible says it's because we are made in God's image, that as He is in relationship within the Trinity, we also flourish, find joy, grow and learn best when in relationship with others - and especially with Him. It's interesting that in the gospels we find Jesus with his friends the disciples - sending them out in twos. That the early apostles and evangelists travelled together in groups of two or more. One passage that shows just how much Paul thought relationships had to do with being a Christian and sharing Jesus with others is 1 Thessalonians 2 v 1-12. He talks about sharing the gospel of God, 'and also our own selves'  - because of how dear these people had become to him.

Somehow our culture has made us independent people, who live separate lives to each other. We don't share our lives with other people - really. As Christians we talk about being a family, we might share a cup of tea with people at church on Sunday, we might meet for an hour on Wednesday to read the Bible - but we never let people come close to us, we never really let them see who we really are. We're scared they'll judge us or that it will be uncomfortable to allow people access into everyday life - but in reality we are severely limiting what God does in us - and in other people!

God made us relational beings, He wants us to live life with others, honestly, sacrificially and accountably. It is through other people living out the gospel in front of me that I have learnt most of all what being a Christian means. It is through other people living out the gospel with me that I have grown to know God more, trust Him more, serve Him more and been humbled more. And I hope that through living out the gospel in front of others - loving and serving others day in and day out that others will grow to understand the gospel and love God better.

(With thanks to Tim Chester and Steve Timmis' book 'Gospel Centred Church' which has provoked many challenging conversations!)

Saturday, 16 February 2013


I find it is the everyday, mundane things that really stress me out and make me anxious. These in turn lead to irritability, blaming other people for stuff (Ben often gets it here!) and short temperedness. Getting all the kids in the car in a short time span, trying to keep the house (reasonably!) clean and (fairly!) tidy, trying to imagine how I am going to sort out everything I need to sort out before we have to leave to go away. These are my stress points currently - not massive things as in the past (where shall I live? what shall I study? whom shall I marry? what job will I do?) and I have to say that they are at least equal in stress levels to those I experienced before, if not more. I've never been great in dealing with anxiety - I just don't really know what to do with it often. I know these things are minor and that they don't really matter in the big scheme, but at the time they really do matter to me. I want to remind myself more that Jesus does care about my little stuff, not just big things. He knows the worries of my mind and has more than enough strength for me. These two quotes have challenged me and encouraged me:

"Anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centred in anything short of God and His will for us" Billy Graham
Are my anxieties focused on what people think of me and how I want to be perceived by others? Are my hopes founded on Jesus rather than anything else?

"I have a better Caretaker than you and all the angels. He it is who lies in a manger, but at the same time sits at the right hand of God, the almighty Father. Therefore be at rest" Martin Luther
No matter how much I worry, or analyse my worrying - God is in control. I can't add a single day (or tidy room, or clean bathroom, or punctual arrival!) by worrying. The creator of the universe came to earth for me  - He is my friend. I need to rest in that.