Something lovely for the weekend (28.8.15)

Today is the last Friday of August and when Friday comes around again most of us will be back in a term time routine, thinking of autumn and counting down to Christmas.

Today’s ‘something lovely’ is a celebration of children – because we love them so much!

Lucy and I have filled much of the summer with other people’s little ones, because we love babies and children. As my own children grow up and leave home I’ve been counting the number of things I do to keep myself alive to little children. I like to embarrass my boys my chatting with babies in cafes and restaurants. I always have a baby cardigan on my knitting needles. I enjoy befriending women with small children. I truly love the toddler group community which I help to organise every Tuesday, a place for little ones to play and mums to chat and get some everyday human support.

Lucy and I have been following the story of writer and Jesus Culture worship leader Christa Gifford Black, who sadly lost a baby, near term, last year. She has charted her journey of grief and healing on her blog, and it makes sobering but good reading. I’m so grateful for women who are using the internet in this way, making themselves vulnerable by telling their personal stories, and letting those stories encourage other by pointing to Christ and his kindness in the direst of situations. Christa now has a baby daughter, Birdie, and I’ve truly rejoiced and thanked God with that child, Birdie, over and over as Christa shared news of her progress from special care to going home.

We have also been following the story of Micha Boyett’s new baby boy, Ace, and were thrilled this week when Micha shared a few snaps of her little boy online. It was on a day when we had been swimming. A group of young people with additional needs had joined us in the pool part way through our session. They were extremely noisy, splashing, shouting and pushing each other in the water and though in interrupted the calm of our swim we were happy to see them enjoying themselves and full of thankful admiration to the excellent cares who were with them.

Micah’s baby boy has Down Syndrome and after we had marvelled over the photos we talked about the impossibly difficult decision some parents have to make when they find they are pregnant with a child that may have an extra chromosome. Lucy asked me if I would have an abortion in that circumstance and I said I would not. She agreed and said that she would not either. And I’m glad to say that is her own decision. She has deep compassion and respect for women who might choose otherwise but knows for now what her own personal response would be.

You can’t force a thing like that on another person; not even on your own daughter. All you can do is endeavour to show that human life is a thing great value: unborn children, elderly people, the homeless, women, people of colour and homosexuals, all precious. People of every race and religion, every political persuasion, the rich and the poor, friends and enemies , fellow humanity, in all its diversity, created by God, worthy of our deepest respect and love.

Andy and I sat a little teary the other day about one or two family matters. They were the kind of tears you cry after the event when you realise it was hard but you made it. Parenting is difficult and we shouldn’t be surprised when it brings us to tears. All we really have to do is make it through today knowing that Christ is more than enough and help some one else along the way.

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
Frederick Buechner


Always enough nectar for the bees

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There are all kinds of things I need to do today, many more I’d like to do, but for now I’ll open up both sides of the french window and enjoy a little garden sunshine and a well earned cup of tea.

We came back from our holidays yesterday, the house is a tip and the garden has grown up and over its early summer goodness. The post-camping laundry pile glares at me accusingly when I go to the bathroom. The view from my bed if I lie down is cobwebs on the curtain rails and dust balls in the light fittings. Even form my bed there is no rest.

There are visas to apply for, funds to be found, a boy to send to university, and one to college. There is money to be earned, purchases to be made. Summer’s nearly done and school-time is closing in on us fast; a race against time where I’m running my best but the schedule’s about to overtake me on the outside lane.

There are teenagers everywhere I turn, long limbed and larger than life. When I can’t see them I can hears them and I’m alert for an argument about to begin. They eat mountains of food every day. The supermarkets deliver it, I go out and fetch it, I cool it, heat it, bake it and use every method known to man of multiplying it, but it seems there is never enough. There are sandwiches to be cut and muffins to bake, chickens to roast and vegetables to peel. All the time, every day.

These beautiful children, they don’t raise themselves. They have names and needs, a wide world stretched out and busting with promise and I am entrusted with the task of showing them how to find the joy and live well, how to fail well, how to get up and start again when things go wrong, how to run this race and not grow weary, to love with out ceasing. All the things I can barely do myself. It takes skills I don’t have, a wisdom I’m still searching for. More than laundry and dusting and groceries, four young humans growing fast whether I clean the house or not.

Overwhelmed, I come to the garden with my good intentions and my tea. Today the foliage on the tomato plant is silver grey and dying, her compost dusty and dry. The white roses got damaged in the rain and the perennials and bedding are dying back fast. In shady corners where the sun does not shine, plants without light have bolted high and sway out of proportion to their strength. The last strawberries shrivel on the stalks where the birds did not manage to reach. A little quiet pottering would barely scratch the surface of what needs to be done here. If you want to find the beauty in this you will have to look harder and longer, but there is always beauty to be found even in the over grown mess of it all when the edges of the hosta leaves are fading brown and the tall weeds in the borders are the only healthy plants left.

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Stilled by the hum of cars on a distant road and machinery on a building site nearby. Swayed to rest, by the wind in the poplars, swelling and subsiding like waves on the beach. There is still work to be done in the house and the voices of the children can be heard upstairs. God gives us gifts where we least expect them, when our need is great and when our need is small. The provision is now and not somewhere in the never-never when all the mess is tidied and all the noise has stopped. Un-accounted for mercies and tender grace, there will always be enough.

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There are plump tomatoes dripping red from the vine and the white rose smells as sweet. There’s a proud new scabious bud amongst the failed tobacco plant flowers and blue-green succulents surviving the worst of the drought. A few weeks ago I cut back aggressively, a honeysuckle overcome with mildew and mould. She survived, scrawny against the red brick wall, but now she bursts forth golden, a sweet scented bloom at the end of every stem. All day long insect visitors come amongst her curling petal horns, honey bees, bumble bees and hover flies, drinking from her final flowers. In the failing mess of the overgrown garden there is always enough nectar for the bees. Things you planted and the things that just grew anyway. Bees and butterflies uninvited, sunlight and shadows that were not planned, spiders will spin webs, birds will sing, flowers fall and fruits form. Some mornings there is a silent drenching of dew, that fell quieter than the rain and was gone before you were even out of your bed.

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And all of this is just another way of saying what we always knew was true: his blessings are new every morning.

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Isaiah 40.31

Make sabbath


Today I will make sabbath, in a church pew feeding on the word of God and round the kitchen table with family and lunch. I will make sabbath typing out these words because I love to write and I will make it with stitches and baking or with a good book. Together with my husband, who is my closest friend, I will get out of the house and leave the chores behind. With no thought of visas, laundry, haircuts or groceries we will make some quiet in the midst of the hurry, tuning our ears to the quieter voice of God.
The pink hexagon quilt is laid out over the arm of the sofa where I left it last night. Too tired to work at it any longer, eyes straining as the light faded, I hooked up the needle and went to bed happy that the quilting stitches are getting a little better all the time. They are making the patterns they’re supposed to make on the back as well as the front of the cloth. I want all of the children to sleep under hand-pieced quilts, stitched with love from fabrics lost at the bottom of the stash, brought to life in patterns first imagined by pioneers on the American prairies, with technique that evolved under the needles of women who wanted to keep their families warm. I have knitting stowed away in a small draw string bag. An easy baby cardigan, so small I’m making it up out of one skein of expensive yarn. I want all the babies to be wearing hand knits over their sleep-suits, wooly hats and mittens against the cold.
In the great diversity of folk and our multifarious lives we all make sabbath in a different way. Somewhere in the forgotten annals of time we lost the thread and made our sabbath hard, a list of things forbidden and hardships too difficult to mention. He came to give you life and give you life to the full. Find the things that stir your connection with Christ and saturate your life in them. Live a life dripping with everything you love. Live heavy with your thanks for it, strained beyond capacity because you’re hungry for more of it. If it brings you closer to God, pursue it with all your heart, follow that road like a quest. Never give up.
The urge to make sabbath is as old as Eden, it is tied to the patterns by which the world was made. Like lintels in the windows from where we view God, our sabbath is supporting a full weight of glory, holding up a universe waiting to be redeemed. From one evening when the world was very new, to the mountain and Moses with the words carved in stone, God has been telling us to take a rest. Traveling in the wilderness, then building a temple for the worship of God, women who baked would not so much as light a fire, the spinning wheel was still and the shuttle that flew between the threads on the loom lay idle. No bread was proved, no beast was milked, no cheese was made, no fruit was gathered. The stone mason laid his hammer on the bench, the carpenter swept the wood shavings from the floor and stood the broom against the wall. The scribe rolled up the scroll and put his pen away, the shepherd did no more work than that which would keep the sheep safe and well.
Jesus shocks them with his take on the sabbath: the rule makers, rule keepers, cruel rule enforces. Sabbath was made for man, he says, stooping to pick up an ear of corn to eat. Sabbath is made for man, because he is loved, because he matters more, because he matters most. Sabbath is made for man, says the saviour, the one who is making the burdens light, healing the sick, raising the dead. Who is this man promising life, close enough to touch, close for the taking? Who is this man, making miracle of rest from the mess of our untidy week, ordinary dis-functioning family and the storms that rage within?
Our urge to make sabbath runs much deeper that the mere ceasing of our work. It runs deeper and directs us not to acts or rituals or routines but to a person. It is a heart’s work in a world where it still remains for some to enter his rest and God says do not harden your hearts and we won’t, we really won’t. Insomniac, busy mum, frustrated at work, midlife crisis, grieving, disappointed or simply in plain dull pain, there is hope for us all in a sabbath day’s rest.
Today I will do battle against the incessant hustle of every day life, the bullying deadlines and vicious demands, the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘woulds’, the ‘oughts’ and the ‘can’t’. I will fight laziness or despondency and I will make a little more progress at working hard at working less. I will make sabbath like a quilt to keep me warm, I will knit it one stitch at time and wear it like a glove. For it fits well this sabbath, this rest for the soul, almost as if it was made just for me.

I was inspired to write about sabbath today because I am overwhelmed with my own need for rest and because I just happened to find some really good stuff around the internet this week on the subject.

The Sabbath Society, found on Shelley Miller’s blog, Redemption’s Beauty
Myquillyn Smith, The Nester, Why it’s worth it to fight for rest
Shauna Niequist, More Love, less hustle
Margaret Feinberg, The bible says Jesus’ yoke is easy, but some days I doubt

Writing retreat


My family sent me on a trip so I could write. I posted my plans on Facebook whilst I sat in Preston Brucciani’s, sipping coffee, waiting for my train. “Sounds great,” said a friend, “but what does a writing trip consist of?”

“It consists of writing.” I replied.

I’ve spent four days totally alone in this hotel room. I’m in a nameless city, a little north of the border. I don’t know anyone here and I’m avoiding even googling places I could visit. Everything is centred on writing.

My room is a gift, everything I wanted: very clean, very plain, piles of soft towels and crisp white bed linen, a kettle for tea, good internet. I’m a stone’s throw from Starbucks and Sainsbury’s. First night here I went out to a Japanese Restuarant and ordered chicken and rice. It wasn’t the same without company. I’ve eaten in my room since then, yogurts and sandwiches and packets of crisps.

One night I woke at three and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I slipped out of the crisp white bed sheets and boiled that kettle. I sat on the sill of the floor to ceiling window, drinking tea, seventeen floors up and watching the city at night. Clear lines of lights, twinkled into the distance making the roads and the streets where the unknown people live and work shine. The night people stand in twos and threes sharing cigarettes, in doorways and on benches in pedestrianised streets under the trees. There are taxis and road sweepers moving determinedly through the darkened streets. I am entirely alone, anonymous but happy, high up behind the glass watching it unfold.

A lovely friend was praying for me last week in church and I was a blubbering wreck. It took me by surprise. Everything started falling away from me fast and I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing. I sobbed and just let Andy hold me. Let’s not say it out loud, I’m afraid and secretly ready to give it all up; writing, recovery, everything. I know these crazy thoughts from my past, and know they can sometimes ambush me like this. There was a time when a thought like this could fell me, but not anymore.

Just as I dried my tears and cleaned myself up, a dear acquaintance, but not a person I knew very well, came found me, just to say he liked to read my blog and eagerly anticipated each new post. Who knew?

A few days later we were all in the kitchen after a meal and I tell the story. “Do you think that was God telling me to keep writing?” I nervously ask my husband and, my boys. They just smile and shake their heads.

So I’m writing. And turns out, a little time alone with Pages and some Post-It notes was just what I needed to teach myself something about my creative process and the job in hand.

If you’re a creative person I can’t speak highly enough of making some time in your schedule to work on your project without any distractions. If you’re someone with a callings on your life and big plans for the future, I’d really recommend a little homemade retreat even for the shortest time. Pray, write, read, think.

This is what I learnt.

1. I really do love to write. Sometimes my fingers fly across the key board and I can feel the metre of the words moving from my head through my hands and onto the page. It’s completely exhilarating ( and full of typos!). At other times it’s much slower, but with patience and quiet I’ve seen that the words still come.
2. Writing a book is much harder that writing a blog piece but I have a much clearer idea of the what I need to do to make this writing into a book not just a series of disjointed essays.
3. It’s hard to measure what is your best work practice or your most creative time of day when you are trying to create between day jobs, domestic tasks and family demands. Alone in my hotel room I noticed that I work slowly in the mornings and pick up as the day goes on. I like to work into the night.
4. It’s easy to make unrealistic estimations of how much writing work can be done in a day and then blame short falls on other people disturbing you. I have been working for 6-8 hours a day and writing about 5 000 words. That’s without any demands or distractions. I need to remember that at home my daily word count is bound to be less.
5. I still have a lot of hard work to do if I’m going to produce the book I’ve been thinking about but I do now have a few fledgling chapters all about making sure our sad does not become depressed and other ways of living life full.

And now to him who can keep you on your feet, standing tall in his bright presence, fresh and celebrating—to our one God, our only Saviour, through Jesus Christ, our Master, be glory, majesty, strength, and rule before all time, and now, and to the end of all time. Yes.
Jude 24-25 The Message