Beginnings

…Cells began to divide and re-form, as they do, and something new was made. As the weeks went by and the woman began to feel odd and sick, the new thing took shape: a comma, a tadpole, eventually the bud of a brain and a spinal column. Suddenly, in the shallow darkness of a summer night, a heart completed itself and began its iambic beat… At last, one bright April morning when white clouds drifted high in a blue sky and leaf-buds beaded the tired grey trees, it was time for the woman and the new thing to part, a painful work that took many hours, into the cold night and through the next morning… 

The child was a girl, but the most important thing about her was that she was herself. She was someone new, someone who had not been before and so, like all babies, she was a revelation…

~ from the opening lines of The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss. I was struck by the beauty and rhythm of the words. I hope the rest of the novel lives up to this early promise.

 

Thoughts from an English Housewife

I am stupidly tired. Stupid because all I did to set it off was to walk briskly into town and back. On Wednesday. Not even yesterday. So very little got done yesterday and I doubt much will get done today. For a homemaker to not be able to do housework is a teensy bit soul destroying.

I’m plodding through Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying  and am so keen to get on with it. I did manage to fill two bags with clothes for the charity shop yesterday, learned how to properly fold socks (yes, that really is a thing, read the book), loaded up the dishwasher (while singing ‘thank you, God, for the dishwasher’ to the tune of ‘Hallelujah, Praise the Lord’), made some important phone calls and prepared dinner. But that was it, other than the school run. Meh.

On the other hand, today the weather is absolutely gorgeous. I can lie here on my bed and see the bright, bright sky, strands of fluffy white clouds rushing through the blue, the branches of silver birches waving in the wind. Earlier, when the sun was lower in the sky, the leaves seemed to sparkle as they reflected the light, making the trees seem ethereal and other-worldly as they danced and glittered. So beautiful. Now the blue has disappeared to make way for some greyer cloud, but the sun is still shining. No doubt there will be some rain, too, later on. It is, after all, England in July. Summertime and the weather is breezy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is dry(ing outside on the washing line).

I find I am simultaneously fed up with my physical health, with spending so much time alone, investing the vast majority of my energy into caring for my family, yet also overjoyed by all the goodness of a glorious summer’s day and so thrilled to have discovered the KonMari Method that I can hardly wait to get the rest of the house decluttered and organised.

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The clouds are even darker now and the sun is hidden. It’s definitely going to rain, unless the wind blows it over our town before it starts to drop.

I do so love this place. I love this house. I love my son – what a sweet young man I now have, and in the Sixth Form! He’s even beginning to remember things for himself and beginning to organise himself for school. He is not going to get any GCSEs or A-Levels, but the fact that he is getting to school more or less on time is a wonderful achievement. I am so proud of him, and told him so this morning 🙂

I love my daughter – what a bright, boisterous, confident and determined young lady I have. She will soon have finished her second year of secondary school. Granted she needs to learn how to listen a bit more (teenage hormones have made her very inattentive) but how wonderful that my little girl who used to be so anxious and sad is now genuinely thriving. Hallelujah! And she sticks up for what she believes in, even if that means going against her peers. That has to be a definition of at least somewhat successful parenting, don’t you think?

Then there’s the youngest, my second daughter, Little Miss Chip, who is coming to the end of primary school and will go off to her new school in September in her smart new uniform, very much a little fish in a big pond. Her good friend, a cheerful, moon-faced boy who goes to the same Theatre School as Chip, will be in the same class (thank you, Lord!). Jimmy is such a sweet boy. But I can’t believe I will soon have no more children in primary school (sniff)!

Of course, nothing would be possible without my darling Frank. He is kind and intelligent, patient and hard-working. We celebrated six years of marriage recently and for us it’s not just a wedding anniversary, it’s a celebration of the day we became a family. Chip had food poisoning, so she said it was our Sick Anniversary, but… It was a happy day. Frank is a lovely man. My soul mate, if there is such a thing.

So now you see why I am simultaneously hugely fed-up and enormously thankful. Knowing my smallness, I offer both to God. He knows my  smallness even better than I. He is the God of Great Love in the good times, and the God of Great Love in the bad times, and the God of Great Love in the in-betweeny bits. I write as testimony to His grace.

God remembered us when we were down,

His love never quits.

Rescued us from the trampling boot,

His love never quits.

Takes care of  everyone in times of need,

His love never quits.

Thank God, who did it all!

His love never quits!

Psalm 136:23-26 (The Message)

Autumn Skies

Sometimes when I look at the sky I am astonished by the otherworldliness of its beauty. No wonder the great painters through history have imagined it as the heavenly realm! The fact that it changes so quickly, can go from a sheer, dull bank of moist grey to this:

Evening view

~ View from our bedroom window ~

is amazing.

When I look at the sky, which you have made,
    at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—
what are human beings, that you think of them;
    mere mortals, that you care for them?

Yet you made them inferior only to yourself…

Psalm 8:3-5 (GNT)

I know many people think the beauty and wonder of the world and the processes of life can’t be argued to ‘prove’ God on an intellectual level (I personally would disagree, although I haven’t figured out how to express this coherently yet) but when I look at the natural world I see God at work. And His work is exquisite.

Smudges on the Mirror

I was feeling low. Feeling useless (lies from the past still creep up on me post-EMDR, even if not as much as they used to). This led to me succumbing to temptation. I sinned. Then I beat myself up over it. I felt like what on earth -or under heaven – is the point in being a Christian if I just carry on sinning? I couldn’t, at that point, see the work God has done in me, by grace, all I could see was this great big useless blobby blot of sin. My prayers, such as they were, were a tangled mess along the lines of ‘I don’t know why you bother with me, God, I’m useless. You might as well not have bothered with the crucifixion and everything because I just go and throw it back in Your face and sin.’ I trudged upstairs.

The mirror in the bathroom was really nasty. Smeared with toothpaste and goodness knows what. I fetched the bottle of white vinegar and squirted it onto the mirror. I wiped a few times. It was still smudgy. Luckily, I already knew that the trick to cleaning with vinegar is to keep wiping and wiping, turning the cloth over so that you’re always wiping with a dry spot. After a minute or two – hey, presto! – it gleams.

All of a sudden I could see myself clearly. It was as if God said, “Hey! You! Yes, you are useless on your own. But that’s ok. So’s everyone else. Bunch of numpties, the lot of ’em. But I love you, so as long as you keep seeking the truth, keep aiming for shiny, all you have to do is show up; let me do the rest. If you try to go it alone you just end up with smudges. You can try wiping them, but you’ll just get more smudges. With me, I make it all new and shiny, and you can see clearly again.”

141px-Mirror

“Mirror” by Cgs – English Wikipedia

Oh, yeah…

‘Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”’

Revelation 21:5 (NKJV)

 

Lessons from housework. Who knew? I am reminded of God’s beautiful blessing for the Israelites:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
 The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
 The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’

Numbers 6:24-26

Poetry and Prayer

My words and thoughts do both express this notion,

That life hath with the sun a double motion.

The first is straight, and our diurnal friend;

The other hid and doth obliquely bend.

One life is wrapt in flesh, and tends to earth;

The other winds t’wards him whose happy birth

Taught me to live here so that still one eye

Should aim and shoot at that which is on high – 

Quitting with daily labour all my pleasure,

To gain at harvest an eternal treasure.

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George Herbert (1593-1633) ‘Colossians 3:3’

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My words and thoughts do both express this notion,

That life hath with the sun a double motion.

The first is straight, and our diurnal friend;

The other hid and doth obliquely bend.

One life is wrapt in flesh, and tends to earth;

The other winds t’wards him whose happy birth

Taught me to live here so that still one eye

Should aim and shoot at that which is on high – 

Quitting with daily labour all my pleasure,

To gain at harvest an eternal treasure.

Reblog: A Well Ordered Exterior

Beautiful post. May we all desire less ‘me’ and more ‘You’, and may we all become more fully ourselves in the process. When I was a child these were the people I called ‘the shiny people’. I want to be one of the shiny people.

You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (WEB)

Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:2 (WEB)

Amen. Do read the post below from Ben over at Contemplative in the Mud. His quiet wisdom regularly floors me and lifts me up at the same time.

Contemplative in the Mud

Many of the effects of contemplation, like all Christian prayer, involve setting up storage in Heaven (Mt 6:20). They concern the Church and the world at large.

On the other hand, another of the effects of contemplation is to reorganize and reintegrate our whole person. The human being who prays becomes rooted more totally and absolutely in Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and these Three impart a new order and organization to everything about him or her.

That includes the body.

Contemplation is something that happens to persons who are, as we say today, embodied. Perhaps it would be more accurate to note that the body is in the soul (as Saint Hildegard says), but regardless of the way we phrase things, it is true that any reorganization, reintegrating, and reordering of our whole person will involve a reorganization, reintegrating, and reordering of our body

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I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW AM FOUND; WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE

I LOVE the story from the gospel of John of the healing of the man who was blind from birth. The unnamed man has such a simplicity and purity of spirit, even when faced with the ‘important’ men and their clever questioning. I’m quite certain Jesus loved this about him too! But what struck me in listening to this story are the words at the very beginning:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him…”

John 9:1-3 (WEB)

Jesus’ words, often overlooked because of the rest of the amazing story, are vitally important. We can add nothing to our salvation, nor can we take it away. Even if we follow all the ‘rules’ and worship God, it doesn’t mean our lives will be ok (often rendered as ‘blessed’ but I would question this definition of ‘blessed’ – post on this subject to follow). If we don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t mean our lives will be miserable. This is false teaching, although one that is easy to fall into. I fell into this trap myself a few years ago, thinking that if I did everything ‘right’ then life would be ok. Hurrah! No more bad stuff! God quickly and sharply brought me out of that one.

We latch onto ‘if only I can do it right’ because we’re scared and we want to be in control. Some people spend their whole lives trying to discover what ‘the rules’ are because they think if they follow the rules, everything will be ok, which really means ‘if I follow the rules, I’ll stay in control’. Life is scary. It is not under our control and we can’t do anything to make it under our control. Only yesterday my dear son told me of the death of a boy at school who was only a year older than him. The young man had been fit and healthy until September last year. Now he’s gone. I pray for his family.

Conversely, the most difficult lesson to learn for me (as for many people who have been abused) was that I didn’t do anything to cause any of it. I am not a freak. I am not ‘different’ in some indefinable way. I was not destined for abuse. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with me. God has been gently, carefully and lovingly bringing me out of that one.

God did not and does not cause the bad stuff, although He did allow it to happen. That God allows abuse and evil is a difficult doctrine to swallow, but when we love God, when we become part of His family, God can and does use our suffering for His glory – and it is a truly awesome thing to be a vessel for the glory of God. If I have known what it is to be unloved, to believe myself horrible and worthless and unlovable, how much more is the effect when I realise that not only am I lovable, but that I am loved by the Creator of the universe? And when I do see how much He loves me, what can I do but offer my life, my whole self in return?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been brought to your knees in despair by your own sin, or whether it has been the sins of others, or a combination of the two: when you’re at your lowest is when God can bless you the most.

Less me = more God:

“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.”

Matthew 5:14

Hallelujah: Hebrew for YIPPEE!**

**It’s not really, literally ‘yippee’, of course. Literally, ‘hallelujah’ means ‘praise God!

‘A Call to Action’

As everyone knows, young people are bombarded with normalised violence through highly realistic video games that take the player through many hours of simulated combat and criminal behaviour. In addition [the internet], movies, television, magazines and music videos are full of demeaning depictions of women. These games and media make us less sensitive to violence and the debasement of women, so we are more inclined to accommodate them in real life. 

Jimmy Carter, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power

This really is an excellent book. Carter expresses difficult concepts with ease and has a straightforwardness of manner that is actually quite rare. He writes with intelligence, depth of knowledge and integrity.

I don’t want my daughters growing up believing that their value lies in the way they look on the outside rather than what’s on the inside. I don’t want them to believe that their bodies are worth more than their spirit. I don’t want my son growing up believing that it doesn’t matter if he enjoys looking at a woman’s body as if she exists for his ‘enjoyment’. I want my children to know that their bodies are beautiful, but also that their bodies are a gift to be treasured and treated with respect and dignity. I want them to know that every person – mind, body and spirit – is made in the image of God, and it is for this reason that Jesus taught us to love one another, and to offer respect to every individual’s God-breathed humanity.

Reblog: Transfigured and a Source of Joy

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Knowing that this is enough is a huge relief. Knowing that this is enough is also a huge challenge. Too often it is tempting to want to be more, and often it is tempting to be discouraged because we know we are less. I like to think of it as like a pot, like the Romans would have had, an amphora: a vessel which is designed to be useful. The trouble is, we’re all broken. But God puts us together again and the Holy Spirit shines through the cracks. The more jagged the cracks are, the more He shines, and not only are we now useful, but the cracks are bursting with His light. Jesus shines through the cracks in a completely unexpected and unique way.

Contemplative in the Mud

antonio6In one of his sermons, Saint Anthony of Padua says of Christ,

His very physical appearance, on which the angels desire to look, is a source of joy.

This reminds me of Mount Tabor. Christ took James, John, and Peter up Mount Tabor and was transfigured before them. He shone in glory. His appearance was bright, visible, luminous, and pure. That must be how he is in Heaven. He was glorified, and it affected the visible features of his sacred body.

To some extent, this is what is supposed to happen to us here below. We are supposed to be, by our very physical appearance, a joy to others.

Now, of course, this joy isn’t merely carnal, it’s spiritual!

And of course, barring any miracle, we do not physically shine like Jesus on Mount Tabor!

But still, our very physical appearance is meant to be “a source a joy,” real…

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