Live

…God [loves] us in spite of ourselves in the very places where we cannot or will not or dare not love ourselves.

God does not love us if we change, God loves us so that we can change.

~ from Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr

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from idpinthat.com

“Tell them that as surely as I, the Sovereign LORD, am the living God, I do not enjoy seeing sinners die. I would rather see them stop sinning and live.”

Ezekiel 33:11 (GNT)

“I came [so] that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10 (NRSVA)

Necessary Surrender

We each have our inner program for happiness, our plans by which we can be secure, esteemed and in control, and are blissfully unaware that these cannot work for us for the long haul – without our becoming more and more control freaks ourselves… what makes so much religion so innocuous, ineffective and even unexciting is that there has seldom been a concrete ‘decision to turn our lives over to the care of God’… wilfulness [runs] rampant… there are about the same percentage of people who have actually handed over their will to God in most church circles as there are people who I meet at many ‘secular’ gatherings.

 ~ from Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

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from idpinthat.com

I find that this is a process that sometimes needs to be repeated, especially when I fall into the mire of comparison. Our culture thrives on comparisons, we judge one another and we judge ourselves. I grew up in a very judgemental family. God has been showing me the patterns of behaviour that I have inadvertently perpetuated, particularly those that my children see, whether towards myself or others. Thinking myself better than others is a form of self-deceit. Thinking myself less than others is deceptive and equally destructive. As soon as I surrender my will to His, I begin to be capable of loving myself, and others, as God does – no more, no less. This is ‘through a glass darkly’. This is grace.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.

extract from 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (NRSVA)

Having the Right Heart

Amaziah… reigned for 29 years in Jerusalem… He did what was right in the sight of the LORD, yet not with a true heart.

2 Chronicles 25:22 (NRSVA)

file When [God] had removed [Saul], he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart…”

Acts 13:22

…wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 

James 3:17

Serving God is not about getting it right all the time. It’s about having the right heart – a yearning for the goodness of God alongside a knowledge of my own flaws. Jesus said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” precisely because of this. He knows we will make wrong choices, but loves us anyway.

God is always good (even though we are not).

Brought Low

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In the parable of the prodigal son, the black sheep of the family, having squandered every last penny and lived the reckless high life (crime? exploitation? addiction?) until he had nothing left and no roof over his head, comes home to his father to say sorry and beg for forgiveness. He thinks maybe he can do some kind of low-status, menial labour for his father. Besides, he has nowhere else to go.

Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, writes: ‘The emphasis of Christ’s story is not on the sinfulness of the son but on the generosity of the father. We ought to re-read this parable periodically if only to catch the delicate nuance of the first meeting between the two. The son had his speech carefully rehearsed… but the old man didn’t let him finish… [the son] doesn’t even have a chance to say to his father “I’m sorry”.

How  many times have we judged those, both inside and outside the Church, as ‘less-than’ or not worthy enough? How many times have we ourselves been brought to the place where we recognise that we are utterly broken, sinful beyond repair? Because it’s only when you’re in the broken state, fully aware of your lowliness, that you can begin to appreciate how great is the love of God. He can’t begin to occupy your soul unless you give it up to Him. It’s not something we can achieve on our own. This I learned at Celebrate Recovery and in some ways I think I will always be learning this truth, but that’s ok.

I like to think of it as a vase, oh so very pretty on the outside – a rare and delicate Ming vase, say, but inside dark and empty. One day the vase is smashed to smithereens*. The Maker carefully glues it back together, paying little attention to the outward appearance, and then sets a lamp inside. Suddenly the jumbled-up pieces and the cracks reveal the bright, glorious light of the Creator. This is grace.

 

*It is of no consequence whether we are brought low because of our own sin and destructive nature, or from the sin and destructive nature of others (for example with abuse), or even from illness. God redeems all and treats all the same – and who are we to say that it should be done differently? As soon as I think I know better, I make myself equal to God. And that’s just daft. No, instead we rejoice because we were lost and now we are found.

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)

What is Truth?

The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behaviour. Suddenly I discover that I am ministering to AIDs victims to enhance my resumé. I find I renounced ice cream for Lent to lose five excess pounds. I drop hints about the absolute priority of meditation and contemplation to create the impression that I am a man of prayer. At some unremembered moment I have lost the connection between internal purity of heart and external works of piety. 

~ from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

Ouch. Yes, I have to constantly be on my guard against the deceit of pride and/or shame. In truth, I lose my temper – though thankfully not as frequently nowadays, I think bad thoughts, I say things I shouldn’t say, I do things or don’t do things that I know I should or shouldn’t do. I am very, very flawed. I am not going to list all my sins here for public consumption. They are all, I hope, acknowledged and brought before Jesus. Forgiveness is the most wonderful gift. It means we can start every day as fresh as a new born and for that I am eternally, wholly and completely thankful.

 

Without Ceasing

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It’s a cliché to want world peace, is it not? It’s the kind of thing you say if you are ever asked what you would wish for if you had three wishes, like in the fairy tales. But on learning of yet another terrorist attack, this time in Turkey, one has to wonder if there will ever be a time when people stop killing one another and spreading the anti-gospel of fear and hatred.

In my comfortable existence here in the UK, I know how far I am from being able to do anything. Our family are taking part in a sponsored 24 hours without power to raise money for ShelterBox, which supplies refugees with emergency shelter, cooking equipment, etc. It’s not much but it’s something. You can read more here: Off the Grid 

Meantime, let’s pray without ceasing, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians. Let’s give thanks for what is being done to help refugees. Let’s pray for the aid workers and the families who have been forced to flee their homes. Let’s pray for those who are caught up in the twisted rhetoric of the Islamic State, that they will come to desire a different way to be, that they will recognise that what they do – the way they kill and steal and destroy, ruling by fear and fear alone – is a terminal spiral into more violence, more death, more evil.

Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. How many times have you done that? We often forget. I forget. I have prayed for the people who abused me, but it’s not easy! It makes me very uncomfortable. I have to ask God to help me to do it. But it’s part of what makes me different than if I had no faith. It’s part of living in and as His image. It’s a reflection of His perfect grace, however imperfectly reflected!

So today, as well as praying for the victims and their families, let’s pray that the hearts and minds of the terrorist groups will be opened, and that they will come to know the love and peace that passes all understanding. Sometimes prayer and love are the only weapons we have. But they’re also the best.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…”

 Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSVA)

Come with Nothing

 

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Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet.

Come if you’re able, come if you’re meek.

Come if you’re broken, come if you’re lost.

Come, come touch the heavenly cloth

Of His robe,

And feel Him breathe into your soul –

All your discarded shards

Made whole.

 

It’s not glue that binds shards together,

It’s grace;

Grace for the humble,

Grace for the race

You thought you had lost,

Grace for the weary and scrap-heap tossed.

 

His yoke is easy and His burden is light,

His words are joy and His love a delight,

You won’t find Him in comfort

Or in success,

You’ll find Him when you’re sure you’re the last to be blessed.

 

He was there in your past, He’s here in the mess,

Come join the raggedy-taggledy fest!

Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet,

And learn from the Master the Way of the Least.

~ Sandyfaithking, 2016

 

I think it’s a bit too close to doggerel for my liking, but sometimes you have to write and be done with it, I reckon. This poem was inspired by these words from Laura Martin’s book ‘Positively Powerless’:

Isaiah 57:15 states:

For this is what the high and exalted one says – He who lives forever, whose name is holy, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

It almost seems a contradiction: God dwells in a high and holy place, but He also dwells with the contrite and lowly. It is a startling contrast: we get close to God by realising how far we are from Him… Jesus taught similar principles… The ‘blessed’ are those who are poor in spirit, mournful and meek – those  who realise they come to the spiritual table with nothing to offer.

Highlighting is my own, not Laura’s. You can read more intelligent, interesting insights over at Laura’s blog: lightenough.WordPress.com

 

Saying Goodbye to Joy

When he had finished speaking, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 

Luke 5:4-6 (NRSVA)

There are two lessons here. The first is that the abundance of God happens unexpectedly. The second is that doing what God desires sometimes seems to make no sense, but after the act of trust, i.e. doing what we think God wants us to do, we will see what the reason was. I suspect that some acts of obedience are only fully understood once we’re with God.

My friend, Joy, lived around 200 miles away with her husband, Caleb. About 18 months ago I sensed a strong ‘God prompt’ to call her. I was tired. I didn’t want to do it. Also, I really don’t like phone calls very much, unless it’s close family. I prefer to talk face to face. But the God prompt was strong. I knew I couldn’t not do it. So I called.

Joy and Caleb were in the middle of watching telly and it was apparent that I was interrupting (not that they said anything other than that it was nice to hear from me). I  think I told them that God had prompted me to phone. They, being believers themselves, were happy enough with this, although they couldn’t figure out why, either, and so after a few minutes of chit-chat we hung up. During the call, Joy mentioned some abnormalities in her latest blood test. She had undergone a kidney transplant several months before. She said the doctors wondered if they needed to adjust her medications.

A couple of weeks later Joy was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of cancer. Caleb was distraught as the days and weeks ticked by and Joy did not respond to any treatment. Two months after the phone call Caleb texted me with the news of Joy’s death.

A week later I travelled the 200 miles to the funeral and was so glad I did. It was clear that Joy had touched the lives of so many people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to canonise her. She had her faults, same as everyone. But as my husband and I often agreed, Caleb and Joy were two of the loveliest people we’d ever known. Their quiet humility was the loudest shout for the presence of Christ. Joy didn’t suddenly become a saint because she wasn’t there any more. She was already genuinely lovely. It was a heart-wrenching joy to be at her funeral, because she had been the same lovely person to every single person she ever met.

I don’t know why God took her so early. I don’t know why dear Caleb had to say goodbye so soon. I can understand why God would want to keep her and I know Joy is truly home. That brings such comfort. I also know now that God graciously allowed me to say goodbye to my friend, even though, at the time of the phone call, it made no sense.

Forgiveness?

“My frau is a Jezebel. She fornicated with Samuel Beachy before we got hitched, then killed their unborn boppli…” He scowled.

“I see.” Jonathan scratched his beard, “So she has not asked for forgiveness?”

“She has.”

“Yet you choose not to forgive?”

“How can a person forgive something like that, Jonathan?” Christian’s voice rose. “If it were your frau, would you forgive her?”

“It would be difficult but, ja, I would. We must follow Christ’s example. Do you think it was easy for Him to forgive those who nailed Him to the cross?”

“Nay, but I am not Christ. He was perfect.”

“Perfect, ja, but a man, like us. It wasn’t any easier for Him.”

~ from An Unforgivable Secret by J.E.B. Spredemann

 

Forgiveness, where the debtor is truly sorry, is not optional. It’s different when the debtor is defiantly in denial of what they have done (or when they pretend to be sorry but do the same destructive things over and over), but even then, by choosing to hang onto anger and bitterness and resentment – all aspects of unforgiveness – in the end I hurt myself more. I choose to let go, by grace, because I don’t want to live that way (doesn’t mean I accept those who abused me with open arms, just that it no longer eats away at me). 7650ebd7154a4c7aa67bc7fc201bf1cb

Recently I have been thinking of the time when, as a 12-year-old, I decided to no longer eat meat. I was at the time a victim of ongoing sexual, physical and emotional abuse that remained hidden from everyone else. The abuser said that if I told anyone he would kill my parents. He also made sure I believed that other people saw me as a liar. I wasn’t so sure about that last one, and became scrupulous about telling the absolute truth. But the threat to my parents was what held me. That and the inability to put into words the Unspeakable.

I looked at the chunk of beef in the burger I was eating one sunny afternoon as my best friend and I walked round the local summer fête, two little girls in matching dresses. I thought of the cow that had once been, before it became my lunch. I thought of the care shown to the creature as it was born and raised, and I thought of the ultimate betrayal that occurred in the act of slaughter. I empathised with the cow. Its life was a lie. I couldn’t eat meat after that.

A decade later I was in an abusive marriage, slowly becoming cut off from my friends and family and pregnant with my first child. I had almost let go of the hope that life could be anything other than awful, and I began eating meat again. Saving the lives of cows and pigs didn’t seem worth the effort. It made no difference what I did in any aspect of my life. Over the next decade I gradually came to the conclusion that my needs did not matter. My hopes, my dreams were carefully locked away. It was a lot less painful not to have any. Besides, I did not matter. But I still knew that my children mattered.

I am not sure why these things seem intrinsically linked in my head, but I do know that unforgiveness eats away at you from the inside. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. It’s not a reason to lay oneself open to more abuse. Forgiveness occurs when I align my will with that of God, letting go of the things that come between us. Jesus taught me that life with Him turns everything upside down and inside out – and that includes suffering. How I love following this radical Saviour! I am so thankful for the chance to belong to the God of Great Love.

I pray that if you, dear reader, are struggling with forgiveness, or struggling to let go of bitterness, you are able to put your hand in His, and learn to walk Jesus’ way. There’s no other life worth living. He will always carry your burdens. He will never let you go.

Thanks for reading. If you would like to ask for specific prayer, please do comment below. Even if you don’t need some prayer, I love to read what people have to say and I am so thankful when folk take the time to comment.