Trouble

Mama has the tea ready when I get there for prayer group and Bible study first thing in the morning. I have on the socks that the woman with five kids and stage four cancer knit for me. This is always the first thing – to go right into the throne room of God wearing nothing less than your aching prayers…

Mama, she hands me a mug of steaming tea – apple cinnamon – and tells me it’s Psalms 107 this morning and could I read the chapter right out loud? Read it because it’s manna, and you’ve got nothing to give if you haven’t gathered, and you have to gather word manna at daybreak if you’re going to gain from it the day long. Read it because it’s your very life, and why live emaciated? 

…hadn’t Spurgeon said it? ‘There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health, except to be sickness, and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health. It is a good thing to be without a trouble, but it is a better thing to have a trouble and know how to get grace enough to bear it.’

~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts Devotional

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 107:1 (NRSVA)

Ann Voskamp at her beautiful best this morning as I listened to her read from the book of devotions drawn from her first book, One Thousand Gifts. Ann is the first person who taught me that you have to be broken to be mended. Before that I was just broken. And lost. And thinking that there must be something wrong with me, something deep in my soul – a stench that attracted trouble like a bluebottle to decay. Ann showed me that, contrary to my beliefs, the true beauty of God, the love of Christ, was found in the very midst of decay. It turned everything on its head and I began to see the world, the Church and Jesus with fresh eyes. How then can I not give praise? How can I be anything less than thankful?

No more let sorrows grow

Hold the child and hear Him crying,

No more let sorrows grow

He knows my troubles…

~ from the song My Troubles by Andrew Greer

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.

 

Happy

So it’s just us this year, which is fine by me. Frank cooked the dinner, a wonderful roast duck with cranberry & orange stuffing, accompanied by roast parsnips, roast baby potatoes, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and onion gravy. All I did was microwave the Christmas pudding, pull a cracker or two, read the obligatory terrible jokes and wear a silly hat. Do you think the Queen wears a silly hat at Christmas? It seems almost unpatriotic not to. We’re British: surely it’s against the law to not wear a paper hat and eat Brussels sprouts on Christmas Day? Methinks we ought to wear a festive crown of sprouts and eat the paper hat – it would surely taste better. (Did you see what I did there? I came over all Shakespearey. Very patriotic if I do say so myself, thank you kindly.)

We had Frank’s mother for dinner. Not literally, you understand; I’m not fond of mutton. No, but really, she thoroughly enjoyed her presents and her dinner and was still smiling when I took her back to the care home, which in the difficult-to-navigate waters of dementia was an excellent result. Prince had a wobble at the dinner table but overall he’s been ok. Ish. He loved his gifts, and we even saw a smile! Patience is indeed a virtue (autocorrect wanted to put ‘patience is indeed a virus’ o_O I’m tapping this out on a second-hand Kindle as my laptop has died).

My darling husband gave me a gorgeous Japanese teaset AND a Hyperbole and a Half 2016 calendar! 😀 Definitely on the shortlist for Husband of the Year. Fluff loves her new Keep Warm and Hug a Pony jumper. She nearly cried when she unwrapped it. Chip has fallen in love with her walking, yapping(?) unicorn (a gift from granny). The girls have spent the afternoon playing charades and are now combining the art of toasting marshmallows over an open fire with watching our special family Christmas movie – Shaun the Sheep. Not a particularly Christmassy movie… unless you count the fact that there were sheep in the Christmas story. Well, there were shepherds. Ultimately it’s a tale of love, redemption and unwavering devotion so perhaps not so un-Christmassy.

Ooh, Fluff just handed me a double toasted marshmallow. Plus, this Shaun the Sheep film is hilarious, so Godspeed, dear friends. Enjoy the rest of the festivities. And remember: Jesus is the reason for the season 😉

 

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.

Celebrating Summer (and the End of EMDR)

We had a lovely summer. We’ve spent time together as a family and although three of us caught the dreaded lurgy and had to come home from our camping trip early, we had some moments that we will treasure. We explored the English countryside and rediscovered our ‘green and pleasant land’. Most of all (for me, at least) these few months since I finished EMDR have been a time of continued renewal and healing. Everyone says how well I look and those who know me well have commented on how I am interacting with people better. I’ve even been horse riding, which I don’t think I would have if it hadn’t been for EMDR. I’ve been so much more able to give of myself to my family, too. A great burden has been lifted that I’d been hefting for years. I can’t tell you how wonderful that is. I am so, so thankful!

A few highlights: Fluff won an award at school for attainment. There were 11 of these awards handed out to a year group of 130, so she was thrilled. This is the same little girl whom I was once told was below average. I always knew she wasn’t – it was just everything that she’d been through, and we’d been through. Frank and I have fought hard for her to have the best education, and to support her in all her learning. Little Chipmunk did her first ever dance exams and gained a Merit and a Highly Commended. Yay, Chip! My girls and I have taken up horse riding, and I have fallen in love with a beautiful gelding called Balthazar ❤  I’ve also taken up Pilates, which is far more difficult than I’d anticipated. Muscles ache the day after in places you never expected to even have them… Praise the Lord for ibuprofen!

We’ve been blackberrying and made jam for the first time ever. We’ve enjoyed picnics and walks in the woods. We visited:

 

FLAG FEN

3,500 years old!

a 3,500 year old archaeological site,

The castle had a bread oven. On the roof. As you do...

The castle had a bread oven. On the roof. 

an 800 year old castle and a 600 year old manor house. On visiting the castle and learning its age, Prince commented, “This place makes our house seem quite young, Mummy…” Quite so!

 

Enormous slices of Bakewell tart for Daddy and Prince

Enormous slices of Bakewell tart for Daddy & Prince

GRAFFITI

Century old graffiti in the castle

Our little archaeologist

Our little archaeologist

A green spider on the train one day

Fluff insisted on taking a photo of this green spider on the train. Wonder where he was going?

GIRL GARDEN

Little girl explores an English country garden…

Little girl let loose with a camera in the English country garden:

 

 

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So how about you? Have you anything to be especially thankful for? Have you done anything special over the summer (or winter, if you’re in the southern hemisphere)?

You’re Little for a Little While

 

The end of the summer term brings numerous school traditions. This morning was, once again, Prize Day at Chip’s primary school, and I was invited once more to the ceremony. As they read out the title of the award, followed by the names of the children, I reflected on whether my little Chip would be likely to win any particular one. I didn’t think she’d win ‘Exemplary Behaviour’ like her sister the year before. She’s a little too – er – bouncy for that, by which I mean she occasionally forgets to be considerate in her eagerness. I joked with her beforehand that she ought to win ‘Most Like Tigger’. She just grinned.

The teacher continued to announce the various awards and when it came to ‘Most Improved in Confidence’ I nearly snorted. Chip was definitely not going to be eligible for that one. Any more confidence and she’d be dangerous. Like I say, our very own little Tigger. So which award do you think she won? You might have an inkling. It was ‘Most Enthusiastic Learner’. Bless her, the teacher said that she approaches everything, even the subjects she doesn’t like so much, with enthusiasm and endless curiosity. I was proud.

Next week I’ve been invited to Fluff’s school where she also has won a prize. It’s good to know, as a parent, that you must be doing something right if your offspring continually achieve well. It’s good to know that, despite all the horribleness and ugliness and darkness that we’ve been through as a family, we’ve not only come through, but come through strong. Even this past year, while it has been the best year of my life so far (hallelujah!), has not been easy. EMDR was nothing if not gruelling and it had an impact on the whole family, not just me. My biggest lesson from EMDR, perhaps surprisingly, has been to learn that being a good mother is good enough. I don’t have to be the perfect parent to somehow make up for the past.

So I shall spend this lovely summer’s day enjoying being a Very Proud Mother, and giving thanks to the God of all things good.

The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child. And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me.

Matt 18:4,5 (GNT)

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!