I'm grateful for this winter walk, When side by side, we stroll and talk, When all the world is gripped with fear, And bad report is everywhere, To see that earth and sky still meet, And feel the ground beneath my feet. I'm grateful for this memory, Of city-scape, and take-out tea, I'm grateful for this outdoor space, The cheery smile upon your face, I'm grateful that you're here with me, For momentary normalcy. I'm grateful for this chance to be Outside, with you, alive and free! When all the world must lock away, I'm grateful for this winter day, For every blade of grass that's planted For things I often take for granted. I'm grateful for each leafless tree, So stark and lifeless though they be, Reminding me that seasons wane, That winter shall not long remain, That underneath this hard, hard ground, A thousand buds of spring abound.
Normally, we put our Christmas decorations up over the first weekend in December. But let’s face it, 2020 has been far from normal for all of us.
With high street shops, pubs and restaurants closed for business until 2nd December, our town doesn’t have its normal November hustle and bustle. Apart from the occasional queues outside the post office, and the take-away coffee bars, everything is locked up, shutters down, lying dormant in darkness.
Many people that I’ve bumped into over the past few weeks have reacted in the same way. They’ve got this urge to dig out their Christmas decorations a mite earlier than normal – to bring a bit of Christmas cheer into this Covid winter gloom.
So when, on Friday evening, my two teenage girls suddenly said: “Mum, let’s get this party started!” and offered to put our Christmas Tree up, I decided not to argue. With countless birthday parties, youth events and social activities cancelled, these past few months have been particularly rough on them.
My favourite part of putting up the Christmas tree is that magical moment, when after half an hour of patient unravelling and walking round and round in circles, the lights have been carefully nestled amid the branches of the tree, and you get to flick on that switch and light up the room! I love the audible gasp of joy and wonder whenever this moment comes. It may sound obvious, but there is something so powerful, so comforting about light piercing through the darkness.
When that moment came for us this year, the words of a carol sprang to mind:
Have you ever received one of those traditional Christmas cards that depicts that first Christmas, centuries ago? The crowded streets of Bethlehem, normally depicted in hues of rich dark purple and indigo, are illuminated by the contrasting glow of the bright gold star positioned directly above the stable where the baby Jesus is lying in the manger.
Those words, contained in a Christmas Carol that so many of us have sung since we were children – carry a depth of meaning that can so easily be missed.
You see, the star that shone in the east was not the Everlasting Light.
The baby was!
That small child, that tiny, vulnerable newborn infant, wrapped tightly in white cloths and lying in a crude animal’s trough, was the long-awaited Messiah. The promised hope of all mankind – the Light of the World.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the fullness of time, Christ the King, tore through the curtain of space and time, was made in human likeness, and entered the gloom and despair of a world that lay waiting in darkness!
So whether it’s November or April, or December 2020, it’s never too early or too late, or too dark, or too hopeless to celebrate. for behold, we have been given good news of great joy – the light has come!
I hope you will take a moment to listen to this wonderful Christmas song, written and performed by Michael W Smith.
Our eldest daughter Lydia, recently completed an A Level in Art. She did brilliantly well, and we were all extremely proud of her achievements. However, in order to complete her studies, she had to put in such an inordinate amount of time and effort, that she hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since. Isn’t is funny how the pressure of performance can zap our child-like enjoyment of creative pursuits?
A few weeks ago, on a lazy Saturday morning, Emily, our youngest, concocted a brilliant eight-year-old plan. “Mummy, let’s have an art day!” she said.
Even though inwardly, I had a mental to-do list as long as my right arm, and even though I suspected she was asking the wrong person, she looked so starry-eyed with excitement, that it was hard to refuse her enthusiasm. Lydia kindly offered us the use of her watercolour paper and paints, and so we set up a work space on the kitchen table, filled jars of water, and put on some relaxing music.
When was the last time you dropped your to-do list and did something just for fun? It can be hard to carve out time for leisurely pursuits. Life is hectic – a constant whirlwind of rushing here and there. We have many urgent and important things to do. We often feel guilty for pressing the pause button, and for taking time out to do something recreational. But God created us with an inbuilt need to occasionally stop and do something which replenishes energy and lifts the spirits. There’s definitely some truth in the old adage: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Emily instinctively knows this. She spends most of her time playing! But as we grow up, we forget to do things just for fun. We forget how valuable it can be to kick through the leaves with the wind in our hair. We are all unique, and so what we find relaxing will differ. But whether it’s gardening, or baking or reading, or taking a walk in the woods, we all need times where we cease from our toil and do something which quite simply brings us joy.
Go on, try something new!
Watercolour is one of those creative pursuits that I have always admired, but have never been brave enough to try. After all, it’s a notoriously difficult medium to work with. Mistakes can be difficult to rectify, especially if the colours should bleed or run in an undesirable way. Plus, it takes a great deal of practice to learn the various techniques required: how much water to apply, how to mix colours, how to use the brush to achieve different effects.
And yet, there’s a fluidity and freedom in a watercolour painting that is so soft and appealing to the eye. Whenever you watch a watercolour artist at work, it always looks so effortless!
Luckily for Emily and I, we didn’t have to search too far to find a wealth of information for beginners on the Internet, including a whole host of inspiring video tutorials to help get us started. We decided to start with some simple Christmas cards featuring snowy scenes and simple winter greenery.
And as the early autumn sunlight streamed through the kitchen windows, we spent a glorious few hours absorbed in our newfound pursuit. I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since I was a child. I had forgotten how much fun it can be!
But, I couldn’t help but notice some fundamental differences in our approach.
Emily was free – watching the tutorials, and then doing her own thing. Dipping her brush into the paint, and confidently applying it, without any reservation or rigidity. There seemed to be no caution in her young mind. She was lost in the moment, relishing the experience of expressive creativity. She created piece after piece in quick succession.
I tried my hand at a bunch of mistletoe. The tutorial looked easy enough. After several attempts, and wasted pieces of watercolour paper, I gave up. You see, I wanted to achieve perfection. But sadly, my efforts did not match up to the one on the video tutorial. And so I decided to try a wreath instead. Thankfully, this went a little better and inspired me to keep going.
The perfection perception
As adults, we can become so afraid to try something new, in case we fail. Our performance- mentality prevents us from just enjoying the moment. We live in an age where we are bombarded with airbrushed images of unachievable perfection. And it’s not just celebrities any more. There are dozens of very ordinary self-made Instagram celebrities who appear to have it all together. Their houses are like something out of Homes and Gardens Magazine, styled to make your mouth drop. Not a dirty cup, or an odd sock, or a pile of unfiled papers in sight. Their lives are also perfect – we know this because they video their every move. They post vlogs of their perfectly executed marriage proposals, or Christmas dinners, or gender reveal moments. Our children watch this stuff all the time. I keep reminding my teenage daughters that nobody’s life is perfect. We don’t see the time the pastry went spectacularly wrong, or the dog ran through the house with muddy paws. We don’t see the time they had a blazing row on the way to church. Life is messy. Mistakes happen. But God’s grace is abundant, and love covers a multitude of sins.
2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 18:2-4 (ESV)
The story of salvation goes totally against the grain. God gives us Christ’s righteousness as a free gift! My attempts at perfection, fall hopelessly short. And so God, sent His one and only son, into a world full of sin and darkness, to live a sinless life, and to take my filthy rags upon himself on the cross. And in exchange, He gave me a robe of righteousness to wear. All I have to do is humble myself, stop striving, and receive it as a free gift. I am justified by faith alone. What a profound and incredible truth! We have been given a gospel of grace. We so often overcomplicate things, and mistakenly believe the lie that it’s all about our performance.
These humble Christmas cards that we’ve created, are a reminder to me, that because of Jesus, we are free indeed– free to rejoice in this good news of great joy!
Today I invite you to celebrate the freedom that has been bought with a price for us. I encourage you to receive it with open arms, like a child receives a Christmas present. I hope today that you manage to find a little space to cease your toil and frantic activity and do something that brings you joy.
And maybe, who knows, you might even be inspired to try something new?
As many of my readers are also writers, I thought it might be fun to share with you a little bit about my writing journey…I hope it will prompt you to think about your own journey, and encourage some of you to share some of your own stories, or writing goals, in the comments section below.
I composed my first poem, entitled ‘snow’ when I was just four years old. I’m sure it wasn’t a masterpiece, but my mum eagerly jotted down my ramblings onto a scrap of paper, and for many years, kept it, folded up inside her wooden writing bureau. I’m pretty sure my love of story began even earlier than this, but because I have something tangible to look back to, I often mark this poem as the beginning of my writing journey.
How about you? When did your writing journey begin?
My love of creative writing grew steadily throughout my childhood. I didn’t think too deeply about it at the time; it was just something I loved to do. I loved writing stories, and keeping journals, and did so on a regular basis. Looking back now, it’s clear that I had all the hallmarks of an aspiring writer. I wonder if you can relate to some of these too?:
- My favourite subject, hands-down, was always English. I managed to get straight A’s in both Literature and Language, largely because writing essays – organising my thoughts and observations on paper – was never a chore;
- I was a voracious reader – I was the type of kid that strained my eyes, trying to read in the dark, long after my mum had tucked me in and turned out the bedside lamp;
- I had this nerdy little notebook in which I scribbled down any unfamiliar words that I came across, and then actually enjoyed looking up their meaning in the dictionary afterwards;
- I used to day-dream a lot, especially on car journeys with the radio on, making up romantic stories in my head;
- Speaking up, was often a real fear of mine – but expressing my thoughts on paper came easily;
- My friends and I started a Writing Club when we were around 13. We would brainstorm all kinds of titles, and then write poems or compositions and read them out to each other;
- I once got a lecture, from my exasperated father, whilst on a family holiday. It went something like this: “We didn’t bring you all the way out here just to sit inside and read. Why don’t you just go out and DO something!” (Ha! I thought this was terribly unfair at the time. As far as I was concerned, I WAS doing something. But looking back, I kind of understand.)
losing the plot…
I was an 18 year old ‘junior technician’ working at an insurance firm in the City. One day, as I sat daydreaming out of the office window, it dawned on me. I was not cut out for this. I looked around at all the ambitious brokers in their suits and brogues, cutting deals on the telephone, and realised that I was a complete fish out of water. I mean, who was I trying to kid? If truth be told, I was a hopeless technician. I was far more interested in thinking up silly limericks, than trying to apply my mind to anything remotely mathematical or ‘technical.’ All of a sudden, I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do with my life… and it certainly wasn’t this. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to write books! (If I had told my 18 year-old-self that I’d still be trying to reach that goal at the ripe old age of 45, I wonder if I would have just given up there and then?)
Soon after, I handed my notice in…and landed up working in a clothes shop! I soon discovered that you can’t just decide one day that you’re going to quit your day job to become a writer. Life doesn’t work like that. So, writing became a hobby. I was delighted to learn that many successful writers held down day jobs, and made time to write in their spare time.
I went through several more years like this, working in various admin jobs, all the while sensing that I’d never really found my niche.
I bought dozens of books on how to write, particularly on how to write for children. I spent the next few years filling notebooks, with dozens of kids poems, stories and odds and ends. I had ideas for chapter books buzzing round my head. I had countless stories and picture book ideas saved on my computer.
And then one day, I decided to take the plunge and send off my first manuscript… After all, what good were all of these poems and stories stuck away in a file somewhere?
I took my first rejection letter with a pinch of salt. It was par for the course. Part of the deal. No biggie. But six months later, after a parry of generic similar sounding let-downs, it all began to get rather discouraging. But still, I kept going.
THE AUTHOR WHO NEARLY GOT PUBLISHED
Then one amazingly normal day, quite out of the blue, the phone rang. I was a young stay-at-home mum at the time. Lydia, my four year old daughter, who loved to answer the telephone, announced (rather nonchalantly) “mummy, a lady wants to talk to you about your book!”
Wait… What?! Mouth wide open. Are you kidding me?
I shot to the phone, quite a’quiver, and discovered that it was indeed an ACTUAL real-life editor, wanting to talk to me about my book! She said she loved it! But, she wanted me to make a ton of changes and resubmit it.
I absolutely agreed to do whatever she asked. I mean, crikey, this was my big breakthrough moment! I set to work, rewriting the story, taking on board all her suggestions and dutifully resubmitted the manuscript. And then… I nervously waited.
A week went past. No news. No sweat. I mean, Editors are busy people.
A fortnight later, I was still avidly checking my inbox a gazillion times a day, but still… Nothing. Not even an acknowledgement.
A month came and went…. Not a bean, Josephine. By this time, I had the total jitters. What should I do? Would I be seen as an annoying novice nuisance, if I chased this up?
Almost six weeks later, I finally plucked up the courage to email the publisher, to see where I stood. A few days later I finally got my answer. The editor who had been working on my submission, had suddenly left the company and the project had been dropped. I honestly felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world. This was the pits. I would be known hereafter as the author who almost got published.
I must admit, for several months, I wondered what God was doing. Rather than rejoicing at how close I’d come, I wallowed in disappointment. I concluded that God must want me to stop writing altogether. Maybe it was the wrong time. Maybe this writing thing was becoming too much of a distraction from the things that really matter. It was a very confusing and difficult time.
GIFTS ARE FOR GIVING!
A few years went by, before I picked up my pen again. Life was hectic. I had four young children. I barely had time to think, let alone write. Yet often, when I picked up a novel, or read a story book to my kids, there was this huge pang within me. I felt like I’d missed the boat. I knew I should be writing. I just felt like I’d lost my way.
I began to pray about it all. Was my writing a God-given gift, or an earthly distraction? If God wanted me to lay it all down, then why did I still want to do it so much? What if I got to heaven one day, and He asked me why I had buried my talent?
And then I thought about the verse which says: “freely you have received, freely give.”
What if I was putting so much emphasis on the final destination, i.e. getting a book published, that I’d forgotten to enjoy the journey? What if, during the waiting period, however long it might be, I tried to use my passion to bless others?
A BLOG IS BORN
And so in Jan 2016, having absolutely no blogging experience whatsoever, I set up this blog and wrote my first post. I had no grand designs. No great plan. My motto was, and still is, that if by sharing a few thoughts, I managed to encourage just one person, then it would have been worth it. And if nobody ever read my blog, well, at least it was a place to practice the craft.
the journey continues
Since starting this blog, I’ve had a small degree of success within the Christian Publication market. I’ve finally managed to break into print (albeit, the very first time I got published, they managed to spell my surname wrong!) I’ve written around 10 short devotional stories for Keys For Kids Ministries, and had an article published in Creation Illustrated Magazine.
I’ve also had a ton of rejections and some pretty low moments too.
But I’m learning that perseverance and patience pay off eventually. I’m also learning that getting published is not the be all and end all of life. Writing, like all creative pursuits, is meant to be enjoyable, not an endless source of frustration. I would never tell a painter to stop painting just because they never sold any of their art. So wherever you’re at on your journey, keep going. Don’t you dare give up! Keep writing. Keep being brave and sharing your stories. Keep learning. Keep connecting with other writers. And most of all, don’t forget to enjoy the journey!
A few days ago, my husband and I stood in the Home Department of TK Max, shopping for pots and pans, kitchen utensils, can openers and all manner of other kitchen paraphernalia. It seemed a strange thing to be doing, considering our twentieth wedding anniversary takes place later this month. Talk about de-ja-vu! Only this time, the kitchen stuff wasn’t for us. It was for our eighteen-year-old son, who we helped move into University yesterday.
No matter how prepared you think you are, the day your first-born moves out of home, comes around all too quickly. Didn’t everyone tell you it would go by in the blink of an eye? But when the time comes for your precious child to fly the nest, you’re in pieces! Suddenly you can no longer walk past that photo of them on the bookcase without welling up.
But even though our son moved out physically just yesterday, there are times when our teenage children can feel strangely absent, long before they ever leave.
The pulling away of a teenager can be so painful. The disconnect can be subtle at first. The rolling of their eyes every time you ask them to take their dirty cup out to the dishwasher. The walking around the house with their headphones permanently in place. The aloofness. The lack of eye contact. Warm smiles replaced with aggressive retorts.
You learn to brace yourself for the volcano that’s about to erupt any time you need to speak into an aspect of their life. It could be the down-hill slump in their grades at school. Or a concern you have over a relationship. Whatever the issue, you know it won’t be an easy conversation. You convince yourself these ugly blow-ups are just a phase. Your child is hormonal. This too shall pass.
But, for some of us, things only go from bad to worse. Your teen keeps oversleeping and turning up an hour late to church. You decide to apply grace. After all, it’s probably best not to force the issue. But then a year down the line, it’s resoundingly clear. They’ve stopped attending altogether. Now they visibly cringe every time you play worship music in the house. And if you ever try and drop a scripture into a conversation, well, you may as well have dropped a hand-grenade.
Some of us, sadly, may reach a place where our sons or our daughters become openly and brazenly hostile to the gospel – where their lifestyle choices begin to get rather alarming. Drugs, alcohol, toxic relationships, sexual immorality, anxiety, depression, self-harming. If any of these things resonate with you, dear reader, then I weep alongside you. It’s an excruciating thing to watch unfold. Some days you feel ashamed. Some days you blame yourself. Most days, everything inside you just screams out at them: “Stop! No further! You’re going to make a total train-wreck of your life!” But they simply cannot see it. Once you were the voice they trusted the most. Now, you are the enemy – the brainwashed boundary-setter that they are determined to defy.
I wonder if the Prodigal Son just woke up one day and decided to cash-in his inheritance and leave his father’s home? I wonder if he had designs on leaving long before he ever did? Perhaps, in his heart, he too had begun to pull away and distance himself in the months that proceeded his departure. Nevertheless, it still must have been quite a shock to have a child ask for his share of the family property before anyone had even died. It must have been an absolute kick in the gut to hear that just a few days later, the son had sold his share of the property, travelled to a far-off country, where he began to squander every last penny on reckless living. This son was lost in more ways than one.
There are times, as a parent, when we realise that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 6:12)
There are times, as a parent, when our hearts feel close to breaking and all we can do is pray. We’ve read all the best parenting books. We have even applied different biblical approaches – A soft answer one day; tough love and discipline the next. But nothing we do or say seems to bring about the breakthrough. Only God can change the inner condition of the human soul. Only a work of the Holy Spirit can inscribe God’s holy laws upon a person’s heart. Sometimes, we must let our child go and fight the battle on our knees. The Father didn’t stop his son from leaving. But neither did he give up hoping and praying for his return.
So, whether your teen has left the house in person, or whether they have become a stranger living under your roof, let me encourage you today to never underestimate the power of prayer. Let’s remember together that ‘the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’– 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Perhaps, in some cases, it’s only when our child ‘leaves’ our covering; when they ‘go to a far-off country’ and hit rock bottom – and all we can do is watch and pray – that God’s inner work can finally be done.
So if you’re a hurting parent today. hang on in there. Let’s remember that the Prodigal son eventually came to his senses and yearned once again for his Father’s House. Let’s keep hoping, watching, praying and believing, that even though weeping may endure for a night, that joy – resounding, explosive, inexpressible joy – will come in the morning,
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! – Psalm 32:1
The streets of the city were crowded that day,
The Teacher was coming – He was heading this way.
My heart leapt within at the sound of His Name,
This man who healed lepers, the blind and the lame.
But the crowds all around me were blocking my view,
And try as I might, I just couldn’t push through.
There’s not much to be said for my stature – it’s true,
So I ended up right at the back of the queue!
Then ahead of the crowds in the distance, I see,
Down the long dusty road
There’s a Sycamore Tree,
I was desperate to see Him,
It had to be done,
So I kicked up the dust and I started to run!
My robes snagged on twigs as I scrambled up high,
And I hoped, against hope, that He’d not pass me by,
Still my heart skipped a beat when He stopped by that tree,
And He peered through the leaves,
Looking right up at me!
What would He say to a man such as me?
What was I doing here?
How could it be?
That this wonderful stranger should call me by name?
In that moment, I knew, I would not be the same.
The people were outraged- He was going to eat,
At the home of Zacchaeus, the swindler, the cheat!
But whenever He spoke, all my pride fell apart,
Until something was changed in the depths of my heart.
The tears started falling, my heart overflowed,
I would pay it all back, every penny I owed.
I would give it all gladly,
I would do anything,
For this wonderful Man,
For this beautiful King!
The love that He showed me,
The grace that He gave,
Swept over my being, like wave upon wave,
What joy filled my soul, and what gladness within,
When the Son of God cleansed me,
From all of my sin.
One of the great things about living in South East London, is having a myriad of different grocery shops to chose from, all within walking distance.
On route to my most regular choice of shop, I have the pleasure of walking through a small public garden – a lovely hidden gem, nestled in the middle of concrete pavements and busy traffic. I also walk through a couple of quiet, residential roads, with some pretty front gardens, which seem to be particularly abundant with colour this year.
One of them, in particular, always catches my eye! Standing proudly at the entrance to the property, is this wheelbarrow:
a barrow-full of surprises
Over the past few weeks I’ve watched the blooms inside this quirky container bud and flourish into an eye-catching display. Who knew a battered old wheelbarrow could become a thing of beauty? God’s glory can show up in some surprising places!
It inspired me, to scribble down these words in my notebook this morning:
Your new life within me,
Like blooms in a barrow,
Beauty for ashes,
And joy for my sorrow.
The bible, from beginning to end, is a story of redemption – God delights in choosing the broken, the worthless, the foolish things of this world, in order to display His glory.
2 Corinthians 4:7 puts it this way:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
If you look closely at the wheelbarrow, you’d notice signs of its previous existence – the deeply ingrained scuffs and scratches, the splatters of cement or paint. It’s not perfect, but that doesn’t make it any less lovely. What once was filled with rubbish, weighed down by its heavy load, is now brimming over with joyful beauty and vibrant colour. What a picture of God’s gracious handiwork in our lives!
THE GREAT EXCHANGE
Our wonderful God is the great exchanger:
- Beauty for ashes
- the oil of joy for mourning
- a garment of praise instead of a spirit of heaviness
- a robe of righteousness instead of filthy rags
- glory instead of shame
- perfect love instead of fear
The list just goes on and on. If you’re feeling worthless today, broken or weighed down with sin, then I have good news for you – you’re just the sort of person Jesus came to rescue! He doesn’t wait for you to ‘fix up’ before He adopts you into His family. The only thing you really need to be, is empty. Empty and willing to let a wise and loving Father transform your life into a testimony of redemption, all for His glory! Just like blooms in a barrow.
The old repro book-case in our lounge was incredibly useful. But, let’s be frank about this, it was a complete eye-sore! Its conker-colour veneer was a total anomaly, when compared with the contemporary soft whites and greys that we’d chosen for the rest of the room. Yep, that old book-case stuck out like a sore thumb!
It was one of those pieces I’d inherited from my dad, with the full intention of upcycling. Full of enthusiasm, I’d watched a ton of Annie Sloan videos, and even ordered a tin of Chalk Paint in a shade called ‘Old White.’ But sadly, I never seemed to find the time, or the energy required to remove the vast stock-pile of books from the shelves, set up a dust sheet out on the lawn, lug the great unit outside, and devote a day to painting.
And so the Annie Sloan chalk paint found its way into the dark depths of our under-stairs cupboard, where it lay forgotten for well over a year. The bookcase was doomed to be unceremoniously ‘dumped’ at the next available opportunity.
Imagine my delight, when my husband, eager for a ‘lock-down project’ to embark on, declared, one sunny afternoon: “I’m going to paint that bookcase for you tomorrow!”
Imagine my sheer surprise when my two teenage daughters, who would normally embrace ‘family projects’ with as much gusto as a cat being given a bath, piped up: “We’ll help!”
On the very next day, my dream-décor-team, got to work! Many hands make light work, and so, my painting services were not required. I was more than happy to sit and watch, and occasionally supply cups of tea, glasses of juice and sandwiches for these enthusiastic workers.
After several hours of painting, chit-chatting and listening to music, the sad old piece had been lavished with two coats of paint and was left drying in the spring sunshine. It was a real team effort – even our youngest daughter had a go at polishing up the brass drawer-furniture.
When the whole process was finished, the transformation was really quite startling! That tired old bookcase, destined only for the tip, was now absolutely splendid!
The transformation was so utterly satisfying to behold. We all stood back and marvelled. Surely, it wasn’t the same book-case?
Turns out, all it had needed was a little TLC! Hey, don’t we all?
Well, you know, that old book-case got me to thinking…
Firstly, I’m so grateful that we have a God, who chose an old wreck like me, took off my filthy rags and clothed me with robes of righteousness! He redeemed my life from the pit, and crowned me with His love and compassion. I’m so grateful.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.2 Corinthians 5:17
Witnessing my family working together as a team like that, was extremely heart-warming. I’m being honest here, the teenage years can be tough – for kids and parents alike! We’ve had some difficult days these past few years. Some hurtful words have been spoken. Some gut-wrenching tears have been cried. Wrong choices have hurt us all. The busy, fast pace of our lives has often caused a disconnect.
But I’m so confident, that in the midst of this Corona Virus crisis, our Redeeming God is wanting to bring about some amazing works of restoration and transformation within families! We have a God who’s in the business of doing more than we can ask or even imagine, don’t we? (Ephesians 3:20).
Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. He loves to restore. He loves to renew. He loves to redeem. It’s what He came to do!
I believe Jesus is just waiting to be invited in – into our homes, into our lives, into our families. He wants to transform every room of the house! Every sad, flagging marriage, every broken down, ready-for-the-tip relationship, our God is able to refresh, to renew and to restore! Confess your need today, ask for forgiveness if necessary, ask for help – and be expectant – God is full of lovingkindness and abundant grace. In this season, I truly, truly believe, He is pouring out His grace over families, to renew and to restore!
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desertIsaiah 43:19
I hope this post blesses and encourages you.
This time last week, along with many other parents, I was getting ready to go and collect our seven year old, Emily, from school, for the last time in the foreseeable future.
Bit by bit, over the last few weeks, we’ve come under stricter and stricter measures, in response to the Corona Virus Outbreak.
The UK is now on ‘lock-down’, with numbers of confirmed cases multiplying at an exponential rate. Just hours ago we learned that the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has himself contracted the virus and is now self-isolating – please do pray for him and his pregnant partner. Events are changing and unfolding at an alarming rate.
A month ago, phrases such as ‘lock-down’ were spoken only by actors, starring in Apocalyptic movies. Now they are part of our every day language
Everyone is talking about these ‘unprecedented’ times. A year ago, during prayer, God gave me the phrase…”All change!” Well it’s certainly feeling that way.
But could it be…could it possibly be…that in the midst of all this chaos, all of this disruption and upheaval, that God is still bringing about His Sovereign purposes on earth?
A Prophecy Fulfilled
One of the blessings of this lock-down, for me, has been the extended opportunity to study God’s word. I’ve decided to read through the gospel of Matthew.
In Chapter 2, Matthew quotes from the OT book of Micah, foretelling the birth-place of the Messiah.
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you shall come forth a ruler, who will shepherd my people Israel.Micah 2:5
In other words, roughly 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah foresees it – he speaks of a ruler, a shepherd of Israel, who will come forth from Bethlehem.
For those of us familiar with the Nativity, we know that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. So how on earth did Jesus come to be born in Bethlehem?
Through a governmental decree!
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who he was engaged to and who was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.Luke 2:1-6
A governmental decree suddenly brings a sudden halt to business as usual, bringing about disruption and upheaval. Sound familiar?
Joseph has to down-tools, take his pregnant fiancée, and make something like a 90 mile journey to Bethlehem. This would have been an 8 or 9 day hike!
But this unusual event, this governmental edict, was the very vehicle that God used to bring about His Sovereign purpose! Through the decree of a Roman ruler, Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem – not by happen-stance, but by Sovereign design – to fulfil an ancient prophecy! How wonderful.
Could it be that right now, in our day, when governments all around the world are issuing decrees, not to leave, but rather to stay in our homes, that something deeper might be going on?
Is there a possibility, that even now, in these uncertain days, God could be bringing forth His wonderful purposes on earth?
We’re all hearing the stories…
- People are slowing down, reflecting and re-evaluating.
- Families are eating meals together.
- Children are enjoying time with their parents and siblings.
- People are ditching their phones and re-discovering the beauty of reading, writing, painting, playing board games or doing jigsaw puzzles.
- People are appreciating simple daily freedoms, such as going for a walk.
- Parents and children are learning new things together at home.
- Bird song is being heard in cities, normally drowned out by the daily din of traffic.
- People are being kind to their neighbours, fetching groceries, setting up WhatsApp support groups to support those who are isolated.
- People are starting to appreciate others, especially the doctors and nurses and other critical workers out on the frontline.
- People are faced with the brevity of life.
- People are faced with the instability of finance.
- People are opening up their bibles, searching for guidance.
- People are inviting others to Online Church Services or sharing messages of hope and encouragement.
- A shaking is taking place. A humbling of hearts. A new openness to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Yes it’s challenging. Yes, it’s tough. But let’s be in faith that through this unprecedented set of events, God is still on the throne. He is not shaken. Neither is He perplexed. He is absolutely faithful to all of His promises, and right now, I believe, He is doing something significant in the earth.
Let’s hope that we don’t miss His heartbeat, but yield to whatever lesson He is teaching us. Let’s pray that we come out of this season more conformed into His image.
Let’s be confident, that right now, even though things seem so chaotic, so out of our control, that just like the time of our Saviour’s birth, God is bringing about His Sovereign purposes on Earth. Lord, Thy will be done.
On that day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. And other boats were with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing? And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still! And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”Mark 4:35-41
Squalls & Storms!
This morning, as we find ourselves in the grip of a growing global health crisis,’ I believe this is such a word in season.
We know the story well. The disciples and Jesus are sailing across the Sea of Galilee, when all of a sudden, a great wind-storm arises. In the book of Matthew, the word ‘squall’ is used, which means a sudden violent wind, or localised storm, especially one bringing rain, snow or sleet.
Isn’t it strange how suddenly trouble can arise? One minute it’s Happy New Year, and the next…we’re lurching from one crisis to the next. Wildfires. Climate change. Plagues of locusts. Deadly viruses. Storms, both literal and metaphoric, are by nature, sudden, violent and unpredictable. And they seem to be increasing in these days.
Don’t You Care?
The waves were ‘breaking into the boat’, and the boat was ‘already’ filling with water. This was not just a risky situ, this was imminent, life-threatening danger. And where was Jesus? Asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat!
The disciples on the other hand, were quite understandably, panicking!
They wake Jesus up, seemingly bemused, as to why He isn’t doing anything!
“Don’t you care that we are perishing?” they say.
Now, perhaps Jesus was in such a deep sleep that He genuinely didn’t realise there was a full-scale hullabaloo going on! But the interesting point is, when He wakes up, He doesn’t immediately start trying to bail out the water and join in the panic. Neither does He apologise for being asleep. At no point does Jesus become subject to the storm.
In the Grip of Fear
Have you noticed how quickly fear can spread? Believe me, it can escalate much faster than any virus! When you witness people fighting and screaming over toilet-roll in the supermarket, you begin to understand just how noxious fear can be.
But have you ever noticed there are two types of fear in this passage?
First we witness the fear of the storm. Highly understandable in many ways. The boat was taking a pounding, it was filling up with water. If things didn’t change very quickly, it was only going one way….Down into the depths.
Jesus rebukes the wind and speaks to the sea: “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceases and there is a great calm.
There are no words to describe how awesome this must have been.
And then Jesus addresses the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
It’s incredible, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t immediately comfort these traumatised disciples, He challenges them! “Why are you so afraid?” Haven’t you seen enough of My power, of My great love and compassion – are you still not yet convinced?
A Different Kind of Fear
And then the scripture tells us that they are filled with GREAT FEAR, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that even the winds and waves obey Him?”
Suddenly they are gripped with the right kind of fear. It’s called the Fear of the Lord. It’s a reverential, awestruck submission. It’s the kind of fear that realises that God is infinitely Higher, and greater and Holier than I could ever imagine -that everything He says and everything He does is always just and right and true. It’s the kind of fear that caused the apostle John to fall down like a dead man at the sight of the Resurrected Jesus, and Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!”
Right in this jaw-dropping moment, when all of a sudden the raging sea with it’s high and lofty billows becomes as calm as a millpond, the disciples suddenly SEE. They realise who the real King is.
They see that all along they have been in the boat with someone so powerful, so glorious, so incomprehensible, that they are absolutely undone. All of a sudden, they are filled with the right kind of fear. Internally, they fall to their knees, as they now perceive that the One who stands before them is utterly powerful, absolutely in control, and ultimately worthy of all worship, honour, and glory. Suddenly they are no longer afraid of the storm, because they’ve just locked eyes with the storm-stopper!
So in the midst of this very real crisis, let’s ask God to help us not to give in to fear and panic. Despite the rising water level, despite the numbers of confirmed cases increasing by the hour, despite the chaos we can see all around us & the media overplaying, (or politicians underplaying) things, and despite the ensuing panic and disruption that may well come, let’s press on, rebuking the storm and trusting in the storm-stopper!
In these stormy times, in the face of this sudden squall, I pray we will be governed by the right kind of fear, the fear of the Lord, which so wondrously displaces any other.
Happy New Year, dear Readers!
So here we are! Jan 2nd, 2020.
A new month. A new year. A new decade!
I don’t know about you, but I always find New Year a bit strange. Whether it’s a fireworks display, a party, or even just a quiet night in, watching Jules Holland on TV, inevitably, the big moment comes…
The countdown… For those of us in the UK, the arrival of the New Year is usually marked by the familiar sound of Big Ben chiming – and with each resounding BONG, we find ourselves joining in the chant – “ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one….”
And then, with great gusto, we’re off! Pulling those strings on our party-poppers and shouting HAPPY NEW YEAR!
And to the sound of Auld Lang Syne, off we go, kissing and hugging everyone – & I mean EVERYONE – (even people we hardly know) and wishing them a Happy New Year.
And there’s that weird sense of anticipation… In one moment, in a single second, we’ve collectively crossed over a threshold. There are so many analogies, aren’t there? A blank page. A new chapter. A brand new book! A fresh start. A clean slate. Ring out the old, ring in the new.
Resolutions are made.
This is the year I’m going to: ______________________ (you fill in the blank!)
And there’s that feeling, isn’t there? Things really ought to be different. Yesterday is gone. A line is firmly drawn under last year. Now, things can only get better.
And then quick as a flash, magazines start to appear, with their New Year slogans:
- New Year, New Start!
- Ten steps to a brand new you!
- New Year Detox – A Diet you can finally stick to!
It sounds good, doesn’t it? Inspiring. But…deep down inside, there’s this underlying sense of reality. Nothing significant has actually changed. You look in the mirror. Same face. Same need to face the day. The washing up needs doing. That old pile of ironing…yep. It’s still there.
Special as it is, Jan 1st is just another day. You don’t wake up any different. In reality, you’re just the same old you.
And by about January 17th, usually once you’ve broken your resolve and stuffed your face with the remnants of a box of chocolates you forgot you had, it can all feel like a bit of a let-down. It’s just the same old, same old.
BUT, dear Reader Friends, there is good news!
It beautifully dawned on me yesterday whilst I was driving. I had my worship playlist on in the car. And all of a sudden as I was pondering what the New Year might have in store…I heard these words:
Your mercies are new, over and over,
Your mercies are new, over and over,
As surely as the morning comes, You’re faithful!
I’ll sing of Your love, over and over,
I’ll sing of Your love, over and over,
I’ll sing with every setting sun,
You’re faithful!(Over and Over, by Chris McClarney, from the 2018 album, ‘Breakthrough’)
This is what the word of God says:
The steadfast love of the Lord NEVER CEASES,
His mercies NEVER COME TO AN END
They are NEW EVERY MORNING,
Great is Thy Faithfulness!
With the dawning of every day, regardless of whether it’s 1st January, or 25th April, or 7th September…each and every day that I live and breathe, I’m given a fresh start. A gift! A brand new day, with new mercies to be found. Not yesterday’s leftovers. Nope. God’s mercies are new every morning. Oh sweet truth!
I might start the new year with good intentions…only to fail. But my God, He never fails. He never grows weary. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies don’t run out of puff. They are always fresh, always new. Never failing, never ceasing. And with every setting sun, if I’m intentional enough to count my blessings, I’ll be able to say, “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Praise God for this beautiful truth!
Happy New Day!
“I’m sure it’s in here somewhere,” Nan muttered, reaching for her spectacles, before attempting to prise open a battered old biscuit-tin lid. Katie didn’t know whether to step in or let Nan soldier on. Although Nan’s arthritic hands gave away the fact that she had recently reached the ripe old age of eighty-three, her mind was still razor sharp. Katie always loved listening to Nan’s stories, even though she’d heard them over and over again.
The biscuit tin, which had once been full of Christmas Shortbread, was covered in tartan and festive flowers. Katie couldn’t quite place the era. She eyed Nan fondly, taking in her features; her white hair, cut into a short, modern style, and the slenderness of her frame. The biscuit tin looked dated, but somehow, Nan never did. Nan had always been such a stylish lady. Katie couldn’t think of many women in their eighties, who still wore jeans, apart from that Mary Berry, who did the cooking on TV. Today, Nan was elegantly dressed in a beige cashmere-look jumper. Tied at her neck was a gold, sequinned scarf, which brought warmth to her face and made her blue eyes, although furrowed with lines, appear vivid and bright.
Inside the old biscuit tin was an assortment of letters, cards, and photographs, along with many other odds and ends.
“I used to call this my Memory Box” chuckled Nan. “I put all my keepsakes inside it – you know theatre tickets, letters, that sort of thing. Haven’t opened it in years! It’s probably a load of old tat!”
As Nan rummaged through the old tin, Katie fell into a poignant silence. This assortment of forgotten items, each and every photograph or keepsake, told a story; the story of Nan’s life, which in turn, was a part of Katie’s own.
At twenty-two, the majority of Katie’s life still lay ahead of her. But lately, she’d been feeling a bit stuck in a rut. After leaving college, Katie had ended up taking a job in the City, as an office Junior, at the Insurance firm her Uncle David worked for. Just over three years later, she was still there, filing, typing, taking minutes at board meetings, making coffee and ordering stationery supplies. There was nothing particularly wrong about it. The salary wasn’t bad. Katie had a wardrobe full of nice clothes. She was saving up towards a deposit for a flat, and she had her own car. She caught the 8:08 train to Paddington every morning, and arrived home again at 6:32. It was familiar. It was safe. But sometimes, Katie wondered if she ought to have followed her heart, and done that Teaching Degree she’d looked into.
“Here it is!” said Nan, finally laying hands on what she had been searching for: An old black and white photograph of herself as a young woman.
“See? I told you! You look just like me!”
Katie gasped. She could definitely see the strong family likeness. It was astonishing how much nan resembled her father across the eyes. Nan’s shoulder length hair, much darker in those days, was set in elegant, pin-tucks and waves. She wore a dress with a perky little collar, cinched in dramatically at the waist, and high-heeled shoes, showing off her shapely legs.
“I was about twenty here”, Nan recalled, with a faraway look in her eyes.
“Nan, you looked like a film star!” Katie said, drinking in the glamour and femininity of the era.
“Oh, go on!” laughed Nan. “But I was rather slim, wasn’t I?”
“A million dollars! You must have had all the boys chasing you!”
Nan’s face lit up. “I had a few admirers. But I only ever had eyes for your Grandpa George. Oh how I miss that man!” She sighed. “This was a few months before we started courting.”
Courting. Katie couldn’t help smiling at Nan’s old-fashioned expression.
“How did you meet again?” Katie asked.
“Oh, it was a chance encounter” Nan recalled. “I was working at the dress-makers, you know, on the sewing machines. One day I was sent to the post office on an errand. Your Grandpa was standing behind me in the queue. He was the most handsome man I’d ever clapped eyes on! We started talking and he asked me where I worked. Well, that evening, he was waiting for me at the gates! Turns out he’d been waiting there for over an hour! And from that day onwards, he waited for me every single day – come rain or shine.
Katie sighed. How romantic!
“How old were you when you got married, nan?”
“I’d just turned twenty-one. I was a baby, really. But we were head over heels.”
Katie thought about her own life. There were no signs of anything remotely close to marriage on the horizon for her. In fact, Katie seemed to possess quite a talent for falling for the wrong type of guy. Katie and her best friend Sarah had once spent a hilarious evening coming up with nick-names for a few of Katie’s biggest dating disasters. There was vain Wayne followed by Lying Lee. Oh, and not forgetting, two-timing Tim, of course!
It would be so nice, for once in her life, to find the type of guy that would wait at the gates – do something truly romantic- for her. Katie sighed. She wondered if men like Grandpa George even existed anymore?
Joe Hart’s face flashed momentarily into Katie’s mind. But she batted the thought away as quickly as it had immerged. Don’t be so ridiculous.
Nan spoke very calmly, as she poured another cup of tea, as though she could see into the depths of Katie’s soul. “So, any young men on the scene for you, dear?
Katie shook her head, a little too quickly, before biting into one of nan’s famous home-made rock cakes. Chance would be a fine thing. “I’m afraid not, Nan. I still haven’t met the right one.”
Nan eyed Katie over the rim of her spectacles as though she were examining a candidate at an interview. “Hmm, you can’t fool an old fool like me! There’s someone on your mind, I can tell.”
Katie sighed, admitting defeat. “Well, there was this guy…Oh it’s ridiculous. I met him on my way home from work a few weeks ago…but, let’s just say it was definitely a chance encounter!”
Nan seemed unperturbed. “Well, what’s his name?”
“His name was Joe. Joseph Hart. It was just before Christmas. My train was cancelled. I had high heels on and my feet were killing me – so I found this cute little coffee shop. I sat down and started reading my book. I was miles away, when suddenly, this guy started talking to me. Turns out he was reading the same book! We got chatting, and he ended up buying me another Caramel Latte.”
“Oh?” said Nan, clinking her china teacup onto its matching saucer. “And what happened after that?”
Katie wriggled in her seat. “Well, it was all going great, until I found out he lives in Devon. He’d come to London for the weekend – to visit his cousin. We chatted for a while, but then he had to dash off for his train. So we quickly tore a napkin in half and scribbled down our phone numbers. And that was that. But, he’s probably lost my number, and well, Devon’s not exactly round the corner, is it?
“Not exactly,” repeated Nan. “But I’m pretty sure they have a university there. Maybe you should look into doing that Teaching Degree.”
Katie smiled. Nan was so wonderfully black and white. In her mind, it was simple: Boy meets girl. Boy waits for girl at the gates. Boy and girl fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. But unfortunately, it was no longer the 1950’s. Life just wasn’t that simple anymore.
“You never know, Nan. Katie sighed. “He might just surprise me!”
“Well, of course he will!” said Nan with a twinkle in her eye. “He’d be a fool to let you slip away!”
The surprise came a few days later. Katie was clearing out her wardrobe when her phone rang.
“Hello?” she said, not recognising the number.
There was a slight pause.
“Are you doing anything this evening?”
It took Katie a few moments to remember where she’d heard that West Country lilt. It was Joe Hart!
With her heart pounding like the clappers, Katie managed to reply in a composed manner. “Err, nope. No plans whatsoever. Why?”
“Cos, I just wondered if you fancied another one of those Caramel Lattes? It’s Joe. Joseph Hart. The guy from the coffee shop? Do you remember me?
Katie caught her breath. Are you kidding? “Hi Joe. Yes, of course, I remember you.”
“Well. I thought I’d pay my cousin another visit, you know, hit the January sales and all that.” His voice lowered slightly. “Actually, I hate shopping. But it seemed like a good excuse to see you again.”
Wait, was he in London now? Had he really come all this way, for her?
Katie’s heart did a flip. “Where abouts are you exactly?”
“I’m at that coffee shop. I’m just getting to that last chapter of the book. Have you read it yet?”
“Yep. I finished it last night. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s a good ending.”
“Ok. Well, I’ll be waiting here for you.”
“I’m on my way!” Katie grinned.
Practically flying down the stairs and grabbing for her coat and scarf, Katie’s mum stopped her by the front door. “Ooh you look nice, love. Where are you flying off to?”
Katie smiled. “I’m going to meet a friend for coffee.”
Mum smiled. “Well, have fun! Oh, and before you go, I was just about to throw this out, but it’s such a nice tin, I wondered if you could make use of it?”
Katie couldn’t help but smile when she caught sight of the empty biscuit tin that her mum was holding in her hands. Christmas Shortbread.
“As a matter of fact, that might just come in handy.”
Katie rummaged around in her coat pockets for her gloves and quite by chance, pulled out the napkin that had Joe Hart’s telephone number scrawled across it.
Instinctively, before leaving the house, Katie opened the biscuit tin lid, and placed the napkin inside.
Thursday 19th December
Alison Jennings put the car into reverse, and began inching her way out of the tight parking space her seven-seater had occupied since around 10:30 that morning. It was at times like this that Ali wished she had a smaller car!
It was just gone quarter to three, almost time to collect her four and five year old from school. The time had whizzed, and Ali hadn’t bought nearly as many Christmas presents as she’d hoped. She still hadn’t got anything for her parents, two of her brothers-in-law, her teenage son, or her husband, Nick! She’d definitely have to go out again next week.
Ali drove down a ramp and followed the exit signs round to the right, where she was immediately met with a queue of traffic, waiting to exit the multi-story. Car-horns were hooting all over the place. Silly people…What’s the point of hooting? There was nothing else to do but wait. Ironically, a carol sprang to mind that her dad used to sing. What were the words again? Peace on earth…and angels singing… or something like that. What a joke!
Ali exhaled sharply as she checked the time on the dash. 2:54pm. She had to be at school by quarter past three. Inwardly, she scolded herself for not having left sooner. The shops had been packed and school-run time was notoriously busy. Ali contemplated texting someone. Perhaps one of the other school-mums wouldn’t mind grabbing her kids and waiting with them until she arrived? She edged forward, noticing the speed at which the cars were moving. She decided not to bother anyone else. With any luck she might just make it, but it would be a close call.
Just over half an hour later, Ali had collected the kids, and she was now bundling them back in the car. Ali seemed to spend most of her life, standing in the rain, strapping kids in and out of car seats lately. Boy did she need a cup of tea! A little way down the road, Ali’s heart sank as she remembered they were almost out of milk. She wondered if she ought to send Danny, her teenage son down the road to get some? But by now, it was pelting down with rain. And he’d probably moan and protest after a long day at secondary school. Then Ali thought about dinner. She wasn’t even sure if there was anything much to eat in the fridge. Plus, it was the last day of term tomorrow, and she really ought to buy the teachers a box of biscuits or something. There was no way round it. She’d have to make a stop on the way home.
Saturday 21st December
The alarm went off at 6:15 am. Ali trudged downstairs, bleary-eyed in the darkness. In robot-fashion, she turned on the heating, fed the cat, and made two cups of tea, wondering if Nick had even remembered. They needed to be at the butcher’s by seven o’clock that morning to collect the Turkey. Carrying two mugs of tea up the stairs, she peered into the kids’ bedroom. Her two little sleepy-heads were absolutely out for the count. Blotto! They would definitely not appreciate being dragged out of bed, in the dark, on the first morning of their Christmas holidays. Ali had been awake since 5:15 going over and over the ever growing list of vegetables, condiments, drinks, desserts and other groceries she still needed to buy. She made a mental note not to forget the cranberry sauce. Or the brandy cream. And the extra roll of Selo-tape. Oh and she’d better buy some cheese. Uncle Pete loved his cheese. Some of Nick’s family were coming over for dinner tomorrow evening. What on earth could she cook? A Beef Casserole might be best. If she prepped it early enough, she could set the oven timer to come on while they were that at that blasted Christingle Service that her neighbour was dragging her along to. Ali wondered if she could wriggle out of it somehow. But the kids were desperate to go. And surprisingly, Nick was keen too. He used to go to Carols every year as a child. Ali hadn’t set foot in a church for years. Her head was spinning. She needed to write a list. What time did the supermarket open, she wondered? Would the vegetables even keep until Christmas Day? She hoped they hadn’t sold out of Red Cabbages.
Sunday 22nd December
With the beef casserole prepped and in the oven, Ali turned her attention to wrapping presents! The kids were happy watching ‘The Grinch’ in the front room with Nick, and so Ali had the dining room table all to herself.
Ali had to admit, she’d been a bit of a ‘Grinch’ herself, that morning. It all started, when Danny, her teenage son, had started moaning about the fact that he’d run out of clean socks and pants! The cheek of it! He’d been lying in bed all morning, while she’d been up with the lark, cleaning the bathroom and trying to make the house look presentable. Then, when Henry, her four year old, had accidentally tipped over his glass of juice at lunch-time, Ali had felt like she was going to spontaneously combust!
Ali put on a Christmas album, “Christmas With The Crooners,” opened a packet of mince pies and poured herself a glass of sherry. Perhaps that would get her back in the festive spirit! Tomorrow, she’d take an early train into London to finish her Christmas shopping, and with any luck, she might even get to sit down and watch a movie on Christmas Eve – providing she’d made the trifle and wrapped up the last of the Christmas presents.
Ali smiled wryly as an Andy Williams Classic began playing…”It’s the most wonderful time of the year…!”
Wonderful? Christmas was just one big stress!
Ali inhaled. She wondered how long she could carry on living life at this pace. She glanced at the clock. She only had an hour or so before they needed to leave for the Christingle. She hadn’t even chosen the kids’ outfits yet. Why, oh why had she agreed to go?
The Church was packed with jolly looking visitors, of all ages. Ali was somewhat taken aback. She’d immediately envisaged a cold, echoing, austere looking building, filled with elderly folk. But the church hall was brightly painted, cosily decked out with garlands of Ivy and Mistletoe. Sparkling fairy lights were wrapped around the pillars, and a magnificent Christmas Tree, covered in red baubles and ribbons made a Festive focal point at the front of the hall.
Ali felt a little out of place as the sound of the first Christmas Carol filled the air. The people sang with such gusto, and such happy faces, it made her feel a little self-conscious. Ali kept her eyes glued on the words printed on her song-sheet.
Hark, the Herald Angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King,
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled…
It was that song again… Her dad’s favourite Christmas hymn! She studied the words, and joined in the jubilant singing:
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace,
Hail the Sun of Righteousness,
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings,
Mild, He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth,
Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.
A strange longing filled Ali’s soul. She felt tears prick at the corners of her eyes. Light. Life. Peace. Healing. Second birth. These words seemed to stir something, right within the very core of her being, even though she had no idea what any of them meant.
And then all of sudden, as oranges and candles, dried fruits and red ribbons were handed out to all the children, the Minister began to explain.
- The orange represented the world.
- The ribbon, God’s love wrapped around it, red because of Christ’s redeeming blood, shed on the cross of Calvary.
- The dried fruits and sweets, symbols of mankind – God’s creation.
- And finally, the lit candle, representing Jesus, the light of the World, bringing hope to the people living in darkness.
As Ali stood, watching her children listening intently, their faces softly aglow with candle-lit wonder, she felt her husband gently squeeze her hand. A strange feeling began to wash over her. What was it, Peace? Joy? Did Nick feel it too? She closed her eyes for a moment, and as the first chords of the final hymn began to resound, she exhaled, letting all the stress of the past few weeks, leave her for a moment. And for the first time in a very long time, she suddenly knew what – or rather who – Christmas was really all about.
Ali had such a lump in her throat as they sang the final hymn.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels,
O come let us adore Him.
Christ the Lord!
As they exited the church hall, they passed the Minister who was handing out leaflets at the door. To her amazement, Ali grabbed one. She couldn’t quite explain how she was feeling, but inwardly she knew that something had changed, and she needed to find out more.
“So, did you enjoy it?” her neighbour asked cautiously, as they walked out into the darkness. Ali thought about how desperately she’d NOT wanted to come and all that she would have missed if she hadn’t.
Spontaneously, she threw her arms around her friend. “I did! I really did. You’ve no idea how much I needed that. Thank you so much for inviting me!”
And as they drove home in the darkness, the kids strangely quiet in the back of the car, Ali glanced up at the Christmas Lights shining overhead in the high Street. She smiled as she noticed them, as if for the first time. There were stars and angels everywhere she looked! Glory to the Newborn King, she hummed quietly under her breath.
Boxing Day leftovers would simply not be complete in our house, without a goodly portion of Mum’s Red Cabbage.
This is one of those wonderful old family recipes, that has added that special touch to the Christmas table, for as long as I can remember. It pairs beautifully with Turkey and all the trimmings, particularly Chipolatas or Sausage-meat stuffing. It’s not a difficult dish to make AT ALL. But it does take a bit of time to do it right.
It’s so worth it though. I always make mine in advance, normally on Christmas Eve, whilst listening to my favourite Christmas Album, of course…. (It’s A Wonderful Christmas, by Michael W Smith, in case you were wondering).
It can then be cooled and refrigerated in an airtight container overnight. And then on Christmas day, it can be whipped out, and really easily reheated on the hob.
1. Start by finely slicing 1 red cabbage.
2. Melt 2oz butter in a large lidded pan. Add in the sliced cabbage, plus 1-2 finely chopped dessert apples (I used Pink Lady)
3. Saute the cabbage and apple in the butter for 25-30 mins, moving continuously, until the cabbage has softened.
Now, this may sound laborious, but it’s THE single-most important instruction. Cabbage, being a rather fibrous vegetable, takes a while to soften, and it will turn a horrible murky colour if it catches and browns.
Follow this step, and in turn you will be rewarded with a dish that is gloriously vibrant in colour. The apples will turn a gorgeous pink, infused with the colour of the cabbage, and the dish will end up glossy and sumptuous.
4. Add in 1/4 pint of beef stock, 1 generous tablespoon of Golden Syrup and 2 fl oz of Vinegar (I used Balsamic, but Red or White Wine Vinegar work well too). Stir everything well, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 40 mins. Check and stir every 10 mins or so.
Tangy, sweet , and slightly al dente – this dish is the perfect accompaniment to all that rich Christmas Meat. It goes brilliantly well with sliced Ham!
So if you’re in the supermarket, and you spy a Red Cabbage hanging around, grab one and give this dish a try. It might become a festive favourite in your family too!
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read about the time I burnt the Turkey…https://everydayencounters.blog/2018/12/28/redeeming-christmas/
This is a really simple family meal that always goes down a treat! It’s got the tastiest sauce – the kids lick their plates!
I call it Somerset Chicken, due to its killer ingredient, which gives it a very moreish sweet flavour – Apple Cider!
Here’s the instructions:
- Gently stir fry some chopped chicken, plus one small onion in some olive oil. (I used Chicken Thigh fillets, as they tend to be very flavoursome and succulent, plus some leftover Roast Chicken I needed to use up). Season generously.
2. Add some flour (approx 1 heaped tbsp) to act as a thickener for the sauce, which is made from cider and stock.
3. Add half a pint of Dry Cider and half pint of chicken stock, plus some dried Rosemary or Thyme. Stir well. Season again.
That’s the prep done – couldn’t be simpler!
Sometimes I jazz things up by adding some bacon lardons at stage 1 – this works really well as the salty bacon offsets the sweet cider beautifully – just use less seasoning, to avoid things getting too salty!
4. Cook for 1 1/2 hours in a crock pot or lidded casserole dish at 180 degrees. Check half way through to ensure sauce has not reduced too much. Add a little more water if needed.
My mum taught me how to prepare these leeks – they’re brilliant! Really tasty, and a great accompaniment to so many dishes, particularly chicken dishes, or Sausage n Mash!
- Gently saute 2 chopped leeks in 1 tbsp butter. Season.
- When leeks are soft and glossy, add approx 30ml boiling water, just enough to shallowly cover bottom of pan.
- Add a few handfuls of Frozen Peas. If you like, add a little Rosemary or Tarragon. Bring to boil, then turn down low and simmer in a lidded frying pan for 5-6 minutes with lid partly ajar to allow excess liquid to reduce.
Serve both dishes with some creamy, mashed potato.
Super satisfying, especially with a glass of leftover cider!
I am older than you – a whole generation apart. It may seem to you like I was born in a different era, and that I don’t understand what you’re going through.
But in many ways I’ve walked in your shoes. Like you, I’ve grown from infant to child. From child to teen. From teen to young woman – filled with hope and aspirations for my future.
The world has changed for sure. But in the end, the human heart doesn’t change that much. Not really. At the end of the day, we all need the same things. Love. Significance. Purpose.
I’ve walked further along life’s road than you…and experienced some of the things that I know you dream of… Bride. Wife. Mother.
I’ve cried my way down the aisle (yes, I’ve always been a crier!) I’ve carried four utter miracles within my womb – including a set of very wriggly twins!
I’ve cried tears of bewildered joy as I’ve held each precious gift in my arms, knowing that me and your father’s lives would never be the same again and wondering how it was possible to ever love someone quite that fiercely.
I thank God for these precious, God-given experiences – my cup truly runs over! Life is full of these changing seasons. It has its mountain top moments, and also it’s valleys. But all these experiences, every single one, is a part of the beautiful, tapestry of life.
But if I could stop, for just one moment, look over my shoulder, and give you some wisdom for your journey, even though it may be different to mine…..what would I say?
There are some things that I’ve learned over the years (often the hard way) that I would love to pass on to you. And so without further ado, I’m creating a series of posts, entitled, ‘For My Daughters’…(but of course, Samuel – my precious & only son, and the rest of you, dear readers, are all invited too!)
And here’s the first thing:
You are fearfully and wonderfully madePsalm 139:14
As sisters you might be alike – yet each one of you is totally unique. Each human being has their own specific genetic code. 26 pairs of Chromosomes paired up in a completely different permutation, meaning that you are a one-of-a-kind work of art! Interestingly, every human being on the planet shares 99.9 per cent of the same DNA. It’s that 0.1 per cent difference that determines your hair and eye colour, the shape of your face, your height, your natural abilities etc. I don’t know how this kind of thing is calculated, but they say that if your DNA was somehow unravelled, it would stretch to the sun! All the way to the heavens!
Embrace who you are! Don’t try and be someone else. This world will try and sell you the lie that your value as a woman is wrapped up in the way you look. Don’t waste time comparing yourself to someone you’ve seen on Social Media, or wishing you were just that little bit thinner here, or a little bit fuller there. Don’t try to be someone else. You can’t be. Because, praise God, you’re you! You’re a miracle! You are not some random, computer-generated, pot-luck type of person. Look!
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You,
For I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skilfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.Psalm 139: 13-16
The words of this Psalm are completely staggering. Even though I carried each one of you within my womb, I couldn’t see much of what was going on as you were forming and growing. But God was there! He saw it all. He was involved. He formed your inward parts! He wove you together. You were skilfully wrought. His eyes were upon you even when you were still unformed.
And all your days were already ordained! God is the author of your life! He is writing your story. He’s not standing afar off! No. He’s intimately involved and acquainted with all your ways. Remember, you are precious; unique; significant; loved. Loved to the uttermost by a wonderful heavenly Father.
I love a good game of Spot the difference, don’t you?…
Have a good look at these two sets of pictures. They are both photos of the tomato plants that I’m currently trying to grow.
Now tell me…what’s the difference?
That’s the difference! Set one is a photo of my tomato plants when I got back from my holiday a few weeks back. (What a sad and sorrowful sight!)
Set two is a photo of my tomato plants the following morning, after a great big, refreshing drink of water.
It’s remarkable, isn’t it?!
I don’t think I’ve ever come across plants that are quite as thirsty as these. If you forget to water them for a single day, they literally droop and wilt and look all but dead.
But give them a good old glug of water, and half an hour later, they completely revive!
Have you ever been thirsty? Have you ever experienced that dryness in your mouth and throat, that feeling of agitation, of desperation, where all you can think about is water?
The trouble is, just like my tomato plants, one drink of water is not enough. We need to keep drinking in order to survive.
The Woman at the Well
Jesus had an interesting chat with a woman at a well once. They were talking about water. I guess when you’re standing at a well, water is a fairly obvious thing to talk about. In fact, Jesus dares to ask the woman to draw him some water.
According to the gospel of John, this rather surprises the woman:
You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews and Samaritans do not associate with one another).John 4:9
Jesus answers her:
If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”John 4:10
Ok, what is Jesus doing here? He’s gone from talking about H2O – literal, physical water- to something entirely spiritual.
The conversation twists and turns like this for a while, with the Samaritan woman still not really seeing, not really perceiving.
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water that I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become to them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Through a series of further interchanges, Jesus lovingly draws this woman out. It’s as if He sees right into the depths of her heart and reveals all the emptiness within. This woman has been desperately thirsty. She’s been searching for years and years – desperately yearning – for a love that lasts – that really satisfies. Jesus sends the bucket right deep down into the depths of her soul. Why? Not to make her feel ashamed. But because He knows her lack. He really, truly sees her. He rightly discerns that she’s had five husbands. And that she’s not married to her current lover. This woman cannot seem to find what she’s looking for. She cannot seem to quench her thirst. She’s placing all her hope in human relationships, going from husband to husband, lover to lover – looking for true love and happiness, where it just can’t be found. It’s like she’s got this desperate, insatiable thirst.
Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again…
Are you thirsty today? Are you searching down an empty well?
Money. Sex. Relationships. Fame and popularity. Success. Likes on Social Media. Drugs. Booze. Possessions. Houses. Careers. Ambitions fulfilled. Children. Family. Clothes. Holidays.
All of these things can fill a void temporarily. But the trouble is, they won’t bring lasting satisfaction.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these things aren’t BAD in themselves. Some of these things are gifts from God, meant to be enjoyed. But the point is, sometimes we focus on the gift, forgetting that the most beautiful thing about a gift, is the giver.
There is nothing on earth that can fill the God-shaped void within each one of us. These things may momentarily quench something within our souls. But they will always, always leave us thirsting for more.
The good news is, God wants to give us His LIVING WATER – What’s Living Water? The type of water that fully satisfies. The type of drink that puts an end to all our searching. We will never find lasting satisfaction in the temporal, in the carnal, in the things we spend our time and money acquring, the things we try to hopelessly keep stuffing into the empty places.
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.Isaiah 55:2-3
At last, the Samaritan woman finds it! She finds the living Water as she talks with Jesus at the well. She comes to understand that HE is the living water – He is the end of all our thirsting. When we meet Jesus, and fully understand who He is, and the gift of salvation that He brings, we will never thirst again. Rivers of LIVING WATER will flow from our inner most being. If you’re thirsty today, then the following invitation, from Jesus, is for you…
‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’John 7:37-39
Blessed are they who keep my ways. Heed instruction and be wise –Proverbs 8:33
Once there were two builder guys,
One was foolish, one was wise.
Built their houses by the shore,
Bang, Tap, Hammer, Saw!
Both their houses looked so grand,
One on rock, the other sand,
Who’s been foolish, can you tell?
Who’s built badly, who’s built well?
Trees are swaying, skies are grey,
Who knew it would rain today?!
Run inside, shut the door,
Looks like it’s about to pour
Thunder cracks – what a din!
A sudden storm is rolling in,
Rain is falling, waters rise,
Now we’ll see which man was wise.
The storm keeps raging all day long,
And the house on the rock keeps standing strong,
But creak, wobble, crash, bang, SPLAT!
The house on the sand has fallen flat!
A Story Jesus Told…
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house, and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell – and great was its fall!Matthew 7:24-27
Which kind of man did Jesus say was wise?
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them…
Which kind of man did Jesus say was foolish?
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act upon them…
Both of these guys HEARD. Both of these men built houses – that’s pretty clever, right?
But only one of them built on the right foundation. Only one of these houses was founded on the rock.
Hearing God’s word is not enough to make us wise. We need to obey, if we want our lives to be founded upon the rock.
When the storms came…
It wasn’t until the storms came, that we found out which man had built wisely.
When the storms of life come – our foundations will be tested. Is your life founded on the rock of Jesus Christ, on His death and resurrection, and on His free gift of righteousness? Or are you trying to build on your own foundation?
What kind of builder will you be?
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…Matthew 6:25
Anxiety. It’s a killer.
Anxiety is a thief that steals away your peace and robs you of your joy.
The Greek word for anxious (merimnao) used in this passage, has a somewhat surprising meaning. It means ‘a part – as opposed to the whole.’
The inference is that when we’re anxious, we’re divided, we’re pulled apart, in opposite directions. In other words, we go to pieces. We’re just all over the place.
Gosh, I can definitely relate to this. Can you?
As a mother of four, I am constantly tempted to worry and fret and get anxious about all manner of things. What if this, or what if that….and…what on earth is the answer?
Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?Matthew 6:26
Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil, nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon, in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.Matthew 6:28
The word consider here means to thouroughly understand, to learn a lesson from.
Jesus is inviting us to look around and learn a profound lesson here. He deliberately chooses the birds of the air and the lillies of the field (wild, grassland flowers) Why? Because they’re everywhere! They’re all around us as a constant, daily reminder.
Okay…so am I missing something? How do common old garden birds and meadow flowers teach me not to worry?
To understand the lesson, we need to read the passage as a whole.
Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow, nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow, they neither toil, nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious saying, “what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or what shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things and Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.Matthew 6: 26-34
Five Lessons to Learn…
- Sow. Reap. Gather. Toil. Spin. Notice, all these words involve labour. They involve effort. The word toil in particular denotes the kind of laborious work that makes us exhausted, both bodily and mentally. As human beings, we tend to focus on the wrong things. We spend our energies on earthly, fleeting treasures. We feel our lives would be so much better if we only had x, y or z. We’re constantly craving the bigger, the better. The next new thing. Being overly anxious about food, clothes, provisions and such like is EXHAUSTING. We’re not meant to live like this. The birds don’t. The lillies don’t. WHY? Because God takes care of them. The birds of the air and the lillies of the field rely solely on the GOODNESS of their Heavenly Father.
- Anxiety doesn’t add – it takes away. Who by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Anxiety steals the life from us. It makes us sick. It stops us from enjoying the moment. It chains us up and keeps us from really living. From the moment we are born, til the moment we take our last breath, our lives are in God’s hands. Worrying doesn’t change a jot. It’s just a huge waste of time.
- The phrase: “O you of little faith” occurs five times in the New Testament. Each and every time, Jesus is rebuking the problem of FAILING TO HEAR HIS VOICE. In other words, failing to believe and act on what He says. Anxiety stems from a lack of faith. It’s failing to believe how VALUABLE we are to God (so much more than the birds of the air). It’s failing to believe that ETERNAL things are of much more value than earthly things. It’s failing to believe that we have a Heavenly Father who KNOWS our every need and will provide it at the right time…and so on.
For the Gentiles seek after all these things and Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be axious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself, sufficient for the day is it’s own trouble.Matthew 6: 32-34
- Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter here. If we get our priorities right, then most of our anxiety will simply disappear! Interestingly, He uses two different words for ‘seek‘ here. In the first case, talking about the Gentiles, the word seek means: to clamour after, to wish for, to crave. It speaks of spending our energies on material things, fleeting treasures, vain, empty things that don’t provide real lasting satisfaction. In the second case, where Jesus instructs us to SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, it’s a different kind of seeking altogether. It means: to search for, to require, to seek by inquiring, to search out a matter. It’s about KNOWING, FINDING OUT, LAYING HOLD OF. It’s going after God, and laying hold of all that He promises. It’s about the eternal.
- And all these things will be added to you – the inference here is one piece at a time. God gives us our DAILY bread. This instruction is so helpful. Stop worrying about tomorrow. It’s not even here yet. Just take one day at a time. God’s grace is sufficient for the here and now. If you’re worrying about tomorrow, you’ve gone beyond where Jesus would lead you. Come back to today, to the here and now! See, that feels so much better! We’re called to live moment by moment.
I really hope this study blesses and encourages you as much as it did me! The word of God does us so much good.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of friendship.
We all need Friends!
Now, here’s a confession. I can be quite an introverted person, if I’m not careful. I’m very happy spending time alone. I often crave peace and quiet and a bit of space to think and ponder. I like to potter about. I like to express myself through the written word and arrange my thoughts in my own time, in my own way.
My Father-In-Law, Bill, is wired the same way. We get on like a house on fire! Both of us love to read, and visit places of interest, and generally ponder life quietly to ourselves. We’re real kindred spirits.
Bill lives on his own. Not through choice. He became a widower in 2013. Recently he’s been coming up to stay with us a bit more often, because sadly, life without Helen, can be lonely at times.
Whether you’re young, old, married, single, intravert or extravert- whatever age or stage in life you’re in – We all need good friends!
Friendship -true companionship – is such a gift. Sometimes, when it’s right under our nose, we can take it for granted. I know I often do.
Friendships can spring up in the most unlikely places, between the most unlikely of people – or animals!
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.John 15:13
The Gift of Friendship
So today I want to honour God for friendship. I want to be thankful for my loved ones, near and dear, and for every friend I’ve ever laughed with, cried with, prayed with, played with.
Friends old, friends new – friends I hardly ever see, friends I rub shoulders with every day. Friends I’m only just getting to know, friends that have been in my life for as long as I can remember.
Friends that have cared for me, encouraged me, cheered me on, sent me a note, called me, hugged me, helped me, challenged me, inspired me, guided me – and just been a ray of sunshine in my life.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly kindness. Outdo one another in showing honour.Romans 12:10
Today, I recognise that I need to be more intentional about friendship – I want to think about others more. I want to smile more, listen more, give more of my time.
Today, I want to be a better friend.
To finish, I’d like to recommend a beautiful film (based on a book by R.J.Palacio) that celebrates friendships in it’s many forms – It’s called ‘Wonder.’
If you’ve got a moment, I’d love you to join in. Please share one of your favourite books, films, or stories about friendship in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading.
Recently, my daughter Emily has discovered one of my favourite childhood books, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s a beautiful story about a long forgotten garden, and the lives of the characters who discover it, gradually being restored.
In the following extract, the main character, Mary, (with the help of a friendly Robin) finally gets into the the secret garden, which has been locked up for ten years.
Mary’s heart began to thump and her hands to shake a little in her delight and excitement. The robin kept singing and twittering away and tilting his head on one side, as if he were as excited as she was. What was this under her hands which was square and made of iron which her fingers found a hole in? It was the lock of the door that had been closed ten years, and she put her hand in her pocket, drew out the key, and found it fitted the keyhole. She put the key in and turned it. It took two hands to do it, but it did turn.
And then she took a long breath and looked behind her up the long walk to see if anyone was coming. No one was coming. No one ever did come, it seemed, and she took another long breath, because she could not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door, which opened slowly – slowly.
Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight.
She was standing inside the secret garden.The Robin Who Showed the Way, Chapter 8 – The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Place of Delight
Right at the start God placed mankind in a garden. Have you ever wondered why?
The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight, and good for food.Genesis 2:8
Whether or not you like gardening, I’m sure everyone of us would agree that spending time in a well-tended garden can have an extremely restorative effect on the soul.
From the above verse, we learn that God not only planted trees and greenery to give us nourishing food, but also as a visual feast for the eye to behold! Scientists have discovered that green is the most restful colour for the human eye to gaze upon. And God made an abundance of it! What an amazingly kind and generous Father!
Many biblical scholars talk about Eden being a place where Adam and Eve walked and talked with the Lord, in perfect intimacy and without any shame. The name Eden itself, means delight!
We all know of course, the sad story of the fall. Of how this amazing openness and trust between God and man was stolen by Satan, the father of lies.
We hear about how God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden, and placed the cherubim and the flaming sword to guard the way back to garden.
We also know, that right at the start, in midst of the garden, stood the tree of life! The good news is, that even before the foundation of the world, even before mankind sinned, Jesus, the lamb of God, was slain on the tree to restore us to right relationship with the Father!
Open the gates – The King of Glory is Coming In!
When you become a Christian and surrender your life to Jesus, it’s a bit like giving Him the keys to a locked-up garden! The King of glory comes to take up residence within us! In comes the Master Gardener to do His incredible, transformative, work in the garden of our hearts.
I have a very small garden – it’s about 55 feet long. When we moved into our house, ten years ago, it was literally a terraced lawn, flanked by two small strips of sun-baked earth. It had not plant, nor flower, nor anything remotely beautiful about it. The only thing it did have, was a ton of weeds, and a ton of potential!
My mum has always had a love for gardening – I learned from watching her over the years, that if you want to sit in a nice garden, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get digging! And so I began…
Turning over the soil was hard graft. Removing all the stones and stubborn weeds was painstakingly laborious. The groundwork was probably 80-90 percent of the job. And it’s an ongoing task!
Ten years later, after much trial and error, weeding and digging, procrastinating and persevering, I now have a place where I can sit on a warm summer’s evening and enjoy the colour that each season brings, plus the occasional visit from a robin or a blue-tit. It is my delight. Not because it is yet perfect, but because it’s come on such a long way!
When you go and visit a beautiful garden, it’s so easy to miss the hours of work that have gone into it. What we don’t see, are the unseen hands and feet that have spent hours and hours digging and weeding and pruning and mowing. The garden, in many ways, is just the outward display. But it’s the unseen effort, that has taken place, perhaps whilst the garden was closed, probably in the early hours of the morning, when nobody was watching that has made all the difference.
Aren’t our lives a bit like this?
Much of the fruit that we display in our lives, is formed and fashioned in the secret place. It’s the times when we’re alone with Jesus, often in the early hours, when nobody is watching, when God’s handiwork is really done.
The Secret Place
“But when you pray, go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”Matthew 6:6
Today, I believe God is calling us afresh, through the rusty gate, down the path, and into the garden – to the secret place. He longs to meet with each one of us on a daily basis. To walk and talk with us in the cool of the day. Today, if you listen carefully, I believe that you might just hear Him calling you.
Will you trust me? Will you yield to Me and allow Me to have My way in your life? Will you allow Me to root out the stubborn sins that spoil and choke growth? Will you seek after me with all your heart, and spend time with Me in the secret place when nobody is watching.
I know exactly what kind of garden I want you to be. I have a unique design and plan for each one of you. I want your life to reflect My beauty and My glory. I want you to carry My fragrance and to become a place that others can come to for rest and refreshment.
Today I stand at the door and knock – will you open the door of your heart?
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The other evening, I overheard Nathan talking with our six year old about ‘self-control’.
Nathan said to Emily: “Have you heard about the fruit of the Spirit?”
Emily replied: “Oh yeah, I know all about that…I think one of them’s a coconut!”
Well, as you can imagine, there wasn’t much self control after this comment – we just errupted into laughter! Kids! Don’t you just love them?!
But i’ve found myself thinking about self control ever since. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a few thoughts…
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls!Proverbs 25:28
Wow! Isn’t this such a powerful and accurate image? I can so relate to this…When I first got married and had kids, I’m sorry to say, I discovered I had a bit of a temper. Maybe it’s the red hair, or something, I dunno? Or maybe it was the stress of having twins first time round? But anyway…it wasn’t good!
Here’s a typical scene that might have played out : (the part about the eggs is absolutely true btw)
The kids would wake up at the crack of dawn. I’d be cranky and tired after being kept up in the night. One of them would spill their breakfast. Milk would literally be dripping off the table. Then me and Nathan would have a cross word about something or other as he was going out the door to work. I’d decide to bake a cake to cheer myself up. I’d open the fridge door and realise we were out of eggs. I’d load the kids into the double buggy, and set off down the road to the shops. Whilst shopping, one of the twins would start screaming because they wanted some sweets or a magazine. The buggy would keep tipping up. I’d plod home feeling more and more wound up. I’d unload the shopping and place it on the kitchen table. Then the phone would ring. It would be an annoying sales call. I’d walk back into the kitchen to discover that one of the kids had cracked every single egg I’d just bought, and I now had a sloppy, gloopy mess all over the floor. And to top it all off, I’d now have to go back to the shops.
And then something inside me would just go snap!
I’d fly off the handle, yelling at the kids only to feel hopelessly, despairingly guilty about it afterwards. I’d berate myself mercilessly and vow I’d never shout at the kids again – only to do it again a few days later. It was like a terrible cycle. I felt powerless and unable to change.
Like a city broken into and left without walls…
I don’t know if youve ever heard of Colin Buchanan, the Australian Kids worship guy? Well, he’s just fantastic! He’s written a song called ‘A Whole Lotta Self Control’. The words are great:
The Good News!
I am so pleased to say that things began to change in me, when I regularly began to cry out to God for help!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and SELF CONTROL!Galatians 5:22
Self control is NOT produced by human effort…it’s not a work of SELF, as it’s name might suggest, it’s a work of the Spirit!
Friends, this is such amazing news! I don’t have to try and conjur up self control without the Holy Spirit’s help. I don’t have to grit my teeth, or beat myself up in order to produce it. The law renders me powerless. My flesh is just flesh. I can’t produce any Spiritual Fruit without the Holy Spirit.
Grapes, or tomatoes, or apples or peaches – they don’t struggle to appear, do they? Fruit comes as a result of the tree being rooted in good soil. The sun shines, the rains come…and pop! One day the fruit just appears.
I am the Vine and you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do NOTHING.John 15:5
My job, is just to abide….to remain attached and connected to Jesus, the Vine. My job is to keep in step with the Spirit. How? By asking for help. By leaning in close to my ALL SUFFICIENT SAVIOUR. By asking Him to fill me and give me all I need to face the day. By coming daily to the throne of grace, for mercy and help in my time of need.
If you’re in need of some self-control today – ASK! Speak to Your Heavenly Father – confess your lack, and ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. He is able to strengthen us in the inner man.
This is how we overcome!
This Salmon dish was one of those really fortunate experiments that turned out right first time! It’s seriously tasty, and an absolute doddle to make. It’s become a fast favourite of mine for occasions when I’m entertaining, as it can be prepared in advance, and it’s soooo easy to make, that it frees you up to concentrate on catching up with your friends! Also, it’s pretty healthy, so you don’t need to feel too guilty about having dessert!
I’ve named it ‘Bangin’ Salmon’ – as this seems to be my three teenage kids’ new word for anything that’s ‘cool’, ‘fab’ or in any way ‘good!’ (And because ‘Serendipitous Salmon’ just doesn’t have quite the same ring…)
Anyway, here’s how I made it:
Place some Salmon Fillets in a foil lined tray. Season generously and add some finely chopped red onions, red peppers and Vine/Cherry Tomatoes.
Step 2 – Glaze
My glaze consisted of:
- a chunk of finely chopped fresh ginger,
- 2 cloves chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons Soy Sauce
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons Sweet Chili Sauce
- 1 tablespoon or so of freshly squeezed lime juice
I made this up really quickly in a dish.
Pour the glaze all over the Salmon, and pocket the salmon loosely in foil, adding some fresh coriander, if you like it.
Cook for about 25-30 mins on a moderate heat (I cooked mine in a fan oven at 180 degrees). You’ll know everything’s ready when the fish turns pale and flakes easily, and the tomatoes are close to bursting. And the smell of all that yummy glaze will make your mouth water.
Serve with new potatoes, broccoli, or a crisp green salad, and of course a glass of Pinot Grigio! And be sure to spoon over some of that glaze – delicious!
Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies, Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, Your judgements are like a great deepPsalm 36: 5-6
I waded through the water,
Ever deeper out to sea,
Using all my strength to push against
The waves surrounding me,
I laughed and caught my breath,
The bracing temperature surprising,
Then plunged my shoulders under,
And felt my spirits rising,
The waves they did not heed me,
As they drew me out and in,
They swirled and crashed about me,
With their great resounding din!
How small and insignificant,
I felt amid the weight,
Of those foamy, rolling billows,
The Atlantic vast and great.
Then I thought about Your power, as strong as any breaker,
And I thought about Your glory,
Oh Lord, Almighty Maker!
And I sensed Your gentle whisper, with the ocean’s crashing roar,
“My love for you is deeper
Than these waves you stand before!
My grace is more relentless than the never-ceasing wave.
And my love is so much stronger than the power of the grave!”
I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.
Anouska and I were childhood friends. We went to church together. I can still picture her back then – a pretty snippet of a girl – a little bit cheeky – always laughing and full of beans. She was named after a character from a book that her mum was reading about a Russian Ballerina.
Sadly, at around age 11, life took us in different directions, and for years, we lost touch. One day, I heard from a mutual friend, that Anouska’s life had taken an extremely difficult turn. At that time, she had all but lost her faith. I began to cry out to God for her. One day, out of the blue, she messaged me on Social Media, and eventually we met up for coffee.
Not long after, I had the privilege of praying for Anouska at her baptism, in June 2017. It was impossible to hold back the wave of tears and emotion as I witnessed her go through those waters, and listened to her testify about her strong faith in Jesus, through the storms of adversity.
I don’t think Anouska truly knows the impact she has had on me, and many many others.
This is her story.
- Sep, 2011 – Anouska was diagnosed with HER2 Positive Breast Cancer. She was just 35.
- October 2011-March 2012 – Extensive Chemotherapy (which forced her through early menopause).
- April 2012 – Double Mastectomy with immediate reconstuction (9 hrs and 30 mins in surgery)
- April 2012 – Declared Cancer Free!
- September 2013 – After months of excruciating headaches, doctors discover a Stage 4 Breast Cancer related Brain Tumour.
- October 2013 – Undergoes surgery to remove it.
- November 2013 – Ten sessions of whole brain radiotherapy
- Jan 2014 – Anouska’s beloved Mum, Gill passes away from a sudden massive heart attack, four days after she is diagnosed for the third time with a small secondary breast cancer in the liver.
- February 2014 – April 2014 – Undergoes Chemotherapy and targeted therapy antibody drugs, Herceptin and Perjeta.
- April 2014 – Anouska contracts the hospital superbug ‘C-Diff’ and is unable to continue with her chemotherapy.
- May 2014 – Continues with 3 weekly antibody drug treatment and is told that this will continue for the rest of her life.
- June 2014 – Full body scans – receives the magic words: ‘Anouska, you’re in remission!’
- October 2017 – Routine Scan shows up a small secondary breast cancer brain tumour.
- November 2017 – Undergoes surgery to remove brain tumour, reopening scar from first brain surgery. Developed complications, leaking cerebral fluid from scar. Develops a CSF infection (viral meningitis.)
- Anouska is hospitalised with severe headaches, dizziness, vomiting and an intolerance to light. She is given intravenous antibiotics.
- Sent home from hospital on 23rd December 2017 but is still vomiting and dizzy with constant severe headaches. So she is readmitted to hospital for six weeks, until finally she is sent home as the hospital need the bed.
- May, 2018 – Begins 3 sessions of cranial osteopathy – which are unsuccessful. On fourth session Doctor tries acupuncture. Finally, the room stops spinning, the headaches and vomiting stop.
- September 2018 – For some time, Anouska has been experiencing weeping from her right nipple. Biopsy reveals Cancer in her right nipple.
- October 2018 – Surgery to remove both nipples.
- Jan 2019 – Scan reveals small tumour in brain. Further scan shows 2 more.
- February 2019 -SRS Radiotherapy treatment.
- May 2019 – Scans on brain and body ALL CLEAR!
Quite a journey, hey?
Yet if you met Anouska, I’m pretty sure you would have no idea what she’s been through in the past eight years. Instead, you would be met with a beaming smile, and a friend who, time after time, is far quicker to ask how YOU are, than talk about herself.
She’s the type of person that shows up with a pair of Marigolds on and does your housework when you’ve had a busy week- and I’m not exaggerating.
She is unbelievably generous and kind. She bowled us over with this stunning hamper when she came over for Christmas Dinner last year.
She is always the first one to wash up, or bake a cake, or help serve at a church event. She recently served on our Homeless Shelter Team.
When Anouska’s mum passed away, Anouska took up full care of her 29 year old foster brother, Christian, who has accute physical needs, due to being born with an extremely rare condition.
I’ve never heard Anouska grumble. I’ve never heard her moan. But I’ve heard her crack plenty of jokes. She sends me encouragements. She cheers me up. She tells me off when I moan about my bad hair day, reminding me that she still doesn’t have any hair to moan about. She rocks a wig better than anyone I’ve ever met – and looks just as beautiful with a turban on her head.
She is positive. She is grateful for the small things. She oozes faith and hope. Her smile lights up the room. She lives life to the full and she never sweats the small stuff.
She lives out, on a daily basis, her favourite scripture verses:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow, or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you – you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “what shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all of these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.Matthew 6:24-33
She sent me these words today:
Before I met with Jesus, I blamed God for all the bad things that happened to me, and I felt like I was facing everything on my own – especially when my mum passed away 5 days after I was diagnosed for the third time.
Now instead of blaming God for letting this happen to me, I thank Him for the world-surpassing peace, strength and positivity He has given me.
My faith in Jesus is everything now. I know that even when I’m sitting in the treatment chair, laid on the radiotherapy bed, or on the operating table, Jesus is with me, I’m not alone and I never worry about what the future may bring.
Anouska, I salute you. It’s a privilege to be your friend, and I love you from the bottom of my heart!
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings of eagles, they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint.Isaiah 40:31
Our family have all been really poorly this week. When you need a bit of a pick-me-up, this homemade tomato soup is like sunshine in a bowl.
It’s zingy, tangy, sweet and savoury, bursting with the vibrant flavour of roasted Vine Ripened Tomatoes.
I constantly find myself marveling at the abundant array of foods that God has provided for us! And in my humble opinion, tomatoes are up there with the best.
Tomatoes are a great source of antioxidants, which promote heart health.
Some people say that God gives us visible clues about the nutritional benefits of foods. I don’t know how true that is, but cross-section a tomato and you find a sort of four-chambered interior!
They are also choc-full of Vitamin C, Potassium, Vitamin K and Folate.
And best of all, they’re absolutely yummy. So what are you waiting for?
Place a selection of fresh tomatoes, preferably Vine-Ripened into a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Oven roast at approx 180 degrees for 20 mins.
Chop an onion and 2-3 stalks of celery. Saute in a swig of olive oil until softening. Add one chopped clove garlic and some grated fresh ginger, for extra depth.
Add a tin of chopped tomatoes. Fill up the empty tin with water a few times to get all the juice that’s stuck to the sides, and add the water to the pan to form a stock. Add a vegetable stock cube and a generous teaspoon or two of sugar.
Bring to the boil and then turn down heat to a simmer. Add in 2-3 handfuls of red lentils. These provide a lovely, chunky thickness to the soup, and the added bonus is, they’re good for you! Add a little more seasoning. Cover and simmer for approx 20 mins, being careful to stir every so often so the lentils don’t stick to bottom of the pan. Add more water if stock is getting too thick.
By now your roasted tomatoes should be cooked literally to bursting point.
The red lentils should have softened too. Add the roasted tomatoes into the soup and blitz everything up with a hand blender, (or crush with a masher if you don’t have one).
Add a squeeze of lemon if you have any. Season to taste. Add some torn basil leaves…and dive on in! You’ll be back for more!
Absolutely beautiful with a hunk of bread and cheese!
This morning I had to perform a three-point-turn in front of a group of builders. They were digging up the road ahead of me.
Oh the embarrassment.
I’ve been driving for over 25 years now, and it’s a manouvre I know perfectly well how to perform…Except when I have an audience.
The road was exceedingly narrow. There were parked cars all around. Oh the pressure! Come on Ange. You can do this. Just keep calm and carry on.
The builders, seemed to enjoy the opportunity to help a damsel in distress, and soon got involved, beckoning me backwards, gesticulating wildly.
I’m happy to report that I made it, unscathed! But I must admit, it was quite a relief to pull away and get out of that tight spot!
I’ve just been reading Psalm 118, and I came across the following verses:
From my distress I called upon the Lord. The Lord answered me and set me in a large place.Psalm 118:5
My bible notes showed me that the word ‘distress’ here, literally means ‘tight place’.
The Psalmist is proclaiming that in his distress; his predicament; his tight spot, he called upon the Lord, and the Lord provided an enlargement, a rescue plan, a way of escape, a broad place -God sets us free!
Maybe you’ve lost a job or have financial pressures. Maybe you’ve got a job, but you’re up to your eyeballs in stress. Perhaps you’re battling with ill health. Perhaps, like me, you’ve got a house full of teenagers…Wow – can that feel overwhelming at times?! Or a house full of little ones, and you’re exhausted with sleepless nights. Perhaps you’re going through a difficulty in your marriage.
Life is full of pressure, that’s for sure.
I just want to encourage you today – if you’re in a tight spot, if you’re feeling like the pressures of life have got you hemmed in, then call upon the Lord! He is our strong deliverer! He may not remove the situation entirely, but He is the God who is able to ‘relieve us in our distress,’ (Psalm 4:1). He is the God who takes our burdens upon His own shoulders, saying: ‘Cast your cares on Me, for I care for you!” (1 Peter 5:7)
I pray that if you are in a tight spot today, that you will know God as your deliverer. I pray that as you wait on Him, He will renew your strength, and you will experience Him lifting you up, on wings as eagles, into a broader place, where you will find the space to breath again!
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit…Romans 8:3-4
The law is a tyrant,
A ball and a chain,
That reads out my failures
Again and again,
Relentlessly tells me I should have done better,
Hounds me with guilt,
Til regret is my fetter,
Watches me stumble,
Beneath its great load,
Adding heavier rocks
As I trudge down the road.
And if I progress
And begin to take heart,
The arm of the law,
Drags me back to the start!
Your grace finds me there,
By the side of the road,
Breaks off my shackles, and carries my load,
Cancels my debts,
And calls me by name,
Gives me beauty for ashes,
A crown, for my shame.
Wraps me in robes,
And anoints me with gladness,
Washes away all the strife and the sadness.
Run girl, run!
The law demands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings,
It bids me fly and gives me wings.
(Inspired by one of my favourite John Bunyan quotes)
Recently, on John Piper’s Desiring God website, we came across a recommended reading list, which includes many great classics by authors such as A.W Pink, R.C. Sproul and J.I. Packer. Feeling inspired, Nathan ordered a selection of them for us to read – including this little beauty.
A couple of pages into The Cross of Christ, in a chapter entitled: The Centrality of the Cross, I came across the following excerpt:
Imagine a stranger visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Having been brought up in a non-Christian culture, he knows next to nothing about Christianity. Yet he is more than a tourist; he is personally interested and keen to learn. Walking along Fleet Street, he is impressed by the grandeur of the building’s proportions, and marvels that Sir Christopher Wren could have conceived such an edifice after the Great Fire of London in 1666. As his eyes attempt to take it in, he cannot help noticing the huge golden cross which dominates its dome.
He enters the cathedral and stands at its central point under the dome. Trying to grasp the size and shape of the building, he becomes aware that its ground plan, consisting of nave and transepts, is cruciform. He walks round and observes that each side chapel contains what looks to him like a table, on which prominently, there stands a cross. He goes downstairs into the crypt to see the tombs of famous men such as Sir Christopher Wren himself, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington: a cross is engraved on each.John Stott – The Cross of Christ
I found myself greatly intrigued by this description of the grand old Cathedral that graces the skyline of our beloved Capital City. So on 28th December, 2018, Emily and I set off on a grand adventure to visit St. Paul’s.
We emerged out of Blackfriars Railway station, not too sure which way to go. We needn’t have worried, however – There in the distance, we soon caught sight of the iconic dome and spires. A stroll up Ludgate Hill, offered us a wonderful vantage point from which to take in the splendour of the Cathedral. And there, right at the top was that Golden Cross.
Unfortunately, as it’s a place of worship, visitors are asked to refrain from taking photographs in the main part of the cathedral. It’s a shame, as the interior is just as stunning as the exterior. However, I couldn’t resist a quick snap of the Nativity, after all, it’s only there once a year.
I settled on buying a guidebook, and some postcards, which I hope will give you a glimpse into the Cathedrals’ astonsishing vaulted ceilings, adorned with their ornate carvings, and mosaics.
The black and white tiled floor, the chandeliers giving off their soft glow, the intricacy of the mosaics and vaulted chambers overhead- it was difficult to know where to look first! Such a spectacular work of architecture, all built to the glory of God, triggered an unexpected wave of emotion.
Standing beneath that central dome, I gazed upwards, taking in the sheer brilliance and significance of the architect’s plan. The epicentre of the entire building, famous the world over, situated right in the middle of a cross.
After a lovely browse in the Cathedral Gift Shop, and a refreshing stop in the cafe, our adventure led us 259 steps up into the fascinating Whispering Gallery, where legend has it that due to the amazing acoustics of the dome, you can hear the slightest whisper from the opposite side of the circular balcony.
A further 376 steps brought us out onto the Stone Gallery, with glimpses of London’s skyline seen through stone ballestrades.
And then – not for the faint hearted – another 528 spiral steps, and we had made it to the Golden Gallery, 85 metres above the Cathedral Floor. God had blessed us with the clearest of days. The climb was well worth it. The views were extraordiary.
This extraordinary Cathedral, built out of the ashes of a Great Fire, is definitely one of the most special places I have ever set foot in.
Here are a few thoughts I came away with:
- How can I make the cross central in my life, this coming year?
- How, as a Temple of the Holy Spirit, can I glorify God more?
- Sir Christopher Wren’s Cathedral, built in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, in my opinion, is greater than the original. This stirs my faith that God can redeem the worst situation and turn it around for His glory!
Ring out the old and ring in the new,
Another year passes – yet one thing is true,
A thousand small blessings have slipped through my hands,
Moments uncountable, vast as the sands,
Ordinary days, that have come and then gone,
A sunrise, a sunset, a whisper, a song.
Times spent with family, long summer days,
Here for a moment, then gone in a haze,
I wish I could hold all these moments forever,
Time marches onward, but love ceases never.
So I’m thankful, so thankful, for all that has been,
For the highs and the lows and the bits in between,
This journey of life with it’s ups and its downs,
The trials the triumphs, the smiles and the frowns,
This life I’ve been given, I long to embrace,
To cherish each moment, each dear, precious face,
Yet to live in surrender, not grasping too tight,
To live for eternity, to walk in the light,
Knowing this life is a gift from above,
That it all comes from You, Oh great Father of Love.
Ten years ago, I cooked an unforgettable Christmas dinner.
Now, I would love to tell you that it was my perfectly cooked roast potatoes (crispy on the outside and soft in the middle) that my family have retained in their memories…
Or the satisfying blend of sweet and savoury, in each mouthful of the home-made Sausagemeat and Apple stuffing, that I had so lovingly prepared…
Or the tangy, vibrancy of the Braised Red Cabbage https://everydayencounters.blog/2019/12/26/braised-red-cabbage/ that accompanied the meal so perfectly.
But no. It was none of these things.
What was truly, TRULY unforgettable, to everyone present, was the fact that I completely and utterly ruined the turkey. I cooked it low and slow….And then I cooked it some more…And then I got distracted watching my kids open their presents, and completely forgot about dinner…until….the glorious Christmas Bird, that had been so kindly and proudly presented to us by my Mother-in-Law, was almost burnt-to-a-crisp! Oh, my goose was well and truly cooked! In fact it was a dried-out disaster!
Fortunately, my folks, who were also joining us for dinner, had a spare Ham, hanging around in their fridge. So, against the odds, we tucked into all that we could salvage of the dry turkey, with slices of succulent ham, and gallons of gravy! And after the initial embarrassment – once we’d all had a glass of wine or two- the jokes about the burnt turkey began to fly! Ten years later and I’ve never lived it down.
I’ll never forget the sight of my husband, kicking the shrivelled carcass up the garden, gaffawing about the fact that even the foxes wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole.
So this year…I’m so very pleased to report, that my turkey cooking was on the money! I mean, I had something to prove! I bought the poshest, most organic, (blinking expensive) Free Range Turkey that I could find…one that came with IDIOT-PROOF COOKING INSTRUCTIONS and a little thermometer thingamy-jig, that the butcher promised would ‘pop up’ when the turkey reached the correct temperature. I watched that thing like a hawk..until, “It’s popped!” – came my gleeful cry- at which point the turkey was whisked out of that oven quicker than you could say boo to a goose!
Christmas. I absolutely LOVE Christmas. To me, it’s definitely the most wonderful time of the year. But just like that turkey, sometimes I worry that we’ve well and truly ‘overdone it!’ Sometimes I wonder why we eat so much, and drink so much, and spend so much…and yet somehow completely lose sight of what it’s all about. Sometimes, I find that I am far too prone to get distracted by the fanciful and just forget…
And so, today, I want to say thank you! I want to take a moment, right here, right now, to stop and be mindful of the things that really matter.
Over the Festive Season, I have had the joy of spending quality time with the people I love. I spent a golden day with my wonderful mum, Christmas shopping in London. I have had the opportunity to welcome friends and family, into my home, and to be welcomed into the homes of others. I have enjoyed delicious food, and I’ve had time to relax and unwind. I’ve known the fun of giving and receiving gifts. I’ve revelled in the cosiness of home. And I’ve reflected about the birth of a baby, 2000 years ago, born to redeem us. These things are just too precious to be taken for granted. And today, I am so grateful.
Merry Christmas one and all.
Up until yesterday, my natural inclination would probably have been to fill in the blank with the word ‘FEAR’. But my Greek Bible taught me something which totally stopped me in my tracks. The most appropriate antonym for the word Faith, is not fear…
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things NOT SEENHebrews 11:1
By faith, Noah, being warned by God about things NOT YET SEEN, in reverence, prepared an ark for the salvation of his householdHebrews 11:7
For we walk by faith, NOT SIGHT – 2 Corinthians 5:72 Corinthians 5:7
In the absence of sight, faith gives me flight!
Seeing is NOT believing! Oh no my friend, it’s quite the other way around!
Faith is going, not knowing. It steps out in the dark. It leaps into the unknown. It gets out of the boat and walks on water. It says yes when everyone else is saying no. It can part the red sea, it can move the mountains, it pleases God, it really, really pleases Him. It turns the worrier into a warrior, the barren into the fruitful, the weak into the strong! It’s the currency of heaven and it only operates in the absence of sight!
Then he said to Thomas, “reach here with your finger and see My hands, and reach here with your hand and put it into My side, and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Because you have SEEN me have you believed? Blessed are they who did not SEE, yet believed!”John 20:27-29
Oh, Lord increase my faith!
It’s Autumn once more,
What a sight to behold,
Streets lined with crimson
And laden with gold.
Moon like a saucer,
Days getting shorter,
As Summer lays down
To make way for the cold.
Warm woolen knits, crackling fires,
Wild geese fly over,
Through pink, sunset skies,
Off with a flap of migratory wings,
The earth gives birth, Creation sings!
Season of beauty, nature’s last fling,
Before winter makes bare,
And the earth sleeps till Spring,
Emblazoned in Scarlet,
You take your last breath,
Your most glorious hour,
Was found at your death.
There are two stories in the New Testament which so wonderfully portray the dynamic power of forgiveness. Interestingly, they both share the same three elements: Dinner, a sinner and a Saviour.
Story number one takes place when a Pharisee named Simon invites Jesus round for a meal. It’s not clear whether Simon is being genuinely hospitable, or whether he has an ulterior motive, but what we do discover later on, is that Simon fails to show Jesus the customary Jewish welcome of a kiss and a bowl of water for the washing of feet. As they are reclining at the table, things take an interesting turn.
A woman with a jar of perfume and a bad reputation, gate-crashes the party. She breaks open the alabaster jar of fragrance and starts to anoint Jesus’s feet. Weeping and crying, she dries His tear-stained feet with her hair, and kisses them again and again. Talk about awkward moment!
Suddenly Simon gets all fidgety in his seat. Ha! If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have been able to discern what kind of woman this was. If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have this woman thrown out into the street.
But Jesus with x-ray-like vision, sees right into the depths of Simon’s soul. And He begins to tell a story about two debtors. One who owes a little, one who owes a lot. Both of them receive good news- their debts have been cancelled by their Creditor.
“Now which of these two will love the most?”
“I suppose the one who has been forgiven the most,” Simon rightly answers.
Which leads us nicely onto story number two- the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is the Chief Tax Collector in the Jericho region and let’s just say ‘popular’ is not his middle name. He takes what people owe…plus a little bit extra besides.
But he’s heard a rumour. Jesus is coming to town. “I’ve gotta’ see him”, thinks Zacchaeus. “I’ll do anything to see Him”.
But Zacchaeus is a little on the…er, little side. As Jesus passes through Jericho, vast crowds press in around Him. And try as he might, Zacchaeus cannot see above the crowds.
So what does he do? Give up and go back to his mansion? No! He runs ahead of the crowd and climbs up into a Sycamore Tree! Now this man was rich. He probably had swag! But nothing was going to stop him!
And Jesus stops right underneath that Sycamore Tree and peers up into the branches, right into the face of a man who is outwardly rich, but inwardly profoundly empty and says:
Jesus knows his name. He knows all our names. “You’d better climb down because I’m coming to your house today!”. This time Jesus invites himself round for dinner!
And they talk. And Jesus explains that He came to this earth to cancel the huge debt of sin that people like Zacchaeus, and the woman with the alabaster jar – people like me, and you- simply couldn’t pay.
And once again forgiveness has its transformative effect. Zacchaeus is a changed man. Repentance flows from his heart just like the perfume that flowed from that alabaster jar. Because the point of the story was not so much the broken jar, but rather a broken, sin-weary soul, kneeling at the feet of a merciful Saviour. And Zacchaeus promises to pay back anybody he’s ripped off four times over!
You see it’s true. He who is forgiven much, loves much.
“The heavens are telling the glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech. Night after night they reveal knowledge.” Psalm 19v1-2
We don’t get the best views of the night sky in South London. But I remember camping out in the countryside as a child…It was a completely different story! All I wanted to do was fling my head back and marvel! These days, satellite images allow us to get a glimpse of galaxies far, far away. They bring us back evidence of things unseen! Weird and wonderful nebulas that look like gigantic eyes in the sky. Pictures of the Whirlpool Galaxy, which looks as though someone just opened a pot of glitter whilst waltzing through the universe! We learn about stars which are bigger than the sun. We are told mind-bending facts about how many trillions of light years away these spinning orbs hang out. Just getting my head around the idea that a trillion is equal to a million millions is baffling enough!
The enormity of the universe is completely staggering! Our planet is but a miniscule blue dot in the vastness. But in one little sentence, Genesis tells us how God created the sun and the moon – and then adds, (as though it’s just an afterthought), “He also made the stars!” Countless billions of them!
“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Psalm 147v4).
He knows each one by name? Wow!
“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth”! (Psalm 33v6). It’s like He just breathed them out! It leaves me speechless! What kind of God is this?!
Just think for a a moment about a solar eclipse…a total solar eclipse takes place in the somewhat rare occurrence that the moon travels directly in the path of the Earth’s orbit around the sun. Momentarily, the moon appears to completely cover the sun, blotting out its light, as though it were night time! A few days ago me and the kids watched a video clip of a solar eclipse. It was breath-taking. In four or five minutes, the sun was slowly but surely obscured. Then came a few moments of complete blackness, and then seconds later, an ethereal corona appeared like a milky mist around the sun – at which point, my daughter’s nine year old friend cried out: “Wow – I think that’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!” A fitting response, I thought! You could hear people on the video clip whooping with delight and amazement, yet many of them probably completely missing the point that SOMEBODY MADE THAT HAPPEN!
In Psalm 8 David says, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained…” One of the meanings of the word ordained is “set in place!” Think about that for a moment. God placed the sun and the moon in their place. It was not some random accident! When you think of it like this, a solar eclipse is nothing short of miraculous! The sun and the moon lining up like that in such a precise way is jaw-droppingly awesome, and really ought to bring us to our knees, like David. Creation is a living, talking testimony of the sheer power and wisdom of our God. The heavens do indeed preach us a sermon about the brilliance of their Creator. Every night the stars are saying something – can you hear them -shouting out loud to all who will listen? They are crying out: “Isn’t He Majestic? Isn’t He glorious?! Isn’t He magnificent? If you ever need reminding of the power and breathtaking wisdom of God, then why not take a leaf out of David’s Psalm Book, and just look up! The heavens are creation’s great signposts – they point us towards the One who put them there! How majestic is His name!
Click the link below to enjoy a wonderful song of worship.
Life is so busy. Things to do. Places to be. People to see. Errands to run. Appointments to keep. Sometimes our to-do lists can get seriously overloaded and the week ahead can start to resemble something akin to a military training schedule – you just grit your teeth and get through it! Take me for instance – here is a list of some of the ‘appointments’ that have been in the Jelf family diary over the last two weeks: (I bet some of you can out-“do” me!?):
One doctors appointment
One infant vaccination appointment
One birthday party
Two grocery shops
One appointment with the school nurse
One hospital appointment
One lunch date with friends
Two Dinner dates at our house
Two Toddler Group outings
Two Youth Group outings
One Swimming trip
One Ice-skating trip
One Home-schooling Group Meeting
One parent’s evening
One Prayer Meeting
One Ladies Bible Study Group
Sometimes I think I should just sell the house and live in the car. Sound familiar? Phew! It’s enough to make you dizzy, isn’t it?! This week, my husband and I actually had to schedule in time to talk to one another! I kid you not! So much to do…so little time. It can be hard to find time for each other. It can be hard to find time for ourselves. It can be harder still to find time for God.
This morning I was reading Psalm 27, written by David, who was affectionately known as a ‘man after God’s own heart’. It says:
“One thing I have asked of the Lord, that shall I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.”
David must have had a few appointments. After all, he was the King! He must have had a few things on his to-do list. He probably DID have a military training schedule to attend to! But his single wish, his heart’s desire was to pursue a relationship with God. There was one place he wanted to be more than any other….in the presence of God. One thing he wanted to do more than any other…to behold the beauty of the Lord – to catch a glimpse of His glory! Later in the Psalms David writes “Better is one day in Your House, than thousands elsewhere“. David yearned for the presence of God as one would thirst for water in a dry and parched land. Only one thing could truly satisfy.
As I was reading the Psalm, I felt the Lord remind me of the well known story of Martha and Mary. Martha and Mary were two ordinary women, who lived in an ordinary village. On one particular day however, they had a far from ordinary appointment in their diary! You see, Jesus was coming over to their house for dinner! When Jesus arrived, Mary went and sat at His feet, listening to his teaching. But poor old Martha. No. The story tells us that “Martha was distracted with much serving”. She was probably rushing around trying to make sure everything was tidy, and working hard to put on a good spread. And perhaps that would have been just fine with Jesus, if she had done it with a cheerful heart. But….it wasn’t long before Martha got a bee in her bonnet. She went up to Jesus and said “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” I can just see her, hand on hip, foot tapping, finger wagging. Sadly, I can see me too.
And then came Jesus’ response. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”
There are so many things that can crowd in on us – crowding God out. So many things shouting for our attention. Appointments. Chock-a-block-diaries. Schedules. Plans. It’s so easy to become distracted. Jesus’ words are still so apt today. We can be anxious and troubled about so many things, when only one thing is necessary – a heart like Mary’s that chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and a heart like David’s that couldn’t think of anywhere on earth he’d rather be than in the courts of the King.
I know what you’re thinking. Wait a minute. We can’t just all sit around reading the bible all day. Who would wash the socks? Who would feed the children? Not to mention the cat? Who would do the shopping and the school run? Martha had a point. I mean, someone had to cook Jesus’ dinner. But what I’m learning is, it’s a heart thing. Jesus wants us all to have a ‘one thing’ mentality, even during our crazy, hectic, full-on days! It’s not about whether we’re busy or not – it’s about where our treasure is. Our hearts desire should be firstly for Him. Doesn’t God command us to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind? Of course we have jobs to do. Of course we need to pay the bills and tend to crying babies and mop dirty, sticky floors. But I think it’s all about learning to love Him as we do. It’s about worshipping Him in the car as we drive from A to B, It’s about meditating on His goodness as we walk along the road to the shops. It’s about thanking Him for His provision as we cook and eat dinner. It’s about thanking Him morning by morning that His one single agenda was to come into our crazy, hectic world and to demonstrate His great love, by laying down His life, so that we could enjoy a relationship with Him for the rest of our days.
I have absolutely no idea why the King of glory would want a relationship with someone like me! But He does. He is so worthy of our devotion. Let our prayer be like that of David: “Lord give me an undivided heart” – one that longs for you more than any other thing on earth.