It happens every time. I have a moment of feeling energetic and creative and I search online for a homemade, sensory play experience for the Bonus Feature. As things always do in the land of blog it all looked very straightforward – cornflour, water, food colouring and hey presto edible finger paint.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, I now have a blue child, a kitchen that looks even more chaotic than usual, and some jelly like paint I’m not sure I can face using again – and did I mention that my child is blue! Not only that, but in an ironic turn of events, to bring us all down from this rather overwhelming experience, she is now watching telly and eating a biscuit – something that I’m sure Blog Mum never resorts to. And worst of all The Bonus Feature ended up crying miserably either because of the mess I had made of the whole thing, or the pressure I then put on her to enjoy it!
But let’s end on the positives. I am relatively confident that the BF hasn’t been scarred for life by the experience and that she will return to her original colour eventually. The All or Nothing and I had fun researching it and then making it; and last but not least, the whole fiasco did fill a lockdown hour or two – which in itself has got to count for something.
And there’s always colourful spaghetti worms to make tomorrow! What could possibly go wrong – after all she’s already blue.
Coming soon is a more thought provoking post taking a look at sabbath – but laughing with you about this has been a healthy alternative to crying – thank you!
Please forgive the formatting – not that that has ever been a strong point of mine – but it has been so long since I have done this that they have changed all the rules.
So I announced a period of radio silence a couple of years ago now. Did I think it would last this long? Probably not. However, as ‘things going on for a bit longer than we initially anticipated’ has been a bit of theme for all of us lately, I am sure you will understand.
But while Covid has certainly depleted my keyboard time…
I was going to say my screen time – but then I realised that was so NOT the case!
…there is a much happier reason for my being otherwise engaged lately and I can now announce that the main reason for my radio silence has been the arrival of the newest member of our family – our fifth child, and our second daughter – The Bonus Feature.
Which calls for a bit of a shake up of family names. My darling big girl who I have previously referred to as The One and Only Daughter will henceforth be known as The Eldest. The All or Nothing is still very much the All or Nothing, but The Court Jester will now be known as The Introvert. Our darling Gift has now been at home with Lord for nearly 15 years. No Tea Vicar (N.T.V.) still fits my husband down to a t – although TV.V. would suit equally well at the moment as he spends much of his time putting together broadcasts and appearing on our TV screen for what passes as church these days.
Me – I think I could best be described right now as a knotted tangle and a bundle of nerves (channeling my inner Mrs Bennet) – but that is for another Post!
I’ve recently experienced one of those tricky quiet time patches when you’ve come to the end of one system / set of notes and have lacked the discipline to make a decision and get on with something else.
I had been using the audio bible in a year, and before that Tim Keller’s books on Psalms and Proverbs. I felt it was time to just read the bible freestyle, but I also knew I needed someone to tell me what to read each day. So for now – thanks to a suggestion from a friend – I am using the C of E daily lectionary readings and have jumped into the end of Genesis.
Which brings me to my point – with friends like these who needs enemies….
Joseph has just asked Pharaoh for permission to leave Egypt to bury his father and Pharaoh says:
6 ….“Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”
7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt—8 besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen.9 Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.
This was indeed a season when God’s people experienced huge favour from unbelievers – but it was only a season. Obviously a number of years passed – but just over the page in our bibles we find a very different story.
Far from honouring their fathers with them at the end of long lives they are killing their sons at birth.
Moses makes a request to Pharaoh for permission to go and fulfil what the Lord requires of his people and Pharaoh says..
When the Israelites finally do leave they are not accompanied by officials nor escorted by chariots and horsemen – but rather hounded for their lives.
The only similarity we find is that once again it is indeed a very large company that left – because the Lord, unlike the culture we live in – is faithful!
For quite a long time the churches in our country – in particular in rural communities like the one where I live – experienced the favour of the culture around them. Even after active engagement (even if only cultural in its nature) died out they were still pleased to have us around and to rub shoulders with us in fund raising and village life. After all there was still a lot of overlap in beliefs. We didn’t pose a threat to their lifestyles, but rather were good for village life, we could mutually support each others’ endeavours. Like the Israelites in Joseph’s time, and for a season after Joseph’s death – the two cultures got along pretty happily. It was easy to forget that we were aliens and strangers in the land. It was also easy to forget that throughout history and around the world this has only ever been an exception to normal Christian experience.
But that isn’t the case now! While it certainly isn’t our numbers that threatens the nation around us we are not welcome guests anymore.
It wasn’t sudden, and it has happened in many of our congregation members’ lifetimes. It hasn’t been easy – it has coincided with clergy numbers going down and church buildings being closed. They have experienced the shift from being well integrated, to being sidelined and now feel on the verge of being ostracised – what with this new vicar (9 years in) drawing gospel lines in the sand and everything.
Lines that need to be drawn, but that reveal the drift. After all – our churches had walked so companionably with the culture around them for so long, it was very natural to go on adjusting their pace and direction to keep in step with their erstwhile travelling companions. But how out of step that has left us with the Spirit?
My prayer is that God will open his people’s eyes to see the changes we are currently experiencing as part of our journey forward into God’s promises for his people. That we won’t grumble in the desert and long to go back to Egypt, but step out at his pace, along his way, trusting in his faithfulness.
When it comes to spending time with God, reading his word and praying, we often play around with terms like duty and delight. We know it ‘should’ be a delight; indeed we know it can be a delight. However, the reality is that we often require a good dose of discipline and perseverance to habitually meet with our Lord. We are well aware that if we waited for it to be a felt / anticipated delight before we got going we could be waiting a long time. On the other hand, if we get on with our ‘duty’, in God’s kindness we can eventually find ourselves tasting at least in part of the delights on offer.
But maybe it is simpler than that. Maybe we just need to do it because we know we need to. Like eating. Eating can indeed be a delight…
It is also a duty – when we don’t feel we can spare the time / effort we do our duty by our bodies by giving them what they need to keep them going.
I’m struggling at the moment to spend regular time with the Lord. I’m no where near duty let alone delight – but I do know that I need my Lord. So I’ll nibble away at the word of God, and I’ll open my mouth to speak to my Father even if I am unsure of what I can possibly utter. And that’s OK – because he’s got me – he delights in me, and will do his ‘duty’ (massive inverted commas) by me in Christ Jesus.
As I heard in a talk this week: Keep it simple, keep it real and keep it going.
A prayer to be kept in perfect peace
Stay my mind on you today,
Help me trust you come what may.
For what may come is my Father’s will,
His glory to bring and my cup to fill.
(based on Isaiah 26:3)
In this season however I am really struggling to stay my mind on the Lord. In fact I am struggling to stay my mind on anything. My mind feels more like a search light scanning the area back and forth desperately looking for something.
I constantly check my phone for a WhatsApp message from a friend – maybe I can stay my mind on that friendship, that valuing of me – at least for a moment. Next I check my email looking for some positive feedback on a project I shared with someone – approval might provide a resting place. And if all else fails there’s always just watching something or eating something or making another cup of tea….
It’s so foolish and futile though. None of these things are giving me much peace at all – let alone perfect peace. And of course when the WhatsApp reply or the email fails to materialise – far from being guarded and kept – my peace is assaulted and depleted.
And it’s even more foolish and futile because I know the answer and I know I know the answer. I know the answer even as I’m desperately, hungrily scanning away. I know where the treasure is!
So why won’t I stay my mind on my great, good, glorious, gracious Lord? And when I finally do try, why won’t it settle?!
Why, when the scanner sweeps over that huge X does it not starting beeping excitedly?
Well it’s bust isn’t it, I mean it’s dodgy at the best of times, but in the current climate (COVID-19) it is way off. It’s looking for the land of the quick fix and the kingdom of make it go away! It’s craving easy, numbing, low effort relief and it’s obviously unconvinced by the Lord as a source of that.
Which is pretty disturbing news to me.
Disturbing, but also revealing – as times of pressure often are. It would appear that – whatever good habits and routines I have (at times!) managed to sustain I basically fear (and not in the good way) falling at the feet of my Lord and finding my rest in him. There must be something about going to him that doesn’t feel safe enough or easy enough or simple enough or immediate enough. There must be something that I think is required when going to him that I know I just don’t have right now. There is something about it that isn’t a free action – it comes with a price tag and not one I am prepared to pay in this time of crisis. There’s not enough of me left / going spare for that right now – what I need is the next episode in a box set and a bowl of salted almonds!
And it’s not even that I am telling myself off for any of this. I get the need for self-care and kindness and being realistic in the season we are in. I get that the reality of my sin, my flesh, my old-self makes it costly to die to self and come to Jesus – that we are always going to struggle with that being automatic and easy this side of heaven. But the Lord promises that “he will keep her in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on him – because she trusts him” and I feel emboldened to explore what may be getting in the way of that now that our current situation has lifted the lid and shone the light on problems that prefer to hide away in the shadows.
Your “no” is better than my “now”:
Your test is better than my treat:
Your wisdom than my wants, whens and whys.
And by better I don’t just mean better for us;
It’s not ‘broccoli better than biscuits’ better;
It’s ‘freshly ground coffee better than cheap instant’ better;
It’s ‘Disney World better than the carousel they stick in town on a bank holiday’ better:
It’s ‘standing by Niagara Falls feeling the spray, hearing the pounding water, and seeing the rainbows dancing in it’ better than a dripping tap’ better.
It’s ‘You better than Your stuff’ better.
It is Your will NOT mine;
It’s Your glory AND my abundant portion from You.
So I choose Your will Lord.
Please help me to choose it with ever greater thanksgiving and trust, delight and joyful anticipation.
So, we’re on safari and we really want to see a lion. Our senses are so trained on trying to see a lion that the slightest movement in the grass causes a leap of excitement and many false alarms. Most amusingly to my family the ‘lion’ I saw that was in fact a monkey – a mistake I made not once, but twice! In my defence it was loping through long grass….
Our guide too, desperately wanted us to see a lion. He made sure we were up super early, on the first ferry across the Nile and into the park, where he proceeded to followed every hint of news he could get hold of and to draw on every bit of experience he had.
2 weeks previously he had done the same thing with a group and they had seen 14 lions!
We saw – wait for it…..
….a monkey that reminded me of a lion – twice!
We sought out those lions with all the resources we had, but they were not to be found – well not by us.
Happily, there is a Lion that may always be found by those who seek him. But do we seek him with anything close to the levels of perseverance, eagerness or focus we displayed on safari?
My answer would have to be – no.
Why? Maybe because, unlike our once in a lifetime safari experience, we can always do it tomorrow, we’ve done it before after all.
How quickly the amazing becomes just another normal.
Unlike the illusive big cats, elephants we did see – a plenty.
Harder to hide of course!
And how quickly did a heart stopping, emotion swelling, wonder inducing sight turn into ‘and there’s another elephant….’
Thankfully seeking God’s face is neither a ‘luck of the draw’ lion hunt nor a spectacle that loses its intensity as it loses its novelty.
However amazing it was to be observing God’s amazing creation in the wild – we were just that – observing.
As we seek God’s face, we are doing so in the context of a growing relationship. And in an ever-deepening relationship familiarity should not breed contempt, but depth of love and knowing, appreciating, feasting on and trusting.
And our God is more beautiful than an eternity of gazing can fathom – as his creation (even now in bondage) hints at.
Our hearts sang to see a family of elephants wallowing in the mud – of course they did. It was good. Elephants being so completely elephanty – well it’s so right. They are fulfilling the purpose for which God created them and in doing so pointing us to their maker.
To see a giraffe cantering across the Savannah – well it takes your breath away.
Giraffes being giraffy resonate deeply with us. It is good. They declare to us the wonder of the one who made them so well.
And yet how dull our hearts are when it comes to seeking the elephant maker’s face, to desiring the giraffe designer.
Dear Father, elephant maker, giraffe designer, thank you for those never seen, but eagerly looked for lions! They were just as much teachers pointing me to you as the elephants and giraffes which were so delighted in. Please preserve in me a sense of that urgency and keenness – and that dissatisfaction of what was unseen, unfinished – and so keep me seeking your face. Please keep me devoted to my quiet times with you – like those morning game drives which ditched morning comforts for far superior treasures. In Jesus – the Lion of Judah’s wonderful, precious name, Amen.
I wonder how many of you, like me, have the tendency to live life a bit like a contestant in the Great British Bake Off tent. NOT in terms of the amazing baking you do – not to imply anything whatsoever about your baking! – but in terms of your perspective on whatever it is you find yourself busy with.
Perspective in the tent is, after all very different! Attempts at dough or pastry that would be perfectly recoverable (even quite pleasing really) in real life go in the bin amidst a flood of tears in the tent. What would be the decision of a moment or even more likely just not cross our minds in our kitchens at home is researched and reworked for hours in the life of a Bake Off contestant. Minute variations and subtle combinations are analysed and agonised over and all under intense scrutiny! And quite right too! Given the context that is exactly the sort of perspective you would expect. How else would someone produce this…
The problem is that given a certain temperament, level of skill, a set of expectations (perceived or actual, coming from others or ourselves…) there is a cohort of us who – at least in part / on some level – are actually aiming for the end of each day to look pretty much like the scene above: a near perfect something to show for our efforts ready to be appreciated and validated by those who know about these things, and with all the mess and bother a thing of the past. A tangible triumph.
Not of baking necessarily…
Perhaps we would aim to have our children sitting up there swinging their legs, happy and eager to chat through the family devotional we had earlier in the day? Maybe we would are looking to produce a spread of nutritionally balanced food that has been enjoyed and appreciated? Or is it a thriving bible study group or one-to-one? A husband feeling tenderly loved? A well organised to-do list? A product from your craft or paid work – a patient you have really invested in and treated successfully, a brilliant diagnosis, a best seller, a positive comment from a colleague or mentor, a promotion, a qualification, a pupil who has come on leaps and bounds under your care….? Or a session at the gym / long distance run with all the right stats?
Even more worrying is that we might well be aiming for an element of all or most of those!
And so we have a ‘Bake Off Tent’ perspective on our days – the weight we place on each decision, the pain we suffer in failure, the panic in delay, the dismay when we see what other people are doing…
But what if we are in fact not contestants in the Bake Off Tent, but children making mud pies in the garden?
If we imagine we are aiming at this…
no wonder we feel depressed when we end up with this!
But what if we are only meant to be making mud pies?
What if we could be happy with an end of the day which looks more like this?
Which doesn’t give us permission to be lazy, slapdash or thoughtless; or to cheat people by being casual with their time, or the tasks they have entrusted to us. Nor does it diminish the value of what we do. It doesn’t render what we do unimportant or meaningless. No way! Those mud pies are to be made to the glory of God.
But it does mean that we need to remember that what’s at the end of the bench when time runs out is God’s domain – his masterpiece. We need to put aside our Bake Off tent perspective on our days and jobs and pick up the perspective of small, eager children helping and trusting their talented, patient Father.
You see – and this makes all the difference – our Father takes our very dishevelled looking, odd smelling, uneven, misshapen, sunken, overcooked, under-cooked, salt put in instead of sugar, piece of the baking paper baked into the cake, scraped off the floor….. creations and (jaw-droppingly) smiles in satisfaction and delight. Why? Because he has just the ingredients he intended at just the right time for the showstopper to stop all shows!
Or to mix my metaphors into my cake mixture – he takes our mud pies and lovingly plants a seed from which grows the most beautiful flower ever known.
To finish: a phrase that is not mine, but which I love:
How do you feel when you ask someone to do something and they reply:
For me – it is a start of a sentence that I really dislike hearing. It basically says “You’re not as important as this…..”
And yet those two words find themselves at the start of my replies far too often – even when I am talking to myself!
Child: “Mum are you coming through so we can start the film?”
Me: I’m just wiping the table.
Me: Can you come down to lay the table?
Child: I’ll just finish the page.
Me to self: You’re getting a bit frantic about this, take a break and come back to it.
My reply to self: I’ll just finish this bit.
And the worse thing is that I’m just….is rarely followed by the truth. I SAY “I’ll just wipe the table”, but in all truth I am planning to wipe the table, sweep the floor and make myself a cup of tea! My child SAYS “I’ll just finish the page” but what they really mean is “I’ll get to a good bit to stop”.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s often absolutely appropriate to ask someone to wait while you finish something – but there is a way to say it that makes it clear that you value them, that you are ready to obey (i.e. when we have asked our children to do something) or to come right now if that is what is really needed, and that is honest and realistic about what you are planning to do.
There is no just!
You are either coming or you are not coming. You are either ready or not.
(Sounds a bit like a game of Hide and Seek doesn’t it?!)
Otherwise not only are we not being honest with others we are probably not being very honest with ourselves. In my case at any rate, a day full of “I’ll just ….” should act as an alarm bell that I am trying to juggle too many things. In the words of my last post – that drips are dripping all over the place. That the lists are taking over!
Before we go on let’s be clear:
Lists are great – I like lists!
I am realising that perhaps they should come with a warning. Certainly in my case anyway – because if I am not careful I quickly let them dominate my life.
Let me explain:
I make a list so I don’t have to rehearse everything over and over in my mind. The list is an enclosure where a job can be kept until I get to it without the risk of it running away!
Note to self: Just because a job exists / has come to mind does NOT mean it has to go on the list! Some jobs are better running free!
But then I go on going over and over it in my mind. I go over what I have got done from the list, what I haven’t got done from it and what I need to add to it. So I end up emotionally ‘paying’ for each item on the list at least twice. Worse than that I think the people close to us can see the list in our eyes – see us scanning it as we ‘listen’ to them.
Our lists become like the ring in The Lord of the Rings – we want to turn them over in our minds, fiddle with them, look at them and master them. But we all know that the ring can’t be mastered!
OK so that is a bit dramatic – but you get my point.
Apologies if you have never read The Lord of the Rings and have no idea what I am talking about!
I’m not suggesting throwing our lists into the fire of Mount Doom – I think I would find that harder than Frodo did! But I do think we need to regularly put them down and walk away. Deliberately leaving things undone, deliberately ignoring their calls to us. Like Bilbo we need to give them up of our own free will to free us from their dominion over us. When we try to become The Lord of the Lists, the Lists rule the day. But when we regularly put them to one side and treat them as the suggestions on scraps of paper they are rather than the Holy Grail of our day – well then their power over us wains.
So stop constantly doing just one more thing! Stop chasing the end of the list like a dog chasing its tail.