Friday, 30 December 2011

The New Year

Spurred on by a request to share a thought about the New Year at a gathering of friends tomorrow evening, I found this reflection by Kathy at In Quiet Places. Her story of writing devotional thoughts after her children had grown up mirrors my own dreams...
This year, I dare to dream of writing more.
I'm not a fan of New Year celebrations - every day is a new beginning in my book - but just as Christmas affords an opportunity to look back and reflect on the year past, summarising our lives into a hopefully-not-too-boring-Christmas letter, so the New Year is a spur to considering the future.
This year, Mary de Muth has challenged me to ask God for a picture.
This year, I 
Then another post about praying for strangers. What a challenge.  Could I, too, pray for a different stranger every day FOR A YEAR?  Could I? Just pray a blessing of goodness and mercy and peace and love and joy - how difficult would that be?  Surely not.
And then I came across a post entitled The Selfish Christmas Prayer by Sarah Markley
This is her prayer for Christmas. I want it to be mine for this New Year:

Lord, make me scared 
that others are hungry and let me seek to feed them. 
Let me be fearful 
that others do not have enough and let me try and meet needs. 
Lord, make me more worried 
that others are loved and cared for than if I am loved. Let me be anonymous in my giving and unnamed in my helping. Let it be Your name that is used.

Selfish as it may seem, 
don’t just feed the hungry this season 
but instead change me
Work on me:
let me focus on the changing of my own heart so that in that,
I might help to serve the world.

And I started off this whole New Year idea with the words of a familiar song by Glen Campbell - here it is sung by the Statler brothers: 

Let me be a little kinder
Let me be a little blinder
To the faults of those about me
Let me praise a little more
Let me be when I am weary
Just a little bit more cheery
Think a little more of others
And a little less of me

Let me be a little braver
When temptation bids me waver
Let me strive a little harder
To be all that I should be

Let me be a little meeker
With the brother that is weaker
Let me think more of my neighbor
And a little less of me

Let me be when I am weary
Just a little bit more cheery
Let me serve a little better
Those that I am strivin' for...

So, as I opened an email this morning, I found this quote (again - it came from a different source yesterday) from Isaiah, “Do not call to mind the former things or ponder things of the past. Behold I will do something new. Will you not be aware of it? I will even make rivers in the desert, roadways in the wilderness.” (43:18-19).
Something new in this new year.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Prayers on Christmas eve...

We sing
But many have no voice.
Give hope to the poor, the dispossessed, to those whose future seems bleak.
Protect and strengthen those who suffer hardship and persecution because they believe in and follow you.

We listen
But many do not hear the Christmas message.
We ask that unbelieving hearts be touched by this most wondrous story.

We see Your star
But often do not notice you in our fellow men.
Open our eyes to take every opportunity to serve others because when we do that, we serve YOU.

We feast and celebrate
But many have no means to do so.
Spur us on to share our riches with those in poverty, just as you shared yourself with us. May the lonely be truly comforted, the sick given hope and the bereaved consoled in ways that do not rest upon men alone.

We pray for ourselves.
May we be renewed in spirit and in purpose. May the story of your birth stay continually in our heart and lives. We pray these things in the wonderful name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Thankfulness at Christmas

I'm not often reduced to tears when I read blog posts, but I was recently. I was in my kitchen, cooking up Christmas goodies with a heavy heart. My daughter was not here to share: our Christmases have been filled with kitchen joy together for 23 years, until now when she is living half a world away. The emptiness of the kitchen further mocked me when her best friend, my 'other' daughter, came by on a brief visit back home - when I was out, so I didn't see her; and my husband is still not back at work after illness; I have not been able to count my blessings.
So I loved this honest post. I loved that Leanne shared 'uncomfortable' feelings of sadness. It is even painful to know what a wonderful gift we have been given in Jesus and yet feel sorrow at the same time: not just a personal sorrow, but a sorrow for the cruelty that awaited that baby thirty-three years later on the cross.
And so I WILL be thankful: for the gift of Jesus; for family - a loving husband and son; and for much better health for my husband.
Thank you, Leanne, for the support and the reminder.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Of Gifts and Giving...

Gifts at Christmas – reminding us of the gift of Jesus, the gifts of the magi... tangible, actual gifts.
Gifts, giving. We think we know what that means.  Jesus talked about the value of giving in secret and giving without expecting any reward for doing so: in true giving, the giver does not expect anything in return. The dictionary gives ideas of handing over something (or someone) into someone else’s care – usually permanently.
We might not - perhaps should not – get our ‘gift’ back.
Do you think that, despite our best intentions, we can lose sight of this at Christmas?  Is there an insidious demand deep within ourselves, perhaps unnoticed until it is not met, that our giving is reciprocated so that we do in fact receive some reward. Not necessarily a physical gift, but recognition, appreciation, value, worth...?
How to give
Giving isn’t just about buying or creating actual gifts for someone.  We can give of ourselves.  We can give:
Our time – when we don’t feel we have enough of it for ourselves, let alone any to give away.
Our convenience – when it is troublesome to put ourselves out.
Our leisure – when our own plans are put to one side.
Our relaxation – when we give up our own comfort to give Jesus.
Our friendship – when it seems that others don’t reciprocate.
Giving also has the idea of yielding – we talk about ‘give and take’. Maybe we could give up our right to win arguments...?!  Maybe we could give forgiveness, especially where it is unlikely there will be reconciliation...?
Giving ourselves gifts, too: the gift of grace
Because giving also has the idea of giving in to pressure, or even collapsing, in the sense of breaking down and falling apart, sometimes we can be so busy ‘giving’ to others that we ‘give’ in this sense as well. We become tired, worn out - even, at times, broken. We work and toil and strive to fulfil our function and purpose as 'givers' that we forget to give ourselves gifts too: gifts of grace.
Giving also applies to giving permission.  We can give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to have ‘time off’ from Christmas preparations... can we also give permission to others to  speak, behave or just to BE THEMSELVES in a way free of demands and expectations this Christmas?  Just as Jesus did...
What gift of grace could you give yourself?   Grace to be imperfect. Grace of time. Grace of...?

What gift would you give Jesus? I asked this question at school, providing little gift tags for the children to write on, popping them into a bright gift bag next to the crib scene.  The ideas were all very sweet, but I liked this answer best: I would give him a great big hug!

What would YOU give him?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Of slowing down for Christmas...and a special gift

I teach. So end of term in December is incredibly hectic with all kinds of disruption to the timetable: carol services (and endless rehearsals); Christmas lunch, with the preparation for that; Christmas parties; nativity plays to take part in or watch, making all kinds of Christmas crafts...not to mention trying to find time to teach the children the real meaning of Christmas.
I am learning how to do this well.
I am learning to adapt the normal curriculum so we finish in plenty of time.
I am learning to choose fewer but more meaningful activities for the children to do.
I am learning not to stress if something isn't finished.
I am learning how to prepare my heart.
So this end of term was considerably less stressful than normal and so, on Day One of the holidays, I am relaxed enough to complete just one item on my 'to do' list (writing Christmas cards), spending the remaining time on thoughtful reflection.
Reflecting on what happened that first Christmas, and what it might look like today - thought-provoking versions of that story help me place myself in the midst of it.
Considering different aspects of the story: this year, it is that of giving. And gifts.
The end of term often brings Christmas gifts from the children. Some of them - most of them - have been chosen by busy mothers.  Chocolates, candles, sometimes more personal gifts: I run the gardening club at school so often receive garden related presents.  I have also, over the years, received some beautiful jewellery which I have worn over and over again, because it has been just right for me....indicative of a thoughtful parent.  However, the ones that stand out are those which the children have obviously made, or chosen. And yes, I do get quite a few 'thank you for being my teacher' items. This year, two placards each bearing the message: To teach is to touch a life'. One has stayed in my classroom, the other is small enough to join the ornaments on my tree at home.
Teaching brings many special memories, but it is also so consuming that, once a class has left my room, all my energies go into my new class. I find it difficult to remember if I taught a child the previous year or the previous decade.  So the gift I remember best is one I received from one of the children yesterday. Jack loves school - so much so that he was sad on the last day of term. He didn't want to stop coming every day and wrote in his card (lovingly handmade) to me: 'I like school and you might know it!' With the card came a little present: beautifully wrapped, with a delicate wire gift tag, it contained a pretty little bracelet in my favourite turquoise.  He had chosen, wrapped and presented it entirely on his own. He is nine years old. With that gift, I feel he gave me a little of himself. That's too special for words.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

I can't find Jesus!

Echoing around my classroom
I heard
'I can't find Jesus!'

In a Christmas-themed wordsearch,
the children
couldn't find the Reason
for Christmas.

'Keep looking!' I urged them,
'Keep looking for Jesus and you
WILL find Him.'

I pray
they will not only find the Word on paper
they will also find the Word who longs
to live
in their hearts.

I pray that I, too,
will find Jesus
in Christmas preparations.

In the excitement of decorations
in the sweetness of good food
in the companionship of good friends
in the rejoicing and
in the laughter.

May Christmas lights remind us
to bring the Light of the World
into our hearts.

Not just at Christmas
for ever.