Thursday, 24 January 2013

Jesus grows up

It doesn't seem to be a coincidence that I have embarked on a study of the first eight chapters of Luke around my children's birthday. (Twins. Boy and girl.)
As I read about Jesus growing up, they celebrate 25 years. Both are amazing young adults, fiercely committed to him and doing what he wants. This has meant, for my son, taking on jobs that have, at times, barely paid a  minimum wage so that he can stay in the city God has called him to, serving the church in his spare time. For my daughter, this was two years on a volunteer's allowance and a move to the other side of the world - to serve the poorest in society and help them get out of crippling debt.
I am so thankful for the way they have grown in wisdom and stature and in the grace of God.
Like Jesus!  (In, of course, a human-less-than-perfect-way.)
1 Samuel 2:26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with men. (The Message says "the boy Samuel was very much alive, growing up, blessed by God and popular with the people."

Luke 1:80 And the child (John the Baptist) grew and became strong in spirit

Luke 2:40 And the child (Jesus) grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:52  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.

Jesus, of course, is our example. I find it fascinating that the words of Luke 2:52 echo those in Samuel. Samuel, the longed-for-prayed-heartrendingly-for firstborn and only son of Peninah had been given up to God for His service. Relinquished into God's hands. I can only marvel at Peninah's actions - but that's for another time.

I just ponder that God has told us this about Jesus. As Jesus is our model, so we too can pray that our children - our own sons and daughters, grandchildren, spiritual and actual - grow up to be just like him.

Catching up on reading - part 1.

Being laid up for the last couple of days with what my mother would have called 'a feverish cold' - I refuse to call it 'flu - has at least given me the opportunity to catch up on some reading.  No TV in this house, the radio - even Radio 4 - tiresome at times: that left the Kindle. And a book.
The first book I read has been sitting by my bed for a couple of months. A Spacious Place by Alie Stibbe aims to help "Christian women take stock of the past; re-evaluate the present and look ahead to the future as they face the second half of life and all the challenges and opportunities it will hold."
I was a bit scared to read it.
The second half of life - which, for me, almost means Life After Retirement which is looming within the next few years - seemed, in my mind, to be peopled with Old Grey-Haired women. Yes, I know it sounds ageist, but only in relation to myself. I'm not yet old enough, wise enough or mature enough to fit the category. I'll certainly be old enough one day, but wise or mature enough? I doubt it.
Alie dispelled THAT idea in the first few paragraphs. Immediately, retirement notwithstanding - and she is further away than I am - I gained a sense of excitement. The second half of life is "a time when there is more room for all the things that were put on hold for child-rearing, when some of them, at least, can be rediscovered and begin to develop into their full potential, and a time to think about taking up something completely new."
I read it all in one go. I loved Alie's honesty as she shared her experiences while encouraging me to 'look the past in the eye.' I loved the second chapter: title, Laughing at the days to come. A 'word' my husband gave me when we barely knew each other. (He didn't know me very well. I do love to laugh - often at the most inappropriate moments - but I also have Doom and Gloom capability with the best of them.)
The third chapter dealt with 'Anxious thoughts and offensive ways' and the fourth 'The panini generation'...(you've heard of the Sandwich Generation: women whose lives are sandwiched between 'so-called' grown-up children and caring for ageing parents? Sandwich is too mild a term apparently - not just squashed, but toasted as well. Finally, chapters on work and encouragement that 'the second half of life will afford you the opportunity to be all that God intended you to be.' Fullness of life indeed.
I could go on: but if I did, I would probably just have to quote large chunks of this book: small, just over a hundred pages long, but absolutely packed with wisdom and inspiration. I have begun to reread it slowly, prayerfully, carefully. It will form the core of a morning away which I am organising with a group of friends. Because yes, it's aimed at a particular group of women. But I think that anyone will gain insight and encouragement to take stock and move on, wherever they might be. Grey-haired or not. (I'm hoping she will write the Book of Retirement soon, too. Everyone tells me how wonderful retirement is but I don't believe them. Yet.)
A Spacious Place: what a gem.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Scarlet Cord book review

I often have trouble reading well-known Bible stories which are presented as fiction. As an avid reader of mystery novels, I have difficulty reading a story when I know how it all turns out in the end. Yet This Scarlet Cord, the story of Rahab and the fall of Jericho, is different.
Joan Wolf draws the reader in through the eyes of Sala, a young descendant of Esau. Meeting a very young Rahab in Gaza, he meets her again when he journeys to Jericho. The story unfolds in beautifully told detail, imaginatively recreating the events leading up to the city's destruction. Without 'spoiling the plot', suffice it to say that Wolf creates credible characters who fill in and colour a familiar tale, leading to a beautifully satisfying conclusion.
Reading this book, I really felt drawn into the lives of those living in ancient Jericho, almost feeling that I was living there alongside them. The author evidently has a good grasp of ancient history and Biblical interpretation, although I found the presentation of two of the characters as Hebrew speaking 'Jews', whose families had not migrated to Egypt with Jacob's family, rather hard to understand as I had always understood that 'Israelites' were descendants of Jacob. It has spurred me on to find out more about Biblical genealogy!
I was glad I received this book through Booksneeze  (I recently acquired a Kindle and so an e- version was a great option). This was not just because it was free, but also because I have also read too many poor quality free books recently so This Scarlet Cord was a lovely treat!

Friday, 18 January 2013

20 Questions for a New Year’s Reflection

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?
4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
5. Pick three words to describe 2012.
6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2012—don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you. (If you’re not married, have fun guessing the answers from other friends and family, or just skip this question.)
7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2012—again, without asking.
8. What were the best books you read this year?
9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?
11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?
12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?
13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?
14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?
15. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
16. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?
19. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?
20. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2012 for you.
Happy reflecting!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Brian Maclaren on the subject of children

I was given the book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? by Brian Maclaren for Christmas.  Thought provoking reading.  So far, the main gem I have come away with - which makes SO much sense on many levels, not just spiritual - is that we gain our sense of identity in part by our reaction to and rejection of the 'other'.  It chimes with a psychology thesis I wrote  at College many many years ago.  So I was fascinated to read an interview with him in Children's Work magazine here.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Being Real

One of the blogs I try to follow is called They are presently running a weekly series on being in community, what that means and what it entails. For example,

"Are you living in community?

That question sure seems to be popular right now. The encouragement to develop authentic, doing-life-together relationships with people, the chastisement to stop hiding, stop being afraid of getting hurt – it’s all the rage, isn’t it?

So we’re all plodding along, pushing through our fears, our nerves, our past experience that tells us people can be challenging and relationships can be complicated. We’re accepting invitations, asking hard questions, offering a hand or a hug to someone who needs it.

But how do you know when you’re finally doing it, when you’re doing life together, when you’re living in community?

True community can be elusive, like the unicorn or Smurfs. But after searching for it so long with such determination, you want to know when you’ve found it, am I right?! Lucky for you, I’ve figured out exactly how to know when you’ve really found community – and I’m happy to share.

How to Know if You’ve Found Community

Now, you might think that the first clue that you’ve created real community among your group of friends is when you get a phone call – or worse, hear the doorbell ring – and realize your friends are going to see your not-ready-for-company house, and you don’t panic. (Sure, you might shove a few things in the hall closet, but that’s normal.)

Or you might think that true community is clearly happening when you get together with friends and their families, and throughout the evening you realize someone else is feeding your child while you’re wiping her kid’s nose and your friend just hollered at your husband for his off-color joke while her husband just asked you for the recipe for the brownies in the kitchen.

Then again, maybe you’ve recognized community when you find yourself needing help – a spare tire, a last-minute babysitter, a couch to crash on halfway through your road trip – and you know exactly who to call. And you don’t even feel guilty or nervous about asking.

Or maybe it’s when you find yourself hugging your friend’s parents at the birthday party without that awkward I-don’t-really-know-you-but-I’m-hugging-you feeling, texting her just to say you’re thinking of her, opening drawers and looking for the salad tongs instead of asking where they are, confessing your deepest secrets and listening to hers, laughing until you cry over remember-when stories and inside jokes, or spending the night debating everything from the best season of The Office to theology and politics to the appropriate way to wear skinny jeans.

But for me, community – true, authentic, in-your-face-and-your-heart community – has never been more apparent than the night I shared with my friends that I had a bad case of poison ivy. (Yes. Again.) And their response? It was not sympathetic murmurs and gentle hugs, nor was it offers of home remedies or their own poison whatever survival stories. No, ma’am. My friends, my people, my community LAUGHED AT ME.

Oh yes! They laughed. And they mocked. And they said things like, “Really? What kind of, ahem, extracurricular activities were you doing at the church picnic to get poison ivy THERE?”

And as I sat there with tears in my eyes from laughing so hard, I thought, “Yes. This is community. This comfortable like my stretchy pajama pants, familiar as my own reflection, laugh at you and with you, call you out on your crazy and hug you through it family – this is community.”

Now it’s time for the $64,000 question . . .

Have YOU found community? How did you know when you’d found it?"

Do you think that one of the first ‘requirements’ of being ‘in community’ is to be ‘real’? What do we risk by being real? What do we gain?

Bonnie Gray (the Faith Barista said:

The parts of me I usually like to hide are the very parts where God is working through my life and my story.”

Jesus Himself needed community. Jesus confided in three confidantes (Peter, James, and John) as He broke down in His darkest night in Gethsemane. The need to relate is part of our humanity and spirituality.

8 Ways

I’m still learning this come-out-of-hiding journey, but I’d like to share 8 ways I encouraged myself to come out of hiding and open myself up to community. I hope it gives you comfort knowing you are not alone and encourage you to know you can do it, too.

1. Don’t wait until you’re all better before you reach out to find a friend.

Reach out now, while you’re broken — and find the people who can truly be your friend. Now is the time to get the support you need.

In some cases, I asked for specific help or advice. For others, I just wanted the support. This is the jist of what I’ve said, “I’m going through a hard time right now. I’d like to confide in you about it, so I’m not alone in it. It’s not something I need solved. But, to make this journey, I need to know someone knows and someone cares. ”

This helps communicate to the other person I needed the safety rather than advice or problem solving (unless that is what you need). Because when you are overwhelmed, it’s important to have the safety to feel and talk things through.

2. Assume there will be “sunk costs” in this investment in community.

I’m just keeping it real friends. There are people who have not walked this journey of transparency. Difficult emotions make them feel uncomfortable with their own anxieties and it can stress them out. So, don’t take it personally if you try to make a connection and the conversation doesn’t work out. Understand this person isn’t the right match for this season of your journey.

Early on, I had confided to someone who said my anxieties were caused by my failure to trust God — which then plummeted me into a tailspin of discouragement. But, I kept reaching out until I found someone who could encourage me. It turns out I found great comfort in a friend I’d known for a decade, who I never knew she experienced panic attacks — until after I confided in her.

3. View opening up as an act of trust in God rather than a test of someone’s acceptance of you.

Finding a friend is another way of trusting God in the journey. You’re going to need someone to walk this path with you. When Jesus sent out the disciples out in ministry, He sent them two by two. The new commandment Jesus gives us is to, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

This love commandment is reciprocal, too. Jesus wants you to receive love and He will send someone to love you on His behalf. Seek and we shall find.

4. Create a list of people to confide in. Start with the most compassionate person you know and slowly challenge yourself to move down your list — as you progress further along your journey — adjusting how much you share with your comfort level.

Many of you belong to a lot of wonderful support communities (like Celebrate Recovery, AA, …), so please share them with us in the comments.

For me, here is the list I moved down. Your list will vary, so custom-fit per your need and circumstance:

1. My best friend. My husband.

2. The most compassionate person who has known me the longest.

3. The most compassionate person who I confided in during the last crisis.

4. The pastor who mentored me.

5. The pastor who married me and Eric.

6. The pastor of my new church. (I was definitely stepping out on a limb at this point (how would he view me?). But, our conversation helped confirm that authenticity was valued in this faith community.)

7. A few closest girlfriends.

8. A Christian counselor/therapist (This was the first time I tried this. It’s hard to find the right one! Another post for another day…)

9. A few colleagues.

10. A new friend I met at my new church.

11. Readers on my blog.

5. Say no — and share honestly why you can’t.

This one is hard for me, especially if I feel like I should do something or be somewhere. I feel if I don’t say yes, I’ve let other people down or I feel guilty because I’ve failed in some way.

One way of being open in community is honestly letting others into our world: our needs, our limitations — as well as our passion, what we value and what our current priorities are, even if they differ from others.

6. Say yes — and share honestly where you’re at.

There are times God plops a wonderful opportunity in our laps — to invite us to try something new, something we really want to attempt — but are lacking confidence to commit. Give yourself permission to say yes — and share honestly the questions or hesitations you have.

You will be able to find others who identify with you — gain a friend and encourage each other through these conversations.

7. Ask others about their stories. Really listen and be present.

This is a beautiful part of community that never fails to melt my heart when I’m frozen in isolation. When we take interest in others’ stories, we give them permission to invite us to the tender places. We offer others acceptance — and we receive the gift of transparency. We gain courage to be present with others and open up about our own journey in return.

8. Choose to believe God is at work in your story. He’s living in you to come alongside others to live theirs.

Last, but not least, coming out of hiding is really a question of faith. If Jesus was working in me when life was good, was He still at work in me when life feels bad? Opening up to others when we are in the middle of our stories invites others to join us on the journey.

Because the truth is, there will always be parts of us God is loving us back to life.

We are all living stories being written.

We can help encourage each other while the ink is still drying.

We don’t have to reject ourselves or each other.

We can step out in the open and speak fully.

We can embrace the beautiful real stories we are living, instead of hiding behind the lonely stories we wish we were living."

“Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake,
which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us.
While we’re going through the worst,
you’re getting in on the best!”
2 Cor. 4:7-12 (The Message)

Holley Gerth writes: "much of community is just about showing up.

Showing up when we don’t know what to say.

Showing up when we don’t know what to do.

Showing up when all we’ve got to offer is Starbucks and a smile.

We try to make community more complicated than it needs to be. But really all it means is being there. Not hiding. Not believing the lie that someone else could do it better. Not even waiting for someone to reach out to us. It’s just making ourselves available. Being willing to be messy–whether it’s our hair or our hearts.

Someone needs you today. Just as you are.

And maybe all you’ve got to touch a life is just show up.
Today, tomorrow, the next time the unexpected text comes.

You’ve got more to offer than you realize. And in community, sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest difference.

How are you showing up for someone else? How has someone else showed up for you?"

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Good Morning Girls Luke study

The Luke study with Good Morning Girls starts tomorrow - it is slightly different in that there is a little chunk to read but then only a couple of verses to focus and SOAP (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) on.  The study guide suggests thinking of three goals for this study - what are yours?  Mine are to Grow in Grace, Apply the learning i Arrive At during the study and Persevere in Prayer.  I'm having a GAP year! (Yes, I do LOVE acronyms lol.)...There's probably a better goal for A - watch this space!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Choosing in 2013

Christmas is over, but the message of Jesus' coming isn't: because Jesus IS THE GIFT. Jesus IS Christmas. Jesus "still comes, no matter what. He comes to free us from the failure of our lives, from the broken promises that seem to define us. He says, ‘I saw you in your need. And I still see you. I am restoring all you thought was lost, all you have grieved and left behind. For with Me, all things are new.’” (Adapted from The God Who Sees You by Tammy Maltby)

And there is a lot of inspiration flying around regarding New Year's resolutions. I've never been a huge fan: after all, every day is a new beginning - but still, a new year is as good a time as any to take stock and revisit hopes, aspirations, aims and goals.

Tammy Maltby suggests a list of things to give up:

1. Comparison to others life gifts or things
2. Blaming anyone’s choices for mine
3. Controlling people for my comfort and ease
4. Unforgiveness towards others or myself
5. Excuses for the consequences of my choices
6. Unkindness towards anyone at anytime for any reason
7. Impatience with the process of life and weakness in others
8. Fear that God has overlooked me

And a list of things to embrace:
Trusting a loving God’s promises to take all that was meant for my harm and turn it to good. Peace.

Dear Ayla has reminded me how good and useful it is to choose one word for the year. Last year my 'one word' was kindness. Aka loving mercy. It was a good word to have. I think, on the whole, my kindness account appreciated in value. The word helped me to choose to respond kindly, even when/especially when I didn't feel like it.

Not sure what my word should be this year. Whitney over at Good Morning Girls chooses Christ, quoting Joshua's wonderful declaration “…then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…
But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
 Joshua 24:15. This verse has long been a personal and family choice.
Lisa chooses Jesus. I love how she says "one concrete goal is to live out a different discipline each month, beginning in January with Vision—The practice of waking up to God. To become more like Jesus, to love Jesus more, to love others more through Jesus.
I’m aware that planning can only be a rough draft for living, yes? How the Spirit will choose to blow through will surely surprise me, as he always does.
But with Jesus beside me and in me, even when it’s hard, it’s all good, and even when I can’t see it, it’s all grace. That’s Jesus."

Yet my word, in Jesus, has to be forgiveness. He is my example and my inspiration, my model and my hero. For he had far, far more to forgive than I. He did so with GRACE

So I am 'cheating' slightly this year. Yes, I want to add forgiveness to kindness. But I will only be able to do that with His grace. 

Grace. Gracious. Graciousness. Graceful. Grace-filled conversations. Grace-filled actions. Grace.

Not a 'Nowhere Man'...

Reading Isaiah 65 this morning, I found the words of John Lennon's 'Nowhere Man' running through my head:

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Doesn't have a point of view
Knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don't know what you're missing
Nowhere man, The world is at your command

He's as blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see
Nowhere man, can you see me at all
Nowhere man don't worry
Take your time, don't hurry
Leave it all till somebody else

Lends you a hand

I wondered why.
Then I looked at the Isaiah passage again. God says:

“I’ve made myself available to those who haven’t bothered to ask.
I’m here, ready to be found by those who haven’t bothered to look.
I kept saying ‘I’m here, I’m right here’ to a nation that ignored me.
I reached out day after day to a people who turned their backs on me,
People who make wrong turns, who insist on doing things their own way...
But you who abandon me, your God, who forget the holy mountains,
Who hold dinners for Lady Luck and throw cocktail parties for Sir Fate,
Well, you asked for it. Fate it will be: your destiny, Death.
For when I invited you, you ignored me;
when I spoke to you, you brushed me off.
You did the very things I exposed as evil;
you chose what I hate.”

So there are consequences.
Those of us who follow Jesus do not have to fear - He has, by his grace, saved us as he does all who choose him - but this is still an encouragement to keep focused, to keep on 'running the race' as Paul did,

Going somewhere. Run with me.