Saturday, 17 February 2018

Being ready

Last weekend we were invited to our neighbour's 40th birthday party. Having moved in barely over a year ago, we hardly know her, so it was very sweet of her to ask us. We accepted, looking forward to meeting new people and getting to know our neighbour's family a little better. The small boys often visit our garden to collect the football they have inadvertently kicked over the hedge, but we only rarely see their parents. We really don't know them particularly well at all.

So it was with a little trepidation that we prepared to get ready. We suspected that there might be high-flying business colleagues there, or some very yummy mummies, so took greater pains than usual to get ready. Dress code? No idea. Smart casual perhaps, whatever that means.

We are sociable, often inviting friends round, but tend to dress very casually ourselves. 'Smart dos' which involve cocktail dresses or black ties are not our thing: indeed, you could say are to be avoided with plague-like responses. So my husband had to hunt through his wardrobe for smarter shoes - deck shoes being the best he could come up with, in contrast to the trainers he usually lives in. Then there was the problem of a smart shirt whose collar was not in the slightest bit frayed or worn: we eventually found one and quickly got out the ironing board. Then, the trousers. The bottom half of a suit? Or perhaps a clean pair of jeans, if such a thing existed? There was indeed a pair at the back of the wardrobe which had somehow survived gardening, woodwork, car repairs and loft insulation. Finally, what to wear on top? The most respectable sweater seemed careworn, to say the least, but there was nothing else better, so I dusted off bits of fluff, a wealth of dog hair and the odd strand from one of the two humans who live in our house.

As for me, I pulled on a stretchy, lacy black dress which seems to fit the bill for almost every occasion. It's taken a while to settle on a 'go to' outfit, but this dress seems to work for me without too much trouble. was ready, at least.

But this got me thinking. How am I spiritually dressed, ready to engage with an unfamiliar culture? Are my feet "fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace."? Do I need to clean my shoes, brushing off strife and unforgiveness, polishing them so that they reflect a patina of peace, friendliness and calm?

Do I need to ensure that "the belt of truth  (is) buckled around (my) waist"? The truth that, regardless of what I look like, whether my clothes are expensive or off the cheapest rack in town, or are old and in need of refurbishment, I am a precious and loved daughter of The King? Do I know that it really doesn't matter how good (or not) my make up is, I am adored and beautiful in God's sight? Do I know that I do not need man's (or woman's) approval or favour, because the GOD of ANGEL-ARMIES has sacrificed the world for me? 

Ephesians 6:10 - 17 says:"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,   In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."


The Message says:
 "God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out."


So we were, indeed, prepared. We giggled over our scruffiness and inept attempts at 'being smart', but went next door confident that we were taking Jesus with us. And it was a very enjoyable evening. Drinks and nibbles, lots of noise, but a warm welcome to a crowd of lovely, ordinary people, friends and family gathered to celebrate a birthday. And we got to know these rather reserved, shy neighbours just a little better.

Grateful for the opportunity, grateful to be serving a Commander far more powerful than anything the world can throw at us. Even in the face of the possibility of smart, suave, super-chic and 'high-powered' people.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

When life gives you lemons - make lemon curd.


A good friend, many years ago, used to refer to James 1:2 - 4: " Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way." My friend, a diminutive blond Dane, would ask, smiling hugely: "So, when the elephant of Circumstances sits on you, what do you produce: sour lemon juice, or sweet orange juice?"

Sweet orange juice was, of course, the preferred answer, the one we all aim for. To be sweet and faithful and loving in spite of desperate circumstances. To bring light and joy. Nothing sour about us, please.

Yet lemons are a truly wonderful fruit. Their strong, tangy scent is, in my opinion, far superior to their more insipid cousins, the plain oranges. I could wax lyrical about the many uses and benefits of lemons, but today, it is lemon curd I want to focus on.

When life gives you lemons, make lemon curd.

Lemon curd* - a delicious preserve made from lemons, sugar, eggs and  butter - makes everything better. I make lemon curd when:
  • I feel a little down or discouraged, needing a lift to my spirits.
  • I feel the need to be creative in some way - a good way of relaxing
  • I want to give a friend a little gift: a tiny jar of lemon curd is always gratefully received.
  • I have lemons in the fridge begging to be used up.
  • I crave a little sweetness.
Making lemon curd gives me so much and teaches me so many things. I learn to appreciate that:

Injury can release a sweet fragrance into the atmosphere. Today, I grated the rind before I went out to church, leaving the rind and lemons sitting on the counter. On my return, the whole house smelt deliciously of a subtle citrus fragrance. The wounded skin released its scent into the air, permeating every room.

As I gently rasped the skin against the harsh grater, I  thought of how wounds, willingly given to God, are offered up to him as a pleasing sacrifice. The lemon couldn't but help release a delicate, fresh aroma: I longed to be as gentle and generous when circumstances grate on or trouble me.

Creating is a slow process. The making of lemon curd cannot be hurried. Heat the mixture too fast, and the egg will cook on its own, resulting in pieces of egg white marring the consistency. 

Circumstances can change rapidly. Stirring has to be rapid,vigorous, watchful, so that nothing spills over and the mixture does not stick. 

Cooking requires a degree of concentration and watchfulness. Look away for a moment, and the mixture may curdle or boil over. 

Making lemon curd encourages calm. As I stir the curd, giving it my full attention, I feel my spirit calm and quiet down. I focus on the pan, stirring gently, swirling the mixture first this way, then that; round and round, first clockwise, then in the contrary direction. Sometimes I draw figure of eight in the surface with the whisk.  Sometimes, I just stir. And stir. I contemplate. I wait. 

The final product may not be smooth and trouble-free. When I make lemon curd, I like to keep the rind in to give it extra tangyness to counteract the sweetness. The resultant curd may have bits of rind or pulp. It reminds me that even when God works powerfully to bring about good, there may still be - there WILL be - lumps and bumps, but life is sweet, flavoursome and far more precious than a jar of delicious lemon preserves.

I make lemon curd. I lose stress and hurry. I grow patience. I receive peace.

When life gives you lemons, receive them as a gift. Make lemon curd.



*Lemon curd recipe: makes approximately two 340g jars.
Grate the rind of 3 large lemons (or 2 large lemons and 1 small orange) and squeeze the juice.
Add to a small pan with 2 ounces of butter, 3 large eggs and a cup (or slightly less) of white sugar.
Add an extra squeeze of lemon juice from a bottle - about 2 tablespoons.
Stir, with a wire whisk, constantly over medium heat until the mixture starts to thicken. Do not boil.
Pour into sterilized jars, cover, and keep in the fridge.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Reflection on the New Year – January 2018

The old year has gone, yet I’ve hardly noticed. I am already so ensconced in the ‘new’ one that it already seems old. Barely just over half way through the first month, and it feels as if we have been in 2018 for EVER.

Yet, I carry within me the memories and habits of an old year. I wonder how – if – they will become ‘new’; or will I just carry on doing the same old, same old?

So I look back, again, at the ‘old’. The old year was full of friendship and fun but also, if I am honest, what seems like a lot of STRIVING.  What seems like a lot of Hard Work.

For I value friends and family and the fun they bring more than I can say. Heart friends are in my DNA: I cannot live without them. I long to linger over dinner, share sorrows in cups of tea or glasses of wine, giggle with glee and a cup of cold coffee... and make opportunities for this to happen. I invite and arrange and organise.

I find it hard to just BE.

I suspect many of us are like this. Many of us are activitists and doers.  Go-getters and grabbers, snatching at snippets of socialization. Secretly dreading desertion or discouragement, refusals and rejection. Trying to make sure that we stay protected with others’ approval and love.

Unwilling to step out, only baring our souls in safety.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. We need to be wise who we share with, who we open up to. Yet, elusively, I can’t help feeling that I need to find a better way.

Bonnie Gray(Whispers of Rest)  writes in timely manner: “When you return to a place of peace in Jesus’ arms of love and complete understanding, your heart will open like petals to the sunlight. And in that place of rest, your heart will hear God’s gentle whisper to do as you feel prompted with His hand in yours. HIS LOVE WILL GIVE YOU COURAGE TO DO WHAT YOU MUST DO.”

Chrystal Evans Hurst has some wise words at www.incourage.me:
“I had to own my story in order to fix my story.
It takes one brave chick to admit that her life is not quite shaping up to be the life she envisioned. It takes courage to assess your disappointment, realize where you’ve been disenchanted, and identify the source of your distress.

It’s human nature to hide our shortcomings, disappointments, and mistakes. We tend to avoid the truth of our vulnerability, of our lack of control, of the pain of our predicament.

But without confession and admittance of pain, true restoration and healing cannot begin.

Can I encourage you to own your story? Will you choose to be honest about your pain and seek help and healing? As much as you may not want to stop or pause the ride of your life to do so, here’s what I can tell you for sure — whatever has happened in your life, good, bad, or ugly — you have survived. You are still here. Honor your life by being honest about your story and then taking brave steps to get whatever help you need to heal.”

I may not feel as if I need to ‘heal’, but I do. So looking back on the pain can prepare us for the future....

So...
REFLECT
REST
BE REVITALIZED

Let’s rediscover our gifts:

“One thing is for sure…God has created you with a distinct purpose in mind. He’s given you something only you can give to the world.

Friends, my prayer for you today is that you’ll begin to see the gifts inside you. That someone in your life will see those gifts in you and encourage you to share your gifts with others.

And if you see a hidden gem of beauty — a special gift — inside someone else, tell them today. Be the one who gives the gift of encouragement to those around you. Indeed, encouragement is one of the kindest gifts we can give.”  Denise J Hughes at Incourage.me

Sunday, 7 January 2018

One word for 2018....

Always a challenge, this. To think of a word to focus on, remember it AND, the biggest challenge of all: put it into practice.
Lisa over at LisaNotes has three steps to help, Reposting them here:
3 steps to choosing one word for 2016

"3 STEPS TO CHOOSE ONE WORD
1. N – Notice God’s messages
Pay attention. God is already at work in you, doing new things, preparing you for new things.
Are you hearing repetitive messages on a specific theme lately? Does a particular song touch you deeper than others? Have you been drawn to a certain book or author?
God can work through any of these avenues. Dig out a single word among those messages. Stay present to his wisdom. It’s not something you sweat over, but something you notice and receive. Accept what comes without having to understand it fully. God will reveal more when the time is right.
2. O – Only one thing
Keep your focus narrow. It’s better to give your full attention to one main word or concept than be distracted by a hundred little resolutions. Be most attentive to one thing at a time. This thing. At this time. With this person.
Your one word choice doesn’t have to be profound or complex. Keep it simple and relevant to this season of your life. It’s a step, not the complete journey.
When you welcome whatever comes in this one day—accepting it as your reality and being with it (even if it’s something that needs to change in the next moment)—you stay most in the presence of God. Once you own it now, he’ll guide you what to do with it next.
3. W – Withdraw anticipated outcomes
Release expectations now of where your one word will take you later. Let go of a specific outcome you may have in mind.
When you lay out too detailed a specific future (or conversely, linger too much in times past), you’re less alive for times present. Yes, still plan for the future (thankfully, because I love to plan!), but hold those plans loosely.
There’s no way you can predict how God will use your word. Just know this: God will honor your intentions to honor him through it. Trust that his grace will be enough.
Today is when God moves and where grace lives.
Pray about receiving your word from God, then hand it right back to him.
Let him embed it into your life one relationship at a time, one day at a time, one situation at a time.
He knows what he’s doing. Now."
Ah.

I think my one word this year might be.....drum roll......GENEROUS!

Generous...in what, with what?

Money comes to mind, of course. I've been working on that one for some time.

Time: not such an issue. Generally, I'll happily give other people time, when I can, particularly if time is needed to provide a listening ear.

But attitude...well, that will be a challenge.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

The end of the beginning.

Epiphany. The Twelfth Day. January 6th.

I have come to the end of an attempt to reflect on a little of the Christmas story every day. What a privilege.

Single words and phrases, as I have leant over them, have jumped off the page.
New learning as sunk into my thoughts as new insights seep into my soul.

I have imagined how Mary must have felt; become better acquainted with Joseph; marvelled with Zechariah and Elizabeth; entered into the simple, harsh world of the shepherds; encountered Herod; journeyed with the wise men.

I have loved these few moments with a tiny portion of Scripture. Now, what next?

Friday, 5 January 2018

Motivate

Energy. Or lack of. Sometimes it seems so very hard to put on that bright face, to feel cheerful, to get on and do what oughttobe/needstobe done.

Blame the weather. Blame circumstances. Blame other people. Blame the dog.... but in the end, the Blame Stops Here. With me.

Sometimes, you just have to Do The Next Thing. Tidy the bedroom. Feed the dog. Switch on the computer. Make the coffee.

Sometimes, that works. It’s just enough to set wheels in motion, start rolling downhill before picking up momentum, fill loose sails with long-sought after wind after a period of endless becalm.

Sometimes, though, Silence and Stillness is what is needed. To return to the core of being, the essence of living, just sitting and breathing and remembering the Creator and the Gift of His Son is just enough to just fill me with gratitude and thankfulness and energy and delight, so much that I am motivated to leap up and Go Out and Serve because that is what He has created me to do. To just love and obey and carry on rejoicing while I still have breath.

Taking part in the weekly Five Minute Friday link up. Writing freely, without pause or edit (you can so tell!), for five full, short, minutes.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Advent resources

Beginning the Jesse tree - documented on my home blog, with many other ideas for Advent study - has got me thinking of other resources, too. Pinterest is fantastic for ideas on a Jesse tree symbol exchange.

Brilliant prayer ideas from 24-7, based on Light, Peace, Love, Hope and Joy..

Something to think about - next year.

Dreams and visions. Again.

Later, when Herod died, God’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt: “Up, take the child and his mother and return to Israel. All those out to murder the child are dead.”

Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother, and reentered Israel. When he heard, though, that Archelaus had succeeded his father, Herod, as king in Judea, he was afraid to go there. But then Joseph was directed in a dream to go to the hills of Galilee. On arrival, he settled in the village of Nazareth. This move was a fulfillment of the prophetic words, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
Matthew 2:19 - 23

Almost back to where this Story began
with Joseph, second player.
He, who often seems a bystander.

This creative carpenter, dream-inspired.
Obedient to God's quiet promptings.
Instrumental in taking Mary to Bethlehem for the birth.

Strong in faith,
in love and care,
in obedience.

How good is God.
Continually guiding, loving his people
to keep His son safe.

God will continually guide and love us
to keep His son safe in our hearts
if we let him.

May God give us
dreams and visions
and may we be obedient to follow.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Terror. Terror did not, in the end, win.

Terror. Not the usual word we associate with the Saviour's birth story.

Herod, when he realized that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. (He determined that age from information he’d gotten from the scholars.) That’s when Jeremiah’s sermon was fulfilled:

A sound was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children,
Rachel refusing all solace,
Her children gone,
dead and buried.


Matthew 2:16 - 18

God knew. God knew. Foretold hundreds of years before.
How
do we reconcile the Good News with the bad?

Only simple answers
cut it.

God is good.
(He sent us a Saviour.)
Sin is bad.
(Our tendency, without God's help, is to sin.)

So we wait, in the sin-filled meantime, for His Kingdom To Come
in all eternity.
So we wait, in the power of His Spirit in us, for His Kingdom To Come,
to break into our lives in His power,
in the here and now.

Comments, articles, books, libraries
are written about this truth.
Me, I can only
keep it simple.

God is good!

Joseph obeyed.

"Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.”

Joseph.
An almost forgotten hero, in spite of his continual presence
in all Nativities,
in muttered oaths of 'Jesus, Mary and Joseph',
in conversations and Biblical narratives.

We know
he was a devout, God-fearing man,
faithful and obedient to the Law.

And here he is again,
faithful to his family,
obedient to God's word.

Joseph,
as his ancestor was,
a dream-discerner.

This time, though,
there was no doubt.
The command was urgent.

'Get up!  Go! Take the child!'

Discernment on its own
is fruitless without obedience.