Category Archives: Identity

The Red Dot

“I wonder what that means?”

As we walked around the exhibition I noticed that a few of the paintings were marked with a bright red sticky dot.  Small, but bright. Obvious.

I found out later that the dot marked out a painting that had been picked out by a buyer and paid for.  Ownership had been transferred but, so that it could remain hanging as part of the exhibition,  collection has been deferred to the last day of the show.

To show which paintings have been sold (and are no longer available to buy) a little red sticky dot is placed on the wall next to it.

This is the picture that popped into my head a few days ago when I was skimming through Ephesians chapter 4 and read this:

‘… the Holy Spirit, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.’ (Ephesians 4:30b, NIV)

 

Today’s postcard of hope is that the Holy Spirit in our lives is like the red dot at an art exhibition.  When we believe and trust in Jesus we are instantly marked out for redemption.  His presence shows that we are ‘already paid for’.  Ownership has been transferred, only awaiting collection on the final day.

It’s a picture brimming over with grace.  There is absolutely nothing I can do (or not do) to affect my status.  I have been bought; the required price has been paid: I belong to God.

And I wonder to myself: If I really, really believed this, if I knew it in the deep places of my heart, how would I live differently?

Perhaps, I could rest in that truth: It is done. I am sealed for the day of redemption

Perhaps, I could stop worrying what God thinks about my multiple mess-ups.  He knew… he bought me.

Perhaps, I could stop striving, working hard to earn his favour. I belong to him… I can’t change the ending.

And perhaps, I could use that confidence and freedom to serve him from my heart instead of my head. I belong to God… he will be coming back to collect me.

 

I’ve read it in scripture and I know in my head that this is true: The Holy Spirit in me is a mark showing who I belong to.  And I can always try harder, strive to live differently.

But while it may be my style to try to modify my behaviour and hope that somehow that will sort out what’s in my heart, God’s way is to transform my heart, so that what flows out of it is good.  This postcard’s truth is so obvious, so important, that it sometimes gets stuck somewhere on the journey between our heads and our hearts.  We know it to be true but struggle to live out of it.  It’s probably one to ask for help with…

 

Father, thank you that you chose me,

that you valued me,

paid the price and bought me,

that I belong to you.

Spirit of wisdom and revelation, 

unfold this truth in the deep places of my heart.

 

 

reddot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is well with my soul… reasons to love Good Friday

Once again it’s the time of year when our thoughts are drawn to the cross, to the pain endured there, to the freedom achieved there. But, if I’m completely honest, Good Friday hasn’t always felt like good news…

I first decided to follow Jesus when I was fifteen, and somehow in those early years I picked up the idea that Good Friday was all about feeling bad and guilty.  This was a special day in the church calendar when we all took a good long time to think about how awful we were, about how much our beautiful saviour went through for us, and about how responsible we were for that terrible pain and suffering.

I don’t remember anyone teaching me that this was ‘Guilt Friday’, but that’s what I learned. This was the day to look at the cross really hard, and then to feel really, really bad.

and I did.

But a beautiful revolution happened about 15 years later…

Late one lent evening, as I sat in a prayer-space looking at a wooden cross draped with red silk,  I had one of those moments where something you’ve known in your head for a long time finally makes it into your heart. God showed me the cross as if it were an enormous power shower towering above me. I suddenly realised that as I knelt beneath the flow of Jesus blood, as it poured out over my hands, my head, my heart, it didn’t stain me with responsibility, it didn’t make me guilty – it made me clean.

So I realised that on Good Friday I couldn’t come to the cross and feel bad about myself, or about how much Jesus suffered for me. Not because I’m not a sinner, or that Jesus didn’t suffer, but because some much bigger, more glorious things were filling up my head and heart so much that there wasn’t room for anything else.

As I said to a friend at the time:

“I know I should be feeling bad, but I just can’t help myself, when I look at the cross, all I can feel is clean

Awesomely, gloriously clean.

And when I remember what Jesus was prepared to go through in order to heal my relationship to the Father, what he chose to endure so that you and I could be made clean and whole and entirely free from guilt and shame, I don’t feel bad (all that clean-ness gets in the way), but I do feel very, very grateful, and very LOVED.

Really really loved.

The words of this hymn, It is well with my soul by H. G. Spafford, explains the feeling that wells up inside me better than I can:

My sin – oh the bliss of this glorious thought! –

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

With that in your head it just won’t be possible to look at the cross and feel bad.

So this Easter, as you’re celebrating the extraordinary victory of the cross and resurrection, take another look at the cross and see if you can see this power shower.  If you feel even the smallest part dirty, or guilty, or unworthy or ashamed – step in.  The cross can wash you clean.

.power shower

Willow

I’m a bit willow-ish – not willowy, that’s for sure – but willow-ish.

It’s about nine years since God told me I’m like a pile of sticks.  Words from God aren’t always easy, but sometimes the most difficult ones have the most value.  I was (and still am a bit) like a pile of dry willow sticks: brittle, stubborn, prickly, awkward, broken in places and very much in need of being bent into shape.

But God, because he is gracious, also gave me a picture of how I could be…

This is a basket made out of willow.  It can both hold a harvest and carry a feast. It is strong.  It is still what it once was, but also completely transformed.

God and I have talked many times about the process of transformation that makes useless sticks into a beautiful basket. And I always end up with these two ‘keys’ to becoming:

Soaking and Surrender

Willow must be soaked, preferably overnight, to make it flexible.  Otherwise when the weaver attempts to bend it or twist and wind it between the uprights it will simply snap.

Dry willow is brittle and inflexible: soaked willow is soft and pliable.

I need soaking.

I need to immerse myself in God’s presence and in his word.  I read once that we are like pendulums, we need to swing between abiding in God and working; worship and ministry; backwards and forwards.  Not spending enough time in God’s presence will make my heart brittle again, but time soaking him in will quickly soften it up.

And as he softens my heart I become more and more ready to be transformed into the shape he wants for me. But even then I need to be willing to let him.

In my willow-ness, most of my task is to surrender. Some of my stubbornness has been soaked out, but most of my determination remains.  I have to choose to allow the weaver to create whatever shape he has in mind for me and not to insist on becoming something else.  It’s so easy to try to second-guess God, to demand to know exactly what he’s doing, or even to come up with a ‘better’ idea.   It’s a challenge to trust him, to rest in the truth that he knows what he’s doing, but it’s necessary.

Soaking and surrender.

It’s great when God gives you a picture of how you could be, especially if he then reveals the keys to becoming.  It may take a long time to get there, but we have do some ability to speed up the process.

For me, and I suspect for many of you, a continual process of soaking and surrender is the way forward.

basket

Ordinary beauty

This morning I painted a teaspoon.  Not a fancy one, or one of the cheap, bendy ones I reserve for putting in the kids’ lunchboxes,  but just an ordinary one from the kitchen drawer.

In fact that’s the word that comes to my mind when I look at this spoon – ordinary. 

Useful, certainly; ready-for-action, definitely; but resolutely ordinary.

So I’ve been reflecting today on what it means to be ordinary.   Which is, by definition, what most of us are:

or·di·nar·y    – With no special or distinctive features; normal.

It’s unfortunate that ‘ordinary’ has come to be an insult.  Our culture finds it hard to honour the everyday and tends to despise (or ignore) the ‘unexceptional’.  To be significant, the media tells us, you must be exceptionally rich, or attractive, or talented.  It’s sad to say but I wonder if the church often does the same.

And yet, in the Bible it seems that God doesn’t only use people who are exceptionally talented, or exceptionally rich, or exceptionally beautiful, or exceptionally strong or exceptionally clever.  On the contrary he mostly uses normal, faithful, obedient, available ordinary people.  Moses and Gideon, Esther and Mary, John and Peter. All unexceptional people to the untrained eye, mostly living very ordinary lives until they encountered the living God.

Like this spoon, which was surprisingly difficult to paint because of the intricacies of the ever changing reflections, light shining onto these ordinary people lifted them into the extraordinary.  Though they must receive honour for their obedience and willingness to serve, the glory of what God did with their lives belongs to him.

I also struggle sometimes with the ordinariness of life.  The snapshots I see of other people’s lives on social media look so much more interesting than mine!  Even though I know that they must also have to go to the shops, cook dinner, do the laundry, help with homework and a million other everyday things; I still get frustrated with the proportion of ordinary in my life.

But the whisper I’m hearing today through my teaspoon is : Don’t despise the ordinary.

It took me an hour of looking and sketching and painting to realise how complex and beautiful this little spoon actually was, and how its scratches and dents make it unique. I’d dismissed it in a second as ordinary and uninteresting, and yet on closer inspection found that the light dancing across its surface was so complex that it was both lovely and too difficult to capture.

I wonder if this is a good way to react to the ordinary? A good way to react to ‘ordinary’ people and to my frustratingly ordinary life?

To choose look for the light of God as it plays across the surface.

His light, his fingerprints, are all across my ordinary life if I stop to search for them.   Beauty hidden in the ordinary, blessing waiting for me to find it. I just need to take the time to look.

 

spoon

 

 

 

 

Superhero Socks

I don’t know about you – but this time of year really brings out my inner superhero.  It’s probably exactly the right time for this post, on the destructive power of impossibly-high-expectations, to have another airing! Enjoy x

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This is my sweet five-year-old, dressing up in her fifteen-year-old brother’s superhero socks. He has a wide collection, and likes to wear them mismatched as a tiny but significant (?) piece of rebellion against the oppression of school uniform…

I’ve decided that having an impossibly high expectation of myself  in any situation is like being quietly stalked by a Superhero.  This SuperSomeone tiptoes along behind me, like a malignant imaginary friend, waiting for  the moment to point out my inadequacies, show me how I could do things better, or encourage me to aim ridiculously high.  Next to her, I always feel pretty rubbish really.

Now, while it’s perfectly OK to enjoy a good superhero story, and even (in some circumstances) to wear the socks; I’m sure you’ll agree that to believe that you can be a superhero is a dangerous, possibly even life-threatening delusion.

But, we all seem to do it. We all seem to invent a ridiculous, superhuman version of the role we’re in, and then expect ourselves to be it : SuperSomeones.

My loudest and most powerful Supersomeone is ‘SuperMummy’. She stands in the background of my life, ever ready to rear her (very beautiful and perfectly made up) head at any opportunity. For some reason she is most likely to manifest the night before the children’s birthdays, or Christmas, when she ‘forces’ me to organise beautifully themed birthday parties, ice cakes until 3 in the morning and try to make everything  ‘just perfect’.

If I ever take my eyes off Jesus and let them settle on SuperMummy, I’m done… I come to a few days later, confused and exhausted, wondering (again) why on earth I thought I needed to do all that stuff.

You see SuperMummy always wears make-up, is slim, has beautiful hair, can wear scarves stylishly, bakes perfectly, has a beautiful home (she found that piece of furniture in a second-hand store and distressed it herself) and a high-powered career, is amazingly spiritual, never shouts, and can preach in high heels without falling over. SuperMummy reads bedtime stories to all of her children every day, never forgets the PE kit, or shows up with kids in uniform on Mufti day, can instantly find a protractor the night before Maths exams, runs the PTA and never misses a dentist appointment…  Gosh, she can probably service the people carrier as well.

SuperMummy does NOT exist… But do you know what? if I let myself be conned into trying to be her, I may not exist for very much longer either.  Trying to be a superhero is exhausting and dangerous… and not what Jesus has asked us to do.

Whoever you are, and whatever stage of life you are at, I bet you
have a SuperSomeone.. A SuperPastor, SuperDad, SuperFriend,
SuperDaughter, SuperWorshipLeader, SuperChristian.  Walking
quietly beside you, whispering over your shoulder, “You need to be more like me”  Do you know what? –  You need to get rid of them, right now, whatever it takes.

SuperWhatever will distract you from what God is calling you to be and to do, he or she will suck all the life out of you, exhaust you, whisper ‘try harder’ over your shoulder until you can’t manage another step and then show you all the ways you’ve failed.

Whatever you think about what he has written or said since, a few years ago Rob Bell, in a very popular book called Velvet Elvis had a moment of pure genius. Writing on this subject he said:

‘KILL YOUR SUPERWHATEVER… ACT NOW… SHOOT FIRST!’

At the moment we fell into his arms and surrendered to him, God our father gave us a gift to help us defeat the Supersomeones. An enormous endlessly supplied water cannon, filled with… grace.

There is grace enough to cover ever one of your imperfections… and mine. There is grace to not to have to be perfect, to be a superhero. In fact, Grace says “you aren’t a superhero, I didn’t make you that way”.

Of course, our kids, work colleagues, churches, friends, families, need us to try to be ‘good-enough’, but there’s a loooooong way between that and a superhero.

So there’s my challenge for you for the week: ask God to shine his light on your inner Superwhatever; ask him to show you where you have ridiculously high standards of yourself and then apply a ridiculously generous amount of grace…. Shoot first.

superherosocks feat

 

 

 

 

A New Name?

Should I be Brown Owl or Fluffy Owl?  I need a new name as I become a Brownie leader, and I apparently I get to pick my own…

Names.

The thing that keeps rising in my mind is that the Bible gives so much weight to names.  They matter, and not so much the names that parents give to their children, but especially the names that God chooses to give to people… names that mark out something of their identity and destiny. And I especially love new names.

Abram- exalted father, became Abraham – father of a multitude.

Sarai – quarrelsome, became Sarah – princess or noblewoman

Simon- God has heard, became Peter – the rock.

I’ve known for a long while how important it is to step away from  negative names that other people sometimes ‘give’ me.  Even if they’re occasionally true about the way I behave – they’re not my name, and they don’t define who I am or who I’m going to be. Walking free of those names is important. But God isn’t just in the business of taking negative names away, he always wants to replace them with something new and better!

A while ago I started asking God what his names were for me.  I’ve waited a while for an answer and then tried to step out and live in the truth of what I’m hearing.  Some of those names I share with all of you who follow Jesus : Beloved, Precious, Righteous, Daughter (or Son), Princess (or Prince) and many others.  They’re our family names. Our shared identity and destiny.

But I believe that God also has personal names for each of us, and that it’s OK to ask him about them.  For example, one of the names he gave me, surprisingly through someone who didn’t really know me at all, is Map. It seems that one of my roles in the kingdom is to be a treasure map. Hunting out treasure and directing other people to where it can be found.  Knowing that Map is one of God’s names for me has given me the courage (and sometimes the determination) to keep writing and painting this blog.  It’s sometimes been about choosing to live in the truth of that name.

Thinking about and praying about and journaling about this name and others has been really powerful for me.  So my question for you to ponder this week is: What new names does God have for you? You can make a list of ‘family’ names and ask him about them, and you can also ask him about personal names.  Of course the only way to find out those is to ask him and then to listen!

 

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The other names that are on my mind this week are from Isaiah 6 –  The the names of identity and destiny that God the Father gave to his son, hundreds of years before he was born on Earth, but which resonate with so much of what our world is longing for right now.  Miraculous wisdom, strength, love and peace. Come Lord Jesus.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given

and the government will be upon his shoulders

and he will be called

WONDERFUL COUNSELOR

MIGHTY GOD

EVERLASTING FATHER

PRINCE OF PEACE

and of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cactus Flowers

 

Let me first admit that flowering Cacti always make me giggle.

My husband once gave me a tiny flowering cactus for an anniversary gift, cheekily claiming that it was a much better picture of his love for me than a short-lived bouquet of greenhouse-grown shop-bought flowers.  He also told me his choice had nothing to do with the fact they were on special offer at the petrol station, or that he hadn’t remembered the date until after the florist was shut.

Flowering cacti make me smile because just a few days later I discovered that the bright pink flower – the living parable of my beloved’s love for me –  was in fact a dried straw flower, stuck onto the tiny baby cactus with a glue gun.
Apparently I’m not the only one to a have fallen for this trick! The dried flowers can even sometimes still open and close as humidity levels change, giving the impression they are alive.  It’s only when you turn them upside down that the big blob of glue gives the game away.

This picture speaks to me about choosing not to join in with the worldwide game of pretending to be something you’re not.  Cacti are amazing, they can survive the heat and drought and make use of the rain when it comes. It may take years and years for them to come to maturity, but when they do the flowers are spectacular, eye-catching and extraordinary. Every bit worth the wait.

I found out about the great flowering cactus scam while listening to a special edition of Gardeners’ Question Time on the radio.   It was then that I reached out, turned my love-cactus over and discovered the glue-blob of truth.  (Sometimes it takes a moment of revelation and the willingness to ask ourselves an uncomfortable question to make us realise where we’re faking it.)  After I’d recovered from the shock I listened to the rest of the program to see what I could do to get my cactus to produce a genuine flower.

According to Bob Flowerdew, the answer is to give it as much sun as you possibly can, and then wait… maybe for years…

Don’t settle for faking it.  You are a person who is meant to flower.  In your own way, and in your own time you will unfurl into a hand-designed, individual bloom. And that flower, whatever it looks like, will bring glory to the one who created it and has always known how it will be.

Until then, sit in the light.  Know that every ray of it you absorb will go into producing an incredible bloom.  Much better than a stuck on dried flower could ever be.