Category Archives: Identity

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Guitar Strings

I played the guitar and sang for 40 adoring fans this morning. I hope you’re impressed.  It’s a regular gig, and the crowd all think I’m brilliant (they’re also all under six).

I’d just got going when I realised that the guitar I’d grabbed out of my son’s room at the last minute was slightly out of tune. *wince*

Fortunately preschoolers are not usually very musically discerning and this bunch were quite happy to sing ‘wheels on the bus’ even with my somewhat discordant accompaniment, but it was a pretty painful experience!

It may be that the lesson I need to learn from this is to be more prepared (or not to say yes in the first place), but as I did my best to fix the problem, God reminded me of something a friend said to me just yesterday about guitar strings:

Only one string has to be out- either a bit sharp or a bit flat, for the whole instrument to sound wrong.

The quickest solution to an out-of-tune guitar is to tune it ‘to itself’.  You pick a string you think is about right and then adjust all the others to be in harmony with it.. It works really well if the first string you pick is actually in tune, but even if it isn’t the guitar is playable and probably won’t make you wince when you strum it!

My conscience works a bit like this… If one part of my life is out of line with the others, there is a discord, a lack of comfortable harmony, and my conscience nags at me to pull that part back in line, in tune with all the others.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they talk about ‘being true to myself’. It’s about having the way you think and behave lined up and in harmony with the things you believe and value.  Like me trying to line up my urge to yell at the kids’ drama teacher with my belief that all people are valuable and deserve kindness; or making my desire to get myself out of trouble by telling a lie subject to my value of honesty and integrity. It’s good to be in tune.

A guitar that is in tune with itself usually sounds pretty good – unless you try to play with someone else.

Which is why groups of musicians working together tune to ‘concert pitch’, so that each instrument is not only in tune with itself, but also with something outside of themselves like a tuning fork or electronic tuner. This makes it possible for them to work together in unity and in harmony.

The process of discipleship seems to me to be a lot like tuning a guitar.  One day God might be drawing your attention to one ‘string’ and sometimes to another, sometimes to beliefs and sometimes to behaviours, but always with the aim of making changes that help you to become everything that you were designed to be.

Today’s postcard is a challenge to surrender to God and ask him what needs tuning in your life.

Because although it’s good to be in tune with yourself, it’s good to have the way you think and behave ‘tuned to’ the things you value and believe,  sometimes it’s those things need adjusting so that your whole life can be tuned to something better.

Take some time to stop and listen and see what he has to say to you today…

‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’

because the music is going to be beautiful.

Empty Hands

There are days when you feel like you have nothing left to give. There are days when you notice that your energy for ministry has somehow evaporated. There are days when you kneel before God with nothing but empty hands.

Those are the best days.

Because those are the days when you remember again that true friendship is not based on how much I can do for you or you for me. Love isn’t measured in gifting, or energy, or effort, or results. Love just is.

God loves you.

And on the days that you recognise the truth – that before him your hands are empty –  he smiles.

Because on those days he knows

that when your heart is hit by the force of his unchanging love for you,

when it is drawn by the irresistible pull of his open arms,

on those days you will understand the miracle of grace.

‘We have this treasure in (otherwise empty) jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us’

2 Cor 4:7 NIV

emptyhands

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

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

Time to put the kettle on?

When I hear the word ‘kettle’ my first thought is of the cordless, white plastic jug-style one that sits on my counter and which I boil to make tea at least seven times a day.  But this week God has been speaking to me about a different kind:   A huge copper kettle sitting on the edge of lamp-black coal-fired range, straight from a Victorian kitchen.

This kind of kettle had an enormous capacity and was kept filled and warm on the edge of the range at all times so that it could be boiled and poured out at a moments notice.  It served the needs of the whole household, providing not only tea (vital for life in Britain you know) but also hot water for cleaning, washing up and for bathing.

These days you’re more likely to find one in an antiques shop, or polished up and on display somewhere.  And it is lovely to look at, mostly because of what it’s made of, but there’s no mistaking that it was made for a purpose -to serve the needs of the family.

Big family range-top kettles used to be made out of a variety of different metals, but in the poshest houses they were made of copper like this one. Copper was used not because of its beauty, but because it has an amazing ability to conduct heat.  Not only that, but also it doesn’t corrode (rust) and has a very high melting point.  The perfect metal for the job.

My plastic kettle has an element inside it that heats the water, but this kettle has no capacity to heat the water by itself. Instead it relies entirely on being in close contact with the heat of the range.

But we are each like this big, copper kettle.

We are designed to serve the family, the body, of Christ each in our own way.  Being shined-up and visible on the shelf of the household is much less important than doing the job I was made for.  This is not necessarily something I find easy, but it’s true.

We are like this kettle.

We need to remember, to keep remembering, that we don’t have the capacity to power ourselves.  I am entirely dependent on him for the power I need to do the job I was made for.  And in order to receive that energy I need to be close to him.  The only way for this kettle to come to the boil is to rest on the hotplate.  Every single time it needs to come to the boil it has no choice but to come back into that place of rest.  To be always ‘ready’, so that it stays warm all the time and can be brought to the boil quickly, it must keep coming back to resting on the hotplate regularly, and never venture very far away from it.

I am like this kettle.

The way I behave, the choices I make, matter.  Character matters because it matters what you’re made of.  Someone chose to make this kettle from copper because it was strong, able to take the weight of the water, wouldn’t corrode and fall apart, wouldn’t melt onto the stove and also because it is fantastic at conducting heat.  I need to be good, not only at resting in God and absorbing ‘heat’ from him, but also at passing that heat on to others.  I need to have a character that will not corrode over time, or lose strength and melt.  It matters what I’m made of.

We are all like this copper kettle.

We each have the capacity to serve others in a myraid of different ways.  We are each important to the household in hospitality, in comfort, in keeping clean, and in sustaining.

But we can do none of those things unless we stay close to the source of the heat.

reflect white

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Tangerine lanterns

Have you ever made one of these? It’s actually terribly easy to cut around a tangerine or clementine, pull out the fruit and pop in a candle. As you can see, it makes a beautiful little lantern, with the added bonus of a sweet orangey aroma.

As I made the lantern with my sweet girl I learned a few things, and today I’m hearing the Spirit speaking through them…

One is that putting a light inside a tangerine peel makes it very, very beautiful. Something which I would ordinarily throw away, consider worthless, has its deep beauty revealed by the light that shines out from within it.

The second was that if you fit the two halves together and attempt to seal the light in, it is very quickly starved of oxygen and the flames go out. I needed to cut a hole in the top to make it able to keep burning. The hole iets some of the light and heat that the flame generates out without spoiling the gorgeous effect of the light breaking through the thin places (and the scars), and the flame stays alight.

We also realized, after we’d made our lantern, that to really appreciate it in all its glory we needed to carry it outside into the darkness and watch it glowing beautifully there.

You can probably already see how the Holy Spirit has been speaking to me through this picture.

It totally fills up my heart to think that God can use me to bring light and joy to others even (or perhaps especially) when I feel ready for the compost heap; it delights me to think that even those places where I’ve been deeply wounded can become beautiful as his light shines through them; and it’s good to be reminded that although without God I am not much to speak of, his light inside me can bring out deep beauty that might otherwise never be seen.

I’ll be thinking about those other things too..  About how it’s really not possible to have a hidden, private faith, concealed completely from the world because that hidden-ness would stifle the flame and perhaps even put it out. And also that places that are already full of light don’t always need a lantern or appreciate its beauty, and that there’s a good reason we are called to take that light out into dark places, however challenging that might be.

Whatever else, when I look at this picture, I am amazed at the transformation that takes place when the candle is lit, and I want to cry out to God to shine brighter inside of me, and to tell myself again never to be quietly conned into thinking I can do without him,  not even for a moment.

I don’t have anything to ask you to pray about this week, but I do have a challenge for you…

If you are in a part of the world where it’s possible to get hold of a tangerine, a box of matches and a tealight candle – make yourself one of these.  My painting really doesn’t do it justice, and seeing and smelling it will speak to your heart.  Then take it and sit with it in a dark place for a while and see how God speaks to you through it.  I guarantee it will be ten or twenty minutes well spent, and I would love to hear what he has said to you.

Be blessed.

tangerine lantern

A silver locket for my love

I have a silver locket just like this one that I have had since I was a teenager.  They’re supposed to have a memento in them so special that you want to have it near to your heart at all times.

I used to wear this little heart-shaped locket a lot, and I can remember as a teenager ‘updating’ the photographs fairly frequently as I changed my mind about who was most important to me! So when God reminded me of it this morning and went hunting for it I confess that I had completely forgotten whose photograph was inside.

I found it eventually in the necklace-tangle at the bottom of my jewellery box, badly tarnished and stuck shut. It seems I haven’t worn it for a while.   Having finally managed to prise it open with a hair clip, I was quite surprised to find tiny photographs of myself and my husband, taken before we were even engaged to be married and looking improbably young!

There are two simple truths in this picture of a locket for me.

One is that God wears me (and you!) close to his heart.  Every single one of us that call him Father are so precious to him that he holds us like this, near to him at all times.  Even if we in our own hearts have wandered away through pain, confusion, doubt, anger or just our own ridiculous busyness and forgetfulness, he holds us near.   It’s a mystery, but it’s true.

The second was something God whispered quietly when I found my locket forgotten and abandoned in the box.

‘Don’t forget your first love’.

God is jealous for your love. For me that’s an invitation to invest in my relationship with Jesus, my first love.  For while I know my position next to his heart is fixed, I’m also aware that my focus and my own heart do tend to get distracted!

Maybe you’ve read the article that’s been doing the internet rounds this week on what it takes to fall in love.  Apparently it can all be achieved in a matter of hours by going through and honestly answering a list of searching questions together and then staring into one another’s eyes for four minutes.   Interesting. (although you must be predisposed to fall for someone if you’re prepared to do all that in the first place!)

What it tells me is that perhaps what it really takes to fall in love is to take the time to understand yourself and to share that openly and honestly with someone, and to take the time to really listen to them in return. And then to look at them, for a long time, without hiding.

The same must apply in my relationship to God. ( I am a human even if he isn’t).  His love for me never wavers for an instant, but mine for him can be decidedly wobbly.  Time, honesty, vulnerability, trust, listening and an intention to become closer to the other person.  I wonder if these aren’t exactly the same things we need to continually invest in our relationship with God?

 

Whichever one of these things speak to you; the truth that with all your failings and imperfections, you are still his beloved, or the call to come once again to the fountain of life, to look into his eyes, to spill out your heart and to allow  his truth to flow over you; whichever one it is,  or both, you can choose to receive it today. That’s the point of this picture,  it’s a gift, for you.

 

 

Less than or equal to

I went to a bible study this week that was all about grace, about how wonderful and life changing it is when others love us in spite of our failings and unlovableness.  When they choose not to punish us for our mistakes, and instead continue to love us and be good to us, just as God has done.

And it was funny because I was sitting there in a beautiful room surrounded by beautifully turned out, slim women who had managed to remember to put their make up on and were wearing co-ordinating clothes, none of which bore evidence of breakfast.  Our lovely hostess had baked something delicious and the only signs of her four children were in artistically framed photos on the wall.  Everyone was friendly and relaxed and I really should have been feeling loved and welcomed and comfortable, but  mostly, I was feeling ‘less than’.

I am so glad that we were discussing the extraordinary power of grace, because right in the middle of that bible study God graciously whispered in my ear that I was being ridiculous, and showed me this picture of a pocket sized set of rulers which have the maths symbols for ‘less than’, equal to’ and ‘greater than’ printed on the side.

He showed me that these rulers are the ways I measure (judge) the value of those around me and myself.  I’m fairly sure that everyone has a set somewhere.  We use them to make comparisons:

By this standard, am I less than, equal to, or greater in value than this other person?  

Each ruler represents a standard that we use to measure value- beauty, education, money, intelligence, job importance, talent, youth, home, grades, fame, accent, nationality, body shape, hairstyle, grammar, ministry, ability to spell, popularity,  organisation,  sporting prowess and a billion other things..  And there’s not just one ruler in my pocket, there’s a collection! We all  pick (or have been handed) a unique set, the things that we use to measure value – our own and other people’s.

Heartbreakingly, We use these rulers even though we know they are all lies.

We all know that being prettier, or tidier, or better at art, or football, or slimmer, or richer, or better dressed doesn’t actually make you more valuable…  and yet, when the ruler tells me I am ‘less than’.  It doesn’t feel good.  If it tells me I am ‘more than’ it makes me feel quietly a little better.

So, somewhere in the middle of this bible study, God and I had a little chuckle together.  Because there I was, talking about grace and what it means, and at the same time, in the background I was struggling with my rulers.

And while he was smiling, God said to me, “Put them down”.

Grace is choosing to live with no value-rulers. None for measuring yourself, none for measuring other people.

Grace is not measuring.

Grace is accepting that value comes from nowhere else than that we are made in the image of God, and loved by him.

I know that that sounds outrageous and difficult and wonderful and maybe impossible, but hey, that’s grace for you…

It’s actually a big deal that God is calling me to here – giving up comparison, giving up the need to calculate, “less than, equal to or greater than”.  I hope that some of you will look at this picture and feel him calling you to it too.

Put down the rulers.  Choose to live without them.

Comparison is toxic.  Grace is beautiful.  Let’s do it.

 

 

Wallpaper

Sometimes you just become so used to things that you can’t see them anymore.

After we took down the old cooker hood in our first home we were left with an ugly taped-up wire sticking out of the kitchen wall. In the beginning it really annoyed me, but after a few months I stopped noticing it and after two years we were discussing jobs that needed doing and I genuinely thought we had already had it fixed!

Even gruesomely patterned wallpaper like this one can eventually become so familiar that you no longer notice it (or no longer find it offensive!).

Whether or not we notice it, most of us have wallpaper inside our heads:  The background messages of the things that were spoken over us, or that we said to ourselves, when we were kids and trying to make sense of the world.  Messages like ‘I’m not important’ or ‘it’s not safe’, ‘I’m lazy’ or ‘I’m not good enough’.

Many of us have come to faith in Jesus and have valiantly tried to paste the truth he has to say about us over the top of the words of the past, covering up the old messages with the new ones that know in our heads are true.

I don’t know about you, but my trouble is that the wallpaper of my past is definitely of a 1970’s variety – Bright bold patterns and made of shiny vinyl.  It’s a big job to get any new wallpaper to stick over the top of a decorama vinyl like this one… and even if you do get it to stick, chances are that a pattern this bright and bold will show through whatever you paste on top!

When this happens to you, it’s not a sign that you’re not a good enough Christian; that you’re not ‘saved’ enough; or that you’re not believing hard enough… It just means you need to do some redecorating..

If this was a wikihow, there would be pictures… but:

Stage One: Notice what’s there

Ask God to show you what it is your believing about yourself, or Him that is not true.  Even if you’re so used to it that you don’t really see it anymore, ask him to show you the wallpaper.

Stage Two: Look at it

Admit that what’s there is not the truth about you.  Even if you’ve got so used to it that it feels kind of comfortable and familiar, if it’s not what God says it has to go…

Stage Three: Get rid of it

Now you’ve seen the ugly truth… Don’t just try to cover it up again! Start stripping it off. Confess to God that you believe a lie about yourself, or Him.  Repent of it.  Choose not to behave as if it’s true.. Ask him to reveal the truth under the layers…  Just as it takes steam to melt the glue that sticks the paper in place, so it takes some prayer (yours and maybe someone elses) to loosen the grip of old lies in your life… but it can be done.

Well doesn’t that make it sound easy.

Honestly?… Anyone who has stripped off Vinyl wallpaper will tell you it’s really hard work, but not impossible.  Be kind to yourself… do a bit at a time!

And finally- Whenever we take down old wallpaper in our house in England, I’m always afraid that the plaster on the walls is going to come away with it, like actually it’s only this sheet of wallpaper that’s holding the wall together, and taking it down is probably a really bad idea.

If you’re afraid of taking down your wallpaper, because of what you might find underneath – know this: The moment you trusted in Christ, and handed over the reins of your life to him, the plaster, the part at the core of who you are, underneath all the messages you’ve papered on, was made completely new.

Perfect.

Spotless.

Without bump or blemish.

New.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

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For your Journal:

Ask God if there’s a wall that needs a bit of attention in your heart.  Ask him to show you if there’s a lie you are believing about yourself or about him.

It might not just ‘fall into your head’, but at some point this week it might be that the Holy Spirit draws your attention to something you think or feel, or an incident that hurts you or angers you more than you think it should.  If you have one of these ‘aha’ moments, choose to look at the wallpaper and see it for what it is.  Then start to take it down.

Clean Water

Ever had a problem with your water supply?

This week, my city has a problem.  The water pipes supplying some of the outlying villages have decayed and started releasing something toxic into the water.  No-one is sure where the problem is exactly, or how long it will take to fix, but you really don’t want to drink that water until they have!

So God has been speaking to me this week about the importance of keeping the supply pure, because the fountain of water that he has placed in each of us that chooses to follow him is not just for ourselves but also for all those around us.

“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” John 7:38 NIV

(In case you haven’t realised it yet – you are not just a kitchen tap, you’re a public water fountain.)

What the Nicosia Water Boards current problems have been whispering to me this week is this: “the pipes matter”

Have you ever drunk water through an old plastic bottle spout, or (if you’re really lucky) through your own sock at at youth event?   If you have, you’ll know that water inevitably tastes of whatever it has passed through.  And whatever living water you give out to others will pass through your heart on its way.

I’m feeling challenged this week because our dodgy water supply has reminded me that any bitterness, unforgiveness, cynicism or hatred in my heart will pollute the water that flows out me in my friendships, my relationships and ministry.  And if I don’t want to have these things in my heart slowly leaching toxic waste into the people around me then I need to do something about them.

All you amazing, extraordinary, wonderful fountains of living water reading this post, it’s time for us to get cleaned up  – there’s a world full of thirsty people out there and it’s time to get them a drink.

 

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it's time to forgive


not saying I don't have a right
to be angry
or wounded
or hurt

but to stop
draw a line
make a choice

and put down those rights at the foot of the cross
with my pain
and my sin 
and my shame

and then
to walk away

free