Category Archives: Living the Life

Love is…

Have you ever seen a murmuration?  Beautiful… surprising… mesmerising.

Just before dusk, in places where starlings roost, they take to the sky together, flying in unison to create extraordinary, dynamic, swirling patterns in the sky.  Sometimes thousands of birds all fly together in close formation and the resulting dance is breathtaking.

It’s frankly amazing that these birds don’t just fly into each other.  Their synchronisation is astounding.  And the patterns are always different, so it’s not rehearsed.  It must simply be that as well as lightning fast reactions, starlings are incredibly good at responding to each others movement and direction.

In fact the science suggests that each bird is acutely aware of and responds almost instantly to the seven birds closest to it in the flock and through them is connected to the entire community, so that the whole flock is able to respond to any perceived danger as one.

The western world is pretty individualistic.  There is definitely more kudos attached to going it alone and ploughing your own furrow than there is to walking in step with others.  So this part of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is, for us, somewhat counter-cultural –

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:1-4

I wonder if we have anything to learn from the starlings.  It’s supposedly impossible to have strong friendship with more than 150 people, and we really need to have an even smaller group of people that we relate to closely, but perhaps, like the starlings we can gain unity through connecting together in different combinations, and by choosing to make and maintain friendship across generational, church and other ‘boundaries’

But for the murmuration to work each starling has to not just be aware of, but also willing to respond to those around it.

Today there’s been a little flurry of “Love is…” cartoons on my social media-   You know, those one-liner comic strips that were so popular through the seventies and eighties.  Well,  while I was giggling at those, I thought of the line that Paul put in the centre  (and perhaps the pinnacle) of his great treatise on love in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is… not self-seeking.

This is the key to making community of all kinds, but perhaps especially in church life? Love chooses to lay aside conceit, ambition and my own rights and  looks to the needs of others, not because we’re weak, but because togetherness makes us strong.

 

So, Happy Valentine’s day – May you be able to love and serve those the Lord has put you near to with the love he has abundantly poured out over you. And together may we be a captivating witness to the world.

 

 

 

 

Reflections

I’m searching for stillness.

There was a rare day of sunshine yesterday, so I went for walk in my local park.  As I wandered aimlessly along the riverbank, enjoying the frosty air and the slanted winter light, I suddenly found my heart caught up in the beauty of this sight –  sun and trees reflected almost perfectly in the still water.

A moment later and the wind had nipped at the surface, stirring the water into ripples and eddies which wiped the reflection away.  But joy had already captured my heart and I stood watching until my toes froze in my muddy boots, hoping to see it again.

Even the fast-flowing, muddy waters of the Derwent, when caught in a brief moment of stillness, can open a window onto heaven.

I’m aware that, in a way, this is us.  Made in his image and following Jesus, we reflect a tiny bit of God’s glory, or his likeness, into the world.  The light and the glory aren’t ours of course, both come only from Him, but, at our very best, we reflect that light and glory out into our lives, punching a hole in the veil between earth and heaven so that his kingdom comes..

And when we do there may be those passing by who are so arrested by the sight, so captivated by his beauty that they become desperate to see it again.

Our world so needs to have the God’s beauty reflected into it:  Light, joy, grace, redemption, forgiveness, love, peace, hope.

‘And yet’, the Spirit seems to be whispering, ‘to reflect the very best image the water needs to be perfectly still’.

Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10

So that’s why I’m hunting for stillness.

Because I find a longing has awoken: a longing to be a reflector of that captivating beauty of God; a longing to be a window through which people see Jesus; a longing to see Heaven itself leaking through into the world. And I’m wondering if a bit more stillness in my life might be the key.

So I know it’s a battle to carve out the time to say to ourselves ‘be still’, but I’m convinced it will be worth it.  I’m going to take some time today, just a few minutes, to remember who God is, to draw on the deep well, to lean back into his strength.  Perhaps you could join me, so that through your stillness you can become a reflector of light, love, grace and beauty into the world.

Peace be with you.

 

There aren’t many answers on the back of this postcard – but in times of turmoil, i’ve found this helps – Our lovely choir leader taught us to capture a moment of stillness by taking a minute to breathe this prayer:

Taking a deep breath in for two counts you say to yourself, ‘Be still,’  then hold it for the next two thinking ‘and know’ then slowly breathe out for four – ‘that I am God.’  Try it.

 

2019-02-07 12.39.41

If you enjoyed this post – you might like my book Postcards of hope available here.   Ellie

Candyfloss

I once stood with my daughter for 20 minutes by the side of a candyfloss stall.  not because she wanted more of the stuff, but because she was fascinated by the way it seemed to grow out of nowhere, collecting round and round the stick until it there was a huge pink cloud of softness.

I was captivated too, because it reminded me somehow of the anxiety I had been experiencing.  Something smallish: an upcoming event; something someone said; a decision I had to make or a journey I had to make;  would somehow collect streamers of anxiety like these threads of cotton candy.  And even though each thread was fragile, together they grew and grew into a great cloud of panic that was way beyond my ability to carry it.

As my children have grown, I’ve had less and less of this suddenly ballooning, crippling anxiety in my life, but I’ve sometimes had to watch them battle it in theirs; and this picture suddenly came back to me when my youngest was describing some of the things she was worried about to me.

Then a week or so ago I was sitting in a worship time at a conference and I had this sudden urge to paint clouds and clouds of pink candyfloss, and as I was painting I felt God ask me to think about what happens if you hold a stick of it out in the rain.

It melts.

Yes.  That huge cloud of smothery, billowy softness gently melts away in the presence of water, leaving only the stick behind.

So the message that goes with this postcard is simply this.  If this sounds familiar to you, don’t hold that cloud of sugary anxiety under your coat.  Don’t cover it up and keep it hidden.  Bring it out into the rain of God’s presence, surrender it to him, and watch it melt away.

Of course, you’ll still have the stick in your hand. You’ll have to look to him for courage to deal with it- and that might be pretty hard – but it will be so much better than living with the cloud.

 

 

Which way now?

On Tuesday I went to Belper.

I moved country in July, so I’m still living in mostly unfamiliar territory and finding my way to new places can be interesting.  My mental map of Derbyshire is a bit dodgy – just little patches of knowledge connected by long spindly lines, with acres of uncertainty on either side.

But Belper is easy.  Straight up a charming road called the A6, through a couple of small towns with rather lovely countryside, always heading straight on, and then when you get to a roundabout – you’re there.

On the way back I didn’t even switch the SatNav on.

So it was a bit of a shock when the road ahead was closed. A burst water main had flooded the unfortunate village of Milford and the one road home I knew was completely blocked.

I did the only thing I could – turned round and drove back the way I’d come, looking for somewhere to pull in and turn on the SatNav.

But, as it turns out, I didn’t need to.  There was a signpost to a village that sounded familiar – I’d been there once before and I was fairly sure it was close to a route back to the city – And indeed, after driving miles in the ‘wrong’ direction, following signs to Kilburn, I found a different (faster) road home.

Another ordinary tale of my life.  But the reason it caught my attention was that I’d spent the morning talking with a new friend about kids and books and church and Jesus, but also about how we deal with ‘roadblocks’ in our lives.  You know-  when you’ve got a plan, and it all seems obvious how things are going to work out, and then something entirely unexpected blocks the road ahead.  When you knew exactly what you were going to do; what was going to happen and how everything was going to pan out, but then you hit a ‘Road Ahead Closed’.

When this kind of thing happens, I almost always sit there thinking a number of unhelpful things:  “this isn’t fair”… “I don’t know what to do next”…”I must have heard God wrong”… “this doesn’t happen to other people”… and feeling confused, panicky, and maybe a little bit cross with God for not following the plan.

Sometimes it is the right thing to just wait until God unblocks the road.

But often, there’s a different route to our destination. One that for some reason which may never be clear, he wants us to take.   So it may be that a better response to being in this situation is to say, “I still believe in what you said; which way do you want to take me instead?”

Yesterday I could have switched on the SatNav and trustingly followed her instructions –  “At the roundabout, take the third left”.  Sometimes that’s how God leads us – step by step, us trusting him to reveal his plan as we travel together.

And sometimes that still small voice reminds us that he has already given us an answer, that somehow he has already prepared us to face this situation and with a little help from a few signs, we’re already equipped to find our way.

 

 

 

Wise men and Pearls

Epiphany  əˈpifənē/:  a sudden and great revelation, insight or realisation.

On Sunday, many of us celebrated Epiphany,  remembering the revelation of God to a small group of learned men: astrologers or interpreters of signs, somewhere in ‘the East’.

Whatever those men it discovered in the skies so intrigued them,  that it led them to make a long and probably arduous journey across difficult country. A journey that culminated in the home of a very ordinary family –  worshipping at the cradle of a uniquely extraordinary infant.  I wonder if they really had any idea of who they had found?

Interestingly, it’s possible that they followed a similar route to Abraham, who also travelled from the East in search of the answer to a promise God had revealed to him.  Abraham had found the promised land, but the magi found God himself.

These stories of a revelation so captivating that it draws the one who sees it into a passionate search reminds me of one of my favourite Bible stories:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 13: 45-46 NKJV

The merchant had his own moment of sudden and great realisation:  the knowledge that there was a pearl so beautiful that every other that he had ever seen paled in comparison.  And it led him into an uncompromising pursuit, giving up everything he had previously valued in order too have it that one pearl.

 

In all these cases that what fuelled and fired the pursuit was a revelation that there was something of inestimable value to be found or gained.  A sudden understanding that it is was worth searching, worth travelling out of your way, worth paying the fare, worth persevering, worth letting go of everything else to find it.

Epiphany: a lightbulb moment – a hearing from God moment – a moment when the world snapped into different perspective,  motivating merchant, patriarch and magi to leave all that was familiar behind and set off in search of something wonderful.

I wonder how many people you know who could do with a moment like that?

It’s Epiphany month – a great time to ask God for ‘sudden and great realisation and revelation’ in the lives of people you love, in the lives of your work colleagues and friends and even in the lives of people you don’t really know.

It’s a time to ask for God to reveal himself and to draw people into a journey towards the promise he has for them.  It’s a time to ask him to dangle the pearl of great price that is the kingdom of heaven in front of their noses so that a unquenchable yearning for more breaks open in their hearts. That they become so captivated that nothing else will do.

And I wonder if, while we’re there, we should ask that he does that for us too.

 

 

Emmanuel

A couple of years ago, at the start of the long summer holidays my eldest daughter asked me if I’d help her dye her hair purple.  I agreed on two conditions – one, that she bought gloves so that I didn’t get purple hands and two, that (because her school requires that hair look ‘natural’) the box had the words ‘temporary colour’ on it somewhere.

Hair colour boxes lie.

The purple, while beautiful, was much more permanent than expected.  Term started and in spite of numerous washes,  her hair was still a defiant, glorious, royal purple.

Some things are just much more permanent than expected, and at this time of year I’m reminding myself that Emmanuel – God with us –  is one of them.

You see, in Wilko’s (our local everything store), Christmas tinsel has already given way to cleaning and storage products and any day now there’ll be eggs where the chocolate Santas have been and little net bags of bunnies instead of chocolate coins. In the city centre shops twinkly lights are replaced with cheery red sale stickers and although technically we still have at least two of the twelve days of Christmas left to sing about, Michael Bublé and Mariah Carey have already retreated to wherever they hide until after Bonfire Night.

The guests are gone, the puzzle is done, there are only caramel bites (shudder) left in the family tub of Roses.  It was great, but it’s over for another year.

Christmas is temporary.

But Emmanuel isn’t.

He came… and he stayed.

At first in a body, and then by his spirit, Jesus stayed.

It’s good to remind ourselves as we face the anticlimax of January, that although the season of celebration is over, the person we were celebrating is still with us.  We can pack away the nativity scene, but Emmanuel stays.  He is with us for good.

So while the world is telling me it’s time to move on, to stop the party and get back to work.  I’m remembering that this glorious invasion of royalty and colour and light into a dull dark world is real, and permanent.  God with us, not just in December, but in January and February and in every minute of every hour of every day for the whole of the year and the next.

May this year be one of God breaking through in unexpected places and unexpected times. May it be a year where each of us experiences the truth of God-walking-with-us

Emmanuel.

 

 

Happy New Year – Hill walking

I’m quite partial to a long slow walk in the countryside, especially if it’s between tearooms. And I particularly love walking (very slowly) up hills.  My favourite bit though, is that part where you find somewhere sheltered-ish to sit in,  get out a flask of tea and a sandwich and just rest for a while and look.

Looking should be savoured. In my opinion it’s better than the actual walking… I like to look back and congratulate myself, remember the pain and the exhilaration;  look at where I am now, enjoy the view;  and look ahead to where I’d like to get to, when I feel like I’ve got the energy to get up and move again.

The first few days of a new year are an excellent time for looking.

It’s good to look back at where you’ve been.  To remember that flower-scented stretch where every step was a joy; to see the slope that seemed a particularly hard climb; even to remember with a wince the part where you slipped and fell into the thorns and yet somehow got up and carried on.  To see how faith, hope, grace and prayer have carried you through the good and the bad.

I’m sure that, like me, if you look back at the journey of 2018 there will have been a mixture of terrain: joy, challenges, pain, change, surprises, hope, disappointment and people who came and walked beside you in it all,

It’s worth taking some time to reflect, to look.

As you look, invite Jesus to sit next to you. Ask him to show you where he was, how he helped, how he felt as he walked beside you on that climb. Joys and struggles, triumph and disaster.  Ask him to show you what you did well, what you learned, how you’ve grown.

And while you’re resting with Jesus at the beginning of 2019, take a quick look through your backpack for any rocks you might have managed to pick up and carry with you this year. Lumps of unforgiveness especially have the ability to slow you down. It will really help to get rid of them now and not carry them through into the next year!

Then you’re ready to look forward. The view back is always clearer than the one in front, and although we make plans, it’s much harder to see the road ahead.  There are things we expect, hope for, plan for, are anxious about, are resolved to do differently next year,  but it’s not always easy to plot the route between them.

Remember as you’re looking at the road ahead to invite Jesus to sit beside you again.  His perspective is invaluable.  While you’re there, ask God for a word or picture that says something about what he wants you to learn or be in 2019.

So if you can, take some time in the next few days to look:

Look back,

look in your backpack,

look ahead.

and then, if you’re brave enough, look up…

… look into Jesus’ eyes and say “I’m actually not very sure where I’m going, or how I’ll get there, but I trust you to lead the way”.