Brownies

Yesterday I made chocolate brownies. They didn’t turn out as I expected.  This seems to be a recurring theme.

You may be surprised to learn that it’s not the first time brownies have caused consternation.  I read that when the famous cookery writer Delia Smith first tried to launch American Brownies on the unsuspecting British public her mailbag was full of letters from concerned would-be-bakers wondering why the brownies weren’t properly cooked.   Her website now notes ‘they are not cakes’, I guess in the hope that people will adjust their expectations and realise that squidgy and a bit damp can actually be a good thing in a baked item.

It’s not just baking.

Sometimes life: ministry, relationships, jobs, kids, health, security… just doesn’t turn out as we expected and planned.  Sometimes because of our mistakes, or someone else’s; often because we live in a broken world; and perhaps sometimes because, like the brownies, it was never supposed to be the way we imagined it.

It would be easy to live a life coloured by disappointment and recriminations over the things that are not as they might have been, either with God, with yourself or with others.

The truth is that more or less everyone I know is living a life that in some respect is different to how they had imagined it would be. Even those whose facebook profile might suggest otherwise are facing trials behind the scenes. Because life is, on the whole, neither fair nor easy. The rain falls.

However there is an alternative to disappointment, confusion and resentment.   There has to be, because those things will eat you up from the inside.  It’s this…

You eat the brownies.

As it happens, my brownies are actually a bit overcooked (new house, new oven).  I’m not saying they ‘d break your teeth, but they’d give it a good go.   Thing is, they still taste pretty good.. If you adjust your expectations and think ‘cookie’ then they’re sort of OK, the ones in the middle are edible at least.

This is hard to write friends, because I know many of you are facing situations so hard you can barely stand up.  I’m not saying that everything about life is good. Sometimes it really, really stinks.  Sometimes it’s so far away from what you’d hoped it would be that it makes you grieve in the depths of your soul for what might have been.

But God is good and sometimes there’s blessing hidden deep in amongst the difficult. Sometimes God has brought us this way on purpose, sometimes this is the way he is leading us out.  The one thing we know for sure is that he travels with us through it, whispering encouragement and ready to catch us if we stumble.

Mostly, we don’t get a lot of choice over which life we live.

Where we do have a choice though, is in how we face our unexpected lives,  and how we adjust our attitude towards them.  We can perhaps choose to step away from disappointment and blame and look for what is good and enjoy it.

Perhaps today we can acknowledge that our ‘brownies’ are not we expected, not what we asked for, or what we’d hoped for; but perhaps we can pull together the courage, take a breath, reach for God’s hand, and eat them.

I hope you will find, that in some unexpected way, they are good.

 

 

 

The monster under the bed

In the half-light of my smallest child’s bedroom, lit only by a glowing IKEA nightlight, almost anything can look like a monster.

The only cure is to call for monster-fighting Mummy, who comes wielding a mightiest of monster beating weapons: The light switch

One flick of the switch and the evil monster that lurks beneath the bed is shown up for the what he really is… A pile of tennis balls, a broken doll, that long lost trainer and an abandoned sweatshirt.

I felt just like this the other day when troubled by a decision I’d made, and desperately worried it was the wrong one. I went for coffee with a friend and poured out all my concerns, all the reasons behind my decision, and my fears for the future. Then God used my friend to shine some light on my situation, to reveal that things weren’t quite as I had understood them to be, that there was hope. She turned on the lights and the monster wasn’t quite the monster I had thought it was.

One of the prayers I’ve been taught to pray a lot is to ask God to shine his light into the situations I’m facing. This picture reminds me of just what a powerful prayer that can be. So often our ‘monsters’ turn out to be less unpleasant than we feared.

Of course, not everything is a pile of shoes… there are sometimes real live terrifying monsters lurking in our lives. But God’s light switch will always show them up to be smaller than they have become in your imagination.

More importantly, it will light up the strands that cannot be seen in the darkness, that powerful hope that is anchored in Jesus:
the monsters are temporary, but the love, peace and joy of his presence will be eternal.

Doppleganger prayer

Ever meet someone who strongly reminds you of someone else? I often see a girl walking around our neighbourhood who from a distance could be my eldest daughter. Same height and build, same long curly hair, same hipster glasses and same taste in clothes.

Seeing her again this week reminded me of a teaching on prayer that I heard in my twenties. It was simply that when you saw someone familiar or a car like the one they drive, and had that moment of ‘recognition’, you should pray for whoever you were reminded of.

Simple enough. And yet God has often used this powerfully in my prayer life. I have prayed for people when meeting their double, or even hearing ‘their voice’ on the radio, and found out, sometimes weeks later, that they had been in particular need at that time.

This postcard isn’t really to promote ‘Doppelgänger prayer’ as a particular method, although it is pretty cool, but mostly to say that God has so much to say to you and not only in the ways you’re already used to hearing him.

God will often speak in whatever language we’re listening in.

Of course, it is important to weigh up whatever you think you hear against the truth of his Word. But hearing starts with listening, and God speaks to his people in many wonderful creative ways.

I’m wondering what new ways of hearing God wants me to find and delight in this summer. I hope you find some too.

I have loved

 

I’ve never liked goodbyes.  When my daughter was little she would refuse even to say the word, as if by not acknowledging someone’s departure she could somehow prevent it from happening.  There are days when I wish I could work that kind of magic myself.

But goodbyes, and the grief that accompanies them, are a part of life that we can’t avoid.

This week we’ve said goodbye to yet more good friends.  People that we have loved, laughed and shared life with, and who are now off to start a new chapter in another part of the world. It happens, all the time. For some it’s a temporary farewell, because we know that one way or another, we will see them again. But we don’t know how many years that might take, and we will miss them.  They take a part of our hearts with them.

It hurts to say goodbye. And sometimes a little voice whispers that it would safer to love less; to not invest pieces of my heart in friendships with people who will inevitably leave;  that this sadness and sense of loss is my own fault and that perhaps I should have guarded my heart better.  And I certainly won’t cry, because that would be silly.

In some cultures people know how to grieve well.  I suspect that some of us have lost touch with that a bit.  We treat grief of all kinds like an illness, something mysterious that you need to get over as quickly as you can and avoid wherever possible.

And yet grief isn’t a malfunction. It’s not a sign that something is broken and need fixing.  It’s actually the reverse. It’s a sign that you have done what you were supposed to do, a medal of honour to say that you have loved.

CS Lewis wrote this: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”  Grief is a risk we take when we love.

I’m reminded of this from Ecclesiastes:

there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the sun
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot
a time to kill and a time to heal
a time to pull down and a time to build up
a time to weep and a time to laugh
a time for mourning and a time for dancing

 

This is how life is. Goodbyes and grief happen. There are seasons where weeping and mourning and perhaps even anger are the appropriate emotions to feel and to express.  But I love that this piece of poetry also sparkles with hope.  There will also be seasons of healing and building, laughing and dancing to come, at the right time.

So that’s the postcard of the moment.  When you’re mourning, for whatever reason, you may not want to do it loudly, but do it without shame.

Wear it as a medal of honour – I have loved.

medal

 

 

 

You go before me

I’m back, did you miss me?

Sorry I’ve been quiet lately.

Sometimes life can be like a stage in a car rally: racing through winding country roads much faster than is comfortable.   The driver clings to the wheel as twists and turns come up on the road ahead, swerving past, over and sometimes through obstacles. All at breakneck speed.

Some of the countryside is beautiful, but it mostly just streams past the windows while you try to focus on the bit of road in front of you and wonder what’s around the next corner.

 

As I painted this picture God spoke to me about three things:

1. Life isn’t a long, straight, easy highway all the way.

Not for anyone.

There are unexpected twists and turns, hazards and dead ends, and sometimes places where you have no idea which is the way ahead.  (There is also occasionally a patch of breathtaking scenery, which you might never have seen if you’d gone an easier way.)

My momentary struggles aren’t a punishment for something I did, or even, necessarily, a result of my bad choices.  They’re normal life.  Whatever Facebook might be telling you, no-one has it completely easy all the time.  It’s tough, but it helps to admit that, to realise that you or your family aren’t the odd ones out here.

2. I’m not in this race alone

Each driver in a rally has a co-driver who has studied the course and made notes about where the turns are.  All the way through the race the co-driver calls out that it’s time to turn to the left or right.  They’ve already worked out a route past any obstacles, seen where it’s necessary to brake hard and are aware of what’s coming up around the next corner, and the next one.

The driver would do well to listen carefully.

Jesus is the one who goes before me.  He’s the one who knows the route through the field of boulders, in and out of the winding lanes  or wherever else we end up.  In fact he’s the only one who can navigate us through it.

Of course, I do have to listen.  And when you’re stressed out and under pressure listening doesn’t always come easily.  But it does seem to be possible to choose it. I’m trying.

3. There’s a roll cage

Sometimes we try to reassure ourselves that God will make sure no bad things happen to us if only we follow him and have faith in him. Perhaps the reverse is actually true?  I wonder if a deeper faith lies in a place where bad things happen and yet still we follow him.  I’ve watched faith-filled people experience the worst and yet survive with their faith mostly in tact. God is also our roll cage.

It was only as I painted this picture from one I found online that I noticed the roll cage in the car.  The worst might happen, but the team can survive it.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Ready?

Are you ready?  This is an ancient trumpet used in Bible times to communicate urgent messages to the people. A blast on this was a call to attention, an urgent warning, a sign that something was about to happen.

I found a lot of references to trumpets in the Bible today.  From the trumpet sound that announced the arrival of the Lord in Exodus to the seven trumpets of Revelation. All of them saying:

Stop, look, listen, pay attention.  Whatever it is you were waiting for is happening now!

There’s something quite scary about the idea of an unexpected trumpet call announcing something big and imminent. Like an air-raid siren or smoke alarm going off, you have to react immediately, follow a plan you already made, be ready.

Reading Nehemiah especially it strikes me how much his fellow builders were ready.  With one hand they were building up the wall, and in the other hand they held a weapon.  They knew that the moment the trumpet sounded they needed to gather together and defend themselves.  To switch instantly from building to battle. No time even to swap one implement for the other.  They hadn’t stopped doing what they were called to do- but they were ready.

For Nehemiah’s men the trumpet was a warning – a message that you need to start fighting, right now.  In the other verse that caught my attention today the trumpet sound heralds good news- the best news- that Jesus is about to return:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:52

In either case, the blast of the trumpet is not saying ‘now’s the time to get ready’.  I suspect that if you wait to get ready until you hear the trumpet, it might already be too late.

I have no idea when that final trumpet call is going to sound, and no interest in predicting when it might.  But I know I want to be ready. And I know that until then we’re not supposed to stop and do nothing and just watch… That’s the job of the guy with the trumpet.  Our job is to be ready and to get on with the task we’ve been given at the same time.  And maybe to know what we’re going to do when the trumpet sounds.

But I wonder as well if there might be moments when God blows a trumpet in our individual lives or the lives of our church communities.  Each one saying ‘pay attention- the time is now’. Sometimes a warning, sometimes a herald, but every time vitally important that we hear and respond.

Are we ready to drop everything and listen up; to discern whether it’s time to enter into a new battle, or whether God is about to arrive in our lives in a new way?

 

 

 

Words and Pictures to help you hear from God

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