Tag Archives: grace

A lolly stick, three felt tip pens and a bouncy santa…

This is the pot of pens in my kitchen.  I expect you have one too.  About twice a year I go through it, make sure all the pencils are sharpened, throw away dried up felt tips and remove all the random objects that have collected at the bottom.  After about a week, it looks like this again.

The idea of the pen pot is that whenever someone sits down to do their homework, everything they need is already at their fingertips, and we don’t need to waste precious time searching for a pencil sharpener or a purple pencil or a protractor.

Of course, this is an impossible ideal, and often the pen pot contains everything except the item that someone absolutely can’t do without to finish their homework.  But I persevere, because I believe that while I never do achieve the organisational perfection I strain for, it’s better to have a few felt tips, some biros and a pencil with a bouncy santa on the end than nothing at all…

A while ago I asked my group of girl guides to bring in a quotation that they believed in.  It could be from anywhere and we had some wonderful contributions from a variety of authors from Maya Angelou to Winnie the Pooh.  Possibly my favourite though, was this:

“Not everything has to be perfect”

Pause with that for a while…

 

Not everything has to be perfect

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to do things well.  It just means sometimes it’s better to do something badly than not to do it at all.

Sometimes it’s great to give yourself the freedom to have a go at something and not be brilliant at it.  After all, most artists started with stick men, most concert pianists once struggled to make their left hand do as it was told and I imagine even the best poets have occasionally written something dreadful.  Creativity always carries the risk that whatever you’re making might turn out badly, that’s part of its joy.

Is God calling you to do something you’re worried aren’t all that brilliant at?

Is he asking you to take a risk and do something that it might take a lot of practice to do well?

Are you discounting yourself and your gifts and wondering why God doesn’t find someone ‘better’ to do the job?

Not everything has to be perfect.

pensIt turns out that it’s good to have an imperfect and slightly random collection of pens.  It’s not perfect, but it’s still good.

Just like you.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Sailboats and Rowboats

I’ll start with a confession…  I wasn’t going to post this week, I’m so tired that I was going to give myself some grace and not write anything, have a day off..

But then all day this thought that I read about in someone else’s blog* has been in my head, and it’s ministered to me so much and so deeply that I thought I’d share it with you, just in case you needed to hear it too…

“You are designed to be a sail boat, not a rowing boat”

I love this so much.  I love that all the power to do anything God asks me to do comes from him.  I love that I was never meant to serve him out of my own strength, out of my own effort.

My job is to put up the sail, his job is to provide the wind –  so simple, and so true.

No-one who has ever sailed a boat would want to row it across the lake instead.  No-one who has felt the exhilaration of catching the wind and feeling a boat suddenly accelerate across the water would prefer to slowly drag heavy oars.  It’s not that sailing is effortless, but it is less effort than rowing, and so much faster and so much more fun!

I know this.

And yet when I am tired, when life seems overwhelming, when everything is a bit too much – that’s when I start rowing.

True.

Honestly, how sad is it that I pronounce myself too tired to put up a sail and then pick up the oars?  That when I have no strength, that’s when I start trying to do things in my own strength? I’m smiling as I write this, partly because it is just that ridiculous and partly because I can hear the theme of what God has been saying to me for weeks echoing in the words.  I’m clearly a slow learner.

When you realise your hands are empty, when you come to the end of yourself – that’s a good place, that’s when he can begin.

So this is my new piece of advice to myself:

Whatever you do, don’t try to row.

Grab hold of whatever strength you have left, and use it – to walk into his presence and to put up your sail.

sailboat

And if you find there’s no wind today, no power to help you move forwards, don’t panic – it just means that today is a day to be still. To be still and know that you are you and God is God.

and that’s OK.

*This postcard was inspired by a great blog I follow written by theologian, teacher and asker-of-awkward-questions, Ian Paul… I painted the picture straight away and put it on the wall because I knew it was such an important bit of life to me –  you can read the original here.

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.

 

 

Rolled-up Walls

I have tents on the brain this week.  Next weekend I’m taking my Girl Guide unit camping for the first time, but not, thank heaven, in one of these!

This is the kind of tent that I used to camp in back when I was a guide.  It had two very sturdy wooden poles supporting a ridge pole and was made of a heavy green canvas that always smelled slightly damp.

In the picture God showed me this week, the tent was set for daytime, with its doors unlaced and tied back and its walls rolled up to let air circulate all the way through and blow away the dampness of the night.

I’ve been pondering and praying today about what God might be saying to me through this picture.  Perhaps you could tell me what it says to you, but this is where I’m up to:

In brick or block built house, all the strength is in the walls, the boundaries.  take them away and the floors and roof would fall, leaving no house…   In this tent, all the strength is in the centre, on two posts and the ridge, and in the main guys, which hold those poles in place.

Because in this kind of tent the walls play no part in holding the whole thing together, it’s possible to roll them up and store them out of the way.  So in the daytime it’s possible for people to crawl into the shelter of the roof from any direction, not just through the doorway.  The walls are just not as important as the poles.

I wonder if God is saying to us that some of us are treating our lives (and our churches) as though they were brick built houses, with all the weight being carried by the boundaries.  We fear that if we shift those boundaries, or roll them back to allow more people ‘in’, the whole thing will come tumbling down.  But in this picture all the weight is carried at the centre.  And as long as those weight-bearing poles are held in position, the walls are actually optional.

A lot of the Christian writing I’ve read lately seems to be more concerned with the walls than the poles.  Who can be ‘in’ and who not. I wonder if we all want to draw a ring around a group of people (with ourselves near the centre 🙂 ) and say “inside this line is OK, acceptable.  Outside, well, I’m afraid not.”   We want there to be walls – they make us feel safe, reassure us that we are ‘on the inside’.

And yet we also all know that none of us are ‘acceptable’, except through the sacrifice of Jesus. None of us earned the right to be on the inside by believing the right bit of doctrine or by toeing the right line.. Our position was (and is) beautiful, extravagant, undeserved.

I don’t know exactly where I’m heading with this one folks,  tough meat takes some simmering, and this might still be a little underdone in my head…

…but, I think the important thing must be to decide what bits of our doctrine, our rules for living, our limits of ‘acceptability’ are part of the ‘posts’ and which bits are ‘walls’.  What is really weight-bearingly important and what isn’t.

And then?

…Then we humbly lay down our need to be ‘right’ and roll up the walls in order to welcome more people in.

rolledupfeat

P.S.  Maybe this doesn’t mean anything to you at all.  Maybe you were most caught by the idea of the warm wind of the Spirit blowing away all the dampness of the night.  If that’s the case,  then maybe he’s just calling you to open up more of your edges to him. To let him blow through parts of yourself that you’ve kept closed off, and to know that it’s OK to roll-up the walls… the roof can stay up without them. x