Tag Archive | Christian

Grief…

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I’ve talked about grief before. The grinding, end-of-world kind of grief that shatters lives. No promises are made to contrary – the one thing we can all know is that there will be pain,, hardship, suffering. The best we can hope for is that we might be spared it for long enough to reach our adult years unscathed…

But all too often, that’s not the way it goes; recently, I attended the funeral of a friend who had died suddenly while on a kite surfing holiday in Morocco. Apparently he’d just sat down on the beach at the end of a fabulous day of doing what he loved, had a massive heart attack and was found dead some time afterwards. The funeral was a heartbreaking exposure of the grief of his much loved wife and their three teenage children.

In the crematorium and at the reception afterwards, there was one word hanging over us all, often unspoken, but, none-the-less ever present… ‘why?’

Why do our loved ones get taken at what, so often, seems to be the peak of their life?

To the best of our knowledge, my friend was healthy and had everything to live for; he had been vibrant with energy and zest for living. He was loved and needed.

shutterstock_182053358Among his friends and family, the question ‘why?’ was followed by largely unspoken accusations against the capricious God who had stolen their loved one away without just cause or warning; others saw it as unwelcome proof of the absence of a god at all.

As a Christian, those that know me, and know my reliance on Jesus Christ, will at some point ask me all the questions and point some of the accusations that they are burdened with in my direction. I have no answers except this…

Along with all the much wiser people who have gone before me, I have no explanations for suffering and the brutalities of loss. All I know is that Jesus Christ never claimed, for one moment, that a life in His presence would be a life unburdened by hardship (John 16 v33), though He did promise to bring us comfort to help us bear it all (Matthew 11 v28).

And of one thing, I’m absolutely sure – I wouldn’t want to go through any of the pain that I see in my friend’s family – and that, at other times, I’ve experienced in my own – without Jesus by my side, bringing me comfort, lighting my way, and making my feet more secure on the craggy rocks of life.

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Meeting Aunt Rose

Rose was an ageing friend of the family who I never got to meet. Up until I was about ten years old, there would be presents from Rose, every Christmas, for my two sisters, my brother and myself. Nothing big, but dutifully chosen every year, reliable as rainfall. Until she died…IMG_1161 (3).JPG

I never saw a photograph of her, but I used to picture her with sensible old-lady-shoes and thin, knobbly ankles, in a printed cotton dress and a pink hand knitted cardigan. Don’t ask me why I imagined her like that, it’s just the way it was. I knew she existed, because I had to write a ’thank you’ letter to her every January – but that was where our relationship ended.

Distant, unknowable and would probably have liked more contact from me had it ever been offered.

And now, having regularly said that I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Christian, I realise that up until I was about fifteen years old, in spite of calling myself ’a Christian’, my relationship with God bore remarkable similarities to the one I had with Aunt Rose. I was pretty sure that he existed – with a fairly classic image – old man, long white hair and long white beard, blue ankle length gown, sandals and staff – a kind of Gandalf with a throne and lots of angels. .

GODI also had definite experiences of His presence in times of dire need; I had some comprehension as to the nature of faith, and I liked what I knew.

But, if I’m honest, I didn’t really ’get’ why Jesus had died, or that Jesus IS God, and what that meant to me. I found Good Friday thoroughly moving, without ever experiencing the joy of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday was about chocolate eggs.

What a muddle.

And if I hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as the saviour who gave His life for me, then how could I call myself a Christian?

But no one had ever told me that.

And don’t even go there with The Holy Spirit. I was an old fashioned Anglican and no one had ever even suggested that gifts of The Spirit were anything other than theoretical outside Pentecost and the book of Acts. Maybe I thought that He was something weird that happened up near the alter – probably involved incense – either way, I was certain He didn’t involve me.

But somewhere along the line, I got involved with other Christians from other churches, who talked about Jesus more often than at Christmas and Easter, and The Holy Spirit has got involved. At nineteen, I was told by some friends that it was time for me to baptised ’properly’, and was thus lovingly dunked, fully clothed into a bath in Oxford. Somewhere before that, I distinctly remember my first experience of praying in tongues. I discovered that without Jesus Christ, and without The Holy Spirit, a relationship with God can be uncomfortably theoretical. Uncomfortably close to ’religion’.

There’s been more over time. Rich years, lean years. People that I’ve loved and lost, all sorts of personal difficulties and life events; some ups – some downs. Times when God was so present as to seem physical, and other times when there has seemed to be an unbridgeable void keeping my prayers from being heard. Through some of those lean periods I had brief moments of feeling His presence, but more often, I just felt the loss of something that I knew I missed and longed to feel again.

Learning that there can permanently be something more has taken yet more time. I used to stand on the sidelines watching enviously as my friends seemed to bathe in His presence, wondering if they were being ’real’ in their joy. But now I’ve learned to pray every day to invite The Holy Spirit to fill me again. I stand amazed at how remarkably small my daily steps toward my Father can be, in order to feel the full richness of His joy and hope filling my every waking moment.

Strangely enough, my visual image of God has faded as time goes by, and any number of hunts through family albums have never turned up a photograph of Aunt Rose. But whereas, with the absence of regular Christmas presents, Rose has become more distant, and perhaps, less relevant over the passing years, my father God has become closer, and clear enough in my heart that it doesn’t matter what He looks like any more.

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Just next door around the world…

Just next door around the world…

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I’d like to introduce you to two of my children. Their names are Musa and Anahi and they are thirteen and eleven years old respectively.

Musa lives in Tanzania with his Grandmother who is a subsistence farmer; his mother died of HIV/AIDS when he was seven years old, we have never been told what happened to his father. Anahi lives in Bolivia with her mother and father and a baby brother. Anahi’s father manages to get occasional agricultural work. Both children have been identified within their communities as being in special need of support due to their circumstances of extreme poverty and vulnerability – they are now sponsored through Compassion. They are part of the hope to break their communities out from the cycle of poverty.

When we first signed up to support Musa and Anahi, I remember thinking “it’s not very expensive, it will just be a bit of money coming out of my bank account each month”; I clearly remember not being convinced I’d be very good at getting down to writing letters to them. I suspected that we’d be represented by some money arriving where it was needed each month and that our commitment probably wouldn’t exceed that. Little did I know how much I would treasure their letters and how much I’d want to know about these children and their lives. The letter writing turned out to be easy.

Musa’s performance at school fluctuates between average and good; we receive a report each year, telling us how well he does in maths, English, Kiswahili, social science, art, history and geography. He has, in the past, expressed a desire to become a teacher.

I haven’t seen a school report for Anahi, but occasionally I get letters from other members of her family as well as the letters we get from her, and they tell me she does well, especially enjoying literacy; she sends me drawings of herself holding my son Jamie’s hand.

It’s strange, in this communication age, not to have ever spoken to two children that I have known for nine years and have come to care about so much. It can feel strangely distant and, at times, frustrating as I struggle to get to know these two people, to give them the time and energy that they deserve, and to satisfy my longing to be closer. I keep every one of their letters, and I have all their photographs…

Musa always has his photograph taken on Christmas Day. He stands stiff to attention in second hand clothes that have just been bought for him with the Christmas money we have sent, and, luxury of luxuries, shoes. His clothes are always ridiculously large because they MUST last for at least a year, and on the floor at his feet are the other things that will have been purchased with any money left over – a ruck sack for his school books, some carrier bags containing sugar, rice or beans, a blanket and, one year, a much treasured sugary fizzy drink in a plastic bottle.

I have a series of photographs of Anahi in a rather pretty lemon dress with bows on the shoulders, I have no doubt that it was second hand; it has been the same ’best frock’ for the last few years, miles too big at first, just starting to fit now.

Without my paltry £25 per child a month, I know that Musa and Anahi would not be able to receive the education, healthcare, vocational support, social/emotional and spiritual care that they need; I know that there is a strong possibility that Musa would have been engaged in forced labour, and I shudder to think of Anahi’s future as a young woman with no education in a poverty stricken community; but the thing that spoke personally to me, was Musa’s ’thank you’ letter after we sent him money for his first Christmas present. He said he was really excited because his grandmother had promised that there would be enough left over for them to be able to buy both beans and  rice for their meal on Christmas Day.

So here they are, Musa loves to play football, Anahi loves to sing and play with her doll. Each of them brings a different dynamic to our family lives, but first of all they remind Kevin, Jamie and me, who have so absurdly much, what it is to have nothing.

This Saturday, 26th April, Out of the Ashes and the Beacon Gospel Choir are going to be performing in St Andrew’s Church, Churchdown in aid of  Compassion. If you can be there, we’d love to see you.

Tickets available on 01452 712154 or on the door. Doors open 7.30pm.

For further information about child sponsorship with Compassion UK please follow this link.

 

 

 

REBEL

REBEL

I know this…

It is by Grace that I am saved, that today I don’t need to feel guilty or condemned, no matter how frustrated I get with my own failings. I have received His free gift of righteousness through faith in the saving blood of Jesus Christ. And I know that no matter how hard I try, I can never deserve what My Lord has promised me, I will always fall short of His glory.

But…

Someone once said to me that every time we sin, we are hammering a nail into Christ as He suffers on the cross.

Now, my intentions are good. I really try to be obedient to God. But, I have to reflect that there’s a rather uncomfortable saying… the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I don’t pray enough; I almost never fast; I don’t study my Bible as much as I should.

And that’s barely the beginning of how I fall short. I am not as grateful as I should be; I am impatient; when I’m over-tired I’m horrible; unless well motivated, my sense of duty is sadly lacking; and whilst my mouth does occasionally say the right thing, it also rarely consults my brain before launching full tilt into something that, all too often, I’ll later regret.

And in Matthew 25:40 it says this: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Surely I have to assume that this applies in the negative as well as the positive?

And, bearing in mind how much He loves me, how much He gave up for me, and how perfect He is, how could I possibly not want to emulate Him? To do my best for Him?

I know that on those occasions when I’m not giving someone the time that they really need, those moments when I could have bitten my tongue rather than come out with the angry retort in times of stress, and at those times when I give less than my best, I’m hurting Christ most of all. And, whilst I’ll kick myself afterwards, just like Peter when he heard the cock crow for the third time, I just don’t seem to be able to learn. Sometimes, it feels like a little imp inside me who takes control and makes me let myself and my Lord down.

And I know that I need to take responsibility for my actions… I can blame the Tempter when I fail, but the truth is… it’s me who let’s me down… I’m still kicking against the traces, biting the hand that feeds me… there’s no escaping the cold fact… I’m still a rebel.

To get a free copy of our new single, Rebel, Click Here.

 

Hope in your backyard…

Hope in your backyard…

Sometimes it can be really hard to raise significant amounts of money for local causes; for two reasons, the first being that we don’t tend to be very good at seeing what’s in our back yard, and the second being that we struggle to believe that someone who lives just a few miles away from us can be any more needy than us. This problem is amplified when the cause in question is in Cheltenham in the UK, because everyone sees Cheltenham as being affluent. But it has pockets that are among the 10% most deprived in England; areas where the hardship is exacerbated by the fact that because of the area where those people live, they are assumed to be well off and therefore ’OK’.

Due to their social circumstances, some children in these areas can start life in a negative spiral. A child can start his or her school life vulnerable in one way or another, and as time passes it becomes harder and harder for them to fit in and enjoy learning. It can become increasingly difficult for many parents as they try to support their child and get through whatever problems may arise.

The Rock is a Christian initiative in Cheltenham that was set up to enable and re-engage children who, in one way or another have become stuck on the periphery of family, school or community life. Objectives are varied according to the needs of each child, or, indeed, in certain situations, the needs of a whole school; for example helping children find learning a positive experience, assertiveness without anger, social integration, dealing with bullying, and dealing with the inadequacies that lead to bullying. Where necessary, The Rock also provides an essential communication ’bridge’ between parents, pupils and schools – gradually, self sufficient communication becomes a reality.

Children are developed from being on the point of total exclusion to becoming an asset to the school and home community. Their futures are thereby saved. Lives are transformed.

Simple Christian love and values – young lives given hope and changed for the better.

In a weeks time (Saturday 29th March), Out of the Ashes and the Beacon Gospel Choir are going to be performing in St Matthews Church, Cheltenham in aid of The Rock. If you can be there, we’d love to see you.

Tickets are available from the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham on 01242 572573. Doors open 7:30pm.

Gentle Reminders

Gentle Reminders

The more we pray, the closer we get to God.

Christians, just like people of many faiths, are taught that if we want to enjoy a close relationship with God, then we need to spend time in his presence and this is something that can take more discipline than we perhaps have.

I am very tall, which can mean at times that I fall into the trap of so many tall people… I slouch. In the past, when I was much more self conscious, I used to slouch badly enough that I would cause myself back problems which would lead to frequent pain and regular migraines. An excellent osteopath sought to put me right… He got the knitted vertebrae right, and then like all good practitioners, he sought to get rid of the underlying behaviour that caused the problem. He told me to give myself triggers to remind me to stand up straight: When the doorbell rang, when I heard a telephone ring, whenever someone spoke to me.

I have come to see a lot of things as triggers to remind me to praise God… icicles forming on a tree on frosty winter mornings, crunching through fallen leaves in autumn, sunsets when the sky turns to a blaze of crimson and gold, wild deer that spend most of their time avoiding us and then astound us with a sacred moment as they stand still and silent and let us share a woodland glade. The world is full of the most incredible, lovingly conceived and skilfully created things to see, to touch, and to experience, right down to a phone call from a loved friend.

What if each of these treasures, each of these precious moments is a trigger to remind us to praise God, to remind us of his love for us and his desire for us to enjoy his creation.

How close to God would we become then?

What to keep and what to let go

What to keep and what to let go….

Letting Go

This year, rather than make promises to myself as the chimes started at twelve o’clock on New Year’s Eve, I prepared in advance. Nothing new, just part of my ongoing battle to get closer to God… I’m learning to let go, to give in to His plan, His benevolence, His will.

If you look in any of the drawers or cupboards around the house where my husband and I live with our son, Jamie, you would find an astonishing number of them contain stuff that ’might become useful one day’. I am a hoarder… clothes, padded envelopes, rubber bands, outgrown toys, old business cards, defunct mobile phones. I just looked what was in our kitchen drawer and I have to say, the list was comprehensive, and all tied up with unraveled string.

But I would venture to suggest that the physical stuff that I cling onto is probably as nothing when compared to the mental, emotional and spiritual mill stone that I drag around behind me. I’m not quite sure why we collect it all up, what it is in our psyche that feels the need to hold tight, that makes us afraid to make room in our hearts, spirits and minds for new possibilities, new opportunities, new relationships and most importantly for God to be able to work in our lives… but hold onto it, we do.

Even when I realise that handing it all over to God would be a positive step, the act of doing so evades me. Hurts, failed relationships, resentments for long past injustices. And most pointless of all, I hold on tightly to the very things I’m trying to get God’s help with… I really should know better. When we ask God to intervene in our lives, He does actually need real freedom to act.

Perhaps I should tell you how I came to be able to sing.

When I was sixteen I started going regularly to church with a school friend. It was my first real experience of a ’live’ church and I loved it.

One night we were travelling home after the service and I realised that the others were discussing a rehearsal for a band. I asked what they were talking about and was told that they were planning to start a band playing Christian music.

Well, I couldn’t play an instrument and I’d always been told I couldn’t sing, but, nonetheless I felt I could have a go at backing vocals. I muscled my way in, and as a result I felt I had achieved a level of cool that I’d never hoped to see in my whole life.

Until the first rehearsal. When my lack of talent became abundantly clear to all of us… worst of all, to me.

The rest of the band – bless them – were clearly in an uncomfortable dilemma. Should they get rid of me and lose the dreadful noise in the back row? Or should they give me a tambourine, take away the microphone and reduce my impact on the sound as much as possible, thereby never actually having the embarrassment of sacking me? Looking back, I feel for them.

I remember how I felt, and I promise you, it was painful. I knew what I had to do… I needed to admit my shortcomings and leave the band graciously; but that would mean admitting to all my school friends the truth about my lack of ability… Oh boy! I’d just achieved some small level of cool and I was about to lose it again?

I was desperate.

I prayed, asking God to help me; I prayed for courage, humility, honesty. Everything I didn’t have and knew I needed. I realised that my only way through this maze was to hand it over to God completely. To let go.

I spent the ensuing week praying. I didn’t sing once. I was delighted to realise that God would have other, equally exciting plans for me.

The next rehearsal found me sitting and watching the band practice without feeling the need to take part myself. Thank you God. I felt completely in His hands, completely in His will. Peaceful.

As the end of the rehearsal arrived, it seemed that the leader of the band suddenly became aware of my presence. There were only a few of us left in the room and he took the opportunity to hear some of the songs I’d been writing. “Come on Pen” he said, “let’s hear what you’ve been up to”.

I sang through a couple of ditties I’d put together. He looked at me quizzically. “Sing this” he said, giving me one of the songs the band had been working on. And then “sing this”, and then again “how about this one”.

There was no other way of looking at it. My voice had changed so much as to be beyond recognition. God, given my complete submission to His will, had given me not only what I had asked for…

He had given me the very desire of my heart.

It’s something I’m working on… nothing new. Part of my ongoing battle to get closer to God… I’m learning to let go, to give in to His plan, His benevolence, His will.

One day, with His help, I’ll do it.