Freedom…

There’s been a fly buzzing around a windowpane in my room.

fly

It expended much energy and effort in relentlessly flying in circles, until my guiding hand re-routed it to the adjacent open window – and freedom.

Truth is, I’m sometimes a bit like that fly. Aren’t we all in one way or another?
When we feel trapped by circumstances or become entrenched by negative thought patterns, we can end up in ever decreasing circles. But if we took a moment to pause and consider possibilities, we might discover alternatives or recognise the need for radical acceptance.

Mindfulness and radical acceptance are concepts I learnt from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy. Although Reinhold Niebuhr penned these words before the inception of DBT, they epitomise ‘radical acceptance’:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

We all have a choice as to how we respond to life’s ups and downs.
The ‘trapped’ fly reminds me to use my energy wisely, and focus on the possible rather than the impossible. If we are to ‘know the difference’, we need to be mindful and notice what is really going on. It means being honest with ourselves, and spotting all the hidden agendas we carry. Yet how often are we ‘mind-full’ and distracted by our own self-centred priorities, assumptions, fears and anxieties.

I believe that God offers us all freedom in Christ. Like my hand gently guided the fly towards the open window and freedom, so too does God encourage us to move from darkness to light.

The_open_window_(6028681236)

We are easily deceived by what promises to fill our emptiness. We can be addicted to so many things – obvious vices like food, alcohol, drugs, selfies or pornography, but there are less obvious addictions too, like an unquenchable thirst for acceptance, approval, affirmation and affection. At one level, many of these urges are basic human needs, but they need to be met in a balanced way.
For over three decades, a prayer from the Iona Community has been shaping my faith:

God, you promised us nothing by way of success, recognition, possessions, or reward. ‘These things will come at the right time, when you walk with me’, you said.

Truth is… The truth shall set you free. John 8:28

What to wear…

‘What to wear’ is a topical question. With increasing concern about exploitation of both people and planet, questions are rightly being asked about the true cost of cheap fashion, and at this time of year, questions are being raised again about the pressures resulting from school ‘proms’, both financial and personal.

What we wear is something we can have strong feelings about from a very early age.
50 years on, I still remember the discomfort of having to wear a bright pink jacket. As a ‘shrinking violet’ it made me feel uncomfortably conspicuous. What was worse, it was bought for me with ‘growing room’, so as a slow growing child it blighted me for a long time!

Truth is, my desire to be inconspicuous came from a deep-seated lack of confidence. Decades later, an intuitive nun gave me an anonymous poem called Life’s Lessons from a Butterfly:

Let go of the past

Trust the future

Embrace change

Come out of the cocoon

Unfurl your wings

Dare to get off the ground

Ride the breezes

Savour the flowers

Put on your brightest colours

Let your beauty show

Putting on our brightest colours has nothing to do with buying fast fashion, or being the belle of the ball. It is about becoming our true selves and living life to the full, rather than being constrained by self-doubt, fear, guilt, anger or self-pity.

yuichi-kageyama-4ByFHyNdoD4-unsplash

There are many threads running through the Bible about clothing, and followers of Jesus are urged to clothe themselves in right attitudes. There’s a particularly eye-catching passage in the Bible, which the Message paraphrases:

…dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline… (Colossians 3:12)

That’s a wonderful wardrobe to wear, and as a believer, I trust God’s choices for me.
God knows how we measure up, and will not offer us, clothing that is ill-fitting, unsuitable, or inappropriate. So let’s step into what’s being held out to us…

Truth is… Regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (Colossians 3:14)

‘One day…’ or ‘Day One’

‘New Year, new you!’ is synonymous with January. A new and improved version of ourselves will apparently be ours if we buy this or sign up for that.

A new year with a new beginning is very attractive. Rather like newly fallen snow covers grime, New Year resolutions are sometimes seen as a way of obliterating imperfections. So we promise ourselves we won’t do this or that anymore. But all too often, a few hours or days or weeks later, our grimy side resurfaces like familiar landmarks emerge from thawing snow.
Truth is, my track record of keeping New Year resolutions is poor. So this year before making any, I’ve been thinking about why I’ve failed on so many occasions, and what needs to be different.

Resolutions are sometimes likened to activating a reset button.

download (2)

But we are human beings, not machines.
We cannot ‘reset’ ourselves because our present is influenced by our past. We can’t delete our pain at the touch of a button, nor can we wipe sadness away in a simple stroke. But we do have a choice in how we respond to our life experiences – we can become better people with authentic empathy and wisdom, or we can become caustic and bitter.
So resolutions aren’t magic buttons that delete our past, but they can set us on positive paths – nudging us to change the things we can, while accepting the things we can’t alter.

Being realistic is probably the key to success. Frequently, resolutions are big and bold and while there’s nothing wrong in having high hopes, a goal without a realistic plan is just a wish.

pexels-photo-634694

Wishful thinking is having a ‘One day…’ attitude and less likely to lead to fulfilled hopes than a ‘Day One’ approach.
If we make today ‘Day One’ and take one small step to our bigger goal, then it will be a good start to Day Two, and so on.

As well as being realistic in the goals we set, we need to recognise that we will have days when we fall short. How many resolutions are ditched at the first hitch – we do what we said we wouldn’t, or don’t do what we said we would, and so we give up and probably feel guilty. It’s at this point, that as a believer I remember that fresh starts are God’s specialism. An Anglican prayer of confession sums it up in the words:

‘Forgive what we have been,
help us to amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be’

God is sometimes perceived as the author of ‘thou shalt nots’, but actually I believe that ‘thou shalt’ is more God’s line. Our negative attitudes and actions are far more effectively resolved when they are displaced by positives. In the same way, New Year resolutions are more effective when they add something into our pattern of life rather than remove something from it.
Happy New year!

Truth is… Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new is come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 

Now in a minute

‘Now in a minute’ is a Welsh phrase.
A typical scenario: Parent calls “Food’s on the table” … Child replies “I’ll be there now in a minute”.
– It means something will happen, but maybe not immediately!
We’re probably all familiar with being kept waiting. We may have had to wait for someone to do something, or something to happen, for moments, minutes, months, or more…

amount-of-time-clock-countdown-278231

But before we think that we’re always the one who is kept waiting, it might be worth asking ourselves whether any of our habits or assumptions keep others waiting. Perhaps it’s time to take a fresh look at a situation and do things differently. Or maybe it’s time to step back from a role so that someone else can step forward.

And then there’s the question ‘are we keeping ourselves waiting?’  Truth is, I sometimes keep myself waiting through self-doubt and lack of confidence. Perfectionism is the author of procrastination, and it can write many repetitive chapters unless we remove the pen from its grip. If we wait until we feel completely ready to do something, we may miss the boat.
I know I have let opportunities pass me by because of fear of failure, so more recently I’ve been quicker to say yes to possibilities. ‘What ifs’ can be restrictive anchors that tether us, and we will only discover our potential if we cut them and set sail.
Or maybe we wait for conditions to feel just right. Sometimes this is wise, but being overcautious and choosing to stay in the apparent safety of the harbour, prevents us from discovering the skills and thrills that come from sailing the sea of life.

sailing-2542901_960_720

The Spirit of God is likened to the wind. Like the wind, it can only be seen in the effect it has – we need to raise our sails, and let the wind fill us and move us forward. That way we will follow the direction of our deep hopes, which I believe are nudges from God.
So I remind myself to respond to God ‘now’, rather than ‘now in a minute’!

Truth is… ‘Don’t stare at the clouds, get on with your life’ Ecclesiastes 11:4

Duty or desire…

My Assistance Dog Marshall has been with me for six months, and we now know one another well! He and I have a strong bond, rooted in mutual trust. I trust him to be my Hearing Dog; he trusts me to care for him and keep him safe.
The key to our strong relationship is that it’s reciprocal. I love Marshall for simply ‘being’ himself, and this love precedes anything he ‘does’ for me. Meanwhile Marshall flourishes in my affection and is eager to please.

IMG_20181026_162130

I think all this has parallels with our relationship with God. There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we do that makes God love us less. God simply loves us for who we are. We are after all, called human ‘beings’ rather than human ‘doings’. God must long for us to know ourselves loved, as this frees us to love in response, with any sense of duty being replaced by desire. Genuine love makes life better all round.

heart-1043245_960_720

At the beginning of our partnership, Marshall was dutiful. He was simply acting out his training, alerting me to sounds, or waiting beside me for my next command. But now he has got to know me and realises I have his best interests at heart, he’s no longer acting out of duty, he’s responding out of a desire to do his best.

Duty or desire…

Truth is, I’ve known what it is to be dutiful. As a convent schoolgirl, I was taught to be ‘good for God’ otherwise vengeance would follow. Fast forward a few decades, and I now believe in a God who builds us up, not one who beats us down. I only have to look at Marshall to see that it’s no good controlling him through fear. A threat might work in the short-term, but long term our relationship would be damaged. He would mistrust me and be fearful.
So we needn’t be slaves to fear and duty, we are called instead to receive God’s love and desire will follow.

Truth is… ‘So then, you are no longer a slave’ Galatians 4:7

Wait and see…

Sometimes there’s more to something than meets the eye. Like the tomato and cucumber plants my daughter gave me in June. We knew it was a little late in the season to be growing on, but ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’, and so they had house room in a sunny position for a few weeks before I moved them outside.

IMG_6722

While the cucumber soon established itself and quickly produced fruit…

IMG_6927

…the tomato plant looked unconvincing. So much so, that in August I nearly consigned it to the compost heap – it had finally come into flower, but the weather seemed to be on the turn and with not much between my garden and a Welsh mountain, I doubted if the fruit would have time to mature before summer’s end. My son however, persuaded me to wait and he was right – we are finally eating tomatoes!

IMG_7034

Sometimes it’s a good choice to wait and see. Truth is, I like things sorted, but life isn’t always black and white. The grey areas in-between can hold possibilities – potential that can go unrealised if we dismiss things too quickly, or at a particularly low moment, or when we feel drained.

Recently I felt like stepping out of an energy sapping situation but realised there were uncertainties that were preventing me from making a clear decision, so I’ve chosen to wait. Waiting isn’t necessarily a passive state. Sometimes there are actions we can take to optimise positive outcomes. A bit like giving the tomato plant a final chance – removing fruitless stems, placing it in good light, and keeping it watered but not water logged.
I believe that if we choose to engage with God, we too will find ourselves in clearer light with our true needs met. It will call us to look honestly at ourselves, and our situations, and make informed, balanced decisions.
Discernment is a process. I don’t believe in a God who waves a magic wand, but in a presence that wills the best all round. What flourishes and what appears to fail, is part of this, so I wait and see…

Truth is… “Watch for the new thing I am going to do…” (Isaiah 43:19)

Marvellous…

Marshall, my assistance Hearing Dog, needs daily ‘out-of-uniform’ walks when he can run free and play with his canine friends. One of our favourite places for this is in the ‘Groves’, a beautiful beech wood that’s a stone’s throw from where we live.

IMG_6589

It has numerous tracks that weave around the contours. In summer it’s mainly dry underfoot, but in winter the Welsh climate makes it squelchy! To make the paths that lead into town more accessible during inclement weather, some of the paths have been topped with crushed rock, including one which has a very steep gradient.
Recently I remarked to my adult son who was walking with me, “It must have been very hard work to make this path, just imagine moving all that aggregate up the incline”. He stopped, and with a bemused expression, replied, “But they would have worked their way down, not up!”
Clearly, I had missed the obvious. I always walk up the steep path (I use a different route going down) and therefore assumed the trail-blazers had likewise worked from the bottom up.
We burst out laughing, but truth is, sometimes my assumptions blind me to alternatives.
So I’ve been reminded to be more flexible in my thinking.

One of my favourite films is ‘Marvellous’. It’s the true story of Neil Baldwin who refused to accept the label of learning disabilities, and instead has had an extraordinary life as a registered clown, university welfare officer and football kitman.

two_neils_zpskmbeszuiNeil Baldwin, and actor Toby Jones who plays him in the film ‘Marvellous’

Whereas some people have tried to limit him with their narrow assumptions, Neil has broadened many people’s outlooks with his wide assumptions. If he wanted to do something, he did it, and astounded people with his results.
He wanted to be a clown, and so he joined a circus.
He wanted to welcome students at Keele University, and so he became a familiar figure over the years, with an honorary degree being awarded in recognition of his contribution to student welfare.
He wanted to work at Stoke City Football Club, and so he became Kitman, with the Manager famously saying it was the best signing he’d ever made.

We all have had, and have, difficulties in life, and these can lead us to feel we’re  pushing a load up an incline. But Neil offers us an alternative view. “I always wanted to be happy, and so I decided to be.” That’s not to say that he, and we, won’t experience setbacks, but as he says: “when bad things happen, I remember something good.”

Truth is… Unlike the culture around you, dragging you down, God brings the best out of you. Romans 12:2

Stumbling blocks or stepping stones…

I tend to stumble and my last tumble necessitated hospital treatment. I hobbled in but walked out with almost a spring in my step, thanks to an air-splint. ‘What a clever invention’ I thought, and proceeded to bash on regardless! But it turned out this wasn’t such a good idea, as it slowed healing and recovery.

As I reflected on my tendency to ‘keep on keeping on’, I realised that there are times when this isn’t the best move. Life has cycles and seasons, and so do we. After a time of activity or demand, we will probably need a slower time when we recover and regain strength. Sometimes though, I think I can over-ride the need to stop.
I know I’m not alone in this. There are many who find it hard to take a break – only this week a friend emailed along the lines of ‘why do I have to reach my limit to feel I have a right to sit and relax?!’

Armchair_(PSF)_SVG_format.svg

It’s a good question to ask ourselves when we find ourselves going around in endless circles of activity.
Sometimes our activity is a natural consequence of where we are in the life-cycle. If we have children, they rightly require our care and commitment; if we are employed, we will have agreed to a contact. Such activity is par for the course.
But other times our unceasing activity is unnecessary and ultimately harmful. It can distract us from paying attention and working through uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, or it can perpetuate poor self-worth with the feeling that we don’t deserve a break.

I believe that God has called each one of us to life, and so we are intrinsically full of worth. Some of our life experiences may tell us otherwise and we may find ourselves driven to prove ourselves, but we need to reconnect with God who delights in each of us.
Truth is, deep hurts mean I struggle with this, but I do believe in a God who offers a way forward. It takes honesty though, and that’s why it’s important to pause at times, and open ourselves to the love of God that shines light on the matter. Then our stumbling blocks will become stepping stones…

2452409149_a94b6ed0a9_b (1)

Truth is… ‘I make all things new, beginning with you, and starting from today’ (Song: John L Bell, Iona Community)

Ready, steady, go…

Sports Day, and children lined up waiting for the teacher to start the race with the words “Ready, steady, go”. Sometimes there are ‘false starts’ with someone overstepping the mark, and they have to be called back into line.

5063531_a955497d

– I remember that scene from my own school-days, and truth is, as an adult I sometimes find myself running ahead in life.
Fear is like a starting pistol. Something fires off, and I find myself propelled into the future with thoughts like ‘What if…?’ ‘Then what…?’ ‘How will I… ?’ ‘How will they…?’ And running ahead in my mind, I stumble.

2154830-607d8b

I haven’t got the answers, because the answers aren’t yet in sight – they are round the next bend on the track, and clearly in God’s sight. I believe that God has the answers, but we won’t see them until the time is right – simply because we wouldn’t understand. This is a thread that runs through the Bible:

God – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”
(Isaiah 55:8)

St Paul – “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror…what I know now is only partial”
(1 Corinthians 13:12)

So where are we on the track of life?
Are we in the right lane, or do we need to realign ourselves? Are we ready and steady, with God as a firm foundation?  Are we set to go, trusting God to enable us?

At times when I find myself making a false start (fuelled by fear) or overstepping the mark (propelled by panic), I find it helpful to remember that at school I was a competent cross-country runner. I had stamina. It came from commitment, perseverance, and wanting to do my best. All these qualities are transferable to daily life and faith in God.

It requires trust though. Trust that God knows what’s going on in our lives, and can weave our circumstances into a bigger picture, where different strands of different stories come together in ways we cannot imagine.
I’m grateful to a friend who reminded me of this recently:

Truth is…. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life. (Philippians 4:7)

If the shoes fit…

As a child I loved imaginative play, including playing ‘shoe shops’ where I would gather every pair of shoes in the house and try them on for size. My brother’s rubber soled shoes were my favourite, because they were what the ‘Famous Five’ wore on their adventures. With my footsteps silenced by rubber, I felt I was there alongside my hero(ine) ‘George’!

five-have-a-wonderful-time

I didn’t take to my mother’s high heels though, and 50 years on, I sometimes catch myself wearing mis-fitting ‘shoes’. Truth is, I tend to be over responsible, so I sometimes step into shoes that aren’t really mine to wear.

The shoe analogy is quite fitting! Too big or too small, too high or too low, shoes can cause a myriad of problems. They can pinch, rub and distort. They can cause us to roll over, stumble and fall. But a well-fitting pair is a different experience altogether, and I believe this is what God holds out to each one of us. As Jesus said:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. (Matthew 11: 38-39)

So in our daily lives, finding ‘shoes’ that fit, is important.
The odd blister now and then is to be expected, and just like shoes can require ‘breaking in’, we may need to give ourselves time to become comfortable in a new situation.
Seeing how we measure up is a useful guide. If we are having to shoe horn ourselves into an overly narrow fit, or if the shoes we’ve put on are a loose fit, it may be that we need to consider alternatives.

My granddaughter has just learnt to walk, so she’ll soon have her feet measured for her first pair of shoes.

lavendla-begravningsbyra-barn-pa-begravning-300x200

Care will be taken to make sure they fit well, but include a little bit of growing room. As she gradually fills her new shoes, she’ll be re-measured and re-fitted.
I could do well to apply the same criteria to the ‘shoes’ I consider wearing – how about you?

Truth is… Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
(Matthew 11:38-40)