Pass the Parcel

Is commercialism and consumerism leading us down the wrong aisle? When my local supermarket opened after Christmas Day, Easter had replaced Christmas on the shelves. Decorations were down and chocolate egg displays were up, and I got the feeling that that I’d missed a few months!

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Maybe for some, it’s a relief that ‘Christmas is over’, especially if it hasn’t turned out quite as planned, or if it brings back difficult memories. But maybe too, there are things worth salvaging from under the wrappings.
Truth is, I don’t always find it an easy time of year, but it’s good to know that it’s never too late to unwrap Christmas! The gift in the manger is a gift ‘for life, not just for Christmas’, and it’s the ‘gift that keeps on giving’.

What is this gift then, that calls to be unwrapped? I believe it’s the promise that ‘God on earth has come to stay’. The gift in the manger has the name tag ‘Immanuel’ – God with us. But like a game of Pass the Parcel, there are lots of different layers to unwrap and surprises to find within the layers, even if the outer wrapping seems unpromising. Little signs that God is with us in all the ups and downs of life:
Like the sky the other morning, with an eye-catching contrail that spoke to me of promise.

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Like a hug from someone at just the right moment.

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Like the words of a song that suddenly speak volumes.

…Bring the grace & healing, that only you can give me
for the promise isn’t over, you are here today… (Matt Hooper et al.)

Apparently, the top selling toy at Christmas, was a something called L.O.L. Surprise – a collectable doll with accessories that are revealed layer by layer. Clever marketing created hype – and a mass of children learning the hard way that ‘all that glitters is not gold’.
Thankfully for us in our daily lives, the good news is that God never fails to deliver. All it takes is our openness and a willingness to unwrap…

Truth is… ‘The promise isn’t over, You are here today’ (Song: Matt Cooper et al.)

 

How smart?

Last weekend, in the snow, my daughter and her partner climbed the highest mountain in Southern Britain. Among other things she’s a graphic designer, so her smart phone often captures images that become starting points for creative projects. This time however, it was not to be – it was so cold at the summit, her phone became unresponsive.
Back home and thawed out by the fire, her phone came back to life and she told me all about her trek, even if there were no pictures!

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It got me thinking – do ‘chilly’ life experiences sometimes cause us to shut down? And in a frozen state do we miss moments of grace?
Truth is, I’ve received a letter this week that sent an icy shiver down my spine. It outlined a recommendation for pre-emptive surgery. Initially I felt shocked and fearful, but keeping close to God in my thoughts, I can now read blessings between the lines. It could prevent the development of cancer.

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Reflecting on this, it seems that the important thing is to keep close to God. The picture that comes to mind is of placing myself in God’s ‘inner pocket’, close to the heart and where there is space for all of us.  There it is warm, and there is good reception.

It strikes me that there are parallels between us being in God’s inner pocket, and smart phones being in our inner pockets. Smart phones aren’t really that smart, when it comes to functioning in the cold! Their lithium batteries drain faster than normal, and screens can crack, especially if there is a flaw in the glass.

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Both problems can be eased by keeping them in close proximity to us.

I believe that freezing and cracking is a fairly accurate picture of what happens to us, when we keep ourselves at arm’s breadth from God.
In contrast, if we keep close to God’s heart, and absorb the warmth of God’s love and enabling, we will function much better when ‘cold winds’ rip through our lives, or ‘snow’ changes our familiar landmarks.
Safe and close to God, our provider will not let us down. Now that’s smart!

Truth is…  God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

White out!

My room has been transformed overnight!
No, it hasn’t had a surprise makeover, it’s been changed by the quality of light coming in through the window. Heavy snow has fallen here in Wales and I woke to a thick white blanket covering everything in sight.

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Outside everything looks different, and the light coming in, gives the room a different feel.

It reminds me of a television programme of a few years back. Called ‘The Home Show’, the architect George Clarke transformed houses into homes fit for purpose. ‘What’s the big deal in that’, you may be wondering…
Well, for starters it required the owners to put their complete trust in GC as a skilled designer. Secondly, he began every project by spraying the interior white, to enable a fresh perspective. It really was a white out!

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I get the feeling that in a similar way, God is asking me if I’m up for change. As a believer, I’ve definitely applied for an inner makeover, but how ready am I to consistently put my life in God’s hands?
Making positive changes is an ongoing process. I’ve been a follower of God for nearly 50 years, but truth is, there’s plenty of potential for further development!
We are called to trust God as our creator, designer, and project manager. God has a plan for each of us, but we need to follow it through by aligning ourselves.

As well as being called to trust in God, I’m also being called to let God do a ‘white out’!
GC white-washed the interior of every house so that all the irritating features were obliterated. The old had gone, the new had come. Only then, was new colour given to each room.
In the same way, the fresh start that God offers us is liberating. No longer do we need to be darkened by our shortcomings. If we are willing to put them behind us, we will be enabled to move on. God offers to white out our darkness, so that a fresh perspective leads to change, just like the interior of those houses undergoing a makeover.

The saying goes ‘Home is where the heart is’. We will feel increasingly at home in our hearts, when we take up the master plan – just like ‘my’ blackbird knows the best place to be!

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Truth is… ‘Remove my sin, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snowPsalm 51:7

It’s a personal matter!

‘Tis the season for personalisation. My inbox and letterbox are full of offers to print the name of my partner / children / cat / dog on a potential Christmas gift, or even on something for self. Take this morning – I opened my emails to be faced with this question: Do you want your own personalised mug, for free – YES or NO?

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Truth is, for a split second, it seemed an attractive idea. My tea mug is showing signs of age, but then priorities kicked in…
How do I like to start my day? – With a moment to align myself with God, not by getting diverted with the offer a free mug!
As I recognised this, I sensed an alternative offer from God:
Do you want your own time with me, for free – YES or NO?

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God calls each one of us by name. “Come to me” God says, “and I will give you rest.”
Not an empty aimless rest, but rest from all the unimportant, unnecessary things and thoughts in our lives.
Aligning ourselves with God, allowing God into our chaotic, messy minds and lives, gives us a fresh perspective. It prioritises what really matters, and what’s got our ‘name’ on it. For we are all called to be our true selves, making our unique mark on the people and places where we live out our lives.

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This call is tailor made, unlike the offers to personalise goods which aren’t actually very personal –  I don’t have a dog or cat, so offering me food dishes with their name, misses the mark. Not only that, I don’t think it would be possible for a dog or cat to read ‘Fido’ or ‘Fluffy’ on their personalised bowl!
In contrast, God gifts us and calls us to put our particular attributes and abilities to good use. We will never be called to do the impossible. The challenging – yes, sometimes – but to learn is to become more fully ourselves.

To be called by name catches our attention, just like the attention of a young child is caught when their name is written into a story. It’s personal…

Truth is… “I have called you by name” Isaiah 43:1

It’s all in a name!

I’ve just had a bad dream in which I was the mother of not 3 children, but 8…
‘What’s so bad about that?’ you may ask. Nothing – apart from the fact that I didn’t know the names of my 5 ‘new’ children, and no one would tell me!
In the clear light of day, the dream has been a source of humour – jokingly I asked offspring ‘X’ what the name of ‘Y’ is, and the answer came “Well I could tell you, but that would be telling! I can however, name some of their qualities. They’re kind, caring, loving, generous, gentle, good humoured, witty, intelligent, wise, keen to help others…”

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Parents-to-be talk at length about what their baby is to be called.
There are books of names outlining their meanings, so that one can be chosen to hopefully fit the new arrival.
Or maybe the chosen name is that of a much-loved relative, with the hope that the new family member might reflect similar personality traits.

Our name is so important. It gives us identity, and yet we are far more than a name.
Nature and nurture shape us into who we are, and I believe, the nudges of God too.
One of the ways I feel that God nudges me, is to be an encourager.
The other day I made a posy for someone, and their response was to exclaim my name – “That’s so J…, thank you!”

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Being true to our name is about being true to our call.
When God nudges, we are called from the crowd to do something that’s got our name on it. A meaningful and fulfilled life is about being ‘in the right place at the right time’ – not a place of our own making, but a place where we are aligned with God’s deepest hopes for us.

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With the ups and downs of life though, do we sometimes forget who we really are, and what we’re called to be?
Truth is, in times of waiting, I sometimes wonder if God has forgotten me. Do you too, wonder if God has forgotten you?
The good news is that this is not the case. We are known deeply to God – our very name is etched into God’s being. So no more bad dreams!

Truth is… “I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands” Isaiah 49:16

Crunch time!

This year autumn has been different. Here in Wales it’s been unusually dry and I’m told the fallen leaves have been very crunchy! I’m deaf, so I don’t pick up sounds like that, but I do know how crispy it’s felt under foot.

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Deciduous trees drop their leaves in response to falling light levels and colder temperatures.
If you like long words, it’s a process called abscission! This ‘natural detachment of parts of a plant, typically dead leaves and ripe fruit’ is necessary for fruitful subsequent seasons, and it’s got me thinking…

What needs detaching in my life, so that energy can then be channelled into producing new shoots and fruit?
Truth is, comparisons – I need to drop comparing myself to other people.
We are all unique, we all have different attributes and abilities, and to use the tree analogy, it’s pointless trying to produce pears, if you are in fact an apple tree!
Not only that, we all thrive when we grow in our own spot and don’t cast shadows on one another.

It’s been said:

“Be a 1st rate version of yourself,
not a 2nd rate version of anyone else”

When I came across those words of Judy Garland, it reminded me that comparisons are insidious.
They damage us by making us feel inferior or superior, and damage others by our resulting attitudes. Envy, or disdain, is life sapping.

So how do we move from the shadows cast by comparisons and other negative outlooks?
Maybe there is a further parallel to be found in the process by which trees drop their leaves:
At its base, each stalk has a row of weaker cells on top of stronger cells, and it’s the swelling of the latter that causes the leaf to fall. Likewise, if we let God’s strength swell in our lives, there will be displacement at our weak points and we will shed what we’re better without.
It’s a process, and change is gradual. But in God’s light, we will be a like a tree silhouetted against a bright sky, our true shape revealed.

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And rooted in truth and love, we will put out new shoots and bear fruit.
I think it’s crunch time for me, how about you?

Truth is… We will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse… Each of us is an original’ Galatians 5:12

If the shoes fit

Recently someone was sharing with me, their uncertainty about what to do.

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It had taken this person some time to work out what was making them unsettled, and now they were looking at the different pieces that made up their life and working out what to do next. Was it time to make a sweeping change that would alter their situation in so many ways, or to change different aspects one at a time?
As I listened to their story, it sounded like a positive opportunity was being offered to them, but they were anxious that it might not turn out right.

There are of course, no hard and fast rules, and that’s why we can sometimes feel uncertain.
Life can be a bit like baking a cake. Sometimes the combination of ingredients calls for an ‘all in one method’ where you just tip everything in, give it a good mix, and bake. Other times, the content calls for light handling and a gentle folding in of ingredients, one by one, before cooking and turning out.

However, the person who was talking with me isn’t into baking, so a different analogy was needed. What came to mind was shoes!
It seemed like a box of ‘shoes’ was in front of them. These were exactly the right size, and in a style and colour they liked. So their choice was whether to take them out the box and put them on. Left in the box they wouldn’t be going anywhere, but put on, they could step out…
I was so glad when they later told me they were ‘wearing’ them!

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Throughout life we all need new ‘shoes’. Outgrown shoes can pinch and constrain; worn out shoes are past their best.
Truth is, I’ve sometimes been reluctant to go up a ‘size’, or replace ‘old for new’. But there’s a line in the film Forrest Gump that reminds me to check my ‘shoes’:

“Momma always says there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going. Where they’ve been.”

May we put our best foot forward by getting in the right mindset…

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Truth is… ‘In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths’ Proverbs 3:6

Half empty or half full?

In the last seven days life has been full of choices – to see my glass as half empty or half full.

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Truth is, a culmination of various events put me in a ‘what next’ frame of mind.
These included my daughter being pushed off the road by an oncoming driver which resulted in her car being a write off!
A blocked sewer!
An officious letter informing me I was in breach of the law regarding parking access!
A 25% burn to my hand!
And then the same daughter being attacked while driving my car, resulting in considerable damage to it!

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It seemed as though my glass was clearly half empty, but then I realised that this was only half the story.
What about the fact that the police were so professional?
That the water board came out at night and got things flowing again?
That an admin error was recognised regarding access rights, so I’m not unlawful?
That in the UK we have ready access to medical services?
That strangers stopped to help my daughter?
So many things that make, as the psalmist says, ‘my cup overflow’.

Once I started to tell myself the whole story and noticed the fine details, my perspective changed. There was more going on than initially appeared, and that’s what gives my life true shape.
I believe that nothing can separate us from the presence of God, and so, in the words of a song, there are ‘10,000 reasons for our hearts to sing’. It’s not about being superficial and pretending that all is sweetness and light, but about going deeper.
In the words of Albert Camus:

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy.
For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me,
within me, there’s something stronger
– something better, pushing right back.”

All this has prompted me to fill in the gaps, and ‘colour in’ the black and white sketch of life that I was making. Standing back, I can now see a more complete, colourful picture. Just like the rainbow that brightened up the sky this week too…

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Truth is… O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing!’ Psalm 103:2

Drop it!

I’ve said before that I’m not a winter person, but I’m having second thoughts…
To say that I dislike a quarter of the year is rather negative. Not only that, dreading winter makes me ambivalent about autumn, so I probably miss out on the full nature of another quarter!

So this year I’m choosing a different response. Instead of wishing that trees would stay green and summer continue, I’m noticing autumnal colours in a positive light. Rather than taking a ‘traffic light’ approach and willing the trees to stay green rather than turn to amber and red, I am actually welcoming the changing colours and enjoying the many shades of orange and crimson. Just like traffic lights cause me to stop, so autumn hues are giving me pause for thought.

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It’s good to be reminded that nature is all about cycles. Each season is necessary for the next.
It reminds me too, that there are cycles and seasons in our lives because, truth is, I’ve sometimes resisted ‘letting go’.

Trees don’t hold on to leaves that have served their purpose. They drop in response to changing conditions and are sometimes stripped by strong winds. But this isn’t the end of the story. In time new buds emerge and new leaves unfurl.
So what do I need to shed? What will inhibit growth if I don’t drop it?

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For me, it’s not possessions but outlooks that sometimes weigh me down. For various reasons I often need to think ahead and forward plan, but it can be my downfall if I’m later inflexible. It’s not a question of being right or wrong, it’s about being collaborative and companionable along the way. As the saying goes:

“If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together”

So I’m making a deliberate effort to be mindful of my attitudes, and drop anything that has a whiff of decay about it, like ‘I told you so’, impatience, or wishing it was a different ‘season’ in my life. For having a ‘grass is greener on the other side’ outlook can make me blind to what’s right under my nose!

Truth is… There’s a right time for everything… a right time to hold on and another to let go’ Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6

Pay attention!

This week I nearly killed a Red Kite.

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(Overseas readers – this is a large bird of prey and a protected species.)
But before you report me for coming close to breaking the law, I should add that this definitely wasn’t on my ‘to do’ list on Tuesday!
I was in fact, driving along a main road when a Red Kite swooped down immediately ahead of me.

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With nothing behind, my instant reaction was to brake hard, and the slowing of the car gave the Kite a split-second opportunity to change direction and soar up and over.
Fast response prevented a collision, but there were other factors too that contributed to relief all round.
I was driving in a speed restricted area so I was travelling at 40 rather than 60 mph; my deafness makes me visually highly aware; I have quick reactions.

All this got me thinking – how do I ‘travel though life’?
At a ‘speed appropriate to current conditions’, with ‘due care and attention’, and responding in a ‘timely manner’?
Truth is, not always.
Sometimes my ‘to do’ list drives me forward without stopping to check out priorities. I’ve therefore had some timely reminders this week:

Just as a speed limit increases the chance of drivers responding in time to pedestrians (and Red Kites!) so too are there benefits from slowing down as we travel through life.
It gives us the chance to notice what’s going on around us, and become aware of who we need to ‘look out for’ – in all senses.

Just as an accident was averted because I was travelling with my eyes on the road, so too is it good to keep focused on what really matters in life.
It can be easy to lose sight of our core values and true goals. Fear, anxiety, impatience, doubt, and superficial desires can blinker our vision. But if we pause, and like a hovering bird get an overview, we can realign and respond to the currents around us.

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So this week, I’m very relieved not to be a killer!
May I remember to pay attention…

Truth is… ‘Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts’ Proverbs 3:24