Read the instructions…

We’ve had our current vacuum cleaner for seven years, but I’ve only just discovered that it has not one, but two filters that need regular rinsing under the tap to unclog them.
When we bought it, it was mainly used and maintained by one of our offspring whose weekly contribution to housekeeping, was to vacuum the home.
Having flown the nest, maintenance is now my job, and it was only because I thought that I should check I was doing the right thing, that I looked at the instructions and discovered the second filter! A filter, which if not regularly cleaned, puts the motor in danger of over-heating and damage.
All this has prompted a note to self: read the instructions!

Actually, the same principle can be applied to life. Instructions are guidelines for ensuring best possible outcomes, whether it’s a recipe for melt-in-your-mouth cookies, or assembling flat-pack furniture.
Likewise, faith can guide us through life. As a believer, the Bible gives me some pointers along the way:

Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already – you can see it now… (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Do for others what you want them to do for you… (Matthew 7:12)

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord… Plans to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

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We all have some attributes that come naturally to us, and others that take a determined effort. For example, I find it fairly easy to be supportive of others – I don’t need a lot of instruction, but being flexible is another matter.
Truth is, I have to make a conscious effort to change direction when a situation prompts. Only last week my plans had to change, but once I went with the flow, there was an opportunity to use my skills in an unexpected way.

Although I’m not a sailor, I guess it’s like adjusting sails to catch the prevailing wind.

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For me, this ‘Wind’ is God’s Spirit, and although I don’t always catch it, the good news for you and me, is that it keeps blowing our way.

Truth is God’s spirit made me; the Almighty’s breath enlivens me. (Job 33:12)

 

How’s it going?

There’s something special about new beginnings.
I remember how I enjoyed starting a new notebook in school – all those empty lines waiting to be filled with carefully penned words!
Or newly fallen snow like a blank canvas – lots of opportunity to be creative!
Or making New Year resolutions…

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…an appealing idea, but truth is, I never had much success in keeping these!
My solution was to use my January birthday as an opportunity for another fresh start, but this too was short lived.  ‘How’s it going?’ wasn’t a thought that had a pleasing answer – unrealistic goals coupled with a perfectionist streak equalled disappointment…

With age, and finding faith, I take a different approach. Rather than making New Year resolutions, I choose a ‘word for the year’ and look for daily opportunities to put it into practice. Last year’s word was ‘trust’ (there were plenty of opportunities!) and this year’s word is ‘grow’. It’s about aligning myself with God’s hopes for me, so that I become ever more fully the person I’ve been made to be.

Like a plant that grows in the direction of the light, our growth is dependent on being out of the shadows.

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But I sometimes choose to remain in the dark. Self-doubt shrivels me; wrong priorities misshape me; fear of failure stunts me.

Thank heavens then, for a God with endless fresh starts for each of us.
We cannot live in the past, nor in the future. We can only live in the present moment, and like a present, it needs unwrapping. What have we been handed?  A little blessing to appreciate; a chance to make a small difference to someone’s day; an opportunity to face the fear and just do it!
Some days we will do better than others, but the call is to

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As a believer, I trust in a God who doesn’t give up on us, and so a sense of God asking ‘How’s it going?’ is an invitation to be truly honest. It’s an invitation to let go and let God; to do our best and let God do the rest…

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

Smitten by mittens…

My ten-month-old granddaughter has very busy hands and enjoys exploring her ever expanding world by touching everything within grasp!
The various toddler groups she goes to, are all a long walk away, so she needs a hat, coat and mittens to keep warm in her pushchair. She is however, out of alignment with her Mum on this matter – time and time again she pulls off her mittens and despite Mum’s best efforts, eventually ends up cold and miserable.

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Sometimes I’m a bit like my granddaughter – I do things that aren’t conducive to my wellbeing – despite God nudging me to make a better choice.  As the saying goes ‘old habits die hard…’
Many years ago, I needed to lose weight, but by the time I reached a healthy point, my mind had been hijacked by an unhealthy urge to keep losing. It had nothing to do with body image and everything to do with hidden depression.
Although I now appear to be reasonably recovered, truth is, deep within old thought patterns die hard.

This week though, the story of the mittens is helping me move on from habits that are way past their ‘best before’ date. I want to live life to the full, and to do this, I need to be fully nourished. So rather than appeasing any urge to eat in an unbalanced way, I’m being mindful of the truth contained in the words (attributed to various people including Einstein and Ford)

If you always do what you always did
you’ll always get what you always got

I guess that we are all addicted to something in our lives. We can probably all find a word that completes the sentence ‘My name is … and I’m an …’
But we are more than our addiction to alcohol, pornography, gambling, drugs, food, social media, perfection or whatever our vice is. As a believer, I’m smitten by the truths brought together by Desmond Tutu:

Goodness is stronger than evil.
Love is stronger than hate.
Light is stronger than darkness.
Life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours through Him who loved us.

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May I keep on these ‘mittens’ of truth, and grow into my true self…

Truth is… “Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come2 Corinthians 5:17

Surprised by joy!

I was pleasantly surprised the other day, when someone close, described me as ‘joyful’.
Truth is, life doesn’t always feel full of joy. It’s often full of the unexpected, like my partner having unstable health, and various other challenging circumstances (which have prevented blogging recently). So it was lovely to know that despite all this, joy seeps out!
Feelings are not necessarily the same as facts. I may feel overwhelmed at times, but deeper facts tell me a different story. As Mother Teresa said:

“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much” 

I find a refreshing humour and hope in this.

So what is joy? I believe it’s what bubbles up from a deep connection with God, and there’s something special when this flows over into other people’s lives – for both the receiver and the giver.

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Joy is different to happiness.
Happiness is a feeling, and feelings are generated by circumstances. They’re changeable, just like the sea. Sometimes the sea of life is calm, and all is sunshine and light.
Other times it’s dark and stormy. We are tossed about, and happiness can be swept overboard before we know it!

Joy though, is deeper. Its source is God, and rises from the depths.
However much positive thinking I do, I cannot make myself truly joyful – deep joy comes when I plunge the depths and am honest with God. It gives me the sense that there is more to life than meets the eye. It gives me a different, lighter perspective, and nudges me onwards and upwards.
It’s there for everyone. We just need to dip our toe in – in all our messiness and hurt and uncertainty. When we allow ourselves to be surrounded by God’s current of love, joy will seep into our inner selves and swell our hearts. It will make a difference to us, and those around us.

There’s a family joke that my epitaph will be ‘She was a maker and a mender’. Spot on, but to be thought of as ‘joyful’, is even better!

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Truth is… “[may] my joy be in you and your joy be made full” John 15:11

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