Category Archives: Joseph

Dangers, Toils and Snares

The children have been taking a keen interest in road signs, since I have been occasionally allowing them to sit in the front of the car. According to Joe, these signs really are quite clear:

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no blue paint allowed,

nowhitepaintno white paint allowed.

For this and many other reasons I am not allowing him driving privileges just yet. He sees signs, but he cannot interpret them correctly. He knows there are dangers but he usually trusts me to get him from A to B. That is, as long as he can have Radio 1 or One Direction playing. And hot air blowing in his face. And his feet resting on the glove box. And lots of questions about levers, buttons and how many minutes until something happens. And a host of opinions only a parent can listen to. When that parent is in the mood for listening.

Clearly his passenger seat privileges are not automatic. But I learn a lot about him while he is showing a keen interest in engines, driving and making sense of his world.

Lily is another story. Lily is well aware of dangers, real and imagined and cannot believe she will ever be brave enough to take responsibility for a vehicle. She has decided she never wants to use a gear stick. She reads signs and understands the words. If she sees any of these, she is keen to make sure that I have too:

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But she is a very interesting passenger for other reasons. Sitting next to me with the road ahead of both of us, she opens up more about aspects of her life, thinking and dreams. I learn a lot about her while she is showing a keen interest in facts, ideas and making sense of her world.

All this driving around with the children, their interests and the dangers they are and aren’t aware of resonates with my thinking on Grace right now.

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;

‘Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home.

This mad journey through depression, anxiety and everyday parenting is littered with signs of every description. Books, music, advice, jokes, stories, blogs, sermons, events, friendships. Some are clearly in my best interests, guiding me or slowing me down. Others are harder to interpret – perhaps I don’t have the tools right now – and I cannot navigate alone. I have a wonderful set of friends, counsellors and family working with me through these spots, and God’s Grace is clearly carrying me through even the darkest miles. There are clearly dangers – visible and invisible. Toils – hard work, sacrifices and tough decisions to make. Snares – temporary and habitual. Blood, sweat and tears. The world, the flesh and the devil. So many signs. Sensory overload at times – frequently, in fact.

The experience of learning deep trust for our relocation is strangely healing. It is necessary to focus on one thing at a time. The stress levels do rise at times – this week alone there have been hard decisions to make, and there will be more. But the journey is progressing and the companionship of God and his utter faithfulness and love is readily apparent because we are on the journey. Sitting in the passenger seat I can talk about my passions and fears with God and allow his Grace to carry me, help me make sense of my world and navigate me on routes I do not recognise. He’s brought me safe thus far. Against all the odds. I know he will bring me safely home.

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Scripturient…

scripturient…Possessing a violent desire to write.

There are a number of passions or desires in my heart at present. For example:

  • selling our house at the right time, for the right price;
  • buying the house that fulfils all we need it to and plenty of what we’d like it to;
  • finding a great job for my husband as we relocate and that the timings will mean we aren’t stuck for a mortgage;
  • getting a school place for Joseph for September, preferably in the village we move to;
  • getting a school place for Lily, preferably at the same school;
  • packing, decisions, legal aspects, finances;
  • this huge trust adventure, which makes all of the above seem utterly possible, in part because there is no way we can engineer it well ourselves.

Over and above all of this is my passion for relating more closely to God and the beat of his heart. He has given me a truly wonderful partner in Matthew – someone I look up to, treasure and want to support in all his great work. He has given the two of us two remarkable little ones: beautiful, sassy, creative, funny and intelligent kids who brim with vitality and have taught us all we know about how little we know.

The beat of God’s heart has taken me to serve in places abroad in the past, and back to home pastures too. It has brought me through pain to hope, over and over again. It has surprised me, made me laugh, broken my heart for the needy and hurting and given me strength when all strength seemed spent.

The beat goes on, and in this season the rhythm reminds me of my passion for written communication. For unlocking and expressing beautiful truths and making sense of things others would love to understand. The cycle of grace I wrote about in November has taken me into a place of creativity and a blossoming of ideas which I want to unpack. I will have to learn how to unpack these gifts well, so the process won’t be immediate. But I cannot ignore it. I am so excited.

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Video

Father I place into Your Hands

Today I discovered that I could not apply for the school places for Joseph out of county quite as readily as we had hoped. We cannot apply through Cambridgeshire if we do not live there, or have two applications open. We can apply to out of county schools through the Suffolk application website, but only if they list them. All three we preferred were not on the (extensive) list of primaries.

And having made two (count them…. two!) phone calls to numbers beginning with ‘your call is important to us’, I emailed Suffolk for advice.

It wasn’t simple: we need to apply online as we are away on the results day and may need to action Lily’s school place or house move details immediately, or make decisions about the second round applications. We are trusting that God is calling us to a specific area. We have already visited some schools and have plans to view more of the area this week. And the deadline is in 8 days.

I got an out-of-office reply stating that Suffolk were away and might take ten working days (count them… ten!) to reply. This could indeed affect our chances.

We’d already stepped out of the boat in faith. We’d already taken risks. There’s no Janus look-both-ways option here. If you try and run back to the boat you won’t stay up.

So I called on my friends, and my friends reminded me to call on Jesus. His Grace continues to cover me and carry me Outrageously. He lifts me, dries me, laughs. And 60 seconds before I’m supposed to be at school (count them… 60!) the phone rings. Withheld number. Might it be Tony, our regular wrong-number guy, calling for Peter, desperate for a visit? Or a company wishing to extol the virtues of government-encouraged schemes and am I in the 55-85 bracket? Or my sister, calling from colder climes?

Usually I ignore Withheld. Today I picked up. Today a lovely lady from Suffolk explained how she’d fixed the problem, approved of our pragmatism and was utterly professional. Their call was important to me. Thank you Marie Withheld from Suffolk. And thank you friends who remind me to face the right way when stepping out of the boat. And thank you Jesus for the outrageous grace – again.

 

Passage for the year

Today I went to church. Lily maintained she was ill with a serious tummy ache and I am not in a mood to deal with melodrama well, so she stayed at home and I took Joe. I struggled with the crowds of faces, songs, concentrating and going up for communion, but I wasn’t alone in that. Utterly reassuring to feel the quiet support of friends and to suffer together. To be able to giggle at the back, allow my son (still in overnight donkey-wear) to stretch his legs and climb under things and to know that there is a new rhythm of hope starting.

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December winded me and January wants to kick me while I’m still down, but this year will not be a year for introspection and self-pity. On finding a beautiful idea for resolutions, I have decided on a one-word goal. Something positive. To lift my thoughts, bless my family, discern our move. My word for 2014  is Passion. I have a passion for my husband, our children, for doing the right thing, for the move, for Old Testament studies, for lego, for healing and ultimately for Jesus. This year I want to learn more passionately and live more passionately, looking outward as I take the lessons of Grace on board more and more.

Our church has a Bible passage for each year, and this year the deacons have chosen Proverbs 2:1-6. It is about the search for wisdom and the fear of the Lord (as with much of the book of Proverbs). It is written in an ancient style, rather like the kind of case law you might read in the Code of Hammurabi, but also looks similar to computer code.

IF (my words) and (my commands)  AND IF (seek insight) and (seek understanding)

THEN (understanding, knowledge)

ENDIF

There is also some nice chiasmus in verses 5 and 6:

Understanding

Knowledge

Wisdom

Knowledge

Understanding

 
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

The ELSEIF is dealt with later in the chapter. But going to church lifted me in terms of feeling united with a group who care and because one of the leaders mentioned that we should have passion in our study of the Bible today. Which is exactly what I needed to hear.

Finding your Treasure

I am on an amazing j0urney. I thought my testimony might have finished when I gave my life over to the One who gave it to me. In fact, it was only just beginning. I have journeyed through valleys of death’s shadow, known fierce ups and crushing downs and needed affirming over and over again, like the wayward sheep that I discover myself to be. I have left wool on so many barbs, thirsted for water I cannot find alone and ached in the depth of me for meaning and purpose. My fears have left me irrational and hurting and my anxieties have stolen my nights and my days.

Only recently have I been discovering the depths of meaning of some very familiar things. Verses I thought I understood and lessons I had not internalised.

I would love to explain this. So, to humour me, try imagining Paisley. Not the town, the politician or football manager. Imagine the pattern of Paisley. Try and draw it if you can. No – really. And no cheating. You probably know what a paisley pattern looks like. You would recognise it immediately in any colour scheme. I am not going to put an image of paisley on here just yet. See if you can remember the detail.

Something can be familiar and yet so difficult to recall and reproduce. Perhaps we never studied it in depth. Or we did, but a long time ago. Or we are ignorant in the first place. Perhaps we want to be able to recall something but it is not possible. We remember some of the major parts – a tear drop? A double line? Some swirly bits?

I think life is like that. There are many familiar pieces of great advice for living. But for all kinds of reasons we don’t action what we recognise as truth, no matter how familiar. For me, advice like not leaning on my own understanding – this is so difficult in an age of easy access to information. Or recognising that God loves me just as I am completely and utterly, and that this is real grace. Or that there are things I cannot change, but God has it all in His hands. That patience grows with time.

Trying to live a purposeful life and be all you were meant to be is hard if you attempt it in your own strength. Or perhaps if you follow selfish treasures. Try finding treasure without a map. It’s not unlike trying to remember and recreate something that is beautiful and complex. In the end you give up or get it wrong.

So what are your treasures?

Today I saw my son make an X with two sticks of chocolate. Proud of himself, finding fun everywhere, this fantastic little boy brightens my day so often. Where is my treasure? My family. Yes. The chocolate. Most definitely. But X marks the spot. My treasure is in the empty cross. The empty tomb (cenotaph).  I love all these things in utterly different ways. I can treasure sweets, sweetypies and the sweet grace of knowing I am safe forever.

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I have treasure in Heaven – this is so exciting, but I also have passions and dreams on Earth. Desires for my family, for my friends, for my society. Desires for personal fulfilment. Desires for God’s kingdom to be seen more in our lives and for us to know Him deeper.

So what are your treasures? What are your desires? You are allowed to have dreams – God has created you uniquely and placed passions in your heart. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. I have been swimming in the shallows and I am keen to get out into the deep, use the passions and discover the treasures God has marked out not only for me, but for us as a couple and for our family while we raise them. For too long I’ve been relying on my own strength. So God has been teaching me to Trust more. To allow his Grace to flow in and through me. To live utterly on His understanding, not my own. To trace the pattern he already marked out for me, and to stop arguing or resisting. And in doing so, to find that I could really become who I was always meant to be. My counsellor recommended a book to me called Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge. It’s not for everyone. But it has been gently challenging and helping me.

becoming

There I was, hoping I could impress people by doing what I felt duty-bound to do. It led me to study courses I didn’t want to study (and on occasion could not pass). It led me to live behind masks and battle with self-doubt. It led me to choose to lose the dreams.

Until God allowed me to burn right out and cry out to Him for all I needed, some six months ago.

And his grace – allowing me to be truly me – is just astonishing. There are dreams we are now going to pursue as a family. There are depths to God’s goodness which should not be surprising to me but which break my heart as He reveals more of Himself and His love to us. There are times when I wobble, but God picks me up, embraces me with His provision (friends at church, at home, in the community, in books and in music) and sets me upright again.

I am on an amazing journey. As I re-order my life to be charged up from God’s grace and love, rather than in pleasing others (see previous post) I discover He does deliver. I am going to do more writing. I am also beginning a new blog, which I will let you know about shortly. I am trusting utterly in God’s timing and provision for our next move as a family.

My treasure is in Jesus and in allowing Him to unlock me fully. What is your treasure?

Ah yes, and there’s also this. Or if you want a long and fascinating look at Paisley doodling, this.

Bosnian Scrapbook

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I was in Bosnia in 1995. Many of the images I saw burnt into my teenage memory. Some of them are not on film because I did not feel comfortable taking pictures of people with missing limbs or shells of buildings where folk were still living or 16-year old lads drinking the night away in advance of being called up, their hair prematurely greying in the loud, warm summer evenings.

Stari Most, the old bridge connecting the Croats and Muslims in Mostar had been felled and a rickety footbridge was hanging in its place. Elsewhere British army engineers had erected a functional bailey bridge high over the azure waters of the Neretva. Broken bridges everywhere were symbols of broken ties and hasty solutions.

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One of the camps I was involved in running was for Muslim boys who couldn’t get permission to come to our coastal camps in Croatia. We took them deeper into the hills, in convoys of white vans and buses which looked like lines of UNHCR vehicles, to a place called Drežnica where they could run, swim and play football.

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On the way, we passed a bridge we couldn’t cross. It had been bombed as it linked Sarajevo with Mostar. The supply of arms was limited to trekking around the hairpin pass, taking pack animals with bullets and guns to the capital between minefields and through green hills scratched with grey. The delays were significant on the unmade road with steep sides.

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The camps in Drežnica were wonderful, thirsty and sporty and meant relying on our resources. Piling into a broken school when the rain came. Giving out half-loaves to greedy boys with a slice of warm cheese and a large runny tomato. Learning – very quickly – the words for danger! mines on the bridge – get off the bridge! which still come back to me. The only original bridge I’d seen in the country, and it had mines on it. How utterly cruel. We were kept safe. But the image joined the growing collection in my mind.

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I was reminded of these Bosnian bridges very recently. I had been chatting to a friend and thinking about how I like controlling all kinds of details in my life and that perhaps there were new things on the horizon. Having been ill has given me a new perspective on a few areas, including blessing, trust, direction and purpose.

I was thinking about how I like to go the long way around, like the unmade track to Drežnica, to get somewhere which I could have got with a lot less stress and hassle if I had only trusted that the bridge there was safe and strong and direct. I had revisited that road a few years afterwards and found that the bridge on the road to Sarajevo had been mended and the journey was considerably easier and shorter. There was no danger.

In my life I prefer to assess thoroughly and exhaustively. I plan. I research. I study. I find myself on that unmade road time and time again.

And God has been saying Trust Me with everything. There is nothing you cannot trust me with. Over and over again. The bridge of trust cuts out so much worry and stress. It is direct. It is safe. It is fast. It involves submission.

This year I wrote at the beginning of my diary in capital letters

2013:
THIS IS THE YEAR
GOD IS GOING TO DO SOMETHING
REALLY GREAT IN MATTHEW’S LIFE.

Yes. Along with a nagging feeling that I was going to be ill and not enjoy it or the changes it involved (which came on months later), I had a burning feeling that God was going to do something significant for my husband. Something that meant I would have to learn to stop being a control freak, Something that might even involve becoming a trust freak. To love my husband so much that his dreams and desires would be more important than I had ever allowed them to be. His desire to flex his career wings. His dream of moving onwards and upwards. His passion for us as a family. His interests.

For some time we have talked of relocating. It has not been a clever time. Until, until. I presented my willingness to submit to Matthew’s needs and be up for relocating and he lit up. He could see the logic in looking into this now. Joe is not yet at school and we could make arrangements in good time. Lily has a wonderful teacher this year but as time goes on will benefit from more challenges. I want to be able to access theological libraries on a frequent basis, for a book I am writing. We want to cycle. We are at an age and a financial position to be able to do this, before we get too much older. We would be nearer many people and not too distant from those we love here. So we are progressing along a path of trust and discovering God’s hand at work in details we could not have imagined or hoped for. The view is extraordinary. The journey is less dangerous and slow than we’d expected. The bridge is safe. There is nothing we cannot trust God with. I am finding renewed strength in taking each step one at a time – it is far easier than controlling it all myself and far more exciting.

We love where we live now. We love our friends. We would not choose to move out of any sense of running away. We also feel compelled to take steps towards this new opportunity and unwrap the gifts God has for us and any way in which he wants to use us in a new place. I cannot get that image out of my mind.

Mummy Long Legs

I love this week of the year more than any other, and have done most of my life. Summer’s warmth and colour kissing each leaf goodbye before they hasten to new adventures. Breezes to dry washing by the gardenful. The first crisped flakes of autumn giggling around on the ground like dry cereal straight out of the box. Tired children and fresh casserole. Ahh.

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And odd things like daddy-long-legses. Where do they reside in other months? Did you ever see one in February?

Joe is fascinated by ‘piders, and noticing where they are and what size they are. He is generally very positive and hasn’t got a problem with bugs or creepy crawlies in general. His attitude to life is the boost I so often need, and frequently makes me stop and think. I was explaining to him that chopping onions makes mummy cry and he suggested that chopping onions makes him laugh.  I do hope this will come in handy when he can be trusted with a sharp knife.

Lily is planning for Christmas and rearranging the squashes in the front room. I do hope this too will come in handy. Perhaps when she can be trusted with carrying oversized vegetables around the house. I am now so middle-class that I can’t imagine much point to squashes beyond looking beautiful for weeks on end, but I suspect I will be baking and roasting some in due course.

And finally both children are talking and both children are eating. Let the feasting begin!

FINBXSQUASH

I could eat all winter, and probably will. I am not pregnant, but am starting to look like I am. Occupational hazard of depressed stay-at-home-mum I think. That and large packets of minstrels. Do they really expect you to stop halfway through? My current attitude is that I will be very pleased with myself when I shed the extra pounds at such time as I know I can change my eating habits and also actually attempt to. Mummy Wide Legs is more like it.

It is a good thing I have never taken all that much notice, much less cared, about my physical shape. I am not easily embarrassed physically. And I am reasonably brave emotionally I’ve realised. Too brave lately. I had to go into toddlers today, to deliver a large box of toys and books we’d won. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and lost a lot of sleep last night (although that might have been the minstrels). Joe had a great time. I was chatting with people I care deeply about – there are a lot, and even more new faces, who I ought to care deeply about and haven’t met yet – and realised I’d shuffled into winter while everyone else was in summer mode. While mums were kissing their little ones better and sending them off to play with the Brio, I was frozen with panic. While autumnal chatter filled the air like a good breeze, I could only feel the pain of inhaling sub-zero oxygen, stabbing at my lungs. I collapsed inside like soggy cereal and headed out of the door.

My friends minded my son and kept him happy and fetched my things. My friends listened to me and cheered me up through tea and tears and terrors. My friends refused to judge me or make things harder for me. I managed about half a session this morning and then got through the afternoon by trying to thaw out in front of the computer.

I will get better, and I am so aware of God guiding me. I have discovered that the unit of trust is the step. Each day is made up of several kilosteps, but with a limited number I cannot travel too far, or too fast. Even when tough walks need walking the steps taken in pain are still steps forward. In retrospect I am not as angry with myself now as I was this morning. I actually made it to toddlers. I helped out a little. I listened to people and chatted. I recognised that I am not utterly irreplaceable. Kilosteps or killersteps, I made progress. I just have to put my feet up now and stuff my face a bit more. I know it’s autumn, but please can winter hold off just a little longer? I want to catch more of the detail of the beauty of this time.