What’s it all about?

Aaarrggghh! it’s that time of year. How do we fit it all in?

Cards, gifts, the cake, food shopping, wrapping, parties, decorations, choir practise, carol concerts, nativity plays……..I could go on, but we all know how long the list is.

But let’s pause and reboot with these words from an unknown author…

1 Corinthians 13 Christmas

 If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator.

 If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family,… I’m just another cook……….

 If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

 If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

 Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

 Love is kind, though harried and tired.

 Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

 Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

 Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.

– Author unknown

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Widow’s mite

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The flowers in church this harvest time have been beautiful. What’s more, the knitted harvest display in the church garden is a joy to see, and has kept my children entranced as they spot extra little fruits and seeds hiding beneath the trees. How these talented ladies envisage, plan and produce these wonderful creations is way beyond my understanding.

Whilst being mediocre in many things crafty, there are some things within church ministry I think I’m pretty good at. I also happen to enjoy doing these things.

If other people offer to do these things I politely decline because:

a) I’m good at it

b) I enjoy it

but when I get to thinking about it there are other reasons:

c) They probably won’t do it as well as me, and I’ll get frustrated when the result isn’t up to my standard

and perhaps, if I’m being totally honest:

d) What if they do it better than me and I’m left humiliated and disappointed.

Widow's Mite

photo credit ”Royce Bair” at http://www.tssphoto.com

And so I’ll keep doing what I do and other can find other jobs that don’t tread on my toes.

What about that widow that Jesus pointed out was dropping two tiny, insignificant coins into the offering (Luke 21v1-4). Surely it couldn’t make any difference – what was the point? What if a well meaning bystander said “save your money to buy yourself food – I’ll contribute for you”.

That lady would be denied the opportunity to serve God as extravagantly as she was able, and be blessed by God for her faithfulness.

What if my diligent (but perhaps obsessive) service to the best of my ability is denying someone else from serving God as they feel led? I’m forced to admit that perhaps a little bit of vanity and an unhealthy martyrdom may be sneaking into my “ministry”.

And so let us ” encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Tess 5v11) and consider it a joy when others wish to serve God. Our standards count for nothing when presented to our loving Father – “for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16 v7).

May we work, worship and build our relationships this week, not judging our and others’ outward skills and abilities, but with a focus on our heart’s response. May we serve through a desire to give praise to our Father God.

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A flower in the desert

 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.(1 Cor 3 v 6)

Over the years of my Christian journey, I’ve carried an image of what I am to be – a flower in the desert. My imagination being somewhat lacking, for many years a rather twee image of a flower in a plantpot prevailed. This delicate little flower required regular attention, a sunny windowsill, and careful re-potting.

Oh my – how wrong I was! A little seedling needs careful attention, food and water to help it grow into a sturdy plant. But at some point that plant must mature and face the wind, heavy rain, hot sun and perhaps drought….and may even have lumps bitten out of it by passing pests.

A flower surviving in the desert needs to be robust – have deep roots and a good supply of nourishment. She must have a tough skin to protect her from the elements…and maybe a little something to deter those who would devour her. She must be strong, and rely on God to make her grow.

The most practical image, I discovered, is a cactus. cactus-76504_960_720

I know – she’s not your traditional sort of beauty. But she’s up to the challenge. She is filled with nutrients, built up over years of maturing, and has grown deep roots that can still find some cool relief when the hot sun is overbearing. The wind and pests don’t bother her. What’s more – she blossoms. Her blooms are not delicate – they don’t fade away or flutter in the slightest breeze. They do their job and are fruitful.

Yes -this is the sort of flower we must grow into as we develop and mature in our faith. It may not be glamorous or pretty. But it is strong – filled with strength from God, and is robust. And can stay strong – even in the desert.

Let us work towards that robust, deep rooted faith that can survive the harsh conditions that life presents. And if we are feeling a little delicate, and bruised – look to God, who strengthens us and makes us grow.

 

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hopes and plans

So two thirds of 2016 have been and gone. How are you doing with those New Years resolutions?

I opted out of resolutions last January. Christmas is such a crazy time – the kitchen is never without something bubbling, baking, stewing and roasting or in various stages of decoration. There’s a constant stream of distant relatives taking up residence at Hotel du Campbell, and of course the obligatory back to back carol concerts, nativity plays, parties and “dos”. And let’s not even talk about the presents, cards and decorations the season deserves.

Come January, I just want to hide in my bed with the duvet pulled high for a month – not reflect on the past and plan for an improved future (except, of course, to vow that next Christmas I will do less, prepare earlier and be more organised).

September, however, is a different matter. For me it’s the start of the year. The vibrancy of summer is fading and will soon give way to a whole new palette of glorious colours. The children are in smart new (to them!) clothes and shiny shoes. The socks are white, pencils sharpened, hair bobbles matched.

In short, September is rich with hope and expectation. And it’s the time I like to plan my changes.

This year, there is more planning than usual. As I write, I am awaiting a phonecall that could significantly change life at Campbell Towers.

You see, for nearly eight chaotic, intense, glorious years my career has been that of full-time Mummy. Now the apron strings are stretching a little and my babies are at school, it’s time to begin a new phase.

I won’t pretend it’s not scary – how will I fit everything in? How will my babies cope? Will I still manage my daily hug quota? And does my brain actually function after all these years?apple-256261_960_720

But if the phonecall brings the life-changing news, then I know it is right – it is God’s will, and He has it under control. I’m reminded of God’s word through the prophet Jeremiah, to his children in exile, and the promise still stands for us today:

11For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer29 v 11 NLT)

So go on – take a glance back at the past year, then look forward to the coming opportunities – and present your hopes, plans and fears before God. Work with Him – He is in control.

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#fail

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Indulging in a spot (OK – a black hole) of browsing on Pinterest recently, I fell into that all-familiar trap of “I can do that“.

The lure of the “easy-peasy DIY project” that is “great for the kids”, accented with a soft-filtered setting of sunbleached driftwood and fresh peonies was too much to resist, so I gave in to temptation and decided that I too could make my own stencils using a gluegun and make beautiful art with homemade paint sprays.

I dug out the gluegun and cleaned off the ancient glue smeared around the tip. Where are the gluesticks? Cue much rummaging in the back of cupboards, among the old curling ribbon and escapee buttons from long-abandoned projects…..Yes – found a couple rolling around in there – dust them off, they’ll be fine.

Now baking parchment – smooth out the wrinkles – I’m sure it will be fine.

Sketch the design on the paper, then “draw” over it with the gluegun – simple.

Only, it isn’t – the glue pours out uncontrollably leaving gossamer strands all over the gun, my fingers, the paper, the bench, my hair. It also consumes the gluestick at a rate I hadn’t anticipated, leaving me scrabbling for another one mid-swirl (OK, more wobble than swirl).

The finished product is a far cry from what I envisaged. What’s more – it doesn’t lie flat, so any paint sprayed onto it flows straight underneath.

All in all, a disappointing project.

But as the paint dries and the mess is cleaned up I think about what might have been and what I’m left with, and I remember Samuel the priest’s words as he anointed David to be Israel’s King:13567511_10154990983272571_7996411992457172417_n

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1Sam 16 v 7).

In the sanitised and heavily edited world of social media it’s easy to compare our messy, sinful, wobbly, frail whole selves with the thin veneer of perfection presented on these public platforms.

Instead of worrying about how we look, how clever, talented and beautiful people think we are, let us look inside ourselves, and present our messy, broken, damaged, ugly lives to the One whole heals and saves.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive;
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.       (Charlotte Elliot)

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Worn out?

pexels-photo-12095-large.jpegThen Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matt 11 v 28-30 NLT)Delft-tile-milkmaid-c1700

It’s school holiday time at camp Campbell. The old uniforms are sorted and handed-down, new hand-me-downs selected and employed, the old name-tags removed. Next up is the preparation for our family break by the sea. Lists to be made, packing to be done, and finally, scrabbling around to find the timer switches before we lock up and leave.

Even during “holidays” we can’t completely shut down – there are always jobs to be done.

When we’re living the way God intended, and we remember to keep Jesus at the centre of our lives, his yoke is comfortable; but it’s still our job to wear it and to carry a load.

I don’t have much experience of yokes in my 21st century suburban existence, so I like to compare Jesus’ illustration to shoes: Yes – we do have a path to walk, and it’s sometimes stony, but even when the conditions are perfect we are still required to actually walk. We all know it’s easier and more pleasurable when you’re wearing a really well fitting pair of shoes. With the right equipment and with Jesus by our side, our journey becomes a pleasure, our burden becomes unnoticed.

What tasks are you struggling with this week?

Why not invite Jesus into your situation, talk to him, pray and learn from him. Then, with Jesus by your side, enjoy the journey.

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 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. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt 11 v 28-30 Msg)

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a pleasing aroma

A while ago I temporarily lost my sense of smell. I didn’t particularly miss the smells I would usually encounter – life became – well… just a little bit bland. I didn’t look forward to delicious food as I couldn’t sense it being cooked; I didn’t particularly notice the season changing; and spending an hour scrubbing the bathroom didn’t seem to make it “fresh”.

For me, scent is a subtle ingredient in experiences. Of course, some smells do send me racing back to a past memory – another time and place. And when you can’t smell any more, it’s a real challenge to try and “remember” smells – I mean – how do you describe them?

Then one day, as I walked by a tree, a realisation hit me so hard it stopped me in my tracks – I could smell pine! Fresh, green, sharp, Christmassy pine! The extra dimension had returned! This also meant I could smell that small boy had trodden in something (I don’t know how long ago….urgh) and that the drains needed a squirt of bleach.

Do you remember the Bible account of Mary who poured a whole bottle of pure perfumed oil onto Jesus feet? Imagine the scent! It would be a rather overpowering sensation to be right there – the fragrance filling the whole room – the house – wafting into the street. And imagine after the event – when the oil had soaked into the floor – the scent would continue to linger for days afterwards. Her actions impacted not only Jesus, but many, many others she may not have considered: the other disciples and guests, Mary herself, her sister Martha and brother Lazarus, and their wider community as neighbours walked past outside. Then during the following week – the week leading up the Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection, the effects of her actions were still playing out – the love she demonstrated for Jesus had a long lasting effect on others too.

Christians are called to be the “pleasing aroma” of Christ in the world, so others will sense his love  – so that they may come to know him too.

Scent can be rather subtle – a gentle whiff as you walk past the bakers or the salty tang that tells you the sea is just over that hill. But it can still make your tummy rumble, or your feet ache to splash in the cool waves.

As Christians, we are called to be the fragrance of Jesus. This may sometimes be a very obvious outpouring that no-one can ignore, as Mary did, standing up and speaking out. More often – and certainly day by day – the “fragrance of Jesus” through us is more subtle: being loving and caring; a word of encouragement; an act of compassion. It is these almost insignificant, sometimes undetected actions that bring the fragrance of Jesus into our world – than others may know him, and may be saved from a bland, meaningless existence and from death itself. perfume-1433654_960_720

 “But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.

(2Cor 2 v 14-15 [NLT])

 

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…In the name of the Lord

Yesterday I spent a considerable amount of time in my local park hunting for, and clearing up, dog mess.

I don’t have a dog, and I don’t usually use this park, but yesterday I cleared up the grass so our church could run a community event free from unpleasant squelches.

In short, I cleared up dog mess in the name of the Lord.

My husband, meanwhile, was up to his elbows in builder’s clay, squidging through every ounce to ensure there were no hidden nasties. He emerged a triumphant swamp-monster having endured filth in the name of the Lord.

Whether we’re preaching, teaching, serving, listening, cleaning or squidging about in unpleasant mess, we should “do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3 v 17)

In our daily lives, it’s often hard to see how our work impacts on God’s plan. The mundane household tasks that never end, and those little things no-one even realises get “done” (unless you stop doing them!).

Elisabeth Elliot – a missionary with an incredible story (and whose experience not just overshadows, but completely obliterates the very worst of any hardship I have faced) said:

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Elisabeth Elliot source: thegospelcoalition.org

“This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.”

Whatever tasks you are faced with this week, whether monumental or mundane, remember Elisabeth’s words. Write them out – stick them on the fridge – and the desk – and in your bag.  And do all you do in the name of the Lord.

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I can’t sleep!

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You know those night you just can’t settle? Your mind is cluttered up with stuff, real and imagined? The 3am monsters create events that never happened and never will?

A wonderful, wise lady once told me how she handles these times: “I say to God ‘what have you got to say to me?’ and I lie in the dark, with no daytime distractions, and listen.

What a wonderful, positive way to turn things around – fear into joy and dread into hope. I now often pray this same prayer, with mixed results. Sometimes I feel peace and drift back off to sleep, sometimes I work through a worry, but with God rather than the night-ghouls in my head. Occasionally, I have to get up, make a cup of tea, and wait a while.

Last night was a “make a cup of tea” episode. It was 5 am when I gave up on sleep (and that’s early for me!). I sat by the patio and listened to the birds in the garden, and opened my Bible to work through my daily reading schedule.

Psalm 63 was what I read – David praying to God while in the desert, running from his enemies following a coup in Jerusalem.

One verse stood out:

“On my bed I remember you;

I think of you through the watches of the night.”

Wow! We’re in good company – me, my mentor-lady, and you (if you also do this). David cried out to God at night too. he goes onto say:ps63

“Because you are my help,

I sing in the shadow of your wings.

My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me.”

Next time you find yourself staring at the dark walls, beating off a riot of worries, thoughts, regrets or fear, turn to God. Ask him “what have you got to say to me?” or pray – a set prayer, song or conversation. Or speak the words of this Psalm.

Sleep well x

 

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Bless this mess

This morning started badly… I went to empty the dishwasher at breakfast time, only to find I’d forgotten to switch it on last night. bless this mess

Disaster!

This means (I know from all-to-frequent experience) that the kitchen will be backed up with dishes for the rest of the day, and I won’t get “kitchen” off my job list until much later this afternoon.

All my life I’ve longed to be one of these naturally tidy people. I browse magazines and see page after page of beautiful, neat, tidy homes. No stubborn mud stains on the carpet, no fingerprints on the windows, no laundry piled up.

But I’m just not naturally tidy. I have tried and failed so many times to have a magazine-perfect home. You see, I have stuff – and probably too much of it – and but without it I wouldn’t be me.

Of course, we all have to work at clearing up the mess that “life” creates – those papers do at least need to be in a pile until you can process them, clothes must be laundered, dishes washed and put away, shoes found and beds made. Proverbs advises we should be industrious and get things done: “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work,they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.” (Proverb 6 v 6-8, NLT)

But Jesus gave us the example of stopping…not having everything entirely sorted and planned out. When Martha was running around being a good (but stressed out) host, Jesus encouraged her to stop, and just sit for a while and listen to him (Luke 10 v 38-42). When his disciples went out preaching, they didn’t have a full dossier, and set of luggage and a carefully calculated budget:  “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes. Wherever you go, stay in the same house until you leave town.” (Luke 9 v 3-4 NLT).

11118142_10153832254952571_6134130182769075602_nDon’t get me wrong – a clear desk is very calming – but it doesn’t represent work in progress. The laundry basket may be empty now, but by this evening it will be full again. When I finally get the dishes cleared, they’ll only be ready for the next meal and it will start again.

So today – just this once – stop for a moment and admire the mess – the stuff that represents you, your work, interests, family. See your life bubbling up through the chaos, and give thanks to God for all you are, and all He has given you.

 

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