Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A sacrifice of praise.

I used to think of the term 'Sacrifice of praise' as an offering of praise. Sacrifices on the altar were traditionally gifts, or offerings that someone brought to God. It was often the best they had to bring.

But I've recently been thinking of it in terms of praise to God being costly.
I've never been a "It's all good!" type of person.
Or even a, dare I say it, "God is good all the time" kind of person either.
I know He is. Of course He is.
But to try to express it at times when my world has been falling apart is unhelpful at best, and impossible at worst.

Yesterday, however, I had a message from a lovely Christian gentleman. He's very well known in Salvation Army circles, but we'd only recently had direct contact from him, following our losses. He'd written a poem about grace. It was beautiful. But as I read it, it got harder and harder to read and accept. When I mentioned this to him, he wrote this...

"If I don't say this well, please forgive me but, just make gratitude part of your grief. Be glad of the pain because the pain is the result of your loss of a most precious and unique relationship. Without that quality of relationship you would be much less than you are... Try and let your grief and gladness walk with you into the days ahead... Without any shallow sentimentality or gauche unnaturalness, your lovely Dad is part of who you are. A healthy, God-honouring influence, helping you to a maturity of faith that is a reward of exceeding value..."

The truth is I am so, so grateful for the love of my parents. I have taken it for granted, but I do know how fortunate I have been to grow up in a family where love is so freely expressed. The pain of loss is the price we pay on earth for loving and being loved so much.In turn I am able to share the love I have known, in my relationships with my husband and my sons. Our family is not perfect, but we know how to love.

So that's my sacrifice of praise for now.
I thank God for the gift of love... The love of our family and friends, that is totally encompassed by the love He has for us.

My prayer is found in an old hymn:
Finish, then, Thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

I believe that Dad is now lost in wonder, love and praise.
I long for the day that we all are too.
But in the meantime I'll rest in God's arms as he shows me how to make my sacrifice of praise.

Friday, 21 September 2012

No voice

It's 5 o'clock on a Saturday sang Billy Joel. Well it's actually 5 o'clock on a Thursday but that doesn't have the same ring to it.
I'm awake because I have laryngitis and can't stop coughing so I thought I'd do something useful like create this blog.
Welcome to my world!
At the moment I'm banned from speaking. It's day 5 and my voice hasn't improved. It's frustrating to have to write everything down. I choose my words more carefully though as they take so long.
Last night I went to Hastings, and was reminded of the poem that gave me my blog title.
"Earth is crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees takes off their shoes..."
As I spend more time in enforced silence I hope to see....
Shame my husband and boys haven't got it too!

Mum's the Word 3

Calling all Salvation Army Singing Company (choir) members from the 70’s and 80’s! Remember this one? “What blest provision of thy grace, that I should find a secret place? Within thy presence there to dwell and silently my need to tell.” New Songs for YP May’74. I was in Liverpool Walton Singing Company, when I sang this for the first time. At the tender age of 9, it captured my imagination, and even more so now. Tell me any busy Mum who doesn’t occasionally long for a secret place of their own! So imagine my joy over the last few years as it dawned on me that a “devotional time” (pious face optional) with God, wasn’t necessarily going to be a set time or place in my schedule. Instead, the ever-present God refused to be compartmentalised, and I could find him wherever I chose to look. When returning home after a busy day, and finding a whole host of mundane tasks still to do, I realized that I could just take off my shoes, and remind myself that I was on ‘holy ground’ (Exodus 3:5) Margaret Silf writes in ‘Close to the Heart’, “There is more prayer in the scrap yards of our hearts than we imagine. If we look for signs in the heavens, we may easily overlook God’s footprints in the sidewalk. The true vine is on the greengrocer’s shelf. The pearl of great price lies hidden in the cracks of our city sidewalks. And the salt of the earth is what we sprinkle on our own potatoes.” It never ceases to amaze me that the majestic, awesome God is an everyday reality in my life. There are moments of reverence and awe, when I am reminded of how amazing he is. But as I work out my faith in the every day, God reveals himself through the little details, and reminders of his presence in my life. During Lent I took part in the 60/60 experiment. www.soulrevolution.net. The challenge was to remind myself moment by moment that I was in God’s presence. Alarms were set on phones and post-it notes were put up in strategic places around the house with 60/60 on them. (One bright spark added, “don’t forget to flush” to one of them.) But the challenge was not to pray more, but a minute-by-minute communication with the Creator. It was great - I became aware that I often spent much of my day ignoring God, apart from those moments I remembered to pray or was doing something specific for him. God of the everyday is a reality, not a pipe-dream. So what else do I do to try and sustain some kind of meaningful relationship with Him? I try and spend a few moments each day somewhere green. It calms me, and reminds me that those birds singing their hearts out are just being what God created them to be. I need to do the same. I play a CD or playlist on shuffle, and ask God to speak to me through the music. It’s strange how listening to things in a different order can give a real sense of what God is saying to me. I try to remember to commit each day to God, asking him to use me for him. I have a note on the mirror, “When we wake up in the morning and turn our soul toward You. You are there first.” Soren Kierkegaard I pray. Wherever I am, and whatever I’m doing, I often find myself praying, almost without realizing it. I read God’s word. Not as often as I would like to, or even should probably. And I often find myself saying with Jacob in Genesis 28:16, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.! I love being a Mum (some of you may remember….!) I love being a wife. And I love being a Salvation Army officer (minister). Most of the time anyway… But underneath it all I am someone who loves being the child that God created me to be. I need to regularly work out what that means as I live out my faith day by day. It hasn’t changed much since I was 9yrs old in the Singing Company. “Within the secret place of prayer I bring to Thee my daily care, and kneel before thy gracious throne. With thee my Lord, my God alone.”

Monday, 17 September 2012

So here it is.

So this is it. My Dad's funeral is today. I can't sleep. So these are my thoughts: I'm glad we've got some good songs planned.. Our family and friends sing well, And as we sing Feed me now and evermore we'll exchange a smile at Dad belting out the bass notes. I'm looking forward to hearing all the tributes. I've been reminded in recent Weeks that Dad was well Loved and had an impact on many people. I'm dreading the final farewell, but will leave Dad in faith that God has wiped every tear from his eye, And he no longer knows suffering or pain (Rev21) So here we go. May today be a fitting tribute to my earthly Dad And bring glory to my heavenly Father. Oh and may I get through my tribute without blubbing!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The tracks of my tears

Dad died suddenly on a sunny August morning.
There had been no warning.
He’d been ill for years but we weren’t expecting to lose him.
As we left the place where he’d drawn his final breaths, the blue sky and sunshine seemed to mock us. We wanted to scream what had happened to the people passing, going about their business. And the tears started. Sometimes it feels as if they’ll never stop.

You see this wasn’t the first death that had occurred in our family. In fact it was the fourth in four months. We had lost key figures in our lives. A dearly loved Grandad, and three parents. These weren’t minor losses they were huge.

And as I looked at our family, especially our children, just last week, as we sat in the garden having a barbecue, I thought, “It’s too much sadness for one family.”
How much can one family take? How much can I take if it comes to that?

We know where our loved ones are now. We believe that Jesus has taken them Home to rest. But the pain of parting feels like a weight in my chest. Sometimes I cry so hard I can’t breathe. And my mind struggles to process the fact that I won’t see them again in this life.

I picked up my Bible a few days ago. This isn’t a rare occurrence, but it was a deliberate action as I wanted something, anything from God. I couldn’t feel Him. I struggled to hear His voice. I trusted Him, but I was a bit cross with Him as well.

I started at Psalm 62 and worked backwards.
They were comforting words and they helped a little.
These however, stopped me in my tracks,
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

God, my Father, traces the tracks of my tears. He collects my tears in a bottle.
Who knows? Maybe he uses them to put the sparkle in a new-born baby’s eyes.
Nothing is ever wasted.
He knows.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Mirror Mirror

This was published in Salvationist 8.9.12

“Twist me and turn me and show me the elf, I looked in the water and there saw……”

Anyone who has been a brownie, will probably know the story those words come from. It’s about a little girl and her brother who wanted to find a brownie to help their Mum at home. They went to the Wise Old Owl who told them the brownie could be found in the pool in the woods. The little girl had to turn around on the edge of the pool, say the rhyme above and look to see the brownie in the water. Of course the missing word was ‘myself’, and the girl was encouraged to be the one that fulfilled the role of brownie and helped her mother at home

 I remembered that rhyme when I was stood at the edge of a lake last week. We’d escaped for a few hours, to get a change of scenery, and a new perspective. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was cold, and Chris wasn’t as thrilled at the prospect of sitting under a tree staring into the water as I was. “I looked in the water, and there saw myself….”

I wonder what we see when we look at ourselves, more often in a mirror, than in a lake? At the moment, I see a woman who looks every one of her 44 yrs. I see the hair that’s often too frizzy, the legs that are too short, and the wrinkles that have appeared seemingly overnight, around my eyes. But I’m certain that’s not what God sees when he looks at us.

 Last year, I discovered the work of Mandisa, a Christian Singer in America. She became famous when she came ninth in the fifth season of American Idol. But it wasn’t just Mandisa’s singing that made a statement when she appeared on the fifth season of the hit show.
Simon Cowell commented on her size as she left the room, “Do we have a bigger stage this year?” “It was my worst fear come true,” says Mandisa, “because it’s been the biggest struggle of my life and because it’s something I feel so vulnerable about.”
At the next round of auditions, the producers encouraged her to tell Simon how she felt when she discovered what he’d said. It wasn’t what they were expecting. “You hurt me,” she said to Simon on that show. “It was painful. It really was. But I want you to know that I have forgiven you. You don’t need someone to apologize in order to forgive somebody. I figured that if Jesus could die so that all of my sins could be forgiven, I could certainly extend that same grace to you.”
 When I bought Mandisa’s CD last year, the song that really spoke to me, and indeed made me cry, was the song, “The truth about me.” Perhaps it was inspired by her experience on the TV show. The first lines say, “If only I could see me as You see me, and understand the way that I am loved….”
I spend my life and ministry telling people God loves them. He sees our sins and our flaws, but still we are God's precious children and he delights in us, as adults delight in toddlers taking their first steps or saying their first words. But when I look at myself, it’s a different story, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Whoever we are, male or female, I think we all struggle with the people we are at times. Not just the way we look, but perhaps even the people who we truly are, when no-one else sees.
Too often I forget that God created every part of me. He put the pieces together in my mother’s womb. He knows every thought that crosses my mind, and every word that comes out of my mouth, even before I do (Psalm 139)  Mandisa goes on in her song, “We both know it would change everything, if only I believed the truth about me.”

"The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you.
He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
Zephaniah 3:17

I’m reminded that instead of lamenting all that we’re not, we need to rejoice at all God has done for us. Take a moment to see ourselves as he sees us.
Let him quieten our hearts and our minds with his love, even as we protest at our imperfections. Let's listen for his voice singing and rejoicing over us. What would his song choice be?
Today, for me, it’s the immortal words of Billy Joel, “I love you just the way you are!”

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The cry of a broken heart.

It's two weeks today since our Dad left this world.
It's been a tough time for all of us.
Everywhere I go I see something that reminds me of him, and the tears come.
If I'm honest, even though I was with him as he took his last breaths, I still can't believe he's gone.
I've felt numb most of the time, and though I believe God is with me right now, I've longed to feel His presence in a greater way.

Yesterday in the car I listened to a very old cd of The Salvation Army International Staff Songsters. I needed inspiration for Dad's funeral.
'Share my Yoke' came on. Not the best of titles. I've heard all the egg jokes. But the most amazing words and music, written by Joy Webb, a Salvation Army officer who has the gift of getting right to the heart of things.

They spoke to my broken heart. How did God know, about 25yrs ago when Joy wrote it, that they would be the very words I needed to hear yesterday?

Here they are. I believe that 'God is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.' Psalm 34:18 I share them with you in my brokenness, and pray that God will speak as you read them.

When I'm tired and nothing's going right for me;
When things I've counted on just do not come my way;
When in my mind the thick grey folds of doubt arise,
It's then I seem to hear him say....

Share my yoke and find that I am joined with you.
Your slightest movement I shall feel and be there too!
Share my yoke and come the way that I must go!
In our "togetherness" my peace you'll know;
The world beholding us will see it's so!
When I'm perplexed and no one's understanding me;
When even safest thoughts collapse in disarray;
When I've lost the things that always seemed so sure,
It's then I need to hear him say...

Share my yoke and find that I am joined with you.
Your slightest movement I shall feel and be there too!
Share my yoke and come the way that I must go!
In our "togetherness" my peace you'll know;
The world beholding us will see it's so!

When I'm alone and nothing's getting through to me;
An isolation that increases day by day;
When closest friends can seem a thousand miles away,
It's then I long to hear him say...

Share my yoke and find that I am joined with you.
Your slightest movement I shall feel and be there too!
Share my yoke and come the way that I must go!
In our "togetherness" my peace you'll know;
The world beholding us will see it's so!