The Gift of Today

 

Today it is Thanksgiving. Perhaps the best day of our western holidays. A day of thanksgiving and gratefulness, of joyful reunions and family gatherings. And too much food, probably. But without the necessity of overgiving of unnecessary gifts, or the vast decorating of every nook and cranny, or the overly high expectations we often seem to place upon Christmas.

And Michael Hyatt's post arrived in my inbox - reminding me of this:

 

"You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today…. It’s the only gift that you have right now. And the only appropriate response is gratefulness." (quote from Brother David Steindl-Rast, a benedictine monk)

 

Michael Hyatt's post gives us four ways of practicing gratitude and thankfulness. He writes:

Here are four ways you can transform today, taking it from ordinary to extraordinary:

  1. Notice the gifts around you. Whether it is the natural beauty that surrounds you, the interesting people you encounter, or the simple beating of your heart, everything is a miracle—if you have eyes to see it.
  2. Open your heart to receive them. It’s so easy to feel entitled and become cynical when we don’t get what we want or feel we deserve. But if we receive everything as a gift, designed for either our enjoyment, our transformation, or both, we open ourselves to new possibilities.
  3. Express your gratitude for them. This is one of the things that makes humans unique and sets us apart from the animals. But we have to speak it to experience the power of it.
  4. Bless someone else. Let your gratefulness overflow into the lives of those you encounter today. It doesn’t have to be fancy—just offer them a smile, a touch, or the simple gift of your presence. (You could also share this post with them!)

Today will never be repeated. It it is unique among all the days of your life. Gratitude can transform into something to be remembered.

 

We sang this in church on Sunday (at St Michael's in Charleston)

GIVE THANKS WITH A GRATEFUL HEART GIVE THANKS TO THE HOLY ONE GIVE THANKS BECAUSE HE'S GIVEN JESUS CHRIST, HIS SON

AND NOW LET THE WEAK SAY I AM STRONG LET THE POOR SAY I AM RICH BECAUSE OF WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE FOR US 

GIVE THANKS...

 

How will you give thanks today?

What are you most grateful for?

 

 

 

Rest, recent photos and reality

There is something very special about total rest. A not doing.

An enjoyment of being. Of taking time to be, to rest, to notice.

Last week I decided to begin taking a total sabbatical each week. A twenty four period of rest and refreshment, of not doing what I normally do. I blogged about it (HERE) and received comments, emails, tweets and even a note from others who perhaps already practise this, or want to, or hope to.

All I can say is - it works! For two weeks in a row, I have enjoyed a twenty-four hours refreshment, relaxation, rest. From 6pm Saturday until 6pm on Sunday. Last night, I slept for just over 10 hours. There was nothing to prevent me and I was relaxed from a pleasant evening which we had enjoyed with friends, eating al fresco in the walled garden. Today, as last week, there was church at 11am (informal this morning, led by the Licensed Lay Ministers, nourishing my soul). I was given bags of gooseberries - so there will be gooseberry fool or gooseberry pie for the retreatants who are coming next weekend!

Ah - next weekend.

Next weekend I start work! Yes, the first retreatants arrive for the weekend, the second retreat starts on the MOnday. So I will not be able to have my twenty four hour sabbatical from Saturday evening. Now what?

No problem, I have already put it into my diary - from 4pm Sunday to 4pm Monday. When is YOUR sabbath rest? When do you have to work and when can you rest?

This was Tricia Goyer's post on Facebook last week:

 5 questions

Good questions! I nearly missed out on a really great thing today because I forgot I had no schedule. Friends rang just after lunch to ask if they could come for tea and see the house.

The old me began to panic. No tea-type food, too much dust, things to do ....

The new me relaxed.

Sure, why not? I've nothing scheduled, come on over.

They brought cake. We had champagne in the fridge and smoked salmon.

We had an impromptu party in the walled garden. (which was much much happier than they all appear in this photo!)

H-S's and paynes

One of these friends designed my new kitchen - which was installed yesterday.

I am blessed. I am refreshed. I feel as though I have had a retreat for twenty four hours.

Which is just as well, with our first retreatants arriving at the end of this coming week!

 

And here is a sneak preview of some of what they will find when they come - the house is coming together all of a sudden! This new ministry is about to be born.

 

 

Come soon? There's a quiet space waiting for you. And the countryside  is stunning.

 

What are you waiting for?

Spaces available from September onwards. Make sure you have your time booked in soon.

RETREATS at THE VINE @ MAYS FARM.

for retreats, quiet days, quiet spaces,

Spiritual Direction
leadership training
& mentoring
 
come alone
come with a group
bring your friends
your small group
your leadership team

 

Take a Break!

SO when do you have some down time, she asked. When do you have a whole 24 hours off, doing something entirely different? I think I may have flushed in shame.

It's busy, I told my Spiritual Director, there's so much to be done. And Sundays are not working days right now. Not really. But I do need to write and post a blog on Sunday evenings. It's my main time to post, the time I have the best readership hits, and the only time I have right now to post. So Sundays are sort of off, just not completely.

So you are better than God? You don't need to rest?

I think I flushed again.

God created on six days. Then He rested on the seventh day - and made it a special day. A day of rest. (my loose translation of Genesis 2:1-2)

Yes, I know that. In theory.

Well, she said, and what about Hebrews?

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. (Hebrews 4:1)

I think I sat in silence.

But she was gently kind with me.

You need 24 hours off.

I nodded. I know that. In theory.

And you need to write and post a blog on Sunday evenings?

I nodded again.

So you need a Jewish-style sabbath. From Saturday late afternoon until Sunday late afternoon. How does that sound?

Relief flooded through me. YES. Yes, of course. Hadn't I taught and praught that exact same thing, some years ago, when I was ministering in a busy church in the States? And it had seemed to help a number of  people then.

My mind leaped into overdrive.

A sabbath.

Starting with supper and time with those I love best, on Saturday evening.  A good night's sleep. Worship and praise, a walk, a relax.

And then, after proper Sunday tea, time to gear up again -  after twenty four hours of creative relaxation.  YES.

But.

But what about those times when Saturday to Sunday would not be possible?

She considered. How many of those will there be this summer, over these next six or seven weeks?

Two, I worked out.

SO. Twice it has to be a different day of the week. Schedule it in now, put it in your diary. And otherwise, use the Jewish Filofax and have a real sabbath from six on Saturday to six on Sunday. And when we meet again in early September, I shall ask you about your Sabbath rests.

* * * *

This past twenty four hours has been the first of my summer sabbaths.

Excitedly, when the clock showed 6pm last night, I knew I had twentyfour hours of sabbath. Of real rest. No need to DO. Time to BE.

And I have to say it has been a wonderful time!

Of course, it has included -

- a wonderful outdoor party:  our neighbours were celebrating 20 years of marriage with a hog roast for 150 people, a live band, dancing

- a deep sleep with the windows wide;  warm country air wafting in

- gentle awaking, an hour's walk with dog and husband in early morning sunshine, wild flowers, summer fields

- Holy Communion, ancient words and worship in an ancient village church, warm friendly smiles and coffee, friends new and old alongside

- impromptu lunch under old trees with friends in their garden, looking at their mediaeval court house

- tennis. Need I say more?  WE WON! Or, at least, he did. We shrieked with excitement, drank Lapsang, exhaustedly triumphant

- took friends around our home to see what's been done this past week or two;  watered the polytunnel bursting into life, watched the swifts swirl around the roof top and skim into the garden

* * * *

And now. Now it's time to gear up again. After rest and love and fun and worship. After down time and up time, time with the Lord and time with friends.

All is gift. And I am rested and relaxed and restored.

My sabbath rest has been all that I hoped and much much more.

A good start.

Thanks to my Spiritual Director.

And God's good example. 

* * * *

When do you have a proper sabbath?  What works best for you?

 

 

 

 

 

The end is in sight .... probably!

Exciting news: Kitchen floor tiles are down.

Bifold doors for breakfast room are in.

Showertrays are being fitted.

And the Preview Retreats, all 6 of them. are just about full - ONE space still available for the August walking retreat, if you still haven't signed up! (details HERE) Lots of lovely people coming for some space and time with the Lord, a little helping out (decorating, gardening, tidying...)

And don't forget that EVERY SATURDAY from now on is an open invite to come, enjoy the countryside, lend a hand with painting and decorating, have some fun helping out. This Saturday we especially need YOUR HELP - because we have furniture which has to move in next week! Might you please come and lend a hand? Much as I hate asking people for things, even I am happy to ask you to come and help us this week especially! (Details HERE  Please RSVP if you can come - we are providing lunch and so an idea of numbers coming would be a great help!  Thank you, dear friends. We are counting on you!

A few photos to whet your appetite ....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above all - please might you pray? For this place, for those who come, for it to be a place of spiritual sanctuary for all.

 

 

 

Interior Design

Exciting news this week from Mays Farm - the decorating is about to begin! Not everywhere, but a few rooms are ready for their paint. Bookroom red in the Library, lime white in the Drawing Room and bedroom two, whitewash in the Chapel. The reason? Apart from the obvious ...

The reason that these four rooms MUST be decorated is that all the furniture is arriving during the last week of June and will need to be stored in those rooms until the rest of the house is ready. We have been really blessed that we were allowed to leave all our stuff in the London Vicarage, and not have to pay for storage. But now the Vicarage needs to be emptied and so the Removal Men are booked and we will be reunited with our belongings.

It took FIVE HOURS (on a flight from DC to Heathrow) to go through each of the new rooms and decide which furniture will go where. What a blessing this new calling of our ministry this is proving to be; I was SO excited I could barely sit still even with the seatbelt sign warning on!

But we can't put the furniture into most of the rooms just yet and so it will be stored in one of four rooms - and those need decorating before it is unloaded! Might you like to come and wield a paintbrush with us and others?  Come and enjoy a day in the country at Mays Farm - each of the previous work days have been great fun and we have loved having others around who have blessed us, enjoyed the work, been blessed, eaten lunch together in the Walled Garden. And prayed. We want to pray over this Retreat House, again and again and again.

If the LORD does not build the house, it is useless for the builders to work on it. Psalm 127:1 (God's Word translation)

We pray that The Vine @ Mays Farm will be "auspice Christo" (built with the help of Christ)

Here is your own special invite, to come and be part of this:

 

SATURDAY JUNE 22

9.30 - 5.30 (or whenever you can be here within those times!) 

Painting and decorating party

Bring a paintbrush and wear clothes suitable for painting in!

And if you hate painting there' s lots of garden work to be done too.

RSVP - we will provide lunch so need to know numbers.

Don't be a stranger, see you real soon, as our Southern friends would say!

Latest photos of Mays Farm - they may look as if it is still a building site (it is!) but the developments in the two weeks we have been away are amazing to us.  Kitchen floor will be tiled this weekend too. We're getting there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

POST SCRIPT: One couple are having to cancel their places on the Italy Pilgrimage - so there are 2 places available if you would like to join us Sept 7-14, walking the Via Francigena from San Gimignano to Monticello. Get in touch if you would like more info!  

The best things come in small packages

So this is a total departure and I promise to be back to normality soon. But we are in the USA and reality has to some degree been suspended - temporarily. And the anticipation of a small package arriving has been enormous.

Some weeks ago, my younger daughter, who lives in the USA, signed up for a small package. A fix. But not of the kind you might be thinkingI mean. This is a parcel of dreams, specially selected, beautifully wrapped in tissue, chosen with you in mind - after you have filled in your styles and your preferences and your selected sections. I was signed up by this same daughter, filled in my size (6; you have to love USA sizing, that sounds so small!) selected my style (classic casual) and my favorite (we are in America, remember) color - blues and navies. And sat back and waited.

She and I skayjuled simultaneous deliveries.  We checked online yesterday and discovered that our little parcels had left San Francisco. Could they, would they, arrive in Virginia today?

They could and did.  My happiness levels soared. A little box, a true STITCH FIX, of 5 articles I might like. A box for her and a box for me.

 

I could hardly contain my excitement.

opening the box

Wearing a very inexpensive supermarket teeshirt, (thank you, Sainsburys! My summer clothes are all in store in London)  I opened up to beautifully wrapped and folded white tissue paper. Giggles from excitement and anticipation  - what would I find inside?

Opening my very first Stitch Fix box

There were to be five items, each specially selected by my stylist - Joyce, according to the note inside.

Joyce, you are amazing. How did you know? I suspect you are really a computer but even so, I am astounded at what I unpack.

First, a glimpse of navy and white stripes. One of my favorite combinations. Enthusiastically I pull it out and hold it up to me. Is it a dress? A tunic top? Beach wear? I love the red buttons on the shoulder - a nice detail. (Pronounced de-TAYLE)

Next, a shirt. Just a shirt. Blue, turquoise-y blue, with orange flecks. I would not ever have given it a second glance on a rail in a store.

 

My daughter pounces on it and tries it on. She looks stunning as usual.

 

What else? More navy.

A stunning little jacket, with pretty lace trim where there might have been pockets, and a sweet white-with-pink-spots lining.

Jeans.

And a necklace.

Each of the clothes has a useful tag, showing a range of clothes (which you probably already possess) that create outfits with this particular item. The turquoise shirt is shown with white trousers (sorry, pants, we are in the USA) and with a denim skirt.

 

Time to try things for size and style. I start with the stripes. And am horrified by the shortness of length and the sack-like fit. I hear my grandmother's derisory voice whisper in my ear - "Mutton dressed like lamb."

Leggings underneath? I suggest to the family. No way is what I think they mean in their laughter.

 

I opt for the shirt next. And team it with the jeans. The family all exclaim with delight. YES!

The navy jacket is tried with white underneath, as suggested on its style tag. It's good. But I have a very similar one already, and can't justify another. But Joyce got this right too.

 

So that leaves the necklace. It's not me at all. And I realise that jewellery is just too personal for me to want a stranger to choose it for me; and I have much-loved things already, usually given to me by my husband, celebrating and commemorating. I don't even try this on. Leather and mock gold? Definitely not me.

Verdict?

Of the five items sent

- One I would not ever have given a second look in a shop  but is highly rated by onlookers (shirt)

- One I love but I have its cousin already (jacket)

- One is just right and exactly what I need (jeans - my own much loved pair have worn out and have a hole!)

- One is totally not me (necklace)

- One is wrong size in that it is too short for my age and not fitted enough for my preference (tunic/dress)

Will I keep anything? I've paid a $20 stylist fee which I lose if I don't put it towards anything. Nothing is more than $90, so well within my specified price range. And the family love the shirt and the jeans.

I have three days to decide.

* * * * *

My happiness levels were dangerously high in anticipation of the small box arriving. There is a two week waiting list if you sign up (here if you live in the USA) which cleverly adds to the anticipation. There was enormous fun in daughter and me having boxes arrive together, trying things on, laughing and photographing,  entertaining our husbands with our looks and comments. And return postage is free.

Such a simple idea. So easily achieved.

* * * * *

Tomorrow morning a small "package" awaits me, as it does every morning.

God's Word, His gift to me. It's lifegiving and it's life enhancing and it's life transforming.

'Nuff said.

And the winner of the time capsule competition is ...

  A while ago there was a competition on here, asking for suggestions as to what should be included in a time capsule to bury in Mays Farm. At the time, I couldn't imagine there would ever be a floor under which anything could be hidden!

There was mud everywhere this spring. Rain and mud outside; earth floors turning to mud inside. It looked like devastation to me - and I found it quite depressing. Would there ever be progress?

Friends kindly enquired - how is it going? Can you move in yet? Aren't you excited?

And I looked at the mud on our boots and the dust in our hair and I despaired. It was an utter disaster.

BUT

But there IS progress. Suddenly, things are happening in a different way. Instead of everything coming down, being taken apart, dug up or demolished, there is a putting together, a creating, a movement of new beginnings.

Progress is seen at last - look at the little store rooms being made into a kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it still doesn't quite look like the finished kitchen ... but it's definitely improving.

And there's a similarity with my life and its ups and downs.

Sometimes it has felt that everything is demolished, devastated, depressed. 

For I too am a work in progress. Sometimes God has had to dig deep to remove the edifices I tried to erect, to dig out the imperfections, remove my all-too-easily constructed walls of pride and passions and perceptions. And it's painful.

Our workmen have been digging and demolishing  in order to restore and renew and recreate. And so has God -  He restores and renews and recreates my life.

If the LORD does not build the house, it is useless for the builders to work on it. If the LORD does not protect a city, it is useless for the guard to stay alert. (Ps 127:1)

Auspice Christo: built with the help of Christ.

I am learning to be patient about Mays Farm.

Please be patient with me, God hasn't finished with me yet!

There are other signs of new life everywhere around the Farm. And blossom in the Walled Garden.

 

Come and see! On May 18th & May 25th there are invitation days - details here.

And on May 25th we will be burying the time capsule under the elm beams of floor boards on the top landing. Come and pray with us for the new ministry at The Vine as we do this.

CHARLOTTE LEAKE: your entry was chosen by the MbD Trustees! Congratulations on winning a free retreat night at The Vine @ Mays Farm in September!

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Cor 5:17)

Might you pray for us? Pray for The Vine @ Mays Farm to be built by the Lord; pray for the ministry  of offering retreats and spiritual sanctuary; pray that all will be auspice Christo. Me and Mays Farm both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a short fuse

Stress. Renovating projects and moving house and changing jobs are all rated highly on the stress indicator tables. Add to that the PTSS and depression of the previous two years, and I can excuse my instant explosions.

That angry tongue.

Those hateful words.

The impatient temper which explodes just when I'm not expecting it.

I even - yes, I confess to this too - I even hit the dog. Not hard, but still. I hit her, because she was leaping up at a visitor: trained already by our lovely workmen (they truly are, always cheerful and hardworking even in the recent freezingly cold weather) to leap as they tease her with their sandwiches. I've only recently discovered this and they do't do it anymore. But old habits die hard, especially in Labradors eager for any tidbit. Exasperated by her disobedience and desire to jump, I scolded and then lashed out, impatient, angry, on a short fuse.

And in front of a wonderful young Christian who had come on Saturday to help us work on the house.

So that's where I was last week.

On a short fuse.

It kept hitting me too, that short fuse.  Exploded externally, nagged internally.

But Sunday. And the sweetness of the Lord came pouring in as the tears poured out.

"This is the air I breathe ... and I, I, I - I'm lost without You, I'm desperate for You."

Worship at The Bath and Avon Vineyard. The Spirit convicting. 

Lord, change me.  I'm desperate for You to change me. I can't seem to get rid of this short fuse.

* * * *

He sent me Words. Words I have known for years but had forgotten. From Amy Carmichael's small but profound book IF  - 

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love. For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.

I need Calvary Love. HIS love, pouring into me, loving others through me, filling me to the brim with His sweetness and patience and grace.

So I kneel at the foot of His Cross, conscious once again of that all powerful Love. LOVE that died for me and my short fuse.  LOVE that can flood me. LOVE - the first of the fruit of the Spirit.

Cross in chapel

The Cross we found (in the floor joists!) is now in the Chapel

close up of cross

I welcome His love in and drink deeply. Oh, LOVE, that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee ...

I'm still on a short fuse.  But I've handed the fuse to Him.

* * * *

SATURDAY  was another work day. The final wall came down, to create the kitchen. And the ceiling came down in one of the attic bedrooms.  That's the end of demolishing; now we start putting it all together. YAY!

last wall comes down

kitchen space!

ceiling comes down

Proof of a Miracle

 

Snowdrops as far as the eye can see - down to the Bybrook. We've often walked along this path to Long Dean and Castle Combe over the past 25 years; some years there's hardly any white and green, some years there are masses of snowdrops. This afternoon: one of the best displays for a very long time.

 

Here is what I posted on this blog, just over two years ago - three weeks after I saw my mother run over and crushed by an out-of-control car; three weeks into what was to prove to be a long descent into PTSS and depression:

October 2010      Three weeks after The Day

There will be snowdrops again. There will be snowdrops again. I have to believe it. One day soon, the tiny tips will push through, struggling, light seeking, upward bound. First, there will be snow. Frost and freeze. Rain. Anything the elements can throw on a winter’s day. A test of patience, hope, belief. But for now, the bulb lies cold, deeply hidden, dormant.

So lies my soul.

A corpse, buried in winter snow. Buried within my cold cold body. Iced from within. I can see it from above, the rectangle of transparent ice surrounding all that is me.

It is hard to hear you through the ice. Impossible to reach out, touch you, feel your well-meant hug. This ice is brittle, sharp, so-very-cold. It forms a barrier.

Maybe that is my protection, for should the thaw come too soon I would feel too much.

So I will believe that snowdrops will come again. And one day One day My snowdrop soul will grow again a tiny tip of life.

For as [surely as] the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring forth, so [surely] the Lord God will cause rightness and justice and praise to spring forth before all the nations [through the self-fulfilling power of His word].  

Isaiah 61:11 (Amplified Bible (AMP) © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation)

 

Snowdrop (n): A.D. Miller

 1. An early-flowering bulbous plant, having a white pendent flower

2. Moscow slang. A corpse that lies buried or hidden in the winter snows, emerging only in the thaw.

* * * *

And now, two and a third years later, the thaw is well and truly here; I can feel - too much sometimes, too deeply occasionally.

But I can feel. Above all, I can feel God's love.

Last week, a dear girl prayed for me. I had gone forward for prayer ministry, hoping for a mature, well-practiced pray-er. Inwardly I cringed as a sweet faced young girl approached me - what could she know of my what and where and when.

Lord forgive me.

Lord You work through whom You chose - not whoever I think should be best.

I simply told her I felt I had lost some things in my life over the past few years; and that I wasn't sure that the Cross of Christ was big enough for this.

That's all.

She prayed for comfort and love; then she had a picture for me.

The Lord was saying that there were some chapters of my life that He needs to rewrite. To show me that He was, is,  there in those chapters with me. And that right there and then, a new chapter was beginning, being written. The old chapters  are past and gone; here beginneth the new one.

The tears came; and with them, repentance and acceptance.

And new emotions.

 

Now try telling me miracles don't happen. For I've proof that they do.

 

There are HUNDREDS of snowdrops in this part of the world right now.

 

A sign from God for me.

Your daily survival kit for this year:

We are in the middle of a mini-series on alleviating, surviving, truimphing over, the bleak midwinter blues of January. Sign up to get the rest delivered straight into your email box! I've just had an email from a dear friend  - with the most amazing survival kit that we all need.  Where she got it from, I have no idea - no-one is attributed with authorship, so if you know where it comes from, PLEASE let me know!  But I pass it on as a slightly tongue-in-cheek daily survival kit:  fill your bag with these few things and keep taking them out to remind yourself.

 

 

DAILY SURVIVAL  KIT 

to help you each day of this new year:

A Toothpick ... to remind you to  pick the good qualities in everyone, including  yourself.

A Rubber Band ... to remind you to be flexible. Things might not always  go the way you want, but it can be worked out.

A Band-Aid ... to remind you to  heal hurt feelings, either yours or someone else's.

An Eraser ... to remind you  everyone makes mistakes. That's okay, we learn from our  errors.

A Candy  Kiss ... to remind you everyone needs a hug or a compliment  everyday.

A Mint  ... to remind you that you are worth a mint to your family  & me.

 Bubble  Gum ... to remind you to stick with it and you can accomplish  anything.

A Pencil ... to remind you to  list your blessings every day.

A Tea Bag ... to remind you to take time to relax daily and go over  that list of blessings.

This is what makes life worth living every minute, every day 

May you have love, gratitude, friends to cherish, caring, sharing,laughter, music, and  warm feelings in your heart in 2013.

AND, I have to add, the gratitude in counting each day's gifts gives so much blessing and a  change of mental attitude. How can doing one such small simple thing make this enormous difference?

All is gift.

Counting - are you?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17, NIV)

What would you add to this list?
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QUESTION TIME for Advent

I preached yesterday at all three of our main services at St James - on the first Sunday of Advent. Several people asked for copies of my sermon - so here is my script for those who would like to be reminded of something from it. The audio edition will very soon be available here: http://www.st-james.org.uk/sermons.php

 

ANY QUESTIONS?

-       comment on difficulty in finding something to wear this morning, getting following photos of Sally Hitchener in The Times yesterday …

-        PRAY……

-       INTRODUCTION:

Today: the first Sunday in Advent.  We’ve just lit the candle of HOPE

And so Christmas is beginning…the season when so many superficial wants get confused with the deeper longings of the human heart.

When giving the latest techno-toy gets confused with giving love.

When the frenzied scramble for that perfect gift at the lowest possible price takes over our thinking and leaves very little room for the theme of Advent, for preparing for the coming King.

But this season of Advent calls us—in the midst of so much distraction—to pay attention to the deeper desires of our hearts.

So this morning I want to look at three questions which I hope will help us over the weeks of Advent. Each question comes from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and I want to look at each in turn, and then think about how it applies to us in our own situations.

-       About how each question will help us to go deeper into God in order to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts, in a way that the consumerist frenzy of our modern Christmas never can.

-       About HOPE – as we wait for the coming of the Messiah, King Jesus  who is the hope of the world.

So -  3 Questions: and I am indebted to Tim Clayton’s new little book on the Four Questions of Advent for the idea for this sermon today.

- The question of disappointment, asked by Zechariah

- The question of inadequacy, asked by Elizabeth

- The question of surrender, asked by Mary

1.  THE  QUESTION OF DISAPPOINTMENT

Luke begins his story of God’s presence coming to live among us with this surprising account of Zechariah.

A man who was living a life of great disappointment: in his work and in his marriage.

He was a priest, one of the leaders of the people, and they had been expecting the Messiah to come. There was great disappointment and frustration that not only was there no messiah, there was the Roman invasion and so they were occupied by foreign forces. He had had no good news at work to be able to share, no hope to offer to others.

Z also had great disappointment in his marriage.  Most men want to son to carry on their family name, to be proud of and bring up. And in those days, to be a childless couple was to be a laughing stock, second class citizens almost. Z & E had had no child, in spite of their prayers, and Z was a man disappointed in his marriage.

How many of us know deep disappointments in life – in our careers, in our family life, in our homes, in almost every area of our lives?

Here is a husband who had been crying out to God in desperation,

a wounded, hopeless man;

one whose work has not been all that he had hoped,

one whose marriage had not been all that he had  hoped.

And I suspect for most of us here, there are things in Z’s disappointments  that we relate to in our own lives, whether we are male or female, married or single.

We have known deep disappointments in our lives -

- Relationships which cause hurt and anguish and intense sadness

- Work situations and frustrations causing stress and  hurt and disappointments

- Lack of money and security

- poor health or persistent pain

- the general pursuit of happiness.

 

We are Broken and Bruised and Battered people.

 

Maybe we feel we have cried out to the Lord and he hasn’t heard our anguish.

Just like Zechariah, who had tried to live a good life according to God’s laws (v 7) maybe we feel it’s too late  - they were getting old, maybe they were tempted to give up.

Someone once said that the words “TOO LATE” are the saddest words ever. And maybe that’s how you feel too.  It’s too late; there have been too many disappointments. Maybe that’s going round in your head right now.

But let’s look at bit more at this story of Zechariah. For something is about to change in his life. Suddenly, after years and years of hopelessness both at work and in his personal life, something happens.

Something happens at work: he is chosen, he won the privilege, of being promoted for this one- off event of offering the evening incense, something a priest typically only did once in his lifetime, as once you had done it you were ineligible to be entered into the draw until all the priests in your division (and there were a great many) had done it, and your division was only eligible twice a year for a week at a time in any case.

So Zechariah goes into the special area in the Temple, offers the incense and as he does so, he has this vision of an angel – who turns out of course as we know with hindsight, to be an archangel. The archangel wants to calm Z – don’t be afraid – and give him some good news.

‘Your prayers have been heard.”  And there is the amazing news of a son for Z and his wife Elizabeth – a son who is to be called John: which means “GOD HAS GIVEN GRACE.”

But I suspect Z didn’t really hear it all – didn’t take it all in. Even though something is going to change in his personal life, he is so stunned, so overwhelmed, that he misses God’s promises.  Maybe he allows his disappointments and broken hopes to get in the way; he is so used to feeling disappointed, let down by God and by everything else in his life, that he doesn’t really understand what’s going on.

And so he asks the wrong question, a question coming out of disappointment. HOW CAN I KNOW? He is disappointed and hurt, and he can’t get beyond that. Even when confronted with this messenger from God, with this astonishing and very surprising vision, it’s almost as if he voices his frustrations. How can I KNOW? It can’t be true! It’s just not possible.

Z has spoken from his heart, from a place of disappointment and hurt. But he has overreached himself. And so God puts him in a place of reflection for a while – by making him dumb, so that he would not be able to do his work, not be able to take services or talk to others. Maybe the silence, the reflection, is so that there can be time for renewal and refreshment.

Because the answer to Z’s disappointments is coming:

HOPE is coming:

first in the son he is to have,

who will then point the way to the true HOPE:

Jesus, the Messiah and the hope of the nations. Jesus, the hope of heaven, coming to lift us from our hurts and disappointments.

INTO THE MIDDLE OF OUR IMPOSSIBLE MESSES COMES THE MESSIAH WHO MAKE MIRACLES HAPPEN (from Anne Voskamp)

How can I KNOW?  Is this a question we also would have asked, or do ask in our own circumstances, when we sense the movement of God in our lives – or long to do so? That deep longing to KNOW that God is real, that he has plans for us, that the pain of disappointment and hurt will one day be gone?

Because don’t you find that there is always the temptation to try to work things out for ourselves,

to ask WHY so loudly and with such heartache,

that even if the answer should come, we’d not be able to  pick it up?

Like Z, to ask the wrong question?

And so our first questioner, Zechariah, perhaps speaks to us in our disappointment, and suggests to us that we should take a period of reflection, maybe during this first week of Advent coming up;

- take some time in quiet before the Lord, and ask Him to speak  to us, to speak into our lost hope and our pain;

- and maybe to expect him to again, in a way we’ve not known  certainly for a long time, perhaps not ever.

We need to whisper, like Samuel: Speak Lord for your servant is listening.

Is that something you need to whisper out of your hurt and disappointment over this next week? And will you stay quiet long enough to hear what the Lord has to say? Because with God, it’s never too late; in the presence of God, maybe our hurts and fears and disappointments look very different. Can you offer them to him, knowing that he will say “Don’t be afraid” and that he will have the best solution: the hope we can have in Jesus.

2. THE QUESTION OF INADEQUACY

Let’s move on to the second question, the question of inadequacy.

Moving on just over 6 months, to verse 39. Z’s wife Elizabeth is now 6 months pregnant, and has an unexpected visitor – her young cousin, Mary, who is also pregnant  - with the Messiah, of course, but we will look at Mary and her question in a little more detail in a moment.

Mary has struggled on a long arduous journey, probably whilst trying to cope with morning sickness and all those first strange early week of pregnancy. As she arrives at long last in Elizabeth’s house, and steps at last over the doorstep, tired and weary and yet strangely exhilarated with all that is happening, something wonderful happens.  Elizabeth’s baby, the promised John whose name means GOD HAS GIVEN GRACE, ‘leaps in the womb’ – v 41.

Now most babies are fairly active in the womb – by about 6 months into the pregnancy they are kicking and turning, getting hiccups and making their presence felt.  So in some respects what Elizabeth feels is normal.  AND YET!

In the original text, the word used for ‘leaped” is used only in this one place in the New Testament. It is the word used to describe great energy and joy, and was used in the book of Malachi to describe the energy and joy which will follow the coming of the Messiah.

In Malachi 4: 2 the prophecy reads: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in his wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

This was a special moment, and Elizabeth recognized it as such. Verse 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 

Elizabeth gives a loud cry of joy – but then comes her question, and its heartfelt profundity seems to be lost in translation in the NIV which we have in front of us.

Zechariah’s question was sceptical, a sort of ‘prove it to me’ kind of question.  Elizabeth’s cry of joy is followed by a pause and then a question of self doubt, which literally says in the original, “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes EVEN TO ME?”

She is basically saying, WHY ME? WHO AM I that this should happen to me? I’m not the priest like my husband, I’m no-one special, I’m just the stay at home housewife up in the hills. I don’t deserve this.

I’m no-one special.

And itsn’t that the lie that the enemy feeds into each one of us at times?

That moment of self doubt,

that lack of self worth,

that low self-esteem.

I’m no-one special.

Someone else is smarter

Someone else has not made all those wrong decisions

Someone else is more vivacious, more patient,

more clever

or younger or better looking  – or, or, or

Poor self esteem, often through comparing ourselves with others.

Here is Elizabeth, wondering why on earth God would choose her. And so again, the question comes off the page and engages each one of us, whatever our situation, whatever our role in life, however slight or mundane it seems.  We too often struggle with this very question.

Surely God would never want me. Surely God would never choose me.  My ministry is no good, I never help people, I’m wasting my time.

All those self doubts, all those moments of low self esteem, all those moments of wondering whether I have anything at all to offer. Why should God choose me?

And yet -  He does. He chooses each one of us for the role He has determined before our birth for each one of us.  But, even more than that, there is his love for each one of us.

Our eldest granddaughter had her fourth birthday last week.  She celebrated with a Hallo Kitty birthday party. (For those who don’t’ know, Hallo Kitty is a slightly nauseating, very pinkly coloured, cartoon-like character who for some reason appeals enormously to little girls).  At the party, there were hallo kitty masks to colour in and wear, hallo kitty face painting, lots of pink things – and hallo kitty transfers to be put on to the back of one’s hand.

And so I told Talitha, my granddaughter, when she was proudly showing me her hallo kitty transfer on her hands and arms, that God loves her so much he has a transfer with her name on it on his hand. Only that transfer wont wash off, like the hallo kitty ones.  The transfer with her name on it which is on God’s hand is permanent, and it’s because he loves her so much and wants to wear her name on his hand forever.

You know that’s true for you too, don’t you! God has your name engraved on his hand because he loves you so much  - it says so in Isaiah 49:

V 14 But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, 
the Lord has forgotten me.’

in other words, who am I?

self doubt, thinking the Lord doesn’t care.

But what does God say to us?

v15  ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
 and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
 Though she may forget,

I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

That’s what God does to prove his love for you, his unending, faithful, trustworthy love for you.  You are so special, so loved by God, that in the word of the song,

There is nothing you can do to make him love you more

There is nothing you can do to make him love you less.

God loves you.

That makes you special.

No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter what you look like or feel like.

God loves you and you are special. And he proves his love to you in this : he sent Jesus. The promised messiah, the hope of the world.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates (or proves) his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. THAT’S HOW MUCH GOD LOVES YOU.

And so the challenge for the second week of Advent is for us to think more deeply about

WHO AM I?

and for that thinking to take us deeper into knowing the truth of how much God loves us.

We don’t have to feel inadequate or compare ourselves to others.  We have instead to live in this truth: how very very much God loves you.

HE LOVES YOU. You are a child of God.

 

3.  THE THIRD QUESTION OF TOTAL SURRENDER

And so we move on to the third question, one which I am going to look at in very much less detail although in fact it is probably the most important one.  And that’s Mary’s question, when she is told that she is going to be the mother of the Messiah, the hope of the world.  We’ll look at it more briefly for two reasons – one is that you want to get home for lunch, the other is because I preached at St James about Mary’s surrender to God not so very long ago, and you may remember or you may want to listen to it online.

Go back to Luke 1: 26.  It’s a story we all know so very well. A story of a young girl who is engaged to be married, and of how she is met by an angel, how the angel tells her that she will find herself pregnant and how the baby will be a miracle from God.

Maybe you too have had an experience which has been out of your normal comfort zone, when you have been asked to do something which has been scary but also a great privilege.  Of course, it’s a very small and totally inadequate illustration of what Mary the mother of Jesus was faced with.

Picture from Spoleto: God tapping Mary on the shoulder:

And what was Mary’s response to this invitation?

V 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

A better translation might be, Mary was confused and worried and tried to think what the angel could mean.

So she is thinking deeply about this, trying to work it out, as the angel goes on to tell her what is going to happen. Don’t be frightened, the angel says, God has it all worked out.

And then, in v 34, Mary replies,  ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’   -   How can I have a baby?  I’m a virgin!

Unlike Zechariah, Mary’s curiosity as to how God would act was genuine.   Most importantly, her immediate reaction was one of total obedience.  What would happen to her would cause her to be misunderstood and probably chastised and ridiculed by her family and her friends, as it would look as if she had had sex outside marriage, an offence punishable by death.  This could jeopardise her marriage, or any future marriage possibilities, and make her an outcast. But she didn’t hesitate to be used by God in whatever way he asked of her: -

V 38  It comes across as an immediate decision; she may have been bewildered, she may have been anxious; but she was content to leave it to God and be open to his will.  “I am the Lord’s servant,” she said, “and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.  May everything you have said come true.” (NLT)

OK, God, whatever you want, whatever you say.  Full and glad surrender, at any cost.

Isn’t this the most powerful example of complete trust in God and obedience to his plans?

“Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

And so here is the challenge for each one of us for the third week of Advent. To spend time bringing our impossible situations to God, and asking him to work it all out; to offer him ourselves, knowing that he can, will, and does do all things well. (as it says in Mark 7:37)

From the moment she accepted God’s plans and will for her life, Mary was totally dependent on him.  She opened herself to God in every way; and gave him complete control.  The only thing she could control was her faithfulness to God, her dependency on him.

But God – don’t you just love that phrase?  But God… we do this and we do that, and we mess up, and whatever.  But God.. God did what only he could do and he poured out his spirit over Mary.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, “ the angel had promised. (v. 35).  And Mary knew that God had not forgotten his promise (v54 NLT).  She was filled with Spirit, overshadowed by the power of God.

Mary embraced God’s will so completely, that she doesn’t question him, his ways or his plans.  And this I think is the real challenge of this story.

Not only was Mary in a relationship with God to the extent that he cherished her and chose her;

not only was she filled with power from on high so that his plans and promises permeated through her to the whole of history;

but she was totally surrendered to what he wanted.

Full and glad surrender at any cost.

IS that true of you and of me? Are we totally surrendered to God? And if that is the only question you remember from this sermon, if that is the only question you take with you into Advent and then Christmas this year, it is the most important and fundamental question of all.

Will you allow God to have all of you,

your disappointments and hurts,

your self doubts and fears,

your lack of love and your questions and fears?

Will you hand it all over to him and give him yourself?

Because only when we do that, as Mary did, can God pour his Spirit over us and fill us with Himself.

Mary, who was probably young and poor, who came from insignificant Nazareth and had nothing to offer except herself and her full and glad surrender at any cost, surrendered herself utterly and completely to God’s call on her life. She trusted him and obeyed him. And because of her faith and her trust and obedience, God could use her and through her bless the whole of human kind. . Full and glad surrender at any cost. She wanted “God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.”

CONCLUSION

What is your question as you wait for Christmas? Whatever your situation, whatever your disappointments or your inadequacies, there is hope.

By surrendering ourselves to God, the One who loves us best,

we can know new hope, new love.

We can know His deep deep love for us as we look at his king size bed, and

And know that He IS the answer to each and every one of our questions.

 

Will you stand ….  Pray maybe with hands open to showing offering of self to the Lord …

 

There is a hope that burns within my heart

That gives me strength for every passing day

A glimpse of glory now revealed in meagre part

Yet drives all doubt away

I stand in Christ with sins forgiven

And Christ in me the hope of heaven

My highest calling and my deepest joy

To make his will my home.

 

 - Stuart Townend

 

 

 

1 WAY TO FIND THE POWER

We went to see Chariots of Fire last night, on stage. If you haven't been - go! It is amazing. Spellbinding. Uplifting and inspirational.  We were the only two people in the front row (cheaper seats, you had to crane your neck - but we are both tall so it was no problem!) And so my husband was handed a pair of cymbals at the start of the second Act - and had a crashingly enjoyable 5 minutes.

And we all know the story:  how one man stood by his principles, even when his beloved sister and then his team leaders and even the Prince of Wales, asked him to give in just this once - for King and Country. And how he remained steadfast.

The production has been much talked about - how the actors have to run so hard, so fast, around the circular track in the auditorium. We felt exhausted after just a few minutes of watching it all! But by the time we had sat through the whole play (musical? show? ) we felt proud to be Christian, proud to be British, proud of King and country. It was inspirational.

For once, Christianity was not derided, sidelined, undermined or mocked.

For once, the Christian was held up as a hero.

His rival and team mate, Harold Abrahams, was quoted as saying, "I am faster. But he is better."

Eric Liddell was voted as Scotland's favourite sports star over a century after his death. Yet he died in obscurity as a prisoner of war in a concentration camp, having spent his relatively short life as a missionary.

David Puttnam, the producer of the 1981 film, said of Eric Liddell, "Everything I have read makes clear the depth of Eric Lidell's personal commitment: the degree to which his beliefs formed him -  and his desire to bring them into EVERY aspect of his life."

Eric Liddell left an enormous legacy.  A commitment to God, a passion for living life in God's ways, a firmness in his desire for wanting only to be firm in his beliefs and faith. He said,

"You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It's hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape - especially if you've got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you're dinner's burnt. Maybe you haven't got a job. So who am I to say, "Believe, have faith," in the face of life's realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, "Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me." If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race. "

In Paris, on the very Sunday when Eric Liddell was meant to be running in an Olympic heat, he was preaching in church. Isaiah 40: they shall run and not be weary'; they shall walk and not faint.

May that be true for you and me today - and tomorrow and all our tomorrows. To run, wholeheartedly and with passion and a sense of calling and adventure, with God's power within us, until we break the finishing tape.

 

 

Can I live by faith? The first hurdle arrives.

The initial excitement of finding a house that can be our family home as well as provide a place of peace and sanctuary for others has lasted for a while! Feeling called by God to pursue that dream is exhilarating. If you missed the 'formal announcement', you can find it here.

And for a while we have known blessing upon blessing. Not just that the sellers chose us in spite of ours being the lowest offer; or our London flat going under offer within a few days for more than we had imagined it might be worth; or the sense of the house being the 'right' place every time we walk in.  But more than all those, the 'sixth sense' type of feeling or knowing, that deep imponderable, that the Lord is in this and is making it happen.

So we smiled and accepted the most amazing offers of help - this person doing all the legal work to set up the charitable Trust for us, that kitchen design person offering their services for free, this one who knows how to get grants for insulation doing the ground work, that one offering to put together a little group of initial donors to the Trust. And the kind comments, tweets, emails, letters, cards -  from friends and acquaintances, family and congregation - the sense everyone has that this is 'right,' this is what we are meant to be doing. And people we haven't even met offering to come and be praying labourers when we need them; a member of a youth group we ran 30 years ago writing out of the blue offering to come and help. The couple we asked to be Chairperson and first trustee of the board saying yes  .... blessing upon blessing. And we can't quite believe it's all happening and that there are less than 90 days until we leave the church here.

But.

And there was bound to be a first but.

The mortgage company we used for the London apartment have refused to 'port' the mortgage. We hadn't counted on that. We took out that mortgage years ago when we were first in the States, both of us on the generous salaries that clergy there often enjoy. Now we are stepping out into the unknown, really living by faith as we take on this new project;  there is no provable  income in the future. The mortgage company don't like that!

So here is the first stumbling block.

Can I trust the Lord in this? Do I believe He can sort it out? And if I say, yes I do - do I mean it or is it just that I can hide behind my husband knowing that he is making phone calls and filling in forms and doing his best to find a new mortgage provider?

Because if I can't trust now, if I can't keep praying AND trusting, in this first hurdle, what of the next? And the next?

So here is my prayer request:

Will you pray with us that the Lord will indeed provide what is needed?

That we will learn to trust in God's provision and God's timing?

 

Listen to these children singing one of my favourite songs from Isaiah, a song we sang a lot on the first Cotswold Pilgrimage; click on the link for the music to play while you continue reading:

Surely, it is God who saves me; 
I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.

Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing 
from the springs of salvation.

And on that day you shall say, 
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;

Make his deeds known among the peoples; see that they remember that his Name is exalted.

Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, and this is known in all the world.

Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

(Canticle 9 The Song of Isaiah)  

Attempt something so great for God that it be doomed to failure unless God be in it.

 

 

Exciting news: ALL CHANGE!

Mays Farmhouse, Hullavington

Well - take a deep breath; and go make a cup of tea.  RIGHT NOW ……. OK? Sitting down? Here goes:

 

Our whole future has been changed in a whirlwind just these past few weeks.  We will be leaving London and all its painful associations just after Christmas. There; I've said it; and the lovely church family at St James have been told today. It's official!

 

As you know we are both somewhat bruised from the tragedies and upheavals of the past few years and in particular I have had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, following the awful accident in which I saw my mother die. The constant London sirens, blaring up and down the Muswell Hill Broadway just by our house have brought so many moments of terrible flashback, and we were advised some time ago to consider moving. A few months ago we both strongly felt the Lord say that it was time we were to begin pushing doors to see where He would lead us and what we would be doing.

 

We have indeed pushed a few doors, but nothing felt right nor fell into place.  And then, about 8 weeks ago, we both suddenly felt that it was right to do something totally different, something which would give the freedom to work in both the UK and the States, and not tie us to one timetable in one place.  Something where we could each use what the Lord has given us in ministry - Kim for mentoring and coaching younger clergy,teaching on church leadership, supporting those taking on larger churches; and me for retreats and pilgrimages and for spiritual direction for younger clergy women.

 

We started to look for a property in the UK to use as a base and a small retreat centre; in mid August I found one on the internet, went to the open morning and felt the calm and presence of the Lord as I walked in!  It's just 5 miles from our little Bolt Hole; it's an ancient farmhouse not too far from Bath, dating back at least to the early 17th century.

Suddenly as we started to pray about it everything began to fall into place VERY quickly. We had to put offers in by Wednesday 29th August.  Apparently ours was the lowest offer. But it's been accepted (unbelievable!) and we met with the sellers and spent an afternoon with them (they will be doing up the large barn across the driveway so will be near- neighbours) and they said they just felt they wanted us to have it.  Is that the Lord or what???  So we put our London flat on the market on a Wednesday and an offer was made on the Monday and we accepted it - it is not far short of what we have to pay for the Farm. WHAT provision!

 

Then, just as we were going to France for a week, I spotted a book on Kim's desk, which, he said at the time, he couldn't remember where it had come from. I read it whilst away, and the way I was praying about the Farm completely changed - from I WANT IT to PLEASE BLESS IT, please bless whoever lives there, please bless the village and all those there. So I spent the week praying that the Farm would be a blessing to whoever bought it and a blessing to those round about; and to be able to live lightly to it if we didn't get it. On returning, I phoned my friend who lives opposite Mays Farm and mentioned the book: Ray Godwin's 'Grace Outpouring.'  To which she replied that she and her husband read it a few years ago and have based their ministry in the area on that exact book and way of praying.

 

When Kim shared our vision for a little Retreat Centre at Mays Farm with the Church Wardens and Senior leaders at church, their reaction was been amazing: HUGE sorrow at the parting but HUGE belief that this is the right thing. And that if it's right for us it must be right for St James too.  So it has been announced in church today:  September 23: the exact second anniversary of my mother's tragic death.

 

We are now beginning to think more clearly about both the short-term and long-term futures! We are also having to scrimp and save - we need every last penny for this new project, as the house needs total renovation; it has not had anything done to it AT ALL for at least 50 years and even then not much was done.  Being an old farmhouse though that means that all the old (VERY old) stuff is still there - inglenook fireplaces complete with ancient spit hooks, copper sinks, stone fireplaces … and the dairy and the cheese room … the outside double toilet …. it is like a museum!! We love it.  I went into one old area and the new neighbour asked what I would do with that room and I heard myself say :This is the chapel. And so it will be. Not sure why I thought that….  but it's right.  The orchard will be full of little quiet spaces; there will be 6  bedrooms with private bathrooms, several of which will have adjoining sitting rooms with pull out beds;  so not a vast retreat centre, but it will sleep 12 - 14 comfortably.

A third of our time will be spent in the USA (spread out over the year) and Kim will work 75-80% of the year, to keep a better life/work balance; we will be setting up Trusts with a board of trustees to keep us accountable, in both the USA and the UK.

 

But a little sabbatical first, which will be a physical one: overseeing and doing a lot of the work on the house. And another little God-incidence: the Bishop wants to pay Kim until the end of March so we can have a 3 month sabbatical (and store our furniture in the Vicarage too)  Another HUGE provision whilst we begin the project. A friend in Bath is doing the plans; the builder, plumber, electrician are all signed up, and we hope to start the work in December - the solicitors are doing their usual thing at the moment with all the paperwork!

 

So my vision which the Lord is giving me is for THE VINE (my retreat house, based on my ordination verses from John 15) and there are 2 vines growing in the (walled!) large orchard.

It seems that the Lord has his hand on this.  We were given Isaiah 60:22 last week: "I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly" and it really does feel as though this is His timing and He is doing it swiftly! Things are falling into place in remarkable ways in answer to prayers. We already have the chairman of the board of trustees for the UK.  God is being SO good. Of course, there is a long way to go yet, and I am sure there will be ups and downs.  BUT ….!

 

So now you know:  Mays Farm.  Our new home. We are moving after Christmas.

THEY THINK IT'S ALL OVER ....

... and now perhaps it is. The Olympics.  Love them or loath them, they have been the main focus of the UK news for the past two weeks. And what an amazing two weeks it has been. We've laughed and cried, shouted and cheered, tallied the totals, even painted some letterboxes golden. "I hope ," posted the Revd Richard Pennystan on Facebook this morning, "I hope we look back on the summer of 2012, as the moment when British culture shifted from cynicism and criticism, to joy, honour & creativity." Shifted from the riots and despair of exactly one year ago, to the feelings of pride and togetherness; and maybe, just maybe, looking forward to the Para-olympics in a couple of weeks. Paul replied to the Revd RP:  'I think the media backed down a little in the second week and stopped referring to anything less than Gold as a failure. I'm looking forward to the Paralympics. If anything can encourage us all to try harder it must be those who achieve success despite their "disadvantages".'

For what have we seen recently but the young (and not so young, think of the 71 year old Japanese Equestrian!) trying their hardest, their best, for themselves, their team, their country. From Mr Bean (that seems longer than just 2 weeks ago, doesn't it?) to Gabby Douglas and Mo Farah,

 

to Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking

there has been an outpouring of effort and determination, of sweat and tears, of elation and despair. Of joy, honour and creativity.

And we , we who have sat and watched from our armchairs or maybe even from our seats in an arena or our picnic rugs in Hyde Park, we too have poured out ourselves in support and tears and joy and elation. A spate of medals caused our household to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate  - it was also our son and daughter-in-law's tenth wedding anniversary, I have to add, but that wasn't the main reason given by the Vicar!  We have all rejoiced,  waved our arms and flags, chatted with perfect strangers sitting next to us in various venues, been amazed at the spirit of goodwill and bonhomie on the  Tubes and buses (and noted how empty they and all of London seem to be apart from the Olympics-bound) and enjoyed joining in this wonderful adventure of elation.

So is it all over? Will we revert to our normal British cynicism and underdogness, our critical spirit and humourlessness, our lack of joie de vivre? Will Monday August 13th see us crawling back to work, deflated, tired; crashing down from the pinnacle of this London 2012? It's been an addiction, this past two weeks. Are we now heading back to our little lives of 'quiet desperation' (Henry David Thoreau)?

We don't have to. We can choose not to.

"We are captivated by the Olympic spirit because it is that same spirit that we long to re-ignite in our own lives.  The joy of living comes from pressing toward excellence.  Watching tiny, 15-year-old children fly through the air with ease and cut through the water like dolphins, reminds us of the pain, the effort and the thrill of being everything we can be. It reminds us of when we chose to dance instead of shuffle. The Olympics reminds us of what it looks like to live: discipline, dedication to a goal, the quest for excellence, risk, pain—all the essence of being fully alive. Things we often leave behind as we are swallowed up making a living instead of living.  Benjamin Franklin said, 'Many men die at 25 and aren’t buried until they are 75.' With the sound of the closing Olympic ceremonies still ringing in your ears, don’t sit on the moment. Capture it. Walk, run, read, love, study, discover. Life doesn’t have a winners’ circle; it just has a finish line and you’re not done running yet." (Ken Davis)

Will you choose to push on towards the goal? To give of your best - for the extension of the Kingdom and the Glory of the Lord?

Instead of feeling deflated, can we spur one another on, encourage one another, build one another up, run together towards the finish line?

It's not all over yet. We still have time to be in the greatest race of our time - our own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to get a new name

What's in a name? I've always thought I'd like to change to a new name. Of course, I changed it once, 35 years ago when I became Mrs Swithinbank. And there was a new Mrs Swithinbank last Saturday - my husband took his nephew's wedding when Andrew Swithinbank married lovely Laura.  If you peer at the photo carefully you can just see my husband and my son in the background; they are chatting to Miriam and she is due to become another Mrs Swithinbank next May when she marries Jonathan Swithinbank! Confused already?  There will then be 5 Mrs Swithinbanks in our extended family. It's quite a name - one which has constantly to be spelled out especially over the telephone.

Names, and in particular family names, can assume great importance, whether for family inheritance or for business continuity. If the family name and line should die out there can be enormous repercussions. Look at Henry VIII's quest for a son to carry on the Royal line; and Princess Diana's "heir and spare."

But the Swithinbank name is assured for another generation - I have a little grandson, William Furnivall Stafford Swithinbank. A full four family names. He has a lot to live up to  - his ancestor Furnivall  was quite a character, friend to Ruskin, co-creator of the Oxford English Dictionary and apparently used as a model for Toad of Toad Hall.  Namesakes are often important. Alexander the Great had a namesake, who unfortunately fled from a battle scene, and when the young man was found by the great Alexander, he was told, "Either change your name or live up to it!"

Some of us may love our names; others of us dislike them intensely or dislike what is associated with them. Or wish we had a different name. Some people simply change their names - apparently it's quite easy to do!  Or this is fun:  you can have a random re-name which promises something different - it came up with Sasha Swithinbank for me.  Still thinking about whether to change!

So are we living up to our names? Because there is one name we each have that will never disappear. "As surely as my new heavens and earth will remain, so will you always be my people, with a name that will never disappear." (Isaiah 66:22, NLT)  We are part of God's family. You are always His child, bearing the family name. It's not on your birth certificate, nor will it be on your death certificate; but it's written on your forehead - Revelation 14:1 "Believers will have the Son's and the Father's name written on their foreheads."  It's  a name that we each possess and which will last forever.

You are royalty - the child of the King of Kings. Are you living up to your name as a child of God?

 

What character traits are associated with your family's name, or what events or happenings?

What happens when your family all get together?

How does it all compare with being a child of the King of Kings?

 

 

5 Lessons from 35 years of marriage - plus THE photo!

We celebrated 35 years of marriage earlier this week.

And I posted on what I have learned in 35 years -

The best times are those when together we truly seek to serve and follow the Lord and His plans for our lives. That a promise is a promise is a promise. 

But there are a few other things I have learned as well!  Because it has not been plain sailing all the way - like any married couple we have had our share of ups and downs, good times and not-so-good times and some downright bad times. Years ago, we threatened over the phone on one occasion during a time of severe stress that we might just leave each other.  And apologised and hugged as soon as we were together again later that day. Stuff happens; we are human; and life can be a severe test of the promises of marriage. What I know now, in no particular order, is this:

1. Most things look, feel, ARE better after a hug, an arm rub and something to eat. Together.

2. Never ever ever criticise your spouse in public or run them down or belittle them or humiliate them in any way. I once wrote: A wife should be her husband's biggest fan. (It applies the other way round too)  Build them up to others, praise and polish them and their achievements to others. And whatever you are thinking, save it for home to voice aloud. By which stage it will probably be less important anyway. And your moment of praising will affect your own attitude too.

3. A spouse can do what no-one else can do: pray for their partner at the deepest level.  Because we know one another so well, we know how to pray for them better than anyone else does. And if the snoring wakes you at night take that as a moment to lay hands on them and pray for them. It might just be a God-given opportunity!

4. Keep on with dating after the wedding too.  All those weeks and months of special date nights don't suddenly cease after the Vicar pronounces you are "man and wife together." Nicky and Sila Lee taught us years and years ago (yes, we went to their wedding!)  to put date nights into our diaries before anything else goes into the schedule.  Date night is important - whether you are going out or staying in (which for us often depended on children and finances for years!) If you are staying in, don't just do what you normally do in the evenings. Make it a special time with the best china or the finest wine glasses, candles on the table; take a bubble bath together; have a good pillow fight; arm wrestle; learn to give great massages ...  (dot dot dot as they say in Mamma Mia)

5. Sexy is a state of mind not body. And anticipation is very powerful:  talking about it, leaving little notes, kissing often, sending an anticipatory text message, having coded allusions even when in front of the children or  other people. It is also a great stress reliever.

We were very young when we married With the Revd John Gwyn-Thomas who married us.

But over these years we have grown together, deepened our love, become really good friends, done so much together. Yes it hasn't always been easy. We know that there but for the grace of God go I, we;  it is by God's grace, love, strength that our marriage has developed, stayed glued, persevered, blossomed.

To God be the glory!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Have Learnt in 35 years of Marriage

 July 16, 1977.

It sounds even to my ears a long long way back in history. I was very, very nervous -  a shy young teacher, whose school summer term had finished only two days earlier. HE had just graduated from Cambridge. We'd already been engaged for nearly two years, but he had a fourth year of studies to finish and we had decided to wait. I walked down the aisle on my father's arm, wearing the veil my mother had worn at their wedding, and which her aunt had worn years before that. The congregation were singing as we walked - you won't want them looking at you, advised my mother, so have a hymn to come in and then they can concentrate on that and not on you. Crown Him with many Crowns, the Lamb upon His Throne, they sang. And right from the start, we wanted Christ at the centre of our marriage. All Hail, Redeemer, Hail, for Thou hast died for me, Thy praise shall never, never fail, throughout eternity. We knew even then that a life of full time service to Christ lay ahead of us. We learnt our vows by heart, determined not to say them to the officiating minister, the wonderfully Welsh Vicar,  John Gwyn-Thomas, but to each other. As we turned and held hands and looked deeply, we promised.  We promised FOREVER - no matter what: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, til death us do part. A promise that has been stretched to its limits on many occasions. But we promised in front of human witnesses - our families and friends - and in front of God. He put the ring on my finger; I put one on his. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. A Trinity of witnesses. We sang again. Channels only, blessed Master, but with all Thy wondrous power flowing through us Thou canst use us every day and every hour. And that was our prayer and our commitment.The sermon, by our request,  was an outreach to those of our friends who as yet did not know the Lord. There were prayers; a friend sang a solo from The Messiah whilst the registers were signed; and then the voices were raised in a favourite hymn  - And Can it Be ... my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed Thee. That's what we promised together  - to follow wherever He leads us.

What have we learned in 35 years?

That the promise still stands. A promise is a promise is a promise. Through the joys and the sorrows - the 2am feeds and then the weddings of those same babies; depressing times and times of delight;  6  little grandchildren; broken dreams and heights of splendour; speaking together to large conferences, praying for individuals;  upholding one another; and trying to serve the Lord together. The best times are those when together we truly seek to serve and follow the Lord and His plans for our lives. He has given us enormous blessings, gifts, privileges and  experiences. Not least, a wonderful family of children, children-in-law and grandchildren. But best of all, each other, to love and to cherish, from this day forward. For ever. It's our promise and our love. 

 

What have you learned in the years you have been married? What blessings can you share?

SHARE THE LOVE: maybe forward this to others, pray for and strengthen their marriage? 

FOUR WAYS THAT MIGHT HELP WHEN LIFE IS ROUGH

  It's been a tough time - 22 months of coping with loss, depression, stress, emotion, exhaustion.

You too know how that feels. We all have rough things to cope with: times of pain, anxiety, grief - from a variety of causes. And it's hard when something suddenly reminds you, takes you back into it when you thought you were learning to cope, learning to live with the 'new normal.' The questions come again and again.

-Why, God? why did that happen? and why do I need to be reminded again today?  when will it all come to an end so I can move on?

It was the sermon Sunday morning. Well meant, talking about Jesus quietening the storm, being there IN it with the disciples; linking it (somehow) to Moses in the bulrushes and God being concerned with every small detail of our lives. And lots of stories of the pain and the suffering that people endure - including one of a woman being crushed under the wheels of a car and killed.

I saw that happen to my lovely 90 year old mother.

Don't be bitter, the preacher urged. Be broken hearted, yes, for the Lord binds up the broken hearted. But don't get bitter. Let the train of faith always be ahead of the parallel train of problems and pains. How, I asked him afterwards. How do I do that? How do I keep the train of faith ahead?  He had no answer but to repeat that there is so much suffering in the world and not to get bitter but allow God to bind up your broken heart. I left feeling bruised and broken hearted all right.

But there IS an answer. We can know what to do, where to go for help. We can't explain why the sorrow and the sadness and the hurt and the pain, but we can look to Christ and seek His peace and His strength. I can't pretend it's easy, for it's not. There are days when there seems to be no peace, no strength, no stilling of my storm. But there are things I am  learning,  that I can share with you, for those days. That I pray will help you as you struggle with the pain and the sorrow, the emotion and the exhaustion.

 

 

 

- ask for help. Personally I don't find that easy. But when you can't pray for yourself, for your situation, for your sorrow and pain, someone else can and will. A trusted friend; the prayer team at church; a prayer help line; even on Twitter where you often see people asking for prayer. All of the above - it doesn't have to be either/or! You don't even have to say why if you don't want to. A simple "please would you pray for me today" can be enough.

- take a short walk. Even if it's just a short walk through a park. Fresh air and looking around at trees or flowers can help. Drop your shoulders, breath deeply...  keep looking around, moving your head, your eyes, to see from side to side. Notice what's around you.

-be grateful. Actively look for, notice, write down, two or three things for which to thank God each day. Whether it's the aroma of fresh coffee or the sun rising again today;  a green light or a parking space; an email from a friend or a verse of Scripture which stands out and helps; a friend, a grandchild, your favourite pair of shoes .... Jot down a couple of gratitudes even in the brokenness.

- allow yourself time. Time to rest; time to recover; time to heal.  We are a busy, rushed society. We don't allow ourselves time, let alone one another, to grieve, to mourn, to recover from loss whether of loved ones or jobs, homes or situations. He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds - but maybe not instantaneously for maybe we have things to learn, things we can share with others, rough edges to be smoothed, pride to be smashed. Go slowly. Rest up. Don't try to do too much too soon.

 

Know that He cares for you. Look again at the top cartoon. And be thankful.

 

 

The illustrations were found on the TECMAN site.

 

WHAT HAS HELPED YOU MOST IN TIMES OF DIFFICULTIES AND SORROW AND PAIN?  

WHAT CAN YOU SHARE THAT MIGHT HELP OTHERS?