welcome - and take a pew

It's been a busy week. Within 8 days of moving into Mays Farm we had had 8 people to stay - lovely retreatants who came and took time to retreat, time to help us decorate and unpack, time to be away from 'normal' life. They coped with perpetual dust, builders everywhere - and glorious sunshine, walks with the dog (who led the way and helped them not to get lost) meals in the walled garden, communion in the library, lectio divina, prayers and meditations ... it's been a good week! And they were so encouraging.

"Thank you for not cancelling!"

"I loved my room! And especially the shower and the posh smells - that feels luxurious!"

"I wish I could stay longer and use more of the 'tools' for a silent retreat - they were really useful, thank you!"

"I loved the garden! I really mean the hammock! And the peace - and being able to do my own thing."

"I cannot tell you enough how blessed (yes, really!) I have been to come here. God has stilled my frantic heart through everything I've done and not done and for that opportunity I thank you."

"God is definitely at work in this place and throughout the building; he's working through you both too, whether you're exhausted or full of energy!"

"The daily devotional was a really important time when God spoke more clearly than at other times! Despite its unfinished state I still found it to be a place of peace and refreshment. It already feels a 'sacred space.'"

"Would love to come back when it's finished."

* * * *

Of course, they mentioned the dust .. and the noise of the builders ... and the lack of places other than the garden to sit , although the little village church proved to be a wonderful refuge too. And already there are more places inside to sit and be; and things are getting sorted. The builders are very nearly finished though, and we are daily seeing progress.So - here are a few snapshots of the latest improvements to help whet your appetite.

 

 

 

 

 

Booking now for the autumn so make sure you find time to come!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Time to start looking ahead?

And so it comes – the end of the idyll that was our summer. A summer’s worth of weeks. But now it’s time.  Time to return. Yet - time for a new thing.We felt it, American daughter and I.  Just a few days ago. The air is different, we said. It’s hotly glorious, sky clearly blue. But a change is coming. We know it. We can feel it. We can sense it. It feels good and right and timely.  Welcome, even.

So we put away our shorts and strappy tops.  There was the ceremonial binning of much-worn well-loved worn-out summer sandals. The joy of rediscovering favorite shrugs and cosy sweaters and proper shoes.  The purchase of a new woolen skirt and dressy pumps to accompany it and exultation in that feeling of being well-dressed after a summer of short shorts, skimpy skirts and simple sandals.

It’s time. Time to grow up again. Time for routines and schedules and restoring order.

And yet. And yet there lingers a love of lazy summer days, of daisies, doing whatever whenever. However. It will return, we promise ourselves: next year, it will come again, but for now we are content, with our summer memories and still-golden tans, content to let the summer go, thankful for all we have done and all we have been and all we knew, for those eight long weeks.

I pull on long pants, slip a shrug over my shoulders – and drive with the roof down still, enjoying natural air conditioning after the hot, heavy, closeness of the                                                                  humid summer air.

 

Anticipation. I almost long to sharpen my pencils ready for the new school term, to begin a fresh exercise book with its invitation and expectancy and openness and possibilities.

To write my name on a new fly leaf and know I can begin afresh, in a new place with a new desk and new seat.

Time to return. Yet -

time for a new thing.

The promise is there.  I’m doing a new thing for you, says God.  Don’t you see it?

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18,19)

God says

CHANGE YOUR FOCUS:

STOP LOOKING BEHIND!

START LOOKING AHEAD!

Walter Brueggmann writes of this action of God:

“It is remarkable that Israel is told to forget the old exodus narrative in order to notice the new departure. The ‘new thing’ is not only more contemporary, but also more spectacular and exhibits the power of God in more effective ways. In these verses all the accent is upon the new experience which pushes the old memory aside. It may be worth noting that in the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, in so far as Christians are concerned, the same accent is upon the new at the expense of the old. Our God is doing a new thing.”

Our God is doing a new thing.

Because the past won’t sustain us. God says, Forget the former things, I am doing a new thing.

The children of Israel had seen God have many victories in their past.  It had been a good past. Leaving Egypt. Conquering the Land of Canaan. Fighting off prospective conquerors. Surviving a split in their country.

But all their previous victories were doing nothing for them in the present. They needed a new work, a new miracle, a new victory.

So the question isn’t: what has God done? There’s no doubt about that!

The question must be: What new thing is God doing right now?

The children of Israel had a choice to make. They were in exile, looking back at former glories.  And looking back wasn’t helping. Yet all they could see in the present was problems, and their own powerlessness. They didn’t like where they were at the moment, and yet they didn’t seem to trust God to change things for them nor to want to be open to the possibilities He had in mind for them.

And so there is a choice:

They can continue as they are, nostalgic for what has been, yet not happy in the present, not trusting the Lord.

Or they can focus on what God wants to do in their lives. And God wants to do a new thing.

Can I see possibilities if God is in charge of this new thing?

This summer is the end of two years of mourning.  I am returning – to the memories, to the second anniversary of The Day, to the return of what must become normal-but-without-her. Can I see possibilities if God is in charge of this new thing, this new life, this new beginning which is now offered me.  A chance to start over, sharpen the pencil, open the new page, take a new seat.  A new vision, a new calling, a new frame of mind.

Claim the new thing HE is doing for me.  In me.  Through me.

Returning – to a new thing.  It’s in the air around us. Routines. Schedules.  School. It’s time.  Time to return to God and to the new thing He is doing.

O gracious God

Give us wisdom to perceive you

Diligence to seek you

Patience to wait for you

Eyes to behold you

A Heart to meditate upon you

And a life to proclaim you

Through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord

Amen.

 

ON A ROLL

PREPARING FOR A PILGRIMAGE    WEEK ONE: DAY THREE

I’m on a roll. 

And it’s not the roll you were possibly expecting.

I am rolling my way upon the Lord.

This year, I am reading through the entire Bible – it’s not the first time I have ever done this but thanks to a friend’s recommendation I am doing so using George Guthrie’s “Reader’s Guide to the Bible: Chronological Reading Plan.” And it's on my Kindle so I read it anywhere, any time, as well as my regular 'first thing in the morning evangelical upbringing Quiet Time.'

Previously I have tried the Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, which was great because it gave a reading from both of the Testaments – and actually takes two years.

Less of a hurry, more time to ponder.

I’ve started that twice.  Not sure I ever quite finished on either time.

Then I used the NLT iWorship Bible which goes straight through from Genesis to Revelation in a year.  By August when I was still on the Old Testament I was longing, really longing for the New Testament!  I found it moderately tedious if I am honest, in spite of the wonderful daily reflections printed alongside and the worship-thoughts inserted regularly.

So now I am using a chronological reading method – and so far, am loving it.  Interspersing Job with Genesis to remind us Job was in the time of the Patriarchs; reading David’s story alongside the Psalms he wrote at the time; and seeing it all as God’s Plan for His people, mapped out on a time-line.

 

Act One: God’s Plan for All People

Act Two: God’s Covenant People

Act Three: God’s New-Covenant People.

So I’m on a roll.

Yesterday, I read Psalm 37.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this: he will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

And every day, alongside the Bible, I read a daily thought from Amy Carmichael – one of my most favourite spiritual writers. Today, it’s from Psalm 37 in Kay’s translation:

Roll thy way upon the Lord.

She writes:

Way means a trodden path, the journey of life, today’s life. Often when we cannot lift a thing we can roll it and so the Hebrew uses this simple word which we can so easily understand.  Roll everything that concerns thee upon the Lord. Roll it again, no matter how many times you did so before, and then rest, “assure thyself in Him; and He, He Himself, will work.” (French Version, Darby)

I am preparing for a Pilgrimage.

I am on a roll.

 

 

 

SPRING SONG OF THE BIRDS

 

Liltingly it drifts on the gentle breeze.

The spring song of the birds.

In hedgerows, from treetops, under bushes tipped palely green. They sing trill whistle call chirp, tiny feathers ruffled in the air.   The symphony crescendos, wafts away on the wind, floats back.

Happiness sounds in each note.

I stand still the better to hear it. Something in me responding, lifted by this music.

These birds sing because they have songs in them to release. Notes to utter. It is the best thing that they can do, to sing right now. To sing because.

And their music is balm, soothingly uplifting. Deafening in its persistence.

And so I too sing. Trill and chirp and tweet within my soul. And the song becomes MY song, the attitude of my heart. Inexpressible, uplifting, known only unto God. So it changes me.

 

I have listened.

I have sung.

 

I will remember.

 

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark,….. when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint.                  Ecclesiastes 12:1,2,4

 

THE SONG OF THE BIRD

The disciples were full of questions about God.

Said the Master, “God is Unknown, the Unknowable. Every statement about Him, every answer to your questions, is a distortion of the Truth.”

The disciples were bewildered. “Then why do you speak about Him at all?”

“Why does the bird sing?” said the Master.


Not because he has a statement, but because he has a song.

The words of the Scholar are to be understood. The words of the Master are not to be understood. They are to be listened to as one listens to the wind in the trees and the sound of the river and the song of the bird.

They will awaken something within the heart that is beyond all knowledge.

 - Anthony de Mello S. J.

WE MATTER

She is just a few hours old.  My youngest. January 1983

 

“The year and month and day you are born matters. The very moment you are born matters. To matter in the scheme of the cosmos: this is better theology than all our sociology. It is in fact all that God has promised to us: that we matter. That He cares. God knows the very moment we are born.” – Madeleine L’Engle

 

And isn’t that what we crave, that feeling that we matter?

That we matter to someone.

Mean something special. Because we are different, special, unique. Ourselves and not someone else.

 

We need to know that we matter.

 

From the moment of my birth, I mattered. To my mother.

I became her raison d’etre, and we went everywhere together. She was my north, my south, my east, my west. As I was hers.

 

For a year or so. And then I grew, became independent, fought against her often.

Teenage angst and a strong desire to leave home.

 

“But where, after we have made the great decision to leave the security of childhood and move on into the vastness of maturity, does anyone ever feel completely at home?” – Madeleine L’Engle

 

She was always there for me. At home, waiting for me, welcoming me home with arms stretched wide, no matter what. I mattered.

 

She always carried me: in her body, then in her arms, then in her heart.

 

I was one of the fortunate ones: a mother who cared, who loved almost unconditionally. Loved enough to discipline strongly.

 

Tough mother love.

 

She showed me God. Showed me that I matter to Him.

And though she is not here to be my home, my anchor, she has left me her legacy:

I am mother to my own children. Grandmother to their children.

 

And now I too love and care and am a home.

And need to show them God.

 

That they matter to Him and to me.

 

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. 
14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
Wonderful are Your works, 
And my soul knows it very well. 
15 My frame was not hidden from You, 
When I was made in secret, 
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; 
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; 
And in Your book were all written 
The days that were ordained for me, 
When as yet there was not one of them.     Psalm 139

 

 

My younger sister, my mother & me.  On Mummy's 90th birthday

A New Thing

The End of Summer

And so it comes – the end of the idyll that was our summer.

A summer’s worth of weeks.

But now it’s time.

Time to return. Yet -

time for a new thing.

We felt it, American daughter and I.  Just a few days ago. The air is different, we said. It’s hotly glorious, sky clearly blue. But a change is coming. We know it. We can feel it. We can sense it.

It feels good and right and timely.  Welcome, even.

So we put away our shorts and strappy tops.  There was the ceremonial binning of much-worn well-loved worn-out summer sandals. The joy of rediscovering favorite shrugs and cosy sweaters and proper shoes.  The purchase of a new woolen skirt and dressy pumps to accompany it and exultation in that feeling of being well-dressed after a summer of short shorts, skimpy skirts and simple sandals.

It’s time. Time to grow up again. Time for routines and schedules and restoring order.

And yet. And yet there lingers a love of lazy summer days, of daisies, doing whatever whenever. However. It will return, we promise ourselves: next year, it will come again, but for now we are content, with our summer memories and still-golden tans, content to let the summer go, thankful for all we have done and all we have been and all we knew, for those eight long weeks.

I pull on long pants, slip a shrug over my shoulders – and drive with the roof down still, enjoying natural air conditioning after the hot, heavy, closeness of the humid summer air.

Anticipation. I almost long to sharpen my pencils ready for the new school term, to begin a fresh exercise book with its invitation and expectancy and openness and possibilities. To write my name on a new fly leaf and know I can begin afresh, in a new place with a new desk and new seat.

Time to return. Yet -

time for a new thing.

The promise is there.  I’m doing a new thing for you, says God.  Don’t you see it?

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18,19)

God says

CHANGE YOUR FOCUS:

STOP LOOKING BEHIND!

START LOOKING AHEAD!

Walter Brueggmann writes of this action of God:

“It is remarkable that Israel is told to forget the old exodus narrative in order to notice the new departure. The ‘new thing’ is not only more contemporary, but also more spectacular and exhibits the power of God in more effective ways. In these verses all the accent is upon the new experience which pushes the old memory aside. It may be worth noting that in the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, in so far as Christians are concerned, the same accent is upon the new at the expense of the old. Our God is doing a new thing.”

Our God is doing a new thing.

Because the past won’t sustain us.

God says, Forget the former things, I am doing a new thing.

The children of Israel had seen God have many victories in their past.  It had been a good past.

Leaving Egypt

Conquering the Land of Canaan

Fighting off prospective conquerors

Surviving a split in their country

But all their previous victories were doing nothing for them in the present. They needed a new work, a new miracle, a new victory.

So the question isn’t: what has God done?

There’s no doubt about that!

The question must be:

What new thing is God doing right now?

The children of Israel had a choice to make. They were in exile, looking back at former glories.  And looking back wasn’t helping. Yet all they could see in the present was problems, and their own powerlessness. They didn’t like where they were at the moment, and yet they didn’t seem to trust God to change things for them nor to want to be open to the possibilities He had in mind for them.

And so there is a choice:

They can continue as they are, nostalgic for what has been, yet not happy in the present, not trusting the Lord.

Or they can focus on what God wants to do in their lives. And God wants to do a new thing.

Can I see possibilities if God is in charge of this new thing?

The summer is the end of my year of mourning.  I am returning – to the memories, to the first anniversary of The Day, to the return of what must become normal-but-without-her.

Can I see possibilities if God is in charge of this new thing, this new life, this new beginning which is now beginning.  A chance to start over, sharpen the pencil, open the new page, take a new seat.

Claim the new thing HE is doing for me.  In me.  Through me.

Returning – to a new thing.  It’s in the air around us. Routines. Schedules.  School. It’s time.  Time to return to God and to the new thing He is doing.

O gracious God

Give us wisdom to perceive you

Diligence to seek you

Patience to wait for you

Eyes to behold you

A Heart to meditate upon you

And a life to proclaim you

Through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord

Amen,