Christmas Cleanse

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I am in the middle of a serious post-Christmas cleanse. I’m not talking about any kind of detox, I mean ridding the house of all the wonderful, rich and tasty Christmas food ahead of the obligatory fresh start that is looming.

And by cleanse, I mean eat.

Be gone creamy stilton and brie (on the top of a digestive with a smattering of plum chutney). Away with you festive beverages, washing down some lovely artisan bread and seasonally flavoured dipping sauce. No more of you and your delicious ice cream Messrs Ben and Jerry!

Much like a marathon runner carb loading before a big race, I am feeding myself up, giving me just that little more weight to lose with the new regime – because in for a penny, in for a pound (or two), right? And so I am taking the opportunity afforded by Storm Frank to stay at home and commit myself to this cause like a pro. Two straight days of feasting – all for a good cause.

But it’s not only health and fitness that I am considering. (Despite what you’ve just read, I am truly considering this!) Last year I was struck by something a friend said when she spoke of asking God for a word or phrase as she went into each New Year. A few months ago another friend told me about how she and her husband prayerfully reconsidered all of their commitments afresh at the start of each year, and asked God where he wanted them to focus their time and energy in the twelve months that lay ahead.

And so rather than making any kind of new year resolutions, I am trying to take this time at the turn of the year, to both reflect on what God has done for me, in me, through me (and in spite of me) over the past twelve months, and to ask what he wants to say to me as I head into 2016. Are there things he wants me to let go of or lay down? Are there places in my life where he wants to stretch me or have me reach further? Is there an area he’s asking me to step into – a burgeoning friendship, an idea whose time has come, a new place to serve? Or is there a part of my life that needs some attention and this is the time to start working on it?

As I ponder and pray over these things I’ll write down what comes to mind and try to keep track of them through the year. Some areas in our lives need a degree of accountability if we are to change, and so I have indeed signed up to a proper health regime, handing over my cold hard cash for some guidance and people to journey with. This isn’t the obligatory January diet, but rather something I feel that God has been nudging me about for quite a while and this is the time to make a start. It fits in to the overarching challenge that I feel God has put on my heart for this year. I’ll maybe tell you a bit more about it another time – we’ll see how I go!

What about you? Is this something you already do? If so then I’d love to hear what that looks like in your life. Or perhaps this is the first time you’ve thought about this and would like to give it a go. This isn’t about getting everything in place by midnight, but rather taking the next few days to ask God what he has to say to you, things he might want to teach you, areas where he’d like to stretch you, if you’ll let him. If you need some inspiration to get you going, Anne Voskamp has a beautiful printable sheet with twelve areas to work through (along with some beautiful thoughts on this topic). For me that was a bit too much and I’ve stuck with one main theme applied to a few areas of my life, but perhaps it’ll spark some divine inspiration for you.

As you reflect on 2015 I hope that you can see God alongside you in both the triumphs and challenges, and as you ask him about the year to come I pray he’ll whisper gently, encouraging you, moulding and shaping you, guiding and directing you to become more of the person he created you to be.

Happy New Year!

Away in a Manger

This is a reflection that I have written for Tearfund Scotland’s resource Safe Refuge at Christmas . It includes some beautiful films, prayer ideas and ways to give to the Middle East Appeal.

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A mother’s instinct, the same throughout the centuries – to protect her child.

To give him the best that she can.

How did Mary feel, laying her precious one in the rough wood of a cattle manger?

No extended family for comfort, support or advice.

“No room here. Nor here. You’ll have to move on. Try over there.”

As she gazed at her son sleeping in the hay, did she whisper an apology to him; that she had hoped for something different?

When Joseph told her of his dream, and urged her to gather the child and come quickly, what fears filled her heart?

The stars in the bright sky shone as they fled across borders into foreign lands, looking over their shoulders, wondering when they would see home again.

This Son of God, born into the most humble of circumstances.

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A father’s instinct, the same throughout the centuries – to protect his child.

To give him the best he can.

How did Abdullah Kurdi feel, watching his young sons sleep in war torn Damascus?

As they fled to Turkey with no extended family for comfort, support or advice.

Trying to find a way to support his family.

“No room here. Nor here. You’ll have to move on. Try over there.”

As he gazed at little Aylan, sleeping in a makeshift bed, did he whisper an apology to him; that he had hoped for something different?

When he told his wife to gather the children and together they boarded a boat for Greece, what fears filled his heart?

The stars in the bright sky shone as they tried to flee across borders and oceans, looking over their shoulders, wondering when they would see home again. Hoping they might reach land again.

These children of God, born into the most humble and difficult of circumstances.

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You had nowhere to lay your head Lord, and neither did they.

Neither do so many.

Be near them, Lord Jesus, we ask you to stay close by them.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and grant that we might do the same.

 

Safe Refuge at Christmas

Who knows my name?

I’d like to tell you about the most impressive person I’ve ever met.

His name is Chomno and he lives in Poipet, Cambodia. His story, if it was to be shared, would have Hollywood scriptwriters reaching for their pens.

They’d hear of how he lived through the horror of the Khmer Rouge regime, escaping across the border into the refugee camps of Thailand. He met his wife there and, as they married, bombs rained on to the camp ruining the already simple celebration. When peace returned to his homeland they returned to the capital and began to rebuild their lives, but a trip to the border town of Poipet found him being called by God to give up everything and move there to set up a charity to serve the poor and destitute.

That’s precisely what he did, going with no great plan or financial backers, just obediently answering a call and looking to God to provide what was needed.

As I sat in the Cambodia Hope Organisation’s centre listening to Chomno’s story, after a day of seeing the extraordinary work that his organisation does, I knew that I was meeting with a hero of the faith. We joked with him about writing a book of his story, but the reality is that he’s too busy doing what he’s been called to do to worry about personal profile or who knows his name or what he’s done.

In the modern western world of constant updates, followers and selfies, it challenges me to ask ‘What if no one knew my name?’

What if the only person who saw who I was and what I do was Jesus. Would that be enough?

How often to I fall into the trap of looking for recognition in all of the wrong places? I find myself caring a little more than I should (or like to admit) about who saw/heard/read/liked what I have done.

FollowFor centuries, people have followed God’s call to serve him in the unknown or forgotten corners of the world, or the unseen and unglamorous communities of our cities. Most have gone in quiet and humble ways, counting the cost rather than the Twitter followers. The majority have never had biographies written about them, or had anyone hear of their work. No one except the only one whose opinion really counts.

Of course it’s great to be encouraged and cheered on, but what if the only chorus of praise was from heaven? What if the only ‘well done’ was from the Father? Would that be enough to keep me going? Would I keep faithfully serving at whatever I have been called to if the only eyes to see it were those of Jesus?

This week I am reminding myself to truly have that audience of one. To train my gaze away from the lure of worldly praise and focus instead on what pleases the one I get to call Abba.

The Masterpiece Within

ancient-carpenter-19515233Sometimes I think we forget the part of Jesus’ life that came before his ministry, the time he spent as a carpenter.  We know that it happened but, because it’s not the part that’s written down, we ignore it – it’s a minor footnote in his story. But it’s a part that intrigues me.

I love to see the work of artists and artisans. Watching people who can weave together intricate detail, original creativity and incredible skill to make something beautiful is something that fills me with wonder. It makes total sense to me that if Jesus was going to put in some time on earth before his ministry, it would be in a creative field. He who flung the stars into space, moulded each petal and picked out the colour palette for the oceans would surely have made some exquisite woodwork.

In our mass produced systems of today we forget that every item used in the world Jesus inhabited was handmade. Bespoke furniture would be the norm. Everything individually made to order. Time, care and attention to detail in every piece, made by a skilled craftsman. Come with me for a few moments into Jesus’ workshop. With an artist’s eye he looks at a piece of wood, rough and unevenly shaped and sees the masterpiece within. He runs his hand over a piece of timber and knows what it will take to chisel away the excess, carve out a beautiful shape and sand it to smooth perfection. He knows what type of wood is best for each different purpose. He has to hand a vast array of utensils and tools, each for a different part of the process and can use each one deftly to achieve just the right outcome and effect. After many hours of labour and patience, leaving no rough edge untended, he has his prize.

I believe that he sees me the same way.

And you.

He looks at our uneven temperament and the character traits that are bent out of shape. He sees the rough, knotted surfaces of our daily lives, the selfishness, pride and impatience, the judgement, laziness and lack of compassion, and rather than throw us on the scrap heap, he sets to work.

Because he can see the masterpiece within.

There are days I like to think I’m nearly there, that all I really need is some sanding down, smoothing out the final few bumps. I think that we’ve been working on this for a while now, Jesus and I, and I’m looking pretty good.

And then he reaches for the hammer and chisel and I know that there’s another lump to be knocked off, and it’s going to be painful and uncomfortable.

We go over the same area of stubborn resistance, working where I thought we were finished, to chip away once more at the parts that need attention. And it is indeed a process that humbles and chastens me.

But I let him work away because I trust myself to the master who can see what needs to be done. I am being fashioned into the shape that he wants me to be, regardless of how long it takes.

And as I sit in his workshop, I’m reminded that when I look at others and find myself considering all of their rough edges, their flaws and failings, that Jesus sees a masterpiece in them too.

We are all a work in progress – and the craftsman hasn’t set down his tools.

I can and I will

**GBBO Spoiler alert**

I’ll admit it now – I cried at the end of the Bake Off final this year.

But then so did Mary Berry, so I figure I’m in pretty good company.

I didn’t cry because of my sadness that it’s all over for another year, nor because of any terrible injustice over the result – because I thought that Paul and Mary got it spot on.

It was what Nadia said at the end that got me, as she stood holding her winner’s trophy.

“I am never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can. I can and I will.”

What made her triumph all the more beautiful was the obvious joy and pride of her family who were there to support her. They had clearly been cheering her every step of the way, encouraging her when she was down, believing in her when she struggled to believe in herself and spurring her forward right to the end.

There’s extraordinary power in encouragement.

I am scared of heights, and have been ever since I was a little girl.

But I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sky Tower in Auckland and have crossed the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge on the north Antrim coast of Northern Ireland.

How has this been possible? In every case my knees were like jelly and I had that fearful quiver in my voice when I tried to speak. But on each occasion I had a friend with me to hold my hand (literally), tell me I could, or simply not take no for an answer.

On one occasion I decided to be brave and head to the top of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh – on my own. I made it up to the main part of the monument where you can walk around the edge and get such a wonderful view of the city. Scott monumentHowever there’s another bit you can ascend, in the spire-like part of the structure. I made it about three steps up when my fear stopped me and turned me around. I decided I had been brave enough for one day.

The Scott Monument is around a quarter of the height of the Eiffel Tower and about a third of the Sky Tower (very shonky maths – please don’t look it up), so why could I not get to the top?

Because I was alone.

No encouragement, no hand-holding.

No one pushing me on, telling me I could.

And it made all the difference.

Encouragement is a powerful gift.

The Acts of the Apostles and letters of the New Testament are peppered throughout with calls for us to bring encouragement to one another. Why is it so important?

Because without it we falter.

We look around at what we’re trying to achieve and wonder who the heck we think we are. We see the heights we’re trying to scale, the distance we’re reaching for, the giants we’re facing and we feel the fear.

Or perhaps we look back at the road we’ve been walking and feel disappointed with how slow the journey has been. We are tempted to give up, to just sit down where we are and call it good enough.

At each of these places encouragement makes all the difference.

It lifts us back on our feet again and sets us on our way or gives us the foot up that we need to reach the heights we’re stretching for. Encouragement brings boldness and bravery and drowns out the voice of fear. When we’ve compared ourselves to other brighter, shinier people and told ourselves that there’s no point trying, encouragement reminds us that our contribution is unique and the world needs to hear it.

Encouragement lifts our heads when they are down and strengthens our resolve when it has weakened.

It enables us to say, “I can and I will.”

Who can you encourage today?

Who needs you to be their cheerleader?

And who would like to come and hold my hand, to the very top of the Scott Monument?