The Amazingly Astonishing Story

Next year sometime my autobiographical novel is to be published. It’s called ‘The Amazingly Astonishing Story’ and this morning, at about 4 am, I realised why I write this blog. Or have written this blog. And why I may continue, from time to time, to write it.

Why? Because I have an amazingly astonishing story to tell. A story about something I learnt about on Sunday. A story about restoration. A story about being raised from the dead and restored to love.

So. There you go. It’s 5am now and I’m here in my pj’s,  the dogs are fed-up because their hot water bottle has left the bed, coffee is at my side and I need to tell you something amazing. That, I have discovered, is what this blog is meant to be. It’s meant to be a blog about how amazing our God is, and how real and present and relevant He is in our lives, in the daily round and in, oh, listen, in his word.

That’s what this blog has to be about. And yes, I’ll be there but in the shadows. I think that’s where I was going wrong – the blog was about my life. My life’s good and sometimes worth talking about, and usually it’s worth laughing about, or at least smiling over,  but God is always always worth talking about. Always worthy of our deep joy. I can’t write a blog – or anything else- without me being in it, but the focus has to be Him.

You know when you lie in bed, meandering through sleepy thoughts, and sorting stuff out, sifting and filing away your memories and thoughts? That’s how I woke up this morning. And at 5 am it occurred to me that for probably a couple of hours, God had been speaking to me. Not a great deep bass voice (God doesn’t sound like Barry White, sometimes he sounds just like a sleepy Luce) but he was there, in my thoughts all the time, and he was the one doing the sifting and sorting, the thinking and the revelation.

Oh, man, this is so exciting and I’m not sure where to start.

OK, I’ll start on Sunday morning. We’re heading towards the end of a series on Thessalonians, and – having thought about honouring each other last week, this week we thought about …. being patient with one another. Oh, boy. I am not a patient person. The words and the teaching, the whole damn import of the sermon overwhelmed me. As I listened I had one thought, and it was absolutely overwhelming ‘Luce, you’re not just impatient, you’re irascible.’

That’s not good. Being irascible. But it’s true, I am. Oh, not always, obviously – I’d be locked away in a secure unit if that was the case. And often patience is no problem; if you’re sick or distressed or confused, if you need help, then patience comes easy and stays, steady. But man, if you’re less than honest, if you’re self-important, if you’re obsessed with the detail of your life to the exclusion of everything else, if you are unfair to the people I love, if the world doesn’t turn exactly as I want it to turn  – I am seething and exasperated in a matter of seconds. Irascible, tetchy, choleric. And that ain’t good. It’s bad.

But you know, realising something like that, hearing the wee small voice of sanity was a good, good thing. It was a gift. That sort of realisation is a precious gift from a loving father. There! I never thought I’d put the words ‘loving’ and ‘father’ together. But I have. That, too, is a gift.

Here’s what I was thinking about so sleepily this morning: the Thessalonians sermon was a personal one from God to me. It was his quiet still voice, and it was a revelation. I know my impatience is funny at times. I see my grandchildren grinning at my exasperated attempts to control the urge to snap…. they chuckle when an exclamation (less than Godly) escapes my irritable lips… they’re used to and so unimpressed by my scratchiness,  even in a conversation I give up half way through a sentence, foiled by my own slowness of thought. My impatience is directed at me as much as to you. Man, I am a seething, simmering happy mess of intolerance. Yes, happy. I’m writing a two part play for the radio at the moment and one of the characters is a grumpy, comical, unreasonable, old twit. He’s really easy to write because he’s me. Me. My  impatience makes even me break down laughing sometimes. I am absurd. Should the world really turn as I want it to? Should the people around me really catch onto ideas as quickly as I want them too? Am I that important? In a word, no.  And yes, my personality is funny in a  custard-pie-in-the-face sort of way, but, radio plays apart, it’s not good. I have accepted this flaw too easily.

In the sermon on Sunday morning, we were pointed towards Romans 12, and our Pastor suggested that we should read that whole chapter.

It was a busy, busy day, but I kept remembering Romans 12 and finally, at about 4, I read it. Have you read it recently? Oh, it’s such a tender, loving, strong, steadying, wonderful chapter. I’ve read it before. Indeed, there are notes in my Bible from a sermon we had probably last year, and I wrote  ‘Love in Action, the Church!’ but on Sunday these words came alive to me as they never have before. This is the NLT version, because it’s the tender  version,  not ever so academic of me, I know, but I ain’t an academic;

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.  When God’s people are in need, be ready to
bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Oh, boy. That is God speaking directly to me. That’s God talking to me about impatience at 11am in the sermon, and it’s God showing me the opposite of impatience at 4pm, and then… that evening….. we heard about a dead man, raised to life, and restored to his mother.

We saw in our mind’s eye, the distraught love of the mother and the young man dead. It reminded me of looking at my dead husband, standing with our daughter and looking at the man we both loved, realising that there was a gulf between the living and the dead that is so deep and wide that it defies understanding. Looking down at him and realising that he was gone. Just plain gone. And all the grief and tears, all the snotty sobbing and heartbreak in the world wouldn’t bridge that chasm. That’s what Jesus saw when he looked at that weeping mother, that’s what he saw when he said ‘Don’t cry’ and that’s what he defeated when he restored her son to life and to love, to her love.

Death is an anathema to God. The enemy of God. He has defeated death, with life and love .

For the first time, I realised that this is why Christians can love with a very real and unending love. Because we have been restored to the love of Christ. We have been filled with the love of Christ. We are filled to overflowing with the love of Christ. And that’s why (the morning sermon hitting home, I think the Christian jargon is ‘conviction’) we can show the love of Christ to the world. That’s why impatience is not my master. That’s why I can learn patience, learn love. Because Jesus has restored me to love, not to anger.

And then something else popped into my mind, something from a sermon a couple of weeks ago, recently anyway, about the Samaritan woman…. “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!”

Wow. Come and see a man  who showed me everything I am, who knows me completely, who has seen every thought I have ever had….. come and see a man who speaks to me now, in his word, in  my life, in every day.

A couple of months ago two friends came to visit and they came to my church. They liked the people but they were unsettled by some of the words. They sang ‘Amazing Grace’ which is a song they must have heard a few hundred times, but they both recoiled, this time, from the words ‘A wretch like me’. Later they both said ‘But we’re not wretches’.  We talked about it for a little while, and I’ve thought about it often since then. Sometimes you need an outside viewpoint to make you think. I’ve thought a whole lot about being a wretch since that day.

I am a wretch. I am a bedraggled, sinful, impatient, intolerant, exasperated, wretch. But you know what? God loves me. I am precious. He thinks I’m the bee’s bloomin’ knees! He made me because he loves me and because I glorify him, when I live in him and with him. He cherishes me. He does! I’m the wretch he loved so much he died for me. I’m the wretch he loves so much he’s transforming me. Even me. Get that? Even me, even you.

Wowser. He knows everything I ever did, he knows everything I am, and he cherishes me. He know  everything! No shadows, no darkness,  everything is in the glaring light and yet, and yet…. he looks on the dead and the decaying and he restores us to life and to love.

That’s love. That’s God.

I am restored, not just to life, but to love. I was dead. I wish I could explain to you how dead I was. As dead as a doornail. As dead as a very dead thing, dead, dead, dead. Deader than dead. (OK, taking it too far) He looked on the dead and he loved her back to life.

I rejected love, denied love, ran away from it, didn’t believe in it, distrusted it, was afraid of it. At times I go back there. What an idiot. But a beloved idiot.

Dead.

And now, restored to love. Not to impatience and self and exasperation and mess. To love. No excuse. No excuse, Luce. There is no excuse for my impatience, because he’s given me his own endless fund of patience, kindness, tenderness and joy.

God makes all things possible. Even this.

God. Don’t you just love him? Wow.

 

 

 

 

Hello, goodbye

I have written this blog for more than a year and I’m still uncertain about its nature and purpose. Why do I write it?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I write it because I need to communicate with someone, anyone, and the way I communicate is by the written word. But I am also alone and I think that this is where the problem has arisen; I’ve treated this blog as if it’s a friend, a confidante. But friends converse and discuss, and grow closer, become easier with each other, share intimacies and laughter and absurdities. Friends can correct misunderstandings as they arise, explain themselves, say “No, what I mean is….”

I think that when I blog I sometimes treat you, the reader, as if you are a friend. Some of you are. Most of you are strangers. And sometimes I touch a raw spot with those I know  because they read my words as if I am criticising them, or my community. I’m usually not, I’m simply thinking aloud, trying to make a contact, exploring ideas. Sometimes I need to ‘say’ my thoughts to hear them come back to me, to refine them, to balance them… and because there’s no one to hear my voice, I write. I live in silence. For the last 5 years I’ve lived in silence, maybe talking, actually talking, for five minutes in a day. And usually those 5 minutes have been banal. So I need to write.

This blog was never meant to be a lecture or an admonition or any sort of judging platform. I think I hurt someone I know recently by something I said. That’s not good.

You know, when you live alone for as long as I have, you can misunderstand your own need for companionship. I sometimes treat people as if they are friends when they are not, when they are just people I know. And I treated this blog as if it was a friend. But it isn’t. If you don’t know me, don’t spend time with me, don’t walk on the beach with me, if I don’t make you a meal, if you don’t recognise my face, and I don’t drop by for a coffee uninvited, if you don’t include me in your life, if you don’t call me for a chat at some weird hour, and we don’t laugh at the same things, if I can’t sit with you and share what God means to me, and you can’t sit with me to pray, if we can’t be honest with each other, if we can’t see in the wee small hours together with a glass of wine and silent thoughts …….. we don’t have a friendship. We may wish each other well, pray for each other, and we may have a sort of love for each other, philia maybe, but we don’t have a real friendship.

You are not my friends. When this blog tips over into too much honesty, too much openness,  it’s not a healthy thing because you’re not there to say “Luce, that’s a whinge… you’re not being fair… you need to think again or rephrase or dump it.” and of course once the thing is written and read…. the damage is done.

What it boils down to is this: I think this blog doesn’t glorify God.

There’s a very hard but true teaching in the bible; If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. …. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away……

So, there you go, readers. I keep looking for a point of contact with the world and my trajectory is always just that little bit off, but blogs aren’t life, and life goes on, and life is good. I hope that your lives are good and that every day brings you closer and closer and closer to God.

God bless.

God’s love, overflowing

I’ve just written to someone “you are plain bloody marvellous”.

But what is even more marvellous is that I acknowledge it, believe it, and can say it. And I know it to be true. Here is a person to trust, to celebrate, to thank God for.

Writers aren’t known for their high level of trust in their fellow man. We are not the most gullible or impressionable. Indeed we may be the most cynical of all people. And I, personally, am not a loving and soft person. I’m not easily won over and there’s about … oooh… let me see…. three people I have ever, ever wholly trusted in my whole life. And this person is number three.

Writers, or at least dramatists, see the games people play, we poke and ferret around under the surface of every conversation. We are not ‘nice’ people, us writers. We see the sins of the world and find them banal and dreary, much as a priest might regard the weekly confessions of petty meanness and shabby sin. We are unimpressed by appearances, and not easily fooled by words. And that means we sometimes (often) hold ourselves apart, or above, the people around us. Like I said, we are not nice people.

If you had said to me, a few years ago, “one day you will find it easier to love your fellow man, easy to look at your companions with affection and acceptance, and your heart will be suddenly and expectedly tugged by the smallest thoughts, your eyes prickling with tears, by the tiniest mentions of God’s love” then I would have said “Oh, per lease!” or maybe “Phuuuut!”

I would.

But it seems that all this has changed. I am like the lion in the Wizard of Oz, I have found my heart. Mind you, that lion was a terrible scaredy cat and coward and I don’t think I’ve ever been that. I’ve faced my fears, or at least learned to defy them and give them the finger. Survive them. But we learn our emotional responses in childhood and I don’t think- until now – I ever learned to  love with anything like courage. I don’t think I’ve loved with trust.

If love means courage and trust, then this is hard.

Certainly I loved my husband, and I sure do love my daughter and grand children, but there’s a difference in that old love and this new love….. An indefinable difference…. so should I even try to define it?

Maybe I’ll try to define what it isn’t. This new love isn’t sentimentality, or piety, or softness, or even sociability, or inter-dependance. I’m still Luce after all, a bit impatient (!), easily bored, quite demanding…. I still avoid small talk, duck out of group conversations…. can’t cope when people are hypocrites or liars, or say daft simplistic things… See? I have a long way to go.

But just this last few weeks I’ve realised that I’m in the middle of a miracle;

My greatest miracle, after a strange hard childhood, a defiant growing-up, an independent adult life, is that I am at last learning to love with tenderness, not ferocity.  I’m learning to  love with vulnerability not self-protection or a sense of ownership. The world loves because we need each other but this new love is not about need, it’s significantly stronger and exists because I need only God, no one else at all. Yep…. I don’t need anyone else at all. OK, day to day I am lonely and a bit fed-up with this 27 years of single living,  and I’d love companionship, of course I would, but His love overflows, fills me to the brim, and then – unstoppable – reaches out to others. I don’t need, but I do love.

Is that what we mean when we talk about transformation? I think it’s part of it.

Have I got it right yet? No.

Have I got it all yet? No.

Do I grasp how great this gift of God’s love really is? No, but I’m getting there.

With God’s love, life is truly and irrevocably transformed. When once you have accepted and known the love of God, nothing, nothing, will ever be the same. You will never be the same, and your understanding of the world will never be the same.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

 We love because he first loved us.

That’s from the first letter of John. That last sentence used to give me a bit of trouble – I argued that I didn’t love ‘because He first loved me.’ I loved because he is God and entirely loveable. But I misunderstood, I read lazily. (btw, I’m learning to read less lazily. 70 and still learning) The sentence isn’t ‘We love HIM because He first loved us.’ it’s We love because he first loved us.

I love my friends now because Jesus first loved me, because He gave me His love, He enabled me to love. This love is from Him, and of Him. And it has no beginning and no end.

It just is.

Our perfect God, our whole and complete Gospel.

Bloomin’ ‘eck!

Ecky thump!

It’s never too late.

T’was a dark and stormy night…..

Two years ago, in Easter week, a Catholic priest was driving home, late at night, from the North of Italy where his sister lives, to Rome where he lives and works. He flicked through the radio, looking for diversion, anything to help the monotonous driving hours to pass. The tuner paused at BBC Radio 4 and he heard some words that intrigued him, some sort of dramatisation of the story of Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus.

Arriving home, he went onto the BBC website and downloaded the whole drama, 75 minutes in all. He took  it in to his students (Salvatore is not a parish priest, he’s a teaching Professor  in both a secular school and within the church) and they listened to it together, following up with a lively discussion. Something in the story of Judas seemed to grab everyone who heard it and so he wrote to me asking if he could have a copy of the scripts. People don’t usually want the words, just the experience, so I was delighted! Salvatore translated it into Italian and his students ‘performed’ the first act for his church. Now he’s translating the whole 75 minutes and hoping to enact it, as if on the radio, to his church next Easter, and to offer it to other churches in Rome. We are sending him some music from the original broadcast and he’s adding sound fx. It all sounds very exciting.

Last week I sat opposite Salvatore in a restaurant in Cardiff and we talked and talked and talked. For 5 hours I don’t think we drew breath. I’ve just started re-reading Jeremiah and had decided that I needed a LOT of help to understand it so I’d bought a Wiersbe Commentary and made a start on it. About two minutes after we met, knowing he was writing a thesis, I asked what the topic was…. Jeremiah! He even has a book on Jeremiah being published next year, translated into German and English (I can’t wait!) Then we wandered over to Isaiah (a fascination for both of us) and of course, Judas, then Simon of Cyrene, and Mary…. and the Book of Acts, and always pre-eminent, and always over it all, Jesus. It was an amazing day.

I drove him out to Penarth to see the pier but in the pouring rain we ended up in Barry, a bit lost, and stuck in traffic … we barely noticed. His passion is so contagious, his enthusiasm and delight in discovery, his intellectual generosity. This clever, academic, accomplished man has four books already under his belt, but most of all, most of all, absolutely most of ALL, he’s in love with God, serving God. He’s laid his life down, he’s driven by devotion and whole hearted commitment, and his scholarship feeds the love, rather than replaces it. It was just amazing to see how different we are,  a youngish Catholic, and an oldish Baptist, different genders, different cultures and nationalities, different languages…. and yet united. In communion. No problems.  Passing strange! Wonderful. I see why his students love him and queue up to be a part of his projects.

I thought of Salvatore again this morning, as we worshipped here in West Wales. I thought of all the people in Christ who I love but who are away from us right now, I thought of a young couple who have just left to return to Canada, of another couple who are taking a break in Bath (I hope enjoying this sunshine among the honeyed stone), of friends in South Africa, of two church youngsters exploring Finland…. then of friends who are heading off to the US for a couple of weeks….. and I realised that in Christ there is no such thing as distance.

Does that sound fey and prosaic? I mean it. There is no separation, not from Christ and not in Christ either.

God is in all and over all. With Him there is no separation, no time and no distance. We are in eternity together and eternity holds us tight in mutual love and respect and joy.

God is great, He binds us together in a love we don’t even begin to understand. We’re just so grateful for it.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

 

 

 

Never stop saying it.

Warning – not a barrowload of laughs in this one. Look away now. It’s an itch , something I need to say.

I want to see my life as Christ sees it; to understand as He understands, to weep for what makes Him weep, to have His tender heart. I don’t have His tender heart, of course not, but I am beginning to see what makes Him weep and just beginning to understand the nature of His love, unlike any human love. This blog is about my earthly father. When I think of my dad, and remember that Jesus died for him, I see the tragedy of a life lived without God. I see our need and God’s goodness, and I feel maybe some of the pity and tenderness of Jesus. Maybe. And I look at the people all around me who don’t know Him, and I see why Jesus wept as He looked at Jerusalem. A city full people like my dad. If we had the heart and eyes of Jesus, we would care about people like my dad. But do we? Do I? Really? 

It was called The Black Doctor and it hung on the back door, or by the sink, somewhere in the kitchen anyway, whatever house we lived in, wherever the army posted us. It was about 10 inches long, and 3 wide,  a thick black leather strop from the barber’s. It had a ring at one end, by which it was hung. My brothers felt the thwack of the black doctor more than I did, and I think that this was when I first learned about a tender heart;  Whichever one had been in trouble, the other two would be quiet for him (or more rarely, her) would move aside, trying to look the other way and yet somehow show … I don’t know, what? Empathy? Understanding? I remember one time when Peter was lathered (he took these things hard. Martin and me, we’d recover quickly, but Peter suffered deeper and longer). I have such a clear memory of him now, sitting on his bed, snotty and angry, nursing his sore legs (legs, arms and back were the targets) and Martin, standing in the doorway, offering, wordlessly, a small pile of comics. Comics were my brothers’ currency and this was a compelling sign of pity. I don’t remember if he took them, or if Martin put them on the bed, if there were any words. Probably not. When the black doctor came out the house grew quiet as we, all three of us, learned compassion.

It’s not an unusual tale – it was a childhood like many others in the  50’s and life then was very different. My dad’s life was a hard one. He’d been brought up in a cold stone seminary in Wales, by people who didn’t speak his language, and from the age of 7 he saw his mother just once a year. He was fed the doctrine of the Catholic Church, learned Latin both church and classical, excelled at higher maths, and he was a rising star. Top pupil. Sainted already. But then he fell from grace and more or less ran away to join the Army. He survived Dunkirk, served in Africa during the Mau-mau risings, then in Cyprus during the Eoka troubles, Egypt for the Suez crisis….  he rose to the rank of Sergeant Major, and then his wife died, leaving him with a 16 year old, an 11 year old and a 6 year old.

When did the black doctor make his appearance the most often? It was in Egypt, when my mum was going blind, and in Omagh when she was dying, when dad was helpless. I look back on those years and I have such terrible, heart-break pity for my dad. My angry dad, beating and shouting his way through all that pain and grief.

I wish he was here now for me to tell him that I understand.

Men often don’t stay single for long. He married a woman he loved passionately till the day he died and all should have been wonderful. They moved Peter and me in with them. Within a year they had a son, a beautiful delicate baby, but he died when he was six weeks old. By then Peter had been sent away  to the Navy as a boy sailor and Martin was in the Army but the newly weds were still saddled with me. My stepmother couldn’t bear that I was alive when her porcelain perfect baby was in the ground.  Her grief was a visible, physical thing. It consumed her. It filled our lives, permeating every room and every minute.

Dad was unable to cope with the conflicts as she struggled to even tolerate me being in the same room and I understand his confusion. He wanted his wife. The world is full of weak men who placate stronger women. My dad was just one of them. For strong women, weak men give up careers, ambitions, interests. Dad gave up his children.

There was no black doctor in the new regime, instead there were closed doors, and a strict routine to keep me out of their way. It wasn’t all my step-mum’s doing either, because dad was a clever man and I was not a clever child.  To have this stupid slow child was a final insult. More than he could bear. When the teachers sent a note that I needed help  to pass my 11plus maths, he decided to teach me. The tension would rise from the very first turning of the very first page. His voice, sharp, interrogating. Insistent. He would repeat the problem. Tension rising. The answer… the answer… but the figures danced, they made no sense…. I could see the equal sign… hear the deepening of his breath as he waited…. what to say? What to say?  It was like looking at Arabic, meaningless. And then, shockingly, blindingly, a slam of bone against bone, a crack, the room spinning, balance lost, fear and confusion, “Bloody hell, Norah, is she an eedjit?” and my stepmother would hurry in, pulling him away, consoling him.

My poor dad. Poor me too, yes, of course. And poor Norah with her baby dead. Poor all of us in that egg-shell thin, splintered house. But dad was the one who suffered most.  However bad it was for me, I never had bitter fury writhing and seething under my skin. Who gave him that? How did he become so angry, so disappointed with his life? Was it at school? But our childhood was as bad, Martin, Peter and me. Was it when his wife died? My husband died and it didn’t bring anger into my life. When was it then? Why was it?  Where did his anger come from? It’s puzzled me all my life.

Fifteen years ago I learned that my dad had known that Peter and I were being abused in the years following our mother’s death. He had known and chosen to do nothing about it.

The day I found out that he had chosen to let us suffer, I experienced some sort of brain damage. I can’t describe it any other way. I think something physical broke in my brain, burst, shifted. From that day on I’ve experienced blind panic every time I see numbers, a resurrection of that childhood fear and bewilderment, or it returns when a room must be entered, or a conversation broken into. Sideswiped by fear. The realisation that I was worth less than a rescued dog, took away my humanity. That day, I’m sure, I had some sort of brain event, because I lost a part of me.  Never got it back.

But now, sitting here, I finally understand where my dad’s rage came from, and where his cowardice stemmed;  When Peter and I were reunited with him,  he saw, for the first time, what those years of abuse had done to us. Peter could barely speak, he stuttered so badly. At fifteen he would occasionally be physically sick if he had to speak. I was a mess, educationally subnormal and physically damaged.  He had left us in hell because he was too exhausted to do anything else and when he saw what the years of abuse had done to us, it was more than he could bear. The sight of us gnawed at him.

Peter died years later in a house fire, a hopeless alcoholic, asleep in front of the fire. Martin died alone too, never having had a long term relationship. Both of them stuttered badly, and found it hard to express themselves, both struggled. I married the first man who would have me – the only men I had ever known were violent so yes, at 19 years old I chose a violent man.  It was the only way of life I knew. That’s what masculinity was to me.

But I was the lucky one. Or the blessed one. I think that I’ve always been, somewhere in my heart, a happy camper. And I’m not as stupid as my dad thought I was – after three years I divorced the violent Rob and met George. And then I met God.

God is good. I was born again. New start. New me. New George. New.

Dad lived into his 90’s and shrank to become a sweet old man who was amazed that I, this eedjit girl, could go on to earn a living, marry a good kind man, have a beautiful child.

When he saw our daughter for the first time, he took her in his arms ( she was a lovely lovely baby)  lost in awe. My dad – tender!  It really thrilled me to see that. He turned to my stepmother  “Who would have thought that Lucy would have a child like this?”

It  hurt me then, and it’s stayed with me all these years to hurt me now (I will never lie to you). I wonder if this is a sign that I haven’t quite fully forgiven him? Should I still be hurt? I don’t think so. Maybe, like my eardrum, there’s a tiny hole in my forgiveness that needs to close over.

I wish I could talk honestly with him and say “Hey, Dad, I’m whole and mended, and what happened to me hasn’t diminished me and it never did, because it wasn’t my sin…. forgive yourself because when you looked away God watched over me and all is well. God brought me through.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad, in the shadow of a dream. I’ve been thinking that there are millions like him, millions who struggle with emotions and want to be better than they are, want to be noble and kind. But they’re just human and deeply damaged by the lives they’ve led. Human and broken, trying to battle on alone. Millions who are lost without the love of Jesus. I wonder if anyone ever said to my dad “You are loved. God loves you, Gerard Anthony Gannon. You are loved.”

I’m one of the blessed ones. In South Africa, many years ago, someone told me that I was loved. And when I was too deaf to listen and too busy to remember, someone else said it here in Wales, and said it again, and said it again, until I accepted it. I have a Father who loves me. I do. I always did. He didn’t give up on me.  He did care.

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust,”

I think that covers the black doctor, the uncles, the blows and the closed doors. And even the dad who didn’t care. Restored.

I hope I’ve shown you a man who shouldn’t be judged. Once my dad was 7 years old, and frightened and alone. So alone. Once my dad needed love and didn’t receive it. He never knew what it was to have a father. To be protected. How could he be a father to us? How could he protect us? And in his long long life he never knew the love of God. When he was old, I could have told him but I didn’t. That’s down to me.

I regret that. So very much. I regret that I never told my step-mother that she was loved.

My church is all for the young, and I’m glad of that, but we should remember that the old are nearest to the exit door. And God loves them as He loves a newborn child. We may love a fresh faced sweet little thing more than we love a wrinkled old grouch… but God loves them both the same. Died for them both the same.

Time to think about the old as much as we think about the young. They have complicated lives and may bear deep scars, bleeding wounds. They may feel alone, while God waits.

I don’t want anyone to go to their grave not hearing that their God loves them.

That’s what they need to know.

 

Be Decisive

A month ago I was bored out of my tiny skull. We had a sermon last year about that strange little parable/teaching in Luke 18:1-8 about being persistent….. and how persistence could bring results, so I tried it. It seems to have worked – even the creator of heaven and earth, whose patience is unending, has grown exasperated with my perpetual whinge of ‘Please, please, gi’e us a job! I need something to do! Why doesn’t anyone need me?’ etc etc…..  and decided to give me shedloads of stuff to run after, pick up and sort through.

As I sit here, the house is in a state of mild chaos, my Mac is on the table, my desk is ready to be taken away, my grandchild says (!) she is tidying her room (twinned with Mount Etna), I have a month to come up with (and then write) 90 minutes of drama for Radio4, my granddaughter is about to embark on 2 years living with me, and there’s even a couple of months filling in as a part-time admin bod, until they get the person they really want. So, my little fruitcakes, be very very careful about what you ask for.

Haha! As I wrote that there was a thunk! as the postman delivered my Wiersbe commentary on Jeremiah. It’s titled ‘Be Decisive’, which seems a tad ironic. Is it too late to rein in some of those earlier requests?

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This was my view on the beach this morning, as Canadian geese flew across the sun.

I am stuck on prayer, proper stuck. I can’t stop marvelling at the beauty of it, the essential beauty of it. Hang on, that’s a weird phrase, do ‘essential’ and beauty’ go together? Let me just look at the Thesaurus… Essential ” imperative, compelling, urgent…. absolutely necessary…. consequential.” Yep. I can go with all of those, so I’ll say again that I can’t stop marvelling at the essential beauty of prayer.

Listen, listen, I’ve never climbed a mountain or experienced tube riding off Malibu Beach, or gazed at the corals of the Pacific or … well, loads of things. But I have discovered, late in life, the giddy heights and the wondrous depths of prayer. Last night I again experienced night terrors and I shuffled through the morning, as usual, in a miasma of vague fear and dread. I’ve known these nights (and their hang-overs the next day) for over 15 years, ever since one December day in Norfolk when I learned that my father had turned a blind eye to the abuse of his children so many years ago. I became, in that moment of realisation, completely and utterly worthless. I know of course that this isn’t true but the sense of it lingers. I don’t volunteer for these dreams, and I do my best to lose the shadow of them the next day, but they persist.

Childhood trauma creates a cleft. I am cleaved in two. There is the Luce of today, with a rich and hearty lifetime behind me, and there is the Luce of long long ago. As I sat on the beach, looking up at that wonderful sky, thinking about the goodness of God, the shades of last night’s dreams whispered and drifted around me, and I was in two minds. Two minds. Ah, dear oh dear, we’ve had a lot of lovely teaching about being in two minds recently. It’s not a good state to be in. We’ve had teaching, too,  about being whole hearted. Just last Sunday a young man full of enthusiasm and brio told us that that we are not what has happened to us. And of course he ‘s right. I am not what happened to me. I am who God has made me. Now. Today. New every morning.

But…you people who have never known the trauma of real terror and fear….  I am also cleaved in two. That’s the reality. God is good and pure and compassionate and always listening, and I am cleaved in two. Does that seem paradoxical? There is a consequence of sin, and we bear that consequence. I bear the consequence.

Thing is, and here’s the good news… get ready for it… I know now that prayers are answered. I know that even when I’m shaken and wan and feeling a bit sick after a night of nightmares,  I can’t be kept from prayer. Nothing can keep us from prayer because God hears even our silence. Even when we can’t pray, if we open our hearts in honesty to Him, this in itself is a prayer.  To love Him, wordlessly and in confusion, that in itself is a prayer. To look at those clouds and to know that every single billow and zephyr is part of His plan, that is a prayer.

Do you have ghosts from long ago, shades of the past, fears and maybe even temptations that you can’t dispel? Here’s a couple of verses from Philippians and they give us more, much much more than a command, they give us an unbreakable promise  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That’s a promise. And He don’t lie! The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. Take a breath, and trust. Know that He will answer, and He will.

This morning, looking at the towering sky, the canopy  Genesis speaks of, I remembered from Romans And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s true. Nothing can keep me from the love of God.  There’s a funny old saying ‘There is nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Well, here’s the Luce version;

There is nothing to fear, not even fear.

In the middle of fear we are in the hands and care of God. He will bring us through. I refuse to be ashamed of my fear. It’s a scar and God will heal it. I’m a work in progress. Fear? Pah! Bunkum! Bring it on and He will overcome it. I’m tired of being afraid of fear. Did it seem to me that I was, for a moment , defeated? I wasn’t. I never will be again. Can anything in the past or the future separate me from the love of God?

Not on your Nelly, cheeky chops. I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.

 

 

It’s the wee small hours of the morning

It’s three minutes past three as I write this first sentence. When I lie down the room spins, due to a stubborn ear problem, so I’m propped up at my desk, tea at hand and fighting the urge to have a biscuit or a brioche… and there’s hardly any snacks in the house… would an ice-cream be ridiculous? But I’m not keen on ice cream so …. cheese and crackers? What do you think at 03.07 (doesn’t time fly?)…. tell you what, if I have a banana I can justify it as an anti-cramp measure! There you go… you never have to look far for an excuse/get-out/justification.

It’s Monday morning and I’m a bit sad to leave Sunday behind. It was a great Sunday, a Sunday of promise and celebration. Our church sent about 36 children and youngsters to a week’s camp in North Wales, and what seemed like the same number of adult volunteers went with them. Every year they trot off to a valley not far from the sea, and there they roll in mud, rub it into each other’s hair, pack it ritualistically into sleeping bags, and dip  white trainers in it. Yes, white trainers. One of my grandchildren took white flip flops. Part of the experience is called get-your-biggest-towel-soaking-wet-put-it-in-a-plastic-bag-with-some-once-white-socks-and-burrow -it-down-into-your- few-clean-clothes (and leave it there, airless for 5 days) . Most children like that  game.

They arrived home on Saturday at mid-day and, all over the town, parents and grandparents have been marvelling at the rich variety of North Waleian mud and its clinging quantities. By  Sunday morning church service the campers  were all fed and shining clean, rested and so very eager to see each other again. The delight on their faces as they fell into each other’s arms (nothing like a 12 year old for drama!) after a whole night apart was heart warming, and I can’t tell you how happy I was to see my youngest granddaughter not just obediently joining in with the worship but living it. What a lovely lovely morning. What a great gift from God.

And today I’ll hear all about the recording of my radio play. I was Skyped for the read-through but it’s the first time ever, in a near lifetime of writing, that I’ve not been present for the filming or recording of a play. It’s a strange feeling, but it’s been a good experience too, trusting the director, stepping back. The read-through was great, and the main character was such a consummate actor, his voice so rich with time and place, that it was all I could do not to shout out with excitement in the middle of it all.

That’s what I want to talk about now. Excitement. Life should be exciting. I don’t mean dangerous, or full of derring-do, but just plain exciting! Each day is an unwritten page, so what are we going to write in our life today? What will God teach us, where will He take us, how will we love Him? I spoke to a group tonight and hit a vein of excitement I couldn’t ignore; In my church we observe a special 24 hours of prayer every month. Out comes the white board and on it there’s a chart covering 7pm Monday to 7pm Tuesday – we don’t put our names down but we just bung a coloured sticker in the hours of our choice. Sometimes there are empty spaces, often in fact, but every sticker is just plain exciting! If you believe in the power of prayer, as we do, they hold out such promise! Not because our prayers are magic words, as if they of themselves have power, and certainly not because we always get it right and petition wisely or praise wonderfully,  but because God hears our stuttering words and thoughts and whenever He hears them He answers. Those answers, even the answers we don’t recognise, the quiet steps of God in our lives, are the weft and weave of the Christian life, God at work around us, among us, in each heart. So when I see the coloured dots, the promise of prayers ascending, I do a mental cheer, a fist-pump, high five and double somersault –  God will hear us, He will guide us, He will answer, He will reveal Himself. How amazing! How wonderful to be part of a praying community.

I investigated Christian communities recently (God shut the door very firmly on that bright idea) and the great attraction for me was the idea of being part of a praying community, a community devoted to prayer (and other stuff!). That would be so exciting. But now I see that my church has to be that praying community for me, right here and right now. And that is exciting!

Excitement is contagious. It’s life itself. Seeing the children greet each other after a bare 18 hours apart, was exciting. Happiness is infectious. Passion ignites. And we crave joy. I know, I know, joy can be deep still water in the soul, and it usually is. But it can also be a racing heart, a catch of breath, a sparkle in the eye, a leap, a hug, an idea. And excitement is creative, it moves forward, reaches out.

If we are not excited about our lives, what will we do with them? If we are not excited about today, what will I look back on tonight? If we are not excited about what God is doing in the world, do we understand who He is?

Some mornings I read Psalm 46 because, man, it’s so exciting! Because it reminds me who God is and who I am, it puts the world into perspective. Listen to the first few verses:.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

And then I ask myself, a sort of soul-sounding,  OK, Luce, suppose now the earth begins to shake, waters rise, the building begins to quake and crack.. the sky darkens… and this is it. This is the moment we’ve all been heading towards since the dawn of time… what will you do? Will you be afraid, will you run and hide? You know, once upon time I would have been terrified, but now? Now my heart is going to leap and I’m going to shout “Here He comes! Out the way! Out the way! Out the way!” and I’ m going to run, run, run to meet Him.

Here’s my prayer at.. let me see… 3.46 am; Lord God of all creation, please give me an awareness of your power, your love and your eternity. Please give me the excitement and energy to do today the things you want me to do, to draw nearer to you, to grab this life with both hands and plunge into it, this life of love and service and adoration. What could be more exciting than knowing you? Help me to have peace in the excitement and passion in the peace. Wow, Lord, how come I know you? I mean, me… me! I mean, you know, Lord, ME!

Our God is a great great God, the God of the possible and the impossible. How we love Him.

Night night. I’m going to try lying down again.