Two or three, or four, times a year I smoke a cigarette. I’ve never felt addicted to ciggies, and even when (in my 20s) I smoked maybe 10 a day, I could always stop smoking if there was something special to save for, or if the mood just took me. Now, when the opposite mood takes me, I love the heady effects of inhaling deep and long. When I have a fag, it’s a special savouring of something that’s just a bit naughty but not actually a sin. Fabulous.
Today a bonkers friend in London has sent me two ciggies in the post. They’ve arrived a bit flattened but perfectly smokable, and as I write this I can feel the nicotine hitting my blood cells, quickening my heart rate, and I fantasise that the wraiths of smoke are magically curling around my cerebral cortex, writhing and eddying between the folds of grey matter, sparking this neuron and deadening that one… delicious. Thanks, nicotine pal, that’ll do me for a few months, or maybe even a year. Some of you will be deeply disapproving, some will be indifferent, and some will be reaching for a packet of twenty but whatever you think, this is how it is. Unapologetically, that’s how it is and who I am. And unapologetically it’s how my daft friend in London reached out to me, with two flattened fags. Mad man! Delightful mad man. People are lovely.
I’m writing this in a cosy fug of nicotine and tar, a mug of strong coffee next to the keyboard, the dogs snoozing after two hours on the beach under a wonderful autumn sky… here, I’ll show you.
And once again I find myself wondering about you, blog readers, where you are, who you are, how you are. Some of you have introduced yourselves via emails, some of you live locally and we have a regular online conversation, but most of you… from 39 countries…. 34 of which I’ve never visited…. who are you?
I gave a talk to a group of entrepreneurs, hipsters and creatives at the weekend, and as I walked into that room (a lovely old barn, rough and ready and rather beautiful) towards 80 strangers, most of them young and go-getting, waiting to hear whatever I wanted to say, it struck me that this audience is just the same as the readers of a blog. Just the same, but different. Just as they didn’t know what I was going to say to them, so you have no idea what I’m going to blurt out today. Come to that, I have no idea what you need to hear, or where your head and heart are just now. Would you like me if we met? Would I drive you mad? Probably. But for now we take each other on trust.
After the talk, I chatted to some of the audience, including a story-telling performance artist, an engineer, three industrialists who came all the way from Denmark, a marketing exec and a poet. It was a wet and windy day here in West Wales and as we took shelter, eating a delicious lunch, the sea was in the distance (if you ducked down, put your head on one side and ignored the trees in-between), the sky above us was a tumbling maelstrom of cloud and wind, and we were snug and warm in a wash of good will, acceptance and creative thinking. Writing a blog is a bit different – I am all alone, and you may have come to it with a jaundiced eye, wanting to find fault (you’ll have a field day!), or you may be looking for something else entirely. If you don’t find what you’re hoping for, because we are not in that beautiful old barn together, your eyes can’t meet mine and I can’t apologise for falling short and you can’t laugh and say that’s ok …. but…. but … here we are, anyway. You and me. Strangers. I think that’s worth a moments pause. Selah*.
This morning on the beach, sitting on an uncomfortable log and watching the tide turn, I was overcome with the realisation that God loves the world. He loves us and all our daft ideas, he loves me even when the top of my head is lifting with the unfamiliar rush of nicotine, he loves us whoever we are, whatever our lives have made us. How can that be? And then I remembered the audience on Saturday, and the warmth of that little crowd, and I realised – he loves us because we are lovable. He made us to be loved and to love. Just as God is love, we are lovable.
It’s taken me 72 and a bit years to realise that. God made us to be loved and to love. Which means that I am lovable. After all I’ve lived through, and done and failed at, I am still loveable, because that’s how I was made. In love.
Isaiah 49, down there on the beach, helped me to come to that earth shattering conclusion,
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;
your walls are ever before me.
Maybe those words hit me like a sledge hammer because I have a young friend who gave birth to her first child last week. When she talks about her baby she’s near to tears, shell-shocked by the depth of her unexpected emotions, overflowing with thankfulness for this wonderful miracle, full to the brim with love for her child and her God. I see the joy and beauty of motherhood and I know why God loves her.
I’ve another friend who has, in the last couple of weeks, received what could be a devastating diagnosis and she’s suddenly very ill and in a lot of pain. When she writes about her long and painful days her love and faith shine through, her humour and humanity too bright to be extinguished. I know why God loves her.
In the last four years I’ve been with three friends on their last day alive, and each one has found warmth and humour even in their last hours. I know why God loves them.
We all know people who are obviously loveable but I think that we often put ourselves outside that group. It really has taken me 72 years to realise that it’s not good to feel unlovable. It’s not true that we are unlovable. We are all lovable, because we are made by love, of love.
Thats why people touch us. And it’s why we need to touch others. That’s why this blog is written, that’s why you read it, and even if you don’t find what you want here, you will keep on looking in other places. Because we need to touch each other.
So. here’s a cheeky thing to say but I’m going to say it; No wonder God loves us. Really! No wonder! He made us out of love, his love, and his love is unending, perfect, unshakeable. If I was God, which I’m not (!) and I’d made something out of my perfection with my perfection, I would love it too.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, however low or sad or desperate, however succesful, however whatever…. God loves you. This is how Jesus put it:
“So this is my command: Love each other deeply, as much as I have loved you.“
John 15:12 (TPT)
And in the Old Testament, which we can sometimes think of as all blood and thunder….
The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.
Psalm 33:5 (NIV)
*Selah. ‘Pause and think’ or ‘Think on this’.