Shoot me. It’s Isaiah. I know it always seems to be Isaiah with me. I can’t help it. Shush.
Even to your old age and grey hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
That’s in Isaiah 46:4
It looked this year as if I would have to move from this house and find somewhere to rent, probably not around here because there’s very little rental property in the village. I was OK about selling up and moving, in fact I’ve been homesick for England for a few years, but then something very strange happened – when my neighbours and friends, and even people I barely know, heard that I was going they showed deep, real concern for me. I was quite taken aback – I don’t join in much with the village social life, I think that in the 14 years I’ve been here I’ve judged a couple of talent competitions and done a tiny bit of writing for newsletters, and that’s it. But suddenly I was aware of a great blanket of care being draped around my shoulders. Not soft words and a ‘we love you’ meaningless mantra, but real care. Real Biblical care.
People I had never had more than a cursory conversation with came into the house or stood at the door, asking if they could help, was there no other way, saying they would miss me, that they didn’t want anyone else in this house, all sorts of touching and awkwardly uncertain attempts to reach this stubborn heart of mine, and to sway me. But I couldn’t afford to be swayed – it was a simple practical solution just to move away. I began to feel a bit frustrated that they were so insistent, wouldn’t it just be so much simpler if they let me go and I went on my merry way whistling a happy tune? Why all this emotion?
I kept telling them it was OK, me moving. And that God would look after me. It was a dog-walking Scrabble friend, Anne, who said “Maybe God has sent us to look after you because you won’t look after yourself” and that really floored me. Maybe God had sent them?
I have lived all my life moving from place to place. It’s easy. Moving is easy. Pack your bags and go. As a child I lived in Army quarters, in Derry, Omagh, Scarborough, Egypt and Cyprus. When my mum died I lived with relatives in Lancashire. Then moved with my father to Wiltshire and then Somerset. Then came Yorkshire and London, and Kent and Derby and South Africa, and Canada, and several different homes back in Derbyshire, then Wales….. Moving is easy.
If you don’t let it hurt you, it doesn’t hurt.
Except it does. And as these people so stubbornly nagged me to stay, and worried about me, they were beginning to make me feel bad about going. It was beginning to hurt. A new feeling I could do without.
It began to dawn on me that these people were my family, more than my long-ago society in England, more than church, or my work colleagues. For the first time ever I dreaded moving, and my prayers began to subtly shift… is there any way I could stay? Is there?
Prayers are sometimes answered in the most surprising way and also in a pretty damn short space of time; a wonderful answer to my difficulties came knocking on my door, right out of the blue, and moving was no longer the only answer. A stranger had heard someone talking about me, saying how much I would be missed (me!) and he had a solution, a solution no one had thought of. It was as if I was being held, held tight. It was a heart warming answer to prayer, my own miracle.
Yesterday was my birthday. I don’t set much store by birthdays but then I’m often surprised by how much I enjoy them. When I turned 60 I had just moved into this village and we had a right rip-roaring party. There was everyone from past and present, friends, actors, producers and comedians from England, the local vicar and a few neighbours, my grandchildren and family… it was a brilliant night, and some drink was taken. The vicar then was a small round man, a would-be thespian and one of my abiding memories of that long long night is him walking unsteadily away up the street, singing – or trying to sing – the Madness song ‘My girl’s mad at me’ while his wife walked on ahead, indeed a tiny bit cheesed off.
This year and for the last few years it’s been a deal more sedate, but just as special. Quiet days of joy and reflection. Yesterday it was a walk on the windswept beach, my phone pinging several times with birthday messages (some were even quite polite). Home to coffee and cosiness, before a shopping trip to get some stuff for Covid pals. When I dropped their goodies off, they had my present waiting by the door and shouted at me, through the closed window, to open it so that they could see my face. It was the best and silliest gift ever. In the UK we erect blue plaques on houses where really famous people have lived – something like this
and for my 73rd birthday my friends had given me this
Isn’t that funny? I am going to put it up in the porch to make me smile every time I come home, and to remind me that even when I’m alone I am held and sustained. And that sometimes God uses people to show me his love.
And in 23 days we celebrate another birth; we’re in the countdown, the tree is up, the lights are lit, Dawn French has been turned into a fairy for M&S, and this year I have learned that love really IS all around.
And who is love? Oh, that’s right, God is love. God is all around. Emmanuel. God with us. Here in my village, and wherever you are.