Ineffable.

We’re lumps of emotion tied up in dodgy logic, are we not? Well, I am. And that means that sometimes, not often, the day is strangely down, so that it’s hard to lift my voice and even pretend enthusiasm or find anything to talk about. It’s pointless feeling guilty about it. It’s a thing. Like Tuesdays and paying taxes. It comes around and shouldn’t surprise us, but somehow it always does.

Living alone makes it harder because we can slip into it without even knowing, but it makes it easier too, because we don’t drag anyone else down with us while we wait for the lumpiness to pass. We know it will. We’ve been here before and the sadness or despair doesn’t last for ever. We feel down but we know it’s just a feeling, and not a truth.

And there are a few things that help to kick those blues into touch . You think I’m going to bang on again about quiet time on the beach, don’t you? Well, I’m not. Strangely, walking in the waves and looking up into the blue sky (I’ve actually and literally cricked my neck this week) and gazing at the picture-book perfect hills dotted with sheep, and all that rural malarkey, isn’t any help at all if I’m already down-in-the-dumps. The beauty and whispering waves and the wheeling birds serve only to underline the ineffable sadness of being. Many people have used that phrase, and it sums up the whole damn emotional mess of being human. The word ‘ineffable’ means ‘too extreme or intense to be described in words’ so I won’t even try.

Sometimes we’re just bloody well sad because we’re bloody well sad and there simply ain’t no rhyme or reason. Mind you, looking around just now we can find a few reasons, eh? Fires and floods and wars and a pandemic and inflation and old men making a mess of the world. And that’s just the national stuff, not the cultural and personal. I think of these things as a sort of wallpaper, a background to our feelings, but not the cause. We are vulnerable to sadness simply because we are human, and we are emotional and we are heirs to a thousand natural shocks (I’m borrowing from everyone today). And then, of course come the personal and historic reasons for sadness, and we can find ourselves back in the grief of loss, missing those we love.

Anyway, my friends, yesterday was fine but today was a sad and down day for me. ‘Was’. So, am I out of that hole or still there, still sinking into the mire? I think I’m clambering out. Clumsily and with a lot of huffing and puffing but out I come. How? Pin back your lug’oles, and I’ll tell you:

I finished reading Galatians yesterday and if I had read on this morning, turning to the next page, I would have come to Ephesians, and I know that this epistle is full of encouragement and reminders of God’s grace, and fabulous prayers, right enough, but somehow I didn’t have the oomph. Paul can be a bit relentless when you’re feeling ragged and a bit fragile. I wanted something even more personal, even more accessible, even more…. something. I wanted to know, in my bones, that I was not alone, and that someone cared. One of the hard things about being single is the knowledge that you will never again be anyone’s priority, there will be no more meaningful hugs, that so- precious hand will never rest in yours again….. and at the moments when this hits home you don’t want to wallow, to sink into self pity, you want to accept the facts but simultaneously deny the loneliness. Yes, you’re alone, but you’re also not alone. You’re loved whether you feel that you are, or not. You’re OK. You’ll do. OK, you long for the personal, for a hand in yours and, yes, that’s hard, but – come on Luce – it’s not unbearable. It’s no good staying where you find yourself – move on! Does that sound like an internal bickering match? A bit of a ding-dong? It is.

So this morning, needing the person of Christ, instead of dutifully stepping again into Paul’s diligent teaching, I turned back to the Gospels and came face to face again with the gentle, strong and unwavering simplicity of Jesus.

There you go! There you jolly well go. Fabulous. The Gospel of John.

I read as far as the Samaritan woman at the well, and it was a balm to my soul (not a magic wand, I wasn’t suddenly transformed into Pollyanna or Forrest Gump). But I saw the dusty road, the tired man, the veiled woman…. I was that woman, hungrily asking her questions, wondering at this weary man … and the reading became an oasis, a real refreshment. A reminder that I have the Living Water, the eternal gift, from a loving God. Really, a balm.

But sadness is tiring, we forget that feeling depressed is exhausting, and I was still a bit flat and ‘ineffably sad’ a few hours later when I went out to lunch with two friends, so that I wasn’t really with them – I was standing about ten feet away, watching the three of us, a witness not a participant. Wrapped up in my own thoughts, still there with the Samaritan woman…. imagining the sound of the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, the excitement of that woman running back to her village, all shame gone, telling everyone about the Jewish teacher who had so shockingly spoken to her!

Lunch was good and we sat in the shade, looking out at the wonderful view bathed in sunlight, three women of ‘a certain age’, patient with each other, and secretly rejoicing that we didn’t have to cook or wash up.

When I came home this afternoon, I couldn’t wait to get back into the Gospels and to read on, up to the feeding of the five thousand, and I want to know this – answers on a postcard please – how is that even when we know a story inside out, every word, when we could retell it in every detail, how is that, even then, we can discover something new and wonderful? The Gospels are so very very special. There’s an unarguable truth in the accounts we’re given, a simple retelling of events, and in that simplicity and openness, nothing clever or skewed or manipulative, the invitation and promise of Jesus Christ is overwhelming. No clever marketing men back then, no crafty algorithms to lure us in. Just truth. And today, reading it for the umpteenth time, it came alive, I was there with the disciples (probably more present than I was at lunch with my poor pals) and when Jesus said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Wowser! I mean, really, wham! It just hit me. It just bloomin’ hit me. The miracle of Christ, the gift of faith, the sheer excitement of eternal truth.

The new thought for me was of the woman running back to share her news, her scandalous wondrous, amazing news. All her shame forgotten. Five husbands ? Pah! So what? All done and dusted. There she was full of life and energy and bursting with good news. The dusty thirsty man, a man with no riches, no earthly power or standing, had done this. Had done what only God can do. No wonder she was bursting to tell everyone.

How are the blues tonight? Lurking, but not winning. By tomorrow morning they’ll be sent packing.

Stop digging into misery and dig into the Word.

So. I reckon there are a few ways I can emerge from the blues – read the Word of God, devour it, dig into it. Enjoy the company of patient friends. Have some chips. Sit in the shade and watch families in the sun. Write a blog Have a glass of wine. Remember to say my night prayers. Ask God if he thinks I’m very barmy or just a bit cuckoo.

Life is good. Eternal life is amazing. Taste it. Fabulous.

A Perfect Morning

There is a deal of sadness in life, sometimes. This is one of those times, not for me but for those around me. So, this is me saying ‘Begone dull care!’ (or something very similar, using words a little more Anglo-Saxon) and asserting, proclaiming, insisting and witnessing that God is good. Because He is. Whatever is going on in this poor old fallen world, God is good.

One of my neighbours is a musician. He also loves words and poetry and generally thinking about more than the mundane, exploring the invisible, and even trying to define the undefinable. That’s what we have in common. As I left the beach this morning, he and his wife arrived. I called out “Very heaven!” and he immediately demanded the next line. I didn’t have a next line. So I came home and wrote a very silly little ditty to make him smile. Hope it makes you smile too, and I’ll even illustrate it. That’s how much I love you! It’s a piece of doggerel, but I don’t care. Sometimes we have to be silly.

Very Heaven;

Sapphire sea, crystal sky,
Silver grasses seem to sigh,

Dappled water in the sun,
Sea grass elegantly spun,

Bleached beach, wet toes,
Pico’s prance and Pip’s wet nose,

Percy on a log again,
(playing Monarch of the Glen)

Swallows swoop and dip and soar,
Our lives are this, and so much more

Each day a perfect stitch in time,
To make His tapestry Divine. 

Very very Heaven.

Sometimes looking down is as amazing as looking up

Cheer up! It won’t last forever.

You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14

Kinda lovely while it lasts

I don’t often send cards. I prefer to write an email or phone, because I rarely find a card to suit both the message and the recipient. But last night I had to write two cards as it’s the only way I can contact these friends, two cards with very different illustrations and completely different messages, to be sent into two very different worlds. One of them went to a busy, successful, loveable and funny friend who’s moving house after a year of living in a temporary home. That one was full of fun and my own childish rhyme, the front a delightful cartoonish painting of dogs gambolling by the sea (the recipient is moving to the seaside). The second card is going to a friend who has just received the diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s. That one took some thinking, and praying and choosing and writing, and discarding and starting again… finally, the front showed a trio of puffins, their beaks full of tiny fish. We live in West Wales, where we do have puffins, and they’re one of those animals that make us smile, with their dinner jacket plumage, sturdy puffed out chests and wide-awake eyes, and I wanted her to smile when she saw it. I hope she did.

Writing that second card made me think a great deal about our understanding of our place in history, our life in God’s Kingdom, and that strange paradox, that we are hugely important to God, and yet, as James says, we’re a mist that soon vanishes. Lost in history. Some names linger for a bit, a couple of generations, but most of us slip away into the past, unnoticed. I think that’s wonderful. Do you? Or do you think I’m barmy?

I know that this could seem to some as down and plain depressing but it’s not! It really isn’t. It means that whatever we are going through in this world, there is going to be an end to it. My favourite children’s book, one that I give to many a new parent, is ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. A dad and his children caper through a meadow, a forest, a river, a snowstorm… and every time the refrain is ‘We can’t go over it! We can’t go under it! Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!’

And you know what? They do get through all those obstacles, and they even find the bear and what do they do then? They turn tail and run, all the way back to the warmth and safety of their lovely cosy bed. The anticipation of the story, the gradual build-up to the climax, the scary lovely eye-popping shock of the bear, and the excited flurry of fleeing back to safety – what a great story! I love it.

Why was I telling you that? Oh, yes…. Life is full of obstacles, things we can’t skirt around and avoid, but just have to go through, some are small and pernickety and annoying and all about selfishness, but some are huge and terrifying, and that’s the adventure. That’s the richness of living. That’s the challenge and sometimes the sadness and sometimes, too, the tragedy. There’s no denying the sadness of dementia, the cruelty of cancer and disease, the gradual progression of all life, from birth to inevitable death, so I try not to offer platitudes and ‘answers’ to people who are facing life’s hardest battles. There are no answers in this world. I didn’t offer any in my puffin card.

But through it we will go. And we will come out at the other side. Nothing lasts for ever, except ‘for ever’. Eternity. Ultimately (how strange our language is, when eternity denies the ultimate) all that matters is eternity. And eternity is all.

We have the greatest gift, not pie-in-sky-by-and-by, but eternity now. God now. Everything else will pass, but our relationship in God, with God, is here for ever. To mangle the bear hunt story – we can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we’re going to live right where we are right now, in the centre of God’s love for ever. Immoveable.

My friend with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s will be loved by her husband and her friends, held up in prayer, cared for and part of her church family until the end of the Alzheimer’s and the next stage of her eternal life. Her husband and friends will support each other. And all the time, whatever this earthly life brings, they will rest on the words of the Bible

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6&7

Why is her lot to be Alzheimers? Beats me. Why do some people sail through life and live to a ripe old age with no hurdles on the way, to die peacefully in their own bed, while others ricochet through life, from one tragedy to the next and are robbed even of their old age? Beats me. I dunno. But I do know that God holds creation in his grasp, that God is good, that his love is perfect and unchanging, and that he loves and cares for us all. And that he holds all things together.

Easy for me to say, eh? Is my friend afraid? Of course she is, and her husband too, facing this next phase in their lives. A terrible diagnosis. But they know that God is good, they know that he is love,

He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. Isaiah 40:11

Nothing in this world lasts for ever

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

That’s the same passage I quoted in my last blog, from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, but in the NIV translation.

I’m so glad I read that book last week. It’s been a great wake-up call to the importance of eternal life right here and now. ‘Kingdom life’ a friend of mine would say. I’m trying to get my head around the concept and meaning of Kingdom life, what it means to us right now, what Jesus wanted us to understand, the mustard seed, the treasure hidden in a field, a dragnet cast into the sea….

Kingdom life. I know many of the things that it isn’t, if only I could put my finger on exactly what it is…. I wonder if I’ll live long enough to find out? Or will the penny drop only when I step across the threshold into glory?

All life is like the grass.
All of its grace and beauty fades like the wild flowers in a field.

The grass withers, the flower fades
    as the breath of the Eternal One blows away.
People are no different from grass.
 The grass withers, the flower fades;
    nothing lasts except the word of our God.
It will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8 (the Voice version)

I’m back! And to prove it, here’s a blog

The bridge to England, and back again

It was so good to be back in England, and particularly good to be back in the South West, driving past places I remember so well from my childhood, Chippenham, Trowbridge, Devizes, Melksham, Warminster. Here’s a hoary old joke; “Why do they eat only mashed potato in Trowbridge?” Answer…. “Because they have no Devizes for Chippenham.”

Well, when I was about twelve I thought that was a pretty witty joke.

It was a short stay, just five days, but it recharged the batteries and reminded me what a beautiful world we’ve been given. Lent. And now it’s good to be home.

For those few days, I seemed to have a different, more focussed way of reading through 2 Corinthians. Maybe it was simply because I was reading in a very different environment, my senses more alert, routine broken, but I found I was more enquiring than usual, not more critical, but more engaged. Same Bible, same me, same voice in my head, but somehow a sharper exploration. Paul’s voice too seemed different, more personal, more human, with more personality and vulnerability. I began to sense the pressures and confusion he felt, as God guided his words. I felt that here was a man who was sometimes lost (but never abandoned) and bewildered (but never misled). I began to understand that when God leads we shouldn’t be shocked to experience a holy dichotomy, in ourselves weak and needy, while in Christ strong and courageous. I think that the modern church expects us to be always on the ‘up’ and full of serenity and calm and peace and assurance. Why? God doesn’t expect that of us. He knows we go up and down like the Big Dipper and we are just as acceptable at the top as we are at the bottom. Sometimes we are too quick with the cliché, or the verse that serves the moment a little bit too cosily. And sometimes we lack honesty and resort to what we think we ought to say rather than what we are going through. CS Lewis had it in a nutshell when he wrote about prayer ‘We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.’

I think that’s how we should live and witness, and support each other. Our fellowship should be open, and all about what’s in us, not what ought to be in us.

And then of course we have to nod to the thorny old question of balance. Do we want a community that’s forever baring its soul, banging on about our weaknesses? No thanks. But as in everything the balance comes in submitting to God, serving Him, submitting to each other, serving each other, rather than ourselves. If we do that we will neither bang on about our own needy souls nor pretend that we are better than we are. What’s the word I’m looking for? There are a few that fit the bill… integrity, openness, sincerity, and honesty.

That’s what I got when I read Corinthians, in the forest in Wiltshire. I got the word of God, in all its clarity and purity, and woven into the text I met the personality and perplexity of Paul, his earnestness and fervour. I think he must have been quite difficult to live with.

Talking of which – something has occurred to me that has never passed the threshold of my woolly brain before. Here comes something so obvious that you’ll all groan and roll your eyes and resolve to read no more of my blogs; it’s very easy for us to be full of deep deep love for everyone when we live alone. It’s when we live with other people that we find out that real love isn’t that easy after all. That’s the challenge of marriage, and family and church.

Marriage, eh? Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of my husband’s death. I’d quite like to experience the challenge of living with him again. He was very very easy to live with, very easy to love.

I’ll leave you with the words of Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, the Message version;

“….we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”

Money, money, money

Before we get to the blog, look at what a couple of days Saharan heat can do in the UK

In the UK we have our first-ever Red Heat Alert. In the East of England and in cities it’s worst, and at Heathrow this morning the temperature was recorded at over 40degrees. Some of you live in hotter climates than even this, but we’re not used to it, our houses aren’t built for it, our infrastructure quite literally buckles under it, we wilt. As I write this I have a friend in London who is writing her TV series in a room with the curtains drawn, wearing a wet towel around her shoulders, desperately trying to cope. Here in Wales the worst has passed and we’ve just heard a roll of thunder, and a smattering of rain has shimmied by, gone almost as soon as it came, and mercifully – magically- the temperature has dropped to 25.

But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about money. I’m looking around for a church to attend, an active church, out in the community, following the example of Acts with a common purse, showing practical care as encouraged by James, and when I finished my Romans re-read a week or so ago, I went on to 1 Corinthians (where I found that gentle warning about losing my first love yesterday in chapter 13). This morning I typed up my notes and as I was battering the keyboard in my plink-plonk-bash way, I discovered another nugget of gold. Listen, 1 Corinthians 12: verse 7

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so that we can help each other.

The bold font is mine.

I’m not going to make a big distinction between Spiritual gifts and practical gifts, because I’m thinking rather more generally about gifting, and remembering that ‘Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father,‘ James 1:17

Whatever is good. So that we can help each other.

I’ve been given a gift with words and that gift has enabled me to earn a living for nearly 40 years. It’s nothing I’ve created, it’s a gift. It was placed in my hands and head and heart. It’s not the gift of genius, or the gift of amazing ability, or the gift of stardom or great insight and intelligence and talent, and compared to the giants of writing mine is a small gift, but it’s enough. I revel in it and I’m very grateful. It’s enabled me to earn a living, and more than a living. At one stage in my life money rolled in faster than I could roll it out. Sometimes I’ve been unwise – I remember thousands of pounds I sent to a ‘Nigerian schoolgirl’ who claimed to have been orphaned and had a kidney disease and her aged grandmother who was looking after her had heart problems and… and… you can imagine the rest… In the 80’s I sent money to this needy soul for years before I was gently advised that she was probably a bloke of 50 driving a Mercedes and lording it over a call centre.

Just as my writing gift does not take me to the heights of intellectual acclaim, so my wisdom sometimes stalls in base camp. But it was the 80’s, we didn’t know about scams, and we learn as we go along, so I don’t regret that incident, it was a lesson. When, a few years later, I heard about two homeless families in the North East I had the nowse and skill to do some research before contacting them, so that Nigerian experience was good.

If what God gives us is placed in our hands and entrusted to our stewardship, in order that we can help others, isn’t that a fantastic model for growth? If whatever I have been given, over my basic needs, is handed on to others, who in turn hand on any excess to others, what a great and wonderful pyramid system that is! And I believe that there will be excess for most people at some time in their lives because Jesus himself said “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

We read about the widow giving her mite, her little piece of change, all she had. Do we imagine that her life was made miserable because of that? Or did she feel joy? I believe that what she gave in faith and love was returned to her, and that giving is such a rewarding thing to do that she gave that too, and it was returned to her, and she gave that too. I believe that she had the gift of generosity.

Generosity is a gift and it, too, comes down from God. That widow was no better than the wealthy people all around her, but she had the gift of giving in abundance, and they had it in less abundance. She wasn’t better than them, but in the moment of giving all that she had, her action glorified God.

Money is so boring. It is. If you’ve ever daydreamed about winning twenty million pounds or dollars, you haven’t spent much time imagining it sitting in the bank. No, you imagine whose mortgage you could pay off, which family member you could bail out, which friend needs a car, which charity needs a donation. Money – rubbish! But what it can do – priceless!

I’ve never believed that money sitting in a bank account is of any earthly use to anyone. It doesn’t belong there. Money exists for the good of others. Yes, yes, we have to be responsible and maintain enough to keep clogs on our feet and bread on the table, but once that’s achieved – what use is money? It’s a bit like a house. You can live in only one room at a time, sleep in one bed at a time, have a shower in one bathroom at a time. I was reading about Meghan Markle and Harry this morning, their home in America has 16 bathrooms and nine bedrooms. I’m not disapproving, just puzzled – why? Why? I can understand that they require more than a small cottage, they need more than my two bedrooms, they need rooms for visitors, a room for a live-in nanny, but SIXTEEN bathrooms? Nine bedrooms? What earthly use is that to the world? And what use is to them?

Mansions and palaces don’t serve God. Money in the bank doesn’t serve God. In this world there is enough money to keep commerce going, to employ everyone who can work, to create new wealth, to build shelter for the homeless and deliver water to the thirsty, to grow crops for the hungry, and to care for the sick. There is enough already. Enough already. I’m 73. I’ve worked out roughly how much I need for the next few years. Anything above that – not interested! It goes! It goes to where it will do some decent sort of work.

Does that make me poorer? Only on paper. Does it make my life poorer? No. Of course not. It makes the banks poorer. It doesn’t hurt me at all. If I have £500,000 in the bank, what difference does that make to my life? Even my favourite foods are simple (loaded chips! Oh, yes!), I can live in only one room at a time. I have a bed and a duvet. I have water and a roof. What do I need £500,000 for?

James 5 holds a severe warning:

And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment.

All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse.

‘A fatter than usual corpse!’ Well, listen, James, as a fatty that makes me wince. But I know what you mean. The NIV has it ‘You’ve fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter.’ That’s such a vivid image, isn’t it?

If all the money in the world was put in a heap and split among the billions, there would be bread for all. And it wouldn’t cost us anything, except money. Dead cold money. Who needs it?

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

It’s not a great big hole…

We have some daft sayings but one of the daftest, and most dangerous, and dishonest is the phrase that goes ” I fell in love”.

Love is not a big dark hole that we stumble into , unexpectedly. That’s lust. That’s passion. That’s sexual oomph. It isn’t love.

What is love, then? What’s the difference? Well, hang on, this is a 73 year old woman speaking here so I feel a bit removed from the hot stuff, but to me the difference is self. Passion is all about self, about excitement, physical hunger, a thirst that demands to be slaked and slaked now. We’ve all been there. But come on, get real – love is not about any of that. I’ve been reading Romans – there’s a lot about love in that book, the love of Christ, our love, what love does, what love doesn’t do, and so, wanting to read God’s definition of love once again, I turned to 1 Corinthians 13,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’

There’s this really awful, garish, trashy, exploitative, botox, bottle-tan, pouting, posing, thong wearing, pecs flexing, programme on TV just now, ‘Love Island’. Young people love it. My own granddaughter has paid £4 a month so she can watch it without ad breaks, that’s how immersed she is in it! But this ain’t anything to do with love, it’s Lust Island. I don’t really think there’s much lust for those taking part, unless it’s lust for celebrity and their 15 minutes of fame, but it’s probably Lust Island for some viewers, the lonely and isolated. For healthy youngsters I think it’s just one more soap opera, with even more hooks and twists than Eastenders; who will be mean to whom, who will lie and will they be discovered, who will cheat and who will seem an OK kinda guy, there in that artificial setting, in front of the cameras, for a few charged weeks?

I’m not against attraction. It’s God’s gift to us. When we find someone to love, really love and marry, that’s a wonderful gift but there are other gifts along the way – it’s great fancying someone, it’s healthy to see the beauty in other people, and the odd crush makes life a little more colourful. Vive le difference and all that! But I’m a grandmother and I think a lot about the world my family is growing up in, and the influences all around them, so I’ve been thinking a lot about their understanding of love. And that, of course, has made me question my own understanding and commitment.

Romans is not always comfortable reading, at least not to me. It reminds me of God’s love for me, and how far it is from my love for him. I’ve been particularly challenged by that rallying cry I quoted a few blogs ago ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?’

And you know what I thought? I thought “His love will never leave me, but will my love leave him? Is it, even now, on the wane? Am I as hungry for worship and prayer and life in the Spirit as I was a few short years ago?”and then I remembered Revelation 2 and God’s message to the church at Ephesus

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! 

The message translation or version uses these words “Turn back! Recover your dear early love.”

You know when a thought grabs you and shakes you? This one grabbed and shook me. Do I need to rediscover my early love for God?

Isn’t it fabulous when we first find someone we really, really, whole-heartedly fancy? When they are everything we think is wonderful, when the sound of their voice, or even the thought of them, the glimpse of them in a crowd, sets the heart racing and makes us smile? You can barely string a few words together without mentioning their name. That’s what the world says is ‘falling in love’. But it isn’t. Because that level of passion and desire passes. It does. It simply does.

So, if we can’t excuse ourselves by claiming to have somehow accidentally ‘fallen’ in love, how can we excuse ourselves by claiming, some time later, that we’ve ‘fallen’ out of love? Can I say “Well, yeah, I was dead excited about God, but you know, with time… well, stuff happens doesn’t it? You get busy, Covid comes along, friends leave, other friends die, things change, I’m not in a church and you know, life gets in the way. He’s there…. but just not here… not every day anyway….. you know? ”

Arrgghh! Is this who I’ve become? Have I lost my first love, my delight and joy, my desperate need and promise to follow? If loving and following Jesus was a decision and a commitment, is there now any excuse for wandering away?

Love is not a great big hole we fall into and fall out of. It’s a decision.

It’s decision that you stand by, and honour. It won’t be always easy – but you get through the rough times together.

My reading this week has been a personal and direct warning to me. Love matters. Like marriage it takes steadfastness, patience, submission, trust and, like marriage, it’s worthwhile, joyful, rewarding.

I don’t want to fall out of love. I won’t. I refuse to. God has me on a piece of elastic, so that however far I wander, he pings me back.

PING!

A lesson for Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

That’s  Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. I bet you read it at school if you’re my age.

It’s a good reminder that however firmly you tread upon this earth, however diligent you are, however you live your life, the sun will continue to rise in the morning and the tides will still rise and fall when you are gone.

That gives such comfort – God is in charge, not me. I don’t have to live for ever, and while I’m here I don’t have to be perfect, there is nothing I can do that is so bad that it’s irreparable and nothing I have done that is unforgivable. Without that knowledge, if I was struggling under the illusion that I was in control, that I must always be right and in the right, how would I sleep at night? How did old Ozzy sleep?

Ozymandias must have had a horrible life, a life of desperate striving and ambition and the desire to impress and create fear… to make his mark upon the world. A right old show-off. ‘Look on my works ye mighty, and despair.’ but I don’t see only megalomania in that image, or arrogance, I see fear and anxiety. Fear that he might not impress the world unless he built a temple, a city, an empire, grander, bigger, more powerful than anyone else. Ozymandias was Ramses the Great, a Pharoah who ruled a thousand years before Christ, a man who worshipped the Sun and images of cats, of jackals, of mythological birds. He lived in splendour, served by a powerful army, he expanded the Egyptian empire, he was called the Great Ancestor….. and his 8 metre high statue has now been found, in pieces, in the mud of a Cairo slum. All that anxiety, all that striving.

What a weight to carry.

It’s a weight we don’t have to carry. We can instead turn to these words of Jesus from Matthew Chapter 11 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Ahhhhh. ‘Come to me.’ What an invitation. Rest for our souls.

Anxiety is high just now, especially among the young. I can understand that – these last few years have thrown a pandemic at us, life has been disrupted, teenagers have spent two years in on/off isolation, tutoring has all but stopped, the degrees they’ve worked so hard for have been devalued, they’re left up to their necks in debt and now these young people look at what seems to be a bleak future.

Today I sat next to my 20 year old granddaughter as she went online to find her marks for her second year at Uni and of course she was dreading the reveal. I felt her tension, as she resolved not to cry whatever the email told her, and I so wanted to give her courage and optimism and resilience – of course I did. Every Nana would, but those things take years to develop and they can’t be neatly wrapped up and handed over in a gift. She’s an anxious person by nature, quick witted and capable but so unsure of herself. I wanted her to see herself with my eyes, to say to her ‘Look at you, you’re strong and hard working and perfect and imperfect and silly and wonderful and unique. When you’re my age, this moment will be just one tiny stitch in a great rich tapestry, a stonking great tapestry more beautiful than you can imagine.’

But of course I didn’t. She would have rolled her eyes and thwacked me with a “Oh, Nana!” and probably cried anyway.

I wanted to tell her that degrees are good but they’re not amazing and exciting and they don’t guarantee anything, they don’t necessarily bring happiness. I wanted to tell her to do her best, and yes – tuck her exams under her arm, but care more, care most for her soul. That no success is forever, no hard-won achievement is eternal, that our footsteps are washed away, our empires crumble and that’s good. It really is! It’s absolutely wonderful because it frees us up to stop fretting and worrying, it frees us up to enjoy the amazing adventure of following Jesus.

And, of course, her grade was better than she had feared or expected.

And my footsteps this morning were washed away, like my sins. Like my sins! Isn’t that marvellous? Go on, admit it. It is.

Eternity washes all cares away, and when we understand eternity, when we know that we are already in eternity, what on Earth (!) should we fear? Last week I finished reading Romans. How’s this for a stirring clarion call away from worry and into joy?

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Hurrah!

And here’s Psalm 55:22 (TPT)
Leave all your cares and anxieties at the feet of the Lord, and measureless grace will strengthen you.

Double Hurrah! A dozen hurrahs. Enough hurrahs to wake up the whole village.

It’s two minutes before 1am. I’m going to bed. Night night. God bless.

They’re not all mine

DO!

If you drive towards town today, coming from the North, you will see – on a distant hill to the South – several rows of tiny dots on a lush green field. Tents. The rows are so perfect, the field so green, that even from this distance it’s obvious that each one will be taut, sturdy, warm and dry. At a roundabout or junction there will be a small and discreet sign, directing you towards something called ‘DO Lectures’.

For three nights those tents will be occupied by people from all over the world, and even more visitors will stay in nearby b&b’s, all of them arriving for three days of talks, community and inspiration. This event is called ‘Do Wales’.

What is Do Wales?

I’ll steal a quote from the DO website;

‘The idea is a simple one. We gather together the world’s great DOers, disruptors and changemakers, have them share their hearts and stories, and encourage others to go and DO great things too.
We began over fourteen years ago. They were humble times. Now our events have a global reputation. At DO, some of the most progressive visionaries and thinkers of our times have told the stories of their lives. And those stories have helped to change other people’s lives.
Our events are intimate and magical. They always will be. We believe it builds a better community. ‘

I spoke at Do Wales last year and afterwards, over coffee and some delicious baking, I found myself talking to people from Holland, Germany and Canada, all of whom had travelled to the UK solely for the event. That may not sound like such a big deal to you if you’re an urban dweller, but this is a rural community in West Wales, and our nearest motorway is an hour’s drive away, and then its another three hours (if the conditions are good) to London, and even by train it’s four hours and then a car drive to get to that lush green hillside overlooking the sea. So why does DO Wales attract so many luminaries, so many active and successful people?

It’s very difficult to answer that, to explain what makes this event so worthwhile and rewarding. Is it the welcome, the warmth of the hosts, the mix of the people, the great variety of speakers, the innovative ideas, the out-of-the-frame thinking? Or is it something to do with the lovely and slightly crumbly old farm buildings, or the great food and the nearby beach, the swims in the morning, and the wonderful music in the evenings? Or is it the laughter and the acceptance of who you are, the appreciation of what you bring, the forging of new friendships? Yes. All of those things. Absolutely, all of those things.

Although I spoke last year and will be speaking there again this year, I’m not an expert on the magic effect of DO Wales. I can’t wrap up the experience in a neat little bundle to explain the event or show you exactly what DO Wales might give you. I think it gives everyone something different, something they will appreciate and benefit from and that this will be different each time. I didn’t know anything at all about the DO organisation until last year but since then I’ve met its founder, David Hieatt. He’s a creative and originator, an enabler. And he is the driving force, the inspiration whose can-do and will-do life force brings all these people here and creates lasting warmth and fellowship.

It just takes one person.

At a time when our government and nation seems to be in such chaos, it’s good to remember that there are men and women in the world who can unite rather than divide, inspire rather than judge, create rather than destroy. I’m listening to the news as I write this, to 24hour rolling news, full of speculation and drama and many rent-a-gobs, all speaking with far far too much glee and schadenfreude as the government topples slowly into the mire. There’s a sour taste to it all, and I’m glad to turn away from all that and to think instead of that field of tents, of all those people converging on Cardigan. I’m taking a moment to thank God that there are people in the world who innovate, who break the pattern, who wander off the well-worn path into new pastures, reaching out to link arms with strangers and so make them friends.

On Saturday I’ll be speaking to people of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, men, women, industrialists, technologists, psychologists, athletes, a mermaid (!), wealthy, broke, aspiring, reflective, funny, focussed, and far far too clever for me. What can I bring to the table?

Hmmm. Just me, I suppose.

Ah, well.

What’s the worst that can happen?

It became a sort of saying for him, one that he would roll out when there was a dilemma, a problem, or something a bit risky. It was almost a joke but there was bitter edge to it too. It had started when we were in a tricky situation, on a boat that seemed to be sinking, as darkness fell, in a busy shipping lane. Rob (my first husband) had been tossing up the alternatives…. if this happened we could do this, but if something else happened we could do something else… an anxiety ridden conversation, circling around and around. At some point, tired and cold, I said “Oh, well, no point fretting – what’s the worst that can happen?” Rob was almost apoplectic with exasperation “What’s the worst? What’s the bloody worst? Well, let’s start with the bloody boat sinking, shall we, and the dogs and the cat drowning, followed by you and me capsizing the bloody dinghy as we try to get in it, then you drown and then I drown… how about that for starters?” And I said something like “But, Rob, the world will go on turning. It’s not so terrible.”

That didn’t just exasperate him, it puzzled him and annoyed him and was a sure and certain sign that he’d married an imbecile (he had a point). And thereafter he would often quote me, with a sort of hopeless shake of the head, whenever he felt the need to confirm my idiocy.

But that is how I feel, still. Always have. Imagine the worst, the worst, the absolute worst that can happen in your life…. and it’s no big deal. Nations will not fall, humanity will continue, babies will be born, the sun will rise and set. And even if we take death out of the scene, and end up with something else – illness, bankruptcy, homelessness, grief – these are all passing things. The billions who have lived before us have known worse and yet here we are, mankind has continued reproducing over and over until it gets to us, and it will continue after we’ve gone, however rough and tough life becomes.

Life is essentially miraculous and joyful. Life insists and persists, not because of, but in spite of, our planning and answers and cleverness. Life is stubborn.

I dunno. Am I barmy? It may be my mad childhood that gave me this attitude. It was a childhood of fear but I learned that you can’t be afraid for ever – the adrenaline surge of fear can’t last, and is replaced by something else. A sort of detachment. I remember some things in my early days as if I was witnessing them, not living through them, protected from the worst of them. Maybe that’s what shaped my personality quite early in my life, so that I can still understand when others worry, and fear the future, but it’s not a part of me.

Why? Well, even before I knew Jesus Christ, I accepted that I had limited control and I’ve never seen the point in denying that, or fighting it. I’ve always known that I can no more make my life perfect than I can stop the rain or slow the Sun. And I don’t need to, because someone else is in control of those things and always has been. And somehow I’ve always known that this someone could be trusted. There’s a fab verse in Romans 1

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities –
his eternal power and divine nature –
have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,
so that people are without excuse.

Oh! And another one, Romans 8:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’

Maybe that’s why I don’t feel anxiety, needing to worry and fret and pull a problem to pieces – maybe looking at the world, even as a child, I understood something about God ‘s nature. Looking at his creation, I saw that he can be trusted. When I was a teenager I turned away from the teaching of the Catholic Church because, as it was presented to me, God was unjust, arbitrary and vengeful and I couldn’t worship a God like that. But I knew that God wasn’t wrong – it was the church that was wrong. I knew that God was good and somehow that all would be well because of his goodness.

How did I get to this sort of cow-like placidity? Well…. my mother died when I was small but the world kept turning. My family was split apart and still the world kept turning. There was a cruel and perverted uncle… yep, turning, turning. I discovered that my father had colluded with past cruelties, and although this rocked me back and it seemed that this, surely, would shake the world on its axis, no…. the mountains didn’t tremble. My lovely husband dropped dead with no warning…. now – now! Surely this was the time for the foundations of the Earth to crumble? But they didn’t. And there are things in my life even today that are difficult, cold, even heart-breaking, but guess what…. the Sun still rises in the East and sets in the West.

His eternal power and divine nature

So I can’t really fret about anything. Maybe Rob was right and there is something wrong with me. It’s not that I’m entirely unconcerned about safety, of course not. Like you, I look both ways before crossing the road and I do my best to avoid eating arsenic. I enjoy life and I’m grateful for it. Because look, look, look around. Life is staggeringly beautiful, it’s the greatest gift, the first and the last gift, this great miraculous gift of life. How often do we savour the simple fact that we are alive? That our hearts are beating, that our minds are reaching out, that we know God. I mean – hang on – hang onnnnnn …. we know God!

WE know God!

Isn’t that amazing?

So, whatever is going on just now, praise God for it. Praise him every day. Even on the not-so-great days.

Sunshine gives way to rain, day to night, success gives way to the slippery slope, a lousy start turns into a magnificent finish. This will pass, and whatever you are going through right now, good or bad, is not for ever. Simply, hold on.

If today is hard, if your mind is circling and chaotic with anxious thoughts, be patient. Wait and trust. Know that God is at work all around you. Not only now, not just in the past, not in the future, but in eternity. Everything that you experience is a part of your story and your story is glorious and has already been told, written down in the book of life. .

Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.

Psalm 27:3

That’s a great verse, isn’t it? It’s too easy to read a great verse like that and move on. But we should ask ourselves ‘Why?’

Why will my heart not fear? Why will I have confidence? Here’s the answer;

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

THWACK!

Listen, listen. I had an email this weekend. Not one of yer usual run-of-the-mill reminders about something or a question about something else, or a nod of dutiful ‘keeping-in-touch’ but a real real real conversation about something that mattered! Out of the blue, unprompted. A friend sent me several pages of his journal, exploring some thoughts about a spiritual retreat, about time with God, and it was so heart warming to follow his thought process through the pages, to be there with him and to see the world through his eyes.

People don’t often do that, do they? They don’t share their world view. They don’t say “This is how I see it, come stand on the mountain top with me and look out at the world I see.” We tend to keep our dearest deepest freshest thoughts to ourselves. Well, I say ‘We’ but you know me…. I spill the beans all the time. I used to write to someone often, sharing my excitement about God, my thoughts and discoveries, but the response, for years and years, although polite and apparently interested, never showed any similar enthusiasm or openness. I was playing tennis all by myself, batting the ball against a wall, again and again… until I began to realise that the constant ‘thwack’ of that ball might have become a bit annoying, and started to imagine my friend wincing as another Luce email pinged in…. and so I stopped writing.

Maybe this urge to share and explore is why I love listening to sermons so much (good ones anyway, structured ones) and why I even like talking to groups. Sharing. That’s what this blog is, I suppose, my tennis ball thwacking against a wall, over and over again. I know that it’s a good job we don’t all have the gene that makes us want to share because if we all gabbled on like I do, the world would be a cacophony. But here I go again anyway. Why? Because that rare email I received, an insight into another person’s spiritual life, was so bloody exciting, so invigorating, so rewarding, that I want to tell you what it sparked in me. Why keep it to myself when it might just spark a bit of something-or-other in you too?

I’m going to cheat just a tiny bit and steal from my response to that lovely email. This is what I replied to my friend, thoughts sparked by his journal;

In the last few years I’ve been fascinated by the concept of eternity. It started with the simple hymn lyrics ‘When we’ve been here, ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing your praise than when we first begun.’ and when that thought hit me, it turned onto a sort of mild obsession.  Whatever we talk about, whatever I read or study or pray about, I seem to circle back to eternity, to time, to patience (or the lack of it) and to understanding that God is outside time. He exists outside the limits of my day, outside your retreat, beyond any church service and that means that, when we are living with him, we too are outside these time constraints. Your retreat has been real since before mankind’s time began… this email was part of God’s plan before dinosaurs roamed the rocky wastes… the death of Jesus was there before the beginning of time….what a fantastic thought you have when you write “Death had to come. Jesus died to make that a blindingly glorious reality.”
He’s always been God, but even more than that he has always been the God who was born and died for us. 
Everything in our lives is done and dusted in eternity. Laid down before time began so that time is a nonsense. There is no time but the time we create and the demands we place on our days. Patience is understanding that. Submission is acceptance. 
For some years now I have prayed out of time. I reach back and pray for the people of my childhood, for the mother who died in such terrible distress, and I pray for the little girl that was me who went on to make such a mess of life and to have such a wonderfully surprising adventure. Was that unhappy little girl upheld by the prayers of a 73 year old woman now, in 2022? I think so. My God is out of time, and we are in eternity with him.
God is whole, complete, no beginning and no end. 
What a fabulous God. 

That’s what an unexpected email made me think. That’s what happens when one believer shares openly and honestly with another. God is glorified. And then I started to niggle away at the phrase ‘he has set eternity in our hearts’ because it kept coming to me, like an echo, and I wasn’t sure if it was a song lyric or a line from a poem or a quote… or a bible verse. And of course it is! It’s from Ecclesiastes

‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’

Wow! That blew me away. I was humbled that the thought I wrote in my email ‘God is whole, complete, no beginning and no end’ was there, in Ecclesiastes, but not just there – it was partnered with ‘eternity in our hearts’, the phrase that wouldn’t leave me. The two concepts are bound together in a bible verse and not just in my daft old brain. We are in eternity, and just as God has no beginning and no end, because we have become – by his grace – part of him, we have no beginning, no end. We are in eternity. Time is a a breath, a wisp, here and gone.

Suddenly I understood what patience is. Why it is of God. And why anxiety is never from God. Another friend quoted Tozer last week, “When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”

And now that’s set me off on another train of thought, another mini voyage of discovery. That’s how sharing works.

Isn’t that amazing? Don’t you think that’s amazing? Don’t you?

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!