Category Archives: Bible Reading Reflections

Singing a New Song

I awoke last Monday and immediately felt disturbed. My mood was low and the thought of facing a day left me feeling troubled. Whatever was the matter with me? I knew it was to do with the business of the virus and the lockdown, but couldn’t exactly pinpoint the actual matter. A read of social media didn’t help. The previous evening, Sunday, the country had heard from the Prime Minister – it wasn’t a great speech – leaving us with more questions than answers. Later that evening, and throughout the night it appeared, people had taken to venting their anger and frustration on Twitter, Facebook and other media – putting it ‘out there’ that they were very unhappy.

I can’t criticise anyone for feeling like that or for wanting to rant – goodness me, the handling of this whole crisis has been quite bizarre at times. I’m often left baffled or irritated, thinking often that “they” have got it totally wrong – again! “Why didn’t we lockdown earlier? Why weren’t we more prepared? And I have often taken to FaceBook to vent myself – knowing that actually it’s my own little echo chamber, where most people on there, because they’re my “friends”, understand where I’m coming from and will, mostly, agree – or at the very least offer some comfort in reponse. So my intention is certainly not to knock anyone for posting their feelings about the government’s handling of the crisis, or for being highly critical of it. On the contrary, I can fully understand an irate reaction.

No, there was something more going on inside me. I felt weary and troubled. My anxiety level was up. Now, I don’t tend to get anxious about much, but I do recognise the physical symptoms. My reflection told me I looked bothered; my heart-rate was faster than normal; I had butterflies in the tummy. I felt like this throughout the day. An exercise class with a relaxation session that evening, helped, but soon after, I was down again.

The following morning, ahead of our Team meeting, our lovely vicar sent out a Bible reading to reflect on before we all met. It was Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;

You know how there are those moments when you read something and it just right away hits you in the solar plexus? Well, this was one of them! I was indeed in a ‘slimy pit’! That’s how it had felt. A really ikky place. Stuck, and feeling unable to help myself.

He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord

I immediately came to see, as if God himself were speaking directly to me, that I had let myself slide into something that was sucking me down and threatening to overwhelm me. Then here he was, lifting me out of it! And how? By commanding me to look up, put myself in his hands, start singing that ‘new song’ and get praising! How long had it been since I had given thanks? “Blessed is the man [or woman!!] who makes the Lord [their] trust” I read. Indeed! Now that’s what my head needed to absorb – He is the one who I can trust. That’s where reassurance lies – not on FaceBook or Twitter!

I sat and reflected on the words for some time. I thought about things I’d read on social media. So much anger. So much frustration. There’s bound to be – and it’s undestandable. I had to ask the question though – what was it doing to my soul? Because what it all amounted to was a cloud of negativity descending around me; enveloping and choking me. It had got to the stage of me not wanting to read what many of my good friends were posting. Now, I am not saying that what anyone was sharing was wrong. Often, it would be a news article about failures of the government or criticism of them. I actually agreed with most of it. However, what it did to me was swamp me with feelings of helplessness. It didn’t help me to feel as if I could cope better with what was going on – on the contrary, I was left feeling impotent and depressed, and beginning to feel anxious.

I tried to imagine what it might be like to share like this in real life. Would we be sitting in the pub, or a cafe, showing each other these articles and news-pieces? Would we be sitting around, lamenting the idiocy of the Prime Minister and enumerating his inadequacies? I don’t think so! On social media, we tend to share mostly when we feel angry about things, or when we feel especially happy. Because, during these challenging times, we are very often roused to anger, there seems to be a greater sharing of such pieces. Thus, this sense of me feeling ‘swamped’. We wouldn’t do that in real life. Our meet-ups would not be characterised by “Have you seen what this nincompoop has done now? Have you heard they’re intending to re-open schools? How ridiculous is that?” Well, we might a bit – but mostly I think, and I hope, we’d be so glad to be in each other’s company we’d be sharing our good news stories. Laughing together; smiling at our shared joys. Wouldn’t we? What I mean is – there would be more BALANCE. But it might just be me who thinks that.

So, I had to do something about my state of mind and soul. And I knew the way forward – it had been given to me in this psalm – “a new song” and a “hymn of praise” had to be sung. The same morning, lovely vicar had also sent us a link to a wonderful praise song by City Alight – “Good and Gracious King”. I wept a little as I heard:

I will give to You my burden
As You give to me Your strength
Come and fill me with Your Spirit
As I sing to You this praise

This is often how God speaks. A friend will share something beautiful and you recognise the Lord’s voice in it. God knew I felt burdened and I didn’t need to be. Hadn’t Jesus said he would take that from me? So here he was reminding me to let go of it – give it to him who is vastly more able to carry it. And he would give me his strength. As I began to praise him, I felt his Spirit filling me and I experienced joy again. Anxiety lifted as I regained a right perspective. A view of things through a God-shaped lens. The relief was enormous.

I knew I had to re-balance. So, more time in his presence and especially, more time giving thanks. Even in these awful days, I have SO much to be thankful for. I am locked down with a wonderful man who loves me. I have a lovely home and I hear from my family every day. (I actually get a Facetime call from my 8-year old granddaughter every day, which is fantastic!) I have good food to eat; great walks from my doorstep; wonderful friends we can laugh with; a fabulous church community; great books to read…..I really could go on! I challenged myself to spend more time practising being thankful; more time praising and more time simply basking in his love. I walked on high ground more often – giving myself a more far-reaching view – literally lifting myself from the valley and seeing beyond my own place. I read more poetry and listened to more music. I prayed intentionally for those in government – remembering that they’re human, also loved by God; they make mistakes (some of them catastrophic) but they don’t set out to do evil, I’m sure. (Their bluster I think is all part of their failings and inadequacy and I figure therefore they need even more prayer!)

Getting on higher ground can help get things in perspective

You know what? It worked! I can honestly say that I feel more balanced, more joyful and definitely more thankful. It’s not a magic bullet. It has taken hard work. It may not last. I might have to give myself a kick up the bum in another few days. Then again – I have surrounded myself with people who offer me words of wisdom pretty often – so if I do get down, there are those who will point the way up again. It was such a good idea of Jesus’ to put us together in Church!!

Ok, enough jabbering….just off to check my FaceBook……

Our Father’s Throne Room

A Princess is being carried on one of these grand sedan chairs by a huge retinue of striking looking bearers. Let’s watch this procession and see where they go. These bearers are have a regal bearing not like slaves or servants at all. There is a graceful confidence in the way they walk and their burden, the Princess, appears to be light. They actually look joyous in their duty; laughing with each other and conversing with the Princess in her sedan chair above them. They move forward and upwards to a stairway and, look, there is a Great Doorway and they walk right in bold as you like! They walk into the presence of a Mighty King – one who they are sure they can ask anything of – and they gently place the Princess before him. He is delighted that they have brought her. He runs from his throne to greet them and rests his hand on her head. He pulls her to her feet and hugs her to him; he treasures her. The bearers of the Princess rejoice; they feel the favour of the King. They know him to be their Father. The Princess nestles into the arms of the King, her Good Father and she knows she is loved. This her safe place; her healing place.

My Prayer Warriors were my Bearers. Every day, as soon as they were called into that ministry, they prayed and in so doing, carried me into the presence of God. His favour rests upon them. Of course, it was a great thing for me, but I know that in prayer for others, we also feel the favour of our Father. There’s lots of places in the Bible where we are instructed to pray. James tells us to “pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). In his letter to the Ephesians (6:18), Paul tells us to pray for the Church and its ministers “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints..” and he exhorts us to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks [……] for all men” in his first letter to Timothy (2:1). So many times, throughout the Gospels, we read of Jesus praying for others and he commands us to do the same, even those who persecute us, and of course, he gave us a simple prayer to pray every day, where he taught us to call God “Our Father”. God compares prayer with sweet-smelling incense that pleases Him (Revelation 5:8). Clearly he loves to hear us when we pray. It reflects something of his own character; of love and mercy being poured out. He wants us to become more like him and, when we pray, we look up from our own selves; we are thinking of the needs of others and somehow, as we talk to God about them, we are lifted into the heavenly realms; we are in his presence.

Of course, I would have been in that band of Prayer Warriors for any one of my friends or family had they been sick or in trouble. Indeed I have been one of those praying boldly in the past. Even today, I am one of those lifting others in prayer to God. I love praying! Not that I am super good at it; or even good at remembering to do it! It’s like any exercise – you need to practice – and you don’t always feel like practising! I’m better when I can be disciplined about it. That is, when I use a ‘format’. So, at the moment, I am using Celtic Morning Prayer. The liturgy, the short Bible readings and the meditations there help to guide me into the Throne Room and I can talk more meaningfully (I hope!) about the needs of others. I have an order of praying for the World, the Church, Friends and Family and it works for me. We’re all different; we’ll have our own ways of talking to Father. (Much like me and my sisters had different ways of talking to our Mum). None of them are right or wrong; what matters is that we talk from the Heart.

As a fellow disciple of Jesus, a member of the Church, any one of us should be able to expect to be prayed for. We should be confident that the Church will gather and anoint us with oils and to know that our sisters and brothers are banging on the doors of Heaven, pestering God to the point of distraction. The Bible tells us this is how it needs to be:

“Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet” (James 5:14 Msg.)

However, now being at the very centre of things, in the midst of such a potentially scary journey, I can hardly put into words just how marvellous it actually feels. It is BRILLIANT!! Last week, we visited our previous church, All Saints in Marple. (We were there for almost 20 years and it’s really like our spiritual birthplace – so it always feels as though we’re going back ‘home’ when we go there). Our fab vicar friend, Daniel, dropped us in it by asking if we would be interviewed about the Cancer journey. We didn’t mind; it was great to have the opportunity to share what’s been happening with this part of our family and to publicly thank people for their prayers. Daniel asked what it was like for me ‘in the middle of things’ and I said a bit about the physical side of things, but more importantly, I said what it had been like having God so close to my side through it all. That it was the Prayer Warriors essentially, through their prayers and their messages to me, who had carried me into his presence, reminding me continually that he was there – above, below, in front, at the side and underneath me. My gorgeous, dear friend, Tracy had started the group “We Love Bev Prayer Warriors” – joined together on WhatsApp. Every one of them had jumped right into praying. They gave me verses from the Bible that gave me hope and joy. They made me laugh out loud with jokes and funny stories. Through this mode of virtual reality, they walked with me – indeed they carried me through and into the presence of our Father, the King. I LOVE them!!

In the days before surgery, Nad reminded me of something from Psalm 23. How the Lord has a table set with good things – for ME – in the presence of my enemies – they were Doubt, Fear, Death, Anxiety. They try to get seats at the table; try to meet my eye and get me to invite them. But the seats are all taken with Joy, Peace, Hope and Love. So there is no place for them!! On the morning of the op, I was inundated with messages. Daniel gave me words from Isaiah 26. “The Lord is my Rock Eternal – he keeps me steadfast and I can trust him forever”. Paula told me “The angels were dispatched a while back and the hedge around you prepared”. I loved the image, although later while waiting to go into theatre, I giggled to myself thinking of the surgeons trying to operate on stepladders and working over this enormous hedge!! “Blessed assurance, Jesus is with you every moment – feel his hand on your shoulder” – Muriel said. I did! I really did! “You go before me and you follow me. You place a hand of blessing on my head!” said Nad and “It is well with my soul” Andria reminded me, through that beautiful song of the same name. As I recovered, Janet messaged John to tell him of the rainbow in the sky over Manchester as she stood praying; a reminder of God’s promise. I posted a picture of myself with all my tubes and Nick made me laugh, asking me to sneak out the white-board pen he could see in the frame! He later asked if he could have the cannula they took out of my hand: “very useful for oil, with those little valves”.

Tracy, founder of We Love Bev Prayer Warriors, and her husband Nick – with us in Rome

They were not the only Prayer Warriors. Back in Honley, there were Cate and Richard, Angeline, Jenny, Elizabeth, Elaine…and so many others. Over in New Zealand, on holiday, Jane and Graham took time to pray. In Canada, there was Mel….Friends of Facebook from all over the country were prompted to call out to God for ME. At my own church, in Huddersfield, another Jane kept a group of willing and loving intercessors updated so that they could pray informedly and messaged me often to to let me know. Tania wrote often with beautiful, encouraging words – usually formed when she was in her Prayer Room – the Bath! (I love that picture of her praying through the bubbles!!) Mike, Steve and Jane came to our house and anointed me. Wayne and Ruth; Julie and Paul; Charlotte and Jo; Rebecca and James …so, so many people praying. So many people shared words, sent cards, brought gifts. I was loved – not only by the Father, and I was continually reminded of that, but also by my brothers and sisters in Christ. Even those who weren’t quite sure that God would answer, or indeed, weren’t sure there was a God at all, never mind one who listened, were prompted to, at the very least, to ‘hold me in their thoughts’.

The other day, I read something from “The Railway Children” and saw this

The morning of the fifteenth was spent very happily in getting the buns and watching Mother make A. P. on them with pink sugar. Afterwards the children went up to the village to collect the honey and the shovel and the other promised things. The old lady at the Post-office was standing on her doorstep. The children said ‘Good morning,’ politely, as they passed.
‘Here, stop a bit,’ she said. So they stopped. ‘Those roses,’ said she.
‘Did you like them?’ said Phyllis; ‘they were as fresh as fresh. I made the needle-book, but it was Bobbie’s present.’ She skipped joyously as she spoke. ‘Here’s your basket,’ said the Post-office woman. She went in and brought out the basket. It was full of fat, red gooseberries. ‘I dare say Perks’s children would like them,’ said she.
‘You are an old dear,’ said Phyllis, throwing her arms around the old lady’s fat waist. ‘Perks will be pleased.’
‘He won’t be half so pleased as I was with your needlebook and the tie and the pretty flowers and all,’ said the old lady, patting Phyllis’s shoulder. ‘You’re good little souls, that you are. Look here. I’ve got a pram round the back in the wood-lodge. It was got for my Emmie’s first, that didn’t live but six months, and she never had but that one. I’d like Mrs Perks to have it. It ‘ud be a help to her with that great boy of hers. Will you take it along?’ ‘Oh!’ said all the children together. ‘Oh, isn’t it nice to think there is going to be a real live baby in it again!’
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Ransome, sighing, and then laughing; ‘Here, I’ll give you some peppermint cushions for the little ones, and then you run along before I give you the roof off my head and the clothes off my back.’

I was minded to think how wonderful it is to be able to respond in some way to the needs of others. Our hearts ache when we see misery and despair, illness and pain – but when we can DO something, it not only brings relief to them, it brings joy to us too. You know why? This is what I think. It’s because we are made in the image of God and it his nature to want to pour out love and mercy on his children. When we act out of compassion, we reflect something of his image in us. We shine. We are something like the best versions of ourselves; a version that’s closer to how Jesus might be. The children’s compassion for Perks and their longing to give him a good birthday, had an effect on their mother, people in the village, the grumpy post-mistress and also on themselves. Witness the delight of Phyllis at Mrs Ransome’s unexpected gifts.

When we can’t help; when it seems we can’t do any good – the best thing is to pray – because we know our Father can do good. Yet, we need also to pray before we act – because our Father is the one who knows the good we can do and longs to guide us to do that good. As we talk to him about our friends and loved ones, we are joined to him in his perfect compassion for them. We all end up in his Throne Room and we all end up knowing we are dearly, dearly loved.

Based in a Safe Place

I’ve been reading about two interesting people this morning – Abraham and Hagar. It struck me yet again just how trusting Abraham was; God made him a promise, but it was years and years before it was fulfilled. I could quite easily fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Oh blimey, now that’s real faith! Mine’s just rubbish!’ However, I read further and saw that Abraham actually wasn’t so great in his faith all the time. Like all human beings, he was frail and flawed. He doubted. (Although, to be honest, it WAS a rather ridiculous promise – a very old man having thousands and thousands of descendants, when he had an old, old wife who was infertile? Come on!!) He allowed himself to let Sarai work out an alternative plan – to make things happen; to hurry things along. They had clearly both begun to doubt that God would do this wonderful thing, so he slept with Sarai’s slave girl, Hagar, that she sent in to him.

For goodness sake! What a way to treat another human being! Poor little Hagar. I was reminded of the “The Long Song”, the recently televised book written by Andrea Levy. July was a black slave, and the new Overseer, John Mortimer took a fancy to her; believed himself to be in love with her. Knowing it was illegal however to marry a slave, even a black free woman, he married instead the woman who owned the Plantation, Caroline . He takes July as his “real” wife, giving her a permanent home underneath the house and being married in name only to Caroline. Of course, because of the fear of ridicule and the desperate need to keep up social appearances, Caroline can’t say anything. And of course, the smitten July, who bears him a child, Emily, revels in taunting her mistress with her raised-up status. It can only end in tears for all surely.

The themes are similar in both stories though – we can’t bear the status quo: things must be able to be better this; so they take steps to make it so. We do rash and impetuous, poorly thought-out things to bring about our dreams. Then the dream crashes around our ears; we end up in a sorry mess of our own making. Other people become caught up in the mess and are hurt in the process. God had made Abraham and Sarai a promise; she would bear a child. They stopped believing in that possibility and went and did something foolish and damaging to bring about the dream themselves. They couldn’t see beyond the place where they were in the way God had told them it would be. Hagar was damaged in the process. She had to give herself to an old man. She became pregnant and her natural response, just like July in “The Long Song” was to flaunt her ‘raised-up’ status. Sarai responded by ill-treating her and Hagar ends up running away.

Abraham gets a ticking off by God. ‘That wasn’t what I meant at all. What I promised will happen exactly as I told you’. I think they’re jolly lucky to be let off so lightly, given the mess they’ve made and the hurt they’ve caused! God enters into a covenant with Abraham, he gives him very clear signs, and his faith is deepened. Hagar was found in the wilderness place and comforted by El Roi – ‘the One who sees me’. Our God, just one of the 85 or so names that his people use to call on him in their times of need. She thought she was alone and forgotten but he came to her there and made a way back for her; he didn’t leave her in that desperate place. July’s story doesn’t go quite so well. She loses her new found status and, later, her daughter. It seems no one is looking out for her. There is a further twist in her story though; it isn’t quite the end.

Up to that point, Abraham had been pretty good at following God’s directions. He had left his homeland and allowed God to lead him step-by-step. (Genesis 12:1). (Although he does actually do some stupid things along the way, like let his wife become the Pharaoh’s concubine because he’s scared of being killed! There’s this bit in 13:14 that struck me deeply today though – “look around from where you are”. I got to thinking: I’m in a funny old place and I definitely wouldn’t have chosen to be here! I’m two days away from getting biopsy results that will possibly be life-changing. I’m here in this place of not knowing what’s ahead. I’ve had to give up control of so much. I’m needing to rest more; wait lots and trust loads! And it’s hard. It would be easy to become perplexed, even bitter, as I look around from where I am.

I recently finished reading all the “Cazalet Chronicles” – family saga series of five books, set from 1939 to 1958, by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Fabulous story. The family all became very dear to me; as if I knew them as friends. That’s what reading can do, not only transport you to another time and place, but entwine your reality with one created by another, so brilliantly that you fully enter into the lives of the people they present, as if they were real; at least for the time you are reading. The final book is titled “All Change”. The Cazalets are facing massive uncertainty as the family business goes bankrupt and their beloved Home Place has to be sold. Cary, now a mother herself says to her gathered extended family, including her husband, father, uncles and aunt,

“All through the awful time when Dad was lost and I remained the only person who believed he was alive and would come back, you [Archie, her husband, then friend] were here. You became my family, too. But the house stayed the same through that time. If I shut my eyes, I could tell you the detail of any room, and outside, the orchard and the fields and the wood with the stream running through it. ….This house is inside us and we shall never forget it”

Victoria Tower, Castle Hill. Sturdy and built from stone, but not indestructible

It strikes me that we do so need that something that stays the same. Life is so tumultuous; even in the very good times there is often massive upheaval, so we seek stability, security, anything that will not change. Buildings, gardens, places – all seem like they can offer this, as we find too often that people don’t. Our loved ones try to give that to us, but they waver, they too are uncertain, some may cheat, they move away and of course, they can die and leave us floundering. How lovely that Cary believes Home Place to be in their hearts. She’s internalized the feelings of safety and security it offered to her and knows she can continue with the strength she found in that place. It is a part of who she is now. I love how she made that step. I adore my husband, love him dearly and he’s been an absolute star since I became ill. A rock. He’s still human though and therefore, like me, has his flaws. I love my house; it’s a safe place in a storm; but, although it’s pretty darned solid, being made of Yorkshire stone, it’s not indestructible.

The Peace that comes from God passes all understanding . I don’t ‘get it’, but I do experience it, thankfully.
He is my ‘safe place‘.

No, I do believe that my one and only true safe place, is in the One who created me; my Father in Heaven: God. He never changes; his constancy is all I really can count on ultimately. He is El Roi – the One who sees me. He knows the state of my health and what I’m going through right now. God hasn’t promised that he’ll make me well; but I know he has promised to be with me whatever I face up ahead. It’s all I have to hang on to; that’s my safe place. Him. I can’t trust myself and I certainly can’t trust my body; I’ve learned that for sure. He doesn’t stop the storms; he doesn’t prevent me walking into them; but he is there right by me in the midst of them. And when this life on earth is over, that’s where I will be always; with Him forever.

Yearning for Cheerleaders

I could do with some encouraging words right now. For a whole variety of reasons, my writing has almost ground to a halt in the past twelve months. What happens to turn something that brought so much joy, that seemed so easy to do, turn into something you almost fear doing, or at best, use every possible excuse not to do? I’m wondering if, in my case, it’s fear of failure.

I am my own worst enemy.  I don’t need anyone else to offer me criticism. I have perfected the art of doing it for myself, thank you very much. The problem being that my criticism is often rather irrational. Voices in my own head drown out others in the ‘real world’ with cries of “There’s no point, you know, it’s never going to get you anywhere”; “You’re too old to try something new”; “Who’s interested in what you’ve got to say?” Of course, sitting at the computer, hearing these words, when there is important stuff to do like walking the dog, washing, gardening, shopping or even (I must be desperate to escape!) ironing! – it’s easy to take them on and walk away. Just today, I tell myself – then the day become several, then a week, a month and suddenly a year is slipping by. And they do go by faster as you get older, don’t let anyone tell you differently! Time speeds up with age.

I was checked by an invoice for the annual payment on my website. Should I continue with this futile enterprise? Then, I hear another voice of my own – one that has been listening to words of truth. Words from the Big Book, words from the Father:

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me

(Philippians 4:13, NKJV)

You see, I’m not alone and I don’t need to battle on in my own strength. I have my ‘great encourager’ by my side always and he is my source of strength; I don’t have resources of my own, they come from him. I’m still not sure why it took so long for me to tune into that voice and those words, which I know so well, but I’m glad I did. So here I am – back at the computer. Heeding also the helpful words of husband John, “Just go and write”

“But what if I can’t?”

“Then pray”

Oh yes, of course! Silly me! I forgot I could do that. Sarcastic jest apart, and don’t let him know this, but he is right. Talking things over with Jesus is so very necessary. He does understand what it’s like to be in a quandary and knows we often feel useless.

On the way to my study I pick up a book I’ve read over the summer. By Anita Shreve, “A Wedding in December”. Flicking through the pages I read this:

Melissa looked away. There would always be, Bridget knew, a fierce loyalty to the mother that Bridget would not interfere with. A quality one could only admire……..”How are you feeling?” the girl asked.

Bridget thought a minute. She took a sip of coffee. She decided to tell Melissa the truth, unedited.

She worried about the tentacles of the star shape, she told the girl. She had a 50 percent chance of a recurrence, the correct term for the cancer’s return. If it did return, it would show up in the bones or the brain or the liver. She hoped to make it until Matt was Melissa’s age. This was the bargain she had more or less made with God: let Matt get to twenty, and  then you can do whatever you want with me. One could never really use the word “cure. One had to think of oneself as “a work in progress”

All this she told Melissa, who seemed startled at times by some of the revelations, but who appeared to take it in with some concern. She was, Bridget thought, the perfect person in whom to confide. A woman who might want the information but who would remain essentially detached.

“That answer you gave last night at dinner,” Bridget said, “about the Arab men on the plane. I thought it was the best at the table”

Melissa tilted her head. She would know, Bridget thought, that Bridget meant what she said, that she was not pandering, that a woman who had confessed being afraid of a recurrence in the bones might be expected to tell the truth.

We all of us need people in our lives who will speak the truth, but do so kindly and we need those who will listen to our stories, our pains our fears, who show concern but don’t flinch away from what we share, be it irrational or totally credible.Facebook-20150916-024821

We need people to speak words of encouragement to us and to cheer us on. Like our wonderful husbands did for us when we took on 100k across the Yorkshire Dales! For our part, we should desire to be people who use words to edify others. There are enough  in the world  already who will use words to destroy confidence and bring others down, let’s use ours to show grace and and bring joy.

 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Now, where was I up to with that book?

(©) Beverley Jepson-Playle 02/09/2016

Glimmers of Hope in Flecks of Lilac

There are glimmers of hope. At last it seems we are moving towards spring! I wonder why it is that winter always seems the longest season. I mean, it isn’t really as if it’s been frightful – it’s just the seemingly endless dark days; days that feel as though they don’t start till midmorning and are shutting down for business by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Days that have been very cold, damp and just don’t stimulate positive thinking. Well, they don’t do much for me anyway.

Not that I hate the cold as such – a clear, blue sky on a frosty morning when you can see your breath and you have to pull your hat over your ears and can’t bear it if you think you’ve dropped your gloves! I love those sorts of days. When the ground is crunchy underfoot and you can hurry back home and drink a hot cup of tea and really revel in its heat and restorative goodness. Yes, they’re good wintery days. Even days when you’re a little bit afraid walking on a steep slope as you see the frost glistening or you have to get up early to scrape the car windscreen and your fingers go numb and you have to blow on them while the car heater is still warming up. Yes, they are great, stimulating, invigorating days.

What I hate are the days that never seem to get going. When you wake, knowing you’ve been in bed a whole night and yet it’s still pitch black outside. And it’s raining, or it’s been raining. It’s not even really cold – at least not frosty. It’s just miserable. And you’re making your tea and looking out the window and all you can see is your own miserable reflection staring back at you in the dark – like it’s your soul that nipped outside and has found it wanting and can hardly bear to give you the bad news. Then you see children going to school and it’s barely light. It’s like things you’re doing slow down but the day itself slips passed you faster, so just when you think you’ve got a grip on it, it grinds down to a halt. And you’re looking at your own reflection in the window again – wearing a ‘so where has that one gone then?’ expression. Short, miserable days. Oh I know they’re not all quite like that – there’s lots to be thankful for too – but they do drop by more frequently – those gloom-filled days.

But they are coming to an end! Ha ha! I want to laugh out loud and shout ‘so there, winter, you didn’t see me off!’

Even before it’s here, I know it’s coming. There are these signs all along the walks – tiny buds appearing on branches. Each one prompting a wee spring in my step and a slight quickening to my heartbeat. In the shade of a tree in the churchyard (oh, don’t ask me what kind of tree it was; I always get them wrong!) there they were, just peeping through the mulch there – tiny flecks of lilac. Crocii making their yearly appearance.Glimmers of hope in lilac

‘Hello, again!’ they seem to whisper, ‘Is it time?’ At first they appear quite shy, as if they’re afraid someone (like a horrid, north-westerly gust of wind or harsh frost) will shout them back down, with a ‘Get back in the ground you fools! It’s not your turn yet!’

Well, it is! There were a few hints last week – sunny intervals (as termed by the weatherfolk) and milder air coaxed them onto the seasonal stage and there they were – as if they were waiting for me to climb over the wall into the cemetery. Like a warm greeting they met my eyes and I had to pause and smile at them in return greeting. I just had to get the Iphone out and take that picture. I wanted to note it – make an imprint of it. All the rest of the day I could revisit that picture – even in my mind – and know that spring was coming – the winter wasn’t going to last forever.

Over the winter months, being someone who is seasonally affected, I really have to work hard not to let myself slip into a reactive depression. I’m not meaning a clinical sort of depression, although it can verge on that by the way it presents. I mean that the darkness seems to push me into a corner of my own life and I can find myself stuck there. It goes like this: because of the darkness I can’t go out walking so early, so I stay in bed a little longer; staying in bed longer makes me feel bad about myself, so I start the day on a low note; I roll out of bed instead of jumping; I stay in my dressing gown, as what’s the point of getting dressed? I find myself wondering it it’s worth opening the curtains or raising the blinds. What’s the point? There’s nothing to see. Just me looking back at me. I sit and think how miserable it is and this makes me feel even more miserable. I end up eating breakfast so late it makes eating lunch not worth it and then I worry that I’ll want dinner too early and the evening will seem shorter! I do shorter walks and when it’s raining they get shorter still. Not being able to be outside makes me feel even more miserable. I have to put the light on to read and before I know it, I’m closing the curtains as the darkness starts to descend – yet again! And it’s only just gone!

Do you know those days? I have to make myself get a grip. Honestly, I have to take myself in hand and give myself a stiff talking to. I find there is a Psalm that often comes to mind when I’m like this:

                        Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

(Psalm 42:11a)

I love that this psalm was probably written by King David and that he, though he was so close to God (being called a ‘man after my own heart’ by God himself! How brilliant must that be!), finds himself in these same dark places that I get myself into.

It seems important to me that I do that chastising of my soul. So when my reflection stares back at me through the dark glass, by an act of will, I make myself say this line. I talk to my own soul – essentially telling it to ‘get a grip’. Of course, as a Christian, I don’t believe that I can do this in my own strength. For that I thank God – as the second half of that verse gently steers me to where strength can be found and where my hope really is, reminding me that I’m never actually alone; God is bigger than my circumstances. They are only temporary.

                        Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my help and my God.


It doesn’t happen immediately; it isn’t like there is a blinding light or that in that moment I am lifted to some higher plain. Not at all, I have simply reminded my soul that things are not hopeless. I have a choice. I can stay in the corner of my own mind; I can dwell there in the dark. I can make my life smaller and shrink into myself. Or I can remember what the light looks like – focus on where my hope really is founded – and I can make that my driver. I can hitch my soul on to something worth getting up for. I can find light, joy, laughter, sunshine in the smile of a stranger; the hue of the leaves of a plant in the bathroom; a robin on the birdfeeder; a phone call from a friend; an episode of a ridiculous soap opera; a chapter of a good book; a slice of chocolate cake; a bowl of lentil soup; a visit to a museum.

On a short, dark, cold winter day, in the driving rain, I can curse the mud and wet; sit and watch it batter my windows; or I can go by the tree in the cemetery, shelter under the branches, stand on the mulch there and remember that underneath all this, something is happening; life is stirring; bulbs are being fed; roots are extending – and soon, and very soon, tiny shoots of green will appear, followed by flecks of lilac – glimmers of hope for tired souls.

‘Let it Flow, Let It Flow!!’ or “They have [NOT] taken away my Lord”

mary weepingI’m excited because today I am off on a weekend away with some wonderful women who all know and love the Lord! Willersley Castle near Matlock is the venue for this weekend and apparently we are in for some real treats, in terms of teaching by Pauline Thomas who aims to help us see ourselves again the way God sees us, through His eyes of love and grace. I need to reclaim my identity in Christ – I know that! I get so busy at times I forget who I really am – a child of a Heavenly Father. I am the Daughter of a King (which of course makes me a Princess!).

I’ve got lost! I put myself up to do all sorts of stuff – with the very best of intentions always – and desperately trying to please my Father, but in so doing, I stop listening and just do what I think He wants me to do. I reckon He sighs and thinks “she’ll learn!” Well, I will, eventually – but after almost 58 years, I do wonder when I’m going to be a grown-up woman of faith. Although, it is written “all things are possible with God” Praise Him for that then!

This morning I read John 20/11-18

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

There are times when I’ve felt myself thinking -“I don’t know where God is in all of this” and others when I feel resentful of people for distracting me away from Him.  They come to me with their moans and groans of “It’s freezing in this church, you need to get that heating sorted” or “Your best just isn’t good enough” or “The music’s far too loud, I can’t hear myself think” or “This coffee’s revolting. We always used to have such lovely coffee….”. I hear myself thinking sometimes….”What’s that got to do with seeking Jesus!!” My mind gets bogged down with the mundane and the trivial – light bulbs, milk, central heating boilers – and I lose sight of the Lord I love. Not that those things in themselves are unimportant – we need lights on; we need to be warm enough to worship in some degree of comfort. But nothing is ever as important as seeking the Lord and we should be doing that with our whole hearts and souls. Didn’t Jesus say that very thing?

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6/33)

Well, I think I stopped making it my number one priority. And I ended up blaming everyone else for stopping me doing that – when in fact I always had the choice. It was in my own gift to turn around and look for Jesus in all that goes on. In the busy-ness of the day He is there; in the sufferings and the pain He is there; in the quiet of the night when worries surface and anxieties press in, He is there. He promised never to leave and He never does; we simply choose to forget His presence with us.

So I read that Mary, through her tears, said at the graveside ” They have taken away my Lord!” Like me crying and lamenting, ‘Jesus isn’t here – this is nonsense. They have stolen Him from me; I can’t see Him any more’. Then I cried and in my heart I yearned for Him and was still enough to hear Him say softly “Bev” – just that. Just my name. A reminder of who I am and more importantly, who He is. The Risen Lord who will never leave us.

Lord Jesus, there you were when I turned around to face the right way. Through my tears I saw you. Your abundant joy flowing into me. They cannot steal you from me. I remembered the words of Paul:

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 (Romans 8:38)

A grave couldn’t hold you, nor even Death. You rose and lived among us again until You returned to the Father and now You are ‘loose in the world’ through the Spirit. So I can say with the greatest of joy, like Mary:

“I have seen the Lord!”

Bring on the weekend! Let it flow, let it flow!!