Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Redemptive Beauty.

A few weeks ago when reading one of my favourite blogs of the moment, I came across the phrase "redemptive beauty". Ann Voskamp talks about finding beauty, you can read her great post and see some fabulous photos here. She starts her post with this quote:

"The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely." Louisa May Alcott.

I am familiar with phrases such as - "something good will come out of this", phrases that when you are hurting often feel very trite. However I have found the experience of looking at physical objects that do not have any obvious beauty, has brought me amazing peace. We had a bit of a storm a few weeks ago and as a result my husband cut down the last of the children's sunflowers so that it didn't get wrecked outside and we could at least enjoy its last days in our home.

This has become the focus and reminder of "redemptive beauty", as you will see it is looking rather sorry for itself now:

However when I look at this, I can marvel at Gods creation. Now that the petals are starting to fall I can see with greater clarity the new seeds which are still growing and drying in the flowers heart. This is surely redemptive beauty, a beauty that is willing to pass on it's looks, to sacrifice it's very being in order to produce seed, new seeds that can be planted.

Seeing this process makes me feel willing to wade through all the rubbish that I am surrounded by at the moment. Every time I glance at this I am reminded of the redemptive beauty of the Cross. This brings me to a place of unending gratitude. This is where I need to come when I feel the rubbish around me closing in. I am free, I have been made a new creation, I am with my Father in Heaven for all of eternity, only because of the the ugliness that Jesus went through for me.

That does not mean that I can take down my guard though. I woke up in the night last night (not an unusual thing at the moment), I felt compelled to pray the Lords Prayer. So I started, and re-started and felt absolutely devastated to suddenly realise that I could not remember it all, odd lines kept swimming around in my head but not the whole thing. Fortunately I keep a bible next to my bed, and inside this particular one I have a beautiful sheet which expresses the Lords Prayer through sign language. My little reading torch came on and I read it over and over again, in my minds eye doing all the actions, until at last I could close my eyes and recite it once again. I can often be awake for hours, mulling over all the rubbish that surrounds me, on this occasion though I was able to close my eyes and drift off back to sleep in the complete comfort of this prayer.

So my guard is still up, my sunflower is still drooping, but I think it will stay there just a little longer while the rubbish around me still lingers and I will continue to ponder on "redemptive beauty" some more.

Friday, 13 November 2009

When Fellowship becomes broken.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

As I alluded to yesterday in this post my life is a very windy (as in winding a clock not as in having excess gas to get rid of!) road at the moment. I am praying for God to make my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). Now I do know that this is not going to happen without some hard work by myself. I am also aware that I do not have a lot of energy at the moment, but I do have some time (will be able to explain that by this time next week I hope).

This morning while reading Scripture Unions Word Live notes I was really struck by the following:

It is very easy to disrupt the beauty of fellowship. Here’s a list of some ways to do it:

● gossip

● insensitivity

● negative criticism

● jealousy

● backbiting

● an unforgiving spirit

● a ‘root of bitterness’ (Hebrews 12:15)

● failure to appreciate others

● self-preoccupation

● greed

● selfishness

(Adapted from Bruce Milne, The Message of John, BST; IVP, 1993)

Reading through this list I can see points that I do (or have) as well as plenty that I have done to me. Now the only way I feel I can deal with the circumstances of people doing the above stuff to me is by withdrawing away from them, that I have tried to do already. But I am making a commitment today to make beautiful fellowship a priority in my life again, I shall try and do it by repeatedly bringing it in prayer to God as well as regularly looking back on this post to try and improve in the areas that I need to.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Sacrificial Love.

This week I feel like I have been through a mangle. However it hasn't half made me think about sacrificial love.

I have been working very hard on something, feeling that I am doing the 'right' thing, and then have suddenly found that I do not have the immediate outcome I wanted. The result of this is that I feel quite devastated.

So I have a decision to make, I can stay devastated, or I can just jolly well learn a lesson.

If I stay devastated I am going to be awful to live with and am going to completely undo all the good relationship building stuff that I have spent the whole week working on. That seems a very silly immature response.

I do believe that I have been doing the 'right' thing. However maybe I haven't been doing it completely for the 'right' reason. I do understand that sacrificial love means having no conditions, complete unconditional love is sacrificial. That is the example that Jesus set us. That is the example that Paul set us in the new testament, so I can't use the excuse that I'm just a mere mortal person. It is therefore possible to express sacrificial love and I obviously have a long way to go in learning to express it.

So I shall try and learn my lesson, be pleased with the fact that I did do the 'right' thing and move on. So easy to write but I do know it is going to be a very very hard lesson to learn.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Jane Austens House

Last week I had my step mother-in-law from Manchester staying from Tuesday to Saturday. She has always been a regular visit to see us in the South, however with all that has happened to us in the last 18 months (the death of my mother in law and my sister amongst other things) we have not been able to accommodate her. I have not been physically or mentally up to doing much and when discussing what we would do on Friday I was not sure I would be joining her and my husband.

That is until I heard them talking about going to see Jane Austens house in Chawton (about 40 minutes away from us). You can visit their website here. We really did have the most amazing few hours.

It was lovely to be looking around without the children there - that sounds terrible doesn't it? I would love to go around again now (and I will do), taking my youngest, having read all the information on this first visit I know that I would be able to help her investigate her own interests.

It is years since I have read any of Jane Austens work, but now, having seen where much of it was written and knowing so much more about her life it has definitely inspired me to go back to her writings. There were so many personal letters and gifts on display that talk or show things that were put into books.

There were lots of costumes of the era on display, it was great to be able to go right close to them (some were not behind glass, being reproductions made in exactly the way they would have been). Getting so close I could see just how parts were stitched by hand - WOW - they were so intricate, so delicate.

Being in the actual rooms, standing next to the actual table that she wrote on, touched me very deeply. After looking around the house we went for a short walk to the village church where her sister and mother are buried. Walking those steps knowing this was the same journey she herself would have made to the church was just awesome. I had never realised before what sort of a life my name sake had had, especially her dying so young (41 almost my age). We do all have a short time on earth, I am very thankful that Jane Austen left such a wonderful gift in her writing for us to cherish generations down the line.

We also visited Cassandras Cup, for lunch which was absolutely exquisite, decorated with beautiful china tea cups and with a menu that made me feel quite giddy. We enjoyed this so much that noticing that they do Christmas lunches in December my husband and I have booked ourselves in - there were very few places available, so it obviously does have a tremendous reputation. What's more we did notice they have a B&B there, maybe we will have to try and have a hide-away there some time.

So anyone now coming to visit us is going to be encouraged to go along, it may not have inspired my writing too much but boy it has so enticed my creativity I am almost fit to burst.

If you do visit the site, why not look at their blog - it looks quite interesting, I didn't find out too much about their resident writer, Rebecca Smith, though her recently published novel looks very intriguing. You can find out more about her from here.
Finally I was so touched by this prayer which is on display in Janes beautiful handwriting that I thought I would copy it out for you to see:


Give us grace almighty father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our hearts, as with our lips. Thou art everywhere present, from thee no secret can be hid. May the knowledge of this, teach us to fix our thoughts on thee, with reverence and devotion that we pray not in vain.

May we now, and on each return of night, consider how the past day has been spent by us, what have been our prevailing thoughts, words and actions during it, and how far we can acquit ourselves of evil.
Have we thought irreverently of thee, have we disobeyed thy commandments, have we neglected any known duty, or willingly given pain to any human being? Incline us to ask our hearts these questions oh! God, to save us from deceiving ourselves by pride or vanity.
Give us a thankful sense of the blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by discontent or indifference. Hear us almighty God, for his sake who has redeemed us, and taught us thus to pray.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Maybe Life Is a Dress Rehearsal.

Death is on my mind a lot. Yesterday marked the start of a 3 week trial we endured last year when my sister (Sally) had emergency surgery for a ruptured colon. She didn't survive and I miss her like crazy. Another consequence of her death is that as she was a single parent to an 11 year old, we now have a 12 year old that has joined our family. On the 8th November last year, 24 hours after her surgery I visited Sally after making the 140 mile journey to the Midlands where she lived near my parents. She was drifting in and out of consciousness on a ventilator in intensive care. They had not been able to intubate her down her throat, so she was waving her arms around trying to get the tube that was breathing for her out of her nose. It must have been so uncomfortable. I was continually trying to bring her arms down and hold her hands, at one point she stopped trying to move her arms, I asked her if she was "giving up" (meaning giving up trying to get the tube out). She couldn't talk but responded to that question with a nod - I think I knew at that moment that she meant far more.

Last week I was chatting with a very dear friend, I have often referred to her to friends as my 'Christian Mum' as she has been a wonderfully wise mentor to me since I became a Christian back in 1992. Our conversation found it's way to thinking about the saying 'Life is not a dress rehearsal'. Why do people say that? When you experience the death of a 36 year old, it is really difficult to accept that being alive in this world is all there is. When you look at the Bible we are told repeatedly about the reason Jesus came into the world was to give us ETERNAL life with God. So this bit of life we are living here on earth MUST be a very small part if we still have eternal life to live??????

So maybe this life on earth is our dress rehearsal, our place to learn what true love and commitment are about. To learn what sacrifice is in order to start to understand the depth of love God has for us. A place to disciple those around us as the Great Commission tells us to do so that they have the opportunity to have eternal life with God as well.

Heavy stuff that has kept me awake most of the night last night, but then I have to make some sense of the experiences that I am going through.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Mind Blowing Teaching.

If you have time (it's about 8 minutes), I would highly recommend listening to the above video regarding cross centred worship.

There were two points that really struck me about this:

1. We cannot speak to God without Jesus. Now I know I have known this for quite some time however suddenly being reminded about this, this morning has blown me away. How easy it has been for me to just chatter on to God about this and that. Can I actually imagine that without Jesus dying on the cross for my sins I could never have done this.

2. I really need to stop listening and start talking to myself! I think I have done an awful lot of listening this last year or so, to myself and to others, most of it out of necessity. However what is said at the end of this video about not listening to yourself but talking the gospel to yourself instead is just so true. When we listen to just ourselves we listen to our sin full self as well as our spiritual self. When I listen to others I try and talk the Gospel back to them, even though this is not always what they want to hear, however, do I ever do that back to myself? The answer for me is most definitely, not often enough.

So today I am hoping to feel a bit more invigorated by remembering every time I think/speak about/to God it is only because of Jesus. And I shall try and talk (and maybe even sing) the Word of God into my very being.