Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A Father's Love.

The birth of your first-born is generally supposed to be a happy time.  Those pictures of mothers holding their freshly-born babies, looking exhausted but elated.  Well, with the exception of the exhaustion, this was not our experience.
Today, I’m very excited to be guest blogging for Tanya Marlow over at Thorns and Gold.  Some of you have asked in the past about Joshua’s birth, which was less than pleasant.  You can read the rest of the story over on Tanya’s site.  See you there :)
Also, don't forget the main site I'm now using for blogging is longingtobeholy.wordpress.com

Saturday, 1 September 2012

New post at the new blog

Here's the latest offering on #standorfall
It's over at the new blog.  Wordpress will now be used for the longingtobeholy blog, but I'll stick here on blogger, at least for now, for the personal blogs :)

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Holiday Romance.

I went to Spring Harvest over half a lifetime ago.  (For those who don't know, SH is a big Christian camp-type thing that happens at Easter in the UK).  I absolutely loved it and swore that I'd go again.  As yet, I've not returned, but one day, hopefully, I will.  But anyway, that's not the point of this post - I'm already drifting off track and it's only the first paragraph.

The point is holiday romances.  On that same trip to Spring Harvest, all those years ago, a friend of mine tumbled into a holiday romance.  I think it might have started at the sleeping-in-cardboard-boxes-to-get-an-idea-of-how-rough-sleeping-feels.  It may even have started before that, and the cardboard boxes were just another excuse to see each other.  But anyhow, love blossomed rapidly (as it has to on holiday - time is short).  I can't for the life of me remember her name, and it's entirely possible that he can't either.  But for those few days, and presumably a while after, love was in the air.  Needless to say, it all fizzled out.  I guess these are the likely stages such relationships go through:

Boy goes on holiday
Girls goes on holiday to same place
Boy and girl meet
Boy and girl like each other
Boy and girl hang out together and decide they're in love
Boy and girl exclude their 'real life' friends on holiday with them because they're so in love
Holiday ends (boy and/or girl may cry at this point)
Boy and girl continue to communicate (in those days, it was letter or phone call, now it's more likely to be facebook/Twitter/texts etc.)
Boy and girl get a bit bored of the effort required to maintain communication
Boy and girl stop communicating

Game over.

The holiday romance, in a nutshell.

Some years ago, I realised with genuine sadness that sometimes people have the same holiday romance with God.  It might go a little like this (I just used 'boy' because I am one ... the same applies for girls!)

Boy goes on holiday.
God also happens to be there (not much choice, with the whole 'omnipresent' thing he's got going on)
Boy likes the music/activities (or possibly just the girls!)
Boy discovers that God is the common link that joins the activities/music/girls together
Boy meets God (God's pretty darn chuffed at this point, I might add)
Boy falls in love and commits himself to God
Boy's friends who are already committed to God get all excited for him
Holiday ends
Boy goes back to the 'real world' and makes some effort to keep up his relationship with God
Boy notices that life committed to God isn't as much fun in the real world as it was at camp
Boy gets bored of the effort of keeping up his relationship with God
Boy stops communicating
God cries

So, if you've been on camp this year, please pray for any people who became Christians there.  They need to keep it up.  The flash-in-a-pan holiday romance isn't what God's after.  He's after long-term commitment.  That is, after all, what He's offered us from the very start.
And if you became a Christian at camp this year, then that's absolutely fabulous.  I'm not exaggerating to say that that is genuinely the most exciting piece of news someone could give me.  Make sure you keep it up.  It won't always be as exciting as it was at camp.  The music in the church you go to may be positively dire.  The preacher might not sound as excited at the people on stage at camp.  But God's commitment to you will never, ever drift.  If He loved you enough to send His Son to die for you, you can't possibly claim that He's anything other than utterly devoted to you.
Get rooted in Him.  Make sure you've got firm foundations and build your relationship with Him for all it's worth.  A solid relationship with Him can improve every other relationship in your life.  Put Him first.
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be trying to blog weekly about the day-to-day struggle of living for God.  I'll be hashtagging #standorfall when I do it, and am hoping to get people to keep me accountable.  That just means that I'll be expecting others to help me live life as a Christian.  We're supposed to be a big family, after all, so I'm just relying on people to look at for me like I would look out for my brother.
You'd be welcome to join me on the adventure.

Thursday, 16 August 2012


So, I've had an idea.  It's one of those ideas that sort of swishes about in my head for ages.  Some days I think it's a real cracker of an idea, and other days I think it's just a bit rubbish.  So I thought I'd take a sounding from people who read this.  I'd really appreciate it if you 'commented' on this, even if it's just a 'good idea' or 'bad idea' comment.  Obviously, if you want to write in depth about why my idea is the worst thing you've heard *ever*, feel free to devote some time to tearing it to shreds, but I would just be interested to have a response one way or the other.

It's to do with Twitter and accountability.  I'm assuming that if you're reading this, you're familiar with Twitter.  As for accountability, it's just making sure that we have relationships with other people which encourage us to be all we can be and to maintain a high standard in our lives.  In fact, I'm being accountable to you lot who read this by posting this idea on my blog, and tweeting about it ad nauseum. 

The Bible makes it really clear that God, in His grace, gives us the chance to enjoy a restored relationship with Him, both now and, more fully, when we die.  It also makes it pretty clear that the standards we set for our speech and actions and the like should be pretty high.  It is often easier to maintain high standards when we are part of a community that is trying to do the same thing.
The basic idea is that Twitter could be used as an accountability tool.  I figure that I could tweet something along these lines on, for example, a Sunday evening.

Over the course of the next week, people would know that prayer is something I'm going to be working on that week.  I could be more specific if I wanted, along the lines of #dailyprayertime or something like that. This would then allow people to hold me accountable to that plan for the week, and perhaps to encourage me in it over the course of the next few days.  They could even tweet tips to help.  For example, I set an alarm on my phone that goes off every weekday during term time to remind me to set aside time to pray.

At the end of the week, I could tweet #standorfall #prayer #stand if I had done what I'd set out to.  Equally, I could tweet #standorfall #prayer #fall if I'd not (in this example, if I'd failed to set aside time one day to pray, for example)

That's basically the idea, in a nutshell.
Currently, the hashtag #standorfall has just been nicked by bhafc (Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club - a minority group if ever there was one (sorry Russ;))) but I'm guessing that's not too great an issue.

Some of the hashtags I would suggest might include:

Obviously, you might have something that might be particularly relevant that week.  If you had a meeting coming up where you know you'll struggle to accept the authority of others, you might hashtag #submission.  If you're struggling with the fact that everyone around you has nicer cars/shoes/clothes/food or whatever, you might hashtag #contentment.  You get the picture, I'm sure.

Here are some of the pros and cons I've come up with (feel free to add to these)

It might encourage me to put a bit more effort into living how I should (even if no-one tweets me about it, it's still 'out there' and they could at any time)
It would encourage me to be open and honest about my growth as a Christian.
It encourages a positive side to the Twitter community.  There's a lot of cynicism swilling about (I'm not flawless myself!) and this might help to redress the balance.

The amazing amazing amazing thing about my relationship with God is His grace.  Nothing I could ever #hashtag would ever change His love for me.  I wouldn't want people getting hung up on 'doing stuff right' and so forget that God's grace is enough.  I think I'd probably recommend not repeating the same hashtag target endlessly if you keep #falling.  That would just mess with your head.  Do something else and come back to it later.  Speak to people about what helps them in the area you're struggling with too.
I can imagine people taking it a bit far.  #standorfall #stophavingfantasiesaboutmyPEteacher, for example, is not something I'd ever really want to see...  I would probably stick with a one word or at least very brief #hashtag.  We don't need to know the details.
I can also imagine that some people might take the opportunity to criticise or belittle any who #fall, which really wouldn't be the point.  I guess it would be possible to have the whole concept without putting either #stand or #fall at the end of the week.

What do you think?

Please comment, even if it's just a word - I'd love to get an idea of what people think.

*I've just updated the blog to add a poll.  If you really don't want to write a comment, just click 'yes', or 'no' at the top of the blog :)

p.s. if you are a bhafc supporter, don't worry, I'm just teasing about you being a minority group - go seagulls!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

A significant day.

Tomorrow is a big date in my life. 

I'm not sure what August the 5th means to you, perhaps nothing, but for me, there are three key things that happened on this day. 

First, a long long time ago (!) my Granny was born.  It's not far off a century ago, in fact.  (When Mum asked the congregation in church once who the song 'Ancient of Days' was referring to, I piped up 'Granny'!)  My Mum's parents are a key part of my spiritual heritage.  Mum and her brother grew up in a Christian home, Grandad worked in missions and evangelism for much of his working life, and made a number of trips to India as well as working here in England.  Granny stayed at home with the kids.  Between them, they probably clocked up about a zillion hours of praying, especially for those of us in their family!  Granny died a couple of years ago and Grandad still lives near my parents.  Both of them passed the age of 90, and they celebrated their Diamond Wedding as well.  They have provided a foundation of prayer on which my life rests.

Ten years ago, the second significant event took place.  This one far less happy.  My old school in Pakistan was attacked by terrorists.  Although none of the students were harmed, and none of the expatriate teaching staff were killed, 6 people died in the attack.  One was a bystander, two were security guards, and three were Pakistani staff who worked at the school, including people I knew from my time there.

It's difficult to describe the emotions I went through in the following days.  One thing was that I felt violated.  Although I hadn't been at the school for ten years, it was still such an important part of my life.  We'd been back to visit twice, and many of the staff who worked there in my time at the school were still there at the time of the attack.  School had been my home (it's a boarding school!) and really key in my upbringing.  It was a place of security, and the attacks took that security away.  That was a weird feeling, given that I'd left ten years previously.  As it happened, I didn't even find out about the attack on the day it happened.  I was taking a minibus driving test at a Boarding School in Sussex, and even ten years ago, wasn't really into reading the news online.  I found out from my parents at supper at my brother's house.  It was a fairly horrendous time, even being so far removed from it geographically.  It felt like I'd been pretty badly let down by God.  I still can't fully imagine what it felt like, and probably still feels like, for those who were caught up in it. 

And yet, the more the story of the attacks unfolded over the next days and weeks and the more I learned of both the events and the future of my school, the more it seemed that God had been working incredibly through the whole event.  Stories came out of protection by angels.  I'm not talking about the namby-pamby pretend ones that are on a par with a garden fairy.  We're talking about real angels - messengers of God doing His will and His work.  Here's what one of my old teachers wrote a few weeks after the attack, about the experiences of some of the staff that day:

One man was grabbed by the leg and pulled to the ground. As he fell three bullets whizzed over his head. He looked around to see who had grabbed him and saw no one. Another man was helped over the fence by a man in white who urged him to run. As he looked back he could see no one. He tried to find out the next day from his work mates who had helped him - but no one had helped him. Another man was pulled into an outer building and the door locked behind him. He looked around but no one was there. I'll tell you what - I haven't thought much about angels before but I reckon the angels were working overtime all over the school. While we are still very aware of the terrible tragedy of the day with 6 being killed we know that it could have been so much worse.

That part of the story is pretty spine-tingling to be honest - real angels doing real stuff.  A little book was written about the attacks, called 'Angels in the Rafters'.  The name came from the stories of students who were in the school hearing the sound of voices singing above them.  To this day, I can't read the book without crying.
The school closed down pretty much straight away, but the next remarkable chapter was that it moved to Thailand for a year.  The School Board made the decision to relocate the school, and within about a fortnight, 106 people had been given permission to move to Thailand, accommodation had been secured for boarders, places for classes to take place had been found, and 25 staff moved along with children and some parents to maintain the community in another country. 
The event was a terrible tragedy and yet was also a reminder of how God works in and through tragedies.  It reminds me again of the phrase in the Psalms where the Psalmist tells God how tough life is, but finishes the Psalm by saying, 'And yet I will praise you', or something along those lines.  We can turn to God at the hardest times, and praise Him for His faithfulness to us.

And finally, August 5th is significant because tomorrow will mark Little Boy's first birthday.  He's been a great addition to the family :)
He had a much more straightforward entrance into the world than Big Boy did, and has been a pretty chilled out lad ever since.  We're not doing anything particularly grand tomorrow - we'll just have a cake and a sing, and maybe the odd cocktail sausage and party ring...  But still, we're immensely grateful for God's faithfulness to us, both in the good times and the bad.

What about you?

Do you have any significant dates?

Have you had any experiences of God's faithfulness in and through struggles?

Which people are significant in your spiritual history and heritage?

For another perspective on the attack on MCS, read Cecily's post over at:

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Is God on our side?

I've been prompted to think about this question this morning by a Twitter conversation.  It started with someone posting this:

God is on your side. He knows you completely, accepts you unconditionally, and loves you wholeheartedly.

Now, this comes from a highly respected, well-known leader, and I agree with him on most points generally speaking, but I found myself wondering about how helpful this particular comment was.  I know exactly what he's trying to do - people often believe that God can't stand them, and they need to know that he loves them more than they could ever really grasp.  But is He really on their side?  Is that the best way of expressing things?
My main issue is that, as I understand it, God is on our side when we are on His.  The quote above seems a bit me-centred.  To me, it's saying that I've got God with me.  Actually, I think this is only the case if I'm with God.  Maybe that's a bit pedantic, and I'm sure it would be possible to argue that people need to hear that God cares about them.  But my response would be to say that we can tell them that more accurately, without claiming that 'God is on your side'.  Because I'm not sure He is until we are on His.  And actually, it is far better for us to be on God's side than for Him to be on ours.  Us being on God's side reminds us that He is in control, not us.
Simply saying 'God loves you' instead might be a little overused and under-considered, but it could readily be developed by saying something more about how He has shown that love.
The above tweet could perhaps be improved (in my opinion!) simply by dropping the first sentence.

What do you think?

Am I being unnecessarily pedantic?

Is it ok to say 'God is on your side' as a general statement?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Keeping guard.

When I was growing up, one of the people who lived next door to us for a while had an armed guard at the end of the driveway (no, this wasn't in England...).  He'd often sit just outside the gates with his gun on his lap.  I can't off hand remember his name, but he did sent me a Christmas card one year.  There's a fair chance we still have the card somewhere...  Anyway, I'm wandering off the point, which is the guard.

As it happened, the house next door never came under attack, but the guard was still there.  I guess if the house had come under attack, he would have protected it.
And this morning, I was reading in Philippians about rejoicing and the like.  Here's what I read:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  
Now, this includes (I'm talking basics here...) one thing to avoid, one thing to do, and one result.
Avoid being anxious.  Paul (the guy who wrote this letter to the Philippians) is talking about real stuff here.  The Philippians had reasons to be anxious.  We know from the rest of the letter and from other sources that life was always easy for them.  So Paul isn't saying, 'if something bad crops up, try not to worry about it', he's saying, 'you know all those things that you're struggling with at the moment? - Don't get anxious about them'.
Present your requests to God.  The Philippians are to do this with thanksgiving.  That will help them to focus on God's love and provision for them, and focus less on themselves.  They know full well that God can meet their needs - praying with thanksgiving will help to remind them of this.
The peace of God will guard your hearts.  This goes beyond our understanding, as Paul says, but the word he uses for 'guards' is like a sentry.  It's like the guy next door with his armed guard at the bottom of the driveway.  The guard stands there (or sits there...) and guards the house for him.  In the passage, it's God who guards our hearts, his peace that protects our minds.  And as guards go, that's a pretty amazing one to have.

What do you get anxious about?

What thankful requests can you bring to God?

What do you think about God's peace 'guarding your heart'?

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Rot and roots

We were having one of our many wanders around Calke Abbey recently, and came across this tree.

It looks ok doesn't it?  Bit short, perhaps...  But then you have a look around the other side and this is what you see.
Not looking so good now, is it?  You see, the tree looks like it's doing fine, but actually it's rotting away at the base.  That got me thinking.  And then, blow me down (perhaps that's not the right phrase to use here...), we got home and I found this in the orchard.
It's one of our plum trees.  Half of it has fallen over.  Not the first plum tree we've lost, sadly, but there we go.  And what do you find if you look at the bottom of the tree?
Rotten roots.

We can be a bit like that, can't we?  We might be looking fine and dandy, but if our roots aren't good; if they're rotting away gradually, it's only a matter of time before we collapse.  I wrote about Rootedness a while back.  We all need to be rooted if we're to survive and flourish.
As a Christian, I know how important it is to be rooted in my relationship with God.  That's not to say it's easy, just that it should be a real priority.  At the moment, I'm finding it hard to prioritise the things I should, but these trees were a helpful reminder that I need to look after my roots better.

What are you rooted in?

Are your roots nice and healthy, or have you got some work to do?

What can you do to help your roots grow?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

I am joy.

No.  I'm not changing my name by deed poll.  When I say 'I am Joy', I mean 'I am God's joy'.
Maybe you're thinking, 'well, that's a little arrogant'.  But it's true.  I am God's joy.

Let me explain.  It came to me as I was preparing a talk about perseverance and cleanliness (the talk seemed to go ok, if you're wondering).  In looking for Bible passages on perseverance, I was brought back to Hebrews 12.  Specifically verse two, where it says:
"For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." 
And I thought to myself, 'what is that joy'.
You see, it's not like God has completed a programme of self-improvement by going to the cross.  He's God.
It's not like He's making up for some terrible mistake He made way back when.  He's God.
It's not like he has gained the title 'champion god' by making this sacrifice.  He's God.
So what is the joy set before Jesus?  What does He gain from persevering to the cross?  


I am the joy set before Jesus.  I am the reason he endured the cross.  Not duty, but joy.  I am what God gains through dying on the cross.  Or perhaps it would be fair to say, what He regains.  The only thing that changes for God is the restoration of His relationship with man.  I am God's joy.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Good days and bad days.

What do you get if you combine glorious weather, 200 water balloons, numerous plastic bins, about 30 teenagers and gallons and gallons of water?
One awesome afternoon's entertainment.

In fact, yesterday was a pretty fab day all around.  Church in the morning, followed immediately by a birthday party.  One of Big Boy's friends at school was having a pottery painting party (you know the ones?).  The pottery painting was on a barge, and was immediately followed by lunch in the marina's ice cream parlour (sounds a bit American, doesn't it...).  So that was a tough start to the day (actually, being surrounded by ice cream, staring longingly at this specials board:
Raspberry meringue AND sorbet AND coulis.  Seriously? Dream dessert!
...would have crushed a lesser man - I managed to stand firm and hold out until my lunch at home.)
Lunch at home (for me, Big Boy had obviously eaten out!) was followed by the filling of water balloons and a water fight (one could almost use the term 'epic' at this point).  When things had calmed down a bit, I was watching a couple of the kids playing swingball.  Foolishly, I had my back to the tap, so didn't see the three girls approaching, each with a bucket of very chilly water.  I'm proud to say I barely flinched when it hit me :)
Ice creams followed, then a very pleasant evening, including watering the garden in the late evening - one of my favourite jobs at this time of year.
All in all, it was a pretty ace day.

Today, on the other hand, I was woken at 4.40 by Little Boy.  I went in to settle him back to sleep (I live in hope...) but he wasn't having any of it.  In my half-asleep, half-grouchy state, I picked him up from his cot, only to drop him straight down the front of the chest of drawers, creating three almost instant bruises and very loud screaming.  I was, of course, now wide awake having tried to catch him on the way down and partly succeeded.  Not such a great start to the day.  Thankfully, he rallied quickly, with the aid of a bottle of milk, and has been absolutely fine all day.
(Note, I wrote this on Monday, but am publishing it today, Tuesday - he's fine!)

But it happens, doesn't it.  Some days are just better than others.  But the Psalms remind us that we're to praise him however the day is turning out.  I have to say, I wasn't feeling very praisey at about 5 this morning.  Just worried.  But my God is in control, however it looks from where I'm standing.

How's your day been?

What's the sign of a good day for you?

How do you remind yourself that God is in control?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Karcher conversion.

After this morning's experience, I wonder how many of my friends have had a Karcher experience.  (For those who've never heard of Karcher, I'm referring to their pressure washer range.  For the sake of fairness, I should probably point out that other makes of pressure washer are available).  And, to all those who have had a Karcher experience, I would say, "Why didn't you tell me?"

Our patio forms part of a fire exit (long story...) and those who have to use it during fire drills tell me that it can be slippery when wet.  For ages, I've thought it would be a good idea to clean the patio with a pressure washer to try to make it safer in the event of an evacuation.  Anyway, today I borrowed a friend's pressure washer to do just that.  I have to say, as soon as I'd worked out how to use it, I was hooked.  It's like having a Dyson for outdoors (no, this isn't an infomercial!).  You point it at the patio, press the trigger, and KABLAM (Kersplash?!) the patio actually changes colour.  Seriously people, it changes colour.
Here's the proof:
Before - rather dull looking patio.
During - this is the clearest distinction between clean and dirty...  You'll notice both sides are wet because of the spray.
And after.  Ridiculously, this just ended up looking a bit overexposed.  But if you look at the grass in this photo and the 'before' one, you can see it's cleanliness rather than overexposure!
What a difference.

I hadn't realised how long the patio would take (well over two hours!) but throughout the experience, I was just marveling at how, uh, marvelous, the Karcher is.  I was thinking to myself, why did I not know about this?  How have I got to the age of 34 before discovering this bit of kit.  Sure, I'd seen it on teleshopping channels, but they tend to exaggerate, don't they?  But today, I made the discovery for myself.  Try it, I say.  Borrow a Karcher and see for yourself.

And then I suddenly thought, not only have I become a Karcher convert, I'm now a Karcher evangelist.  I want to share the wonder of Karcher-technology with people.  And that got me thinking - surely I know something far more amazing than that.  I cleaned the patio today, and the Karcher made it possible.  But more amazing than that is that I've been cleaned up.  As a Christian, I know the amazing joy of being made clean in God's eyes through the sacrifice of His Son.  All too often, I forget how amazing it is.  I need to remind myself that I'm clean.  Way more amazing than Karcher.  I've got a more important message than, "Karcher cleans your patio".  My exciting message to others should be, "Jesus cleans you".  You see, I could have cleaned the patio without borrowing a Karcher.  Sure, hands and knees with a scrubbing brush and a bit of detergent would have been difficult, but not impossible.  But me, well that's a different story.  I can't clean up my own life without God's help.  The amazing thing is not that God can clean me up, the amazing thing is that He has and He does.
What a startling difference He makes.

Do you know the joy of being made clean in God's eyes?

If you do, do you tend, like me, to forget just how amazing a story it is?  It's a big improvement!

What are you going to do about it?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Waiting for the holidays.

You know those final days of term?  The ones where you're just wishing time away and you have your sights set firmly on the holidays...  The hard work will soon be over, and you'll just be able to enjoy life.  What a great feeling.
For me, those days still exist.  I've never really left education.  I went from school straight to university and ; teaching; now living in a boarding school.  I still have those feelings at least six times a year.  What's more, where we live now is undeniably amazing.  The house we live in is beautiful.  The garden is huge and great fun.  The village is lovely.  The people around us are great to be with.  It all makes everything about the holidays even better.  We can enjoy all the privileges of home without any of the labour, the toil that comes with it during term time. 
Holidays rock.

And then I read this from Philippians:
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain"  And I thought how similar that was to waiting for the holidays.  Here at work, we are doing what we firmly believe God has called us to.  We are able to work in the lives of many young people and serve them and serve God through that.  Our life is an opportunity to touch the lives of others with God's love.  That makes me think of the lyrics from Casting Crowns' song
But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?

That's what living is about, surely.  Being part of the body of Christ and all that means.
And yet, we still look forward to the holidays.  Though the service is good, and it's the right thing to be doing, we still look forward to the holidays.  And maybe that's kind of what Paul is saying.  Right now, he knows that he is doing a good work: "...it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body [that is, that he doesn't die yet]"  And so he presses on with the work of term-time.  But he's still longing for the holidays.  He's looking ahead to the time when the work is done, and he can simply enjoy being in the company of his God and his heavenly family:  "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far"

This isn't a morbid, "I wish I was dead".  That's a dangerous road to travel.  But it's not at all what Paul is talking about here.  It's a yearning for something far greater than what he's experiencing at the moment.  I really get that.  There are times in my life when I can say, with Paul, "to die is gain".  I'm not wishing myself dead, I'm not resenting the life that I have, though the burden of sin is certainly something I'm looking forward to getting rid of.  Rather, I'm looking ahead to a time when the toil and labour of this life is completed.  The bell signalling the end of term has rung.

I'm looking forward to the holidays.

What about you?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

I have a goodly heritage.

** This was originally posted on my personal blog back in the Autumn of 2010.  It's just been copied and pasted here so it's more accessible to the millions (!) who browse this blog on a daily basis...  I've copied it here following a brief Twitter discussion about various Old Testament prophets.  I've also added a couple of questions at the end so you can all comment (like you always do...) ;)**

Well, some time to reflect.
I was invited to an MK [Missionary Kid] retreat this week. Specifically, I was invited to be on the panel for questions on the last day - I was there as a 'survivor' - an MK who'd 'successfully' made it through what for many of us is a long and painful transition. (Forgive me if I sound melodramatic) When I think of the phrase 'burning up on re-entry' (spaceships and the earth's atmosphere) I often think of being an MK and the process of 'coming home'. Though that's a bit of a weird phrase for it, because all of us MKs know that, when we return to our passport-country, we haven't come home - we've just left it. Anyway, the retreat this week was in some ways quite an emotional time for me (though I didn't cry ... in-joke ...). I remember going to MKOasis back in '92 and onwards. What an awesome support that was for me. And I owe such a great deal both to those who led me through that period, and those who walked the same road with me. You have my eternal gratitude.

And for those who don't quite get that, bear in mind that when you're speaking to a Missionary Kid, or perhaps any Third Culture Kid, who's just returned to their 'homeland' (normally the place where their passport hails from, and often the place they were born and visit from time to time to raise more money!) that you're likely to upset them with the question: "what's it like being home", or, sometimes even worse, "you must be so excited about being back home". You see, when an MK returns to their passport-country, they may well think that they've left home, not returned. And it's often not a sort of romantic, 'that chapter is over - a new one can begin'. No, it might well feel more like the book of their life so far has been slammed shut, and put to one side. No more pages to be written - the story's over. And the temptation for the MK is often to stick with that old book. Maybe it's because we feel that if we keep re-reading it, it won't really be over, and of course there's the fear that if we put the book down, we might begin to forget: and for many of us, there would be little worse than that.

Now, I guess maybe I should point out the obvious at this stage - it's not going to be the same for all of us. I guess it depends somewhat on the reasons for leaving. Some MKs are, I guess, the reason for leaving themselves. The most obvious reason would be, like Tim (my older brother) coming back to complete education. We came back as a family to England for his A levels, so maybe it's slightly different for him in that sense. He'd also graduated from school, so had perhaps had a fuller 'closure' that removed some of the reasons for wanting to return to Pakistan. (Feel free to comment on this Tim!!)

But the fact is, if the country (or countries) where you've lived as an MK means anything to you when you return to your passport-country, it'll always stay with you. It's a part of you. You can't lose it in one sense. It's secure in your heart. It might be over, but it's not gone, and it won't be forgotten. Some of the memories will fade, but that would happen anyway (we all get older!). I guess the difference is that new memories won't be made there any more. But the book that was written there is your story. And the new friends you make will want to learn about it. Ok, I'll be honest and say they probably don't want all the details. Comparing this country to the other one, the weather here to the weather there, your new friends to your old friends, and so on, will eventually wear thin for them! Think of it as a wedding photo album. In the initial period after a wedding, the bride and groom (ok, usually the bride!) love showing their wedding pics to everyone who can spare the time. There's the relatives who couldn't make the wedding, and the friends who didn't make the guest list, there's the old lady down the road who loves that sort of thing, then there's the postman who delivered all the cards, the milkman who just happened to come with his bill when you had the album out... But as the time passes, the album is more and more likely to stay on the shelf. Is that because the wedding stops being important? No, of course not. And every time the album comes out there's a flush of excitement, and the memories of that special day. Maybe it's the same with your memories of the home you've just had to leave. In the early days, it'll be at the forefront of your mind all the time. But as time goes on, it might fade a little. That's not something to worry about. You aren't betraying your heart - it's still perfectly secure. And there will always be times when the memories will be brought out again amidst smiles and feelings of longing to be there again, just for a little while.

I prayed a lot about what to say at the retreat, (mainly because I was scared!) and there were two particular verses that really stood out for me. The first was the 'old' version of Psalm 16:6 which includes the phrase: "yea, I have a goodly heritage". (For you young'uns, 'yea' there means 'yes', not 'yeah' or 'yippee')
This is a verse that cropped up for us as a family when we came back to England. The house we ended up buying was called 'The Heritage'. And it was called the Heritage because of that verse. I said to the young people on the MK retreat that they do have a goodly heritage. It's an awesome start to life. It's a huge privilege, I think, to be an MK. (It's also lifelong - your parents might stop being Missionaries, but somehow you never stop being an MK). Obviously, many people have found being an MK a burden more than a joy. But for me, I'm immensely proud of the heritage that God had granted me and my parents have forged for me (thanks mum and dad!). As MKs, the past we have is a good gift from God, and one that we can cherish. However, we shouldn't live there. If the past doesn't let go of us, or, more to the point, if we don't let go of it, we'll never have the chance to turn and look ahead to the future. It's a huge wrench for many of us. And it's not a decision as much as a process. For me, I think it involved both untangling myself from it, and plucking up the courage to release it as well.

And as I've already alluded to, the second verse is to do with the future. It's my favourite verse in the Bible. The reference (Jeremiah 29:11) is engraved on the inside of our wedding rings. And it's this:

"for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

I'm not sure I'd be able to think of a more appropriate verse for Mish Kids. It's a message that's brought at a time when God's people are at an all-time-low. They've been uprooted from their country, the country where God had placed them, the country that they love, the country where they feel secure (sounding familiar?) and brought to an inhospitable place. They don't belong, they don't fit in, and they don't really want to either. And God makes this extraordinary statement. It seems too good to be true, but it actually isn't. It is true. It comes just a couple of chapters before that spine tingling bit in Jer 31:31 - '"the time is coming", declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant"'. This promise is the start of something pretty major. I think it's a promise that can equally apply to MKs. God knows the plans he has for you, and they're plans for hope and a future.

And then, of course, there's the whole question of where home is. I'm not gonna say much about that (I've said plenty already about everything else!!). But I will say, hard though it has been for me to accept, I didn't really leave home when I left Pakistan. Neither did I come home when I returned to England. The Bible tells me that, in fact, I haven't got home yet. And my longing shouldn't be for any home I've left, but for the home that God has prepared for me with Him. The thought that I'll feel more at home there than anywhere on earth is both staggering and exciting.

What verses have you found particularly important over the years?

Who's your 'favourite' Old Testament prophet, and why?

Where do you feel most at home?

What do you do when you're finding it hard to believe that God does have a good plan for you?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Hospital parking and Grace.

I was thinking recently.  This is not altogether unusual, in my defense.  However, I think the thoughts I was thinking are worth sharing.  This is altogether more rare.

This week has been somewhat full-on, to say the least.  I'll focus on just the relevant bits.  And to put things in context, I live in the UK.  If I lived in another country, this blog post wouldn't have been written.  I'm profoundly thankful.  You'll see why by the end of the post...

To cut a long story short, Tuesday saw me taking Little Boy into hospital.  He'd already been to the doctors on Monday, and the same doctors' surgery but a different doctor on Tuesday morning.  He was running a high temperature.  Tuesday's doctor diagnosed tonsillitis and prescribed some antibiotics.  She said that I was to take Little Boy back that afternoon to see how his temperature was, and if I was concerned in the meantime, I could go to A&E (I guess that's ER for you folks on the other side of the pond).
Well, I was concerned in the meantime, because his temperature, despite paracetamol and ibuprofen, was heading up rather than down.  We therefore went to A&E.
At A&E, we saw a nurse at triage, followed by a doctor, then another doctor.  We had a bay to wait in, and were seen by, I think, four or five nurses taking his temperature, checking his oxygen intake and all that jazz.  We were then sent up to the ward where we were seen by other medical staff (doctors and nurses) and eventually released that same evening when both we and they were happy that Little Boy's fluid intake was where it should be.
Wednesday, Little Boy didn't do too well.  Thursday was worse, and we went back to A&E.  We were admitted to the ward, this time staying overnight.  We saw at least three more doctors, plus two student doctors.  We saw countless nurses, and I was allowed to stay overnight with him, on a bed they made up for me next to him on the ward.

Now rewind slightly to Tuesday evening.  We're on the ward, waiting to see if we'll be kept in, and I'm thinking about hospital parking.  You see, a lot of people have a bit of a thing about hospital parking.  But as I sat there, thinking, it occurred to me that I was getting a bit of a bargain.  By the time I left the hospital on Tuesday night, I'd got an £8.50 parking bill.  But what else did I have to pay?  Nothing.  £8.50 for loads of doctors, nurses, a bay on A&E and a cot on the ward.  Free drugs while we were there.  Bits of paperwork, a couple of syringes for fluid challenges (without needles, don't worry!), I could go on.
And then Thursday was even better.  We took Little Boy in later in the day and paid £5.50 for parking (this was partly because we didn't leave the car overnight - Anna took it home.  £5.50 for the same as Tuesday, plus a cot and a bed overnight, free prescription of new antibiotic, in case the other one wasn't working.  You getting the picture?

Now, imagine going to stay at a nice hotel, and at the end of the stay, being told, 'you owe us £8.50 for parking'.  You might think that was a bit steep.  But if that was ALL they charged you; if your ENTIRE bill for the stay was the £8.50 for parking, well that would surely be different. 

Or go to a nice restaurant for a slap-up meal.  The £3.00 cost of parking would seem really quite reasonable if you weren't paying anything for your food and drink.  So why do we go to hospital, enjoy the attentions of numerous doctors and nurses, pay nothing for the privilege, and moan about the cost of parking?

And then I got thinking a little more, and I thought - "that's what I sometimes do with grace".  I quibble and moan (at least in my head, if not out loud) about God's expectations of me.  Why do I have to do stuff His way?  Why must I pay that price?  And yet I'm forgetting that while grace is free, it cost Him a great deal.  It costs me so little compared to the actual cost of being reconciled to God.

What about you?

Do you sometimes forget what our relationship with God cost Him?

Do you need to get God's expectations of you in perspective?

I know I do.

Friday, 20 April 2012


I've always fancied having a shark bite scar.

Is that a bit weird?  Surely not.  It would have meant near-certain victory in all those 'compare-your-scars' battles as a boy.  Sure, there's a clear line on my chin where I exploded it on the floor and needed stitches.  There's another on my forehead and a third above my eyebrow from mishaps in my early childhood.  There's rather an amusing one on my left hand from when I broke a friend's door handle off trying to get into their house.  There's even a tiny one, now hidden by my wedding ring, that I got from some barbed wire while chasing someone during a school activity (I should probably point out I was a student, not a teacher, at the time).  While I was being tended to on that occasion, the lad I had been chasing said, "That's what happens when you take on Rambo".  Hmm.

But a shark bite scar; ooh, that would be impressive.

There's only one problem.  To get a shark bite scar, you have to be bitten by a shark.  And that really doesn't appeal.  Sharks are big, and better swimmers than me, and I can only imagine the process would not be pleasant.  You see, scars often have stories, and that's where the pain comes in.

When Jesus showed His disciples His scars, it was a reminder, as if they needed it, of His story.  It was a reminder of His suffering.  We know now, better than the disciples first understood, that Jesus' scars weren't just part of His story, they're part of ours too.  His scars are a reminder of a desperately-needed rescue.  Thomas desperately wanted to see those scars.  He gets a bit of a hard time - 'doubting Thomas', but the fact is, he saw the scars and he believed:  "Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe."  Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!""

You know those 'compare-your-scars' battles I mentioned?  Maybe you've never got involved in such things (it's perhaps a slightly odd ritual...).  I had a friend at school (he's still a friend, but we're not at school any more!) who always won.  He had a massive scar straight down his chest.  That's what happens when you have heart surgery before you even hit school age.  His scar was another reminder of rescue.  The story behind it was a life-or-death one - he was born with a hole in his heart.  Without surgery, he'd have had no scar, but he wouldn't have lasted very long either.  When he won a race at sports day at school, his mum turned to my mum and said, 'I never thought I'd see that'.  As his mother and as a doctor, she probably knew better than anyone the story of his scar.

So I'm going to go through life without my shark bite scar (especially given I live such a long way from the sea...).  But I will keep thinking about scars, and the story behind them.  It's strange to think that Jesus' scars brought me healing.  The relationship between me and God, that I'd 'wounded', could only be healed by God choosing to be scarred for me.

Jesus, His scars and my rescue.

Have you got any cool scars?

What do scars mean to you?

Have you thanked Jesus lately for the scars he got rescuing you?

Friday, 13 April 2012

Bringing a sacrifice.

In the Old Testament, people had to bring sacrifices to God as part of their worship.  When Jesus came, He didn’t bring a sacrifice, He was the sacrifice.

If we bring ourselves as a sacrifice, we are giving God our all, and this is exactly what He deserves, bearing in mind what he sacrificed for us.  We worship Him with what we do with our hands, what we watch with our eyes, what we listen to with our ears and so on.  This is also to do with purity.  In the Old Testament, people were to bring lambs, bulls and other sacrifices that were ‘without fault’.  They couldn’t wander over to their flock and pick out their dodgy three-legged sheep, or pick a bull from the herd that was on its last legs, or a bird that was injured or blind.  They were told to give their best.

It’s no different for us (except we’re giving ourselves, not our sheep!):  we are called to offer our bodies at their very best - a holy offering to God.  Remember, what we offer to God shows what we think He is worth.  By offering Him our very best, we demonstrate that we really believe He is worthy of it.  God gave us His very best and so shows us what He thinks we're worth. 

What do we think He's worth?

What do you offer to God in worship?

Is there something you need to give up in order to show Him what He's worth to you?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Big Boy was already in bed, and Little Boy was about to follow.  I picked him up and rubbed my face in his tummy - a sure-fire way to make him laugh.  It got the usual response - hysterical chuckling.  He was wearing a just-washed babygrow, and as I breathed in, the smell instantly reminded me of a deodorant I used back in my teenage years.  We've not changed our wash powder recently, it's not like I'd not smelt clean clothes before, but something about it just took me back.  I even got as far as being in the shop where I bought it.  I can't remember what the deodorant was called (though I do remember it was a roll-on) and I can't remember what the shop was called either.  But the smell takes me back all the same.

Smells do that, don't they.  They have the power to transport us in our minds to other places, and bring back mental pictures of people, events, and so many other things. 

Rain on dusty earth is one of my favourites.  I love rain.  When it rains after a dry period, it takes me back to the smell from my childhood.  Rain on a dusty land wasn't that unusual back in Pakistan, where I grew up.  And maybe the rain brought with it a sense of hope for growth and refreshment.  I love sitting on a patio or veranda and watching the rain come down.  To me, it's a reminder of God's work - rain coming to help everything grow.

How about this passage from John?
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 

There's Jesus, sat down at a dinner party thrown in his honour, when Mary comes up and does this amazing act.  She cracks open this bottle of perfume (later in the passage we read it was worth about a year's wages) and pours it on Jesus' feet.  Now, I don't want to get into the money side of things at the moment.  I want you to think about the smell.  What does the passage tell us?  "...the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume" 

Mary's act filled the house.  No-one there could fail to notice it.  No-one could carry on their business in the house, whether as guest, servant or owner, without being aware of Mary's act.  Those who were sat there were immersed in the fragrance of Mary's act, her sacrifice.  That got me thinking - what have I done for Jesus that comes anywhere close to this?  Don't get me wrong - I know that elsewhere there are passages which encourage us to serve Him without having to be 'seen' doing it, and to serve Him without worrying about reputation.  But I think this passage is different.  It shows that Mary was willing to do something big and something public to show her love for her Lord.

What about us?  

What have we done that's filled a place with its fragrance?

What actions could we take that overwhelm people with a realisation of our love for Him?

What sacrifice could we make for Him?