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.