New beginnings … every day.

There’s been another long gap in my blog posting…  And I’m mulling over the need for another ‘new beginning’ – a kick up the backside (which is difficult to do to oneself with any sort of force) and a fresh impetus.

Yesterday was the start of a new school year for us.  It would be easy to cynically think, ‘this is just an excuse to crowbar a cute first day of school photo into a post’.  And here that photo is:

First day at school

But what is it about such photos?  I wonder if it’s maybe that they encapsulate the wonder and excitement (and tend to mask remarkably well any apprehension!) of those new beginnings.  A fresh start.  A preparedness to do something new.  Maybe it’s the new (or slightly second hand, in our case!) uniform being sported for the first time.  Anticipation.  Eagerness. 

But this photo was taken yesterday.  Yesterday was a day of fresh starts.  A new term.  New classroom, new teachers, new routines.  And today?  Well, today can also be a day of fresh starts.  Every day is a new day.  And that can be where the fresh starts begin to get hard.  To approach today with the same enthusiasm as yesterday.  And when we’re doing the same thing day in and day out, to see each day’s opportunities, which are pretty much the same as yesterday’s, with an eagerness that belies their familiarity.  It’s darn hard.  It’s not easy to view the 100th day of any venture in quite the same light as the 1st. 

Today is a new day.  And tomorrow will be a new day too.

What might you be able to do to see today as a fresh start, regardless of how familiar its routines might be?

 

Oh, and for your amusement, here’s another of those ‘first day of school’ photos.  This one was taken some years earlier…

Tim and Nick first day

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Weeding, Watering and Watching.

A couple of weeks ago, I started on a job that was long overdue.  It’s a job that had become long overdue because I really don’t enjoy doing it and the longer it was left, the bigger the job became.  And the bigger the job became, the greater the motivation needed to actually start on it. 

It was weeding.  But because it had been left for such a long time, it wasn’t so much ‘weeding’ as ‘ground-clearance’.  For those with the garden jargon, it seemed more like a job for a rotovator than for a hand-fork. 

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In the foreground of this photo, you can see a lovely veg bed filled with tomatoes and red cabbage.  Believe it or not, there’s another veg bed behind it.  It’s also filled.  Sadly, it’s filled with weeds (and two blueberry bushes).  You can clearly see that the weeding hadn’t been tackled for quite some time.  So it’s not surprising that the weeding itself took quite some time…

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But I have to say, completing the job was highly satisfying!  This second photo is taken from roughly the same spot.  It shows the bed having been cleared.  The blueberry bushes obviously stayed (and had done surprisingly well) but the rest was genuinely just weeds.  The weeds were preventing the blueberries from flourishing as well as they could have, and preventing anything else from being planted. 

So that’s what was done next.  Planting of sweetcorn, nasturtiums, sprouting brocolli and leeks.  Bit of a hodge-podge, but it’ll hopefully work.  And bear a good harvest.

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And of course, once it’s all planted, it needs watering.  We’ve been having hot weather of late, which means that watering is particularly important, especially given how new everything is to the bed – stuff needs time to be settled in.  Without watering, the stuff that’s been planted won’t grow.  It’ll just look pretty for a couple of weeks and then shrivel up.

And both weeding and watering get me thinking about this whole LiveLife 1-2-3 thing.  With our young people that we’re mentoring, there are various things that need to be done, and the picture of weeding and watering can help.  We can help them gradually clear out some of the stuff that’s stopping them growing.  We can help them prepare for growth and support them in ‘clearing the ground’.  Of course, when we’re dealing with a person not a veg bed, we need to work with a good deal more care and love.  We need to be sensitive and wary not to rush things.  To carry on the analogy, we also need to take care of the things that are already growing, to ensure they’re not damaged by our efforts to clear the ground. 

We also need to ‘water’.  We need not just to help clear and plant, but we need also to nurture.  To provide what is needed to help our young people grow new skills and passions and habits.  We need to be aware of the conditions that they’re in and help to ensure growth even as other things may be working to prevent it.

But I’ve been thinking lately about one more thing in our role.  And it’s something else I’ve learnt from the garden.  We can spend time just enjoying watching the growth.  Growth is, by its very nature, and slow and gradual thing.  I was amazed a couple of days ago when I had a look at how far the red cabbages are progressing.  Sometimes I need to stop working feverishly in the garden and just enjoy seeing what’s flourishing there.  The same is true with our relationship with our mentees.  Our priority might  be to see them growing in faith, but sometimes it’ll be enough just to sit with them and enjoy watching the growth that’s been happening before our eyes.  To put aside the plans for the future – the weeding and watering – and to focus simply on the miracle of God at work in a person He loves. 

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Praise through the tears.

I wrote over at BigBible this week about the Holy Habit of praise. I said that developing the habit of praise in the good times might help us to praise God still when the good times vanish and the bad times come. And then we had a little illustration in our own home that helped me to see this in action.
We enjoyed a lovely family holiday last week, but Friday night saw a post-holiday meltdown. To cut rather a long story short, Big Boy (due in no small part to a tiredness that holidays often bring) ended up on a ‘time-out’ (a disciplinary measure to give a child (and their parents!) time to calm down, think about their behaviour and prepare to rectify and move on). During this time-out, he continued to have an angry approach to life, and in his distress and fury was waving things around at the top of the stairs. One of the things he was waving then (completely accidentally!) knocked his toy chainsaw off the ledge at the top of the stairs. It fell about ten feet and shattered on impact. The toy in question is one given to him by his grandfather, and really rather a treasured possession. Needless to see, he was inconsolable.
After the situation had been brought to within managable parameters (the UN were briefly involved) we ended up with him in bed, and it was prayer time.
Through heart-rending sobs he thanked God for the week we’d had, for the swimming we’d done that morning and for various other things. He also prayed for his chainsaw. I’m certain that this thanks could be uttered in part because of the habit he has got himself into of thanking God every night (usually with a long list of things!).
Praising Him through the good times may well help us to keep praising Him through the tears.

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Prayer: Worth risking your life for?

I wonder what you think of prayer…

Fun?  Useful?  Frustrating?  Necessary?  Pointless?  Difficult?  Overrated?  Underrated?  Maybe a little bit of all those things, and much more, at various times of life.  Sometimes it might seem so natural, so effective.  At other times, it seems like it’s got all the glamour and worth of smacking your head against the proverbial brick wall.

But as I read through Daniel, I find a different perspective on prayer.

Prayer is worth dying for.

Daniel 6 tells us the well-known story of Daniel in the lions’ den.  Indeed, the NIV heading says, ‘Daniel in the den of lions’, because that’s where he ends up.  But that’s not really the central bit of the story.  Sure, Daniel ended up in a lions’ den, which is perhaps the most interesting bit of the story – the kind of thing that could feature on youtube, the evening news, or in that ‘Drama in Real Life’ section in Readers Digest (remember that?).  But actually, maybe the important stuff is what happened outside the lions’ den.

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Scary place, interesting bit of the story, but perhaps not as central as we often make it.

Daniel’s all set to become top dog, but the people who are going to be immediately beneath him in the chain of command are less than impressed.  They convince the king to publish a decree that promises an all-expenses paid visit to the lions’ den for anyone who dares to pray to a god or man other than the king himself.  When we pick up the story in verse 10, we read this:

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem.  Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.

And so we see the value that Daniel attaches to prayer.

And so I’m swamped with guilt.  There’s no threat on my life, and yet I still give up all too easily on prayer!  I certainly don’t attach a worth-risking-your-life-for sort of value to it.  But the fact of the matter is, guilt is only useful if it takes us somewhere we need to go.  And if I return to prayer with a renewed desire to communicate with my maker who loves me, then this thought process has been worth it.

What about you?

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Maybe God isn’t silent.

I’ve been mulling over the idea of ‘when God’s silent’ for a little while.  This morning, I was pondering the possibility that, in one sense at least, God’s never really silent.

I was thinking along the lines of ‘what would God say in this situation?’ rather than, ‘what is God saying in this situation?’.  Does that distinction even make sense?

Let me give you an example.  Lately, I’ve found myself saying to Joshua, our seven-year-old, ‘Don’t do that’, followed fairly rapidly by, ‘you should have known not to’.  Because if I’ve told him something in the past, I generally have at least a vague notion that he might remember it in future.  Of course, some of these nuggets of wisdom I share are concerned with his own safety; ‘umbrellas are not effective parachutes’, ‘running around in socks on a wooden floor can lead to pain’, that sort of thing.  Others are more to do with boundaries; ‘my ipod is not there for you to play with every hour of the day’, ‘that’s my chocolate’ and the like.  But when I say something, I like it to stick.  [That's not always the case, of course.  I do occasionally come out with unhelpful stuff, or just complete drivel.  Hopefully he'll forget those bits pretty rapidly!]  Of course the stuff I say doesn’t always stick…  But the fact of the matter is, sometimes he’d be perfectly capable of working out what I thought, or what I wanted, without having to be told again.  So those days when we get to school and I discover that he’s not bothered to pick up his book bag on the way out the door, well I find those days frustrating, and I don’t think that’s altogether unreasonable.  Because if he stopped to think about it, he’d know from our interactions in the past what I want of him in the present.

And maybe the same’s true of me.  Because God’s said plenty.  And maybe expecting Him to leap in with direction on a daily basis is just a bit unreasonable on my part.  Maybe if I feel that He’s called me to do something, or instructed me to behave in a certain way, I shouldn’t be expecting constant reminders.  Ok, perhaps I should still be listening out for a change of course, but if He wanted me to head in a certain direction yesterday, chances are today might need to be heading in that same direction.  If something was wrong yesterday, it may well be wrong today, without Him having to remind me.

So, for the record; ‘God, I’m sorry I’m such a moron when it comes to remembering your commands and your character.  Thanks for being patient with me’

Of course, what this doesn’t address is question of God’s apparent silence through our pain and struggles.  But having written the above, I think maybe that’s something for another post.

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Fragrance

You know sometimes you’re walking down the street and you pass someone and as you do so, you get a heavy waft of their perfume or aftershave of choice?  There are some people who would be able to identify the name of said fragrance, I just think things like, ‘how nice’, or, ‘where are you going smelling like that?!’  I’m a bit rubbish at remembering to slap on vast quantities of aftershave, but there are some people who are pretty good at it (I’ve only recently finished the aftershave I was given as a thankyou for being best man at my brother’s wedding, 15+ years ago…).  But it can be nice having a waft (assuming you like the particular smell!) as you pass someone or engage in conversation with them.

And last week at youth group, we were looking at the Beatitudes, which is basically a list of things that Jesus talks about.  He says people are ‘blessed’ when they do these things.  And I don’t think it’s exactly a reward for good behaviour, but rather a consequence of living right.  They’re not all easy things, either.  They’re things like mourning the state of our world, and being persecuted for righteousness.  (Note – ‘for righteousness’ there.  Persecution for being an idiot is excluded here!)  You do these things, and blessing will come.  And I was thinking about that wafting fragrance that you get from walking past people, and thinking how sometimes I’d be happy to double back and walk past them again for another lungful (though they might think that was a bit weird).  And I thought to myself, that fragrance is something you get from being close to that person.  The closer you get, the more powerful the smell (please don’t test that theory on strangers).  And I thought that’s a bit like the Beatitudes.  They’re basically doing stuff like Jesus does, getting closer to Him in the process, and the closer we get to Him, the greater the blessing.  Sometimes we’ll do one of the things Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes and we’ll realise that, as we drew a bit closer to Jesus, we got a waft of His fragrance – we got a lungful of the sweet smell of Christ.  What a blessing.

What are you breathing in these days?

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Not so blue.

Some years ago, this beast of a climbing frame went up in our garden:

climbing frame constructedIf I were to ask you what colour this climbing frame is, you would, in all likelihood, respond, ‘Blue’. And you’d be right. But over the years, it’s changed a little.  Let me show you a more recent picture, this time a little closer up:

climbing frame ladderSee, it’s not so blue now, is it? When you get a little closer, it’s clear to see that the climbing frame, while blue, is not exactly sporting a freshly-painted look. We got it a few years ago, and I spent many hours (to this day, I think it may have been the most boring hours of my life) painting it blue before putting it up in the corner of our garden. And it’s been there ever since, come rain or shine, ready to be clambered all over by any number of children. And over that time, it’s got a bit worn down. It’s been largely neglected since its arrival in the corner of our garden. There are some bits that have kept their colour pretty well, but the bits that have seen the most use are in real need of a paint-job. And so that’s what I’ve been doing with a friend over the last couple of days. It’s not massively more exciting than the first time round, though doing it with company makes it much more bearable! But putting in a little effort means that it really is looking more blue than before.

climbing frame paintingAnd this has all got me thinking.

You see, if I were to describe myself, the word ‘Christian’ would crop up pretty early in the description. And that’d be true. But, like the climbing frame, there’s a danger that I end up getting a bit worn down and need to be freshened up. There are bits of being Christian that I have been guilty of neglecting. I reckon you’d not have to get too close before you started seeing the worn bits…

And that makes me think of the Holy Habits that I go on about quite a lot.  Because if I was in the habit of painting the climbing frame regularly, there wouldn’t be worn out bits.  And it would also be stronger, because the paint would prolong the life of the wood.  Likewise, if I was more disciplined about developing Holy Habits, I’d not end up looking like a slightly neglected Christian…

So this is me announcing that I’m going to be making a renewed effort at those Spiritual Disciplines, because I don’t like having worn-down bits of my Christian life.  And of course, like the painting, it’s not something I’ll have to do on my own.

Are there bits of your life that need freshening up?

Who can you work with on this?

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