A Voice is heard in Ramah

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As of now I could have had three children, my eldest would be 18 perhaps in her first term at University, I like to think she would have been a girl, she was to be called Lydia, her sister Orla at 13 might be a mix of  emotions, on the cusp of growing up but still clinging to some girliness  … while 10 year old Joel would enjoy annoying the other two and being the family comedian …

These 3 children represent my 3 known miscarriages and readers must forgive me for ‘Disneyfying’ them, their names are what I would genuinely have called them (and what I clung to through the years I battled to have them). It wasn’t to be. It’s not that I think my life would be radically different now had they been born, we would probably live in a similar way: beliefs, preferences, jobs, home, pets and so on but it would doubtless be richer, far more complex and much more expensive!

 Being denied a child has been the biggest challenge to my faith and will always be a regret I will carry until the day it ceases to matter. I have no answer to those with faith who seem to want to ‘find a reason’ my prayers weren’t answered. What I do know is, life sucks very often in this world and there ARE no answers … I also find it tedious when others assume I didn’t want children, or see benefit somehow in not having them! It’s a painful and silent minority to belong to and not made any more comfortable by ignorance or misunderstanding. 

So does God feature in this post? actually yes as He prompted me to write it. It began with the title from Jeremiah 31:15 when I felt God wanted me to be open and like Rachel, express my grief about this subject. Not self indulgent, factual … this is what it’s like. God is letting me walk this road and (to borrow a powerful example from a godly lady speaker I recently heard) it’s like He’s saying in reply to my kicking against my situation: I’m not interested in what others have got or in what they’re doing, I want you to follow Me.

Coo big ask Lord, ok I haven’t got a lot of choice but will give it a go … as graciously as I can (which won’t be always). But He can be trusted and I glimpse Him in the situation as I learn to trust Him more: whenever I remember that this life is short and temporary and I have eternity to look forward to (and this does restore perspective to most things!), when my husband reminds me we will have 3 children in heaven, when someone acknowledges the maternal in me and values it, when I realise it’s more fun not to be conventional. All these things and more are like God shining His light into a dark place, and while weeping may endure for a night, I truly believe that joy comes in the morning … (Psalm 30:5)

Grabbing hold of God

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In October 2008 I went on a silent retreat to Holy Island off the Northumbrian coast. This was something of a watershed experience for me. It caused me to think deeply about my faith and subsequently set off to explore new pathways before rejoining a more familiar one, but in a more committed way. It was a significant and memorable five days. Even the contrary UK weather was kind and the island  lit with Autumn sunshine as we enjoyed the beautiful views and the open spaces where you could walk, explore, meditate and pray to the sound of seals just off the coast and sea birds wheeling in the sky above.  Holy Island is a thin place which is a Celtic term for somewhere the boundary line between heaven and earth becomes gossamer thin. I am told another example of this is at Ffald-y-Brenin in Wales where I have yet to visit.

 I am gradually learning to be more aware of those moments  when that instant of connection to the Spirit happens and suddenly feelings of negativity or insecurity are overcome and we can become   “sure of the things we hope for, … certain of the things we cannot see..”   (Hebrews 11:1 GNB) There are times when even in very difficult circumstances when things seem bleak, that we can receive a touch from God which pauses the pain we are in.

We don’t have to be in a special place but anywhere at all for a glimpse of heaven to break through. Just last week after a busy and quite draining day at work, feeling tired and in need of a spiritual uplift, I attended an Aglow meeting after being given a flyer from a lady at Church. The speaker was Maureen Sims, a lady whose story of moral and spiritual transformation through Jesus was astounding and very inspiring. My first impressions were of a little, ordinary lady with rough edges, but as she spoke, the work of the Spirit in her shone like a jewel and I was hanging on her every word, totally energised and encouraged by God. Afterwards I asked her to pray for me which she kindly did. 

So I am looking out for more opportunities to grab hold of God and to take the time to let these instances nourish me and hopefully encourage others through me. Somehow I think as I am more able to recognise them, so I am more likely to come upon them!

 

 

How I like to see Him …

Jesus-Laughing-with-Children

This is what I think Jesus is like, He who told his disciples to allow the children to come to Him … I actually think they probably jumped all over Him and there was much laughter and fun. Here was God Himself who loved them more than anyone else ever could, and it’s no wonder they wanted to run to Him. And this is how Jesus IS .. still … continually.

Recently as I have experienced a real renewal in my faith, I have found myself wanting to picture Jesus more. I know there is no definitive image of Him, but there are many depictions/artist’s impressions that are a real aid to worship and to my faith personally. I think the above representation is probably quite accurate for a young Jewish man in the Middle East of His day. I like that fact that it shows Him as so much a man and so at one with the children. Of course there are more seriously reflective images as in a cross or crucifix in church, which encapsulate all He has done for us as well as who He is. But the above picture  conveys  for me a strong sense of intimacy and authenticity in my relationship with Him.

I have a lovely postcard by Margaret Tarrant called Lesser Brethren shown here:  

Lesser Brethren

I see Jesus as looking rather more holy, clothed all in white and so representing to me, His divinity. It’s lovely to see how the animals and birds He created respond to Him, as I’m sure they will do again one day, within a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). I recently purchased another Margaret Tarrant card of Jesus as the Good Shepherd:

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This one depicts His protection and care of His people and reminds me of where my true safety and security lie. My devotional notes this morning spoke about Jesus being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2: 19, 20). In architecture, this stone keeps all the others, in fact the whole building standing, just as Jesus keeps us His church strong and upright. As Shepherd He is also that source of strength for us and also our guidance as He leads us.

Finally I have a little card in my Bible with helpful verses on the back relating to varied life situations, but on the front is this drawing:

Jesus - how I like to see Him

It’s quite old as a friend gave it to me at Uni, I remember rather embarrassingly, that I asked if I could have it! Having recently come to faith at that time, something  attracted  me to the image of Christ on the front, someone strong and who is gazing upward, intent on doing what His Father would have Him do, yet someone whose safe hand I could imagine grabbing when I was afraid.  This little card remained in an old Bible until a few weeks ago when I decided to put it in the one I’m currently using.  

We have a God we can truly know in Christ and I have come to value these visual images of Him and it’s a joy being able to share them.

 

 

 

 

Faith journey

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Have probably said this elsewhere, but I do think that the development of faith in one’s life is linear and not a fixed experience. I wasn’t brought up in a Christian family, although my parents had early church connections and I have since found out that I have a couple of Methodist minister ancestors! As a child I occasionally went to Sunday School but this petered out, then it was Brownies and a ballet class held in the church hall. So was the sum total of involvement for me until I attended a church youth group for a while in my teens, having been invited by a school friend. With hindsight I know her family were  praying for me, I always enjoyed visiting their home and her mother became a sort of spiritual mum to me, and also a dear friend as I grew up. I always acknowledged God as existing and liked to envisage the prospect of an afterlife, but I had no concept of faith in Christ, nor of a redeeming relationship with Him.

At University it all fell into place, I realised my need of Jesus and suddenly the whole point of life became clear, the Westminster catechism puts it well: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever’ Of course faith is a gift and it’s attainment is different for everyone. My own coming to faith wasn’t dramatic, but was very definite. At Uni I had made friends with several Christians (no coincidence!) and they encouraged me hugely as we began journeying together. Prayer (or conversation with God) became a natural part of life and the bedrock of all my experiences. So my roots were Evangelical, with a gentle charismatic aspect as I began to believe in and experience supernatural aspects to my faith. 

Then a couple of years after Uni I definitely went on a detour! New relationships began to dominate, I had my head turned on several occasions and subsequently fell away from  a daily Christian walk, although not from faith in God. I still asked Jesus to answer my rather self-centred prayers for unsuitable boyfriends!! but I wasn’t prepared to really listen to Him nor to examine whether these relationships were truly worth it. There are many memories of that time I cringe at, but in all honesty, some good ones too and a couple of these people remain on my Christmas card list.

The turn around came when I began a new job with a Christian organisation, made new friends and met my husband. Normal service was resumed somewhat, but of course God had never abandoned me, He’d simply been waiting for me to go the prodigal route. Around that time I also received two ‘words’ from God delivered during times of prayer and ministry, and transcribed by my flatmate at the time.The following years have also been something of a searching time. We joined what seemed to be an exciting and ‘different’ church which  actually proved to be very elitist and  fundamentalist, however at the beginning it yielded friendships and lots of involvement, so the less healthy (cultish) side was obscured until, after two occasions when the church split, with accompanying conflict and departures, we called it a day. I have never regretted this, I didn’t realise  just how ridiculous and unhelpful to others my beliefs had become, and their insidious influence has still had to be resisted occasionally but I think now has all but gone.

Perhaps as a reaction I spent a few years with an  awakening interest in a more contemplative  faith, going on a silent retreat to Holy Island, joining a Julian group, following set daily prayers and visiting a couple of convents. I resisted Evangelicalism and totally turned my back on the charismatic movement for a time. Slowly but surely the journey has been progressing onward and after a more recent transitory experience elsewhere, we have joined a lovely church where we feel at home and I am so open to God using me in the things He wants to do for others. This church is evangelical Anglican with some gentle charismatic features apparent amongst certain people (including myself!). So I’m  back to square one but with greater conviction! not exactly liberal but more tolerant as I reflect on how radical Jesus was in His love for people (and still is). Recently I found those prophetic ‘words’ again (from 1989) and was amazed at how accurate they actually are with the passing of 20+ years.

So congrats if you have stayed with me and waded through all that, I suppose I just want to say that faith is something very fluid, the most important aspect (for me) is who our faith is in, but the journey lasts a life time and can take us on many an interesting route. Somehow I think my path is now more settled and I expect to continue along it in the days to come. Watch this space! 🙂