Yesterday I was given a lovely apricot coloured patio rose and a ceramic pot to put it in. So this afternoon I planted it. I thought it would be straightforward, just planting a small rose in a pot, but it wasn’t. First of all I couldn’t get the rose out of the plastic pot. It should have come out easily, but it didn’t. I poked around with a trowel, pulled gently, gave it a good shaking, and finally it came out. I put the rose into the pot, and back filled with compost. Then I stood back ready to take a photo to send to the person who gave it to me, and with disappointment I realised the rose was not standing up straight, but had gone in with a rather pronounced tilt. I now had a choice; I could leave it as it was and hope it would straighten as it grew; or I could do something about it. I decided to try to straighten it, so I put a small stake in the pot, but when I stood back I could see the rose was still pulling to the side, and the stake made it look messy. So I removed the stake, and dug up the rose and started again. This time I took more care, making sure I held the rose straight while I slowly put compost in bit by bit. Finally I stood back, and could see that all my effort was worth it – the rose was now standing up straight. I gave it a good watering, took a photo and sent it to my friend.
Forgive the analogy, but I think there are times in our lives when God wants to do a similar thing in us. We may suddenly become aware there is something wrong deep inside us, and we realise we have been growing crookedly in our pots for a long time. It maybe that terrible things have happened to us in the past, or maybe not so terrible things that have still marred and marked us, and caused our growth to be stunted or somehow askew. Over the years we have probably found ways of coping, but there can come a time when God can re-plant us and help us to grow straight. It won’t be comfortable, being uprooted, shaken free of what holds us, our roots bare, and we will probably want some good, experienced friends to help us get through it. But God is a careful gardener, and He will do it as gently as He can. And from my own experience I can tell you it will be well worth the effort.
I watch as Big Ben solemnly chimes out the old year.
Boom! – so 2016 is finally slipping away.
Boom! – twelve whole months over, never to be recovered.
Boom! – fifty-two weeks expired.
Boom! – days of sun and pleasure relegated to memory.
Boom! – sleepless nights of darkness forgotten.
Boom! – all the hours, minutes and seconds used up.
Boom! – big events relegated to history books,
Boom! – small events stored in my memory.
Boom! – how many births? To me a wonderful Grandson!
Boom! – and how many deaths? Too many.
Boom! – more birthdays come and gone.
Boom! – how much was valuable? How much wasted?
One extra second, gone in less than a breath.
Then, out of the ashes of the old year rises the phoenix of the new year, a clean slate, but full of colour, full of promise and expectation.
Please God help me use this new year better than I did the last. Help me waste less, and live more. Help me think more of others, and be the friend I would like myself. Help me be your hands and feet and voice to those around me.
Advent for Christians is the season leading up to Christmas, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This year Advent began on 29th November, the earliest date possible. It’s a time when many traditional churches light candles, and Christians wait expectantly for Christmas Day when we remember the birth of Jesus, and look forwards to his promised return.
So what are we doing this Advent? Is it a special time? or are we absorbed in planning and logistics? Who to invite, who to ignore, and why? How much to spend, and who to buy presents for? What parties to host, and which parties to attend? What to eat and drink, and have we got enough? And above all, how do we get what we want, eat and drink what we want, and get to do what we want?
As a result, what should have been a blessed time for peace and reflection, we have made into a stressed time of soaking ourselves in materialism and over-indulgence. What began in a poor humble shelter has been commercialised and become all about money and corporate or personal gain. And what was a simple birth has become an excuse for gluttony and excess.
So what can we do about this, if indeed we want to do anything at all? How do we bring Advent and Christmas back to basics within all the busyness and responsibilities of modern life?
Well, I suppose I could try to take some time out of my frenetic preparations. Impossible you might say! But time-out doesn’t have to be hours and hours, just a couple of minutes of space and mindful thought can bring focus and rejuvenation. Perhaps I can think outside the box, and every time I go up the stairs, I can ask for His help in what I am doing. When I have that peaceful moment alone in the loo, I can ask God for patience in the turbulence of life. When I’m standing by the kettle, making yet another cup of tea or coffee, I can praise Him for the gift of friends and family. I can begin the habit of looking at things positively and endeavour to bring Jesus right into my busy life by my attitudes and the way I treat others. I can seek out the good, and stop thinking and behaving as if I am the most important person in the universe.
As a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, I have been given the gift of eternal life.
What is eternal life?
If my life were a sentence –
My birth is a capital letter my death is a comma, and there is no full stop
My dog Charlie is a rescue dog, and after being a stray on the streets of Ireland, he can be quite fearful. When I enter the house after being out, Charlie is nowhere to be seen, although he must have heard the key in the lock and the front door opening. The house appears empty as if I have no dog at all, because poor little Charlie is hiding well out of sight in his bed under the stairs! I stand in the hall and call his name, and when he hears the sound of my voice he comes bounding out from the safety of his hiding place. He is so pleased to see me that not only his tail, but his whole body wags; he can’t contain his joy that I have returned to him.
While I was in church this morning, I got to thinking, and I wondered if we can sometimes be like that with God. In our worship we ask Him to be present, but do we then hide away, as if we’re frightened? Do we simply feel unworthy of His attention, or are we frightened of what He might do in our comfortable lives? Frightened of what He might say or ask of us? So I tell myself that I’m not important enough and He won’t miss me. I hide, retreat into myself and pretend I’m not there.
Then I hear Him call my name – He has noticed me, even me! Am I ready to throw caution to the wind, rush out and meet with Him? And like my dog Charlie, is my whole body so eager to greet Him that my joy over-spills?
I was sitting in bed a few days ago with my morning cup of tea, and I heard a familiar tap-tap-tapping from outside. It was the woodpecker back again, but I was aware that through my closed window, what should have been a bright, sharp sound was dull and muted. I love listening to the sounds of nature, especially the birds, so although it was a cool morning with a slight frost, I opened my window wide in order to hear more clearly. I snuggled back under my duvet and while listening to the lovely rhythmic drumming, I got to thinking as I frequently do. And I thought how we often hear God in a muffled, indistinct sort of way, in-between all the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. We are aware He is there, but we can’t hear clearly what He is saying. It’s at times like these that we need to fling open our metaphorical windows, and let the fresh sounds of His voice stream into our stuffy rooms, and take real notice of what He is saying to us.
What a beautiful morning! Clear blue sky; birds singing; leaf buds thickening on the trees. Makes me feel glad to be alive.
Thank you God.