Look Here

This is a follow up post to Dig Here and Keep Digging.

On Monday, I saw a very encouraging sight, little green shoots peeking out of the soil I’d dug in November. True, the shoots are a month early and may be killed off by frost. Don’t worry, once I finish this post I will be on the RHS website for advice on how to prevent that happening. But still, it is so exciting to see something I’d planted actually growing. This reminded me that I really must get on and finish that series I started way back in November.

I started writing this series almost by accident, I was trying to think about some of the ways we women berate ourselves, why we do that and what the solution might be. Now some people can just sit and think and think and then they open their mouths and out comes wisdom. I’m not one of those people, I talk myself clear or when I can’t do that I write myself clear, so I started writing Dig Here. I explored some of the ways that the things, which on the surface look like things that will help us, in reality turn out to enslave us and trap us in a cycle of self-hate.

But that didn’t really feel like I’d got to the bottom of it, so I wrote Keep Digging. There I wrote about how we can’t simply stop at what culture says to us and what makes us feel bad (or good) about ourselves. We need to hear God’s word. What does He say about us?  The Bible says we have turned away from God and turned in on ourselves. Or to borrow an image from C. S. Lewis, its like we have found a mirror and are gazing unceasingly at ourselves instead of our gaze been directed outward, towards our Creator and Sustainer. Like our first parents Adam and Eve, who on rejecting God began sewing fig leaves to cover their shame and guilt, we too are overly pre-occupied with ourselves. We constantly ask: How am I doing? What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel like this? Why am I like this? How can I make myself better/ happier/ sorted?

But there comes a time to stop digging and start planting, or rather to switch metaphors, we must stop looking in and start looking up. The Spirit’s purpose in revealing our sin to us is never, never, never so that we can wallow in despair as we sit and ponder what we must do next to make ourselves better. Never. Yes, He brings us low, we despair of our strength and ability, but the main thing He does is showing us who we are in relation to God. We are rebellious, guilty, sinners, without a hope before a Holy Judge if we try to appear before Him apart from Jesus. But that is not all the Spirit does, He melts our stony hearts with the love of Christ as He shows us the Lord Jesus Christ. He shows us His mercy, grace, sufficiency, His readiness to help the weak. So that, although we have no confidence in ourselves, we have full confidence and assurance in Christ Jesus. The Spirit testifies to our spirit that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one to whom our Father has entrusted the weak and oppressed. He urges us to go to Jesus, because “A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” Matthew 12:20

Richard Sibbes notes how those who come to Jesus come as bruised reeds not towering oaks; and their faith is weak like a smouldering wick, so small you’d think it would go out any minute. Everything a Christian brings to Jesus is mixed smoke and flame, and sometimes quite a lot of smoke and not much of a flame or heat, a gust of wind might put us out. A Christian woman might begin to wonder if there is any flame left in her faith, she might say, I am almost out, one more challenge, one more trial and I am done for. But Sibbes says, the important thing is the Saviour and His tender heart toward His beloved, He will protect her, He will not snuff out what is there, rather He will gently fan the flame so it burns brightly. Sibbes tells the despairing Christian to stop thinking about herself and to look at Jesus and to remember how eagerly, gently and graciously she will be received by her Saviour!

So what does this mean for us? As Robert Murray McCheyne wrote, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” I found the quote with (slightly more) context on this post on Desiring God and it really is worth savouring:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms.

I hope this encourages your hearts.

 

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January Just Gone

January, just gone! Just like that! Does anyone else find that January disappears far too quickly? It sort of drags at the beginning, then it applies pressures “I’m the Start of The New Year! Get on with it!” so I’m compiling my “must do, must achieve” list, then it gathers speed as I muster up the oomph to do and achieve that which I listed, eventually I tell myself to chill, January is a looong month – it has 31 whole days in it, and that’s when I blink and it’s February.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who finds January’s tendency to vanish just when you think you’ve got ages rather inconvenient. Here’s my (unrealistic) list of things I planned to do in January:

  1. Blog
  2. Successfully start a line a day journal.
  3. Put the clothes that are too small for Her Ladyship into storage bags.
  4. Make room for the new Christmas toys.
  5. Tidy our bedroom so we could see the floor and move about without risk of serious injury.
  6. Try one new recipe a week.
  7. Write letters to friends I hadn’t seen at Christmas.
  8.  Sew something.
  9. Make sure the house is tidier, cleaner, and smells nice.
  10. Write thank you notes with Her Ladyship to all the lovely people who sent her presents.

Sigh. Got a couple of those done this week, but mainly it’s all still undone.

Before I am swallowed up by a swamp of regret, the list above was really depressing me with the usual internal dialogue. So I stopped the internal dialogue and wrote 10 good things I did in January:

  1. Read a good book.
  2. Got to spend a weekend with two of my closest friends from university,
  3.  Discovered that bacon, waffles and maple syrup are the best breakfast ever.
  4. Bought a new rug for the living room.
  5. Went on a lunch date with Hubby.
  6. Caught up of financial admin.
  7. Deep cleaned the kitchen.
  8. Made a pile of documents that need to be shredded (but didn’t actually shred them).
  9. Watched way too much cbeebies with Her Ladyship
  10. Played chase with Little Miss (she learnt how to walk on New Year’s Day!)

In summary:  it’s been a good January.

So, did January go too quickly for you too? What was on your “must do, must achieve list”? What did you get to do in January?

 

 

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Nativity Plays, Gushy Parents and Union with Christ

Last week, I was going to write a follow up to Keep Digging, that was until the family and I were side tackled by the sickness bug that’s been doing the rounds in Beeston. Little Miss was unwell for a day but seemed to cope with it, Her Ladyship and Hubby barely registered the presence of the bug. As for me, I was knocked sideways, over the fence and into the next field. So I’ve parked the follow up post for a while, maybe forever, it all depends on whether I will remember come the new year.

The most disappointing thing about being unwell was that I missed my most favourite Sunday at church – the Sunday when the children perform the Nativity play. I love nativity plays! I think I have always loved them. My earliest memory of the Nativity play was being passed over for the role of Mary (for the first of many, many times) in preschool. Instead, I got to be part of the angelic choir that sang: “Go tell it on the mountain.” I can remember my mum beaming at me with immense pride. Year on year, I was always part of the angelic choir, never Mary; year on year, my mum would be smiling, clapping, beaming, taking photos (of which I will share none).

Yesterday was Her Ladyship’s nursery Christmas sing-song. Hubby, my mum and I went to see her. I was very nervous for her, she is naturally very shy and doesn’t like doing things in front of people she doesn’t know, and here she was in a room full of strangers.  As she queued up to get on “the stage”, I craned my neck and tried to wave so she knew I was there. She didn’t see me, but I could see she was excited, and nervous too. When she sat down, she spotted me and gave me a shy little wave. We watched as she joined in every song, did all the actions and smiled all the way. We were so proud of her, our brave little girl. I think our hearts could have burst. On occasion, when I did manage to pry my eyes off my own child, I could see all the other parents and grandparents were watching their child with the same explosive, expansive pride and pleasure in their child. That warmed my heart, to see the parents delighting in their children and to see the children see and take pleasure in that delight. It really was lovely to behold.

The whole scene made me think back to the baptism of Jesus Christ. (I know, random, but that’s how my mind works.) When Jesus was baptised by John, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove and then a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) God the Father is ultimately, eternally, completely delighted in His Son Jesus. And Scripture tells me to rest assured that my acceptance before God and his delight in me are entirely founded upon and secure in my union with Christ: “for in Christ, you are all sons of God, through faith. For many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26 – 27).

I am indebted to my pastor Michael Luehrmann and Rich Owen for helping me to see that union with Christ is central to the Christian faith. I don’t think I’m the first Christian in the world to wonder: does God love me or has he let me in on a theological technicality. That question had bugged me from very early on as a Christian. I thought: God has set up a system for salvation, if I stick to the system, I will be fine. Rather than understanding what the Psalms say repeatedly: “The LORD is my salvation.” Everything depends upon a Person, not a system. When I don’t meditate on the Father’s delight in his Beloved Son, when I try to locate God’s acceptance of me anywhere other than in His Son Jesus, I have wobbles: Am I really accepted? Does God really delight in me? The answer to both questions is: Yes, in Christ!

I’m still processing the full implications of this and one day, when my brain is less foggy, more coherent and sharp, I would love to blog through the doctrine of Union with Christ. But just in case the fog never lifts (highly likely), I leave you with a book recommendation.  Rory Shiner’s “One Forever: The Transforming Power of Being in Christ” is without a doubt the best place to start on thinking through what it means to be in Christ. One of the reasons I love this book is that the chapters are short, clear, and encouraging enough to be able to read it no matter what else is going on in life. You know how some books, you have to be mainly sorted to read because reading them is just far too demanding? Well this book is not like that. I read this book when I was exhausted, unwell, discouraged and spent, yet I was so encouraged and helped by exploring what it means to be united with Christ. I’m so thankful that my friend made me encouraged me to read it at a time when I thought I really can’t face reading anything. (By the way, the Kindle edition is only a fiver.)

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Keep Digging

This is a follow-up post to Dig Here.

In the last post, I offered some thoughts on the sorts of things we say to ourselves: My house is a such mess, I should be doing better. This is so easy, look at her, she’s doing just fine, why am I so useless?  But the internal monologue could easily be beating ourselves up about our children, marriage, work, relationships: Why is this so hard for me? Why can’t I just pull myself together? I’m pathetic.

This is usually the point at which self-help blogs will tell you to look in the mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say something positive such as: “I am great, I am smart, enthusiastic and kind, I can do this!” Like a carbonated drink, full of potential to be a rocket, you shake yourself up, and -whizzzzzz – off you go on all that positivity!

But this is a Christian blog, so you might expect me to tell you to look in the mirror and tell yourself Christianese sorts of positive things like: “God loves me! Yeah!” However, I don’t think the problem lies with us not knowing that God loves us. I think the problem lies much deeper than that, right back to Genesis 3 and our first parents Adam and Eve. Our tie to Adam and Eve is much deeper than we realise, we are like them in our nature. The Bible says humanity is in Adam – ensnared in his trespass and death (Romans 5:12-21). The thing which they found most tempting and delicious, we too find irresistibly scrumptious.

The thing that Satan held out to Adam and Eve in the garden was not just fruit, it was a dream and a promise: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5) – but how would they be like God? Weren’t they already like God, created in his image? The promise Satan held out for them was that they would be independent and self-sufficient, like gods, no longer dependent on their Creator for every little thing. Or to put it in 21st century speak: They will be self-fulfilled; literally, filling and sustaining themselves, rather than being filled and sustained by God. Part of our struggle is with our sinful nature’s desire for self-fulfilment: We want to be sorted, independent, organised, the person people come to for help, rather than the person needing help.

“Take, eat and you will be like God.” The original lie has never lost its savour, time has not made it go stale, in fact now it seems more delicious than ever. We even throw Jesus into the mix, “Follow Jesus, and you will be happy, fulfilled, healthy, and rich.” And before you go pointing the finger at the health and wealth preachers, we have all imbibed this lie, and not just from the wider culture which promotes self-fulfilment as a right, it throbs in our veins – we are after all in Adam. We have not only swallowed gallons and gallons of the original lie, our sinful flesh testifies and cries “Amen” to each demand: Life is about me, life is about self-fulfilment, I deserve happiness, satisfaction and success.

Part of me is driven to despair, will we ever be free? Will I ever be free? I’m sure I’m not alone in echoing the apostle Paul’s words, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Jesus, the God-Man, the second Adam got it right, he lived life as it was meant to be. Not selfishly, not chasing self-fulfilment, but humbly, emptying himself, making himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, and humbling himself to the point of death, even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)

Let’s head back to my garden, which was got me thinking about all this in the first place. There’s something I learnt from my brief foray into gardening: at some point, you have to stop digging and start planting. When my husband dug over our back garden, he made an extra effort to dig out the weeds. Some weeds which came back year after year, we discovered did so because they were sustained by a deep system of roots. And these roots were infuriating, when you dug, it was important (yet near impossible) to extract the roots intact. A root barely longer than an inch would sprout at both ends, rendering attempts at weeding into an exercise in propagation. I almost cried when I saw the surface of the soil covered in these tiny double-headed sproutling monstrosities. How? I saw you with my own eyes, you took out the roots piece by piece!

My husband waited a few days then picked out the weeds again. In the days that followed, we could see the weeds trying again – but it was now time to stop digging and start planting. We could be caught in an endless cycle waiting for things to be perfect.  The amazing thing was that the good seed actually overtook and suppressed the weeds. Sure a couple of weeds reared their heads, but all that fruitfulness that was locked in the seed just exploded out, and now when I look out even in wintry bleakness, I see a beautiful lawn. Sure you can keep the land bare so you can spot any unwanted growth, or you can plant. Put the land to good use, sow, reap, bear good fruit.

In the last two posts, I’ve dug and dug to reveal a hole – our sinfulness and how it manifests itself in our lives. But for now, that’s enough digging. Next week’s post will be on planting:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God”

1 Peter 1:23

 

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Dig Here

Had a session of berating yourself recently? I had one earlier today.

This morning, I dug two holes in our garden to plant some bulbs. My target depth was 10 inches, but when I got to about four inches on the first hole, I started formulating the text to Hubby (in my head), “Oh my goodness. If you need a work out, try digging through clay. Knackered, didn’t think it would be so hard!”

The soil was wet and heavy from being compacted down after several days of heavy rain. The digging was hard, but not that bad, yet I had a running commentary inside: Why did I procrastinate and leave it until now? Why am I so lazy? Why didn’t I do this sooner? Why do I find everything so difficult? Why am I so useless? On and on.

Some of the questions had very reasonable answers: tulips are planted in November, hardly procrastinating. Hmm, that’s true. That one true thought helped me snap out of it, I tried thinking of the flowers that we would have in spring. Hopefully, if I got the depths right and put the bulbs in the right way round we should have flowers from as early as March right through until the end of the summer. I thought about the resurrection, and how all gardeners are gospel preachers, whether they like it or not.

But, let’s go back to the internal boxing matching where I was swinging right hook after right hook at myself. Why was I doing that? I have noticed this self-berating at work in other women too, especially mothers. I have noticed how we get completely overwhelmed by something we consider “simple” and we begin to pummel ourselves to a pulp sometimes out loud, usually without uttering a word. Why am I so useless? Why can’t I just get a grip? Why can’t I be more like her? Why do I find everything so difficult?

I’ve been thinking about this recently and I wanted to offer up some food for thought and see if anything connected or made sense.

One of the areas where I constantly berated myself is house work. It is one of those things I find embarrassingly stressful and challenging. I am not a practical person and housework is the Ultimate Practical Trial, with you until the day you die. In the early days of being a housewife, I struggled with feeling rubbish about it all the time. Usually I was totally demotivated, and even now, in my head, my house is the messiest and dirties of my circle of friends. Housework is so straightforward,  why am I finding it such a challenge? I’m sure there’s areas that you struggle with too, things are meant to be “straightforward” and “easy”. You kind of feel like an idiot for struggling with such easy things, she’s managing just fine, why are you in a flood of tears over this?

I wonder if behind these struggles are beliefs we hold about ourselves that make it difficult for us to find things difficult. Or to put it another way, perhaps as women we expect certain things of ourselves and don’t know what to do with ourselves when we don’t meet those expectations. Here are three beliefs/ expectations that certainly resonate with me:

1. As women we are taught to believe that we can achieve anything and succeed at any task if we put our mind to it. This belief has been pumped into our veins since we were knee-high. In itself it seems like harmless positive thinking, but actually it is a MASSIVE burden to place on any one human being. Really, achieve anything if we just tried hard enough? Let that sink in. How about if I fail? – Well I clearly didn’t try hard enough, so I beat myself up. I don’t know if you recognise this pattern of thinking in yourself, I certainly find it at work in me. Like last year, when I was pummelling myself for not sending out Christmas cards, sure I had a two year old and a two week old baby, but if I’d only been organised enough, I could have done it.
2. Tied with this is the idea that women shouldn’t let anything slow them down or hold them back – again seems harmless – until you think about it more deeply. Actually to love someone truly, you have to slow down and you have to hold yourself back or limit yourself in a big way. So when we are limited, or held back, or slowed down, we blame ourselves or we rage at them that slowed us down and held us back.
3. OK – now let’s throw in another perception into the mix – the practical tasks behind being a wife and mother are easy. I mean things like housework, managing the home, looking after children, cooking, cleaning etc are believed to be easy. So women are no longer taught these practical skills. But when we become mothers, we discover it is very hard and frustrating but we dare not tell anyone because 1. We are women and anything we put our mind to we can achieve 2. We shouldn’t let anything hold us back. And yet all these practical tasks slow you right down and overwhelm. Plus, being a wife and mother is really hard, you are a sinful woman charged with the responsibility of loving and caring for sinful people. But if 1, 2 & 3 are true, then the mess you find yourself in is entirely your fault, so the berating and pummelling begins.
These thoughts are not polished, but I wanted to share them to see if anything would stick/connect/ make sense. I would love to hear your comments and thoughts on this, so please comment below or on the blog’s Facebook page.
This post has turned into a series, the next part is Keep Digging.

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One

Little Miss is one!

Pregnancy (months 1 – 9): Interminable. Waiting, cleaning, ironing, dusting, napping, waiting.  Growing bigger and rounder until one reached seemingly impossible dimensions.

Day 1 of labour: This is endless. Breathe, relax, ouch! Breathe, relax, OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!!! To the midwife on the phone I say the words that are almost liturgical when it comes to labour: “WHAT DO YOU MEAN JUST TAKE A PARACETAMOL AND REST?!” (Turns out she was right, it did actually help.)

Day 2. This. Is. PAINFUL! Nuf said.

Then all of a sudden, it’s all over. She’s here. She’s squinting at me in all her wrinkled up glory. Other babies look like a squished raisins, but you, you are beauty personified, my precious girl. I am exhausted, I am spent, but have you ever seen such loveliness?

A few blinks and sleepless nights later, it is her first birthday. How has it already been a year! I hope I remembered to take photos and videos of all the key stages, I think I did. I hope I remembered to note down the dates of all those important firsts, they’re on my phone, the calendar and scattered through my journal. I think I’ve got it all written down somewhere, I’m a bit to emotional and wobbly to check right now.

What a gift she is to our family, we are full of thanks to God for her. Little Miss is noisy, joyful, adventurous, loving. The whole household is getting ready to celebrate her birthday, so please forgive the brevity of this post!

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Fright Night II: When I almost didn’t bother

When I was a child, I used to have awful, vivid nightmares. After I woke up from the dream, trembling with fear, I still remember how I always had two choices, I could either hide under the covers deep in the darkness or I could jump up on my bed, lunge across and hit the light switch by the door. The former felt safer in the short run, but made the night interminably long as I waited and waited in darkness. But the latter was spellbindingly effective. Never once did the darkness hesitate to give way to light. The was no ‘battle’ between the forces of darkness and light. Darkness was banished with a flick of switch. In the morning, if I was still shaken, my mum would tell me that by lunchtime, I would forget the nightmare. She was always right, I had usually forgotten it by the time we got to the school gates. Sometimes I wondered if light had some special powers to heal the mind and make nightmares vanish. Halloween, as originally intended, is a celebration of how darkness flees and vanishes before light. Except, it isn’t a celebration of an abstract concept of ‘light’ having victory over an abstract concept of ‘darkness’. It is very personal in the Bible. It is about the victory of the LORD Jesus over Satan. The victory, decisively and eternally, belongs to the LORD Jesus because of His death and resurrection. So it really is to my shame that this year, I almost didn’t bother with Halloween.

Last year, we had a rather disappointing turn out compared to the previous year. I was so disappointed after all the preparation for trick-or-treaters to have most of it left over, sitting in buckets on the stairs in my house. Did the fact that it was a Friday night make parents reluctant to take their children trick-or-treating? I was just two days away from my due-date, so maybe the Lord was kindly giving me a quieter evening? It may have also been half-term, I can’t quite remember.

Anyway, in short, this year I almost didn’t bother.

Who cares? Who’ll notice? And what difference will it make anyway?

It was probably roll-over discouragement from last year that I should have ignored. But instead I let it fester (ha! see what I did there?). Then a couple things happened. On Sunday, there was a notice at church about being ready for trick-or-treaters. A much needed reminder and encouragement. I was a little bit excited by the thought that Christians in Beeston were making an effort to do something special to bless the children in their area. That would be lovely I thought. And then, I was struck by what an opportunity this was to share the gospel with my own child. It will be a multi-sensory reminder for her that Jesus is the Light of the world. Gosh, Halloween can be rather exciting and fun. So with two days to go, Halloween is firmly back on the agenda!

 

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