Trouble

Mama has the tea ready when I get there for prayer group and Bible study first thing in the morning. I have on the socks that the woman with five kids and stage four cancer knit for me. This is always the first thing – to go right into the throne room of God wearing nothing less than your aching prayers…

Mama, she hands me a mug of steaming tea – apple cinnamon – and tells me it’s Psalms 107 this morning and could I read the chapter right out loud? Read it because it’s manna, and you’ve got nothing to give if you haven’t gathered, and you have to gather word manna at daybreak if you’re going to gain from it the day long. Read it because it’s your very life, and why live emaciated? 

…hadn’t Spurgeon said it? ‘There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health, except to be sickness, and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health. It is a good thing to be without a trouble, but it is a better thing to have a trouble and know how to get grace enough to bear it.’

~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts Devotional

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 107:1 (NRSVA)

Ann Voskamp at her beautiful best this morning as I listened to her read from the book of devotions drawn from her first book, One Thousand Gifts. Ann is the first person who taught me that you have to be broken to be mended. Before that I was just broken. And lost. And thinking that there must be something wrong with me, something deep in my soul – a stench that attracted trouble like a bluebottle to decay. Ann showed me that, contrary to my beliefs, the true beauty of God, the love of Christ, was found in the very midst of decay. It turned everything on its head and I began to see the world, the Church and Jesus with fresh eyes. How then can I not give praise? How can I be anything less than thankful?

No more let sorrows grow

Hold the child and hear Him crying,

No more let sorrows grow

He knows my troubles…

~ from the song My Troubles by Andrew Greer

Hope

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Oedipus at Colonus by Harriet Fulchran-Jean (Wikipedia)

A man desperate for many years of life, not content to live a moderate span, is… obviously a fool, for many feelings stored by lengthy years evoke more pain than joy, but when we live beyond those years that are appropriate, then our delights are nowhere to be found. The same deliverer visits all of us, and when our fate from Hades comes at last, there is no music, dance or wedding song. No, only the finality of death. The finest of all possibilities is never to be born. 

~ from Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, 401BC,

translated by Ian Johnston

Love never ends… we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end… For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (NRSVA)

The last enemy to be destroyed is death… 

What is sown is perishable. What is raised is imperishable…

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

…thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:26, 42, 55, 57

What comfort comes from the sureness of God’s merciful compassion! What hope from the knowledge of His love! What thanks we can raise when all suffering is ended, when, as the Salvationists say, our loved one is ‘promoted to glory’. We are sad because we will never take Grandma out for lunch again. We won’t share a cheeky grin. We won’t share the fresh joy of new-burst daffodils, or the pleasant cure-all of a ‘nice cup of tea’. But we know that –

…the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more…

Revelation 21:3 – 4

Clarinet and Ukulele

Last week Fluff (13) had her first clarinet lesson. Her piano teacher also teaches clarinet so we’re very fortunate. Fluff often feels like she lives in the shadow of her sister, which is difficult when it’s your little sister. Chip (11) is one of those (annoying) people who is gifted at everything: she’s very academic, she’s a natural swimmer, she played for the school football team in primary school, she’s a gifted actress, she was voted form captain within the first fortnight of secondary school, she’s friends with everyone, she got the Head Teacher’s Commendation Award at the end of the first term (December ’16), she currently has both bronze and silver merit badges… Need I say more? I marvel at this girl. Is she really bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh?!

I adore my Chip but sometimes find it hard to relate to her seemingly inevitable success, not to mention her gushing abundance of self confidence. Fluff – fiercely independent, creative, very much her own person, not as academic but determined, a bit of a loner – I confess I relate to better. Fluff is currently discovering her innate talent for music (she’s just picked up my ukulele and begun playing, never having touched it before). We bought her a second-hand clarinet for Christmas and by the end of Boxing Day she was playing In the Bleak Midwinter.

The delightful thing, for me as her parent, is that because she’s not used to being as naturally good at something as her sister, she takes such joy in the discovery of music. She’s also recognised that hard work pays off: she has a natural talent but knows that musicianship is found in practise, and plenty of it.

I wonder if there’s a lesson in that? I wonder if something is the more wonderful when it is hard won? I wonder if joy is only truly found in the space between sorrows?

“The kingdom of heaven is like [yeast], which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till all of it was leavened.”

“…the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:33, 45-46 (NKJV)

emphasis mine

What is Truth?

The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behaviour. Suddenly I discover that I am ministering to AIDs victims to enhance my resumé. I find I renounced ice cream for Lent to lose five excess pounds. I drop hints about the absolute priority of meditation and contemplation to create the impression that I am a man of prayer. At some unremembered moment I have lost the connection between internal purity of heart and external works of piety. 

~ from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

Ouch. Yes, I have to constantly be on my guard against the deceit of pride and/or shame. In truth, I lose my temper – though thankfully not as frequently nowadays, I think bad thoughts, I say things I shouldn’t say, I do things or don’t do things that I know I should or shouldn’t do. I am very, very flawed. I am not going to list all my sins here for public consumption. They are all, I hope, acknowledged and brought before Jesus. Forgiveness is the most wonderful gift. It means we can start every day as fresh as a new born and for that I am eternally, wholly and completely thankful.

 

Trust

 

Trust clings to the belief that whatever happens in our lives is designed to teach us holiness. The love of Christ inspires trust to thank God for the nagging headache, the arthritis that is so painful, the spiritual darkness that envelops us, to say with Job ‘if we take happiness from God’s hands, must we not take sorrow too?’ 

 ~ from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

Come with Nothing

 

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Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet.

Come if you’re able, come if you’re meek.

Come if you’re broken, come if you’re lost.

Come, come touch the heavenly cloth

Of His robe,

And feel Him breathe into your soul –

All your discarded shards

Made whole.

 

It’s not glue that binds shards together,

It’s grace;

Grace for the humble,

Grace for the race

You thought you had lost,

Grace for the weary and scrap-heap tossed.

 

His yoke is easy and His burden is light,

His words are joy and His love a delight,

You won’t find Him in comfort

Or in success,

You’ll find Him when you’re sure you’re the last to be blessed.

 

He was there in your past, He’s here in the mess,

Come join the raggedy-taggledy fest!

Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet,

And learn from the Master the Way of the Least.

~ Sandyfaithking, 2016

 

I think it’s a bit too close to doggerel for my liking, but sometimes you have to write and be done with it, I reckon. This poem was inspired by these words from Laura Martin’s book ‘Positively Powerless’:

Isaiah 57:15 states:

For this is what the high and exalted one says – He who lives forever, whose name is holy, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

It almost seems a contradiction: God dwells in a high and holy place, but He also dwells with the contrite and lowly. It is a startling contrast: we get close to God by realising how far we are from Him… Jesus taught similar principles… The ‘blessed’ are those who are poor in spirit, mournful and meek – those  who realise they come to the spiritual table with nothing to offer.

Highlighting is my own, not Laura’s. You can read more intelligent, interesting insights over at Laura’s blog: lightenough.WordPress.com