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Did you see Penguins - Spy in the Huddleon BBC1 recently? For three consecutive Monday evenings, I was mesmerised by these entertaining creatures. The documentary put spy cameras disguised as penguins into the middle of three colonies: stately emporer penguins in Antarctica, funny rockhopper penguins in the Falkland Islands, and shy humboldt penguins in Peru. I have to admit to a bias towards emporer penguins.
Both mum and dad are committed to hatching their precious chick. Mum must pass the egg to dad before she can return to the sea to feed. The parents practice this tricky maneouvre a few times so that the egg is not exposed to the freezing cold air for too long. (It’s easy to tell the old hands from the new parents at this stage, and my heart was in my mouth while I watched.) With egg safely tucked in dad’s pouch, it’s time for mum to return to the sea so she can feast on fish. The dads stay behind, huddling together for warmth against the bitter Antarctic winds. I mused on the fact that we can learn a lot from the animal kingdom at times. No chance among penguins of the male getting the female pregnant and then disappearing without any sign of commitment….
Dad is in charge of hatching the chick, which he feeds from his own meagre resources. He is literally starving by the time mum returns, looking plump and well-fed. For all that he is desperate to get to the sea and a good feed himself, he is most reluctant to leave his chick. In some cases, mum had to resort to pecking him to force him to go. Such is the emporer dad’s commitment. There I go again with that word ‘commitment’!
Mum cares for the chick, feeding it on regurgitated fish (yuck!) and endeavouring to shelter it from the ferocious storms for the next few weeks until dad returns from the sea to share the task of bringing up their little one.
The chicks in the colony become more and more independent as they grow bigger and stronger, until one day the majority of the parents leave for the sea for the last time. After a while the chicks sense the call of the sea themselves, and start the long journey over the ice.
In the process, the chicks find areas where the ice has melted into piles of slush. They have never before encountered a non-solid surface and falling into the icy water takes them by surprise. They flap in a flustered sort of way, trying to get back onto solid snow. It’s a shock to them, but it’s a good thing because it teaches them to swim so that when they finally reach the sea itself, they can confidently throw themselves into it.
Life is a bit like that. When things are going well, we can feel all cosy and settled. But then something happens that takes us by surprise, stretching us. It can feel like we’ve just fallen into icy water sometimes and it’s not pleasant. Like when Adrian was made redundant a few years ago. I remember that cold feeling gripping my stomach as we sat in the lounge in complete silence, just looking at each other. Or like when we were informed we could never – humanly-speaking – have children of our own, the day after my dad had died. Or when my neighbour drives me mad with her loud television! But these are vital growing times in our lives. Without the tough episodes, we would end up pretty spineless and pathetic. Redundancy taught us more than we’d ever known before of trusting God, comprehending a little more of His sovereignty, and experiencing His provision. Losing my dad and being unable to have children has enabled me to experience at a deeper level God’s emotional healing and comfort – and now I can comfort others in the same position, understanding what they’re going through because I’ve been there. And I’m painfully learning some patience through the trial of the television….
With God’s help, it’s possible to accept the trials (even though we don’t enjoy them at the time because they’re painful and hard) and to grow through the experience. God is able to turn our sorrow into joy (Isaiah 61, Psalm 126, James 1, 2 Corinthians 1).
I watched Sir Trevor McDonald’s documentary ‘Inside Death Row’ last Thursday. It provided some disturbing insights into the reality of a life term meaning ‘life’ and the death penalty. I was struck by Sir Trevor’s interview with a prison barber, who was serving a life sentence for murder. When asked how he coped with his sentence, the barber replied:
You do time a day at a time, or an hour at a time, or a minute at a time.
Whatever it takes to get through.
And then one day, you look up and 37 years have passed.
This reminded me of a Bible verse I clung to when I was ill with chronic fatigue: ‘Lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in You.’ This is my journal entry for the day I read that verse:
‘All day long’ - how appropriate. Everyone has the same amount of time but when you’re ill the days seem very long. I deliberately choose to put my hope in God when I need to get out of bed, when I’m in the bathroom, when I’m making a cup of tea, when I’m sitting in the lounge. Through every minute of every hour – in the highs and the lows – I choose to put my hope in God. Why? Because He is God. And because He never lets me go. And because this isn’t all there is, there is so much more to come.
Prison is prison. You may not be in a cell with bars across the window and a door with a handle on the wrong side, maybe you have an illness or painful memories that are keeping you locked into yourself. All kinds of things can make us feel imprisoned. Maybe your circumstances right now are tough. For example, my neighbour has started having her television on loudly – the only rooms where I’m not disturbed by the noise is my kitchen, which is too small to sit in, and my spare room which is full of furniture while we redecorate the lounge, having had sound proofing installed because of the noise from her television. If I think of having to endure months and possibly years of this disruptive noise, I lose my peace of mind and feel tense, angry and despairing. But if, each day, I purposely put my hope in God and take it one day at a time (sometimes one hour or one minute at a time if that is what is needed), I can get through. With God’s help, today I can cope. And I’ll try not to worry about tomorrow!
When missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham were kidnapped by extremists in the Philippines a few years ago, they had to learn the valuable lesson of coping with their ordeal day by day, hour by hour. Martin often encouraged Gracia, ‘This time will seem so short when we are free’.
Whatever your situation, your spirit doesn’t have to be in prison. Put your hope in God. All day long, hour by hour, for as long as it takes.
Do you ever have nights when you can’t get to sleep, no matter how hard you try? I do. After yawning my head off all evening, I’ll go up to bed, and close my eyes, expectant of sleep. Only to have my mind suddenly wake up, rushing from one thought to another: from planning household chores for the next day to going over past situations, to praying into future ministry opportunities, to pondering tasks on my work ‘to do’ list. I toss and turn, get up and go to the bathroom, come back to bed and try to settle down, but nothing works. I used to go downstairs for a cup of tea, which can work, except I would get buried in whichever book I was reading at the time and end up not going back to bed until three in the morning. Not a great way to get a good night’s sleep!
Over the last couple of years, whenever I’ve been afflicted with a sleepless night, I’ve tried going through the alphabet to find a name or characteristic for God for each letter. I try to find a different one each time, although that can be tricky depending on the letter. ‘Q’ is a nightmare…. I always started at ‘A’ and worked my way to the end, and found by the middle of the alphabet I’d drifted off into the land of nod, feeling happy and peaceful inside because I’d been meditating on God. Recently, I decided to start at the opposite end of the alphabet. That was tough. I couldn’t think of any attributes or names of God beginning with ‘Z’ or ‘X’. I had to get creative.
The next time you can’t get off to sleep, can I recommend my alphabet game? It works every time for me and I never get beyond the middle of the alphabet before I drop off to sleep. Could it be that the great enemy of our souls hates us to meditate on our wonderful and glorious God?
And I challenge you to come up with your own names or attributes for God beginning with ‘Z’, ‘X’ and ‘Q’. Let me know what you come up with, and I’ll share what I’ve thought of!
I love New Year. I love that there are are 365 fresh new days ahead of me. For me, it’s a time to pause and take stock, before breathing in deep and jumping into the year ahead. How about you? Are you making any New Year resolutions? I don’t tend to make them, although in 2013 I am aiming to write for at least 15 minutes every day….
2012 has been a year of lows and highs. It began with changing from a frustrating job where I was a square peg in a round hole to working for myself as a medical secretary from home. A bit of a dream come true! Then there was a series of quite serious misunderstandings that I suspect God allowed into my life to teach me the necessity of pleasing God rather than man and the importance of forgiveness. The Lord stripped away key friends who would have helped to clear up the misunderstandings, forcing me to lean on Him. And by doing so, somehow showed me something of my worth and the value He has put on me. When I know I am precious to God, misunderstandings – though deeply hurtful – begin to fade into insignificance.
I lived in a happy dream bubble during the Jubilee and the Olympics, revelling in all the pomp and ceremony that we Brits do so well. I was glued to the television at certain times…. I’m sure I’m not the only person who forgot to breathe during Louis Smith’s near-perfect pommel horse routine. I screamed when Beth Tweddle won bronze on bars and leaped around the lounge when Andy Murray won gold. I even yelled encouragement for athletes when I had no idea who they were, but they were wearing British colours and that was good enough for me.
Our church weekend away in June was an amazing time of connecting with God in a deeper way than ever before, enjoying chilling with friends and laughing till it hurt at our crazy church cabaret.
And then in September, the Lord restored to me the final thing that had been taken from me by the illness two years ago – my work with a mission organisation. It’s as though He has now drawn a line under that period of illness and said ‘no more’, leaving me to simply enjoy and build on all the benefits I received from that time.
And this brings me onto a verse that I’m going to take with me into 2013 from Psalm 90:
Satisfy me each morning with your unfailing love,
so I may sing for joy to the end of my life.
I love that I have a history with Jesus. I love that I have special memories of our times together (like when I was between healings and kept saying to Him, ‘I love You’ but worried in case I was being irreverent or something. I still remember tears welling up when He whispered to my heart, ‘I died to hear you say that’). I love that when I was drowning in shame over the misunderstandings last spring, He had a prophetic word for me in church which replaced the feeling of shame with one of hope and comfort. I love that recently when I’d fallen into a particular temptation yet again and was beating myself up over it, I told Jesus in despair that He could do anything He wanted with me to get this wrong thing out of my life. That Sunday, He had another prophetic word in church for me telling me not to fix my attention on the sin but to concentrate on Him. Always grace and gentleness and understanding. Even when He has to be stern, He is incredibly gentle with me. He knows how easy it would be to break me. I love that I’m loved like that. He is my protector against demons in the night and nightmares. He is my healer and the one who is working tirelessly to make me whole. I love Him.
And so, my desire and prayer for 2013 is that He will satisfy me every single morning with His unfailing love. Because then I will sing for joy, and I want to be a joyful person for the rest of my days. Do you know the best thing about knowing Jesus? It will never end! This relationship that is gradually deepening in intimacy will just get better and better and better.
What’s your New Year resolution? I hope part of it will be to get to know Jesus better.
Like the majority of people in the UK, indeed in the Commonwealth, I’m delighted that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their first baby. People are excited about this new life, already discussing names and speculating on whether this little one will be a boy or a girl, even whether the Duchess will have twins!
Yesterday, I came across Denny Burk’s comments about our reaction to the news and, particularly, the fact that we are talking about a baby. Not a blob or a fetus, but a baby. Interesting the way our terminology changes when we consider a pregnancy and new life to be precious….
After uploading my last post on commitment, I came across this blog post by Tricia Goyer, who I follow on Twitter. We sometimes think that children will be fine with divorce because ‘everyone does it’, but the truth is: divorce hurts.
Adrian and I watched The Reichenbach Fall, the last episode in the current series of Sherlock, at the weekend. Sherlock Holmes is an amazing, almost superhuman, character who makes you believe he can do the impossible.
I was struck by John Watson’s words as he stood alone at Sherlock’s grave: ‘One more miracle, don’t be dead.’ To his best friend, it was inconceivable that Sherlock wouldn’t bounce back from death, airing his keen-eyed observations and generally showing off.
If you’ve ever watched the coffin of someone you love disappear behind a curtain at the crematorium or stood by a graveside, you will identify with what John was feeling. It’s a natural reaction; death is so final, and it feels all wrong.
Certainly the disciples could have echoed John Watson’s words: ’Oh Jesus, one more miracle, don’t be dead.’ They had seen Jesus do lots and lots of miracles – blind people seeing, paralysed people walking, epileptics healed, and even people rising from the dead. Surely in their hearts they were crying out, ‘Just one more miracle, don’t be dead.’ And yet Jesus was dead.
But Jesus, unlike anyone else, did rise again. Three days after dying a brutal death, being hastily wrapped in burial cloths and laid in a sealed cave-tomb, He came back to life. In the weeks following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people. It’s a historical fact: Jesus rose from the dead. (HALLELUJAH!!)
And because Jesus rose from the dead, we have hope. A secure hope in life after death. This is the reason Jesus died, so that we could live life to the full both now and in eternity, and God raised Him from the dead to prove that we can know Him now and obtain that fullness of life.
For those of us who have lost little ones, it also gives us hope that there is life for them too. David, King of Israel from 1010 BC to 970 BC, treasured this hope when his baby died: ‘I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.’ 2 Samuel 12.
I’m renewing my acquaintance with What Katy Did by Susan M Coolidge at the moment. I’ve just reached the part where Katy falls out of the swing and injures her back, and Cousin Helen gives her wise advice about keeping cheerful and positive, and not grumbling which will, Cousin Helen explains, eventually drive people away.
It dawned on me that without realising it, this book has had quite an influence over me. A couple of years ago I was ill with cerebellar ataxia and ME. The illness wasn’t straightforward and the specialists were unable to account for all of the weird and wonderful symptoms I exhibited. A whole variety of treatments and medications didn’t help – I could have been popping Smarties for all the good the tablets did me – and I honestly believed I would never get better and be able to lead a normal life again. Without realising it at the time, Cousin Helen’s advice to Katy was ringing in my ears. So I resolved never to complain and tried to maintain a positive outlook. While friends showed great concern for Adrian and me, it was always at the back of my mind that they would soon get used to me being in a wheelchair and unable to do very much. I didn’t want to be a negative person to be around because I was afraid that that might eventually drive them away.
Looking back, maybe this approach wasn’t particularly wise. In my resolve not to complain, I didn’t share readily with anyone how bad the illness actually was. It wasn’t until early October (several months into the illness) that I finally broke down and fired off a heart-felt text to a good friend about what a bad day I was having. And what a good thing I did! Because once she understood how bad things were, she immediately agreed with another good friend to fast and pray for a week, pleading with the Lord to heal me. He answered their prayers amazingly, and I owe them both a huge debt of gratitude.
Who would have thought that a classic children’s book would have had such an influence?! What book(s) have influenced you?
I woke up this morning rejoicing at how wonderful and powerful, how generous and, well, just plain nice God is. Psalm 30 expressed what I was feeling exactly:
I will extol You, O Lord, for You have drawn me up
and not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me.
O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol;
You restored me to life from among those who go down to the grave.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints,
and give thanks to His holy name.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
that my whole being may sing Your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You for ever!
On this day last year, God drew near and graciously began a powerful healing process in me. I can’t thank Him enough for what He’s done for me. Jesus died for me, taking my sin, my punishment, my sicknesses, my sorrow. Jesus is my Hero!
If you haven’t read the exciting story of the amazing way He healed me, here it is.