White Flag Flying (Five Minute Friday: SURRENDER)

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Surrender sounds like such an old fashioned, negative word to me. It brings up images of pirate battles and Napoleonic warfare.

But the more I think about it, the more I start to associate positive words with it, words like ‘trust’, ‘confidence’, and ‘love’.

We can only truly surrender to someone, that is give up our possessions, rights or will to them, if we trust them to some degree. When I surrendered my car keys to my son to practise for his test it was with trust in both his driving instructor’s report and his level of ability that he wouldn’t crash my car.

It is so much easier to relinquish our hold on something (or someone) precious if we have confidence in the person we are surrendering to. And I suppose confidence best comes by getting to know that person; only time will give us the evidence we need to their trustworthiness.

And isn’t love itself a form of surrender? The willing gift of yourself to another, trusting they won’t throw away or mistreat the best gift you could offer? It’s wonderful when that gift is treasured, devastating when it’s casually discarded.

I watched the last episode of ‘Married at First Sight’ http://www.channel4.com/programmes/married-at-first-sight last night. (Spoiler Alert!) Although all four couples, a month after meeting on their wedding day, decided to stay married, only one pair, a few months later, appeared to be making a go of lasting the distance. It was so sad to see all those hopes and good intentions dashed. But what seemed obvious was how incredibly difficult it was for anyone to fully trust someone they hardly knew. No wonder things crumbled when one partner struggled to communicate his emotions or another buckled under the stress of moving away from friends and work.

I still struggle with surrender when it comes to God. I guess I still don’t completely trust Him, that somewhere in the back of my mind remains a fear of being let down or not being good enough for Him to care about me that much, that and a family trait of stubbornly independent, sheer bloody mindedness.

When He asks me give something up that I don’t want to, like my free time or my sleep in order to look after my dad again, I have to remind myself that His plans for me are to prosper [me] and not to harm [me], plans to give [me] hope and a future’ (Jeremiah 29.11). I have to remind myself that this is what He wants from me at this time and that He will give me the patience, kindness, and gentleness I need to do it well. I have to remind myself that He always walks with me along the path where He has called me. I have to remind myself that He loves me.

Then He takes my sometimes sighing, sometimes gritted teeth surrender and turns it into something more that I could have imagined.

 

Better Late Than Never (Five Minute Friday ENJOY)

It’s been one of those weeks when I’ve had a few  ‘Stop the world – I want to get off’ moments. So enjoyment has not been at the forefront of my mind.

However, one task I’ve had this week has been to put together into prayer from a list our Boys’ Brigade lads came up with of things they are thankful for. The younger ones wrote theirs on leaf shapes to make a ‘thankfulness tree’ which will be displayed at our annual Enrolment Service tonight.

And, even though I was feeling stressed whilst writing this prayer, I found my attitude changing when I focussed on gratitude, with its near neighbour, joy, not so far away after all.

So here’s the prayer that made me smile inside and out. Its honesty and specificity is a lesson to us all:

ENROLMENT PARADE 2016 BB THANKSGIVING PRAYERS

Dear Father God

We are thankful for all You have given us.

We are thankful for life itself, our life, that You have created us, for all the world and all living things.

We are thankful for animals, from the great, like whales, to the small, like our pets, including Freddie’s cat.

ALL: We are thankful for all You have given us.

We are thankful for everything that makes up our day to day life:

We are thankful for language so we can communicate.

We are thankful for school and education.

We are thankful for weekends.

We are thankful for our homes and all that is in them – from books to beds to toilets.

ALL: We are thankful for all You have given us.

We are thankful for all the food we have to eat.

We are thankful for clean water and drinks.

We are thankful for pineapples, bananas, and apples.

We are thankful for sweets and tuck because it’s delicious.

We are thankful for pie.

ALL: We are thankful for all You have given us.

We are thankful for games, electronics, and virtual reality:

We are thankful for football and Lego.

We are thankful for Warhammer, Pokemon Go, and Minecraft.

We are thankful for iPods and Xboxes.

We are thankful for Fifa 15, 16 and 17.

ALL: We are thankful for all You have given us.

We are thankful for all the people in our lives.

We are thankful for our friends, our parents, and our families.

ALL: We are thankful for all You have given us.

We are thankful for You, God.

We are thankful for Jesus, for Church, and for Boys’ Brigade.

ALL: We are thankful for all You have given us. Amen.

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COMMON (Five Minute Friday)

When I saw this week’s word, the first thing that came into my mind was my mum’s favourite joke:

A potato had three daughters, who were all in love.

The first daughter came to her father and said, ‘Dad, I’ve met the most wonderful person and he wants to marry me.’

‘Tell me about him,’ said her father.

‘’He’s lovely, Dad. He’s a King Edward.’

‘A King Edward? Royalty, that sounds impressive. Of course you can marry him.’

Then the second daughter came to speak to her father.

‘Oh Dad,’ she said, ‘I’ve met someone too and want to marry him.’

‘What’s he like?’ came the reply.

‘Oh Dad, he’s great. He’s a Jersey Royal.’

‘A Jersey Royal? He comes from very good stock then. Of course you can marry him.’

Finally the third daughter approached her father.

‘Dad, I’ve fallen in love with someone too who wants to marry me.’

‘Ok, tell me about him then.’

‘He’s fantastic, Dad, really amazing, just wonderful. He’s Des Lynam*.’

‘Oh no!’ replied her father. ‘You’re not marrying him. Absolutely not.’

‘But why, dad, why?’

‘Because he’s only a common tater.’ (commentator!)

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I love that joke. And I love how my mum delighted in telling it, starting with one eyebrow wryly raised, eyes increasingly sparkling, and a smile as wide as the Brooklyn Bridge by the end. I loved that smile.

You could have described my mum as common, I suppose. She came from working class stock, daughter of a single mother, brought up in her grandparents’ house with uncles like brothers. Her mother worked long hours in a shop. Her grandfather was a gunmaker. The family took in lodgers for extra income.

She had to leave school at 14, partly because her grandfather didn’t believe in education for girls and partly because they couldn’t afford her not to be earning. She went on to work in various clerical jobs most of her life and started her married life in two rented rooms.

My mum was common, in that she was never middle, let alone upper, class. I remember feeling the difference between my family and my friends’ sometimes. Their parents had posher accents, owned their own businesses, or only their fathers needed to work; they went on foreign holidays, lived in ‘better’ parts of town, and drove newer cars.

But my mum was all the best things about ‘common’. She had a real gift for friendship because she identified with other people, cared for them, and loved them with such integrity. A 20 minute walk to the shops with her always took at least double because she was always stopping to talk along the way – sometimes to people she knew (and she knew a lot), sometimes to people who happened to catch her eye. She always found common ground. Over the years, she took under her wing young and old, homeless and ex-convicts, gay and straight, looking past society’s conventions to just see fellow human beings; everyone was her potential friend. She lived her life with home, arms, and heart always open.

I live a much more comfortable, affluent life than my mum did. But I pray that I practise her generous open heartedness, always looking for what I have in common with others.

 

(*If you don’t know who this is, try the joke with Chris Kamara, Eddie Waring or Vin Scully).

Think ONLY about these things (Day 31 Write 31 Days)

The final challenge of Write 31 Days – Write out Philippians 4.8 and practise thinking ONLY about those things today (‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’) – is one I need.

I’m a perfectionist by nature, which is a constantly uncomfortable way to live. Faults, errors, mistakes leap out at me like an editor’s red correcting pen on a manuscript. It might be a missing apostrophe on a sign or an inaccurate reference in someone’s conversation. I don’t look for imperfections deliberately; it’s more like wearing glasses with a filter that makes them stand out. And the urge to correct a mistake is so strong it’s automatic, like iron filings to a magnet.

So it’s very easy for me to fall into criticism mode and to anticipate and interpret actions for the worst in others. My view becomes skewed, out of balance.

That’s why I need this verse.

And I have tried today. We’ve spent a lot of time on the road, where I would usually be very critical of other drivers, but I’ve tried to make allowances and not assume their mistakes were malicious. I’ve tried to counter worries about my dad back home with thoughts of yesterday’s majestic and raw power of Niagara Falls. I have filled my eyes with the beauty of the unfamiliar landscape and architecture we’ve passed.

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It’s a particularly apt verse for today, Halloween, when our culture seems to celebrate all things unlovely. As a Christian, I struggle with this celebration and I mourn its metamorphosis away from its original purpose of remembering those loved ones who have died. It would be easy to just criticise it, especially here in America where it seems such a major festival.

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But today I have tried to look at it with fresh eyes, to see if I can find anything admirable or praiseworthy in it. And I think I have. The little mountain town we have arrived in has closed off its small main street for the local Parent/Teachers Association to hold a fancy dress parade (for all who want to join in), lay on free hot dogs and a pumpkin pie eating competition, and set up themed stalls out of car boots where children can get festive treats. Laying aside my usual concerns about the ethics of Halloween, I have to admire the effort to make trick or treating safe for all involved. I have to admire the creativity of many of the costumes (especially the fluorescent jellyfish made from umbrellas). And I have to praise the sense of community that was evident to visitors like us.

Whatever I conclude about Halloween itself, the point is that by practising this verse, I was able to find light in the darkness like the stars in the clear black sky. And it’s given me much to think about in terms of how to harness and tune into such creativity and community spirit back in the UK, potential inspiration I would have missed if I’d concentrated on criticism instead.

It’s a great verse for me. And it’s been a great discipline to practise today.

But it’s not enough.

I need to practise this regularly.