Friday, February 28, 2014

I am with you always

For some reason I ended up on the middle of the footbridge on the outskirts of Town.  I parked my bike, leaned my elbows on the railing, and watched  the swirling eddies downstream.

I was seventeen: vulnerable and insecure.

"God, I want to follow you," I prayed, "But I'm scared."

A small whisper deep within my spirit replied, Don’t be afraid.  I will always be with you.  No matter where you go or what happens, I will never leave you.

The plan was that I would write a post summarising everything I’d learned on my 5 month journey through the Gospel of Matthew

You know what – it’s too hard.  You’ll just need to go and read Matthew for yourself.

What seemed to me to tie everything together was “Immanuel”, or God With Us.  This was the undercurrent, the who, what, why and how of everything else in the Gospel.

A few days after the February 2011 earthquake, I went for a walk to find a space to pray.  I found a place surrounded by open fields and empty sky, and sat on the grass next to a farm gate.  But when I tried to pray, for the first time in more than twenty years, I couldn’t.  Where my spirit used to be there was a gaping, raw, bleeding space.  It felt like my guts had been ripped out, there was a physical pain in my abdomen.  I wanted to cry, but no tears came.  The grief and pain of the trauma felt over whelming. 

I couldn’t “feel” anything of God.  But I wasn’t abandoned.  Deep down beneath the pain, in the very core of my being, I wasn’t alone.  It was like a silent companion, not saying or doing anything, just sitting on the grass beside me keeping me company in my grief.

I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

God, the creator of the universe, both seen and unseen, is with you now.  In this very moment, as you’re reading this, he is with you.  And in the next moment, and the one after that, he is still with you.

Think on this.  Be aware of it.

What difference does this awareness make to the way you pray?
What difference does it make to how you deal with what’s worrying you?
What difference does it make to what priorities you give your time, energy and resources to?
What difference does it make to how you treat other people?

I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The World’s Best Bible-Reading Program?

Back in October last year, I stumbled across a blog post by Dan Edelen claiming to be “The World’s Best Bible-Reading Program”.

Over the years I’ve used a number of programs, lectionaries and schedules for my devotions.  Most of them have the goal of reading through the whole Bible within a set time frame, usually somewhere between a year and three years.  I consider that after 20-odd years of Bible reading I’ve got a pretty good idea of the contents of the whole Bible.

What differs with this concept is that it's more based on meditating more deeply on each book within the Bible, immersing your spirit in it, without any time based goals attached to it.  To borrow the clique, it’s not about how much you get through the Bible, it’s about how much of the Bible gets into you.

I thought I’d give it a go.  So I’ve been immersing myself in the book of Matthew since October.  That’s 5 months on one book, 28 chapters.  (I’ll share my reflections of what I’ve learned reading Matthew in another post.)  I’ve found it quite a different experience focussing intensely on one book.  I’ve picked up themes and repetitions the author has used for emphasis that I hadn’t noticed before.  I found it helped to use a variety of translations on my different journeys through the book.

The biggest challenge has been step 9: “Take everything you’ve learned in this book and put it into practice.”  As you’ll find in my following post, there’s some stuff that I’m still working on applying.  I’ll keep working on them while I start on Mark.  I’ll probably have to keep working on them the rest of my life.

So here’s the link to this “Program”.  Go ahead and give it a go, then I’d appreciate you popping back in a couple of months and telling me what you thought of it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

All right?

Today is the third anniversary of the day 185 people lost their lives, and we lost our city.

We’ve been told the third year after a natural disaster is the worst for mental health issues to come out.  Somehow, people who have been coping okay until now find they’re not coping so well any more.

There has recently been a poster campaign asking the question: “All Right?”

Am I all right? Most of the time I feel okay. Sometimes it still hits.  Anniversaries like this one trigger memories.  I found my jaw aching this week – I’d been unconsciously clenching my teeth.  Little irritants have cause more of a reaction than normal.  I’ve found myself having to stop and breathe a bit more.  I’m trying to use the strategies and techniques I learned from counselling to look after myself emotionally and spiritually.

When I go into what used to be the city centre, and see yet more open spaces where there aren’t supposed to be open spaces.  I can’t get used to that.  My gut twists inside of me when I see landmarks through the middle of what used to be two city blocks.  It’s not “all right.”

There are some positives still.  There is still a lot of colour and creativity and vibrancy to the city where there used to be grey stone or dungy brick.  That gives me hope that the New city to come will be even better than the Old. 

But there’s also this weird juxtaposition that we’ve sort of got used to: vibrant colour, creative artwork immediately adjacent to and surrounded by rubble and de-construction and re-construction.  There’s a weird mingling of hope and grief.  All right?  Maybe.

Please keep praying for our city.  The ground may have stopped shaking, but the journey is only just begun for us.

All right?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happily Ever After…

Today is our wedding anniversary.

I didn't choose to get married on Valentines day because I'm a hopeless romantic. It was the practical consideration that my Husband would never have any excuse remembering our anniversary. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

We often make the observation "I married my best friend."

"Can I marry my best friend?" asks Little Mister (aged 5).
"You need to be grown up first" I reply. Where did my little baby go?
"And then you need to ask her Father," adds Husband, with a meaningful look at Young Lady and Miss Boo.

Back Then, we were Best Friends, and we were being very careful not to let any complicating romantic feelings spoil our friendship. It didn't matter that most of our friends assumed we were a couple, we knew better.

Until God and I had the following conversation: (It's okay, I wasn't hearing voices or anything. Just an internal dialogue that occurred while I was praying, represented as an external dialogue for literary convenience).

God: You're going to marry this man.
Me: Are you sure God? That's a bit of a turnaround. Can you give me some kind of sign to confirm this?
God: Sure I can. I've told him the same thing.
Me: Ummmm.

Which led a few days later to:

Him: So how was your prayer time the other day? Did God say anything to you?
Me (blushing): Yeees... but what did God say to you first?

It was two years later that we married.

17 years after that and we're still Best Friends too.

We're team-mates, we have each other's back. When rough times hit (and there have been a few of those over the years) we support each other: it's the two of us against the circumstances.

We tell our children, as they watch the video recording of our wedding and flip through the photo album, that friendship is actually the very best foundation for a marriage. Then we take out the prompt cards that we used for our vows, and repeat them again to one another as we have done every anniversary.

"I give myself to you to be your wife, and I take you to be my husband,
to love and cherish you, uphold and encourage you,
to provide and protect, honour and respect you,
through good times and bad times,
whether we are poor or rich, healthy or sick,
for as long as we both live."

Happy Anniversary my dearest.  I love you.