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Friday, 28 June 2013


When I got the car out of the garage the other day, I was dismayed to see that in addition to the usual dirt on the car, the windows were filthy with bird droppings. It was a bit embarrassing going to pick up my neighbour so I quickly washed it off.

Today I jumped into the car again and sighed deeply to see that again, the windows were streaked with droppings. But just then, a swallow swooped past me. And I had to smile.

It’s a small price to pay for the joy those swallows give us. They come back every year – how do they find us? They fly for days to get here, build their nests, lay their eggs, feed their chicks and then they line up on the power lines and return south. 

They chatter away to each other. They swoop around at breathtaking speed, ducking and diving. Their feathers are a gorgeous midnight blue/black. 

I don’t care if the car needs more frequent washing. It’s worth it.

I would like to think that Jesus feels that way about me. That although I regularly mess up, saying and doing things I shouldn’t, omitting doing the things I should, I believe that he cleans me up, when I ask, and delights in me.

I’m not being conceited here. He delights in you, too.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The grass is always greener ...

We usually say this cynically, but sometimes the grass is greener on the other side.

There have been a couple of dozen cows and their calves in the field round which Dusty and I usually walk. Yesterday one cow got out, and when I saw her she was contentedly munching through the grass on the path down which we walk. 

I just had a chat with the farmer, and he said that he came across her, clapped his hands loudly and she leapt over the fence, just like the cow jumping over the moon, straight back into the field. Then he found her out again a little later, and realized it was time to shift the herd to a field with better grass in it.

Or better fences round it.

Then he recounted how one cow and her calf had got themselves mixed into the herd belonging to another farmer, in a nearby field, and it will take at least two of them to extricate them later on today.
Tricky business being a farmer.

Sometimes we are attracted away from our places of safety and nurture into an area that promises more. At first it may deliver, but like that cow would have found eventually, she’d have eaten her way round the path and come back to the barren road, or out into the woods with nothing on the ground but pine needles and dead pine cones. We, too, may find ourselves on a new path that seems great at first, but eventually leads us to a wasteland where there is no nurture, no food.

Jesus declares himself the good shepherd (to mix up the animals a bit!), and says that his sheep know his voice and stick close to him. He doesn’t leave us out in a field to fend for ourselves but is constantly watching out for our welfare. When the food is insufficient he leads us to pastures new, and doesn’t wait for us to leap the fence and head off in the wrong direction.

Nevertheless, we are all tempted to leap that fence, to strike out independently, either through rebellion or ignorance. 

When we do get lost, though, either along the wrong path or even in the wrong company, Jesus doesn’t leave us lost but comes looking for us. I suggested to the farmer that he just sell the cow and her calf to the other farmer, rather than spend a lot of time trying to separate her out of the wrong herd. He laughed, but we both knew he wouldn’t do that. He cares for that cow and her calf, and knows which herd she belongs with.

Jesus would never leave us mixed in with the wrong bunch. He promises that he will never leave us, never forsake us. We may turn our backs on him; we may leap the fence and head off with a new crowd, but he won’t leave us alone. He won’t force us to rejoin him, though, like the farmer. He respects our freedom of choice and honours that.

But when we’re ready to come back, he’ll lead us home.

Someone dear to me went down the wrong paths and into the wrong fields for several years. Then one day, he recognised that and he cried out to Jesus, saying that he wanted Jesus back in his life.
And in his heart he felt that Jesus reassured him. ‘I’ve always been here.’ He’d never left this dear person. He’d just been waiting for an invitation.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Hidden Beauty

I spent a relaxing hour or two in the garden of Crathes Castle, about 3 miles from my home, with my neighbour who is a keen gardener. We admired a climbing vine-type plant with variegated heart-shaped leaves. They were green, white and pink, voluptuously splashing over the wall as if in a bid to escape the confines of the garden.

There were glorious irises, in a variety of colours including a sort of tiger-striped beige one. Poppies – blue, orange, deep red, and a breath-taking salmon pink one. A startling ‘handkerchief’ tree – I had just said the flowers, three droopy petals hanging together from the branches, looked like hankies when we read that it was indeed a handkerchief tree – dominated one corner of one of the gardens. 

The gardens were designed in colours – the white garden, the yellow, the pinks, the purples. 

Then we went to see the ancient yew hedges for which this garden is noted. A few years ago, the gardeners pruned these wide hedges severely, and though they are mainly green and growing, trimmed again into a variety of shapes, in one or two places there are twisted trunks which will never turn green again.

Despite all the beauty of the garden, the swirl of browns on this dead trunk attracted me the most. The trunk was striking, contorted in shape with lines of reds and browns striping it. I’d love to have one of those in my garden.

The yew tree’s trunk is usually draped in greenery, hidden from the casual eye. Perhaps its inner, hidden beauty is only appreciated when it is dead.

God says that man values outer beauty but he values the beauty of an honest and upright heart. Hidden beauty.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Twiddly Bits

No tales of rural walks amongst trees and surrounded by the chorus of summer birdsong. Not today. 

I did do those things – Dusty needs her daily walks – but yesterday and the day about to begin were characterized by hard physical work. Yesterday’s involved a 3-hour stint at Messy Church, feeding about 70 people, but forming part of a happy team doing it.  It also involved a couple of hours in the evening crawling around on the floor tacking curtain lining to the new curtains I’m making. 

But mainly, yesterday and today are characterized by the wrought iron railings outside of Don’s office. These railings can be very attractive, when newly painted, but the last few years have seen the emergence of rust spots and places where the paint has bubbled and peeled. So yesterday morning Robbie, Don and I scraped, wire-brushed and electronically sanded these intricate railings. 

Now the twiddly bits on the top of these railings are very pretty, but they aren’t so much fun to get old paint off of. The wire brush doesn’t quite fit; the drill attachment is only good for the flat bits, and so it takes elbow grease and an old-fashioned scraper to remove the loose paint.

We are about to head back to the office to complete the prep and get on with the painting – hopefully before any rain arrives. The forecast is sun and showers – it’s sunny now, so we’ll get going then. 

Some of our own adornments are very attractive, but maintaining them is not easy. I’m not thinking of frivolous clothing or hair styles but some of the jobs that we take on. Actually, I’m thinking of myself. I get so involved in a wide variety of jobs, many in the church, many which look attractive. There is nothing wrong with them. They're not exactly twiddly bits, but maybe in God's plan for me, they are.

Maybe there are others who can do some of them. Maybe I’m best to maintain those foundational straight posts – because I find that as I get more involved in more twiddly bits, the foundational posts get neglected. Things like prayer, Bible study, and writing. Those are foundational to my life and health.

And we all know what happens when the foundations aren’t good.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Cape Part II

Walking Dusty up the West walk at Crathes castle this morning, I found myself trawling through the anxiety list yet again – the various individuals in the family and their needs. 

Then I remembered the cape, of which I wrote a few days ago. Heavy, lead-lined, impenetrable, needing to be dropped at Jesus’ feet. Too heavy for me to shoulder.

Today that cape transformed into the cape of a matador. It was light and colourful, easy to dangle from a finger and swish flamboyantly round my head or tantalisingly in front of a charging bull.

The meaning I’ve derived from this, which I believe God gave me, is that having given those anxieties to Jesus already, I can leave them, crumpled as a heavy cape on the ground. He has not taken them away from me, though, but has given them back to me as the blessings that they are. Each one of the people I have concerns for is much loved, and a real blessing in my life, and so Jesus has taken the weightiness of the concerns, reassured me that he has them under control, and given them back to me to enjoy. I can trust him to be answering my prayers, and that gives me confidence that there is no need to fear. Keeping connected to Jesus enables me to enjoy my loved ones with exuberance, with abandon, and without a sense of dread or foreboding or anxiety.

They are in his care, the apple of his eye.

There is no room for fear in love, for perfect love casts fear aside. Loving Jesus, loving others, creates trust. 

I like the lightness of that matador’s cape. Thank you, Lord.

Friday, 21 June 2013


The last gasp in redecorating our bedroom is making the new curtains. The others have done service for 27 years so it’s time...

We’ve had the fabric for a few weeks now, and finally today I got down to it. I have been avoiding tackling the job because it involves sewing two curtains each one and a half widths wide – meaning I need to be careful about getting seams matching, nap going the right way, and so on. 

Somehow I wasn’t as careful in my preparation as I intended to be, and spent several minutes pondering which was the outside, which the inside, of the fabric. Eventually I decided that if it is that difficult to tell, it can’t really matter much! And anyway, we’re the only ones in the bedroom usually, and usually we’re asleep when we’re there.

So, I’ve now done the cutting, done the machine stitching, and am about to iron in the hems and sides for both curtain and lining. Then I will sew the curtain hems by hand, because that’s what I always do. I know it takes longer. I know it means my left hand, already prone to carpal tunnel, will be wakening me up in the night with ‘pins and needles’ – as they say in the UK – or ‘asleep’ as I would say. But I will do it anyway because that’s the look I like.

Preparation is crucial. I know that from many years of painting rooms. I know that from cooking. I know that from sewing curtains. 

How much more should I know that in spiritual terms? Now is the time to prep for eternity. If we’re going to be able to discern between the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ side of many decisions we have to make, we need to have something to distinguish them by. It would have helped in cutting the curtains if I had marked the ‘right’ sides with a pin. It helps me in my lifestyle choices to know what God thinks about things. 

There is always a right and a wrong side. It’s not always easy to tell the difference. But unlike for my curtains, in life, it always does matter.