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Monday, 29 July 2013

Of Hackers and Headaches

The rain has returned – summer showers really. The raspberries I picked yesterday – huge and juicy – were also very wet, and needed to be sorted when I got them inside. I’ve learned the hard way – leave one that’s about to go mouldy in the bottom of the box and many will be mouldy in the morning. 

It’s amazing how one bad rasp can spoil the box. 

It’s also amazing how a few bad people can spoil the convenience of the internet. Today, we were hacked, and the result of that hacking has been some financial loss. It could have been worse, but no loss feels good, and once hacked, it’s hard to trust the emails that come in from legitimate sources.

This is Monday, though, and I want to avoid that Monday, Monday feeling, so I’m going to end on a note of praise and optimism. Much is said about the British National Health System. It comes in for vitriolic criticism for a whole host of reasons. But I have nothing but praise for the NHS, and here’s an example of why.

I have been fighting a virus for a couple of weeks. During that time, I also bumped my head, and when you’re on a blood thinner you don’t want to do that. As the days went by, I noticed an increasingly severe headache, until last night it was so bad I thought that surely something sinister was going on inside my brain. 

At about 4 am I emailed my consultant, who is a world expert in the condition I have, and told him what was going on. I fell asleep, and when I woke again at 7 am I had a reply from him, and an appointment with him at the hospital at 2 pm. Not only did he squeeze me in, he also got me a CT scan at 3. He called about 7 with the result – nothing to worry about, praise the Lord.

Well, I praise the Lord for his healing, and I praise the Lord for my consultant, and I praise the Lord for the NHS, whose very existence means that when you are already anxious about a health issue, you don’t have to worry as well about a horrendous bill.

I am counting my blessings tonight, and one of them is the NHS.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Thunder I couldn't miss

It was forecast – but then the forecast is so frequently wrong. We went to bed last night and left the telephones and computer plugged in. 

Four a.m. and I found myself aware of rolling thunder rumbling in the distance. It didn’t stay in the distance for long, though, and Don and I soon pinged out of bed and were scampering round the house pulling plugs. We’ve been burned too many times – or rather, our motherboard has, and our telephones. The situation could have soon deteriorated into farce of the Fawlty Towers variety, as we have some B&B guests in at the moment who might have been surprised to encounter either of us at that time of morning. You have to laugh.

Natural phenomena are a good reality check when we start to take ourselves and our anxieties too seriously. They remind us of our own smallness, our own insignificance and our own powerlessness. We may try to minimise our vulnerability to nature’s wrath but in the end there is really no escape. It’s still raining this morning, but I can see a break in the clouds. 

God uses all sorts of things to bring us back to himself, to break into our circularly selfish thought patterns and remind us of who he is, and who we are.  In a book in the Old Testament, Hosea, God promises that he will ‘lead Israel into the desert and speak tenderly to her there’. (Hosea 2:14) 

I’ve been led into that desert in the past. My life choices weren’t great, and eventually I found myself in a desert, where homesickness and loneliness were overwhelming. But in that desert, I finally heard God’s tender voice speaking to me. 

He may speak in a clap of thunder, or he may speak words into a quiet heart, but the truth is that God does speak, and his words are loving and tender, calling us home to him.

It’s amazing.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

There's something about babies

My four were all summer babies. September – August – July – June. Today is the birthday of one of them. 

I’ve just watched the news, where the coverage is all about the royal baby born yesterday to Kate and Will. Well, why not give us an expansive report? Usually our screens are full of injustice and violence and hatred. How nice to focus on something as wonderful as a new baby.

Not everyone is that excited. Some are positively incensed that we should waste our precious time on this media circus. Those are the people who are calculating what a waste of money he is bound to be over the years of his lifetime. Let’s ditch this anachronism, they declare, and get back to the Serious Stuff. 

Two thousand years ago the heavens themselves were excited about the birth of a new baby. The angels formed a choir and just couldn’t help belting out a few gospel tracts. 

Some wise men were guided to find Jesus, and they were excited, too. Looking for him cost them something – dangerous travel, loss of earnings while they were away, possible threats from robbers or even the local despot, not to mention the expensive gifts they brought him. They knew this baby was someone special, and they were excited to invest their time, effort and money in him. 

The sitting king in the region, Herod, feared that this new baby was, indeed, someone special, and as such, a threat to his power. So he went back to the Serious Stuff pretty quick. More injustice, violence and hatred. Kill all the baby boys of that age, in that village. That should do it, he thought.

He missed the point though. The Kingdom of God was born on earth that night, and the earth has never been the same again. With Jesus came a resurgence of hope, of life, of love, of joy.

Jesus turned everything upside down, so that joy, hope, life and love became the real Serious Stuff. He freed us to love life, to laugh a lot, to party. He taught us that the Serious Stuff is not necessarily always that Serious. 

My summer baby born 31 years ago today also brought hope, life, love and joy. Our hearts sang with praise of the God who made him, on that night when he was born. Another wee miracle born to sing the praises of his God. 

Well. There is just something about babies, isn’t there?

Monday, 22 July 2013

Just a Bunch of Weeds

With the slightly cooler, more overcast weather, Dusty’s enthusiasm for walks has returned somewhat. So this morning we headed out to our old haunt and got part way round before she gave me that long searching look that I translate as ‘We’ve done this so many times before, what’s the point?’ But just at that point, I was looking across the marshy wasteland separating one stand of trees from another and thought, with some surprise, how beautiful it is today!

The reeds throw out a wide selection of shades of green, yellow, and brown, which provide a perfect back drop for the purple thistles and white flowers which poke up here and there. 

It’s just a bunch of weeds. The ground is unfit for cultivation or grazing. It provides the arterial network of paths for deer, rabbits, foxes and badgers – and probably some other animals – which leads them from one wooded area to another. Other than that, it’s pretty uninteresting.

Until today, when I paused in my conversation with Dusty and really looked at that expanse of bog. I should have had a camera to take a picture and insert it here, but I’m not as technologically advanced as some two-year-olds and my mobile phone is just that – a mobile phone. Oh, it’ll take a picture, but then I don’t know how to get it from the phone to the internet. I understand my Ipad, but it’s a bit big to accompany me on our daily walks.

Anyway, beauty in the wasteland. Shades of colour in an area I assumed remained monochrome. Texture, variety, diversity. And that’s just the plants! How many beautiful bugs proliferate in there? (I don’t think I’ll ever have an answer to that because bugs are not my thing...)

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. 

The infinitely creative imagination of the Almighty God has wrought a world more varied and complex and lovely than we deserve. 

But then, his grace is more than we deserve, and everything good is ours because of his grace and mercy to us. 

I am forever grateful. And now I’m going outside to enjoy it some more.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Common Sense or OCD?

I was at the local doctor’s office on Tuesday morning for my usual blood tests. They have this wonderful new automated check-in system – a touch screen computer.

Well, you can see the problem instantly, can’t you? A bunch of sick people going in and touching the same screen to check in for their appointments. 

There is a dispenser of antibacterial gunge beside it, and I always use that afterwards. Well, nearly always always. This week, for some stupid reason, I didn’t. 

I remembered once I’d taken a seat in the waiting room, well away from other waiting people, and then I felt self-conscious about getting up again and doing it. Fear of looking OCD I guess. Or insulting someone who had gone just before me.

How stupid was that? A couple days on, my throat feels like I’ve got razors in it and I can barely swallow. I’m now busy gargling with hot salt water and all the rest, wishing I had used the gunge.
I don’t want to be paranoid, but I do think that life is often like that. We do something which appears completely fine. We go somewhere, we meet someone, and there is no outwardly visible sign that anything is amiss. But there may be hidden germs, hidden agendas, hidden ambitions, self-serving at best, malicious at worst. It is easy to become a casualty in this world. 

Jesus warned us. Be wise as serpents, innocent as doves. Stay alert. Remain in Me, he advised. In Him is a safe place, mentally, emotionally, eternally.

Physically? Did I catch a bug because I wasn’t abiding in Jesus that day? No, I don’t think so. I caught a bug because I was contaminated by someone else’s germs. 

Sometimes we just need a good dose of common sense, liberally applied.