Sunday, 14 May 2017

Gathering Stones

At church today Julie, our curate, and I used the material from the Christian Aid website to write this sermon dialogue.

I'm posting it on my blog as a convenient place to share it. It's a different sort of writing from what I usually put on here and it was a different sort of service, one that touched many as we prayed for those facing adversity with no place to call home and yet praised God for all he was doing through Christian Aid.

One word struck me as we looked at many stories of refugees and that word was HOPE. Not necessarily a word you would expect but then God is always the author of the unexpected story...

J: What are you doing?

S: Gathering stones, you see I was listening to the song we had at the beginning of the service and there was a line about a time to gather stones.

J: And what are you going to do with them?

S: I don’t know, to be honest I’ve never really understood that line.

J: You know those lyrics come from the book of Ecclesiastes

S: Hark at you. I knew that actually, it a book in the old testament of doom and gloom where everything is meaningless. And makes as much sense as gathering stones and throwing them away again, which was another line in the song.

J: You could gather stones to build things

S: That would be constructive!

J: Buildings are important, homes are important. Jesus talked about a house in the gospel reading today, a house with many rooms.

S: We had that reading at my Nana’s funeral, it’s comforting to think Jesus has prepared a place for us when we die.

J: Yes but Christian Aid believe everyone needs a safe place to call home BEFORE they die.

S: I was reading about that, about a family called Nejebar and Noor. Nejebar fled Afghanistan with her family after the Taliban threatened to kill anyone who worked for the government, like her husband, Noor. They have lived in a makeshift camp in Greece for six months with no end in sight and despite her meagre circumstances, she has also welcomed brothers Faraidoon (22) and Farzad (13) into her home – they don’t know where their parents are or if they’re even alive. You can read more of her story and others on the Christian Aid website.

J: They travelled a long way and I’m sure they didn’t always have a solid stone path to walk on. The road was probably rough and even scary in places. And even now they are living in a tent, not in a permanent stone building.

S: It’s amazing to think they are looking after 2 extra children as well as their own especially when then have so little themselves. They are still thinking of others. We have so much in comparison. Giving to Christian Aid is a good way to share our own resources.

J: Yes it does make you think.

S: OK talking of thinking and gathering stones, which is where we started. How many stones to you think have been gathered together to make this church do you think? Hundreds, thousands, millions?

J: No idea but talking of big numbers, because it is obviously a lot, do you have any idea how many displaced people there are in the world?

S: Good question, displaced people, you mean refugees like Nejebar and Noor? A million?
J: Higher

S: Ten million

J: Sixty Five Million,   
S: The current population of the United Kingdom is 65,450,887 as of Monday, May 8, 2017, based on the latest United Nations estimates. I googled it when I wrote this!
J: So that means the number of displaced people in the world is pretty much the same as everyone in this church, everyone out there in Saltburn and throughout the whole country.
S: That’s a sobering thought, that many people on the move. I wonder how many Israelites refugees there were wandering in the desert with Moses? And is there a time for wandering in the book of Ecclesiates? That’s the trouble sometimes with the Bible, you start on one track and end up going off at a tangent. Well at least I do.
J: Well instead shall we look at our other reading today from Acts.
S: The stoning of Stephen – that’s a cheery one. But it fits with the gathering stones and throwing them away lyrics.

J: What we didn’t read, and you can go home and read later, is the beginning of Acts 7 where Stephen is preaching and basically outlines the whole story of the Old Testament.

S: Including Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert! And for telling them a story he was stoned?

J: He did call those listening to him stubborn and hard hearted people. He told the story from the point of view of God’s people not listening, going their own way, fighting against the Holy Spirit and killing the prophets.

S: So then Stephen was killed too. Martyred even. Christians are still killed today because of their faith.

J: But did you know Christian Aid “work globally for profound change that eradicates the causes of poverty, striving to achieve equality, dignity and freedom for all, regardless of faith or nationality.” Being a Christian doesn’t mean we can exclude people we help. Another reading we could have had today is from 1 Peter 2, we used it in our confession where it says Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith. He never discriminated against the people he helped.

S: That’s the reading about Jesus being rejected too, it must feel like rejection if you are a refugee, especially if there are places you are not welcome.

J: Which brings us back full circle to Jesus saying he has prepared a place for us.

S: He makes us welcome and we should always follow his example, a bit like Nejebar and Noor welcoming those two boys to live with them.

J: So what are you going to do with the stones you have gathered?

S: Well, I could be negative and throw them, to wake people up who have fallen asleep, or build a wall to hide behind.

J: But you’re not going to? Are you?

S: No I don’t think I ever was but stones can easily be used as barriers and weapons and stumbling blocks. But hopefully we’ve given people a few more positives suggestions and things to think about.

J: You could lay stones to make a path

S: You could build stones to make a shelter

J: You could use stones to make bridges in your communities

S: Or as stepping stones to meet people where they are

J: As it says in Ecclesiastes there’s a time to gather stones, to build constructively

S: It still says there’s a time to scatter them but I reckon that’s to break down barriers so we can be welcoming like Jesus and let people in.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

some more writing group inspiration!

Another good evening at my writing group last night and some more poetry.

This is based on a workshop someone had been to run by Natalie Scott

We looked at several poems and I chose the prompt loosely based on a poem by Deborah Landau called “You’ve Got to Start Somewhere”.

The prompt was – recall a time when the world around you is moving at a fast pace.

This is what I came up with…

Everybody’s Moving On

Everybody’s moving on.
And I am staying put.
Everybody’s chasing me.
I’ve fallen in a rut.
Everybody’s growing up.
What do I want to be?
Everybody’s in a couple.
I’m on my own. Just me.
Everybody’s changing.
Wisdom added to their years.

Really everybody’s just the same
It’s not as it all appears…

The ending is a bit abrupt but then I did write it in 5 minutes and I’ve only tidied it up a bit from last night.

I think in a lot of ways it sums up how I feel sometimes. The world is moving quickly and it’s easy to believe everyone else has life sorted, especially viewing all the “happy” posts on Facebook but if you stop for a minute and snap out of your self-pity you see that we all have struggles to contend with.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The girl in the yellow dress has moved...

You can now find the continuing story of Alice - the girl in the yellow dress, on her very own blog.

Click on the link above to follow

Thank you!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The girl in the yellow dress - part 2

The girl in the yellow dress now has a name - Alice.

And if you've been wondering how she got on at the ball here's the next installment...

Alice was precipitously dazzled by the flash of a camera, not a silly little flash from a mobile phone but the monster brilliance of a paparazzi lens.

“Oh dahling,” a nasally voice whined, “How splendid, a champagne coloured dress. Sebastian. Sebastian, please introduce me to your date. I did see you escort this heavenly creature, now don’t be shy.”

All of a sudden her errant date was beside her again drawing her closer as they had their photo taken together.

“Smile Alice.” He hissed from the corner of his mouth as he switched on that disarming smile again.

She should have just chucked the champagne over him there and then but instead forced a grin for the camera. 

For fortitude she took another gulp of the sparkling nectar, bubbles went up her nose, alcohol rushed to her head and she giggled causing everyone around her to titter too.

She wanted to ask what was happening but whiny woman was speaking again.

“Sebastian, you said you had a plan up your sleeve. You’ve come up trumps this time. What a fabulous marketing plan. I can see the campaign now,” She waved a graceful arm in the air. “The golden girl of Summer Brook sparkling English wine. Of course everyone is comparing it to champagne but we can’t use the name officially. And you my dear are such an English rose, with that pale yet interesting complexion. We’ll photoshop in a little blush on those cheeks but otherwise there is very little to do.”

Alice nearly choked. Did this woman ever shut up?

“But where are my manners.” The whiny whirlwind extended a slender manicured hand. “Melanie Preston Smythe with an e but not hyphenated. Sebastian and I work together in the marketing department. We put this whole  event on. Marvellous isn’t it?” Melanie drew breath for a fraction of a second as she glanced around the room. “Of course you must talk to Edgar, C.E.O. of Summer Brook. Sebastian, he’s going to just love our idea. Come on.”

And where she led it seemed they had to follow. Sebastian grabbed Alice by the hand and almost dragged her in his wake.

As Alice passed the waiter he looked a bit subdued.  He was still smiling but it was fake, never quite reaching his eyes. She noticed because he didn’t wink this time instead held the tray out in a resigned manner. As if he’d rather be anywhere else than here. I know the feeling Alice wanted to tell him.

“You might need another glass.” He sighed.

She graciously exchanged her empty glass for a full one. She reasoned she might need quite a few to get through this evening.

There's plenty more to tell, it could be a LONG short story...although so far it is still less than 1000 words. I've been inspired!

Monday, 10 April 2017

The girl in the yellow dress - part 1.

As well as being inspired to write a Ghazal poem at writing group last week I also started this story.

We were only warming up with a short time of free writing based on a picture prompt chosen from a set of postcards.

I chose the one of the girl in the yellow dress, I didn't notice her expression, or the fact she had a flower in her hand but her dress reminded me of daffodils so I started off...

"Her dress was daffodil yellow..."

And then I was off. I've since changed the beginning and who knows quite where it will end but this is part 1

He was dressed like James Bond, very suave she thought, the unmistakable tailoring of his suit had the air of extravagance to it. 

“You’ve picked a good one this time.” She silently congratulated herself.

As she was assessing his worth she noted he was making his own appraisal. She was thankful for her friend Clare whose skill with a needle created a masterpiece that showed off her curves to best effect.  
Seemingly he approved too, his smile was both dangerous and disarming and something inside her fluttered. 

Her dress was the colour of rich butter; she was no longer a margarine girl from the council estate. She was off to a grand ball, only Sebastian had neglected to tell her it was a black and white "do".

As soon as they entered the ballroom her mistake became apparent even to her uneducated eye. She stood out for all the wrong reasons, a lone daffodil in a bouquet of exquisite lilies. Common – that was the only word for it.

Suddenly she was fourteen again in a hand-me-down dress at the school disco. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes. Sebastian realising his faux pas of picking the wrong kind of flower was nonchalantly looking around and ever so slightly distancing himself from her.

It took courage not to turn her back on the lot of them and run. She didn’t belong here, that was painfully obvious. Were they already sniggering? Or was it her overworked imagination?

In the split second of deciding what to do for the best to salvage the situation a waiter appeared by her side.

“Champagne?” Glasses sparkled elegantly on a tray presented to her. “The colour perfectly matches your dress.” He added with a wink and she knew it would be rude to refuse.

Of course Sebastian had completely deserted her by this point, but she stood a little taller, breathed deeply and took a sip…

How will it end? I have a few ideas, I'll keep working on it and hopefully will share some more soon!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Garden Ghazal

Last night at my writing group I was introduced to a Ghazal poem.

To be honest I wasn’t sure before I went if I would enjoy the evening, although I dabble with poetry some of our group are much more proficient poets.

However as I’ve not managed to make it to the group for a couple of months I thought it really was time to get my writing groove back and flex my sleepy imagination.

As we progressed through the session I began to enjoy fitting my rhymes into the structure and I was still playing around with words before bed and finally came up with this…

Garden Ghazal

“Come with me,” he said. Let’s ramble in the garden.
He leads me on, our hands entangled in the garden.

“Let’s go this way,” and I follow, lost in wonder
“Mind the bluebells; please don’t trample,” in the garden.

Wildlife hidden, but “look a squirrel!”
And some pheasants startle, in the garden.

As the years go, as time passes
Plants will grow and weeds will strangle, in the garden.

Autumn, time of harvest
A reward of juicy brambles, in the garden.

But Sarah there are also leaves to sweep
Wintertime’s preamble, in the garden.

If you want to read another ghazal poem, here’s the Hip Hop Ghazal by Patricia Smith

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Promises, Blessings and Miracles

Last week I spent a few days away on a New Wine Christian conference for Women and Leadership. The accommodation was excellent, food superb; the speakers were challenging and the worship was amazing.

On Friday morning we began our worship time by singing

Give Thanks to the Lord,
our God and King,
His love endures forever… 

with the chorus
…Forever God is faithful
forever God is strong,
forever God is with us,

Immediately I was transported back to another moment in time when I sang those words with gusto.

It was exactly 6 years earlier as I drove to church for one of our regular community breakfasts. It had been raining a bit but the sun was trying to shine and as I drove and sang the most beautiful rainbow appeared directly over the church where I was headed. And I thanked God for all his promises, his goodness and faithfulness to me. God indeed is VERY GOOD.

Little did I know that 2 days later my husband would die unexpectedly from a heart attack.

The song we sang next was Everlasting God

                Strength will rise as we WAIT upon the Lord…
                …You are the Everlasting God
                You do not faint
                You don’t grow weary
                You’re the defender of the weak
    You comfort those in need
                You lift us up on wings like eagles

I couldn’t believe the song choice, although why should I have been surprised by God? This was a song we had played at Andrew’s funeral but it’s been a long while since I have stood and sobbed rather than join in with the singing. Instead I listened once more to the words of promise, those comforting words that God is with me all along. That rainbow was a foretaste of God’s amazing faithfulness as he has provided for my needs and never left me through these years.

However faithful God is, it is WAIT that has been my word for this season and it has lasted soooooo long.

While the boys have grown, moved schools, taken exams and in the case of oldest son even gone off to university I have remained STUCK, still in the same house, which hasn’t sold. I’ve been frustrated, resigned, motivated, let down, energised, demoralised and through all the ups and downs I WAIT for a new season to begin.

A few years ago I was at the New Wine summer gathering and God gave me a glorious reminder that he was still with me and had many blessings in store.

You can read about it on my own blog, or hear the interview or even get the book.

I thought my life was about to turn around from that moment but years later still I WAIT.

So often I have felt that I am on God’s pending pile, someone He will deal with tomorrow because there are so many other situations in the world that hold His attention.

Of course God’s not really like that and He has made me promises that there are blessings to come and so I hold on to them and WAIT a little longer.

At this conference I shared a room with someone I’d never met before. When I checked in my room-mate hadn’t arrived but by chance or God-incidence we happened to be sitting at the same table for dinner.

“Do you need a miracle?” She asked.

“Ummm, I don’t know!” I was hesitant. We all dream of having our prayers answered but was a “miracle” a bit excessive for my needs.

“Oh well I got this sense earlier in the week that I should buy a bottle of perfume called MIRACLE for whoever I was sharing a room with. But if you’re not sure perhaps it is for someone else after all.”

And so we left that conversation there and turned our attention back to the delicious meal before us.

Later that evening we shared a few stories but I knew I held back. There was a time when I would have started  by saying I was a widow but I’ve come to a place where I don’t want my loss to define me, I still wear my wedding ring, although I went through a phase when I didn’t.  I am learning to tell less of my backstory as new chapters are being written. In lots of ways I am moving on.

Besides saying “I am a widow” is a real conversation killer as people struggle to find the words to say back.

However the next day, sometime after our most meaningful worship time, I found the opportunity to share.

The words and tears came tumbling out. And the real issue at the moment is not the grief or singleness but our mini mansion of a 7 bedroom house, in its own grounds set in just the wrong location, an area in the North East where houses, particularly of this magnitude are just not selling.

This year I have had 2 serious offers on it, I even instructed a solicitor to get the paperwork started and I dreamed of finally moving and starting a new life somewhere more manageable, closer to church and my friends.

Both buyers pulled out and I am faced with the prospect of a future here on my own. One son is already at university, the other has started A levels, these next two years will fly by and then what do I do?
“You do need a MIRACLE!” Said my room-mate. “I should have trusted my conviction.”

She produced a beautiful bottle of sweet smelling pink perfume in a shiny box full of promise.

There was a story to her purchase; running late, she only just made it to the shops in time with 2 minutes to spare but there was the perfume on display in front of her.

MIRACLES are meant to be, divinely ordained to happen at just the right time.

And I know for sure my MIRACLE is on its way, too many things are pointing in the same direction and some things I can’t share here and now but one day I will…there is so much more to this story and that's just the bits I know about, God's overview of proceedings is like a rainbow encircling the whole.

And just to make sure I don’t forget, guess which song is currently getting a lot of airplay on the radio with a brand new version by Simple Minds and KT Tunstall…

Yes God I am listening, still waiting for now, but I have a lot more hope in my heart that this season is almost over and the fragrance of MIRACLE will one day fill the air.

( I have scattered old blog posts throughout this and here is one final thought on fragrance - a short story called The Musings of Martha.)