A Vow of No Vocal Chords

I took a vow of silence this week.

It’s not the first time. I’ve done it before as a spiritual exercise, usually in a beautiful mountain retreat setting or an urban convent. This time was different. It wasn’t spiritual. It wasn’t in a retreat setting. And it wasn’t intentional.

I took a vow of no vocal chords. Because I had no choice. My voice just decided to up and leave me. The nurse diagnosed laryngitis, gave me some helpful leaflets and nasal spray, and told me not to talk.

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One night I went to a party. Not the best place to be when you can’t talk, but I took a little whiteboard and pen with me.

Oh look, she’s got something to say, people laughed when I started writing and the conversation halted until I’d finished scribbling. We could laugh; we all knew it was temporary. At least I hoped so. It’s hard to be a teacher when you haven’t got a voice.
If it was permanent no one would have dared to laugh.

When you’re voiceless, you begin to see the fine line between inclusion and exclusion. You notice stuff when you’re not busy filling the air with noise.

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You notice the people to whom no one is talking. One man came into the room and sat down. No one greeted him or spoke to him. I wanted to say hello, make small talk, include him. But I didn’t really know him. And didn’t want to creep him out by shoving my whiteboard in front of his face. So, I sat in silence and watched the world go on around us. He soon left the room.

When you’re voiceless, you learn to sympathise with others who have no voice.

I rode the bus with the middle one into town. She had to ask the driver for a ticket for me. It’s like being one of those kids who have to speak for their parents who don’t know any English, she said. It was an uncomfortable shift of power that left both of us tired.

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When you’re voiceless, it forces others to speak up for you.

But what happens if no one speaks up? If no one notices us sitting quietly on our own? If no one notices us struggling to survive?

I couldn’t say Cheers Drive as I got off the bus, so I simply gave a thumbs up sign as my offering of thanks. I wondered if the driver thought I was rude. How many times do I perceive others as impolite or disrespectful when they simply have no voice?

At the party, a young boy watched curiously from a distance. After a few minutes of observing me writing on the board to others in the group, he sidled up to me and gestured to the pen. I handed it over.

Hi, he wrote.

Hey, I wrote back. How’s school?

We continued our little conversation back and forth in silence, the only sound the scratching of the pen on the board. The middle one was nosy, and joined us. Can she hear, he asked her as if I wasn’t present. Yeah, she just lost her voice, the middle one told him. She’s not deaf.

He sighed with relief, but choose to sit with me in the silence, and continued to ‘talk’ to me via the whiteboard.

When you’re voiceless, most people choose not to engage.

It takes too much effort to talk with someone who can’t answer you at a rate faster than a tortoise. Who can’t respond unless you’re in the same room. Some people try to rush ahead of my pen and guess what I’m writing. Waiting to see what’s written takes too much effort. Sometimes it’s easier not to talk at all.

So, if you’ve got a voice, use it. Stand up for those who are voiceless. Use your eyes to listen. See the fine line between inclusion and exclusion.

Before it happens to you. And you find yourself on the opposite side of the line. The powerless one. Praying that it’s only temporary.

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Never too late

It took a funeral this week to remind me that it’s never too late to live.

Granted, funerals are always times for reflection and introspection. For pulling memories from the cobwebs of our minds. For ashes and dust and tears. For thinking about endings rather than beginnings.

This one was different.

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When I first met Glynis in chapel, I thought she was the same as many older Welsh women I’d met. Retired. Winding up life. Plodding along until the end. The weekly excitement a trip to Marks and Spencer or the local butcher to buy the roast for Sunday dinner.

But I misjudged her.

She was only just beginning. Only just realising that it’s never too late to live. Her life only just coming into it’s own.

Sometimes she made me uncomfortable. She was up, close, and personal. She invaded my space. I often stepped backwards and she stepped closer, a little dance between us until, one day…

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I stopped stepping backwards and allowed her enthusiasm, joy, and love for life to surround me.

We were carrying buckets of water under the blazing sun in the Dominican Republic. She should have been in the comfort of her own home, slippered feet propped up, doing the crossword. But she was hot, sweaty, thirsty, and happy. Teaching Creole speakers how to say Bore Da. Insisting the pronunciation and accent was correct.

Settling for nothing less than
giving her time and energy.
Pouring out her life like a liquid offering to God
she drank from a well that never runs dry
and found her One Thing.
When most settle for plodding
she was only just beginning.

Her living put my own plodding to shame. My preoccupation with deadlines and To Do lists. Stresses and demands. Pulled in multiple directions at once, it’s so easy to cave in. We break down. Give up. Live on auto pilot. Succumb to the Can’t be bothered attitude that permeates so much of western society.

Even in her dying, Glynis makes me uncomfortable. I stand in the crematorium as the memories of her step up, close, and personal. They invade my space. I step backwards but they step even closer, a little dance until I let them surround me. Her passing from this life to the next a reminder that it’s never too late to live.

So I let the tears flow. Tears of hope and life. Tears of joy for knowing a woman who refused to give up. And I sing for Glynis and myself:

Arglwydd, dyma fi
Ar dy alwad di
Canna f’enaid yn y gwaed
A gaed ar Galfari.

I am coming Lord!
Coming now to Thee!
Wash me, cleanse me in the blood
That flowed on Calvary!

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To all of you out there who are struggling to put one step in front of the other. Who cry more than you laugh. Who don’t feel like facing another morning. To all of you plodding on, whose weekly excitement is clocking out on Friday afternoon…be like Glynis.

Settling for nothing less than
giving your time and energy.
Pouring out your life like a liquid offering to God
you drink from a well that never runs dry
and find your One Thing.
When most settle for plodding
you are only just beginning.
Because it’s never too late to live.

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The Hardest Decision Ever

Sometimes the best decision is the hardest one to make.

The day my son stood in front of a room full of US church leaders and missionaries announcing –Some people choose to go overseas into missions; I didn’t have a choice—I knew something had to change.

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I remember my greatest fear when I stepped on the plane to Wales nearly two decades ago: Were we doing the right thing for this beautiful baby? Would he someday live to regret our decision? Would he hold bitterness towards us for removing him from grandparents and cousins? Would he hate sounding different, hate being teased by uncles about his accent, hate growing up without everything our birth culture holds dear?

I soon forgot those fears as the beautiful lilt of the Welsh language washed over me daily. As strangers stopped on the street to admire my firstborn. As his massive smile captivated even the hardest heart.

He started walking. Made friends. Toddled off to school in his red uniform. Played with his Lego. Joined a football team.

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It was a close-knit community. A place where somebody knows everybody. Where secrets get hung out to dry. Where old ladies hand out ice cream and old men tell tales of mining and war and Saturday afternoon films in the Workman’s Hall.

Our son had neighbours who made him Welsh cakes. Friends who gave him clothes and toys. Aunties who spoiled him at Christmas.

It takes a whole village to raise a child.

Our son grew tall. Found his feet and found his voice.

Some people choose to go overseas into missions; I didn’t have a choice. I was forced.

Sometimes the best decision is the hardest one to make.

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P1020947We drove to a holiday cottage in the Wye Valley, took a long weekend break, and sliced our hearts open. Surrounded by hills and ancient relics and The Devil’s Pulpit, we laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed.

We grieved for the lost places of the past. We dreamed of what could be. Most of all, we gave the tall one a choice.

There are two gifts we should give to our children: one is roots and the other is wings.

In giving them wings, they discover their roots. In letting them go, we welcome them back.

And sometimes in giving them a choice, we release them to be who they always were.

Sometimes the best decision is the hardest one to make.

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So we packed up and moved. From the village to the city. From the comfortable to the unknown. From the secure to the uncertain. From a home to a house.

Last month the tall one stood in front of a room full of US church leaders, family, and friends and with his blended accent told stories of dreams and visions, of plans and faltering steps, of faith and a future where he is helping others to find their feet and find their voice.

Sometimes the best decision is the hardest one to make.

 

 

Stumbling into History

I was that tourist wandering down Fifth Avenue. The one who walks around looking upward instead of where she is going. The one with the camera swinging around the neck. The one who stops in the middle of the street in front of you. The one you want to avoid.

I was that tourist we all hate.

The one staring at the map on her phone, not really knowing where she is going.

I heard the cacophony of voices first but couldn’t understand what they were saying. As the placards came into view, the chant finally registered its staccato beat: Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.

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I was window shopping, when I stumbled into history.

A protest march. A crowd of angry Americans. A people trying to give voice to their views. It was two days after the Charlottesville riots. I was two blocks from Trump Tower. And I was scared.

Because too often seething anger escalates to violence. I know. I’ve been that person.

Lashing out in anger. Using words that hurt or kill. Hitting people with insults.

Often ignorant to how my actions affect others.

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Herding my family away from the crowds, we walked west on 54th Street and found a juice bar next to the LOVE sculpture, where we cwtched in a corner and nursed our smoothies and iced coffees, secluded from the angry world.

Within minutes the chaos found us again. Trucks arrived bringing more metal barricades. Police blocked off the side street outside the bar. The large windows no longer held back the seething wave of fury.

It was time to leave. We left the juice bar and found ourselves walking straight into the face of protest. Thousands of people marched directly towards us, surrounding the LOVE sculpture where seconds before couples had posed for posterity’s sake. Signs bore mixed messages: Lock Him Up. Health Care For All. Yes Peace, Yes Love. Trump and Pence Must Go. Refuse Fascism. Are We Great Again Yet?

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Avoidance is rarely ever the best tactic. It only delays the inevitable. The lid will always fly off the pressure cooker if the steam is not regulated or released properly.

Only hours before I’d stumbled across my own history.

Raising my voice. Losing my temper. Lashing out. Shouting at the middle one when she was rabbiting on about my failure to keep the Metro card pristine. How I shouldn’t have kept it in my pocket. Shouldn’t have let the swipe bar get dented. Shouldn’t have lost the twenty-two dollars that were still on the card.

She was right. It was my fault.

But I didn’t want to hear it. Didn’t want to be reminded of my failures.

So the steam built up. The lid blew off. And we all got burned.

Our actions and words always affect others. The positive ones build up. The negative ones destroy.

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Why are we so slow to learn from our mistakes? Why are we repeating history when there is no need? Why are we paying for our failures again and again?

Forgetting

that the ultimate price was paid once, for all

that grace knows no limits
except the ones we place there ourselves

that today can either be yesterday’s mistakes or tomorrow’s hope.

Later, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge under the black night, Manhattan’s bright lights behind us we learned the reason behind the demonstrations. Heard the helicopters approaching. Saw President Trump land in Lower Manhattan, his cavalcade of more than fifty cars and motorbikes flashing down an eerily quiet FDR Drive directly below our feet. Watched him head home to Trump Tower for the first time since his presidency started.

Standing on the bridge, looking back on where I’d come from, I attempted to capture the moment. Capture the light breaking into the darkness. Record for posterity sake a moment that my faltering mind would one day forget…

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completely unaware until I flicked back through my photos sometime later that I was, once again, stumbling into history.

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Touched by Terror

Another week of terror and horror, this time close to home. On Monday the news broke that a man from Cardiff had used a van from a South Wales company to run into a crowd of Muslim worshippers as they left Ramadan prayers near Finsbury Park mosque, London.

We shook our heads in despair. But like most terrorist attacks or horrific tragedies, it didn’t really touch us. London Borough Market. Manchester. London Bridge. Grenfell Towers.

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We were only spectators from a distance.

That evening we strolled the leafy paths on the edge of our new community to forage for elderflower. Sweat trickled down our backs. At 6:30 pm it was still 29C. The news of Finsbury Park still fresh on our minds.

The first tree we found covered in white lacey flowers was outside the house of a young man building a deck. He watched us with interest.  ‘Is that elderflower,’ he asked. We chatted about the multiple uses of elderflower, then moved on.

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The next bunch of flowers was opposite a house where a local TV station was preparing to film under the watchful eyes of two police officers. We snipped more elderflower heads, then moved on again. Returning a few minutes later by the same path, I said hello to one of the officers who greeted me in return. Then I caught a snatch of the reporter’s words as she prepared for a take. ‘We’re standing outside the house of the man who earlier today drove a white van into people near Finsbury Park mosque.’

We were two minutes from home.

Hatred and death had come to our doorstep.

We were no longer spectators. 

We are no longer spectators.  

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Pictures of the rental van flashed across the news media. Two weeks before we had hired a white van from the same company to move our family from the quiet rural secluded Valleys to the capital city of Cardiff. It was the same type of van. For all we know, it could be the same van.

What do you do when tragedy is no longer at arm’s length?

What should be our response?

We can no longer claim ignorance, detachment, indifference.

This path is not one we have chosen. 

Yet we have. 

On the longest day of the year, we sat in our back garden with our missional community. Some sprawled on the grass; others lounged on chairs. We ate food and told stories.

We wrote on the bottoms of our shoes. Prayers for Pentwyn.

Love. Grace. Understanding. Peace. Smiles. Kindness.

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As our feet pound the pavements of this community, touched by terror, our prayers leave a mark wherever we go.

Christ, as a light

Illumine and guide me.

Christ, as a shield

Overshadow me.

Christ under me;

Christ over me;

Christ beside me

On my left and my right.

We are no longer spectators.

We are participants.

For better or for worse.

No turning back

I haven’t got a life, she told me. I’ve been sleeping on my cousin’s sofa in the living room for four years. I have no money. Can you help me?

She was orphaned by the age of five, married off by an uncle to a man who brought her to the UK to serve his family. He never touched her, never loved her. She cooked and cleaned and slaved away for the family, until one day her auntie discovered where she was and sent someone to snatch her while the family was out.

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They helped her begin the asylum seeker process. Interviews. Paperwork. Four years later, she still awaits a verdict.

It’s taken eight months to work up the courage to share her story with me and another teacher.

She has nothing.

I have so much.

Too much.

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I’m giving it away to charity shops by the bagful. Filling up our wheelie bin. Packing it in boxes to store in someone’s shed.

That’s the stuff I don’t need.

We’re paying good money for a big van to move the stuff we want to keep. It feels so wrong when she moved across the country with only a bag on her back.

Living in community is my dream.

Living together for the sake of others.

Pooling resources and ideas and dreams and creativity to help people like her. To extend a generosity that pushes back the boundaries.

But it’s tough to do when I hang on to so much stuff.

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When will I ever be able to say…

Enough.

Christ is enough

For me.

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I’m still awaiting the verdict.

But there’s no turning back now.

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Because I have decided to follow Jesus.

And whether I’m ready to accept it or not

He is enough.

 

 

 

Pot Noodle and Faith

I’d tasted haggis, faggots, black pudding, laver bread, and even mushy peas, but in all the years of living in the U.K., I’d never feasted on the British staple known as Pot Noodle. I’d heard about the 1970s wonder. I knew that British university students survived on it. I’d even seen Heston Blumenthal recreate it using Japanese noodles and dashi broth on his weird and wonderful cooking show. But my lips had never tasted it. Until now.

Sometimes you need to dive out into the deep.

Step beyond the shores into the waves.

Live a little.

Risk it all.

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I’d agreed to walk to the local shop with my best mate. She needed ingredients for a cake. In the shop, surrounded by fresh produce and lean healthy meat, our stomachs reminded us it was already two o’clock and we hadn’t eaten lunch.

“Maybe I’ll buy a Pot Noodle,” she said, her mouth already salivating.

“I’ve never tried it,” I admitted.

Her horrified gasp filled the shop and she immediately took it upon herself to remedy the situation.

Half an hour later, I sat in my kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, diligently studying the instructions on the Chicken and Mushroom flavour Pot Noodle container. I’d been warned to not to read the ingredients, as it might negatively influence my tasting experience. Of course, that made me want to read it even more, but I resisted—sneaking only a quick glance at the fine print which read: INGREDIENTS (After Preparation).

Weren’t the ingredients the same Before preparation too? How did they change? Magically transform? Or mutate?

It’s not rocket science was printed in bold-face type by the first step: RIP OFF THE LID. Whip out the sachet. Add boiling water to fill level. Leave alone for 2 mins.

I tore off the lid and threw it in the bin. But how exactly does one whip out the sachet? With a pronounced flick of the wrist? Or full-fledged flamenco dancing?

I carefully pulled the little soy sauce sachet out of the yellow powder and shook it off before laying it to the side. Then I poured the boiling water into the cup to the fill line and went to find a spoon. Perhaps my first mistake was not setting a timer for 2 minutes. Or not reading the full instructions before starting. Or assuming that one would eat a soup-like substance with a spoon.

We all know what happens when we assume.

Assuming things will happen sooner than they do.

Assuming we should be entitled to a safe, pain-free, grief-free life.

Assuming God doesn’t hear us. He doesn’t care. He’s asleep or indifferent.

Assuming we’re in this journey alone. No one else understands. No one else struggles with the same issues.

No wonder we trip. And fall down.

Assumptions are the stumbling blocks of faith.

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Blissfully oblivious to the fact I was making a profound error; I pulled a soup spoon from the drawer and decided it had roughly been two minutes. Step 2: STIR. Leave for another 2 mins.

Trying to stir a lump of petrified worms with a spoon is not an easy feat. Hot yellow broth splashed on my top. The lump remained a lump. I gave up and counted down two minutes while glancing ahead to Step 3: STIR AGAIN. Find sachet, add contents.

Find sachet!? It was still sitting obediently on the kitchen counter where I’d placed it. Perhaps if I’d actually whipped it out properly in Step 1, I’d have the need to play hide and seek to find it under the cooker, or on top of the cabinet, or behind the fridge. I stirred the second time as instructed and found the solidified lump had slightly gone limp, but stirring with a spoon was still not easy.

The little brown sachet had its own instructions. I didn’t know Pot Noodle was so complicated to make. (It’s amazing students ever have time to study; all their time is taken up following Pot Noodle’s intricate instructions.) I couldn’t be bothered to read anymore, so I ripped open the sachet and dumped the entire five droplets of soy sauce into the cup. Then and only then did I read Step 4: GRAB FORK and dig in. Make sure you eat it while it’s hot. Do not reheat.

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I’d been using a spoon!! Stirring noodles with a fork certainly made more sense. If only I’d known. I grabbed a fork, stabbed into the noodles, and ingested my first ever forkful of Pot Noodle.

Sometimes grace is the lump in our throats when we come to the end of our ropes.

Sometimes grace is not what we expect.

Sometimes grace is the story we connect with.

Sometimes grace is found in the desert.

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The hot liquid seared my tongue. The noodles tasted like—well, noodles. And I saw sweetcorn. But no chicken or mushrooms. Half a pot later and I finally found a rubbery mushroom. It wasn’t the best food I’d ever tasted, but neither was it the worst. Mondungo soup in Guatemala, made with entire chicken feet was far worse. Pot Noodle was actually quite good in comparison. I continued to happily munch on the noodles. I felt a warm sense of pleasure deep within. I had joined millions of Britain’s Pot Noodle eaters. I could say I’d been there; done that; got the T-shirt!

Then I got to the bottom of the pot. The noodles were gone, but four centimetres of yellow sludge with floaty bits remained in the cup. How on earth was I supposed to eat that with a fork? I tilted the cup to double-check, but there were no further instructions.
I could go find the dirty spoon I’d erroneously used at the start, but I’d whipped it across the kitchen. I could throw the rest in the bin, but that seemed sacrilegious—I doubted Pot Noodle lovers did that. Or I could tilt the cup up to my lips and swallow the sweet nectar straight from the cup.

I opted for drinking the rest. Wrong move.

It tasted like toxic yellow mud; four parts salt, two parts aftertaste, and three parts grit. I made such a face that my husband nearly creased himself.

I whipped out an empty glass, filled it with clean Welsh water, and washed away any remainder of my Pot Noodle Adventure.

At least the pot can be recycled! That’s one saving grace!

Go on…you know you want to

…Pot Noodle

…Faith

…That tentative first step into the unknown with a rabbi called Jesus.

Be brave!

Whatever happens, he’s got your back. 

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Sunday lessons on a Monday

I was standing in the queue at one of those bargain shops where everything is cheap and cheerful. I’d already exchanged a smile with the old lady in front of me as she placed the little divider after her items so I could put mine on the conveyor belt. We were all waiting for the first customer, who was tapping her pin into the card reader.

It says card failed,’ the staff member said. The customer frantically rooted around in her purse. She searched in every pocket and unzipped the coin slot.

Everyone started to feel uncomfortable, looking anywhere but directly at the woman. She started to tap on her phone. I assumed she was phoning a friend.

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It was Monday morning.

I’d been to church the day before and heard a sermon about money and generosity. Everyone looked uncomfortable then too.

We’d been reminded that what we have to spend is not our own. It’s a gift. It’s all God’s.

I heard a voice ask the staff person, ‘How much is the bill?’

It took a moment to register that the voice was mine.

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She looked at me strangely and then hesitantly told me the amount. It was less than you’d pay for a drink and meal in a restaurant. I had enough cash in my purse to easily cover the bill and still pay for my shampoo and toothpaste. I pulled out a note (that’s a bill to my US friends) and handed it over.

The staff member looked confused, not sure if she should accept it. The customer saw what was happening and explained she was transferring money online from one account to another.

I don’t like to judge people by appearance, but she looked like she probably didn’t have much in her second account either. I nodded to the staff member to proceed with the transaction. She did, handed me the change, and then mindlessly started beeping the old lady’s items through the til.

When it was my turn, the harassed customer had just finished tapping on her phone and asked where the nearest cash machine was located. I packed my items in my reusable bag and assured her not to worry about it. ‘Do the same thing for someone else when they need it,’ I said. But she was insistent on paying me back, instructed me to wait there, and grabbed the bandages she’d bought. I noticed that both of her wrists were wrapped.

I paid my own bill and left the shop, heading to my car.

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It was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.

What we have is not our own. It’s a gift. It’s all God’s.

Even my life.

We only truly live when we give it away. 

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I often forget that. Or take it for granted. But the words had hit me square between the eyes and caused them tear up on Sunday.

Perhaps because it’s so close to Easter. Perhaps because of my daily reminders from #40acts. Perhaps because I so often dance a little dance of grace and refusal.

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When we know what we are saved from,

we will understand what we are saved for.

A few minutes later as I stood in front of the next shop, putting a pound coin into the trolley to release it from the chain that bound it to the next one, the woman ran up to me waving some money.

I was serious when I said I didn’t want it back,’ I assured her. ‘I want to bless you. Have a good day and do the same for someone else someday.

We danced a little dance of grace and refusal until she shook her head in amazement, put her money in her purse, thanked me profusely and went on her way.

I’ve never done anything like that before.

But the message from Sunday had stayed with me until Monday. That in itself is a miracle.

When we know what we are saved from,

we will understand what we are saved for.

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When you don’t see eye to eye

When I was twenty I quit my job, sold my sports car and left home. My parents weren’t happy. We didn’t see eye to eye. They hoped my wanderlust was only a passing phase. But a lifetime later, I still live abroad.

I blame a bald Italian bloke.

This week I met him for the first time and had the opportunity to thank him for ‘ruining’ my life.

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I’d been working in the world of financial institutions, progressing my way up the corporate ladder. I managed a department of twenty staff and drove a cherry red Honda Prelude Si, but I wasn’t happy.

One day a friend loaned me a cassette tape of a talk given by an Italian sociologist called Tony Campolo at a student conference in the middle of Illinois’s soybean and corn fields. He was the best storyteller I’d ever heard. And he loved Jesus.

His passion was so tangible that I’d drive my car back and forth to the bank’s financial headquarters, tears streaming down my cheeks, as his message cut straight to the heart. His voice and presence filled my car.

I didn’t realise at the time that I was being broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus. I just knew I needed a change. I needed to change.

I needed to stop being religious and start loving Jesus. 

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If anything breaks the heart of Jesus, it’s when people are religious. Can’t stand each other. Don’t know how to listen or serve or love. Don’t see eye to eye. 

That’s our 21st century, post-modern, post-Christendom, post-truth, post-tolerant society in a nutshell. That’s most churches and families and marriages. That’s me. And probably you.

It wasn’t Jesus’s words that changed people’s lives. It was his actions. His presence was powerful. He wasn’t afraid to simply be with people whose lifestyles and actions and beliefs were very different from his. To be with them. To be there for them. His words simply sealed the deal after his actions had already been the life changer.

To be the best friend you can possibly be is to be present with someone even when you don’t see eye to eye.

It’s taking me a lifetime to learn. I’ve hurt people in the process. I’ve given Jesus a bad name. I’ve broken his heart.

But sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get the briefest glimpse that you’re on the right track. This fortnight was one of those fleeting moments for me. On separate occasions, four friends have shared their heart with me. Things that have happened to them. Choices they’ve made. Choices they need to make. Things they didn’t feel they could share with anyone else. Not all of them are lovers of Jesus. We don’t always see eye to eye about matters of faith or parenting or relationships.

I’ve learned three important life lessons in one fortnight. Like the talk by the Italian bloke, these truths have cut straight to the heart:

People will approach us when they know they can trust us.

To be the best friend you can possibly be is to be present with someone even when you don’t see eye to eye.

It isn’t our words that change people’s lives. It’s our actions. Our presence is powerful. Don’t be afraid to simply be with people whose lifestyles and actions and beliefs are very different from ours. To be with them. To be there for them.

Without realising it, we will change too.

TC

And sometimes. Only sometimes. Words are okay too. Use them wisely. Sparingly. Let them come from a gracious heart.

That’s why I got down on my knees in front of an 82-year-old Italian’s chair this week and thanked him.

For showing me how to love Jesus

and how to love others when you don’t see eye to eye.

 

Not for Me

I’m guilty. Of pre-judging people. Of dropping the ball on friendships. Of shooting that elastic band across the room in ninth grade and blatantly denying it when the teacher asked who did it. But more than that I’m guilty of hearing songs and sermons and other random stuff, and thinking they’re for other people. If only she could hear this….If only he was here today. Nearly always for other people.

Not for me.

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Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not perfect.

But in a culture where we see a meme and instantly tag a friend, it’s easy to hear something in a sermon or a TED talk and immediately think of someone we can pass it on to.

#notforme

It’s easier to try to change someone else than to change me.

She needs it more than me. He could really use this.

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I heard my first sermon when I was a couple of weeks old. Going to church every Sunday was very important to my parents; you didn’t miss church unless you were giving birth, had chick pox, or you were dead.

Growing up on a farm meant we didn’t even take holidays, but there were 2 weeks every year where the flock of chickens we had were taken away, we cleaned and disinfected the buildings ready for the next flock, and sometimes had a weekend to go to a cabin in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. But even then, my parents would find a little country church and we’d go there for Sunday worship.

I’m not quite as rigid as they were, so over the years I’ve missed a Sunday now and again for holidays or special events or even the occasional Sabbath rest…but I calculated that I’ve probably been to a Sunday morning service over 2000 times in my life. That’s a lot of sermons! A lot of talks I wish other people had heard!

Imagine if I’d actually heard all of them. Let them sink into my spirit. Let them change and mould and shape me.

Words of truth and life.
Words that build up and don’t destroy.
Words that encourage and equip and empower.

Words that challenge

me.

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Imagine if Psalm 23 was for me and not the dead guy being lowered into the ground. If I let Jesus lead me. If I let him renew my strength. If I let him stick close by even when I walk through the darkest places instead of letting anxiety shove him aside.

Imagine if Jesus was talking to me when he said, Don’t let this throw you. You trust God don’t you? Trust me.

Imagine the kind of person I’d be.

If I listened to and then lived out what I heard.

If I stopped speaking for God and let him speak to me.

 

Imagine how the world would change

if I changed.

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