Saturday, 29 January 2011

The best things in life are FREE

This week I spent three days on a staff retreat in Norfolk. We stayed in a beautiful old house in the middle of nowhere, it was freezing cold, but we had such a laugh! Places like that generally really freak me, as I am a real townie. This is my worst nightmare being miles away from the nearest Tesco, no internet connection, no mobile phone signal, no television – alone and nothing to do.

I got to thinking how this type of life would be even scarier to my children, who are very much of the 21st century and rely on technology and us as their parents for their entertainment. As parents these days we tend to spend so much money making sure our children get to do all the clubs and extracurricular things we can, to fill their time and make sure they are ‘rounded’ people. When they are not at these clubs then our children are provided with virtual lives to live in, Xboxes, Wii, Nintendo DS, internet and TV. Very rarely being encouraged, or having the time to use their imagination or physical abilities to entertain themselves.

We arrived in Norfolk on Tuesday afternoon, and as adults managed to spend a pleasant evening chatting over a glass of wine together the first night (all of us bemoaning the fact we couldn’t check our email and Facebook accounts!). The following morning I got up and went for a walk in the gardens. There was a very fresh breeze blowing across the flat Norfolk fens which was invigorating to say the least!

I came across a children’s play area, and headed for a swing to sit on, enjoying the silence. I then found myself beginning to make the swing work, throwing my legs backward and forward, making the swing go higher and higher. The cold breeze took on a different meaning, it was no longer just invigorating but invoking all kinds of wonderful childhood memories of the park at the end of our road and the amazing times I had spent there as a child with my Mum and Dad. I was so excited that I had remembered how to make the swing work, I laughed out loud at my achievement as the wind took my breath away. How sad it was that my parents had spent so much money on my piano lessons as a kid, but now I couldn’t remember how to play; the extra hours my Dad had worked for me to have tenor recorder lessons also, but I am not a virtuoso performer. None of those things had really enhanced my life. Yet here I was enjoying something so much that hadn’t cost a penny to learn, just a bit of their time and encouragement. I could remember my Dad showing me how to swing my legs back and forth, the laughter we shared as I got it so wrong, legs all over the place and the sense of achievement I felt when finally got the hang of it.

I have spent hours nagging my girls to do their piano practice when we should have been sitting on a swing together! The real things they remember, the real things that make them ‘rounded’ people, are the FREE things – our love, our time and our encouragement.

See you at the park!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Love is not an emotion, it's a choice!

Have you ever had one of those days when someone you love so much has just been an absolute pain, and you are finding it hard to remember what made you love them in the first place?

In the sadness and pain that you are feeling at that time, revenge is the only thing on your mind. ‘They have hurt me, so I need to make them pay for it!’ is the thought running through your mind.

It’s pretty hard to feel love in those situations. Most of us live in this sea of romantic love, you know that type that happens at the beginning of most new relationships, and then that fateful day comes when your partner leaves the top of the toothpaste, or the toilet seat up, or worse – and then you move into the true state of love, the romance disappears and you have to ‘choose’ to love them, warts and all!

This can happen with your children and friendships also. They say that love and hate are the same emotion, just opposite ends of the spectrum. You love them intensely, and then the next minute they do something to upset you and suddenly you ‘hate’ them. You then have to choose to look beyond what has happened and love them no matter what. Because the truth of the matter is that you hate what they have done, you don’t hate them.

It’s tough, but it is real love. It’s the love that God has for us. How on earth could God love me, yet it says He does in the Bible. God chooses to love us, no matter what!

“I have loved you with an everlasting love” Jeremiah 31:3

In fact it says that God loves us unconditionally – despite the fact that I regularly mess up and probably really annoy Him. God chooses to love us unconditionally (that means there is nothing we could say or do that would ever make him love us any less – WOW). That is God’s grace; his unwarranted, unmerited love for us.

Love is not an emotion – it is a choice. It isn’t about finding a perfect person, there is no such thing. It is about seeing an imperfect person perfectly. If you are making a lifelong commitment to anyone, be it in a marriage, as a couple, to your children or in a friendship, it is important that you understand the level of commitment that comes with love.

Love is a choice, it is choosing to love that person unconditionally. Love is a verb. Love is a DOING word. It requires choices: hard choices, sometimes. It’s about sacrifice. It’s about faithfulness. It requires commitment. It sometimes hurts and doesn’t feel so good.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)

Is there someone in your life at present that you are struggling to love? I would love to pray for you and that relationship. God asks us to love everyone, as God loves us, unconditionally. It’s a big ask! I would love to hear from you. Facebook inbox me, email me; drop me a letter, text me or catch up with me any time.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Walnuts and a tin of buttons!

I’ve had an amazing week. It’s so great to be back at Barney’s hanging out with all my friends again! This morning was made extra special by an unexpected present from a wonderful friend, a dusty tin of buttons and a bag of crushed walnuts.

Now I can hear you all thinking, what kind of a present is that? Well, to me it is just the best and most thoughtful present. I love walnuts, but they are quite pricey so I don’t often treat myself, and my friend knows that I am a jewellery making nut and so a dusty tin full of beautiful, colourful buttons sends my creative thoughts rushing off skywards! My thoughtful friend knows how to fill up my love banks.

Do you know how to fill the love banks of the people you love? Do they know how to fill yours?

I have to recommend to you the fabulous ‘Five Love Languages’ books. In his books, for couples, singles and children, Gary Chapman describes how everyone expresses love in different ways and he has identified five specific languages of love: Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. What speaks volumes to you may be meaningless to your partner, friend or child. The key is to know your love language and those of the people most close to you in order to fully express your love and to feel truly loved in return. At the back of each book is a simple quiz that you take in order to find out your love language.

If your love language is Words of Affirmation then unsolicited compliments mean the world to you and hearing the words, “I love you,” are important. If it is Quality Time then nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby. The person whose love language is Receiving Gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift, not the monetary value. Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely to a person whose love language is Acts of Service! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. And finally a person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show concern, care, and love.

We have Gary Chapman’s books in our Barney’s library, please feel free to borrow them to find out what your love language is. Or you can look at where you can check online.
I highly recommend it, I know that my husband’s principal love language is Acts of Service, so my ironing his shirts each week fills his love bank, mine is Words of Affirmation, so tell me how much you love me and I am a happy bunny. Molly’s is physical touch, I love giving her hugs and Alice’s is Quality Time, so a ten mile bike ride with her makes her happy (and my bottom hurt!).

Some of us long for tender words. Others, a gentle touch, a thoughtful gift, a kind deed, or some precious time spent together.

Only when we have learned each other’s language have we truly learned to love.

God says “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.” Jeremiah 31:3 NLT

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The perfect murder weapon?

“If you wanted to commit the perfect, unsolvable, murder what weapon would you choose?”

My husband is a Detective Inspector in the Met and has dealt with many an ‘interesting’ murder scene in his 30 years as an officer, and this question is often the topic of conversation at dinner with friends. They want to know if it is possible to ‘get away with murder’!

I have watched many a documentary on TV about murder where there was no evidence of who did it left at the scene. One programme even suggested that a weapon, like a knife, or similar, able to stab someone could be made of ice and that would be the perfect weapon. Once inside the victim it would melt and there would be no murder weapon to be found.

Well, I’m no crime scene investigator, but all around me every day I see, speak and pray with murder victims. Sadly for these people their death wasn’t swift, but a slow, painful, tortuous experience. They have been attacked with the most cruel of murder weapons, a weapon that makes you die from the inside out – and that weapon is ‘words’.

Words, I believe, are the cruellest weapon you can use against anyone. Just a simple throwaway line to a child who has fallen over like “Get up stupid!” can be a killer – that child instantly identifies with that label and believes they are ‘stupid’. I’m sure that all of you can think of a time when someone said something to you that hurt. It not only hurt, but it then continued to fester in your heart and mind, making you doubt yourself, making you think differently about yourself and ultimately changing your whole view of yourself. Words are powerful things when used not in love or for encouragement.

This week Alice, our 13 year old, came home from school in floods of tears. She is in yr 9 at school, at the end of year 7 the school identified that she had a talent for art and asked if she would like to do her GCSE Art exam early. She started the coursework in yr 8 and has just done her mock exam, the final real exam being in May this year. We are really proud of her, she does have a talent for art, she has her own wonderful style and is always doing something creative. Her bedroom is a delight, the walls are covered in her work, paintings, cartoons, sketches, collages etc. She made me just the most beautiful picture for Christmas, a collage of photos of me and her interspersed with other bits of her art and she had framed it.

Wednesday evening she came home from school after her first art lesson of the year with her mock exam result, it was one mark off attaining a B grade at GCSE! We were so proud of her, at 13 she was doing so well. But she was crying. Her teacher had told her “she obviously hadn’t worked hard enough” and what she had produced for her exam was “too simplistic”. She was totally broken by his comments. Now that is murder. That is how you crush someone’s spirit. A 13 year old attaining a B grade at GCSE is totally amazing in my eyes, but obviously not in the eyes of her teacher. If I were her teacher I would not only be congratulating Alice for her achievement, but quite selfishly thinking maybe I had done a good job too in coaching her to achieve such a result!

Someone once said to me that before you are allowed to criticise someone you have to say seven positive things first and also phrase the negative as an encouragement rather than a criticism. Constructive or positive criticism is always the best option whether you are speaking to an adult or a child. Think before you speak, how would I feel if someone said this to me? If you wouldn’t like to have someone say it to you, then don’t say it. Say it in a way you would like to hear it, with love.
Follow the golden rule in Matthew’s gospel “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12 (New Living Translation)

And remember “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Ephesians 4:29 (New Living Translation)

Words are sharper than swords, they can cut you down in one blow and sadly can remain with you forever. Please remember to use them wisely and lovingly - for the building up of people, not the cutting down.

My prayers go out today to all of you who are victims of other peoples words. God knows your pain and is crying with you. I would love to pray for you, or with you, for your healing. I know that God can and wants to heal you from this pain. Facebook inbox me, email me; drop me a letter, text me or catch up with me any time.

“Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” Proverbs 12:18 (New Living Translation)

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Plans or Goals?

I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. "When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen. "When you come looking for me, you'll find me. "Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed." God's Decree. "I'll turn things around for you. Jeremiah 29:11-14 (The Message)

It’s the 1.1.11, the day when our thoughts turn to the coming New Year and what it may bring for us. As the clock struck 12 last night my two girls immediately said “What are your New Years’ resolutions Mum?”.

Looking back on last year, I have to say that making plans aren’t always the best thing. Last year I found myself disappointed over something that I, and others, thought was certain to happen to me, but it didn’t. The plans we make often do not concur with those that God has for us. I like the idea of having goals for my life, but making plans for the year puts a time frame on events. Time frames can often lead to disappointment. I think I want to approach this year prayerfully, committing this year to God and His plans for me.

Even this morning I heard from a dear friend, who last night was excited for what this year held for her and her family. And then less than 6 hours later, heard that someone she loved dearly had died early this morning, totally blowing hers and her families hopes and dreams for the year to bits. My thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family at this really sad time.
My hope for this year is that I will take each day as it comes, make the most of every moment of each day, and spend time with my family and my wonderful friends, trusting in God for my happiness and fulfilment. He knows what is best for us. He has equipped us to handle life as it comes. Each day has enough for us to consider, we don’t need to anticipate tomorrows issues while we are still trying to live out today! And that is my prayer for you all too.

Thank you all for your love and support over the last year. I have really appreciated everything you have done and I am so blessed and honoured to have such a wonderful group of friends.

I would love to pray for you. If you are worried about what this year may hold for you, if you have unresolved issues from last year that you would like God’s help with, or if you want to know the peace of God which surpasses all understanding or meet with Jesus and have him as your personal saviour – then I would love to pray for you or with you. Facebook inbox me, email me; drop me a letter, text me or catch up with me any time.

May God bless you and your families this year. Love and hugs to you all x x x x

‘May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.’
Numbers 6:24-26 (NLT)