On childhood: What visiting Ethiopia taught me about simple play

We’re in the backyard of the little compound, and I am swinging one end of a rope that is tied around a tree trunk. Kids are jumping in and out, turning around and touching the ground; more and more of them crowd round and laugh as they try to join in the now-overcrowded jump rope.

‘Mummy, look at me!’ my youngest cries. ‘Look what I can do!’

She’s beaming, her nine-year-old face shining with pride as she runs across the dirt yard beating an old bicycle tyre with a piece of wood. It spins in the dust and she laughs as her new friends clap and cheer her on.

Something stops inside me.

Kids jumping rope in Ethiopia

 

We are in Hawassa, Ethiopia, our little family of four, together with three other people from our church. We are visiting friends of friends that house over seventy children who have nowhere else to go. Some are orphans or born out of wedlock. Some have illnesses or disabilities that mean their parents cannot care for them, or their tribes consider them cursed and they are cast out. Some are abandoned on the steps of hospitals or police stations, and then these people – ESMA Africa – are called, because people know that these people will not turn a child away.

We have been here all of five hours, and already our two children have assimilated into this little tribe. There seems to be no particular distinction between those kids who live in the children’s homes here, and those whose parents run it, and ours too soon blend right in. Ethiopians, Americans, English; all cultural and language boundaries seem to melt away under the heat of this African sun as the children run and play in the yard.

In the children’s home that we visit, toys are sparse; expensive luxuries. It is one boy’s birthday and we go out for ice cream. He is given a small gift by the two families that run these homes: a colouring book and a few crayons. One explains that after a while, most things enter into the communal pot of possessions at the children’s home anyway – the children have a loose grip on owning anything, and instead, most things get shared and passed around. Living in such close proximity to so many other people, the sense of self becomes more blurred here. Everything is everyone’s and everyone is cared for, loved and accepted.

This is my third trip to Africa in twenty years, and I am struck today by the same thing that struck me when I first visited Kenya as a nineteen-year-old: amidst the lack, the poverty and the need, there is a light in people’s eyes – especially children’s – that makes me ashamed of the discontent that I see and feel in my own wealthy, western culture.

In the ‘developed’ world, millions of pounds are spent on researching modern phenomena like childhood depression, anxiety, eating disorders, gaming addictions and cyber-bullying. Worried parents scour the internet, read articles and listen to TED talks. I don’t want to over-simplify or attempt to nullify those very real issues that really do plague many of our young people now, but I do wonder, standing here in the African sun with the dirt beneath my feet and the happy squeal of children echoing in my ears, whether the answer is altogether more straightforward?

Here, hardly anyone has a smartphone – not even most adults. Basics are luxuries, and luxuries are unobtainable. Two pairs of battered, plastic Disney roller skates are passed around the yard, unisex in their usage despite their faded pink and purple colouring. They provide hours of entertainment. We take a stone and scratch a hopscotch square in the dirt and teach the children how to play; they think it is the best game ever.

I watch my own daughter running with that tyre and stick. Two generations back in those post-war years of make do and make-believe, her Grandmother would definitely have played the same games on the streets of East London. But me – her firstborn – and my children, we were raised in this whole new world. It has many benefits, but despite my better judgement, I still find myself succumbing to the social pressures of this new Modern Life. I fret over how to fit in all of the activities that my children do: music lessons, horse riding, swimming, Brownies… And I worry about that which they are not getting to do: how do I get one child to football training and the other to the orchestra that her music teacher is desperate for her to try, because they are at the same time, 10 miles apart in opposite directions, and I am in college anyway.

I wonder, when did we get so caught up in all this stuff? When did planned activity take over from just running loose with a bunch of other kids and making stuff up? Finding a bit of rope and climbing a tree? The kids here have so much less materially than my own, but today, they may have given them something that is beyond that which money can buy: they taught them how to be children again.

And I remembered how to let them be children. Wild, raggedy, joy-filled children.


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Autumn Sunshine through the trees

Divine Sparks: Or how to find everyday inspiration in your art and your life

As she pressed the book into my hands, I knew it was going to be a good one; let’s face it: this girl  has worked in publishing, reads like a rocket, and is singularly one of the most clever and articulate people I know. Let me put it this way: if I were heading to my certain death and I had to choose a book instead of a meal, I’d let her choose for me. That’s how much I trust her.

Divine Sparks book by Donna Lazenby

So as I pondered on its title and flicked through its pages, I was of course unsurprised to find there all sorts of beautiful truths, ringing out their clarion call like drops of golden sunlight. And it was there too as I wandered the fields and lanes near my house later that day, soaking in the sun’s unexpected rays and looking out and up and in again.

Autumn Sunshine through the trees

Divine Sparks.

Those little, tiny, light-life interjections into the mundane and the everyday and the ordinary.

Those small, unremarkable moments that remind us we are alive.

This is good.

I can breathe.

So many days and I am positively scurrying through life; head down, toe to the floor – a flat-out sprint of task, next task, next task. And then I flop onto my sofa at the end of the day exhausted, worn out, and worse – uninspired.

I have stopped seeing the beauty. I am no longer taking the time to stop, and pause, and see. And I wonder in these tired-out moments just why it all feels so…. pedestrian?

I am tempted at these junctures to blame my lack of creativity, my loss of joie du vivre on something or someone else. Maybe I need a mini break. Perhaps if I was living somewhere else, did a different job, was surrounded everyday by a commune of like-minded and inspiring writers, immersed together in our art, I would be OK. Writing would flow out of me like a fountain and I would be Inspired. Creative. Brilliant.

But this is just a crutch, I know. Creativity isn’t imparted to us by the Universe, some benign and celestial gift that falls one day from the heavens and anoints us as we stand to one side passively and await its benediction. And contentment does not work that way either. So how do we find those twin blessings that so easily allude us and seemingly conspire in their hidden-ness to conceal themselves from our uncovering?

How do we find inspiration – in our lives, or in our art – in the midst of the everyday? How do we uncover those divine sparks that are already all around us and above us and underneath our feet, lighting up the path that we so readily tread and so thoroughly trample on most every, single day?

Take a break

Breaks are not for wimps. They are carefully constructed moments of pause, reflection, breath that punctuate and slow down and reset. Having the wisdom to learn that sometimes, stepping away from your desk is much better for your brain than sitting there, staring dully at that screen is a lesson well learned. So go change your scenery, take five minutes to sit in the sun – it will do you more good than you know.

Look up

Take a walk, sit outside – and look up as well as down. At the trees, the stars, the clouds passing by. Exhale. Lifting my head never fails to lift my mood, and makes me lift my eyes from my own naval. When I am feeling overwhelmed by expectations or to-do lists, getting out and looking up always helps me re-focus.

Take note

In your head, in a book, however it works for you. Sometimes we are so plain busy and under pressure that we stop taking note of anything good at all. Take a moment and make a note – of anything that you are thankful for right now. Anything that makes you smile. Family that love you, friends that make you laugh. The warm smell of coffee, a favourite book, the sun’s warming rays, a sofa to sit on….

Say thank you

And then say thank you. Giving thanks, even for the everyday and the seemingly insignificant, cultivates beautiful grace in us, and who couldn’t do with a little more of that? As Ann Voskamp, the doyenne on thanksgiving tells us, eucharisteo comes from the root word charis, or grace. Giving thanks is everyday grace.


So that’s it – if you have any other thoughts or tips on how you capture those little, divine sparks, do feel free to share in the comments below!

 

For more on thanksgiving, see Ann Voskamp’s New York Bestseller One Thousand Gifts. Divine Sparks by Donna Lazenby is a beautiful collection of short essays on how we find God in the everyday, and how the everyday sparks thoughts of the divine.

 

 

Certain

There are some things I am certain of.

When everything else is in flux, and I am not sure what part of the life plan is supposed to come next, there are some things that remain.

This is the revelation that hit me as I walked; me and my dog, muddy feet and muddy paws splashing down paths as spring sprang around us in the trees. As I looked up and watched branches budding velvet silver, it was like it was writ large in the season-turning just for me. Catkins bursting into yellow flame and illuminating it all golden.

Catkins

Catkins

Trees in Spring

Because sometimes, I need to be reminded that it’s often just the shift in perspective that makes everything feel like it’s shifting from under my feet.

They say the only constant in life is death, and that nothing ever stays the same. That changes come when we least expect it and often in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes it’s good. Often it’s not. Nearly always, it can make us feel unsettled, unsure, afraid. We move house, or town or country. We change jobs. People we thought would be in our lives forever are lost, or leave, or die. Change comes in many forms and in many ways.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not good with uncertainty. Which is not a great trait for someone who is also fairly easily bored. So, if things sit still for too long, I get restless. Twitchy. Itchy-feeted in the extreme. But then when things start to move and change – unless I know the exact game plan all laid out in advance and to the T, I can feel myself again twitching, although not this time out of restlessness.

You see, I want to move on, do the next thing, and the next and the next, but I also preferably want to be certain what that next thing is. Wholly and completely and can I know it all right now please God?

It’s difficult.

And in all of that, I am so caught up in trying to make the right decision, the best decision – not only for myself now, but for our whole family unit – that I end up paralysed. ‘I’m so unsure‘ I rant. ‘I need clearer direction, clearer instructions, a more detailed map.’

I love the line from Baz Lurhmann’s ‘Sunscreen’, although it also terrifies me half to death as well.

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things
That never crossed your worried mind
The kind that blindsides you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday

I try to recall it’s wisdom as I stamp along well-trodden paths, past water-logged meadows and gaggles of geese floating on flooded fields.

Try to remember that almost certainly, worrying about what comes next, about the whys and wherefores of changes is almost always a complete and utter waste of time and energy. And as I do, I remember this too:

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” ( The Bible. The book of Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1 )

 

I have a faith. In a Creator God who loves me, and who holds me fast, and who works out all things for the good of those who love Him. And that faith means I am sure of what I hope for, and certain of what I do not see.

I may not know what step comes next, but I am certain that God guides my path in all righteousness.

I may not know what changes are ahead for us, but I am certain that this life will be a life well lived if I live it all for the glory of God above.

I may not know how to ‘be’ in the midst of change as well as I should, but I am certain that I am being transformed daily by the renewing of my mind, so as to be more like Christ.

There are so many things that I am certain of, and fixing my eyes on them seems to suddenly make all of the uncertainties fade to black as I tilt the lens one more time and adjust the angle of my focus. When I choose to view the uncertainties in my life through a lens of trust and obedience, the perspective shifts once more and my footing becomes sure beneath me again.

It’s the miracle of God that brings the blessing of peace to hearts that are troubled and minds that are not still.

I turn and walk back along the path, dog bounding by my side and geese hooting spring calls over the water and fields and trees.

 

The thread of a story… how everything unravels and yet holds fast

Header Image

So last week I told you that I would share the outline of the story I am going to try and write this year. It’s one of my goals for 2017, and putting out there is one way of me being brave and accountable and not procrastinating forever. So here it is: I first wrote this as a spoken word piece for a threads workshop at Creation Fest a couple of years back, but I think it might make a pretty good outline for the book. See what you think…


I was 18 years old and sitting on the floor of my room in my university halls, chatting with the girl who had the room next door. We hadn’t known each other long and we were just sharing about our lives, I was telling her about my family and where we were from.

At some point in the conversation she turned and looked at me square hard in the eyes and asked ‘Didn’t you ever think it was weird? You became a Christian and then your whole life just totally fell apart?’

I stopped and thought, long and hard. The honest truth was no, I never had thought it weird. In fact it’d never even crossed my mind before she asked the question.

Rewind 6 years, and in a little hut somewhere in deepest Sussex, I had just met Jesus – like properly, for the first time.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian house. My parents didn’t know anything of Jesus to teach me and my brother. But I had started going to church for church parade, when I joined the Brownies at 8 years old. A little post-war Anglican church on the edge of a housing estate in Essex. It was nothing special; a little choir and some dusty song books. But – I don’t even know how to explain it – I loved being there. A year later, I asked to be christened for my birthday. My brother, who is 3 years younger but whose birthday was a week after mine, got christened for his 6th birthday too, and we had a little party I remember. I’m sure he’d have been happier with a Tonka truck or something but there we go. I went as often as I could, and a few years later, my friend and I got confirmed. She went to the youth group there, and one night took me along. They were all signing up for this weekend away, and so I did too.

It was nothing like the hymns and patterns of my little Anglican church. The band, the music, the people – they talked about Jesus and not just about God. And I felt like I had come home, that’s the only way I could explain it. I met a girl from school there whose youth leaders were running the weekend. I gave my heart to Jesus and came home changed. I started going to their church and youth group, learning what it was to be a Christian, reading my Bible, drinking it all in.

And then. Then it happened. For the first time. I could tell you I should have seen it coming but the truth is, I did. I just didn’t want to. See, that is. Like most 12 year olds, all grown up and mature on the one hand, but all of us desperately trying to secretly hang on the security and safety of home on the other. I saw the evening I came home and found my Mum sitting there in the front room. Lights out, back pressed hard up against the sofa and knees hugged tight to her chest. I asked her if she was alright, she smiled yes and I didn’t want to hear any different.

I saw the day I opened his wallet and found a photo there. All blond hair and smiles, it wasn’t my Mum’s dark curls. I put it back in a different place and the next time I looked it had gone. We talked about it one morning as we walked to the bus stop, my mates and me, but we all agreed – it couldn’t. It wouldn’t.

But it had. And it did. He sat me on his bed, a couple of months after that first encounter with Jesus in the shed in Sussex, and wrung his hands, stared at his feet and asked no one in particular

‘How do you tell your little girl something you know will break her heart?’

A few weeks later and I came home from school and he was gone. The first of many times he’d up and leave us after promising that day that he never would.

My Dad was a powerlifter. Married to my Mum at 19, they were loving parents and seemingly happily married. Dad owned a successful building business and we had a lovely life. What I didn’t know was that a weightlifting injury had led to a dabble with steroids. The crew he mixed with at the gym had led to a bit of work as a nightclub bouncer; the money was good but the day job and the training and the nights on the door – a pick me up led to a habit, and before any of us could blink, everything had imploded.

My Dad walked out on us in November 1989. I was 12 years old and had been a Christian for literally months. The cocaine habit had racked up some debts, and so Dad had convinced Mum we needed to move, to downsize. What she didn’t know was that he’d forged her signature on the mortgage documents and so as we moved, alone, he was leaving the country with a holdall full of cash, new girlfriend in tow, leaving us to move to a smaller house on the other side of town with just as much debt as before.

Everything changed. My Mum, struggling to make ends meet, went back to work full time. We became latch key kids, letting ourselves in after school and getting dinner ready, laying the table. Except as often as I could, I didn’t go right home – you see school was OK. At school I could mostly cope; forget Dad was gone. But coming home… coming home and laying the table for 3 people instead of 4, there was no escaping that. So I didn’t. I walked straight up the road and straight past our house and through the little alley way at the top of the street and round the corner – to the little flat where the youth leaders of my new church lived. You see, when my Dad was lying to my Mum and convincing her we needed to move because of his debts and his drug addictions, when he was manoeuvring us into this little house so he could run off and try to start over with our money and some other woman – what he didn’t – couldn’t  – know, was that God was already one step ahead of him. Ahead of all of us. God was years ahead in fact, sowing a seed into an eight year old’s heart that would hold her tight and stop her from falling and stop all of their threads from unravelling.

And so I’d go, not home, but to my new youth leaders house, now conveniently just round the corner from where I lived, and I’d sit on their couch and we’d eat custard creams and drink tea and pray that God would make everything OK. I was just a kid, and a baby Christian – and if I’m honest, I had no idea whether I really thought God could or would make everything alright. I just had no other place to be and no other idea what to do.

Those people prayed faithfully over me and my family. That church held us up over the next 4 years as my Dad came and went and turned up and begged my Mum to take him back, dry him out. And then he’d go again and I’d be angry and hate him and know that I shouldn’t. I’d read my Bible and write prayers, learn the truth and wrestle with it, letting God slowly teach me how to do this stuff called life, with all its complications and hurts and pains.

There were times when I hated him with an energy I never even knew I had. Times when I stood in a field and screamed angry words at him, promising him he’d never come to my graduation, my wedding, never see his grandkids if he left us. Hot words pouring out as though they’d never stop.

When my Mum took him back time and time again and I would cry and shout and beg her not to, and she’d cradle me in her arms and whisper

‘It’s not him Emma, he’s not the man I married.’

But through it all, those threads of faith that God had started to weave held fast. First me, and then eventually all of us. Mum, getting tired of driving me to church each week and sitting waiting, wondering what sort of cult I got myself mixed up in, eventually came in with me. Walked through the doors and as she dropped the pretense she had been carrying, the burden of being strong and holding us all together, as it crashed down, she found Jesus held her up, and so did a bunch of lovely ladies at that church who dried her tears and told her stories of their imperfect lives and of God’s great love and grace. And so that love and grace became the thread that held her firm too.

One night, I went on a journey with my Dad. He was working at Spitalfields fruit and veg market in London, fighting for money and living in a bedsit in the East End. I didn’t know even a fraction of the violence and madness that his life had descended into by then, and we hadn’t seen him for months. But as we drove, he told me he’d been to see a man who had told him he had a choice to make.

‘I’m not going to become one of those Christians’ he told me ‘I don’t need a label’

But he later stood in the car park of the market in the small hours of one freezing night, and asked Jesus to come into his heart. He threw the knife he had strapped to the inside of his arm into a skip, and moved back home to my Nan’s, presenting her with a holdall of coke and drug taking paraphernalia to get rid of, and  going cold turkey for the last time.

And then one day, in the summer of 1993, I stood in that church and watched my Mum and Dad renew their wedding vows. And after months of living round the corner at my Nan’s house, being allowed round to visit us after school and taking my Mum out on dates, my Dad moved home.

24 years later and he spends his days travelling to prisons, army barracks, churches – anywhere that people will let him tell the story of how God rescued his soul. He came to my graduation, my wedding, he was there when my children were born. And so no, in answer to that question first asked in my room at uni, no I didn’t think it weird at all that I became a Christian and then all that happened. I think God knew what was going to happen and put into place a rescue plan – much like he does for all of us,

It isn’t everyone’s story, life doesn’t always have a happy ending – but it is ours. God weaving a thread into our lives before we even knew we’d need it, ready to pull it tight, and hold us fast.


I’d love your feedback on the outline of the book I am dedicating this year to write: the story of what happened to our family and how God rescued a teenage girl and held her fast through it all. I also need to think of a title, so if you have any bright ideas, I’d love to hear! And if you like it, please share..

Goals – why I’ll be being brave in 2017

My favourite place to sit and contemplate the world going by is on the floor of my bedroom; back pressed up against the bed, making the window just the right height to frame the sky. I sit there a lot like that, often when I’m looking for a little piece of my own peace and quiet, or need some way to frame the day and put it all into perspective. Often with a notebook and Bible in hand, it’s where I do some of my best thinking and praying, thoughts rolling quietly around my brain as the clouds roll across the sky outside.

Window Frame img_2269

So it’s the beginning of the year, and January rolls across our lives like those big fat clouds roll across my window pane, and Blue Monday rolls right into us and for some, it knocks the wind right out of our sails and for others, we sail right on regardless. It’s a time of resolutions and plans for the year ahead, of goal setting and re-evaluating; some more out-loud and conscious than others, but we all do it I think – hopes, dreams, plans pinned out there on the line, flapping gently in the breeze, clouds rushing by overhead.

My plans this year are big. Audacious hopes that frighten me as I whisper them out loud, slowly, to the people I trust and love. What do you do with plans so big that they threaten to scare the very living daylights out of you? Where do you start when the dreams overwhelm and loom large and what if I fail? What if I don’t make it and now everyone knows and how will I deal with that disappointment? 

I whisper it in the dark. Disappointment.

Isn’t it the very thing that makes us all keep our dreams hidden down there in the dark? Frightened that if we bring them up and into the light they will crumble in our hands, leaving nothing but dust and ashes and that bitter taste of disappointment in our mouths? Frightened that we will disappoint ourselves, that others will be disappointed in us, that we won’t be enough for them to love regardless, that we won’t be enough for God to love if we aren’t good enough to meet our goals and if our dreams don’t come true, what then?

Our goals can help us aim straight, channel our energy and our time and our passion. They can help us focus and cut out all that hinders and distracts. Or they can overwhelm us, frighten us with their prospect of failing, of falling short, or disappointing.

And we chose. We chose to move, or we chose to stay. We chose to bring our hopes and our dreams and our goals for the year out into the light and let others help and cheer us on, or we choose to hide them away, frightened of others’ reactions and our own fear of disappointing ourselves and them.

This year – 2017 – I chose the former. I am choosing to share my dream – my goal for the year – with a trusted few and with you, my online community of cheerleaders and readers and people that encourage me with your support and friendship. My goal for 2017 is to write a book. A story of a family that was busted apart but that came back together again. That was broken in the most horrible and terminal of ways but that was healed and restored and so much more. It’s my story – the story of my family. Some of you will know it in part, have heard bits of it spoken either by me or my lovely Mum or Dad. And I’m hoping this year that as I journey through the dreaming and the writing and the worrying that I will disappoint you, or me, or God somehow in the process of telling it, that I will be brave enough to tell it well, and confident enough to know I’ve done my best, which is all any of us can do with the dreams we have in our hearts.

So next week I will be letting you in on a sneak-peek of the story. I’d love your thoughts and comments. And I’d love to know what dreams you are holding in your heart this year. Let’s share them as a community and encourage one another in love!

And to inspire us to be brave, here’s one of my favourite quotes. It’s by Marianne Williamson, and spoken by Nelson Mandela on his inauguration in 1994:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

My Epiphany

WHERE CHRISTMAS ENDS, IS WHERE CHRISTMAS TRULY BEGINS

I’ve had an epiphany.

And it’s just this:

Where Christmas ends, is where Christmas truly begins.

It’s been 12 long nights since that tree swam in it’s sea of gifts gently tied and presents placed with careful hands.

12 long nights since meals were eaten in a house overfull with food and people and noise and weren’t we all over-tired and over-fed and with eyes overflowing with love and laughter ringing true and tall round tables heavy-laden?

And as we stuffed down this table of love, ate long and laughed loud, crossed hands and snapped crackers and marvelled at his wondrous gift of grace, given to us again and again and again; I wondered what it all means come January when the presents and the Christmas placemats are all tucked back away. When baubles don’t hang on trees, and windows no longer sparkle with Christmas lights.

How do you hang on to Christmas, even as you’re packing it away?

How do you keep on marvelling, when the mayhem threatens to swallow you all over, and bags need packing and shoes polishing, and kids in cars need ferrying to clubs.

That advent spirit, once still and true – how do we keep it from becoming jaded? Bruised and battered by January’s business and busyness and back-to-work overwork?

Because it doesn’t just end there. Christmas was never meant to end there.

This is really just the beginning.

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”

– Howard Thurman

epiphany
ɪˈpɪf(ə)ni,ɛ-
a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.
epiphany
ɪˈpɪf(ə)ni,ɛ-
the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:11)

 

So the real work of Christmas comes not in the sending of cards to loved ones not seen since we sent them a card this time last year? Not in the racking up of credit card bills and the appeasing of guilt and the buying of gifts and how do we tell them that we want their time, their love, not their presents?  It’s never the gifts that we really need anyway, it’s the love. Always love.

The work of Christmas begins quote

Oh this is hard.

Hard love that comes not once a year in tiny boxes and shiny wrapping paper, hard love that comes not in token gestures and yes this is better than nothing but is this the best we can really do?

The real work of Christmas comes when the beginning has truly begun. When the tree is packed away and real life returns. It comes when children are sick and cars break down and lives get busy. It comes when we are asked to give more than we think we can, more than we want to, and can I really do this? Am I really enough this time?

I can tuck tenners into envelopes and send presents through the post and I can feel like I am doing alright, doing my bit. I can get online and order presents from amazon, but what if really I needed to get offline more? To shut down laptops and shut down my own voice, shouting loud and hard about jobs not done and things not written and have I really got time for this?

But what if Christmas looked less like a once-a-year one-shot at loving those around me and more like an everyday giving of all that I am?

Could I do that?

Could I be that gift?

Can I pour myself out as this epiphany sinks in, let myself not let Christmas be put away until next year, but make every day, this year, count like Christmas?

Not in the presents or the glitz or the party, but in the everyday remembering that Christmas was not an end, but a beginning. A starting over of a new way, a new promise, a new love. A giving of one human being to start and show that a love revolution could bust us all wide open and make us whole again, all at the same time and without drawing a breath.

That the miracle of one life was enough to give us all new life. A new start. Enough to share and go around. Jesus birth was meant to show us that all we needed to bring was us. Yes, those wise men brought gifts, but those shepherds came on empty, bended knee, just to be. And it was all taken as grace. All accepted, all cherished.

All I need to bring is me.

Do I always believe it is enough?

Enough to stop and pause in the day and send a text. Kind words and a soft heart and is that enough? Enough to draw breath and take time to cook a meal, or write a card, or extend a hand?

Shouldn’t there be more, flashier ways, of declaring it all holy? Will what I offer make the grade?

Can it really make a difference?

Epiphany. It comes from the greek word “manifestation”.  An event, action, or object that clearly shows or embodies something abstract or theoretical.The action or fact of showing something.

We can all be a manifestation of love.

We can all speak good news, and not turn our eyes from the bad. We can all play our parts – however small – in praying for, and paying for and campaigning for freedom for prisoners and release for the oppressed and sight for the blind.

We can all show grace, in a million little ways, to those around us everyday. Take the time to stop and see and drink tea with those who need it. To care and engage and be present. We can all embody the true meaning of Christmas come, and Christmas here to stay, and Immanuel – God with us. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it has to be something. If epiphany means manifestation, and a manifestation is the ‘action or fact of showing something’ then it has to be something. Because the lost, and the broken, and the hungry – they all need something. We all need something; whether it’s today or yesterday, or next week or next year. We’ve all lifted weary heads and breathed in deep the gift of another’s thought or care or love.

So shouldn’t it be our job, our purpose, our highest calling perhaps, to carry on doing what He came to start?

Let’s be the difference. Be the gift. Be the hope. Be Christmas all year round.

That’s my Epiphany. Le’s start something.

 


I’m putting this epiphany into action by coming up with one thing I want to do every day (or most days!), every week and every month during 2017. Reading Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way has inspired me more than I thought possible, and the beautiful quote above, shared on twitter by St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday, has put some more meat on those first stirrings of my soul. More on this in future posts, but if you’ve got your own ideas on how to keep on with the work of Christmas now that Christmas is over, I’d love for you to share your thoughts and ideas – let’s start something!


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Rockpools at Polzeath

Lazy days and new starts

Lazy Days and New Starts Header

So it’s the second day of the New Year. New Start, clean slate and all that jazz. I’m not there just yet though, not quite made it through the threshold and into all that newness and cleanness yet.

Just one more day.

Just one more day of kids home from school and the tree still there, wilting slowly in the corner of the living room. I know it’s days are numbered but still it hangs on, lights twinkling just one more morning, curtains drawn against the dark January skies. There’s still board games half-played on tables, craft projects mid-flow, presents yet to find their way to a permanent resting place.  Every surface half-covered, all around the signs of lazy days and a full house and no rush, no plan, nowhere to be.

So much to do before the New Year really begins. Am I really ready this time?

Sometimes those fresh starts and new challenges appear before us all shiny and new and we just can’t wait. Can’t hold ourselves back from charging into all that newness and blank canvas and open road. Every muscle taut, every sinew straining, waiting, poised. We’re like an athlete at the top of our game, finely honed, perfectly prepared. Everything leading up to this moment, and all that preparation perfecting itself here and now. Fire the gun! Let us go! We can’t wait to show the world what we’ve got. Send us over the top and into battle. We’re ready.

We are invigorated by the challenge, set free from what has gone before and all that has held us back. It is like being released from the traps and given a second chance. It is good, and we thrive on it.

I love those times. I wish all new years and new starts felt good like that.

Today, mine looks like cleaning the living room and polishing school shoes. Of January belt-tightening and packing away of Christmas decorations and waving my husband off to work and getting back to the realities of life.

Sometimes, those sorts of new years are not so easy to get psyched up for. I feel less like an athlete and more like a reluctant recruit, wondering what I’ve signed up for and what do I do next? Going over the top feels scary and I’m not sure I’m ready and what difference will it all make anyways?

We stand at the edge of the beach and watch the gentle roll of the waves. In and out. In and out. In and out.

Walking at Polzeath

Reflections on the sea at Polzeath

Rockpools at Polzeath

The sun hangs low on the horizon. Winter rays reflecting off soft, wet sand, turning the cold all golden. Our breath rises and we splash in the shallows.

The wide expanse of the low, low tide reveals hidden caves and rock pools filled with secrets like treasure and we clamber and climb and laugh and look. Look at newness of it all, in spite of ourselves. This beach that is so familiar to us, becomes new again under our newly appreciative gaze and the cleansing regularity of the waves that wash it clean.

The sea is calm today. Small ripples of wave that make pebbles jump and that quiet rush that fills your ears. Today is not a roar, it is a gentle music that stills the soul and quietens the spirit.

Not all days are like this one. Some are mountainous days with waves of such ferocity that you stand on the cliff tops and look to the sea and wonder if this is all some giant cosmic battle, and who will win this time? As waves pound and the sounds fill the air like the cracks of thunder, it seems impossible that it will ever subside, that these rocks will withstand. Heartache, heartbreak, death, disease, disaster, famine. They roar around us and who would blame us for asking the question: can we remain? Will we make it this time?

Days and years go by and ebb and flow like the tide. Some days and years are calm and peaceful and we call all of those blessing. Some not so, the waves pounding and the noise deafening and so we stand, and brace, and try to remain.

Sometimes we run into the New Year with arms flung open wide, head back and laughing; optimism pouring from our hearts and we feel as if we are splashing in the shallows, all low summer sun lighting us gold.

Sometimes we look up, and we take stock and we nod, yes, we are still here. Still standing. Battered, perhaps by the storms and waves and the noise; but still here.

Tweet:

 

And I realise this: that whether you’re running or just still standing, it’s still a new start.   

 

The waves come in and the waves go out. Back and forward. Back and forward. In and out. Day after day. All that goes before is carried away, and in it’s place, all that remains is beautiful, smooth, washed-again newness.

And you might not feel ready, or good enough this time. You might not feel energised, inspired, or engaged. But you ARE here. Still standing. And that – that is blessing enough for today, and hope enough for tomorrow. For this new year. For this new start.

The steadfast love of the Lᴏʀᴅ never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (The Bible – Lamentations 3:22–23)

 


If you’ve enjoyed today’s post, please share it with your friends. If you’d like to receive new posts from me directly to your inbox, please use the subscribe buttons on the left to let me know your email address, and it’d be a pleasure to stay in touch!