Growing strong

I failed this year with my sunflower seeds. Planted, watered but nothing. Disappointing. But we have a bird feeder in the garden and the sparrows are very messy eaters. Sunflower 🌻 seeds were spread everywhere and they started growing in the cracks and everywhere.

I transplanted three and this is the result-small but lovely.

Sometimes what we have planned doesn’t materialise. We have to swallow our pride and look for different ways of doing things, to take what is already offered. Sometimes God works in mysterious ways and we have to be flexible to see what they are. Then enjoy and appreciate the results.

For many around the world, pre-prepared plans fail. Harvests are affected by drought. People have to look for whatever is on offer. For persecuted Christians it’s often a case of relying on help from unexpected sources. Help that often comes just in time. That makes a real difference..and you and I can help make that difference.

Jigsaws

Earlier this year the girls brought a 1000 piece jigsaw (actually it was a 998 piece jigsaw…) It sat around on the table with the edge and a few bits done for a long time. Then I decided to move it on.

I discovered Jigsaws are both extremely addictive (just one more piece..) and very frustrating in equal measure. However I made some progress last weekend-see above- and by today it was complete (minus the missing pieces)

As I wrestled away, struggling to find the right pieces it taught me some important lessons, for work and life:

*Some things in life can’t be rushed and need patience

*Little wins are worth celebrating 🍾

*Everything has the right place

*How some things fit in isn’t immediately obvious

*Don’t force things that seem to fit but don’t. You’ll only have to redo it.

*Sometimes you need to come back to the problem later with fresh eyes

*Be organised but be willing to try different things

*Others see things you don’t

*If one piece is missing it makes an impact

*Always keep going back to the big picture

Personally, I’m glad God sees the big picture even when I don’t and life seems hard.

This is almost my last blog as my subscription runs out very soon. Thanks for reading this and previous offerings.

And the blog wouldn’t be complete without an Open Doors video clip. Persecution is awful from a worldly sense but it won’t destroy the Lord’s bigger plan.

Gardens

This week has been tiring as I prepared for an interview. Cramming my head with knowledge about where I might be going but then not properly thinking about where I had been. To anyone doing an interview that would be my advice-think thoroughly about examples from your past career.

Anyway, the garden. Lots of weeding and pruning done. It’s amazing how they grow! And watering too has been really needed. Gardens, jobs, relationships all need lots of hard work putting in to get results out. But to paraphrase Monty Don from “Gardeners World”-enjoy your garden! Too often we get too busy to stop and just appreciate.

This afternoon I was preparing for a talk on forgiveness. A very hard thing to do and not replacing the need for healthy boundaries. But as Nelson Mandela said not forgiving is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. Heard today about a Christian in Iraq who had been internally displaced 3 times, losing everything. When asked about bitterness, etc his response was “If I don’t forgive, I don’t live”.

This week is an international Ministerial conference on Freedom of Belief hosted in London. An opportunity to bring home the stories of many to those who forgive to those who need to hear.

https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/international-ministerial-conference-on-freedom-of-religion-or-belief-london-2022

Axes, Blokes, Big Top and Abba

Yes, it’s been #TheGathering22 this weekend in a field near Swindon. 1 400 men gathered in a big top to sing, listen to talks and hear seminars on things as diverse as the workplace, creativity and mental health.

https://thegatheringformen.com/

And there was lots of sport and other crazy activities. From zorb football to climbing walls; tug of war to wrestling. I did actually manage to get an axe 🪓 thrown and sticking to a board-harder than it looks. A lot of banter but also serious talk about Jesus. A weird cross between Top gear and Billy Graham. There was the surreal sight of many hundreds of men singing along to the ABBA tribute band “Gimme a man after minute” (it’s Queen next year) and at a different time nearly one hundred committing to follow Jesus for the first time.


Two of the learning points for me were that if a plane is just 1 degree off course leaving London it will around 100 miles off course by the time it reaches LA. Little things matter and cumulatively can wreck or make our lives. Also, I was challenged by question “Is it failure you’re afraid of or success?”

On a final note it was great to catch up with Elnur, originally from Azerbaijan but now doing great things in Christian ministry through the Turkic speaking world. One man passionate about Jesus and making a difference to many hundreds of people.

Who is right?

Tonight I watched a Council meeting on YouTube (some may call me sad..). Councillors at Castle Point in Essex voted to withdraw their Local Plan and start again from scratch. The big issue was new houses. In a sense what’s happened is not unusual as this will be the 5th attempt to produce a plan in the last 20 years. What was unusual was that this Plan had gone through all the consultation processes and statutory hoops and been found sound by an independent inspector. This is the first time I’m aware of nationally that a Plan has been withdrawn at such a late stage.

Change. We either relish it or hate it. It stirs up such passions. People may accept the reasons for change, but protest its not for them or it is fine somewhere else but not here. The immediate threat of change may be ameliorated but the underlying issue still remains. It can be like that in our own lifes-as someone said, we can often only change something in ourselves when we can no longer tolerate things as they are.

There are times when it right to stand up against something that is new but wrong. It can’t be change for change sake. But even then we must be very careful to understand our reasons for resistance.

Yet change is inevitable and often vital, even if hard. A caterpillar will only turn into a butterfly 🦋 if it goes through the chrysalis stage and the hard battle of getting out of the pupae. If we had not facilitated change in building techniques we would be still constructing beautiful but cold and dark buildings like Speke Hall for the very wealthy. And wearing lovely but impractical clothes.

Many forms of religious persecution often come from resistance to change too. In many middle eastern societies for an individual to change their faith is seen as an insult to the family. In rural India it is an insult to the majority faith. Change cannot be tolerated and in many places must be resisted, sometimes violently. Change has costs, but for those whose lifes are changed, they consider the cost of following Jesus worth it.

Change. To change or not change: each have consequences. How do you and I deal with it?

Relaxation..

I’m writing this from Scargill House, a Christian retreat centre in the Yorkshire Dales near Kettlewell. It’s a beautiful place with a walled garden, 92 acres of woodland, a grade 2* Chapel and some lovely views.

I had been busy with work, Jubilee, Big Church Festival and visiting friends on the way up here. I thought yesterday that a walk would be really good. But up on the tops the signs disappeared, it was pretty bleak and I got lost, tired and frustrated. All my pent up angst came out and I was really irritated I couldn’t seem to relax properly.

Today was so much better. The speaker encouraged us to stop and really appreciate creation close up. It was also a delight to be reminded of God lavishing his love and choice on us, despite our messups. I wondered at the intricacy (and taste) of a mint leaf and pressed a petal. I also had a lovely walk up onto the tops this afternoon.

It made me realise that I can’t fully control when my body relaxes. Sometimes it takes time; really slowing down and appreciating what God has done for me.

For many in the world, the chance to take time out like this isn’t feasible. That’s not meant to induce guilt but to appreciate what we do have and to give of ourselves to support those who need it.

Jubilee…

If you are in UK 🇬🇧 I wonder how you are feeling about the Queens 70th jubilee this week? They definitely don’t come round very often! I’m old enough to remember the silver jubilee back in 1977..a long time ago now.

I have been putting together invitations to tea and cake 🎂 in my garden next Thursday. Haven’t got the time to organise a big event but it’s something and hopefully a few people will pass by.

The Queen has a very privileged life and has made mistakes but she has, in my view anyway, worked hard to fulfil her coronation vows to serve her country.

In the old testament the concept of Jubilee was one of restoration and freedom. Those indebted were to be freed of their debts; ancestral land sold was to be restored; slaves were to be set free. It was all about a new start every 50 years. About equality. But sadly it was quickly forgotten. I wonder what jubilee would look like today, in a very unjust world? Spiritually, I’m glad of the freedom and restoration Christ came to give.

As people we can look back and yearn for a golden age, like the victorian boats and fair in Maldon yesterday. Or for steam railway enthusiasts, Jubilee class locomotives (from 1935). Let’s enjoy the best of the past but look to the future.

For many in the world, they need a physical jubilee. For justice in land ownership; in access to water, health care and education. And to worship. Whether discriminated against on the basis of religion, ethnicity or gender we can help make a difference by our giving and campaigning.

Let’s be thankful for the Queen’s faithfulness and seek to do what we can in our sphere of influence.

Capturing thoughts..

“You’re a lazy so and so and really inefficient”. Ironically these words, which so forcefully imprinted myself on my mind, came as I pruned a bush in the garden after a day cleaning the house, organising my admin, doing the washing and going on a 12km run before breakfast 🏃‍♂️

What lies, which appear so true in the emotion of the moment, impact you? And where do they come from? My parents, my Mum in particular, found it hard to stop and relax. What I saw in her I see in me. And as a Christian, I believe there is also an enemy of our souls.

The idea of sabbath, or a weekly time of rest, is God given in order to get us to stop judging our lives primarily by our productivity. The world will still keep turning without my help! Burn out, mentally and physically, does me, you, our families and workplaces no favours. Whether the pressure is internal or external, we need a rhythm of rest which I’m trying to learn. So this afternoon my daughter and I went to the garden centre then to the beach ⛱ and paddled. And I’m writing this as the bees buzz among the chives. Hopefully I will be better for it!

Some believers I know via Facebook from Pakistan send me Happy Sunday greetings. A number of them work alongside indebted labourers in the brickfields. Essentially slaves with generational debts they can’t pay off, young children often work with their parents in terrible conditions. A day is something very special; rest a treasure for exhausted often broken bodies. However tough our jobs are, they are nothing like this.

Treasure your rest, root out the lies your mind tells you and remember those in a far worse situation than us. Have a good week 😀

Defining success…

This week my Job title was altered to Principal Planner. The whole department had their titles changed (though sadly there wasn’t a pay increase along with it).

It’s nice to have a title upgrade. I am glad to have it. But does this, or putting my various letters after my title, change who I am? Where does my value lay? It’s sometimes easy to feel a bit insecure when reading LinkedIn and social media and everyone seems to be doing so well and you’re just plodding…

Walking by a hedgerow today I was looking at the flowers. It’s good to be reminded of what Jesus said about not worrying about our lifes because he looks after the flowers, which quickly fade. A reminder that my value is fundamentally in who I am, as a unique individual rather than my titles or label.

I always remember visiting a refugee camp in Kurdistan back in 2015. People had arrived in Erbil with literally nothing after fleeing Islamic State. University professors, engineers and farmers were all mingled together, each in the same basic shelters and dependant on aid. I have met refugees in this country too doing minimum wage jobs despite their previous much higher experience.

So what defines you? Your title or your character; interdependence or individual success? I don’t know about you but I have to keep reminding myself of what’s important.

Below is another reminder of what it’s like to be traumatised and to try and find a new identity

Bluebell woods…

Went to Cherry Orchard Country Park this afternoon. The bluebells are still out en masse in places and look beautiful. They transform the greens and browns.

It reminds of the power of the multitude. We saw a single flower in the trees which stood out in it’s own way. But when combined with thousands more of it’s species the effect is transformative. A similar analogy would be a single light or a hot coal. We play an important role individually but in community we can make a real difference.

There were one or two places where flowers of other species made there mark in the sea of lilac blue and made me look afresh. They stood out in their context, were different. What makes you stand out as different, in a positive way?

In many countries, Christians are a small minority. From Bhutan to the Maldives to Uzbekistan it is hard for Christians to stand out without that flower of faith being squeezed and sometimes crushed. “Being different” from the predominant culture is not acceptable. Open Doors works with believers in such places to help them “stand strong in the storm”.

https://opendoorsuk.org