Monday, 28 May 2018

My faith and my family

My mum died yesterday.  Though of course I will miss her, I can’t be too sad, because she had lived into her 96th year and leaves a whole host of treasured memories.  Mum had a radiant Christian faith, and so I can picture in my mind’s eye not only the welcome she will have received in heaven but also the reunion she will experience both with my dad (who died over 25 years ago) and my brother Phil, who died last year.  Though there is a sense of loss, I can only rejoice for mum.  Over the last few years she became increasingly frail, and although inwardly she was remarkably content, her death is something of a release for her, especially when one considers what she is currently experiencing – a new life free from any pain, struggle, sadness or tears.

Some time ago mum planned her thanksgiving service, and her Christian faith and the strong assurance she had of her eternal destiny shines through her choice of hymns and Bible readings.

One of the Bible readings which mum chose was from 1 Peter chapter 1, verses 3-9.  Peter is writing about how Christian believers need to see the struggles of our earthly life (which are temporary) in the context of the glorious eternal future we have in Christ Jesus.  This is the passage from The Message version of the Bible:

‘What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven - and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all - life healed and whole.  I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.  You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him - with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.

Many times, I heard mum say that the two foundations of her life were ‘my faith and my family.’  I thank God for the example she set in what it means to live a life of faith, especially in the tough times, and to love one’s family.  Thanks, mum xxx

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Reflecting on 63 years

Today is my 63rd birthday.  Age is a strange phenomenon; in my mind I don’t feel a great deal different from what I’ve felt during much of my adult life.  My body, however, informs me that the years are rolling by.  Earlier in the week, as I was pondering on my forthcoming birthday, my mind took me back to an incident during the time when Sue and I were courting (I seem to recall that I was much keener on Sue than she was on me!)  Sue had dropped round to my house for a coffee.  I happened to be playing a Cliff Richard LP, and as I was in the kitchen making the coffee, the track “When I’m 64” began to play.

This Beatles’ song looks to the future and includes the words, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I'm sixty-four?”  As I walked back into the room with the coffees, Sue said in fairly loud voice, “The answer’s no!”  I didn’t immediately understand what she was talking about, until eventually I linked her statement with the song words.  So only another year to go until (God-willing) I reach the age of 64, though I’m hoping that Sue might have changed her mind by then!

I’ve been in a rather reflective mood this week, recalling memories of people and events from down the years.  Although there have been some really dark periods, I have to say that as I look back I am filled with an overwhelming sense of thanksgiving and gratitude.  I have so much to thank God for.  I could use the words which the late Ken Dodd often sang, “I thank the Lord I've been blessed with more than my share of happiness.”

I cherish my family, the friends I have made over the years, so many wonderful experiences and the privilege of ministry.  I would be lying if I said that life has always been rosy.  On occasions I have felt at my absolute wit’s end.  But from the day when, aged 5, I invited Jesus into my life, I know that he has walked with me every step of the way.  He has poured his grace and love upon me, he has been there to strengthen me in times of great weakness, he has held me when I felt lost and alone.  Everything I have I owe to him.

The words of a song by Andre Crouch express something of how I feel right now:

How can I say thanks for the things
You have done for me?
Things so undeserved yet you gave
To prove your love for me
The voices of a million angels
Could not express my gratitude
All that I am, and ever hope to be
I owe it all to thee

Monday, 30 April 2018

Making assumptions

There is a story told of a little boy and his father who were travelling together on a train.  As they travelled, the boy consistently whined and cried.  It was an overnight train, and even though the boy and his father retired to the sleeping berth on the train, his sobbing could still be heard by other passengers. 

One of them, having heard the boy's crying for many hours, became impatient and irritated.  In anger and disgust he threw back the curtain to where the father and his son were settling down for the night. Harshly, he cried out, "Mister, if you can't control this boy and make him stop crying, you need to let his mother handle him!"  The father replied softly, "Sir, his mother has just passed away.  We are taking her home to be buried."

How easy it is to stand in judgement on others and make assumptions about them without knowing the full picture.  We may have little or no idea what is going on in another person's life which may be leading to apparently irrational or unreasonable behaviour.  Singer songwriter Philippa Hanna summed it up well in her song, "Getting On With Life."

I know from personal experience that times of stress or difficulty can lead to me being less patient or attentive than I ought to be.  It's not an excuse, but it may be a reason.  As I've thought more about this, I've tried to put it into action: when the checkout operator is grumpy, when the car driver cuts me up or appears not to be concentrating, or when someone I know if very offhand with me.  I try to remember to pray for God's blessing upon them, whatever they are going through.

Ultimately, it's about being people of grace.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Ghost Boy

I have just finished reading a most remarkable autobiographical book, ‘Ghost Boy’, by Martin Pistorius.   

He grew up an ordinary, healthy boy in a loving family environment.  At the age of 12 his body started to shut down.  He stopped eating, his muscles weakened and eventually he stopped moving, and even thinking, altogether.  His parents were told that their son was “a vegetable”, that he had lost all intelligence, and that they should simply wait for him to die. 

Time passed by until, at the age of 16, he slowly began to regain consciousness.  However, he was still completely paralysed apart from his eyes, and there seemed no way to communicate the fact that he was conscious.  The experience caused tremendous stress and heartache for his family, with his mother reaching such a state that she told him at one point, “I hope you die”, not realising that her son could hear every word she spoke.

It is impossible to imagine what the experience must have been for Martin Pistorius (though he gives some graphic insight in his book).  For years he was desperate to let people know that inside his paralysed body his mind was alert and active.  What’s more, he was at times abused by those who were supposed to be looking after him.  No-one understood his desperate plight, apart from one of his caregivers, a lady called Virna.  She noticed that his eyes seemed to respond to her words.  Through her persistence, Martin was send for some tests which revealed that he was conscious and aware of his surroundings.

This led to his parents giving him a speech computer, and he began slowly regaining some upper body functions. In 2008 he met his wife Joanna, and in 2009 they married. He has regained some control over his head and arms but still needs his speech computer to communicate with others.  He now lives in the UK with his wife and works as a web designer.

Martin Pistorius describes with vivid detail the feelings of desolation and loneliness during the long years of being unable to communicate.  At times he felt that to die would be a release from his torturous life.  I have been really challenged and inspired by the book, but perhaps by one short section in particular.  One might feel that Martin Pistorius had every right to cry out to God, ‘why have you forsaken me?’ Yet he writes:

“The one person I talked to was God … He was real to me, a presence inside and around that calmed and reassured me … I spoke to God as I tried to make sense of what had happened to me and asked him to protect me from harm.  God and I didn’t talk about the big things in life – we didn’t engage in philosophical debates or argue about religion – but I talked to him endlessly because I knew we shared something important.  I didn’t have proof that he existed but I believed in him anyway because I knew he was real.  God did the same for me.  Unlike people, he didn’t need proof that I existed – he knew I did.”