Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The one with the handful

'Take a handful!'

Over the weekend one of our guests kindly offered my youngest son some of her Minstrels.  Being a chocolate lover, his eyes widened at the sight of the large bag of chocolates.   Before reaching into the bag, he looked at our guest as if to silently ask 'how many am I allowed to take?'  With astute perception she innocently answered 'take a handful'.  And that is what he did!  A rather huge handful!  Kids!  

 This incident triggered numerous giggling fits  as pictures of my son attempting to effectively hold and eat the chocolates flashed through our minds.  It really was comical.  

Throughout the weekend we discussed my son's literal interpretation of the direction to 'take a handful'.  To him this provided an opportunity to scoop up as many Minstrels into his hand as he could physically manage.  Why wouldn't he?  He loves chocolate!  It makes sense.  

However, to most adults (myself included) the same phrase brings about a different response.  'Take a handful' - becomes interpreted as 'take a few because you don't want to look greedy.'  The consequence of this interpretation results in the adult taking their hands out of the offered packet with only two or three chocolates.  How polite.  

So, whilst the children get to enjoy their acquired feast of chocolate, the adults are left with a tantalising taste of chocolate in their mouth.  Politeness aside - why do we do this?!  If we are offered a handful of chocolates, why do we not take it literally and grab as many as we like?  After all ... they were offered and we love chocolate!

As I have reflected on this today, I have realised that the inclination to settle for less does not stop with chocolates.  It may have an impact on an untold number of experiences in our lives.  Sadly, our ability to learn, to enjoy life,  or to love and be loved may be hindered as the 'take only a few' reaction kicks in. 

We may tell ourselves that we are not good enough.

We may believe that we do not deserve it.

We may assume that the offer is not really meant for us.


These incorrect understandings are often deeply embedded in our lives and can result in mediocrity being accepted as norm.  However, as mentioned in a previous post - Jesus came to give us 'life to the full' (John 10:10).  This fullness of life includes being offered total forgiveness of sins, unconditional love and full acceptance into God's family.  Amazing!  

And yet,  our 'take only a few' response can sometimes result in us being unable to fully accept this.

Let's find out and understand what it is God is offering, and reach in and grab all we can.  Jesus died in order to make this possible for us.  God will not be offended or think we are greedy if we 'take a handful' - because when he offers it to us - he really means it.  He loves us and wants us to accept all he has for us - so we can live our life to the full with him :) 

Ready to grab a handful? :)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The one with the flat tyre

After the morning school run I sat quietly in Costa (yes, sorry Starbucks but if you had a store in Chineham I would be there!) enjoying a much needed cup of tea.  As I sipped, I flicked through the first few chapters of Jeff Lucas' book - 'How not to pray'.  On the whole I don't find writers funny - but Lucas is an exception.  I already have 'Lucas on life' and despite having read it several times, I still laugh out loud as I imagine myself in some of the situations about which he so humourously writes.  With great wit and a brutal honesty he explores the Christian life in such a way that encourages you to laugh and learn!  If you have yet to experience Lucas' writings - you are missing out.  Seriously - go to  Amazon and order one of his books.  Treat yourself to an early Christmas present.

Anyhow - enough of the advertising!

Back to Costa, with my tea and book ...

In the first few chapters Lucas looks at prayer - and admits that despite being a Christian and knowing Jesus loves him, he doesn't actually find prayer all that easy, and in fact, at times he even finds it boring!  Shock!  You know what though, I can empathise with him.

So, in a rare moment of quietness I reflected on how I really felt about my prayer life.  This reflective process left me in no doubt about my current experience of prayer ...

Flat.  Yes, that is it.  Flat.

A car with a flat tyre is an apt pictorial representation of how I feel about prayer right now.  The rest of the car is functioning well, but cannot perform effectively because the tyre is flat.

Recently I have felt as though I have just been plodding on in prayer.  Nothing new.  Nothing exciting.

Like a tyre with a slow puncture I have gradually become flat.  Am I alone here?

Prayer is my 'flat tyre'  - but yours may well be something else. It could be your bible reading,  your fitness, or perhaps your commitment to work or enthusiasm in relationships.  I guess we all have areas in our life that go flat from time to time.

Are we destined to live our lives in such a way?  Will our flat tyre continually impede our performance?  This, I believe,  is up to us.

I can see three obvious solutions to the 'flat tyre' problem.

Firstly - we could pump the tyre up.

Simple.  Well, simple this may be but it still requires effort.  If I want my current experience of prayer to change, it's unlikely to just happen.  I need to put time and effort in.  I need to push through the barriers (boredom, lack of time etc) and commit to seeing things change.

Secondly - we could locate and fix the puncture.

We might find that simply pumping the tyre up has no lasting impact.  There might be an issue we need to fix first.  In my example of prayer, this could include cutting my facebook hours down so I have more time to pray.  Whatever the nature of our 'flat tyre',  a slight lifestyle adjustment may be necessary in order for the tyre to remain inflated. 

Thirdly - we may need to give up and fit a new tyre completely!!

Let's face it - some tyres just aren't worth fixing.  They may have been fixed so many times before that they are never really going to perform efficiently.  We may need to remove the old tyre and discard it completely.  We can then fit a new tyre and full performance can commence :)  I may need to put aside my old struggles with prayer and start something new and find a new way of praying.   There is something incredibly refreshing about turning over and starting a fresh page. 

If like me, you have a 'flat tyre' - can I encourage you to do something about it.  Don't accept  performance under your true ability.  Don't put up with mediocre.   You, and those around you, deserve more!

Prayer may be flat for me at the moment - but I am going to do all I can to fix it!  Feel free to challenge me on this and make sure I am working on it :)

Jesus said - 'I come to give life, and life to the full' (John 10:10).  We cannot live this full life with Jesus if our tyre is flat!   I, for one, want to experience all that Jesus has for me.  Do you?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The one with the Starbucks story

A light-hearted blog today :)

Anyone who knows me well will know of my love of Starbucks.  There is something special about going into a good Starbucks store early in the morning, grabbing a Chai Tea Latte, finding the comfy sofa in the corner and settling down for an hour (or three!).  I love it!  I love the drink - I love the atmosphere - but most of all - I love the people watching!!

Many times I have sat in Starbucks in Basingstoke and watched people.  I watch as young people come in and chat excitedly with friends and as Mothers steal a quiet few minutes whilst their baby sleeps in the buggy.  I watch as business meetings take place and bookworms lose themselves in the pages of a good book.  I watch everything!

Why?  Because people are interesting.

No two people share a personality.  They each embody a unique mix of memories, experiences, hopes and fears.  Everyone has their own story to tell - and - as the Starbucks mug pictured above states - STORIES ARE GIFTS

The stories of others enrich our lives.  They add colour to our world and new dimensions to our  understanding.  They dig deep into our emotions, and rejuvenate our imagination.  They truly are gifts.

Let's recognise this and create opportunities for people to share their story with us, and allow our own story to be sensitively spoken as a gift to others.

Give time, give attentiveness and give of ourselves.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The one where God shows up

Having just come back from an amazing weekend away at the Youthwork Conference in Eastbourne - my head and heart are full of thoughts that I could share with you.   It was inspirational, encouraging, challenging - and even a little bit uncomfortable at times.  It reminded me how important it is for us all to take some time out of the ordinary - and place ourselves in an environment where we can slow down and listen to what it is God might be saying to us. Easier said than done though with today's pace of life!

So, what did I come away with that is worth sharing with you?  What pearls of wisdom did I hear that could be conveyed to you?  What experiences could I share with you to encourage you and remind you that Jesus is alive and with us?  Or, which funny story could be shared to make you smile and see the funny side of life?  (And boy do I have a good one!!)  The options seem endless!

To be honest, I am still quietly sifting through a lot of the things I heard and experienced whilst there.  Does that ever happen to you?  You come away from a conference, or service,  with so much - that you are not sure exactly what to do with it!  It is almost overwhelming.  This his how I felt on my return to Basingstoke yesterday.  I came back feeling spiritually full with my battery fully charged  -ready and willing to go for it - to inspire, challenge, teach, give, make a difference!  The only problem was though, and still is to some extent, I had no idea which direction to face before setting off!  I came back knowing I had been challenged and ready to respond in my day to day life - but how?  where? who with? I had no idea!  I guess as I continue to process and pray through these things it will all become a lot clearer to me?  I will keep you informed :)

So, all that said - was there anything that I came away with that I can encourage you with?  Yup, for sure ...

During the weekend, one question in particular was asked that is still going around in my mind today.  It has totally challenged me, and I hope, will begin to transform the way I think and act.  The context this question was asked in was in a discussion about what success looks like in youth ministry.  However, this is such a key question - and is by no means confined to youth ministry.  Are you ready to be challenged?

The question ...

What would happen in your ministry  [life, work, conversations, etc]  if God showed up?
 .... and you tuned in?

Now, although this question presented itself in two parts,  it is really only one question.  What would happen if God showed up?  I believe there is no need for the 'if' - because God does show up!  He is omnipresent, he is everywhere!  Quite simply there is no 'if' about it. 

We need to believe that God will be with us.  We need to believe that God will be there as we step out and work for him.  We need to believe God will be there when we talk to our friends.  God will show up.  In fact - he already has!

David contemplates this in Psalm 139, when he asks ...

Where can I go from your Spirit?   Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there;  if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 

God is always there.

So the part of the question that really matters is  ... 'and you tuned in?'

This really challenged me.  I totally believe God is there - when I run Take Off on Fridays or Lavish on Mondays.  I absolutely believe that God is there with me when I speak to friends about him, or lead a prayer time.  I really do.  But do I always respond accordingly and tune in?   Ouch.  In all honesty - no I don't.

Sadly, it is all too easy to believe that God is always with us without really stopping to tune in to him to see where he is leading, or what he is saying.  We can plan our meetings and work out what to say, without really giving God a chance.  We often rely far too much on our own strength and ideas instead of tuning into God and allowing him to work effectively through us.

It is like listening to an un-tuned radio.  It sounds crackly and distorted and cannot be corrected simply by turning the volume up.  It needs to be finely tuned.  Only then will the music, or programme (that has always been there) come through clearly and as it should.

We really do need to do more than acknowledge God's existence.  We need to ask ourselves what difference this means to us and the things that we do.  We need to take time to tune in and ask God what he wants us to be saying and doing.   Let's face it - he can do it far better than we can anyway!

If we truly believe that God will turn up and stop to tune in to him - what a difference this will make!  We can live and work with a new confidence and boldness that comes through knowing God is with us. 

Now to put this into practice ....

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The one with the school PE experience

So, onto day three of blogging.  I have to admit - this isn't turning out quite as I expected.  I had envisioned these blogs to be an opportunity for me to entertain and show the funny side of life.  However, the first two of my blogs have neither been entertaining nor funny - but a realistic down to earth look at our life with God.  As much as I try to steer back to my original plan it seems that this third blog will be no different.  I think maybe God is trying to tell me either that I am not really that funny - or perhaps there are just one or two things I need to focus on first?  I will go with the latter!!

This morning 'The Ladies' invaded my house for the first time.  This wasn't just an opportunity to drink tea and chat - (which I am totally up for!) - but to spend time encouraging and supporting each other in prayer.  It seems I am not the only Christian who struggles in their prayer life.  I guess most of us at times feel as though there is a lot more to prayer than we are currently engaging in.  Maybe we want to be able to pray for longer,  be able to pray out loud with confidence, pray without our minds bouncing all over the place, or quite simply - pray at all!  This is the first point of today's blog - if you are struggling with prayer - you are not alone!  I find this quite comforting :)

So, with all ladies tea'ed up, I shared my thoughts and plans for the morning.  As we were focusing on prayer, I wanted to begin by reading a few good scriptures on prayer.  Good plan.  However, I couldn't move on any further than John 15:16 -

'You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.'

Whilst you would be right in seeing the prayer link in this scripture - it was the first part that really struck a chord with me.  'You did not choose me, but I chose you'.  Wow.  God chose us.  Even though he knew what we would be like, what we would struggle with, what are weaknesses would be, where we would mess up, where we would be disobedient - he still chose us!  

Can you remember your school PE days?  Standing out in your PE kit on a muddy field in freezing cold weather?  Right at the beginning of the game, two team captains are chosen and instructed to pick their team.  All is fine if you happened to be a sporty and popular person.  But what if you aren't?  You shrink back, hide behind the more confident and sporty kids, and pray for torrential rain in the vague hope the games will be called off!  You are always one of the last to be picked.  Always.  No-one really wants you on your team because you can't run fast or kick a ball straight.  Can you imagine it?  Maybe you don't need to imagine it, because you remember it well.

But ...

Right at the beginning of the team picking - you hear - 'I choose you' and look up to see a finger pointing straight at you.  There must be some mistake?  They must mean someone else?  But no, they have picked you, and not as a last resort - but first!!! 

This is what God has done.  He has picked us!  He doesn't look for someone else when he sees all our weaknesses and insecurities.  He doesn't look for someone more able, stronger, prettier, slimmer, intelligent.  He wants us - weaknesses and all.  

So, be encouraged today.  God chose you.  He chose you because he wants you on his team.  He sees the good in you, he sees your potential, he sees you as he created you.  He loves you.  

Amazing :)

Now we need to work through the rest of the verse ... but that's for another day :)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The one with the porridge

Wednesday mornings are always busy for me - which is why I make sure I have a good breakfast before I leave the house.  This morning was no different - well - at least at the beginning.  After my two cups of tea I got out of bed and made my way downstairs for breakfast.  One sachet of Oats-So-Simple left - great!  Just what was needed on this cold Wednesday morning.  I grabbed a bowl, ripped open the sachet, emptied contents into bowl, filled with milk and placed in the microwave.  I set it for the required two minutes and left it cooking.  Great :)  Well ... that was ... until I walked back into the kitchen after the microwave had 'pinged' to inform me the two minutes were up.  You see when I opened up the microwave I found that my porridge had exploded!  Grrrrr!!

Yes, I was annoyed!  I had left the microwave doing its job and it had messed up!  It had ruined my breakfast.  Or had it?  Was it more the case that I had wandered off, packed my bag for the day, folded some washing, turned the laptop on and loaded up Facebook?   Yes, I think it probably was.  Had I popped back and stirred the porridge as directed, and kept my eye on it, I would have probably managed to avoid the explosion!  I wanted that porridge and was really looking forward to it - so what happened?  Quite simply:  I got distracted.

How often do we see this happen in our lives?  We start something off, excited and full of good intentions.  Maybe we start a healthy eating regime, plan to get fit, write a journal, buy all our Christmas presents early, or develop a deeper relationship with God.  All goes well at first, we enjoy the challenge, and keep on target.  Things are good.  However, after a while we start to slip.  We have a few too many take-aways, watch a series on the telly, spend a bit more time with friends at the pub, or neglect our Bible reading for a few days - and suddenly we find we have been distracted and our porridge has exploded!  Our plan hasn't worked out.  We didn't keep it up.

I know this feeling well!  I have lost count of the amount of times I have attempted to lose weight and get fit - and failed!  More importantly, its scary how often I realise that I am not spending as much time reading the Bible or praying as I ought to be, and set out to put this right - again and again! 

How does this happen?

I guess, a better question to ask would be 'how can I stop this happening again?'

The writer of Hebrews has something useful for us here with his analogy of a race (Hebrews 12 vs 1-2).  Running a race takes a lot of training if we are to run it well and finish.  It isn't always easy.  It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance.   We might find it slightly easier if we have a training partner to work with and encourage us - but we still need to put the effort in and push through the pain barriers and exhaustion!

If all this sounds too difficult, there is further help in the passage - for it tells us to 'fix our eyes' ... to focus!   In order to reach the end and avoid all the distractions we need to have a focus.  We need to keep the end result in mind.  If I had kept my focus on the porridge I probably wouldn't have allowed it to explode.

Although the analogy of the race can be stretched to cover almost any of the targets we might set ourselves, it is of course,  referring to the most important 'race' we will ever run - and that is our life with God.  We must try and avoid the distractions that stop us running our race by 'fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.' (vs 2)  Can I encourage you - wherever you are in your race to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.  He will help you to avoid distractions, and will encourage you to keep running with perseverance - even when faced with adversity and exhaustion.

Perhaps you would benefit from finding yourself a trainer - someone who will run with you, encouraging you and cheering you on - but ultimately - the only way you are going to finish the race marked out for you is by keeping your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus :)

Enjoy the run!

Oh - and just to finish the story - I ended up having Crunchy Nut Cornflakes for breakfast.  Not quite as good as porridge - but did the trick :)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The one at the beginning

It was a perfect setting: a quiet corner in an old traditional pub with a log fire, drinking tea and chatting with a good friend. As always, the conversation was amusing, interesting, challenging and much appreciated.  The topic?  Life!  Yup - we discussed everything from pea soup (yuk!) to prayer times, from cold tea to cloudy thoughts and from past experience to future hopes.  We covered a lot!

During several cups of tea we both shared a little of who we really are - and with that - who we hope to become.  You see, the more I go through life, the more I realise what a journey it really is.  Contemplating the past is good, because it reveals how we got to where we are today.  However, it should never stop there.  For dwelling too much on our past does not benefit us.  We need to choose to learn from it today and allow it to positively influence our future.

Where did these thoughts come from?  Let me explain ...

I decided a few days ago that it was time to give my bedroom a good sort out - and ventured into the back of my cupboards.  As I pulled out all sorts of hidden and forgotten things I came across a box containing my writings from the past: journal entries, prayers, letters etc.  Forgetting the mess of my room, I tentatively began to read.  I say tentatively - because I really wasn't sure what I would find!  However, what I did find encouraged and excited me.  I learned several things during this little trip through my past:

Firstly - God really has placed people in my life at the right time to support, encourage, challenge and develop me.  I can see this now and am thankful for the people who have positively impacted my life. God knows who our paths need to cross with at each junction.  Do I always allow people to speak into my life, or do I slow down, or change direction in order to avoid people crossing my path at certain times?  Do I allow God to use me to cross other people on their journey - and support, encourage and develop them?  I hope so. 

Secondly - I have moved on in my journey with God.  All too often I feel as though I have become stagnant and stopped moving on in my relationship with God and in my ministry.  However, looking back at past prayers and journal writings I can see that this isn't the case at all.  God has moved me on.  I have enlarged my tent, and stretched my comfort zone.  Sometimes we need to reflect on our past in order to see how God has moved in our lives.  However, we have to remember it is a journey - and our journey has not come to an end just yet!  Realising and understanding our growth in God should inspire and encourage us to continue growing!  He has greater things in store for us yet :)

Thirdly - (and finally - as I have now been waffling on for far too long) - writing somehow allows me to express myself in a way that makes sense - to me at least!  As someone who finds expression difficult in word - I seem to be able to put my true thoughts and feelings down through pen and paper (keyboard and screen!).  Which - I guess - is ultimately the whole point of attempting this blog.  I hope writing this will allow me to explore and express!  That is for me.  For you?  I hope that through my ramblings you will somehow be encouraged and empowered - to explore your life - and all that God has planned for it :)

Life!  Best shared  - with laughter - and lattes - (Starbucks anyone?!)
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