Appreciate: half a yearJuly 19, 2016
Back in January, prompted by the Velvet Ashes group I chose a word for the year. One word, to continually come back to, to muse over, to mediate on. One word that I would go on to make my backdrop on almost every digital device, would force myself to acknowledge daily before the wind-down of sleep, one word that I hoped would shape me. And the word I chose was appreciate.
Early on it was lovely. Back then I was in the practice of having a weekly desk sheet. This encouraged me to track and thus vary our food intake, to make note of when I’d accomplished what and when appointments would divert our routine. Most of all it forced me to write daily what I’d appreciated. As weeks passed I found this sheet almost entirely devoted to writing out daily positives. After Easter I started skipping written weeks, but still the appreciations flowed. Mostly into prayers of gratitude, sometimes deep prayers that rise up unbidden, others rushed moments of thanks. Rather than scribble out lines I started to read the psalms, resonating with their words of praise, and recognising in their words of anguish a personal faith that had allowed pools of stagnation to form. My faith found itself on a journey, a journey from the crowd to the tent, from the spectator to the friend, from the textbook to the embrace. It was such a short step, but one I had failed to make it for so long.
Now I’m more than half way through my year of appreciate, I recognise I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve not just embraced gratitude over pessimism, which was what I set out to do, but I’ve rediscovered gratitude itself. I’ve discovered how many circumstances have brought me to the place we are, decisions that spans back centuries, years and mere months. I’ve discovered a propensity to leave un-built the true acknowledgement in relationships, and found a earning for a chance to show appreciation. I’ve reconsidered the old promise that ‘God will provide’ or that ‘God can use me to provide’ and seen that far too often we pass the thanks only upwards and not also around. I’ve found appreciation boundless, limitless, curling back through memories and showing already open doors for the future. It’s the art of treasuring, the point of recognition, the mild mannered admiration… in it’s truest form it’s a gentle prompt to show love.
Today, know you are appreciated. You are appreciated for reading my words, put out into the ether, appreciated because you have contributed to this world, you have spun the plates and dared to keep them balanced, appreciated because you are a child of the divine (even if you don’t acknowledge there is one) and your place in this grand tapestry of life can only be played out by you.
If I never get to say it in person, Thank you.
A new palletMarch 18, 2016
“How did Jesus actually die?” asked a small voice from the group of children who had been quizzing me on the old building that surrounded us. I was at the edge of the chancel in a church that betrayed a hotchpotch of generational changes, including the small stations of the cross that this class had come to examine. I looked at the child in question, this was no time for the simple answer, it was time for a story.
“He probably suffocated” I started, knowing that it was the unexpected answer, the accurate answer. “Crucifixion is like that. They would take a wooden beam and place it in the ground, the second wooden beam is the one across the shoulders” I slowly raised one arm then the next. “Arms would have been tied in place and then long thick nails would have been pushed against your wrists, there’s a bone there, they won’t rip like your hands might” Out of the corner of my eye I could see the other groups had stopped to watch, I dropped my arms to swing the hammer, breathed in a huge breath to show the effort of breathing – I was a storyteller and I was painting a masterpiece. By the end of the description the building was quiet, the children downcast, the air thick. How I delighted in then dusting the miracle of Easter… that this wasn’t the end of the story. In a hushed voice I told how we believe this suffering was a battle, and though Jesus died he won the war, he rose again.
The spell broken, the room shook off the trance and returned to it’s activity. I loved my job, I loved being paid to tell these stories, to make the dry words alive, to dream ways of bringing the intangible miracle of a personal relationship with the divine to the youngsters I met. When the position ended I couldn’t imagine not continuing to work in the same field. Countless interviews and some ugly experiences later, with a mission trip under my belt and a wedding ring on my finger it was still unbearable to think I’d never one day return to that place.Could God really leave me like a painter with no canvass?
I remember boldly declaring at the age of 10 that I’d one day write material for Sunday School. I thought I’d probably become a teacher back then, but this declaration was more prophetic than I would have imagined. As a children’s worker I had dipped in my toes composing and editing material, but now so far from that church I believed I was called to serve, so far from the middle England my heart broke for, I was finally fulfilling those words. This time I wouldn’t be the storyteller in the room, for my words were mangled by translation before they reached the ears of the children I encountered. But my artistic nature ended up bursting out in different ways. I learnt to draw in vectors, to sculpt lines into clothing and expressions, to lay down one pallet of intonation and emphasis for another of curve and contour. I continued to write, this time for the inspiration of others, and let my creative imagination pour into games and crafts. It wasn’t the same, it’s not the same.
We always long for the same.
We long for the favourite artists brush, the almost completed painting, the familiar, for the blank canvass is scary. Writing material isn’t being in the room with the faces that hang on your every word, there is no watching the spark ignite in the faceless inspiration. Where I am is serving a bigger picture than I could every have done back then, it’s a truth I grasp tightly. Another comforter I hug into is that only by having the experience of standing where I did then can I serve as I am now. Recreating our memories paintings is not what God has called us to. I firmly believe God equipped us with skills for a purpose, and it’s our aim to find those places we can use the skills to glorify him. God did not promise to fulfil every desire of our hearts, he promised to fill our lonely spaces with his presence, to push us further along the pathway and match our footsteps along the way.
In the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you (exodus 31:6)
EnoughMarch 5, 2016
It’s been one of ‘those’ seasons of late. Life has blown up a storm, wind whipped and cowering under the latest wave I couldn’t bear to see if it was tidal or just a ripple, it would knock me down either way. I kept telling myself it was a season, nursing my aching soul with tasks that should sooth it’s woes, building environments that would be fertile for my sapling to bloom in, leaning into routines that kept me ploughing forward through the waves rather than allowing myself to drown under them. I’ve been here before, days when emotions seem disconnected to actions, productive days, lonely days.
It was an evening when I felt more than exhausted by life that I left for a short wander in the drizzle. Occupied my weary body with nothing more demanding than placing one foot before the other. Opened my mouth to whisper into the gloom the words that would not stop their conversation in my head. Heard them speak and let them go.
I told my maker about my joys and fears, I described in intimate detail the heavy yoke that was holding me down, the uncertainty, the sacrifice, the failed expectation.
I left nothing out, furiously moving my lips to detail every scratch and blemish and hue. In the gap that expelling all these weights sat the word I’d chosen for the year, to ‘appreciate’. Like a hidden sin exposed, it hurt to examine from this angle, offended me as if mocking my woes.
Was it not enough that I had shouldered the burden, was it not enough I’d given, enough I’d taken, enough I’d paid already. That I should appreciate this weight seemed cruel. How much more could he possibly be demanding, how much more would be piled upon me. Then the voice changed: I have offered to carry the load with you. The road may be rough but I am here, I am your staff and your travelling companion. I have already paid The price, I have. I have given enough, and more than enough already. Dwell in that, that more than enough. And the voice stopped. The silence wrapped me like a comforter, rooting me to the spot and retuning me the creeping cold, half light and quiet road.
With straightened shoulders I picked up the yoke inscribed with my name, felt the shift as he shared the load and started to move. It was a short walk back to the warmth of home. A short walk repeating the line, “He has given enough, more than enough, already”. The problems were still there, the uncertainty still raw, the loss still chaffed and the numbness still present… but the wave was now harmless, the storm fizzled, the deep valley no longer as shrouded. As the weight settled I recognised that ‘enough’ was what I had, ‘enough’ was my blessing, ‘enough’ was part and parcel of this heavy weight, ‘enough’ was the skills to carry and to flourish, ‘enough’ was what I could give or take, because ‘more than enough’ was walking besides me. Appreciating the hard times is a bitter lesson, cruel indeed but laced with mercy and grace.